Category: Life Observations


rippage_smallSo five people nearly drowned at the beach near CC’s parents’ house today.

I was one of them.

This beach is beautiful, isolated, generally very calm and tranquil and is not patrolled (so no flags, no life guards).

If you look at the picture here (which I took later), a lot of people would think this is a pretty safe, normal section of beach.

It’s not.

When CC & I arrived with our 3 kids and 3 of her brother’s kids, we quickly noted that there was a strong rip around 50 metres from the rocks. We also know (from experience) that there is a permanent, more gentle, rip right next to the rocks.

We saw a family swimming happily between the two rips (there was plenty of space), so we chose to plonk ourselves in the same spot and swim. I assumed the family swimming there knew exactly why it was important for them to stay where they were.

Apparently I was wrong.

CC & I took shifts looking after the kids in the waves and the youngest cousin (2yo) on the sand, making sure all the kids knew where the rips were and to stay in-line with our beach towels and beach bag we had set up right in the centre of the saferippage_annotated zone.

While we were swimming, I noticed the Dad and the son of the other family straying dangerously close to the rip. I assumed they were just testing it’s strength from the sand bar.

Apparently I was wrong.

A few seconds later, the son (who looked about 10 or 11) was sucked out into the rip. Then the Dad dived in after him.

I immediately yelled to our kids to stay where they were and I went after the Dad and the son. I could see from the way the young fellow was struggling already that he would not last and, while the Dad looked OK and was trying to calm his son, he looked like he did not know what to do.

As I went, I yelled to the two young girls who were also approaching the rip to “get back over near the other kids over there” (pointing to our kids who I had just left in the safe water).

At first I tried to reach my arm out, with my feet on the sandbar, to take the hand of the young son, but he was too far away – less than a metre away and I couldn’t reach him.

So I dived into the rip.

Sidenote: I am a very strong swimmer. I have extensive beach experience and I know how to deal with being caught in a rip, I’ve been caught in a couple of them previously (only a couple – remember, I know how to spot them) and swum out of each one comfortably. Just FYI: rescue is a VERY different proposition.

All of that said, I figured it was better to have two strong adult swimmers helping the struggling kid than one.

As I got to them I tried to redirect them because they were both trying to swim against the current. I kept yelling to them to “swim along the beach”, but no matter how many times I yelled it, nor how much water I took on as I carried the son on my shoulder, they both seemed to want to fight the current.

Sidenote here too folks: If you are caught in a beach rip – never, ever fight the current. Don’t panic, just swim parallel to the beach and let the bloody current take you diagonally out to sea. You’ll be fine. Rips lose their strength out past the breakers and you’ll get out of the current and be able to slowly swim your way back to shore, catching the waves as you go.

Anyway…after a short while, I changed my message: “swim toward the rocks!” I yelled and they both started to change direction.

Now please don’t think that these folk are stupid – they aren’t. It’s easy to get caught in a rip and when you’re stuck in a rip and you feel like you’ve lost control, you often lose control of your good sense as your body fills with adrenaline and your brain stops making considered decisions. I totally understand their actions and here’s why…

By the time the Dad and had started swimming toward the rocks, the son was spent. He couldn’t swim anymore and I was carrying an almost dead weight. And the Dad didn’t look too flash either. I started to second-guess if we were going in the right direction (we were, I was just knackered and not thinking straight anymore).

That was when I saw the grandfather dive into the rip.

Fuck.

Sidenote: If you’re a grandparent and your child and your grandchild are stuck in a rip – PLEASE DO NOT swim out to get them unless you have a floatation device like a surfboard, surfski or bodyboard.

As I started taking on water myself, I saw the grandfather get dragged out straight past us in the rip. I realised there was nothing I could do for him. It was a horrible feeling. It was then that I thought we would probably lose at least one of us out there.

The Dad swum back to get the grandfather. I was concerned about how long I could keep going with this kid.

Then I saw a big, strong, long-haired bloke swimming into the rip. At this point I could feel my own muscles failing and I truly did welcome the help. I was glad that I had not been forced to make a decision between saving myself and saving this young kid.  That decision point had been coming fast until the new fellow got out there (turns out he was a brother or cousin. From here on I stick with cousin, but I don’t know).

