Standing Stones of Carnac

31 10 2011

field of menhirs

On a recent family holiday in France we endeavoured to have a variety of attractions to keep the children entertained. (We failed miserably in the entertainment bit, but that is another posting.)

We combined the Chateaux, Museums, Parisian landmarks with amusement parks (Asterix Parc, EuroDisney, Futurosopce and Puy du Fou) with neolithic and prehistoric. The Standing Stones of Carnac comes into the latter category.

Keen readers of Asterix comics will know that France has a long history, evidence of which dates back pre-French Royalty, pre-Roman and pre-Greek. Carnac is a town on the west coast of France, almost directly west of Paris but south of Mont Saint Michel.

I confess I had not heard of it prior to our trip there, and while, unless you have a specific interest in this type of thing, this is not going to keep you occupied more than half a day, it was pretty amazing to see.

The standing stones of Carnac are a neolithic graveyard. Approximately 3000 stones are arranged in perfectly straight lines. And by stones, I mean boulders, all arranged so then are standing upright on end. These are called Menhirs. The other arrangement, which is less common, is dolmens, which look like tables constructed again of massive slabs of rock sitting improbably on a circle or rectangle of upright rocks. While some of the photos don’t really show the scale, many of these are taller than a man and weighing, one would have to guess, many tonnes. How did neolithic technology move these rocks here and erect them so that they would emain standing for over 5000 years?


inside a dolmen

The stones are said to date back to around 3300BC, and while it is not clear if these are actual gravestones, it is believed that they were erected in honour of ancestors. The Dolmens may have been tombs.

These stones have been here for thousands of years...small boys aren't going to make a difference!

If you liked this post you might also like some more posts from France…..
Arrival in Paris
Caves of Lascaux
Notre Dame
French menus
Standing Stones of Carnac
Les Grottos en France
The Louvre
Eiffel Tower (Tour Eiffel)
Streets of Paris
Arc de Triomphe
Napoleon’s Tomb
Galeries Lafayette

Arrival in Paris

31 10 2011

Hotel des Invalides - tomb of Napoleon and Military Museum

We arrived in Paris at about 7am on a Sunday. Our first view of Paris was the rather depressing arrivals lounge and baggage collection area at Charles de Gaulle airport. The decorating motif is “concrete”. And distressed 1970s era concrete at that.

We had organised for someone to meet us at the airport and drive us into Paris – a quiet drive with few companions on the road. The drive from the airport to the Periphique (ring road around Paris which divides the old Paris of the arondissements from the sprawling suburbs) was on a highway surrounded by industrial areas and lined with graffiti. Still not the most auspicious start to the holiday. However, the driver / guide was lovely and pointed out various features as we drove in, engaged our jet-lagged minds in conversation and was generally very helpful.

Once in the older part of Paris the landmarks come think and fast. Hotel des Invalides, its gleaming dome shining in the early morning sun. The Seine. Tour d’Eiffel. Arc de Triomph. Famous famous visages renowned the world over.

view from our hotel in Paris, away from McDonalds and the Montparnasse Tower

The roads of Paris this early Sunday morning were still quiet, but given that we had no idea where we were or where our hotel was, we were very thankful for the driver. We arrived at the hotel – conveniently near the Tour de Montparnasse – at around 8am, to find that our room would be ready at 3pm. We deposited our luggage at the hotel and set off to drag our weary bodies around Paris.

Our first meal in Paris – lunch – was at a Pizza restaurant. I kid you not. We were tired and the restaurant was just there, the kids were keen to eat something familiar. And it was very nice. (Note for new players: Pschitt is a brand of lemonade.)

Lemonade...I was really jetlagged when I took this photo!

We visited the Eiffel Tower, wandered around the streets, worked out where the Louvre was, and then headed back to the hotel.

The convenience about being in a hotel near the Montparnasse Tower was that no matter where you were in the city, you could look up and find the tower and navigate your way back there. We also had help from a kind man who saw us reading the map in the street and asked (in English) if he could help. So much for Parisians not being helpful.

