Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Ton Katsu

I noticed that ton katsu seems to have vanished from the offerings at my local Japanese sushi train. The place changed hands a year or two ago so that could explain it. Anyway, when I arrived there this evening, I asked the proprietress if I could order some. Rather to my confusion, she had no clue what I was talking about. But she asked the head chef, who is fairly elderly, and he knew all about it so I got a nice plate of it after all.

I suppose that it proves what Japs sometimes say: That ton katsu is actually a German dish. I suppose it is. It is just crumbed pork basically. But it is a popular menu option in lots of Japanese restaurants. Koreans also have it but they call it don kats.

When Paul was about 11, Jenny said she would cook him anything he liked for his birthday dinner and he immediately nominated tonkatsu. Clearly not a lad brought up on traditional British meals of meat and 3 veg. -- as I was. Though my mother made a good dish of spaghetti on occasions. When Jenny cooks tonkatsu I like to have it with hoi sin sauce -- a Chinese sauce so not at all authentic -- but I like it anyway. I got a bit of Japanese mustard with my tonkatsu tonight, which I treated with great respect. Japanese mustard can be VERY "hot".

Jenny cooked lots of exotic food for me when we were together. I remember when Joey was about one, he had green poos, as babies sometimes do. So Jenny took him to the mothercraft nurse. The nurse asked Jenny: "You haven't been feeding him anything unusual, have you?" Jenny said No but she said she was thinking: "Only a bit of larb moo". Larb moo is Thai minced pork, a dish we all liked. Anyway, Joey came to no harm.

I had some more plastic surgery today. My appointment was for 8:30am and I was on the table by 8:45am and eating breakfast at my usual Italian restaurant by 10am so that is the sort of efficiency I like. The dermo said that the wound came together well after the cancer was excised so healing should be rapid. Private medicine sure beats public medicine but it does cost a bomb. Still, I worked hard during my youth at one of the world's most unpopular and stressful tasks -- landlording -- so I can afford some extras in my later years.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Two dinners

On Saturday Joe and I had dinner together at the local Chinese. The ambience there is 1960s cafe but Joe liked that, somewhat to my surprise. I am glad he is not a snob. We talked about secret men's business, mostly concerning human relationships, and I was pleased that he already had fully on board most of the things I think important in that department. Largely because of a natural modesty, his social skills are in fact of a very high order and I predict that he will one day be Head of School in a university mathematics department somewhere.

Then last night (Monday) Jenny made me some egg-rolled pork, a little-known Korean dish that I particularly like and which she does well. Russell and Suzy were also there and we had some interesting discussions. At most family dinners I spend most of the time talking to Ken, Paul or Joe about men's business so I was not at all up to date with all that is going on in the family. So it was a good chance to catch up with that with Jenny and Susan to talk to. Women keep up with all the personal comings and goings far better than most men do.

Russell seems to me to have good attitudes and values from a traditional Australian perspective. I am sure he will make a first-class father when that time comes. And he's got a rather loud voice too, which suits an old deafy like me.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Australian computer shops

I put the following post up on my Australian Politics blog but it occurs to me that I should put it up here too. I reproduce below a small memoir I wrote in the late 1990s about computer shops. Joey tells me that many such shops are just the same these days so I think the memoir still has relevance

Computer people are generally held to be pretty bright but my experience with computer shops has left me wondering.

For instance: Around 1990 I had been told that Amiga computers have very good software for helping pre-schoolers to learn to read and write etc. So I tried to buy an Amiga for my then three-year-old son, didn't I? Naturally, as computers are complicated things, I wanted to see the use of the software demonstrated before I bought. So I went into the computer shop of one of our better Department stores (Grace Bros. in Sydney) and asked for a demonstration. I found that they could indeed demonstrate two teenage-type games to me. They could not, however, demonstrate anything else as "We cannot open the packs".

So I sought out a specialist computer store didn't I? Now I already had an IBM-type computer so I knew this was not likely to be a joyous experience. I seem to be invisible in such shops. As far as I can see, in computer shops everyone always seems to be on the phone and customers in the shop can just go hang. And those phone conversations are long. They just seem to be so much more interesting than the boring business of actually selling to a customer.

