Archive for the ‘Personal’ Category

Tyrannosaurus facts

Sunday, 5 May, 2013

Dream last night: There was an extended documentary-like sequence in which I learnt many interesting facts about Tyrannosauruses by way of comparisons with modern animals. One in particular stood out:

“A Tyrannosaurus rex can comfortably ride on a giraffe. If only the giraffe could support the weight – but then that’s hardly a design flaw in the T. rex.”

Banking over the phone

Tuesday, 30 April, 2013

Stupid bank. My Visa debit card expired today. I’d expected a new one to arrive in the mail, but no sign of it. So I phoned the bank…

Navigated a maze of numbered options, and when none of the options matched my problem I picked the closest thing. When I finally got a human, he told me I had reached the wrong department and transferred me…

I got a guy whose voice was horribly distorted so I had to ask him to repeat every second thing he said. (It turned out later when my wife was talking to him to lodge a complaint, that he was in the Philippines. His English was fine, but the international phone line was dreadful.)

I told him I hadn’t received a replacement Visa card. He asked me to have my six-digit personal banking ID number ready and he would switch to a system so I could key it in. “Six digit ID number? Do I have one of those? Let me check my big list of ID stuff…” I checked but couldn’t find any number like that associated with my bank account. The guy then said I had two options: go into a branch, or he would ask me a series of security questions. I figured if I fail the security questions I can go into a branch anyway, so said go ahead.

He asked my full name, Visa card number, card expiry date, my birthdate, my address, the year we opened the account, the branch the account was opened at, the approximate current balance in the account, and details of a recent transaction. I answered all of these questions, including the exact amount, date, ATM location, and reported balance on our last ATM withdrawal, which was just yesterday. The guy then said sorry, the system had locked me out of accessing my account.

I had kind of expected this, since I’ve had similar experiences dealing with this bank before, so I just said I’d go into a branch. <sigh>

The Avianator

Thursday, 13 September, 2012

Coming home from work today I was attacked by a magpie. I came home just before lunch because I wasn’t feeling very well, and picked up a sausage roll at the station for lunch. I was eating as I walked home, and suddenly there was an ominous thundering of wings behind me, and a huge black and white mass of feathers swooped across my shoulder. My first instinct was naturally to protect myself, but it turned out the dire bird was more interested in attacking my food than me. It landed on a fence a couple of metres away with half my sausage roll in its beak.

And then it actually followed me. Another 30 metres or so down the street it came at me again, but this time I was prepared and turned to stare it down in time. It glared balefuly at me from another fence as I walked cautiously on.

In hindsight it’s good that it was only after my food. If it had been protecting a nest, I could very well have taken damage.

Inchworm, inchworm

Friday, 24 August, 2012

I made an interesting observation at the local Subway outlet near my work the other day. Like other American fast food joints, Subway has the annoying quirk of retaining American terminology even when operating in a country – like Australia – where some of the terms either mean nothing or mean something completely different in the local dialect of English.

For instance, Subway insists on referring to its brown bread as “wheat bread” – a term that nobody in Australia has any familiarity with whatsoever, except within the confines of a Subway outlet. Similarly they refer to wholegrain bread as “multigrain bread”. Perhaps most annoyingly, they have a thing called “marinara sauce”, which is just a tomato based sauce, with no seafood in it whatsoever. In Australia, “marinara sauce” means a seafood sauce, usually served with pasta. I really don’t understand why they insist on importing confusing American English terms wholesale, rather than adapt and change the terminology to match the English that people actually use here.

The other thing they do is refer to the size of the subs as “six-inch” and “foot-long”, despite the fact that Australia has been wholly metric since the 1970s, and almost everyone under the age of 40 has no real idea what an inch or a foot is any more. They could (and I argue should) much more meaningfully call them “small” and “large”.

This was brought home to me by the incident mentioned at the top of this post. We have a variety of food places near my work and my friends and I tend to choose somewhere different each day for variety. On this particular day we chose Subway. I wasn’t really paying attention when the woman behind the counter asked for my order, and I said I wanted a “twelve-inch” sub, since in my mind this was equivalent to something a foot long. The woman looked at me puzzled for a second, and said, “Sorry, do you mean a six-inch?”

I corrected her to “foot-long”, and then I realised that by asking this she was showing that she may well have had no idea whatsoever that there are twelve inches in a foot. If she’d known twelve inches make a foot, she’d have probably either just assumed I wanted a foot-long, or asked, “You mean a foot-long, right?”

