The Time Has Come (the Walrus said) Archives

Finally

Finally a fairly normal day after the last few days have given me the shits.

Thank you Trundling Grunt for referring me to The Bristol Stool Scale.

It is with the greatest of pleasure that I can report a mere 4.5 days of passing type 6’s.

Giving me the shits

Ick time.

I’ve had some kind of tummy bug, it started on Friday last week. By the time I left work I was convinced I was going home to throw up.

Instead it’s only been a weekend of staying close to the loo, to rush there whenever the need arose, about hourly.

I’ve been eating very little, and I’m AMAZED how much poo one can make, especially when eating about 1/4 of normal.

Things seem to have finally settled, and She Who Must Be Obeyed has let me eat about half a normal Sunday dinner. So far no loo rush! Bliss!

But this all brings back memories of babies.

Babies, see, have bubbly running smelly sticky poo.

There being no such thing as a log, we categorised poos when our children were babies. In order of increasing disaster they were:

  • The Exploding Poo. A poo that went all over the place.
  • The Enormous Exploding Poo. A large poo that went all over the place.
  • The Monster Enormous Exploding Poo. Self explanatory, really.

In the interests of brevity these were abbreviated to EP, EEP, and MEEP. Others wondered what on earth we might be talking about, but we took sly pleasure in our code!

There was one time we, er no, I had one off the scale.

Son #1 was small, SWMBO was cranky and fed up and wanted to get away.

“I’m orf cutting grass”, she announced one weekend. Cutting grass involved use of Mr Mower, and lots of trudging up and down the side of the stony hillside upon which the Dump family live.

I was building bits of house inside and had son #1 in my charge. Fine and dandy.

Then as I worked merrily away, the bubbling noise started.

I rushed and grabbed son #1 from the pusher, experience being that cleaning a child is much easier than cleaning a child and pusher.

As I bundled child off to the bathroom ready for nappy changing, the horror began.

The poo flowed.

And flowed.

And flowed.

Brown, icky, sticky, sludgy evil stuff, it overflowed the nappy and spread.

And spread.

This was the only time I have ever heard of for a child filling its socks.

Needless to say, the cleanup was long and involved.

Needless to add, She Who Must Be Obeyed came back inside after a therapeutic afternoon of pushing a mower, and was vastly amused to have the tale related :)

Housing affordability

Got this thingy through the letter box – you know, the usual junk being peddled by the big land and housing developers.

Coupla highlights:

WIN $1000 worth of retail therapy!

This appears on the front page.

What might have once been a joke has entered the mainstream, when it appears on things like this it just helps to push the message home, and the message is a simple one: Spending Money Makes You Feel Better. Wonderful for a consumerist society, but in practice it just encourages waste and the accumulation of STUFF.

Oh, and buying things never makes anybody feel better in the long term. Like sex, the pleasure is short-lived, but the desire to do it again quickly arises.

Next up:

The W****** Home and land from $437320

Yep, thats right, nearly half a million bucks for a 4 bedroom house.

The cheapest in the brochure is $271000.

Who NEEDS a 4 bedroom house? Not many, there are few families of 3 children any more. I guess it has its place.

More interesting though is that these packages include the land, in the first case valued at $162000, in the second case at $126000.

This is land in what used to be a swamp.

There was a time when it could not be given away!

But do the sums: in the first case the building is priced at over $275K. That should buy a heck of a lot of house. In the second case, the building is priced at $145K. Again, that’s a lot of money on roof over t’ heads.

The point I’m really getting at though is the price of the land. In a drained swamp, the land is fetching $162K for 350 square metres, or $462 / sq m. And in the cheaper case, $126K for 240 square metres, or $525 / sq m!!!!

Seems like a LOT of money for land in a swamp.

Somebody is making a killing.

And damn hard to justify spending that kind of money on todays average weekly earnings.

Tape measure

This one, from XKCD, has a perverse appeal :)

Quote of the week

Thank you, Aurelius, for this.

Cardigans

Milly-moo hates the cardigans – the bureaucratic twerps who put systems in place for doing useless crud, the people who most organisations breed over time. The people who apply the kiss of death to organisational effectiveness.

