31 March 2010

There's nothing like it

According to Tourism Australia, there's nothing like Australia.

The exact same thing could be said for many other places...



#slogan fail

30 March 2010

TARDIS renovation

A sneak peak from the Radio Times

I hope the new series shows more of other parts of the interior of the TARDIS. Apparently, there used to be a swimming pool.

29 March 2010

What happened to an apple for the teacher?

According to the (UK) Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), pupils no longer just give apples to teachers. From media release
From half eaten chocolate bars to a brace of pheasants - present giving is alive and well in UK schools - ATL
26 March 2010

From bizarre ornaments and recycled toiletries, to opera tickets and champagne, giving presents to thank education staff for their efforts, or to celebrate religious festivals, is alive and well. Over 90% of school and college staff have received a gift from a pupil or their parent or guardian, according to a new survey conducted by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL).

Forty-seven per cent of staff receive gifts twice a year and 66% of presents were given directly by a pupil, rather than by their parent or guardian. The most common time of year to receive a gift was at the end of the academic year (70%), followed by religious festivals such as Christmas, Hanukah or Eid (63%).

Most of the gifts were under £5 (58%) or between £5 and £10 (37%). Overall the most popular gift for staff were chocolates with 85% having received some. Other popular presents include flowers or plants (53%), alcohol (49%), toiletries (48%) and mugs (38%).

Primary staff are more likely to receive presents more than once a year (82%), than secondary school staff (36%). Meanwhile, state school staff are far less likely to receive alcohol (43%) than their independent counterparts (72%). But they are nearly twice as likely to be given a mug (43%), than staff at an independent school (27%).

Most institutions do not have a policy on the receiving of gifts (59%), and many staff choose to open their presents in class (41%) or take them home (41%).

The most popular gifts among staff were personalised items such as paintings done by a student of their teacher, or hand-made jewellery and cards.

Some staff have received expensive gifts, with one being given a Tiffany bracelet, another tickets to an England cricket Test Match, and another £1,000 of gift vouchers. Other extravagant presents included; a Mulberry handbag, a Yves St Laurent scarf, champagne, a brace of pheasants, and theatre vouchers. One primary teacher in an independent school commented: "One parent bought me £200 of Opera House vouchers".

Some of the strangest gifts reported included a 49p Somerfield half eaten chocolate bar, a ripped book with 10 of the last pages missing, and "a second hand photo album with dog hair all over it".

Chris Clarke a classroom teacher in a primary state school, said: "Although I am very grateful that pupils and their parents appreciate what I do for them, I do feel that in our school there is a culture of present-giving that can become almost unhealthy. I make a point of especially praising those pupils who make gifts or cards rather than buy them."

Kathy White, a head of department in a further education college, said: "I think the pressure to give gifts to teachers has been increased by the card shops as at the end of year there are a wide range of gifts. The best "gift" I have ever received is a card made by a group of learners where each contributed, adding how I had changed their lives and how my belief in them had motivated them. This is priceless!"

Mr Roberts, an NQT at a state secondary school, commented: "I received a Christmas card from one of my year 8's this year, I stuck it on the wall, and then another child who hadn't got me a card drew a Santa on the back of an envelope with "Happy Christmas from ____ " written on it. I was just as appreciative and it was stuck next to the bought card."

A female teacher in an independent secondary school, said: "I've only just moved back to independent from maintained. Very few presents are now given in secondary compared to when I started teaching 20 years ago, and yet the expectation is that you buy your tutor group treats at end of each term."

Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of ATL, said: "Although most staff like getting presents from their pupils to show their hard work is appreciated, they don't expect them. Staff certainly don't want their pupils to feel they have to give presents and feel humiliated if they can't afford to do so.

"Staff are just as delighted by a handmade gift or card - the thought really does count."

Further notes:
ATL surveyed over 1,016 primary, secondary, and further education staff working in state and independent schools and colleges in the UK between 15 February and 12 March 2010.

To view the full survey results click here
When I was in primary (elementary) school, the teachers only received cheap toiletries (after shave or perfume and other cheap fancy soaps) and only for Christmas presents. Occasionally an apple. Surely at any other time, a gift to a teacher could be construed as a bribe.

