Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Council logic

In a nearby street, there are parking restrictions intended to allow a window of opportunity for the street sweeper.   These one-hour "no parking" restrictions apply one day for one side, a different day for the other side.  They're rigorously enforced, even though the sweeper doesn't come every week or if it has passed  (the expression "easy pickings" comes to mind), so woe betide the resident or visitor who has a lapse of memory.

In the same street, the parked cars represent quite an obstacle to the use of the the rubbish trucks with their mechanised arms.   It would be logical, would it not, to collect the rubbish on one of the days when the restriction applies for the street sweeper?   Nope, you've guessed it - the bins are emptied on one of the other three working days!

Tuesday, 30 July 2013


We recently ate again at Dalmatino.   This has a Dalmatian menu and a lively atmosphere (in fact, some in our group thought it on the noisy side).  The food was definitely authentic,  generous serves and nicely presented.

Authentic stuffed peppers (photo from Trip Advisor)
The service lacked a little at times.  Although our Nepalese (!!) waitress certainly got full marks for effort, the restaurant was full which obviously meant that the place was operating to its limit.

Port Melbourne is a little out of our way, and the parking isn't always easy, but we went with friends and the logistics worked well.


Monday, 29 July 2013

Betting on the footy

Walking past the TAB last week, I see that you can bet on just about anything!

Gold Coast for premiers.....????

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Travelling in Australia

I understand that the Australian tourism industry faces challenges, especially in the area of labour costs.   However, there are two particular aspects of the Australian scene that I was reminded of while on our recent trip to the Gold Coast.

The first is the common requirement for 10 am checkouts.    In my experience, the accommodation industry in many other parts of the world seems to survive on an 11 am checkout time, yet in Australia 10 am seems to be the standard - and there are often prominent (unsubtle) reminders of this in the rooms.

On the Yangtze - with access to the internet!
The second is that free (or even modestly priced) wi fi in hotels and apartments is still, unfortunately, the exception in Australia.    This is in contrast to many other parts of the world, including many hotels in Europe and even China.  During our time in China, every hotel we stayed in had free internet access (although in one case, it was wired).    Even when cruising the Yangtze, internet was available, albeit that there was a modest charge.  I was told that the remoteness of some parts of the river meant that it couldn't always be guaranteed (but in fact I had no real issues).

Yes, there's a certain amount of self-interest in my comments, and I guess there would be some cost if changes to these policies were to be implemented - but it's hard to imagine that these would be very great yet the benefit to tourists would be significant.

Friday, 26 July 2013

Australian stamps

I've previously mentioned that I'm in the course of selling my father's stamp collection.  The process is on-going, and for the time being I'm holding on to some parts of it, in the optimistic hope that, if I sort it out a little, I might get a slightly better return.

One part that I've retained is a lot of post-decimal currency (that is, after 1966) Australian stamps.   These are unused, and in good condition.  My Dad obviously bought these up from time to time, perhaps in the expectation that, over time, they would rise in value.    But it seems he wasn't the only person with this idea!   I've been reliably informed that, if most of these stamps were to be sold, we would be lucky to achieve half their face value.  For example, in a current auction catalogue,  one lot containing thousands of stamps is described as "two large folios of mint decimals with values to $2...." [including some particular items].   The face value is given as approximately $1000.   The auction estimate is a mere $450.  
Mis-prints, as above, can be valuable
Yet these stamps remain valid for postage purposes in Australia!    In other words, the best way of realising the value of these stamps is to stick them on to letters (which some people do)!

I'm told that there are particular stamps that are reasonably valuable, and of course, if you wish to buy almost any individual stamp from a dealer, the retail price will be more than the face value - but it's a different story if you're a seller!

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Dight's Falls

I had never seen Dight's Falls in spite of them being so well known to Melburnians.    We recently overcame this deficiency in my experience.  I must admit that I was underwhelemed by the concrete structure, the noise from the nearby Eastern Freeway and the channel-like nature of Merri Creek as it joins the Yarra at this point.  There was a lot of water flowing, which perhaps meant that we didn't see the rapids at their best.

