Capn's Blog

Friday, March 02, 2012


Everyone has their heroes, people who are deeply inspiring.  Some of mine are people I've worked for, and others are people whose blogs and books have moved and challenged me.

As strange as this sounds, one of my heroes, John Linton, founded the ISP I use, Exetel.  As a bet, John started writing a daily blog about his thoughts about running a company, and his observations about Australian politics and the telecommunications scene.  While I read his blog monthly rather than daily, I can say I've read and re-read all of his 1,649 blog entries.

Filled with anticipation, I went to read his blog last night, only to find an entry from his son, saying that John had passed away.  Shock!  I feel quite saddened, knowing I can now never tell him how much his counsel has meant.  Hard to imagine one would shed a tear for the big boss of one's ISP! 

My politics might be very different to John's, yet what he stands for transcends that: Unquestionable integrity, searing passion, undaunted bravery.  John's decency and intrinsic care for humanity and the environment was present in every line he wrote. 

Exetel was everything I wanted in an ISP: Reliable, affordable, and ethical.  And from the tributes on his blog John made the people at Exetel feel like family.

I'm now in China starting a business on my own.  It is very very hard work, and one of the things that keeps me going, keeps me seeing the big picture, is the example John set.  One day I will have staff of my own, and John, along with two other Australians I deeply respect and had the pleasure of working for, has shaped my views of managing people, especially in giving people a go, and investing in their development.  For me his approach is a benchmark I aspire to.  Thank you John.

John had big plans for expansion of Exetel, and I wonder how these plans will go without John to drive them.  The bad news is that John left an almighty set of boots to fill.  The good news is that the Exetel family had the good fortune to have been guided and trained by one of the very best.  I wish them every success in going out there and being decent, successful people.  It's everything John would have wanted.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012


One of the consequences of living in China is a change of cuisine.  No more do I have the dishes of the west where the components are cooked individually then combined on the plate.  Most Chinese cuisine involves cutting stuff up into bite-sized pieces, and cooking them together with some kind of sauce.

Much as I like Chinese food cooked by a pro, a lot of the food I find in the restaurants here is oily overcooked mush - the Chinese equivalent of fast food.  As a consequence, on my first trip to Shenzhen, I had a lot of trouble finding food I liked, and I ended up losing seven kg. 

My second trip was less depressing.  I'm starting to learn (by trial and error) which dishes aren't crap, and I've discovered the wonderful fried noodles the street sellers sell at night: Cheap, relatively nutritious, relatively safe, and incredibly tasty.  That's revolutionised my evenings.

I can't finish this post without mentioning my cravings.  I'm often stricken by visions of food from back home, both during my waking hours, and when I'm asleep.  Someone this morning mentioned fish and chips, and it took me several hours to stop having visions of light, crispy, golden battered fish out of my mind.

One word for a song you can't get out of your head is an "ear-worm".  One well-known cure for an ear-worm is to start singing some other song.  The idea is that the second song will displace the first, and hopefully the second one isn't so catchy.  Generally, it works.

I tried doing the same for my fish-and-chips "mouth-worm".  Right now I'm imaging a baking dish filled with macaroni, swimming in a cheese sauce, and baked golden brown on the top.  Unfortunately this particular vision is every bit as compelling as the fish-and-chips, and I'm still being tortured.  I do have some cheese in the fridge that I brought with me for emergencies, but I've only been here a week, and it just seems to soon, and too pathetic, to call emergency so soon!

Cheese, oh cheese.  It's the thing I most fantasised about in my first trip, and as soon as I got back home to Australia, I bought a 1kg block and ate it all. Most Chinese people can't understand how I feel about cheese, which is not surprising, as most Chinese people have some measure of lactose intolerance, and it's not part of the cuisine.  I remind them of all the different kinds of doufu, and what life would be like without doufu, and they see what I mean.

What's Mitch doing?

Just in case anyone is unclear about this, I've moved!

Mid-last year I had the idea to start a business providing electronic components to hobbyists, and order to make that happen, I've moved to Shenzhen, China.  You can read more about my business adventures here:

I currently spend three months in Shenzhen, then one month in Australia.  I went home for Christmas and to go to the Linux conference, and I arrived back in Shenzhen a few days ago.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

My beer audit

Recently I organised to show the folks at my hackerspace how to brew beer:

  Discussion: Brewing beer at the 'space

We started it off on the 19th of October, and we plan to bottle it on the 30th.