28 March 2010

Water, water everywhere and fit to drink from tap

I have previously written about bottled water. In developed countries, where water is safe to drink straight from the tap, there is no need to spend money unnecessarily on bottled water.

Here is a great video about bottled water from The Story of Stuff.

Extending the logic, soft drink (soda) is also wasteful consumption. It provides absolutely no nutritional value, being full of sugar and artificial chemicals.

27 March 2010

football - round 1

It has been a long wait for the start of the football season and the start has not disappointed.

BRISBANE LIONS 2.6 6.10 9.12 16.18 (114)
WEST COAST 4.2 7.6 10.8 12.10 (82)

Brisbane Lions:
Brown 5, Power 3, Fevola 3, Drummond, Banfield, Brennan, Sherman, Staker.
West Coast:
Schuey 2, Kennedy 2, Lynch 2, Ebert, LeCras, Naitanui, McGinnity, Embley, Cox.

Brisbane Lions:
Brennan, Brown, Black, Power, Fevola, Drummond.
West Coast:
Embley, McGinnity, Kerr, Selwood, Priddis, Butler.

Brisbane Lions:
Buchanan (broken thumb), Adcock (ankle).
Hay, Wenn, Jeffery.
29,201 at the Gabba.

West Coast were the underdogs for this game but put up a good fight for the first three quarters until they ran out of legs. The star of the show was not our high-profile recruit traded from Carlton, Brendan Fevola, but the enigmatic and brilliant Jared Brennan.

Pictures via Getty Images (hover mouse over for descriptions)

AFL Rd 1 - Brisbane Lions v West Coast Eagles

AFL Rd 1 - Brisbane Lions v West Coast Eagles

AFL Rd 1 - Brisbane Lions v West Coast Eagles

AFL Rd 1 - Brisbane Lions v West Coast Eagles

AFL Rd 1 - Brisbane Lions v West Coast Eagles

Earth Hour - power of the planet

We participated in Earth hour in 2009 and 2008, and will observe it again this year. From Earth Hour website
Earth Hour started in 2007 in Sydney, Australia when 2.2 million homes and businesses turned their lights off for one hour to make their stand against climate change. Only a year later and Earth Hour had become a global sustainability movement with more than 50 million people across 35 countries participating. Global landmarks such as the, Sydney Harbour Bridge, The CN Tower in Toronto, The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, and Rome’s Colosseum, all stood in darkness, as symbols of hope for a cause that grows more urgent by the hour.

In March 2009, hundreds of millions of people took part in the third Earth Hour. Over 4000 cities in 88 countries officially switched off to pledge their support for the planet, making Earth Hour 2009 the world’s largest global climate change initiative.

Earth Hour 2010 takes place on Saturday 27 March at 8.30pm (local time) and is a global call to action to every individual, every business and every community throughout the world. It is a call to stand up, to take responsibility, to get involved and lead the way towards a sustainable future. Iconic buildings and landmarks from Europe to Asia to the Americas will stand in darkness. People across the world from all walks of life will turn off their lights and join together in celebration and contemplation of the one thing we all have in common – our planet.
There may be debate in some quarters about climate change, but the real message ought to be about not wasting energy and the power of collective action.

I like the idea of global fasting on one day of the year, of one meal, for the medically fit, to raise awareness of poverty and starvation. Perhaps something for Make Poverty History.

26 March 2010

Clash of the Titan generations

The original Clash of the Titans film was released in 1981. The remake of 2010 is about to be released. There are vast differences in the styles - acting, special effects, storyline and even in the trailers.

original trailer of 1981 film

'remix' of the 1981 film using today's style

trailer for 2010 remake

Given today's technology, films with the old effects are now nearly unwatchable.

Even Ray Harryhausen's Jason and the Argonauts of 1963 could do with a remake

25 March 2010

Lèse majesté part 3

I've previously written about lèse majesté in terms of how it is implemented.

A recent issue of The Economist carried an in-depth article about the Thai royal family and succession issues. Consequently, Bangkok Post reported that The Economist would not be distributing that issue in Thailand due to lèse majesté laws.

