Mar 28
Dust Me Selecta
icon4 Mar 28th, 2009 | icon2 Music | icon3Comments Off

Rach returned from a recent op-shop expedition with a couple of additions to the record collection, one of which was a K-Tel compilation from 1973 called Souled Out! As you might guess from the title, it gathers together a number of soul hits from the ’60s and early ’70s. We gave it a spin last night, and it’s a great record, but what caught my eye was an advertisement on the back cover for the K-Tel Record Selector.

If you’re younger than about 30, you will probably struggle to remember the K-Tel Record Selector, or even K-Tel for that matter. Though for many Australians K-Tel will always be associated with TV ads flogging dodgy compilation albums, it is in fact an American company that began with door-to-door kitchenware sales, before moving into the music business. K-Tel is allegedly responsible for releasing the world’s first “compilation” album, 25 Great Country Artists Singing Their Original Hits, in 1966.

Anyway, back to the K-Tel Record Selector. It’s nothing more or less than a simple plastic storage rack for vinyl LPs:

I can’t improve upon the ad copy on the back of Souled Out:

Record Selector is a new space age device for storing and selecting your favourite records. Simply place all your albums in record selector, move the first record forward and all the other records flip slowly forward. When the selector reaches the album you wish to play, simply remove it and return all albums to their starting positions. When you wish to return the album to the record selector, again flip the first record forward. The other albums will automatically flip slowly forward and the selector will stop at the spot where the record was removed. You can then replace the album.

Below this text is a series of bullet points, summarising the many outstanding features of the Record Selector:

  • Finger touch starting
  • Runs fast or slow
  • Works like a computer
  • Find your favourite music in seconds
  • Holds 24 records

Firstly, to address the most obviously ridiculous part of the above spiel, this is no “space age device”. It’s a milk crate with the sides cut off. And it works like a computer? Of course, because when I need to find a document on my computer I tell it to start at the first one and proceed slowly through each document until it chances upon the one I’m after. I also doubt that the records will “flip slowly forward”. More likely, at the slightest touch, the entire contents of the Record Selector will topple forward like dominos, sending your valuable vinyl rolling across the rumpus room floor.

Seriously, I can’t see how this device is any more efficient than a cardboard box and careful application of the concept of alphabetical order. And it only holds 24 records! The Record Selector is, however, a very efficient way of extracting $3.99 for a shonky piece of plastic whose design is based solely on the earth’s gravitational pull.

So, I know the question on your lips right now is, “Where can I get one?”

Once again, from the back cover of Souled Out:

This record selector is available now from your nearest Majestic Record retailer at $3.99, or enquire from K-TEL International (Aust.) Limited, 46 Pyrmont Bridge Road, Pyrmont, 2009.

Sadly, K-TEL went belly up in 2007, when it was “taken private in a 1 to 5000 reverse split” – whatever that means – so I doubt that enquiring at 46 Pyrmont Bridge Road will get you very far.

P.S. Check out the fantastic K-Tel blog to enter compilation album nirvana (those aren’t the real covers by the way).

Mar 19

Rach and I have just finished watching the hilarious British TV series Nighty Night. Check it out if you like your comedy dark. One of the great things about the show is the musical soundtrack, which includes a stack of classic eighties pop and heavy metal songs.

One song in particular that features throughout the series is called “Lavender” by UK progressive rock band Marillion. (If you watched The Young Ones you’ll remember Neil’s request to “play some Hawkwind, or Marillion.”) One of my mates in high school – let’s call him Eddy – was a massive fan of Marillion back in the mid ’80s. I recall Eddy having their record Misplaced Childhood, and playing this track to me. “Lavender” was one of only two UK top ten hits for the band – check out the video, it’s superb:

How cool was that?! The vocalist is a mysterious character who goes by the name “Fish”. He was born Derek Dick, so you can see why a change of name was required. He’s also Scottish, hence the kilt and sporran.

There are a few other comments which need to be made about this song and video. Firstly, I believe – and please correct me if I’m wrong – that this is the only pop song ever to include the lyric “dilly dilly”. In fact, the main lyrics of the chorus are taken from a 17th century poem, “Lavender Blue“. (Now to find a pop song that has the lyric “hey, nonny nonny”.)

