August, 7-13, 2009

Black Hole Milkyway

HOW WOULD IT BE? The fine folk at Wikipedia have come up with this fun little simulation of a black hole in the middle of the Milky Way (we’re on the outer edge of the MW here on the third rock from the sun). Scary, huh? But the real question is whether we’d go down the plughole clockwise or anticlockwise.

Triple Whammy for a Master of His Art?

THIS year’s Ubud Writers’ and Readers’ Festival drawcard, J.M. Coetzee, the South African-born, Australian-resident and Nobel-prizewinning novelist, may have something other than a stay in delectable Bali to celebrate when he’s here for Janet DeNeefe’s annual confabulation of  good thinkers being held from October 7-11.

He may arrive in paradise having just have won the 2009 Man Booker Prize for a record third time. That should surely be worth something eclectically ethnic at DeNeefe’s Casa Luna, on the house.

Coetzee, who lives in Adelaide, the genteel conurbation in South Australia whose main benefit is that it’s close to some really lovely vineyards, was nominated in July for his new book Summertime, to be published in September by Random House.

If Coetzee wins, he will become the first writer to claim the Booker three times, having done so for The Life and Times of Michael K in 1983 and Disgrace in 1999. The only other double winner is Australian Peter Carey, for Oscar and Lucinda and True History of the Kelly Gang.

The Man Booker shortlist will be announced on September 8 and the winner on October 6. The London bookmaking firm Ladbrokes in July installed Coetzee as a short-priced favourite at 3-1. The annual competition is open to all (formerly British) Commonwealth writers and those from the Republic of Ireland. Ireland left the Commonwealth in 1949 but remains in curious social symbiosis with Britain and the British.

Making a Splash

MADE Wianta started off as something of an enfant terrible on the Bali art scene. But that was then – and then was way back in the dinosaur days, the 1970s – and this is now. As one of our most respected artists, he brings to his work an energetic exploration of form and colour.

That’s why it was such a pleasure to join gallery manager Luh Resiki and the throng last Thursday evening (August 6) at Ganesha Gallery at the Four Seasons Resort at Jimbaran for the opening of his new exhibition.

Wianta has returned to his roots with his latest work, dominating his canvasses with cubes, lines and rectangles: bold as ever (bolder even) but with a measure of maturity that is truly striking.

His exhibition, titled Archetypes, is at Ganesha until August 31, daily from 9am to 6pm. Hec’s recommendation: Make it a must.

You Can Bank On It

HEC hears a sad tale from a mate who has been battling with his bank for months now over his internet login and password. They – or one of them; it’s not clear which – won’t work. The bank’s computer system won’t let him in to do his banking. It says: “User ID or password invalid” and locks him out. Periodically it blocks his account.

We all understand that from time to time computers, having been designed by humans (and unfortunately in this case apparently being operated by them as well), have senior moments. But such things are supposed to be fixable. At the human interface, too – the customer support function – little glitches ought to be solvable in reasonable time. No more than major grinding of teeth or petty apoplexy should be required.

Not with this bank, it seems – certainly not in this case. Hec’s mate has rung them up, and emailed, ad nauseam. He tells them the problem (it’s the same one every time) and they provide the “solution” – that’s always the same too and it never works.

Has he forgotten the password? No. Did he use an old password? No. Was his keyboard on CAPS LOCK? No. Is he completely stupid? Well, the customer service people haven’t quite asked this last question yet; but it’s clearly on their minds.

Our chap finds all this rather galling. He has been internet banking for years (hasn’t everyone?) with nary a problem – or if one pops up, it is instantly sorted; though his other banks are not in Indonesia.

But since this hiatus has now existed since May, and since it is now August, we hear a final fix is in the works. After a last attempt to login last weekend (following advice for the umpteenth time that “your login block but now already fix”), he has found a solution: He will take his banking business and his not insubstantial funds elsewhere.

It will be a case of bye-bye BII.

Airman Pickle Axed

THE ham and pickle sandwich, a staple of both old British and passé Anglo-Australian cuisine, has been banned by British Airways, national flag carrier of the country that brought the world the butty. The sandwich was named after the eponymous earl of the time, who in the grand tradition of the 19th century British aristocracy thought it his duty to be remembered and chose to achieve immortality by slapping something or other between two slices of bread.

BA, one of the world’s leading loss-making airlines in these dark days of economic tribulation, announced on July 29 that it was taking a lesson in cost-cutting from its low-cost rivals by ditching meal services on short-haul flights. It stopped serving sandwich meals to its passengers in the UK and Europe from last Monday, in a move that will save it £22 million a year (US$36 million, which is so many rupes + zeroes that your brain explodes just thinking about them).

Simon Evans, chief executive of Britain’s Air Transport Users Council, sees a rough flight ahead. And this is not just because he can’t fang a sanger between fastening his seat belt for takeoff and promptly undoing it for the unseemly rush for the exit at his short-haul destination.

He says: “The difference between BA and the no-frills carriers is getting less and there is a risk passengers will begin to question why they should pay the extra to fly with BA. If that is what BA has to do to survive, fair enough, but it would be a shame for consumers to lose choice.”

The complimentary bar service will remain. “There would have been a riot if they’d got rid of the free drinks,” said a company insider.

Meanwhile…

NO need to get in a pickle on the New Age low-fare carriers – especially in our part of the world. They don’t wheel out unnecessary food designed to make you think you’re getting value for the premium fare you paid for your flight. If you must eat, you buy it or you bring your own.

What’s more, low-fare airlines seem to understand the commercial imperative. A recent trip on AirAsia to and from Perth – great going, guys – reminded a Diary spy of this critical factor. Press the service button and someone comes. Press the service button on one of those “full service” airlines and – eventually – a sour expression might appear and ask what the hell you want now.

The new airlines have changed forever the highly protected and over-priced aviation industry. Good on them.

New Jag’s Ninth Birthday

THAT man of fingers in many pies, Bali’s busiest businessman, Kadek Wiranatha, has something special to celebrate on Saturday (August 8). The spot on the beachfront at Seminyak where he likes to park his prized Jaguar celebrates its ninth birthday.

Ku De Ta, which as everyone knows is one of Pak Kadek’s many jags, which is the trysting place of many plotters of personal coups d’etat, marks its “nearly big” birthday with a Rp1.2m-a-pop celebrity glitz gig.

Purrrfect Idlers

BET you didn’t know this: Domestic cats purr at about 26 cycles per second, the same frequency as an idling diesel engine.

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