Friday, July 31, 2009

Apple, How did you get the iPhone so wrong?

Let's get one thing straight: whilst all sorts of people, including Apple, no doubt, think that the iPhone is some sort of fancy portable information device, most of us buy it primarily as a phone.
I changed to an iPhone recently, from a 3 year old Sony Ericsson. As a phone the iPhone sucks in comparison to my old Sony Ericsson (SE). Three years, by the way, is like grandfather to grandson in generational terms - it's huge.
Just for context I've been a Mac user since 1986 and I've lived through this before. The Mac finally delivered on its promise with OS X. It took a long time to get there.
So what's wrong with the iPhone? Well let's be specific about this. Let's look at some "core" features we need in any phone before we add all the bells and whistles.
Syncing: With the SE it automatically connects to my MacBook via Bluetooth and syncs seamlessly using Apple's iSync. The iPhone on the other hand won't use Bluetooth to hookup and sync with the Mac. Why not!!! Bluetooth is simple and effective. Why on earth not?
Texting: The SE has predictive text that means that for most words I only have to push a couple of buttons on the keypad and it predicts the word. It's amazingly accurate and amazingly fast. The iPhone says it has predictive text all I can say is it doesn't propose anything, it's slow, the onscreen keys are too small for my fingers. The iPhone is slow and clumsy by comparison to the SE.
Sharing Contacts: Using the SE I do this every day. I use Bluetooth, I send a universally accepted vCard and I can send any of my contacts to anyone with Bluetooth and they can universally accept the contact - no special software needed. The iPhone is simply crap in this regard. I can send a contact - but I can't use Bluetooth to do it. I can download all sorts of apps to beam vCards via Bluetooth but all of the apps need to be on both ends of the deal or I need to use a paid service. This is crap - the iPhone strikes a giant step backward for functionality. I can send a vCard via MMS but many mobiles - perfectly good mobiles that know how to handle a vCard - don't recognise the iPhone's vCard for what it purports to be. And it costs me money for the MMS.
Battery Life: Well what can I say - the SE will do at least 2 days on a charge and sometimes more. The iPhone struggles to do a day. That's progress!
Call Management: On the SE I can choose what happens to calls when the phone is busy, when it doesn't answer...there's amazing granularity. On the iPhone I can either divert all calls or not. That's functionality from the early days of GSM. Another great step forward for progress!!
That's just a start but you get the picture. What this says to me is that in the core area of functionality - a 3G phone - the iPhone does a poor job. The interface is clumsy, the lack of alerts is stupid, and the mid-90s functionality is bizarre. I wish someone would explain this to me. And please don't tell me what the iPhone can do with other iPhones - that's like masturbation - interesting, handy if there's nothing else, but ultimately pointless.
It seems to me that the only people to benefit out of the iPhone are the Telcos and Apple.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Warp Speed Lifecycles

Remember back in the day when you were lucky if you got a new version of your favourite app once a year? The developers would tell you nothing about what was coming and you just had to hang out and wait.
Recently I became aware of the whole iPhone/iTunes Store phenomenon. Firstly I was like a kid in a candy store - so many apps, so cheap. Then I began to realise that I was seeing for the first time a - sorry about the word - revolution that had been going on without my knowing about it.
Firstly these are "midget" apps. Lots of little apps, most of which do one thing and one thing only. They are judged on how well they do their thing. So I downloaded an app that gives me the winds from around Port Phillip Bay. I normally use the web on my laptop to access this data and the pages are always open. This little app does the job brilliantly and it's free (BayWinds).
Now some of these midget apps are midgets on steroids. What about TramTracker for the Melbourne trams. That app has a lot crammed into it but it does its thing really well.
What really got me going though was the expectations of users and the feedback. Feedback was brutal and to the point on lots of apps. What's more it is really clear that user expectations are much more aggressive than they used to be. Users expect bugs to be fixed tomorrow. They expect new versions quickly and repeatedly. They expect developers to respond to new OS capabilities really quickly. Users are intolerant of delay, poor communication or bugs. They feel like they have a right to a new version, a bug fix or whatever. They value their $1.99 much more than they ever valued the hundreds of dollars that they paid for some monolithic application like MS Word.
So the tables appear to have turned. On the one hand the iPhone has lowered the barriers to entry for app developers. The iTunes Store has made a huge audience available to developers and provided the infrastructure for micro commerce.
On the other hand it has created a really competitive market that exposes developers who don't meet user needs.
Apple appears to be struggling under the load they've imposed on themselves. Developers deliver new versions and then it appears from anecdotal evidence to take around 1 month for Apple to approve the app. That can't be good for anyone given the expectations of users.
I wonder what it's like for developers in that environment. Do the ups outweigh the downs?

