August 10 2009

Kitty Porn

Cats are amazing creatures. My cat, for example, spends her hours plotting my demise (her last attempt at tripping me almost succeeded). For all her tenacity, however, she hasn’t managed even a basic mastery over the computer keyboard. Keith Griffin’s cat, however, is an expert.

According to Griffin, his cat is not only a master of the keyboard but is also a connoisseur of the arts. Unfortunately, said cat is not a master of spelling or perhaps said cat made a typo while searching for “kitty porn”. It was an error that has landed poor, poor Keith Griffin in an ocean of hot water.

Poor, poor Griffin only wanted to download some music. While he was downloading his musical bits the nefarious cat jumped on the keyboard. Satisfied that his cat had everything under control, Griffin left the room. When he returned, however, he found “strange things” on his computer and a guilty looking cat staring at him.

Strange things? Over one thousand “strange things” had somehow made their way onto his computer. It was the cat that “dun” it, of course. While Griffin (poor, poor, Griffin) was out of the room, the cat had conducted his own virtual exploration. Keeping one watchful eye on the door, the cat used his favourite search engine and was surprised to find that the results didn’t depict a single kitty. Undeterred, the criminal cat browsed away. He apparently enjoyed what he saw because he saved over a thousand images for later perusal.

Of course the cat did it, Keith Griffin, of course he did. You would never have such “strange things” on your computer, now, would you? If only the constabulary would believe you. Poor, poor Griffin.

August 8 2009

Outbowled, Outfielded and Outclassed

Australian cricket isn’t the force it was a couple of years ago. Back then other countries wondered how they could draw a match against us, let alone win. Even the retirements of great players had little effect because each retirement only opened the door for another talent to make his mark. That all changed when a large number of players retired at or around the same time. Gone are the likes of Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath, Adam Gilchrist, Matthew Hayden, Damien Martyn and Justin Langer. No team in the world could withstand such a depletion of talent and the aura of invincibility that grew around it. Our national cricket team has come back to the pack. It was bound to happen but we didn’t want a slide towards the mediocrity of the 80s. I still have a shudder or two when I remember the bad old days that were the 80s. We were the easybeats and I’m not talking about the rock group that gave us “Friday On My Mind”.

The first few matches of the Ashes series in 2009 saw an Australia that looked a lot like those easybeats. We were headed for victory in Cardiff but Mitchell Johnson needed a few extra stumps to aim at and some of Ricky Ponting’s decisions had us scratching our heads. We should have won that match but we couldn’t remove England’s tailenders. England saved that match and went on to steamroll us in the second test. The third test was headed for an English victory but for the heroics of Michael Clarke and Marcus North. We were outbowled, outfielded and outsmarted. Mitchell Johnson made a century or two but not off his bat. Our foremost strike bowler just couldn’t find the stumps. Peter Siddle was almost as bad although there were occasions when he at least looked like taking wickets. Only the previously unsung Ben Hilfenhaus and the much derided Nathan Hauritz could hold their heads high. Strangely four of the top five wicket takers in this Ashes series are Australian; it’s just a pity that each of those wickets came at a such a high price. Even I can take ten wickets if you allow me the luxury of leaking a thousand runs.

We were a little unlucky, too. Brett Lee was injured before the first test and won’t be available until the fifth. He could have made a huge difference to our bowling attack. That, however, doesn’t explain the strange decision to omit Stuart Clarke. While Clarke is not a potent strike bowler he does tie up an end and builds pressure on the batsmen. He was exactly what we needed with Johnson and Siddle leaking runs. His inclusion in the fourth test highlights just how important his bowling is to Australia.

We can’t even blame the umpires who have provided us with a master class in poor decision making. Australia and England both received howlers from the unpires and Rudi Koertzen has been the arch villain so far. Cricketers who are struggling with a bit of poor form generally lose their place in the team but umpires merely continue to inflict pain. “Unfair” doesn’t even begin to describe the situation.

The Australia I know have finally turned up for the fourth test. Our bowling so far is as good as England’s was in the preceding tests. We have to win this match to give us a chance at retaining the Ashes. There’s still plenty of time left in the fourth test and so many things can happen but, win or lose, I can confidently say we are still a long way from the nadir of the 80s. That is enough to keep the nightmares at bay for some time yet.

August 8 2009

Coraline – In 3D No Less

I don’t go to the movies much these days – I can’t afford to refinance my house so that I can afford the tickets. Once in a while, however, a movie comes along that I just have to see on the big screen. Action movies, obviously, are best appreciated on large screens but the plethora of 3D movies that are showing in Perth also require a trip to the cinema. So off we went along with a significant chunk of my hard earned.

