Friday 28 December 2007

Something to think about

as you put your cup of coffee and something to nibble on down next to the computer.

Factor by which the average desktop computer keyboard reportedly contains bacteria compared to a standard toilet seat: 400 times.

Source: Good Weekend Number Crunch SMH Dec 8 2007.

WOW. 400 times that's quite a bit. Considering we all sit and eat and drink at the computer, and well I don't imagine we do it at the other, well I certainly don't. Not that I'm advocating antibacterial cleaning products (which IMHO are pure evil), but it certainly is something to think about as you tap away.

Sunday 9 December 2007

I decide to join the younger generation on Facebook, just to find what the fuss is all about. The very same day, indeed within hours, the Facebook Fiasco is the lead story on the SMH site. Ah well, I've had a fun couple of days fiddling around with it thus far. We'll see how it goes, I don't think I'm going to devote my life to it just yet. There's some fun stuff there- bookshelves and Scrubs quotes. It does seem to be rather competitive, you are judged by the number of friends you have.

Saturday 3 November 2007

Nucular Cheese

So, Phillip Adams wrote a great column yesterday, part of which reads:

It will take decades to build nuclear plants. And did you know that the much-vaunted value of uranium is somewhat exaggerated? It’s just 1 per cent of our mining exports. As Ian Lowe points out in the latest Quarterly Essay – demolishing Howard’s nuclear arguments – Australia makes more from the export of cheese.

That's quite amazing. Australia earns more from cheese exports than uranium exports! I've never seen Johnny on the news defending the cheese industry. I wonder why?

And in a truly scary moment today I learnt that I too suffer from a lifestyle threatening condition.

Thankfully, help is already readily at hand, due to Havidol.

Wednesday 31 October 2007

Rhubarb Ginger Beer Sorbet

Now this is an amazing sorbet recipe. Sorbets and icecreams are so rewarding to make at home. They are so much more tasty than things available in plastic tubs in supermarkets, and of course you can make a dazzling array of flavours. You look like a culinary genius creating such stunning flavours but they are so easy to do!

This recipe spoke to me as soon as I saw it in the Good Weekend back in September. It was a great flavour and I know I want to make it again. I hope you make it and enjoy it, let me know. The recipe is by Andrew McConnell a chef now working in Melbourne who said that he created the recipe to serve with yoghurt cake a few years ago, but it's delicious enough to serve as a dessert in it's own right. Which is how we enjoyed it.

I of course have an ice-cream machine, along with most other kitchen gadget ever invented so I used that. The texture was sensational, very smooth. The colour was a gorgeous and vibrant pink. I made it over two days, simply because I ran out of time. It's very easy to do that with such a recipe. I did all but add the ginger beer one day, chilled the mixture overnight and added the ginger beer the next day and then churned it. It was probably the best result I've had from my ice-cream machine, so a days delay certainly didn't hurt things.

Rhubarb and Ginger Beer Sorbet
Serves 8

2.5 cm piece ginger, peeled and finely grated
225g sugar
300mL water
juice and zest of 1/2 lemon
1/2 vanilla bean, split in half lengthways
300g rhubarb, cut into 1 cm dice
2 tsp honey
180mL ginger beer

In a pan, simmer the grated ginger, sugar, water, lemon juice and zest and the vanilla bean for 5 minutes. Add the rhubarb to the pan and simmer until soft and pulpy.

Remove the vanilla bean and puree the rhubrab with the honey and all the poaching liquid. Strain the puree through a fine sieve and cool. Add the ginger beer and churn in an ice-cream machine.

If you don't have an ice-cream machine, pour the mixture into a plastic container and pop it into the freezer. After a couple of hours, crush the ice crystals that have formed, return to the freezer an crush every half-hour until set. The end result will be more granita than sorbet, but equally delicious.

Friday 19 October 2007

Amateur Transplants

I just can't get enough of these boys. Priceless.

