The Blog (archived)

All posts in chronological order, as originally published
Page 3

Good Coffee In Hobart

Monday, July 28, 2008

If you’re addicted to good coffee, and you’re on holiday, then it follows that you’ll want to search for sources of good coffee wherever you travel to. That was the case with me recently - in search of the best coffee in Hobart.

Obviously I couldn’t sample every coffee outlet in Tasmania’s capital city, so I visited the CoffeeSnobs website to draw up a short list. One forum discussion (first page starts here) is devoted to recommendations of good cafes in Tasmania, and as most of the contributors know more about coffee than I do - and live in Tasmania - I used their top choices as my starting point.

When it fitted in with other activities, I hit the streets of Hobart to sample an espresso at the most recommended cafes (plus a couple of others), and in some cases a double shot latte as well. My opinion is that of an amateur enthusiast, not an experienced expert, and I haven’t yet come to grips with describing body, aftertastes, and subtle flavour nuances like wine buffs do - but I can appreciate quality. The search for it was rather enjoyable!

Inside Villino Espresso in HobartOne cafe’s coffee stood out for me - Villino Espresso, at 30 Criterion St Hobart, near the city centre. The owners, Richard and Melissa, are passionate about producing excellent coffee. With their La Marzocco machine, Mazzer grinder, good fresh beans and much skill and dedication, the result is consistenty good (I tried it on several occasions just to be sure).

The espresso and double ristretto I had were rich, syrupy and flavourful without any bitterness, and the milky coffees were also worth going out of your way for. I felt no need for sugar in any of them; always a good sign for someone accustomed to always having sugar with coffee.

If you’re a coffee enthusiast visiting Hobart, sampling all the cafes recommended by the users of the CoffeeSnobs website would be a pleasant mission. But if you haven’t got time for that, heading straight for Villino Espresso is unlikely to disappoint.



Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Today, being June 18th, marks twenty years since the day I fell down a cave near Margaret River. The full story is on my Cave Fall page, but in a nutshell - I lost my grip on a wire ladder and fell about twelve metres to the rocky floor of a cave. Miraculously, I survived the impact with no major injuries.

Cave Risk signIt can be good to reflect on milestone events, and this one is significant. The fall I had could easily have killed me - others have fallen lesser distances and died - or at least left me seriously disabled. I was extremely grateful at the time that neither happened; instead I got off very lightly with some cracked ribs and bruising, tiny discomforts compared to what might have been.

Today I can pause and give thanks for twenty years of life which by rights I shouldn’t have had. I’m probably not the only one who should be doing this. I suspect many people - if not most - have been in situations where things could so easily have ended tragically, but by the grace of God it didn’t. It’s good to remember such blessings and to always be thankful for them.


On The Collectors TV Show

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

My drought of media appearances has been broken, with the inclusion of a segment about my collection of navel lint on the ABC (Australia) TV show Collectors last Friday.

A frame from my Collectors show segmentNow why would a shy and private person like me want to be on TV? That’s what I ask myself whenever a media request turns up. I don’t do radio interviews, and have been selective about newspapers and magazines. Being on TV isn’t something I desire or need, but while I’ve declined some requests, I’ve made exceptions for others.

My appearances on the Tonight Show and Enough Rope With Andrew Denton both involved free trips (to Los Angeles and Sydney, respectively) - a compelling lure to someone who loves travel. The Collectors show was different, as a Perth crew came to my home for filming.

In this case the appeal was contributing to a show I feel enthusiasm for. They showcase a huge range of collections - from traditional antiques to the strange and quirky, from serious to light hearted. While not everything they feature interests me, I love the diversity of it all. The show goes beyond the stereotypical antiques collector, and documents not just the things collected but the tremendously different people who collect them.

Collectors who could be described as eccentric appear on the show, and they are treated with dignity and respect. Some collections generate a laugh, but the humour is not at the collectors’ expense. This was an important consideration for me, as my lint collection is not exactly conventional.

Another frame from my Collectors show segmentMy segment was filmed in the comfort of my home, with just three people present - producer, camera man and sound man. Plus me of course. With no audience, and the ability to re-take scenes I messed up, it wasn’t nearly as intimidating as the Tonight Show!

The producer, David De Vos, directed the shoot with creativity, kindness, and understanding of the fears that non-celebrities have. The film crew were very patient and professional, putting me as much at ease as I’ll ever be in front of a camera (I prefer to be behind one). Considering the limitations of what they had to work with - me, and three jars of lint - I think they and the editors did a great job.