I could write several posts just on the hairstyles of the band members. Incredibly, the bass player appears to have at least two hairstyles going simultaneously, including the rarely seen “supermullet”. Lead singer Fish is clearly deep in denial of his early onset male pattern baldness. Those few wisps at the front aren’t fooling anyone, buddy. Not to mention the twin rat’s tails, something to which all young men aspired in 1985.

Sadly, Fish parted ways with Marillion in 1989, citing differences personal, musical and follicle.

Mar 18

Today marks the first anniversary of Snubian.

Yes, as difficult as it is to believe, it is a mere 365 days 6 hours 9 minutes and 9.7676 seconds since the first tentative, faltering steps were taken by a fledgling Snubian, at that time a new-born giraffe wandering the harsh, unforgiving savannah of the world wide web.

I wouldn’t be here to write these words now if it wasn’t for a certain group of people. I think you know who I’m talking about. That’s right, the critics. Special individuals who selflessly give up their own hopes of achievement so they might dedicate their careers to passing judgement on others. Here’s what just a few have had to say over the past year.

“3 ½ stars.” – Rolling Stone Magazine

“Wickedly funny.” – SMH Metro Guide (from a review of the stage adaptation starring Garry McDonald as Snubian)

“These are the true words of God.” – The Bible (Revelation 19:9)

“Certainly most ordinary [people] will despise [Snubian] – or would, if they went to see it, which is unlikely. It alternates between graphic, explicit sex scenes and murder scenes of brutal cruelty. You recoil from what’s on the screen.” - Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times

“A delectable mille-feuille of irony.” – David Stratton

“Whatever.” – Robert M. Pirsig, author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

“The lean, sensual performer was a triumph.” – Michael Carmack, Los Angeles Herald-Examiner

“I like his old stuff better than his Snu stuff.” – Bernard Zuel

“What a load of fucking bollocks.” – Gordon Ramsay

According to data obtained from ASIO under Freedom of Information laws the number of hits on Snubian has increased steadily to around 2,000 per month. A significant portion of these are from “robots”, something I find quite amazing. As for humans, it appears that many are directed to Snubian from Google image searches. For example, someone looking for pictures of Sam Neill may well end up here:

In fact, this innocuous anecdote about my having seen Sam Neill twice in public is the most popular Snubian post if judged on number of hits. Merely because I included a picture of Sam Neill.

To my regular readers (do we have enough for a mixed netball team yet?), I say thank you. I know who some of you are, but to those who choose to remain anonymous, I urge you to come out of the closet. Leave a comment on this post, let me know you care. All respondents will receive, by email, a signed portrait and complimentary mini Kit-Kat.

Mar 14
Clubbed to Death
icon4 Mar 14th, 2009 | icon2 Science, Travel | icon3Comments Off

In recent months Rach and I have been visiting rainforest sites along the NSW coast to collect data for her PhD. During these trips, wherever we happen to find ourselves, we dine out at least one night at the local bowling club.

To complement Rach’s studies of rainforest plant ecology, I am undertaking my own research comparing attributes of bowling clubs in coastal towns from Byron Bay to Bega. The preliminary title for my study is “Bowling club traits along a latitudinal gradient”.

As data collection for my study I am scoring each venue based on their provision of what I consider key attributes for any bowling club:

  • bistro and/or Chinese restaurant with cavernous dining area
  • confusing or misleading entrance signage
  • Keno, including availability of sharpened pencils at each table
  • a pre-1970s portrait of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II
  • separate “low-rollers” gaming area
  • chocolate wheel
  • menacing or intimidating bar staff
  • photograph behind bar of obscure “local legend”
  • wide range of ancient liqueurs
  • gold-lettered honour roll of bowling champions
  • signs warning patrons to control their bad language and/or unruly children
  • prize/trophy cabinet
  • Friday night meat raffle

Below are some of our initial observations from a selection of the clubs we have visited.

Currarong Bowling & Recreation Club

It was while sitting in this club that I first had the inspiration to conduct my groundbreaking research. Upon entry to the club, the expected sign-in book was nowhere to be found. I proceeded directly to the bar, where I was greeted with a stern look and gruffly asked, “You a member?” (Clearly, I was not a member; the barman probably knows every member of this tinpot club by name.) I answered in the negative, and was directed to sign in at a small desk, hidden from view by a large pot plant.

