UNSOLICITED ADVICE

UNSOLICITED ADVICE

INCANDESCENT RAGE

Hipsters are known for many things, but they do give the impression of being eco-conscious, what with their love of bicycles, single origin coffee and reuse of old junk. But I’m beginning to wonder if an impression is all it is, as fashionable venues have become the last refuge of the incandescent light bulb.

Now, this isn’t the only example of hipsters being less green than they seem: overseas flights to Brooklyn or Berlin emit way more carbon than a fixie could ever offset, almond milk is draining California’s water supplies, and gallons of beard oil are undoubtedly pouring into our waterways.

But today at least I’m most bothered by those decorative, ‘Edison’-style bulbs that dangle low over your dukkah egg and polenta soldiers. Because really, they contribute nothing other than appearance. The appearance, apparently, of resisting new-fangled, soulless, Nobel Prize-winning, high-efficiency technology.

It’s all about retro, and the old-fashioned look that Thomas Edison—the Steve Jobs of his day—first made popular in the late 19th century.

Now, this is ironic when you consider that hipsters are normally so fiercely pro-Tesla, but perhaps that’s trumped by the whole steampunk vibe, that longing for the good old days of child labour and cholera. Frankly though, if you absolutely must show off your Victorian values, I’d rather you stick to something safe like gluing cogs to your top hat.

Because the trouble is that incandescent bulbs are pretty much the most inefficient form of electric lighting you can think of. If you remember your high school physics, wasted energy ends up as heat—and the more inefficient a system is, the less useful work it does for the amount of heat it produces.

But incandescent bulbs start with heat, in the hope that simply by making enough of it you’ll get some visible light out.

It’s no wonder then that they’ve been superseded by such things as curly-tubed compact fluorescents—which somehow never seemed to catch on with decorators—and light-emitting diodes, or LEDs, which can be made to look as pretty as you want.

LEDs are semiconductor devices that give off light when electrons fall into 'holes', i.e. atoms that are short on electrons. If you don’t understand what that means, then all you need to know is that they’re so elegant and efficient that they won their creators last year’s Nobel Prize in Physics.

Possibly by now you’re thinking, hang on, I’ve heard something about this—didn’t they ban those old-fashioned bulbs? Well yes they did—sort of.

In 2007, then Environment Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced that Australia would be the first country in the world to phase out incandescent bulbs. And since 1 October 2012 you can no longer buy 'fancy' lamps (their terminology) that use more than 25 watts of power.

That 25 watt limit seems to have been put in to allow for small, decorative lamps for which people would have struggled to buy bulbs, but which use so little power that no one really cared.

Except that left a loophole big enough to drive a food van through. Limited supply creates increasing demand, and suddenly bam! Everyone now wants to buy 25 watt bare bulbs: classic hipster capitalism.

Being so inefficient, these bulbs produce very little light for the energy they use. I went down to my local lighting shop to check the specs: a multi-filament, 25 watt Edison bulb is rated to give off only 90 lumens (a lumen is a measure of the total power output in visible light; your typical candle emits about 12.5 lumens).

By comparison, you can buy faux-Edison LED bulbs—or as I like to call them, LEDison bulbs—that use only 5.5 watts and emit 400 lumens. That’s roughly 20 times more efficient, for something that basically looks the same anyway so why buy the inefficient one?

The incandescent bulbs are so dim (like their owners, ha!), you need a lot of them to light your “warehouse space”. And they add up. Two bulbs, totalling 50 watts, use the same power as running a small TV (an LED one, of course), or even my kitchen fridge (based on its star-rating sticker that claims only 463 kilowatt-hours used per year). I repeat, A FRIDGE.

Now, there is a case to be made that we shouldn’t put the onus on individuals to solve climate change, and that large-scale political action is the way to go. After all, the ozone layer was saved by government bans on chlorofluorocarbons, not by people choosing not to spray Louie the Fly.

However, I think the problem of Edison bulbs proves the opposite. The government already tried to ban them, but hipsters found a loophole and used it because they like the look of them. And maybe to stick it to the man, with the man here being, I don’t know, Al Gore perhaps, or Nobel laureate Shuji Nakamura (or possibly Malcolm Turnbull, but I doubt it because hipsters seem to love him).

There is a loophole to the loophole however, with the government rules allowing for a future ban on incandescent bulbs below 25 watts, depending on the availability of suitable replacements.

Until that happens though, I’m going to take it on myself to shame hipster restaurants, cafes and shops that use multiple Edison bulbs for lighting, with the hashtag #IncandescentRage. 

Sure they’re legal, but don’t pretend you’re being environmentally friendly while using them.

