Friday, 31 May 2013

Buying a Car (again) - and the power of the media

We recently went through the process of buying a car.   There are a lot of models to choose from in the category we were looking at, and the biggest issue was to reduce the number of possibilities to a manageable "short list".  Several models didn't make it to the "short list" for reasons that might be considered quite trivial.   And then the final decision (for us) turned on quite small details. 

VW was one of the brands we considered.    However, in such a competitive market, the report in the Age today (on the front page),  had it appeared earlier, would have eliminated this brand from our thinking ("eliminated"?  The expressions "ejected" and " totally expelled" also come to mind!), just because of the doubts that it raises.  This is in spite of the fact that not a lot of evidence is put forward by the Age:  there has been no final verdict in the case before the Coroner, and although some other instances of power loss are mentioned, only one other specific case is described (potentially, of course, more may emerge).  It's also interesting that a couple of other brands are stated to have cases where vehicles have gone "limp".

Thursday, 30 May 2013

Flowering gums

We've planted a flowering gum (Eucalyptus Leucoxylon - so-called "Euky Dwarf") in our garden and over the fence is a flowering ironbark.  They're both in flower at present, and are attractive to the honey-eaters and other birds.    We like to hear the birds during the daytime, but recently we've been a little surprised by the number of chirpings we hear at night.    I guess the possums also enjoy these trees. 

In addition, when stepping out in the evening, it's not uncommon to disturb a fruit bat.  Seems that, they too, have found these trees.


Wednesday, 29 May 2013


We've been to Sageleaf before (in Burwood Rd, East Hawthorn), but I don't think I've ever posted about it.   We returned recently, and had a great night.    I'd forgotten how good the food was:  my goat's cheese tart followed by rack of lamb were both terrific.  The company was good, too, as was the wine!

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Uses for 3D printers

I commented here on the arrival of 3-D printers, so was interested in this item suggesting that they could be used to "print" your own gun at home!
At the moment, I imagine it would be possible, it least in theory, to "print" a replica gun (although it might be just as easy to carve one out of wood!).  However, right now it's difficult to visualise that the current generation of printers - which make things out of plastic - could produce a workable gun.   But who knows what such printers could be capable of, as technology advances.

Monday, 27 May 2013

Tramway works (2)

I had been expecting traffic congestion in our area because the advance publicity inferred that all four outbound lanes of Dandenong Rd would be closed over the weekend.   But as I've already noted,on Saturday morning, one lane of Dandenong Rd was open at that time.   Likewise, when I went past on Sunday evening, the same lane  was open.    The whole road must have been closed at some stage, but perhaps only late at night.

Anyway, there was plenty of activity on Sunday evening.

Saturday, 25 May 2013

Traffic management during tramway works

From the flyer we received in the letterbox, it indeed appeared that there would be massive traffic congestion in the area over the weekend.    In order to renew the tram tracks where they cross over Dandenong Rd in order to go along Wattletree Rd, it seemed that all four outbound lanes of busy Dandenong Rd would be closed.

 VicRoads must have alerted the Age, because it ran a prediction of traffic chaos.

I took a walk past the location late in the morning on Saturday, fully expecting the worst, as this is generally a busy time.   There was lots of activity, but from a traffic perspective, things weren't nearly as bad as I had expected.   One outbound lane of Dandenong Rd was operational (perhaps temporarily?), as well as the lane leading to Wattletree Rd, and it did seem that traffic volumes were less than usual (maybe the publicity had had the desired effect).

Also, there was some localised management, such as additional "no parking" areas (to allow for an extra lane of traffic in one of the nearby roads) and I think the traffic lights had been adjusted to remove the temporarily unnecessary red cycles.

Obviously, works such as this need to occur, but at least on this occasion, it's good to see that some planning has occurred to avoid an unnecessary degree of disruption.

The person with the biggest problem was the lady waiting for the tram, who seemed oblivious to the activity and signs.  Fortunately, a replacement bus arrived.

Friday, 24 May 2013

Club land

Of course you can't come to the Yarrawonga Mulwala area without being aware of the clubs.  We ate at the golf club, the services club and the waterski club.  The clubs across the border got many years headstart in their appeal to Victorians because they had the pokies decades before they were permitted in Victoria. 

