Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Thoughts on Spring


The first day of spring was once the time for taking the young virgins into the fields, there in dalliance to set an example in fertility for nature to follow. Now we just set the clocks an hour ahead and change the oil in the crankcase.

-         E B White

         The day the Lord created hope was probably the same day he created Spring.

- Bern Williams

If I had my life to live over, I would start barefoot earlier in the spring and stay that way later in the fall.

-         Nadine Stair

Science has never drummed up quite as effective a tranquilizing agent as a sunny spring day.

-           W. Earl Hall

Spring makes its own statement, so loud and clear that the gardener seems to be only one of the instruments, not the composer.

-         Geoffrey B. Charlesworth

A strangely reflective, even melancholy day. Is that because, unlike our cousins in the northern hemisphere, Easter is not associated with the energy and vitality of spring but with the more subdued spirit of autumn?

-    Hugh McKay

Behold, my friends, the spring is come; the earth has gladly received the embraces of the sun, and we shall soon see the results of their love!

-     Sitting Bull

Ah, how wonderful is the advent of spring! — the great annual miracle of the blossoming of Aaron's rod, repeated on myriads and myriads of branches! — the gentle progression and growth of herbs, flowers, trees, — gentle and yet irrepressible, — which no force can stay, no violence restrain, like love, that wins its way and cannot be withstood by any human power, because itself is divine power. If spring came but once in a century, instead of once a year, or burst forth with the sound of an earthquake, and not in silence, what wonder and expectation there would be in all hearts to behold the miraculous change! But now the silent succession suggests nothing but necessity. To most men only the cessation of the miracle would be miraculous and the perpetual exercise of God's power seems less wonderful than its withdrawal would be.

-         Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Poem: Edgar A Guest


I know this poem is corny and cheesy (do the younger generation still use that word?) but I like it.  And who says that corny and cheesy must be looked down upon.  In an age where people increasingly talk to each other by emailing, texting, tweeting and facebooking, where personal contact is decreasing and where technology advances daily, is there less need and respect for simple homespun values and philosophies?  I hope not but if it is the case, then it is because we have let it happen. 

It Couldn’t Be Done

Edgar Albert Guest

Somebody said that it couldn't be done,
But, he with a chuckle replied
That "maybe it couldn't" but he would be one
Who wouldn't say so till he'd tried.
So he buckled right in with the trace of a grin
On his face. If he worried he hid it.
He started to sing as he tackled the thing
That couldn't be done, as he did it

Somebody scoffed: "Oh, you'll never do that;
At least no one we know has done it";
But he took off his coat and he took off his hat,
And the first thing we knew he'd begun it.
With a lift of his chin and a bit of a grin,
Without any doubting or quiddit, (1)
He started to sing as he tackled the thing
That couldn't be done, and he did it.

There are thousands to tell you it cannot be done,
There are thousands to prophesy failure;
There are thousands to point out to you, one by one,
The dangers that wait to assail you.
But just buckle right in with a bit of a grin,
Just take off your coat and go to it;
Just start to sing as you tackle the thing
That cannot be done, and you'll do it

Edgar A Guest (1881 – 1959) was an English born, American poet whose simple, optimistic poems earned him the nickname The People’s Poet.  Guest penned some 11,000 poems which were syndicated in 300 newspapers and collected in more than 20 books,

Noted wit Dorothy Parker once said of his poetry:
"I'd rather flunk my Wasserman test (2)
Than read the poetry of Edgar Guest."
(1)   Not the sport played by wizards and witches  at Hogwarts, which is Quidditch, but a word whose meaning has come to be mental reservation.
(2)   An antibody test for syphilis.

Origins: Phillips Head screw


Ever wondered why a Phillips Head screw is called that?  I was pondering this when my son left a Phillips Head screwdriver on my study desk after doing something mechanical.  I readily confess that I am a mechanical idiot and that I have no knowledge of cars, engines and the like, nor do I have any wish to know.  I am nonetheless intrigued by the origin of things…

The Phillips Head screw . . .

