Friday, 29 November 2013

Dogs - and the nature strip!

At least a couple of residents in our area are concerned about the state of their nature strips.  There are clearly some strongly held views around!

Thursday, 28 November 2013


We planted three lillypillies in the part of the garden that had to be cleared to enable the new fence to be constructed.    As it turned out, each of the three was a separate variety.

We were quite pleased with the burst of spring growth - but on one, many of the new leaves were suddenly affected by a whole lot of bumps.  I took a sample to the nursery, and the problem was immediately recognised as psyllid (Trioza egeniae).  Apparently this is tiny insect which sucks sap from the new leaves, causing little  lumps on the upper surface.

The nursery recommended cutting the affected leaves off and spraying the regrowth.    They also mentioned that there are lillypillies that not subject to these insects (and our other two seem to come into this category).

On reflection, it may have been better to have bought one of the nursery's tolerant plants and to have replaced our affected plant.   This is because the spray that he sold me wasn't cheap and apparently I'll have to apply it at intervals this year during the growing season - and perhaps every year (not sure).   Unfortunately, I didn't think quickly enough to do this, and anyway, the plant that is affected is the largest of the three.  Hence, for now, I'm in the trimming-and-spraying phase, but I'll be keeping an open mind about other options.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

The "Cash Back" offer

I've already mentioned that I recently bought a new camera.    I'd been monitoring the prices of cameras on my short list, but my final choice was influenced by the fact that there was a "cash back" offer on one of the models on my list.    I've always been sceptical about these "offers", and my experience on this occasion just reinforces that. They're hard work!

The first issue was that it turned out that the one and only way of claiming the "cashback" was on-line.  The only information the retailer gave me was, "you claim the cash back on the Canon website".  Yeah, right, but the website didn't give a link to the relevant location.  The search tool didn't help, because I didn't use the magic word "promotions" - was I supposed to have thought of this?

I rang the Canon support line, but, no, they couldn't help, I had to speak to the "Promotions" support line and they had closed for the day before the time of my call.  The issue was finally resolved by a call to the shop where I'd bought the camera, who after some minutes and a drop-out on the line, pointed me in the right direction (that is, use the magic password, "promotions").

Secondly, the claim on the website had to be accompanied by a scanned copy of my purchase receipt.   Fortunately, the sales person did know about this and although he didn't actually volunteer the information, it came out in response to my questioning.   He was also good enough to scan the receipt for me and to email it to me (saved me from what would otherwise have been a bit of a hassle).

Thirdly, the claim form asked for some personal details that I wasn't really happy about giving, but unless the fields were all complete, it couldn't be submitted.  The lure of $50 persuaded me to waive my principles!

Fourthly, it's going to take "up to 60 days" for my money to be direct credited to a bank account, and would have taken "up to 90 days" if I had requested a cheque.   So, don't even think of applying if you're not an Australian resident (in particular, there's no facility to have the amount credited to a credit card).

In short, "cashbacks" are obviously a marketing tool.  I've read that the promoters assume that a significant percentage of  those eligible won't persevere with the application, and my experience certainly confirms that a less determined person could well be deterred form doing so.

I can report that I subsequently received an acknowledgement within a few days that my claim had been "approved"....along with the information that it may take 30 days before I see the money.  At least this is down from 60!

Tuesday, 26 November 2013


We had a quick cup of coffee at Lona Pintxos Bar. We'd noticed it was there, but it wasn't until we were in the mood for a coffee late one afternoon that we ventured in.   Even then, it wasn't until I subsequently checked out the web-page (in particular, under the heading "press") that it all became clear to me.

First, the name, "Lona".   Well, it's owned by Charles S, who also owns Barca, up the road.   Put the names together, and what do you get?  BARCA-LONA!!!

