Sunday, May 29, 2011

Sunday Night Tomfoolery (2)

An early one tonight, as I bring you music performed using Tesla Coils.

"What are Tesla Coils?", I hear you ask.

"Good question", I respond.

Tesla Coils were invented in, or around, 1891 by Serbian engineer and inventor, Nikola Tesla. They are a type of electronic transformer circuit, used to produce high voltage, low current electricity. Wiki has a lot more of the technical stuff about them here.

Whilst this doesn't sound all that interesting one of the cool things that Tesla Coils can do is be manipulated to make music. This can be done by modulating the power burst coming out of these things, using MIDI data and a control unit. Also known as Zeusaphone (a cross between the Greek God Zeus, and a Sousaphone), a termed coined by Dr Barry Gehm.  However, enough copying from Wiki. You're here to view YouTube videos, not to get a physics lecture.

This is a basic video of how music is played using Tesla Coils:

Now, famed Australian blogger Greg Jericho (creator of Grog's Gamut) has a (fairly) regular blog topic concerning movies, on a Friday night (though not last Friday, I note). Anyway he always manages to link his current movie review to his previous movie review, whether as a result of the two movies having the same director, lead actor, composer, etc. You can see his list of movie reviews at the end of this blog.

I mention this because I think it will be good to try and link my Tomfoolery blogs in the same way.

My first Tomfoolery article finished with the theme from Mario Brothers played on bottles. The first YouTube clip tonight is Mario Brothers played on the Zeusaphone (ignore the idiot American yelling "Oh Yeah!" at the start. He shuts up pretty quickly)

I am a sucker for music from Star Wars. John Williams is one of the all time best composes of music scores, with music not only for the Star Wars movies, but also Indiana Jones, Jaws, ET, Superman, Harry Potter (at least the early films) Saving Private Ryan, etc etc etc (as well as arranging Fiddler on The Roof for the big screen, which he received an Oscar for in 1971 - his first of 5). But I digress. The next one is one of his biggies, Darth Vader's theme, also known as the Imperial March:

And do not ask me why, but Popcorn (made famous by the group Hot Butter - no joke. Look it up) has been a favourite of mine. Here it is on Zeusaphone:

This is a variation of the Tesla Coil, as it involves having a guy in a metal suit, acting as an earth for the electricity (I think I may have made that up). Anyway, here is the Dr Who theme (this will probably be a future topic for a Tomfooolery):

These coils don't just play movie themes and 70's synth music though They can be used to play "serious" music. Here is Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor:

Have a good week. Next Sunday we look at Bach's Toccata.

Friday, May 27, 2011

The Australian "News"paper - Sookie Sookie La La

The editorial quality of our National newspaper has been questionable for a fair while now. The obviousness of the attacks being made against the current Federal government has gotten beyond a joke. Not that I am a Labor flunky, or even an apologist for the current Government. But time and time again The Australian steps over the boundaries of "keeping the Government accountable" to include articles that are nothing other than thinly disguised attacks on Gillard, Swan, and the rest of the leadership within the Federal Government.

So in a hostile atmosphere where The Australian appears to have thrown out the rule book on how quality journalism should be conducted it is quite funny to see this in their newspaper this morning:

Defence dodge  'a disgrace'

Rather than reproduce the entire article (you can read it for yourself online) I will highlight just a couple of paragraphs for your entertainment:

What followed next was a breach of trust, running counter to a long-standing practice between defence ministers and the media. Defence Minister Stephen Smith gave an update of the troubled project during question time yesterday, choosing a time when the full attention of the federal press gallery was focused on parliament.

His move appeared designed to limit the damage to the government of yet another Defence project debacle, but also to spoil what was planned as an exclusive front-page story.
The editor-in-chief of The Australian, Chris Mitchell, said he viewed it as "one of the most significant breaches of trust for many years".

"It is an absolute disgrace that questions from a journalist prompt a premature announcement, simply to try to avoid embarrassment," he said.
 The article is written by Stefanie Balogh, not one of The Australian's brightest stars.

What I dont get is how the paper thinks that making a full announcement in Parliament, in front of both the opposition and the Federal Press Gallery, avoids embarrassment for the Government.

Also - "one of the most significant breaches in trust for many years" Really? In what manner? By publicly disclosing information in an appopriate manner, rather than as another misrepresented smear article on the front page of The Australian.

