Merry (insert appropriate holiday here)

From the bottom of my heart, I would like to thank a chip off the old blog readers for at least pretending to read my musings, and

I would have also taken the opportunity to wish all and sundry a truly Merry Christmas / Hanukkah / Eid il-Fitr, but apparently, the end of the world approaches.

In the link above, NASA has studiously looked into it and concluded that December 21st will be nothing more than a normal December solstice. Thanks NASA, just like The Space Shuttles ‘Challenger’ and ‘Columbia’ were just stock standard missions, eh? And while we are about it, how exactly DO you scientifically conclude that the end of the world is, or is not, nigh?

Anyway, if you want to be angry, let’s be angry with the Mayans. I mean, their bloomin’ calendar bumbled along for over 5000 years – you think they could have added 4 or 5 days so we all could have enjoyed a little bit of Santa time. Alas, no. It all ends Friday.

So there you have it – quite possibly the last thing you will ever read will be this drivel. Oh, the unfairness of it all.

See you on the other side.


Some Assembly Required

What is the worst thing that can happen to you?

  • “Good evening ladies and gentlemen, this is the Captain speaking. For those on the left hand side of the aircraft, you may be wondering why the wing just fell off…”
  • “Insurance policy??”
  • “No officer, I would never drive under the influence of alcohol, I’m way too stoned to be drinking”.

None of those. The worst thing that can happen to you is a trip to Ikea.

It doesn’t matter what country you are in, Ikea stores are all the same. For me, it usually starts off OK, I’m a bit nervous, of course. But winding my way past clocks and coat hangers doesn’t seem so terrible. Then seemingly without warning, I suddenly find myself too far in. Beds and fluffy toys behind me, shelving, picture frames and kitchenware ahead. You can’t go back, the big arrows on the floor demand you go further inside the belly of the beast. Like a soldier, lost in a Vietnamese tunnel complex circa 1968, there is no escape. In you go, hoping for the best, but expecting the worst.

If you visit Ikea on a Saturday, well, you just deserve everything you get. Just you, and 45 million other people marching along the arrowed path like Snow White’s dwarfs – except everyone is grumpy and no one is singing.

And then it happens. I survive the ‘shock and awe’ of the store layout. I manage to purchase a TV stand with an unpronounceable Swedish name, (why Borgsjö? Why can’t it just be “white TV cabinet”?) Then several days later, it gets delivered. Hold on –  it doesn’t look like a TV cabinet, it looks too flat? Surely…you don’t mean…? Oh, you do!

The little sticker delivers the sucker punch: “assembly required”.

Happily, this is where my wife steps in. She is the engineer in our family. I helped her with an Ikea bookcase once – and snapped half-a-dozen little wooden pegs inside the first 10 seconds. She doesn’t ask me to help anymore.

So here it is. Ikea, the stores that make you wind around absolutely everything inside the store before they let you out. The store that makes you assemble the product you paid for. Can you imagine this: Head into the local pizza place. They make you look at the lasagna and the parmigiana, even though all you are there for is a pizza. Then when you plead that you just want the medium ham and pineapple, they hand you a lump of dough, a can of pineapple, a packet of ham and shove you out the door.

Next!


Obsessing over Obsessions

So, what’s your countries obsession?

Every country has a national obsession. Well, probably every country has many national obsessions, but there is generally one defining one, that other countries snigger about or raise an eyebrow to.

South Africa: Saffa’s love rugby for sure, but it borders more on religion than obsession, so I am going to go for a less obvious one to the world at large. Currency is King in the Republic. Every South African worth his or her Krugerrands knows the exchange rate to the US dollar, minute by minute each day. And an exciting obsession it is, with the Rand going up and down like a bride’s nightie.

The English are naturally obsessed with the weather. Getting their pasty while bodies into sunshine is Priority 1. Be it Australia, were flocks of Poms gather at Bondi Beach sans sunburn cream, then flock to Bondi hospital to deal with 3rd degree burns; to the South of France, where the same lily-white bodies are going through the same ritual. When the English go abroad, they must return tanned or spit roasted, so they can painfully tell all their friends about the fabulous weather elsewhere.

Americans are obsessed with…well… being American. They are proud of their country, and not opposed to loudly and vigorously cheering it on. Weather it be sport, where they usually excel, or military drone strikes, where they reign supreme: Yay! Go America! And to be fair, what’s wrong with a little self-love?