And why is it a "pintxos" bar?   Well, the web-site explains, "Pintxos ("spike" in Spanish) is a style of tapas that has its origins in San Sebastian, Spain. The concept is simple – food is both laid out throughout the bar and brought around in a ‘take what you like fashion’. Each food item, usually a small tapas size portion, is held together by a spike. Customers take what they like, keep the spikes and then pay later".  Kinda like a sushi train?
Barca is just up the street

Now that we know what it's all about, yes, we'll be going back to check out the food.  Although we haven't (yet) investigated the "pintxos" offering, or the Spanish beer on tap, we can vouch for the facts that (a) coffee is available there quite late in the afternoon, when other places have closed; and (b) the coffee is fine!    We'll overlook the minor anomaly that San Sebasti√°n is in the Basque region and Barcelona (with an "e") is in Catalonia.

Monday, 25 November 2013

Project DeBello ... 5 years on

It's been 5 years since "Project DeBello" was called off.  I was reminded of this when I read the article by Matthew Stevens in the Weekend Financial Review (sorry, there's a paywall, but hopefully you get the idea).    This was BHP Billiton's project to take over Rio Tinto.   Stevens outlines how, a few weeks after the GFC, BHP Billiton decided not to proceed with the proposal, and in particular, not to offer divestment undertakings to the European competition regulators, with the consequence that the proposal could not proceed.

Those of us who were involved in the project (although my role was that of a very small cog indeed!) look back wistfully on it.   With hindsight, after the GFC, it couldn't have proceeded...but imagine if things had been different and it had been implemented.

Friday, 22 November 2013

Raisins and Almonds

I recently commented on one of Kerry Greenwood's Miss Fisher books (Urn Burial) and although I was a little cool on that occasion, when I came across Raisins and Almonds, I thought I'd give Ms Greenwood - and Miss Fisher - another chance.  This was particularly in light of the fact that the Miss Fisher series on ABC TV is apparently very well regarded by some, although I haven't seen any it.  This isn't surprising as, apart from the news, I watch very little TV.

Raisins and Almonds isn't new (it was first published in 1997) and is about a murder in Melbourne's Eastern Market in the 1920s.  The mystery requires Miss Fisher to engage closely with the Jewish community.    I was more impressed with this book than with Urn Burial, particularly as the author has obviously researched not only Melbourne's geography of the era but also the Jewish community of the era.  I can't speak about the accuracy of the latter (although a list of sources is set out), but certainly her description of Melbourne's geography and in particular the 1920s Eastern Market rings true.   I have very early childhood memories of the Eastern Market before it was replaced by the then ultra-modern Southern Cross Hotel.  To think that the Southern Cross Hotel (where the Beatles stayed when they came to Melbourne)- has in turn been replaced by an office building.  But I digress.....

Apart from this, the Miss Fisher theme is there:   a dalliance (I can live without this aspect, but perhaps these things are expected of modern authors?) and several separate threads to be unravelled.    Of course, Miss Fisher sorts everything out.  It just seems all too easy.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Buying a camera

I have had my current camera for a few years, and it has served me well.  I know that my photos aren't always great, but that's probably due more to my lack of skills than to the camera.  Also, for the record, some of my photos are taken using my phone, which isn't great but I don't always have a camera with me when I need it.

There have been significant developments in camera technology since I acquired my present camera, and you certainly get "more bang for your buck" now.  Just the same, I have stuck with my present camera because I have become reasonably familiar with its controls, and have been able to utilise its various features.

However, it has also meant that I have become aware of its limitations, and with that in mind, I have been intermittently researching what's now available. There's an enormous range of cameras available, at least on the internet. It's very important to know what features you need.  For me, while the quality of the image is obviously an important factor, other considerations included the amount of zoom, the ability to control the aperture and exposure settings manually if desired and the size/weight

But just because a particular model is reviewed and available on-line doesn't mean that the stores stock it.   With the exception of the speciality shops (at least to some extent), the range available in each category in the stores is nearly as great as might be assumed.  It's not a lot of use looking at the reviews and setting your heart on a particular camera if it's only available on the internet (not my preferred method of purchasing).

So, when after several months of casually watching what was happening in the market and reading numerous reviews, one of the cameras that was in fact on my short list (offering a reasonable balance of the features I had in mind) was promoted by a well-known retailer at a good price, plus the distributor had a "cash-back" offer,   I made the decision to "go for it".   Result, a new camera that I now have to get used to, and a wait - potentially 60 days! - for the "cash back" offer to materialise (this is deserving of a post in itself).