With the drive to mass production of cars in the 1920’s, the traditional slotted screw was proving inadequate.  The assembly line relied upon automated processes.  A driver slipping out of a screw slot slowed down production; a damaged screw head as a result was even worse, necessitating removal of the screw.  The Phillips head screw allowed self centering of the driver, uniform torque and better automated procedure.

It had first been developed by an Oregon inventor named J.P. Thompson, who had received a patent in 1933 for a cruciform-recessed screw.  He was unable to interest screw manufacturers in that they believed that the punch needed to create the + recess would destroy the screw head.  Discouraged and of the belief that the screw could not be manufactured, he discussed the matter with his friend Henry Phillips, who bought the patent from him. 

Phillips, an engineer, formed the Phillips Screw Company and made some modifications to the design.  In 1934 he began revisiting many of the same manufacturers that had rejected Thompson, including the biggest US screw manufacturer, the wonderfully named American Screw.  (You seriously didn’t expect this item to not have at least one risque reference, did you?).  The new President of American Screw, Eugene Clark, ignored the protests of his engineers and supported its development.  He later commented “I finally told my head men that I would put on pension all who insisted it could not be done”

General Motors started using the system in its 1937 Cadillacs and by 1940, 85% of the screw manufacturing companies had a license to produce the Phillips screw recess design. Almost the entire automotive industry had shifted to using it.  Usage continued during WW2 of the Phillips screw on many wartime products and vehicles.

Phillips retired in 1945 by reason of ill health and he died in 1958.

The original patents expired in 1996 and the design is now generic.  The Phillips Screw Company and the American Screw Company have gone on  to devise the Pozidriv screw, which has a design more appropriate to modern electrical screwdrivers than the Phillips`.

Having commenced this item with a reference to a screwdriver, I will also conclude with one.

Julia Gillard was being driven back to Canberra from Sydney by her driver late at night when the car in which she was being driven sustained a flat tyre.  Unfortunately for the driver, someone had taken the tyre iron from the boot.  Try as he might, he was unable to remove the hubcap with his hands. 

After some time, Julia Gillard leant her head out of the window and said “Do you need a screwdriver?” 

“Might as well,” replied the driver, “I’m not getting anywhere with this bloody hubcap.”

Monday, August 29, 2011

Quote: Carl Sagan


 "A book is made from a tree. It is an assemblage of flat, flexible parts (still called "leaves") imprinted with dark pigmented squiggles. One glance at it and you hear the voice of another person, perhaps someone dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, the author is speaking, clearly and silently, inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people, citizens of distant epochs, who never knew one another. Books break the shackles of time, proof that humans can work magic."
- Carl Sagan (1934 – 1996)

Carl Edward Sagan was an American astronomer, astrophysicist, cosmologist, author, populariser and science communicator in the space and natural sciences. During his lifetime, he published more than 600 scientific papers and popular articles and was author, co-author, or editor of more than 20 books. In his works, he advocated skeptical enquiry and the scientific method. He pioneered exobiology and promoted the Serach for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI).

Movie Moments: The Last Legion (2007)


Colin Firth stars in this sword and sandal pic that, as with the previously posted King Arthur, weaves together various facts and legends - the collapse of the Roman Empire in Britain, the loss of the Roman 9th Legion, King Arthur, Merlin, Excalibur – to present yet another alternative explanation of the Arthurian legend.  In some ways it is similar to King Arthur in its alternative scenario.

Oadacer, head of the Goths, sacks Rome.  Romulus (played by the kid in Love Actually), the child who has inherited the mantle of ruler of Rome, survives and is protected by Aurelias (Colin Firth) and an adviser (Ben Kingsley).  Fleeing to Britain with a handful of loyal survivors and the compulsory love interest, an Eastern female warrior, Mira.  Some doings, then the big battle, then all the loose ends are tied up to commence the story of Arthur.

Aurelius: Who are you?
Ambrosinus:  One who knows humiliation to be a poor teacher, of both men and boys.
Aurelius:  I smell a philosopher.


The missing Roman Ninth Legion has been looked at by different British historians from time to time.  The Ninth Legion disappears from Roman records about 120AD.  It has been assumed that it was no longer serving in Britain by that time and that it had been destroyed in an unknown war near the Danube or whilst serving on the Eastern front.  More recently academics have put forward hypotheses that the Legion was destroyed in Britain during the early years of the reign of Emperor Hadrian, that being part of the reason for building Hadrian’s Wall.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Places, Crims and Spin . . .