To top it all off, Melbourne Water are doing some work in the area.    I have now read on Wikipedia that this includes the construction of a new fishway to assist migratory fish.   Just where this is incorporated in the works currently underway is not immediately apparent.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

The Mousetrap

The Mousetrap is, of course, the longest running play in modern history.  We saw it years ago in London.   I can remember seeing it, but I couldn't remember the storyline.  Hence, I was most interested to come across the story on which it's based, (Three Blind Mice) in a compilation of Agatha Christie's shorter works (some just a few pages long, others a little longer).

There's nothing that jumps out at you, when reading the written story, to suggest that it might form the basis of such a long-running play, apart from the fact that it's "vintage" Agatha Christie.   However, my memory has been refreshed as to "who dun it"!

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Keeping the pasenger informed - airline style

Our flight from the Gold Coast was slightly delayed.    Apparently the cause was bad weather earlier in the day in Melbourne.  I guess the airlines can't be held responsible for that - although it does seem to me that their scheduling these days is so tight that no margin exists for the slightest contingency.

We weren't travelling Tiger, but I noted with interest that a scheduled 10 am Tiger arrival hadn't turned up by the time we were in the airport, around about 1 pm - and no expected time was shown.  I drew my own conclusions about that, and will continue to pay a few extra dollars to use another (any other) airline!

But the point that concerned me was that, shortly before the scheduled time of departure of our flight (obviously after the scheduled time of boarding), an announcement was made that boarding would be delayed by 15 minutes.    At this point in time, the plane that was to operate our flight hadn't even arrived!    The eventual delay was a little over 30 minutes. It's not the delay that troubles me, it's the fact that airlines seem consistently to understate the duration of the delays.

Obviously in such a precision environment as air travel, the airlines are well aware of the true state of affairs.   My rule-of-thumb, when I hear an announcement about a delay, is to double the announced delay, and this recent experience confirms that approach.

Monday, 22 July 2013


Sitting at the Gold Coast airport waiting to board a delayed flight reminded me that I have been meaning to blog about the making of announcements at railway stations and at airports.    Doesn't anyone tell those responsible to s-l-o-w down when speaking into a microphone?

Waiting for that delayed plane(s)
At airports, shrillness and volume seem to be regarded as the key to ensuring that the message is conveyed.  Well, I beg to disagree.    Slower and more deliberate delivery would help a lot - along with keeping the message simple.

Metro of course are worse.    Yes, the automated announcements are quite good, but they're often not used when there are changes.   Not only are their human announcements almost indecipherable at times, being delivered rapidly, but they're often incomplete, leaving out important information such as whether a particular train will operate as an express.  Yet these are the announcements that matter the most, since they are made when disruptions have occurred.

If those of us who are accustomed to English as spoken in Australia sometimes struggle, I hate to think how non-English speaking tourists manage!

Saturday, 20 July 2013


We ate at a number of different places around Broadbeach - Thai, Italian, Indian and French (very nice!) - but of course, for views, the surf clubs can't be beaten.   And the food is often quite good, too.

In this regard, we had lunch at the Tugun SLSC on one occasion, and dropped in again on the day of our departure for a coffee to fill in time on the way to the airport.

You could get used to life here.  In fact, judging by some of the other patrons, there are a few seniors around who have done just that!

Friday, 19 July 2013

.... returning home

It's nice to have a few days away, but it's also good to return to familiar surroundings (and internet access at a respectable speed)!

Of course there are a few little issues:    the flight was slightly delayed (not a big deal, I guess);     charges at the airport long term car park have increased (AND there's now a 2% surcharge on credit card payments ...not sure if there's a debit card option?); and there were NO messages on the answering machine!    The latter is a bit of a blow to the ego.  Didn't anyone miss us?   (Just joking coz obviously everyone was reading this blog and knew we weren't here!)