Now The Australian invites its online readers to provide a response, a sort of online letter to the editor. These very rarely, if ever, get published. So I'm going to publish my response here:

This article represents all that is wrong with The Australian today. I cannot believe that you believe that this is either a) newsworthy b) in the public interest or c) a good read. It is none of those. All I can think of is that The Australian has become a "sook". "It's not fair" you cry. "They're not playing by the rules". And this, after all the spiteful, misleading, inflammatory articles that this newspaper includes each and every day of the week about how "bad" the current government is.

Spare me your tears, drink some concrete and harden up.

Yes, it's a Friday.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Bill Hunter R.I.P.

"A gentleman, an inspiration to fellow actors, a journeyman and a rogue. He was a fine actor, a true storyteller and a great friend."
This was how Bill Hunter's manager for 17 years, Mark Morrisey described Bill Hunter, in the news tributes following the announcement of the legendary actor's death, yesterday afternoon.

Bill had performed in a staggeringly large number of movies, telemovies, miniseries and TV shows, the full list of which can be seen here, or here.

Some of the less well known appearances included 2 episodes on Doctor Who in 1966 (as Guardian), 6 episodes in Prisoner in 1979 (as George Lucas - not THE  George Lucas, I suspect) and 2 episodes on Minder in 1993 (as Reid).

He has, of course, been in the three best known Australian cop dramas of the seventies, including Division 4, Homicide and Matlock Police.

I wont go and list all of his other performances (I really didn't like Muriel's Wedding), but I want to highlight a few over the years.

BHP - The Big Australian
From memory (cause google doesn't seem to be too helpful about this) these ads were created in the mid 1980s', during the time when Bell Resources (headed by Robert Holmes a Court) made a bid to take over BHP. As part of the campaign by BHP to repel the unwanted bid, a series of ads were made with Bill to describe BHP as "The Big Australian". The ads appeared all over television and were made to prompt those BHP shareholders who weren't sure about what to do to not sell their shares to Bell Resources. Ultimately the bid was withdrawn and we now have an even bigger, sort-of-Australian, BHP Billiton. (If anyone can find any of these ads online please let me know.)

Barry Fife - Strictly Ballroom  (1992)
This movie was co-written and directed by Baz Luhrmann (who went on to direct Moulin Rouge, Australia - also with Bill Hunter in it - and Romeo and Juliet) I really enjoyed this movie, not for the dancing (though that was brilliant) but for the comic absurdities surrounding the organisation known as the Ballroom Federation and especially how it handles the running of the Australian Pan Pacific Championships. With a little bit of reworking of the script this movie could have been retitled Strictly Bandroom, as it reminds me so much about the the way brass band associations have been run in Australia.

Bill plays the role of Barry Fife, the Federation president, who tries to discourage Scott Hastings (played by Paul Mecurio) from dancing with unorthodox steps. When it comes time for the final, Scott dances with his own special moves and Barry comes on to disqualify him from the event. Barry, to me, is an amalgam of about half a dozen people who have previously been involved with the Victorian Bands League, and I cannot help but to think of them when I see this movie, and Bill's character.

Stan Coombs - Crackerjack (2002)
Crackerjack was co-written by Melbourne comedian Mick Molloy (he also starred in it), was one of the best Australian movies around that time and is a bit of a gem. The story revolves around Jack Simpson (played by Mick) and how a local bowls club fights to stay in existence. John Clark plays the evil villain of the movie as a "Pokies King", intent on using the land at the bowls club for his own purposes.

Bill plays the character of Stan Coombs one of the local bowls club (Boggera). Here you can see some of Bill in action.

(Note at 2:19 you can here Tony Martin as the voice over the PA system).

Finding Nemo (2003) and Legend of the Guradians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole (2010)
By coincidence I was watching Legend of the Guardians with the boys last night. Bill's voice lends itself well as a character for cartoons. In Finding Nemo he voices the dentist, Phillip Sherman (from 42 Wallaby Way Sydney). Phillip is the one that appears to orginally "kidnap" Nemo for his fishtank at his office.

In Legend of the Guardians he voices Bubo, which admittedly is a pretty minor role in the movie. Given the absolute wealth of other Australian/New Zealand actors lending their voices to this film (including Geoffrey Rush, Sam Neil, Barry Otto, Hugo Weaving, Anthony LaPaglia, Angus Sampson, and David Wenham) I think it would have been a travesty to not have Bill Hunter in there as as well.

One of Bill's final roles could very well be his finest as he will be seen in The Cup as Bart Cummings, legendary horse trainer. This will be released towards the end of the year (though don't be surprised if it ends up being released a bit earlier now).

Vale Bill Hunter

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Sunday Night Tomfoolery (1)

Well this is the first of what will hopefully be a regular series of Sunday night blogs showcasing some of the weird and wonderful on the internet.