The cousin (who I thought was an adult, but I later learned he was probably 15 or 16) arrived and took hold of the young son. In my fatigue, I just let go and swam next to them until the cousin yelled out to me to take the kid’s other arm (he was struggling with the weight too). Realising that I had just handed my whole burden over, I swum back under the son’s arm and took half his weight.

I was still looking behind us at the Dad and the grandfather who were some way back. They were still moving, but it looked like the grandfather was in serious trouble.

It was then I turned and saw CC about to come in.

“NO!” I yelled at her, angry that she would ALSO risk herself out here. What about our kids if we BOTH die!?! I think I swallowed a bunch of water at the same time, so she probably heard nothing.

But then I saw the bodyboard she was carrying.

The Dad managed to swim close enough to CC to take the bodyboard (of course CC was smart and handed the bodyboard with her feet planted in the sand of the sandbar and out of danger). The Dad paddled the bodyboard over to myself and the young son as the big cousin swum in to get another bodyboard CC had managed to get from another family on the beach (we only brought one!).

The cousin took the second bodyboard out to the grandfather and, with the boards, we all managed to paddle on further, given a second wind by the assistance of the bodyboards. After another good while of kicking along on the bodyboard, I thought I might be able to touch sand – I COULD!

I truly hope you never know the excitement you feel when your feet touch sand after you’ve been fighting the ocean so long you start thinking you may die. But let me tell you, it’s a pretty fucking amazing feeling.

I yelled out to the Dad that we can put our feet down and we both did, then dragged the bodyboard in with the son still gripping to it.

We walked out of the surf with the grandfather and the cousin coming in on the other board behind us.

Everyone had survived.

Everyone.

It was such a simple incident and could have ended so tragically. We all survived because CC had the presence of mind to get bodyboards out to us.

Anyway, I staggered onto the beach and collapsed on a towel. The other family were so grateful.

I nearly spewed from over-exertion.

I’m still absolutely wrecked now as I write this hours later.

It feels good to be alive.

— IEK

 

Appendix: RIPS

At every beach there are sections of the water which have a strong current pulling constantly out to sea. You cannot swim against a rip current. No one can. Michael Phelps would swim in one spot against a rip. Some beaches have 2 rips, others have dozens. It all depends.

The trick is to be able to spot them. On patrolled beaches, the safety flags will never be placed too close to a rip.

Telltale signs of a rip before you get in the water (according to Surf Life Saving NSW):

  • Rip currents will occur in deeper water, so it’s usually a darker colour compared to the white breaking waves over a sandbank.
  • Because the water is deeper, there will be fewer breaking waves which can give the appearance of a safer spot to swim
  • Rip currents can move things like sand, seaweed, or debris back out through the waves.

Telltale sign that you are in a rip:

  • You are being pulled out deep by a current

Here is the full SLS page on beach safety and rips: http://www.surflifesaving.com.au/beach-safety#Rips

Stay safe at the beach folks. If you aren’t an experienced beach swimmer and don’t know how to stay away from rips – please only swim at patrolled beaches. And please, if you get in a rip, don’t panic – try to relax and get the attention of the life guards by raising your arm.

So the latest episode in my apparent series of nondramatic dreams about celebrities I have never met (and have no idea what they are really like in person), I chanced upon Laura Prepon in a small, local supermarket.

The setting was especially weird because the store layout was not one I was familiar with (as in I’d never been into this particular supermarket before). I assumed I was travelling in the USA (because of course).

Anyway…Laura Prepon walked past, minding her own business, but was dressed in full Alex Vause costume (because of course actors ALWAYS get around town in their character’s costume…especially when it’s a prison uniform 🤔). She was chatting to the shop keeper as she went.

As she came back past me with her milk, I smiled and told her how wonderful she is in Orange is the New Black and how much CC & I were enjoying the show (as in a lot).

She gave me a fleeting, exasperated glance and hurried to the counter to pay.

I shrugged and woke up.

Clearly I was in the supermarket to buy consciousness.

— IEK

knee_ouch_2So this morning sucked.

I’m sure you’ve had these mornings yourself – mornings when nothing seemed to go right, you ended up bit late or hurting yourself or crashing the car or all of the above.

