Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Quote: John Junor

“The difference between Marilyn Monroe and Madonna is the same difference as exists between champagne and cat's piss.”

-  John Junor (1919-1997), Scottish journalist

Interesting Facts: #22

The name marijuana comes from a Mexican slang term for cannabis and is believed to have derived from the Spanish pronunciation of the names Mary and Jane. (The two names were also common Mexican military slang for a prostitute or brothel.) Marijuana came into popularity as a name for cannabis in the U.S. during the late 1800s

Harold Holt

Harold Holt (1908-1967), pictured above with his stepdaughters-in-law in 1967, was  the local member for Malvern and Prime Minister of Australia from 1966.  A keen diver and spear fisherman, he disappeared in rough seas off Cheviot Beach, Victoria on 17 December 1967.  His body was never found.

At the time of Harold Holt's disappearance, Malvern Council had been constructing a swimming complex in the suburb of Glen Iris, the complex to be called the City of Malvern Olympic Centre. 

In 1969 with the complex close to being finished, the Council decided to change the name.  Not seeing the irony of naming the swimming complex after a Prime Minister who had been lost at sea whilst swimming, presumed drowned, the Council named the new complex the Harold Holt Memorial Swimming Centre.  It remains so named to this day.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Interesting Facts: #21

1 x 1 = 1

11 x 11 = 121

111 x 111 = 12321

1111 x 1111 = 1234321

11111 x 11111 = 123454321

111111 x 111111 = 12345654321

1111111 x 1111111 = 1234567654321

11111111 x 11111111 = 123456787654321

111111111 x 111111111 = 12345678987654321

Sunday, November 28, 2010

A Glimpse of the Past: Sydney 1932, and after and before...

(Click on the photographs to enlarge).

Members Stand packed for Test, 2-7 December 1932

Some interesting things to note about the above photograph:
-    The fact that even going to watch the cricket, men wore suits and ties.
-    Most men wore hats.  Some of those not wearing them are holding them or have them on the ground.
-    Note that the males at the front are sitting on their newspapers.

Interesting Facts: #20

Life is broadly defined as the condition of an organism that exhibits growth through metabolism, reproduction, and adaptation to its environment. These characteristics separate living organisms from inanimate objects

A virus straddles the definition of life and, according to scientific definition, is not technically alive. It is composed simply of DNA and ribonucleic acid (RNA) strands surrounded by a protein shell and requires a host cell to metabolize and reproduce. When not within a host cell, a virus lies dormant and is nothing more than a static organic particle

(Pictured:  HIV/AIDS virus).

Foul Ups and Blunders: The Nimbus 2000

Sometimes what seemed like a good idea on the drawing board turns out to be something quite different in reality.

The pending release of the new Harry Potter flick brought this back to mind.

Those Byters who are into Harry Potter will be aware that a broomstick is one form of travel used by witches and wizards and that broomsticks are an integral part of the game of Quidditch. Harry was given a Nimbus 2000 broomstick by Professor McGonagall, later replaced by a gift from his godfather Sirius of a Firebolt broomstick.

Interesting Facts: #19

The liquid inside young coconuts can be used as a substitute for blood plasma.

From The Straight Dope:

Coconut water can be used for a variety of medical purposes, one of which is intravenous rehydration. A 2000 report tells of a stroke patient in the Solomon Islands who was too ill to drink or use a nasal tube but was successfully rehydrated with a coconut-water IV when no other fluids were available. Emergency coconut IVs were reportedly used by the British and Japanese during World War II, and they've been clinically tested on humans several times to see how well they'd be tolerated. Answer: overall, pretty well.

Remember, we're talking about coconut water, the liquid found inside a young coconut, not coconut milk, which is made from grated coconut meat. Coconut water can't actually replace blood plasma; chemical analysis indicates it's closer in makeup to intracellular fluid. It's usually sterile, and when mixed with plasma it behaves like saline solution. It's got fewer electrolytes in it than our bodies are used to and too much potassium, so it's not an ideal rehydration fluid. But it works in a pinch.