The theme for our first Tomfoolery is bottle playing.

Bottle playing is the playing of different bottles as a musical instrument where each bottled is individually pitched (in the same manner as a marimba or xylophone). I am only looking here at bottles that are hit with something (such as spoons). There will possibly be a whole other session on bottles that are blown into (much like panpipes).

I blame my very recent interest in this on a post last week by one of my Facebook friends, Simon Tsang. This was his link (I think they're Uni students with a bit too much time on their hands - the guys in the clip, not Simon):

The piece they are playing is titled Csardas (a form of Hungarian dance) by Vittorio Monti.  It is interesting that a) the best known csardas was composed by an Italian and b) it's the only piece that he is famous for.

Anyway, I got to looking at other forms of bottle playing on the Youtube.

There are a number by Bottigliofono, including another version of Csardas, and this excerpt from Mozart's Rondo Alla Turka (final movement from Piano Sonata No. 11).

And his interpretation of Spring from The Four Seasons, by Vivaldi:

Of course bottle playing has been used in advertising. Most notably, in Australia it was used to promote Fosters Victoria Bitter, which (quite frankly) does not feature in my list of favourite beers. However Fosters do produce very good ads for their beers (maybe a topic for a future Tomfoolery). Anyway, here is the ad:

As an aside, there were many well known and talented Melbourne brass and percussion players used in the making of this ad. I know a few of them (Hi Matt, Joe, Martin).

Then there's this one, from a restaurant in Spain. I'm not sure why I like it. It could be the facial expressions of the players or the swigs taken from the bottles being played. If I ever travel to Spain, I will be tracking down this restaurant.

Now to start adding skating to bottle playing. Here is someone revisiting Mozart, this time with a theme from his Symphony No 40.

I could go on and on, but I won't. Here is a final clip, the Mario Theme played on bottles, using a remote controlled car:

Have a good week.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Stantons 2011/12 Federal Budget Review

This is the budget that we had to have. The deficit will need to be reigned in, and given that we have a Labor Government, there is some pain to be felt by small businesses.

I am going to ignore all the headline stuff. Budget deficit of blah, blah, blah; jobs, jobs, yawn; lets look at the stuff that will affect small businesses.

Self Managed Superannuation Funds (SMSF)
I have about a dozen clients with SMSF. There is a $30 increase in the annual levy to $180. If you don't have one, but want to start one, things have just got a little bit harder. Auditors will also need to lift their game, which will result in higher annual audit fees for these funds. There will also be a tightening of the administration requirements for trustees.

See more here with Fairfax.

There has been some good news, with some adjustments to unintentional concessional superannuation contributions.

Private Use of Business Owned Motor Vehicle
This was announced a couple of days ago and I think that the thought behind this change is fundamentally flawed.  In effect it forces those business that provide motor vehicles to their employees for business use to insist that log books be kept. Fail to have those log books and the cost of having those cars will increase, both in GST and in Income Tax. For some business, it may mean a rethink as to whether or not those cars are kept in the business.  Here is one view of the changesHere is another.

Motor Vehicle Tax Write Off
As a bit of a trade off, any business purchasing a motor vehicle in 2012/2013 will be able to claim an immediate $5,000. I think this sounds better than it actually is, as explained here. I'll wait for the detailed legislation to come out before jumping for joy over this.

Entrepreneurs Tax Offset and Change to PAYG Calculations
This will disappear in the future. This sounds bad, but in reality this was only able to assist a relaively small number of  legitimate businesses. Given that the Gross Income threshold was $75,000 it meant that it was not assisting those businesses looking at growing.

There are also changes to the way PAYG instalments are to be calculated. This is another announcement that sounds good but means little. PAYG is just a prepayment of tax. At the end of the year it doesn't change the amount of tax calculated by one cent. It just changes the timing of the payment of that tax. Yawn.

Read more here.

Picture of Scary Opposition Treasury Spokesman (AKA Shrek)

Crackdown On Income Directed to Children
This is a bit of a pain in the arse for those clients that operate a family trust and use that trust to distribute income to kids. This budget has reduced the effectiveness of distributions to kids and comes into play from July 1 2011.  More here

Extra Funds to the ATO for Audits
This is painful, not because any clients are doing the wrong thing, but because this will mean the tax office will be wasting more of my time chasing up on information to satisfy audits, meaning higher fees by me.

I think we will be reintroducing tax audit insurance for all out clients as the likelihood of audits taking place has increased. More here.

Family Tax Benefits
A raft of small changes here meaning that many families will either have small wins or small losses, depending on their individual circumstances.