We haven't had old Sydney pics for some time so started posting the pics below of the wool stores at Circular Quay, Sydney, in bygone days.  The first photograph dates from 1870, the date of the two photographs which follow is unknown.  I would estimate near the turn of the century.  Note that the second two are of the same location from opposite ends of the street.

 (Click on the images to enlarge).

Looking at the photographs started me thinking about the process of gentrification - the upgrading of areas as wealthier people move in – and the equivalent process for commercial areas.  The above woolstores of the 1800’s are now exclusive restaurants and boutiques.  This, in turn, made me think of the areas depicted in Underbelly Razor, which started screening last Sunday.  In the 1920’s the locales of Underbelly Razor were slums that frequently had streets running in blood.  Today the same streets in Surry Hills, Darlinghurst and Wolloomooloo are expensive and exclusive, with high priced homes located alongside cafes, restaurants, bars, boutiques and fancy retail outlets.

It’s not only the locations which have, over time, become sanitised, upmarket and trendy, the same thing has happened to the principal characters depicted in Underbelly Razor.  Figures that were once nasty, callous and terrifying have been glamourised and beautified for TV entertainment. 

Before comparing some pics of the Underbelly Razor characters with the originals, it is handy to know some of the background.

In the 1920’s there was an upsurge of organised crime in Sydney, caused by:
·       the prohibition of sale of cocaine by chemists (under the Dangerous Drugs (Amendment) Act 1927);
·       the prohibition of street prostitution (under the Vagrancy Act NSW 1905);
·       the criminalisation of off-course race track betting (under the Betting and Gaming Act 1906); and
·       the introduction of six o’clock closing for public bars after passage of the Licensing Act 1927 (NSW).

The weapon of choice became the cut throat razor after the Pistol Licensing Act (NSW) 1927 imposed severe penalties for carrying concealed firearms.  Razors were cheap to buy, easy to conceal and effective as a means of intimidation.  During the peak period of razor gang criminal activity, there were over 500 razor slashings.  Darlinghurst became known locally as Razorhurst.

The two major razor gangs were associated with crime queens Kate Leigh and Tilly Devine.  These gangs ended up in open warfare in 1929.

By 1927 Razorhurst was controlled by four crime bosses:
·       Kate Leigh, who controlled the sly grog shops in Surry Hills and dealt in cocaine and stolen goods.  At the height she ran 26 sly grog outlets and was one of Sydney’s wealthiest women.
·       Tilly Devine, who controlled the brothels in Darlinghurst, Kings Cross and Woolloomooloo.  The legislation made it illegal for a man to run a brothel, hence she operated them with immunity.
·       Phil “The Jew” Jeffs, who looked after drugs, gambling and sly grog in Kings Cross and Wolloomooloo.
·       Norman Bruhn, who had a stable of freelance prostitutes, drug peddlers and low-rent two-up schools and sly-groggers who were not part of the networks of the others.

Following is a comparison of the above persons as depicted in Underbelly Razor and how they looked in real life:

Danielle Cormack as Kate Leigh in Underbelly Razor

The real Kate Leigh (1881 – 1964), police mug shot 1930

Chelsea Preston-Clayford as Tilly Devine, Underbelly Razor

Tilly Devine (1900 – 1970), police mug shot 1925, charged for having slashed a man’s face with a razor

A rare meeting between Kate Leigh and Tilly Devine, 1948.  Kate met with Tilly in an attempt to improve their public image with a view to cashing in on their notoriety.

Jeremy Lindsay Taylor as Norman Bruhn, Underbelly Razor

Norman Bruhn (1894-1927)

Felix Williamson as Phil “The Jew” Jeffs

Phil “The Jew” Jeffs  ( 1898 - 1945)

A group of criminals, Central Police Station, 1921

(Definitely click on this image to enlarge to look at the persons and faces.  Once you have clicked on the image and enlarged it, click on it again to further enlarge it).