With this latest contribution to Australia’s cultural heritage behind me (sounds more impressive than showing my belly on TV), I can continue my life as an anonymous normal person. Or at least as normal as I want to be!


Help Feed Underprivileged Kids By Driving An Old Car

Saturday, April 19, 2008

I wouldn’t normally think of joining a car club, but I’ve recently come across one that suits me perfectly - the Junky Car Club. After reading what this club is about, I couldn’t not sign up.

According to their website:


“Junky Car Club members are learning to live with less so we can give more. We’re a bunch of happy drivers who are politely rebelling against consumerism by driving junky cars. We encourage our members to use their dough to support social justice causes instead of making fat car payments. We believe in environmental stewardship and hanging onto things a little longer. Junky Car Club members sponsor kids living in poverty through Compassion International.”

I love the thinking behind this - it seems so logical - but I related to it mainly because it describes what I’ve already been doing. I’m still driving the same car I bought nearly 22 years ago, and have been sponsoring children through Compassion Australia for much of that time.

While I’ve kept the same old car to save money in general, not specifically to sponsor children, the money I’ve saved by not upgrading to new cars has made the child sponsorship possible … and much more. I’ve not spent a cent on car purchases or repayments since I finished paying off mine in 1989. This has meant more money to spend on things like travel, paying off the mortgage earlier, and feeding and educating children in Ethiopia … all more worthy causes than banks, car manufacturers and car salesmen.

Speaking of sly vultures, most car salesmen will tell you that running an older car is uneconomical, but that isn’t always true. In my case it has proven cheaper to run in its old age than when it was young (see "Do Older Cars Cost More To Maintain"). My car does have some quirks and small defects, but nothing that can’t be lived with, or patched with duct tape. It ain’t fancy, but it’s got character!

Nothing lasts forever, even with duct tape, so eventually my beloved vehicle will wear out and need replacing. When that happens, I’ll hope to look after a new car well so that it also will last a long time, and become another old car. You see, I plan to be a Junky Car Club member for a long time.


Review Of A Daylight Savings Boycott

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Last October when Western Australia switched over to daylight saving, I refused to change my clocks, having decided to continue operating on standard time (see "In A Time Zone Of My Own"). Now that daylight saving has ended for this summer, I can look back and review how practical it is to live in your own personal time zone. In a nutshell - it worked for me, but wouldn’t be practical for everyone.

daylightsavingchange.gifI quickly became accustomed to adjusting the times in my head. For example, a 9:00am class began at 8:00am as far as I was concerned, and from my perspective the TV programs I watch began an hour early (mostly an advantage). The only time I got caught out was when I turned up at a shop 20 minutes before I thought it would close, to find it had closed 40 minutes earlier. Oh well, I was bound to forget at least once!

Most of the time, however, I was able to live by non-daylight-saving time without any problem. In fact, I became so used to it I still occasionally find myself looking at a clock and mentally noting what the time is for “normal people” - even though daylight saving has ended.

Whether this is feasible for others depends on how much one’s life interfaces with the outside world according to a schedule. For someone who lives by the clock, with many appointments, operating on a time different to everyone around you could be very confusing - and more trouble than it’s worth. But for those whose lifestyle is less regulated by the clock, living in your own individual time zone can indeed work smoothly, as I have discovered. If daylight saving becomes a regular occurrence in Western Australia, so will my boycotting of it.


Is It Ever Too Cold To Go Hiking?

Thursday, March 6, 2008

My personal preference for hiking, and exercise in general, is “the colder, the better”. However, most people I know avoid outdoor activity when they feel it is too cold, and think it strange that anyone would want to go hiking in the middle of winter. So is there any truth in the belief that it can be too cold for exercise?

I found some enlightenment recently in a New York Times article titled “Too Cold to Exercise? Try Another Excuse“, in which some cold weather exercise myths are dispelled by experts. Some relevant points from the article are:

  • Lungs are not damaged by cold - by the time cold air reaches your lungs, it is at body temperature
  • Cold air does not induce asthma - airways narrow in response to the dryness of the air, not its temperature
  • Our bodies do not need to acclimatize to cold, as they do to heat
  • Unfitness is not an obstacle to coping with cold - the physically fit are no better at adaptating to cold than the sedentary
  • More people are injured exercising in the heat than exercising in the cold

A walker in cold conditions
A little bit of snow, cold,
wind and poor visibility
didn’t stop this fellow
going out for a walk

The concensus among the doctors and exercise physiologists interviewed was that it is never too cold to exercise. Cold-weather risks like hypothermia and frostbite can be avoided with appropriate clothing and common sense. Ironically this includes not overdressing - sweat soaked clothes can lead to chilling. As children are taught in Sweden: “There is no bad weather, only bad clothing“.

