Thursday, 31 July 2014


There was a bit of a discussion a few weeks back about the use of biometric data for security purposes.

In particular, a Facebook engineer, Gregg Stefancik was quoted  as saying that he "hates biometrics" because, once such data is compromised, it can't be amended.  He means that a person's fingerprints, retina or voice pattern can't be changed, whereas other forms of authentication like a password can be reissued.

However, the "Biometrics Institute" (not quite sure what this is or who is behind it)  apparently think that this overstates the case. They say,  "that biometrics offers far greater security than passwords and can’t be stolen because they are physical features of a person."

Well, perhaps biometric data they can't be stolen from a person, but what about at the other end?   Surely the data has to be on file at the bank or wherever, so that when the individual logs in, it knows what to look for?   And of course, we all know that any organisation that stores data about you is quite capable of being hacked (for example, eBay).  EDIT - and cloud storage also seems vulnerable.

The essence of the the Institute's  argument appears to be that you don't use biometrics alone.  Err, what's that?    So you do have to have a password or PIN as well?  Kinda defeats the purpose, I would have thought.....

Perhaps I'm missing something here, but at this stage, I remain to be convinced about the utility of biometric data!

Wednesday, 30 July 2014


For weeks now, we've heard the possum(s) chirruping away during the night in the flowering ironbark tree close to our bedroom window.  

But on opening the front door one evening recently, we saw that  one of the noisy little guys had come to pay a closer visit!

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

The Flag

What happens to the Union Jack and even the Australian flag if the Scots vote for independence   (and here)?  There was an article in the Australian about this (sorry about the paywall), but the essence was that if Scotland became independent, then logically the St Andrew's Cross would be removed from the Union Jack.    Then the issue would arise as to whether a consequential change would be made to the Australian flag.    Of course, this is all entirely speculation at present and involves several layers of "what ifs" ......

The article in the Australian suggested that the Australian flag could end up looking like the flag on the far right.  Well, maybe, but doesn't the blue background come from the St Andrew's flag?    Why would this be retained?   The stripped down Union Jack - assuming that this came about - would presumably have a white background because the two remaining components,  St George's cross and St Patrick's cross, both have white backgrounds. 

One possibility would be to take the opportunity to change the Australian flag, but the big question is, to what?   Please, let's not move away from the present flag until we know what we'd get instead.   And for the record I don't much like the design being promoted by one group (left).

Monday, 28 July 2014

The Memorial Service

We attended a memorial Service for a long-standing member of the Church congregation.

About 150 people attended, and although the setting and format were traditional, many elements were, as happens these days, characterised as a celebration of her life, complete with reminiscences, grandchildren playing the cello and singing as well as Frank Sinatra recordings (and others) being played.  And then the refreshments afterwards spilled over into the worship space. 

All somewhat different from the orthodox tradition.

Friday, 25 July 2014


I'm still getting letters and text messages from the bank reminding me that it's "PIN-only" from 1 August (because the banks want it that way).   It's all very annoying - especially the text messages.   ANZ in particular is getting quite agitated that I haven't used the PIN on my ANZ credit card.   They don't seem to have noticed that I haven't used the credit card at all......
Seems to me that the people that the banks need to be talking to are restaurants!    In my albeit limited sample of restaurants over the last few weeks signing is still very much alive!

But what about overseas card holders and other people who don't have a PIN?

I see that the Dementia Institute has taken up the issue and apparently it will be possible to have "sign only" cards.   So maybe things won't be entirely "PIN-only" after all.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Yellow bins

We're used to  wheelie bins of various colours, for recycling, green waste and general waste.   Actually, the colour coding doesn't seem to be consistent across different municipalities, but perhaps that's another issue.   But, around here, we have a few all-yellow bins  in our shopping strips.

Looking more carefully, and we noticed that these are located outside newsagents and are lockable.    We saw the other night that they were being used to provide a secure place for after-hours deliveries of magazines.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Forbidden Fruit

I don't comment on every book I read, but I thought I ought to post something about Kerry Greenwood's Forbidden Fruit.   I can handle Kerry's Phryne Fisher (here, for example), but the "detective" in this book is Corinna Chapman.   I haven't read any of the previous Corinna Chapman books (I see that Forbidden Fruit is the 5th), so it took me a while to get up to speed on some of the context of this story.  Even allowing for this, I'm sorry, but Corinna is just too over-the-top for me.  Yes, there are some familiar place names, but there's too much food stuff, too many way-out characters, too many pets (sorry, "companion animals"), too much over-done description of Melbourne's (largely imaginary) "street scene".

