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Thursday, October 01, 2009

The Night Noodle Markets are coming!

Mark it in your calendars, the Night Noodle Markets in Hyde Park are happening Mon-Fri, 13–24 Oct, 5pm-9.30pm. See you there.

BYO appetite.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Kraft crumbles: stupid iSnack2.0 name for new Vegemite scrapped

Kraft has bowed to public pressure and ditched the name iSnack2.0 for its new Vegemite-cream cheese blend.

“We have been overwhelmed by the passion for Vegemite and the new product. The new name has simply not resonated with Australians. Particularly the modern technical aspects associated with,’’ said Kraft spokesman Simon Talbot.

In a statement this afternoon, the company said it would once again throw open the challenge to Australians to come up with a new name.

But the company denied it had all been a publicity stunt.

"At no point in time has the new Vegemite name been about initiating a media publicity stunt," Mr Talbot, said. "We are proud custodians of Vegemite and have always been aware that it is the people's brand and a national icon."

Thousands of the jars with the new name will be distributed to supermarkets ready to go on sale, ensuring that the soon to be scrapped name will quickly become a collectors' item.

"Our Kraft Foods storeroom currently has thousands of jars of the iSnack2.0 named Vegemite. This product will be distributed around Australia, and will continue to be sold in supermarkets for months to come - until Australia decides upon a new name," Mr Talbot said.

“Australians and New Zealanders will shortly be invited to help us make a choice. Please bear with us for the next 48 hours as we finalise how Australians and New Zealanders can decide the new name through an independent popularity vote."

The number of negative comments posted on blogs and on social networking sites is now running into the thousands, prompting Kraft to step back from the new name, which was chosen from 48,000 as part of a competition to get Australians to name the new spread.

Almost 3 million of the promotional ‘‘Name Me’’ jars were sold during the naming competition, suggesting it had been popular.

But the new name has roused almost universal indignation

Australian Pirate Party launches

After winning 7.1 per cent of Swedish votes in this year's European Parliament elections, The Pirate Party has opened up a branch in Australia and plans to contest the next federal election.

The party, which will campaign on a platform of anti-internet censorship and the decriminalisation of non-commercial file sharing, has already signed up 550 members, enough for it to register as a party with the Australian Electoral Commission.

It plans to hold internal elections for leadership positions - president, general secretary, treasurer and their deputies - on October 7.

But party spokesman Brendan Molloy was quick to point out that free file sharing was only one aspect of the overall mission, which was to "bolster our nation's Democratic conventions".

"We've here to actively change the landscape of Australian politics forever, by advocating freer copyright and protection of our civil liberties, especially against [Communications Minister Stephen] Conroy's censorship regime, which is not welcome in Australia," he said.

"We also have a strong stance for the reform of the patent system to be much fairer, especially in regards to pharmaceuticals and software."

In the European Parliament elections in June, the Pirate Party won 7.1 per cent of Swedish votes, allowing its leader, Christian Engstroem, to take one of Sweden's 18 seats in the European Parliament.

The group gained significant traction in Sweden following this year's introduction of laws that criminalised file sharing and the sentencing of four Swedes to a year in jail for running illegal download site The Pirate Bay.

In the recent German elections, The Pirate Party won 2 per cent of the vote, short of the 5 per cent required to gain a seat in the German Parliament. Spiegel Online reported that the party won as much as 13 per cent of votes for first-time male voters.

Further, in the German city council elections held in August, the group gained seats in the Munster and Aachen councils.

The party has branches in 35 countries and they all co-operate via a collective called Pirate Party International.

The Australian branch is headed by a University of Western Sydney law student, Rodney Serkowski. He was not available for comment but told ITNews he would contest the next federal election provided he was permitted to register as a political party.

The party argues that file sharing should be legalised and, far from being detrimental to artists, was one of their best means of advertising their music.

It is worried by recent revelations that Conroy is considering legislation that would have persistent file sharers disconnected from the internet.

"Our policies are all geared towards copyright reform, patent reform, anti-censorship, non-commercial file sharing, policy in regards to having Digital Rights Management abolished and policy supporting the right to privacy of every Australian," Molloy said.

Despite its clear overseas success, the Australian Federation Against Copyright Theft does not appear to be alarmed by the presence of the Pirate Party in Australia.

"It will be interesting to see if a party advocating illegal activity is able to contest the election," a spokeswoman said.

"If they are able, perhaps they could do a preference deal with the Shoplifting Party."

Online activist group GetUp campaigns on similar issues to the Pirate Party and has obtained more than 115,000 signatures for its petition opposing Conroy's internet censorship policy.

GetUp chief executive officer Simon Sheikh said his organisation might decide to work with the Pirate Party on campaigns but could not support any individual party directly "because we're a non-partisan organisation".

