Brazil’s awesomely sensible ten suggestions about eating well.

Brazil’s Ministry of Health have issued new dietary guidelines that are simply awesome. They can be found in full here (PDF).

The guidelines can summarised as follows:

1.    Make natural or minimally processed foods the basis of your diet
2.    Use oils, fats, salt, and sugar in small amounts when seasoning and cooking natural or minimally processed foods and to create culinary preparations
3.    Limit consumption of processed foods
4.    Avoid consumption of ultra-processed products
5.    Eat regularly and carefully in appropriate environments and, whenever possible, in company
6.    Shop in places that offer a variety of natural or minimally processed foods
7.    Develop, exercise and share culinary skills
8.    Plan your time to make food and eating important in your life
9.    Out of home, prefer places that serve freshly made meals
10.   Be wary of food advertising and marketing

Light sabre

Ever been sunburned? Gone to bed with that awful, sweaty, stinging feeling of hot regret? Had little blisters form then pop? We pretty much all have haven’t we. Stupid bastards that we are! “Stupid” because that ol’ friend of ours, our nearest star, our planet’s parent and orbital centre, The Sun, puts out a lot of energy. Just how much; well obviously enough to broil your shoulders at some point!

As this picture clearly shows, you can work out the energy received at any given point using this simple formula:

\overline{Q}^{\mathrm{day}}, the theoretical daily-average insolation at the top of the atmosphere, where θ is the polar angle of the Earth’s orbit, and θ = 0 at the vernal equinox, and θ = 90° at the summer solstice; φ is the latitude of the Earth. The calculation assumed conditions appropriate for 2000 A.D.: a solar constant of S0 = 1367 W m−2, obliquity of ε = 23.4398°, longitude of perihelion of ϖ = 282.895°, eccentricity e = 0.016704. Contour labels (green) are in units of W m−2.”

Got that? Clearly though this formula doesn’t account for the various ways that the Earth’s atmosphere absorbs and scatters the energy as it travels from the outer edge of the atmosphere to ground level. That varies depending on cloud cover and other suspended moisture, suspended particulates, vegetation and so on. So lets just sum it all up and say that the sun puts out a lot of energy and on a hot, clear day you could fry an egg very, very quickly using just the sun’s heat.

Which brings us to this little conundrum; what do you do with an old satellite (internet) dish that has been superseded with a newer, faster model?

IMG_0623Do you;

  1. Give it to the dish-installer man to take away and dispose of?
  2. Turn it into a very large birdbath?
  3. Leave it forever behind the garage until the Missus yells “Clean that shitpile up!”
  4. Use it to make mischief (in a fun, harmless way of course)?

Guess which numbered box the money is in….you betcha….Number 4!

There are quite a few YouTube videos of people making reflector dishes out of old sat’ dishes. Many of them use the little, square mirrors, like off a disco mirror ball. All I can say is that they must be richer than me, or at least more willing to throw money at a simple, fun project. At the cheapest price I could find those mirror squares for sale the total cost for enough of them would have been $400-$500. No way José!!

Reflective Mylar film is another matter – a roll of that comes in about $40-$50. The overall reflective properties probably aren’t quite as good as a set of glass mirrors (Mylar film comes in at about 92-97% reflectivity, not too different than mirrors as the actual reflective material in a mirror is basically the same stuff; however the Mylar film is impossible to adhere to the dish without some imperfections resulting, such as ripples, bubbles and some areas of glue overspray) and of course the film won’t be weatherproof so the dish will have to be stored indoors. However these cons just pale into insignificance against the cost savings.

The film was cut into (roughly) triangular shapes to allow us to better shape it into the dish. To glue the film to the dish we used a spray adhesive, masking off each previously glued section to prevent (OK…minimise) overspray.

Here is the completed dish, mounted on the post, leg spars and roof brackets that were intended to actually put the original dish on a roof, and are here slightly modified to provide a stable, free-standing base.

IMG_0635It all looks very innocent. Looks can however be deceiving…

More mayhem….errrr….I mean “Scientific Experiments of an Educational Nature” videos to come. The video above was our first “experiment” which was performed at around 2:30pm mid September. Can’t wait for mid-Summer at between 11am and 1pm (solar time).

