Great food, I won't be back

Le Pain Quotidien, corner of Fitzroy and Bourke Streets, Surry Hills

Holly, Rachel and I popped into this restaurant a week or so ago before heading up to the football stadium for a dismal Sydney FC match. We'd walked past it a few times and peered into the window, and had wanted to try it out for ages.

Le Pain Quotidien means the daily bread, and this place really does make exceptional bread. Chewy, full-flavoured, real bread. It seems to be an international chain expanding all over the place.

The room itself is spectacular. It seems to be a converted warehouse space, with high ceiling and lovely raw wooden floorboards. A very warm, rustic feel which, given our miserable summer and particularly the miserable evening that day, was rather pleasant. It'd be a great space to linger over a few bottles of wine and some grub with friends in mid-winter.

The food centred around bread and things to have with bread. Between the three of us we ordered the Tuscan platter of ham, tapenade, pesto, soft cheese and gerkins, and a beautiful pot of Beef Bourguignon. Perfect food for a lazy and social meal, dipping bits of their amazing bread into the rich stew or slapping antipasti odds and ends on.

I was a bit surprised that for both dishes, and with three people at the table, we only got five meagre pieces of bread. We'd mown through the bread before we were even two-thirds through the bits that go with it, so I ordered some more. And this is what pissed me off: the waiter brought out three more little pieces of bread, and I got charged $4 for the privilege.

Now I recognise that these guys have to make a buck, and their meals are pretty reasonably priced, but charging more than a buck for a slice of bread sticks in my craw. Not providing enough to reasonably eat the meal doesn't help matters.

So while the place is excellent in every other regard, the pricing policy didn't make me happy. If you live nearby, it'd be a great place to buy your bread and sandwiches. Perhaps knowing you'll be charged for bread, you won't be as annoyed as I was and will quite enjoy it.

One thing, done well

I bought a digital photo frame yesterday. On the face of it, this should be a pretty straightforward product. You stick a memory card in it that has photos on it, and it randomly cycles through them. But of course, the manufacturers of China can't stick with something so straightforward. Oh no, in the electronics manufacturing world you have to cram in a whole bunch of features that nobody needs into a simple product. Then crown it with a user interface that would make a 1980s VCR manufacturer blush.

So this thing, instead of just showing photos, also plays back video and sound files (thus requiring a speaker) and, of course, has a clock and calendar function. Because a clock is a mandatory feature for any electronics device. You wouldn't want to spend the next change to or from daylight savings sitting around the house with nothing to do, would you?

So what's my problem with all these extra features I'll never use? I can just ignore them, right? Well the problem is that instead of spending time making sure the thing works well for the one thing people buy it for, they've blown it on this stupid crap. I discover, after quite a bit of troubleshooting, that it doesn't support progressive JPEG files, something that's been supported in browsers since 1995 at least. This is the default format used by Smugmug for their resized photos. So I had to convert all those photos.

Then of course the UI is appalling. You can't seem to get back to the menu from the Settings page. Instead I had to turn it off, then on again to get back to "view photo" mode. There's no randomize feature, it seems, so you can get a random next photo. WTF? Surely this would be a base feature? And the UI crashes randomly, because they spent more time working on video decoding than fixing bugs in the stuff that counts. Grrrrr!

I also don't see why these things are so expensive. I'd expect the price to be where it is if it did something truly cool, like have a wireless connection and it just connects to your photo store and displays photos. But it seems instead an 8 inch 800x600 LCD with some basic electronics (and a bunch of crap you don't need) is $200 or so?

No more donations to Oxfam

Dear Oxfam

I'm writing publicly because you've completely ignored the email I sent you about this matter. Nice one.

I've been an Oxfam supporter for many years. You're one of the more respectable aid NGOs around. Non-religious and effective. Unfortunately your fundraising methods are getting more and more intrusive. Your use of charity muggers annoyed me, particularly when I worked on Little Oxford Street in London and got hassled by them every single day.

The final straw has been you placing me on your tree spam mailing list when I donated to your Burma cyclone appeal. You don't actually offer an option to notprivacy policy says "Oxfam Australia will provide you with the opportunity to opt out of receiving future communications from us". Except it doesn't work!

So goodbye Oxfam. I'll have to find another aid charity for my donations.

Should the bush have metro-equivalent broadband?

Yesterday's Crikey had a letter from Rachel Dixon that rather eloquently said what I've said before about the National Broadband Network projects aim of connecting 98% of the population to "metro-equivalent" broadband, or 12 megabits-per-second.

The crux of Rachel's argument is that she has a sister-in-law in Nundle, a town of 289 souls out towards Tamworth. It has excellent air quality and no aircraft noise, but isn't blessed with particularly good access to broadband. Rachel, on the other hand, has poor air quality and loud, regular planes flying overhead in inner-city Sydney, but access to very fast broadband. So if the residents of Nundle are to get the excellent broadband, why can't we demand country-equivalent air quality and serenity?