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Slow Travel

For once everything had gone to plan. Melbourne - Hong Kong a brief stopover and then Hong Kong - Rome overnight. This is my favourite flight - arriving at either 0650 or 0710 depending on the season. Uncharacteristically I'd managed a good night's sleep on the flight and arrived feeling rested. I'd also begun to perfect the skill of travelling slow and I arrived feeling not only fresh but relaxed.
The crisp January morning was something of a shock - stepping out of heat stricken Melbourne into single digit Rome was challenging. I drifted through the airport with barely a nod from immigration and disinterest from anyone else. A short wait and onto the Leonardo Express. It always reminds me of the North Coast Mail - the train that used to rumble down the North Coast of NSW collecting blokes with beer, sheilas with dogs and various others with bongs and dope. The Leonardo Express lacks the colour and the carriages are better but it still rattles and shakes and the engine sounds just like the Mail.

Roma Termini is a favourite of mine, despite its fascist style and the pay to pee loos; it has something about it. The early morning winter light, the steaming breathes of the passengers and the bustle. I bought a ticket on the all stops to Naples then grabbed a coffee and slice for breakfast. Life was looking up and soon enough we were on the track again. The trip to Priverno-Fossanova was only 50 minutes and then I was met with warm greetings by an old friend.
It was 2 years since we had seen each other so there was plenty to talk about. First stop was the factory to check on progress but soon enough the familiar question: Mangiamo? Why not? For some reason we never discuss where we're going for lunch. Giovanni decides and off we go. I know where we're going when we get there.
After 30 or so minutes we arrive at a little restaurant. It's beside a drainage canal and set amongst open fields. In the '30s this area was drained, on Mussolini's orders, and turned from swamp to productive farmlands. Wherever you travel on this little coastal strip the drainage canals are a reminder of this.
We parked the car and strolled in the bright winter sunshine for 100 metres to the grass airstrip. Two people were lying in the sun near a little airplane waiting for us. Giovanni introduced them: "This is Giovanna and Mauro." I shook hands and then realised that I had seen this aircraft before. In December 2 years ago I had seen this aircraft in the factory with "Giovanna e Mauro" scrawled on the firewall in marker pen. "He delivered it to us on 24 December" they said, nodding towards Giovanni.
We strolled arm in arm to the restaurant and ate a leisurely lunch. Giovanna and Mauro had travelled in Australia. We talked about the world, business, flying, life, Italy, food and the difficulty of being married to American women. Finally the lowering sun made it necessary to make a move.
We strolled back to the airstrip. This leg back to Roma was Giovanna's turn in the left seat. They strapped in, taxied out and ran up for departure.

Then out of nowhere a Hughes 500D arrived to disturb the peace, make several approaches, hold up departure and then leave.

Finally they departed climbing away in the broad sweeping turn into the soft light of the winter afternoon and we walked off to the car. This set the tone for the next 2 weeks, work, food, friends and flying. Only in Italy.

