Saturday, 26 April 2014

Lego, Noah and other movies

Today we went to see The Grand Budapest Hotel.

The adventures of Gustave H, a legendary concierge at a famous European hotel between the wars, and Zero Moustafa, the lobby boy who becomes his most trusted friend.

I won’t give any spoilers here but just say that it's thoroughly entertaining, I really enjoyed it and it’s well worth a watch.

There’s quite a lot of competition at the cinema at the moment, with Captain America (also good) and the Lego Movie (which looks good) among others. One, I won’t be watching is Noah - a movie that I don’t really understand why it was made. If you want to save some money and get the "real" Noah myth, you can do far worse than combining it with another current movie and checking out lego Noah over at The Brick Testament!

As well as the animals going in two by two - dinosaurs included, which should keep the Creationists happy - I particularly like the scene with all the animals crammed into the ark. I’m not sure that even cute lego figures make the story any less horrific, though.

Sunday, 20 April 2014

The Royal Easter Show

Last week, we went to the Royal Easter Show at Olympic Park in Sydney. I’ve never been to a county fair or such like before and, I must say, it was a lot of fun.

It’s a really well organised affair and despite the large numbers of people, it never really felt over-crowded. Public transport to and from the venue was included in the ticket, which was a nice touch. Extra shuttles were laid on from central station and exiting the train at Olympic Park with the crowd, I felt like I got a glimpse of the excitement and atmosphere that must have been present when arriving for the Olympics itself.

We didn’t really know what to expect, so we didn’t plan our day as such and mostly just mooched about. There were some events in the main arena as well as a couple of other venues within the Olympic Park. We did not see much but did catch some of the wood chopping, which was interesting and rather crazy. These guys have some very shiny axes and sure can chop wood!

Just before lunch we saw part of the “300mm underhand” competition, in which the competitors stand atop the block to be chopped and then hack down into it. A few well-aimed hefty blows chops out one side before the competitors turn around and chop out the other side to split the log. It’s all over in a few seconds.

Good as the wood chopping was, one of the main motivations for attending the Show was the Arts & Crafts section. My wife knits and knew several people with entries in different knit-craft competition categories, including some winners. Not being so into fashion, my favourites were probably the knitted toys and creative knitting, including a Dr Who and Tardis and South Park nativity scene.

The creativity was not limited to knitted items, of course. Lots of other handicrafts were on display. I particularly enjoyed the cake decorating competition entries, which were simply sublime and incredibly imaginative. These alone were probably worth the entry money.

Something else that really impressed me was the breadth and depth of the agricultural displays geared towards children, which were engaging, entertaining and educational in equal measure. These included cow milking, sheep shearing and a small animal barn in which goats and chickens etc. were roaming free and could be fed with hay that was on sale by the cup.

After checking these out, and some of the “best of breed” animal competitions, we visited the Woolworths fresh food dome. Unfortunately, we has already had lunch at this point - if we go again next year then we will definitely look to eat here instead of the many fast food options available.

The Food Dome was also the home of the impressive agricultural district displays:

Climbing up the walls of the Woolworths Fresh Food Dome, the District Exhibits are one of the Show’s iconic displays, featuring creative and artistic installations assembled from outstanding quality grain, wool, fruit and vegetables. Each display consists of more than 10,000 pieces of the best quality fresh produce from five agricultural districts throughout NSW and South East Queensland.

Following the bad bush fires this year, there were a couple of poignant displays, including one that featured an aerial firefighting helicopter and several fire engines. The size of some of the produce was also extremely impressive!

All in all, it was a really fun day and highly recommended, whether you have kids or not. Well worth the $38.50. It’s on until Wednesday, so if you live in/near Sydney, there’s still time!

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Two good eggs (and some mighty fine pork belly)

Today we went for Sunday brunch at Two Good Eggs cafe in Surry Hills, central Sydney.

A good Sunday brunch is probably my favourite meal of the week - not that we have brunch every week - and so it was exciting to go to a cafe that specialised in breakfast and brunch. Starting with a very good flat white, complete with little wafer, we were not disappointed.

The Two Good Eggs menu is pretty diverse and manages to hit both the usual favourites, such as pancakes with bacon and maple syrup, or Eggs Benedict, plus a whole bunch of creative dishes too.

I opted for something that I would never make myself at home: Roast pork belly with poached eggs, caramelised onion and sourdough toast. Delicious! The two eggs were indeed good, cooked to perfection and served atop tasty, crispy pork belly and sweet, sticky caramelised onions. The photo did not do it justice but an attempt seemed obligatory for something so good.

