Saturday, May 08, 2004

Fermented grape juice

Jackie over at Gastroblog talks about having a wonderful bottle of Argentinian red wine, but doesn't remember what it was. Do find out and tell us Jackie. Argentinian wine has long been one of the great secrets of the winemaking world. The wine is often wonderful - it's a far greater winemaking country than Chile - but it has not traditionally been an exporting country, as the Spanish and Italian descended locals are great consumers of fine wine as well. (Chile lacks a substantial domestic market, so Chilean winemakers turned into exporters). However, the collapse of the peso a year or so ago meant that it became much more attractive to winemakers to export their produce, and we have seen substantially more Argentinian wine in Britain and America. The best wines seem to be mostly made from the Malbec grape in the Mendoza region. This is interesting. Malbec is grown in France, Australia and other places, but there it is mainly a blending grape, being one of the minor grape varieties in wines dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. But in Argentina it is used as the dominant (or only) grape variety. And it makes beautiful wines when used this way.

Jackie's wine was brought back from Argentina for her directly rather than bought here, so this change perhaps doesn't really apply. Come to think of it, my friends should treat me really nicely, because I brought some stupendous wine back from Australia with me.
Regional food differences

When I was a child in Australia (as is the case almost everywhere) the selection of food and ingredients available in your average supermarket were not nearly as impressive as they are today. (Fancy gourmet ingredients certainly could be bought (expensively) in Sydney, but the portion of the population who cooked with them was very small. And I didn't live in Sydney). And in many ways they were very limited indeed.

If my mother wanted to buy a tub of ice cream, there were three varieties: vanilla, strawberry, and chocolate (more commonly referred to as white, pink, and brown). And, as a very special innovation, there was something called Neapolitan, which contained all three of those in the same tub. (If my parents had wanted to use food for giving geography lessons, they could have told me that this was named after a city called Naples in Italy, where they make superb ice cream that the stuff in front of us did not resemble in any meaningful way. And we could have gone from there to learning that Bolognese is named after another Italian place called Bologna, and when Australian culinary sophistication proceeded beyond plain cheddar cheese when I was about 12, it could have been explained to me that parmesan cheese was named after another Italian place called Parma. I thus could have realised ten years before I did that whatever may be said about the Italians, they do know something about food. But I digress).

When I was in primany school, the school canteen sold three types of sweet bun. These were the "Cream bun", the "Finger bun", and the curiously named "Chelsea bun". The cream bun did not contain actual cream (as this could not cope with the Australian climate) but instead contained an artificial sugar confection of vaguely cream like texture. The finger bun was long and thin and had pink icing on top, but the reason for the name was obvious from the shape. The Chelsea bun contained fruit, but the reason for the name was obscure to me. I knew vaguely that these sorts of buns were English in origin, but that was about all. I didn't really understand that in England, cream buns did contain actual cream (which didn't go bad due to the cooler weather), and my mind would have boggled had it known that I would one day have a friend (Sir Geoffrey de Havilland's great nephew, no less) who would regularly invite me to fine parties in a place in London called Chelsea, and that he would once or twice even take me for breakfast to a restaurant nearby called "The Chelsea Bun", where the bun may or may not have been invented.

And that is one of the fun things about life. As you grow older, your horizons widen. And you look back and you see that the clues as to how your horizons would widen were there all along, but that you just didn't understand them at the time or understand what they were.

(I started this post to comment on the fact that I had just had pork sausages and unsmoked bacon for breakfast, whereas a week ago in Australia I had beef sausages and smoked bacon. Unsmoked bacon is like cream buns with actual cream in them: not normal in Australia due to the climate).

Friday, May 07, 2004


I have a piece on a train company with a stupid name over at Transport Blog.
My laptop becomes a little outdated

Intel is apparently about to release some new versions of the Pentium M. The previous fastest version ran at 1.7GHz, and the fastest version is now 2.0 GHz. (A rough rule of thumb is that a Pentium M gives equivalent performance to a Pentium 4 that is 50% faster in terms of clock speed, so we are talking equivalence to something like a 3.0GHz Pentium 4). There is also a 1.8GHz version and a new 1.7GHz version with physically smaller components than the old version. My laptop has a Pentium M at 1.4GHz, and this clock speed is probably not going to be common for very much longer, at least on relatively high end full size laptops.