Sunday, July 19, 2009


Is it because Americans are more patriotic than Australians? Is it because the military, wars and the consequent loss of life are a more pervasive part of US society?
When you trawl the blogosphere you find all sorts of examples of the respect with which everyday people in the US appear to hold military personnel. You find very little of that in Australia.
Wikipedia lists active duty personnel in the US military as numbering 1,445,000 in February this year with an additional 850,000 in Reserve elements. That's against a US population of just over 304 million for 2008 (US Census). So counting reserve and active duty the military makes up around 0.75% of the population.
For the 2007-2008 financial year trusty Wikipedia lists combined active duty and reserve for the Australian Defence Force as 73,500 and Australian population is projected at around 21.85 million in July 2009 (ABS). That gives a proportion of the population in the military of 0.34% - around half the proportion of the US.
Now that doesn't seem like much difference to me - granted Australia only has around half the proportion of defence personnel that the US does but I would have thought that the behavioural differences that I see would have been generated by a much greater disparity than that.
Maybe it's the US war dead that does it. In the Iraq and Afghanistan wars the total dead and wounded is about 53,500. The Australian numbers are as far as I can determine something in the order of 20-30 killed and wounded. US proportion is 0.0176% of population whilst the Australian proportion is 0.000137%. That seems to me like a real difference - 2 orders of magnitude. That's the kind of difference that would have a very real effect on how a country feels.
OK enough of the numbers, what does this really come down to? Here's my take. The US has a culture of patriotism and honouring the offices of the nation - the President for instance. They see their country as the "best country in the world". In Australia we have a larrikin disrespect or at best cynicism about our politicians. Our greatest veneration is held for the ANZACs - those poor blokes who were slaughtered through Churchill's and more generally British incompetence in 1915. We extend that feeling to the people who have died in most of the wars since.
Yet that isn't an across-the-board feeling in society - not by a long chalk. We tend to respect the "old" diggers of the first and second world wars more than wars since. We have trouble with the Vietnam war - many still believe we shouldn't have been there and find it hard to feel positive about those who served there. Vietnam tore at Australia from the inside. That in turn caused hardship for those service men and women who returned from Vietnam.
Without being negative about Australia I think it is unlikely that we would see a scene here such as that described by this blogger: Fallen Soldier
So you are the people who know. Tell me what it is that's different and why, between Australia and the US in the way we feel about our countries and those who serve in our military. Or is my view an outsiders view and do many people in the US feel indifferent or indeed negative about these things?
I don't know the answers. What I do know is that one death or wounding is one too many for the families, the friends and all those left behind, not to mention the person themselves.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

La Cucina Tipica

Visit an Australian town of 15,000 people or so - you pick the town. What does it offer in the food stakes? Certainly hamburgers and fish and chips, probably a pizza joint, a Chinese restaurant certainly, Indian if you are lucky and maybe, just maybe some Thai food. The pubs might do "Aussie" meals - whatever they are.
Compare that to the place I visit in Italy. About 90 km south of Rome, near the coast, 15,000 people. The first thing that you notice is that there isn't a hamburger joint, they don't know what fish and chips are, there is no Chinese, no Indian, no Thai - it's simply Italian food or nothing. Boring? Not at all because there's an interesting little twist or two.
Firstly the evening meal is not the main meal of my day in Italy, that comes in the middle of the day. The picture above is the place I stay at, simple, clean, friendly and modestly priced - 45 euro a day for a double room and breakfast. The coffee at breakfast is quickly and expertly made with a decent coffee machine and the quality is superb. Try finding that in Australia.
The main town centre is a 5 minute walk and on my way there I pass three good, cheap, friendly restaurants where I can have half a litre of wine and a simple, healthy meal for 8 or 9 Euro. The first place - 45 seconds walk - an anti pasto bar with a wide variety of vegetable, bean, meat and sea food. You could make this your meal and I have, the bread is fresh and chewy. The "gourmet" pizzas are simple and filling. The pasta, meat and fish dishes are simple and quick. So three or four food groups a good glass of red and off I go into the darkness replete and with my wallet still full.
Further on in town I have choice - up-market dining in a place disconcertingly called "Happy Days" - not what you would expect from the name. Maybe the little place near the church where you get whatever is on the owner's agenda that night. Last time I was there I had a glorious house red and a beautiful braise with potatoes and broccoletti followed by dessert for 18 euro. Further still and I come to a tiny place that offers pizza by the slice - choose your slice, choose your wine and go and sit. Then as often as not the owner will pop out of the kitchen with a bowl and say "I just made this you might like some". Maybe it's a bean dish, maybe some pasta or maybe a risotto with seafood. You get no choice except to churlishly refuse and it's always good - I've never paid more than 9 Euro for dinner here and often as little as 6.
But the main course is really lunch. For this we drive, never more than 30 minutes, never in town, always in the countryside. That's the first thing you notice, in amongst the livestock and the market gardens will be a modest house with a sign suggesting food is on offer. Each little restaurant has it's own menu which is typical of that restaurant. One is known for its meats - dried and cured, porchetta - whatever. They form a mandatory first course along with some buffalina maybe and perhaps a simple braise of beans. Another has a wood fired grill in the restaurant and they cook fish and game meats, sausages and steak to absolute perfection as you watch. I remember one happy lunch at this place where I ate spaghetti with scampi followed by home made sausages with potato and glorious broccoletti braised with olive oil. We finished with dessert and a glass of grappa with our coffee. The food, the red wine, the grappa and the coffee? 20 euro each for a group of 12 of us - and it wasn't a set menu.
Each restaurant is individual and "does its own thing" yet each is quintessentially Italian. You couldn't be anywhere else. Why is it that Italy has such a culture when in Australia you have the alternative of starvation or death by hamburger in many towns of this size? Why is there such an absence of restaurants in the country in Australia? I can only think of George Biron's Sunnybrae restaurant in Victoria. Viva Italia.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Tailwheel Travails - Lesson One