Perhaps there's an audience for all this, but I ended up skimming the pages looking for the "story" - such as it is.  The story meanders down numerous seemingly irrelevant byways and involves highly implausible characters.   The trials and errors in the making of making of glacé cherries seem to get as much attention as the search for the runaway kids......and anyway, there's a recipe for glacé cherries when (nearly 300 pages later) you get to the end.

Monday, 21 July 2014


Baba's 40 day pomen took place on Saturday.   It was in Melbourne to enable those who had been unable to travel to Canberra for the funeral to be present.  However, a contemporaneous service at the graveside also occurred. It was advertised in a couple of the Serbian-language newspapers.

This is an important service.  Literally, "pomen" means "memorial service", but the significance of the 40 days is that the Orthodox Church teaches that there are two judgements. 
The first, or “Particular” Judgement, is that experienced by each individual at the time of his or her death, at which time God will decide where the soul is to spend the time until the Second Coming of Christ.  This judgement is believed to occur on the fortieth day after death.

The second, General or “Final” Judgement will occur after the Second Coming.

Candles were also lit for Baba on the day by family members at this small church in Montenegro.

ATM fees

It seems that ATM fees are very unpopular.   The Age (and other Fairfax media) ran a report about Galaxy Research's finding that people don't like ATM withdrawal fees when they use a "foreign" ATM.    It was mentioned that the typical fee seems to be moving up from $2 to $2.50.

But I'm sorry, I don't see any reason for indignation (at least, in relation to domestic ATMs).  Why shouldn't people be charged a fee when they use an ATM that's not operated by their own financial institution?   To me, it's a bit like walking into McDonalds and asking for a KFC product, or asking Qantas to sell you a Virgin ticket.

I think it's excellent that, if necessary, you can withdraw money from just about any ATM, but what's the problem if you have to pay when you use another bank's machine?  

It's said that people will drive to the other side of town to get petrol a few cents cheaper, so what's wrong with walking a few metres up the street to to get to an ATM operated by your own bank?  Although there are exceptions (small towns and airports come to mind), ATMs tend to be a bit like bananas - they bunch up.    Chances are that where there's one brand of ATM, several others won't be far away.

The use of  linked networks is sometimes overlooked, too.   The NAB and Redi ATM networks can be used interchangeably without fees, as can CBA/Bankwest and Westpac/Bank of Melbourne/St George.  I've seen a few Bankwest machines in 7/11 stores.  Another option is to use EFTPOS and the "cash-out" facility.    But of course the simplest option is just to plan ahead (albeit a little out-of-favour in our "instant gratification" world).

Friday, 18 July 2014

Caught smoking

As I've previously blogged, the train trip from Sydney to Melbourne takes 11 hours or more.   Obviously a long time to go between ciggies if you're a smoker, even if you're not going the full distance.   At many stations, only one or two doors are opened, and even at the bigger stations, passengers are strongly discouraged from getting off the train.  In fact, early in the trip an announcement was made that, because it's illegal to smoke on station platforms, it was no use smokers even trying to get off the train to have a quick light up.
A no smoking zone

Evidently all this was too much for one fairly young traveller on our train.  I happened to be moving about the train at the very moment that the train crew confronted him with the information that a remotely-monitored smoke detector had gone off in the toilet from which he had just emerged.

His denials didn't carry much weight as the crew (and I) could readily smell that he'd just had a cigarette.

He was escorted to the train manager's office, so I don't know what happened.  However, a few minutes later, a "final reminder" announcement was made that anyone caught smoking on the train would be fined and/or off-loaded at the next station.  Being off-loaded?   An option on the train, but wouldn't work so well for an airline!