The second great thing about Montparnasse Tower is that Galleries Lafayette, Paris’ fabulous department store, has its second store there. Not as impressive as the main store which is set in an old Opera House with an amazing domed glass ceiling and ornate gilded fittings throughout – but I ended up finding more of the things I wanted in the second store.

However, back to the first day. At 3pm we got into our hotel room and being as jetlagged as we were, went immediately to bed. The children, despite expressing disgust for going to bed at 3 in the afternoon, went rapidly to sleep, as did we all. Jetlag and the walk to and from the Eiffel Tower had exhausted us all.

Eiffel Tower on our first morning in Paris

We woke at 9pm and realised that we had no idea how to find food in the city, particularly in the middle of the night. The hotel did not have a restaurant or room service. While there were a number of cafes and restaurants open now, if we went back to sleep (as we wanted to) and woke hungry at 3am (as we were bound to), we would be unable to find any food and had none with us.

However we did remember that there was a “restaurant” just near the hotel – one that did take-away.

Yes, our second meal in Paris was from McDonalds. Important things to know about ordering from McDonalds in France.

1. The burgers are referred to as Sandwiches.

2. A porter means “to go” or takeaway.

3. Pretty much anything else can be achieved through pointing at the menu board.

4. The McDonalds assistants are very helpful. At this stage I was so tired I was having difficulty communicating in English, my native language, let alone French. While the guy behind the counter did not speak much English, we managed to communicate through his high-school English and my high-school French, and a lot of pointing.

5. They don’t have Fanta – try Orangina, less sweet, more orange-y. And Coke is Coca, Diet Coke is Coca-light.

I stress that the quality of our food consumption improved significantly after this. We became adept at reading menus and ordering in French. The children also became quite fluent in restaurant French. We ate saumon, steak hache, pate de frois gras, grenouilles, escargot, magret de canard (my favourite – breast of duck) and much more.

Once we were over our jetlag!

If you liked this post you might also like some more posts from France…..
Arrival in Paris
Caves of Lascaux
Notre Dame
French menus
Standing Stones of Carnac
Les Grottos en France
The Louvre
Eiffel Tower (Tour Eiffel)
Streets of Paris
Arc de Triomphe
Napoleon’s Tomb
Galeries Lafayette

Vale Qantas?

30 10 2011

photo credit Chris Bloke

Warning: opinion ahead!
Qantas seems to have put itself into an irretrievable nose-dive.

Gone are the days that the flying kangaroo was lauded on international movie screens by Dustin Hoffman in the movie Rainman. The whole world knew that Qantas was the only airline that had never crashed. Now it is making news for all the wrong reasons.

Yes, Qantas’s safety record remains unsurpassed….but then there haven’t been too many other major crashes in other major airlines recently either. And Qantas has had some scary near-misses which certainly made national news in Australia.

And I have to say I have noticed that choosing to fly Qantas in the last few years has meant joining the longest queue in the airport. Somehow both the other major airlines and the budget carriers manage to no only charge less, they also avoid the inconvenience of having to arrive earlier at the airport and queue for an hour to get your ticket checked and your baggage put on the plane. The smug feeling one used to get flying Qantas is not there when others zip through the check-in and into the bar a good 3/4 hour before you. Particularly if you are trying to keep three children entertained in the queue.

So if it isn’t for the safety record and it isn’t for the service – why am I paying more to fly Qantas? According to the CEO Alan Joyce it is because of pay rates for Australian staff.

But it has to be said (because everyone else has) that awarding the CEO a 71% payrise while in industrial dispute with your employees over pay, conditions ad job security….doesn’t smell like a good PR move. Surely he could have waited a little while until he got his pay bumped up to ~$5million pa? That is a headline pay rate at a time when the company has poor share prices, is in dispute with employees, inconveniencing passengers and making the news broadcasts every night – and not in a good way. Maybe he is right about the pay rates making the company uncompetitive – but then he needs to lead by example.

But the death knell according to tonight’s news is that instead of the unions stopping flights, Qantas itself has grounded flights, inconveniencing thousands of customers. People were actually unloaded from planes they had just boarded. Others are stuck sleeping in terminals, unsure when they can start their holiday (already booked) or return home. Qantas staff were not able to respond to customer complaints and the phone lines were jammed.