Warning – try this at home.

The Coffee Table Book (Part 3a) – A thumbs up for customer service

If you recall dear readers, at the end of Part 3 there was an unfortunate crossing of the beams, or rather the drum of the power planer and a piece of cloth. We’re digressing here for a moment to tell a story that follows the classic narrative arc:

  • stasis
  • trigger
  • quest
  • surprise
  • critical choice
  • climax
  • reversal
  • resolution

Once upon a time I started making a  table out of reclaimed timbers. This project involves the trimming of gnarly old, hardwood deck timbers with saw and power plane. The power plane is a hugely important character in this tale, without whom we would altogether be at a loss. His name is RYOBI, and he is a fetching shade of bright green, and is about fifteen months old. One day RYOBI accidentally swallowed some cloth, which wrapped itself around the drum before his operator could stop him spinning.

IMG_0462His operator (after unplugging RYOBI) unscrewed his side plate and tried to flip off RYOBI’s toothed drive belt so that the blade drum could be turned in a reverse direction so as to free the cloth. Sadly, the belt broke during this exercise. “No problem…drive belts on such power planers are user replaceable items,” thought RYOBI’s operator, “I’ll just get a new belt.”

And so to the store where RYOBI was originally purchased; the local Bunnings Hardware. Here the friendly Tool Section man, Luke, advised that belts could only be ordered via the Special Orders Desk in the store. “Bah-Humbug to that” thought RYOBI’s operator, and he promptly went home to order one online instead.

Here our story takes a dark and frustrating turn, as it turns out that the sole merchant for RYOBI products, including spare parts is in fact Bunnings. In fact the “Spare parts” page of the RYOBI Australia website is simply a store locator to allow you to find the nearest Bunnings outlet. Rather than head out the door again, RYOBI’s operator let his fingers do the walking and with a quick phone call later an order was placed for a new drive belt. All seemed OK in the world, and RYOBI would soon be happily spinning again and helping with the job of making the coffee table.

Hope was crushed however when a couple of days later a young lady by the name of Ali’ rang from the local Bunnings to advise that the RYOBI company had discontinued the supply of the needed drive belt. “But how can that be!?!?!” RYOBI’s operator exclaimed “They are still advertising that model planer on the website as being a current model, and you’re still selling the planers in the store!” Ali’, being only the messenger of the bad news in this saga was not held to blame however, and she offered our heroes redemption in form of a warranty claim “If you’ve had the planer for twelve months or less, and have the sales receipt just come into the store and we’ll replace it for you.”

Alas, RYOBI was already fifteen months old, and the sales receipt had not been kept. Drat! Double Drat!! And furthermore…Botheration!! However a few days later, after much seething about the Wasteful, Throw-Away Society in which we live and the expense of having to buy a new planer in order to replace a perfectly good one RYOBI’s operator noticed that RYOBI’s original box documented that he came with a TWO YEAR warranty. Still no sales receipt, however usually such a store as Bunnings will do a product swap or similar on supply of the credit/debit card used for purchase.

RYOBI’s operator tucked him all up neatly and snugly in his box, along with all his accessories and headed off therefore to the local Bunnings outlet. Now this Bunnings is not actually the same Bunnings where our hero was purchased, as that outlet has subsequently been closed and the store reopened to larger premises just a throw of a hammer distance away. Presenting himself, RYOBI nestled in his box, his tale of woe and his card at the service counter RYOBI’s operator was told “We can’t actually look up card purchase history from that other (now closed) store as in our IT systems that is officially a different store than this one and we don’t have access to that store’s records. Nevertheless, go and see Luke in Tools and we’ll sort it out somehow.”

Off to see Luke, to again tell the story, point out the illogic of the fact that Bunnings is still selling the same model of planer that the manufacturer is no longer stocking parts for even though its only fifteen months old and advise that the lovely lady over at the Service Counter has promised a happy ending. “But we can look up the purchase.” says Luke “We can’t in-store but our central IT department can do a search if you can tell me roughly when you made the purchase. I’ll need your card details and a rough idea when you made the purchase, and if you give me your mobile number and wait a while I’ll see what we can do.”

