Liter of Light.

This is so cool! Made of just water, chlorine, salt and a plastic bottle, these ‘light bulbs’ provide just as much light as a light bulb during the day, lighting houses which are dark during the day because of the building materials. They are being used across the Phillipines at the moment. This is the latest initiative of MyShelter, named Liter of Light, and is brilliant because it’s a technology that can be reproduced by the people who use it. What a brilliantly appropriate solution!Liter of Light

I love the movement of Appropriate Technologies. I’ve read a few things about it in books and magazines, and really appeals to my problem solving side. It sort of evolved from the work of a rather interesting economist called Ernst Friedrich Schumaker, who would have been seen as whacked out eccentric amongst the economics circles.  I mean, a guy who wrote a chapter on Buddhist Economics advocating ” ‘How to obtain given ends’ – the dignity of the human – ‘ with minimum means’ ” (1) is not going to be popular at a table of chappies discussing production possibility curves, exponential growth and equations for how to make more money in options than everyone else.

It was basically a big finger at the ‘one size fits all’ economic growth strategy that had been.  Old Schumacher called for Intermediate Technology – a technology to fit the development level of the place it was being used in. For numerous reasons, mostly to do with the way ‘intermediate’ made the technologies seem second rate, and ignorant of social and cultural factors, the term was changed to ‘appropriate technologies’.(2)

“…it has evolved into a development approach that is aimed at tackling community development problems. Viewed in this way, appropriate technology cannot be seen simply as some identifiable technical device; rather, it is an approach to community development consisting of a body of knowledge, techniques, and an underlying philosophy.” (2)


Here are some more brilliant appropriate technologies you may not yet have heard of:


Concrete Canvas Emergency Shelters

The Hippo Roller

And a few more on youtube…


Consanguineous References

1. Timmerman, P. 2009. ‘ Schumacher, Ernst Friedrich 1911–1977’ Encyclopedia of Environmental Ethics and Philosophy. Ed. J. Baird Callicott and Robert Frodeman. Vol. 2. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA. p237-238.

2.Akubue, A. 2000. Appropriate Technology for Socioeconomic Development in Third World Countries. Journal of Technology Studies.


When I picked up a copy of ‘Sex At Dawn’ just before Christmas I was expecting it to be verbose – God knows why, most non-fiction is pretty light on these days, sometimes too light! This is the perfect balance of well-written, curiosity satisfying, just scientific enough to convince you that if you’ve read it you’re automatically smarter, and not so scientific as to scare you away. In short, it’s the perfect book of the sociology, history, and physiology of sex and sexuality! I’m only 33 pages in so far, but I’m already captivated – so much so that I’m even bothering to read those notes they have indexed at the back of the book. There are some very quote out loudable quotes from literature and science, such as:
“Gentry had to be pitied. They had so few advantages in respect of love. They could say they longed for a kiss from a bouncy wife in a vicarage garden. They couldn’t say she roared under me and clutched my back and I shot my speciment to blazes.” – Roger McDonald, Mr. Darwin’s Shooter (Ryan & Jetha pp27).
And then there are wonderfully well turned out sentances like this: “Suddenly, women lived in a world where they had to barter their reproductive capacity for access to teh resources and protection they needed to survive.” (Ryand & Jetha pp 8).

It’s a gloriously naked romp through every aspect of human life to do with sex – and the way the authors see it, that includes an awful lot of aspects. Read it, it’ll make you cleverer and you’ll be able to voice terribly shocking opinions at garden parties and so forth!

Sex at Dawn is by Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha, published by Scribe, 2010 and retails for $35

Have a peek at JTizzle’s ‘New Moon’ film review if you want a bit of a chuckle at the Twilight Saga. He’s more impartial than I’ll ever be…


He’s also got a new review out on Legend, the Ridley-Scott fiasco of a movie for all you fantasy fans and cynics alike.

I have about 7 books half read at the moment (but I’m cheating because a lot of them are children’s and YA titles), but the one that’s really capturing my attention is ‘I Hotel’.
It’s not by any means a light read, as its form is experimental, and its themes range from politics to human rights to poverty in the Asian population in America. At the novel’s centre is the International Hotel, or the I Hotel, which becomes the center of the Asian Human Rights Movement in the 60s.
The ‘chapters’ are more like interlinking stories, told from different perspectives. (My favourite so far includes the postcards and letters between professor and student, each beginning with a fantastic quote from Chinese authors of the Revolution). Yamashita is a master of letting the reader figure out what’s going on by themselves – there’s one section that seems to be written by the community of dead Chinese immigrants, but it is never made explicit.
This is a book worth checking out if you are a student of literature, of Asian history, of American history, or if you are looking for a challenging and incredible read.
For a more comprehensive review, see East Los Angeles Dirigible Air Transport Lines

Tonight my mind is on a hamster wheel, trying to churn out 10 brilliant ideas at once, but managing only hamster crap. (Why do we call them hamster wheels in Australia when all we have are the slightly chunkier but eminently more edible guinea pigs?)

