Monday Melbourne: CVII, January 2006
Russell Degnan

After Australia Day, does summer wane. January 2006

Melbourne Town 30th January, 2006 19:13:35   [#] [3 comments] 

She Will Have Her Way - Various Artists
Russell Degnan

One of the more interesting aspects of the Hottest 100 countdown last week was the placing of no less than four covers of Australian songs. The Herd's cover of I Was Only 19 was the best of them, but two others are featured on the album beign reviewed here: Stuff and Nonsense by Missy Higgins and Six Months in a Leaky Boat by Little Birdy. Like the compilation of Paul Kelly songs, Women at the Well, She Will Have Her Way is a collection of songs sung by female artists, this time covering the works of Neil and Tim Finn.

By necessity, these sorts of things are generally uneven, the amazing mixed up with versions little different to the original, or agonising hatchet jobs. Perhaps fortunately -- or perhaps not -- it is more of the former than the latter. Thus, while lacking in originality, it is a very pleasant listen from start to finish, punctuated by a few really good efforts. The most interesting change were those that stripped down the tune completely, even removing the guitar riff that made the song what it was; notably, Sarah Blasko's Don't Dream It's Over and New Bufallo's Four Seasons in One Day. Definitely worth a listen if you are either a fan of the Finn's or the ladies in question.

Track Highlights
Fall At Your Feet - Clare Bowditch - The opening guitar riff and bouncing rythym have been removed from the start. Brave, but it works.
Stuff and Nonsense - Missy Higgins - Not as good as the Eddie Vedder live version, but such a stunning song, done well.
Six Months in a Leaky Boat - Little Birdy - A straight up and down cover, but also a great song, taking advantage of Katy Steele's voice.
Not the Girl You Think You Are - Holly Throsby - Less dreamy than the original, stripped to just the guitar, and beautifully sung.
Don't Dream It's Over - Sarah Blasko - Hard to believe you can do this song without the guitar riff, but she does, and her vocals and the harmonies at the end carries it.
Four Seasons In One Day - New Buffalo - The most interesting change to a tune. Doesn't always work, and the ah-ing gets annoying, but effort should be applauded.

Finer Things 29th January, 2006 12:08:53   [#] [1 comment] 

Getting Milk
Russell Degnan

"Despite my admiration for the carton, I felt superior to those who reached into the supermarket's dairy case and withdrew Sealtest products, admitting to the world that they didn't have home delivery and hence were not really members of society but loners and drifters."
- Nicholas Baker "Mezzanine"

Such privileges were a rarity for me. If was I was old enough to be alive when home delivery of milk existed in Australia, it was well gone by the time I started paying attention to what receptacle it arrived in. The one time we did have home delivery it was in England which is quaint, if not a little backward in certain things -- notably plumbing and closing times.

Not that it was all cartons. When I was growing up in Warnambool, and then later, Horsham, milk came in bags [1]. Giant, unwieldy bags, the milk would slop around in, falling to the edges across the crease in the centre of your hand if you held it there, and thus resisting any centre of gravity that would make them possible to carry in one hand. Or at least, with one small, rather weak hand.

When they worked the bags were not, in themselves, so bad. They were placed in big plastic containers, and the corner cut off. Despite what you'd think, They poured reasonably sensibly once you got past the first little bit that would, like those idiotic square fruit containers, literally jump out of the packaging; and contrary to what I'd expect now, I don't recall them ever collapsing into the jug into a mess of plastic and milk.

But they were the bane of my existence as an eight year old.

The problem with the bag is it isn't particularly strong. A leaky bag was pretty common, bringing on something of a crisis in a small boy who didn't know that you could complain to adults about the level of service you received, when one of those adult's products leaked down your leg and into your sock.

Dropping them was worse. A carton might leak a bit when it hits the floor. But if you were, say, trying to load the plastic container, and it was say, 6am in the morning and perhaps a little dark, and the bag for instance, decided it would unbalance itself and tip the container over, and you, being a small boy, perhaps dropped said bag, then you were in for a shock.

Because those babies exploded!

Cleaning milk up from every conceivable surface in a kitchen would definitely suck. Lucky for me it was my birthday.

And just try and carry one on a bike. A bag of milk weighed about ten percent of what I did, so trying to balance with it in one hand wasn't going to happen. Nor could I put it on my lap and peddle. So I tried putting it on the handle bars. A hundred metres up the road the bag swung its way into my bike spokes: more milk on the feet, legs, bike, ground...