(HR departments seem to be especially good at breeding the life out of an organisation)

Here are a couple of true stories from way, way back. What happens when the cardigans have been in charge for a long time.

Pray your workplace never ends up like this.

———

I used to work for a large Commonwealth Govt department, back in the days before email. So this was the mid 1980’s.

The cardies there used to put out what I call “thou shalt-o-grams”.

Thou Shalt do this. Thou Shalt do that. etc etc.

And woe betide any poor hapless worker minion who forgot the thou-shalt-o-gram issued 3 1/2 years ago setting out the standard procedure for obtain cost account numbers, or some other such equally illuminating and productive way of using ones day.

You were expected to keep, and remember, every word of every thou-shalt-o-gram.

These were Standard Procedure, which you were expected to know.

—————-

One day I had to obtain safety equipment (ear protectors I think it was).

In order to get stuff, one had to look up the stores catalogue, find the catalogue number, fill out a requisition, get it approved and submit it.

Normally you got the item in 2-3 days.

I needed ear protectors same day, which meant I had to “walk it through”.

This meant going to see the relevant people and places. Approvals were easy, the boss just signed it off. You’d think that taking the requisition to stores would be a matter of the storeman getting the item and bringing it back, but no.

Safety equipment was special.

Here’s what happens when the cardigans got in the way:

In order to requisition safety equipment, you needed the requisition checked and countersigned by Safety Section, who would attach a safety assessment form.

The site was big, most places a long way from the office. A lot of driving was needed.

So, a quick DRIVE to safety section, right?

Wrong.

Safety section did not carry safety assessment forms, but helpfully they had the stores catalogue number.

Back to the office to fill out another requisition, this time for a safety assessment form, find the boss, get him to approve it (much shaking of the head).

A DRIVE to stores (about a kilometre away) to get the form.

Storeman comes back: Sorry, can’t give you a safety assessment form, we only have one left, and I can’t give out the last one.

Gah!!! Stalemate. No ear protectors, the cardigan brigade have won!

Then, inspiration!!

I asked the storeman if he would LOAN me the form!

Yes, he would. (I think he needed something to make sure I came back, some form of security, like a written note promising it, or leaving my drivers license, something like that).

I then took them form and photocopied it (after driving back to the office). The requisition for the form went in the bin.

Once I had my copy of the safety form I could get it filled out by safety section, and attached to my requisition. They were not happy about filling out a copy, but grudgingly did so. Must have the CORRECT form, you know.

Then, back to stores again, where the same storeman happily took back his original safety form, and took my requisition and filled out form and came back with the ear protectors.

Total time from start to finish to get ear protectors: 4 1/2 hours, and about 5 km of driving back and forward.

————-

There were many similar occurrences, so many that it just became an accepted thing that some processes took a while.

Another example was non-stores purchases. If you wanted to buy something, you had to do the obligatory requisition form, in triplicate of course.

If just submitted, you might get the item in 2-3 weeks. For something more urgent, again, you had to walk it through.

The process was something like this:

Take the item to central purchasing, look lost and say “what do I have to do?”. Somebody would usually take pity.

First stop: cataloguing. Have to make sure you are not buying an item already in stores, you know. That would be inefficient. No amount of explaining would let you off the hook here. The guy in cataloguing would pore through the stores catalogues for 15-20 minutes trying to find the item. If he could not, he’d initial the requisition to say it was OK to buy.

Second stop: coding. Somebody would assign some magical codes.

Third stop: Vendor checking. Somebody would check to see if the vendor was standard or non-standard.

Fourth stop: Approvals check. Somebody would make sure all the right signatures were on the form and that the people who approved it had the right spending limits.

Fifth stop: Typing pool. Somebody would type up a purchase order. You then carried this on your hot little hand!

Sixth stop: Accounting. Somebody would enter all the details of the order into the ledger book.

Seventh stop: Order placement. You then posted the order, or for something really important, phoned the supplier and quoted the purchase order number with the promise that the real one would be in the post in a couple of days.

If you were really accomplished, you could walk an order through in 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

Later all this crap was replaced by a purchasing officer and a computer system, you could get the whole lot done in about 5 to 10 minutes. Ah progress!

Two Caravans

I’ve just finished reading “Two Caravans” by Marina Lewycka.