RYOBI and his operator thus went on an extended browse around the BBQ section, the plant nursery, a toilet stop (Note to Bunnings – you need more than one hand drier in the men’s toilet) and then back to the tool section to ogle the selection of Dremel fittings…until….some 45 minutes later….bbrrrnngg bbrrrngg goes the mobile with Luke on the line to say “Come and find me again and we’ll sort you out.”

It transpires that the IT department was still doing whatever Central Bunnings IT Departments do to try and locate a purchase in their records, but that Luke had decided to Do the Right Thing and process it all as a product warranty swap, and worry about the paperwork later. Sad, not-really-broken-but-needs-a-new-drive-belt RYOBI was thus left with the lovely lady at the service counter and replaced with a brand, spanking new replacement model.

Our Beautiful Assistant Shwoing off the NEW planer.Our story ends mostly happily then. The RYOBI company remains in the bad books for discontinuing a simple, user-replaceable part for a model of power tool that is still current and still being sold, and during the warranty period! Bunnings however demonstrated good customer service and sorted out the problem.

I now have a brand new planer, with a two year warranty starting now, and a new sales receipt that I will file away for a rainy day. However I am still annoyed that what is basically a perfectly good tool chock full of metal and plastic and the embedded energy and other resources used to manufacture it is no doubt destined for landfill. Totally and avoidably wasteful! Grrr!

<-Go to Part 3 …. Go to Part 4->

Horsing around

Annie’s down for a visit to the ‘ahem’ pasture. Sadly she ate everything green before Elevenses on the first day, and since then its been hay, just hay two times a day is all she’s got to eat. However the grass IS always greener on the other side of the fence, in this case OUR side of the fence – in the orchard to be exact where it grows long and lush due to the higher watering and nutrient runoff from the composted gardens.

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It seems only fair to share a little of all that nice, green grass. After all, there’s only so much grass a vegan can eat.

Coal Seam Gas

Amazingly even this little, quiet corner of the world is under the watchful eye of the petro’ industry. AGL holds a Petroleum Exploration License that extends from the Northern End of Murrays Run, South West to Camden. In and around Camden AGL is currently operating somewhere between 40 and 80 active wells (it seems more difficult than it should be to pin down the exact number).

While the possibility of AGL or indeed any other gas company coming sniffing around Bucketty seems remote on the surface, this document published in March 2013 by the NSW Planning Department indicates that the peace and quiet might just be a piece of quiet before the storm.

Screenshot of Page 35 of the documentRecently a community action group has formed, under the convening hand of John Edye. There are fourteen of us all up on the committee, and we are in the process of organising a community wide survey to gauge the community’s feelings towards the idea of their collective backyard being turned into a gas field. I’ve written more about what I think here.

We are well underway to performing the community survey, having held a fantastically powerful community meeting on June 19th. From basically a walking start only three months ago we have built amazing momentum and it is wonderful to be able to contribute to the community this way. Most of the reporting of this journey will be on the website we’ve set up. Stay tuned.

Stairway to heaven (or at least the garage)

At the South Western corner of the house there is a bank rising about a metre and a half or so, sloped outward at 45 degrees. Its a natural shortcut when heading to the garage, though perhaps not when carrying things as the ground can be slippery when damp. A few metres to the right there are some rough stone steps, constructed I guess when the house was built some 30 years ago. The shortcut was so much used it had clearly proved worthy of being formalised and honoured with some steps of its own.

Steps need to be solid, and solid means big rocks, and big rocks means “bloody hell…that’s heavy <insert sound here of the sound of the kurfuffle valve rupturing>”. The bottom step forms the base for all the others and of course needs to be biggest, heaviest, kurfuffle-valve-blowingest stone of all. Here it is weighting* to be placed in position.
So you can appreciate it better here is another view. To get this stone to this point required dragging it with a chain on a steel drag sheet, using the Scooby Doo. Even it called for a plate of fresh Scooby Snacks afterwards.