Ahhh, the French. So many things to say. I have to be careful as I have some fantastic French friends so there will be no jokes about how France would be the best country in the world if we could just get rid of the French… And so, to the task at hand: my Gallic friends are obsessed with their language. True; it’s a magical sounding language, but anyone with a working knowledge of French will tell you, les Français get quite grumpy with foreigners who mispronounce words. Now I am currently taking French language classes, and believe me, it is virtually impossible not to miss-pronounce, or indeed butcher, the language of love.  But I try to get it right – so être gentil avec moi, French people.

Aussies are obsessed with being the “cool dude in the dangerous country’” Sure, we come from a place where people are generally relaxed, but we obsess about being relaxed in the face of natural danger.  We love to tell unsuspecting tourists about all the things that might kill you in Australia: snakes, spiders, trees, fish – you name it, we have it – including the most venomous animal on earth, the box jellyfish. But seriously – as a tourist, what are the chances of being killed in Australia by one of our unfriendly and venomous Aussies? Low, very low. And the truth is, they scare us to death as well, but we try to act so cool. Trust me, we’re not. When I see a spider the size of a dinner plate or even one the size of a fingernail, I cry like a baby.

New Zealand is a country full of natural wonder. It’s almost Tardis like as there just can’t be so much beauty in such a small place. But trust me, there is. So what about the Kiwi’s obsession? Well, they are a nation that lives and breathes Rugby. Ask any Kiwi you know, or just randomly ring a New Zealand telephone number, and ask the person who answers if they know the middle name of anyone in the All Blacks rugby team. Fact: they will know them all. For non-rugby people, the national team is known as the “All Blacks”, and has been consistently the best rugby side in the world since 1903.  They have an astonishing 75% win ratio over the 110 odd years they have been playing the game. As an Australian, that makes me weep. Truly, if you organized your New Zealand wedding during an All Blacks match, no one, including the priest, would turn up.


Sign Language

Clever names excite me. Witty headlines delight me.

When travelling around Hong Kong or, indeed anywhere in the world, I like to take a moment to read restaurant names, signs and slick newspaper headlines.

A personal favourite of mine was the newspaper headline I read after French actor Gérard Depardieu was busted urinating on a plane (but not in the toilet):

“Oui? Non!”

Thai Restaurants around the world invariably make use of ingenious names:

Bow-Thai, Thai-riffic, En-Thai-Sing, Thai-Tanic, Thai-One-On. Seriously, Siam eatery monikers are an endless conga line of comic genius.

And then there is “Chinglish” – a curious mix of Chinese English. Here in Asia, signwriters and Government departments must use the cheapest translation service possible when putting up signs in English. A cursory trawl through Google could keep you amused for hours. For example:

In Mainland China, you don’t “keep off the grass”, you “Show mercy to the green lives under your foot”

In Hong Kong, there is a street called “Rednaxela Terrace”, and I confess, I only realized this when it was pointed out to me: It’s “Alexander” spelt backwards. Apparently the work of a non-English speaking signwriter back in 1901 – and the name stuck.

Going through the old Guangzhou Airport in China many years ago, this is what confronted me at Immigration:

“Prohibited Articles – “Fresh fruit, Eggplants, Hot Pipers, and a tomato ”.

Sadly, at the new Guangzhou airport, horny Scotsmen and their subversive tomatoes seem to have now been deemed safe to enter China.

Other countries are not immune either.

While my wife and I trekked the Annapurna circuit in Nepal some time ago, we spent a night in the “Hotel Superb View”; not because it had “Incredible 270° views”, no, we stayed there because according to the billboard sign, it was: “Not recommended by Lonely Planet Guide Book”.

Some signs while grammatically correct, just defy belief. When I lived in Africa, there was a road sign at the entrance to the Hilane National Park in Swaziland that announced:

Cyclists & pedestrians: Beware of Lion and Elephant

Ummm, Ok, thanks. I’ll keep a sharp eye out for them.

But some signs just give too much information. Down the road from where I live, there is a restaurant:

“Royal Thai Style Seafood & Dessert Fusion Restaurant & Pub”

As my wife said to me, “I wonder if they do massages as well?”