And then the news that there was apparently a Jetstar memo regarding the grounding dated a couple of days prior to the shareholder meeting warning that Qantas would be grounding all planes. So it would seem that Jetstar (and therefore Qantas) knew the planes would be grounded, although Qantas was not able to provide any warning to its passengers, unions, employees or the Government.

And it is this poor customer service and lack of respect for the flying customer, both normally and in times of crisis, that will sound the death knell for Qantas. Unless addressed promptly.

I’m glad I don’t own any Qantas shares.

what do employees want?

28 10 2011

picture credit Sean MacEntee

A very expensive lawyer I know once said to me “never stand in between an employee and a bucket of money”. That he managed to say it without a hint of irony or self-reflection was as much a miracle as the fact that I managed to choke back my laughter. I couldn’t waste any precious minutes of his $500 per hour listening to me composing myself! His was obviously a very mechanistic view of motivation. Perhaps he should acquaint himself with the Hawthorne Study (circa 1940s)….and any other more recent motivation theories.

However, in a long line of motivation theorems and surveys, comes the latest survey, by Staples in the US. An online survey of 150 office workers conducted in December 2010 across many industries found that the top five improvements in work conditions that employees wanted were:

1.Eliminating office politics (44%) (remarkably low, I thought)

2.Allowing or encouraging telecommuting (41%)

3.Upgrading computers and other office technology (37%)

4.Getting better looking/more comfortable furniture (35%)

5.More private work areas and more flexible work hours (both tied for fifth at 34% each)

Most of them rated their boss positively, and suggestions for improved productivity included providing snack options on-site to avoid staff having to go on “coffee-runs”. While I haven’t actually seen the survey, it is worth noting that Staples is an office-supply company and hence the survey may – just may – have had specific questions about ergonomic chairs, keyboards etc.

None-the-less, food for thought. Please send any spare buckets of money my way.

Another article on this topic is found here.

And a fab infographic on the development of management and motivation models over the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, along with the development and future of performance reviews is found here.

Developing your company’s social media policies

28 10 2011

bandwagon - or bandwidth wagon! picture credit: liako

In this day and age, even the most conservative organisations have a social media presence – or at least an awareness. Organisations that deal with high risk activities such as police, hospitals. Just as having a web-site and email is now a mainstream part of business operations, having a social media presence and operations is becoming a normal part of operations for most businesses today.

For organisations that are sales or marketing-based, thinking about social media is a relatively straight-forward effort. Basically you want to attract as many of the right people (buyers) as possible and funnel them through a sales / service / value-add process. You might want to siphon off any customer-service efforts, and keep an eye out for criticisms and complaints, ensuring that you know how to deal with them effectively and convincingly.

Other organisations – particularly those with a government / conservative / service focus, might have different needs, aims and issues for social media. These need to be carefully thought through before you jump on the bandwagon – or the bandwidth wagon!

Here are some of the things you might want to think of when developing your social media policies and strategies.

1. How can social media fit in with your Business Plan? Social media is a tool and a medium. It needs to be part of your strategic business planning as well as strategic communication planning.

2. What opportunities does social media offer for your to do your business better / cheaper / more accessibly? This will determine which platforms you want to use. Where is the value proposition?

3. Who will be doing the social media aspect of your business? While you Gen Y employees might be most familiar with the platforms and social conventions of social media, they may not be au fait with the politics of your business. As with other media contacts, this person mneeds to both understand the business and the medium.

4. How will you resource your social media involvement? Social media happens 24/7. messages get sent and resent in a split second. WHile you may not need to monitor 24/7, you do need to have timely responses.

5. How will you deal with criticisms / negative comments / misinformation? Best to know this up front. Deleting comments may bring accusations of censorship. (However you might want to establish some moderation rules about acceptable posting so you can remove irrelevant posts, abuse and spam) Responding at length can make an issue out of a minor comment. Leaving up misinformation – especially if it is positive to you – can bring lawsuits about truth in advertising. The important thing is to have thought about this in advance so it doesn’t catch you by surprise.