As well as being a rollicking good read, it’s changed my approach to some of the food we eat. I can’t look at those nice packets of chicken in the supermarket in quite the same way, any more.

The description of intensive chicken farming (admittedly in Britain) is terrible and I’m well and truly put off.

I’ll take the liberty of quoting a few passages to illustrate the point:

When Neil opens the door of the barn for him to look inside, a wave of heat and stench hits him, and in the half-darkness he sees just a thick carpet of white feathers; then as Neil turns up the light, the carpet seems to be moving too; no, crawling; no, seething. They are so tightly packed you can’t make out where one chicken ends and next next begins. And the smell! It hits him in the eyes as well as the nose – a rank cloud of raw ammonia that makes his eyes burn, and he coughs and backs away from the door, his hand over his mouth. He has seen paintings of the damned souls in hell, but they are nothing compared to this.

And:

… they call them chickens, but their bodies look more like a misshapen duck’s – huge bloated bodies on top of stunted little legs, so that they seem to be staggering grotesquely under their own weight.

‘Yeah, they breed ‘em like that to get fat, like, quicker.’ … ‘It’s the supermarkets, see? They go for big breasts. Like fellers, eh?’

… ‘They keep the lights on low, so they never stop for a kip – just keep on feeding all night. … They mix the feed with that anti-bio stuff, like, to stop ‘em getting sick.’

Later, the description of catching the chickens is quite appalling.

Then we get to bit about how they are slaughtered:

When the chickens arrived at the slaughterhouse, Tomasz’s job was to hang them up by their feet in shackles suspended from a moving overhead conveyor, where they dangled, squarking hopelessly, especially those with broken legs… as the conveyor despatched them, head first, through a bath of electrified water, which was supposed to stun them, before their throats were cut with an automatic blade. But just in case the water didn’t work or the blade missed, which was often enough, there were a couple of slaughtermen standing by to slit their throats before they were sent through to the steam room, where they were plunged into the scalding tank to loosen the feathers. Then they were mechanically de-feathered and de-footed before being eviscerated by another team of slaughtermen.

Somewhere along the way we learn that the chicken is injected with water, salt, pork meat and “other stuff” to make them look plump.

I’m pretty sure the latter (injecting…) does not happen in Australia where food standards seem to be marginally better, but this all tallies with British Bacon.

Years ago we were travelling around the UK, and found that the bacon wouldn’t crisp, if you put in a pan it would boil and all this watery crud would come out before you could eventually get it to brown a bit. We were later told that the bacon has water injected into it. Great for getting the weight higher, but tastes like crap. At least Australian bacon is not that bad, so I’m hoping the chicken gets slightly better treatment as well.

And European orange juice tastes strange as well. Turns out that here we use the orange juice. The British stuff (god knows where it comes from) is crushed whole oranges – including all the bitter oils that come from the skins.

ANYHOW – if you get a chance, read it. You’ll never look at intensively farmed meat, fruit, or vegetables the same way again.

Entertaining, good fun, and appalling – all at the same time.

Testing, testing

At work we employ quite a few testers. Their job is to test stuff, mainly software, to make as sure as possible that it’s all OK before release to customers and the great public.

One of the software developers found / came up with this (thanks Daniel):

Guy goes into a doctor’s office.

“Doctor,” he says, “my whole body hurts! Look at this,” and pokes himself in the shoulder with his finger .. “Ow!”.

Then he pokes himself in the knee, belly, cheek, and thigh, “Ow, Ow, Ow, Ow!”.

Doctor says, “You’re a software tester, aren’t you?”.

Guy says, “Yeah! How’d you know that?”.

Doctor says, “Your finger is broken.”

Rosemary

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Pork Fillet and Apple

A long long time ago, Ainsley Herriott did a TV cooking show. He did simple dish with Pork Fillet and apples, but I can’t remember exactly what it was.

Tonight I did my attempt at a re-creation. And damn fine it was too. Try it!

This is very lean, needs very little cooking oil, and its quick, easy and delicious.

To serve 4 you will need:

an apple, in eighths (ie quarter it, then cut each of those in lengthwise halves)
about 200 ml apple juice or cider (fruit juice in a box is fine)
a couple of Pork Fillets
about 2-3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
ground black pepperTake your Pork Fillets and cut each into about 2 or 3 equal size pieces.