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Eaton Mall

There may be other "Little Greece's" in Melbourne but Eaton Mall (and the Oakleigh shopping precinct generally) is right up there.   In the shops, the default language is sometimes Greek!

The Mall is a pleasant place for a souvlaki or cake on a nice day.  Why bother going to Greece when you can have the food, the atmosphere (and, dare I say, the attitude!) so close to home?



Of course, not everything's Greek....

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Legal profession -- "be nice"

Lawyers are supposed to be "professionals".  But it seems they need to be reminded!  On the same day in November, there were two such reminders.

First,  the Victorian Legal Services Commissioner sent out an "alert" to lawyers, to the general effect that he wasn't impressed by a rise in complaints made by lawyers to other lawyers, such as threats of legal action being taken against the lawyer for the other side.  An example is where a threat is made to pursue costs personally from the other lawyer.   The Commissioner said that the "aggressive and personal tone" of these interactions "demonstrates professional conduct which falls far short of the standard expected....".

And, on the same day,  the High Court handed down a decision to the effect that if documents are mistakenly provided to the other side (during the discovery process), they have to be returned.  In this case, the firm that had received the documents sent as a result of an obvious mistake was ordered to return them - and their client had to pay the costs of this part of the litigation (all the way to the High Court)!    The courts recognise that mistakes will occur in large commercial cases, and lawyers have professional and ethical obligations to support the proper administration of justice.

Now, all that remains is for some elements in the profession to take heed of the Court's  comments along the lines that "speed and efficiency" are essential in legal proceedings....!

Monday, 18 November 2013

Sunday lunch

We had a catch-up lunch a little while back with a group of old friends (the "Gang" know who you are).    Everyone brought something to both eat and drink and the conversation covered a lot of topics.

But. strange to say ..... one of the main topics of conversation was travel!    Health issues were mentioned, too!   Could it be the age group?

Friday, 15 November 2013


It seems that the world-wide epidemic of attaching locks to bridges has arrived in Melbourne, particularly on the Southbank Footbridge! Perhaps there aren't as many at Southbank as at other locations....but who knows, with the passing of time....

Vrnjacka Banja


Thursday, 14 November 2013

The Mountaintop

MTC's The Mountaintop is a bit surreal at times although the acting by the two person cast is great. It's a vision of Martin Luther King’s last night before his assassination, set in a motel room.   Camae - the bold young woman who brings his room service - forces him to confront his own fears and desires. The play assumes a basic knowledge of Martin Luther King, which I guess all Americans would have and as presumably anyone who is likely to attend an Australian production would also have.  Nevertheless, in spite of his fame, I understand that King was a private person behind his well-known rhetoric so of necessity the play is completely imaginary. 

Here's one review of it.  The performance we attended was followed by an open forum with the director and the actors.  One aspect of the discussion that struck a chord with me was a question about the "Americanism" of the play.   This is reflected in Woodhead's review, who refers to that fact that "it's a shade strong on US triumphalism and self-absorption".   The response to this was along the lines that it's an American play, and so that's the way it's been presented.  Fair enough;  on reflection, I don't think there would have been any alternative.

Just for the record, the gunshot that most of the audience were expecting doesn't occur!  However, the play does seek to exhort the audience to "carry the baton" in relation to a whole range of issues, in keeping with King's own work which extended over and beyond his civil rights campaigns.  I think I even recall a reference to "boat people".   Although the exhortation was impressive, the response from the audience was, well, muted.   In the discussion, LaBont√© said something to the effect that on different nights, audiences had reacted differently.  There may have been pockets of enthusiastic response on the night we were there, but on the whole the response was fairly subdued.   Notwithstanding that a more enthusiastic result may have been "politically correct", I think it's unlikely that an Australian audience in a theatre would ever rise in their seats in the way that an American civil rights rally might have done!