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Glengarry Glen Ross

It was certainly "different" to see one of the actors on stage in an MTC performance with the script in his hand.    This occurred at MTC's Glengarry Glen Ross when we saw it on the Saturday after it had opened on the Thursday - and last minute substitute John McTernan was still easing into the part of Shelly.   At least the show went on, and in all the circumstances, he gave a pretty creditable performance.    It must take a lot of courage to take a part in a play just before it opens and to get up to speed with a cast who have been rehearsing together since the outset.

The play itself, by David Mamet, won the Pulitzer Prize in 1984 and is about the cut-throat, fast-talking, obscenity-ridden and deceptive world of Chicago real estate salesmen.

As with The Speechmaker, MTC had again dispensed with an interval, so it was all over in  90 minutes.  I'm beginning to wonder if intervals are so "yesterday"?

There's the "old school" sales guy in the "new era", and it's all unrelenting.  There are some insights, too, such as, " You don't sell one car to a guy, you sell him 5 cars over fifteen years".    Some salesmen get it, some don't, but it's tough and competitive, with no room for even a moment's humour.   MTC have done it as well as can be expected in the circumstances, and it can only improve as John McTernan gets more performances under his belt.

Update:   I see that it has now been reviewed.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Coffee, cakes and rain....

It was raining in Ballarat when we awoke, and it continued to rain for the entire trip home, via Creswick, Daylesford, Trentham and Woodend.     Bit as soon as we reached the outskirts of the city, the rain cleared - and we were told that it had hardly rained at all in Melbourne.
Creswick main street

At Creswick, unlikely though it may seem, there's a French-style patisserie (Le Péché Gourmand), so we stopped there for coffee and caramelised  pear slice.   After a quick drive-by of the Hepburn Springs to make sure they were still there, lunch at Daylesford was at the Food Gallery.  This gets mixed reviews, but we liked our meals (including gnocchi)..  However we were there on a relatively quiet and wet winter weekday, so they weren't under a lot of pressure.

Hepburn Springs - little has changed
We drove through Trentham, with coffee in mind, but none was obvious.   Since we had already stocked up on bread at Creswick so we passed on buying more at the Red Beard, but paused for more coffee and a chocolate slice (acceptable but not great) at Woodend before heading off on the last leg home.
Old railway wagons at Trentham - suffering in the weather

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Images of Scottish Australia

The main reason for our stay in Ballarat was to visit the the Art Gallery of Ballarat's display For Auld Lang Syne:  Images of Scottish Australia, from First Fleet to Federation.

The exhibition comprises an extensive collection of materials, ranging from paintings, books, charts and photos to artifacts, bagpipes and even goblets.  It commemorates the contributions of Scots to the discovery and early exploration of Australia through to their contributions in areas such as industry and the artistic world.    Even Mary MacKillop had a Scottish heritage!

There isn't very much about the role of golf, but I didn't regard that as much of a loss.   However, it did have David Syme and Simon Fraser looking at each other, notwithstanding their reputed fall-out over protectionism.

At the entrance to the display is an explanation of the new Ballarat tartan!    This features prominently on the publicity.    It has only recently been officially recognised, but apparently new tartans can still be accredited.   The colours in it are grey for the basalt Ballarat is built on, blue and white for the Eureka flag and yellow for the gold mined in Ballarat.   Overall, it's a bit drab, but perhaps this is rather appropriate for this part of the world.

Monday, 14 July 2014


We're in Ballarat again, primarily to visit the Scottish heritage exhibition at the gallery.  More about that later.   In the meantime, Ballarat in winter hasn't changed much since we used to do it in the May school schooldays.   I guess these days the accommodation is better heated (no complaints there), but outside it's cold, showery and bleak! 

We used to ride the trams out to the Gardens, but the trams ceased running regular services in the 70s although there are some preserved ones out near the botanical gardens.   And although there are a few places around to eat at, Ballarat doesn't have a strong presence in the Good Food Guide.   However, we had dinner at The Lane Restaurant, and were very satisfied.   It's a bit tricky to find, because you have to go through the Lane Cafe in Lydiard Street North, but it was certainly worth looking for.

