Monday, March 28, 2005

back in action

Well, we got the first of the two laptops back from the-man-who-knows on Saturday. We had been told that installing XP would get them running again and preserve the data though we would need to re-install any software.

I spent a while sorting through the old CD-ROM discs from the various computer magazines and decided I could find most of what I needed without trouble - AVG, Ad-Aware, Spybot, Audacity, Nero, Real Player, Opera and Word Web. All the usual stuff for everyday use. (It's amazing what you can do with free software.)

The laptop booted up with no problems, but all the data files were missing -- word-processing documents, pictures, sound files... I had done a back-up in November but it was unfortunate to lose so much stuff.

Julie was very hesitant about taking her laptop in for similar treatment. She had hundreds of photographs stored on her hard drive and was unhappy about the possibility of losing them all.

We spent the next 36 hours fiddling about with the machine. To complicate matters it kept shutting down every few minutes. When it was on, I did a Google search for the error message that Julie had noted down and discovered we had the infamous Blaster worm. A quick download of the necessary security patch fixed the problem.

Julie ran a search for pictures and we were surprised to see all the pics I had on my hard drive come up in the results. That meant they were still there, we just couldn't see them.

Via the Control Panel feature I tried turning the "show hidden files" on and off a couple of times. Finally I went to My Computer and fossicked through the C drive. And -- yes! -- spotted a ghostly folder marked My Documents. It contained all the data that had been on the machine when it failed.

I thought there was probably a simple way to reconcile the old and new My Documents folders, but it seemed quicker just to click and drag the files over to the current folder. In a couple of minutes I had full access to all my stuff again.

A great relief.

Especially to Julie, who is now less concerned she's going to lose months of work.

We're used to the television networks going into "silly season" mode at the end of the year during the summer holidays, but this year is the first time I've seen them decide to do the same thing over Easter. Suddenly we started hearing announcements after popular shows that "this programme will be back in three weeks."

The week before and after the Easter weekend was a parade of repeats, mini-series and so-called specials (dreck like Outrageous Celebrity Lookalikes!). No wonder our minister grumbled to me that he'd shifted his television set out to the garage.

Is this going to be a yearly occurence from now on?

The Coodabeens were musing on the etiquette of when to serve chocolate eggs and Hot Cross buns on the radio on Sunday night. These days Easter is more or less a non-stop orgy of chocolate, and some supermarkets started selling Hot Cross buns halfway through January!

One pundit in the weekend press advanced the theory that the current generation are the first ones to grow up with no idea what Easter is about. Depressingly, recent surveys in Britain seem to back him up.

The consumer society has been trying to hijack Easter for years. Look at the greeting card industry.

The shops are full of colourful cards expressing vague "feelgood" messages about friendship, family and having-a-happy-easter. The Christian-themed cards are shoved away into a sort of ghetto, probably because people with strong religious convictions feel that Easter is about more than sending out cards.

So on Monday I was out walking Julie's dogs and looked up at the sky. The sun was shining, Christ was risen and all seemed well with the world. It looked like being a good day.

We ate at the new Art Hotel on the waterfront, walked down Salamanca Place (past the finish line of the Three Peaks race) and bought some fresh vegetables before heading home.

Not a bad day.

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Why is the animal population going crazy? I know it's a full moon, but everyone is off their heads. The cats are tearing around madly, the geese are honking their heads off unless they're fed double rations, rats are running about all over the town and possums are leaping from tree to tree every night.

The equinox was last week, but that usually only causes disturbances in the weather, not in the animal kingdom.

Friday, March 25, 2005

Government House

Tasmania's annual Three Peaks endurance race starts in the north this afternoon. The race begins at Beauty Point on the Tamar River just north of Launceston and ends in Hobart on the Derwent River.

In between competitors must run and scramble up Mounts Strzelecki, Freycinet and Wellington, and sail along Tasmania's coastline.

Thirteen teams will compete in the four-day event, with two from interstate. More than 10,000 spectators are expected to watch the start. (The only cloud over the event is the increasing cost of insurance coverage.)

Monday was an extraordinary day. The Tasmanian Churchill Fellowship Association, celebrating 40 years of Churchill Fellowships [they’re a sort of scholarship], was sponsoring a series of special events.

Julie and I signed up for the “Heritage in the Antipodes” day, which gave us the opportunity of meeting three Churchill Fellows and seeing their work first-hand.

We began at St Mary’s Cathedral with Gerry Cummins, one of Australia’s leading experts on stained glass. We were the first to see the 1848 window he and Jill Stehn have just finished restoring.

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I learned more about stained glass in an hour than I had in the rest of my life.

Then it was on to the other attractions, with a break for lunch at the Narryna folk museum in historic Battery Point (I wouldn’t have eaten so much if I’d realised that was only the first course...).

A great collection of colonial relics. I must go back there another day when we have more time to study them in depth.

Down in Sandy Bay, Brian Andrews showed us artefacts from the career of 19th century designer A.W. Pugin. Much (but not all) survives that he produced for the Catholic Church in Australia. Chalices, vestments, portable altars... quite a range.

