Monday, 9 August 2010

Popcorn Fansquee!

Okay. I just had to link to this disturbingly simple guide to saving me a small bucket of money.

Those of you who have had the pleasure of my acquaintance are well aware that my love of microwave popcorn knows no bounds.

Photo Credit: Ayelie

Prior to my deciding that running the occasional marathon was an interesting idea, I averaged a bag a day. Now that I'm on a bit of a health kick it's more like a bag a week. Well... to be honest, it's more like three or four bags in two or three days once every month or so when I have a moment of weakness walking past the popcorn in the supermarket.

I'd always assumed that creating microwave popcorn wasn't as simple as putting unpopped corn in a bag and microwaving it, but boy am I glad that the fine people over at Squawkfox decided to test that theory and show us all just how easy it actually is with this handy guide.

(H/T to the wonderful people over at Lifehacker who linked me to the Squawkfox guide)

Experimenting with Dinner

Food is something I constantly struggle with. Be it getting enough of the right type, not eating too much of the wrong stuff, or even just finding something I can be bothered cooking for myself.

I live alone and try to get away with as little expenditure of time and money on food as is possible. But at the same time I want to enjoy the food that I'm eating and whilst my budget feels tight, it's a lot roomier than a lot of peoples.

Recently, I've been trying to experiment a bit with my cooking. I'm looking to find a good dozen or so meals that I like, that require minimal effort, and that can be cooked in batches to provide me with three or so dinners.

Having been inspired by Lifehacker's recent Mastercheap series, I thought I would blog about my successes and failures. With any luck, this will be a semi-regular series...

To kick things off, I'm going to talk about last night's attempt at a meatballs and noodles dish.

The original plan was a deceptively simple one - add some Woolies meatballs to some Tuscan Meatballs recipe base, heat up some hokkien noodles, mix together and eat.

This plan survived for about a minute before it became obvious that there were flaws. For a start, the sauce only claimed to cover 350g of meatballs and I had closer to double that. It very quickly became apparent that this was going to be a problem. So I added some tomato and Worcestershire sauces and a few spices I had lying around. Mixed it all together with the noodles on a salad bowl and sat down in front of some first season NCIS. It took about five seconds to decide that I wouldn't be cooking this the same way again.

You know those tins of spaghetti in tomato sauce you can get? The ones most people love as kids? The ones we used to eat as poor-uni students? The ones that we rarely touch now that we have a stable income? These ones? That's what the noodles tasted like. It was less than brilliant. Fortunately the meatballs were substantially more palatable, almost good...

There were three other notable downsides to this meal - it only made enough for two nights, it was on the slightly more expensive side of things, and it has a substantial lack of vegetables.

Expense wise, the two meals I'll get out of it will have cost me about 6.50 each. The meatballs were about $7.50, the recipe base $3.50, and the noodles $2.00 for a grand total of $13.00 plus a few spices and a little bit of tomato and Worcestershire sauce. Not overly pricey, but there are other options that are tastier, healthier, and make more for a similar price.

Health-wise, I often struggle to get my daily allotment of vegetables. I tend to be fine with all the other groups (well, maybe a little heavy on the sometimes foods), but I struggle to get much past two or three serves of vegetable. To make matters worse, almost all the vegetables that I do eat are found in my dinner and whilst the Tuscan sauce included was labelled as 24% vegetables, that would've been lucky to be a single serve...

There are two sizable advantages to this meal that has me contemplating ways to make it tastier. It's incredibly simple to prepare and there's hardly any clean-up. In fact, eating out of the salad bowl I mixed it in, the sum total of dishes is: a frying pan, a fork, a salad bowl, and a spatula.

Overall, a valuable learning experience and a meal that I might try again with some significant changes. In fact, as I've written this post, I've become more and more convinced that this meal could actually be quite tasty, with just a few small changes. So much more convinced, that next week I'm going to try it again but this time I'll add some vegetables to the mix and, I think, I'll replace the noodles with rice. I'll also make a tomato-based sauce at home. All things considered, this is only slightly more preparatory work and slightly more clean-up than yesterday's attempt. It will be a little more expensive overall, but I'm hoping it will bulk out enough to get an extra meal or two out of it - with any luck it might even work out cheaper per dinner!