Within the readership of The Economist, it has generated a debate, with the magazine suggesting that "[w]e hold that Thailand’s lèse-majesté laws should be lifted. They harm the country itself; on those grounds they should be removed."

Of course, given that nobody within Thailand can have such a debate, the comment may fall on deaf ears.

See also New Mandala (Australian National University).

24 March 2010

Nature by Numbers

An awesome movie by Cristóbal Vila, inspired by numbers, geometry and nature.

Also check out the theory behind the movie at Etérea.

23 March 2010

@ at MoMA

New York's Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) has acquired the @ symbol into its collection. For free. It's a strange acquisition as @ belongs to everyone and to no one.

The symbol @ was more commonly used to denote 'at' or 'at the rate of' in commercial transactions, such as 5 apples @ $1.

In 1971, Ray Tomlinson appropriated the symbol for use in the first email. Today, it is used in Twitter to address tweets to tweeters. You can send me a tweet @daniels_den (I don't receive many tweets addressed to me).

See New York Times.

The thing is, we don't have to visit MoMA to see @. It's right there on your keyboard. I wonder if MoMA also has ampersand & in its collection.

22 March 2010

Our strange fascination with metro maps

I've previously written about metros and in particular, the Berlin U-Bahn. Die Welt recently had two superb articles about metro maps, 'Die seltsame Faszination von U-Bahn-Plänen' (The strange fascination of metro plans).
Ihre Farben sind fast überall gleich: Rot, Grün, Blau, Gelb. Sie erinnern an Teller voller Spaghetti, an kämpfende Würmer oder äußerst wirre Grafiken und weisen uns doch den Weg. U-Bahn-Pläne aus verschiedenen Städten üben große Anziehungskraft aus – auch wenn man gerade nicht in der Bahn sitzt.
Their colors are almost the same everywhere: red, green, blue, yellow. They remind us of plate of spaghetti, with fighting worms or extremely confused graphics and show us the way yet. Metro plans of various cities exert great attraction - even when not sitting in the train.
See also part 2.

Metro maps are indeed fascinating. We would be lost in the maze of platforms if it were not for the maps. We need to know before boarding a metro train the direction of travel, where to change trains and how many stops before our desired destination.

Lots of subway maps can be found at Amadeus.

21 March 2010

Voyage of the Plastiki

A boat made up of plastic bottles and other recycled material, named the Plastiki, has set sail from San Francisco on a 100 day journey to Sydney, to raise awareness about maritime pollution. See AP video

The project is led by David De Rothschild (photo by Plastiki press centre)

The boat is a catamaran (photo from Plastiki press centre)

You can follow the journey online
- www.theplastiki.com
- www.adventureecology.com
- photos on Flickr

Of course, the name Plastiki is an acknowledgment of the famous Kon-Tiki expedition of the 1940s.

20 March 2010

'socialized' health care? 2

Tea baggers, err tea partiers at a 16 March protest

These people also vote. Sometimes the most vocal critics are also the most misinformed and it is evident as soon as they talk.

Strange, there were no complaints about 'socialized' banking after the Wall Street bail out.

City of Literature 3

I previously wrote about Melbourne becoming the second UNESCO City of Literature. The first was Edinburgh and the third was Iowa City.

The Wheeler Centre (for Books, Writing and Ideas) recently opened. It was named after Tony and Maureen Wheeler, founders of Lonely Planet, who provided a generous endowment.

The Wheeler Centre is within the complex of the State Library of Victoria, with a separate entrance on 176 Little Lonsdale Street. Description from their website
The Wheeler Centre

A Victorian Government initiative and the centrepiece of Melbourne's designation as a UNESCO City of Literature.

Our City of Literature status is not about Dickens on the tram, Nabokov in the Great Southern Stand or a Bronte or two over breakfast. It’s a recognition and celebration of Melbourne’s passionate readers.

We’re home to many of Australia's best and best-loved writers, past and present. We host an extraordinary network of booksellers, a diverse publishing culture and a vibrant community of thinkers.

Being a City of Literature is about engagement locally and globally. Because there’s a public conversation going on: in our papers and online, on our TVs and radios, in our workplaces and homes. Books, writing and ideas flow through Melbourne and there is something for everyone.