Friday, August 26, 2011

Royals, Dolls and Mothers


“We must not let daylight in upon the magic.

-        Walter Bagehot,
commenting upon the monarchy.

Walter Bagehot (the last name being pronounced “badge it”) (1826-1877) was a British political analyst, economist, editor and one of the most influential journalists of the mid-Victorian period.  Bagehot’s 1867 work The English Constitution is still regarded as an indispensable account of the workings of the English government.  It was Bagehot’s view, expressed in the above quotation, that the English monarchy should preserve its charm, mystery and authority to remain effective.  Like a magician’s trick that has been revealed, a monarchy that lacks those elements or becomes too ordinary ceases to have any effect or to impress.  The antics of the younger Royals, from Charles down, plus the efforts of the Duke of Edinburgh, have been a major letting in of daylight, despite the best efforts of Elizabeth 2 to maintain the dignity and authority of the Crown.

Which leads me to another item.

Just when you thought you had had enough of the Royal Wedding, comes Stage 2: the memorabilia.  Souvenir cups, plates and tea towels are commonplace; there are even toilet seats and toilet paper:

Funny Friday


This is an item that relies a lot on the accents involved, so it loses a lot in conversion into written format.  Nonetheless it is worth posting, so try to visualise the scene with the appropriate accents being used. 

Two Indian gentlemen (ie from India, not Native Americans) were deep in discussion. 

One said “It is W - O - O - M." 

“No,” said the other, “It is W - O - O - M - B." 

“No, no, no you silly, silly man, it is W - O - O - M !” 

W - O - O - M - B !”

A refined English lady, looking and sounding somewhat like Dame Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey, overhears and eventually addresses them:

“Excuse me, I couldn’t help but overhear, the word is spelt W - o - m - b. womb.”

One of the Indian gentleman pauses,  looks at her and says:

“With all respect madam, we really do not believe that you know what it sounds like when a hippopotamus farts underwater.”

From Byter Leo:

One New Zealander to another:  "What's a Hindu, bro?"

Other Kiwi:  "Lays eggs, bro."

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Technical difficulties

Dear Readers

I am experiencing some difficulties with posting material to Bytes so there will be no Bytes today.

Additionally, I am no longer going to do a daily Movie Moment in that, I believe, it just makes for too much daily reading.  I will therefore do an occasional Movie Moment.



Wednesday, August 24, 2011



Movie Moments: #117


Barry Lyndon (1975)

I was watching the Jason Statham remake of The Mechanic (the Charles Bronson original is better) when Statham, playing a contract killer, put on a record.  The piece that came on was identified as Schubert’s Trio in E Flat, Op 100.  “That’s beautiful, “ said my wife, who was watching it with me (she likes action flicks, cowies etc too – I am a lucky man).   “It’s from Barry Lyndon” replied I.  Which started me thinking.  Anyone who identifies classical music with movies, who immediately thinks of a film when they hear a symphony orchestra playing, may need to get more of a life.  Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries?  Blues Brothers. Bach, Toccata and Fugue in D Minor?  Rollerball (the James Caan original is better than the remake).  Donizetti, Mad Scene from Lucia di Lammermoor – The Fifth Element.  And I confess even more, mea culpa, mea culpa.  If I happen to hear Delibes, the Flower Duet from Lakme, I always think of the British Airways advertisement.  Was O Fortuna from Orff’s Carmina Burana written only for battle scenes in movies, for background music in coming attractions and for Old Spice/  Am I the only on or do others suffer from the same condition?  Which brings me back to Barry Lyndon.  Movie so so, but great filming, beautiful locations and good battle scenes.  Plus a lot of memorable, and lovely, classical music.

The rise and fall of an Irish rogue in aristocratic 18th century England.

Title card: [End title card] EPILOGUE  It was in the reign of George III that the aforesaid personages lived and quarrelled; good or bad, handsome or ugly, rich or poor they are all equal now.

irst meeting, Schubert’s Trio in E Flat as accompanying music:
Various scenes, Handel’s Sarabande (the film theme):

Production was moved from Ireland to England after director Stanley Kubrick received word that his name was on an IRA hit list for directing a film featuring English soldiers in Ireland.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011



Caution: the following item contains risque material.

