Francis Vierboom's Blog

A blog about things. Mostly news, ideas, and Sydney

Archive for April 2010

Fwdworthy on Friday

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Chauncy Morlan, freakishly fat guy, circa 1890– Does it annoy you when people write the imaginary word ‘alot’? This will definitely help. Funniest thing I have read in ages. The rest of the blog is pretty funny too.

– Once upon a time, this guy was considered fat enough that people were willing to pay to see him at the circus.

– Jon Stewart takes down Fox News and Bernie Goldberg. Related: Pedicabo ego vos et irrumabo, the dirtiest phrase ever written in Latin.

– This is how fast the speed of light looks.

– Apparently, if you’re a happier person, you’re likely having more deep and meaningful conversations rather than pleasant small talk.

– Fixed gear bikes have caught on everywhere… except China? According to this article it has something to do with how they just aren’t into irony over there:

“There is a saying in Chinese: ‘Laugh at the poor, not the prostitutes,’ ” Juanjuan Wu, a professor at the University of Minnesota and author of Chinese Fashion From Mao to Now, told me. “Hipster fashion only really works by communicating your irony—in other words, someone needs to ‘get it.’ Hipster irony in dress would most likely be misinterpreted in Chinese society as simple poverty or weirdness.”

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Written by Francis

April 23, 2010 at 12:49 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Light rail and high density on Parramatta Road: what he said

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I have had a draft blog post for a while about how I think Sydney should grow in the inner west rather than the outer west. For anyone who has listened to me rant about Sydney, it will sound familiar. The basic points are that we need:

  • the M4 east extension, connecting the M4 to the City Westlink, bypassing the Parramatta Rd bottleneck (getting trucks and western Sydney traffic off the route) (see below).
  • re-establishment of light rail along Parramatta Rd from Central to Strathfield, slowing down traffic, encouraging cycling and walking, and making restaurants and shopping accessible
  • high density housing along the whole thing to replace the ugly crappy wasteland that’s there at the moment

However I can now delete this draft, since my exact whole plan was basically laid out by Andrew West in the Herald on the weekend. The Planning Institute of Australia and the Urban Development Institute of Australia have called on the government to have another look at Parramatta Road. Everything in the article is basically what I think too.

For some more info on the options for the M4 east, the RTA has the options paper from 2003 that examined a few possibilities. The short tunnel option exiting at Lilyfield (the yellow line below) seems to be vaguely favoured in the report.

M4 route options

M4 route options, from the RTA options paper

Written by Francis

April 20, 2010 at 12:14 am

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Forster, Australia’s new national capital?

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Canberra at night from Mt Ainslie

Actually it looks rather nice here. CC from Sam Ilic on Flickr

Canberra. It’s not that bad. I was there a few weeks ago. For me there are two obvious things to like about it: it’s a cycling paradise, and it’s home to the two of the safest ALP seats in the country. In other words, it’s home to the kind of lefty public servant/intellecturazzi I one day aspire to eat Saturday morning eggs benedict with.

Of course, this is also one of Canberra’s big problems. To outsiders, it seems like the place is mostly just a bunch of itinerant public servants, perhaps just there for a year or two starting out their career in a government agency. Moreover, there’s a vague sense that it’s somehow ‘artificial’. Because, of course, it is. As we all learned in primary school, Canberra was only conceived because back at the start of the 20th century Sydney and Melbourne couldn’t settle the pissing contest  over which would become the national capital. A design competition was held for a new city, Lake Burley Griffin was excavated, and today the city is one of the world’s great monuments to the traffic roundabout.

The other problem I have with Canberra is that it just isn’t really in a nice spot. All of Australia’s other capital cities are on rivers or harbours. They are all on or near the coast. But Canberra is not on the coast because the design competition specified that the city had to be at least 50 miles from the coast in order to be out of range of battleships and safe from naval artillery. This requirement would have almost been obsolete by the time the parliament opened in 1927, but it had the unfortunate result of removing the capital from the beautiful ocean of the east coast.

Of course maybe I’m just spoiled by Sydney. It really is a stunning city. Of all the cities I’ve been to in the world, only Stockholm seems to me to come close for natural beauty. I perked up a few years ago when Paul Keating suggested that we should just move the capital to Sydney – ‘he wouldn’t care if the capital was in Melbourne, “but if you want to impress the visitors, of course, you come to Sydney”‘ – and put the Parliament on the current naval base at Garden Island looking over the harbour.

This would be nice, and I’m all for it. But seeing as we’re all talking about population these days, and there are multiple calls for new cities to be established in Australia, why not throw in the towel on Canberra, and use the inherent value of the national capital to establish a real nice city, with both something to do (work for the government) and a good reason to live there (a few nice beaches, maybe some lakes, and warm weather).

