Categories
Home life TV

Home improvement

Yes, sometimes my blog isn’t about transport. If you’d prefer to see only transport posts, you can use this link.

Here’s a post where I ramble on about recent upgrades around my house.

Wall insulation

I had wall insulation installed earlier in the year.

The winter gas bill came in recently. It’s down 37.7% from the previous year.

We were away for a bit of time, but nowhere near that much. I’d call that a win.

My current thinking is I’d like to slowly transition off gas and onto electricity, moving towards solar PV.

  • Re-do the kitchen (it needs it!) including a move from gas cooking to electric (induction?)
  • Replace the hot water with electric heat pump, removing the existing hot water solar panel to be replaced by PV panels
  • Replace the ancient gas central heating with reverse cycle heating/cooling – the only question being whether individual units or a central unit is better. (Can individual units be controlled in unison via a timer program?)

We got a new TV

Back in 2011 we got our first widescreen digital television: a 32 inch (80 cm) Samsung.

Rather annoyingly it still works fine, but I was thinking of buying something bigger than 32 inches, perhaps around 43 inches. (Are television sizes one of the last holdouts of imperial measurements?)

Then my sons spotted the 49 inch Sony X70F on Amazon, which seemed irresistibly cheap at $649 – slightly cheaper than the cost of the 32 inch TV in 2011.

Choice’s handy guide to model numbers indicates that the X70F is last year’s model, but it’s got all the features we want, including 4K. We bought it. It’s since gone up to $849.

We also bought a TV stand so it could fit on the old (narrow) cabinet. What I didn’t realise was the stand on top of the old cabinet positions the TV far higher than suits the room. The stand is height adjustable, but only up from where we have it.

Sigh. Oh well, the old cabinet was also due for replacement (an ancient unit from Ikea that’s at least 25 years old – remember their Nunawading store and when they sold products that were real solid wood?), so I ended up buying a new cabinet as well. It’s lower but wider so has more space. Yes, Ikea again.

It took an evening to re-cable everything into the new cabinet, but it’s tidier.

New big TV

Is a 49 inch (124 cm) TV too big for my small livingroom? Perhaps. Some advice seems to be aim for a TV with a size of about half the distance you sit away from it. On that basis it’s okay, but that’s really aimed at not seeing pixelation at the highest resolution. … Oh well, I’m sure I’ll get used to it.

This article from 2016 reckons most people are now buying much bigger screens, and in the USA, the average size is now above 50 inches.

The bathroom

I moved into my house 14 years ago. My best guess is it had a makeover in the mid-1990s when the property was subdivided and most of the backyard was sold off and developed.

So the bathroom was some 25+ years old and looking pretty tired. I finally got it revamped over winter.

I was able to arrange the perfect timing: Peter the bathroom guy was able to do the project in early July, when my sons were away, and during the Caulfield to City bustitution – giving me an excuse to stay home and avoid it, at least in peak hours.

Peter’s way of working is to provide a shopping list for most of the required bits and bobs, so I got to decide on and go shopping for tiles, grout, tapware, showerhead, toilet, vanity unit, towel rails.

I discovered that there are any number of places that will sell you all this stuff – but almost all of them are only open during weekday business hours, and Saturday mornings – which was not very convenient at all.

Only Bunnings has the smarts (and resources) to be open all weekend, and until 9pm on weekday evenings. In return for their long hours, and relaxed returns policy, they did very well out of me on this project.

Thankfully my house has a second toilet. No full second bathroom though. I got used to washing each morning in the laundry sink, with occasional showers courtesy of nearby family so I could wash my hair. It’s manageable, but it was good to have the actual bathroom finished.

In the end the work took a week and a half. Could it be quicker? If two people worked on a small bathroom, they’d just bump into each other.

