Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Smoked.... or burnt?

Last night I took my wife out to dinner, to a nice place with one hat, to make up for the fact that she wasn't seeing her family at Christmas this year.  We shared a starter of grilled prawns and calamari with eggplant, it arrived and I dived in, partially due to the fact that we have become accustomed to eating at "kiddie time" (6pm), and partly because since moving from Sydney to Melbourne the one thing I've missed has been good seafood.  I immediately tasted what I describe as a burnt taste, the taste that goes through the entire dish after something has been burnt, and remains long after you remove the offending burnt pieces.  I tried another mouthful in the hope I was mistaken but got the same result.  I looked at my wife and could see she was wondering the same thing.  My nose was telling the same story.  Neither of us ate the dish, and when the waitress came over to ask how it was I explained that I thought it tasted and smelled burnt.  To the restaurant's credit, they did the "right thing" and removed the dish from our bill.

Later in our meal the waitress came back to explain that the dish wasn't burnt, but that the eggplant was smoked over the grill, and what I was tasting was the smoked eggplant flavour. Whilst I'm sceptical of this explanation and intend on taking a butane torch to an eggplant to see what the taste is, my real issue is that a taste that strong, like anchovies and olives, should be mentioned in the description on the menu.

Stay tuned for an update of my burnt eggplant testing!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Mobile inventor says today's phones are too complex

My father recently pointed me at this article, perhaps with an element of tongue in cheek as we're currently discussing the issue of getting him a mobile phone, however its a view that is shared by many.  I hear many people say "I just want a phone that makes phone calls".  I think the problem is that the people I refer to end up with the wrong phones.  Lets take a look at two phones at different ends of the market that I've had first hand experience in the last couple of months.

Motorola Q

This is a typical example of a phone that is a terrible phone because it tries to do too much. Until a few weeks ago this was my main device, its problems include terrible battery life, a habit of finding its way into a state where it cannot make or receive calls (resolved by a hard reset), and terrible performance - handing up a call might take 4-5 seconds.  However, it has many other features, including the best predictive text I have ever seen, a web browser that is genuinely usable, and a general ability to be a portable computer which would allow me to action many tasks that I wouldn't be able to do with a normal phone.

Would I recommend this as a phone?  No way.  But I do understand that the attempt to push the boundaries of what a phone can do comes at a price.  There are many phones that suffer from trying to do too much, e.g. Nokia e65, iPhone 2 and 3.

Nokia 1100
Here is an example of the phone that people who "just want a phone that works" should get.  Its functionality list is short - it makes and receives phone calls, sends and receives text messages, and has a phone book.  Other than that, there's not much it does.  The flip-side of this is that it has outstanding battery life, lasting for days on end.  The user experience is as simple as using a cordless phone.  It does all of this flawlessly.

Is this a phone I'd want to use?  No.  Why not?  Because I have become accustomed to having the Internet in my pocket.  Whilst taking my dog for her morning walk I can skim through emails, both personal and work related, to see if there's anything that requires urgent attention.  But for people like my Dad, who just want a phone - don't complain that there's nothing out there that does what you want, buy this phone.

So if there are options to appease both ends of the market, why is the statement of "I just want a phone to be a phone" so common?  The answer is that consumers are lazy.  Phones are typically sold on plans offered by Telcos, and the phones that are pushed are the high margin phones.  Which phones are they?  Certainly not the Nokia 1100.

As to the question of why are we creating phones that keep doing more and more.  Its as simple as the first PCs - can anyone remember the arguments of "I just want a typewriter"?

Friday, October 30, 2009

Roads are not for inconsiderate people, regardless of whether they are pedestrians, cyclists, or motorists

In yesterday's Sydney Morning Herald, Miranda Divine writes that Roads are for cars, not Lycra louts. She claims that as a result of last Friday's road rage attack by a cyclist on a bus driver, it is clear that the road is not there to share, but is there exclusively for motorists. She claims that the roads were built for motorists, forgetting that many of Sydney's roads were built for horses and carts. Perhaps we should ban all the cars as well as cyclists from using those roads to ensure that the horses and carts don't have to share them! And if one road rage attack by a cyclist means Miranda claims there is no room for cyclists on the roads, does that mean next time we see a road rage attack by a motorist Miranda will call for all motorists to be banned? Of course not. Why can't we recognise that there are bad road users in all groups, pedestrians, cyclists, motorists.

Having spent a number of years commuting by bike in Sydney I think I'm in a fair position to comment on cycling on Sydney's roads. My experience includes commuting in and around Sydney's inner west and North shore, as well as training on roads in Sydney's North and South. I think that cyclists in Sydney have a particularly bad name, a situation created by a number of factors including:
  1. Sydney's cycling couriers give cyclists in Sydney a bad name. I'm sure other cities see similar cycling behaviour, however Melbourne is not one of them. Generally speaking, Sydney's cycling couriers flaunt road rules, riding through red lights, going the wrong way down one way streets, hopping kerbs as they see fit, just to mention a handful of indiscretions I've observed time and time again. Unfortunately this leads to many motorists thinking that all cyclists ride like that, and should be treated with a corresponding level of respect.
  2. Critical mass is not a productive activity. It is often justified as a protest, but in reality the actions carried out by it give more weight to the arguments of the anti-cycling lobby. Whilst my knowledge of Sydney's critical mass activities dates back several years, I'm sure I'm not alone when suggesting that riding across Sydney harbour bridge, and in doing so causing massive delays to thousands of motorists, does nothing but antagonise the very group of people that cyclists need to work to get along with.
In the particular road rage incident referred to, there are a few points to consider:
  • The cyclist is clearly riding on a road where they are not allowed to. Had he been following the road rules, he would not have been in the dangerous position he found himself in. I liken this to a cyclist riding the wrong way down a one-way street, and complaining that cars were coming at him (or her) on both sides of the road.
  • Was the bus too close to the cyclist? I don't believe so, I think the issue was how quickly the bus moved over as passing. At the 33 second mark in the video, its clear that there is a 1m gap between the bus and the cyclist. However as the bus passes, it moves closer to the cyclist, by the time the bus has passed the cyclist, the gap appears to have halved. There is a genuine question of whether this is an intentional act of aggression by the driver, or similar an error in judgement, possibly caused by mis-judging the speed the cyclist was going.
  • In no way can anyone condone the cyclists actions in escalating the issue to a physical altercation.
Should cyclists be banned? No way. Should idiots of all persuasions be banned? Absolutely. Its a shame the human race includes all sorts.