EDIT - it seems that, had we been travelling a little later, we might have been caught up in more extensive delays: 

Thursday, 18 July 2013

The "State of Origin" match

We had had a great dinner with S at a nice French restaurant and were walking back to our accommodation.   At several of the bars and cafes, crowds were gathered and loud roars were to be heard.   Apparently we were in the very small minority of people in town who weren't pre-occupied with the "State of Origin" match!

Next morning, I saw at least one person out and about in a maroon jersey, and certainly the snippets of discussion I overheard in the coffee places was to the effect Queensland's win was in accordance with the natural order of things.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Tamborine Mountain

Because our booking was in two components – one being “time share” (a gift - thanks, V!) and the other being direct with the resort (which we arranged to supplement the gift), a physical room change was required. Odd, but that's the way it is. At least we got a fresh set of towels!  So we're now in a different room. It's even more spacious than the resort room that we had, but the outlook is “courtyard” view (no real problems with that) and.....err....there's no door on the bathroom. We'll live with the latter (there is a door between the bedroom/bathroom area and the living area), but I just don't “get” what designers are thinking of when they come up with ideas such as this for accommodation that's used by a transient population. Sure, there may be people out there who go in for this type of arrangement, but surely it would be better to provide a door and let those who so desire leave it open?

Rain forest
We took a drive up the mountain to Tamborine in the afternoon. All a bit over-rated, we thought. We took one look at the “Gallery Walk”(a shopping strip!) and moved on, leaving it to the captive tour groups. However, we did the MacDonald rain forest circuit, which was good. Lots of dense sub-tropical rain forest, complete with muddy paths. Shortly after we completed the circuit, there was an extremely heavy shower. We were very glad not to have encountered this while in the forest, but unfortunately it dampened the idea of finding the lookout (although we had seen some great views on the way up).
We ran into heavy peak hour traffic on the way back. We were glad of our GPS – but for some reason we took a wrong turn. I'm sure that I followed the whether we were misdirected or whether I mis-heard remains an open question! And it certainly missed a turn close to our destination, but which I made anyway because I was sufficiently familiar with the area to know what had to be done.   So, even with the GPS, there's still room for human initiative - at least until the next generation of these devices arrives!

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Broadbeach Day 2

First full day in Broadbeach, so we had to check the “essentials”! Pacific Fair in the morning, coffee with friends S and G in the afternoon (great to catch up) and the casino (not very impressive) and then dinner at a Thai restaurant in the evening. 
 I was interested to see, while we were having coffee down Nobby Beach way, that erosion is potentially a problem.  Clearly the waves could have a serious effect if there was a severe storm and the tide was high.

Monday, 15 July 2013

To Broadbeach

We're on the Gold Coast for a few days. Domestic air travel always seems to be a hassle these days, or is it just that we travel at the wrong times? Of course, we checked in on-line, but it seems that we hit the Virgin “baggage drop” queue just when it was longest. I thought we had allowed plenty of time, but when – after 25 minutes – we were just about at the counter, those on our flight were pulled out of the line and sent to a special counter. It makes you wonder, doesn't it, why bother waiting in the queue.....just arrive a few minutes before the cut-off time, and be directed to the head of the line?
Apart from the queue issue at the airport, and negotiating the roadworks for the new light rail at Broadbeach, everything went satisfactorily and we've established ourselves in a pleasant apartment complete with “canal” views. We don't see the beach, but it's within walking distance. Just for the record, the casino is even closer, and Pacific Fair isn't too far away.

Broadbeach at dusk
I'm not sure how we're going to fill in our time here. A lot of the attractions are obviously aimed at the “young families” market (there are 34 McDonalds stores listed on the freebie map of the area). However, there are certainly a lot of other restaurants in the Broadbeach area, so it doesn't look as though we'll go hungry!