Railway station (but only buses, no trains, when we visited)

Friday, 11 July 2014

Electioneering (1): The Frankston Line

So, there's a state election due in November.  Given that our local station is served by Frankston line trains and there are a number of marginal seats along this line, I can see that this going to generate some bloggable material! I've previously mentioned that we've been seeing some money being spent on the line, although how it is that the painting of stations  (possibly at the expense of work needed elsewhere) will win votes, I don't know, but that's politics I guess.

In the meantime, a "Frankston line" election brochure produced by the Liberals has already arrived in our letterbox.  There's a website, too.  The messages are mixed:   things are better than they were and new trains will make things better.    Of course, the proposed airport rail link gets a mention, as well.  But there's a lot of negativity, too, as we are invited to recall that the service wasn't too good when the previous government was in office.   True, and, yes,  some improvements to frequencies were made shortly after the last election (the price being, elimination of most loop trains).   But if we are invited to recall the past, will we also remember the fact that a station at Southland was promised at the last election and is still nowhere near being built (and is being re-announced)?  Or that last January, the services for the whole month were reduced by 50%, with bizarre results during the peak periods?   Or that on a recent train trip, just a few days back, the in-train displays and announcements weren't working properly?
The brochure makes the point that there wasn't much movement on level crossing removals when the previous government was in office.  Well, although there's been some activity on this over the last four years (Springvale and out Mitcham way), the world hasn't exactly been set on fire in this respect during this Government's term, and certainly not around here (although action is now being promised, by both sides of politics).

To state the obvious, the issue is credibility.    Promises, promises.....   And I guess that applies to both sides of politics!

I wonder if similar publicity will be developed for other lines (such as the Dandenong corridor), although my limited googling didn't turn up any dedicated websites.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Wotif to be acquired by Expedia

While bricks-and-mortar travel agents seem to be doing OK, there's activity in the on-line sector, too.

It seems that Wotif is going to be acquired by Expedia (at a price of $3.30 per share, including a special dividend).   Wotif has been having a bit of trouble recently, with the share price hitting a low of $2.26 on 21 May, way below its 52 week peak of $5.25 on 22 July last year (and even further below its all-time high of $7.69 in April 2010).   This is in spite of claiming to have 36% of the Australian accommodation online-booking market (see company research posted on CommSec site).  Media reports suggest that it hasn't been keeping up on the technology side of things.

The takeover of will presumably result in the disappearance of its "interesting" code from the ASX.

The Trip Advisor community doesn't really like the deal (not that this is relevant!), as Expedia evidently have a reputation for charging higher commissions than Wotif, and for seeking favourable conditions from providers.    (Interestingly,  Trip Advisor itself was spun out of Expedia).

Will Expedia maintain Wotif as a separate brand?   Or should that be "brands"?  Like other players in this market (and in the bricks-and-mortar market), Wotif also runs other sites including the and, sites.  And Expedia also runs Trivago, and Hotwire,as well as having a tie-up with Travelocity.  Thus, perhaps the Wotif brand will continue, at least on the consumer-facing side.

The other major international player is said to be Priceline (which owns  This interesting article in the AFR points out the dominance of the large operators.  The scale of Expedia and Priceline means they can sign up more hotels, negotiate better prices and insist on better deals from accommodation providers (for example, enabling them to offer price-match deals).   So other Australian operators such as Webjet (which, I note, owns Zuji) and even Flight Centre might find themselves being squeezed. 

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Travel agents

Our local shopping strip has lots of cafes, hairdressers - and travel agents.    I suppose that says something about the demographics of the area.
The new arrival
Recently, another travel agent has opened.  I wondered if the people behind it knew what they were doing - until it dawned on me that it was another brand operated by Flight Centre!  So I assume that even though the new shop is just down the road from the existing Flight Centre, they know what they're doing.

So many travel agents

The latest to arrive is just another Flight Centre brand

On a related note, I have used a particular consultant at the local Flight Centre branch on a number of occasions in recent years.

It seems that it was fortunate that she was available when I walked into the shop on the first occasion, as she is obviously experienced. I regard myself as a reasonably "informed" customer in that I have a fair idea of what I want before I walk in, but there are still issues on which I like to obtain a second opinion.   However, in a recent email, she informed her clients that she was moving to "Travel Associates" (yet another Flight Centre brand), which I thought was fine until I read on the website that this brand is  "a boutique travel agency dedicated to offering discerning travellers the ultimate in experiential [sic] travel and tailor-made itineraries".  Hmmm, I wonder if that's for me?