Sunrise over Forster

Sunrise over Forster, from bass8888 on Flickr

Based on that criteria, and having a quick look at the map, I have picked out Forster-Tuncurry, 4 hours north of Sydney. It’s a nice holiday location, it’s already got some decent road infrastructure, and it’s along a corridor of population where more cities would help make the business case for everyone’s favourite big government project, very fast trains. A Sydney – Newcastle – Forster – Port Mac – Brisbane fast railway line would really liven the place up.

I think it would be a good thing for Australia to create a new city, and an easy way to really get a good one going would be moving the capital there. Of course, Forster being a nice holiday spot already, I’m open to other ideas. Serious studies of where to start a city suggest it should be in the Pilbara or the Kimberleys along the northwest coast of the country in WA, based on rainfall and such, but it’s not going to be practical to have the capital move that far away. Go down the South Coast somewhere towards Melbourne – say just move Canberra east to Jervis Bay – I say it’s too cold. Which is why I am thinking somewhere on the mid-north coast of NSW. But I’m easy. Just move it out of the middle of nowhere.

UPDATE: I know it’s a valuable thing to have some big inland centres, and in some ways it’s good that one of them is the capital. A lot of people like the climate and lifestyle of the inland cities. But probably not most people. Apparently 50% of Australia’s population lives within 7km of the coast. 7km inland still leaves more than half of Sydney.

Written by Francis

April 19, 2010 at 11:44 pm

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Period 4: stir fry studies

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In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan

At the moment the developed world is headed for a disastrously overweight, unhealthy, unhappy and expensive (hospital and medical costs) future. This is because of two obvious things: the western diet and the lack of exercise in modern sedentary lifestyles.

The exercise solution is simple – build millions of miles of cycleways and make everyone walk or ride to work and school every day. Easy.

But studies tend to show that diet is the more important factor in weight gain and loss. And the problem creeping around the world is the western diet.  Lots of meat, dairy, sugar, fat and salt, in oversized portions, and a lot of highly processed foods. Or, as Michael Pollan says, ‘edible foodlike substances’.

Pollan’s excellent book ‘In Defense of Food‘ explains the odd and horrible things that have happened in the food industry over the years. As we all suspected deep down, fast food is mostly sugar that has been sculpted and coloured to look like food, and supermarkets are chock full of a huge array of weird processed items. The message of the book is twofold. One is that we should ignore the promises of ‘nutritionism’ – eat low fat, fat free, vitamin b2, anti-oxidants, avoid free radicals, blah blah blah. It’s all basically modern-day alchemy. Pollan wisely suggests that any food product labelled with a health claim (eg ‘98% fat free’) should be completely avoided. Two, the book eloquently makes the case that people really need to focus on cooking a variety of fresh foods, especially vegetables. If you simply cook a variety of natural foods, and don’t eat too much, you really can’t go wrong. As the cover says: ‘Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.’

Over at The Punch, Tory Maguire has the beautifully elegant suggestion of making cooking classes compulsory in school again. I really, really love this idea. There are few things more useful to learn, and few skills that are more commonly called upon, than knowing the basics of cooking. And there are few more effective ways I can imagine that the government could have a real effect on long term trends in the Australian diet. Instead of takeaway, kids can graduate from school confident in their ability to pick out a few fresh ingredients and feed themselves something reasonable.

I know schools are busy, but one class a week, one period before lunch, would be plenty. 50 minutes is enough time for teams of 3 or 4 to make a stir fry, a curry, a casserole, pasta sauce, a tasty salad etc. It’s not like a huge retraining of teachers will be required, since I’m sure at least half of them fancy themselves decent cooks. There’s a few safety issues involved, but it’s basically the safety procedures required of a science teacher, plus kids with knives. Kids will like it because they get to eat an exciting meal one day a week. And I have no doubt Jamie Oliver or someone like that would love to write the curriculum.

Any teachers reading? What do you think?

Term 1: Italian cooking. KPIs: Making pasta; Using Tomatoes and Garlic; using basil and oregano; using parmesan; using meats and seafood

Term 2: Simple Asian cuisine. KPIs: Making rice; Basic stir fry techniques; using sauces and spices; when to add coconut cream to a curry; controlling chilli heat

Term 3: Core Australian cuisine. KPIs: Using the BBQ to cook steak, sausages, vegetables; cooking roo; marinades; using the Weber; making potato salad

Term 4: French cuisine. KPIs: using tonnes of butter; roux and bechamel sauce; roasting meat and vegetables; using mustard; using wine

Written by Francis

April 13, 2010 at 12:19 am

Posted in Uncategorized