Saturday, November 27, 2010

Henry Bolte and Ronald Ryan

“One of the three S’s, I suppose.”

- Sir Henry Bolte
Henry Bolte (1908 – 1990) was Australia’s longest serving Victorian Premier, from 1955 to 1972. An astute politician with a shrewd sense of what would appeal to the public, he was a chain smoking, whisky swigging right wing politician who promoted an image of a rough, earthy, simple, man at odds with trade unions, teachers, liberals, strikers and protesters.

He was never reluctant to express himself to journalists and reporters knew they could always re;y on him for a good quote.  Asked by reporters what his opinion was of Prime Minister John Gorton, he said nothing, simply held his nose and mimicked pulling a toilet chain.

Interesting Facts: #18

The origin of the name of the game of chess is uncertain. It most probably came from the Arabic word for king, “Shah”, which then passed into Old French as eschec, then into Middle English as chek. This gave rise to the chess term "check" signifying that the king is under attack.  In the 18th century it also came to mean “identifying token”, giving us the word “cheque”. The Old French plural of eschec was esches, borrowed into Middle English as ches.

The word “checkmate” is used in chess to signify that the opponent’s king is under attack (“in check”), that the king cannot move anywhere without remaining under attack and that the attacking piece is unable to be taken by the opponent. This results in the loss of the game. Most etymologists are of the opinion that the word :checkmate” comes from the Arabic “Shah mat”, meaning “the king is dead”, although some maintain that the more correct translation is “the king is helpless”. Other etymologists are of the opinion that it comes not from Arabic but from the Persian “shaah maat”, meaning that the king is powerless, stymied, defeated.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Godwin's Law

A sober debate about Ireland and the euro crisis degenerated into Nazi slurs in the EU parliament today after a UKIP member was ejected for screaming at a German MEP: 'Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Fuehrer!' The phrase - meaning one people, one empire, one leader - was a popular slogan for supporters of the Nazi party in wartime. Lawmakers were left speechless after the rant by Godfrey Bloom, the UKIP member for Yorkshire and North Lincolnshire, at German MEP Martin Schulz.

News report, The Daily Mail, 25 November 2010

Reading the above item reminded me of Godwin’s Law, an internet adage that was formulated by Mike Godwin in 1989. It holds that "As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1." His meaning was that, given enough time, all discussions—regardless of topic or scope—inevitably end up being about Hitler and the Nazis. His intention was to make participants in a discussion more aware of whether a comparison to Nazis or Hitler is appropriate, or whether it is simply a rhetorical overreach.

Interesting Facts: #17

The above punctuation mark is called an interrobang and sometimes a quesclamation mark.

The function of the mark is to ask a question and at the same time express surprise or indicate that the question is rhetorical, such as “You paid how much?!” It was invented in 1962 by American advertising honcho Martin Speckter to convey rhetorical questions in advertising material. He called it an interrobang in that interrogatio is Latin for a rhetorical question and bang is printer’s slang for an exclamation mark

“So what?” and “Big deal” I hear you mutter. You may think that this is the only time that you may see it but as of 2009, the State Library of NSW has adopted it as its logo, the idea according to the persons responsible being that it simultaneously asks a question (?) and provides the answer (!). That seems a bit of a stretch of the meaning of the mark but there you have it…

Living Canvases

Today I met with a new client, a young chap who wore a loose fitting, sloppy-style T shirt that hung off his chest revealing tattooed writing.  From where I was I could not make out the words.  Being something of an aficionado of the old skin art myself, I asked what the writing said.  This is how the conversation went:

Client:  It's about life being a journey, a road that we have to travel.

Myself:  Fair eneough.  What am I seeing you about today?

Client:  Driving whilst disqualified.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Interesting Facts: #16

M&M’s were created by Forrest Mars, the founder of the Mars company, and his business partner, William Murrie, the president of the Hershey company. Because both their last names started with “M,” they called their new candy M&M’s.