Put these in a hot pan with a tiny bit of peanut oil, and cook on all sides until a nice golden colour and the meat is cooked through (probably 15 minutes all up – Pork Fillet is pretty thick).

Once the Pork is mostly cooked, put the apples pieces in the same pan and cook those until golden on one side. Turn and do the other side. Watch out – it’s easy to burn the apple!

When the apple is done, the Pork should be completely cooked. Add the apple juice and the balsamic vinegar. Grind over a generous amount of black pepper, and reduce over a high heat. You want to end up with a syrup, about 1-2 tablespoons per person.

To serve, put a couple of pieces of apple on each plate, along with a piece of the Pork. Use tongs and a very sharp knife to make 4-6 cheffy looking diagonal cuts in the Pork from the top through to nearly the bottom, then spoon roughly 1-2 tablespoons of the syrup over – it needs to run down through those cuts.

I did this with home made potato chips (thick chunky slow cooked), and fennel chips.

You will be bowled over by the apple flavour, and its EASY and FAST!

For a nice variation you could stir about a tablespoon of cream into the syrup at about the time it has reduced enough.

(To make fennel chips, get a fennel bulb, cut in half top-bottom, then from one half cut into about 6-8 pieces each about 5-8 mm thick. Cook these quickly in a hot pan with about a teaspoon of peanut oil until golden on both sides. This will take about 5 minutes all up. If you like fennel, do the whole thing, otherwise you have half a fennel bulb to use for something else.)

Interest Rates up, dissembling up as well

Interest rates went up.

Speakest the Howard: It’s all the fault of the EVIL state Labor governments, who, incidentally are borrowing money to pay for infrastructure upgrades. You know, building roads, bridges, hospitals, that kind of thing. The kind of thing that Honest John and Bumbling Pete have been getting stuck into the states for NOT doing.

Clager-lang-er-lang. Oops, sorry, that’s the hypocrisy detector sounding.

See when you are Prime Monster, you truly can have your cake and eat it too.

Mr 101 uses has it spot on.

Bring on the election!

Bookmark

She Who Must Be Obeyed has a favourite bookmark, she’s had it a long, long time.

I thought it was vaguely amusing and worth posting a picture of it:

hardofhearing.jpg

The death of personal responsibility – a second go

There has been a bit of a fuss about the Labor folks thinking the Shreck promotional stuff is going too far, especially in selling junk food to children.

The other day, this reply / comment appear in Crikey. It’s worth quoting, and commenting. For information, Christian Kerr wrote an article about fat people. Paragraph break additions are mine.

Nutritionist Dr Rosemary Stanton writes: Christian Kerr’s claim that “if you’re fat or if your kids are, it’s probably because you’re also lazy – too lazy to exercise, too lazy to cook and eat properly and too lazy to fight marketing” shows he has never worked with people suffering from obesity. Blaming the victim is also unlikely to lead to any solutions.

Of course, people can make decisions about what they eat and drink, they can learn to cook (it would help if schools taught kids to cook) and they can (usually) do some exercise.

But many people are unaware of what is in foods and drinks and the food industry rejects a clear “traffic light” labeling scheme that would make it easy to choose from the 30,000 different foods on offer in a typical supermarket. Many of the two-thirds of Australian men who are too fat are unaware that abdominal fat is a problem and wrongly believe they just have “a bit of a beer gut”.

Studies in Victoria also found that most parents do not recognise that their overweight children (especially boys) have a problem because they look pretty much like their friends.

Few people in our society make a decision to be fat — it’s more a combination of genes and an environment that makes it difficult for people to make good food and exercise choices. Many people also eat for emotional reasons — including picking up the message from unsympathetic people that fat = lazy. There is no evidence to support such an assertion.

Two world experts in food policy (Professor Tim Lang and Dr Geoffrey Rayner of London City University) have stated that obesity is a function of “the rise and rise of car culture and other advances marginalising daily physical activity; widening distances between homes and work or shops; the over consumption of food accompanied by its unprecedented, plentiful availability; the culture of clever and constant advertising flattering choice; the shift from meal-time eating to permanent grazing; the replacement of water by sugary soft drinks; the rising influence of large commercial concerns framing what is available and what sells.”