But that isn't the point of this post, merely a segue from a funny quote into the general area wherein we shall find the point of this post.

Having spent so much of my youth drinking milk in large quantities, I was also somewhat surprised by friends who didn't drink milk, and who, as a result, were offered the wide variety of alternative drinks we had at home, including... um.... water from the tap?[2].

It has also made me relatively picky about my milk. I can tell the difference between milk from different regions, between milk from different companies (farmland is crap), and between fresh milk and stuff the supermarket has left sitting on the floor for an hour why their pubescent 16-year-old shelf-stacker had a smoke and tried to chat up the girl on the checkout.

And so, being picky, this morning greeted me with a very unpleasant surprise when I opened the fridge at work for milk to go in my morning milo [3]. Because instead of the normal collection of actual milk, there was only six litres of pretend milk, also known as low-fat milk.

And I hate low-fat milk. Low fat milk is not milk. Low fat milk is water with white colouring in it. It is an abomination. It is the negation of the only thing that is good in milk. It turns into a cloudy pale, lifeless, substance, devoid of taste and any redeeming value. And so to people who subject others to low-fat milk, let me make the following plea:

If you have such a problem with fat in milk, then drink less friggin milk [4], or water it down yourself, or instead of saving 1g off you daily fat intake on milk find an actual fatty food to save it on, or maybe do some exercise. Or even stop being sucked in by marketing techniques trying to make you feel guilty by targeting the most commonly bought products.

And let me enjoy one of life's simpler pleasures without having it destroyed by your pallid excuse for milk.

[1] My ignorance on this subject is quite broad. I don't know for instance, if milk came in bags in Melbourne, although I never saw it at the houses of relatives in Melbourne. Also, for all I know milk still comes in bags in the Western District, but since I don't live there I don't know that either. I suspect deregulation put a stop to any remaining bag distributors.

[2] Note that this was in Traralgon, not Horsham, where offering water from the tap is somewhat akin to offering your guest a glass of cats piss you've spat in, except less healthy.

[3] The morning milo being different to the afternoon milo, and the "everyone has gone home at 5pm so lets have another" milo.

[4] Particularly if your only putting it in coffee, and you probably are. I find it hard to believe the 2% of milk that has been converted from fat into something non-fat has any particularly gratifying taste.

Passing Fancy 28th January, 2006 01:54:27   [#] [4 comments] 

The Gastronomic Pub Crawl of North Melbourne:
McMahon`s Hotel
Russell Degnan

575 Spencer St West Melbourne
(Corner Hawke and Spencer Street)

McMahon's has much to recommend it, but the meals are probably not one of those things. As a backpackers, it has a different clientele to other establishments in the area. Nevertheless, with several pool tables, a tv, assorted couches, a fake trunk bar, and a lively atmosphere, it is worth a visit if you want someplace different for a drink. The staff are outstandingly friendly, and chat amiably with the many young, foreign, customers perched on the bar.

However, they don't as such, do meals. The advertised kitchen is off site, and they order a selection of pasta and pizzas in for anyone who asks. While this doesn't sound fantastic, they do put it on a plate, and if they hadn't have told us -- and if we hadn't have seen the bloke walk in with the food -- we might have merely been dissapointed at the blandness of it all. However, it is cheap, it is hearty, and it is tasty enough for a worthwhile visit

The short: For a place to stay, drink, or meet people.

Next week: Railway Hotel (Corner Ireland and Stawell Street)

Melbourne Town 25th January, 2006 21:09:45   [#] [0 comments] 

Monday Melbourne: CVI, January 2006
Russell Degnan

Rod Laver Arena. Taken January 2006

Melbourne Town 24th January, 2006 12:08:13   [#] [0 comments] 

A day at the Open
Russell Degnan

In which we learnt why good players are good,
and why Australian supporters deserve their reputation for being dickheads.

Unless your a big doubles fan, Wednesday and Thursday are generally the best days for outside court action at the Australian Open. Most of the under-prepared and out-gunned have been eliminated already, leaving lots of reasonable contests and the odd outstanding match-up. Unfortunately, no games really stood out last Thursday, so I resolved to wander the back-courts, enjoy the sights and sounds and see what turned up.