The idea came from seeing soldiers in the Spanish Civil War during the 1930’s eating chocolate pellets with a hard shell of tempered chocolate surrounding the inside, thereby preventing leaking. Production began in 1941. Murrie had a 20% stake in the product, Hershey’s having control of the rationed chocolate during WW2. They were an immediate hit with the military and have grown from there.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Made In China

 (Click on pics to enlarge).

I am indebted to Byter Arthur for sending me an email of a building in Shanghai which collapsed. It is a true story.

The collapse of the 13 storey block of flats happened in June 2009. The building was still unoccupied but one worker was killed in the collapse.

China's official news agency, Xinhua, said officials were taking "appropriate control measures" against nine people, including the developer, construction contractor and supervisor of the project after it was reported that the company's construction licence had expired in 2004.

The collapse caused many purchasers of flats in other buildings in the same complex to demand their money back.

Much of the blame is attributed to the cutting of corners in a period of a building boom.

Interesting Facts: #15

The idea that the Australian coat of arms features a kangaroo and emu because they are the only animals that don’t walk backwards is erroneous and an urban myth.  Both animals walk backwards but do so infrequently.  They were more probably selected in that they are only found on the Australian continent and were large enough to be positioned together holding up the shield.

Monday, November 22, 2010


Those who have read or seen Dan Brown's Angels and Demons will recall the prominent use of ambigrams, words that can be read in more than one direction. In the novel, the words Fire, Water, Earth, Air and Illuminati read the same way whether right way up or upside down, such as:

In Dan Brown's novel a big fuss is made over the fact that the art of amigrams had been lost.

Not so. See, for instance, the words Angels & Demons at top left, which can be read the same way even if rotated 180 degrees.

The reason that I mention this is that I came across an even more fascinating example: a doormat where the words read differently when viewed form the opposite side, that is, rotated 180 degrees:

Interesting Facts: #14

The term "sideburns" is a corruption of "Burnside", after General Ambrose Burnside (above and below), a Union General in the American Civil War, who sported unusual facial hair.

The term muttonchops, being sideburns narrow at the ear and broad on the side of the face, are named from the shape of a mutton chop:

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Quote: Rita Rudner

For Catherine, who wanted a simpler quote than last Friday's Walt Whitman quote:

"Someday I want to be rich. Some people get so rich they lose all respect for humanity. That's how rich I want to be."

-  Rita Rudner (1935 - )

Interesting Facts: #13

It  is considered good luck for a chimney sweep to attend a wedding.

In Dickensian England, chimneysweeps were often young children in that they were small enough to climb up chimneys. The job was filthy and dangerous with the children often being mistreated.

Nonetheless it is considered good luck for a chimneysweep to attend a wedding and kiss the bride.

About 200 years ago in England a chimneysweep supposedly saved the life of King George 11 by stopping the runaway horses of the royal carriage. In gratitude, King George decreed that all chimney sweeps were lucky. This developed into a custom and belief that it was good luck for a marriage for a chimney sweep to attend the wedding to shake hands with the groom and be kissed by the bride. Since that date all royal marriages have had a chimneysweep in attendance and it has been common in England to hire a chimneysweep to attend weddings. The custom spread to Australia and some weddings still follow the custom. There are various firms that offer the services of a chimneysweep to attend weddings.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Hitler's Moustache

 (Click on the photos to enlarge).

My #1 son is currently taking part in Movember, a worldwide movement for the growing of moustaches during November to raise funds and awareness of men’s health, specifically prostate cancer and male depression. It is disconcerting to see my lad looking more and more like a Mexican bandit, making me want to take him to the barber and say, in my best Godfather voice, "I want you to use all your powers and all your skills. I don't want his mother to see him this way.”

The custom of our forefathers (and in this instance I can use gender specific language without being politically incorrect) was to have much more facial hair than males do today. Witness the old photos depicting gentlemen with sideburns, moustaches and beards, or various combinations of them, such as Australia’s first Federal Cabinet when Australia became a Federation in 1901. Edmund Barton is noticeable for his face being bare.

Hitler and Stalin effectively killed moustaches after 1945 but the resurgence of moustaches in November started me thinking about Hitler’s moustache: What would be the reaction if someone grew one today?  What is the history behind it?  How popular had it been before Hitler came to power?