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

The Smart Meter

When the first wave of smart meter conversions was occurring, the guy came to the door to do the work but took one look at our meter box and quickly retreated, telling us that it "was full of asbestos".   He was obviously a casual contractor but nevertheless in the months since then I have wondered what I ought to be doing.  My mind even turned to the possibility of Citipower arriving and demanding that I pay for the meterbox to be fixed so that they could have a "safe place of work".

That was some months ago.   Recently there was another ring of the door bell, and a man who identified himself as a Citipower person - which was certainly consistent with his uniform and equipment, and the van outside the gate - informed me that he was here to install our smart meter.   What about the asbestos, I asked?   The reply was to the effect, "Not a problem, I know how to handle that".  15 minutes later, the power was restored and the little red light on the new smart meter was flashing!

True, he said that there was asbestos there, and part of it wasn't in the best condition, so "one of these days" it ought to be dealt with - but for the time being, keep the door of the meter box closed.  Given that it is now no longer necessary for the meter reader person to open it, that shouldn't be a problem.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Via Fratelli

I was told that we'd been to Via Fratelli previously, but I don't recall it.....possibly got lost in the mind amongst the numerous other mid-range pizza and Italian restaurants around, all with similar menus:  pizzas, risottos, pastas, chicken parmigiana, veal scallopine. fish of the day and so on.   Don't get me wrong, I'm very happy choosing from this type of menu, and there's not a lot that can wrong.

In fact, the atmosphere and food at Via Fratelli was just fine, and the service was good too --  it's just that there's a whole lot of restaurants in the this category!

Monday, 11 November 2013

Windows 8.1

I've previously set out my views on Windows 8 (here and here), which came pre-installed on a new computer.   I had heard that the updated Windows 8.1 addressed (in a limited way) one of the many issues that I (and apparently others) have, namely the lack of the "Start" menu.  So, without thinking too much about it, when I came across the Microsoft update site quite late in the evening, I plunged in and pressed the "Update Now" button.

I think the review on CNET got it right:  "Improved Windows still torn between tablet future and PC past".    Yes, there's confusion, and no wonder corporate buyers are sticking with Windows 7.   Whether 8.1 is actually an "improvement" or just makes a few "changes" is still very much a moot point in my mind.

Yes, you can now set it to boot to desktop, although just to make sure you don't accidentally set your PC to boot to the desktop if you don't really, really mean to, Microsoft has cleverly hidden this feature under "Taskbar > Properties > Navigation".

Likewise, there's a token effort to re-instate the "Start" menu:  now you can click on an icon (instead of using the Windows+C keystroke) to get back to the so-called Start screen (but this continues merely to  present you with a whole series of tablets, not a conventional menu).

On top of this, I wasn't impressed with the fact that the total time to download and instal was about 2 hours.  The download took about 20-25 minutes (I'm not sure of the precise time because it then went straight into the installation process).  The installation process, which occasionally gave unhelpful messages about progress, including "Applying settings" and "Setting up a few more things", together with random percentages as to the progress of that particular phase, gave no indication at all of how many more phases were to come or long it would be before the entire process would be completed.   

Like Windows 8 itself (and, for that matter, the current version of Microsoft Office), 8.1 virtually forces you to sign up for access to Microsoft's big storage facility in the cloud.  I was only offered the option to skip  this when, late at night, it became obvious that I couldn't remember the password for my email account.

When the process was complete, I found that the background on my desktop had been changed to a revolting yellow (not that I liked the Windows 8 desktop, but the new one was far, far worse), that I had to re-set my Bluetooth connection and that I had to re-configure my printer settings.

To sum it all up:   the release of Windows 8.1 hasn't changed my negative opinion of Windows 8.

Friday, 8 November 2013

A Murder is Announced

Agatha Christie's play, A Murder is Announced, now on at the Comedy Theatre, has a few twists and turns, but we enjoyed this light-hearted and competently produced play.   Of course it's "entertainment" rather than "great theatre", and its appeal probably lies at the......errr.... "more senior" end of the demographic range (no "coarse" language, hem lines all below the knees!).   It builds on the success of The Mousetrap, but has a bigger tangle of  personal backgrounds, shifting identities, and possible motives for murder.   And that's after leaving out a number of the twists (and one of the murders) that Agathe Christie had in the original book!
The venue, too, is pleasant.  It's been many years since I've been to the Comedy, but even though not much seems to have changed over the years, it still has a nice feel to it.  And there are lots of bars, too!