From 2010, Melbourne will have a new kind of cultural institution. The Wheeler Centre. A centre dedicated to the discussion and practice of writing and ideas. Through a year-round programme of talks and lectures, readings and debates, we invite you to join the conversation.
The other great passion of Melbourne is the football. It would be wonderful if the two came together.

19 March 2010

Invisibility cloak

Scientific journal Science has reported that scientists have created a three-dimensional invisibility cloak. Abstract
Three-Dimensional Invisibility Cloak at Optical Wavelengths
Tolga Ergin,1,2,*,{dagger} Nicolas Stenger,1,2,* Patrice Brenner,2 John B. Pendry,3 Martin Wegener1,2,4

A three-dimensional invisibility-cloaking structure operating at optical wavelengths based on transformation optics has been designed and realized. Our blueprint uses a woodpile photonic crystal with tailored polymer filling fraction to hide a bump in a gold reflector. Structures and controls are fabricated by direct laser writing and characterized by simultaneous high-numerical-aperture far-field optical microscopy and spectroscopy. Cloaking operation with large bandwidth of unpolarized light from 1.4- to 2.7-µm wavelength is demonstrated for viewing angles up to 60 degrees.

1 Institut für Angewandte Physik, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), D-76128 Karlsruhe, Germany.
2 DFG-Center for Functional Nanostructures (CFN), Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), D-76128 Karlsruhe, Germany.
3 Blackett Laboratory, Imperial College London, London SW7 2AZ, UK.
4 Institut für Nanotechnologie, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), D-76021 Karlsruhe, Germany.

* These authors contributed equally to this work.

{dagger} To whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail: tolga.ergin@kit.edu
See also BBC News.

There was no report of magic being involved at all.

18 March 2010

Neither M or F, but what?

A couple of days ago, I wrote about the Norrie, who became the first non-gendered person in the world. It's an interesting topic as it challenges how we view the world and its people.

Today, the Sydney Morning Herald (sourced from AAP) reported that the non-gendered status has now been withdrawn. Excerpt

Norrie, who famously became the first person in the world deemed neither male nor female, has now had the certificate confirming the gender-neutral status withdrawn.

NSW's Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages deemed invalid the certificate it issued on February 25 which established the 48-year-old's sex as "non specified".

It says it cancelled Norrie's "recognised details certificate" after receiving legal advice it was invalid.

"When I got the call on Tuesday I was absolutely devastated. I felt like I had been killed," Norrie told AAP on Thursday.

"My identity has gone all over the world ... (now the) attorney-general's taking back what they sold to me.

"If I sell you something by mistake ... I can't say: `Oh no, I have re-thought that. I didn't mean to do that.' I can't take it back off you."

Norrie, who only uses one name, wants to know why the registry didn't seek legal advice before issuing the certificate.

"Three weeks after they issued it and I go public ... somehow they get legal advice telling them they didn't have the right to issue it in the first place," Norrie said.

NSW Attorney-General John Hatzistergos told parliament on Thursday his office made some inquiries about the certificate after the issue was "ventilated" in the media.

He said legal advice provided to the registry said "the registrar may only issue a recognised detail certificate or a new birth certificate following a change of sex in either male or female gender".

read more

It is such a step backwards in acknowledging the reality of the diversity of gender identity. Too many people don't fit exactly into society's accepted stereotypes.

17 March 2010

We're all Irish today

Reported in the Irish Times, there is a shortage of shamrock in Ireland this year in time for St Patrick's Day because of late frosts.

In Australia, the plant is merely called clover and considered a weed. Thankfully, wearing green is an acceptable way to show support.

16 March 2010

'socialized' health care?

I'm still perplexed about the claims of 'socialized' health care by those engaging in scare campaigns with respect to health care reforms in the United States.

Existing services that can be considered to be 'socialized' include education and public transport.

Why should taxpayers who do not have children subsidise the education of those who do have children? Why should governments fund and provide education when there are plenty of private providers who can do it? Why should those who drive cars subsidise public transport?

It is not just about economics. You can't pick and choose.