The clubs in this area, at least, appear to have maintained their appeal, with their great edifices and good facilities.

It's not a pretty sight watching some members of the group we're with losing amounts of money.  In one case at least this was accompanied by a resolution "never to touch those machines again".   I wonder how long this will last.    So it's with a slight twitch of the conscience that I take advantage of the cross-subsidised meals, but I'm afraid that pragmatism prevails.

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Staying at Yarrawonga

So, why are we at Yarrawonga?    Suffice to say, we're with an ethnic "seniors" group, at the,....errr..., "economy" end of the scale!    We felt it right to support the group, and we came up independently (foregoing the bus trip), so that we can do our "own thing" when the arrangements appear to be turning out to be a little haphazard.   The accommodation, while somewhat "rustic" and a little way out of town,  is warm and the bed is good.   And  a cooked breakfast is included! It has direct access to the lake which the fishermen in the party are making good use of (although not all of them are having a lot of success, apparently).


The internet has been fine most of the time.   However, somewhat unpredictably, it has at times been very slow indeed, presumably because of congestion on the network (the connection itself shows as being strong).  Lack of consistency is the price I pay for using Vodafone wireless broadband, which I'm sure I've commented on previously.   On the other hand, it's economical for a service that I only use when I'm travelling.

Some of the other residents at our accommodation

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Lake Mulwala

The lake is the centrepiece of the Yarrawonga-Mulwala area.   Of course, it's a man-made weir on the River Murray, and while its main purpose is to assist in river flow management and allow water to be diverted to two major irrigation channels (one on each side of the river), it contributes a lot more to the area than this.  Watersports make use of it and there are lots of fishermen around. 

The waterbirds certainly appreciate it, too.    There are still numerous tree trunks standing in the water.  I read that these create highly productive breeding areas for fish.


Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Storm damage

At first we couldn't work out why all the trees in a particular area were looking so bad.   I wondered if there was some logging of red-gums going on, but it all looked a bit messy.   We then realised that, up the road out of Mulwala, we were at the location of the bad tornado in March.

Monday, 20 May 2013


It's quite a story, so I won't go into all the details, but at quite short notice the opportunity arose to participate in a group trip to Yarrawonga for a few days.  Well, we declined the opportunity to travel in the social group bus, but it did seem an opportunity to let the new little Mazda stretch its legs a bit and at the same time to have independence of movement.

The highlight of the first day was lunch at Fowles winery at Avenel.    An innovative menu, and I particularly liked the semolina gnocchi.  The view out over the grape vines in their autumn colours, with the Strathbogies in the distance, was also memorable.   The lowlight of the day was being unable to find the accommodation for some time.   For some reason, I thought it was on the Mulwala side....but not so!

Saturday, 18 May 2013

Into the World's Light

Our copy of William Rush's latest collection of poems, Into the World's Light, recently arrived. I've previously reproduced one of the author's poems from an earlier volume.

Poetry is one of those things that I admire because I am aware that I could never, ever write it myself!    Nor do I feel qualified to comment on it.    Suffice to say that the succinct use of words to capture a complex emotion and to convey in just a line or two a whole range of impressions is an art that, unfortunately, totally eludes me.

I particularly liked one in this collection, the first verse of which is -

poems are dangerous
they slip their heresies into the world
while we busy ourselves
with prose

Copies are available from Interactive Press.

Friday, 17 May 2013

Fraud at Stonnington?

There have been reports that fraudulent activities have been detected within our local Stonnington Council.   Hopefully, the issue is confined to a small area, namely the hiring out of venues, including parks.  In passing, just why you need to pay for a permit to do something in a park isn't quite clear to me, but I guess it's all part of life in this day and age.

On the positive side, I suppose that it's good that this has been detected.   On the negative side, it seems to have taken a while to catch up with it (the report suggests that it has been going on since 2007 or thereabouts), and you hope that this isn't indicative of a more broad-ranging cultural issue at the Council.

Thursday, 16 May 2013

The sales process

I've previously posted about choosing a car.  We've now signed up, and so the decision-making process is at an end (thank goodness).

