27 November 2004

Anyone for GMail?

Google Mail, or GMail, seems to be what all the best dressed bloggers are wearing this season. I was probably the last kid on the blog, er, block, to sign up, but if anyone would like an invitation to this (for now) exclusive service, drop me a line.Go to eebahgum!

25 November 2004

Battered, bruised, but for once unbeaten

After a year since its first visit to the racetrack, my BMW Mini has finally won a race, although as the driver I guess I can take some credit. About 20 race meetings have taken a toll on the bodywork as you can see, but she's (why are cars female anyway?) running pretty sweetly with a tendency to nice controllable oversteer.

Mini top view

Mini front end
And lest anyone doubt it, perhaps having heard of or witnessed my somewhat 'percussive' style of driving, here's the evidence, as photographed by my friend and roving correspondent David.

If you've read this far you might actually be interested, so let me tell you a little about the car. It's a Tamiya 1/10 scale front wheel drive BMW Mini, which comes in a kit costing about $330 Australian (around $25o US at the moment), but that's with the clunky mechanical speed control. First mandatory upgrades are metal ball bearing races to replace the plastic ones in the kit, then an electronic speed control (mine's made by GM and costs about A$100).

In a stock racing category, you are only allowed a limited selection of approved upgrades (called hop-ups) before you're non-stock. My hop-ups include aluminium front uprights, toe-in rear uprights, oil-filled shocks with short springs, and an upgraded servo saver. Tyres are presently HPI belted radials on the rear, next-to-no-name brand sponges on the front, and racing pack is a GM-VIS 2400 mAh NiCd, with a 3000 mAh NiMh for practice and backup. Controller is a Sanwa Blazer AM pistol grip, with Sanwa servos.

The car is pretty quick even though the tyres I am running are a little smaller in diameter than the stock tyres run by some of my competitors. My guess is it will push about 40 km/h. The only real problem is that my driving is, er, how do I put this without insulting myself, utter crap, though it is improving. And that applies to my 1/10 scale car as well.Go to eebahgum!

5 November 2004

On men and watches

They say you can tell a man by the company he keeps. If, for example, he keeps a company like Microsoft he'’s probably a very wealthy cybergeek, and I'’d be inclined to call him ‘'Sir'’ or ‘'Your Majesty'’ in the hope of handouts.

I'’m sure you can learn a lot about a man from his car as well. More than that, you can tell how he would like to be seen, and perhaps how he sees himself. A red open-topped sports car driven by a short, balding, spread-waisted fugly with a Hawaiian shirt, flaunting a hairy chest, medallion and one arm outside the car makes me think ‘'mid-life crisis'’ with some surety. When I see a Japanese family sedan with spoilers, skirts, bonnet scoop, 35 profile mags and large exhaust, 4 foot driver reclined in seat so as to appear 3 foot, and '‘boof boof’' music blaring from the stereo, I make a mental note to thank God I didn'’t have daughters.

So what of Seiko's and Pulsar'’s latest ads for watches? The Seiko ads suggest things like:

“It’'s not your car. It’'s not your friends. It'’s not your job. It’'s your watch that says most about who you are.”

I think what tells me most about a man is his demeanour, attitude, the way he talks and what he says. That much seems pretty obvious. As result these ads seem to have elicited quite a deal of criticism. But I think you can also tell a fair amount about the inner book from the cover, and I for one do use a man’'s watch as one of the ways of formulating an impression of him at first meeting.

My journey in watches

My father was a Rolex man. A solid, unpretentious, slightly old-fashioned exterior hid a quiet flair and a taste for real quality. He looked after his two Rolexes, lovingly cleaning them, removing scratches and generally making them appear their best. In his final year or so he found wearing a watch started to annoy him, and thought about selling them, but first asked me if I'’d like them, and in particular, if I'’d wear them, After all, why own a classic car if it’'s never driven?

Well, I’'m a Longines man. Progressive, creative, into style though a little unreliable. But my father’'s watches were so much a part of him that I had to have them, and wear them I do when in a Rolex sort of mood. That’'s not often, but they each get to see the world a few times a year.