"In saying that, we believe in intellectual property reform and we believe in protecting Australia's internet from Senator Conroy's censorship agenda," he said.

A spokesman for Conroy did not respond to calls requesting comment.

Tourists using Uluru as toilet may have killed off shrimp

Tourists may have killed off a rare species of shrimp by relieving themselves on Australia's iconic Uluru, or Ayers Rock, a report said yesterday.

Biologist Brian Timms said his research had showed one species of small inland shrimp living in pools atop the monolith had become extinct while another had thrived.

"The people going up the rock somehow have affected the animals which live in the pools, possibly by peeing on the rock and pooing on the rock," Timms told state radio.

The Branchinella latzi species had not been seen on Uluru since the 1970s, and would have been susceptible to "enrichment" of the pool's water, he added.

"Certainly if (tourists) go up, they should be behaving themselves, not pooing on the rock," Timms said.

However, a species of fairy shrimp had survived, probably because it was "widespread and tough," according to Timms.

Australia is mulling a ban on tourists climbing the rock, which is a sacred part of Aboriginal tribes' creation mythology.

Tour operators claim visitors are often caught short on the arduous climb, and most had a "toilet roll tucked away" in case of emergency.

Park officials in July announced plans to end the popular climb on cultural and safety grounds, a stance endorsed by Peter Garrett, Australia's environment minister and former frontman of rock band Midnight Oil.

Signs at the site ask people not to climb the rock, out of respect for the Aboriginal community, but one-third of the 350,000 annual visitors still do so.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has said it would be "very sad" if tourists were kept off the desert icon, which was handed back to Aborigines in 1985 and is one of the nation's most recognisable landmarks.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

UK musician Dan Bull's musical open letter to Lily Allen

UK musician Dan Bull's musical open letter to Lily Allen, after she made comments earlier this week about how filesharing is detroying the music industry. Great stuff. Pass it on.

“I’ve also tried to outline some of the main moral arguments for filesharing in the lyrics. Hope you enjoy..”

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Isabella Rossellini's Green Porno adventures

Cute little short-film about the sex life of bees starring Isabella Rossellini. SFW.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Stop Australian Internet Censorship!

Australia’s laws on Internet censorship are, theoretically, amongst the most restrictive in the Western world. However, the restrictive nature of the laws has been combined with almost complete lack of interest in enforcement from the agencies responsible.

We're all mutants, say scientists

Each of us has at least 100 new mutations in our DNA, according to research published in the journal Current Biology.

Scientists have been trying to get an accurate estimate of the mutation rate for over 70 years.

However, only now has it been possible to get a reliable estimate, thanks to "next generation" technology for genetic sequencing.

The findings may lead to new treatments and insights into our evolution.

In 1935, one of the founders of modern genetics, JBS Haldane, studied a group of men with the blood disease haemophilia. He speculated that there would be about 150 new mutations in each of us.

Others have since looked at DNA in chimpanzees to try to produce general estimates for humans.

However, next generation sequencing technology has enabled the scientists to produce a far more direct and reliable estimate.

They looked at thousands of genes in the Y chromosomes of two Chinese men. They knew the men were distantly related, having shared a common ancestor who was born in 1805.

By looking at the number of differences between the two men, and the size of the human genome, they were able to come up with an estimate of between 100 and 200 new mutations per person.

Impressively, it seems that Haldane was right all along.


One of the scientists, Dr Yali Xue from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in Cambridgeshire, said: "The amount of data we generated would have been unimaginable just a few years ago.

"And finding this tiny number of mutations was more difficult than finding an ant's egg in an emperor's rice store."

New mutations can occasionally lead to severe diseases like cancer. It is hoped that the findings may lead to new ways to reduce mutations and provide insights into human evolution.

Joseph Nadeau, from the Case Western Reserve University in the US, who was not involved in this study said: "New mutations are the source of inherited variation, some of which can lead to disease and dysfunction, and some of which determine the nature and pace of evolutionary change.

"These are exciting times," he added.

"We are finally obtaining good reliable estimates of genetic features that are urgently needed to understand who we are genetically."

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Solar-powered Photobioreactor generates biofuel using algae

The architectural firm, Emergent Architecture, has designed a bioreactor system that is being envisioned to be installed in Perth. The Perth PhotoBioReactor will use colonies of red and green algae to generate biofuel.

The outer shells of the Photobioreactors are fiber-composite monocoque construction, pleated for stiffness. The Photobioreactors contain colonies of algae that require CO2 and light at the front end and generate hydrogen or biofuel at the other end.

The system is based on the technology developed by OriginOil which that allows for continued operation in shade and also in complete darkness through the use of a helix of lights inside each algae coil.

The electricity needed for the system to run is generated by thin-film solar transistors that are embedded in the transparent polycarbonate apertures. The system can be placed in different locations as a piece of art, and can help generate fuel for the masses as well.

