Thursday, 20 December 2012

Playing with food words

Meatloaf - but I won't do that.

Family GP had a bit of a riot around the table the other night.

I'd managed to pull off one of those meals that was both made up on the spot (along general guidelines provided by Mrs G) and evoked actual "wow"s from the minions. I don't like to brag, but I like telling you how impressed they were. OK, I'm bragging.

I'd made individual meatloaves in silicon muffin forms. In the mix was your standard onion, beef mince, salt and pepper to taste, but I added a very finely grated carrot, some finely minced mushroom, and left out the egg and breadcrumbs, which are really just stand-ins for reasonable food. I also added a good dollop of hoisin sauce to the mix, and another sneaky one at the bottom of each form, so that it bubbled up through the stuff as it baked.

I don't think this is exactly restaurant-grade anything, but the result impressed.

Conversation moved to how it could possibly be improved. The first suggestion was for a little blob of fetta in the middle. Then the fetta had to be poked inside a potato gem (a tater tot, for any Yanks reading) before the meatloaf mix was formed around it. Then the fetta-stuffed potato gem needed a bacon blanket before disappearing inside the meatloaf.

About then we got sidetracked by how it should be described. Following the example of the "turducken" (a turkey stuffed with a duck, itself stuffed with a chicken), and after much hilarious experimentation, we settled on "me-baco-tater-fetta-loaf" to describe this entirely fanciful concoction.

Nobody at any point actually thought we would ever make such a thing, it was just a silly conversation where everybody got to throw in a ridiculous idea and see where it led.

Do other people have dinner table conversations like this? I remember well the terrible punning conversations I and my brothers (and Dad) would have when we were young, while our Mother groaned and sighed. When I married Mrs G, Mum advised her to ignore us when we started to try to out-do one another with ever more terrible puns. Anything else just encourages us. We still do it, because the only encouragement we need is each other.

There's a harmless, silly kind of fun in creative wordplay. I'd much rather be collaborating in the naming of a "me-baco-tater-fetta-loaf" with my minions than talking about the weather, or what they might have seen on television.

There's also laughter.

It's so good to laugh with your minions. The healing power of laughter should not be underestimated.

For all the trials we've faced this year, getting around the table and being silly quickly restores a bit of perspective.

Mrs G and I are blessed to have families which are only mildly dysfunctional. For those of you less fortunate, yet who are obliged at this time of year to share meals with the odd people you're related to, I hope you're able to spot some absurdity and run with it.

You never know who'll try to keep up.

Monday, 10 December 2012

Strange victories

Tomorrow I'll be eating leftover crumbed fish and potato gems, and this is a victory.

Those with even a passing familiarity with the kitchen will realise that leftover crumbed fish fillets and potato gems don't react well to microwaving at lunchtime the next day. They might resemble the cheap tastiness of last night but they by no means resemble the exciting crunchy texture that makes it worth taking things out of the freezer and treating them to heat in a way that makes them acceptable on the plate.

And yet I will be thankful, and here's why.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

On Pro-Am Theatre

There's some bitter chatter going on in Canberra's amateur theatre community about Free-Rain Theatre's decision to import professional leads for its upcoming production of "Phantom of the Opera".

Umbrage has been taken that the decision implies that the production team believes there is noone amongst Canberra's performers who can do justice to the lead parts of the Phantom and Christine. There is also the perceived injustice of unpaid performers sharing the stage with paid professionals.

This is a conversation which could turn quite ugly, if it hasn't done already, and I thought I'd take the time to lay out the pros and cons and give you my take on the situation.

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Ear-worm central

I am really pleased to have discovered, and re-discovered, some fantastic music over the past couple of weeks. I've also been introduced to an incredible ear-worm.

I have always valued diverse sounds and unique musical perspectives, and I am ashamed to have forgotten how great James Morrison's album "Manner Dangerous" sounds.  Great, modern jazz without the bebop or ridiculous discordance.  Just smooth, rhythmic wonderfulness. I was mucking about on Spotify and blundered into the James Morrison canon, and all of a sudden there I was, soaring up and down with an album which I hadn't heard in probably 20 years. It was a trip and a pleasure and a truly moving experience.

Also in the last two weeks my attention was drawn to the existence of the Queen Symphony, a full symphonic work based on, but by no means a simple orchestration of, themes and melodies from the Queen catalogue.

What a great piece of work that is. I've said to Mrs G that the Third Movement needs to be played as the recessional at my funeral, it is that great.

So I've got some great tunes buzzing around my head.

If you missed Melbourne Metro's public service announcement in the last two weeks, I'd like to know what rock you've been hiding under. Nevertheless, if you've just crawled out from that rock, take the time to look at this. Sublimely ridiculous and horribly, viciously catchy. Minion X has been walking around inaccurately singing the chorus for a few days, which both annoys me and gives me back the ear-worm. But he's singing and recalling stuff and I don't have it in me to stop him.

Unfortunately if you go looking for that video on Youtube now it's pretty difficult to find because of the swiftly growing number of parodies, videos teaching you how to play it, karaoke versions and other spin-offs. Someone's even put together an hour-long loop of the original.

Imagine subliminally giving that ear-worm to someone by looping the loop (so to speak) quietly next to them as they sleep!