In my quest to find out what sort of man I was, I tried quite a few watches. An elegant old Swiss Universal was my first ‘'grown-up'’ watch, a hand-me-down from my father. It had a remarkable hand-made mechanism, but I was going through my teen geek years and wanted digital! An ugly but reliable Citizen digital (the first with an alarm) was a good school friend. An elegant Seiko looked the part, but lacked character and never gelled with me in the same way. A multi-function Omega Sensor Quartz was used by astronauts but died in the shallow end of a friend'’s swimming pool and had to be flown back to Switzerland for emergency surgery. Omega, unsurprisingly, discontinued it soon afterwards.

All these watches came to me as '‘surprises'’ from Dad, and I have them all still, hidden in drawers and boxes. I don’'t know where they are exactly, but they’'re somewhere, and I will come across them from time to time, like old photos; chronometers which chronicle my life.

Longine ConquestFrom the first time I set eyes on a 1980s Longines Conquest, the watch apparently inspired by Charles Lindbergh, I realised I could not rest until I owned one, and 10 years ago a two-tone metal-banded model joined clan Conway. I’'d wanted the crystal back, but when I tried one it was just too fat for my delicate wrist, so it’'s the plain-jane model, and it does just fine. Reasonably accurate and elegant to this day (mine is not the VHP model illustrated and doesn’t have romans but is otherwise the same).

Pulsar’s adverts

So Seiko, I'’m a believer in part, and I think your advertising is subtle and effective. It surprises me that some people are so inclined to literalise creative copy just so they can get hot under the collar. But if a watch tells us about the man, what was your subsidiary Pulsar thinking when they came up with these ads?

Pulsar ad 2Rather than letting the watch tell the tale, they’'ve decided to fill in the details for us, perhaps because wearing as Pulsar actually says '“Can'’t afford a Seiko, let alone a Swiss watch”'. The trouble is they tell us too much. I can relate to some of the oddities of these characters, but those to which I can'’t relate distance me from both the character and, ultimately, Pulsar watches.

Take Character 1. First, he’'s impossibly good looking, which would put many men off immediately. But whilst I can relate to his hatred of coriander and love of sandcastles and Dostoevsky, his passion for reality TV and Chihuahuas and his belief in ghosts mark him as shallow and superstitious, and lead me to the conclusion that he just keeps a copy of Crime and Punishment around to impress chicks, not because he can actually read. And I just don’'t like toy dogs.

Pulsar ad 1

As for Character 2, the one with the doped-up expression, I can relate to antique maps, steam typewriters, sci-fi and butterscotch pudding, and tolerate the kilt. But not having a mobile phone paints him as a Luddite, wanting six children suggests he is socially irresponsible and clueless about parenting (I mean, does he look fatherhood material?). And owning 27 pairs of jeans? Well, it’s not like me to be judgmental or anything, but what a loser!

I’'m sure we all fancy ourselves as individuals, so the idea of marketing watches as a means of individual expression is a perfectly good one, and it works for Seiko. But as soon as the individual becomes a weirdo, loony or loner then the advertising is doomed to failure. It’'s a fine line, and although I'’m sure Pulsar has a fine line of watches, they seem to have crossed to the wrong side of the line in marketing.

Women’s watches

You'’ll notice I’'ve focused very much on men and men's watches here. Frankly, like most men, I just can'’t understand women'’s watches. So often they are tiny braceletty things with eccentrically shaped faces and convoluted bands which go equally well with any clothing because they go with absolutely nothing. Oh look, are those hands? I can just make them out with the naked eye—remarkable. But where are the markings?

I’'ve resigned myself to the fact that the women’'s watches I like are never the ones my partner likes. Like women and neckties, it is a brave man who buys a watch for a woman. At the end of the day, if watches can tell you a little about a man, they can also speak volumes about how little men understand women.

Why watches?

So why do some of us have this fascination with watches? Is it because they are a permanent reminder of our link to history and the future, a meeting point between the temporal and the ephemeral? Do we form some subconscious relationship between the human pulse and the ticking of a watch? Is it simply because they'’re the gadget with which we spend the most time?

What do you think? And what sort of watch are you?

Go to eebahgum!