This club had the smallest chocolate wheel I have ever seen. It was approximately the size of a medium pizza, and had about ten numbers on it. The small size of the chocolate wheel was offset, however, by the largest seating area of any club outside of Las Vegas. There was enough seating to accommodate the population of the town of Currarong twenty times over. And that’s not including the separate dining area attached to the Chinese restaurant (the sludgy food was below average).

The selection of ancient and dusty liqueurs behind the bar was staggering. Most of the colourful liquids had long since separated into their constituent parts: water above and a yellow, green or red glutinous mass below.

Greenwell Point Bowling & Sports Club

“The club with the million dollar view”. If you can find it. Following the road signs we found ourselves driving for kilometres through quiet suburban streets, only to be deposited into an alley behind the club, which ended at an open paddock and chain link fence, beyond which was the club’s car park, with easy access from the main road we should’ve stayed on ten minutes before.

The main recreation in these parts is fishing, and the bigger the better. The walls of the club were adorned with photos of beefy blokes with their enormous catch hanging forlornly alongside. It was here that Rach discovered that during the day spent crouching in rainforest her belly button had become infested with tiny orange “chiggers”.

The meat raffle here was a winner – we walked away with a tasty prawn platter which was quickly devoured the following afternoon.

North Beach Recreation & Bowling Club (Mylestom)

This club has brought the concept of the 2 AM lockout forward six hours to 8 PM, an idea which has spread to other clubs we visited. Seriously, if you choose to enter the club after eight o’clock in the evening you have to knock politely on the front door and asked to be allowed inside. Luckily we arrived early and grabbed a seat before the Friday night meat raffle crowd arrived.

We sampled both the Chinese restaurant (so-so) and the pizza (pretty good), although our dining experience was marred by the large number of unsupervised children who ran between the tables. When a gang of tweenage girls began a jazz ballet routine next to our table – seriously affecting the digestion of my chicken and cashew nuts – we decided it was time to head back to our accommodations.

Port City Bowling Club (Port Macquarie)

This club gains points for having an incredibly confusing entrance. A large sign directing you in from the road actually leads to a car park for the adjacent tennis club. From there you must walk past the tennis courts, through a gate, around the bowling greens and enter via a back door, into an empty room at the very rear of the club.

The bar staff, however, were verging on friendly, and the bistro menu was wide-ranging. The Queen’s portrait was a little too recent for my tastes, but was prominently placed for easy viewing. The meat raffle was among the most professionally organised of any I have had the pleasure to witness. Rach and I walked away with a selection of lamb products that were cooked the following evening on the communal BBQ at the Lighthouse Beach Holiday Village.

At around 8:30 pm a local singer named Tony Ward began to perform. He sang and played guitar to pre-recorded backing tracks, while wearing a selection of comic glasses, waistcoats and hats. We stayed for one song. Upon trying to leave by the same door which we had entered we found it locked, and had to detour out the front door, down the darkened side of the club, through a fence, past the tennis courts (again) and finally to our waiting vehicle.

Pacific Palms Bowling Club

A pleasant place for a bowling club, nestled among tall gums in a quiet bushland setting. As we sipped our beers on the back terrace we watched two local foursomes play a few ends on the well manicured greens.

The barman on duty resembled a modern Ned Kelly; the tip of his ZZ Top-like ginger beard dragged on the bar, permanently stained from long-term exposure to Tooheys New dregs. While he poured my beer we had a brief conversation comparing the relative merits of Pacific Palms with the nearby metropolis of Forster. Pacific Palms wins out, I was assured, owing to its laid back atmosphere and lack of electronic traffic signals.

The bistro here was a definite winner. The menu was large with no less than eight specials, including the exotic sounding osso bucco. During our meal we were delighted to witness the arrival of the local drug dealer – underpanted arse hanging out of his too baggy shorts – who proceeded to order up big at the bistro for himself and his two molls. For their entree they ordered not only a dozen natural oysters but another six Kilpatrick as well.

Mar 13
Book Learnin’
icon4 Mar 13th, 2009 | icon2 Science | icon31 Comment »

Rach and I recently took out a subscription to Science magazine. According to their website, Science is the “world’s leading journal of original scientific research, global news, and commentary”. Who am I to argue?