Another view of what will be the bottom step - she's a monster

Another view of what will be the bottom step – she’s a monster

Getting the first stone into place basically involved two careful stages: firstly dig out a stone shaped hole; and secondly roll the stone off the slope and hope the best it landed roughly in the right place. Fortunately it did, and after just a little bit of juggling we were ready for the next.


This photo is a bit blurry. I think my kurfuffle valve was still erupting at this point.




IMG_0139And we’re done. Phew. Just a bit of tidying up to do and we’re ready to take the next step. **

* Can you see what I’ve done there? Can you? Or did you think I made an accidental spelling error?

** Can you see what I’ve done there? Golly I’m funny.



Last year I camped overnight in the bush, just off a logging trail in Olney State Forest during a climbing weekend with the Shrek Man. Far down below us from the valley floor the sounds of cattle lowing came, any sight of the vocalisers lost to us under the layer of morning mist. We headed off after breakfast to poke around the cliffs we had first spied from the other side of the valley on some previous adventure, before our exploration was unexpectedly cut short by the failure of a battery powered drill, required to affix climbing bolts to the cliff face.

It was in search of this makeshift camp site that I set out this morning, alone in the Scooby Doo as everyone else slept in. We hope to revisit it again soon, and before heading there with friends in tow it seemed sensible to make sure I could find it once more, without the guiding wisdom of my climbing buddy. With a camera to document my trip, and two water bottles ready to refresh me as the day’s expected heat built I wound my way through the valley, passing through the still awakening town of Wollombi. A few kilometres on the far side of the town I stopped to pick up a hitcher, standing on the side of the road with a 5 litre container each of water an oil. “Only going as far as Millfield” I warned as he got in. “Fine by me mate, f*ckin’ truck’s broke down there and that’s where I’m headed now to get the f*ckin’ thing back”. Billy was his name, and he talked a storm the whole way through a toothless mouth, with breath tinged with the morning tobacco; telling the story of his wife’s broken starter motor, her boot full of groceries wilting on a hot day in her stranded car, his trip to retrieve her and his truck’s subsequent breakdown. “To cap off the whole f*ckin’ thing I got a call from the taxation department Monday this week to say that they’re gonna audit me for the last six f*ckin’ years”. Life throws f*ckin’ challenges at us all at times and this was Billy’s f*ckin’ time apparently.

Millfield is a small town South of Cessnock named after the timber mill which processes timber sawn and drawn from the surrounding State Forests. The mill marked the point at which I swung right, off the sealed road and began to climb out of the bowl of the valley into the high hills. A thin snake of dust trailed behind me as the tyres chunked on hard packed clay and sharp gravel. Signs warned of logging trucks on the road, and occasionally bare areas of logged trees stood forlornly bereft of life. Halfway up the mountain I paused to allow two horse riders to pass me, rather than me passing them and risking skittering their rides. We exchanged words and wisdom of the road ahead in our respective paths. Allowing them to draw some distance behind me I continued on, taking always the left, uphill fork whenever a choice presented itself on the road.

Eventually I reached Flat Rock Lookout, a cliff-face immediately on the side of the road and high above the valley floor. At this point I knew I was close and stopped to take in the view. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFlat Rock Lookout provides a fine view from the rim of the plateau, farms dotted amongst the cleared grassland in the Congewai valley, and the furthest sides of the plateau bowl lost in the blue oil haze of the eucalypt forests growing thickly up the slopes. The lookout is unfenced, save for a single section of rusted old cyclone fencing standing uselessly ahead of my parked vehicle. With the camera hanging by its strap around my neck I took a deliberate and careful step further out on the ledge, though here it began to slope down before dropping off precipitously some 4 metres ahead of me. In a moment my feet began to lose traction on the sharply sloping, dry, moss covered rock and all too quickly I found myself, alone in the midst of the forest, spread eagled on the rock and a metre further down and closer to the edge than safety called for. One hand clung to a small indentation above me, one foot with tentative purchase on the rock, one slowly slipping on the moss. For what seemed a long, long time I felt powerless to stop my continued slide to the edge and I considered the very real possibility that I would die here, today, probably before anyone else in the family was even awake. I stabilised myself for a moment, swore and thought frantically how to prevent myself sliding the remaining three metres or so down across the 35-40 degree slope of mossy rock to the edge – flipping uncontrollably and irrevocably over. In a short, unexpected moment I had slipped from the normal to the thin lipped edge of life itself. Slowly, gingerly, with great deliberation, transferring of weighting and adjustment of grip and balance I managed to make my way back up the half a body length that represented the long journey between this life and a bloodied ending below. One short crawl measured in heartbeats and breaths, punctuated with the desperate longing to have the time to properly berate myself for my stupidity.