Some of these factors are under individual control; others are related to the way we organise our society to satisfy economic and political ends. Governments must address obesity as the ensuing health care costs will cripple their budgets in the near future.

There are things that can be done and finding ways to counteract the efforts of clever marketing gurus that seek to subvert kids is a small start. At least Nicola Roxon is prepared to look at the issue. Some more comprehensive positive policy statements from Kevin Rudd would be welcome. Damning the victims of our obesogenic environment will achieve nothing.

Well, Rosemary, sort of agree, and sort of disagree.

Picking over a few of the arguments:

Blaming the victim

Blaming the victim is a convenient and shorthand way of saying that people – individuals – must take some responsibility for their own lives and their own actions.

Ignorance, rather than laziness, can make doing so difficult, but in the end the only way that people anywhere have ever made significant progress against their problems is because they have wanted to do so. Nanny-state prescriptions don’t work. How many examples of this need to be wheeled out?

Blaming the corporations

A common approach is to lay the root cause of all our troubles at the feet of rapacious corporations.

But corporations are just people, they are just you and I, and they are owned by us and our superannuation funds.

Corporations live in the market economy, something that’s deemed in today’s world to be A Good Thing. whether that’s the case or not is the subject for a separate philosophical debate.

An attribute of competition in the market economy is not just sales growth, it’s survival. Everybody wants an edge, and in a competitive market the edge is about whatever works. Frequently it’s taking sales from your competitors. New (really new) sales are jolly hard to come by.

A wee digression: think of those retailers who want more opening hours, less regulation, blah blah blah. “More opening hours will make more jobs”. Phooey. There is only a certain amount can be spent on STUFF. More opening hours might make more convenience, but it does not make some magic-pudding of retail money magically appear and get spent.

Anyhow… For the food corporations to survive they will do the SMALLEST POSSIBLE amount of marking of their products. In fact, the smallest possible amount of compliance with regulations. Why? Because their competitors do! And even if food items are marked, how many Joe and Joesephine Averages read it anyhow? (back to ignorance)

The corporations deserve part of the blame, but by no means all.

THE SYSTEM, that allows the corporations to do what they do, is equally culpable. But in the end, that’s just us (the people) as well. We can include our governments, but hey, they just us, the people as well!

A traffic light labelling scheme

Spare me.

Really, who will set the standards? And on what basis?

And what about when research leads to changes in what’s considered acceptable?

SOME FOODS ALREADY HAVE TRAFFIC LIGHT-ISH LABELLING: Just look at the rampant use of nonsense like “97% fat free”. (And ice-cream makers are especially bad – pull out the fat and put glucose in instead. Lots of it. Glucose is very nasty stuff.)

Simplistic solutions rely on some all-knowing benevolent father passing knowledgeable decrees down from on high. And what if they are wrong?

Remember when it was the thing to eat lard? To have an egg for breakfast every day? You must have cereal for breakfast! No, grains are bad, eat protein! Protein – ergh – evil stuff, eat cardboard. On and on the advice goes. And changes.

Fat factors

“the rise and rise of car culture and other advances marginalising daily physical activity;”

Hard to disagree with this one, but seriously, what is to be done about it? The serious answer is nothing.

“widening distances between homes and work or shops;”

Ditto.

“the over consumption of food accompanied by its unprecedented, plentiful availability;”

Now we might be getting somewhere. Once, food was expensive, people had little money left for McMansions after basic survival, and they ate enough to survive, not always to live well. Here I’m only going back about 50 to 70 years.

Factory farms, intensive agriculture, mechanisation, cheap oil, modern fertilisers have all helped drive the price of food down dramatically in modern times. A natural consequence of plenty is to eat more. Hard times may make a change, little else will. Cheap food will be with us for a long time to come.

“the culture of clever and constant advertising flattering choice;”

Go back to what I wrote above – advertising is a fact of life in a market economy. Whilst we might all agree that the advertising is evil, and wring our hands, we need to question the alternative.

