Planning Alerts

The amazing people in and around the mySociety have a new project in test. allows you to enter an email address, a UK postcode and a region that you want to watch. Any planning applications in that area will end up being emailed to you, as they're updated. When I lived in the Borough of Lambeth, they had a similar service, which also gave community events and the like. The issue with a council-run service is if you live near the boundary of the council, you might miss something across the border.

With most councils not really playing ball, they've taken the approach of screen scraping the data off council web sites. This way they can give a genuinely geographic alert, once they have all the councils covered.

One problem with this is that there's no real qualification of the types of development being planned and alerted. For example, I'd want to know if my neighbour plans to chop down one of the trees in their garden, but I'm not particularly interested in someone chopping down trees a few blocks away. But if someone was planning a huge shopping centre anywhere in my suburb, I'd want to know about it. I can only hope the clever clogs behind this find a way.

Now we need an Australian version. I've long been planning to scrape the Marrickville Council list of development applications and geocode them. Now I think I'll have a go, and the guys have supplied a reasonable output format, though in Australia we don't have the advantage of such a detailed postcode system.

Good beer, bad chicken

A few weeks ago I got an email from the Malt Shovel Brewery about a beer and food tasting at their brew pub on King Street Wharf. Best thing, of course, was the price: free. I signed myself and Holly up immediately.

The evening started off with a Golden Ale, always a lovely drop, and a bit of a talk from Chuck Hahn. Golden was paired with some pretty good jumbo deep-fried prawns. A good combo, the fruity hops going well with the seafood. Next up was Amber Ale paired with lamb cutlets. I'm not so sure about this combo really being a match, but I like both amber ale and lamb.

The next combo was a revelation. I think the James Squire porter is one of the best beers made in Australia. It's pretty much flawless, getting the critical balance between sweet and sour just right for the porter style. The combination was a cheesecake. I'm not normally that keen on cheesecakes, but a bite followed by a slurp of porter was an amazing taste sensation. The sourness of the porter cuts through the (normally cloying) richness of the cheesecake. A brilliant combination, which I'll be serving at my next dinner party I think.

Finally came the latest seasonal brew, a Pepperberry Winter Ale. Bush foods are something brewers in Australia are trying to incorporate, with varying degrees of success. The Barons Lemon Myrtle Witbier is vile, tasting more like Toilet Duck or Strongbow Lemon than a wheat beer.

The pepperberry is more succesful, keeping the exotic seasoning as a subtle texture to the flavour instead of overpowering the beer. It's a fairly standard winter ale, dark, fairly sweet, heavy (5.2% I think) and the pepperberry gives a warm spiciness to it. The aroma is something slightly aniseed, with a similar slight flavour running through the taste. It's got a very long, lingering flavour that changes as you savour it. Well worth checking out, but it's a limited seasonal brew so get in quick.

I asked one of the brewers when they'd be making another wheat beer. Previously they've done what they called a Colonial Wheat Beer, which wasn't as tasty as I'd hoped but pretty good. I'm more into the spiced wheat beers, Hoegaarden being the most well-known of the variety. The only Australian brewer getting it right is the Snowy Mountains Brewery's Charlottes Hefeweizen. Malt Shovel's Summer brew is apparently going to be a lager, like Australia needs more of those, but hopefully they'll have another crack at wheat.

The beer event was actually pretty quick, moving through the beer and food at a rapid pace. Holly and I decided to wander into town and find some dinner, and we've been looking for a change to try the Korean Fried Chicken I saw reviewed recently.

Sadly Dashi Korean seems to have closed. We wandered all the way up and down the short laneway without finding it, though there's a not-yet-opened restaurant with workers in it, and I suspect that might be where Dashi was.

We ended up wandering around the corner onto Liverpool Street where we'd seen KoreanFC advertised to check it out. The place is a real rabbit warren, the downstairs area packed with (mostly) Koreans, so we were shown upstairs to a kind of covered-in verandah. The decor is, well, dodgy. I suspect the council would not approve.

Anyway we ordered some of the sauced fried chicken, hoping it would be as good as the stuff we've had in London. Unfortunately not in this case.

The batter was overly thick, the chicken a bit dried out and the sauce was synthetic-tasting, without the chunky bits of onion and capsicum. Altogether not very nice, and quite disappointing. Korean food always comes with little side dishes of pickles and the like, and these ones were pretty ordinary too. A simply vinegared radish was somewhat refreshing after the greasy food, but the kimchi was very ordinary and the cold clear noodles bland.