My own experiences affirm this. The middle of winter is my favourite time for hiking the Bibbulmun Track, in shorts and T-shirt regardless of how cold it is (I just rug up at night). I’ve hiked happily in New Zealand’s south island in winter, been camping in -10 degrees in Australia, and enjoyed winter walks in the Canadian winter in temperatures below -20 (with wind). By dressing appropriately I’ve done all this in much greater comfort than any walk on a hot day.

Eskimos have lived safely with cold for millenia, and numerous explorers and researchers have survived outdoors in Antarctic winters. The temptation to avoid exercise on chilly days in more temperate climates probably has more to do with comfort, convenience and personal taste than safety. I’ll certainly be continuing my winter outdoor activities, reassured that it really is never too cold to exercise.


When Quitting Is Good

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

We’re often told that “winners never quit, and quitters never win”, and exhorted to perservere to the end. Winston Churchill famously advised “never, ever, give up”. While striving to succeed is a good thing, there are times when quitting may be wise, as I’ve discovered.

The reason I’m reflecting on this now is that today is the tenth anniversary of an incident which led me to give up skiing. Prior to then, snow skiing was a passion, and the only sport I was any good at. Living a few thousand kilometres from the nearest snow was an obstacle, but with some dedication I managed to become quite competant and ambitious.

Temptation to quit came while skiing at the delightful resort of Fernie, in the Canadian Rockies. A high speed crash saw me with a torn knee ligament (ACL), mild whiplash and numerous cuts and bruises. It was during the humbling journey off the slopes via stretcher and ambulance that I started wondering about the wisdom of continuing to ski.

Author on a stretcher at Fernie ski area
Feb 1998: Pondering what can
go wrong when hurtling down
a hill strapped to two planks

Skiing is a sport where falling over is virtually unavoidable, and I’d suffered minor injuries before (concussion being the worst result). The better I got, the faster I went and the slopes I skiied became more challenging. Although I was falling over less, the potential for serious damage when I did fall became greater. Also I wasn’t as young and rubbery as I once was! Continuing to ski didn’t appear very compatible with my aim of living to a ripe old age without disabilities. I decided to retire from the sport before I did myself too much damage.

I sometimes miss the exhilaration of skiing, but I’ve found that most of what I enjoyed about it - the pristine alpine environments and wintry conditions - can still be enjoyed without flying down obstacle-strewn snowy hills at reckless speeds. The time and energy I devoted to skiing has been redirected into hiking, and a whole new world of recreation has opened up. Despite the negative things we are told about quitting, I have no regrets about pulling the pin on skiing. In fact, as I start to feel the wear and tear of ageing, I’m grateful for the injuries and pains I’ve almost certainly avoided by quitting when I did.

This is just one example of when quitting something can be good. Other examples could include quitting an ill-suited job or course of study in order to pursue something better. Have you quitted anything and, when later looking back on how things turned out, felt glad that you did?


Welcome Back Toenail

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Last June I wrote about how one of my toenails came off due to squashing on a bushwalk (see "Goodbye Toenail"). I’d read that a new nail takes about six months to regrow, and was hoping this was true.

pinkytoe.gifNot everything you read on the internet is accurate (gasps of disbelief erupt from the audience), but I’m happy to report that in this case it was about right. My toenail took seven months to regrow to the point where it resembled a normal closely trimmed nail, and has just had it’s first trim (pictured). All is right with the world again!

This may not seem important, and it isn’t compared to people starving in Ethiopia. But in this era of technical marvels it’s all too easy to lose our sense of wonder at the seemingly small intricacies of the natural world. I think the automatic regrowing of any body part is an example of how cleverly and remarkably designed our human bodies are - right down to the details of our little toenails. This is something to be thankful for … I know I certainly am!


Miracles Do Happen In Politics, Apparently

Friday, January 18, 2008

A week is a long time in politics, as the saying goes, and this week it has been illustrated by a dramatic transformation of personal character which is nothing short of miraculous.

It involves Troy Buswell, who last week was deputy leader of the Western Australian Liberal Party, currently serving a term in opposition. Along with speculation about his leadership ambitions, there were news stories about his unprofessional conduct. This included things like being drunk in parliament, undoing the bra strap of a female colleague, and making sexist and inappropriate comments to another female colleague.

