Sunday, January 30, 2011

Quote: Isaac Asimov

“ The saddest aspect of life right now is that science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom.”

- Isaac Asimov (1920 – 1992), American author and professor of biochemistry

Reader Comment

From Byter Charles:

I have heard another version of the last line in your Adam and Eve story ....."the mutiple orgasm"!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Ask Otto: Shoe Throwing

Another word from Byter Steve:

Reading about Draco*  has sent me down a path that I always wondered about, Otto.  What is behind the throwing of shoes with some nationalities (the George Bush incident comes to mind)? Obviously it is to register some dissatisfaction or whatever, but how did it all come about?

*  The chap who died when buried under thrown cloaks and hats.

The response follows, Steve, but I can’t resist an opening quote from a favourite flick:
Man in crowd III: He has given us a sign!
Man in crowd V: He has given us...his shoe!
Man in crowd III: The shoe is the sign! Let us follow his example!
Man in crowd IV: What?
Man in crowd III: Let us like him, hold up one shoe and let the other one be upon our foot, for this is his sign that all who follow him shall do likewise!
Man in crowd II: No, no, no, the shoe is a sign that we must gather shoes together in abundance!

- Life of Brian
Although Steve has specifically raised shoe throwing in the manner of hostility or an insult, let’s look at some other forms of shoe throwing first:

Friday, January 28, 2011

On Pissing on Walls

(The earlier post that relates to the above hotograph can be found at:

During some research recently on a Bytes item, I was surprised to come across a Bible reference to “pisseth against a wall”:
And it came to pass, when he began to reign, as soon as he sat on his throne, [that] he slew all the house of Baasha: he left him not one that pisseth against a wall, neither of his kinsfolks, nor of his friends.
1 Kings 16:11
It was in the King James Version, which is the version we grew up with as kids, long before plain English versions.

Intrigued that the Bible used such language, I looked up other similar references and came up with the following, again all in the King James Version:
1 Samuel 25:22
So and more also do God unto the enemies of David, if I leave of all that [pertain] to him by the morning light any that pisseth against the wall.

1 Kings 21:21
Behold, I will bring evil upon thee, and will take away thy posterity, and will cut off from Ahab him that pisseth against the wall, and him that is shut up and left in Israel,

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Quote: Harry S. Truman

“It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.”

- Harry S. Truman (1884 – 1972), US President 1945-1953

As a point of interest, the S in Truman’s name is not a shortening of a middle name, it is complete as S.

Truman wrote in his autobiography that his first name, Harry, is after an uncle, Harrison Young, and  that as regards the S:
"…so that I could have two initials in my given name, the letter S was added. My Grandfather Truman's name was Anderson Shippe Truman and my Grandfather Young's name was Solomon Young, so I received the S for both of them."
Although he once joked that the S was a name, not an initial, so that it should not have a period after it, official documents do use a period. There are also numerous examples of Truman signing his name with a period after the S. In the 1960’s Truman himself said that he had no preference. It has been common to use a period since then. 
As a further point of interest, the above photograph is an iconic image of Truman after his presidential win. The win was so unexpected that the Chicago Tribune had already printed its newspapers ready for distribution with the headline “Dewey defeats Truman”.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Byters will note that we are back on track.  Yesterday's announcement that I was unwell was posted by my daughter.

The item which would have appeared on Australia Day, had I not been indisposed, appears below.

By way of explanation, last Friday night I developed a fever and thought I was coming down with flu.  By Sunday morning my temp hit 40 and I was feeling lousy (expletive deleted).  I sent a text message to my GP, who is also a friend, who told me to get myself to RPA.  I did so and was diagnosed as having septicemia, a blood infection that had its origin from some cellulitis on my leg.  I was put on intravenoous antibiotics and various other things, until I was able to come home on Wednesday.

For those who have contacted me by email, I have a lot of emails to catch up on but will respond to you.  Thanks to those who called me or sent messages to get well.

The Eureka Stockade and Its Flag

The Eureka Stockade and Its Flag

Australia Day inevitably raises the issue of what the Australian flag should be. My own feeling on the matter is that we should simply drop the Union Jack and keep what remains, based on the principle that our flag should not contain the flag of another country:

It is sometimes suggested that the flag of the Eureka Stockade be adopted as our national flag and we couldn’t do better.

Irrespective of the issue of any change to Australia’s national flag, the story of the Eureka Stockade and its flag is a fascinating and moving one.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Bytes posts

Hello Byters,

Service temporarily suspended whilst I am unwell.

Will resume Byting soon, until then please feel free to read through the archives if in need of a bytes fix.


