Monday, November 22, 2010

An ode to the Brisbane Sofitel

O Sofitel, my Sofitel
Defender of everything gallic
From the Fortitude girls who wish you "bonjour"
To the very last drop of Chateau Latour
Where tap water's slightly metallic.

O Sofitel, brave Sofitel
Where Franglais is language de jour
Where pomme mousseline means potato not apple
with trout armondine you're willing to grapple
and "siorées" you blithely endure.

O Sofitel, wee Sofitel
your bathrobes are laughably tiny
Your swimming pool's quite Lilliputian in size
Though the towels are ample - a word to the wise
The water's unpleasantly briny.

O Sofitel, dear Sofitel
You've room service meant for the wealthy
While your choice of desserts is impressive
And the length of the wine list excessive
You've no single main course marked healthy.

O Sofitel, sweet Sofitel
You're not quite my hotel of choice
Though your strange Francophonia's sweet
And the top floor lounge is a treat
If the Stamford had rooms I'd rejoice...

Friday, October 22, 2010

Mmmm, first class...

I will openly confess to being a travel junkie. I looove getting that boarding pass and getting on a plane. As long, mind, as it doesn't involve budget airlines or charter flights to remote mine sites (too often).
I have bounced between Perth and Brisbane enough times in the last few months that, even upgrading every possible opportunity, I still accumulated beaucoup points.
It's been a while since I have done a long-haul international trip. You know, the kind that involves four flights in 32 hours and ends at some little airport in small-town somewhere and it's raining. Except the one time when I went to Buenos Aires and the plane was 3 hours late because it snowed for the first time in 86 years.
However my ever-entertaining employer has invited me to visit upper Michigan for a couple of weeks. We looked it up on Google Earth. We discovered it is as far as you can travel from my home town in Perth without coming back (apparently the earth is round! Who knew!).
And I have had a rotten cold for the last week which is finally releasing its grip on my nose.
So, tired, snuffly and over-worked, I took this as an opportunity to really beat every ounce of enjoyment out of being a platinum frequent flyer.
As I write, it is sunrise in Melbourne in the international first class lounge. I have had a nice long shower in a marble bathroom with expensive soap, I have upgraded the next 14 hour leg of the trip to first class, I have had a very strong and very Melbourne macchiato, I am sipping Pellegrino in a leather armchair while I watch the planes go by, and I am about to go and have a facial at the spa.
It can only go downhill from here...
Next blog and next destination - LAX - it's an adjective, not a noun...

Friday, August 27, 2010

iPad apps I'd like to see...

I have had an iPad now for about 6 weeks. I think. TBI (Time Before iPad) is a little vague. How did I ever stay calm on a flight from Brisbane to Perth before I had this thing?
Wondrous as it is, I thought, when I let my imagination free, I thought that there were still some apps that were missing from the app store:

But not EVERYTHING is in the iTunes store - here are some app gapps begging to be filled:
  • a trainspotter's diary;
  • a patchwork quilt pattern designer.
Knock yourselves out, appers....if I had an iMac, I might try it myself.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

So where does Masterchef really shop?

I watched Friday's MasterChef MasterClass, hoping to see a recipe that wasn't either deconstructed McDonalds or "Death by Cholesterol".
The roast pheasant with salsify sounded great - I love game. So I got the recipe list and went to Coles to buy my ingredients. Coles, after all, is "where  Masterchefs shop".

  • 1 pheasant - NO
  • 1 bunch tarragon, large leaves picked - NO
  • 1 single-bulb garlic - NO
  • 6 salsify - NO
  • 8-9 black garlic cloves - NO
  • ½ cup flat pancetta, cut into lardons - NO

It looks like if I was going to rely on Coles for my ingredients, it was lemons poached in chicken stock with butter and lettuce.
How good is a cross-marketing campaign if the featured ingredients of a featured recipe are unobtainable from the biggest advertiser?
Note, this wasn't Coles Express, this was one of the big "new Coles" in one of the most expensive suburbs in Perth.
And you know what you get if you search for "pheasant" on the Coles website?

"Your search - pheasant - did not match any documents. 
No pages were found containing "pheasant". 

  • Make sure all words are spelled correctly.
  • Try different keywords.
  • Try more general keywords.
  • Try searching for a less pretentious ingredient, you poseur - what's wrong with chicken?"

I think I'll stick to the independents - at least they can spell food...

Friday, June 18, 2010

Creating terrain in PoVRay using isosurface and pigment

The original jpeg
Every now and again I play around with isosurfaces in PoVRay. The one thing I persistently have trouble remembering how to do is generate solid terrain using a heightfield image mapped onto an isosurface.
There are plenty of examples out there of how to do it with a sphere, but for terrain you would rather use a box. 
Here's an example using the jpeg to the left.

#declare P1=function{

image_map{jpeg "texturegen.jpg" map_type 0 }
rotate x*180 translate <0.5,0.5,0> scale 2 }
Note the translation, rotation and scaling are required to make the original image sit in the same orientation and position on the isosurface as they appear in the original image.
The second part is the isosurface itself.

