Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Best Calendar Application for iPad and iPhone

So you've got yourself an iPhone. If you've got a busy diary it makes sense to use the iPhone as a calendar. You always have it with you, you can update it in a flash and it will remind you when appointments are due.

So at first you will use the native iPhone calendar. It's not too bad, it has a nice look and feel, but after awhile you'll find it has limitations. For example you can't enter any repeating appointments like on the second Sunday in the month. Or the calendar starts on a Sunday and in your country it starts on a Monday.

So you decide to fork out the big dollars and buy a commercial App that has more features. But how do you choose of the myriad of options in the App store?

Well you can ask the internet. Unfortunately the internet seems a bit wishy washy on this subject. So this blog entry is to rectify the situation and set the record straight with a definitive answer.

I basically bought and tried just about all of the Calendar Apps out there to decide which was best. Yes this cost me money, but it's my most important App and I'm willing to get the best.

First, here's what is important to me in a calendar:
  • Must be able to choose the start day of the week.
  • Must look nice. This means nice to my eye. I am the final judge on this.Gaudy Windows-like 16 colour palette is a big no-no. If you must have these colours then at least give me the option to change them.
  • Repeating appointments must be extremely flexible. For example if you can't do the third Sunday of every 15th month then it is not good enough.
  • If you can do the above then explain that in plain English when I have clicked it. I need to be sure.
  • You must access the native iOS calendar
  • You must access any google calendars. All seamlessly and easily.
  • You must be able to cut/copy/paste appointments quickly and easily.
  • You must follow the basic look and feel of iOS. This is what makes the iPhone and iPad so good. I don't want to learn a new interface.
  • Quickly go from day view to week view.
So, what App do you need? There is no question Week Calendar is the best choice. Bar none. At AUS$1.99. It does all the above and more. I was so happy when I found it. My problems were solved.

Or were they?

So my eyes are getting old and the small 3GS iPhone screen is getting annoying. An iPad was what I decided to get rather than a new iPhone.

The native iPad calendar is not bad. It looks good - it is very pleasing to the eye, but it fails on many of the above points. No problem, Week Calendar has an HD iPad version...


Will they did. And now they don't. According to the website, twitter and emails they have one, but it is awaiting approval on Apple. This has been going on for six months it seems.

Now the developer of Week Calendar is extremely supportive and responsive in all areas except this. Maybe he's being diplomatic, or maybe not. Is it really Apple?

What's going on???

So a few weeks back I gave up and decided to check out all other iPad calendar Apps in hope of finding a decent replacement. After stumping up money I finally reached the conclusion that there isn't one. A few come close, but then fail at the finish line. Nothing comes close to Week Calendar on the iPhone.

So I have finally settled on using CalenMob to view the calendar (it has gaudy colours, but it starts on a Monday) and I use Week Calendar (the iPhone version) to create and change appointments.

This is entirely unsatisfactory, but I have no choice.

@weekcalendar your mission is this: at least give us the real story and a date to look forward to. I cannot believe there is not a decent calendar application for the iPad.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

A Guys' Guide to Surviving a P&O South Pacific Cruise

Well having just finished my first ever cruise I thought it was time for a review for the benefit of potential travellers. I travelled with my partner (and her daughter) on P&O's Pacific Pearl. The schedule was:
  • Sydney
  • Sea
  • Sea
  • Noumea
  • Sea
  • Mystery island
  • Port Vila, Vanuatu
  • Sea
  • Port Denarau
  • Dravuni island
  • Suva
  • Sea
  • Isle of pines
  • Sea
  • Sea
  • Sydney

Yep 15 nights. So rather than write a novel, I'll put things under key headings.

Sea sickness

Well I have always suffered from sea sickness and this was my biggest fear in ruining the trip. So I dosed up on Travacalm Original for the first two nights - which were a bit rocky. Afterwards it calmed down so I stopped taking them. And I was fine for the rest of the trip - no matter how rough, no matter how much I drank or even when I lay down in bed. If you suffer from this, don't waste your money on pressure bracelets. As one woman, who was wearing two (!) said to me: "These are great! They take two days to work but after that they're brilliant". I probably rolled my eyes at that point and I held back from telling her that it takes two days for your sea legs to kick in - after all she'd spent $30 on those bits of elastic and plastic.