To be perfectly honest, this morning wasn’t as bad as ALL THAT, in so much as I didn’t crash the car and I wasn’t especially late, but I did manage to hurt myself and I as I sat nursing a bruised and swollen knee, I decided to do a minor deconstruction of just how it happened.

So yesterday I got home from work and noticed that our garage door was slightly up (rather than fully closed). I knew what this meant – the start/stop mechanism on the motor was out of alignment. Again.

A-FUCKING-GAIN.

When this happens it means the door won’t shut, it touches the ground-level, then opens right back up again unless you physically grab hold of the door & stop it (hence slightly up). IT. IS. SO. ANNOYING.

Side note: Glideroll and I are not friends.

I didn’t get time to fix it last night, so I resolved to do it today. But first we had to get the kids to school. There were to usual protests, refusals, compromises and concessions, but finally they were all at school or preschool and I could get on with fixing the garage door before I started work.

I needed to get it done fast because I had a LOT of work to do, so I started unloading paint tins from the shed (I needed room to fit the ladder in the space below the garage door motor). Of course in my haste, I dropped one of the paint tins and, while I did save it from spilling all of its paint by half-catching it with my foot, it left a large spurt of paint on the stone.

*Sigh*sigh

At least it didn’t hurt my foot – RIGHT?

The stone is semi-porous and the paint was water-based, so I resolved to hose it away rather than wipe it away. I unhooked the hose, it got caught on things, kinked (because it’s shitty and needs to be replaced), it stopped spraying intermittently, it annoyed me, but eventually I hosed the paint away.

Finally I went and got the ladder, wiped the spider webs off it, extended it, locked it in and stepped up ready to get this thing done fast.

Of course the ladder is also cheap and shitty and is a straight ladder, so its rungs are round and made of aluminium and my shoes were wet, so the first thing that happened as I stepped onto it was I slipped off one of the high steps, straight down and bashed my knee on the lower rungs.

And it really did fucking hurt.

I went inside, gasping and hopping, retrieved one of our ice packs and sat thinking about how it would’ve been so much – SO MUCH – faster to be more careful with the bloody paint tins.

Happy Thursday.

— IEK

PS: I’ve since fixed the garage door mechanism.

PPS: Glideroll and I still aren’t friends.

PPPS: I probably now have spiders in my wig and I’ve only just thought about it.

goggle-eyed_fish

Image by Benson Kua – original

When I was around 12, my parents decided to take me to an allergy specialist. I had spent as long as I could remember dealing with eczema on my skin, spending spring times with my nose running like the Amazon in flood and regretting every encounter with cats or fresh cut grasses as my eyeballs swelled up like bad jelly moulds.

If I’m being honest I have to admit I occasionally rubbed my very itchy eyes deliberately because I knew they’d swell to a horror-movie size & I’d get to go home from school. I’d grown so used to it that I preferred having my eyes feel like I had actual grass growing in them to afternoon maths.

Yep, that is totally the Himalayas on my arm. Thanks, Photoshop.

Yep, that is totally the Himalayas on my arm. Thanks, Photoshop.

Anyway, the allergy specialist dripped a dozen or so blobs of liquid on my skin from tiny phials labelled “cat”, “dog”, “grasses”, “pollens” and the like. He then proceeded to pierce my skin through the blobs with a lancet. He told me that any of the dots of skin which swelled up meant I was allergic to that thing.

Well 5 minutes later didn’t my arm look like the Himalayas? Yes, I was apparently allergic to EVERYTHING. “Cat looks like the worst one though” the very amused specialist had said, staring wide-eyed at Cat-Everest.

And yes – cat is very much the worst one. I know a lot of my tweeps are cat lovers and good on you, but I have never been able to be in the same house as a cat without going semi-blind while sneezing uncontrollably. So it’s here that I admit I’m not fond of cats.

The visit to the allergy specialist was useful in that it taught me I had to avoid certain things: cats (easy – we had none), cut grasses (HAHA! NO MORE MOWING!!) and dust (wut??).

I discovered antihistamines, avoided cats (and mowing) and learned not to scratch anything which itched ever.