Renovating the bathroom

Any lessons learnt? I do wonder if next time I might not use a mixer tap for the vanity unit basin. The reason is the default (middle) position is likely to be used by people when they don’t want hot water. This actually runs the hot and cold together, which means the hot water heater starts up. It might be more energy-efficient to have separate hot and cold taps, even if they mix into one outlet.

During the work we discovered why some of the pipes had been rattling – and fixed/replaced them. We also found the water takes a long route around the house before getting to the bathroom, which is why the hot water takes a while to start. Unfortunately it sounds like that would be quite complicated to actually fix.

Not to worry – the overall result is great.

Now I just have to get around to repainting affected sections of wall… put it on the list with the drill spots from the insulation.

Maybe when I get the kitchen re-done, I’ll get some painters in to do it all.

Now, what’s next?

Categories
Culture Friends and loved ones Toxic Custard newsletter TV

Where are you really from?

I found SBS’s “Where Are You Really From” to be compelling viewing.

If you don’t look ethnic, you won’t know the experience of people asking where you’re from — and not taking “Sydney” for an answer.

They don’t want to know where you’re from. They want to know where your family originated.

The whole series had some powerful stories, but it was the first episode that particularly struck a chord, as host Michael Hing visited the Chinese community in Bendigo.

Not that I have any connections to Bendigo. But as with the people interviewed, I get my half-Chinese looks from family who came to Australia before Federation — farther back than many white Australians.

I grew up somewhat isolated from any cousins or uncles/aunts or grandparents, and in those circumstances you can easily assume that your family’s background story is unique. It’s not. Suddenly seeing a group of people who have shared many of the same experiences was not just eye-opening, it was quite emotional.

My jaw dropped when I realised just how common it was for Chinese immigrants in the 1800s to have their names messed up by officials.

My grandfather’s name ended up back to front. This happened all the time. (Rather than try and fight it, he just went along with it. Only one of my uncles bothered to change it back.)

Walking across country to either avoid Chinese-specific taxes, or just because you’d landed at the wrong place and didn’t have any money, was also apparently commonplace, and something that some of my ancestors experienced.

We ended up watching the episode again in a family group, with some verbal dissection afterwards.

While the first episode really struck a chord, the others were worth watching too – in fact watching the second, I felt the situation reversed somewhat, with my usual assumptions about Sikhs in turbans flipped as soon as you heard their Australian accents.

Whatever your family background, this is well worth a look.

Categories
TV

Spot the production error

I’ve started publishing Singapore trip posts, backdated to the day they happened. Click here to see them.

I found this amusing, way back in the day.

This is a scene from an old episode of The Bill: “Bad Company”, from 1989, repeated on the ABC recently.

Can you spot the production error? How many views did it take you?

Categories
Retrospectives Toxic Custard newsletter TV Video games

The Old Bill

I used to love The Bill, way back when it was a cop show with a sense of realism, rather than a full-on soapie.

The episodes I enjoyed the most, season 4 (from 1988) are currently airing on the ABC, in the middle of the day (around 3pm, and again the next morning around 5am). I’ve got my PVR recording them and I’m checking to see if any memorable episodes pop-up that I want to watch again.

Being a long-running series with a lot of minor once-of characters, many now well-known British actors appeared on the show in guest rolls. The other day there was an episode (“Conflict”) with Alex Kingston as a doctor — no, not Elizabeth Corday or River Song.
Alex Kingston and Nick Reding in The Bill (1988)

Of course it’s also a bit of a time-capsule from the 1980s. A week or two ago one great episode (“Hold Fire”) featured Bob Cryer trying write a report on an actual typewriter…
Bob Cryer (Eric Richard) in The Bill (1988)

…while Jim Carver and Viv Martella were undercover in a pub, playing Gorf and driving game Out Run while they wait for a suspect.
Carver and Martella in The Bill (1988)

Carver: “Oh my God!”

Martella: “What?”

Carver: “I just hit a windsurfer!”

Categories
Film Toxic Custard newsletter TV

Video shops are dead – but streaming video ain’t perfect

Let’s see if I can go a whole week without writing a blog post about level crossings.