Some people bottle their beer in glass bottles.  But if a glass bottle explodes, its neighbor might explode too, and it's common to lose several dozen bottles.  Imagine the mess of glass and beer on the floor!
Instead of glass, I bottle my beer in plastic bottles.  Plastic bottles are good in that they can't explode like glass bottles can.  But one problem is that over time (more than six months), the CO2 of the beer escapes and the beer goes flat.  No bubbles.

I just did an audit of the beer I have at my place, as I want to start brewing again straight after the 30th, something I've only done once since 2007.

I have four crates, and a crate can hold 16 bottles.  It seems I have two crates each of two brews.  I opened one of each brew to do a taste test.

I tried the first brew.  Nice darker beer, with no obvious bad smell, and no obvious bad taste.  Only a small amount of fizz.  While not so strong on mouth feel, it was very flavourful and tasted ok, giving me a hopeful feeling.

I tried the second brew.  A lighter beer, with no obvious bad smell, and no obvious bad taste.  Almost no fizz.  A great mouth feel, and while I couldn't taste "cardboard", "vegetable flavours", "fruit flavours" or "skunkiness", I just couldn't reasonable say that it tasted like beer.  In other words, not possible to taste it and say "oh, there's the malt, and there's the hops".

The upshot is that I think I will throw away the second brew, and keep the first brew.  But the first brew doesn't have any bubbles?  What to do?

I will open each bottle, and put in some carbonation drops.  The yeast that's still in the beer will consume the sugar in the drops, produce gas, and make the beer fizzy again.

Oh and yes, after having drunk 2 bottles (1.5l) of the first brew, I'm now feeling very relaxed :-)

Monday, December 28, 2009

Merry Christmas to all


Merry Christmas to all my friends. I hope you had a happy and nutritionally excessive Christmas.

My boys sing in a famous choir. Each year, this choir is part of a Christmas concert in Melbourne, which is shown on TV across Australia. This year, Bob was in the singing group for this event.

You can see him dressed in red at 3:29 to 3:52. He is the left-most boy, looking from our point of view. He said it was very cold, even with the lights. Some of the performers were blowing steam!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Bagels from Glick's

I like to eat bagels for lunch. I like to get my bagels from Glick's, which is a chain of Jewish bakery stores across Melbourne. Their logo is a picture of the founder:

I went to get my bagels yesterday. I was served by Mr. Glick himself!

Two things about Mr. Glick:
  • He thinks tongs are unnecessary: Just grabbed the bagels and shoved them in the bag. Hey, when you're a baking god, germs just run away, right? Right?
  • I ordered 7 bagels. He said "now how much is that". I said "7 8s are 56, so that's $5.60" and offered him $5.60. He looked totally lost. He started muttering "Well, I know 6 bagels is 4.80, that must be"...
    Several more confused seconds. I repeated "7 8s are 56, so that's $5.60". He's still completely at sea. Finally he just agrees to take my money.
So he may be a baking god, but it's a fair bet he's innumerate.

Still, he runs the biggest Jewish baking chain in the country. Well done, eh?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Back from China

Hello everyone. As you'd know by now, about three weeks ago I arrived back from China.

Best thing about being back: Family and food.

Life in China is so strange. Shop attendants very rarely smile or seem glad to see you. Some seem quite annoyed if you ask them a question. Chinese shop staff just don't have the "service oriented" attitude of people in the West (and in fact, of places like Hong Kong and Singapore).

And yet, my friends in China were just so overwhelmingly generous and helpful. Time and time again, as soon as I said that I was looking for something or planning to do something, my friends were thinking about how to help me, and often spent a great deal of their time helping me. They were so helpful it was often quite embarrassing for me, because I'm a very independent person.

It wasn't just my friends, it was perfect strangers too. Several times I would talk to people on the bus or the tram, and if I said I was going somewhere, that person would insist on coming with me to make sure I knew the way. And they didn't even know me!

How can friends and strangers be so friendly, yet people in shops be so cold? I don't know. But I know that the thing I miss most about living in China is my Chinese friends.


Sunday, February 24, 2008

Heading off

Well, in 10 minutes I'm leaving for the airport. Fly to HK, stay a night, then fly to Beijing, stay a night, then catch the train to Dalian.

Been working so hard at home to get everything shipshape before I leave. But I haven't done any Chinese practice! My characters are so rusty. I'm going to practice them on the plane with the use of the character program I wrote for my phone.

Bye Australia! Back in July!