.. from greentechaustralia.blogspot.com

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Linux in the lounge room

.. Now with even more fresh zeroes and ones!

Since moving back to Australia and buying a tv, we have been using an old desktop computer of mine as our poor man's 'home theatre PC'.

While it has been functional, it's also really been a bit of a piece of crap, the fan is really noisy for at least the first 15 minutes of turning it on, if you reboot rather than shutting it down it can't find the harddrive, that sort of stuff.

We actually have been using it quite a lot, the standard nightly mealtime conversation usually incorporating a 'what to watch' component, along with the more standard 'what to eat'.

After the recent untimely death of my laptop and nicer than usual tax return, I decided to give my wife a new computer (she's been using my old gateway 9300 which is a p3 600 with 256mb ram), and hating it... and fix our media centre situation at the same time.

On the recommendation of a friend from work I went down to Bestone computers on Victoria Rd one afternoon and got us some new toys. It's pretty amazing what $550 gets you nowadays. I know I'm going to look back on this and laugh, but Core2 duo 2.6, 2gb ram, 160gb hdd, certainly enough juice for the job.

For Peilin's pc I added a Acer 23 inch LCD which looks awesome, and for the htpc (home theatre pc - that's the lingo), I added a HDMI video card, figuring the tv supports it, so may as well.

From a software point of view I put Ubuntu 9.04 on Peilin's machine (we ended up with too many toolbars of unknown origin when we had xp), and initially mythbuntu on the htpc.

I ended up ditching Mythbuntu and using a standard Ubuntu 9.04 install with X-box media centre (xmbc) for linux on top, simply because we don't really need anything other than a tool to allow us to watch downloaded shows on the tv, no recording, no remote servers etc.

Also we were familiar with the xbmc interface as we used the windows version on the old noisy xp box.

Besides a crystal clear display and a 45 second boot time, another advantage is that our generic htpc remote ($14.95 from Ebay, delivered) works almost entirely out of the box.

I'll look at doing a little tweaking as things like the shutdown button on the remote no longer actually shuts down, but I've found some info on editing the control info here.

Isn't it great when things just work?

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Truth is out there: life-giving compound 'found in space'

Scientists have uncovered fresh evidence that life could exist beyond Earth, with research published showing that comet dust contained traces of a compound vital to human existence.

Researchers probing dust and gas collected from the Wild 2 comet by NASA's Stardust spacecraft in 2004 found traces of the amino acid glycine, lending credence to idea that there is life elsewhere in the universe.

"The discovery of glycine in a comet supports the idea that the fundamental building blocks of life are prevalent in space, and strengthens the argument that life in the universe may be common rather than rare," said Carl Pilcher, one of the space agency's top astrobiologists.

Jamie Elsila, lead author of the report, which was published in the journal Meteoritics and Planetary Science, said the findings also support the idea that the material elements of human life may have come from space.

"Our discovery supports the theory that some of life's ingredients formed in space and were delivered to Earth long ago by meteorite and comet impacts," she said.

The group's final findings confirm suspicions that the amino acid -- which creates the proteins that form the building blocks of life -- were not simply earth-sourced contamination.

"We discovered that the Stardust-returned glycine has an extraterrestrial carbon isotope signature, indicating that it originated on the comet," said Elsila.

Twenty different amino acids are arranged to build the millions of different proteins that make up everything from hair to enzymes, NASA said.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

How 10 digits will end privacy as we know it

Internet denizens and urban dwellers alike need to recognize that an era of anonymity is ending.

The population of the world stands at about 7 billion. So it takes only 10 digits to label each human being on the planet uniquely.

This simple arithmetic observation offers powerful insight into the limits of privacy. It dictates something we might call the 10-Digit Rule: just 10 digits or so of distinctive personal information are enough to identify you uniquely. They're enough to strip away your anonymity on the Internet or call out your name as you walk down the street. The 10-Digit Rule means that as our electronic gadgets grow chattier, and databases swell, we must accept that in most walks of life, we'll soon be wearing our names on our foreheads.

A study of 1990 U.S. Census data revealed that 87 percent of the people in the United States were uniquely identifiable with just three pieces of information (PDF): five-digit ZIP code, gender, and date of birth. Internet surfers today spew considerably more information than that. Web sites can pinpoint our geographical locations, computer models, and browser types, and they can silently track us using cookies. Banking sites even confirm our identities by verifying that our log-ins take place at consistent times of day.

Database dossiers, too, carry surprising amounts of identifying information, even when specifically anonymized for privacy. Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin last year studied a set of movie-rating profiles from about 500,000 unnamed Netflix subscribers (PDF).