It shouldn't be hard right? I know how to start an aircraft, how to taxi it, how to take-off, fly and land. That means that flying a new type should be a snack! Wrong I'm afraid - much to my disgust.
If gliders qualify as taildraggers then I've got a fair bit of taildragger time. I suspect however in all the things that are important to flying a taildragger gliders don't count. That means that like many pilots of my age I don't have the rare qualification of being a "real" pilot, because I don't fly a taildragger.
I decided that as I did want to be a "real" pilot it was about time I did something about this glaring hole in my capabilities. I'm getting endorsed to fly a 'dragger. As you might have guessed from a previous post I've chosen the Zlin Savage Classic (called the Cub in Australia) as the initial vehicle for my mortification. So from time to time I'll write about my progress - or more to the point, lack of it.
Lesson one: We had the briefing - you know the one about the C of G being behind the main gear in a taildragger, unlike in a tricycle undercarriage aircraft where it's in front. That means that the tail wants to swap ends with the nose, the tail wants to go first and let the nose come along later. So the story is that as a pilot your only important job is to make the tail stay behind the main gear, and not just behind but straight behind please. Why straight behind? Well as you let the tail get out of line the aircraft will start to turn and the line of the C of G will move rapidly outboard on the outside of the turn. Once it gets beyond a certain point you are going to ground loop and nothing is going to stop you. So keep the tail nicely in line behind you please!!
Once we had got over the briefing we climbed aboard and the instructor said "let's go and do some taxiing practice". Taxiing practice? That's the first thing you learn when you learn to fly - you're kidding me aren't you? Not kidding and what's more let's pick an open area away from obstructions and other aircraft. Well even getting to the open area was a series of drunken lurches. Once a taildragger starts turning it keeps turning. Unlike a nosewheel aircraft where relaxing the rudder on the ground tends to see the aircraft returning to straight line progress, the taildragger keeps going round and indeed has a nasty tendency to tighten the turn. So to stay straight you watch the nose like a hawk and use little dabs of rudder to correct any deviation from the path of righteousness - and don't leave the rudder input in will you! The toe brakes can help too but we'll come to the difficulties of those in a minute!
OK we've lurched drunkenly to an open area and on the way avoided any collision with any object. "OK let's just turn to the right here - more power, keep her moving, why have you got all that rudder in?" This as the aircraft performs a perfect low speed pirouette. Without power the rudder isn't so effective so you tend to pile in more rudder to get the aircraft moving where you want it and then as you increase power to aid the process you have way too much rudder and around you go and unless you are very quick you keep going around. As for the frigging toe brakes, I couldn't work out how to hold one rudder pedal still whilst I rocked my other foot forward to use the toe brakes. By this stage the local idlers had moved into a prime position to view the fun. These are the guys who don't need to burn fuel to get their jollies, they just watch idiots like me and gain immense amusement from it.
Slowly it began to make sense: initiate a turn, release the rudder once you are turning, maybe use some opposite rudder to keep things seemly and never use too much rudder. Now lets see if we can taxi to the end of the strip without hitting the fence or making a runway incursion. At the first turn on the taxiway I conducted a graceful little groundloop and stopped only a few feet short of the runway. Over the radio "xyz turning final for runway 11 and I have the Cub in sight (giggle)". Sweating and red faced I encouraged the Classic back onto the straight and narrow and we waltzed to the end of the runway, managed to enter and line up straight and then took a deep breath.
Open the throttle slowly, feet nice and soft, eyes fixed on the far end of the strip, tail up slowly and we're are in the air. Straight, perfectly straight, fuss free! Climb out and wander off for some upper air work - time to understand the beast in the air. After a very benign session we head back to the circuit. The Classic feels great in the circuit and everything falls into place, no fuss on final, sliding down on rails and into the flair. The exhortations from the back seat start at about this point: "keep coming back on the stick, don't give up on her, more, more..." and we touch in the gentlest most graceful landing of my life. Little dabs of the rudder to keep her straight and we slow to turn off the strip and taxi back for another one. Well I managed to get through that without wrapping her up in a ball!!
None of the other landings were quite as good as the first, but my footwork got better and more assured. Of course if every landing was perfect we'd never bother coming back. My daughter is one of those pilots whose landings vary between very good and completely bloody perfect. She's fond of telling me that I have every reason to keep coming back to fly some more - one day I might just fluke a landing that's worth watching!! That's why you have kids.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Zlin Savage Classic - First Impressions