Video shops are dead. For a while there was one (or more) in every suburb. Where I live now in Bentleigh there were at least two. Even Glenhuntly, where I lived in the late-90s, had two.

They were close enough that mostly, I could walk to them. M’s house in Footscray was the exception — the video shops around there dealt with the local migrant populations, and you had to go further afield to find English language movies (or even movies with English subtitles).

Over time the video shops ditched VHS and morphed into DVD shops. But in the last few years, almost all of them have closed, disappeared along with CRT non-widescreen analogue TVs. As with many industries, the internet is taking over.

Ye olde CRT TV (November 2004)

Blockbuster was one of the biggest video shop chains — they now seem to have only four stores left in Melbourne. I’m not sure about Video Ezy — if the White Pages is accurate, they still have about a dozen stores. Any number of individual stores have vanished.

(From my observations, a surprising number of old video shops seem to have turned into fitness centres. Some kind of transformation from couch potato to gym junkie.)

For a while, DVDs by snail mail was the thing. It never caught on at my house. It’s just not the way we watch movies. Usually the decision to rent something is spontaneous. You need to go to a physical shop, or stream it. The other option I’ve tried is renting on iTunes. Unfortunately this isn’t streaming – downloading a movie in HD first can take ages – far longer than it would take to find one of the few remaining video shops.

Streaming video is good, the technology and infrastructure around it has matured, but none of the services are perfect — I’ve now sampled most them.

I used Presto ($9.99 per month for TV or movies, $14.99 for both) for about 6 months. It had a good range, but no HD, and is more expensive than the others if you want TV and movies.

Then I moved onto Netflix ($11.99 for HD). Good range, terrific apps (virtually every platform you can think of) and hooray for HD.

Then I tried Stan ($10, including HD). Good range, slightly clunky iPod app which looks like it should be able to use a cable to your TV, but can’t.

I haven’t tried Quickflix.

The problem with all of these is that the range is good but not brilliant. There were just far too many times I would think of a random movie, go looking for it, and discover it wasn’t available. Ditto with TV.

In a great discussion on the Talking Headways podcast from late 2014 (I’m working my way through the earlier episodes) they talk a bit about Netflix and other streaming services vs the old video shops, and come to the same conclusion: the range isn’t great. It’s probably more restricted than at many of the old video shops.

And even today, the biggest range of TV and movies is at your local JB Hifi store… as long as you’re prepared to buy, not rent.

At the moment I am without a streaming service — we’ve got a few of those old-fashioned DVDs to watch. But I have slowed down DVD/Blu-ray purchases. Barring Star Wars: Force Awakens (out on Wednesday), I’m not planning to splurge on any more discs for now, so I may get back to streaming again soon.

Which one? Depends what I want to watch. I have found these web sites which let you search their databases to see what’s available, without being a member:

These are useful tools, but I’m amused that Finder’s intro text talks about Game Of Thrones, which isn’t available on any of the services they compare.

It seems the streaming rights to that are locked up by HBO for their streaming service… which is only available in the USA. Sigh. Given the range of programming they’ve got, I reckon if they were to launch in Australia, they’d get a lot of happy subscribers.

That’s perhaps the biggest problem with the current streaming services — the content owners have much greater control over what each service can offer, so unlike those old video shops, whole ranges of movies from particular studios are just completely missing. “The long tail” was meant to solve this, but other factors have come into play.

Categories
Doctor Who Sydney 2015 Toxic Custard newsletter

Sydney Sunday: Doctor Who galore

Sunday! And so we get to the main excuse reason for the trip to Sydney on this specific weekend: the Doctor Who Festival.