His dramatic transformation is summed up as follows:

Jan 11th
Troy Buswell tells media he will not be challenging for the Liberal Party leadership, as he is not ready to lead the party due to lack of maturity and experience.

Jan 17th
Troy Buswell challenges for the Liberal Party leadership, and is elected as leader by its members who think he is worthy of becoming premier of Western Australia.

This means that in just six days, Mr Buswell has somehow gained all the previously-lacking maturity and experience needed to lead his party - which could see him leading the state of Western Australian if the Liberal Party wins the next election, due within a year. To become so mature and experienced almost overnight is a truly remarkable achievement, something which would take the rest of us mere mortals many years. After all, years of experience normally takes … years!

It’s laughable, but in a way it’s also sad. In a society where the miracles of the bible are ridiculed in the media, we are expected to believe the miraculous transformation of a politician as reported in the news. Sorry, Saint Troy of the Bra Strap, I don’t know if we voters have enough faith in a politician.

News stories:
Why Troy Buswell’s leadership dream is in tatters (Jan 12)
Buswell new WA Liberal leader (Jan 17)


Home Coffee Roasting - A Better Way

Monday, January 14, 2008

Some time ago I began roasting raw coffee beans in a popcorn popper. It didn’t take long for the limitations of this method to become apparent, and so I’ve progressed to an improved method using a tripod-mounted heat gun, which I hereby reveal.

I blogged about my popcorn popper roasting setup (see "Confessions Of A Coffee Snob"), which gave reasonable results in cool weather. However, in warmer weather the roasting process happens too quickly to allow the full flavour of the beans to develop, and the popper’s heat can’t easily be adjusted. Another method was needed, which would allow slower roasts during the long hot Perth summer.

Tripod-mounted heat gun and bowl coffee roasterA lot of great information on home coffee roasting is available on the CoffeeSnobs website, and Sweet Maria’s has an inspiring illustrated collection of home-made roasting devices. With ideas from these, I built the tripod-mounted heat gun and bowl roaster shown in the photo.

It’s basically just a heat gun - normally used for drying or stripping paint - pointing into a stainless steel bowl, with the beans stirred by hand with a wooden spoon. A motorised stirrer could be added … but that’s another project. The tripod mount allows the heat gun to be positioned in just the right spot, which is how the temperature in the bowl is controlled (as measured using a multimeter). Also the setup is easily moved around, and dismantled for storage.

This is a manual, hands-on and low-tech method of roasting coffee beans, but the degree of control means much more of the bean’s potential can be realised. By adjusting the height of the gun to slow the rate of temperature increase, a roast can be extended to 15-18 minutes instead of the 5 or 6 minutes it would take in a popcorn popper on a warm day. The slower roasting leads to better flavour in the cup, not to mention the satisfaction (and money savings) of doing it yourself.

It makes me wonder what else can be achieved at low cost by tinkering with household bits and pieces.


The Five Best Books I Read In 2007

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

For me 2007 was a bumper year for reading, with 44 books read. Ranking the best is a subjective thing, but “top five” lists are popular with blog writers, so here are the five books most significant for me in 2007 (in no particular order):

1 - What Color Is Your Parachute? : A Practical Manual for Job-Hunters and Career-Changers by Richard Bolles

This has been one of the best selling job-hunting and career-changing manuals for decades (updated every year), and for good reason. It’s practical and thorough, and I particularly appreciated the focus on finding meaningful work, with self-evaluation exercises to help identify what sort of work might be most suitable.

book-itsnotcts.jpg2 - It’s not carpal tunnel syndrome! : RSI theory and therapy for computer professionals by Suparna Damany

All about the often misunderstood range of conditions suffered by many who over-use computers - RSI, occupational overuse syndrome, or whatever the latest label may be. The writers have a great understanding of what is often mis-diagnosed as carpal tunnel syndrome, having successfully treated many in their medical practice. They clearly explain the mechanical and physiological causes, the personality types who are more prone to it, and what can be done about it.

For anyone suffering aches and pains from working with computers too intensively, it is an enlightening read. Those not yet feeling symptoms, or RSI skeptics (as I once was), may benefit from an early understanding of the risks.

3 - Surviving the Extremes : A Doctor’s Journey to the Limits of Human Endurance by Dr Kenneth Kamler

book-walkinwoods.jpgA fascinating account of the human body’s amazing ability to survive in extreme environments. I blogged about this book previously (see "Extreme Survival - A Good Read").