Does anyone have any hints or tips for making a good tomato-based sauce for meatballs?

Meatballs & Noodles in Tuscan Tomato Sauce

Cost: $6.50 per dinner.
Taste: 2 /5 - I'll eat it, but I'll never to out of my way to do so.
Ease of Preparation: 5 /5 - the only way this gets easier is of it was simply a reheat job.
Ease of Clean-up: 5 /5 - anything easier would just be disposable...
Nutrition*: 3/5 -well, it's not bad for you...

* I've ummmed and ahhed about giving a nutrition rating, given as how my actual understanding of the science of nutrition is quite limited. Ultimately, I've decided that I will still give it a score. Please note that I have no formal training in anything to do with nutrition and that my score is based purely on my subjective understanding gained from reading a little bit around the topic and high school health classes...

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Blogging From My Mobile

Following from my previous post, I have actually been doing a moderate amount of writing on my overly long daily commute. Sadly, finding the time to transfer it phone to my pc and then edit it has been less easy

It would seem then that the easiest solution is to blog straight from my phone and not worry so much about the editing part...

This is a bit of a test post to see how woeful the formatting will be.
Assuming it's remotely in the bounds of acceptability, then you should start to see weekly posts on a range of topics!

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Can catching the bus cure my blogging drought?

Earlier this week my travel arrangements underwent an involuntary upheaval. Now, instead of spending about an hour a day on the train napping, I have the pleasure of spending over two hours a day on a bus not able to nap. Not effectively at any rate. And not without risking missing my stop.

Once I got over the initial shock of standing at a bus stop at 7 in the morning, watching my extremities turn blue, scream at me, and threaten to fall off, I came to a realisation.
If I could find someway to coax some warmth and life back into my fingers, then I should be able to put those couple of hours a day to a productive use in a way that just wasn’t possible when faced with the alluring siren call of napping on the train.

I’m sure some of the lengthy bus rides will be given over to planning my social life, tweeting random thoughts, preparing for the next game session, and chatting with old friends who happen to catch the same bus. But it’s my intention and expectation that at least a ride or two a week will be given over to getting this blog breathing again.

As groundwork for this new explosion of enthusiasm, I intend to address a small technical issue with the blog that’s bugged me for quite some time. Namely that I have been blogging to both Integrated Questions and Divided Answers and that the criteria that determine what sort of post ends up on which blog is murky at best.

Over the course of this week, all the substantive posts from Divided Answers will be migrated to this blog and the name will be changed to “Integrated Questions Divided Answers”.

As for content, expect it to remain as a diverse collection of topics ranging from questionable political analysis to reviews of my most recently acquired gadgets, and from philosophical waffling to an economic treatise on the value of an Iceberg Lettuce. I’m also planning to significantly increase the number of posts that are simply links to well-written interesting pieces, and I also intend to start putting together the occasional topical linkfest piece – the first of which you should see go up before the end of the week…

I’m also hoping to get some more creative writing done and I’ll be continuing to post that over at Imaginary Ripples rather than here.

ZDnet on Conroy

"It's possible that he really does think the foreign governments coming out against him are wrong, that Google is far more evil than his own policies, that Australian banks don't actually encrypt their customers' data, and that sticking with his policies will get him and Labor re-elected. In which case, he should resign and hand over the position to someone with a more realistic perspective on things."

That's from ZDnet's impressively well-written editorial on Conroy, the filter, and Conroy / the ALPs political incompetence.

(H/T: Chimpocalypse and SeanSlater)

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Why was Kyle on air in the first place?

I've been meaning to write a piece since the whole furore erupted over the Kyle & Jackie-O Show's woeful stunt a week or two ago, but haven't gotten around to it.

Today I read a piece that pretty much sums up my position and probably does so in a more readable manner than I would've accomplished.

Go and read it over at Club Troppo.

Monday, 13 April 2009

How should we deal with the Murray River?