So I walked into a rather big example of such a shop at what should have been a quiet time of the week in the hope that maybe there would be one person there who was on the ball. But no, I turned out to be invisible again. This time, however, the worm turned. I wandered out the back to what seemed to be the boss's office and asked the man there (who was, of course, on the phone), "Is anybody selling here?" His response? "Just wait out the front and someone will serve you". I said, "But I have already been waiting for some time and no-one has said anything to me." His reply? "What do you want?" I said, "I want to buy an Amiga." "Don't sell them", he then said and returned to his phone call with evident relief. He did not want to be bothered with a piddling $1,400 sale, did he? (At that time the average male gross wage would have been about $350 per week).

So next I went to a small computer shop in the hope that a small firm might be keener. Again, of course, I was invisible until I asked someone if anyone was selling here but I did then get some attention. Yes, he did sell software for pre-schoolers and the Amiga was indeed ideal for that but he had no software for pre-schoolers at all in stock at the moment so try him again next week. So by that stage I still had not managed to buy an Amiga.

Eventually I found a small retailer with a heavy foreign accent who was so keen that he offered the lowest prices AND even delivered the Amiga 500 to me at home. He actually travelled for over an hour through Sydney traffic from his shop at Campbelltown (outer Sydney) to Lewisham (Inner Western Sydney) to make the sale. Funny that he was foreign! (Northern Italian, it turned out).

Now let me tell what happened when I first decided to buy an Atari ST computer:

I knew virtually nothing about Ataris but I did already have a 286 (i.e. an Intel machine) and an Amiga so I knew a bit about computers generally. One thing I certainly knew was that the big expense with computers is not the machine but the software. So when I rang up the main computer firm that dealt in Ataris (United Computers) to enquire about Atari prices, one thing I wanted to know was how easily I could get public domain software for Ataris. I was put on to the firm's apparent Atari "expert" to discuss this.

I said that I knew that some Bulletin boards had Atari software and asked how I could get such software onto Atari disks. If I downloaded it on my IBM machine would the Atari read my IBM disks? If not, would I have to buy an Atari modem program to download the Atari files direct onto Atari disks? I was told: NO you will need to buy an expensive program to enable an Atari to read IBM disks; and: YES you will need to buy an expensive Atari program in order to use your Atari for modem work.

Both these answers were of course bare-faced lies. Ataris read IBM disks as easily as they read their own and the commonly-used Atari modem programs, like Amiga and IBM modem programs, are mostly in the public domain or shareware. Anyway, their lies just ended up costing them business. I concluded that since the software was going to cost me such a lot I had better economize on buying the machine. So I bought a secondhand Atari rather than a new one and United Computers lost a sale.

The same firm also sold Amigas and on a later occasion quoted me outrageous prices for Amiga disk drives -- around twice what other people were charging. They also tried to sell me a box of high-density 3.5" disks for $55 -- then normally available for $20 and later available for $10 or less. Needless to say, on both occasions I walked out of the shop with my money still in my pocket!

And what about the time I tried to buy a complicated piece of software off them? They tried to demonstrate it for me but could not get it to work. I offered to buy it anyway on condition that I be allowed to return it for refund if nobody I knew could get it to work either. They refused my offer! "But you could just copy it and then return it", they said. Maybe. But the fact that the software concerned was on CD-ROM should be mentioned. The CD was going to cost miles less than a hard drive of similar capacity would have cost me. Anyway, I once again walked out with my money still in my pocket.

And then there was the time I got a secondhand copy of the game "Dungeon Master". As it was copy-protected, it had not been backed up but had just been used straight out of the box. The original buyer did the right thing and relied on the retailer to provide any backup needed. By the time I got the game, however, it had died, so I took the disk, box and manual to United Computers and asked for backup service. They undertook to provide this at a charge of $5. Quite reasonable -- at first. I then waited -- and waited -- and waited.

After two months or so I gave up, asked for the stuff back, obtained a Blitzcopy cable and re-copied the game courtesy of another owner of it. United's excuse for the delay? "The game was out of production and our supplier had to write to America for a copy". But if this begins to sound half reasonable remember that Dungeon Master was at the time arguably the most popular computer game ever. Could they really not find another copy of such a game? They were obviously not even trying. They sure knew how to encourage software piracy! Or didn't they WANT to sell software?

I mentioned above how when you walk into almost any computer shop all the staff are on the phone. Occasionally there is a receptionist there who knows nothing about computers and whose only function is to ask you to wait but that is about as good as you get. The only exceptions seem to be when the shop is run by Asians. When you walk into one of their shops you find them on the phone too but they immediately say something which must be the Cantonese (or Urdu) equivalent of, "A customer has just walked in. I will call you back." They then get up and serve you promptly.