The first match looked a lot more competiive on paper than it turned out to be. Court 6 played host to the attractive, seeded Gisela Dulko and Aiko Nakamura aided by a sizeable Japanese crowd. But Dulko's game fell apart. She never gcame to grips with Nakumara's solid serve, made an incredibly 34 unforced errors in 14 games (that's almost down 40 every game) and just 4 winners. A better player would have changed a few things, got the ball in play, and tried to hang in there until the groundstrokes started going in. But this one was all over very quickly. At 3-0 and two breaks of serve in hand I left Nakamura to chew on the carcass of the Argentinian to watch the end of Pennetta's mauling of Sucha on court 8.

Court 8 is a lovely little boutique court with some trees and a small grass embankment on one side. Unfortunately one of the open's most comfortable viewing spots is ruined by a double row of seats that obscure the court when you sit down. Despite this impediment, the grass was still more popular than the seats for patrons. Heaven forbid though, that we might want to sit somewhere comfortable and see the tennis.

Myskina's match against Jackson was the opposite of Dulko's loss. This was a match noone wanted to win. Myskina was erratic, but attacking anything with mixed results; Jackson didn't attack short balls, despite having some solid ground strokes, leaving Myskina to lose for herself. And she almost did. She should have lost 6-4 6-0, but managed to scrape back into the first set and win the tie-break before doing the same in the third. Good enough to win, but it was horrid tennis.

Then back to court 6 for some women's doubles. Doubles is often a good place to see big names normally confined to show courts, or younger players. A few years ago I first saw Sharapova play and you could tell she'd be handy. This year it was Nicole Vaidisova. Still 15, but ranked 16, she is tall and solidly built, but has a nice touch. Sugiyama is almost double her age, but still handy, while Hantuchova is proof that you can win grand slams in doubles without being particularly cognizant of its subtleties. The lady in front of us quietly used her as an instructive guide for her daughter in incorrect court movement. I suspect however, that this was all lost on the bloke who told Hantuchova he "wanted to f*** her" as she went to serve. If he was trying to put her off he succeeded, but women's tennis can probably do without fans like that.

Noticing that Hrbaty was involved in a trademark five-setter on court 18, we went and watched the last few games. 10-8 in the fifth is a fair game, so its a pity we only saw the end, but fortunately, the game on Vodafone was to prove almost as good. Ferrero didn't play especially bad tennis; he just didn't play as well as he might. His opponent, the lowly ranked Serbian, Tipsarevic, was coming out of qualifiers so he had the form to turn it into a dog-fight. Like Myskina though, Ferrero is good enough to win when it matters. The turning point came when he broke back, after Tipsarevic had a point to lead 4-2 in the fourth set. It was never in doubt after that, but it was a close thing.

Finally, as night came in, Martina Hingis came on court, and neatly disposed of Emma Laine. We only stayed for the first set in a game that was never a contest. If players can force Hingis back behind the baseline she will probably still struggle, but against Laine that wasn't going to happen. It is good to see her back though, not least because she adds something else to a sport dominated by long-limbed sluggers. If only she came to the net more.

Idle Summers 24th January, 2006 02:38:10   [#] [1 comment] 

Gone but not forgotten
Russell Degnan

This summer I decided to be lazy. Not necessarily by choice, but certainly gratefully enough, having not bothered to take proper time off since 2003 or maybe 2002. So I am working two day weeks, scrimping my coins (lie), reading more books (partial lie) and resting up while I wait for the school year to start (partially true).

Except resting is boring as bat shit after about two days. And even though I haven't actually seen bat shit, I gather from the expression that it doesn't attract field trips from schools outside the state system.

The solution was to make a to-do list. At the top is the thing I really should do, because it important, and which I have, as yet, left unstarted. Beneath that are assorted other tasks in varying degrees of completedness.

The garden has been the most successful. My housemate and I pulled off fence pales (some intentionally), sawed through off-cuts, imported dirt, sealed stuff (though the shower is more in need of the latter), and have ourselves a funky little garden bed. We haven't actually planted anything yet, but there is more potential growth there than in an old dot-com, and probably a similar likelihood of success.

I've also burnt backups, ripped songs -- and could I add here that Frente's second album Shape is grossly under-rated -- sent emails and packages to all corners of the globe (well, Europe), and posted something on my blog. In short, I've been wonderfully unnecessarily productive.

I also took to my blog-roll with a set of garden shears. While it is more of a manicure than the sort of gun-ho machete wielding manic displays I'd subject my parents' hedges to when they forced me out of the house in previous summers, it is a little smaller.