6. How will you record both your output on social media, and also the input you get from your customers and community? For some organisations this will have legal implications, however it is good practice to have these records anyway.

7. What policies will you have around your employees and social media? This has implications in terms of code of conduct / safe workplace issues, but also in terms of your processes around social media.

8. Will you have a main social media platform or different platforms for different parts of the business? For instance, television statsions often have different platforms and pages for different shows – versus, one main platform with pointers to different aspects of your business.

9. How will you attract business to your social media platforms? It is not a case of “build it and they will come”. Social media now needs to be part of your marketing campaign – both to sell your business and to attract people to “membership” of your social networks.

There are plenty of social media policies on the internet to work from, and plenty of examples of exemplary use of social media – Brisbane City Council’s use of facebook and Twitter during the 2011 Queensland floods demonstrate an excellent value proposition for social media and the reveiws are available online.

Social media is here to stay – but your business will want to use it intelligently.


26 10 2011

Queen and Prince Phillip, 1954 visit to Australia photo credit: State Records NSW

I am a bit of a news junky. I think it makes me feel up to date.

On top of that, having studied communications at university, I tend to have opinions on what constitutes “news” and how it is presented. Yes, Media Watch, a program that critiques news presentations, is aimed at people like me.

Watching more than one news bulletin a day means my “compare and contrast” function is on full. I know when one station reports different statistics to another. I know who is focussing on what I call “real news” (what is going on in the world that has major implications either here or abroad) and who is focusssed on “soft news”. While the old saying “if it bleeds, it leads” still holds true, it is now supplemented by “if we have decent footage, it’s in”. And hence a run-of-the-mill car crash in Sydney will be played in news broadcasts across the country, because they have good footage of it. Never mind that it has little relevance in any other city, nor that there may be other more catastrophic car crashes have happened locally.

My other pet hate is media releases that make it as news. Now while this is particularly prevalent in newspapers, it happens on TV news as well. Somebody’s medical research that may lead to a cure for something – media release. They aren’t saying it will or can cure the disease. They are promotion the research laboratory. And often it isn’t new research anyway. Fundraising efforts for worthy causes – no matter how worthy the cause – are not news.

Which brings me to the Queen. I will declare my prejudices up front:
1. I fail to see the relevance of the royal family to Australia today. Get over it people, it is time to fly the parental nest. We should be a republic by now – our historic connection to the UK is not relevant to our existenace today. I say this as a former ten pound Pom.

2. I have no problem with the Queen, Prince Phillip and assorted hangers-on touring the country. I don’t even mind having expensive receptions for them as visiting heads of state. I fail to see, however, why we should be paying for their tour. They are very wealthy people.

However, back to the news. I can just about tolerate the blow by blow coverage of the Queen touring the country. After all, if it were Obama touring, we would expect to see it as well. However, keep it brief.

My big issue though, is the amount of “news” time given over to watching the Queen accept bouquets from 8 year old girls, and discussions about whether a bow, a bob, a nod or a curtsey is the appropriate greeting for someone who has educated themselves and worked hard to get where they are, to greet someone was lucky enough to be born into the right family. And secondly, why do we then compare this tour to footage of her previous visits? Why is this news? Why is it news about what she did in 1954 when she visited?

If the networks want to compare this royal tour with other royal tours, then make a documentary and show it separately. Don’t cut into my news time with this irrelevant drivel.

is it possible to get PTSD from CSI?

24 10 2011

photo credit Tex Texin

I am a recovering tv-aholic. My poison of choice – until recently – was the crime / science shows. The more science the better, so I was really into the CSI-type of show.

My partner and I would sit and pick apart the science – all the incorrect and improbable things that they would put into these shows. Knife wounds so defined they could be filled with rubber cement and show the outline of the knife – classic! And the episode where the crim breaks a cell-phone type battery and uses – wait for it – the acid (from a lithum ion battery) to burn through cell bars. There are web forums devoted to picking apart this sort of thing if you are interested – they are pretty amusing.