Coraline, the movie, is an adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s Coraline, the book for children. Those of you who are familiar with Neil Gaiman’s work would know that Disney is not a major influence on his stories. As a result Coraline is a deliciously dark and scary movie in the vein of the best fairytales – not the Disneyfied, sugar coated fairytales but the “they cooked the witch” type fairytales.

The story revolves around eleven year old Coraline who has just moved to a house in the country with her parents. Pursuing deadlines, her hardworking parents urge Coraline to explore which she does begrudgingly and finds a portal to an alternate universe. This universe is everything Coraline wants from life, including a mother (an Other Mother) who dotes on her. Naturally, not everything is right in this universe and Coraline soon finds herself fighting for her life and her parent’s lives.

The story is the important element here but the visuals are not too shoddy, either. Dark and sombre, at times, colourful at others, the screen is a treat for the eyes. The 3D is nicely understated and don’t add much to the story – if the thought of wearing those special, polarized glasses fills you with dread just see the non-3D version. It is the story that draws you in, not the effects.

Gaiman’s story borrows heavily from fairytales and folklore. And, typical of fairytales, the cautionary elements are aimed at adults and children alike. Pay more attention to your children; don’t take your parents for granted; don’t play with buttons (just go see the movie.) It is scary but the children streaming out of the cinema seemed delighted. Perhaps it is us parents who are frightened the most. Just go see the movie.

June 28 2009

Holiday Wallet

It looks, feels and, I dare say, smells the same as my normal wallet, right down to the worn patches so why does it behave differently when I’m on holiday? On an average day the old wallet is the voice of budgetary reason. Take it on holiday, though, and it becomes the tunnel in a fiscal great escape. Our recent holiday in Margaret River is a perfect illustration of the holiday wallet phenomenon.

Take, for example, a 250g block of chocolate that now sets you back around $4.00 at the local supermarket. Not a single block will make its way into the shopping trolley unless there is a heavily discounted special on chocolate. Drive down to Margaret River, however, and one has to visit the Margaret River Chocolate Factory where Normie Wallet happily releases $7.00 for an even smaller block. Bear in mind that there’s a Margaret River Chocolate Factory twenty minutes from our house. We only go there to taste the samples (and not once have we seen an Oompa Loompa). The original Margaret River Chocolate Factory, however, has a chunk of my hard earned money.

The chocolate factory is not the only establishment to become bosom buddies with my wallet. Normie opened time and time again to part with its contents. In return we have fridge magnets, souvenir spoons, computer games and a lot of calories. We came back with more baggage than we took to Margaret River.

But that is the point, isn’t it? We go on holiday to get away from the pressures and monotony of everyday life. All the troubles and stresses just slip away and we can forget about them for a short while. The children are growing up fast and I cherish the times we spend together.

We had a wonderful time in Margaret River, my family, my wallet and me.

June 21 2009

Dying To Fly First Class

Continental flight 61 from Brussels to New York landed safely, and on time. And without its pilot. The 247 passengers were blissfully unaware that their Boeing 777 was in the hands of two co-pilots because their pilot had retired prematurely. The passengers were informed of their captain’s demise due to natural causes only after the plane had landed.

When I saw this news item I wondered how often this sort of scenario plays out. It turns out that, while extremely rare, such dramas have happened a few times before. Take, for example, January 2007 which saw another Continental captain fall gravely ill although he managed to hold on to life until his co-pilot performed an emergency landing. Then there was the captain of a China Airlines jet who, in May 200, suffered a heart attack shortly after take off. His co-pilot turned the plane back and landed safely but the pilot died shortly after. The captain of a Gulf Air jet couldn’t hold on until landing in March 1997; he suffered his heart attack right at take off.

It is a testament to the skill of the co-pilots and the engineering of modern aircraft that all of the aforementioned dramas ended safely for the passengers and living crew. The death of a pilot isn’t a disaster as far as the safe handling of a plane is concerned and the passengers can remain unaware of the cockpit dramas. It is, however, harder to keep passengers ignorant when a fellow passenger’s life is curtailed mid-flight. This, too, is a rare event but has happened before. Consider, for instance, Paul Trinder’s story.

Travelling on a British Airways jet in 2007, Mr Trinder had succumbed to the hum of the jet engines and fallen asleep in his first class seat. When he awoke from his first class nap he noticed that the previously empty seat at the end of his row was now occupied by a frail, little woman. Looking somewhat pale and under the weather the women swayed in time with the movements of the jet and kept sliding under her seatbelt.

“I say,” one can imagine Mr Trinder addressing a passing steward, “this woman looks peaked.”

“Ah, that,” one imagines the steward responding, “would be because she’s dead, sir.”