The isosurface version
#declare Height = 1 //use this to vary the depth of the image
#declare Land =

   isosurface {
      function { z-Height*P1(x,y,z).gray}
      max_gradient 20
      translate <-0.5,0.5,-0.5> scale <5,5,0.2>

      rotate x*-90
object {Land translate <-0.5,0,-0.5> scale <100,1,100> }
Again, the isosurface has to be scaled and rotated for the image to appear correctly on the top side.

Was this post complete gobbledygook? You need to visit PoVRay.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Nanny flies coach

Last week I had to go to Brisbane for a couple of days and I stayed at the Sofitel. I don't normally stay at the Sofitel - it's very convenient for the office, but the Stamford Plaza down the bottom of Edward Street has a much bigger swimming pool.
The other thing that puts me off the Sofitel is the fake Franglais. All the staff have been trained to say "Bonjour, how can I help you?". It sounds very cute, but it doesn't have the same ring of competence that you would find in, say, Luxembourg. There, when they rattle off "hello, bonjour, guten tag, gute morgen..." and smile expectantly, you know they will cope with anything you throw at them.
The staff at the Sofitel have that slightly panicked look of people who have taken three classes of "French for the Hospitality Industry". I have travelled a bit in French-speaking countries and was very tempted to test their competence. But I didn't. I wasn't feeling mean enough. And though I could string together the words for "Your swimming pool is too short and too far from my room", I could not find the right tone of disappointment for "you have hidden the room service menu from me, your crispy duck salad isn't crispy, isn't salad and when I order pomme mousseline in a French hotel, I do not expect potato".
While I was leafing through the hotel guide in my room (trying to find the opening hours for the pool and waiting for another room service menu), I came across a handwritten annotation on one of the pages:
Jun 5th to LA
Kim and Bean - business
Nanny - coach
This was fascinating...who were these people?
Probably American because they refer to coach instead of economy. Unless nanny was catching the bus...
Was Kim the wife, or the husband, or the baby? Was Bean the baby? Was the author of the note another person, or possibly Kim (or Nanny?). Why did Nanny have to fly coach? What if Bean started crying on the flight, would Nanny come up to business to collect Bean, or would Kim take Bean back to Nanny? Why not put Bean in coach and Nanny up front? What does a baby care where it's sitting? Perhaps Nanny is Kim's mother, or the author of the note's mother (let's call him Tom). Had Tom and Nanny had a falling out? Was Nanny paying for her own travel and economising? Was the flight full and nanny drew the short straw? Perhaps Nanny is a superior kind of domestic servant who would feel she was giving herself airs if she sat up front?
I finally formed a hypothesis - Tom, Kim, Bean and Nanny all live together in LA. Tom does something in cosmetic medicine (dentistry?). American Tom is in Brisbane for a conference, but he brought his Australian wife Kim and two-year-old Bean with him so they could visit Kim's parents in retirement on the Gold Coast. Bean is a bit of a handful, so they brought the nanny along to give Kim a break. However, the practice (or possibly the drug company) will only pay for Kim's travel (part of the conference package) and not the nanny's. Bean flies free. Nanny had to sit down the back of the bus with all the returning tourists.
At this point the room service menu arrived - pomme mousseline or smoked salmon rollade? More important things to think about... but if you are Kim, Bean, or the nanny, please let me know the full story...

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Climate change, hacked emails and why it really doesn't matter

In a recent WSJ blog, Mike Hulme said
"The problem [...] with getting our relationship with science wrong is simple: We expect too much certainty, and hence clarity, about what should be done. Consequently, we fail to engage in honest and robust argument about our competing political visions and ethical values."
Let me put my credentials on the table first of all.
I'm not a climate scientist, a hacker or a philosopher. I believe that climate change is anthropogenic, without being able to have a very informed debate on the subject. I believe that some scientists have been indiscreet in committing some of their views and intentions to email, but I also believe it was wrong to steal the emails and publish them out of context.
The thing is, it just doesn't matter.
We are watching a group of scientists behave like scientists. Dissent, resentment, emotion, political behaviour, bias and withholding of information are absolutely part of the scientific process. Just remember Huxley, Darwin and Wallace.
Thomas Kuhn, in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, sums up the issue perfectly in the following quotation:
"The proliferation of competing articulations, the willingness to try anything, the expression of explicit discontent, the recourse to philosophy and to debate over fundamentals, all these are symptoms of a transition from normal to extraordinary research."
Anthropogenic climate change is not just normal science - it is a new paradigm - a final acknowledgement that humans step heavily enough on the earth for the earth to react. We are still in the early days of a collective intuitive leap to a different view of our effect on the world. Change is frightening, and it is not in the least surprising that people go to excessive lengths to either promote or deny the change. It doesn't mean they're necessarily wrong - that's not logic.
As Kuhn also says,
"If any and every failure to fit were ground for theory rejection, all theories ought to be rejected at all times."
Don't use dissent and denial as a convenient reason to reject the science - understand the process. I give Mike Hulme the last word:
"If climategate leads to greater openness and transparency in climate science, it will have done a good thing."