Why not dispense with government altogether? The military? Just hire private contractors and mercenaries. But who will pay for it?. Foreign policy? Let the think tanks sort it out and come up with a committee.

Why bother collecting taxes? Let consumers pay for what they consume.

It's easy to come up with slogans, but harder to articulate the logic behind such arguments.

15 March 2010

headline of the month

From Iowa City Press-Citizen
Ronald McDonald arrested for pot
McDonald's corporation did not issue a statement. It is not known whether the alleged offender was asked to change his name.

photo from Foods for the soul

13 March 2010

And now, news by formula

A few days ago I posted BriTANick's brilliant trailer for every Oscar winning film. Of course that applied to fiction.

However, even fact isn't immune to formula, in particular the reporting of 'fact'.

BBC Newswipe with Charlie Brooker

Onion (satire)

It isn't just the delivery of television news that is questionable. A lot of so called human interest stories are a waste of time.

12 March 2010

M, F or N

Reported in the Sydney Morning Herald, 48-year old Norrie (no surname) was issued with an official identity certificate identifying its* sex or gender as 'not specified'. According to SMH, Norrie " identifies as neuter and uses only a first name, the first in the state to be neither man nor woman in the eyes of the NSW government."

*Norrie uses the term 'zie'.

Norrie (photo by Wolter Peeters for SMH)

The government's social security provider Centrelink is in the process of finding a way for its computer system to allow for a neither (male/female) option for sex. The last official census in 2006 has never allowed for another option to male/female. It will be interesting to see whether the Australian Bureau of Statistics considers the issue for the 2011 census.

Many forms also ask for the honorific title of Mr/Mrs/Ms/Miss, unless one has a gender-neutral one like Prof/Dr/Rev or other military rank titles. Perhaps these are also rather unnecessary.

In India, the 'third' gender was recently granted by the government as 'O' for others. In Pakistan, the 'third' gender was recently officially recognised as 'hijra' for mainly transexuals and 'eunuchs'. New South Wales' 'not specified' is not quite a 'third' gender but rather no gender at all.

Meanwhile, BBC News reported about gynandromorphous chickens that are both male and female, and new findings by researchers about factors determining sexual development (Roslin Institute, University of Edinburgh; Nature).

photo from the Roslin Institute

Note that there is no suggestion being made to link Norrie to chickens, other than emphasising that in nature the male/female binary is not always clearly defined.

However, male/female questions will always be asked for in forms; in the census, the data is required for demographic planning and to monitor gender equality in the provision of services and employment etc.

11 March 2010

Miracle baby... elephant

Just three days ago, zookeepers at Sydney's Taronga Zoo were mourning the apparent death of a baby elephant (in utero).

Taronga staff were greatly saddened today when it was confirmed that the Zoo’s expected second Asian Elephant calf has not survived a difficult labour.

Taronga’s Director, Cameron Kerr, said: “Keepers and veterinarians became aware in the early hours that despite round-the-clock care, the calf has not survived the labour. They’re now focussing on the next steps to support the mother, Porntip.

“Although we all knew that first deliveries are successful in only 50 percent of elephant births, everyone at the Zoo was hoping that our second birth would be successful.”

“Even though they knew the risks, the elephant keepers and veterinarians have been very distressed by the outcome. Their first thoughts are now for Porntip as they work together to support her.”

Miraculously, yesterday the zoo announced the live birth of the elephant calf

“Advice from world elephant reproduction expert, Dr Thomas Hildebrandt of the Berlin Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Health is that such an outcome after a protracted labour has never been seen before. He said the birth will completely re-write the elephant birth text books.”

Dr Vogelnest said: “The early indications are that the calf survived the protracted labour in a coma. That unconscious state would explain the complete absence of any vital signs during all the checks and examinations we conducted during the labour and led us to believe the calf had not survived.”

Elephant Manager, Gary Miller, said: “When the keepers learned the calf had survived this morning, the looks of disbelief on our faces were quite a picture. We couldn’t believe that this could be true.”

More news from today has been encouraging

Taronga Zoo’s newborn male Asian Elephant calf continued to make progress overnight.

His dedicated keepers, who monitored the newborn throughout the night, were delighted that the calf has begun to suckle from his mother, Porntip, unassisted and moving around without help.