The only way I ever found of getting reasonably prompt attention from non-Asian computer shop staff was to say, "Excuse me. I want to buy a 486". Since the 486 was at the time the top-of-the-line IBM-type machine and cost accordingly, they then put the phone down and paid some attention to me. It was amusing to see their faces when I told them that I did not really want to buy a 486 but just said that as it seemed to be the only way of getting served.

Mind you, with firms like United Computers (who of course eventually went broke) even that trick may not work. I know someone (Jason Marianoff) who once went in there to ask seriously about buying an Amiga 3000 (the top-line Amiga at the time). The staff were too busy playing a computer game to answer his questions properly! He too left their premises without putting his hand in his pocket. He then went into business on his own account as an Amiga retailer and did such a superb job at it that he ended up as the only surviving Amiga retailer in Brisbane.

So computer firms at least should think about the company they keep. If they want to sell machines they would do well to cease relying on lackadaisical and typically Australian firms like United and try instead to sign up a few small Asian retailers. They would sell a lot more gear that way. Why? Because charging like the Light Brigade puts everyone except pretentious people off and pretentious people buy Apple Macs anyway. And NOBODY -- pretentious or not -- likes to be treated like a bad smell when they go to buy something. And if a potential customer DOES get treated like a bad smell, it is very easy for him/her to go elsewhere and buy a rival product instead.

And then there was the time I wanted to get a computer monitor cable copied by a firm that specialized in such work (Qld Connectors and Cables). The firm did the job and got it wrong. The copy cable did not work -- for a rather obvious reason. Rather than listen to me when I politely asked to tell them where they had got it wrong and how to fix it, they insisted on giving me my money back instead. They would rather lose money than listen to a customer! Customers who complained, no matter how politely or with how much justification were just not to be dealt with any further. Rather British, really, but quite incredible by Japanese or American standards.

And it is not even as if the service the firm concerned was offering was anywhere near irreplaceable. Anybody can buy all the connectors they need from a Tandy or Dick Smith store and then solder them on to a bit of cable themselves if they want to. It takes little skill and less brains when all you have to do is copy the example in front of you.

Another offended shopkeeper was in a way even more amusing. I wanted to replace my 486 with a machine running a Celeron chip in late 1998. I found the cheapest Celeron being advertised in the paper (by a firm called Global Computers) and rang up and ordered one. When I arrived I asked to test the machine to see that it worked, only to find that the computer was nowhere near ready for use. All they had done was put it together. They had not even formatted the hard drive. So I had to partition and format it myself (warned by past experience with computer shops, I "just happened" to have a DOS boot disk in my pocket) plus set up access to the the CD drive plus set up the soundcard -- all of which took me about 20 minutes while the salesman just sat on his behind staring into space.

At the end I found that the sound did not work and pointed this out. He asked his technician about it and was told that a special piece of software would be needed to get the sound running. I asked if he would like my phone number so he could let me know when the sound was running. He did not seem to want to be bothered so I just walked out the door with my cash still in my pocket. As I walked out he said: "Thanks for wasting my time". He was angry with me because I would not buy an inoperable machine!

So I then rang someone I had long known ("Game Dude") and asked him for a quote. He charged $1321 -- about $200 cheaper than what the moron was charging. And when I went to Game Dude he had everything all set up. I just had to walk in, test it and hand over the cash! Shopping around can make an amazing difference. Game Dude was of course an owner/operator of his business.

Australia contrasts greatly with Hong Kong. In Hong Kong, the retailer seems to think that it is his/her job to ensure that you walk out with less money in your pocket than when you walked in. And he/she does what it takes to bring that about. He/she actually makes an effort either to give you what you want or convince you that you want something else. The retailer actually gives the impression that he/she wants to make a sale! There are no invisible customers in Hong Kong.

But Hong Kong capitalism is closer to us than you might think. When I took my train to work in Sydney of a morning (in 1990), it was not uncommon for around half the faces in the carriage to be Asian. And that is already beginning to show up in the shops. And everyone knows what it is like in a Chinese restaurant. You no sooner sit down than there is a menu in front of you. You have no sooner made your selection and closed your menu than there is someone by your elbow waiting to take your order. In other restaurants it can take half an hour just to get a menu! I wonder why I mostly eat out in Asian restaurants?