I flew the Classic a week or two ago - it's a copy of the old Piper Cub.

The one pictured was a photo I took in Italy, the one I flew was in Australia. They were initially designed in Italy I believe and are now manufactured by Zlin in the Czech Republic. In Australia this has been called the Savage Cub but it is officially the Savage Classic.

They are sold as a Light Sport Aircraft in Australia. MTOW in LSA config is 560kg which gave about 263kg of useful load.

The aircraft is powered by the Rotax 912ULS and has a Woodcomp wood grain style prop.

The first impression is of a very, very well constructed and finished aircraft that's great fun to fly. It's very simple - a small, well laid out panel, with an XCom radio slung under the edge of the panel.

Stick is central, throttle is to the left, just where your arm/hand fall. Below that towards floor level is the flap lever it's the old "handbrake" style. It requires a little effort to pull flaps on, but the biggest issue for me was being able to reach it. To quote the man at the clothes shop (Henry Bucks for the Melbournians) I have "a long back, short arms and a fat neck". So I found that when the seat was all the way back - which I needed - I had to loosen my left shoulder strap in order to be able to (just) reach the flap lever.

At middle height on the left and back beside the seat is the trim - a toothed quadrant with a lever on it. Pull the lever towards you, pull or push to set and then let it go and it engages with the teeth and stays where you put it. Trim was quite aggressive - one notch at normal cruise made a big difference.

I'm a novice tail wheel pilot so ground handling was an initial challenge. However visibility is very good and after a while it all began to fall into place. The toe brakes are very effective.

Once at the end of the runway it was simply a case of feeding in power, gently picking up the tail and we were flying. I have no idea at what speed - my eyes were fixed on the end of the runway - but I would guess at something between thirty and forty knots. Acceleration was very quick at close to MTOW. First stage flaps were used for take off and Vfe is 60 knots for first stage and 50 knots for full flaps.

Climb after flap retraction was 60 knots and about 850fpm. The nose was sitting just below the horizon and the fun was really starting. This aircraft translates every action to the seat of your pants. Great fun to fly.

Levelling off the first thing that takes some getting used to is the very low nose attitude for S&L. The horizon is well up the screen by the time you are settled into your 85 knot cruise at 4900rpm or so.

Slow flight simply required increasing back pressure until finally the Classic stopped flying with the needle hovering somewhere between 20 and 25 knots. This aircraft was equipped with VGs and they are tremendously effective. I think that the speed was pretty accurate and not the result of positional error at the high AOA.

Wing drop was virtually non-existent and buffet was similarly all but absent. The aircraft is very well behaved at the stall but not telling you too much either.

Turns require a little rudder and very little back pressure for even moderately steep turns. Again the tendency is to climb until you get used to the low nose attitude. Visibility is great with the centre section of the wing having a perspex panel.

Returning to the field the aircraft was remarkably loathe to lose height and we used a couple of moderate descending turns to soak up some height. The Cub showed no sign of wanting to drop its nose or tighten the turn - all very placid.