This is an encouraging sign after he survived a protracted labour before being delivered alive against the odds yesterday morning at 3.27 am.

You can keep track of the baby elephant's via the zoo's elephant blog.

Photos from Taronga Zoo by Bobby Jo Vial

The elephants at the zoo appear to be very well looked after. They probably have a better life than many of the domesticated elephants in Thailand, with many eking out a living with their mahouts, begging for food in Bangkok and Chiang Mai.

95 per cent of elephants in Thailand are domesticated and privately 'owned'; considered to be livestock. There are reports that the elephant population in Thailand now numbers under 300. A hundred years ago, it was estimated to be around 100,000.

10 March 2010

Why Barber's Adagio for Strings is so magnificent

To celebrate the centenary of Samuel Barber's birth (9 March 1910), Robert Kapilow on NPR Music talked about what made Barber's Adagio for Strings so great.

Extract from NPR
Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings is one of the most solemn and evocative pieces of American music. Originally the slow movement of Barber's string quartet, the music was orchestrated for a larger group of strings, and in that version it was championed by conductor Arturo Toscanini, who conducted the world premiere in a live radio broadcast in 1938. Since then, the Adagio has often been called upon to serve in times of great emotional stress, as well as at funerals of important Americans such as Franklin D. Roosevelt and Leonard Bernstein.

Commentator, pianist and composer Rob Kapilow says that the kind of catharsis the piece goes through is actually the kind of catharsis that a funeral is about.

"It starts from incredible sadness, builds to an incredible climax of intensity, and then finally reaches a kind of serene acceptance, which is completely appropriate for those occasions," he says.

From the very beginning of the piece, Kapilow says, you get the perfect mood.

"It starts off with just a single note," he says. "And it's so pure, it's as if that note somehow was there forever."

So Barber lets you sit there, with that one note on the violin, for an incredibly long time, and then the note gets drenched with the emotion of a rich chord in the strings. Finally it has to move, Kapilow says, and it starts this lovely first phrase, which seems to take forever.

Emotion, Clearly Calculated

What makes it great," Kapilow says, "is that beneath all this emotion, it is one of the most clearly calculated and strongly simple and direct constructions of any piece."

Kapilow says the melody, which sounds so emotional, is "completely mathematical."

Read more -



Leonard Slatkin also conducted the BBC Orchestra at the Albert Hall on 15 September 2001

Robert Kapilow's 'deconstruction' is the best analysis I have read/heard about this wonderful piece of music. It is certainly one of my most favourite classical pieces of the modern era.

I have the 1997 recording of mixed pieces (Amazon), which includes capella, strings, flute etc versions.

There are some versions I don't like, particularly if the tempo appears too agitato for an adagio.

09 March 2010

A trailer for every Oscar winning film

From CRACKED.COM by the very talented duo BriTANick and friends, comes a trailer for every Oscar winning film

I wonder if we can call them cynics.

08 March 2010

Why all women need an alarm system

Sarah Haskins is a comedian, writer and performer for Current TV's infoMania where she has a 'column' called Target Women.

I like how she deconstructs the Broadview Security television commercials from a feminist perspective

It appears that burglar alarms are so yesterday. The latest are intruder alarms.

And today is still International Women's Day.

International Women's Day - Greer vs Nowra

Today is International Women's Day. It is also 40 years since the first publication of Germaine Greer's The Female Eunuch, an important work to the feminist movement.

The Monthly is an Australian national monthly journal about politics, society and the arts, edited by Ben Naparstek who at 23 years of age when appointed, created marvel and shock in publishing circles.

To mark 40 years of The Female Eunuch, The Monthly published an article by well known Australian writer Louis Nowra in which he questioned whether Greer actually understood women and also criticised her appearance and character.

Needless to say, the feminist/women's movement (and friends) reacted

- Caroline Overington (The Australian)
- Helen Razer (blog)
- Gabriella Coslovich (Sydney Morning Herald)
- Maggie Alderson (blog)
- felixexplody (blog)
- Larvatus Prodeo (blog)
- Rick Feneley (Sydney Morning Herald)
- Anne Summers (Sydney Morning Herald)

Pru Goward, a former Sex Discrimination Commissioner, also decided to wade into the furore. Though, one must question her motive given that she is now a politician in the NSW state parliament.