At any event, it has already happened in Britain. Polite brown people from the Indian sub-continent of Asia now seem to run almost all the small businesses in Britain -- from laundrettes and grocery shops to Post Offices, small hotels and electrical goods shops. Australia's Asians might come from a different part of Asia but they will do a similar justly deserved takeover in due course. "Old Australian" businessmen will just end up at the beach and on the dole, where they generally seem to belong -- modern-day Pacific islanders. Australia is, after all, the largest Pacific island.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

The twinny birthday

Today is ANZAC day but, as usual, I was too lazy to go to any of the services.

Last night was a birthday dinner for the twins, Susan and Vonnie. It was held at the Calamvale hotel and the food was surprisingly good. It must be what the English call a "gastropub". I was sitting next to Paul and he regaled everyone within earshot with some of his treasured memories: Which consisted mainly of assertive things I had done in his presence when he was growing up. I don't put up with being pushed around. I push back. And Paul greatly admires that. I had in fact forgotten most of the episodes he recalled. He is himself quite assertive and says he learnt it all from me but he obviously had it in him as well. Anyway, he got a stepfather who really suited him and we have always got on very well.

Speaking of assertiveness, Von really surprised me. Our dinners were rather slow in arriving so when a few people mentioned that, Von got straight up and went and sorted it out. She is so ladylike that I would have expected her to get someone else to do it. She did after all have her assertive brother Paul there and her husband sitting beside her. So there is a bit of assertiveness in Von too. She is a highly-paid lady these days so she probably needs a bit of assertiveness there.

I mentioned my surprise to Suzy and said that when they were kids, she always spoke for both Von and herself. Suzy commented: "I still do". Twins do however have a great understanding of one-another -- even fraternal twins as Von and Suzy are. Suzy is wearing her hair very long these days and it is a beautiful blonde so I was very pleased to see it opposite me at the table.

I have now arranged to have dinner with Joey tonight and Jenny is going to cook me some egg-rolled pork on Monday. Yum!

Anne is overseas in London at the moment and I have just got an email from her that gave me a bellylaugh. Anne is a bit of a foodie and I don't think she really believed all the things that people have told her about how bad English food can be. Now she knows. I reproduce the description of her first breakfast at her hotel:

"The breakfast served was a surprise, really close to being inedible. Hard boiled eggs, pale scrambled eggs, baked beans (mostly sauce) and cold meat similar to the tasteless stuff you see in Coles (which I can't recall the name for............maybe "ham delight"), cold tasteless coffee and toast finished it off"

Thursday, April 23, 2009

For St. George and merrie England!

Today is St. George's day, the national day of England (not Britain. Britain includes Scotland and Wales) so I have just hoisted the flag of St George from my flagpole. It has mostly in the past not been much celebrated in England but, thanks in part to Boris Johnson, the "Turkish" Mayor of London, it will be this year. Boris is a great joker. He does have some distant Turkish ancestry (Turkish Jewish if I remember rightly) but even his grandfather was an RAF bomber pilot in WWII and he himself went to Eton and Oxford.

Anne flew out to London for 7 weeks holiday yesterday and I have heard of no aircraft crashes so I assume she got there safely. But did her luggage get there too? Always doubtful when you are using Heathrow airport. There have been cases where people's luggage arrived at their holiday destination only after they had returned home!

Sunday, April 19, 2009

De rerum novarum

Sorry to misappropriate the name of a Papal encyclical for my heading above but today WAS a day of new things for me. We had our Westside classical music gathering tonight and one of the performers brought along a real live Basset Horn and played it. Mozart is the only composer who wrote much for the Basset Horn and it fell into disuse soon thereafter -- so very few people even had much idea of what it was until recently. Someone found some originals in an old castle somewhere, though, and it has now been revived -- with fingering the same as for a clarinet. It was the first time I had seen one. It looks like a small sax but has a surprisingly bass range. The guy who bought it along is a clarinettist and he played us some Mozart on it.

The second surprise was that we had a young composer among us who played us some of his music. That would normally be a trigger for some big groans but this guy was surprisingly good. I actually enjoyed some recently-written music tonight! His conventions were of the 19th century, however -- not the raucous screeching that usually passes for modern music. One hopes that the agonized substitute for music that characterized the 20th century died with that century. I speak of MOST 20th century music however. Exceptions like Philip Glass and Joaquin Rodrigo were of course brilliant.