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When they showed us how some of the goblets were gold-plated silver, I bit my tongue not to quip “This is the famous Catholic gilt?” in front of the nuns.

But the jewel in the crown, to use an apt expression, was our visit to Government House. Graeme Corney of the Tasmanian Heritage Council led us on a tour of the grounds of what has been called the best of all Colonial Government Houses in the British Empire.

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This was the first time we’d ventured into the grounds of the Governor’s official residence, though we’ve passed by it many a time. The house is a lovely piece of Early Victorian architecture and the gardens are immaculate.

We began at the site of the old Rossbank Observatory, which was part of a 19th century project to map the magnetic field of the earth. This necessitated a special building constructed without any metal in it at all.

After that we strolled down to a charming little lake that was created from the quarry that produced much of the sandstone used to construct Government House.

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One of the previous governors used to keep it stocked with trout so he could go fishing without having to leave home!

We wandered around the grounds, pausing regularly to check the plaques under the trees. It’s a custom for prominent visitors to plant a tree during their stay here. We saw trees that had been planted by the Queen, Prince Philip and Prince Charles.

The ones that everyone was watching for were the two planted by Crown Prince Frederik and Princess Mary, who were staying there until two days before. We may not have seen them, but we have photographs of their trees and the window of the room they stayed in.

The Governor wasn’t at home, but as we came around one corner of the house somebody dressed in jogging gear left the house and looked momentarily taken aback at the sight of a dozen strangers meandering through the grounds.

“Look, there’s the Queen’s suite.” “Is the conservatory original?” “Did you say there are five staircases?” “Where does the Governor sleep?” “What’s on that coat of arms?” "Are those gargoyles?" "Where are the busts of Queen Victoria and Albert?"

My father had some minor business dealings with Government House when I was a child and actually received a couple of invitations to functions there. He wasn’t interested - “that kind of thing” wasn’t his cup of tea.

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But 40 years later we finally got in the front gate (that's me on the far left).

Altogether a fascinating afternoon.

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Saturday, March 19, 2005

not good news

Temperature at 3:30pm was 17.8 C, with wind 11 knots from East-South-East. Partly cloudy.

My sister and I both plunged into gloom by the news that the laptops have sustained more damage than initially thought. Windows can't be re-installed and there may be damage to part of the hard disk.

This is not good news, since we can't afford to replace two laptops. For the moment it's goodbye to happy-go-lucky evenings of recent months where I whiled away the hours with Internet radio, American comic-strips and downloading free e-books.

I shall have to consider how to proceed from here. You never appreciate modern conveniences until they stop working and you have to re-train yourself not to automatically reach for them.

Meanwhile, some people are finding that the Internet has made things a bit too convenient for consumers.

Newspaper Web sites have been so popular that at some newspapers, including The New York Times, the number of people who read the paper online now surpasses the number who buy the print edition:

"This migration of readers is beginning to transform the newspaper industry. Advertising revenue from online sites is booming and, while it accounts for only 2 percent or 3 percent of most newspapers' overall revenues, it is the fastest-growing source of revenue. And newspaper executives are watching anxiously as the number of online readers grows while the number of print readers declines," said the NY Times.

The only newspaper that has a strict pay-in-advance policy is the Wall Street Journal. This is unlikely to be taken as a model by other news outlets though -- the WSJ provides financial news, and most of their subscribers probably claim it back as a business expense.

Another complication is that some readers may be international: people who may never have seen an actual copy of the newspaper in the flesh.

Would I pay to read the NY Times on-line. It depends. $2? Sure. $20? Maybe not.

"When the National Endowment for the Arts last summer released 'Reading at Risk: a Survey of Literary Reading in America,' journalists and commentators were quick to seize on the findings as a troubling index of the state of literary culture. The survey showed a serious decline in both literary reading and book reading in general by adults of all ages, races, incomes, education levels and regions." - Washington Post

The problem amongst youngsters seems to be that both the quality literature and the popular novels of past generations have been replaced either by issues-oriented Young Adult fiction or by scrupulously politically-correct stories that stress strong female characters and avoid any hint of inappropriate subjects or treatment.

Back in my teenage years I was an enormous reader. I read almost everything - from Treasure Island to Moby Dick, from Rider Haggard to Graham Greene, from Punch to New Worlds SF. With the unfettered enthusiasm of the young, I romped enthusiastically through the literature of the 19th and 20th centuries.

By the time I was 16 I'd read all the original Sherlock Holmes stories (except The Valley of Fear for some reason) as well as an enormous omnibus collecting every short story written by H.G. Wells.

It's a wonder my library card didn't disintegrate from over-use.

But of course all this happened BTV

Before television.

Those blasted green parrots are still making themselves at home in our apple tree. You can hear them squawking away out there from any window at the back of the house.

No wonder we nicknamed them "the partygoers" the first year they dropped in on us.