Still, Greer has the last word (in The Age). 40 years later, inequality is still very much an issue. Feminism is still relevant.

07 March 2010

Lemon curd

When Martin was a back neighbour in Lil's house, he'd give me buckets of lemons off the tree and I would make Moroccan style preserved lemons with them, using rock salt, bay leaves, cinnamon sticks, cloves and peppercorns. I never thought to make something sweet with the lemons.

Nigel Slater writes for the Guardian/Observer and his lemon curd recipe looks delicious

Most lemon curd recipes instruct you to stir the mixture with a wooden spoon. I find that stirring lightly with a whisk introduces just a little more lightness into the curd, making it slightly less solid and more wobbly.

Makes 2 small jam jars
zest and juice of 4 unwaxed lemons
200g sugar
100g butter
3 eggs and 1 egg yolk

Lemon Curd
Lemon Curd. Photograph: Jonathan Lovekin

Put the lemon zest and juice, the sugar and the butter, cut into cubes, into a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water, making sure that the bottom of the basin doesn't touch the water. Stir with a whisk from time to time until the butter has melted.

Mix the eggs and egg yolk lightly with a fork, then stir into the lemon mixture. Let the curd cook, stirring regularly, for about 10 minutes, until it is thick and custard-like. It should feel heavy on the whisk.

Remove from the heat and stir occasionally as it cools. Pour into spotlessly clean jars and seal. It will keep for a couple of weeks in the refrigerator.

With all that sugar in it, it should last a couple of months. Nigel Slater also has a recipe for lemon curd and orange parfait.

I love lemon curd. Rather than maple syrup on pancakes, I would spread lemon curd on it. I also like it with lemon juice sprinkled lightly with sugar.

06 March 2010

I want a beer but I don't want it

Created by Sophie Farquhar, copywriter for The Works, for Canadian Club

The bartender seems to be confused by what the customer is asking and wanting, but strangely, I can identify with the customer's logic. It's quite clear really.

Most of the time, we communicate with people in simple linear terms so as to be understood. It's not really worth confusing other people if you have a multitrack mind, which is entirely different to multitasking, which is also nearly impossible.

05 March 2010

Grow your own drugs

Ethnobotanist James Wong, presenter of BBC's Grow Your Own Drugs was featured on NPR's All Things Considered speaking to Melissa Block about his book of the same name

From NPR article
James Wong thinks you should grow your own drugs.

No, we're not talking about the illicit kind. We're talking about a living pharmacy of plants from your own backyard: fennel and rose hips; echinacea and dandelion; horse chestnuts and nettles.

Wong is an ethnobotanist. He trained at the Royal Botanic Gardens in London, and he's written a medicinal recipe book called Grow Your Own Drugs, an offshoot of his BBC television series.

Plant Prejudice

In his book, Wong looks at plants as bright chemical factories.

"I think so many people have this stereotyped idea of what herbal medicine is," Wong tells NPR's Melissa Block.

He adds, "I think they've very much got a big black line in their minds that separates serious, conventional, tested, scientific medicine on one side and slightly airy, fairy, away-with-the-hippies — you know — natural-but-probably-doesn't-work, plant-based medicine on the other."

But that "black line," Wong says, is a cultural idea — not a scientific one.

"To me as a scientist, whether a chemical is found within a pill or the cells of plant is really irrelevant — that's just packaging," he said.

Hijacking Plant Weapons

The recipes in Wong's book offer remedies for a wide range of ailments — from sore throats to hot flashes to head lice.

"As with all herbal remedies, they don't necessarily come with guarantees. And if you've tried conventional stuff and it hasn't [worked], I don't think there's any harm in giving it a go," Wong says.

Wong says humans have been battling with insects for only a few thousand years. Plants, however, have been at war with insects for millions of years.

"Over that huge period, there's been time for them to evolve all sorts of unusual strategies, many of which are natural chemical weapons — insecticides — that exist in the environment that can be used in all manner of ways," he says.