(No, dear, I'm not even remotely considering doing this! Really.)

All of which reminds me of the ultimate ear-worm antidote, which I share with you here for free: Kylie Minogue's "I Should Be So Lucky". Memorable enough to get stuck in your brain; forgettable enough to disappear pretty quickly. Hey, presto! Ear-worm begone!

You're welcome!

Friday, 16 November 2012

Brand loyalty

Moving to a new town sometimes reveals some unusual problems.

I was unpacking the dishwasher this afternoon and, as I packed away some Tupperware into the Cavernous Plastics Drawer of Wonder  it occurred to me that there wasn't as much there as I had expected. Indeed, it appeared there has been an amount of Tupper-attrition over the past 12-18 months and something ought to be done about it.

Which led me to the realisation that we are yet to make contact with the local Tupper-pusher.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Hosing down political discourse

Janus ... pic: AP

There's no kind way to say this, so I'll just come out with it:

some of you are annoying me.

I was brought up reasonably properly, and I was taught not to say anything if I didn't have anything nice to say. So, I'm not trying to insult anyone (even if that's a by-product), I'm just trying to explain why I may appear to be mounting some kind of attack when I firmly believe that being mean is never nice.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

The Joy of Platta Paket*

Whaddaya mean, "the wall's not plumb"?!  GAAAHH!!!

As mentioned elsewhere, we've been doing a major kitchen renovation here in Bendigo.

And when I say major, I mean we completely demolished the old kitchen, threw out all appliances bar the fridge and microwave, re-sheeted parts of the wall, and built a whole new kitchen in its place.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Return of the son of blog rides again

"... Mother-in-Law's [sic] 10c extra a kilo"
Charming sign I saw in a local butcher's window.
(Not actually relevant to this post, but too good not to use!)

OK, I’m back.

What next?

That was the same question I faced back in August when I decided I needed to tell the little niggle at the back of my brain which chanted “you have to write a post, you have to write a post” to go take a hike, I’ll bloody well write something when I feel like it and, just to spite you, I’m going to put my fingers in my ears and say “lalalalalalalalala” until you stop.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012


I'm taking a little break from writing posts for this blog.

Quite aside from a lack of topics to inspire a burst of writing, I still haven't managed to replace this rather unreliable laptop, and the precious few waking hours I have with the family on a typical weekday require my personal attendance.

I'll be back once the muse returns and clears away the excuses.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Average Australian Olympians

Being an Australian during the 2012 London Olympics is a very mixed experience.

We have a romanticised idea of sport as a central element of our national psyche, and the expectation that we will "punch above our weight" is ever present. This both drives and underpins an amazingly parochial television coverage, where the viewer is sped from one event to another, with barely time to place each athlete into context - and we're only ever focusing on the Australian athletes. You'll only see a medal presentation when there's an Australian on the dais. It makes annoying viewing.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Cruel and unusual punishment

Mrs G and I were of a mind when it came to naming our minions.

We didn't want to saddle them with a name they would end up hating, so their second names had to be "sensible", a back-up name by which they could choose to be known. Where possible, their names had to be capable of dignified shortening. Their initials could not be allowed to spell anything rude or even pronounceable.

Also, they needed two middle names, after we were told a story by a photographer we met, about the police knocking on his door one night with a warrant for the arrest of someone with his exact three part name and a birth-date in the same month who, nevertheless, was not him. We figured an extra middle name wouldn't be that hard to come up with, and should prevent any such thing happening to our children.

We now joke that, should we have a "surprise child", we're over being responsible. A female daughter will be named "Epiphany Persephone Stephanie Rhapsody Serendipity ..." and on we go inventing further middle names on the theme until we've made each other laugh enough. It's our own "Truly, Madly, Deeply" game. A male child will be named simply "Minion". But we're joking. We wouldn't actually do that.

It is from this perspective that I see the naming of many babies these days as cruel and unusual punishment.

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Blowing out the cobwebs

A couple of weeks ago, in response to this post, one of my brothers suggested I get on the motorbike and explore the local countryside a bit. Find a bakery, have a coffee, that sort of thing.

The rest of the family is away in Canberra this weekend and, having done the laundry, swept up, and seen all the livestock to rights, I thought "why not?" I grabbed the road atlas off the shelf, worked out a quick route, tossed the dogs outside with a treat, and headed out.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Line the budgie-cage!

I just had to share this with all of you.

In Bendigo, regional Victoria, the opening of a multi-storey carpark is not just news, it's news that requires a picture involving the mayor.  This story and picture dominated page 5 of the print edition of  Wednesday's Bendigo Advertiser:

The caption refers to the Mayor "waving his - and the first - parking ticket" (click the image to get a bigger view).

That was Wednesday.  

Today (Thursday), page 2 of the print edition carried this story:

"Rosemary Hill proudly displays her ticket to the new Edward Street car park, the first to be issued ...".

Really?  And Fairfax wonders why its share-price is on life support.

Monday, 23 July 2012

Computer slugfest

It's time to bite the bullet.  Sometime in the next few weeks I'm going to have to replace this computer.

It's a Toshiba Satellite A200 laptop, and it's getting sluggish, poor thing.  Whenever you ask too much of the processor it just throws its metaphorical hands in the air and says "This job's too hard!", and switches off.  To be honest it's always had cooling problems - and for the last six months I've been using a cake cooling tray under it, to ensure it doesn't just shut down when I least expect it.