You see, Rach is currently doing a PhD in plant ecology, and I have a couple of pieces of paper from universities myself – including a science degree – so we felt a subscription to one of the world’s most popular and prestigious scholarly journals would not be out of our intellectual league.

Last week we received our first issue in the post. I couldn’t wait to get it out of its plastic sleeve. All that new scientific knowledge just waiting to be ingested into my otherwise dormant gray matter. But as I started flicking through the articles a terrible realisation hit me. I had grossly overestimated my own intelligence.

Let’s have a look at Vol. 323 No. 5917, which is the first issue we received in the mail.

The cover is pretty. It has an illustration of what looks like a cell membrane, above which two proteins are engaged in some sort of molecular dogfight. (Imagine machine gun noises and the sound of a Messerschmitt spiralling to earth in a roaring fireball.)

OK, turn the page. It’s an advertisement … at least that’s what I think it is. The text promises “research products for the study of important signal transduction pathways”. All right! Riveting stuff. Below the text is a list of about a hundred alphanumeric codes (e.g. FGF-R4, KHS1/MAP4K5) the cryptic meanings of which are utterly beyond my knowledge or understanding.

The ads on the following pages are equally mystifying. “The WAVE Bioreactor, with its novel rocking motion, is a fast and efficient system for inoculum propogation” … “Improved transfection” … (Huh? What the fuck is “transfection”?) “You need the best electroporation technology available, but you also want the ability to transfect primary cells with a flexible system. We understand.” Great, because I certainly don’t.

Most of the articles are in the same vein, only much longer and more complicated. Oh, hang on, here’s one about truffles. I’ll come back to that one. And here’s one on plate tectonics, that’s something I have a vague understanding of; better bookmark it.

The articles in Science cover the spectrum of scientific disciplines, everything from cell biology to applied physics and engineering. Nobody could fully understand every article. Perhaps I should be happy to have an interesting article to read about truffles. (Hmm, must be almost dinner time.)

On the other hand, maybe I should’ve kept my subscription to Metal Hammer instead.

Mar 1

Are you able to identify the objects are in the picture below?

Recently I learnt (thanks, Paul) that the object on the right is called a shoe tree. The object on the left is a shoe, which has a shoe tree inside it.

Thinking I might like to learn more about shoe trees, I looked on Wikipedia and, sure enough, there’s an article on shoe trees. It’s fairly short, but I suppose there’s not much you can write about shoe trees other than their basic design concept and materials.

As I read about shoe trees it occurred to me that this was quite a mundane item to have its own Wikipedia article. I find it interesting that someone has bothered to sit down and peck out a paragraph or two on this fairly innocuous subject. This got me thinking about other everyday items that might have been overlooked in the effort to construct a global online repository of humankind’s knowledge.

Think of a boring household item. How about a comb? Yes, there is a comb Wikipedia article, and it actually has a good screen-and-a-half’s worth of text. I’d forgotten about the comb’s potential as a musical instrument, which takes up a large paragraph on its own.

Next I looked up shoelaces. Of course there is a lengthy article on shoelaces; the history of shoelaces, construction, types of knots, as well as a handy table giving recommended shoelace lengths depending on the number of lace holes in your shoe. I’ll have to bookmark that one.

Time to get smaller, to zoom in. What about the aglet, the small plastic bit on the end of a shoelace? Surely it won’t have its own Wikipedia article! Oh, yes, it does. Did you know that during the Great Depression aglets were made out of paper and glue? What a living hell it must’ve been.

OK, try to think even smaller now, insignificant … what is the most insignificant thing I can imagine … dust! Of course the Wikipedia article on dust is quite involved. It begins with a strict definition of what can rightfully be called “dust” (any solid particle with a diameter of less than 500 microns). It then goes into detail on the various types of dust; domestic dust, atmospheric dust, cosmic dust …

Think very, very general now … what about a stick. I can’t for the life of me think of an item that is less specific. There is an article on “stick”, it just says:

stick generally refers to a long, slender piece of wood, usually a branch from a tree without the leaves that may be refined.

Then it has a long list of other possible uses of the term “stick” that the reader may be interested in. (In Wikipedia terms this listing of different senses of a word is called “disambiguation”, a great word that I am yet to use successfully in casual conversation.)

So it seems that no matter how insignificant, mundane, useless or dull, there is a place in Wikipedia for you. Maybe it’s time for an article about Snubian.