The unfortunate woman died in her economy seat but her body was moved to first class because “the rest of the plane was full.” It seems to me that “full” must mean there was no way to ensure at least one empty seat between the dead woman and the nearest living passenger — I am familiar with the lack of elbow room available to economy class passengers so I can understand the predicament. The upshot is that the poor woman received a complimentary upgrade to first class.

The first class section of an aircraft is much more likely to have empty seats so it is no surprise that people are upgraded to first class when they curtail their involvement with life. Apparently about about 260 people a year take advantage of the upgrade offer. Those looking for similar upgrades in the future, however, may be out of luck. Singapore Airlines, for example, has installed accommodation called “corpse cupboards” on some of its aircraft. I hope those things are securely locked in times of turbulence.

June 1 2009

Very Small Trains

Dear Captain James Stirling,

let me take this opportunity to thank you for that momentous decision you made back in 1834. Quite splendid of you, old boy, to give us Western Australians a holiday on the first day of June. (And if that day should fall on a weekend, why, by Jove, take the Monday off, eh what?)

I’m sure you would have been quite chuffed if we had toddled off to Fremantle and spent some time at the Maritime Museum but we didn’t, sorry to say, old chap. Just couldn’t do it, this year, I’m afraid, because the Model Railway Exhibition was on. Master Builder wanted to go, of course, especially when he found out that the exhibition featured Lego trains amongst its displays.

The Librarian was going to take Master Builder while I stayed at home – I had planned a celebratory nap on the couch, you see, followed by a celebratory meal, followed by a post celebratory meal nap. I had a change of heart, though, because Lego is the Master Builder’s world and I wanted to be there to see his happy face. So we went to the show.

Except for the Game Guru. He celebrated by staying at home.

I must say that the Model Railway Exhibition was quite enthralling. There were little locomotives chugging and huffing and puffing everywhere you looked. Brought a nostalgic tear to the eye, old fruit. I remember fond times playing with my little Hornby. (I said Hornby, James; the train sets – you seagoing lot never rise above the level of the gutter, do you?) Made me want to pull out my wallet and start a new collection. Then I looked at the price tags.

I see the wee folk

The Hornby’s were of passing interest only for the Master Builder because his attention was on the centre of the pavilion. Actually everyone’s attention was on the centre because that was where the Perth Adult Lego Society had set up their display. It was huge, old boy, huge. All the toy shops of Perth must be devoid of Lego bricks. Lego trains hummed and buzzed and we followed a train as it journeyed through eclectic scenes.

The train wound its way past a mini Lego stage which was rocking to a mini figure band while two mini LCD screens showed “live” footage of the concert – U2 were on stage at the time we saw it; past a platform bustling with mini figures looking extremely annoyed that trains never stopped there;

Irate passenegers

past an inner city Jurassic park featuring a startled Tyrannosaurus Rex and a phlegmatic stegosaurus; past a (you’ll like this one, James, old boy) huge cruise ship about to embark on its maiden voyage;

Lego cruise ship

past a myriad of scenes until it finally clattered across a 14m bridge – supposedly the largest Lego bridge ever made.

World's biggest Lego bridge

By the time we had seen all the displays the crowds had built up. This, as you know, doesn’t sit well with Master Builder. Much to his credit he managed to hold himself together as we made a final circuit around the pavilion looking for a souvenir. He finally found one that appealed to him and didn’t make my wallet burst into tears.

And that, dear Captain, is how we celebrated Foundation Day.

Yours sincerely,

Flying Saucer Jones

 

PS Here’s one for the Meccano lovers:

Meccano locomotive

Category: Lego | LEAVE A COMMENT
May 30 2009

Smile Crocodile

When I visit the Perth Zoo I like to take a leisurely walk through the exhibits and marvel. Where else can you see the colours and shapes of Nature’s fauna gathered together in one convenient place? Where else can you see the incredible diversity of life? Where else can you safely see a collection of creatures that are quite deadly with respect to the continuance of said life?

The usual suspects are present, of course: the hippopotamus, looking quite innocent, is quite adept at human population control; the lion, looking every bit the killing machine that it is; the cape buffalo, yes a buffalo, is quite the human culler. The list goes on but, for me, none are as frightening as a particular denizen of Perth Zoo’s marvellous crocodile exhibit.

The exhibit is home to several freshwater crocodiles which are, apparently, quite retiring creatures. I am told that there are no cases of unprovoked attacks on humans by freshwater crocodiles (the converse, however, is not true) so there’s nothing really deadly about these creatures. We have to go next door to meet Mr. Deadly for there, in a large, bespoke estuary, lives the villain of the piece, that evolutionary pinnacle of killing machines: Simmo, the estuarine crocodile.