Romney and Ryan – Two Peanuts in a Pod.

Poor Mitt. Is there anything sadder than a failed political candidate crying: “Unfair!” Well, yep, there is. It’s his running mate, Paul “I’m a caricature of a preppy college dude” Ryan, also spouting off.

Boys, listen up: You lost. It hurts. For all I know, it may not have even been fair; but to engage in post poll sour grapes – and a bunch of grapes without much actual truth in them – just validates the choice made by American voters. Man-up gentlemen!

So what’s the real reason poor old multi-zillionaire Mitty – bitty the dust?

His tie.

OK, maybe I have a ‘thing’ for US politician’s ties, but look at the facts before discounting this little election night theory:

Mitt Romney – Blue and red stripes. It’s no wonder his credibility plummeted. Make a choice buddy.  Are you all about the red tie power play? Or are you all about the warm and fuzzy blue message? To top it off, nondescript dark stripes kept the two opposing themes apart, like an over zealous boxing referee. If you have to wear them on the same neck strangler, let them fight!

Obama, by way of contrast, had his trusty shiny blue soup catcher on.  No confusing messages there. “I’m a man of the people; granted, I am surrounded by 70 heavily armed secret service agents and travel in a bomb proof car, but trust me, I am one of you”

Oh Obama, who would have thought a simple tie choice would have swung 6 of the 7 swing states blue. Good work Michelle. Actually that might make a catchy country and western song,  “Baby, I swung the swing states blue”. Yeh, maybe not…

And so we are left with a terribly confused Romney. He seems to think people still want to hear his opinion. Here’s a news flash Moneybags – we don’t.  It’s actually quite sad for poor young Paul Ryan.  He seems to be in a little fantasy world all of his own, claiming that Obama “has no mandate”, to lead the USA, despite:

1)    The ‘Mitt and Paul show’ losing the election, 332 to 206 electoral college votes

2)    Losing the popular vote by 3.4 million ballots.

Then there is the clincher, with the VP wannabe claiming Obama won due to the “higher turnout in urban areas” Oh, you mean poor people, Paul? Oh dear, when did THEY get the vote?


Planned obsolescence

There was a break-in recently at a Dutch Art Museum. Thieves got away with US$125 million in art. There are, apparently, no leads. Where was security? The museum doesn’t have security guards; they rely on ‘electronic’ methods.

When asked, the museum’s director said – and I quote  – “We have state-of-the-art security”.

Eh?

So a couple of blokes turn up. They gain unfettered access to a museum containing paintings by Picasso, Monet and Matisse; spend 35 minutes browsing for the best pieces – steal them – and wandered off into the night. Yep, state-of-the-art all right.

It raises an intriguing point. Is the time approaching when humans become obsolete? Anyone who has ever tried to telephone and talk to a human being at a Bank will tell you; it’s virtually impossible.

“To stay on hold for 2 hours, then get cut off: press 1”.

“To hear other options, none of which are what you want: press 2”.

“To talk to a representative, just hang up now. Seriously, he’s never coming to the phone”.

And if I hear one more time, while on an eternal hold loop, the recorded message: “Your call is important to us” I will puke.

So what do you think happened to all these people who use to work at the Bank/Utility/Phone companies? The population of the Earth keeps getting bigger, but corporations use fewer and fewer staff… Maybe there’s an island somewhere, full of surplus phone answerers.

I am all for making life easier, but clearly, in the drive to reduce outgoings to zero, corporations and governments seem to have forgotten that humans actually like other humans to interact with. Sure, talking to a machine has its advantages, anyone who has had to endure their boss demanding the laws of physics be cast aside: “it has to be done yesterday!” Might instead, quite like to have a more reasonable conversation with the coffee machine. But on the whole, it’s much more pleasant to talk to a person.

Now excuse me, I have to go and hang some paintings…


Checking-Out

Hotels – I hate staying in them.

In the corporate world, hotels can be a status symbol of having made it. If you went on business trips, it meant you were vaguely important, and certainly as a young fellow, I marveled at the guys and gals who got to fly around and stay in fancy lodgings.

Now, of course, I know differently. I know that getting on a plane and checking into a hotel is neither fun nor exotic. It’s 10 hours in a metal tube followed by 10 hours in a small box. On a side note, I read the other day that planes nowadays are made up of “CREP” – Carbon reinforced plastic. If you are a cynic like me, that’s WAY too close to “CRAP”. In any event, I’m not sure I like the idea of flying in a slightly modified sprite bottle.