Thursday, 7 November 2013


I was in a restaurant with family members when, within a few minutes of eating part of a pizza shared with the table, I suffered some stomach discomfort, and then faintness to the extent that I was verging on unconsciousness.   I was rushed off to the hospital emergency department where with some reluctance on my part (but in hindsight, I suppose correctly) I was hooked up to a variety of wires.  They don't take any risks with "senior males" who present with chest/abdominal issues!    After a less-than-comfortable night (it's hard to sleep when you can't roll around because of the wires), I was released in the morning with the conclusion, "it was probably something you ate" (influenced, I think, by the fact that I eventually threw up in the middle of the night).

I can only conclude that I've got an allergy to goat's milk, and cheese made from it (the only slightly unusual ingredient in the pizza).    My limited research with google shows that while such an allergy is not unheard of in isolation from  allergies to other forms of milk, it has been reported (there again, with the aid of google, virtually every ailment is "heard of").  However, I can't see avoiding this type of food will require me to make big changes to my lifestyle, so no goat's milk cheese from now on.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Internet Banking security

I logged on to the bank's internet banking site, and was informed that I now had to register three "security questions".  Yes, I know that other banks have had this requirement for a while, so ANZ is catching up.  I have no objection to this - except that there is no provision to frame your own questions and the range of pre-set questions was quite limited.  Frankly, I struggled.

I think that the responses to such questions ought to be intuitive, but I'm afraid that the answers to questions such as, "Which city or town was your first job in?", "What was the name of the first album you bought or downloaded?",  "Where did your parents meet?" and "What was the first concert you went to?" just don't come easily to me.  True, there were other questions, and I managed to get there, but ANZ gives the strong impression that the questions were formulated by someone from Gen Y - or perhaps someone trying to appeal to Gen-Ys?  Pity about the rest of us.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Botanic Gardens

It was a lovely sunny day, so we took ourselves to the Royal Botanic Gardens.  This was the first time we'd been for some time.    The were lots of people out and about enjoying the spring weather.   We climbed Guilfoyle's Volcano (previously, we've only walked past it).  It was full of water, and there are floating islands.   We read that the roots dangling beneath the islands help remove pollutants from the water.  Of course the design of the gardens owes much to William Guilfoyle, who took over from Baron von Mueller (who is sometimes blames for the spread of blackberry in Victoria, but even if this is so, it appears that it had already been introduced).
Floating islands in Guilfoyle's Volcano

But I digress.  We had a pleasant walk and also had coffee and scones and did some people-watching at The Terrace cafe.

But, where were  the swans?  There were a few ducks and other waterfowl, but no sign at all of swans.

Bridal photography



A few ducks - but no swans

Monday, 4 November 2013

Derby Day - and hats

We watched a little of the Derby Day action at Flemington on TV.   Of course, it's not the same atmosphere as being there, but it's less hassle and you do see (and hear about) what's going on - and there's nothing to stop you having a drink in your hand!

Of course we admired the ladies' headgear.    Not far from us, there's an establishment where designer headgear can be hired!    Sounds a great option!

Friday, 1 November 2013


I know that I posted about Halloween last year, also here.   I admit that I remain a little uncertain about it .   As Wikipedia tells us, it's the eve of the Christian feast of All Hallows' Day and the time in the liturgical year dedicated to remembering the dead, including saints (hallows), martyrs, and all the faithful departed.  However - like other Christian festivals - it probably has pagan roots, and I suppose my issue with it is that it seems that it's these roots that are in the ascendancy today.

But, be that as it may, perhaps it's not a big issue, so I just "go with the flow", like everyone else, without worrying too much about  its significance, whatever that may be.   The kids have fun, and the supervising parents seem to get into the swing of things, too.  One parent even thoughtfully gave us a handful of sweets - because there was a big group following!

I lost count of how many children came to the door - but we exhausted our supply of sweets, as well as the reserve stock, well before the last of the children had departed from the street!