Of course, being the arm-chair experts that we are, we also like to pick apart the basic crime-fighting techniques. They pick evidence up without photographing it in place. They have high-speed chases and break into houses with guns – wait – aren’t they scientists, not cops? And then of course, every horror-movie fan’s favourite – walking into darkened rooms by themselves.

However much we love these sorts of shows – they make us feel intelligent and like we haven’t forgotten everything we learned in science class – I do wonder about the amount of gore we are exposed to.

I can’t watch anything where the victim is a child – it literally turns my stomach and I physically recoil. But likewise, are we becoming insensitised to physical trauma by the exposure we get to decapitated, rotting, murdered corpses on these sorts of shows? And in some of them, we actually get the flash-backs to how the murder was committed. The terror and trauma of the victim. The fragility of human life.

Is it possible to get post-traumatic stress disorder from the graphic representations of murders and murder victims that these shows expose us to?

I grew up in the 1970s and 1980s. Cop shows then didn’t have the advantage of the special effects. They focussed on the relationships between the characters, with a bit of sleuthing and a high speed chase thrown in for excitement. The challenge was trying to work out “who dunnit”. Think The Bill, Midsomer Murder or in Australia, Cop Shop. In America, I guess it would have been (God save us) Charlie’s Angels and CHIPS. In the current crop of shows it is perfectly obvious “who dunnit” right from word go – the slightly overly helpful but otherwise distantly connected person who appears too often. The show focuses instead on how the pseudo-science will capture them.

The other side-effect of these shows is that the crooks are getting educated. And the jurors. Apparently the crooks are learning how to hide the evidence – avoid leaving fingerprints, footprints, hairs, shell casings, etc. And jurors are expecting 100% water-tight evidence – preferably DNA evidence – to be presented at every trial.

The omni-presence of this type of entertainment has an effect on the real world around us.

I am over it – give me a comedy any day.

Gen Z, Millennials and privacy

23 10 2011

photo credit Dan Taylor

I must be getting old.

Or paranoid.

Or both.

While “researching” (aka killing time) on Facebook the other day, I happened to notice that a friend’s child was posting on their wall. Out of curiosity I clicked on the child’s Facebook page and found that I could read their entire site.

There were a couple of other names in the friends list that I recognised, and I clicked on those – again, I could get into their sites and read everything. And each of these children had between 200 and 300 Facebook “friends”. Excuse my skepticism – but do they really KNOW all these people?

These are not the children of neglectful or thoughtless parents. In fact I wouldn’t mind betting that for those parents who also have Facebook accounts, they have their own privacy settings set up very high. And they probably only have people they actually know as their Facebook friends. So how is the message not getting to their children?

We still teach our children stranger-danger, and we have all heard the dreadful stories of children who were contacted and groomed by predators online…. yet none of these children seem to have any privacy settings on their Facebook pages.

Now there is nothing of any particular concern on any of their walls, although the occasional older friend seems to post language and concepts that would be best left out entirely, if not just off-line. But they do post general information like their home town, what teams they barrack for, what teams they play for, what school they go to – all identifying features if you were so inclined.

So how do we teach Generation Z and the Millennials about privacy? About keeping safe? About protecting themselves? Or do we have to keep checking up on them?

This is a generation that grew up with social media. When they were born their parents emailed photos to friends, and for some of them, their births were announced on Facebook. (Some may even have birth videos on Youtube, but let’s not go there.) Their childhood was documented with photographs of every achievement posted online, accompanied by comments from their parents about whether they had been good or naughty, exhausting or joyful. And then their parents’ friends got to “like” or comment. Childhood by popularity contest.

So if the parents have over-shared their child’s life, is this what the child thinks is normal?

And the next question is, what happens when these children get to adult age and start looking for a job. How much of what they, their friends and their family are posting on-line, will still be there? Will the in-jokes amongst friends play any better if you allow for the fact the child was 13 at the time they posted it, or “liked” the rather off-colour page? Will recruiters need to take all of this into account when recruiting in ten years time? Or is there going to be a booming business in “cleaning up” Gen Z’s online reputation? (Get in now – I take only 20% commission for the idea.)

But if prevention is better than cure, how do we teach our children to stay safe in the online environment?

Who owns God’s voice?