So I suspect that for some of the young people working in Subway in Australia, the sandwich sizes of “six-inch” and “foot-long” are actually just labels. They don’t have any meaning in terms of length, because they’ve never used either a foot or an inch as a unit of measurement in their entire lives.

Barbershop Quandary

Tuesday, 12 June, 2012

So I’ve been going to this same barber for the past 16 years. He’s an old Sicilian guy named Frank; he has postcards of Italy pinned up on the wall, you know the sort of place. When I first went to him he ran a tiny cubicle in the middle of a small arcade, with a single chair in it, a bench with waiting room for two customers, and a sign saying “No seats reserved”. The first time I went in there, I sort of fumbled through a description of how I wanted my hair cut, having never really figured out the language that barbers use or what all those “number 2 blade” secret passwords meant. Frank cut my hair and it seemed fine to me. Afterwards, whenever I went in Frank would ask, “The usual?” and I’d just say, “Yes thanks,” and he’d cut it.

A few years later, his son joined him in the business, and “Frank’s Hairdressing” became “Frank & Michael’s”. They added a second chair to the cubicle, but it became too cramped to move about in properly. So they took up a lease on one of the small shops in the same arcade, and moved the business a total of about 5 metres into (slightly) larger premises. And in fact they installed a third chair. The first time Michael cut my hair, Frank instructed him on how I wanted it cut, and I didn’t have to say anything.

At peak times, such as Saturday mornings, when the queue got long (the bench in the new place seated three customers, but there were occasionally guys queued up standing outside), Frank and Michael employed a third barber to come in and use the extra chair. But I tended to go get my hair cut at other times, mainly to avoid the waiting. But also because I dreaded the thought of getting the new guy and having to explain to him how I wanted my hair cut. Because I couldn’t. I didn’t know the language or what to say to pass on that vital information. A few times I went in and they had the extra guy there, but fervent hope was enough to land me a seat with Frank or Michael, and it was simply “the usual”. The third barber changed over time too – it was the same guy for a while, then it was some other guy, and then a bit later someone else. They always seemed to be about Frank’s age – I presume they were family friends or something. Once I got the new guy, and as I sat down, Frank looked over and without prompting described to him how I wanted my hair cut. The guy did it, and it was fine. The next time I got the same guy, and – phew – he remembered and cut my hair right.

But then a few months ago my luck ran out. I went in and there was another new guy there. I waited on the bench, hoping when it was my turn that Frank or Michael would finish their current customer and call me over to their chair. But no, the new guy finished, and called me over. And then came those dreaded words I’d avoided for sixteen years. “How would you like it?”

I panicked. A cold sweat broke out. I looked desperately around for Frank or Michael, but they were both engrossed in their current customers, backs turned to me. I tried to describe what Frank and Michael did, fumbling for words: “Sort of short, I guess, but not too short, you know, with those clipper things at the back, and sort of cut around the ears, and…” I must have rambled incoherently for a minute or so. The guy took up his implements and proceeded to give me the strangest haircut I’ve had in sixteen years. It was all sort of wrong, and looked funny, and was too short in the wrong places, and weirdly long in others.

I let it grow out, this weird haircut, and when I went back the next time I got Frank and he said, “The usual?” and I breathed a sweet sigh of relief, and said, “Yes, thanks.” And he cut it beautifully.

Then I went on my recent trip overseas and when I came home it was almost time for a haircut again. I went in last Friday afternoon, and there was a new guy I’d never seen before in there, working the seat between Frank and Michael. The sweat started to rise as I waited on the bench, realising that it was my turn next, and Frank and Michael looked like they’d recently started their current customers, but the new guy was just finishing up with his. And lo came the dreaded, “Next!” and I found myself in the barbershop hotseat, with the new guy, and me having never adequately described my own haircut in over sixteen years, quivering with fear like a doe in the headlights. The words, “How would you like it?” rang out like a gunshot in the night.

Overcoming my fear, I realised I still had an option open to me. In desperation, I called out, “Frank, how would you describe my usual haircut?”

Frank turned towards us, said to the new guy, “Short medium.” And the new guy nodded and proceeded to cut my hair with no further instruction, and it came out perfect – exactly the way Frank would have done it.

Rain, Rain, Rain. Outlook: More Rain

Thursday, 1 March, 2012

Sheesh, what a summer. To any tourist who visited Sydney this summer and expected some nice weather: I’m sorry. Truly and deeply sorry.