For example, I just tried to Google the model number for this laptop, to find out how old it really is, and the thing shut down.  (And yes, why would I dig out the documentation when I can Google the result?)  

Enough is enough.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

A splendid day out

A week or two ago we received a letter in the mail from the power company, informing us that the power would be off between 9am and 3.30pm one day coming up. There's a new residential development going in up the road, and they needed to put up some new poles or something.

Usually the lack of power during these hours would not be a problem. On a weekday we're out before nine and none of us is back before 3.30 so, apart from having to reset all those clocks, we wouldn't really notice.

On this occasion, however, the nominated day was a Sunday.

No point in getting all upset. We simply decided we needed to go out for the day.

Today's excursion was to Daylesford.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Tired of browsing

I reckon a lot of blokes reading this will identify with the phenomenon known in the Good Plates family as "shopping fatigue".

In my mind a good shopping trip is a decisive one: a surgical strike, if you will.  The commodity is not just identified.  It is quantified, costed and its whereabouts are determined as closely as possible without actually entering a shop.  Then all that's left to do is go there and get it.  Job done.

When you have to shop cooperatively (e.g. in a marriage), however, it doesn't always work that way.  I love Mrs G dearly and I mean this only as a general observation on the differing approaches that men and women take to shopping, but I don't deal well with the shopping trip in which the objectives and time frame are not well defined.

Friday, 6 July 2012


Honda Moto2 rider Marco Marquez, via

This may come as a surprise to some of you, but I'm actually quite interested in motorsport.

To be specific, Moto2 and Moto3.

It still surprises Mrs G that I'll set the TiVo to record this stuff, and sit down in front of it and actually watch it.  Indeed, I get a little bit weird when I think the TiVo has automatically deleted it before I've watched it.  I never used to be this way.

Monday, 2 July 2012

The flag police (they come to me in my sleep)

I love Australians.

I love the way we maintain that we’re very easy-going while allowing ourselves to get uptight about stuff for no very good reason.

I was musing on this topic as I walked into the office this morning, past the flagpoles which were conspicuously lacking the two officially proclaimed indigenous flags of Australia on this first day of “National Aboriginal and Islander Day of Observance Committee” (NAIDOC) Week.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Making your own luck, and enjoying the profits

Today I had to go to the Bendigo Media Centre.  It’s a strange little place, a combination of very new buildings and horrible brown-brick 1960s buildings, erected in the shadows of the main broadcast transmission towers on a hill near the middle of town.  The centre houses the studios for the local Ten and Austereo networks, so the lobby is full of glossy promotional posters for the network personalities.

On my visit today I particularly enjoyed the posters featuring the local radio announcers.  You have an image in your head of what these people might look like, and it's never, ever accurate.  There's a reason people are told they have a good face for radio, and yet management insists on having them sit for lobby portraits.  The results are often unintentionally hilarious.

Friday, 15 June 2012

Keeping it virtually nice

"It's better to give than to receive."
"You only get out of it what you put into it."
"Nothing ventured, nothing gained."

We've all heard these hackneyed phrases, usually uttered by sainted aunts or well-meaning parents, trying to teach us something about life.

With a lot of social interaction now occurring online I thought it pertinent to observe that these sorts of sentiments apply equally well to social media.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Minion in a million

Happiness in the Good Plates household tonight, with the news our eldest minion has call-backs for four (count them!) parts in her school's production of Annie Jr!

The school puts on a show every December which involves almost all pupils.  It's a K-10 campus, so the lead roles are nominally reserved to Years 9 and 10.  Our Year 8 minion walked into her audition yesterday, Hard Knock Life'd her little socks off, and appears to have made an impression, with call-backs for the parts of Annie, Lily St Regis, Grace and a Boylan Sister!

We're so very proud!  Call backs are tomorrow, so wish her luck!

Monday, 11 June 2012

Make no mistake, hens are vicious: UPDATED

"Daddy, something's wrong with Penny."

It was more the way the words were delivered than the words themselves that filled me with dread and made me put down the wet thing I was about to hang on the clothes line and head for the chook run.

Penny is one of our chickens.  As it happens, she's at the bottom of the pecking order.  When the big, tough chooks want that scrap on the ground, she gets out of the way.  From time to time she cops a peck on the way out.  So, there being something wrong with Penny will almost always have more to do with being bullied than anything else.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Further lessons in communication

The household is a little closer to complete.  We have TV.

We’ve been in this house for six months and the TV is finally working properly, through a newly effective connection to the antenna on the roof.  Setting up the TV is one of the things I like to get done on the first day of a move, so having this fixed feels like another “moving in” step to me.

It’s also a kind of freedom.  For the last six months we’ve had to either settle for whatever had a clear channel or switch off.  Now all the channels are there, and we can choose whether or not to watch them.

Monday, 4 June 2012

Making time for what you want

You know that feeling, when you're frustrated because you want to do something but there’s a bunch of other stuff you need to do first?  And there’s that other feeling, of satisfaction, when you actually get through the “need” stuff and create the opportunity to start the “want” stuff?

I love that second feeling.