Income Tax Cuts
There are none. First time in a long, long while.

Yeah, the Government needed to be seen to be doing stuff to to reduce the deficit. Whether anything substantial will be achieved with these measures is debatable. Whether this will get the budget back into surplus is also debatable.

Will the oppostion complain about the budget? Yes, that's why they are there. Will it do any good? No. They're not supposed to.

Thank you. Return to your lives now.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Adelaide Family Trip - Day 19 (There and Back Again - Part 2)

A slow start to the day after last night's merriment. Gees, hasn't it got cold!?

After saying goodbye to John and Helen we started way home along the Great Ocean Road.

Now I am not inclined to participate in road rage, but I was following a car for about 50 km along the Great Ocean Road that chose to drive at 20km below all sign posted speed limits. He continually failed to pull over at the "slow drivers turn offs" that they have on the Great Ocean Road and acted in the manner of someone in his own little dream world. I have your licence plate etched in my mind, Oh slow driver, and have this curse for you (read somewhere in the last couple of days online - Thanks Michael Cole)
May the fleas of a thousand camels infest your crotch and may your arms be too short to scratch
The Great Ocean Road is a brilliant road to drive on. The scenery on both sides can be absolutely spectacular. It wont be a quick drive (especially if you have some old codger doing 40kmph) but it will be an interesting one.

Once you turn off onto the freeway, outside Geelong, it's a pretty uninteresting trip all the way back to Pheasant Creek.

Highlights of these holidays? - In no particular order
  • The brilliant efforts of the band to get second place overall in the National Band Champsionships
  • The giant pandas at Adelaide Zoo
  • The beaches at Moonta - and we were lucky enough to have warm weather whilst we were there
  • Dinner at Hahndorf Inn
  • Penola - Penolaraya and the Tapas Bar we had lunch at
  • The Sound and Laser Show at Flagstaff Hill
  • The hospitality shown by John and Helen
  • Chris's Restaurant on the last night

The lowlights? Thankfully not many:
  • Getting a cold in the first week
  • Having to replace the Alternator for the Tribute
  • Codrington Gardens
  • Poor weather
  • Coming home
Night all

Adelaide Family Trip Day 18 - (Otway Fly/Chris's Restaurant)

The Otway Fly is located about 45 mins - 1 hour from Apollo Bay (depending on which roads you take).

There are two main parts to the "Fly". You can walk through the forest and up onto the Treetop Walk, a 600 metre metal walkway up to 40 metres up in the air. The second part is the zip, where for "an additional fee" you can "fly" along a series of cable spans located throughout the forest. We didn't have $375 to spare, so just did the Treetop Walk.

The walk to the "Fly" takes you through forest settings in the Otway Ranges, and incuded a prehistoric walking path (cue happy snaps)

I took this photo midway through an argument between Nick and Ben about who was going to be in the photo. Neither boy is smiling here.
Photo taken just before the Dimetridon attempts to bite Nick's arm off.
Ben and Stegasaurus
Ben playing hide and seek with Velociraptor
One of the very few photos I have where Lesley has willingly posed for the camera.
Nick and Triceratops. Apologies for the fuzziness.
The Fly is one of those concepts that would work in a number of different environments. Anyone with a few million spare, the Kinglake Ranges is a perfect spot to set up another Fly.

The Fly itself was a bit of fun, and allowed me to tick the box "exercise" under my list of things to do whilst on holidays. I needed to burn up as much energy as possible to allow me to properly enjoy myself at Chris's.

Chris's Restaurant is located in Skene's Creek, a mere stone's throw from John and Helen's place (however about a 5 minute drive). The owner, Chris Talihmanidis, is a local identity in the region, having previously owned an eatery in Lorne. Chris also owns the Sea Grape in Apollo Bay (though I must admit I didn't see this when walking through the town earlier in the day). The menu reflects Chris's background in that it is mainly influenced by Southern European flavours and, given the location, seafood features heavily on the menu.

As part of my 40th birthday celebrations I wanted to have a special night out and Chris's seemed to be the perfect place for it. Now for those of you who know me well, I don't like seafood, but there was enough choice on the menu to ensure I wasn't going to have any problems.

The first surprise of the night came from both boys. Now normally at restaurants there are kids menus which will typically have dishes such as fish and chips for spagetti. This is was Chris's had. Both boys said no to the children's menu and instead opted for an entree as their main meal. Both of them went for whole baby squid, stuffed with spinach, feta, currants and pine nutes, very similar to this recipe on their website. The waitress was impressed and I think Chris was as well, as he came out to check that the boys were enjoying their meal (they were the only kids there). They did.