Polar Bears

Reading about the plight of polar bears makes me sad. Very sad indeed. Today, in the spirit of trying to read and then recycle some of the mounds of newspapers that I hoard until I have read them, I read a two page article from Good Weekend, printed back on March 31 2007. I'd picked up this article numerous times and always put it back down unread. Today I read it. And what a depressing read it is. Adult polar bears are losing weight. They used to weigh 295 kg on average in 1980, but were a mere 230 kg in 2004. There has been a 40% loss in the thickness of the Arctic ice in the past 25 years. The bears rely on the ice. They only feed whilst on ice, if it's too far between areas of ice they can drown trying to get to the next one.

And what is our government doing about this? Not much. Still not signing Kyoto. It's got a website. But what is it actually doing?

While they're still around, we can all enjoy things like this.

Friday 31 August 2007

The Road

Wow, what an amazing book. I've read it twice in the past month or so. I wasn't planning to read it twice, but I had so many questions, and this haunting tale still played on my mind after I'd finished it, after bookgrouplist had dissected it for two weeks, that when looking about for a small book to take on holidays to Melbourne with me, I decided on a reread of The Road.

This is the second McCarthy that I have read. I read All The Pretty Horses a few years ago now, again with bookgrouplist. I don't remember many details from it now, but do remember sparse, clear prose. This book is even sparser, and clearer. As many have commented the style is almost poetic. The author is somewhat intrusive in this aspect though I think. To make the setting different from modern times, he has dispensed with apostrophes at random, and uses a lot of sentence fragments. The sentence fragments I don't mind in the least, but random placement of apostrophes is jarring to the modern reader. He also has either a Vast Vocabulary, or works with an online thesaurus open and continually running. Amazing words leap off the page- discalced, crozzled, cheroot.

We immediately enter a post-apocalyptic world somewhere in southern America, (See Rock City. A simple sentence early on, incomprehensible to the average Aussie reader actually gives it away) where an unnamed father and son are walking down the road, walking towards the coast, which looms as their only hope in a rather hopeless world. He has created a very convincing world. Several years earlier "The clocks stopped at 1:17. A long shear of light and then a series of low concussions." The cause of the end of civilization as we currently enjoy it is never explored in the book. And it has become irrelevant. Nothing matters except ongoing survival, and that is fraught enough. The plant and animal life has all but died out. They hear a dog once, but otherwise the native world is dead, killed by the pall of dust that cakes the world and hides the sun.

What is the point of their journey on The Road? Many have argued about whether this book, and it's ending are optimistic or not. I don't really see how it can be. All potential human food sources are dead. The few remaining people are eeking out their existence, living off the shrinking remnants of the previous society. Ultimately, what hope can there be? The father is still hopeful for the survival of his son, even in these cirucmstances.

The ending is somewhat alarming. It just seems to stop. The last paragraph does not come from those before it. But I don't think it's an important enough problem to ruin the book. As with any road trip, it's the journey not the destination that is important, and this journey is quite the page turner. An important book, ignore it at your peril.

Sunday 19 August 2007

Not Buying It. My Year Without Shopping

I'm not buying the premise of this book. It's an important book conceptually. We live in a consumer society, and need to question it's fundamental basis. Almost as a whim Judith and her partner Paul decide to spend a year (2004) without shopping. But there are a lot of provisos. She sets a quit date. And so stocks up on some essentials beforehand- a DVD player, renews all magazine subscriptions so they won't run out, a concrete elephant for the garden! There are also a lot of necessities that are allowable purchases- groceries, insulin for the cat, toilet paper, Internet access, newspapers, although that just seems to be the New York Times. There are a number of stumbling points along the way- friends buy dinner, wine, send over videos. I guess I was expecting more hardship from a year without shopping. I've just survived the early years of a young child, not going out for dinner for a year, or to a movie, is hardly a severe privation.

After all, the 2 of them manage to have 3 cars. They discuss this, but decide that the 3 cars are indispensable. They are also doing a $25, 000 renovation to their house in Vermont, which doesn't often rate a mention, nor should it, it is not overly compatible with the aims of the book. Hardly a year of cutback.