@ASTROCAVE, MELBOURNE

Other fashions coming to a hip cafe near you, soon. After 1. the fancy lamp, expect 2. scarves on chair backs (assuming there are chairs, not just milk crates) and 3. straw toilet tidies (Aesop hand soap is SO 2014). Next there'll be 4. drapes for the piano—singing round the piano is back, didn't you know?—and more stuff to make poky toilets seem posh, such as 5. toilet table drapery and 6. hanging sachets. You'll find 7. an ornamental footstool under the laminate table to go with your milk crate. Or maybe instead of your milk crate. Look to 8. your leaf wall pocket for the cocktail, toast soldier and cereal menu and recline on your 9. sofa pillow while you remove your crochet from 10. a receptacle for fancy work, provided for your convenience, and please use the complimentary 11. roll pin cushion while you're at it. ['Suggestions for household decoration'. Wood engraving, 5 May 1886.  Australasian sketcher . Melbourne: Alfred Martin Ebsworth. State Library of Victoria, A/S05/05/86/69].

Other fashions coming to a hip cafe near you, soon. After 1. the fancy lamp, expect 2. scarves on chair backs (assuming there are chairs, not just milk crates) and 3. straw toilet tidies (Aesop hand soap is SO 2014). Next there'll be 4. drapes for the piano—singing round the piano is back, didn't you know?—and more stuff to make poky toilets seem posh, such as 5. toilet table drapery and 6. hanging sachets. You'll find 7. an ornamental footstool under the laminate table to go with your milk crate. Or maybe instead of your milk crate. Look to 8. your leaf wall pocket for the cocktail, toast soldier and cereal menu and recline on your 9. sofa pillow while you remove your crochet from 10. a receptacle for fancy work, provided for your convenience, and please use the complimentary 11. roll pin cushion while you're at it. ['Suggestions for household decoration'. Wood engraving, 5 May 1886. Australasian sketcher. Melbourne: Alfred Martin Ebsworth. State Library of Victoria, A/S05/05/86/69].


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IS THAT COW POO OR A WRITTEN REPORT IT'S HARD TO TELL

A regular correspondent has sent in some friendly grammatical and other advice prepared for those who must engage in the sorry task of writing reports. It really is very friendly—not even vaguely sarcastic or passive-aggressive—in fact so friendly it was almost unsuitable for publication in CRANK. But, as this is CRANKENGRAMMAR month, we'll allow it.

A comic can certainly take the sting out of criticism, so if you're passing this on to a colleague make sure to passively aggressively tape it to the front of their computer monitor and underline some bits emphatically with red pen.

(From @SAIDHANRAHAN, VICTORIA)

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TRY TO DO IT THIS WAY, BUSTER

I want to pass on a favourite grammar crank of my dear departed Mum.

That is, 'I will try and convey her feelings about this phrase', which is so commonly used in place of 'I will try to convey her feelings about this phrase'.

While it is not logically inconsistent to both ‘try’ and ‘and’ something I think almost everybody understands what they are doing is more of the nature of ‘try to’.

It is a shame my Mum was not able to cure the world of that suboptimal expression but she was certainly able to instil an aversion to the ‘try and’ expression in me. Far be it from me to try to pass that on to you, dear reader, but...

R WALLER, OTTAWA

Look, we're not saying you should do it our way, but...you should do it our way. 'The police of the world "running in" an editor'. Wood engraving from  Police news , 5 August 1876, Melbourne. State Library of Victoria accession number PN05/08/76/00.

Look, we're not saying you should do it our way, but...you should do it our way. 'The police of the world "running in" an editor'. Wood engraving from Police news, 5 August 1876, Melbourne. State Library of Victoria accession number PN05/08/76/00.

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SPECU-CRANK: BLADE RUNNER STRATA DATA

I can't be the only one who watches the gorgeous cityscape scenes in Ridley Scott's Blade Runner (1982), with its steel skyscrapers and smoking dark pyramid-blocks, and wonders just how such a dystopia would work in practice. How would one go about buying a flat? How would a development company submit its application to build a futuristic ziggurat? How does the future Los Angeles municipal government maintain and plan its horrifying infrastructure?

The colossal mega-city is one of science fiction's most durable and reliable tropes. Isaac Asimov's 'Trantor' of his Foundation series, an entire city-planet enclosed and covered by human habitation, must be one of the apotheoses, but the trope goes back to the early twentieth century, as early as Fritz Lang's Metropolis (1927). In the Star Wars franchise, say, or in William Gibson's books, in the animated Akira (1988) and in such cult films as The Fifth Element (1997), the architecture of future megalopolises is an excuse for film makers and story tellers to cut loose and enjoy themselves, to make audiences gasp at their manufactured cityscapes. The Judge Dredd comics franchise has particular fun in evoking a post-apocalyptic megacity of laughable ultra violence.