The entree choices included Mussels (chosen by John), octopus cakes (Lesley), quail (Helen) as well as couple of other seafood dishes and a duck confit. I chose a traditional Greek dish of Saganaki, made like this, but better.

For mains both Helen and Lesley chose Fish of the Day (Blue Eye? - not sure) and John went for another seafood dish (I forget now what it was).  I had rabbit, boned and stuffed with chicken and mixed herbs and other seasonings, wrapped in vine leaves. This was a very interesting dish, with many subtle flavours and nothing overpowering the overall taste.

I was keen for dessert and whislt John and Helen abstained, the boys went for a kids serving of icecream with chocolate topping (nothing special).  Lesey had a Jaffa Chocolate Mousse that I would have also gone for, had I not spied the icecream.  All of the icecreams served at Chris's are made in house. One of the menu items was a trio of icecreams with greek inspired flavourings. The first was mastikha (sic?) which I was told was a sweet gum, or resin from a tree, similar to maple syrup. The second was a pistachio praline icecream and the third was rosewater and turkish delight icecream. These icecreams were the highlight of an all round brilliant meal.

Chris's is quite pricey, but if you are looking for a special night out, and are in or around Apollo Bay, I would recommend this as a gastronomic night to remember.

After dinner we returned to John and Helen's and spent the next few hours listening to music and drinking red wine. German Brass DVD of Bach works, was the standout work.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Adelaide Family Trip Day 17 - (Spirits, Rocks and Brass)

The first leg of our journey today saw us travel to Timboon. Timboon is a small dairy and timber town but the purpose of our visit was to visit the Timboon Railway Shed Distillery. The food here is great, you can purchase local  produce (cheeses, preserves, sauces and the famous Timboon Fine Ice Cream and you can sample the produce of the distillery - their whiskey, schnapps, vodka or limoncello. There is a local connection with this business as a local Kinglake business identity assisted with the construction of the distillery.

Ever since visiting Hobart last year, and enjoying a sip or two of whiskey at the Lark Distillery, I have been attracted to the idea of maybe constructing a distillery in Kinglake (or at the very least, drinking more whiskey!). I had a good chat with Tim, the owner of the Timboon distillery about how you go about setting one up. If you ever see a distillery set up in the Kinglake Ranges, remember it was my idea first. (By the way, the Timboon Distillery is up for sale. If you are interested, click here for further details).

Having stocked up on spirits we continued on our way to look at interesting sights along the Great Ocean Road. First stop was Loch Ard Gorge. For those unfamiliar with the story of the Loch Ard, see my previous posts, or read here.  The rock formations are interesting to see, if only for their historical significance.

The next and final stop in rock viewing was at the Twelve Apostles. Happy Snap time ...

Our final destination this afternoon is to our friends John and Helen at Skenes Creek, where we will stay for the next couple of nights.  John was my music teacher at High School, as well as being conductor at Box Hill City Band for a number of years whilst I was there. John was a brilliant Tuba player in his time, and has taught a large number of prominent Melbourne brass musicians over the last 25 years. Now retired, it is good to catch up with John and Helen and see how the family is going, as well as enjoy a glass (or few) of beer, wine, port, etc etc.

With John's extensive knowledge of music and all things brass it will be a certainty that we will hear new recordings of brass playing whilst staying here.

Tonight we listened to Vienna Horns, and their first, self titled CD. A brilliant horn sound from this ensemble, the recordings include a number of pieces from composer such as Mahler, Copeland and Schumann, as well as music from Titanic. I must admit I enjoyed this piece to be the best:

Thank you all for your birthday wishes.  Good Night all.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Adelaide Family Trip Day 16 - (Quiet Day)

Not much happened today. Nick has a cold, the weather is not great and everyone just wanted a quiet day.

Had brunch in Port Fairy.

Had tea in Port Fairy.

Skenes Creek tomorrow.

Adelaide Family Trip Day 15 - (Passenger Transport - in 3 Movements)

1. Mazda Tribute
The Mt Gambier leg of our trip has not turned out to be what I had hoped for. Pretty much all of the second day was spent trying to work out:
  • what went wrong with the car
  • who would fix it and 
  • when it would be fixed
 Today sees us patiently waiting for the mechanics to weave their magic and get us back on the road again. As last night was our final night at the motel, we have transferred all of our luggage to the undercover swimming pool area and wait.

A big thank you to OGR. They couldn't guarantee that the work would be completed before the end of the day, but at 1:00pm, I get a phone call letting me know that the car is ready to be picked up. $1,100 later, and the car is all packed, ready to drive back into Victoria.