2 November 2004

Mathematics redefined by journos and pollsters

50 equals, ummmNew York correspondent Phillip Coorey is quoted in the Adelaide Advertiser as saying:

A Newsweek poll, taken before and after bin Laden [meaning his video] appeared, gave Mr Bush a 50% to 44% lead over Senator Kerry. But with the poll's 4% margin of error, this represented a statistical dead heat.

Say what? How can 50 be statistically the same as 44? Have pollsters or journalists redefined mathematics as we know it? By my reading a '4% error' means this poll is giving Bush 50% ± 2%, i.e. 4% of the number in question. But even allowing that what the journalist means is 50% ± 4%, there is still a difference of 6% between the raw numbers. Either that is significant, given that the data is part of the same poll and therefore directly comparable, or the entire poll is questionable.

Of course, most such polls are based on 500 to 1,000 respondents from a certain area or loose demographic, so in any responsible statistical sense they probably are questionable anyway. No doubt they create employment opportunities for door-knockers, telephone canvassers and numerically challenged journalists.Go to eebahgum!

The sweet smell of victory, and horse manure

Well, my two standout picks came 1st and 2nd, and one of my other rated horses came 4th. I have yet to see a full finishing list, but I'm feeling pretty happy with the day's takings. Hope you had good luck as well. Go to eebahgum!

The Late Mail

Vinnie Roe and Distinction are both attracting money at good odds, but the Late Mail is for Pacific Dancer.Go to eebahgum!

1 November 2004

Melbourne Cup tips

50 equals, ummmA few hours before Americans go the polls, Australians go to the races. Of course, the US election is important and all, but the Melbourne Cup is really serious. For 10 minutes on the first Tuesday afternoon of each November, every Australian workplace and shop comes to a standstill to watch Australia's richest horse race. And despite the fact that everyone's suddenly a horse-racing expert, bookies and totalizators across the country nevertheless rake in money at a canter. Expect over A$100 million to be bet this year in a country of only 20 million people.

The Cup is a punter's nightmare. Top class horses from the UK and New Zealand travel vast distances to compete with Australia's best for the A$4.15 million on offer. Each year many starters are untested over the 3200 m, or being ridden by jockeys who hadn't seen them before the previous morning's trackwork. The field is vast, and the potential for bad runs immense.

Until recently I had a great record in tipping this race. I made a mess of it last year, but I have now picked the winner 11 years in 15 tries. And because I am not afraid to make a prat of myself in public, here are my tips for this year.
Of course the usual disclaimers apply. I am not responsible, blah, blah, if you lose don't complain to me, but if you win money on my tips please send it to me by return mail, etc, etc.

Conditions: Rain is forecast, and the track has also been watered, so it's likely to be Dead to Slow.

The top 2

Makybe Diva Last year's winner looks likely highly likely to win again. She is an outstanding mare who will cope with any conditions and if she gets a good run it's hard to see her being bettered.

Vinnie Roe If there's a bit of give in the ground, the champion Irish horse will be in the finish. Coming off a fourth consecutive victory in the Irish St Ledger.

Others to watch

A good Irish stayer from a top trainer, but a bit of an unknown here. In form, but all his success has been on good tracks. One to watch.

Elvstroem Three wins in a row two starts back in G1 and G2 races. All came from racing handy. In Cox Plate run he was slow off the line and caught back, but ran on well. Untested at distance, but in real form. Will handle wet track.

Pacific Dancer Won Geelong Cup over 2400 from being 11th at the 800 and 400. That field was not of the same class, but he showed he can stay. Needs dry track though.

Grey Song 6th last year running on at the finish, and finished well in the Caulfield. Will be thereabouts. Will handle heavier going.


Catchmeifyoucan If you like an outsider, this is the one to be on. Lacks the class of the others, but flashed home for 4th in the 2400 m Metropolitan Group 1 having been 13th at the 800 and 400 and caught wide throughout. Will handle all conditions.

Question marks

Media Puzzle Won this race well in 2002, then didn't race for 94 weeks due to a leg injury. A class gelding with proven ability, and working quite well, but looks too risky here.

She's Archie Second last year in a tremendous run. Good early preparation this campaign, then injured and has not run for a month. Has the ability, but perhaps the poor preparation will be too much.

Stay tuned for my late mail an hour or two before race time, and good luck.Go to eebahgum!