And the third but much more minor surprise was that our usual Asian contingent comprised this time a violinist and a cellist. A Jewish violinist and an Chinese pianist would be our more usual pattern.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Good Friday today

Well. I made it to the service at my old church: Ann St Presbyterian. Good Friday is a major religious occasion for Christians in Australia, with Easter Sunday secondary. I gather that it is the other way around in some countries. So I got up at 8am and managed to be at the 9am commencement of the service with time to spare. The church is only 10 minutes drive from where I live so that helps. Anne came along too as it happens to be her old church too. It was a communion service so went on a bit longer than usual. It felt good to be back among the sort of people "from whence I sprang". And it was good to hear a Scottish accent from the pulpit too. I feel sorry for Leftists who don't appreciate such things. It must be very unpleasant to be angry with the world about you all the time. I certainly don't think the world is perfect but I don't hate it. I just enjoy getting on with my own life in my own way.

The congregation was mostly Caucasian with only a few Asians present. The Koreans who used to attend have now built their own church. The pews at Ann St were still pretty full though. The minister, Archie McNicol, is one of the old school who is not afraid to mention "The machinations of the Devil" and such things so it is real religion that gets preached there and not conventional bromides. I noticed that the long prayer included a supplication for the conversion of the Jews. Traditional of course. But I would have been happier if it had also included a prayer for the safety of the Jews.

The reading was from John Chapter 19 and I was struck by the great lengths Pilate went to NOT to crucify Jesus, but the Pharisees were relentless and finally accused him of disloyalty to Caesar -- which Pilate of course could not risk. Many of the claimants on righteousness today -- Warmists, Leftists, obesity warriors etc. -- are just as nasty and hostile in my view.

The service ended with the hymn "Rugged Cross" -- one of my top favourites.

There is occasionally a furore when secularists or Anglicans (but I repeat myself) remove the crucifix from some church or chapel. We had an example of that very recently in Australia.

They would be perplexed how to attack Ann St. Presbyterian, though -- because it has neither cross nor crucifix in it. That is because it is an old "Wee Free" (Free Church of Scotland) church and its Scottish fundamentalist builders weren't going to have any "graven images" in it -- and CERTAINLY no "idolatry". With all the polished wood in it, the interior is still a beautiful one, though. See below. I feel immensely at home there.

A small addendum

The former Governor of Queensland, Quentin Bryce, was a supporter of the Ann St. church and it appears that the present Governor, Penny Wensley, has stepped into her shoes in that respect too. I believe I saw Her Excellency at the service. She is certainly going to be present at the Anzac Day service at Ann St., just ahead. Anzac day is Australia's most solemn day of commemoration. Penelope Wensley is a Queensland-born career diplomat so her appointment as Governor is appropriate.

Unlike the USA, a Governor in Australia is an appointed office rather than an elected one. The governor represents and inherits the powers of the Monarch, which are large, though they are very rarely exercised. I am sure that many Americans wish at times that there was someone who could dismiss their government if it got too uppity. At both the State and the Federal level, that power does exist in Australia. Monarchy has its advantages.

Thursday, April 2, 2009


These memoirs are a pretty idiosyncratic affair. I make no attempt to keep them systematic in any way. My life is a very routine one -- which is how I like it -- so the the major events in it tend to be family occasions and my encounters with the medical profession -- surgeries to remove (iatrogenic) skin cancer, mainly. I had a CT scan of my head recently and I am rather pleased to say that they found nothing wrong with it!

So something as simple as a sandwich can be a major event for me. And last Tuesday Anne made an excellent Reuben sandwich for me. I discovered Reuben sandwiches on my trips to the USA and -- lover of sandwiches that I am -- the unavailability of Reuben sandwiches in Australia has always been a great regret to me. But last Tuesday Anne had cooked up some pickled pork that she thought would go well on a Reuben sandwich -- and so it did. She made it with Jarlsberg cheese -- which is a sort of Swiss cheese (from Norway!) -- plus the usual sauerkraut and thousand-island dressing -- and it was great!

I have also got her to try her hand at Philly cheesesteak sandwiches -- which she does for me on rare occasions with good results. If I were younger I would fly us both to Philly to try Geno's version but I am afraid that it is too late in my life for that. I have started to mention Denver (Western) sandwiches to her but no results yet.


Yes. I know that pork of any kind is the LAST thing you should have on a Reuben sandwich. I am sure that a Jew dies somewhere every time you do (To quote a famous joke) but it tasted good anyway