It was in the circuit that the aircraft showed its true colours. It is docile, highly predictable and well behaved. Approaching base turn we cut the throttle and as the needle dropped past 60 knots we put out first stage flaps. Trim fairly far back - and now the trim is much less sensitive - and the aircraft sat solid as a rock at 60 knots. Easy to manage and not at all busy.

Indeed the one thing that I found unusual was that there was no sense that this was a draggy aircraft - this despite the various struts and bracing wires. It didn't require heaps of height or power to keep it flying.

Turning final we slowed to 50 knots and got full flaps out. Trim almost right back and again the aircraft is highly stable. However there was no sense of high sink rate - unlike a Tecnam in this configuration.

Over the threshold round out, throttle closed and just keep coming back on the stick. My first landing - with some encouragement from the back seat - was an absolute greaser of a three pointer. And that's the only landing I'm telling about!!

Again I have no idea about the speed I landed but the aircraft was easily managed on roll out with little dabs of rudder to keep it tracking. The one thing that got me on a couple of my landings was the fact that you are actually sitting quite high up. I kept thinking the ground was further away than it actually was.

I had the very strong impression that this is an aircraft that would really respond when you wanted to squeeze it into a little, rough strip somewhere. Even on a first flight I felt like I was really communicating with and being communicated to by the aircraft. Just the kind of thing that would inspire confidence if you are near the limits.

Overall first flight impressions: A simple aircraft that's really nicely built and finished. You could have a very great deal of fun in this aircraft. It reminded me so much of the very simple aircraft of the past. No fancy instrument panels, everything simple and manual. An absolute joy to fly.

I'll have one to sit in the hangar alongside the long distance cruiser that flies 40 knots faster. That really is the only downside - unless you count not being able to see your significant other whilst you are flying along.