This boosting of the range at the high speed end follows Intels announcement of improved Pentium M and Celeron M processors at the low voltage end about a month ago. In particular, there is a 1.1GHz Ultra Low voltage version. Presumably Sony will release a speed bumped version of the drool inducing TR series laptop with the new chip before long. It would be be nice if Sony could offer that machine with a larger hard drive as well at the same time (it presently tops out at 40GHz), but that depends on how quickly Toshiba can come up with a suitable drive. The TR series laptop uses a 1.8 inch hard drive sourced from Toshiba rather than the 2.5 inch drives that are common in most laptops. (Desktop machines normally use 3.5 inch drives). This is the same drive that Apple uses in the standard iPod. It is not a coincidence that the top of the line iPod also has 40Gbyte capacity. (The iPod mini uses a 1 inch drive sourced from Hitachi, that maxes out at 4Gbytes).

And Intel is talking about abandoning the Pentium 4 and using the Pentium M core as the basis for its next generation of 32 bit desktop processors. I suppose that means our computers will be quieter, if nothing else.

Update: Yes, Dell are offering versions of the Inspiron 8600 (which is what I have) with clock speeds of up to 2.0GHz. The 1.4GHz (which is what I have) is still on offer for now, but we will see how long it lasts.

Further Update: And here is the updated Sony TR series (in this case the TR-5), which looks Japan only for now. Sony seem to be selling a narrower range of models in Europe, but I am guessing we will see a model with the 1.1GHz CPU, 802.11a/b/g wireless and an inbuilt DVD writer as standard here before long.

Thursday, May 06, 2004

Star making performances

I like watching "teen movies". There are a variety of reasons for this. One is that movies featuring unknown and young actors with low budgets often suffer from less studio interference than larger budget productions and they often have stars and directors and writers with smaller egos who are less likely to ruin the movie through pretentiousness. (Figuring out whether the writer and director of such movies are going to have a career is fun, too).

And of course there is the game of "Look at all the actors and figure out who is going to be a star". This game also applies when you watch the people performing in child and teen roles in non-teen movies, but it is more interesting when you have ten possible future stars in the same movie, and you are trying to figure out just who you will see again. The canonical movie for doing this was of course Fast Times at Ridgemont High, although the game was kind of defeated by almost everyone in the entire movie having later careers of significance, and the writer and director doing so too, although the writer (Cameron Crowe) went on to become a much more famous and successful director than the director (Amy Heckerling, although she went on to make good movies too, most notably Clueless).

Sometimes it is obvious who is going to be a star. Julia Stiles is obviously something special in Ten Things I Hate About You. Lauren Ambrose is easily the best thing in Can't Hardly Wait, although she has gone on to have a notable career in television rather than in the movies so far. Kirsten Dunst was in an endless number of movies as a teen, and it was fairly obvious right from the start that she was a future star.

Sometimes, though, things are different from what you expect. An example, back to Clueless. Alicia Silverstone is just wonderful in the Emma Woodhouse role, and the role was considered a star making one for her by just about everyone at the time. However, for whatever reason she never got a decent part again. Her next film, Excess Baggage, was absolutely execerable, and then she got cast as Batgirl in Batman and Robin. It was in no way her fault that that film was the train wreck that it was, but after that Silverstone clearly stopped being given good (or even decent) roles, and after appearing as Brendan Fraser's girlfriend in Blast From the Past, Silverstone was pretty much never seen in the movies again (at least until she got a supporting role in this year's Scooby-Doo sequel, another train wreck that was not her fault).

However, if you go back and watch Clueless again, you will find someone named Brittany Murphy playing the (supposedly somewhat dowdy) Harriet Smith role. At the time I first watched Clueless I didn't see anything special in her, and I would have been amazed to learn that she was the one who would have the career as a leading lady. You couldn't say that she has become a star, but she is being cast in leading roles in films today, which is a lot more than you can say for Silverstone. If she does become a star, it may be that her star making role was opposite Eminem in 8 Mile, in which she was indeed good. (If one wants to be extremely cynical about how Hollywood works, it has long been rumoured that one reason Silverstone's career failed was because she put on a little too much weight - ie she was a perfectly healthy woman rather than a Hollywood stick insect - and people became reluctant to cast her. Murphy on the other hand looks positively anorexic, so she has learned that lesson. I can't imagine where we got the idea that anorexic is attractive from, however).

And another case that I missed (departing from teen movies from a minute) actually came in Robert Redford's rather ponderous film adaptation of The Horse Whisperer. The original actress cast to play Kristen Scott Thomas' daughter in that movie was Natalie Portman. At the time, Portman was being named as a future star by almost everyone, after her performances in Luc Besson's Leon (aka The Professional) and the late Tedd Demme's Beautiful Girls (in which the then fourteen year old Portman managed to act everyone else in an ensemble cast consisting of about ten of Hollywood's best twentysomething actors completely off the screen). Portman backed out of that role in order to instead play Anne Frank on Broadway. Since them Portman's career has not taken off in quite the way many people expected. Taking the part of Princess Amidala in the three Star Wars movies has not turned out to be as great a career move as it might have initially appeared, particularly as these movies have crowded her out from some of the other parts she might have taken in here rather limited time she has had left to make movies while she has been studying at Harvard. She has appeared in occasional supporting parts (eg in Cold Mountain recently, but that is about it. Portman may well still become a major movie star, but it hasn't happened yet, and I really thought it would.