Woo factor

FFS P&O! This was one of my biggest beefs. Being on the open seas there is little regulation on woo.  The woo factor was a good 8 out of 10. Sick of spending your hard earned on quality things like beer or whiskey? Then why not try the Aqua ionithermie super detox! "This unique anti-cellulite and detoxification treatment works with stimuli and algae to reduce cellulite and toxin deposits from the stomach, thighs and buttocks on women and the stomach region on men. Lose up to 8 inches of external toxins in one session. Only $175"

I did learn something I admit. That the official measurement of external toxins is inches. What is an external toxin though? Wouldn't just soap work? I accidentally sat through a talk by the big muscular health dude, but when he started talking about algae having the highest alkalinity and so you need to cover yourself in it, my eyes rolled a full 360 degrees I'm sure. He loved using big sounding medical words, and they lapped it up. Especially when he then said the program is a mere (insert hundreds of dollars here).

Just when you've hardened yourself to the algae woo then the acupuncture lady kicks in offering more bullshit woo, but this time a risky one. Covering yourself in hot seaweed for $200 won't hurt anyone, but puncturing your skin with needles using ungloved hands is risky!! Even the latest studies say poking with toothpicks is just as effective- with no risk. The same study showed a massage is actually better. Go with that.

So, by all means go down to Aqua on level 2 for a spa or massage, but save your money on the other rubbishy woo bullshit.

The view

And I'm not talking out your cabin window here either. This is a guys' viewpoint. So I rock up expecting to see row after row of scantily clad babes sunning themselves continuously whilst I hope for a wardrobe malfunction. And unlike algae, viewing hot babes does have a health benefit for people like me. It relaxes me and reduces stress. But no. Most people on the cruise are old and fat like me. Note that most of the crew (who seem all young and beautiful) are not allowed to use the facilities with guests. Pity because it would fix the view problem.

Compulsory reading

No one told me it was compulsory to read 50 Shades of Grey whilst on board. It seemed to be the only book being read. By the women anyway. The guys using Kindles we're probably reading it too though.


At its best - bloody excellent. At its worst - not so hot. You have a number of places to eat. Luke Mangan has his "Salt Grill" on board and the food is top notch. Brilliant service too. Luke was on board for a few nights and he wandered up to our table to say hello, which was a nice touch. Note there is a $40 pp surcharge for this. Use it at least once - it's worth it.

Next down the pecking order is The Waterfront which is a full service restaurant with no cover charge. You have to pre-book to get a seat (rock up at 5:30pm the day before to secure a spot). You also have to dress up at night (this keeps the cashed up bogans out - mostly). Some dishes are brilliant. Some not so good. They cook a half decent steak - but not as good as Luke.

Finally The Plantation is a buffet which is open most of the time. Good choice available and most of the food is not too bad at all. The Lamb Vindaloo was as nice as I have ever tasted. The automatic coffee machines, however, dispense dishwater. Avoid. Note you can fork out $3.50 for an espresso at a nearby coffee and chocolate bar. And that brings us to...


Your fare includes most food, but not drinks. And here's the rub. You are not allowed to bring alcohol on board and at between $5.50-$7.50 per beer an average bloke will knock up quite a few $$$ in the hot tropical weather. Throw in cocktails for her followed by kids' soft drink and the bill mounts. My advice - don't worry about it. Just have fun. There's no designated driver so enjoy yourself and worry about the bill later. Besides - no woman likes a tight guy.

A warning - if you're so pissed you do something obnoxious they will PUT YOU OFF THE SHIP and you have to fly home at your own expense. This happened to about half a dozen people on our cruise (so the rumours said). Good behaviour is expected and punishment is swift. A fair system though. No louts to deal with.

Watch out for the whiskey tasting, it was excellent. For $16 you get four single malts and finishing off with a Laphroaig. Great value. Strangely, a shot of Laphroaig is $10 - the equal cheapest on the list.

Some of the shore tours include free beer. The Fijian beer is not too bad, but drinking lots on a hot tropical island whilst getting sunburnt does not add up to a good time the next day. Dehydration is bad news. It knocked me flat.


