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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

..of stolen wifi and furniture workouts

Greetings dear reader,
I must first apologise for the sparseness of this post, you see, I don't get the internet connected in this, my new place, for another week or so, which is simply horrible for a internet addict such as I am, but this is only made worse by the fact that I also have no television as of yet either. That's right, tonight I'm gonna party like it's 1989.

How is he sending this here email then, the more astute amongst you may ask, well, joy of small joys that it is, I have discovered that a car dealership just down the road from my house appears to have a severely restricted, but still lovingly unsecured wireless network within range of my shiny new coffee table.

The range of sites I can get to without soliciting a message recommending me contact the administrator to continue is apparently very small, but I can connect to IM, access smh.com.au and also my gmail and google calendar (but strangely not blogger, another google service). No facebook or youtube alas, but not really that much of a surprise.
What IS a bit of a surprise is that the ports for bittorrent are not blocked, so even though I cannot get to any bittorrent search engine, I can download torrents I already have the torrent files for. I can also download the torrent file using my 3.5g phone and then copy it across to my laptop, as I have just done in order to get the latest 'animal collective' album. Whimsy, persistence & the requirement for new tunes are the mothers of invention.

.. And I have a shiny new coffee table too. On saturday previous, after scouring through the catelogue, I packed my little backpack, ready for the journey down to Rhodes, the suburb two train stops away where Ikea lives. My tightass technique was to carry everything back on the train and then assemble it in my loungeroom, once I recovered.

On the way I passed a little pine funiture shop though, and while I thought they'd be too expensive, I dropped in anyway to check out their range, because if I managed to find something, it was only a block's walk back to my place.

Lo and behold they were not only reasonably priced, but midly stylish too, so I bought a raw pine wood coffee table for $160 and carted it home, then went back to the hardware store nearby and bought a stain and varnish and spent the afternoon staining my new acquisition (and my balcony and hands too).

The instructions said to wait 24 hrs between coats, but I sensibly ignore the instructions and therefore managed to have 4 coats of stain and varnish completed in about 18 hrs. I'm thinking it looks pretty good too. It certainly seems to be upholding its side of the bargain and keeping my coffee mug off the carpet.

In substantially more important news, my wife arrives from Malaysia in the morning, which is going to be brilliant. I have the day off work and a couple of bottles of wine in the fridge to celebrate.

.. Hope this finds you, and finds you well.
... More soon.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Signing the new lease and buying stuff..

Thursday was a very busy day. I took the day off work to do lots of new house stuff. I signed the lease and got the keys for our new place in West Ryde, Sydney and then ran around buying stuff to put in it. I had no furniture at all after returning from Malaysia, so something needed to be done.

I actually wasn't thinking too straight that early in the morning, so caught the bus to the suburb the unit is in (West Ryde), rather than the suburb the real estate is in (Eastwood), so I had to catch the train again between the two, no matter it's only 2 stations. Whoops.

After that I caught the train again into the city and then back out to Newtown where I bought a nice futon bed and ate a beef and mushroom pie for lunch before catching the train again to Strathfield then changed to go to Clyde, near where 2nd's World is.

After walking for over a km in in the wrong direction, I sought directions, walked all the way back, and actually found the place. Glad I found it, these guys have heaps of electrical goods with small defects or damaged boxes etc, all with full manufacturers warranty.

I bought a nice big fridge, a 37 inch samsung lcd tv, and a washing machine. The naked DSL internet connection with VOIP gets connected on the 24th and the wifey arrives a few days before that.

So everything is pretty much in place. I think all I need to buy yet are a table and chairs, a couch and a heater.

Where the Wild Things are.. trailer

Here's the first full-length trailer for the upcoming movie of Maurice Sendak's classic book "Where the Wild Things Are".

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Wake n' Bacon alarm clock

Check out this gizmo by Matty Sallin, Daniel Bartolini & Hsiao-huh Hsu

It's an alarm clock that wakes you up with the smell and sizzle of cooking bacon.

No one likes to wake up, especially by an alarm. This clock gently wakes you up with the mouthwatering aroma of bacon, just like waking up on a Sunday morning to the smell of Mom cooking breakfast. Unless you're Jewish or Islamic.

A frozen strip of bacon is placed in Wake n' Bacon the night before. Because there is a 10 minute cooking time, the clock is set to go off 10 minutes before the desired waking time. Once the alarm goes off, the clock it sends a signal to a small speaker to generate the alarm sound.

The clock has been hacked so that instead of the alarm being sounded, a signal is sent to two halogen lamps that slow-cook the bacon in about 10 minutes.


Wednesday, April 08, 2009

2 wheeled PUMA from Segway & GM

A solution to the world's urban transportation problems could lie in two wheels not four, according to executives for General Motors and Segway.