I was lucky enough to sample a couple of other dishes too: Eggs Benedict with smoked salmon and avocado, and “Goats on toast”, a vegetarian dish of “Warm Trinity Cellars French goats cheese with drizzled honey and smashed walnuts on sour cherry fruit toast”. Both were very good, although I’m glad I went for the pork belly.

Not quite as cheap or close as the amazing sandwiches at One Six Nine cafe in Randwick, but I am already looking for excuses to go back! Top notch nosh.

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Yet another lengthy investigation concludes that homeopathy is useless

Australia’s main body for health and medical research, the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), has recently conducted an extensive review of the “evidence for homoeopathy in treating 68 clinical conditions”. Predictably, it concludes “there is no reliable evidence that homoeopathy is effective for treating health conditions”.

No surprise there, but hopefully another nail prepared for the coffin of homeopathy, should drug stores develop of conscience and/or people ever stop getting taken in by utter crap.

The figures are scary, though. According to the

Australians spend almost $4 billion a year on complementary therapies like vitamins and herbs and almost $10 million on homeopathic remedies.

That's $10 million wasted. $10 million dollars that could have been spent on actual medicine. And I shudder to think how much of that $4 billion is wasted on complementary therapies with zero benefit, or worse - probably most of it. To put that figure in context, it is over five times the entire NHMRC 2013/14 budget of $771.2 million for health/medical research funding.

Perhaps the most revealing part of the article was the response of the homeopaths themselves:

However, Australian Homeopathic Association spokesman Greg Cope said he was disappointed at the narrow evidence relied on by the NHMRC in its report.

“What they have looked at is systematic trials for named conditions when that is not how homoeopathy works,” he said.

Homoeopathy worked on the principle of improving a person’s overall health and wellness, and research such as a seven-year study conducted in Switzerland was a better measure of its usefulness, he said.

I’m sorry… what‽ Homeopathy is based on the (utterly discredited) 200-year-old notion that “substances that produce symptoms in a healthy person can be used to [effectively] treat similar symptoms in a sick person”. This is not the principle of “improving a person’s overall health and wellness”, this a principle of targeting specific named symptoms with specific substances. Specific substances that are then diluted far beyond the point that any molecules (or “memory” thereof) remains in the solution (which is then often dropped onto a sugar pill), but specific substances that cause specific symptoms nonetheless.

Mr Cope is right about one thing, though: homeopathy does not work by treating named conditions. Homeopathy does not work.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Don't be an April fool - get (your kids) vaccinated

If there’s one thing that irks me as much as Homeopathy, it’s the anti-vaccination crowd. Therefore, I think that posts like the recent “Dear parents, you are being lied to” at Violent metaphors, deserve as much publicity as they can get. It's a well structured piece, heavily laden with links for further reading, with a heartfelt plea:

In only one respect is my message the same as the anti-vaccine activists: Educate yourself. But while they mean “Read all these websites that support our position”, I suggest you should learn what the scientific community says. Learn how the immune system works. Go read about the history of disease before vaccines, and talk to older people who grew up when polio, measles, and other diseases couldn’t be prevented. Go read about how vaccines are developed, and how they work…

As Professor Simon Foote wrote around a year ago, Parents have a moral obligation to children. Make no mistake about it, failing to vaccinate puts both your children and the children of others at risk. (And not just children.) As the Jenny McCarthy body count reports, preventable deaths in the US alone have exceeded 1300 since 2007, with 100 times that number of preventable illnesses. Whilst not the sole cause, anti-vaxxers must take a share of the responsibility for this.

Like Jennifer Raff at Violent metaphors, I’m sure that some of those opposing vaccination and/or advocating “parental choice” are doing so with the best of intentions. However, good intentions are no defence against disease and anti-vaxxers across the spectrum should take a long, hard look at themselves and ask whether their reasons for opposing the overwhelming global medical and scientific consensus are worth endangering even one life.

If you're not sure, I highly recommend reading the whole article. And if that’s too tame for your tastes, there is also the classic “Angry scientist finds an uneducated internet comment and delivers an epic response…”, which has a slightly less nuanced (but also informative) correction of some anti-vaxxer lies.

The Cat & The Ducklings (Animal Odd Couples)

Via WEIT, here is a crazy/cheery "cat suckling ducklings" story that is fit to be an April Fool's joke but isn't!