Knowing just a little about a subscriber--say, six to eight movie preferences, the type of thing you might post on a social-networking site--the researchers found that they could pick out your anonymous Netflix profile, if you had one in the set. The Netflix study shows that those 10 deanonymizing digits can hide in surprising places.

Our physical belongings also betray our anonymity by silently calling out identity-betraying digits. Small wireless microchips--often called radio frequency identification, or RFID, tags--reside in car keys, credit cards, passports, building entrance badges, and transit passes. They emit unique serial numbers.

Once linked to our names--when we make credit card purchases, for instance--these microchips enable us to be tracked without our realizing it. One popular book inflames imaginations with the lurid title, "Spychips: How Major Corporations and Government Plan to Track your Every Move with RFID."
There's little point in hiding the serial numbers of chips when your mobile phone squeals on you.

But wireless microchips also highlight the futility of anonymity protections. To begin with, concerns about RFID tracking miss the forest for the trees. After all, mobile phones are ubiquitous and can be tracked at much longer ranges than standalone chips. Many people have GPS receivers in their phones and are signing up for location-based services, voluntarily (if selectively) disclosing their movements. There's little point in hiding the serial numbers of chips when your mobile phone squeals on you.

Many scientists have developed antitracking techniques for mobile phones and microchips. Instead of fixed serial numbers, wireless devices can call out changing pseudonyms, such as the rotating license plate numbers on spies' cars in the movies. The problem is that the plates may change, but the car always looks the same. In this regard, chips are like cars.

Scientists at ETH Zurich recently showed how to identify microchips uniquely using radio waves (PDF)--and consequently to see through the disguise of pseudonyms. Their experiments showed that thanks to manufacturing variations, microchips, laptop Wi-Fi cards, and other devices can't help but emit physical "fingerprints"--essentially God-given serial numbers. More digits that we radiate unknowingly.

In the end, we probably won't need to carry anything at all to see our identities betrayed in public spaces. There are already tens of millions of surveillance cameras in public spaces in the United States.

Face recognition software is crude today, but it will improve. Cameras will eventually recognize faces as well as people do. Unlike people, though, they'll have the backing of databases containing millions of faces--or the headshots that so many of us already post online.

Thankfully, despite proliferating sources of those 10 digits that are fatal to anonymity on the Internet and the sidewalk, we can still prevent the world of the film "Minority Report." There are many defensible facets to privacy beyond identity. Even if our names are blazoned forth to all and sundry, we still have the opportunity to safeguard health care and financial data, entertainment preferences, purchase histories, and social interactions.

In this battle, identity theft is a key challenge for technologists and policymakers. The only way to prevent unauthorized access to personal data is to ensure that even when criminals learn the digital constituents of your identity, they can't steal it. Strong authentication will need to fill the gap as the privacy of identities crumbles.

Perhaps the world will be friendlier when in-store advertisements greet you personally, criminals wear "Hello, My Name Is" badges, and the people you meet at parties already have your bio in hand. Facebook, Twitter, and pervasive blogging already augur a society of reflexive exhibitionism and voyeurism. But the technologies that advance us into a world of omniscience will also bring us a step backward.

For years, people aspired to escape small towns for the big city, for the fresh start of an identity without history. The Internet offered similar horizons of freedom. But the society of the small town will soon have us back in its clutches, for good and bad. And on the Internet, everyone will know if you're a dog.

Hackers break into police computer as sting backfires

An Australian Federal Police boast, on the ABC's Four Corners program last night, about officers breaking up an underground hacker forum, has backfired after hackers broke into a federal police computer system.

Security consultants say police appear to have been using the computer as a honeypot to collect information on members of the forum but the scheme came undone after the officers forgot to set a password.

Last Wednesday, federal police officers in co-operation with Victoria Police executed a search warrant on premises in Brighton, Melbourne, connected to the administrator of an underground hacking forum, r00t-y0u.org, which had about 5000 members.

Many details of the investigation were revealed for the first time on Four Corners last night.

After the raid, the federal police covertly assumed control of the forum and began using it to gather evidence about members.

"We can operate in a covert activity here fairly seamlessly with no harm to our members with continual and actual significant penetration," Neil Gaughan, national manager of the federal police's High Tech Crimes Operation, told Four Corners.

However, what the federal police did not know was that hackers had already cottoned on to their plan.

Police were monitoring the forum by logging into the account of the administrator they had raided, but this aroused suspicion among members who knew the raid had taken place.

A hacker broke into the federal police's computer system and, according to a source close to the investigation, accessed both police evidence and intelligence about federal police systems such as its IP addresses.

A spokeswoman for the federal police confirmed that the hacker broke into a computer system used in its investigation but denied that any evidence was compromised, saying the computer was not connected to other federal police systems.

"The AFP has identified a person whom [sic] has attempted to access the stand-alone computer system and we are currently working with our law enforcement partners regarding this matter," the spokeswoman said.