This is the big problem with setting the bar to 98% of the population. We haven't comitted to providing 98% of the population with sealed roads, reticulated water and gas, or town sewage. I bet a big chunk of the final 5% don't even have grid electricity! What about guaranteeing them access to metro-equivalent hospital services? I'm within walking distance of a fair number of hospitals, so shouldn't the good people of Nundle also have the same? Why is broadband so different?

If a business or family chooses to locate itself in a remote area, is it really the government's job to provide the services they would get if they located themselves somewhere closer to the population centres? Shouldn't there be some social and economic cost to locating yourself in a remote area? There are certainly costs associated with locating yourself in a big city: air quality, peace and quiet, land costs.

I love a snaky review

There's few things finer than a review that slams an album, and none could be more deserving than the long-unawaited album from Axl Rose's Guns N' Roses cover band. Ever since waiting forty minutes at Roskilde for him to emerge, before giving up and going to see another band on the packed programme, I've had little patience for this self-important little turd. Apparently the gig I made the right decision going to see someone else, as apparently Rose spent most of the gig off-stage while his session musicians tried to fill the space with Jazz Odyssey.

So Chinese Democracy has finally been released. And it sounds like it's everything we all expected. Shite.

It would perhaps be unfair to call the album's lyrics — big on concepts like pullin' through, takin' your time and knowin' you ain't crazy no matter what they say — wildly solipsistic: plainly any listening multimillionare 80s hair metal frontmen struggling to complete a massively overdue, over-budget album are bound to feel a warm, inclusive tingle of identification.

Alexis Petridis' review hits the mark.

In the democracy of the market I suspect everyone, including the Chinese, will vote the same way on this one.

But how does it work in theory?

Last night on Radio National's Australia Talks, Paul Barclay hosted Clive Hamilton and Mark Pesce to discuss the Internet censorship proposal from Labor.

The host was pretty clearly pro-censorship, and allowed Hamilton's bogus claims about the effects of pornography to pass without challenge. Anti-censorship callers on this talkback programme seem to have spent the entire programme on hold. My favourite bit, however, is when he cuts off Mark Pesce's description of how the Chinese have admitted it's not technically possible to have effective, mandatory censorship.

Paul Barclay: I suppose we could debate all day whether or not, technologically, it's going to be possible to actually block these sites, but what I'm also interested in here...

Which reminds me of the classic quoted, attributed variously to an academic or French bureaucrat:

That's all very well in practice, but how does it work in theory?

Clearly the only way the pro-censorship guys can win this debate is by completely avoiding head-on debate. That certainly seems to be Conroy's approach!

How much for the soul, Pete?

Radioactive Peter Garrett

I sure hope Peter Garrett got a good price for his soul because his principles sure haven't amounted to much. He seems to have a Short Memory with his politicans, party lines, don't cross that floor!

There is one thing he's achieved. Any time one of my mates decides to joins the ALP and says you have to be in power to achieve change, my answer can be "oh yeah, like Peter Garrett has then?"

Genoa police riot: cops get off

The police who raided and smashed the crap out of a building full of peaceful protestors in Genoa in 2001 will get off completely from all their crimes, despite being found guilty. A statute of limitations means their convictions and sentences will expire before going into effect.

This kind of injustice will breed violence. I wouldn't be at all surprised if the victims decided to mete out their own justice, given the system has completely failed them. What's more, I imagine if the cops ever tried to raid a building full of protestors again, the protesters might decide to use violence to defend themselves, since the state won't do it for them.

Scary stuff.

Vive le FIP!

I discovered a really great French radio station recently, France Inter Paris (FIP). It's got a quite unique format, playing blocks of themed music grouped roughly into styles. You tend to hear a half hour or so of music within a style, and the range of styles is incredibly eclectic.

Between 07:00 and 23:00 French time, a short news bulletin is run at ten minutes to the hour, and a dulcet-toned French woman will give a short background to the music. Otherwise it's pretty much advert and long talk free.

My only criticism is that outside the live announcer hours, you can't find out what music they're playing on the web site. Even when the music is listed, the stream is quite a bit out of sync with what's listed on the site.

Anyway, give FIP a go. It streams in high quality mp3 online.

Also an interesting read is the Wikipedia article, including details of the long-running pirate transmitter in Brighton, England.

Out come the broad beans

New plantings

The broad beans came out today. We've had an enormous amount of beans from a very small space. They were lovely! However, they've been taking up a lot of space and providing a haven for snails and cabbage moth caterpillars that are munching the brocolli and sprouts. Tonight we'll eat the last beans in a risotto with some leftover salami from pizzas made earlier in the week. Yummy! I'll definitely be planting a lot of broad beans next winter. They've been an excellent crop.

In their place I've planted a bunch of tomatoes and a few lettuces. I've got a Digger's Russian Tomato mix and another 5-colour mix in there. They should come along nicely! I also planted out some peas and more beans.

New plantings

Holly and I had a bit of a seed-a-thon this afternoon, planting loads of new seeds. I've had some going a week or two: tomatoes, cucumber, more beans. I bought some of those jiffy pellets to try too, since I've not been having much luck with chillis. They apparently work well in these little pellets that swell when you water them.

As well there's more radishes, more basil, more chives, more lettuces. The summer crops which we'll need to keep going.