Interesting Facts: #12

Ambassadors to the United Kingdom are not called that officially, but rather Ambassadors to the Court of St. James.

The Court of St. James, or St James Palace, was the palace which was the residence of the monarch before Buckingham Palace was built. It still remains the official residence, although Buckingham Palace is the official London residence.

The Court of St James was chosen as the venue for accreditation of ambassadors and High Commissioners in that the Marshall of the Diplomatic Corps, who acts as the link between the Queen and the foreign diplomatic missions, is permanently based at St James Palace.

Pictured above:
Dr Sir Lesley Colin Patterson,
Cultural Attaché to the Court of St James and Chairperson of the Australian Chapter of the International Cheese Board

Sator Square

Marie Antoinette once said that she did not believe in ghosts but she was afraid of them. So it is with mysteries, puzzles and phenomenon. I remain a sceptic but, at the same time, I admit that there are more things in Heaven and Earth than are dreamt of in our philosophy.

Lyall Watson once wrote a book called Supernature. His hypothesis was that between the realms of the natural and the supernatural was an area he called Supernature, that area in which science had simply not yet advanced far enough to understand and explain things that we currently regard as supernatural.

Take Penn and Teller, for instance. We all watch magic and wonder how the tricks are achieved. We know that what we see are tricks, that the woman in the box is not really cut in half and rejoined but we marvel because we don’t know how it’s done. It’s magic. Until Penn and Teller show us and then all the magic is gone. We see how easy it was to fool us and what had been amazing is now simply sleight of hand, distraction and trickery.

See, for instance,

Which brings me to a mystery which has not yet been explained, the Sator Squre:


Interesting Facts: #11

The term "menstruation" comes from the Latin word mensis (month), which in turn relates to the Greek word mene (moon).

The English words month and moon also come from the Latin mensis, reflecting the fact that the moon’s period of revolution around the earth, 27days, is similar to that of the human menstrual cycle.

The term “ritual” is derived from the Sanskrit word "R’tu", which means “menstrual”.

The word “taboo” comes from the ancient Plynesian word "tapua," meaning both menstruation and sacred.

It is said that when Australian Woman’s Weekly went to a monthly format in 1982, Kerry Packer vetoed a name change to Australian Women’s Monthly for obvious reasons. It remains published under its weekly name.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Quote: Walt Whitman

"When I, sitting, heard the astronomer, where he lectured with such applause in the lecture room, how soon, unaccountable, I became tired and sick; Till rising and gliding out, I wandered off by myself, in the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time, looked up in perfect silence at the stars.

-  Walt Whitman (1819 - 1892)

Interesting Facts: #10

Paul Simon took the title of his “Mother and Child Reunion” song from a chicken and egg dish he spotted in a Chinese restaurant menu.

Paul Simon’s “Mother and Child Reunion” is about his sorrow on the death of his dog and his thoughts on how he would feel if his wife Peggy died.

In a 1972 interview in Rolling Stone magazine he explained the inspiration for the name of the song:
“Know where the words came from on that? You would never have guessed.  I was eating in a Chinese restaurant downtown. There was a dish called “Mother and Child Reunion.” It’s chicken and eggs. And I said, 'Oh, I love that title. I gotta use that one.' ”

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Market Street 1875

For many years cartoonist Ken Maynard featured the Ettamogah Pub in the pages of the Australasian Post. The pub was a wooden structure with angles that were anything other than 90 degrees. There are now 3 recreations in Australia.

I was put in mind of the Ettamogah Pub when I saw a picture of weatherboard buildings at the corner of Market Street and Clarence Street, Sydney in 1875:

(Click on photo to enlarge).

Interesting Facts: #9

"It ain’t over ‘til the fat lady sings."

The famous proverb is actually “the opera ain’t over ‘til the fat lady sings.”

It is a reference to buxom Brunhilde’s 10-minute aria at the end of Wagner’s Ring cycle operas.