22 10 2011

OK I am going to go out on a limb here, but since we have just survived yet another predicted date of the rapture, I am going to say that possibly Harold Camping is neither in close contact with God, nor able to correctly interpret biblical prophecy.

Yes, this is written on the 22nd of October 2011. The author is proud (but perhaps somewhat confused) to have survived both the 21st of May 2011 and the 21st of October 2011. Unless of course the rapture occurred while I wasn’t paying attention (I did have a few glasses of wine last night) and I am in fact one of those left behind. In which case everyone I know has also been left behind, and you, dear reader, are left behind as well.

There is of course one more major problem with any predicted date of the end of the world. And I quote myself on Twitter:

“It is Saturday here in Australia. Guess we all survived the #rapture. Good luck to the US for the next few hours!”

Yes, that’s right. Even if (and that is a big IF) Harold Camping had been able to correctly predict a date of the rapture (and assuming God is conveniently working on the same calendar that we are), at no time is the entire earth in the same day at the same time. So we have a couple of options here:

1. the rapture would start at the international date line as the day clicked over to the correct date and time (5.59PM), and would progressively work itself around the world . Therefore the US would essentially get almost 24hours warning it was coming. This hardly seems fair.

2. Camping (and therefore according to him, God) didn’t specify which time zone this was in (sloppy work on the part of God to not specify this – or perhaps our correspondent, Camping, doesn’t understand about time zones). This would mean that while part of the earth would be raptured at the predicted date / time, another part would either be early (cheated – I was just about to confess! I thought I had until 5.59pm!) or up to 18 hours late – and on the next date.

So perhaps this is just the latest version of the televangelist “God wants you to send all your money to the PO Box that you see on your screen now”. Have we not moved on from this? This was not a victimless crime – in May 2011 it was reported that a number of people had in fact quit their jobs and sold all their possessions to fund and work for the campaign to spread the word of the coming apocalypse. I can only hope that this hasn’t happened again.

I think it is time for Harold Camping to quietly fade into history, and not keep coming up with new dates.

Perhaps I am over-thinking this.

Like some more over-thinking on the religion questions? Try Is hell exothermic or endothermic?

Fitness campaign

22 10 2011

photo credit H@rpoon

Despite very convincing previous postings (12,000 steps and Reasons I should be exercising), you will be surprised to find that I have not in fact been inspired to exercise. Perhaps the recent posting Reasons I should be allowed to eat what I want may have been the give-away clue.

So I have finally bitten the bullet and seen an exercise physiologist.

Now I have to say, I am a relatively educated person, and I have worked in the health industry for many years. I know about Type II diabetes, cardio-vascular disease, cholesterol, lifestyle risk factors, Syndrome X etc. I’ve read the women’s magazines, taken the quizzes and enrolled in Weight-Watchers (a number of years ago when, in retrospect, I really didn’t need it). So I think I know quite a lot about diet, exercise, metabolism etc. Fundamentally, I know what I am supposed to do, I just don’t do it.

I have also seen the various internet adverts promising the “secret exercise tricks” that can help you lose weight rapidly without having to spend hours exercising. Now much as these ads had my name all over them, I did resist sending any money to find out the secret exercise tricks. I am sceptical about miracle cures, much as I would really love to see one (use one and be the living proof).

Well, turns out there is such a thing as a secret exercise trick – and I will reveal it here! With no guarantees, as I haven’t actually tried it yet, but a very convincing exercise physiologist showed me the graphs and some pretty diagrams which he highlighted appropriately as he explained it. So I am convinced.

The trick is actually to exercise like a sprinter, not an endurance runner. And since I am starting from a very (very) low level of fitness, this means interval training. Five repetitions of 30 seconds working at maximum capacity, interspersed with two minutes of low level exercise. All done and finished in fifteen minutes.

Apparently exercising like a sprinter means you use sugars while you are exercising, but your body resets to burn fats over the next two days. So I only have to do this 3 or 4 times a week. I can probably manage to motivate myself for that!

Meanwhile, if you’d like to send your money for this amazing fat-burning secret, please drop me a line and I’ll send you my PO Box.