It is, of course, pouring rain right now. The 28-day weather outlook is: Rain. Every. Single. Day.

Half the state is either flooded or in danger of going under some time in the next 24 hours, including many Sydney suburbs. Parts of the state have received a third or more of their annual average rainfall in February alone. The forecast for the next 24 hours is up to 140 mm more rain in some areas. Warragamba Dam, Sydney’s main reservoir, is at capacity and expected to overflow within the next few hours. (The stupid thing about this being that a few years ago, when we thought the drought would never break, the government contracted for a huge water desalination plant in Sydney. And now they can’t turn it off because then the government would be liable for tens of millions of dollars of damages for breach of contract to the contractor. So instead we’re paying them to waste energy generating fresh water which is pumped into our water supply – thus making the dam overflow more and generating floods along the river valley.)

And despite all this rain, the weather has finally warmed up. It was wet today, but also 30°C and sauna-like humidity. It felt like Bangkok, seriously. It’s thick, heavy, sticky, steamy, tropical rain that penetrates to the skin despite not even hitting you. It’s 8:30pm now, and I’m sitting here inside my home, and sweat is literally dripping down my face because it’s so damn humid.

Wikipedia’s protest shutdown

Wednesday, 18 January, 2012

Does nobody else see the irony in this?
English Wikipedia anti-SOPA blackout
Do not disrupt Wikipedia to illustrate a point

Sure, protest. But to do it by flouting one of Wikipedia’s own strong principles is undermining their credibility. And annoying. Organise a protest march, petition people, whatever. But to deliberately make things inconvenient for millions of people just to make a point is childish.

Soft, what toothbrush through yonder window breaks

Wednesday, 21 December, 2011

For about the past six weeks now, every time I go into a supermarket I check for toothbrushes. And I haven’t been able to find any suitable for use in our bathroom. There are two problems:

  1. We want toothbrushes with soft bristles. Our dentist and all tooth care advice I’ve ever seen, anywhere, ever, says you should only ever use soft toothbrushes. They’re gentler on teeth and gums, they clean just as well, and they don’t cause problems of abrasion or irritation. Every dental professional I’ve ever heard has repeated the same thing. Never, ever, for any reason, use medium or hard toothbrushes, always use soft. The problem seems to be that (a) everyone has heard the exact same advice, (b) except toothbrush manufacturers. They seem to make toothbrushes in roughly equal ratios of soft, medium, and hard. Combine this with (a) and the result is what I see at least 90% of the time I’m out trying to buy toothbrushes: The sections for medium and hard brushes are absolutely full of brushes, while the section for soft brushes is out of stock. Why don’t the manufacturers make more soft brushes??
  2. Toothbrush manufacturers are kind of like razor manufacturers. They seem to love adding new features to toothbrushes. Tongue cleaners, rubber massagey bits, spiral bristles, colour indicator bristles, ridged bristle shapes, micro-textured bristles. At some point it became de rigeur for toothbrushes to be made with big, chunky rubberised grips, moulded to the contours of your hand, presumably for easier gripping and manipulation. The problem is these enormous chunky grips don’t fit into the slots in our incredibly expensive and lovely gold-trim chrome toothbrush holder that matches all the other fittings in our bathroom. It seems only the el cheapo brands of toothbrush have plain handles that fit any more. And of course they’re only available in hard bristles…

Arrrghh!!

Oh, and I had a dream last night in which we found a hidden stash of soft brushes lurking behind some hard ones in the store. We grabbed every single one to buy and hoard. I presume this is what everyone else does when they see soft toothbrushes in the store…

Plasmonic

Saturday, 3 December, 2011

I guess with the Star Trek episodes done, I should post some other things here.

I donated blood plasma today – I think it’s my 44th donation. I usually do whole blood, but they don’t want my red cells for a few months after I visited South America earlier this year. I took a photo of myself hooked up to the apheresis machine (avoid if photos of needles are not your thing – photo here).

And I ran across this: Legend: an OGL fantasy roleplaying game rule set, available for the next week on a “pay what you want” basis, with all proceeds going to Child’s Play, a charity that uses gaming to make kids stuck in hospital feel a bit better. Cool – it’s always nice seeing people contribute work for a good cause.

Counting

Thursday, 18 August, 2011

Why do computer scientists insist we start counting at 0, and then put “0” after “9” on the keyboard??