I’ve been to Comic-Con in Melbourne twice, but this was a different beast: 98% dedicated to Doctor Who, with little bit of Sherlock (which has many of the same producers/writers/crew members/fans!) getting a look-in too. But its official status meant this event got big guns in the guest department: star Peter Capaldi, former Doctor Sylvester McCoy, semi-regular cast member Ingrid Oliver (as Osgood), showrunner Steven Moffat, writer Mark Gattis, special effects supervisor Danny Hargreaves. These things don’t get to Australia very often — that’s why I was willing to build an interstate trip around it.

Doctor Who Festival Sydney: miniature Dalek props in a Dalek city

But first: Doctor Who is currently airing on Saturday nights in the UK, and in Australia the ABC puts it on iView as soon as the UK broadcast is finished: in this case, 8am Sunday.

So we got up at about 7:30am, showered and dressed and went downstairs to enjoy the slightly bland but plentiful breakfast buffet, then with our unlimited hotel WiFi organised ($9.95 per 24 hours), we fired up iView on the iPad, plugged it into the TV and watched the episode. Which I won’t talk about in case anybody hasn’t seen it.

Then we headed for the bus stop outside Museum Station, where Google Transit told me we needed a 373, 377, 392, 394, 396, 397, 399 or M10 bus. This was a common theme for the inner-city trunk bus routes: as each bus approached, I’d look back at the phone and see if the number matched one on the list.

The bus took us to Moore Park and the Hordern Pavillion, where after a lengthy walk trying to find a way in (like the restaurant the night before, sadly clearly designed to prioritise arrivals by car), and a mild panic trying to find the right ticket barcodes (thank goodness everything was available in my email, and thank goodness for mobile internet), we entered the Festival.

Inside the Doctor Who Festival

Doctor Who Festival Sydney: I feel like I've forgotten something

The main hall was a mix of displays and small theatre areas: a very impressive fullsize Lego TARDIS, sessions on writing, production, Cosplay, a big display of costumes and props, some merchandising, a special effects display, “pub” quiz, and areas for autograph signing and photos with cast members.

People were snapping away at anything that moved, and many things that didn’t. Two uber-fans behind us in the queue for the costumes and props seemed amazed that few people were taking photos of Matt Smith’s actual coat.

A Festival crew member showed us the stick from the recent Dalek episode — actually made of rubber, making it safe despite the pointy end, and had the advantage of not being caught up in quarantine as an actual stick would.

Doctor Who Festival Sydney: Adam Spencer with Sylvester McCoy

Doctor Who Festival Sydney: Adam Spencer with Peter Capaldi, Ingrid Oliver and Steven Moffat

After a circuit, we went into the Sylvester McCoy session — which was very entertaining, as he strolled around the theatre taking questions.

We had pretty good seats despite not having paid the premium for the front section, so we stayed put in the theatre for a short time until the Capaldi/Moffat/Oliver session started. Before it was a trailer for the new Sherlock episode, which got applause from the audience.

On stage, Moffat noted that it would be a good idea not to talk about the climactic events of the latest episode, given many wouldn’t have seen it yet. Oliver said the first time she really appreciated the popularity of the show among fans was seeing lots of people dressed up as her character. They took some pretty good questions… though the one that got the biggest laugh was when one little kid asked Capaldi how much longer before he’d be quitting.

After that we grabbed a bite to eat then went back into the hall to join a long queue for photos with Capaldi. These had been pre-booked at $60 a pop, which seems to be the going rate for a photo with a star of this calibre. Churning through one about every 30-45 seconds during a session lasting a bit under an hour must mean a fair wad of cash is collected, though a whole infrastructure of queues and staff is needed to make it all run smoothly.

It must be a bit exhausting for the star, but he seemed to be managing okay. He was chatty with everybody, greeting them by name (with help from assistants), and he seemed to have figured out a range of poses for photos that would make the punters happy.

I told him I was enjoying his stint as the Doctor, and I loved him as Malcolm Tucker too. I don’t know if he was taking it all in, but we posed for a simple handshake (other people got more “in-character” poses). So here’s me making a deal with Malcolm Tucker:

Hatching a deal with Malcolm Tucker... or maybe it's the 12th Doctor Who

After collecting the photos that we wandered around a bit more, before looking in on a special effects presentation.