The hacker appears to have been provoked by a message published on the r00t-y0u.org site by the federal police, warning members they were under surveillance and that "all member IP addresses have been logged", with some arrests having already been made.

In two provocative messages published on anonymous document-sharing site pastebin.com, the hacker slammed the federal police for "making it sound like they can bust 'hackers', when all they have done is busted a COUPLE script kiddies". "Script kiddies" is hacker parlance for novice hackers.

The second of these messages contained several links to screenshots allegedly proving that the writer had access to the federal police's server.

These included shots of files containing fake IDs and stolen credit card numbers, as well as the federal police's server information.

The hacker then defaced the r00t-y0u.org website with the same message it had posted on the anonymous document-sharing site.

The federal police spokeswoman said: "The information posted on the http://pastebin.com website is information contained on a stand-alone [federal police] system designed specifically to be used in investigations such as this.

"The information consists of directory file names of previously compromised credentials. No information or files exist that have, or could have, been compromised."

The hacker wrote "I couldn't stop laughing" on seeing that the federal police's server was running Windows, which is known among hacker communities for being insecure. Police had also "left the MYSQL password blank".

"These dipshits are using an automatic digital forensics and incident response tool," the hacker wrote.

"All of this [hacking] had been done within 30-40 minutes. Could of been faster if I didn't stop to laugh so much."

Shaon Diwakar, a security consultant at Hack Labs in Sydney, explained how the hack occurred.

"The attacker has discovered that the server didn't have a password for its database application and he has logged on ... and, using a technique called SQL injection, he created a PHP file on the disk and browsed through that PHP file to get complete control of that particular server," he said.

Diwakar said the hacker would have had access to anything that was stored on the computer.

"When they took this action they should have known that they would have been a big target, so they should have taken more precautions," he said.

The federal police said it had yet to charge anyone over the r00t-y0u.org forum bust, but "numerous items" were seized and the investigation was ongoing.

It declined to comment further on the case.

British UFO sightings spiked when blockbusters released

Lemon-headed aliens, scrambled fighter jets and mysterious lights over a cemetery were among details of some 800 UFO sightings released by British authorities.

But another intriguing finding to emerge from the 1981-1996 archives was a surge in reports at the time of UFO-related blockbusters such as 1996's Independence Day, not to mention the British television run of The X-Files.

Among the most striking accounts released by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) is that of two boys who reported being spoken to by an alien with a lemon-shaped head, who appeared before them in a field on May 4, 1995.

"We want you, come with us," said the alien's voice, according to a police report filed after the youngsters, who seemed "agitated and distressed," recounted their experiences.

"They stated the object was about four houses high in the sky and about forty foot away from them," said the report, adding that when officers went to check two days later, they found only a farmer spraying his crops.

In another account bound to excite ufologists, a former armed forces chief urged authorities to take more seriously a report by US Air Force (USAF) staff near an airbase in eastern England.

The individuals "reported seeing a strange glowing object in the forest," said a report by a US air force commander, recounting what three of his staff told him of the incident, early on the morning of December 27, 1980.

"It illuminated the entire forest with a white light. The object itself had a pulsing red light on top and a bank of blue lights underneath. The object was hovering or on legs. As the patrolmen approached the object, it manoeuvred through the trees and disappeared."

Then there is the report of how, between November 1989 and April 1990, the Belgian air force scrambled F-16 fighter jets to investigate a series of UFO sightings - and reportedly "locked on" to them with their radars.

"The mystery remains unresolved," wrote General Wilfried de Brouwer, Chief of Operations, Belgian Air Staff, adding that despite being sceptical, "the evidence was remarkable."

One of the spookiest incidents occurred in the early hours of July 15, 1996, when a UFO was spotted hovering over a cemetery in Widnes, northwest England, before firing burning laser beams into the ground.

Cynics would note that the man involved was heading home from a night out at the time - possibly in a similar mental state to two revellers who claimed to have seen a UFO hovering over the jazz tent at the 1994 Glastonbury Festival.

And sceptics will also point to a more general trend made clear by the latest archives.

In 1995 there were 117 UFO sightings reported to authorities, but this spiked to 609 in 1996, according to the MoD reports, released after a three-year project with the National Archives.

"It's evident there is some connection between newspaper stories, TV programs and films about alien visitors and the numbers of UFO sightings reported," said UFO expert and journalism lecturer David Clarke.

"Aside from 1996, one of the busiest years for UFO sightings reported to the MoD over the past half century was 1978 - the year Close Encounters of the Third Kind was released," added Clarke.

Cooked in plastic, flavours are fantastic

MODERN technology is dramatically changing the restaurant kitchen. Traditional stovetop cooking is no longer an indispensable tool for chefs as they embrace other methods.