For a long time now I've been a big fan of Professor Mike Young, a pre-eminent water economist based at the University of Adelaide. Most, if not all, of my opinions on what we should do to address the difficulties within the Murray River have arisen from reading his works or hearing his arguments.

Reproduced below is the full text of the latest Droplet, an irregular email sent out addressing concerns within the Murray River. I encourage people to check out Mike Young's water website. As well as being able to subscribe to Droplet, it is a veritable treasure trove of other useful water and Murray Darling Basin related publications.

(The formatting is copied from the original email)

"More from less: When should river systems be made smaller and managed differently?

“Less is more.” Ludwig Mies van der Rohe

In this Droplet, we discuss the case for reconfiguring rivers and the water-dependent ecosystems associated with them. We envisage a world where the approach to environmental, water quality, stream flow and stream height management is quite different to the way it is today.

Recent announcements that inflows into the River Murray over the last three years were less than half the previous three year minimum that occurred between 1943 and 1946, suggest that it may be time to reconsider the river and the environment we have created through the installation of barrages, locks, weirs and dams. In recent years and as currently configured, evaporative losses have been similar to inflows. Very little water has been available. Irrigators, urban water users and the environment have been doing it tough!

The apparent shift to a drier climatic regime than previously experienced may be here for some time – perhaps for the long term. One way planning for and of coping with such an adverse climate shift is to reconfigure the river – make it smaller, manage it differently and get more flow.

We stress that this is not a new idea. In the last two years, South Australia has closed off over thirty wetlands and moved many irrigation off-take points from backwaters into the main river channel.

Similarly, Murrumbidgee Irrigation has constructed a set of banks across Barren Box Swamp that split it into a number of cells so that water can be stored in parts rather than all of the swamp. This has reduced evaporative losses and has enabled a more diverse environment to be created. A win-win outcome.

Another example is Victoria’s decision to decommission the inefficient and man-made Lake Mokoan water storage and rehabilitate the wetland that once lay under this lake. In the Wakool system in NSW, the idea of threading water through part of the system is under serious consideration. A dynamic management regime has been in place there since 1996.

In a drier regime, is there a smarter way to configure and run a river? Can we get more water to use and better outcomes for the environment from less river?

What would happen if all river infrastructure and all wetlands, waterways and floodways throughout the system were examined carefully with a view to reducing evaporation and using the savings to improve environmental outcomes? Why not water some areas well and leave the fate of the rest to chance.

Pushing the boundary further, in a drier regime, would it make sense to change the way a river is operated? How much should be kept navigable? Should river salinity be allowed to rise in winter on the understanding that it will be lowered in summer?

Why, when so much is being invested in irrigation infrastructure don’t we look at river infrastructure?

Less river?

Scientists are warning that we can expect a much drier regime. As set out in our report, A future-proofed Basin, as it gets drier an increasing proportion of inflows are required just to cover evaporate losses. This unfortunate reality cannot be denied.

A small reduction in mean rainfall, say, 10% can lead to a 70% reduction in the volume of water available for use. In the short term, the system storages can be run down but, ultimately, either the amount of water for evaporative and other system losses needs to be reduced or the amount used for environmental, irrigation and other purposes cut drastically.

One of the simplest ways to reduce losses is to build a bank or control structure so that water can be kept out of an area and evaporative losses reduced permanently. Another way is to construct a bank across a lake and fill part rather than all of the lake.

Benefits and costs

When resources are scarce, the available water needs to be applied in areas where it can make the greatest contribution. When evaporative losses are reduced, more water is available for all forms of use, including over-bank applications to water-dependent ecosystems on either side of a river. Changes like this do, however, come at a cost. A benefit to one person may come at a cost to others. Nearly every part of a river has people who are sentimentally and/or economically attached to it.

Deciding to close off part of a river system may sound a bit like triage – even if it is man-made. In practice, however, this is really about the allocation and use of scarce resources for maximum benefit. Careful research, analysis and evaluation of trade-offs are necessary.

Indices of environmental and other values must be developed and processes established to assist in deciding which parts of the system to keep and which to let go. Careful community engagement and consultation is essential. At the end of the day, one would expect some parts of the system to be kept inundated no matter how dry it gets, some parts to be watered periodically, some parts to be watered only in very wet years and some parts to never be watered again. Some probably never should have been watered.