In his recipes, Wong says he hijacks what plants have evolved for themselves, and he uses that to treat humans and animals.

Be A Responsible Experimenter

Wong offers a few caveats: Know what plants you're using. Also, don't self-diagnose.

"There are all sorts of interesting solutions that are found in the plant world, but you need to be responsible. You need to make sure that you have a proper diagnosis," he says.

Wong is not against conventional medicine. In fact, he says he has no qualms popping aspirin. But he says people can consider herbal medicine as part of the solution.

"It's very much not about abandoning conventional medicine," Wong says. "It's almost like a useful complement to it."
Read more for recipes (Amazon listing)

I enjoyed watching the show a few months ago. I am so over these television celebrity chefs. The antidote is a television celebrity scientist who cooks!

From the 2009 Christmas special - making anti-anxiety saffron egg nog
(BBC - producer Lucy Hooper, executive producer Dan Adamson)

Recipe for the anti-anxiety saffron egg nog from BBC

500ml whole milk
2 bay leaves
36 threads / 3 pinches saffron
2 strips orange rind
3 tbsp golden syrup
200ml single cream
3 eggs
150ml white rum
Grated fresh nutmeg, to serve

1. Pour the milk, bay leaves, saffron, orange rind, golden syrup and cream into a pan, and simmer gently for 10 minutes. Strain through a sieve.

2. Break the eggs into a glass heat-proof bowl, then slowly whisk in the hot milk mixture.

3. Place the bowl above a pan of boiling water and heat gently, stirring, until the mixture thickens to a custardy consistency. Then take it straight off the heat.

4. Whisk in the rum, then pour the mixture into a jug. Cool, then leave to stand in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours before serving.

5. Serve over ice with grated nutmeg.

USE: Drink no more than 1 wineglass a day.

CAUTION: Contains alcohol.

STORAGE: Keep in the refrigerator. Will last for 2 weeks.

Aside from the cooking, he's really cool to watch when he gets really excited in the garden

You can read his blog with the Royal Horticultural Society My Garden online community. James Wong is also a partner in Amphibian Designs.

04 March 2010

Greek tragedy

Greece is suffering from a massive debt burden and facing bankruptcy. It is likely that Germany will need to support a large scale bail out. There is also a suggestion that Greece give up something in return, like a few islands at least. From Bild
Auch wenn es vielleicht verrückt klingt: Wenn wir den Griechen doch noch mit Milliarden Euro aushelfen müssen, sollten sie dafür auch etwas hergeben – z. B. ein paar ihrer wunderschönen Inseln. Motto: Ihr kriegt Kohle. Wir kriegen Korfu.
Tongue in cheek, but an interesting thought.

03 March 2010

Multitasking myth

According to Professor Clifford Nass from Stanford University, research shows that there is no evidence that people who multitask achieve more. From Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America,

02 March 2010

The administration of policy and the policy of administration

I still think think after many years, this scene from Yes Minister is still funny. Whether there is still an element of truth in this in today's civil service is up to you to perceive.

Betty Oldham: "Look, Sir Humphrey, whatever we ask the Minister, he says is an administrative question for you, and whatever we ask you, you say is a policy question for the Minister. How do you suggest we find out what is going on?"

Sir Humphrey: "Yes, yes, yes, I do see that there is a real dilemma here. In that, while it has been government policy to regard policy as a responsibility of Ministers and administration as a responsibility of Officials, the questions of administrative policy can cause confusion between the policy of administration and the administration of policy, especially when responsibility for the administration of the policy of administration conflicts, or overlaps with, responsibility for the policy of the administration of policy."

Betty Oldham: "Well, that is a load of meaningless drivel. Isn't it?"

01 March 2010

The Base

New York photographer Spencer Tunick was at the Sydney Opera House early this morning, directing 5000 nude volunteers for his latest work 'The Base' as part of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Festival.

photo by AAP/Dean Lewis via ABC News

More photos from
- ABC News
- News Limited
- Sydney Morning Herald
- Sydney Morning Herald (multimedia slideshow with narration)
- Reuters video via Guardian

Removed from all their clothes, people have nothing to hide.