Special effects whiz Danny Hargreaves blew bits off a “stunt Dalek”, and with the help of some audience members and a sonic screwdriver, had sparks flying off a Cyberman.

By then, we’d just about had our fill of Doctor Who.

Was it worth $195 each? Well, you know, YOLO. The boys were delighted. I refrained from paying the $170 additional for premium tickets (which gained you a showbag, access to a “lounge” and a fast track queue to good seats up the front of each session).

Doctor Who Festival Sydney: A Cyberman gets his comeuppance

Bus way outside Moore Park/Hordern Pavilion

Finding dinner

Eventually it was time to go; we headed back to the bus stops, and were about to cross ANZAC Parade to wait for a bus back when we saw a bus approaching on the parallel bus way. I’m not clear on why some buses do and don’t use it, but it took us back to the hotel for a bit of a rest.

Time for dinner: I thought we could catch the ferry to Manly and have fish and chips — especially as we’d hit the ridiculously low Sunday Opal $2.50 cap, so all PT would be free for the rest of the day.

The Manly ferry only runs every 30-40 minutes at that time, so I checked Google Transit for the quickest bus to Circular Quay. It showed a “5 CC” bustitution service that would take us there — but while I’m pretty sure we were standing at the suggested bus stop adjacent to Museum Station, the regular 5 CC buses didn’t stop there. After seeing a few of these zoom by (and other buses not going to Circular Quay) we walked up one stop and quickly got a 5 CC to the Quay… only to miss the ferry by a couple of minutes.

Circular Quay

Trains at Milsons Point station

Sydney Opera House

Another ferry for Milsons Point was leaving shortly, so I identified via Google Maps that there was a fish’n’chip shop nearby to there, and we caught that instead. Dinner in the park under the northern end of the Harbour Bridge, then we walked back across it at dusk.

A further walk through the CBD, via a supermarket to get some fruit to eat and also something flat for storage of our precious printed Capaldi photos, then back to the hotel for some sleep.

Total steps that day, according to my phone: 14,938.

Categories
Toxic Custard newsletter TV

It’s okay

I don’t know if anybody’s done this before, but…

West Wing - shuttle

It’s from The West Wing, the finale of season 1, a signal the staff work out to indicate that the Space Shuttle has resolved an issue while on a mission. The show is known for infusing humour into the drama — in this case, the Shuttle plot line in this episode is of consequence, but the gesture lightens it up.

A couple of us started using this signal at work to indicate if something’s working — with a similar but different, downward, gesture if it’s not. I guess it’s the latter that applies to City Loop phone coverage.

Update 5pm: There we go, I can use it to mark Turnbull challenging Abbott.

Categories
Consumerism Retrospectives Toxic Custard newsletter TV

The ABC Shops to close

Warning! No transport content! If you only want to see transport blog posts, you can use this URL, or sign up to the email alerts!

My first recollection of the ABC Shop in Melbourne was a small space in their then Lonsdale Street radio HQ, which was where the County Court is now — on the corner of Queen Street.

I think it’s where I got the 1983 Doctor Who 20th Anniversary Special book (a local reprint of a UK Radio Times publication), as well as the Doctor Who Technical Manual (in hardback no less) – both still in our family.

Later on they were in the Galleria (in bottom of the gigantic State Bank, later Commonwealth Bank building at Elizabeth/Bourke Streets), and at times I bought Monty Python VHS tapes, DAAS Book (which I got autographed at the shop by the Doug Anthonys… since sold on eBay) and lots more Doctor Who merchandise, of course. This includes a bunch of laminated posters of paintings from renowned franchise artist Andrew Skilleter, one that also marked the 20th anniversary story (The Five Doctors) — which eldest son Isaac has since had autographed by Fifth Doctor Peter Davison — at an ABC Shop, of course.

