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An uplifting corporate uniform

February 13, 2011 4 comments

Something on the grinding, awful bus trip from work on Friday made me smile, so I simply had to share it (at great risk to myself, I might add).

It was at my eye level, as I’d scored a seat, so it’s not like I was looking for mischief… Anyhow, take a look at this uplifting corporate uniform and note which way the little plane is pointing on the belt buckle.

A perky, corporate belt buckle for a travel agent (Flight Centre)

Now, think what message it might send should the little plane be pointing down.

Assuming we both keep catching the same bus, I shall be avoiding eye contact with this man all year.

Have a great day!

Coffee shop? Really?

February 13, 2011 6 comments

Imagine my surprise, when my new boss led me in between and behind old buildings and under a boom gate for our first team meeting over coffee. Coffee shop? Where? Is this some peculiar initiation ceremony for writers?

Squeeze through a little gap to get around it, or just go under it. All in the name of coffee...

What was even more surprising, was that we couldn’t get a seat. It was packed.

Wooden bench seats & tables inside and coffee machines screaming their own happy tune. Brisbane's hip new place for caffeine.

What does this say about Brisbane’s sophisticated coffee-drinking set? Would you like to get mugged with your coffee, or would you like your coffee in a mug?

Now that I’m back in the city working, after a long stint in the burbs, I’d appreciate any tips on places to go. Do you know of any cool places?

P.S. This place is somewhere around Elizabeth St Brisbane. Have fun trying to find it!

I’m in love with Caketopia

November 12, 2010 5 comments

Today’s must-share experience is all about cake.

Cake is one of my favourite subjects. I majored in cake at law school and it did me heaps good. A dear buddy once made me a birthday cake and couldn’t get the glass out of the middle. We wore silly hats in the uni refectory, which went with the well-meant but equally inedible torte della microwave. Lucky she’s really, really good at law, is all I can say. (M, maybe we’ll order from this site next time?)

Take a look at the Caketopia blogspot and tell me that you’re not in love too.

Two examples…

(With thanks, Reader A.)

E-books & the death of book stores

November 9, 2010 5 comments


With the arrival of e-books, people in publishing are deeply worried about:
A. the survival of brick ‘n mortar book stores; and
B. the future of traditional paper publishing.
What the conversation is missing, is the consumer.

What do consumers want?
Do they want paper books to continue as they are?
Do they want physical book stores?
Do they prefer e-books and e-stores?
Can they continue to have both?
Will they mind waiting longer to get Print On Demand books, instead of just taking something off a shelf?
What about the cost of books and e-devices?

In this post, I’ll focus on the effect of pricing and invite your thoughts.

The price of books & the death of book stores

The price of books in Australia is always a contentious issue. They seem expensive and yet, very few authors can live off their writing and book sellers are bleeding. People in all aspects of publishing live modestly. There’s lots of love, but not a lot of money. Why?

Book shops are diversifying more into gift lines and coffee, since book selling is becoming uneconomic due to:
* on-line selling;
* predatory discounting practices of department stores; and
* e-book retailers because (in Australia) brick ‘n mortar stores aren’t able to sell e-books (why?!).

I’ll briefly touch upon the main players in the price wars.

Parallel importation?
Over a year ago, book sellers, led by Dymocks, thought that parallel importation would save them. The New Zealand uptake of that policy proved disastrous. You can’t have eggs without chickens. Killing local publishing to save local book selling is at best, wonky thinking.

Predatory pricing
Big department stores sell books cheaper because they demand around 70 per cent off from the publishers, and they use cheap books to lure more people into the store to spend money on other things (to offset the discount). This dynamic works for consumers until the competition is killed off, then prices go up and choice goes out the door. It’s not competition; it’s a killing field.

GST
In Australia, GST is applied to all stages of a book’s production. No government has been open to dropping it. Economists tell me it’s because book sellers will apply the GST savings to their own bottom line and not pass it on to consumers.

So the choice is: GST revenue to the government to churn and burn, or leave it in the industry so that more businesses can keep their doors open (and possibly, pass on price reductions to consumers in the line of normal competition?). Frankly, I would’ve thought that an “Education Revolution” (to use a Labor Party slogan) might’ve included books.