2. The Bondi Express
I don't know. It all looked good on the website. Something novel for the kids as we get to the end of our trip. And admittedly we had difficulty in getting accommodation around Warrnambool due to the horse race meet on this week (5th May is a public holiday around here).

A couple of things to note. Codrington Gardens is a fair distance from Warrnambool. It's a fair distance from anywhere (phone and wireless internet reception are not good here). There's also a lot of these things around:
Yes apart from our accommodation, Codrington Wind Farm (One of the biggest wind farms in the state) is the only other thing of interest in the area. We have heard and read various articles about issues relating to these. I must admit, we can't hear them, and given the desolate coast line they aren't exactly ruining a pretty landscape.

Anyway, back to Gardens, and out accommodation on the Bondi Express. The idea was sound, and the photos on the website were all professionally taken, probably a fair while ago. The hosts are nice people (no complaints there), I just think there is something lacking here.

It may be that the train is furnished in much the same way as your grandparents furnish their house. I was going to provide some of my photos, but their website I think shows the interior much better. All perfectly  appealing to a different age group than a family with two young kids (I guess the magazine in the lounge titled Fit and Fifty was a hint). If you look carefully at the photo of the upper deck lounge room, you'll see a bottle of port, provided as part of the service. I had a taste of the port and cannot guarantee either's its age or drinkability.

It may be that the kitchenette is missing some basic items, such as glasses, and most cutlery and crockery (though you can make a cup of coffee or tea. No milk, though)

It may be that the bathroom requires significant work (though to their credit, they have had the plumber out 4 times to fix the plumbing to the toilet). The monogrammed towels are thick and luxurious and a nice touch. The bathroom also has one of the most unique signs I have seen in all my years of travelling:

It may be that there are 4 or 5 dud light globes that need replacing, as well as the television set.

Look, it has potential, it just needs some money spent on it to bring it up to scratch.

3. The Loch Ard
Tonight we drove the Flagstaff Hill in Warrnambool for a dinner and show. The dinner was at Pippies by the Bay (not too bad).

I must admit I enjoyed the show. The sound and laser show is all based on the final trip aboard the Loch Ard, sailing from England to Melbourne, with it coming to grief somewhere near Port Campbell. The show utilises the village at Flagstaff Hill as a backdrop, and tells the story of three people on board the Loch Ard, the two survivors of that trip (Thomas Pearce and Eva Carmichael) and Captain Gibbs. The show itself went for about 20 - 30 minutes, but I thought it was well worth it. The boys were probably looking for more action, somehow (a ship sinks. The End. Sort of like the Titanic). If you find yourself in or around Warrnambool for a few days I suggest taking the time to visit Flagstaff Hill, and if possible see their Sound and Laser Show.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Adelaide Family Trip Day 14 - (The Alternator)

Our Mazda Tribute is a 2003 model and has travelled slightly more than 251,000 km. By and large we have not had too many problems with it. Over the years I've hit a couple of animals, requiring some panel beating work, but there hasn't been much else wrong with the car. It has been serviced regularly (we had it serviced just prior to the holiday). So why is it that the alternator decides to die whilst we are on foreign soil? One saving grace is that it broke down in the centre of a major town like Mt Gambier and not on the highway between towns.

So, the local AA man (RACV in South Australia) jump starts the car, then removes the jump leads. The car stops. He does it again. Same result. He then leaves the jump leads on, and the car limps to the nearest auto electrician. What then follows is a few hours of head scratching, phone calls to other local auto electricians, wild estimates of cost and time for replacement, before I finally ring the local Mazda dealership to get their service department to fix it.

I don't totally blame Macca, from Gambier Auto Electrics. It was clear that he had a lot on his plate and didn't really want my car stuffing up his schedule. He at least charged my battery up, allowing me to drive to the Mazda Dealer without having any further problems. But $1,200 for a new alternator (Genuine part)? And 7 hours of labour? ( He was talking about pulling the engine totally apart. That's not how you replace the alternator, from what I see here) On Thursday? Sorry. I have booked to see a show tomorrow night in Warrnambool. Mt Gambier is nice, but it's time to move on. Special thanks to my local mechanic, Tony Whibley (Kinglake Automotive), for giving me some idea as to how much I should actually be paying, and how long it should actually take. So, Hello O G Roberts. You have my car, now make it better. The timing might be a bit tight, but it's the best bet we've got to get where we want to be, when we want to be there.