Yes there is massive amounts of this hellish stuff - and very little of it for guys. Make sure your woman has a female friend to accompany her (there is no way she's going to go by herself to those bustling island towns with charlatans and pick pockets - and nor should she). Failing that, make sure you wear the best most comfy shoes you own and make sure she's got brand new high heels that will rub a blister up real quick. Otherwise you're in for hour upon hour of the worst torture imaginable.


Excellent. Everything from live shows, magic, acrobatics, quoits and golf chipping competitions. All sounds trite but actually is quite good. Retro Soul was the party band on our ship and Michelle is the lead singer and she is excellent. In fact the whole band are top notch musicians. Justin on bass looks a bit bored sometimes, but when he gets to let loose he is just awesome. Same with Chris on drums. He looks a bit hemmed in with some of the songs, but when he gets to solo or get going his right hand work is just brilliant. Nice work guys.

Which leads me to the talent show. Guests get to offer their skills up for a talent show at the end of the cruise. I thought I'd have a go at a drum solo and so I rocked up to the sign ups. "No sorry, you can't play drums, insurance won't let us. You might get a drumstick up your nose or something"

FFS P&O! You ship us to shore on rocking boats in 50 knot winds, people fall out of bunks and spend two nights in hospital, you allow kids to swim in a pool that is sloshing like crazy on the high seas and you won't let someone play drums because of insurance!! This sucked big time. Everyone else got to do their thing but not us drummers. I'm sure that's racist. Or drummist or something. My final star rating for this whole cruise has been reduced by one because of this single event. Insurance my arse.


Just brilliant. Special note goes to the cleaners. Whenever their was a spill or someone couldn't handle the rocking boat on the first day for two, teams of masked ninjas would appear and whisk away anything offensive. Toilet floods - no worries, rip up the carpet, clean it, rinse it, dry it, put it back. Some kid chucks his poo in the kids pool - no worries, drain it and refill it. I was worried about this side of things, but with 700 staff - all fantastic. Also, there is alcoholic hand wash everywhere and they make you use it before eating. Try not to and they pounce. This is to stop gastro spreading like wildfire. I was impressed by this. Hand sanitation has dramatically lowered infections in hospitals - it really does work. Avinash looked after our cabin the whole time and he too was excellent.


Expensive. 75 cents a minute via satellite. Forget it. Stay off the grid and enjoy the break.


Smoking is restricted to certain starboard portions of the ship outside. This includes next to the pool. And as any non smoker knows - this just sucks. The smell wafts over and you're constantly walking through the death stick addicts and their fumes. The saddest sight of all is seeing the young hot girl sucking away on a cancer tube and sitting next to the forty year old woman smoker who looks 80 and not realising that that's what she's going to look like.

Starboard level 7 is where the smokers should only be allowed to go - and if they chuck their butt overboard then make them go get it.


As a newly qualified astrophysicist I found riding the lifts whilst at sea quite intriguing. A non-Newtonian reference frame inside another non-Newtonian reference frame. Quite freaky. I wondered if they ever cancelled each other out. 

The stars at night were not very impressive. Mainly cloudy sky conditions meant I hardly saw any. Pity.

I did await the call from the bridge: "Does any passenger have skills in mathematics?" so I could proudly go and explain how the sine rule doesn't work for angles greater than 90 degrees or help them out with multiple derivatives to determine the nature of stationary points. But the call never came.

You're not allowed on the bridge at any time and so the Italian captain on our cruise gave a two hour technical talk on the boat and navigation history. He was very frank, honest and witty. Like when showing photos of 14 m waves from the bridge and saying "they don't tell you about this in the brochures". Or when he had to get from New Caledonia to Sydney between TWO cyclones and that he was "shitting his pants". The boat can handle 15 m waves and after hearing that, our pathetic 5 m waves seemed trivial. I trust engineers - after all, they use calculus.

Hints and tips

    The bar at the back of the ship is the best. Sheltered, with spas and no kids allowed. Really great. The view was better there too. :-)

    Ship run tours are expensive, but good. Do them for city visits only (not remote islands) - they keep the women away from shopping.

    Do the whiskey tasting. As often as possible.

    Go watch the acrobats. When in the atrium plant yourself on the platform halfway down the stairs. The view is brilliant.

    Do your onboard shopping  (by "yours" I mean "hers") later in the cruise. There's lots of shops but they drop prices drastically later on. Guy shopping is hopeless. As in most cities.

