Sunday, November 30, 2008

Better Living Through Chemistry

I read a list recently that listed the toys that kids wanted this Christmas and I was sorely disappointed. The top of the list was a robotic Elmo followed by a series of presents lacking in imagination for children with no imagination: Guitar Hero, Wii games and a stupid looking Wall-E toy in the top 5. I know it's not the 1950's but what happened to toys that bear no relation to Disney tie-ins or current computer fads?

If I cast my mind back to my childhood, the toys that lasted the longest were the ones that could be reinterpreted using your own skill into other things such as Lego to something as simple as a cardboard box and a few pens.
Todays Lego doesn't give the builder the same freedom. The model is on the front of the box, instructions are given how to build it and you can't modify it into something else because the pieces don't fit. Also, your friends and neighbours would report you to child services if you gave your child a cardboard box.

Another toy that, after a quick research, seems to no longer exist: the chemistry set. Amazon only sells one chemistry set and it looks pathetic - it seemingly includes nothing and "fully complies to latest EN71 Standard, Part 4 (1998) for chemistry sets". Boring....

I remember having a veritable lab full of powders, most of which I hadn't a clue how to pronounce (Phenolphthalein anyone?) never mind what the heck they did but that didn't stop me mixing them up and hoping I would create something extraordinary.

I suspect one of the reasons chemistry sets no longer exist has something to do with this "post 9/11 world we live in" and how we would be handing "them" a ticket to create bombs if they had access to a chemistry set. That, or you'd somehow be able to establish a meth lab and create your own addiction.

It's a real shame because not only were these kits extremely fun but they were educational too. There's been a general trend towards dumbing down and treating children with kids gloves and I hope this downward spiral can be arrested and turned around before creativity no longer exists.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Top 5 Albums of 2008

I completely missed posting last years best albums because I was touring New Zealand but there were plenty of excellent albums: Basia Bulat - Oh, My Darling; Bon Ivor - For Emma, Forever Ago; Caribou - Andorra; Cloud Cult - The Meaning of 8; Feist - Reminder; Kathy Diamond - Miss Diamond To You; Laura Veirs - Saltbreakers; LCD Soundsystem - Sound of Silver; Patrick Wolf - The Magic Position; Saint Vincent - Marry Me. If you haven't heard these I heartily recommend tracking them down.

The reason there's only 5 albums this year is because with travelling around, I haven't had the chance to listen to or hold on to many albums but for various reasons, these are the ones that stick out.

In no particular order, and welcoming any suggestions for addition, I recommend the following:

Cut-Copy - In Ghost Colours

A possible Oz-influence, Cut Copy are from Melbourne and have a fantastic 80's new-wave sound. Put this on at a party and your guests will be happy.

Stand-out tracks:
  • Feel The Love
  • Lights & Music
  • Hearts on Fire

Hercules & Love Affair - Hercules & Love Affair

With multi-vocalists including Anthony Hegarty from Anthony & The Johnsons, this unlikely majestic disco-funk album by Andrew Butler is an instant hook, line and sinker for inspired beats and rhythms.

Stand-out tracks:
  • Hercules Theme
  • Blind
  • Iris

M83 - Saturdays=Youth

I've been an ardent fan of this band since their excellent second album 'Dead Cities, Red Seas, Lost Ghosts' in 2003. The latest album builds upon earlier sounds and demonstrates a more focused approach and unique sound.

Stand-out tracks:
  • Kim & Jessie
  • Skin Of The Night
  • Highway of Endless Dreams

Neon Neon - Stainless Style

Neon Neon is a project from Super Furry Animals singer Gruff Rhys and electronic auteur Boom Bip creating a soundtrack for De Lorean Motor Company founder John De Lorean. Gruff sums up the reason behind it: "We've been touring and recording together occasionally for around six years. Early in 2006 Boom Bip contacted me about coming to LA to make a bonkers disco record. I was on the next flight." And what a flight.

Stand-out tracks:
  • Dream Cars
  • I Told Her On Alderaan
  • Raquel

Vampire Weekend - Vampire Weekend

I can only describe Vampire Weekend as NY Indie-Punk but what a sound. Original and catchy, what else do you need??