Saturday, 13 July 2013

Rates of Exchange

We'll be overseas later in the year, and we'll need to have some euros in cash.  It would have been better to have bought them a couple of months back, but I didn't, so I'm accumulating a few now just in case the Australian dollar falls even further.   Walking around the city, I noticed the following rates (to sell currency notes) on offer:
  • Bank C - 0.6566 (and a fee?   Not sure).  This is also the rate used to upload funds on to their "Travel Money Card" product --- but plus another 1% (capped at $15).
  • Bank A - 0.6635 (note sure if there's a fee in addition, this was the ATM rate)
  • Bank B of M - 0.6641 (this was later in the day)
  • Booth in Elizabeth St - 0.6729 (no fee)
  • Travelex - 0.65 (plus a fee!)
  • Booth in Flinders Lane - 0.6847 (no fee).

On a purchase of €200, that's a difference of something over $15 (plus any fee) between the highest and lowest.  I reckon it's worth walking around the corner for that!

Friday, 12 July 2013


I've had a couple of surveys recently.  One was web-based (the request to participate being by email) as a follow up to the car purchase, and other was a phone call.  The phone call was automated and basically started off seeking voting intentions but moved on to the asylum seekers and the "pink batts" issues.

I don't normally respond to surveys of any sort, but in each case I was prepared to make an exception.   In the case of the car purchase survey, I felt that some sort of feedback (positive and negative) was appropriate.  In the case of the voting intentions survey, I was slightly re-assured by the fact that it was automated, and, as we read so much about polls regarding voting intentions, I thought it might be interesting to participate (even though there was no indication whether this particular one was being conducted on behalf of the media, a political party or someone else).

But in each case, after a few preliminary questions, the survey descended into questions that, to my mind, were quite intrusive.   For example, the car survey sought information about income, and the voting intentions survey sought quite detailed information along the lines about who in the household makes decisions about matters such as the purchase of insulation.

However, neither gave an option of, "decline to comment, move on to the next question"!   Needless to say, I drew the line at this type of question.   I think that the voting intention survey may nevertheless have recorded my responses up to the point where I hung up. On the other hand, the car purchase survey never reached a point where I could push the "submit" button, so they missed out on the responses to even the basic questions (as was witnessed by the fact that we received a "follow up" email a week or so later, reminding us that we had not responded).

I guess the people who design these surveys think they know what they're doing - but my own view is that the results they obtain are likely to be representative only of people who are prepared to give out a lot of personal information - and if that's a cross-section of society, then I for one would be very surprised.

Thursday, 11 July 2013

The Recorder Competition

The local Church was the venue for the finals of the Solo Recorder Competition.  I dropped in for a while and was very impressed by the high standard.    Now, as is well known, I am no musician, so perhaps I'm easily impressed, but I don't think I was the only one who thought the standard was very high.

I wonder if the recorder is a little under-rated?   For many of us, our main knowledge of it probably derives from the time we had a short introduction to it while at school.  However, from what I heard, it is quite a versatile instrument.

The commitment of the three finalists, too, was noteworthy.   One is completing his Masters at the Mozarteum University of Salzburg, another is about to move to London to undertake her Masters there and the other is in the final year of a Masters of Music Performance in Sydney.

I didn't hear any of the under 18s, but they also all had impressive credentials.

Footnote:   Although the competition was described as for the "solo" recorder, apparently that means only one recorder, as one of the pieces was accompanied. 

Wednesday, 10 July 2013


Some who know us well may have thought that our household would have been supporting Novak in the Wimbledon final.    But Andy is a really nice guy too, and won a place in our hearts earlier this year.  So, we were relatively relaxed about the outcome .......

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Anti-virus protection

My new computer came with Kaspersky security software.  It was a "free" trial, which meant it kept giving me pop-up menus encouraging me to pay for an on-going subscription.   Time was running out and although I know that the commercial anti-virus programs do a good job, and have sometimes been ranked slightly ahead of the Microsoft and AVG offerings (for example, in Computer Choice magazine), my experience (on another of our computers) has been that Microsoft Security Essentials (MSE) is quite adequate.   Naively or not, I place some store in one of the comments to a PC World article:   "User behaviour is probably more important in preventing infection than which security package you use. If a user frequents sketchy sites and clicks on every link offered, the chance of infection skyrockets no matter what security package is installed".