Although the expression is commonly used in a sports context, there was already a similar expression in use in the US South: "Church ain't over till the fat lady sings". This was a reference to the choir singing the final hymn, perhaps with a soloist.

The use of the phrase in relation to sports first occurred in 978 when writer broadcaster Dan Cook used it to indicate that the basketball playoffs were not yet over for the Washington Bullets, despite being down three games to one to the San Antonio Spurs. Bullets coach Dick Motta heard the broadcast and used it to address his team. The expression became the team’s rallying cry and they went on to win the championship.

Pheasant Pluckers

Warning:  risque content.

Many is the time when I was younger, especially when sharing an ale or two with friends, that someone would raise the pheasant plucker's son or Mrs Puggy Wuggy or various other tongue twisters that had a bawdy element.

For those who may not have heard it, the rhyme is:
I’m not the pheasant plucker, I’m the pheasant plucker’s son.
I’m only plucking pheasants till the pheasant plucker comes.
In the days of Merrie Olde England there probably were pheasant pluckers on the larger estates. Not having refrigeration and oftentimes hosting banquets, pheasant would have been a popular dish. Even the regular dinners for the lord of the manor and his family would probably have had pheasant from time to time.

These days the humour is in watching and hearing people get tongue tied and transpose the initial sounds. Strange then that it appears on a website “Poems for Children” at

What is of greater interest is that the above tongue twister is actually part of a longer and quite humorous song.  It appears to be of some antiquity but its origins are unknown.

Hear it recited as a poem at
(I love the near slip at the 1.30 mark and the chuckle and comment at the end).

Interesting Facts #8

The Canary Islands are named after dogs, not birds.

When the Romans first visisted the group of islands that make up the Canary Islands, they found an endemic species of large, fierce dog in great numbers. They named the main island Insularia Canaria, meaning Island of the Dogs. The Romans took some of the local dogs and the local birds back with them to Rome. The dogs did not do well and have since died out in the islands. The birds flourished and became known as canaries.

Dogs are still featured on the coat of arms of the Canary Islands.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Eva Mylott

(Click on photographs to enlarge.  Click a second time to enlarge further).

The woman above is Australian opera singer Eva Mylott (1875-1920), photographed in Sydney in 1902.

Eva was born in Tuross Head in NSW, the daughter of Patrick Mylott, an importer of wines and spirits, and his wife, Mary Heffernan, both Irish immigrants. Patrick later diversified into shipping at Tuross Heads and started the Mylott dynasty, the family owning the whole of the Tuross Head peninsula until well into the 20th century when it was subdivided for building.

Patrick Mylott discovered Eva’s rich contralto voice at puberty, inspiring him to lease his farm in 1883 and invest in a Sydney wholesale liquor firm so that she could take singing lessons.

By 1897 Eva was a rising young star in the Sydney musical world.

Interesting Facts: #7

Google is the world's strongest brand for the fourth straight year, according to a study released Wednesday by research firm Millward Brown Optimor.
-  Report, April 2010

Millward Brown Optimor is a leading global research agency specialising in advertising, marketing communications, media and brand equity research. Each year Millward Brown generates its BrandZ Top 100 report by interviewing more than a million consumers worldwide and analysing each company's financial and business performance.

The Millward Brown ten most valuable brands worldwide for 2010, their comparative values and % movement from 2009 are:

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The P & O Sculpture, Sydney

I can never drive past the above P & O wall sculpture in Sydney without recalling the related Oz obscenity trial and the photograph which gave rise to it. I guarantee that after reading the following, the wall sculpture will never be the same for you either.

The wall fountain had been completed in 1963, a time when Australian society was vastly different from today. Censorship was in force and quite restrictive. The NSW Obscene and Indecent Publications Act 1901 vested censorship in the hands of the police, who had wide powers of entry, seizure and arrest. One therefore regularly read of court cases wherein a police sergeant or detective gave evidence that works such as Lady Chatterley’s Lover was obscene and with no artistic merit. It is also said that one particular judge determined obscenity by whether or not the publication gave him an erection, and that as he became older, the test became more and more liberal.