The most significant and widely used is known as sous vide, which involves plastic bags and water baths. Unbeknown to most diners, it's been used in Sydney's top restaurants for some time.

The method allows ingredients to ''taste unnaturally like themselves'', according to Mark Best of the three-hatted Marque restaurant, quoting one of his French heroes, chef Pierre Gagnaire.

''It's not an easy concept to get your head around. Many chefs don't get it but once you do get it, you never go back,'' Best says.

In the process, the protein cells of the most delicate fish barely change, leaving its flesh cooked even though it looks raw. The cartilage of the toughest brisket can be melted so it reaches a state of tenderness usually associated with fillet. Even a watermelon can be prepared sous vide to hype its flavour.

Food prepared sous vide (under vacuum, in French) is sealed in plastic. The absence of air lowers its boiling point, allowing proteins to be coagulated at a much lower temperature. Often, the portion will be cooked in a bain marie, where a thermostat maintains the water temperature at levels precise to 0.1 of a degree. Alternatively, a steam, or combi, oven is used. Sometimes, it's just the act of vacuuming that achieves the desired result of infusing flavour. Just one mint leaf can flavour a dish of vegetables.

It is one part of a huge arsenal of techniques embraced by the chef-scientists who are dominating international restaurant rankings. Spanish chefs, led by Ferran Adria of El Bulli restaurant, have created a market for kitchen instruments that would look at home in a laboratory: blast freezers, chrome griddles, water circulators. There's no need for a naked gas flame these days.

''I have used the technology but I haven't made it so removed that [diners] don't know what's going in [their] mouths,'' says Universal restaurant's Christine Manfield, who believes most patrons are unaware fine restaurants are cooking sous vide.

Beyond the city's adventurous top chefs, cooking in a plastic bag is still regarded with suspicion, according to Robert Erskine, who sells high-tech gadgets and equipment for Spanish company International Cooking. Erskine says they are not yet snapping up the thermostat, vacuum sealer and water circulator needed to cook sous vide.

''Chefs are still looking at it. They don't buy it,'' Erskine says. ''It's a coming thing.''

But Sydney's three-hatted chefs have been doing it for years. Tetsuya Wakuda of Tetsuya's says reading about the method inspired his renowned confit of ocean trout in 1987. At first, he used oil to create the air vacuum. It wasn't until the early 1990s that he had success with the new equipment.

Fish expert and chef Greg Doyle says even bananas get the treatment in one of the desserts in his restaurant, Pier.

At Marque, strawberries are cooked sous vide with sugar at 65 degrees for 40 minutes. Their grey carcasses are discarded and the remaining syrup is put back in a plastic bag with fresh strawberries and then vacuum sealed. The process forces the syrup into the fresh strawberry, creating hyper-real, translucent flesh.

Similarly, Best says, watermelons and cucumbers are given an exaggerated flavour so a diner might think: ''This is like the watermelon I used to know.''

The new technology has allowed food to be developed without pricey ingredients. Best says high-end restaurants are no longer distinguished by a menu of overtly luxurious ingredients such as truffle, foie gras and caviar. ''It's the intrinsic quality of every ingredient we focus on. Caviar is [just] slightly fishy eggs. It's the same with meat. If you look at the fillet, its only qualities are [its tenderness] but, really, it's not flavoursome and the texture can be a little mundane.''

Best uses tough cuts like brisket and short rib, cooks them for 18 hours at 65 degrees, chills them in an ice bath, returns them to a water bath for 40 minutes at 55 degrees and then sears the portion before it is put on the plate and served. The end product looks like a medium-rare steak but with much more flavour. ''This is a third-class braising cut turned into a first-class product through this technology,'' Best says. ''Traditionally, fillet was the cut that was only at the best restaurants … Now there's been a complete [reversal]. Why would we bother with fillet?'' At Quay, Peter Gilmore does similar things to a shoulder of lamb, traditionally another cheap cut, cooking it for 24 hours.

Another beloved instrument is the Pacojet, which creates instant sorbets and ice-creams. There is no need to add sugar to stop the ice-crystalisation process, Best says. It enables him to put the humble pea at centre stage in a sorbet, with no other ingredients besides a little salt and pepper.

Best calls it the ''peasant mentality'' of using everything. The same goes for fish. ''There's no waste from our kitchen.''

Apart from those plastic bags. Erskine estimates each of the top kitchens goes through 1000 bags a week. Chef Shannon Bennett of Melbourne's Vue de monde says the wastage is a problem: ''You feel there's a real trend that will start with this. It's so convenient and so healthy … The only area I would like to see improved is the vacuum-pack bags.''

There is something about this laboratory-like cooking that is a bit, well, frigid. Fans of Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential account, with all its heat, both allegorical and real, will not love what sous vide heralds: the cold kitchen. There are no aromas with sous vide. Everything is sealed into the food and saved for the plate.