Reading bits of Julia Powell’s blog on cooking her way through Julia Childs’ recipes and through her abortive, yet peppy life (link is in last post, too lazy to copy & paste…how slack). Can’t help but like her cheery, ne’er give up attitude, whilst simultaneously hating her for being onto a good thing. Talking to my boy on internet chat, hating the pauses between the posts, and finding writing my new novel less interesting than researching it. Promised myself I would not get bogged down in research (not to mention the kind of self-loathing that I always get at the start of a project). Have since become not just bogged, but quagmired. My boy is helpfully supportive. When I type:  perhaps if i beat myself over the head with a cow it will aide my writing or at least my sense of humour? He replies:  you just do what you feel you need to do

I eat reheated chilli con carne for dinner despite having dreamt all day of cooking something crisp, summery and delicious after writing my last post on food writing. Heading away this weekend to pick up my stuff from my parents’ house, so haven’t done much food shopping, and have nothing in fridge because of having just got back from New Zealand.
Oh yes, parents are moving away from the town they lived in for 25 years, and which I grew up in for 19. It’s a betrayal of sorts, and I wonder if the town, the beach, the one hill, will glare at me as I drive back in to my family home for the last time. Or if they will all look a thousand times more beautiful and less hick-ish because they won’t be mine for much longer?

I’ve been thinking about a person’s claim on/attachment to place for the last few weeks. There was one town in New Zealand that I really bonded with, quickly. I fell for it hard, the people, the slow lifestyle, the oily smell of the sheep (though that particular element can be had in roughly 98% of NZ I suppose). I was there for two nights, and by the third morning, I didn’t want to leave. There really wasn’t a lot to do there it being tiny, though to give it its due there was a (very) short strip of delightful shops, not a one of them was uninteresting; there were vineyards, and a lavender farm; it was close to a seal colony, and not too ridiculously far from Wellington. My brief wanderings around the back streets while my travelling companion had her massage, yielded the kind of slow pleasures that I know I love, but can’t get in the city where I live. An old man mowed a huge block of knee high lawn as the sun attempted to stab through the thick shroud of grey cloud. Two old men wearing tweed coats with elbow patches, and pork pie hats (I swear I’m not making this up), stopped in the middle of the traffic-less road as they passed each other, to say hello. Every house was a cottage, and every one had a garden layout that looked like it had come from a House and Garden magazine, and yet was somehow uncontrived. I don’t know why I was so surprised at the way everything grew and grew. They have rain for goodness’ sake.

I digress. We were speaking about claim on place – the kind of claim that makes you belong to the place as much as you belong to it. At this house of my parents I helped shape some of the garden, I watched the trees flower and fruit, and occasionally die, and I knew from the smell of each day what season we were in. I swear on my hamster-crap novel that I can smell the exact day when the season changes there.

My boy and I were lying in bed when we got talking about scent and memory. His friend’s pillow has the same stuffing as his Mum’s, and the combination of sweat and this certain stuffing has a soporific effect on him. My father, when we lived on the one hill in town(before we betrayed that house and garden by leaving it), would always reminisce most about his childhood when our Jasmine vine was flowering – he could dip back into his boyhood when he smelt it. And today I woke up and I could smell the summer storm coming. Without being able to articulate why, I left my windows closed (in case rain came in and wet my precious laptop on which all my hamster-crap novels are stored). For a day I felt like I belonged here – just from that smell and the quick joy of heavy rain in the afternoon.
 I’ve lived in the city for five years now, and I still don’t feel like I belong – not to the land, and the land does not belong to me. My small plot of garden is perpetually dying. Flourescent lights shine into my window at night and keep me awake. I am suspicious when people I don’t know approach me. Yet little bits keep opening themselves up to me: the park at the back of my house; a particular stretch of river that is almost always deserted yet feels safe; an Italian coffee shop shoved without grace into a tight alleyway. God knows why I feel the need to hold land so tightly to me, when I have so many good and wonderful and effervescent friends. I guess it’s my old fallback from nervous schooldays.

This weekend I will get off the hamster wheel, take the four and a half hours drive to contemplate the unfathomable and terrifying future while listening to some zeitgeist music, be the child for the last time in my childhood house, and blurt (with many hand gestures and too many glasses of wine) my New Zealand stories out to my parents, who listen and listen and listen, bless them, as they have always listened to both my brilliant ideas that come effortlessly (and which I am suspicious of – which Muse sends them? And why?) and to my hamster-crap ones.