Mostly they are blogs that don't write so often now (if at all); others that write so often I can't keep up; and a couple don't spend enough time talking about what I added them for. But they are listed below for reference, and they are good blogs, so you should check them out

Brave Our Burbs
Daniel Bowen
Darlene Sees Stars
Effect Measure
Environmental Economics
Gaping Void
Metroblogging Melbourne
Semaphore Junction
Stumbling Tongue
The Discouraging Word
The New Companion
Your Daily Art

Passing Fancy 18th January, 2006 23:15:44   [#] [0 comments] 

Monday Melbourne: CV, January 2006
Russell Degnan

Queens College. Taken November 2005

Melbourne Town 17th January, 2006 23:18:17   [#] [0 comments] 

Oil price vulnerability
Russell Degnan

A little while ago, LaborFirst Blog linked to an interesting article on how vulnerable different parts of Australia's major cities are to rising oil prices. The first part of the paper is worth reading as a primer on why oil prices are expected to rise, and current transport patterns. Although, it should be added, there are several controversial topics glossed over with little comment.

The second part concerns locational disadvantage, and more partcularly, the way increases in the price of oil (and therefore) will dispoportionally affect people in the outer suburbs.

To measure this, the authors took a composite of three measures: socio-economic index for areas (SEIFA); household motor vehicle ownership; and car-dependence for work journeys. The map for Melbourne being produced below.

There are two specific problems distorting the measure that I can see. The first is that the SEIFA figures (50%) swamp the car-dependency variables. This means there are patches of vulnerable low-income people in the inner city who really aren't, and patches of invulnerable people in the outer-suburbs who really are -- particularly the Doncaster corridor. It would make more sense to multiply the income and car-based variables, emphasising that the two act on each other, rather than separately.

The second problem concerns the measurement of car-dependency. Both the number of cars per household, and the journey-to-work data are affected by income (with rich people being more likely to have them). Many people who could take public transport and are not vulnerable to oil prices, do not, for time, or other reasons. A better measure -- though still inadequate -- would be the number of jobs that could be reached by public transport within an hour, although this can be difficult to measure.

In a broader sense, the study suffers from how it defines locational disadvantage as a problem. Earlier in the paper, it used this definition by Burnley:

To the extent that people move to outer suburbia to obtain affordable housing, such pricing trends may be socially inequitable unless strong policies to relocate employment and to develop public transport are pursued in tandem.

But reversing this as an issue causes different problems. More services and employment in the suburbs will draw richer people towards them and onto larger lots on the urban rim. If this is at the expense of the inner city, such as in the United States, it won't necessarily equalize service provision nor reduce car dependency. Similar problems occur when public transport is extended further out, as it allows people to find even cheaper land further out again.

Economically, the differential between inner and outer suburban transport costs is less at the moment than the differential to other things that affect the decision to buy a house -- land size, proximity to services. As the transport differential increases with higher oil prices, land will become cheaper in the outer suburbs, negating it. This will cause pain for people who bought housing on the basis of previous conditions, but eventually people will do what they always have done: buy the best housing they can afford in the place they can best afford it.

We can conclude then, that the long term effect of oil price increases will be higher house prices in the inner suburbs as demand for places with cheaper travel increases. It also provides an opportunity for planners, to pursue policies for less car dependency and urban consolidation, in line with (as opposed to against) market forces. And the problem then, as always, is the provision of infrastructure to help make people make sensible choices.

Sterner Matters 17th January, 2006 17:04:27   [#] [0 comments] 

The Gastronomic Pub Crawl of North Melbourne:
Maitz Hotel
Russell Degnan

519 Spencer St West Melbourne
(Corner Stanley and Spencer Street

To walk into the front-bar of the Maitz - formerly the Royal Mail - is to step back in time. It is thoroughly unreconstructed, if not a little intimidating to a trio of inner-suburbanites unaccustomed to pubs full of genuine locals. Step out the back though, and there is an extensive, comfortable dining area and more modern back bar. The more popular seats open out into the street; albeit a busy and rather unpleasant Spencer Street rather than something nice.

Dining appears to be the main selling point here. Except for a few more elaborate meals - such as the roo - dinners are $10 or under all week, and there was a reasonable crowd in by the time we had started eating. The meals are certainly well presented, indicating an aim to be above the average pub fair, but my pie probably looked tastier than it was. Nice, but a bit bland. It is very good value though, and worth a visit.

The short: For a reasonable meal at a good price

Next week: McMahon's Hotel (Corner Hawke and Spencer Street)

Melbourne Town 14th January, 2006 13:42:11   [#] [0 comments] 

  [next -->]