Smart management of environmental water

In an environment where there is insufficient water to keep all environmental assets going, the usual recommendation is to ensure that all watering decisions complement one another. Diversity and risk reduction, not more of the same is the way to go. Smart environmental managers must be expected to water some parts well rather than all parts poorly. Like farmers, they need to be able to spit forests into two or three areas and should be required to monitor water use carefully.

Timing is also important. If all environmental allocations are held centrally, however, speedy decision making is problematic. In our view, environmental water use will be much more effective if local managers are allowed to manage and given the responsibility to decide when to use water that has been allocated to them, when to sell it, when to carry it forward and when to buy more.

Strategies still need to be developed and considerable co-ordination is necessary, but if smart outcomes are to be achieved, then innovation must be the name of the game. In this brave new world, we should expect environmental managers to be as smart in the use of techniques and technology as irrigators are.

River height and flow management flexibility

Another issue is the management of river height and flow. In regulated river systems, like the River Murray, river height has been kept constant for many years. Most of this system’s locks and weirs were installed between fifty and one hundred years ago. With a change in management regime, many transitional problems can be expected to emerge. As illustrated by recent decisions to lower the river, acid sulphate soil hot spots may emerge and banks may slump.

Recreation and navigation values and irrigation supply access issues need consideration. Town water supply and sewage treatment arrangements may need a rethink. Careful analysis may suggest that when water supplies and inflow are low, some weirs may be better left open. In places where this is done, new water supply arrangements may need to be put in place. In some parts of the system, for example, we suspect that it may be more efficient to pipe water from the river and abandon some of the channel systems and local wetlands dependent upon water previously supplied from these channels.

Dynamic river salinity management

There is an old saying that the secret to pollution is dilution – but dilution requires water. When demand is seasonal, a much more dynamic approach to salinity management may be possible. If the impacts of river salinity are less in winter than in summer, why not allow river salinity to go up and down? If this happened salinity managers would need to be given incentives to manage river salinity and plan when to release salt into the system – as is done in the Hunter River. These managers also need to be made accountable for the groundwater they use. Each salinity interception scheme could be given an entitlement which requires them to keep use within the volumes of water allocated.

Environmental managers would also need to be brought into the management system. At the moment, there are large volumes of salt lying on the surface of water-dependent ecosystems along the sides of the river. As soon as these floodplains receive water again, large volumes of salt will enter the river.

Where to from here?

The first step in thinking about reconfiguring a river system is to search for opportunities to do this. Given the current state of the River Murray system, we think that this opportunity is worth serious consideration. Having scoped and identified the opportunities to close off wetlands, make lakes smaller etc., the next step is to develop the models and decision making tools to enable rational choices to be made. Armed with such information and tools, the last step is to come up with a suite of recommendations about the nature of changes which if made, would make river operation under a drier regime more effective and efficient.

Given the complexity and sensitivity of this task, it may be wise to appoint an independent person to lead a group of people able to commission research and evaluate opportunities in a rational manner and consult widely about ways to re-configure and operate our rivers and the many ecosystems that lie on either side of their banks. Their brief would be to find ways to get more outcomes from a smaller but better managed river system.

Mike Young, The University of Adelaide,
Jim McColl, CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems,


Comments made on earlier drafts by Stuart Bunn, Jim Donaldson, Matthew Durack, Judy Goode, Virginia Hawker, Digby Jacobs, Ian Kowalick, John Radcliffe and Bill Young are acknowledged with appreciation. We also acknowledge the opportunity to discuss this issue with a significant number of irrigators, state administrators and the support of our Project Steering Committee.

themby clicking on the links embedded in this Droplet.)

A future proofed Basin: A new water management regime for the Murray-Darling Basin

Copyright © 2009 The University of Adelaide.
This work is copyright. It may be reproduced subject to the inclusion of an acknowledgement of its source. Production of Droplets is supported by Land and Water Australia and CSIRO Water for a Healthy Country. Responsibility remains with the authors."