There is a school of opinion that holds that limericks are not a true folk form unless they are obscene. 

This is best summed up by the following:

The limerick packs laughs anatomical
In space that is quite economical,
But the good ones I've seen
So seldom are clean,
And the clean ones so seldom are comical.

The best limericks are those which have some sort of internal rhyme, a whiplash last line, assonance, alliteration or other wordplay.

I have set out below some favourite limericks that display these characteristics, noting that some of the more famous, risque examples (“There once was a man from Nantucket”, “The aged archbishop of Buckingham” etc) have been omitted.

On a maiden a man once begat
Triplets named Nat, Tat and Pat.
‘Twas fun in the breeding
But hell in the feeding:
She hadn’t a spare tit for Tat.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Movie Moments: #116


King Arthur (2004)


I have been a fan of Roman films since I first saw the 1954 pic Demetrius and the Gladiators (on the Teev, not on first release).  The Robe, Quo Vadis, Gladiator, Ben Hur, Spartacus, even Life of Brian.  Three of the best have Roman pics are recent releases.  One is King Arthur, the other two will be posted in Bytes during the coming week so I will leave you in suspense until then.

“What?” I hear you cry as one.  King Arthur is a Roman pic??  Well, strictly it’s not a traditional sandal and sword but it does give a different, and interesting, twist on the Arthurian legend.  It’s supposedly based on new archaeological findings and puts Arthur in Roman times instead of in the medieval days of knights.

Although many of the film’s elements are based in fact, the weaving together of various themes and the characterisation of the origin of the Arthurian legend are strictly Hollywood, much too detailed to analyse in a short commentary.

Nonetheless it is a better than average pic, a good action film and with a script that has elements for thought.

Clive Owen plays Artorius Castus, a Roman cavalry officer, the son of a Roman father and Celtic mother, stationed in Britain in 467 AD. Arthur and what remains of his men are part of a Roman force that guards Hadrian’s Wall against the Woads, (Picts),  native Britons led by Merlin, who are rebelling against Roman rule.

Arthur and Merlin form a pact, assisted by Merlin’s daugter Guinevere (a kick arse Keira Knightley), to fight against the invading Saxons.   As the bond with the Woads strengthens, Arthur’s belief and faith in Rome becomes tested.

[Lancelot's plans for the future]
Lancelot: Well, if this woman of Gawain's is as beautiful as he claims, I expect to be spending a lot of time at Gawain's house. His wife will welcome the company.
Gawain: I see. And what will I be doing?
Lancelot: Wondering at your good fortune that all your children look like me.
Gawain: Is that before or after I hit you with my axe?


According to Ioan Gruffudd (Lancelot), the camera operator wore a motorcycle crash helmet and was constantly surrounded by men with riot shields because of the intense action sequences happening around him.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Quote: Isaac Asimov


The saddest aspect of life right now is that science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom.

-  Isaac Asimov

Isaac Asimov (1920-1972) was an American author and professor of biochemistry at Boston University.  Asimov is best known for his works of science fiction and for popular science books.  Anyone into sci fi must read the Foundation trilogy (I confess that I don’t like the later books he added to the trilogy) and his robotics stories. 

Movie Moments: #115


The Lost Battalion (2001)

This film, based on fact, was made in 1919, one year after the events took place.  It was remade as TV movie in 2001 and is worth getting hold of.  Some stores have it as a rental, otherwise check Amazon. The story:  in October 1918 in the closing weeks of WW1, units of the US 77th Infantry Division penetrated deep into the Argonne Forest in France.  The units are under the command of Major Charles Whittlesley, a lawyer in civilian life, are trapped in the forest and surrounded when forces on the flanks supposed to support the attack instead retreat.  The German soldiers repeatedly attack and eventually send in special German stormtroopers.  Notwithstanding a lack of food, water, ammunition and medical supplies, Whittlesley manages to repulse the attacks and survive the 5 day siege until reinforced.  Of the 361 men besieged, 197 were killed in action, 150 were missing or taken prisoner and 194 were rescued.  Think of this movie as Mel Gibson’s We Were Soldiers set in WW1.