    For singles, note that the staff can't "fraternise" with you (under penalty of being chucked off the ship). The rumour mill said we lost two for having sex with us patrons. So don't get your hopes up.

    The staff spend many months at sea continuously. I don't normally tip, but I geniuinely wanted to this time.

    A cashless system is run on board. Your id card is used for everything. Just remember that your kids can rack up bills to your credit card - and they will. Horror stories of them shouting drinks for the entire room abound. You can restrict their card, and you probably should.

    Don't do the following, (in order):
         Get your back hair removed using hair removal cream
         A week later get badly sunburnt on your back whilst snorkelling

    Otherwise the hair regrowth feels like the acupuncture lady is running around sticking random needles in your back every 10 seconds. In other words, 24 hours of HELL!

    In Port Vila, you will be mercilessly hounded by locals when you step out of the gate. Don't pay more than $5 for a taxi ride into town and also don't leave your return ride too close to departure - prices will dramatically rise!

    In the outskirts of Fiji, "Bula" is a pleasant greeting. In the capital Suva it means "give me your money and I'll give you some cheap trinket".

    In Suva beware the young pick pockets. Innocent and sweet looking. Ours looked about 10. She was cunning, but I'd read too many Frederick Forsyth novels. She had no chance. Game, set and match to Jim.

    The toilets use a suction system to flush. Like in aeroplanes. If you have a large bum and you can seal the seat with it I think it would be possible to disembowel yourself. So don't muck around with it.

    Keep the toilet lid shut when not in use. The towel  and facewasher rack is above it and they fall in.

    If you have more than two people in a room (and so a bunk is used) the double bed cannot be set up - for safety reasons. Apparently it is better for the kidlet to roll out of the bunk onto the hard steel floor rather than on you. So if you and yours like cuddling up after the munchkins are sleeping - forget it.

    The shower is roomy and there's a lock on the door.

    The last two items are linked. You figure it out.

    A 15 night cruise is too long for most kids. The kids' program is excellent, but if you have a single child, bring a friend or better yet another family. (Solves the shopping problem too!)

    The pool is not heated. If sailing away in autumn it will be unusable for many days. Even for Tasmanians. But not for kids, they're impervious to cold.

    An Australian 20 cent coin now accidentally lies a couple of kilometres below sea level at latitude 20° 5' 9" S and longitude 173° 42' 49" E . If you find it, please return it to me.  Thank you.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Climate Change

Not much has been said about this topic in Australia or around the world so I thought it was time I did a blog entry to raise its profile. It looks like could really be important.

A Facebook friend of mine (John Lord) posted a very interesting status and I thought it worth repeating. John has stated he has little science background, however I think this post is a good read for scientists and non-scientiists alike.

Climate Science ‘A Layperson’s Dilemma’

During the last federal election campaign I tuned onto the ‘7.30 Report’, the night Kerry O’Brien interviewed Tony Abbott about the coalitions ‘Broadband Policy’. During the interview, Abbott who was totally out of his depth appealed to O’Brien not to ask questions of a technological nature because he simply did not understand it. As a voter, I was appalled that anyone with ambitions to become Prime Minister should know so little about his own policy. (Mind you, he could not introduce his party’s economic policy either, but that is another matter)

What occurred to me on reflection was that if Abbott knew so little about the science of the internet, how could he have developed such an insightful knowledge of climate science as to be able to dismiss it as crap? This in turn prompted me to question my own comprehension.

I had to admit that although I followed the debate rigorously and considered myself well informed. I in fact like many others knew little of the science itself. Frankly, I have enough trouble with the pop up toaster.

Ask me about literature, art, political and religious philosophy, music, sport and I can handle myself adequately but science no. Ask me to explain how an atom is split, how carbon dating works, how science takes us to space, advances in medical science, how a mobile phone system works’ D&A, genetics or electricity is produced then I would be hard pressed to explain. In fact, I could not and the reader will understand I have only minutely touched on some branches of science.

So as a layperson, where does this leave me? Whom do I believe? Well for me it is a no brainer. I come down on the side of science. In the last few years, I have under gone a number of operations. I have had a heart attack and bowel cancer. When confronted with these issues never once (when consulting with surgeons) did I question the diagnosis I accepted that scientific research had given my doctors the knowledge to perform whatever procedure was necessary.