There were some similarities in the sales techniques that we encountered.

A convertible?  Nup.....maybe next time?
Perhaps it goes with the nature of a sales person:  they all talk a lot (too much?)    Yes, they do pride themselves on "listening" and echoing back to you by way of reinforcement the positive comments that you make about their product and the negative comments that you occasionally make about rival products.    But none of the sales people that we encountered appeared to appreciate the power of silence.   Perhaps the need to rush in and fill any silence with talk (even if quite meaningless) is perceived as necessary so as not to lose "control" of the situation?

Then, although I guess it's fairly obvious, in every case the discussion quickly turned to the strengths of their own product.   One brand stressed the amount of room in the vehicle (in a segment where space is often at a premium).   In another case, the strength of the brand seemed to include its competitive pricing.  Contrary to my earlier post, the discussion in this case very quickly turned to the "bottom line".  However, I wasn't really impressed when, in one instance, the discussion turned within minutes to the good range of colours available, merely because we had touched on this.

Why did we chose the car that we settled on?    Obviously a combination of factors.   Probably almost any car in the class would have sufficed, so by the time we got to this one (which wasn't on our initial "short list"), we were looking at details such as overall design, internal fitout and appearance, on-going costs (RACV ratings were helpful here) and, to be frank, controls that weren't too complex.  This vehicle also came with a couple of "nice-to-have" features (cruise control and reversing camera) and, at the end of the day, price was a factor.   It didn't use premium fuel and the turning indicator wand was on the side we're used to (minor factors, I know, but....).  In short, when a decision has to be made between a number of candidates almost any of which would be suitable, in the end it all comes down to little details and just a slight negative is all it takes to remove a possibility from the short list.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

"Tell them to get Lost"

Brian Thacker was, it seems, a backpacker in the early 80s or thereabouts, and for some strange reason (perhaps to refind his youth after a marriage bust-up?), he decided to traipse around South East Asia in 2011 using the original 1975 Lonely Planet South East Asia on a Shoestring as his only guidebook.  In the introduction, he states that the idea came to him after sitting beside Lonely Planet's co-founder, Tony Wheeler (who, with his wife Maureen, was the author of the original guidebook) at a book launch.

The book is a litany of attempts to track down old backpacker hotels and restaurants (with mixed success), along with price comparisons (in some cases, not all that different) and comments ranging from the insightful to outright disparaging.   It verges on the monotonous:  the reaction of taxi-drivers being shown a map from a 1975 guidebook is pretty predictable.

Along the way he meets up with lady who he travels with for a short time (and who he apparently subsequently married).   In a couple of instances, she encourages him to stay at slightly more up-market places.   In spite of this, the book contains comments such as, "It took Beth about an hour to repack her bag every morning ... she just stood around scratching her head, wondering how everything would fit back into her bag (which seemed to contain 'products' for every part of the body)."   And apparently she proof-read the manuscript!

I did learn (page 272) that there is now a new breed of "flashpackers" who no longer take long-distance buses and the like, on the basis that there's not much sense paying $20 for a 10 hour bus ride when you can fly there on a low cost carrier for $25.   And "flashpacker" hostels don't have 27 bed dorms, but have clean rooms, made-up beds, bars and restaurants.  You get the impression that the original generation of back-packers don't wholeheartedly approve of innovations such as these - they prefer to wear with pride the mental scars caused by the hardships they suffered (and, in Thacker's case, voluntarily submitted to again in the course of writing this book).

It has some interesting bits, but overall the target audience for this book seems to be former backpackers who want to engage in a bit of nostalgia .... not really my scene!

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

True Minds

There was a full house, and the audience enjoyed the humour.  But we thought True Minds at MTC was a series of one-liners in search of a plot!

As usual, we hadn't searched out the reviews before we saw it (well, what's the point, the tickets were booked months ago), but in retrospect, this one is pretty much on the money.  Yes, it was all funny enough - there are lots of laughs as the play makes fun of just about everyone.  The leftie, the right winger, the grown-old hippie, the social climber, the substance abuser, you name it, they're all there.