The companies announced on Tuesday that they are working together to develop a two-wheeled, two-seat electric vehicle designed to be a fast, safe, inexpensive and clean alternative to traditional cars and trucks for cities across the world.

The Personal Urban Mobility and Accessibility, or PUMA, project also would involve a vast communications network that would allow vehicles to interact with each other, regulate the flow of traffic and prevent crashes from happening.

"We're excited about doing more with less," said Jim Norrod, chief executive of Segway, the maker of electric scooters. "Less emissions, less dependability on foreign oil and less space."

The 136 kg prototype runs on a lithium-ion battery and uses Segway's characteristic two-wheel balancing technology, along with dual electric motors. It's designed to reach speeds of up to 56 kmh and can run 56 km on a single charge.

The companies did not release a projected cost for the vehicle, but said ideally its total operating cost — including purchase price, insurance, maintenance and fuel — would total between one-fourth and one-third of that of the average traditional vehicle.

Larry Burns, GM's vice president of research and development, and strategic planning, said the project is part of GM's effort to remake itself as a purveyor of fuel-efficient vehicles. If Hummer took GM to the large-vehicle extreme, Burns said, the PUMA takes GM to the other.

Ideally, the vehicles would also be part of a communications network that through the use of transponder and GPS technology would allow them to drive themselves. The vehicles would automatically avoid obstacles such as pedestrians and other cars and therefore never crash, Burns said.

As a result, the PUMA vehicles would not need air bags or other traditional safety devices and include safety belts for "comfort purposes" only, he said.

Though the technology and its goals may seem like something out of science fiction, Burns said nothing new needs to be invented for it to become a reality.

"At this point, it's merely a business decision," he said.

Burns said that while putting that kind of communications infrastructure in place may still be a ways off for many American cities, the automaker is looking for a place, such as a college campus, where the vehicles could be put to use and grab a foothold in the market.

There's currently no timeline for production, Burns said.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

National Broadband gets go ahead

The Federal Government and private sector will invest up to $43 billion over eight years in a super-fast national broadband network, in the ''single biggest infrastructure decision in Australia's history''.

In a bombshell decision this morning, the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, announced that none of five bidders for the national network - including Optus and Melbourne group Acacia - were up to scratch.

Under the new plans, the funding for the network offering speeds of up to 100 megabits per second will be provided by a national broadband network corporation in which the Government will be the majority shareholder. The network will be operated separately from retail telcos such as Telstra and Optus.

Shares in Telstra are expected to plunge when the market opens this morning as the company's near monopoly grip on telecommunications comes to an end. The stock closed at $3.21 yesterday.

The fibre-to-the-premise network will run to 90% of homes and businesses. The Government will make an initial investment of $4.7 billion in the company but intends to sell its interest within five years after the network is fully operational. The network will be funded from Aussie Infrastructure Bonds while private sector investment in the new company will be capped at 49%.

The remaining homes and businesses will be reached via wireless and satellite technologies offering speeds of 12 megabits per second.

The proposal goes much further than the Government had previously planned as fibre-optic cables will now run all the way from telephone exchanges to homes and businesses. It had previously planned to lay cables only from exchanges to cabinets at the end of street corners.

In a major blow to Telstra, Mr Rudd said it was time ''to bite the bullet'' after years of neglect of the telecommunications sector.

''Years of failed policy have left Australia as a broadband backwater,'' he said.

He described it as the ''single biggest infrastructure decision in Australia's history''.

A report to the Government from an expert panel found none of the national bids ''offered value for money for Australian taxpayers''.

Telstra was dumped from the tender in early December after failing to meet a basic requirement, leaving Melbourne group Acacia, the SingTel-owned Optus, the Canadian telco Axia NetMedia, the Tasmanian Government and TransAct vying for the funding. The latter parties two made regional bids.

Telstra shares have fallen 22% since it was excluded from the tender.

The Government plans to start construction in Tasmania around the middle of the year.

Facing the loss of its near-monopoly on fixed-line telecommunications, Telstra is expected to fight in the courts any attempt by the Government to force it to relinquish its grip.

Some have suggested the project could be delayed by five to 10 years by Telstra using legal action to prevent the access required to its copper-wire network to complete the project.

However, the Government today made clear it would change legislation to prevent Telstra from jeopardising the success of a national network.

Since it was dumped from the tender in early December, Telstra has been promoting its ''Plan B'', which includes plans to spend about $300 million increase speeds on its Melbourne cable network.

The alternative strategy entails shifting fixed-line customers onto its cable network and third-generation NextG mobile network.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Sydney, week 3: units, gumboots and missed buses..

.. the view from what will hopefully be my new kitchen window ..