E-books will be the final blow to Aussie book stores, unless…
E-books are currently retailing around $9.99 on Amazon and according to Michael Hyatt, there’s no likelihood that prices will sustainably drop below that point. E-publishing and e-distribution, perhaps surprisingly, doesn’t deliver big cost savings.

I think that once publishers work out all the other funky things they can do in the e-world, prices will eventually go up because they’ll be producing more on-line content to sell their books. Publishers will rise from the ashes of burned out book stores insofar as they’ll be selling directly to online consumers.

In America, e-books are rapidly gaining popularity. The Aussie uptake has been slow and the publishing industry has been reluctant to respond to the new paradigm. Australia doesn’t have the population to shoulder massive market changes as readily. That being said, we can’t put it off any longer.

Conclusion
So, what will e-books do to the price of books in Australia? Not much, it seems, unless the government removes the GST from the equation and revises competition law. With the GST in place, more people will shop on-line to avoid it and brick ‘n mortar book stores in Australia will continue their rapid decline in the face of anti-competitive practices by bigger players.

People will go to book shops to have coffee, browse inside books and then purchase them (either in paper or electronic format) elsewhere, online. That’s not a sustainable business model. Book sellers had better come up with something new, quickly, to value-add to the experience of loving books.

While $9.99 for an e-book is up to half the price of a traditional book, you have to buy the e-reader as well. And even though they are coming down in price, will you be buying one for your kids this Christmas? They aren’t so forgiving when dropped. And how many e-books do you have to buy to make up the savings as against the cost of the device?

I’m not against e-books. I’m not advocating for them, either. I love what’s inside books and where those books take me. People should have a choice. I just hope that the Australian government and industry get the balance right, before our favourite book shops bleed out.

QUESTION:
What do you wish you could tell the government or publishing industry in Australia? Do you think book shops will survive?

N.B. I encourage all respectful views. Feel free to disagree, without being disagreeable. No-one has all of the answers. Sharing is caring.

Craft: Halloween watermelon, Queensland-style!

November 2, 2010 6 comments

In time for Halloween, Yours Truly reviewed the traditional pumpkin for its carving qualities.

To remind you of the pumpkin and its price:

Pumpkins, from $20!!!

Because Auntie and I like value for money as much as the next person, we’ve decided to share with you our secret for next year. Instead of fully participating in the overpriced pumpkin rort, we’re going to do it Queensland-style, using watermelons!

Auntie had a crack at it and produced this specimen. With practice, she’ll get it looking more mean …

Aussie watermelon beats American pumpkin!

Categories: Australia, Business, Craft

Craft: Halloween pumpkin & be safe message

October 30, 2010 Leave a comment

Using the right pumpkin makes the job EASY!

Brisbanites frequenting supermarkets have started encountering big, overpriced, yellow pumpkins just lately. I took it upon myself to see what all the fuss was about.

In the name of craft and open-mindedness, I put aside my reservations about ‘celebrating’ Halloween, to see whether these pumpkins were anything special. To be honest, I’d wondered how hard it would be to carve one up, given the near brute force needed to cut up our typical Butternut pumpkin for dinner.

In short, it was as easy as falling off a log. Using the right kind of pumpkin makes all the difference. As you can see from the photos below, it’s a softer pumpkin which has a lot of ‘guts’ that’s easily scooped out by little kids. The cutting must be done by an adult (obviously, one would think). The supermarket instruction sheet sets out 8 steps, but really, there are only five, tops. To be clear, the hairy fingers in the photos are not my own. Yours Truly suffered a shoulder / neck injury while sleeping (how sad is that?) and couldn’t operate the knife without screaming like a banshee, so Dear Brother did the honours.

1. Carefully cut the top off using a knife (operated by a competent adult).
2. Scoop out the insides.
3. Draw a face with a permanent ink marker or mark the outline of a face with pins (eg. using a template).
4. Cut out face
5. Insert a tea light candle and light it.

Easy carve pumpkin

Instructions & template

Step 1

Step 2

Step 3

Step 4

Step 5

Step 6

Carving up a pumpkin and having a bit of dress-up fun at home is one thing. But if you are taking kids out for trick or treating, do keep in mind the contradictory messages (Don’t take lollies from strangers, except on Halloween. Don’t be mean, unless the neighbours don’t give you sweets. Bullies are bad, except on Halloween.) which can set you up for trouble down the long and winding road of parenthood. While you might be going with them this year, there’ll come a time when they’ll think it lame that their parents tag along (and by that stage, they’ll be too big to say “No” to, with any sort of moral authority). And please don’t kid yourself that children in a group are safe. Sometimes, a group is the most dangerous place to be.