But at the end of the day, we thought the News review hit it on the head:  the characters and the story are fairly two-dimensional, and the drama seems to get lost in the flurry of arguments that often turn into shouting matches or drunken rants.

Monday, 13 May 2013

Mothers' Day

A took us to dinner at Remy for Mothers' Day.    A whole range of tapas (all good!) followed by some of their great deserts.   The place was busy but the service held up and even though the tables were a little squishy, that's just part of the atmosphere.

We had a great evening.


Saturday, 11 May 2013

In the market for a car

We're in the market for a new car.   It's probably overdue, but we've held off from getting one until now because the purchase process is so time-consuming.    It is, of course, tempting, just to rush into the nearest dealer and say, "I'll have one of those, and please can I have a blue one".   However, there are so many cars to choose from, you feel that you have to research the various possibilities on the internet, then you have to inspect at least some of them.  This leads to a test drive .... and so on.

However, at this stage, there are two aspects of the car-buying process that have begun to annoy me.

First is the lack of price transparency.     Life would be so much easier if every car had a price tag on it.  Instead, we're given a "ball-park" figure, and told, "Of course, there are good deals at the moment so the price is negotiable".  While I have got to the stage of gently prodding for an indicative final figure, I can't quite bring myself to ask the sales person for their "best and final price" until we're ready at least to seriously consider their car.  Perhaps I'm too soft?  

The other issue that bugs me is that you become locked into the first sales person who latches on to you when you walk into the showroom.  Once this occurs, apparently the commission-driven etiquette is that no other sales person will deal with you.    In one particular dealership, we were left abandoned when the sales person who initially spoke to us left us to deal with another customer (who, admittedly, really was on the verge of buying).  In hindsight, we ought to have gone to the reception desk and asked for someone else to help us.  Instead, we eventually walked out, with the strong impression that the dealership would prefer to lose the opportunity for any sale at all (which it did) rather than disturb the culture that a particular sales person seems to "own" the customer.  We ended up deleting this brand from our list of "possibles":  while the car didn't appeal, the fact that no attempt was made to "talk up" its virtues obviously didn't help.

A variation on this is where the sales person tells you that their day off is, say, Wednesday, and so if we want to follow up, please call either before or after this day.

We seem to forget that we're the customer and so we acquiesce in both these situations.   Disturbingly, it seems to show elements of the "Stockholm syndrome"!

Footnote - since preparing the above post, we have in fact committed to a car.  More about this later.

Friday, 10 May 2013

Plane trees

Plane trees are much favoured by Councils for street plantings.   I suppose this is because they're so tough!    They're not unattractive, being green in summer and colourful in autumn.

But when they drop their leaves, they create a big mess in the gutters!

Thursday, 9 May 2013


We attended Nata's Slava this week.    As usual, lots of great food, all carefully prepared.  So much work!

It was a good evening, and it was nice to catch up with family and friends.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Eating Indian at Milan

A group of us had dinner at Milan, in Kew.   This is an Indian restaurant, in Cotham Road, just along from the corner of High Street.   This is the intersection that those of us who knew the area long ago still refer to as "Kew Post Office", even though the post office itself has long since moved.
But I digress.  We started with some samosas and mushrooms, then had a variety of mains, chosen in conjunction with advice from the waiter.   That's the good thing about eating Indian in a group, you can mix the dishes up in terms of styles and types of food.   It was all very satisfactory, even though I didn't take too much notice of just what it was that we had.   And the prices are reasonable, too.  We had a discount card, but even if you don't have one of these, there are "saver deals" on the brochure outside the door that you can pick up as you go in.

The only think to watch for is the parking, as the side streets seem to be permit zones.   However, we had no problems parking in Cotham Road itself, just a little way up from the restaurant.

For the record, we were told that "Milan" means "meeting place" in the language spoken by the restaurant people.  I was going to say, in "Indian", but obviously that's meaningless, hence my inelegant compromise!

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Lunch at Yarra Glen

We had a great catch-up and L and G's place at Yarra Glen:   lots of news to share, L's cooking was terrific and there were some nice wines to share.  
Looking down the street at Yarra Glen

I watched my drinking, but even so, I was a little relieved that I didn't have to put the matter to the test when, coming home,  the cars in front of us were tested at the breath-test site, but we were waved past !