Ok, I guess it's time to report in after relocating to Sydney 3 weeks ago.
Some great news, my wife's spouse visa has been granted! I'm very impressed that the whole process from interview to approval took only about 6 weeks. She's currently still back in Malaysia, so this means she'll be able to join me in Australia very soon.

Yesterday I went looking for a unit to rent, my friend Brian very kindly offered to drive me around, in return I bought him lunch (roast duck laksa from 'wok n roll' at Carlingford Court).

We looked at three places, but the 2nd two had about 15 other ppl also looking at them too, so as I kinda need a place asap, I decided to apply for the first place we looked at, even though it's not quite in the area I was looking at initially, it's still pretty close.

It also satisfies my top 5 list of requirements:
  1. not on the ground floor (more security higher up)
  2. has a balcony
  3. built-in wardrobe in the main bedroom
  4. walking distance to supermarket and train station
  5. security door (you can open the main door and let the air in in summer, y'see..)
The real estate said that I should find out as early as 2moro afternoon if I've got the place or not. Fingers crossed. I think I'm in with a good chance. We've got the easter long weekend coming up this weekend coming, so that's Friday and Monday off work. Would be perfect moving time.

I've caught a couple of wrong buses on my way home over the last couple of weeks, resulting in a total walking time (so far) of an hour and a half to get home. I'm memorised the bus numbers I can catch now.. so that shouldn't happen again. Thankfully I had google maps and gps on my phone.

It rained every day last week and I've noticed an interesting fashion change in Sydney since I last lived here.. fashion gumboots. Yep, that's right, the humble wellington boot has moved out of the paddock and into Oxford Street.

I've seen two women wearing these in the last week. Both were aged in their mid-twenties, the first went for the standard classly black model gumboot, the 2nd decided to go for a more avant-garde marbled red green and brown number. I wish I'd taken photos, but I thought it would probably get me into trouble to be caught photographing womens legs on the bus. I've found some examples online though:

Pretty funky. There are even forums on them on vogue.com.au here and here. So they must be very cool ladies.

Not much else to report really. Life is pretty back to basics at the moment, today the only news I have is that I've bought a clothes rack and an ironing board. Whoop-de-doo.

Also have been watching lots of 'Flight of the Conchords' .. did I mention that previously? If you haven't seen it, check it out.

Power to the pedal

The rise of public cycling schemes is a boon for travellers.

From Barcelona to Paris, European cities are becoming greener with the expansion of low-cost bicycle schemes.

Paris's Velib program, with its 20,000 bicycles, has proved wildly popular with tourists and locals.

The scheme, launched in July 2007, provides racks of heavy-framed bicycles around the city and all you need to access them is a credit card with a chip.

A EUR150 ($297) deposit is held in case you lose or damage the bike. It is free for the first half-hour and costs EUR1 for an additional 30 minutes, EUR2 for another 30 minutes and EUR4 every 30 minutes after, making them cheaper than the Metro and more efficient than crossing the city on foot. When you reach your destination, the bike can be returned to one of about 750 Velib stands around the city.

So popular is the scheme, the bikes were rented out 24 million times in the year to June last year. Nearly 130,000 people use them a day.

Other cities have launched their own low-cost bike schemes, including Lyon and Rennes in France, Pamplona in Spain and Dusseldorf in Germany. Cities previously considered unfriendly to cyclists - with their narrow streets and aggressive drivers - such as Rome, have successfully trialled schemes.

The initiative started in cycle-friendly cities such as Copenhagen, where old bikes were scattered around, before moving to coin-operated bikes and now to smart technology, which is often sponsored by companies in return for advertising on the bicycle.

In Germany and Austria, members receive a text message with a code to unlock the bikes, with a fee debited from the riders' bank accounts. In Barcelona, users buy a yearly membership for about EUR24. The first 30 minutes are free, with a charge of 30 cents for each subsequent half-hour.

Such is the success of the program there, bikes in popular places (such as near stations) are often unavailable in peak hour, while some users have had trouble parking their bikes as all the central docks are being used.

Paris cyclists reported similar problems, with many riding down hills and using public transport to climb them, resulting in a surplus of bikes at the bottom of places such as Montmartre. The French Velibs do not come with helmets, so bring your own if you have safety concerns.

Berlin, Frankfurt and Cologne have a scheme known as Call A Bike, where you register online (callabike.de). You are given a number and charged EUR5. You then call the number to receive a code to release a bike from its dock and phone the centre when you have finished to say where you have left it.

Some of the schemes exclude tourists who haven't set up accounts or registered. But those in Paris and Lyon admit anyone with a credit card.

Not all free or low-cost bike schemes have worked. Cambridge in England started one in the 1960s and revived it in 1993 - only to find that all 300 bikes were stolen on the first day.

A free scheme for London is being considered by bike-riding Mayor Boris Johnson.

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