(Note: if my Muse is reading… please feel free to drop by – there’s some chilli con carne in the fridge)

Imagine a plate, white – waiting to be filled with seared scallops, or stuffed zucchini flowers, or Salad Caprese. Imagine a page, just as white, waiting to be filled with rich descriptions of these foods…The image is delicious, no?

Julie&JuliaThere has been a proliferation of books recently that divide their attentions between memoir, travel and food writing. Of course the most prominent at the moment is Julie&Julia, the book that is now a film starring Meryl Streep and Amy Adams. If you love a bit of humour, soul searching and are interested in Julie Powell’s relentless personal challenge to cook her way through a Julia Child cookbook, this is a great book to check out before/after you’ve seen the movie. Julie documented her journey at her blog, which you can check out here: http://blogs.salon.com/0001399/

Under the Tuscan Sun BookI’m currently reading an old, dog-earred copy of Under the Tuscan Sun, which I ‘borrowed’ from a gorgeous farm-stay in New Zealand, and even more than the heady descriptions of drowsy bees in olive groves, and Catholic churches, I love the simple descriptions of food. I’ve always preferred to cook ‘around’ a recipe, changing an ingredient here, and there, until I end up with something very different and not always delicious, but mine. This is why I am enjoying this style of writing so much at the moment. Instead of lists of ingredients, I am presented with a description of the deliciousness of a tomato paired with a local mozzarella, and I can visualize exactly where in Frances Mayes Tuscan Garden the vast basil bushes grow. I seem to learn so much more from these slow nibbles on food literature than I do from prescriptive cookbooks.


Food is so evocative of place and time – certainly this is true of Anna Del Conte’s ‘Memoir with Food’ Risotto with Nettles. Born in pre-war Italy, she enjoyed the table delights of her mother and her family cook’s invention. When war came to Italy, her life turned upside down, until finally, she was able to escape to England. Her memories of the tiem are vividly, hilariously preserved – from the joys of unrationed horse-meat to tomato soup at Lyons Corner House. Her Italian cook books were hugely influential in bringing Mediterranean food to Britain.  I love the way Anna’s passion for food comes through in her writing, “Myriam’s favourite pasta dish, pici alla senese, a Tuscan tagliatelle with a palate-shooting chilli sauce”. What a delicious phrase, ‘palate-shooting’!

matt_preston_ARTWORK:Layout 1

Another brilliant food-writing book that’s come out this month is Cravat-a-Licious by food journalist and judge of MasterChef Australia, Matt Preston. He takes in the history of food, pokes fun at his contemporaries (and himself) in his chapter on ‘Foodie Tribes’, revels in descriptions of unusual delicacies (toffee covered crabs and cow’s foot jelly), and unravels anecdotes like they’re spaghetti and he’s a fork. Though I find it irritating that he features both on the front and back cover of the book, it really is worth checking out – Preston knows what he’s doing, both in the kitchen and on the page, and he does it with wit and panache.

Armed with such wonderful food-writers, what other prospect is there for us all to spend a good wadge of summer consuming their books, and experimenting in the kitchen?

Parallel Importation sounds like a term from Star Trek, “Begin the Parallel Importation sequence, Scotty, and maybe you can beam me directly to the nearest Dymocks store so that I can initiate the mind f*ck that I have to perform in order to make people believe that cheaper books from overseas equals a more literary society.”

At which point Spock (and the Australian Bookseller’s Association) chimes in, “I apologise Captain, but I do not understand the logic behind your human pranks.”

All those poor Aussie battlers who Dymocks claims need cheaper books must be illiterate to begin with if they haven’t yet discovered their local library. Here’s the thing with the books in libraries: they’re free – they are a public space, and they provide a range of literature that it just isn’t possible to stock in a Dymocks bookstore. This range may include such treasures as Tara June Winch’s Swallow the Air published by UQP; a small university-based publisher which occasionally is able to snap up an overseas title to republish in Australia to make the money that goes back into the budget for publishing the next fantastic local author.

No one is saying that we shouldn’t have overseas authors published in Australia. Diversity of literature is an absolute must if we want to continue being a society that is anything more than self-interested, but here’s the thing: they should be published in Australia, not shipped in on great tankers that are using finite fossil fuels to propel crates of thin-papered novels across an increasingly dirty ocean.  Will overseas authors bother to visit us if they don’t have the contacts of an Australian publishing and publicity team?  And will the importation really be ‘parallel’ with equal numbers of Australian books being sent back on the same dirty great tankers?

Bad guys win, good guys lose, everything goes pear shaped, and then everybody loses.

Thank goodness for the Productivity Commission finding substantial uncertainty with the cultural and economic impacts of the proposed reforms.  After all, it’s a bit ridiculous to boldly go where no Australian market has gone before if we’re just going to hit a black hole straight out of warp speed!

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