I then spent the rest of the day in the pool mucking around with the boys. Fingers crossed that tomorrow we get our car back with time to spare for the trip East.

Monday, May 2, 2011


This blog is has come about due an afterthought relating to a purchase made at The German Pantry in Hahndorf.

The German Pantry is a shop that essentially sells food and food products from Europe that you normally would not find in Australia.

One of the purchases I made there was for paprika flavoured Pringles. Now as someone practically raised on Paprika I just had to buy this to try it out (I haven't yet).

It's only been today that I was thinking:
  • Why can paprika Pringles only be purchased in a specialty shop?
  • What other flavours do Pringles come in?
I went to the Australian Website for Pringles to find out the "standard" flavours, which are:
  • Original
  • Sour Cream and Onion
  • Salt and Vinegar
  • Hot and Spicy
  • Cheddar Cheese
  • BBQ
  • Pizza

I reckon these are pretty boring flavours, epecially when you compare them to some other chips flavours made by other producers, including:
  • Moroccan Chicken (Red Rock Deli)
  • Dijon Mustard and Honey (Red Rock Deli)
  • Thai Sweet Chili (Smiths)
So a quick look Google has picked up the following interesting flavours for Pringles, pretty much all of which are targeted at particular countries:

In the US of A:
  • Jalapeno
  • Ranch and Bacon Ranch (what does a ranch taste like?)
  • Loaded (?) Bake Potato
  • Honey Mustard

Germany: Sweet Paprika

Asia: According to wiki, these are available
  • soft-shelled crab
  • grilled shrimp
  • seaweed
  • blueberry and hazelnut
  • lemon
And then there are these "Extreme" flavours:
  • Screamin' Dill Pickle
  • Rajin' Cajun
  • Sizzlin' Sweet BBQ
  • Smokin' Hot Ranch

I don't know about you, but I want to know who makes the decisions about which country these flavours get distributed to. Has market research been conducted? Why does Australia get such boring flavours when the rest of world gets such variety? Surely Aussie taste buds aren't that bland?

I reckon there's a market in Australia for these other flavours ...


Today I opened the Paprika Pringles and had a taste.  To say that I am disappointed with their take on the taste of Paprika is to say I was disappointed that our car broke down today.  It was more a slightly tangy BBQ flavour than anything resembling Paprika. I am not sure If I should have expected much more from a company that has a flavour called Screamin' Dill Pickle.

Adelaide Family Trip Day 13 - (Holes)

The first holiday we ever took as a family unit (Nick was just over a year old) was to Mt Gambier as (surprise, surprise) part of a brass band contest. Memories of that holiday are now faint, but we do recall:
  • not sleeping much as we were next door to a group from another band that didn't know how to sleep, just how to drink
  • Visiting the Blue Lake
  • Nick being terrified of the ocean when we ventured down to the water at Ocean Grove, on our way home.
 9 years later and not much has changed. The town is bigger than it was back in 2001 and the council is now a bit more tourism savvy, but the traditional attractions are still there.

First stop this morning was to The Lady Nelson Visitor and Discovery Centre. The Discovery Centre is the best and the worst of interpretive centres. The wetlands section looked like it should have been overhauled about 15 years ago, with bits of chicken wire sticking out from plaster near faded stuffed animals. The Lady Nelson Brig was closed for repairs (though we did get a reduction in the entry fee as a result). On the positive side the Discovery Room, showing details of European settlement, included a well made video in holographic form, and in the Geology Room, the section of volcanos included a mini light and sound show.  This was the section the boys enjoyed best.

The rest of the day was spent sightseeing various types of holes around Gambier.

The Blue Lake (sitting in an extinct volcanic crater) is a a natural phenomenon where between November and March each year the water in the lake appears a very vibrant blue colour. Our visit, being in May, meant the lake was less blue, but still blue enough for me to take some happy snaps:

Maybe the photos do not show the real blueness of the water.  Anyway, we did a tour of the Aquifer (Blue Lake is the source of water for domestic consumption). Not for the first time of this trip (nor for the last time today) our tour guide, Garry, made the tour special. We were the only people on the tour and it took a little while for Garry to get used to dealing with a very small group. Once he settled in to it, he was a fount of knowledge, as well as telling us things that SA Water probably didn't want him to tell us (the issues of introducing fluoride into the water in Mt Gambier for one thing). Thanks Garry.