Doctor Who 20th anniversary poster

Since then the Melbourne CBD shop has moved to the GPO, then more recently to Emporium. And meanwhile they’ve popped up in most big shopping centres.

We still love browsing, and occasionally buying there. The selection of DVDs is more focussed than somewhere like JB Hifi, and the range of other merchandise is good. (Have you seen the amount of Doctor Who stuff that’s available nowadays?!)

Admittedly I browse more than I buy, but purchasable gems still abound… in March I found this excellent documentary:

So it’s sad to hear all ABC Shops will be closing in the next year or two.

I’ll miss them.

Online will continue, but it won’t be the same.

PS. Trivia: before the recent crop of Doctor Who pop-up shops, there used to be a BBC Shop. Okay, it wasn’t a standalone shop, but a dedicated section of Thomas’s Music on the ground floor of the Southern Cross hotel building.

Categories
Toxic Custard newsletter transport TV

Sense8’s public transport. Can you name the cities?

I’m always interested to see portrayals of public transport in popular culture.

I’ve been watching the Netflix series Sense8 — I’m a bit over halfway through it. (And I just realised the Wikipedia article includes spoilers, so watch your step if you’re planning to watch it).

It’s pretty good — at least, I’m intrigued enough by the story to keep watching. It’s scifi, created by the minds behind The Matrix and Babylon 5, and set in the present day, with eight (hence the name) main characters in different cities around the globe.

In the title sequence they seek to highlight different parts of the world with lots of different shots from the cities featured. Here’s the video if you feel so inclined (it’s about two minutes long).

If you’re trying to highlight different cities, what helps distinguishes them apart from their skyline and famous buildings? Their public transport systems!

Public transport can visually differentiate cities a lot more than, say, freeways, given that motorway signs and cars look pretty much the same across the (western) world.

Perhaps they (at least subconsciously) thought a bit about this, because in the title sequence there are numerous shots of public transport. … Or perhaps there aren’t really that many, and it’s just me that notices them. (Actually there are shots of freeways and road bridges as well.)

Can you guess the cities? Some of them are pretty easy. They’ve doubled up on some, and I think they’ve missed one of the eight cities here.

Here they are in the order shown in the titles:

1.
PT in the Sense8 titles 01

2.
PT in the Sense8 titles 02

3.
PT in the Sense8 titles 03

4.
PT in the Sense8 titles 04

5.
PT in the Sense8 titles 05

6.
PT in the Sense8 titles 06

7.
PT in the Sense8 titles 07

8.
PT in the Sense8 titles 08

9.
PT in the Sense8 titles 09

10.
PT in the Sense8 titles 10

Those who have actually watched the series would know that one of these actually features heavily in the plot.

What are some other TV shows or movies that have prominently featured the PT systems of their cities (without it necessarily being the basis of the plot, such as Pelham 123) ?

Oh damn. Someone’s catalogued all the locations in the Sense8 titles (with assistance from the program makers).

Never mind — have a guess. No cheating now.

Categories
Doctor Who Photos from ten years ago Toxic Custard newsletter

Photos from March 2005

In my continuing quest to post ten year old photos, I went looking for good stuff from March 2005. There isn’t much of interest, alas.

It was the month that the new revamped rebooted Doctor Who started — on 26th March 2005 — and I did find this photo of Jeremy — not watching from behind the sofa per se, but close to it.
Doctor Who - watching from behind the sofa... almost

Oh, here’s an (official?) tenth anniversary video:

Small eggs — I think this was on a walk with Marita’s dog at Altona Beach. Any idea what type of bird laid these?
Small eggs near the beach

Finally, I have no idea why I did this, or why I filmed it: shaking up a bottle of Coke in the laundry, and seeing what happened. Perhaps I thought it was past its best by date and needed to be dumped, and decided to experiment with it? I honestly don’t remember.

That’s all I’ve got for this month. April’s looking much more interesting.