Friday, 1 June 2012

I'd rather be happy than timely

Well, here I am again, apologising for not having a story that I wanted to publish.

Last time I did this was Anzac Day.  On that occasion I had grandiose ideas about honour and occasion and ceremony and it just didn't work.  Instead I talked about my Pa, and that worked.

Today I wanted to tell a story about work finances and politics and the public service.  It was a great little story, and I was really happy with how I wrote it, but self-preservation dictated that it get ditched.  It revealed too much and, even though I'm pretty sure nobody from work reads this stuff, it would have been too big a risk to put that one out there.  That story will never see the light of day, because I value my pay-check.

My second-string story was a critique of the quality of contemporary political discourse in the context of the Abbott/gay/boats story.  Seriously, this is what's on the front page now?  The fact that ALP staff are so threatened by the leader of the opposition that they find it necessary to make graphical ad hominem attacks in the safety of their own workplaces?  But the story didn't really work either, and that went down the tubes too.

So I guess I'm here to write about the value of being self-critical.

When you're writing, and trying to adhere to some standards, you have to get tough on yourself.  If I was earning money by the word (like Hugo) I wouldn't have had any qualms about putting up either or both of the stories I'd conceived or written.  But this blog generates no income, and I'm aiming for quality and trying to adhere to some personal principles here (as well as trying to make sure I can keep paying my mortgage).  So, if I'm unhappy with publishing something, whether it be for personal or principled reasons, it doesn't get published.

There's something to be said for applying this approach when using e-mail, or even posting Facebook statuses.  I greatly value the discipline of writing something, saving it in draft, walking away for a few hours and then re-reading it, just to be sure it says what I mean, or feel.  If it doesn't, it either gets revised or ditched.

A thought can be momentary, but consigning something to the internets is forever.

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Screw MTV, I just want my TV

New Television Antenna, Norman Rockwell - via Artchive

Nearly two months ago I wrote about our awful television reception and wondered how long we could avoid not having it seen to.  Well, I've cracked.  I can't stand it any more.

In my head it's like there's no connection to the wider world.  Sure, there are closed networks like Facebook to which I'm connected.  But I can't turn on the TV news with any assurance I'll see it, or tune in to a program that other people are talking about, to see if I like it.  It's like the unfiltered universe is off limits and it feels constricting.  Mrs G says she doesn't like having no choice in the matter, and I agree with that.  It would be fine if we were zealots about it and chose not to watch TV, but being forced to forego the televisual delights is just not working for us.

I reckoned we'd spent enough money on equipment in an attempt to fix this ourselves and, no disrespect to my brother (who has helped us with this so far), it was time to call in an equipped expert.

"Gary", from Raytronics, was here this afternoon.  They offer a free signal check and quote service, so I figured there was nothing to lose by having the guy over.  Fifteen minutes later he had it sussed.  My brother was right about the cable from the mast to the splitter needing replacement.  What he couldn't have assessed was the fact that no power was making it to the mast-head amplifier because the splitter in the roof is also pretty much kaput.  Signal at the antenna is fine, it's just not making it to the devices down here in the house.  The quote is very reasonable - not much more than it would cost for me to just buy the stuff and install it, but (a) I wouldn't have known whether I was getting it all done, and (b) someone else is doing it.  I call that a win.

By next Tuesday night we should have reliable TV reception, which we can choose to watch, or not.  A pity he couldn't fix it today, because Amazing Race Australia starts tonight.  :-(

Monday, 28 May 2012

Stop and smell the masonry

Bendigo's Capitol Theatre portico

Bendigo is full of old stuff.

Okay, that seems a bit obvious.  So obvious that I hadn't really paused to think about it very hard until one night last week when I found myself sitting in what must once have been the manager's office in the 1876 Union Bank in View Street, drinking fine French red with an old theatre friend and her fellow cast members.

When Mrs G and I were selling the idea of moving to Bendigo to the minions we contrasted the relative lack of buildings more than a few decades old in Canberra with the profusion of century-plus old buildings in Bendigo.  The city dates from the 1850's gold rush, so there's a lot of period architecture; from the follies of mining barons to the facades of old pubs on almost every corner.  "Look, minions, surely you'd be thrilled to live amongst all this history!"  They weren't too sure.

Admittedly, it is kind of easy to overlook all this built heritage around you while you're trying to go about your life.  Getting to work, doing the shopping, paying the bills.  And yet there's a statue of Queen Victoria, unveiled only two years after her death, on the corner of one of the main intersections in town.  We're on the other side of the planet from where she lived and reigned, and there's a bloody statue of her here!  Mind you, the state is named after her, so I probably shouldn't be that surprised.

Anyway, as I was sitting there the other night, gazing about this 130+ year old building, eating fabulous prawns and lapping up the company, my conscience prodded me to appreciate the fact that the profusion of white-haired motorists with hats on their parcel racks aren't the only old things here that should drive you to distraction.

Photo credit: David Stephenson, via Flickr

Friday, 25 May 2012

I, for one, welcome our help-desk overlords ...

Problem Exists Between Keyboard And Chair

True office story, for a bit of Friday levity:

This morning someone at the head office of my department sent a message to everyone else in the department who can book travel, outlining a problem she was having with the travel booking system and asking whether anyone else was having the same problem.  I looked at it briefly and satisfied myself I could think about it after I'd done all the other things I had to do this morning.  When I got back to my desk about 90 minutes later my inbox contained about 50 replies to this message, all of them advising "no problem".