It was around this time that I began to notice that certain salads I ate made my mouth tingle & itch. I figured it was just a normal reaction to some sort of food, (maybe capsicum?) & thought nothing more of it.
For my whole life so far, though, I had experienced regular, excruciating stomach pain accompanied by regular, equally excruciating, visits to the toilet. The pain got so bad some days that I would briefly pass out & once I even remember hallucinating.

I thought this was just “my weak stomach” (as it was generally known) and got on with life.

I read about irritable bowel syndrome and I recognised my symptoms immediately in the descriptions of IBS, but I didn’t try to find a cure because though the pain was extreme, it was not constant. It came and went without warning and when it went, I was perfectly fine.

One day, sitting at work when I was 25 (yes – 25), I was eating a salad and reading something amusing on the Internet which made me snort-laugh. I choked a little bit on my salad, but coughed it out OK. But then I felt this sensation in my throat around my airway – the same tingly, itchy feeling I’d often felt in my mouth from salad.

Then my airway started to close up. I immediately sculled a bottle of water, then ran downstairs to the chemist we thankfully had in our building, bought some strong antihistamines and took
them.

My throat settled down thankfully, but I had realised something: I had just had a VERY mild anaphylactic reaction to something in my salad. My brother is allergic to nuts and so I have always known what anaphylaxis was and how it affected (and potentially killed) those with severe allergies. Mostly it was because their throat swelled up, blocking their airways and they suffocate.

When I returned to my desk and looked at my salad I saw that there was no particular ingredient missing more than any other, but I did like this salad because it had no dressing – it was SUPER plain.

I resolved to buy that same salad the following day and eat each ingredient one-at-a-time, finishing all of one before starting on the next.

Capsicum was my prime candidate, so I ate that first. I sat, waiting for a reaction, but there was nothing. No tingling, no itch. I moved on through lettuce, cucumber, tomato and finally I had only carrots left. I was a bit crestfallen because it couldn’t possibly be carrots. I mean who the hell is allergic to carrots? Plus I’d eaten carrots all my life! I used to eat them raw as a snack!

As soon as I placed the first chunk of carrot in my mouth, I felt the tingling and spat it out.
Bloody CARROTS!?!

Who the hell is allergic to carrots?

I’ve eaten carrots all my life!

ALL MY LIFE.

From that moment, I started to avoid carrots. If a food had carrot in it, I chose something else. If I was served something with surprise carrots (I have now realised that FUCKING EVERYTHING has carrots in it), I just try to remove as much as possible before eating it.

And guess what – I have had almost no stomach pain since. It has been COMPLETELY revolutionary to my life. I can eat almost anything (except carrots) and feel fine. My “weak stomach” has become an “iron gut”.

A few months after I stopped eating carrots and was feeling SO GOOD, I ate at a friends’ house where they served a pie with chicken and vegetables – LOTS of carrot (they didn’t know). To be polite I ate it. Oh boy did I regret that decision. The next two days were AWFUL.

Since then I have tried to avoid carrot in everything and I have felt so much better that it’s difficult to believe I have an allergy.

I have no idea what it is about carrots that I’m allergic to. Other orange vegetables like pumpkin and sweet potato are fine. I have tried the purple carrots and they are NOT fine.

Having been through this and learned about my own allergy, I felt it would be good to share it with the world in case someone else had a similar allergy to some food or other and my story could help them.

I hope SO much that none of you have the sort of stomach pain I went through, but if you do – try to think of something that tingles or itches your mouth, you may just find a mild allergy that changes your life.

— IEK

pride_heartI tried to stay clear of social media yesterday (Monday in Australia). Early on Monday morning, the world had crept up on me and punched me in the face. Not the first time I’d been punched in the face, but the first time I’d had no idea it was coming (I’ve been in a few fights, let’s just say).

Yesterday morning my Dad called and he was terribly upset. A relative who I had known since birth and with who’s family I had spent a lot of good times as a child had died. It was a shock. His family are some of our closest relatives, despite the distance between us. I’d known he had been experiencing heart trouble, but I guess things like that are never real until all of a sudden they are. I was immediately and very deeply saddened.

Later in the morning, I read about the massacre in Orlando.

50 people.

One dipshit and an assault rifle.

Again.

It was too much, so I stepped away. I needed to process.