Later, back in the car and with just a small graze on my arm as a souvenir,  I continued on, and soon afterwards found the track to the camp site. Alighting from the parked vehicle a rapid rustle of leaves ahead of me announced the presence of a goanna, startled by my arrival it climbed in a furious scrabble up a nearby tree and remained, clinging there until I left some time later. Given my recent experience I envied it’s long, sharply curved claws.goanna up a tree

Having surveyed the campsite I headed back down the 13 some kilometres of dirt road until I eventually rejoined the tarmac at Millfield. By now the nascent heat of the day was at full bore and the black top of the road shimmered ahead of me. I pulled over at Wollombi to have a coffee and read some pages of Kerouac’s On the road. On the timbered balcony of the Wollombi Cafe I drank strong, black coffee, it’s thick beany aroma an affirmation of the life I had almost seen the end of just an hour or so before. A small skink clambered unconcerned across the square timber hand rail. Two tables ahead of me a local couple negotiated the guest list for their upcoming wedding and reception. Behind me a family of four tourists discussed the idea of a future “big family holiday” to Europe or the Americas. They described to their children the various places they could visit, many of them a revisit for the parents to those favoured locations they had seen together on their honeymoon years earlier. They settled on England and Europe over the USA, and before leaving I gave up the guilty secret of my eavesdropping by suggesting to them that they add Norway to their list, and that they  break from the roadtrip with a few days spent on a narrow boat on England’s canals. Buying a bunch of dried rosemary from the small shop at the cafe, I headed home. Normality had again asserted itself after the drama of earlier.

The road from Wollombi is a popular one for Sunday drivers and particularly bikers. The Wollombi Tavern regularly hosts several dozen bikes out front, a mix of Harley chrome, Ducati red and yellow, and a wide selection of Japanese road bikes. Near to ridgesong there is a notorious bend called Lemmings Corner which all too regularly finds a wannabe racer running out of talent and road and smearing him or herself along the tar, leaving shards of glass and fibreglass in a litter of violence along the edge. Approaching Lemmings an oncoming car flashed me a headlit warning, and soon enough a trio of bikers waved me to a halt. “There’s been an accident ahead – go slow and watch out. It isn’t pretty.” I fully expected that Lemmings had claimed another namesake. Instead however a falling branch had dropped the power line across the road, and soon after a pair of bikers had rounded the bend heading South. The lead bike had hit the fallen, live wire and the electrocuted rider had immediately dropped his bike. His companion paced the road in grief. I carefully and respectfully sidled past the fallen rider’s body, lying still in the middle of the road, his sightless eyes shrouded with a small blanket provided by a stopped motorist. Emergency services had already been called, and before I could reach the Bucketty RFS depot to dispatch a crew for traffic control an RFS Cat-9 approached, siren off and lights turning a grim red and blue salute to the rider’s demise.

At home the power was off, the supply cut by the fallen wire. My morning had been one of unexpected twists and turns. My own stupidity had nearly cost me my own life. I had later listened in on the hopeful plannings for lives ahead; a marriage and life together and a family vacation. Another man’s life had reached a sudden end through no fault of his own. I had come close to death twice today. The corners we see coming are those we prepare for and take in our stride, it is those that thrust themselves surprisingly into our path that cause us to lose our hold on the firmament and skid uncontrollably off, powerless to save ourselves. In one short morning I had been reminded of the tenuous grip we each have on this world and to the lives of those we love and live with. What had started with a light, unconcerned step into the morning in exploration now seemed a vastly different day. The hot sun baked the leaves dry on the ground, but somewhere today someone’s tears will dampen the earth.