Stand-out tracks:
  • Mansford Roof
  • A-Punk
  • Campus

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Ireland vs Samoa

Yesterday evening we went along to watch Ireland's second qualifying game in the 2008 Rugby League World Cup against game favourites Samoa. After last weeks narrow loss against Tonga, Ireland were buoyed by their strong performance and although going into this game as underdogs, were not prepared to be written off.

It was a nail-biting ten minutes from kick-off as a strong Samoan side were disallowed two tries as the video referee was used on both occasions leading to smiling faces on the Irish fans.

Smiles turned to wide grins as in a mere seven minutes of play we managed to score three tries to take us 14-0 against the waining opposition. Unfortunately this state of affairs did not last long and from, arguably, a bad call by the referee, Samoa charged forward and made the first of two tries and successful conversions that by half-time, the gap had shrunk to a two point lead with Ireland 14-12 heading into the changing room.

If the first half Irish performance was astounding, the second half can only be considered a beautiful dream to watch as the Samoan team crumbled under the Irish onslaught. Despite a battle of attrition, Ireland dominated the game and created a fantastic looping pass try - the second try out of three.

The last half hour saw some interesting action on, off and onto the pitch including a brilliant but ultimately disallowed knock-on to 80 yard sprint for Ireland, Samoa's captain helped off the pitch with a knee injury and a Samoan fan making his way onto the field in a failed attempt to upset an Irish conversion.

In the end it was a fantastic upset in the tournament with Ireland crushing Samoa 34-16 which led both Ireland and their fans to euphoria that was, I'm sure, carried late into the night.

We play Fiji in the quarter-finals on Monday which is, unfortunately for us, on the Gold Coast, so we will be supportive through the age-old means of shouting at the television in a pub.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

The Melbourne Cup

Today was Melbourne Cup day which will most likely mean nothing to anyone outside Australia. Essentially it's an event like the Grand National but where work takes a back seat for most, if not all, of the day and in the state of Victoria there's a public holiday.

TV coverage is all pervasive (what US election?) and for those of us in Sydney we essentially had the day off but had to be in work. In essence, it's like the last day before the Christmas break where you're really just putting in an appearance but not actually doing anything.

It's popularly known as “the race that stops the nation” and it's a fair description as gambling fever takes hold of the country and sweep-stakes are the mainstay of office banter.

I'm not usually one to gamble unless the odd poker game is played but I thought I'd go along with the flow and stepped off the busy streets mid-morning on my coffee break and down into a basement betting section adjoined to a bar which is known as the TAB.

As you might expect, it was fairly buzzing and as I was new to the whole concept, I walked around the perimeter scoring glances at what people were doing with their slips.

I found a free place at a table and selected a few betting slips and casually read the instructions on the back which were luckily pretty straight forward.

As you might have expected, the morning was spent analysing who to choose and how much to place on each horse - straight wins/splits and various other ways to win I still know nothing about. Best to pick a winner and back it right?

I choose 3 horses: Septimus, Nom Du Jue and Prize Lady. They were placed at the top, middle and end of the spectrum with a $10, $5 and $5 bet to win placed respectively whose odds would match the paltry amount placed ensuring a decent win if successful.

It turned out that despite a recession, punters were willing to spend $87.7 million on their betting, $11.87 million more than last year.

To be brutally honest, if I hadn't have tried to get involved in the swing of things, I would have been bored to tears with the constant talk of horse and jockey. I thought if I had a vested interest in the event it might create a little passion for when the blocks opened and the race for the $5.5 million 1st place began.

I was wrong.

Horse racing has always and will continue to be one in a list of sports I will never find an interest in. There are no hurdles for our four legged friends to jump over so there is nothing to challenge the horses or create an interest in events as far as I'm concerned. It's really just to see whose horse can gallop faster with the jockey hitting it with a stick. Oh, and it lasts about 3 minutes.

Hours, days and weeks of build-up and it's over in an instant. You don't even have a chance to get excited. "Where's my horse?" - oh, the race is over.

And did any of my horses win?


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