Simmo always waits for me, as still as a log, at the front of the estuary where the builders have placed a 4.6 metre (15 foot) armourglass window. The zoo tells me that the glass is 32 millimetres (1.25”) thick but as Simmo glares through the window, his snout barely breaking the water surface, I start to wonder. There are only 32 millimetres of glass between me and an estuarine crocodile with only one thought in his head: “lunch.” He’ll wait by the glass, patiently, confident that he will get through eventually, even if his lunch walks away on suddenly jellied legs.

I will visit Simmo again. There is something compelling about this creature. It may be the fact that crocodiles are living dinosaurs or it may be the sense of danger lurking behind the glass. Whatever it is, it lures me back. Back to the Zoo and back to the land of the dinosaur.

May 24 2009

Ah Woolworths, You Deserve It

Dear Woolworths,

I am writing to thank you for your thoughtful efforts at enhancing the customer’s experience at your places of purveyance. In particular:

– thank you for leaving ladders, palettes and other miscellaneous paraphernalia in your aisles. The ladders are wonderful diversions for children and the resulting heart palpitations experienced by their parents help to burn calories. The customers burn even more calories as they push said ladders, palettes and miscellaneous paraphernalia out of the way so that they can reach the products behind them.

– thank you for the complimentary lessons in dance so frequently provided by your staff. I particularly appreciate the two-step as they barge in front of me. The lack of niceties such as “pardon me” are a bonus lesson in contemporary manners.

– thank you for filling the refrigerators past the line that is clearly labelled “do not fill past this line.” I love my weekly round of Russian roulette with botulism and other assorted denizens of the microbial world. I also enjoy the sight of the occasional yoghurt in progress that was once a carton of milk.

– thank you for only opening two or three registers during rush hour. The resulting queues allow customers to get acquainted and form lifelong friendships. Might I humbly suggest that you provide marriage celebrants, midwives and funeral directors for the longer waits.

– thank you for playing the Woolworths jingle every ten or so minutes. We are already in your establishment so advertising yourself to us constantly is a must. I do think, however, that you missed the mark a little in not providing a selection of tracks for the benefit of the queues I mentioned above: the conga springs to mind.

Yours sincerely.

Flying Saucer Jones

May 22 2009

Happy Anniversary, Baby. Got You On My Mind

It is raining outside; a steady, heavy rain driven by strong gusts of wind. It is a welcome rain. The record dry spell we’ve had in Perth has finally come to an end. The weather today is nothing like it was a couple of days ago let alone sixteen years ago in North Carolina, USA, as I waited for the Librarian to arrive and walk down the aisle.

The word ‘aisle’ was especially appropriate on that day because the Church where we got married was in the middle of a shopping centre. There we were in suits and ties and elegant clothes while shoppers hurried about and sent curious glances our way. ‘Surreal’ is almost inadequate to describe it.

And so we were married and not long after that the Librarian came home with me. We landed in Perth and were greeted by rain. That’s right, folks. My bride came to my much boasted about sunny city only to be greeted by rain. It would be several days before she saw the sun.

That was a long time ago but sometimes it seems like yesterday. Where did the years go? It seems to me that the interval between the 1st of January and the 31st of December becomes shorter every year. And where did those two young men come from? They were only born a handful of years ago, surely? How about the grey hair on the man that looks back at me when I shave?

Time does fly and it flies faster as we get older. I’m just glad that I have the Librarian with me on this trip through time.

Happy anniversary, Sweetheart.

May 17 2009

The Awesome Power Of Zero: Redux

Last week I posted a "proof" that 1 = 2 and promised that I would provide the answer at a later date. I am nothing if not true to my word. Now I’m sure that you all know the answer (at least one person does according to the comments – to the top of the class with you, young Luke) but I will go ahead with the answer anyway. So, without further ado, here is the reason that the “proof” is wrong although it looks quite correct.

The Answer

The very first equation in the proof asks us to let a = b. This is the smoke screen behind which the “proof” does its magic trick. All the equations up to and including 4 are correct but the step to equation 5 requires that you divide both sides of equation 4 by (a – b). The smoke screen was set up to blind you to the fact that, since a = b, (a – b) = 0 and you are actually dividing both sides of equation 4 by zero.

Recall from your school days that you must not divide by zero. The “proof” that 1 = 2 is just one example of what happens. It’s bad enough that multiplying by zero turns something into nothing. Dividing by zero unleashes something even more horrible. So don’t do it. Bad things happen. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

 

Coming soon: why the number 1 can be anything but lonely and why the dish ran away with the spoon. Or not.