Monday, 6 May 2013

Windows 8

To cut a long story short:   I thought my old computer (or, at least, the hard drive) was nearing the end of its useful life, so after some research, I ended up with a new computer.   As it happens, it seems that my old computer may not have been quite as close to its end as I feared, but I have decided to persevere with the new one anyway.

The changeover has involved a little trauma, but perhaps not as much as I feared it would.    The biggest issue has been attempting to get used to Windows 8.   Most of the computers I  considered offered only Windows 8.

To put it bluntly, yuk!   Windows 8 is designed for touch screen tablets.   Although most of the familiar Windows features are still embedded in it, the reconfiguration of the Start arrangements makes Windows 8 less than optimal for a conventional computer.   In particular, Windows 8 doesn't come with an option to allow you to use the previous Start menu.   While it's not too hard to avoid the Start screen and work from a familiar desktop, sometimes you just have to go to the Start menu - for example, to turn your computer off!    There you have to negotiate the strangely-named "Charms" to find (eventually) the "power off" button.

I am still working my way through these issues, and live in hope that a service pack may be issued that reinstates the possibility of opting for the traditional Start screen (rumours of this exist in cyber).  Otherwise, I may be tempted to install one of the non-Microsoft patches that offer to do this, something that so far I have been reluctant to do in view of some negative comments that I have come across about these on the internet.

Saturday, 4 May 2013

Instant garden

They're doing some building work at a couple of small houses down the street from us.  It seems that the work is close to completion, because front gardens have appeared, as if from nowhere!

Friday, 3 May 2013

The Eureka Flag

I see that the original Eureka flag has been moved to a new home.  

It has been tucked away in the Ballarat Art Gallery, and many visitors (especially if they're heading for a special exhibition) may not have been aware that it was there.   Although we found it when we visited the gallery, it was almost by chance that we did so.

No doubt it will get greater prominence at the new "Museum of Australian Democracy" at Sovereign Hill. 

Thursday, 2 May 2013

The Maglev train

Our city tour of Shanghai included a return trip on the Maglev train.   It's certainly fast.  It reached 431 kmh for a short time, but it takes a bit of time to wind up to this speed and then to slow down again as it passes the other train before arriving at the airport.   It gets to from the airport to its city terminal in the Pudong area (which is some distance from the downtown Shanghai area) in less than 8 minutes. 

Contrary to some reports,  our trip was well patronised, although it must be said that were nearly as many tourists as there were airline passengers!

Pudong terminal

It all seems a bit "over-the-top" for such a short line, and obviously an airport to city connection isn't the optimal use of the technology.   I understand that there's a bit of history to it, and that the line is regarded as a "demonstration" line:    see Wikipedia.



Wednesday, 1 May 2013

"Good" restaurants

I see that Attica in Ripponlea been ranked as one of the world's top 50 restaurants (at number 21) in the "World's 50 Best Restaurants"  (as published by Restaurant Magazine) (report here), with only one other restaurant in Australia being in this group (at number 48).

Full credit to Attica for achieving this distinction, but I'm not sure that this has much relevance to me. For one thing,  I assume there are all sorts of lists of "good" restaurants, and in the case of this particular list, the more members of the "Academy" of voters that the restaurant serves, the better are its chances.

But returning to the issue:  I guess the question is, what does one look for in a restaurant?   Ambiance, service and so on, yes, but also food you can eat and enjoy.    I guess it's clear that I don't qualify as  a "foodie", who (as I understand it) looks for taste sensations, unusual techniques and flavours and a "wow" presentation.  Attica's chef's inclination to "the foraged and found, the wild and the woolly" apparently helps his cause.

Potato cooked for 12 hours in the earth in which it was grown
Good on Attica for doing well in their world.  However, with no disrespect to them, I  looked through their gallery, and I have to say that I wasn't on my way as soon as possible to Ripponlea.  I'll leave it to others to eat "Potato cooked in the earth it was grown" [sic, I guess chefs don't have to have great grammar], "Walnut in its shell" and suchlike.