It is now possible to set up without any exposed flame, thanks to the development of induction stoves, steam ovens, blenders that cook while they mix and water thermostats. Bennett does it at his new outlet, Cafe Vue at 401, Melbourne.

The advent of sous vide has allowed chefs to prepare more before service starts, taking the stress out of the kitchen environment. In a traditional kitchen, ''people are trying to time things, putting them into the oven, tasting, saucing'', Best says. ''That's a super-heated and stressful environment and that's not conducive to quality.'' Manfield agrees: ''For me it's about efficient, calm cooking.''

For something so apparently cutting edge, sous vide has been around a long time. The method was developed in the 1970s in France for Pierre Troisgros, one of the fathers of nouvelle cuisine, to stop foie gras shrinking under heat. It has been applied heavily in industrial food preparation, thanks to the work of food scientist Bruno Goussault.

After initially working with hotel chains and airlines on low-heat cooking, Goussault's methods caught on with chefs such as Thomas Keller, who were becoming increasingly interested in the science of food. The Roux brothers, who revived French cuisine in England and mentored hundreds of chefs, are also credited with spreading the word.

Dietmar Sawyere of Berowra Waters Inn has been using the technique since he worked as executive sous chef for Regent International Hotels in Hong Kong in the mid-1980s. ''Sous vide cooking started with a reheating method, then a lot of chefs around the world played around with it,'' he says.

Sawyere sees no reason to broadcast the method. ''One of the things I have noticed is chefs will put on the menu 'cooked sous vide' … I see it as an irrelevance. I wouldn't put 'cooked in a roasting pan' or 'baked in a baking tray'. It's a cooking method.''

By contrast, Quay restaurant's Peter Gilmore wears the method loud and proud because customers are curious, he says. "There's no doubt, the face of cooking through sous vide has changed," Gilmore says.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

District 9

Just back from seeing District 9 at the Macquarie Megaplex with Peilin and Nishan. Freakin amazing film. Loved it, thought it was brilliantly done. It's good to see some scifi done with brains.

I bought the tickets online before we went, and took a photo of the receipt barcode and ref number with my camera phone in order to remember the ref number to claim the tickets.

I didn't expect the girl behind the counter to actually be able to just hold her scanner up to the bar code in the photo on my phone and pass me my tickets, that was pretty cool.

I guess in hindsight that I really shouldn't have been that surprised, but I was, and lo, it was good.

Anyway, enough of me geeking out, go see District 9.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Is Wakame seaweed heading towards your plate?

WHEN chef Sean Connolly asked Wayne Hulme from Christie's Seafood if he could source something unique for a seafood platter, it began a chain of events that brought the first fresh Australian wakame seaweed into Sydney.

It's now appearing on restaurant plates, including at Rockpool and Sean's Panaroma, and is on sale for the home cook.

Following Connolly's request, Hulme consulted a Tasmanian periwinkle diver, who went on a reconnaissance mission at St Helens and found wakame in pristine waters.

Called undaria pinnatifida, or apron-ribbon vegetable in China, the sea vegetable began growing off the east coast of Tasmania in the 1980s.

“It is an introduced species from the ballast of Japanese ships,” Hulme says. "The plant's ability to adapt is on show as it really doesn't belong in our waters.”

Already harvested for pharmaceutical uses, the Tasmanian authorities granted the first wakame harvesting licence for human consumption to the diver. "I don't think anyone had ever asked before," Hulme says.

He is permitted to remove 10 to 15 kilograms a week and Hulme credits Connolly with “motivating me to find something new. He was after samphire, which is available in limited quantities.”

Dried seaweed is a familiar sight in NSW shops but the fresh, Australian-grown product is new.

All seaweed varieties, including wakame, are without leaves, stalks or roots. Their leaf-like blades absorb solar energy and minerals from sea water. A stipe, similar to a stalk, secures the plant to the sea floor. Only the seaweed blades are harvested, which can be eaten raw or cooked.

Of 8000 seaweed species, only 10 are commonly eaten, referred to as sea vegetables. With its delicate, briny flavour, wakame adds umami (savouriness) to food and is used to enhance soups, simmered dishes and vinegared salads. It can also be blanched or made into chips by quick frying in hot oil.

“It's a seafood vegetable and that is how chefs are treating it, even looking at serving it as a side dish,” Hulme says.

Along with Connolly, Neil Perry features fresh wakame on Rockpool's menu; Sean Moran from Sean's Panorama is a fan; and Akira Urata from Teppanyaki uses it.

"I had never seen it before but we just had to get some," says Rockpool chef Phil Wood. "We are using it in an abalone dish. It's head and shoulders above anything else."