Sunday, January 23, 2011

Quote: Stephen Levine

“If you were going to die soon and had only one phone call you could make, who would you call and what would you say? And why are you waiting?”

- Stephen Levine (1937 - ), American poet, author and teacher

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Symbols: The Portcullis

I recently used the above image in connection with a story about the British Parliament.  That image is the offical symbol for that parliament.

Some interesting trivia about the image:

• The image and thereby the emblem is of a portcullis, from the French "porte coulissante" or gliding door. Those who recall Errol Flynn or Kevin Costner as Robin Hood, or Kirk Douglas as Einar in The Vikings, or a myriad other movies of English castles being attacked, will recognise that a portcullis is the metal gate that is raised upwards by metal chains. In such movies the rope or chain holding up the portcullis is usually cut by the hero, trapping the villains and enabling the hero to make his getaway.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

How Projects Really Work

(Click on the images to enlarge).

The above image  dates from the late 1960’s, in the days before faxes and emails. Photocopies were distributed by hand and the message was simple: interact with the customer, find out what the customer wants and resist adding unnecessary features, unworkable variations and complex implementations. Apply the KISS principle, ensure adequate oversight and have the various persons and departments involved work with each other.

Since then the image has been updated to reflect more advanced times and greater technology, which in turn have allowed even greater opportunities for foul ups and an end product quite different from what was sought.  The following is an updated image, but the message remains the same:

Strange Deaths: Draco

The word “draconian” means severe, unusually cruel or harsh, as in rules, punishments and governments, and comes from the name of Draco. Not Draco Malfoyle, the mongrel blonde kid in the Harry Potter books and movies. Not Draco the last dragon, voiced by Sean Connery in Dragonheart. Not the big Russian that Rocky Balboa fights in Rocky IV. Oops, sorry, that last one is Drago.

No, this Draco is Draco the Lawgiver, as he is commonly rfeferred to, a politician who lived in Athens in the 7th century. In 621 BC Draco was given the task of codifying and organising the laws of Athens, the first time that the laws had been written down. Once codified, they were displayed publicly on "steles", three-sided pyramids which could be pivoted for reading. The laws were impartial but incredibly harsh, with death being the punishment for most offences, even such trivial ones such as idleness. Hence the origin of “draconian”.

The point of this post, however, is not Draco's life but his death.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Hidden Images in Logos

So far as I know and my researches have indicated, there is no organisation known as Yoga Australia. Nonetheless, a graphic designer by the name of Roy Smith, from Norwich in the UK, has designed a logo for Yoga Australia that is hard to forget once you’ve seen it. His website mentions that it is design as a personal project.

For those who have not yet noticed, the space bounded by the leg, arm, back and buttocks of the woman in the above pic forms a map of Australia (sans Tasmania), a wonderful hidden image in a logo. It’s one of the best that I have seen.

I am always reminded of this pic whenever I see someone doing this yoga pose on the TV. It never fails that I look intently as to whether the bounded space forms a map of Oz. I have no doubt that you will now be doing likewise.

One final note.

Although this post has discussed the female form and has also mentioned the map of Tasmania, I have so far avoided any Les Patterson comments in that context. I will, however, quote from a 2009 biographical article about Errol Flynn by Mark McGinness in Quadrant Online, the context of the following paragraph being that his executor had to determine where Flynn was domiciled at the date of his death:
It is difficult to imagine that the restless Flynn was ever domiciled. The restlessness may have been preordained. His given name apparently means wanderer. He was born in Hobart on June 20, 1909. It has been suggested he put Tasmania on the map. (Sir Les Patterson would maintain that Flynn would be forever fascinated by the map of Tasmania.)


Monday, January 17, 2011


• A person present in parliament who is neither a member of Parliament or a parliamentary official is known as a “stranger”.

• It used to be the case in the British Parliament that if MPs wanted to have a secret session, one of them would point to the gallery from which the public watch (known as the “Strangers Gallery”) and call "I spy strangers!", whereupon the House voted "that the strangers do withdraw."

• The procedure has now been modernised, with the “I spy strangers” having been dropped in 1998.

• In 2004 the Modernisation Committee of the British Parliament recommended that visitors to the House of Commons should no longer be referred to as “Strangers”, instead being referred to either as “member of the public” or “the public”.

In support of the above, the Leader of the House said:
“I believe that our visitors, voters and citizens are entitled to view our debates, and that they should not be shunted into a pigeonhole labelled 'Strangers'.

As the Modernisation Committee said, ‘this is the last impression we should be wanting to give to people who exercise their democratic right to visit us.’

The earliest reference to a ‘stranger’ in the Commons Journal appears to be on 13 February 1575. Let us make 26 October 2004 the last.”
The motion was carried on division 242 votes to 167.