Once I’d had a chance to at least get a sense of my own grief and was able to think about the Orlando shooting, my immediate reaction could be summed up in one image:

pride_fist

Because fuck that dipshit, fuck his assault rifle and fuck the people who would support him and encourage his viewpoint. Fuck people who think that lesbian, gay, bi, trans, intersex or any other group discriminated against because of their gender, gender identity or preference should be treated as anything other than equal to every other person. The time for love was done and the time to fight was now. I was going to change my avi to this fist and start fighting for the rights of LGBTI people – people like my friends, like the victims in Orlando. People like me.

But I wanted to stay away longer. I wanted to stay out of the storm which was happening on social media and spend the time just with my family. So I did and in that time, I realised that I was just buying into the same mentality which had created this dipshit – the same mentality which creates and drives a lot of these dipshits with guns: that the world is against you and you have to fight it. You have to fight, hurt and kill if you want to be heard, you have to fight, hurt and kill if you want to be taken seriously.

Well it’s not true.

It’s a lie.

It’s a lie built on centuries of macho self-importance and the desire to be stronger and/or more heavily armed than everyone else because it’s the only way some people can feel safe.

But I feel safe. I don’t worry that someone is going to take out a gun and execute me and my family. I don’t feel like I have to have an assault rifle to be heard. I’m quite OK without an assault rifle. In fact I rather prefer life without those awful things. I feel lucky that I live in Australia where shootings still occur, but the numbers of dead are 1 or 2, not 10, 20 or 50 because it’s damn near impossible to buy an assault rifle in this country and such weapons are certainly beyond the financial and logistical means of dipshits.

I have realised that if you want to create a better world – a world where everyone can feel safe, where dipshits like this guy who killed all of these innocent people in Orlando don’t feel like they have to fight, hurt or kill to be heard, we need to start by opening our hearts, not closing them off.

I changed my social media avis to a simple Pride flag over the last couple of days to show my support for the community which has shown me such amazing support in my times of need. I haven’t started any fights online and I haven’t become involved in any (yet). I’m sure there will come a time when I need to stand up for the communities and for the basic human rights I believe in, but I have come to realise that violence and the promotion of violence is not something which can ever truly end violence.

I commend the people who have taken this stance of love over hate even as I was boiling away in my indignant rage, ready to punch on. I commend them for not letting their anger get the better of them, for directing their passion toward making the world a more loving place, not a more hateful one.

So from here on, I’m going to try to follow their example.

I’m going to try to love just a bit more and hate just a bit less.

— IEK

image

So I was lucky enough to have my amazing colleagues in China take me out to see The Force Awakens today. Today was opening day for the latest Star Wars installment in China, but as many of you already know, this was my 3rd time.

Well, apparently China is receiving The Force Awakens only in 3D or Imax – no standard format.

I am SO GLAD that I was able to enjoy the film in Australia (twice) in standard format because despite me already loving this film – 3D is total shit.

I put on my 3D glasses (which clipped over my specs) & enjoyed the first interior shot of Stormtroopers – it looked cool with 3D – but then I got used to it, the image periodically split, fucking up the experience for me & nothing else in the film looked particularly interesting in 3D. Also I got a bit of a headache. Just small, but seriously – people are paying good money for a headache.

So here’s the rub: Movie studios began to pump money into 3D again in the mid-00s because A) they finally worked out how to make it with correct colour & B) 3D makes it harder for pirates to screencap the film.

BUT THEY NEED TO STOP IT.

Seriously – making movies in 3D to combat piracy is like Coca Cola making their flagship drink taste like someone shat in it to prevent people making cola.

Eventually we’ll stop drinking.

Until we can watch a 3D experience with our regular eyes, I do not want to ever attend another 3D screening of anything. And I know there are a bunch of people with me – especially those who get serious headaches from 3D like Co-Consul does.

Just like the 80s, 3D is not going to happen – stop trying to pretend it will.

— IEK

g_greerYou may well ask: How can someone who identifies as a trans person support an organisation which allows a person with clear and stated transphobic opinions to give a lecture?

To me it’s obvious – she is not being asked to speak about transgender issues.