(Why must people use "reply all" when their responses are unimportant to every other recipient?  Gaahhh!)

Amongst all the useless messages was the reply from the travel help-desk (yes, someone had been smart enough to forward the message to them).  It's worth quoting the text of their message in full:

Please be aware that problems with the travel booking system should be raised with the travel help-desk in the first instance.  We have the tools to identify, diagnose and rectify individual or system-wide problems.  In this case the only one with a problem was [name of original correspondent].

This message had also gone to every original recipient, who were thus witnesses to the beautifully constructed put-down at the end of the reply.  Genius.

Okay, it's not Dilbert but, as an example of how help-desks can get stuff right, I think this rates.
Have a good weekend everyone!

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Qualified in underwater basket-weaving

Simulated learning - see note below
That's how Mrs G sometimes jokingly describes her tertiary education experience.  Mine earned me "Bugger All".  In truth, we are both Bachelors of Arts (BA), mine in international politics, and while Mrs G has worked in her field of specialisation, the theatre/media industry, I've never been paid to use what's left of the knowledge I accumulated at university.

But when did a BA become a vocational course?  To insist that I should have been able to use that knowledge is to miss the point of a generalist degree.

Friday, 18 May 2012

Going Bananas

It's been a tough week, in which each morning the sun has risen later and each evening it's set earlier.  Winter is upon us, and we're still establishing ourselves in this funny little town, with no local friends and near non-existent TV reception.  

A bright point in this has been reading the Isaacson bio of Steve Jobs, and it's really pretty interesting.  This is the book on which the new film is supposed to be based (not the film already in production with Ashton Kutcher in the lead role).

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Ups and downs

A vast improvement.  Or, "Avast!  Improvement!"

It's been a roller-coaster few days in the Good Plates house-hold.  A birthday dinner with my Dad for the first time in a very long time, some housework and a pretty cruisy Mothers' Day.  But the highlights were watching our youngest minion make a breakthrough at karate and building a better wardrobe.  The lowlight was definitely responding to the realisation that one of our dogs had eaten a lot of rat poison.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Secrets and milestones

The Great Orion Nebula, M42

Among the books which have made a lasting impression on me are the Hitch Hiker’s Guide novels by Douglas Adams. While certainly not the first to combine science fiction and humour, these stories were so memorable and popular that Adams was compelled to make a lot of what he wrote subsequently either an extension or a reinterpretation of them. I’m not sure whether I would be happy being the victim of such success or whether I’d find it creatively confining.

Anyway, if you know that I’m a fan of this material, and have some familiarity with it yourself, it should not be surprising that the prospect of turning 42 years old tomorrow has me slightly bemused.

I can't shake the sense that it's filled with hidden meaning, that it's somehow special.  Indeed, will I wake up tomorrow somehow magically knowing the great question of life, the universe and everything, thus rendering the answer "42" meaningful?

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Comments made easier

A number of people have indicated (by other means!) that they've found the commenting arrangements too cumbersome and somewhat off-putting.

I'd like to encourage comments, so I've made it easier to do so by removing the need to be a registered user and to verify that you're not a bot.  We'll see how it goes.

Fire away!

Monday, 7 May 2012

Moving from "how" to "what"

It's amazing how setting course can make you relax.

Last week I was writing about the tension and frustration of fixating on near-term goals at the expense of mid- or long-term goals.  In the course of that post I referred to my long-term goal of writing an as-yet undefined manuscript of some kind.  However realistic it may be, almost everyone harbours an ambition to write a novel, or to publish something of substance.  In my case I've always felt it to be a little more certain than not, but I've been deterred by two major concerns:

  • my writing won't be good enough; and
  • my ideas will be hopelessly derivative.

Writing this blog is part of my response to the first point.  Honing my skills and putting my writing in front of an audience seems to me to be a good way to ensure my writing's up to snuff.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Not playing for sheep stations

Created at

There are quizzes and there are quizzes. Some are really challenging and some are walks in the park but, regardless of their difficulty, they present the only legitimate opportunity for me to use the large block of information in my head which would otherwise lie idle (probably around a pool, sipping cocktails through a long straw).

When it comes to difficulty, the annual quiz I used to co-write for Canberra Rep was never as impossible as QI, but certainly more challenging than your average breakfast radio quiz. Be that as it may, the radio quizzes are a good source of occasional free stuff if you can get through to be the contestant, and if you give enough correct answers.

Knowing my audience is pretty cluey, you should have no difficulty with this lot (answers at the bottom):
  1. What television cooking show returns to the screen this Sunday night?
  2. Where in your body would you find a cornea?
  3. Where would you find a ‘hospital corner”?
  4. Which team is currently at the bottom of the AFL ladder?
  5. (Music cue: excerpt of “Killer Queen”) Who recorded this song?
  6. Which city is hosting this year’s Olympic Games?
  7. How many carats are there in pure gold?
  8. What is the collective noun for a group of insects?
  9. Strawberries are the only fruit with its seeds on the outside: true or false?
  10. Who played “Bridget Jones” on the big screen?