Therefore, it goes that I cannot explain how many things function or occur. I simply know that science through reasoned, rational enquiry, evaluation and testing proves that they do.

For the life of me, I cannot understand people who accept science in fact and use it every day somehow become brain dead when it comes to climate science. However, lay people like me who believe in the existence of climate change cannot honestly claim to know the veracity of the science for ourselves but are happy to delegate this task to climate scientists. Laypeople simply do not have the knowledge to adjudicate on the issue.

On the other hand the, those who deny the overwhelming scientific consensus seek to justify their belief by attaching themselves to a minority of science skeptics with obscure qualifications or worse to right wing shock jocks and journalists with no scientific training what so ever. These people (like you and me) have no way of evaluating the volume of data produced by the various scientific institutions. One of the most outspoken skeptics (Andrew Bolt) has recently been found guilty of deceptive lying in that he defamed some white skinned aboriginals. One has to wonder how many he has told when writing about his favorite topic climate change.

If I do not support the 95% of scientists, every major scientific institution and the research that is constantly peer evaluated I am obliged to accept the alternative. That is that I should take seriously the likes of Andrew Bolt, (A journalist) Alan Jones, (I’m not sure how you would describe his contribution to society) Lord Monckton (A discredited something who was once a lobbyist for the tobacco companies) Nick Minchin and Tony Abbott. (Both politicians). In fact, Minchin is on the record as saying that climate change is a left wing conspiracy to replace communism. None of the aforementioned people has a background or expertise in climate science.

Now that’s not to say that they should not have a view and that that view should not be considered as should any laypersons if they are of that ilk. But surely, we must respect the science otherwise; you put into question all science.

As to which way is the best to tackle the problem in Australia this is more open for the layperson to investigate. In this country, we have two propositions. One is to tax the major companies responsible for the pollution with a carbon tax and use part of the tax to compensate households and business for increased charges. A market approach would be normally supported by conservative governments and was liberal policy prior to Tony Abbott being elected opposition leader.

The other is a direct action policy where taxpayer’s funds are given (repeat “are given”) to the polluters to clean up the mess they have created without any guarantees they will do so. In all my research, this method has no credence among professionals. Indeed, Abbott has not produced one economist in support of direct action. Treasury has qualitative evidence to suggest his plan will cost twice as much as they have committed. It is a shame, indeed sad to see shadow minister Greg Hunt who wrote his university thesis (with honors) in support of a carbon tax now trying to defend something he obviously does not believe.

In conclusion, for me as a layperson it seems logical to support the evidence the scientists have produced. I think all the people of this earth and our planet deserve the benefit of any doubt.

Alternatively, when science discovers a cure for cancer do I just say crap?

This issue is about science communication. Scientists are not, generally, good at it. There are recent  exceptions of course: Neil deGrasse Tyson, Brian Cox, Sheldon Cooper and Karl Kruszelnicki come to mind. There are others from the past that impacted me: Julius Sumner Miller and Carl Sagan were early influences.

Even though we are not doing a great job, I found John's summary quite refreshing - when push comes to shove he does trust science, as do most people - but for some reason not in the case of climate change.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Rock bands

OK, so it's been a while. I've been working, I've been tutoring maths, I've been writing my thesis and my dad died. :-(

But today, seven months after Dad it's time for an update.

If I was to appear on Rockwiz and they asked me my first concert I would answer: "An up an coming rock band in the mid 70's: AC/DC, Hobart, City Hall". And the audience would go "oooohhhh". I didn't know it at the time, but the, really, THE world's greatest rock band played in Hobart when I was 12. Mum was happy to let me go and take my 10 year old brother with me. It was loud, it was brilliant and the long version of Baby Please Don't Go blew me away. But Phill Rudd wasn't my drumming idol. He was close, but my idol was from England.

In your early teens you find a band that become your favourite band of all time. Your idols. And if you're musically inclined (to the rock instruments) you pick a rock instrument. Mine was drums. And my idol was Mick Tucker from The Sweet.