At Sean's Panaroma, the wakame is wrapped around steamed snapper. "We've been working with it to find its best way . . . we weren't sure at first . . . but it's been very interesting," says chef-owner Sean Moran.

Hulme collects about 10 kilograms of wakame, airfreighted from Tasmania, at Sydney Airport every fortnight. He says home cooks can lay small strips over oysters or use it in soups and seaweed salads with sesame oil and chilli.

When wakame first appeared in Tasmanian waters, it created concern as it is considered a marine pest. Studies have since shown the seaweed has a less insidious effect on local ecosystems than other exotic species, such as the Northern Pacific seastar, which also arrived in ballast water. An annual weed that effectively dies off each year, wakame doesn't compete with native kelps but thrives in places that have already been disturbed. If it wasn't for the abundant growth of wakame in St Helens, the edible seaweed could have easily been missed.

Where wakame is harvested from the wild in Tasmania, supplies in Japan, Korea and China are cultivated on ropes. Seaweed spores are seeded onto lengths of string in seawater tanks on land, then transported on to rafts moored offshore.

The vegetable grows to about one metre long and up to 30 centimetres wide. The tattered-shaped blades undulate in the water with the movement of the waves.

“The colour is so natural, to the point that you can see natural flecks when held up against the light,” Hulme says.

Fresh wakame is sold at Christie's Seafood, Sydney Fish Market, for $3.50/100g.

First Australians were Indian: research

CLUES about how the first Aborigines arrived in Australia have been unveiled by Indian scientists. Based on a series of genetic tests, they believe Aborigines travelled from Africa to Australia via India.

Dr Raghavendra Rao and researchers from the Indian-government backed Anthropological Survey of India project found unique genetic mutations were shared between modern-day Indians and Aborigines, suggesting Australia's indigenous people had spent time on the subcontinent.

The scientists did genetic tests on 966 individuals from 26 of India's "relic populations" and identified seven people from central Dravidian and Austro-Asiatic tribes who shared genetic traits only found in Aborigines. "We found certain mutations in the DNA sequences of the Indian tribes … that are specific to Aborigines," Dr Rao said.

"This … suggests that the Aborigine population migrated to Australia via the so-called southern route."

Scientists believe the first modern humans began spreading around the world from Africa about 50,000 years ago. But little is known about which routes they took.

Some studies have suggested they used a single southern route stretching from the Horn of Africa, across the Red Sea into Arabia and southern Asia.

They were then believed to have moved along the coastlines of southern Asia, South-East Asia and Indonesia before arriving in Australia about 45,000 years ago.

Dr Rao said the new research, published by the online scientific journal BMC Evolutionary Biology yesterday, indicated there was direct DNA evidence about how modern humans spread from Africa 50,000 years ago. "In this respect, populations in the Indian subcontinent harbour DNA footprints of the earliest expansion out of Africa," he said.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Dr Suess ABC read in Jamaican Patois

.. Hehehe

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Local Yum Cha & Zone 3 goodness

.. mmMMmmm ..

... And that's a take! Another weekend successfully navigated.

Saturday we went over to the Ryde-Eastwood Leagues club to see what the local yum cha was like. 'Surprisingly good' was the answer. I guess mango pancakes aren't strickly yum cha, but wow, they were good. Everything was good though actually. Highly recommended.
.. It was a tough waddle home :)

We went with Allan, a guy I used to work with many years ago, and just happened to meet up in the local supermarket (as you do) and discovered that he lives in the area, which is cool.
Fun times and much, much food was had by all.

more .. mmMMmmm ..

Allan (above)

Probably not Allan.

Today we helped Dali celebrate his 9th birthday with a game of zone3 and stacks of arcade games at the zone3 in five dock. All the games I played must have been broken, there's just no way I could be that bad naturally.

Discovered that those dance dance revolution games are surprisingly difficult.

Just had to post this advertisment from outside the local hardware store :)

Not much really new.. been watching 'The Last Enemy' and thoroughly enjoying it.

Here's the first episode:

Oh, and the other day I received an invite to my 20 YEAR School reunion. Wow. Hard to believe that it's been quite that long, surely someone can't count properly. Perhaps it's me.

Hmmm.. Guess it's time to go back to the home town again. It seems fitting as the last time was there was for the 10 year School reunion..

Friday, August 07, 2009

Fresh zero's and one's...

My faithfull, trusty Dell lattitide D620 laptop of the last 3 and a half years died suddenly the other night while I was checking my bank account to see if I had enough money to buy a new computer. Some say it was a broken heart, but I say that just doesn't make any sense. Perhaps it was the irony that killed it.

Anyways, here is it's replacement.. something something quad core, 4gb ram, 24 inch screen. Successfully accessing internet, plays mp3z, even at the same time. Incredible, I know.

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