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

If you want to plan a route you need a map

There seem to be very few areas of modern life that remain untouched by goal-setting.

It is with some fondness that I remember the displeasure of the lawyers in one of my first workplaces, when told they had to attend a “love-in” to set organisational and personal goals.  They were suffering the indignity of professionals who feel like they’ve been accused of not knowing what they're doing, and they were acting like a bunch of petulant teenagers.  It would have been cute if they hadn't wasted so much billable time bitching about it.

How things have changed.  These days almost everyone in an office job is compelled to participate in annual performance planning cycles, and while it can be regarded as time-wasting corporate arse-clownery, few now feel that the process calls their expertise into question.  There are also a lot of executives whose mentors attend to personal as well as professional matters.  It’s possible, and acceptable, to set very structured objectives for pretty much anything in your life.

I bring this up because I think the blog has been somewhat adrift over the past week or so, and my problem has to do with planning.

Friday, 27 April 2012

Making our own realities

Figments of Cameron's imagination

A week or two ago I stumbled upon this excellent piece at, titled 6 Insane Fan Theories That Actually Make Great Movies Better.

If you don't have time to go and read that before you press on here (spoilers!), the theories include speculation that James Bond is not a man but a code name, Zion is part of the Matrix, Ferris Bueller's Day Off was all in Cameron's head and Chewbacca and R2-D2 are (always) secret Rebel agents.  (There's a follow-up article here, with another 5 theories!)

I've always had some doubts about fan-fic, because it seems awfully derivative and, well, creepy, but there's absolutely no doubt that these articles rock.  I mean, these theories take the holes that some of the die-hard fans carp about and turn them into reasons to be enthusiastic all over again.

If you take the time to follow those links, there's depth to the theories that actually do make these stories make sense.  I'm in awe of this kind of creativity.  And, as is my habit, it made my brain jump off in a different direction.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Anzac Day: deserving of respect

In preparation for tomorrow I had drafted a post which reflected on whether the celebratory antics of some of those who participate in Anzac Day events is appropriate, and on whether today's Australian military is worthy of the respect we are asked to offer on this day of commemoration.

I read it, edited it, re-read it, edited it some more, agonised a bit and decided it was trite rubbish and ought not to be published.

Instead I offer you the following small personal journey.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

There should be an "i" in "parent"

Okay, so I've been at this parenting malarkey for slightly over 13 years and, while there are most certainly longer treatises on the subject than I'm going to offer here, I reckon I've seen and learned a thing or two.  I'm not even going to try to impart a fraction of what I would class as the advice at my disposal.  I'm simply going to make two choice observations today.

These observations are not just based on my personal experience as a parent.  I'm also tapping my observation of other parents and the way they manage their lives around the minions they've produced. In a lot of cases I knew them before they were parents, and there are as many reactions to becoming parents as there are people.  Further, I don't think there is any "right" or "wrong" way to parent.  I will certainly think to myself "well, I wouldn't do it that way",  but I won't tell those parents that they should do things the way I do.  There's superior and there's different.  A lot of the time stuff is just different, and you should leave well enough alone.  Lots of different parenting skills work, sometimes unexpectedly.

There are a couple of matters, though, that I think are universally applicable.  Here are two of them.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

On re-reading books

As I mentioned the other day, I very much enjoy sitting on trains with my head stuck in a book.  Anywhere will do, but trains are pretty good.

On Tuesday the book in question was Mockingjay (the third Hunger Games book), which I finished during the journey, and so I immediately began looking through my Kindle for something else to read.  I have another couple of books waiting to be read, but neither appealed.  I shut the thing off and stared out the window for a few minutes before I realised I really did want to read something else.  I turned it back on and looked through the list of books which I keep in a collection named "previously read".  Yep, my filing is that precise.

I thought about re-reading the Hobbit or the Lord of the Rings, but my eyes alighted on Les Misérables and before I knew it I was ploughing through one of the literary world's answers to a mandelbrot set.

What is it about re-reading books that gives such satisfaction?

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Dude, where's my city?

This I can accept - but it doesn't look like this anymore!

Today I had the very great luxury of travelling to Melbourne for a work-related web-authoring course.

Not only was there pleasure in learning something new and not having to be at work all day, but it's also pretty great to spend 2 hours travelling each way on a train.  You kind of forget, but train journeys are enormously relaxing and, if you have minions, the opportunity to bury your head in a book for a couple of hours without being interrupted by someone who deserves your attention (apart from a conductor wanting to check your ticket) is pure gold.

Along with the pleasure of the journey, though, a couple of other things struck me about today's experiences.

Firstly, in this day and age it seems silly that I had to spend four hours travelling to take part in a four hour course when, had I had the opportunity to complete it via self-directed distance learning, I could have done the course in half the time or less, and I wouldn't have lost all that productive time at my desk.  Yes, I know, I'm thinking like a manager, but I don't think it's an unreasonable point.

Secondly, it's twenty years or so since I last lived in Melbourne, but who the hell said it was OK to change the city that much?

Sunday, 15 April 2012

In praise of Lego

Lego meets mini-golf!

It is 50 years since Lego was introduced to Australia.