Germaine Greer is an icon of the womens’ liberation movement; a product of a very ugly time in our society’s past when women were treated as little more than property, an accessory to be admired, yet not heard. Greer grew up, as all women did in those days, seeing the hatred and violence directed at the suffragettes who came before her, suffering and seeing the hatred and violence directed at her – all for nothing more than being female and daring to imagine she could have a say. Greer chose to use all of that frustration she felt as a woman living under this oppression and to direct it into making a stand.

Many of the things she has said and written have been bold, confronting, angry and made her the target of hatred from almost every male who heard about it. This seemed to make her only more staunch in her views. I don’t agree with a lot of the things she says and yet I respect Germaine Greer for what she has done and the voices she has allowed to be heard.

Like many heroes of a time and of a moment, however, Germaine Greer is not perfect. Obviously for all of you people who are flawless of character, this must seem strange. Greer harbours many opinions which, though they allowed her to focus and drive through the ocean of negativity she had to navigate during the infancy of feminism as we know it, they have no place in the world today. Greer’s belief in herself and her bravery in the face of untold opposition is what has made her a hero of feminism and she will not change her stripes today just because a comparatively small number of people demand that she do so.

I don’t believe Germaine Greer will ever change her opinion of trans women (though it would be interesting to know her views on trans men). From what I derive from her stance, she believes that to be a woman, one must face the challenge of being a woman from birth – make your way through sexism, the absurd expectations of society that you must “look your best” all the bloody time, menstruation – all of the challenges faced only by those who grow up female.

Though I may not agree with it, I actually understand this argument. I don’t believe that being born with a vagina necessarily makes you a woman (there are many exceptions to this rule), but I understand that very, very few trans women could possibly understand what it truly is to be born as and grow up as a female.

Equally, though, very, very few people born female could understand what it truly is to be born in a gender you do not identify with and face the hate, violence and negativity which so sadly often accompanies the lives of trans people.

In this respect trans people and women are not so very different.

In looking over all of this, you may well say “But hey – you just said her opinions have no place in the world of today!” and you’d be partially right: her stance on the very existence of trans people has no place in the world of today, in fact she has not repeated her hateful opinions for decades and she said as much very recently. She is an intelligent person and I believe she realises her opinions don’t gel with today’s more open and understanding society which is why she hasn’t aired them for a very long time.

And her lecture at Cardiff University IS NOT ABOUT TRANSGENDER ISSUES – the lecture is entitled “Women & Power: The Lessons of the 20th Century“. It is a historical look over the womens’ liberation and feminist movement in the 20th century and how women have managed to fight their way to the right to vote, to legislated (if not real) equal-pay, to legislated equal rights and to the highest, most powerful jobs in the world. It is also a lecture on the work still to be done. I personally think it would be fascinating.

But now (misguided, in my opinion) activists are backing Germaine Greer against an opinion wall. If I know anything about Germaine Greer it is that she is at her most vocal – her most forthright when she is backed against a wall. And so she has made it clear that she has not changed her opinion of trans women. Important note: her opinion.

But if her task at the university is not to discuss transgender – why must we silence her on all subjects? In reality the trans movement only started gaining traction in the last 5 years, so it has little place in a brief university lecture about women in the 20th century!

I would absolutely support a ban on Germaine Greer if she were being asked to speak on the subject of transgender* because I feel her opinions are deeply negative, spiteful and ill-informed, but this lecture is absolutely not that. It is a lecture the subject of feminism and womens’ rights and on the history of the issue. On that subject, I think you could find few more important voices than Germaine Greer.

— IEK

*  Unless it were a debate because I love arguments and I also love winning them

image

Everybody, I suspect, who reads my blog (yes, all two of you) will have at some point come into contact with red velvet cake. Anyone who knows anyone who has read a cookbook or weekend newspaper* recently will have heard about it, seen the gorgeous photos of it, tasted it and possibly even made it themselves.

For the uninitiated, you can refer to the pic to the top-left for the visual. Beautiful isn’t it? I mean truly – red velvet cake looks amazing.

What a pity cake isn’t exclusively a visual medium.

If you’d like to know what it tastes like, I suggest you go out, find a large cardboard box, cut it into a series of same-sized circles, glue them together with Perkins Paste, paint them a rather rich, dark red, then microwave them for one minute and thirty seconds. What comes out won’t look as good as red velvet cake, but it will probably taste a little better.