She is a vegetarian, and does an interesting inventory of her pantry. I felt humbled by the fact that she has 24 varieties of beans! I didn't know there are 24 varieties of beans. I do feel lucky counting a respectable 10 vinegars in my pantry- apple cider (2 brands), white, malt, red wine, chardonnay, maple, raspberry, brown rice and cabernet franc. Whereas our author only had 9. Do I need that many vinegars? Possibly not. I do use the cider, red wine and raspberry ones quite a bit. Indeed I have been distraught for some time at having almost used up the raspberry vinegar and being unable to replace it- it makes a sensational salad dressing for summer. But perhaps that is the point.

The book is very light on detail as to how she lives in her year without shopping. Although the details she does give are often not that impressive. She doesn't pay to go out to dinner, but will let her friends buy her dinner. Friends can also bail her out with bringing wine to have with dinner, even though they stocked up on alcohol (and a new DVD player!) before the big kickoff in January. How serious is she really?

She rambles on and on about a mobile phone tower planned for their community in Vermont. It isn't really central to her nonshopping year, and even though her partner is on the local council and involved in the decision making, it really should not be in the book as it is.

There are some pearls in amongst the pages. The early introductory part is probably the best, it's quite powerful, the rest of the book just lets it down. She talks of the time in the post September 11 attacks when Americans were stirred to patriotism by shopping. Consumer choice is democracy. A dollar spent is a vote for the American way of life. Buy that flat-screen TV, our leaders commanded, or the terrorists will have won. A kilo of meat takes seven times the resources needed to produce a kilo of grain.

We have enough stuff; most Americans have more than enough. Capitalism gives us everything except what is free. Yet capitalism needs us to want what we do not have, and desire for what we do not have is an infintely renewable resource. A fair point, on a day when the Sunday Telegraph is pointing out that we can now hire posh handbags by the week because they are too expensive to buy. Apparently Paris Hilton strolling on a Sydney beach in a Vuitton bikini with a plastic $2700 Vuitton bag caused a buying frenzy. Are people really that stupid that they would pay $2700 for a plastic bag because some dim wit took one to the beach one day? Seems so.

Saturday 28 July 2007

Never Say Retire

I spend much of my waking hours dreaming about retirement. Imagine my shock and dismay to read a recent Sydney Morning Herald article suggesting that I shouldn't retire, and even worse, shouldn't want to! Although the article was based on a premise by someone called David Bogan, so perhaps it should be taken with a grain of salt. Just checking the publication date, no it wasn't April first.

This Bogan chap reckons that retirement is unnatural and outmoded. That it was a construct of the depression era 1930s intended to create employment for young workers, and so now that we have an ageing population with no vast numbers of young workers coming along then the old workers should not have to stand aside.

He points out that the people who can truly afford to retire rarely do. It's true if you think about it- the Queen, the Rolling Stones, Warren Buffet are used as examples in the article. "You wouldn't give up your day job for unemployment benefits, or your health for sickness benefit- why would you give up your life for retirement?"

I guess that this presumes that one's job is one's life. It certainly seems that I spend a lifetime at work each day. But is my work my life? I don't think so. I used to enjoy it, can't so much at the moment. But should it be my life? No, I don't think so. Doesn't it contradict the principle that dying people never wished they had spent more time at work?

Oscar The Cat

Oscar has been making lots of headlines in the last day. The original article from the NEJM. Not the CAT scan result you want to have!

Volume 357:328-329 July 26, 2007 Number 4

A Day in the Life of Oscar the Cat
David M. Dosa, M.D., M.P.H.

Oscar the Cat awakens from his nap, opening a single eye to survey his kingdom. From atop the desk in the doctor's charting area, the cat peers down the two wings of the nursing home's advanced dementia unit. All quiet on the western and eastern fronts. Slowly, he rises and extravagantly stretches his 2-year-old frame, first backward and then forward. He sits up and considers his next move.

In the distance, a resident approaches. It is Mrs. P., who has been living on the dementia unit's third floor for 3 years now. She has long forgotten her family, even though they visit her almost daily. Moderately disheveled after eating her lunch, half of which she now wears on her shirt, Mrs. P. is taking one of her many aimless strolls to nowhere. She glides toward Oscar, pushing her walker and muttering to herself with complete disregard for her surroundings. Perturbed, Oscar watches her carefully and, as she walks by, lets out a gentle hiss, a rattlesnake-like warning that says "leave me alone." She passes him without a glance and continues down the hallway. Oscar is relieved. It is not yet Mrs. P.'s time, and he wants nothing to do with her.