Interesting Facts: #6

"The Gruen Transfer is named after Victor Gruen, the guy who designed the very first shopping mall. The term describes that split second when the mall's intentionally confusing layout makes our eyes glaze and our jaws slacken... the moment when we forget what we came for and become impulse buyers."
The Gruen Transfer website

Victor Gruen. born Viktor Grunbaum (1903-1980), was an Austrian-born commercial architect best known for his pioneer designs of shopping malls in the United States. His mall design innovations included enticing storefronts with mini-arcades at the entrances to entice customers into the shop’s space , whereupon eye level displays would draw them further into the store. This was coupled with the use of music. They were dubbed “mousetraps” for customers. Two years before his death he disavowed other shopping mall developments as having "bastardised" his ideas.

Nonetheless his ideas and designs have given rise to the term Gruen Transfer, the moment when consumers respond to "scripted disorientation" cues in the shopping mall environment. This term was adopted as the name of the Australian TV program which discusses the methods, science and psychology behind advertising.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Quotes: Prince Philip

Homo sapiens, Lepidium sativum and Calliphora vomitoria - Latin for Human, Cress and Bluebottle – by artist Stuart Pearson Wright

The Duke of Edinburgh is a soft target who has turned foot-in.mouth comments into an art form. For over half a century the Duke has made comments that would no doubt have caused Her Maj to utter WTF if it were possible for her to do so. It wouldn’t surprise me if the Palace has a person employed fulltime to deal with the Prince’s gaffes. Here is a selection:

Stephen Menary, 15, was blinded when he attempted to throw away an explosive device thrown during an IRA attack back in 2002. He was later invited to the Queen’s jubilee celebration in Hyde Park. “How much sight do you have left?” asked the Queen to the young hero. “Not a lot, judging by the tie he’s wearing,” said Prince Philip before the young man had time to answer. The Queen looked at him open-mouthed. A long silence followed. Stephen Menary was wearing a red, navy, and yellow tie, which is part of the uniform of the Middlesex Cadet Force.

“Are you Indian or Pakistani? I can never tell the difference between you chaps.”
At Washington Embassy reception for Commonwealth members.

Interesting Facts: #5

The stethoscope was invented in 1816 by French physician Rene Laennec.

Before the invention of the stethoscope, doctors listened to the sounds of body organs by placing their ear on the patient’s chest. Laennec felt uncomfortable about touching the bare chest of a young woman so he used a rolled up newspaper. Afterward he said 'I was surprised and pleased to hear the beating of the heart much more clearly than if I had applied my ear directly to the chest.' He then made a stethoscope out of a hollow wooden tube, much like an ear trumpet, and further designs followed out of metal and ivory. In 1850, George Camman first used rubber in the construction of a stethoscope.

Sir Charles Kingsford Smith

Those who watched Sunday Night on Channel 7 on, not unsurprisingly, Sunday night last week, will have seen a story about documentary filmmaker Damien Lay claiming to have tracked down the final resting place of the aeroplane in which Sir Charles Kingsford Smith disappeared, the Lady Southern Cross.

Kingsford-Smith disappeared over the Andaman Sea south of Burma with co-pilot John Thompson "Tommy" Pethybridge in November 1935, while flying from India to Singapore on his way home from England. The only trace of the plane ever found was a Lockheed Altair starboard undercarriage leg recovered with a still-inflated tyre in May 1937. It was found by Burmese fishermen near Aye Island, south of Rangoon.

Lay claims to have found the plane using sonar imaging. He says that it is under 1.5 metres of mud. The thick mud and zero visibility make it difficult to assess the claim and Lay has his detractors.

What is of more interest than Sir Charles Kingsford Smith’s death is his life, which few of us know beyond the fact that he is the face on the $20 note, that Sydney’s airport is named after him and that he did something famous to do with flying.

Interesting Facts: #4

The name for Oz in the "Wizard of Oz" was thought up when the creator, Frank Baum, looked at his filing cabinet and saw A-N and O-Z, hence "Oz."

(Above:  title page from the original 1900 book).