However, when Portman dropped out of The Horse Whisperer, she was replaced with another actress about the same age named Scarlett Johannson. When I saw the movie I acknowledged that Johannson was good, but I didn't think she was as good as Portman would have been. I didn't pick Johannson to be a future star at that point. (When I saw her in the Coen brothers' The Man Who Wasn't there in 2001 I did pick her as a future star, however. When she actually became one with the release of Lost in Translation last year, I wasn't surprised).

The Horse Whisperer also featured Kate Bosworth in a small supporting part. Here is another actress who is now showing signs of becoming a star. (She was great in Blue Crush). But that was another performance I missed pretty much entirely.

But it's a fun game to play.

Update: On the same theme, I wrote about my initial reaction to Reese Witherspoon compared to my reaction to Alicia Silverstone a bit over a year back here. Witherspoon's career has gone into a bit of a stall since I wrote it, however. Nothing huge - it's just that Legally Blonde 2 was a complete dog of a film and one good film now would fix that - but she doesn't look to be ascending to stardom in quite the way she did at one point.

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

Wednesday evening song lyrics

If the Volokhs can do it, so can I.

I can get up
On the right side of the bed
But that won't stop the rain
From coming down on my head
I can live my life
Playing hide and seek
But when I look inside
It's hard to make believe,
Ah ah

'n lately
You seem so far away
I wish I could say something
But I don't know what to say
I can feel your eyes
I don't have to look at you
Boy, discontentment
Is-a-sneakin' through

You never really want anything
But what you really need is everything
I'll give you something only life can bring
The calm inside the storm
Love me a little, love me long
Wo yeah
The calm inside the storm
Love me a little, love me long
Don't you know
You should be holding me
But you're all locked inside
Why don't you throw me your keys
I'm like a rockin' ship
On your rollin' sea
You know crash lightnin'
Never frightens me, nah

...You never really wanted
But what u really needed
I wanna give u something
mmm... the calm inside the storm
Love me a little, love me long
Love me a little, love me long

-- The Calm Inside the Storm, from Cyndi Lauper's second album True Colors (Third if you count Blue Angel).

(I so need an iPod).

Tuesday, May 04, 2004


After a long flight (ie the one from England to Australia or vice versa), it normally takes me about a week to recover from jetlag. To adjust quickly, it is necessary to try to stay up as close to my normal bedtime as possible. In practice, this means staying up a couple of hours longer each day. However, the problem is that my body then attempts to wake up at what it thinks is the normal waking up time, and (with the later time at which I go to bed) this means that I sleep for fewer hours each day than normal, despite being exhausted when you I to bed. This means that for a few days I feel completely exhausted almost all the time. Eventually, though, my body takes note of the exhaustion and stops trying to wake up at its regular time.

This is where I have been for the last few days. However, I have just had a lovely ten hour sleep. Hopefully this means that I have reached the last stage and I am now pretty much okay. My body clock probably still needs to adjust by two or three more hours, but this will hopefully be relatively painless.

Monday, May 03, 2004


I have a piece on internet terminals at Narita airport and healthcare funding over at Samizdata.
Saying goodbye

On my last day in Australia, my parents cooked me a barbecue in their backyard barbecue area. I have attended a great many barbecues in that barbecue area over the years, but this was likely the last. (My father has always used a wood fired barbecue, too. He will only be allowed a gas barbecue at his new place, and he intends to put one in as soon as he moves there). In any event, some T-bone steaks, and beef sausages, and wine, and beer were consumed. And it was good. However, after all the rushing around and working I did, I was exhausted. Which I think shows in the photographs.

Sunday, May 02, 2004

I'm back in London

Modern air travel is truly miraculous. A couple of hours ago I was walking down Kings Road Chelsea. A typical London scene. Red double decker buses, English shops. You name it. However, on Friday I was having lunch with some friends in a restaurant with a lovely view of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Between my being in the two places there is a kind of discontinuity - 24 hours of sitting in the back of cramped Boeing 747s. There is a memory of eating a bowl of Japanese noodles actually in Japan in the middle of it somewhere too. But the fact that two opposite ends of the earth lie at the end of the 24 hour discontinuity is quite amazing.

I need to sleep. More blogging when I wake up. (I have my laptop fixed and returned to me, which is a fine thing).

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