Oscar jumps down off the desk, relieved to be once more alone and in control of his domain. He takes a few moments to drink from his water bowl and grab a quick bite. Satisfied, he enjoys another stretch and sets out on his rounds. Oscar decides to head down the west wing first, along the way sidestepping Mr. S., who is slumped over on a couch in the hallway. With lips slightly pursed, he snores peacefully — perhaps blissfully unaware of where he is now living. Oscar continues down the hallway until he reaches its end and Room 310. The door is closed, so Oscar sits and waits. He has important business here.

Twenty-five minutes later, the door finally opens, and out walks a nurse's aide carrying dirty linens. "Hello, Oscar," she says. "Are you going inside?" Oscar lets her pass, then makes his way into the room, where there are two people. Lying in a corner bed and facing the wall, Mrs. T. is asleep in a fetal position. Her body is thin and wasted from the breast cancer that has been eating away at her organs. She is mildly jaundiced and has not spoken in several days. Sitting next to her is her daughter, who glances up from her novel to warmly greet the visitor. "Hello, Oscar. How are you today?"

Oscar takes no notice of the woman and leaps up onto the bed. He surveys Mrs. T. She is clearly in the terminal phase of illness, and her breathing is labored. Oscar's examination is interrupted by a nurse, who walks in to ask the daughter whether Mrs. T. is uncomfortable and needs more morphine. The daughter shakes her head, and the nurse retreats. Oscar returns to his work. He sniffs the air, gives Mrs. T. one final look, then jumps off the bed and quickly leaves the room. Not today.

Making his way back up the hallway, Oscar arrives at Room 313. The door is open, and he proceeds inside. Mrs. K. is resting peacefully in her bed, her breathing steady but shallow. She is surrounded by photographs of her grandchildren and one from her wedding day. Despite these keepsakes, she is alone. Oscar jumps onto her bed and again sniffs the air. He pauses to consider the situation, and then turns around twice before curling up beside Mrs. K.

One hour passes. Oscar waits. A nurse walks into the room to check on her patient. She pauses to note Oscar's presence. Concerned, she hurriedly leaves the room and returns to her desk. She grabs Mrs. K.'s chart off the medical-records rack and begins to make phone calls.

Within a half hour the family starts to arrive. Chairs are brought into the room, where the relatives begin their vigil. The priest is called to deliver last rites. And still, Oscar has not budged, instead purring and gently nuzzling Mrs. K. A young grandson asks his mother, "What is the cat doing here?" The mother, fighting back tears, tells him, "He is here to help Grandma get to heaven." Thirty minutes later, Mrs. K. takes her last earthly breath. With this, Oscar sits up, looks around, then departs the room so quietly that the grieving family barely notices.

On his way back to the charting area, Oscar passes a plaque mounted on the wall. On it is engraved a commendation from a local hospice agency: "For his compassionate hospice care, this plaque is awarded to Oscar the Cat." Oscar takes a quick drink of water and returns to his desk to curl up for a long rest. His day's work is done. There will be no more deaths today, not in Room 310 or in any other room for that matter. After all, no one dies on the third floor unless Oscar pays a visit and stays awhile.

Note: Since he was adopted by staff members as a kitten, Oscar the Cat has had an uncanny ability to predict when residents are about to die. Thus far, he has presided over the deaths of more than 25 residents on the third floor of Steere House Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Providence, Rhode Island. His mere presence at the bedside is viewed by physicians and nursing home staff as an almost absolute indicator of impending death, allowing staff members to adequately notify families. Oscar has also provided companionship to those who would otherwise have died alone. For his work, he is highly regarded by the physicians and staff at Steere House and by the families of the residents whom he serves.

Source Information

Dr. Dosa is a geriatrician at Rhode Island Hospital and an assistant professor of medicine at the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University — both in Providence.