Now perhaps I’m being a little cruel given that red velvet cake is unlikely to make you instantly vomit**, but I have tasted this cake several times, cooked by a number of different people – some of them superb actual chefs who make delightful other cakes, desserts and meals, I’ve tasted red velvet cake with different icings, presented in different ways, with and without syrupy stuff and the taste has been uniformly awful. And it’s not like each of these red velvet cakes had some different issue, no, it’s simply that the actual cake bit – the dark red stuff – tastes like crap. I’ve tasted $2 plain butter cakes from the supermarket with more flavour.

Like a gorgeous, well-dressed person who is a total arsehole, the red velvet cake will disappoint you every time.

AND YET THE BLOODY STUFF IS EVERYWHERE!! Every second dessert recipe I see is “Red Velvet Mufffins” or “Red Velvet Cupcakes” or “Red Velvet Cake with [insert icing with actual flavour in here]”. I do not understand why people persist with printing recipes for it.

What it is about red velvet cake which makes it taste so bad I cannot know, for I am about as talented with baking as I am with spinal surgery (and probably slightly more likely to kill you with it), but I will put forward a theory: great-tasting food doesn’t often look all that flash. I mean just look at a kebab – some brown stuff and red and green stuff mashed into a wrap with goop dripping off it. Attractive? No, but ooooh so delicious.

And perhaps that’s the secret – I mean it is a beautiful looking cake, so any print artistic director would love to see this cake in their pages. Magazines and newspapers are certainly a visual medium and who cares if the people reading your publication go out and bake the cake and it tastes hideous? They already bought the damn thing!

Well there you have it people, problem solved: do not allow newspaper or magazine artistic directors anywhere near your dessert menu. And enjoy your red velvet cake with your eyes only. ;o)

— IEK

* Which are basically gossip mags mixed with recipe books anyway

** No, that would take probably two slices

minibar_01It seems that my job as a wild-mannered IT trainer has become something of a travelling role with many of the courses I run being delivered face-to-face with people in other cities and other countries. If I were a young person with no kids, this would be awesome, as I have always really enjoyed the private room with pay TV, breakfast made for me and my choice of dinner venues where they will also make it for me. This, of course, is part of the reason I love Co-Consul so much: she usually cooks dinner.

Of course as a middle-aged person with multiple young children, the awesome is somewhat diminished. This does not mean, however, that I will not try to make the best of it and, over the years, I have learned a few tricks which can save you time, money and also make you happier during your stay in a random hotel.

1) Never check out before you finish your last complimentary breakfast!

Once you check out, your access to the free guest wi-fi gets cut off, so if you have paid for your breakfast (or, you know, your company has) and were thinking of using the interwebs for any reason while you ate, you would have to use your own data if you checked out beforehand! Unacceptable. Check out after breakfast & enjoy the freedom of free-download.

2) Don’t let the hotel’s TV lock you out of using your own media player.

If you have a media player or Chromecast you know you will probably need a HDMI port on the TV to use it. Many hotels lock out their TVs disallowing access to these ports, meaning you can only use the hotel’s own (often sub-standard) entertainment offering – not any more! Many of these TVs will have an RJ-45 cable (that’s a Cat network cable) plugged in the back of their smart TV, giving it access and login to the hotel’s network. If you can access the rear of the TV, simply disconnect this cable and you should be able to use the remote to change to the HMDI port you need! If this doesn’t work, you may need to turn the TV off, then on again with the network cable unplugged. Just remember to plug the network cable back in before you check out so the next guest in the room (who may not know ANYTHING about network cables) can use the TV. If the hotel’s remote does not provide access to change the port, you may need to read hack #3!

3) Buy yourself a cheap universal remote & carry it with you. 

Many hotels around the world use a non-standard, customised remote which does not allow you access to the features on the TV you might want to use (such as the HDMI port). You can fix this pretty easily and inexpensively if you carry remotes_pilewith you a universal remote. Universal remotes are designed to control most brands of TV and are programmed either using a brand-specific code which comes in a manual with the remote or using a laptop & a USB cable. If you don’t have a laptop, make sure you buy one of the code-programmed ones. Here are some known brands of universal remote: Logitetch, All For OneURC.