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

"Mad, bad and dangerous to know"

"Mad, bad and dangerous to know":  it is said that this was Lady Caroline Lamb's description of  Lord Byron (1788 - 1824), and it's been described as his "lasting epitaph".

I attended a lunch reflecting on Lord Bryon's life and times.   In the course of a fascinating and insightful discussion, the proposition was advanced that had Byron not died when he was 35, there would have been nothing else for him to achieve in life!

The times in which he lived were, of course, tumultuous, and perhaps contributed to a "live for the moment" attitude.

Byron opposed Lord Elgin's removal of the Parthenon marbles from Greece, and "reacted with fury" when Elgin's agent gave him a tour of the Parthenon, during which he saw the missing friezes and metopes. His poem, The Curse of Minerva,  was written to denounce  Elgin's actions.

Monday, 7 July 2014


It's a bit tough having a tennis fan in the house while Wimbledon is on.  Tennis is OK, but personally, a little bit goes a long way.   And I'm not good with the late nights.

At least it's now over for another year, and my sleep won't be interrupted when play finishes in the early hours of the morning!
They like Djokovic in Belgrade!

Friday, 4 July 2014

Reviews of diners

I was fascinated by Annabel Crabbe's piece in the Fairfax media a little while back that said that shared on-line reservation sites such as which provide central booking services for restaurants also allow restaurants to post comments on diners who use the service!   I couldn't actually find this facility on dimmi, but I guess it is in fact there somewhere.

So, we might all end up with ratings as to how we rate as diners!   What an interesting thought.   The reason we got a lousy table at restaurant "A" last night was because we only left a stingy tip at restaurant "B" the week before!

It presumably only applies if a person uses dimmi to make the reservation, although if the restaurant has signed up for this as a way of providing an on-line reservation service, I guess there's little choice.  Just the same, as with accommodation, I prefer to deal directly with the establishment if I can, which in the case of restaurants, generally involves a phone call rather than the use of an on-line booking service.  Nevertheless, it may well be that this is the way of the future:  if Trip Advisor can provide reviews of just about everything's that travel-related, what's so different about this sort of feed-back?

Thursday, 3 July 2014

The Cudgewa Line

B lent me A Railway to Cudgewa by Nick Anchen.

This certainly brought back memories:  in my younger days, I travelled twice on this line, once on a goods train and once on an ARHS excursion.    I may even have some photos from that time, but I've yet to locate them.   Although these trips were good fun at the time, we took so much for granted then, and only in hindsight do we appreciate what we experienced.

As every Victorian railway enthusiast knows, Shelley was the highest station on the Victorian railway network (2562 ft).

Back to the book:  various chapters deal with the history of the line (including the relocation of the town of Tallangatta between 1952 and 1956), stories about the enginemen, the various trains that operated on the line, mishaps, the Snowy Mountains scheme traffic, the life of the bridge gangers and the eventual closure of the line.   There are many photographs, which really do contribute greatly to the book.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Rubbish bins at your desk - and spin

So, the Tax Office is removing individual rubbish bins in its offices.   This is being said by some as being a belt-tightening exercise;  perhaps it is.  However, at the office in which I (sometimes) work, individual rubbish bins at the desk disappeared a long time ago. 

It was portrayed as an environmentally friendly move:   rubbish has to be disposed of into various recycling bins in communal areas.    However, individual boxes in which to place waste paper have been retained, which means the outcome isn't too tough as, in the office environment, a lot of the material that actually goes into the bin is in fact paper.

It seems it's all in the "spin".  Perhaps if the ATO  went on the front foot and told the world that the change it is making was for "environmental" reasons, the reaction would be better.

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

New Financial Year

Greetings on this first day of the new financial year.

And with the new financial year comes tax time.   This year, the ATO were quick off the mark - the email informing me that the new version of e-tax software was available arrived on 30 June. 

As always, there are changes, although I haven't absorbed them all yet.   But one change, right up front, is that to use e-tax, you have to register on the "My Gov" website.   I wonder where that is leading.....?