I started following Sweet after they released Ballroom Blitz and them promptly went and paid $6 for the album Sweet Fanny Adams. At first I was disappointed, not many hits on it and it was heavy. But then I grew to love it. And now, if I had to do the Desert Island Disc thing, Sweet Fanny Adams would be the album I would take.

Sweet had an interesting start. Bubblegum pop and cheesy songs. But in their heart there was decent hard rock. As good as you can get. And that's what I fell in love with. After Sweet Fanny Adams I bought Sweet's Greatest Hits and was so disappointed. Awful stuff that I couldn't appreciate (as a 13 year old) but it obviously worked for the crowds a number of years before.

The album Sweet Fanny Adams is, looking back, iconic. The drumming, the guitar and the vocals just soar. So many bands have built from it - even if they didn't know it. The Sweet were pioneers of the time - but we never knew it.

Time moved on and in 1986 (with me and my wife with a newborn son), Sweet toured Hobart. Brian Connolly and Steve Priest were not with the band, but Mick Tucker and Andy Scott was. To be honest, at the time, Mick was all I cared about. I was a budding drummer and Mick was here in town. So I bought my ticket. It cost $13.80.

I had listened to every Sweet album and so all my fingers were crossed that they would do "Man With the Golden Arm" - which contains an 8 minute drum solo.

They open with Hell Raiser - the traditional opening - and yes, they performed Man With the Golden Arm.

Now I would never pretend to be able to play that solo, but I know every note. And Mick played that solo, beat for beat it was perfect. On the live album, made many years before, someone shouts out "C'mon Mick" at a key point in the solo. I made sure that I shouted that out at that exact point. Mick and Sweet performed beautifully. I was so happy.

I hung around afterwards, and Mick and Andy came out. Andy was grumpy about the sound (I think) but Mick appeared quietly at the back. I went up to him and asked for his autograph. He signed my ticket. He was quietly spoken and didn't say much. Even so, that was my idol moment.

I took my film SLR camera to the concert and took a number of shots during the performance. Many didn't work but I got a few beauties. Mick threw his broken stick into the audience during the show and I noticed a girl had it. I offered her $10 (worth about $100 in 2012 AUD) and she turned me down. As a second prize I noticed Andy had dropped a pick on the stage. I grabbed it. It was mine.

In 2002, 16 year later, it popped up on a drumming newsgroup that Mick had died of cancer. He was only 55. I was quietly gutted. No one locally knew who he was or how good he was. But I did.

Fast forward to 2012. Twentyu six years after that concert.

Sweet are touring Australia and coming to Hobart. Only Andy Scott remains and the rest have been replaced.

Of course I was skeptical, but I had to buy a ticket.

Well, what a surprise. The band can still PLAY! The replacements can certainly sing high and have that Sweet sound. Andy can still play guitar and Bruce Bisland, Mick's replacement, has just nailed his sound. It was such a pleasant surprise. And the lead singer and bass player/keyboardist can also sing brilliantly. "Just like girls" - quoting Andy from the concert.

After sitting through hit song after hit song, it was just bliss. Even those awful early bubblegum pop hits, which they compressed into a medly, sounded good.

My mild disappointment was that Man With the Golden Arm wasn't played - but I forgive them for that. It was, after all, Mick's song.

My greatest surprise was when the launched into Love is Like Oxygen, and I was looking forward to a nice long guitar solo by Andy. Nope. They break into Fanfare for the Common Man, by Emerson Lake and Palmer. It was brilliant.

So they hold out to the end to play Ballroom Blitz - the one Sweet song I can actually play on drums - and then the show was over.

However, unlike young rockers, they go out front, sign albums, sell merchandise and have a chat. So I joined the queue - right at the end - and chat with them all. I complimented Bruce on his playing - I have so much respect for guy to sit in Mick's seat. And then I met Andy.

I showed my 1986 ticket, signed by Mick, and said "you were too grumpy to sign mine back then" - and he laughed! He asked if he'd like me to sign it now - I said "Yes please!".

We had photos with them and left with their three items: A new studio album, a live album and a a photo book (which they all signed) - all for $35.

The amount was good value, but I hadn't prepared for what I had got. I chucked on the live album on the way home in the car. It was nine of their key songs played live - just like we had heard them. Now that was brilliant. Nothing like reliving a concert you have just been to. I wish more bands would do that.