We'll just have to keep looking for the perfect KoreanFC here in Sydney!

Dear King Pig

My mate Don sent a letter to the King Pig and the Special Minister for World (Catholic) Youth Day in NSW in regards to his freedom to annoy Catholics.

Dear Minister

It was my intention to be involved in a peaceful demonstration over the Pope's supposed World Youth Day on July I am concerned by reports in the media, primarily the Sydney Morning Herald, that I will be breaking the law and risk jail or a fine.

Could you please clarify that I will not be breaking the law if I:

  • assemble at Taylor Square, Darlinghurst at 12pm 19 July with other like minded citizens.
  • wear a T-shift of the English folk/rock band Chumbawumba. The T-shirt is plain black and says in grey writing "Chumbawumba" on the back "Atheist" on the front.
  • I will be carrying a cardboard placard A2 size. One side will say "Miranda Devine Sux" and the other side will say "World Peas" with a picture of some small green vegetables.
  • Offer condoms to passed by, in a respectful, polite and peaceful manner.
  • Possibly sing or chant harmless songs - such as one of my old rugby favourites "Has anybody seen JC" lyrics at

Thank you kindly

Don McCallum


Wow, there's still web agencies who think Flash is cool

Farm Digital

Wow, I can't believe there's still web agencies who do everything in Flash. This technique is so effective, the above is what Google can see of their site. That's right, the title.

Supposedly Adobe is working with the search engines to index the internals of Flash crap. I can see this ending in tears. They're either going to expose internals that were never intended to be visible (like the kind of people who do Flash know anything about security) or the designer will have to explicitely list keywords, which will end up being as useful as meta keywords.

Why direct action is important

Parliament protestors

The Guardian has a great piece about direct action group Plane Stupid, who are all about preventing the expansion of the aviation industry in the face of climate change. It presents a passionate and well-reasoned insight into why direct action is important, and how electoral politics can't solve the world's problems.

"In a situation where you need massive, urgent systemic change, we don't really have the system to achieve it," says Thompson. "Electorally, everyone is fighting over the middle ground. So the mere fact that you're not a moderate means you can't be listened to. That means anybody who had the answer to climate change would automatically be excluded from the debate. This is why you can't just think, if I vote for the greenest party at the election, I'll have done what I needed to."

Carbon pricing and petrol

Australia is in the midst of deciding how its eventual carbon taxation and trading environment will work, and the conservatives have switched back to their default climate change denial position, as they had before they thought it might win them last year's election. These supposed fans of the free market are now calling for petrol to be excluded from any eventual carbon pricing mechanism.

Crikey has been banging on about the fact that excluding any sector of the economy from the carbon taxation means the cost of carbon for every other sector will be higher. Our government would do well to resist these regressive moves, and aim for a flat carbon price that is based solely around the carbon emitted. We are, after all, trying to get the economy to be less carbon-intensive, so any moved by any sector to reduce their carbon emissions should be encouraged, via a price signal.

Last week China removed some subsidies on processed oil products, which caused a sharp rise in prices. This change was partially caused by pressure from economists to remove the subsidies and instead focus the subsidy on those in most need of financial help. This is the same approach Australia should take.

So the eventual approach we need to take is to tax all carbon sources equally, and help households that meet the criteria of fuel poverty through direct, means-tested and targetted subsidy. Otherwise you'll end up continuing to subsidise road transport over other forms of transport, the rich will end up with cheaper fuel, the poor will still be struggling.

Obviously part of the package needs to be providing alternatives to single-occupant petrol-based transport throughout the economy.

Sniff browser history

Niall Kennedy has a really clever JavaScript hack to sniff a user's browser history. It's a pretty cool hack, but also a little scary since any web page you load can find out what pages you've been to.

It works like this: you have some links somewhere inside the DOM, and inspecting the CSS "visited" attribute, you can find out if the user's history contains the URL you're linking. Of course it doesn't actually have to be visible to the user.

His nice white-hat example presents only appropriate "add to your <social app>" links to readers. I can think of some less nice examples. You're selling stuff and want to know if the person is a customer of your competitor. Check to see if they've visited the logged-in area of the competitor's site, then present a specific comparison between your competitor and your own products. Or you could be very reactive to stuff being written about you in the press in the press, even though the person read the article a few days ago. Cool!

I'm looking at personalisation at the moment as a way to try and mediate around the inevitable conflict of home page real estate between divisions in the company. The more we can work out about people hitting our site, the more accurate we can be. This gives the evil genius in me some ideas! Mwahahahaha!!!