• The NSW Parliament still contains a Strangers Function Room and a Strangers Lounge, available for booking by members of the public.

Sunday, January 16, 2011


The inventor of the modern shoelace is supposedly Harvey Kennedy, who is often referenced as having come up with the invention in 1790.

Early civilisations used sandals as footwear, although shoes were worn in Mesopotamia as long ago as 1600BC. From there footwear moved to moccasins and shoes with buckles or buttons. An American company developed plimsolls (sandshoes) in the late 1800s. From 1917 they were marketed as "sneakers" because they were silent , enabling one to sneak around.

Lacing in connection with footwear dates back thousands of years. Laces were used to keep many types of sandals on the feet of Greeks and Romans, as depicted in pictures from the time. Native Americans used leather thongs and laces to secure animal hide moccasins and winter leggings to their feet and legs.

What Harvey Kennedy did was to:
• thread a lace through an eyehole, instead of threading it against an external fastener;
• place a binder on the end of the lace to prevent it fraying (known as an aglet);
• then take out a patent on the whole deal.

This made Harvey a very rich man. Although his name may have been lost to history, his legacy lives on.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Australia is:
• the only nation that governs a whole continent;
• the sixth-largest country in the world;
• the largest island on earth;
• the smallest, flattest continent;
• the driest continent after Antartica, which makes it the driest inhabited continent on earth;
• the world's most urbanised country. 70% of the population live in the 10 largest cities.


Aficionados of Rugby League will be aware that there is a statue outside Queensland’s Suncorp Stadium of former Australian and Queensland captain, Wally Lewis:

The inscription refers to him as The Emperor of Lang Park and he is also commonly known as The King, but such honorifics do not stop people good naturedly taking the piss out of the statue, especially at State of Origin time:

In 1927 an employee of the Southland Ice Company of Dallas, Texas, one Joe Thompson, began selling convenience items – milk, eggs and bread – from the company’s ice dock.  This became popular in that the items could be preserved by the ice and consumers avoided having to travel longer distances to grocery stores.  Thompson eventually bought the company and started an operation of convenience stores.  The company's first convenience outlets were known as Tote'm stores since customers "toted" away their purchases, and some even sported genuine Alaskan totem poles in front.  In 1946 the name was changed to 7-Eleven, representing the new opening hours of 7.00am to 11.00pm seven days a week, unprecedented at the time.    Today the name remains, notwithstanding that most outlets are open 24 hours.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Toto: Africa

"I don't believe there's an atom of meaning in it."
- Alice, Alice in Wonderland

“Let the fuckers work that one out.”
- John Lennon, on finishing I Am The Walrus, having deliberately written nonsense lyrics after hearing that the English master at his old school was making his class analyse Beatles’ lyrics.

"So when people ask me what American Pie means, I tell them it means I don't ever have to work again if I don't want to."
- Don McLean

Toto’s Africa is their greatest hit and a perennial on radio stations. It always gets feet tapping and no doubt is a popular selection at karaoke… “I bless the rains down in Africa…”

Hear it and see it in a live performance at:

See and hear the original recording and video clip at:

'Or a superb acappella version by Perpetuum Jazzile at:

Just one thing: wtf do the lyrics mean?

Sydney in the Past

I am fascinated by old photographs, especially of well known locations as they looked a hundred or so years ago. It’s a bonus if there are people in those pics.

Edward Albee’s play Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? was turned into a superb movie with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, Have a look if you get the opportunity, the performances of Burton and Taylore are the performances of  both their careers. In the play/movie Burton plays George, a middle aged. jaded professor of history who at one point says to Nick, a lecturer in biology: “When people can't abide things as they are, when they can't abide the present, they do one of two things ... either they ... either they turn to a contemplation of the past ... or they set about to ... alter the future.”

I disagree that a contemplation of the past is indicative of unhappiness with the present, I am quite happy in the present,  but, as readers will know, I have a greater interest in history than in altering the future.

Here are some pics of interest:

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Doomsday Vault

Remember how in Waterworld Kevin Costner was growing a scrawny tomato plant in a post-apocalyptic world? Or how the good guys in Mad Max 2 were trying to grow some sad vegies in the desert, whilst being terrorised by bikers?

One government has taken steps to ensure that it won’t be like that.

Quick, what is Norway famous for?

Frida from Abba comes from there. So did the Vikings. And the Nazis went there. Also Edvard Munch, painter of The Scream, is Norwegian. And they have a lot of fjords, but they don't have Holdens (my little joke).