The studio album I was more cautious of. I left it for a few days. Then I put it on. I had run out of podcasts to listen to. What a surprise! They hadn't recorded new songs, they had recorded covers!

Now it's not often you hear a top quality band record covers on a whole album. That's what us plebs do in pubs. But it is GREAT.

The vocals are superb, the drums are brilliant, the engineering is great, and the song choice is just fantastic. Not what you'd expect either. The soaring Sweet vocals along with the solid muscianship behind it, along with songs by The Ramones, The Who and others . I cannot recommend it enough.

It's called "Sweet - New York Connection"

If you read this, Andy, Bruce, Pete or Tony, thanks for coming to Hobart. My day was absolutely made.

And if you're not Andy, Bruce, Pete and Tony - then check out the album!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The best film and how to pick a home theatre system

So you've been tied down and forced to choose the best film in the world. What would you pick?

If asked to pick the best film I would pick twenty. I'd include (in no particular order, and what comes to mind immediately), Inception, Star Wars, Alien, The Cook The Thief His Wife and Her Lover, Empire Strikes Back, Sixth Sense, Shawshank Redemption, Godfather, and...

Pink Floyd The Wall

Being a musician and a photographer this film and album has special moments for me. Being a vulnerable and swayable high school kid I asked my best mate (Greg Watson) what his best album was, and he said Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of the Moon". I'd, of course, heard my parents playing it but hadn't appreciated it for what it was.

So, taking Greg's advice I listened to it again.

And again, and again...

It was the final year of high school (1979 - age 15) and I was heading to college. In 1980 The Wall came out. I bought it, purely on Greg's advice.

I fell in love.

So in 1982, when Pink Floyd The Wall, the movie, arrived it was with great anticipation.

And I was not disappointed.

But having watched many films both before and since, and having recently just sat down and watched it LOUD, it would be the film I would take to a desert island.

Of all the films out there, this is what I would take. As a musician, as a photographer, you get it all.

(And the fact that a grumpy neighbour,with no taste, has just knocked on the door says it all...)

You may need to watch it a number of times, if you don't know the story. If you do not know it, just realise it's the story of a rock star, who's going through some problems and he's recalling his childhood. Just let the flicking back and forward of time-lines , ages and people happen. It's just great.

So, we've picked the best film, (and the neighbours have complained) so how do we buy a sound system?

After YEARS of experience, this is my advice:

Take your budget, half it, and spend that on the subwoofer.

I'm not joking,

This is the workhorse of your home theatre. Make sure it is powered, expensive and American. The yanks give me the shits with their religisosity and inability to convert to metric, but they know how to build things big and tough. And that includes subwoofers. M&K are a *fine* brand and with my statistically significant sample of one, I can recommend them.

After that, spend the rest on whatever you like and it will sound bloody decent. But, here's some guidance:

The Japanese make GOOD amplifiers.
The British make GOOD speakers.
The Americans make GOOD subwoofers. (Oh yeah - I said that.)

So, If you're seriouis...spend it on the subwoofer. That's what makes home theatre sound good. Go for the centres, the surrounds and the rear if you like, but it's the subwoofer that counts.

I'd rather a good sub, left and right than a crappy all round "surround system".

And since my neighbours (dis)agree, it's a good sign!

For the record I have a Yamaha RXV-800 (for the last 15 years), Mordaunt Short MS30's (for the last 30 years), and an M&K V75 Mark II (for the last 10 years).

And I am happy.


Monday, July 26, 2010


Boy does this seem a hot topic nowadays. So emotional.

Let's get to the point here.

Everything (above a certain dose) that goes into your body has an effect. These effects are different for different people. Hence the effects are measured as risk factors. You have to weigh up that risk factor vs the risk of NOT having that substance.

For example, I get migraines. (A migraine being a headache so painful it causes you to throw up.) I can prevent a migraine with aspirin. (I'm lucky.) Aspirin has potential side effects. I weigh those side effects up against the pain I suffer. I consult my doctor and we agree on my prevention and treatment. I know what happens if I don't prevent a migraine. I suffer. My worst was 16 hours of throwing up and ended up getting a morphine injection. My risk of not taking aspirin is in my face. So I take the risk. (And anyway, the risk is small with aspirin.)