This is the manufacturer's site: Zlin Savage Classic

Sunday, July 12, 2009

To Cut is to Cook

At least that's what the Japanese say. In truth there's not much you'd want to cook that doesn't require cutting something at some point. Cooking can be pretty humdrum, same old thing, day after day. But you can add some passion to it. The process of cooking can excite you just as much as the eating of the food. That's where knives come in.
You can't cook good food without good knives because you can't cut cleanly, you end up doing a clumsy job of breaking food down and you cut yourself. What's the first stage of digestion in that stir fry your cooking? It's the cuts you made when you chopped the capsicum, garlic, onion, ginger and whatever else you tossed in. When that food is well cut and conforms to the picture in your mind of how it should look then it makes you feel good as you toss it around in the wok.
I grew up with crappy knives - a couple of stamped knives from a couple of different makers that wouldn't stay sharp. Then I made the (repeated) mistake of letting "knife sharpeners" - the people that is who claim to do this for a living - attempt to sharpen them. They made a crap job, I got frustrated and I cut my fingers. Finally having nearly amputated my left thumb I decided enough is enough.
Just on that subject. Ask anyone over about 30 to hold out both hands. You can immediately tell their "handedness" by the scars on their index finger. I've got 7 old and visible scars on my left index finger and a similar number on my left thumb - all inflicted by my dominant right hand wielding something sharp (or not so sharp). My right thumb and index finger are virtually scar free.
So onto the hunt for decent knives. I wanted something that had a good shape, felt good in my hands and would take and keep a really good edge. And I wanted to sharpen them for myself, at home, in my kitchen - no "knife sharpeners" ever again.
Japanese knives were where my head took me. The Japanese say you only need 3 knives in the kitchen and they should all be single bevel knives. Japanese knives are traditionally sharpened on only one side which means they are handed. If the sharpened bevel is on the right side as you hold the knife then it's for a right hander and vice versa. Many modern interpretations like the Global knives are sharpened on both sides just like a western knife. The other key difference is that Japanese knives use very hard steel so the angle at which they are sharpened can be much lower (and therefore sharper) without the edge folding as it would on a "softer" western knife.
So to the three required knives:
A Deba - this is a big heavy knife with a blade around 190mm long (up to 270mm) and a spine about 5mm thick. It's a big muscular sort of knife and it's used mainly for filleting whole fish. In the west we use slim flexible knives to fillet fish. The Deba isn't thin and it isn't flexible - quite the reverse - but it fillets fish superbly. The bevel is always laid against the bone and the knife held in a choke grip with the forefinger along the spine. This gives amazing feel - you can feel the knife ticking over the bones and the fillets come off very cleanly and with no waste left on the bones. It's also great for cutting meat and and other reasonably heavy jobs. It's hopeless for cutting pumpkin, potatoes or similar things - the wedge shape splits and breaks the food.
A Usuba - think of a rectangular shaped blade about 200mm long and 40mm high with a completely flat edge to the blade - no curve. That's the Usuba - it's the Japanese vegetable knife. It's much thinner than the Deba and it's designed for dicing onions, shredding cabbage - all the tasks you would use a chef's knife for. The difference is that you don't use a rocking motion, rather you push the blade slightly away from yourself as you slice through the food. This is the knife that you use if you want to turn a Daikon into a single wafer thin slice - the rotary peeling that the Japanese are so good at.
A Yanagiba - this is the long thin sashimi knife - yanagiba roughly translates as "willow leaf". The blade is anything from 210mm to 330mm long. The food is cut with a long drawing motion using the whole length of the blade. Ideal for wafer thin slices of fish for sashimi or for thin slices of that boned leg of lamb.
None of these knives is made for cutting bones. The Deba is OK for fish bones but nothing more. Because the steel is so hard the blades are prone to chipping if you cut bones or frozen food. Similarly twisting the knife in a cut is a great way to create unhappiness as the beautiful knife blade snaps.
Traditionally these knives are made of either high carbon steel or a lamination of high carbon steel with softer steel or iron. The softer steel supports the hard but brittle high carbon steel. The problem is that high carbon steel is prone to rust. You have to keep the blades washed and dried and you have to clean off acid foods promptly - things like tomatoes and lemons are anathema to high carbon steel.
Many manufacturers now offer traditional blades but using stainless steels. The traditionalists argue that the edge taking and holding characteristics are not so great as high carbon steel. I suspect that most of us would be hard pressed to tell the difference.
Now the hard bit. Japanese knives are brilliant to use in the kitchen, they glide through food, creating wafer thin slices and barely seem to pause on difficult-to-cut foods such as tomatoes. You do have to sharpen these knives however. If you buy a "westernised" Japanese knife like a Global then they will offer you a sharpening system tailored to the knife. However if you want the real experience of a traditional Japanese knife you have to learn to sharpen it. You can't use a knife steel or one of those sharpening wheels - you really do have to use Japanese water stones. Most home cooks would use a 1000 grit and maybe a 4000 grit stone. The 1000 grit is for normal use and the 4000 grit polishes and refines the edge to give it real sharpness - that painless friction-free cutting ability which ensures the knife reaches the bone before you feel the cut!
The bevel is sharpened at the required angle of 10 - 15 degrees - you just follow the bevel that the manufacturer has cut. The back of the knife is then flattened on the stone. As you sharpen the bevel you will feel a little burr forming on the flat back edge of the knife. You put the back flat on the stone and work it until the burr has gone.
Is it easy? Not really, but it's not that hard.
Using Japanese knives is a sublime experience, cutting food takes on an almost Zen feeling.

Critical Alpha

All of the pilots out there will know just what the title means. For the rest of you: alpha is the angle of attack of a wing. The critical alpha is the angle of attack that results in the wing stalling and it's also the place where just before you get there the wing is creating its greatest lift. That's the simple version and it exemplifies what I'm attempting with this blog: great posts with the occasional stall!
So what's the subject matter? Well the only things worth writing about are food, flying, fucking, architecture and sailing. Sometimes I might be moved to rail against politicians or others who want me to do things their way. Otherwise it'll be about f, f, f, a and s and not necessarily in that order.
What about me? Well, I'm just a pretty ordinary guy from Australia. The stats tell me that I've lived over half my likely lifespan. All that means really is that I'm more confused now than I was when I started out in this life.
I really welcome comments - I guess a comment means that I've got at least one reader and I'm therefore not doing this entirely as a matter of self gratification. Please remember though that this is my blog so I reserve the right to moderate comments. If you'd like to comment then please do so in a generous manner - play the ball not the man - and don't use the comment space to attack others. Please also stick to the point of the post that you are commenting about.

So let's get started...