These cities are beautiful, no question. What's missing, though, is a sense of history and of how those shiny (or ratty) cities came to be the way they are. Nuclear apocalypse? Dictatorship? Gradual reform? It's very hard to tell, and authors and screenwriters usually give only the most cursory of clues—leaving the rest for frustrated planning-minded audiences to ponder. 

Picture a company such as Mirvac or Lend Lease proposing a smoking ziggurat or a glass dome city, anywhere near any current Australian city. You don't see these kinds of gigantic projects this side of the 1960s. The civic activism of people inspired by Jane Jacobs' work—and its emphasis on smallness and human scale—and anti-development sentiments mean we probably won't ever see their like again. The closest we get to such science fiction is the delightfully ludicrous Aspire Sydney proposal of 2013, which involved razing large parts of central Sydney, building skyscrapers throughout the inner west, and turning Glebe into a monster conveyor belt. Alas for fiction writers, the proposal got the suppressed-snickering silence from Government it deserved.

Potential authors, I appeal to you as a planning and historically-minded reader. If you're writing your dystopian fiction novel or screenplay and you've got a megacity in it, give us some sense of how it came to be. Does it have a council? Are there megacity NIMBYs? What are the major urban questions? Are there buses, trams, a subway, and are people happy with them? These details will go a long way towards building a complete and satisfying world.

LIAM HOGAN, SYDNEY

An entry for a recent 'Designing Sydney 2090' competition.  An angel leading a soul into hell . Oil painting by a follower of Hieronymus Bosch, circa 1540. Wellcome Library, London. Image number L0030887, Library reference ICV No 17734.

An entry for a recent 'Designing Sydney 2090' competition. An angel leading a soul into hell. Oil painting by a follower of Hieronymus Bosch, circa 1540. Wellcome Library, London. Image number L0030887, Library reference ICV No 17734.

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ON THE TWENTY-THIRD DAY OF CRANKVENT... FORGET THE CHRISTMAS PUD, GET SOME CHRISTMAS CLAFOUTIS

In the southern hemisphere there is a happy correlation between the festive season and cherry season. Why, then, isn't cherry clafoutis our national Christmas dish? Get on it, people!

Here are two recipes: the first is more traditional, the second a little more fail-proof (it contains a rising agent so you run less risk of a rubbery pudding). Not pitting the cherries means you have to be a bit more careful eating the finished dessert, but they become fabulously plump on cooking and the pips also impart a flavour of their own to the dish.

Jeff's Clafoutis (baked cherry custard)

  • 750g ripe black cherries, not pitted
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1/2 c (125g) sugar
  • 75g melted butter
  • 2/3 c (75g) plain flour
  • 1 c (250ml) milk
  • vanilla sugar

Preheat oven to 200C. Wash, dry and stem cherries.

Butter an ovenproof china or glazed earthenware mould large enough to hold the cherries in a single layer. Place the cherries inside.

Combine the eggs and yolk in a bowl, add the sugar and whisk until the mixture is pale in colour. Then whisk in the butter.

Sift in the flour and mix well, then mix in the milk. Continue beating until batter is smooth; pour over cherries.

Bake for 40 minutes or until browned. Remove from oven and sprinkle with vanilla sugar. Serve lukewarm, from the baking dish. Serves 6.

Sarah's clafoutis

  • 8 large ripe apricots or similar fruit (plums, cherries)
  • 120g caster sugar
  • 60g plain flour
  • 60g ground almonds
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 3 free-range eggs
  • 120ml milk
  • 180ml thickened cream
  • icing sugar, for dusting
  • pouring or clotted cream, to serve

Preheat oven to fan-forced 220C (240C conventional). Place caster sugar, flour, almonds and baking powder in a food processor and whiz until combined. (You can mix by hand if you don't have a food processor)

Whisk eggs, milk and cream in a bowl, then add egg mixture to the food processor and whiz until well combined. (See previous note vis-a-vis food processors)

Pour mixture around fruit and bake for 25-35 minutes or until golden and cooked. Dust with icing sugar and serve with cream. Serves 6-8.

(From Sunday Life magazine)

We're not claiming that cherry clafoutis can cure all diseases of the throat and lungs like Ayer's Cherry Pectoral could but it's still pretty good for what ails you (unless what ails you is dairy intolerance). Advertising postcard published by Dr J C Ayer & Co. c1870s. Wellcome Library, London, image no. L0041339.

We're not claiming that cherry clafoutis can cure all diseases of the throat and lungs like Ayer's Cherry Pectoral could but it's still pretty good for what ails you (unless what ails you is dairy intolerance). Advertising postcard published by Dr J C Ayer & Co. c1870s. Wellcome Library, London, image no. L0041339.