Which makes it all the more surprising that of all countries, Norway has established the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, commonly known as the Doomsday Vault.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Reader Comment: Pier One

A friend of mine, Linda, whose late husband Domenico was a professional fisherman, sent me a response to the Pier One item posted yesterday.  Linda's son Diego carries on the family fishing tradition, which goes back many generations.

Hi Otto

I just checked out your information on Pier One and here is a bit more trivia for you. We were one of those Italian families who moored our fishing trawler at Pier One in the 80’s. Domenico used to come to Sydney to work, from May to September every year, for the Gemfish season. We had some interesting times at Pier One. A significant memory was in 1985 Domenico coming round the corner with the Kirrawa with a definite lean on the boat, the deck was just above the waterline. On Pier One was the longest semi-trailer I have ever seen waiting for him. He caught over 21,000 Kilos + of Gemfish as well as 5,000 kilos of other fish like Mirror Dory and Hairtail. In total he caught between the hours of 2 am to 4 pm that day just on 27 tonne or 27,000 kilos of fish. We worked all of us through the night, men and women (wives) side by side sorting, stacking, icing and loading the semi-trailer. It took more than one semi for the transport of a 1000 boxes of fish. One hell of a day. In those days Domenico made for the 21 tonnes of Gemfish only $27,000. Not bad for a day’s work.

Warm regards


Quote: Lao Tzu

“Do the difficult things while they are easy and do the great things while they are small.  A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.”

- Lao Tzu (c 600 BCE)

(The saying that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step was later adopted by Mao Tse Tung. It has also been attributed to Confucius.)

Monday, January 10, 2011

Ask Otto: Pier One

Byter Steve has raised another question.  He advises that he and Diane spent the new year break playing tourist in the city, staying in a hotel overlooking the harbour.  He also advises:
Diane said to me “Why is there no Pier 1?”  I immediately had a look myself, and she was right, the piers start at number 2 and go up to number 6.  Of course, I haven’t a clue why there is no Pier 1, but I said to Diane “Leave it to Otto, he’ll find out for us!”  Over to you, oh oracle!
Easy peasy, Stevie.

Sunday, January 9, 2011


Good morning Byters.

A bit of humour from the days when George Dubbya was the US Pres, to start off the week...

After numerous rounds of "We don't even know if Osama is still alive", Osama himself decided to send George Bush a letter to let him know he was still in the game.

He opened the letter and it appeared to contain a coded message: "S370HSSV-0773H"

Bush was baffled, so he emailed it to Dick Cheney. Cheney and his advisors had no clue either, so they sent it to the Republican National Committee. They likewise couldn’t understand it.

Bush sent his to the CIA, which couldn't figure it out either.

Eventually they asked Britain's MI6 for help. MI6 cabled back:

"Tell the President that they are looking at the message upside down."

Quote: Erasmus

"In the country of the blind, the one-eyed man is king."

-  Desiderius Erasmus (1469 - 1536)

ADS Words of the Year 2010

Each year the American Dialect Society names its Words of the Year in various categories.

Word of the Year is interpreted in its broader sense as “vocabulary item”—not just words but phrases. The words or phrases do not have to be brand-new, but they have to be newly prominent or notable in the past year.

There are other bodies which announce a Word of the Year, including the Australian version by the Macquarie Dictionary, but the American Dialect Society’s is the longest running and the only one not affiliated with a commercial interest. There is, of course, a heavy American bias in the ADS’s choice of words.

In 2009 the American Dialect Society voted “tweet” (noun, a short message sent via the service, and verb, the act of sending such a message) as the word of the year and “ google” (a generic form of “Google,” meaning “to search the Internet) as its word of the decade.

For the 21st awards in 2010, the categories, nominees and winners are set out below. The number after each nomination is the number of votes it received. Numbers separated by slash marks indicate a run-off. Voting totals for each category might not be identical because the number of voters might have changed for each category.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Ralph Waldo Emerson


To laugh often and much;
To win the respect of intelligent people
and the affection of children;
To earn the appreciation of honest critics
and endure the betrayal of false friends;
To appreciate beauty;
To find the best in others;
To leave the world a bit better, whether by
a healthy child, a garden patch
or a redeemed social condition;
To know even one life has breathed
easier because you have lived;
This is to have succeeded.

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)

Friday, January 7, 2011



In case anyone has missed it, Australia has been playing cricket against England in a series or matches referred to as “The Ashes”. Cricket is a game that was once described by Robin Williams as being similar to baseball on Valium. Devotees will sit for hours watching it, whether at the ground or in front of a box. Non-devotees (and I confess that I am one) feel that it is only marginally better than watching paint dry.