Vaccines prevent horrible illnesses. They also have a risk of other effects. However the diseases they prevent can have very severe effects. Mainly death, brain damage, or disfigurement (talk to a polio victim about vaccinations).

Many years ago when those diseases (e.g. smallpox) were in everyone's face and killing people, everyone understood the risk of not having the vaccine. That side of things is not seen anymore.

Until poor Dana died of whooping cough and her parents saw it. A disease which my mum remembers since she nursed dying whoping cough infants.

The reason people trivialise mumps, rubella, whooping cough, polio, measles, smallpox, diptheria, tetanus, TB etc is because they have no personal experience of what it's like to have it. Hence they see zero risk. This then makes the (much smaller) risk of vaccine side effects much larger in their eyes.

But in fact it's not.

Now doctor's see these diseases. They seem them in training, they see them re-occur in their practices. And I'm sure it's a rare doctor that doesn't make recommendations on what they genuinely believe.

So look at the facts:

Autism is not caused by vaccinations. Period.
Vaccinations can cause side effects (as can any drug).
The risk of those effects is small.
The disease being prevented has a risk of doing permanent damage or killing you.
You have forgotton or never experienced that disease. Hence you downplay the risk. This is a huge mistake. Pick a disease and go look at the figures.
Compare those with the risk factors of the vaccine.

Leave your emotion at the door.

Make a decision.

Here's mine:

Get every vaccine of a disease that can kill or maim and that is also a realistic risk in your country. (e.g. I haven't been immunised against smallpox and I wouldn't bother with chickenpox if I hadn't had it already).

Don't trifle with mumps or measles. I've had them both. Mumps is the worst illness I have ever had and measles can give you brain damage.

Flu shot: if you're old - yep. If you're young and healthy and you can handle being on your back with a severe fever for two weeks. Don't worry about it. (And if you've ever had genuine influenza - you probably will remember it and would take the needle :-)

And one last thing. For those young babies or those with compromised immune systems who cannot be vaccinated - they rely on herd immunity. Us being vaccinated so the disease isn't around. That prevents them being sick. They have no choice.

So if you're on the borderline - think of them and maybe that might tip you over.

Monday, July 19, 2010


I recently participated in an astronomy conference here in Hobart and the Governer gave a speech to kick it off. Now I have to admit I was expecting a dry and somewhat uninteresting performance but I was pleasantly surprised to hear a lucid, funny and hard hitting orator drive home his point.

His major issue being that if you are going to progress (in astronomy) you have to get your message across to the public in an understandable manner.

This of course doesn't apply only to astronomy but to just about everything.

That evening, delegates had a reception at the Governer's residence (read castle) and as we were all milling around, drinking expensive wine and wondering what the poor people were doing, up walks Peter Underwood AC, Governer of Tasmania (and ex Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Tasmania) to have a chat. He wasn't working the room of course, he just saw that our group looked the most intelligent and decided to join us. :-)

I complimented him on his speech and I wanted to discuss his main point. He gave me a legal example of how technical terms can be a problem. "For example", he started, "If I was representing you legally and I said..." (legal jargon that I didn't understand) "...then all you would probably think is dollar signs".

And he was right.

At this point I said: "We have a the same problem. In your profession you have a very strict definition of evidence. Things that don't meet a certain criteria cannot be used in court." He agreed completely.

"In science", I continued, "we have the same thing. The rules of scientific evidence are equally strict."

"And", I concluded, "the general public typically hasn't a clue about either".

He thoroughly agreed and suggested we needed to get together and solve this world problem. I told him I'm free on Saturday and I'll pop over.

(I didn't show, so he's probably not speaking to me anymore.)

Anyway, the point of all this is that generally speaking most people have different views of what evidence is. e.g. "My uncle Norm saw this bright light in the sky" means "aliens exist". "X is written in (some book)" means "X is true". "Fred saw John holding a gun" means "John is guilty".

I think a lot of the world's issues today are because different people accept different levels of evidence as true. People aren't typically dumb (well mostly), they just accept as evidence what others may reject.

It is a useful exercise to learn and understand what is accepted as evidence in science and as evidence in law. These definitions help to weed out knowledge from heresay.

Remember that next time you are taking an antibiotic or are appearing in court and then you'll really appreciate that some people take the time to get it right.