Hotels are strange and odd species. Buffet breakfasts, complete with scrambled eggs that are either more a soup than a scramble, or cooked for what must be days to get them as close as I imagine a diced rubber tire would look and taste like.

The mini sausages and mini glasses fascinate me. I suppose it’s a way of restricting consumption – to have shot glasses for your morning orange juice – but why the micro sausages? People just take 8 of them, so why not make a proper size one?

The rooms are designed as a place of rest – they are not designed to have people over – unless you’re a rock star, and the bed is the central attraction.  For the rest of us, they are to sleep in, with the bare minimum necessities, maybe a minibar and not much else.

Just on that subject, beware – the minibar is your enemy. On business trips, after the obligatory dinner and drinks with friends or colleagues, it’s way too easy to stumble in late at night, only to wake up the next morning surrounded with the remnants of US$50 worth of cashews, pringles and kit-kats.

So when you check in, leave your wallet on the bed and put the contents of the minibar in the safe. Shut it, close your eyes and set a combination you can’t possibly remember. Sure the hotel may charge you a small fee to open it next morning, but it will be cheaper than leaving late night temptation out, trust me.


Funny Business

Ok, folks, tell me your funniest engineering joke… That’s right, there aren’t any. Sorry to my engineer friends, but you have to face reality. But then again, I was at a stand-up comedy night recently, and before the show, I was indulging in a spot of eavesdropping (note, If you ever see a guy leaning surreptitiously into your group, pretending not to be listening in, but clearly listening in – It’s probably me). The group was obviously made up of engineers. How could I tell? One of the guys made a cantilever joke. What’s more disturbing – is everyone raucously laughed. Perhaps it was a “dirty” cantilever joke?

“Two equal length beams were cantilevered in rotational equilibrium. The first beam dropped its pants and lost radial vector …” Oh, stop it! Too funny!

But then, industries do have their own “in” jokes, so maybe it was funny. Humour is a funny thing in itself. Different jokes make different people laugh, and what I find funny – you may not. Rarely is humour universal. “Funny” even drills down on sexual lines. (Men, commence giggling at the word “sexual” and “drill” in the same sentence. Women, roll eyes and discuss how lame that innuendo was.)

But really, Find a bloke that doesn’t laugh at a fart joke (or an actual fart) and I’ll show you a dead man.

Girls, I think, tend to like clever jokes (of which I know none). Toilet humour usually goes down like, well, a blocked toilet.

I suppose that’s why places like comedy clubs exist in the first place. You don’t do your own electrical repairs (I hope) so don’t do your own comedy (unless you are one of the few gifted stand-up artists). Comedy clubs generally appeal to most people, especially if there are several acts on.

The point is, (yes, it may be heavily disguised, but there is a point), that if you want a decent laugh, find out if there is a stand-up comedy club nearby, and support it. Trust me, even if the comics are a bit lame, you will have a fun night, just watch out for under-employed bloggers looking for material.

 


Supermarket Sweep

Before launching into the super important topic of item placement in supermarkets, I firstly need to shamelessly gloat. Last week I successfully NAILED the US presidential debate tie colours. There they were, Romney in red, Obama in blue. A day to be proud of. For my next trick, I will accurately predict the next President of the United States, simply using a bucket of chicken entrails and a yoyo.

So, enough self-congratulating, it’s kind of pathetic anyway. On to more urgent matters:

Who decides shelf placement in a supermarket? Who is this person? How did they get this job?

I was in a supermarket the other day, when I noticed the baby formula section was situated right next to the alcohol section. Any parent will tell you, that’s an inspired placement.

Putting the cause and solution close together makes perfect sense. One probably caused the other but then when you have one you need the other. It’s a win/win for everyone, but what about everything else? I know impulse buys are at the register, chocolate, sweets and condoms – although I am not convinced condoms are an impulse buy. Who goes to the checkout with a bag of potatoes and a tube of hemorrhoid cream thinking, “mmm, yes, maybe a roll of mentos and a pack of “sexy suzie’s super stimulating condoms” for me”. I just can’t see it.