See above.

Maj. Whittlesey: Don't sell them short, Captain. Two days ago we had a Chinese working our field-phone, an American-Indian for a runner; they're both dead now but that's not the point. These Italians, Irish, Jews, and Poles, they'd never hire me as an attorney; we wouldn't be seen at the same events. But we will never, in our lives, enjoy the company of finer soldiers or better men then we do tonight.
Capt. McMurtry:  Major, I was with Teddy Roosevelt's Rough Riders. And I have never served with a finer officer then you. Do you know that your men would do anything, go anywhere for you?


·       The rescue of the besieged battalion broke the German lines for good. 
·       Whittlesley and soldiers of the 77th portrayed themselves in the 1919 film.

Above:  Lieut Colonel Charles W Whittlesley

Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Origin and Development of Motorcycles and OMCGs, Part 3


1947, Hollister:

It is generally accepted that the birth of OMCGs and the rise of biker subculture occurred as a result of the events in Hollister in 1947.

On the Fourth of July 1947, the small town of Hollister, California, hosted that year’s Gypsy Tour motorcycle rally, an event approved by the American Motorcyclist Association which had been founded in 1924.

Gypsy Tours were AMA-sanctioned racing events staged at various locations across America  and were considered to be the premier motorcycle racing events of the time.  Only AMA members were allowed to race.

The AMA had rigid rules for members, both to foster safety and to present a public image of the sport being family-friendly and wholesome.  Both members and non-members attended the event.

Among the clubs present at Hollister in 1947 were the Top Hatters (still existing today), the Pissed Off Bastards of Bloomington (one member of which, Otto Friedli, went on to become a founding member of the Hell’s Angels Motorcycle Club) and the Boozefighters.

Movie Moments: #114


The Wild One (1953)

As noted above, the movie is based on a short story which, in turn, was based on a trumped up account of the alleged 1947 Hollister riot, complete with staged photographs.  The movie boosted the sale of black leather jackets (the style even became known as a "Brando"), Triumph motorcycles, jeans, sunglasses and. . . white caps.  The movie is interesting in its own right but more so for its influence in popular culture and history.

When rival biker groups, The Black Rebels and the Beetles, descend on the sleepy town of Wrightsville, incidents between the two gangs and with the townspeople escalate into fullscale confrontations, violence and tragedy.  Oh, and Johnny, the leader of the Black Rebels, falls in love with the police chief’s daughter.  A modern day Romeo and Juliet with leather and chrome.

Marlon Brando, Lee Marvin, Mary Murphy

Mildred: What're you rebelling against, Johnny?
Johnny:Whaddya got?

Johnny meets Kathie:

·       Brando’s haircut in the film inspired a craze for sideburns that was followed by James Dean and Elvis Presley among others. 
·       Presley modeled his role in Jailhouse Rock on Johnny in The Wild One.
·       There are suggestions, including from George Harrison, that the name of Lee Marvin’s gang in TWO, the Beetles, inspired the Beatles.  At the time Buddy Holly and the Crickets was topping the charts, they adopted the Beatles but changed  the “ee” to an “ea” to reflect beat music and the beat culture.  A detailed commentary here:

Five Minutes of History and Some Music

View from the West Berlin side of graffiti art on the wall in 1986. The wall's infamous "death strip", on the east side of the wall, here follows the curve of the long closed Luisenstadt Canal.

There was a brief mention in the newspapers and on the TV news last weekend that that weekend was the 50th anniversary of commencement of construction of the Berlin Wall.

This reminded me of a song from my youth, when I was just a nipper, but more of that later.

For the youngsters, when Germany was defeated in 1945, four Allied powers continued occupying Berlin:  the UK, France, the US and the Soviet Union.  It wasn’t long before difficulties arose between the Soviets and the other three. As a result the zones occupied by the US, the UK and France became merged into one zone with the Soviets occupying the other.  This also became a confrontation between democracy and communism, eventually leading to the Cold War and the McCarthy witchhunts.

In Berlin, the two political systems were paralleled by the economic systems:  West Germany developed as a democracy with a capitalist economic system; East Germany was part of the communist Eastern Bloc with the same socialist system.