I am, however, interested in some of the terms and facts associated with the game:

• The game is believed to have developed from a children’s game in Saxon or Norman times, possibly from the use of a matted lump of sheep’s wool (or a stone or a small lump of wood) as the ball; a stick or a crook or another farm tool as the bat, and a stool or a tree stump or a gate (e.g., a wicket gate) as the wicket.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Vintage Ads: Blitzkrieg

In the past I have posted vintage ads that have been racist, sexist, weird, creepy, or which inappropriately included children, or sometimes a combination of the foregoing.

Today’s vintage ad embodies all those aspects, plus it is totally inexplicable.

I have tried to find out more about the ad but haven’t had much success beyond the fact that it dates from World War 2.

“Blitzkrieg” is German for “lightning war”, a German military tactic based on speed and surprise, using tanks, infantry, artillery and air power.

The wrongness of the ad is readily apparent, but my queries are

• Even during WW2 and allowing for different cultural perceptions of the time, would such an ad have inspired you to go to Bobb’s Bar?

• What does the ad have to do with promoting a bar?


Harwinder Singh Gill

I have previously posted  a story and pics about Dalton Getty, a chap in the US who spends his spare time carving pencil leads into various shapes, objects and people.  This includes having carved the alphabet, one letter per pencil.  Read and see it at:

It turns out that Dalton Getty is not the only chap who needs to go out and get a life. 

Indian artist Harwinder Singh Gill has carved a message for 2011 in coloured pencils...

Click on the pic to enlarge.

Still, the good Mr Gill would probably say that I was just as silly writing about it, and he probably has a valid point.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Strange Deaths: Jack Daniel

Jasper Newton "Jack" Daniel (1846 –1911), American distiller and founder of Jack Daniel’s Tennessee whiskey distillery, died from blood poisoning Daniel came to work early one morning and wanted access to his safe. Unfortunately he had always had trouble remembering the combination and this morning was no exception. Finally, in frustration, he kicked it. Big mistake. It injured his toe and caused an infection which eventually killed him.

His last words were "One last drink, please".

The manner of his death was the subject of a marketing poster which used the line "Moral: Never go to work early."

A common joke that is told during the tour of the distillery is that all Jack had to do to cure his infection was to dip his toe in a glass of his own whiskey to clean it.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Ask Otto: Wiki

 Saw your bites re Wikileaks Otto....................
It leads me to an ASK OTTO.
The “leaks” part is obvious, but what is with the “wicki” ?

They’re big, hairy humanoids that walk erect, wear only a bandolier and whose speech sounds like a chair being dragged across a floor. An accurate description was given by Princess Leia when she said about Chewbaca: “Would someone please get this big walking carpet out of my way.”

Oops, sorry, you asked about Wiki, I thought you said Wookie.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Of Gulliver, Stars and Condoms

The new Jack Black movie, Gulliver’s Travels, seems to subtly play up the angle of penile size, at least in the promotional material, notwithstanding that it is aimed at the kids' Christmas holiday market.  Witness the poster above and the one below:

The issue of size in general in GT brought to mind Jonathon Swift’s observation in the original book that "Undoubtedly, philosophers are in the right when they tell us that nothing is great or little otherwise than by comparison." Put simply, you cannot judge size except by comparison with other things.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Humour: The Carpet Layer

A carpet installer decides to take a cigarette break after completing the installation in the first of several rooms he has to do. Finding them missing from his pocket he begins searching, only to notice a small lump in his recently completed carpet-installation. Not wanting to rip up all that work for a lousy pack of cigarettes he simply walks over and pounds the lump flat. He decides to forego the break and continues on to the other rooms to be carpeted.  At the end of the day he's completed his work and is loading his tools into his trucks when two events occur almost simultaneously: he spies his pack of cigarettes on the dashboard of the truck and the lady of the house calls out "Have you seen my parakeet?"

Bab Katter Snr

From the book Whitlam to Winston by Barry Cohen, a collection of political anecdotes:

A fire-and-brimstone speaker in the House whenever the Labor Party raised his ire, Bob Katter Snr was nevertheless well-liked by his colleagues on both sides of the House. Many of us, however, were surprised when in a Cabinet reshuffle by Sir William McMahon on 2 February 1972 he was appointed Minister for the Army. At about the same time, his wife died. Although I sent him telegrams on both occasions, when I found myself standing next to him in the men’s urinal in parliament House some days later, and not sure whether he had received the telegrams, I decided to raise both matters with him again.

“Bob.” I said, “congratulations again on your appointment and my sincere condolences on your tragic loss.”

Yes.” he sighed, looking wistfully towards the heavens. “It took a bit of the gloss off it.”