I'm not certain there was always Lego in my life, but certainly from the age of about 5 my brothers and I had a big box of the stuff to build things out of.  Many was the afternoon that we'd be raking our fingers through that box, with conversations along the following lines: "I need a white single two-by-two ..."; "Oh, I need a red single one-by-two ...".  Rake, rake, rake "Here it is!"

The perennial beauty of Lego is that your construction is only limited by your imagination.  As Lego has introduced ever more specialised components, the ability to build what you see in your mind's eye has improved.  For example, I was building 8-bit spaceships compared to what my son is able to invent now:

Just about everyone I know has a similar story about Lego.  How it was the go-to toy for rainy days; how, if you were inspired by something you'd seen on TV, you'd recreate it in Lego; the pain of kneeling on Lego (a phrase immortalised in a collection of "songs from our childhood" compiled by my brother-in-law); the frustration of not being able to find the right piece when you needed it.  These are the common experiences of several generations of kids and, when Mrs G and I started making minions, we agreed they would also have that experience.  True to our word, they too have access to a big box of the stuff.

Somehow Lego has managed to retain the interest of many people beyond childhood, and their diversification and licensing deals have largely been good moves.  The Lego Star Wars range is the clear leader here, and the fact that I can play through the Star Wars saga as a Lego character on my TV is like all sorts of Christmases come at once.  Having a minion around who has accidentally wiped your save, from time to time, enables me to have to play through it all again ... !  Neat-o!

There is possibly only one down-side to Lego - the historical inability to integrate it with other building systems such as Meccano, K'nex or MegaBloks.  However, even that's no longer a problem.  The Free Universal Construction Kit enables interoperability of all of these systems and more.  What's more, you make the pieces yourself, with a Makerbot or similar 3D printer (h/t Steve).  The possibilities now really are endless.

So, if you have a soft spot for Lego and something suitable in the cupboard or fridge, I invite you to pour some in a glass, raise it and say after me: "Here's to Lego!"

Friday, 13 April 2012

Why outsourcing (mostly) sucks

Well, I'm going to rant a bit today.

It's the school holidays and, in order to make the whole "oh, we're responsible for the care of minors who can't be at school for two and a bit weeks" stuff, I have a couple of days off.  It saves a bit on holiday care and exposes the minions to their father in a slightly more casual setting than usual.  That's got to be good for everyone.

However, there are always a few jobs to be done that require business day commerce in quotients greater than those afforded by your average lunch break.  For instance, since we've recently moved here from interstate we need to transfer the registration of the car, a job that's never straightforward.  What better opportunity to get that done than to book the appointment at Vicroads while I've got a weekday off.  Right?


Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Thank you, dear readers

In the '80's and '90's I had a little bit to do with community radio.  

In Warrnambool I took media classes in high school which did little except train me to structure an hour of radio and prepare me for a lot of change in storage mediums.  There was a memorable evening with my brother at the community station there when I burnt out their magnetic cartridge-wiper by leaving it on too long.  Damn analog technology!

In Bendigo (where my parents lived while I was at university ca. 1989-1992) I actually trained to present radio programs, and was on air a few times.  But it wasn't possible, in those days, to get any immediate idea of how many people were listening or what they thought of what you were doing.  The internet was but a glint in the eye of the computer geeks at university.  There was no form of instant feedback if you were speaking into a microphone and hoping your track selections were providing pleasure out in the ether.  If you think there are self-indulgent wankers on the air now, imagine what it was like then.

How times have changed.  Now I can click a few links and find out how many distinct readers have looked at my blog, what country they're from, and what browser and OS they're using.  I can break this down by day or by post.  It's very  helpful in terms of working out what sort of writing works best for this audience.  

That's a darn sight more information than I had 20 years ago on radio.  That's probably a good thing, because knowing what people thought on the day I broadcast this may have left me an emotional cripple.

From the information at my disposal I know that my audience is primarily people I know, and I know that this is mainly because I only promote the blog through Facebook.  This doesn't bother me, because I'm just stretching my writing muscles at the moment.  And, for the record, my TARDIS construction post is the all time most-read post.  Thank you!

I'm addressing this topic because we've recently passed 500 page impressions here at Using The Good Plates, almost all of them in the past two weeks.  Not record-breaking by any measure, but for someone hoping for a few page impressions a day, this is lucky-shop-hop stuff.

I'd like to thank all of you who have been interested enough to click the links and read what's spouting out of my brain and into the keyboard.  I'd be even more grateful to have more feedback than I have to date, but really I'm just happy that people are finding what I have to say interesting enough to look at.


Monday, 9 April 2012

Sometimes you have to build a Tardis

Artist's impression

As some of you may already know, the Easter weekend project here in Bendigo was to build a Tardis.  Preparation began weeks ago, with the gathering of pictures and plans.  We began gathering materials about a week ago and work in earnest began on Good Friday.  We invited a bunch of friends and family to join us for the weekend and had a blast.  Unfortunately we didn't quite finish the build, but it's close enough that we can finish it off over the next couple of weekends.

When I say we aimed to build a Tardis, we weren't actually trying to build a time machine.  Rather, with our combined backgrounds in theatre production and cutting-edge cocking about, we aimed to build a passable, three-dimensional facade of a Tardis, place it out in our backyard near the rail line that passes by there and, hopefully, entertain some bored commuters from time to time by activating the flashing light on its roof.  We reckoned the necessary skills and inspiration could be gathered for the weekend and, with the right combination of determination, idiocy and whimsy, there was always a good chance that we could pull it off.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

It's their party, and we all get chocolate, so be nice

I have something of a community service announcement here.