4) Don’t pay minibar price for your drinks or snacks

Everyone knows this, right? You don’t eat or drink from the minibar because minibar drinks & snacks are priced against their weight in gold (or are actually made of gold, I haven’t worked out which just yet). But what if you get in real late, everything around is shut and the hotel doesn’t do room service? And what if you’re hungry or thirsty? You only have one choice: minibar. Sure, you could wear a coupld of over-priced beers, but if you travel a lot, these little over-priced beers can start to add up. Well – never fear, if you happen to eat or drink something from the minibar and you really don’t want to pay that $6 for a bag of chips or $12 for a bottle of beer, then you can use the hotel’s own “do not disturb” or “do not clean” sign – hang it on the door before you leave in the morning. Then, before you return to your room that night, you go to the local supermarket and/or grog shop (that’s Australian for “liquor store”) and buy standard-priced exact replacements for the items you consumed and put them right back in the minibar. The hotel keeps their minibar items and you keep your money. Just be careful to make them EXACT replacements or you will be charged for the items you consumed (hotel staff know the difference between cheap beer and expensive beer). Clearly this plan will not work if A) you’re only staying the one night or B) if the hotel minibar is one of those painful electronic things which charges you the moment you remove something, but otherwise, it’s a pretty solid play.

5) Don’t let the hotel’s web page login stop your Chromecast.

Chromecast doesn’t allow setup on most hotels’ wi-fi network because it does not have a web browser to log into the hotel’s nice web page. There aren’t too many ways around this and quite frankly and unless you know what you’re doing, trying any of them could cause harm to your devices, but if you’re game (and you know what you’re doing, remember?), though there are a couple. Hotel wi-fi authentication web pages mostly check the MAC address of the device trying to connect to see if it has already authenticated – obviously, your Chromecast has not, so it will not get access to the network until it provides the room code or password BUT there is a screen in the Chromecast setup app which provides the MAC address of your Chromecast and if you can make one of your other devices temporarily pretend to be your Chromecast (by temporarily changing its MAC address), then your Chromecast will be able to connect.

There is a way to change a laptop MAC address on most operating systems and How to Geek has them mostly covered: How and Why to Change Your MAC Address. If you only have a phone (no laptop) and it is either rooted (Android) or jailbroken (iPhone)…(yes, all of these apps need your phone to be rooted or jailbroken), then there are a number of MAC address maskers you can download and use. Be careful, though – make sure you do a search and check the safety level of the app you install (using an app checker and verifying its authenticity using forums and user reviews) to reduce the chance of it being malicious (which means any app you install could hack you phone and rooted/jailbroken-only apps are already on the fringes). Having not tested any of them myself, I am not an advocate for any particular app and I have no idea which ones are legit and which ones are dangerous, so I will not provide any further information on that one.

IMPORTANT: Always make a note of your ORIGINAL MAC address before making any changes and always remember to restore the original one once your Chromecast has access!!

If, like me, you are often on-foot, in a hurry (in my case because time and I are not friends) and you live in a highly-populated area, you will regularly find yourself facing a thick stream of similarly-hurried people coming at you. This can make the journey from Point A to Point B seem like it takes a route through F, U, C and K.

Oncoming pedestrian crowds can often result in a number of collisions, shoulder glances and even the dreaded Failed Evasion Dance (you know the one, you both try to evade each other in the same direction 3 or 4 times until you both laugh uncomfortably, then start dancing again).

When I am truly in a hurry and have no time to dance, collide or slow down very much, I have found the most effective method for avoiding all of this palaver is simple: do not make eye contact. In fact do not even look at people’s faces, instead, as people get closer, keep your eyes at leg-level and focus your gaze at the gaps you see in the oncoming crowd.

Humans are instinctive creatures and if they recognise that something coming toward them is not looking at them, they will instinctively take it upon themselves to evade. People can also see where you are looking and instinctively assume that’s where you’re going. The crowd will open up before you.

I should advise, though that this technique really works best if you’re the only one doing it. I mean if everyone was just looking at gaps, collisions would probably increase. But hey – they might be nice and you two can live happily ever after.

Happy hurrying!

— IEK

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