Governments can try and regulate advertising, which is possible but difficult, or they can nationalise the means of food production. Oops! That’s sounding like Communism, and we’ve had a 50 year experiment conducted to show how well that works!

“the shift from meal-time eating to permanent grazing;”

Ahh! Now what might cause that? We could start with families who don’t eat together, or who shovel food down whilst watching Neighbours or Big Brother. This is where we end up in the land of personal responsibility again!

“the replacement of water by sugary soft drinks;”

Arrggghhh! Ditto!!

Seriously – are we to ban the sale of soft drinks? Or super-tax them?

HOW are governments going to reduce the sale of soft drinks?

Governments in Australia give us clean drinkable water from our taps, and one of the fastest growing product sales groups is bottled water!

For heavens sake, if the population is so stupid that they pay extra for water that they can get from the domestic tap for cents per litre, how the heck will you wean them off the lolly-water?

It’s a PERSONAL CHOICE to drink this muck, and it’s up to people to stop doing so.

“the rising influence of large commercial concerns framing what is available and what sells.”

Arrgghh and arrgghh again.

If people were not lazy, and actually cooked their own food, this would be a non-issue.

Back to personal choice again. Buying pre-prepared or take-away food is about speed, and convenience – hey – isn’t that really about laziness?

Buying basic food ingredients like meat, milk, cheeses, vegetables, fruit, flour, bread and such like is always possible, always available, and is damn hard for the “large commercial concerns” to do anything with. And the resulting meals taste better too!

Parents, children, body and image

Fat kids not seen as fat by the parents?

What the heck is wrong with the parents? YOU CANNOT blame governments or the mysterious “they” for this.

Parents need to lift the scales from their eyes. Rolls of blubber on a 10 year old is not healthy, no matter how it is rationalised.

Parents bear significant responsibility, and must take the blame.

Parents who allow lots of take-away food, who give in when the kids want a drink by buying a LARGE soft drink. Parents who won’t cook. Parents who won’t think. Parents who want to buy their childrens love with yummy tasty fatty sweet food. These are the parents who MUST accept responsibility for their actions and make changes.

Blaming governments, schools, or corporations for obese children is a cop-out. Who puts food into children’s mouths?

Teaching in schools, exercise in schools

Oh dear, ANOTHER cop out and blame-shifting exercise!

South Australian schools do teach children cooking, my oldest son has been doing it, and he’s a pretty accomplished 13 year-old. So… some do. It helps. But it’s not everything.

Expecting schools to pick up after slack parents is crazy. This is no different to schools feeding breakfast to children with parents who can’t / don’t / won’t do it themselves. It might be started to satisfy worries or feelings of responsibility on the part of the teachers but it’s masking something far far worse.

And then we come to school exercise programs.

Doing an hour a day of The Health Hustle, or running, is surely predicated on the notion that the victims ARE to blame and can be cured by taking them away from feeding their brains, and getting them out raising a sweat.

The increased use of cars, and the large increases in fatty and sugary foods over the years will NEVER be compensated for by a few measly minutes of school exercise. The calorie balance just isn’t right. All this will do is create a nation of overweight and under-educated children!

These things are an exercise in futility, they will have no significant effect.

What to do?

We can accept that radical changes to our social systems are unlikely to happen – so corporations and advertising will be with us for a long time.

We can regulate advertising, and we should. It was done with cigarettes – among many squeals of outrage – but it can be done, so it should be.

What about lolly water and take-away food? Banning would never be accepted by the great unwashed masses, so that won’t even happen. There is already choice with diet / low sugar drinks containing all manner of soup from the chemical factories. Educating parents, somehow, might be feasible. (But look at smokers – advertising bans have not eliminated the puffers.)

There can be financial incentives, or penalties – perhaps a Medicare surcharge for people more than some percentage overweight? It needs to be a large amount, some people have genes that make putting the kilos on very easy, but many of the naturally big people are not obese and should not be punished for being a feather heavier than Kate Moss.

Family doctors could provide leaflets and advice.

A brave government could introduce compulsory obesity counselling and education.

In the end, though, the solutions to our problems lay within ourselves.

We, the people who eat the rubbish we do – we have to make the choice for how to live, and what to eat.

Expecting a magical bale-out is fanciful.

Now, I’m off to find some chocolate.

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