In past years I have noticed a propensity amongst certain of the non-believers amongst us to make light of the Easter festival.  Zombie carpenter jokes, and the like.

Yes, yes, it's all fun until someone loses an eye for an eye.

Listen up.  We don't make alien abduction jokes when Muslims are celebrating the night-journey of Mohammed.  We don't make refugee jokes when Jews are celebrating Passover.  And we certainly don't make Mazda impound jokes to Zoroastrians, for fear we'll be attacked by giant marshmallow men.  So, just because Christians seem able to take a joke doesn't mean it's OK to get up in their faces about it.

We all here in Australia benefit mightily from Easter.  Two public holidays, hot cross buns and Easter eggs.  You get all this without having to cross the threshold of any place of worship.

So let's keep it nice this Easter and not insult the beliefs of those who happen to justify these benefits for the rest of us.  I'm just saying it's not really all that funny when you consider that friends of yours take this stuff to heart.

Oh, and stay safe on the roads, people.

The perils of online editing

Some of my Facebook friends may have noticed some odd posts from me last night.  No, not the Pac-Man walkthrough that I posted and which was subsequently deleted from Uncylcopedia *.  [See UPDATE below!]  Just before that, I had found a cute cartoon depicting two ghosts exchanging the immortal joke: “Why did the ghost cross the road?” Answer: “To get to the other side”.  (Other Side!  Get it?!)

Unfortunately the format of the cartoon was tall and thin, and by the time Facebook’s compressor got through with the image, the text was illegibly tiny.  However, I was only able to detect this problem after posting the image.  Well, not one to be responsible for sub-standard Facebook buffoonery, I deleted the post and tried again.  Yes, I was insane, trying the same thing twice and expecting a different result: so I deleted that too and just thought I’d be done with it.

A few minutes later Mrs G leaned back from her computer and asked whether I’d mistakenly posted the same thing twice.  What?  I thought I deleted that!  Yet, when I checked my “Timeline”, there the two fricken things were!  So, before giving it much further thought, I deleted them from there too.  Then the paranoia set in.

Monday, 2 April 2012

Humble enough to listen

One of the things that I've always done is to be very tolerant of other views.  Actually, when I was in year 10 in Wodonga, I went even further, taking extreme adversarial positions that bordered on the absurd, just so that there would be an interesting discussion.  (My social science report from Mr Chalk ... yes, his real name ... actually mentions this as a criticism, because it was a tad disruptive.)

I've evolved a bit since then, to the point that I'm simply inclined to allow that other people have their own views, and that even if they conflict with mine, that's no reason to think less of them.  The most obvious example of this is the fact that Mrs G is a church-going Christian and I'm a committed atheist.  I don't see any sort of personal conflict in the fact that I helped her study for her reconfirmation of her baptism by contributing my knowledge of biblical history.

However, I can also be an intellectually arrogant person, an ugly trait that I've had for a long time.  Even though I know loads of people smarter than me it still gets a run around the block every so often.  One of the hardest lessons in overcoming that trait has been to appreciate the value of effective listening.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Enforced televisual abstinence

We moved into our house in Bendigo in December, and having moved house a few times, one of the things I've gotten into the habit of doing on the first day is finding and setting up the TV and all the other things that plug into it.  This time I also had to retune everything, because it's a whole new state.

You can imagine my confusion and frustration when, on its first pass, the tuner on the TV only identified six channels.  Not six signals which, with digital multi-channelling, represents something like a full complement of free-to-air channels.  No, six channels in full.  And even those were pretty unwatchable, with very weak signals.

As you do when you've moved into a house someone else used to live in and you find something sub-standard you didn't know about before, I looked sullenly at the ceiling and thought evil thoughts about the previous owners, and wondered what they had done to entertain themselves.  At this point I also recalled the satellite dish on the roof and the multiple points for plugging in decoders around the house.  Ah.

Friday, 30 March 2012

Everyone has their own autism

As some of you may have gathered by now, there's a bit of a foodie theme going on here.  No, not gourmet foodie, just wholesome, home-cooked, comfort foodie foodness.  Making pancakes from scratch on a Sunday morning.  Macaroni and cheese without a box in sight.  Bacon.  And so on.

Making yummy, un-fancy food is fun and satisfying, and it can become an obsession.

Now, I can't take credit for what follows, but it did kind of start way back in the days when I used to come into professional contact with Child Support Agency cases, and I became aware of the enormously detailed financial disclosures their clients have to complete.  One day I looked at one of those forms and thought it would make the solid basis for a family budget.  The budget we work from today had its origins there.

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Blog overhaul

My apologies to the very few people who stumbled upon the original iteration of this blog, which had a different title and, in fact, a different URL.  If you've found this one you're some kind of genius!

The experiment I was running for a blog concept wasn't really working for me, so it's back to basics while I concentrate on just writing stuff instead of confecting it.  The look and tone (and name and URL) of the blog has been completely changed as a result.

Given that less than a dozen people found the blog in its first two weeks, and as far as I can tell none of them have been back, there should be very little angst in blog-land over this.