Keeping kids safe is hard work. In a perfect world, there would be no begging for lollies (as opposed to nuts in days gone by, in preparation for winter), but if it must be done, then perhaps consider door-knocking just your friends and family and by prior arrangement. Don’t freak out the elderly, or people who don’t understand or want to have Halloween thrust upon them. Realistically, anyone opening the door to strangers on Halloween is crazy, even if it’s a little kid standing at the screen door (who’s standing behind him?).

A bit of consideration goes a long way in not only keeping good neighbours, but in keeping EVERYBODY safe. Go look up some statistics about how many kids go missing on Halloween overseas. Ask your friendly police how many assaults happen and how many complaints they clock up. Fun should never be at the expense of others.

And this is the end of the government, anti-fun policy.

Have fun, responsibly. And regardless of your religious beliefs, think about the dearly departed on 1 November, which is what it’s all really about.

UPDATE: To avoid being gouged on the price of a Halloween pumpkin, try using a watermelon – it does work and you get to eat the insides. The Halloween pumpkin isn’t good eating. See my later post with photos of a Halloween watermelon, thanks to the Auntie-who-thinks-of-everything.

Road Test: No mess tomatoes

October 25, 2010 2 comments

Yours Truly gets a little bit excited when a product actually lives up to its marketing hype.

Hooray! Truth in advertising ...

I can say that I was hugely impressed with the fact that these tomatoes didn’t turn into sandwich sludge – not even when put in the toasted sandwich maker (aka jaffle maker). They hold firm and seem to last longer than other types of tomatoes, when kept in the specially designed holey plastic bag, in the crisper section of the fridge. The tomatoes cut very easily (even with my perpetually blunt knives), present very well and taste great.

While I don’t personally believe in salad, I’m sure these tomatoes would be great for those who do. They’re not as juicy as other kinds, so they wouldn’t be my first choice for sauces and suchlike. (I’m told, in comments below, that they perform equally well in sauces and cooking.)

No more mushy tomato sandwich nightmares. Enjoy! No Mess Tomatoes, indeed!

UPDATE: I’ve had buckets of people agreeing that these are now their favourite tomatoes! I love a local good-news story. Hats off to Aussie ingenuity.

LOL: I’m lovin’ it

October 15, 2010 Leave a comment

I’m lovin’ McDonald’s new t-shirts, this one pictured in the wild yesterday, at Newmarket in Queensland.

Thumbs up, McMarketing Department! You’ve made the world’s uncoolest mascot, so very hip.

Thank you to the brave man who agreed to this photo being taken. Your commitment to the clown is exceptional!

Enjoy your Friday.

BHP Billiton finds its soul; or Marius Kloppers sees a business advantage in pricing carbon

September 21, 2010 Leave a comment

Not green, but MEAN. BHP plans to bury its rivals in a State forest near you ...

Has anyone wondered why the CEO of BHP Billiton Australia, Marius Kloppers, was against Kevin Rudd’s CPRS & Resource Super Profits scheme, but this week comes out ahead of anyone else to announce that Australia has to ‘get moving’ on carbon pricing?

Kloppers is a smart man, who out-maneuvered everyone on the recent mining tax negotiations. Keep that in mind, when answering this multiple choice question. And also remember, that a tax is a tax, no matter how many times you rename it, or whether you put happy-feeling words in its title.

So, is Marius Kloppers:
(a) Suddenly mad;
(b) In secret negotiations with Prime Minister Julia Gillard which could benefit BHP if he were to shout support pre-emptively (Labor modus operandi involves hanging someone else out to test public sentiment & then backing away if it goes badly);
(c) Keenly aware that it would be in the interests of shareholders and BHP to price out smaller competitors;
(d) In Team Julia, not Team Kevin; or
(e) A Greenie.

The Australia where everyone had a chance to ‘have a go’ and where small companies could work hard and grow, might just be behind us. The fact that no-one is shouting “anti-competitive behavior” is most vexing.

Australia: vibrant and competitive one day … dull and anti-competitive the next….