MSE has been replaced in Windows 8 by an enhanced version of Windows Defender.  So, I thought that before I uninstalled Kaspersky, I'd turn Windows Defender on.   This proved harder than I expected.  In fact, it wasn't possible.   After some time delving into every possible setting, I resorted to googling the issue.  It appears that Kaspersky (like all major security programs, it seems) disables Windows Defender. That is, it not only turns it off, it makes it impossible to turn it on.  According to US-based PC World,  "Microsoft tossed its partners a bone by allowing OEMs to deactivate Windows Defender in order to ship boxed PCs with alternative security solutions installed".   

Yes, I'm aware that it's not a good idea to run two security programs at the one time.   Just the same, to remove Windows Defender almost completely from view seems a little extreme.  But I digress..... .

It was, therefore, with some apprehension that I proceeded to uninstall Kaspersky (even though I read (here) that it ought not to be a problem).  Holding my breath,  I then sought out Windows Defender on the computer, and was gratified not only to find it but to see that, perhaps as part of the uninstall of Kaspersky (or perhaps it's a feature of Windows 8?), it had in fact been activated.  This seemed to be contrary to the article in PC World, but on re-reading it, I realised the article was referring to the situation where the Kaspersky product was allowed to lapse, rather than where it is actively uninstalled 9 (as I had done).    The virus definitions were not up-to-date, but rather than wait for the automatic update to kick in, I manually up-dated these.  Since then, so far, so good...... 

Monday, 8 July 2013

Beating the Bounds

We attended a function at the Melbourne Savage Club during which we were told about some of the artifacts and paintings in the Club's extensive collection.   Unfortunately the Biwat figure which was recently auctioned is no longer held by the Club, but it's obvious that there are still a great number of interesting pieces in the remaining collection.

In addition to the extensive collection of artifacts (many but not all from Papua New Guinea and the Pacific islands), there are so many paintings that there's hardly room to display them all.   Australian Impressionist painters are well represented; several were members of the Club.    Some of the more contemporary pieces are great, too, including one of Menzies and a recent addition Geoffrey Blainey.

(Apologies for the poor quality of the images).

A past president

Saturday, 6 July 2013


Is mistletoe a bad thing?   The plane trees in nearby streets have lost their leaves and now a number of mistletoe growths have become obvious.   When I was growing up, we would shake our heads when we saw mistletoe, thinking that it was "bad" thing in that it could lead to the death of the host tree.

However, I see that an article on the Australian Native Plants Society's website takes a much more positive approach.   Not only does it state that the mistletoes we have are native plants, but it suggests that mistletoe is misunderstood!

On reflection, it does seem the statement that mistletoe provides better food value for birds and even possums than the host tree is likely to be accurate  - it wouldn't be hard to provide more nutrition than the plane trees in the street, especially at this time of year!

Friday, 5 July 2013

Around Australia

I went to a computer group meeting recently where the speaker was a person who had ridden his bicycle 17,000 kms around Australia - and had kept in touch with his students over the internet as well as used a range of other rather sophisticated (to my mind) computer applications from very remote locations.   However, it seems a publicly-accessible blog wasn't high on his list!

Amongst other interesting tidbits of information I picked up - apart from the strong resolution never to do anything remotely like this myself - was that, if you do decide to ride around Australia, you do it anti-clockwise.   It's well known that this is because you'll have the wind behind you as you cross the Nullarbor.   But the speaker had an additional reason:  because you're on the left hand side of the road, he reckoned it's 16 km shorter in that direction!

On a somewhat related note, another former colleague and her husband, with their three children, are currently getting to the end of an extensive outback tour, although in their case they're using a Prado and camper trailer.   They have maintained an impressive and regular blog.

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Good Cafe Guide (2)

Perhaps I blogged too soon!   I mused on the need for the Good Cafe Guide;  does anyone actually use it as a reference, or is it just an interesting read?