After lunch we visited the Cave Garden, located in the heart of the town, an interesting garden created around a cavem surrounded by construction activity (and incidentally the Mt Gambier library, reputed to be one of the best small libraries in the world)

From there we travelled to the Engelbrecht Cave, an underground cave system stretching for about 400 metres, located under Mt Gambier. In what I consider to be an innovative move by the local council, the cave and surrounding land and buildings (including a cafe) have been leased for five years to a private operator. The lessee, and our guide, Brenton, had explored the caves as a kid (when it was still just glorified landfill) and after travelling the world has returned to his home town with his NZ wife to run a business and to generally raise the standards of the tourism industry in Mt Gambier. Our visit here was split into two sections. the first was the actual tour of the caves itself, fascinating in it's history (previously used as a dump for potato waste for a whiskey producer, then as an unofficial tip for the city, before being cleaned up by the local Lions Club). The caves are world renowned and are used as training bases for cave divers.  The second part of the visit was to discuss tourism strategies used by tourism operators in Mt Gambier, and how some of these amy be used back in Kinglake. I thank Brenton for his tour and our chat afterwards.

The last stop on our hole tour was the Umpherston Sinkhole, an elaborate garden built in a large sinkhole by someone a long time ago with too much time on his hands. The gardens themselves were a nice to look at, but once you got over the novelty of it being in a big hole, it was just another attraction to tick off on the list.

Am enjoying a bottle of Cab Shiraz purchased from Hundred of Comaum in Penola now. Looking forward to more sight seeing tomorrow.

Adelaide Family Trip Day 12 - (Penolaraya)

Having experienced a pretty wet Saturday it was good to wake up to a sunny Sunday morning. The travel today was not going to be arduous (157 km in total) so it was to be a pretty relaxing day.

First cab off the rank was a mini drive-by tour of Robe, where we got an appreciation of the layout of the town, and visited a couple of historical relics, including the remains of the Old Gaol (built 1860/61 and used for about 22 years) and the Cape Dombey Obelisk (built 1852, used to guide ships through the entrance of Guichen Bay).
Photo of Ben taking a picture of the Obelisk

From Robe our next destination was Penola. This is the Coonawarra wine district, one of the best known red wine regions in Australia and was voted Most Fabulous Wine Region in the world at a 2004 International Wine Tousirm Conference. Prior to eating and drinking our initial stop in Penola was supposed to be a quick one - "for the kids". We spent a couple of hours at this place and was absolutely amazed by it.

The place I refer to is Penola Fantasy Model Railway and Rose's Tea Room, also known as Penolaraya.

In all honesty I was not expecting much from this place. It was in a side street and it looked as though you were entering the front rooms of someone's house. No-one greeted us at the front counter and it sounded a bit too quiet, like no-one was around. Having paid our entrance fee we then stepped through the cafe area to the main inside room. Rather than provide an initial description I will provide photos:

The creator of all this, Graham, is a retired school teacher who has always had a vivid imagination and has spent a good 10 years of his life developing this fantasy railway. It is apparently the largest fantasy railway in Australia, and I'd believe it.

The boys (and I) like going to see railways. The last one we visited was in Hobart and was a replica of a Swiss mountainside, including day and night sessions as well as different seasons. A few years ago we visited one in Emerald, being the largest HO gauge set in the southern hemisphere. One of the reasons that these are good places to visit is because for the owners, this is more than a business or an extension of their hobby. This is their passion. They live this stuff. And they want to share their passion, their knowledge, their love of their interests with other people. Yes, some may see them as being slightly loopy, eccentric, reliving their childhood, but I think it makes them more interesting.

As a former school teacher, Graham was able to communicate well with the kids. He had created a series of "Where's Wally" type quizzes where you had to locate various characters amongst hundreds of figurines dotted throughout the displays. As an example, there were 3 Colonel Sanders figures, dozens of smurfs, and a number of obscure figurines from the Yellow Submarine (the captain of the yellow submarine, blue meanies). The only groups missing were SciFi figures as I couldn't see Star Wars or Star Trek represented (though an Alien was there).

The quizzes were given to adults and kids alike. If you finished them quickly he would then proceed with additional quizzes, mostly made up then and there. Graham could tell if you were genuinely interested and would spend more time telling you about his creation.

There was an outside area as well. In the next couple of months 200m of track are to be laid down and with the purchase of some "really fast" trains, will make the outside just as spectacular as the inside.

 If you are ever in the Coonawarra region I strongly suggest you spend some time at Penolaraya. You will not regret it.

Do not worry, I did not ignore the wines. Lunch was at Terra Rossa Wine Club, where we enjoyed some tapas and I managed to taste 4 or 5 different reds as well as their dessert white (to go with my dessert). The keys were then handed to Lesley who drove on to Mt Gambier, where we will be for the next few days.