I constantly get confused trying to find food and other items in supermarkets that hide where my admittedly illogical brain, can’t find them.

Crisps, nuts, dips and nachos mix should be placed directly next to the beer section, or even better, all five items in a sturdy box marked “football match”.  That way, there is no mucking around, you just tell one of the lads, “Hey Dave, let’s watch the game at my house. Can you just pick up a box of ‘football match’ on the way?” Oh, how uncomplicated life would become.

I am sure placement in supermarkets is a little industry of its own, and people toil for aeons to come up with the “perfect” spot for everything.  Quite probably for women, location is crucial. Logical positioning entices and delights. The promise of untold riches inside beckons the ladies in. Here’s the fresh, inviting, fruit and vegetables, so crisp and colourful. Oh, and a bit further in, is that the deodorant section? I can hear the squeals of delight. Yep, once inside, the aisles tease you with the promise of shopping heaven, each turn opens up a galaxy of items to buy. Every now and then, impulse items are strategically placed to tempt you in further.

Of course for us guys, all they need is a piece of cardboard, with big black marker pen writing: “Cold beer out the back”.

I’m in.


Mitt v Barack: It’s a Tie!

Mitt Romney loves America. THAT’S why you should vote for him. Here’s what his wife, Ann, says:

“You can trust Mitt. He loves America”.

I don’t doubt that for a second.  But hang on; according to Michelle Obama, Barack also loves America, and you should vote for HIM! What a dilemma!

Some other people who love America are:

FEAR – an anarchist militia group “- Forever Enduring Always Ready”. According to their webpage they are “true patriots”, and their aim is “to give the government back to the people”, violently. They love America, apparently.

Adolf Hitler – In February 1942, (weird, given they were at war) made a speech praising America and it’s industrial strength. OK, He may not have loved America, but he seemed to like it.

“Love”, therefore, seems a bit of a tenuous reason to vote for someone. Well then, how about something much more likely to influence voters – say, their choice of tie?

I’m not an American, so I am not going to espouse the virtues or highlight the deficiencies of either Mitt or Barack, that’s for people closer to the action to do, I’m just a casual observer.

Politics is all about perception. As such, I have casually observed the dress style of both blokes. Look at either candidate: Speeches are made by both of them in comically appropriate attire.

  • A serious suit and tie is worn when it’s a bit more of a solemn speech (you can trust me, I have a nice suit on).
  • Pants and shirt (with sleeves, “I’m ready to work”, rolled up), when it’s a more casual affair.
  • Shirt and tie (no jacket, sleeves rolled up) when on the campaign trail.
  • A shirt, no tie, with just the cuffs turned up once, for sort of weighty, impromptu speeches, (I’m hard working folks, but still want to look nice).
  • Check shirt, jacket and no tie for weekend speeches: (look at old semi-casual me, working on the weekend!)

It’s important stuff people.

Seriously, if you took pictures of both of them and put them side-by-side, they dress identically for their various scripted engagements. It seems to me, blue ties are by far the most popular, although I think Barack can pull off grey, pink and purple. Mitt needs to stick with blue, with an understated pattern. Bold stripes just enhance his “I’m all about money” issues. Red “Power” ties for State of the Union, or when addressing the people on serious issues is a sort of a given.

Am I too shallow for focusing on this rather than policy?

Absolutely. But elections in any country are about bagging the other guy, and less about bragging about what you can do/have accomplished.  Elections are all about appearances. As a Stockbroker, I use to joke that if I gave my boss a lovely chart, well presented and formatted, it was almost irrelevant what information it contained, or what it said, or didn’t say. “Colour over Substance” was my motto.

So we boldly go to the upcoming first Presidential Debate. Here it is people; you heard it here first:

Mitt – he will be in a red power tie. He needs to look Presidential. He has to create an image he is a man with authority. A man who can lead the Nation.

Barack – Blue. Good old dependable blue. “I am in control – just ask my tie”. He want’s you to trust him; He’s got the job and doesn’t need to project his power. He wants respect.

I just hope we don’t see the “red on red” debacle from George W and Al Gore’s debate in 2000.  Power  tie v Power tie – it was terribly confusing.

Mitt, Barack –  get your wives to talk and sort out the neckwear beforehand. Or at least have a spare in your pocket to slip on during an ad break.


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