We were in the Beatty Avenue precinct and were wondering where we ought to have our coffee.  There are several possibilities down that way, but we've mostly patronised just a couple of them.  I then remembered that at the far end of the Beatty Avenue strip (a little removed from the main part) was Treat, and that it had been written up in Good Cafe Guide.   Because of this, we thought, we'll try it out instead of one of the establishments that we generally patronise (one of which is, in fact, also in the Guide).
Coffee is served through the window or you can sit inside

I couldn't recall the substance of the review, but on re-reading it when we got home, it was reasonably in line with our experience.  We liked the coffee and cake, but we passed on the "detox salad".

So, yes, Good Cafe Guide does in fact influence behaviour after all!

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Urn Burial

It seems that Kerry Greenwood's detective, Phryne Fisher, has been around for a while (and has even been in a TV series), but I've only recently come across her.   In Urn Burial, Miss Fisher is staying at a full-on country house with a full complement of servants in the 1920s - reminiscent of Agatha Christie, I suppose, although the setting is rural Victoria (near the Buchan Caves), not England. And, in the acknowledgements, the author mentions Agatha Christie.   But Miss Fisher is no Miss Marple!   Her attitude to life is very much in today's era, with a Chinese male companion in tow and a mission that includes uniting a pair of gay lovers.  As the blurb says, "Phryne Fisher, scented and surprisingly ruthless, is not one to let sleuthing an horrific crime get in the way of an elegant dalliance".

This is a detective story, mystery/suspense thriller and romance novel all wrapped up in one as it is emerges that just about all the characters aren't what they seem and/or have secrets to be revealed.  

Readable though this book is, it's not really to my taste, notwithstanding the setting in Victoria.   Too many threads to untangle (could the cast of characters have been slightly reduced and the remaining characters developed a little more?) plus romance isn't my genre.  However, perhaps I'm in a minority here.  Obviously Phryne (how do you pronounce that?) has a following, as I see that there are now 19 titles in the series (with another one due in October).

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Marc Rich and "traders"

I see that Marc Rich died on 26 June 2013, aged 78.   Here's a link to the entry about him in Wikipedia.

Marc Rich was brought up and educated in the US and his early career included a stint at Philipp Brothers (as it was then known).   In 1974 he and co-worker Pincus Green set up their own company in Switzerland, Marc Rich & Co. AG, which has over the years morphed into what is now Glencore Xtrata Plc. Nicknamed "the King of Oil" by his longtime business partners, Rich has been credited with having created the spot market for crude oil in the early 1970s.   He was controversial for having traded oil with Iran, allegedly in defiance of US sanctions, and by some accounts, for "evading" large amounts in US taxes.   I've also heard that Marc Rich & Co made enormous profits during the breakup of the former USSR, trading commodities sourced there, the rumours suggesting that the source of such commodities wasn't always entirely clear.

No doubt others have and will write about Marc Rich and his colleagues.  My personal involvement wasn't with Marc Rich, of course, but I had some contact with the Marc Rich entity when it first started in Melbourne.  The people there most certainly had a "trader" mentality, and I clearly remember the disdainful attitude of the traditional miners to the development of this mentality.   They didn't like the fact that traders made money without "adding value".   I guess many of us would still endorse that view, but for better or for worse the traders and other intermediaries seem to be here to stay.  It's interesting, though, that the wheel appears to have turned somewhat, in that Glencore Xtrata now has very significant investments in production assets.

Monday, 1 July 2013

When is a restaurant not a "restaurant"?

The French, it seems, are getting upset about restaurants not preparing their own food on the premises, so there's  suggestion that, if this occurs in an establishment, it won't be able to call itself a "restaurant" (the link is to The Telegraph, but the article was syndicated in the AFR).

Guess the word "food lounge" wouldn't work in France?
You can imagine it, an army of inspectors out there attempting to decide whether a particular establishment had crossed some illusive line between using fresh ingredients which arrived “frozen or vacuum-packed” (which would be OK) as opposed to using "pre-prepared" food.  And would the proposed rule be breached if one item on the menu was deemed to be pre-prepared, but the others weren't?