4 - A Walk In The Woods : Rediscovering America On The Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson

I’ve always enjoyed the humorous travel writings of Bill Bryson, and this book is a delightfully amusing account of his extensive hikes on the Appalachian Trail. It provided some of the motivation for my own much shorter hike on the Bibbulmun Track in june.

5 - Hammer of Eden by Ken Follett

book-hammer.jpgYes, I do also read fiction! I’ve been working my way through the novels of Ken Follett, who writes in genres varying from thriller to adventure and historical. In Hammer of Eden, the leader of a group of ageing hippies devises a method of triggering earthquakes to fight the threat of being evicted from their remote Californian commune. It’s a sort of crime thriller with a touch of science fiction and terrorism blended in. However you describe it, I found it an absorbing read, with many late nights the result of me being compelled to read “just one more chapter”.

Special mention also goes to the Holy Bible, which I finished reading in 2007 - for significance, it’s in a class of its own. I also read a number of course text books, but these certainly don’t deserve any special mention!


Tips For Reading The Bible (It’s Like Eating An Elephant)

Friday, December 21, 2007

I’ve just finished reading the bible in its entirety, and I’m feeling pleased. Like eating an elephant, the bible is best consumed one small bite at a time, spread over a long period to aid digestion. For me this meant a three year plan of short daily readings.

biblemeal.jpgI enjoyed it and learned a lot from it, although I confess to finding the meaning of some parts less clear than others. Anyone who says the bible is full of lists of things we shouldn’t do, or boring repetition (eg “Rupert begat Olga, and Fred begat Britney…”), clearly hasn’t read much of it. The action, drama, wisdom and positively encouraging bits far outweighed any seemingly mundane bits. It was also interesting to see what the bible doesn’t say - many assumptions about what the bible tells us don’t appear to be based on what is actually in it.

Here are some things I learned about the challenging but rewarding task of reading through the whole bible:

1. Some form of reading schedule is almost essential

Not many people have the self-discipline to read the whole bible by just reading bits whenever the motivation strikes, like reading a novel, and ticking off when each book is read. I tried that, but after 20 years had only managed 75% of it, in a very stop-start fashion. To get through the whole thing in a reasonable time, a reading plan with an end-date provides the necessary structure and motivation.

2. A daily reading habit is easier to stick to than one less regular

There are many bible reading plans on the internet - most involve reading every day, but some schedule readings for 6 days each week, or weekdays only, or you could set your own interval. For most people a reading habit is easier to form and maintain if it is repeated every day rather than on some days but not others. Of course there will always be days when it just doesn’t happen, but by making it part of a daily routine it’s less likely to be forgetten. Reading during breakfast worked well for me - I was a captive audience while eating, and breakfast is something I remember to do each day!

3. A three year plan may be more realistic than a one year plan for many people

Most bible reading plans are designed to be completed in one year. While it’s great to aim high, I’ve heard many stories of people starting a one year reading schedule, falling behind and failing to catch up, then giving up. The bible’s 1189 chapters mean an average of 3.25 chapters per day over one year - it may not sound like much, but if you miss a few days the backlog can quickly mount up. Also the bible is full of meaning and subtleties which deserve much more than a quick scan. Over three years, the average of about one chapter per day is easier to keep up with (or catch up with), and the more relaxed pace makes it easier to savour each bite.

Various reading plans can be found by typing “bible reading plan” into Google, perhaps adding “3 year” to the search if you want to follow the long but very achievable route. Some plans use a mixture of old and new testament readings each day (for variety), while others finish one part before starting another (like the one I’m using, here). Some take you through in chronological order (which differs from the printed sequence), while others follow different sequences for different purposes. If you don’t have a bible, you can read it online, or have daily readings e-mailed to you. The choices are many!

Like any good book, a repeat reading reveals things that were missed the first time, and so I’ll be starting all over again on January 1st with a different translation, read in a different order. It’s the time of year for making new resolutions, so why not join me?


Do Dummies Get Navel Lint?

Saturday, December 15, 2007

book-dummylint.gifIntroducing the latest book in the popular Dummies series - “Lint Collecting For Dummies: How to pluck a Guinness world record out of your navel”.

Could this be my own instructional book describing how to achieve recognition for a navel lint collection, like I did?

No, it’s just a joke. The book cover shown is a fake one, produced at the Dummies Book Cover Maker website. Here, anyone can type in a name and subtitle, select a few options, and be presented with a realistic looking book cover based on what you type in.

If you ever wanted to see what “Genetic Modification for Dummies” might look like, or any other title, now you know where to go.

< Page 2 - [end of page 3] - Page 4 >