Mitch Altman, a 48-year old inventor living in San Francisco, said that in the last three months he has sold about 30,000 of his key-chain-size zappers called TV-B-Gone, which can be used discreetly to switch off televisions in public places. "When you go to a restaurant to talk with friends, why should you have to deal with the distraction of a ceiling-mounted television?" Mr. Altman said.

I can understand this. I have never been able to make sense of the modern habit of putting large television sets in public places with the sound turned off.

Unless there's a big sports telecast, it's like watching a convention of goldfish as comperes mouth away wordlessly.

In fact I think I'd rather watch goldfish!

The only way this habit would make any sense is if the television sets were caption-enabled. This would give the people who wanted to watch the choice, while those who weren't interested could just turn their back.

But then I've found that it's only the deaf who are really aware of captioning. Other people look at you blankly if you raise the subject, even in hospitals or homes for the elderly where people with hearing problems might be expected to be common.


The Charles Street service station was selling unleaded for 99.9c per litre last week. This week it went up to $1.07 per litre.


The Ten Days on the Island festival continues to generate worldwide interest.

Some exhibitions have opened early for the Easter break, notably the exhibition at the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery at Inveresk in Launceston of French Masters

Outgoing festival artistic director Robyn Archer says the event has a strong future. "It's just great that we can actually get people from quite remote areas," she said.

"I mean the [is] one example of the very interesting collection coming from a small island, French Masters"

"But people from smaller places come all the way here to go to even smaller places on the isle of Tasmania and communities really appreciate it."

The Ten Days on the Island festival officially starts on April 1.

Friday, March 18, 2005

Struggling on

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I hate reading people's blogs that do nothing but moan about how awful their lives are. Having said that, I didn't feel too well early this week. I wasn't sleeping well and I just felt so tired all the time. By Wednesday I felt as though I could just sit down and weep if anybody gave me an unkind look.

Later in the week I started to improve. Maybe it's just that my birthday is approaching - it's a good time for stirring up memories.

And aside from that, there's always the passage of time. When I signed up for my superannuation fund they told me I couldn't access any of the money till I turned 55. That seemed a long time away - not this year it doesn't [sigh!].

The first touch of Autumn is in the air, but the wildlife might make you think it was Spring. The green parrots swooped in on the fruit trees in the backyard, chirping their heads off while they sampled what was on offer; they're impossible to get rid of, paying absolutely no attention to me. Yesterday we heard a kookaburra next door.

Over at Julie's place the rodent population are very active. Unfortunately she did such a good job training her mastiff not to bother the poultry that he even ignores the rats as they run past him.

What he doesn't ignore is the possums in the trees. Sometimes he gets so excited it looks like he's going to try and climb up the tree after them. One night the possums were making so much noise in a tree that two of the dogs became over-excited and got into a fight at the base of the tree ("Anything that falls out of the tree is mine!" "No, it's mine!").

Meanwhile we have yet more patients at the makeshift poultry hospital at my place. Julie brought one hen and its two offspring over so she could watch over them; something about them being the last survivors of a particular bloodline.

Then this week one of the really tiny chicks suffered a leg injury and she brought it over to my place with two of its siblings to keep it company; you wouldn't believe how much noise can be made by something that small.

On a less happy note, we lost my sister's cockatiel parrot Dutch. He'd been looking very frail lately - he was almost 25 years old - and one morning we just found him on the floor of his cage.

I remember when Julie brought him home while we were still in the hotel business. For a while we had him in a corner of the front bar and he seemed to be happy enough but we had to move him -- his occasional loud squawks were a bit too piercing for the comfort of some of our customers who may have been feeling a bit fragile.

Later on, when Julie had him at her house there was a fire while she was overseas and the firemen moved her birds outside after they extinguished the fire. The police woke me in the middle of the night and my mother and I drove over to pick them up.

Some time later we heard an expert on the radio stresssing how important it was not to disrupt caged birds' routine - even moving them from one room to another might upset them. We laughed and rolled our eyes in disbelief, remembering how Julie's birds had been black with smoke, sitting out on the verandah in the middle of winter when we arrived -- but they recovered with no difficulty at all.

Dutch lived for about 15 years after that, spending his afternoons keeping my mother company while I was at work. Even now, a couple of weeks later, when I walk into the room my eyes automatically go to the corner where his cage was.

Losing pets is never easy but it's hard to imagine being without them.

I have been a bit slow in updating this page this week. It seems to be connected with our laptops being in the shop. I know we still have the big desktop PC but I miss the convenience of the laptop -- Julie compares it to having to go back to using an old-fashioned telephone fixed to the wall after being used to a cordless phone.

It's unfortunate too that I'm not able to record any of the BBC radio programmes that I've become accustomed to following. The desktop PC has some sort of problem that means it crashes whenever I try to put any audio programmes on it -- some sort of software conflict probably.

I hope I get the laptop back before I miss the sixth and final part of Proust's In Search of Lost Time on the Classic Serial slot.

Speaking of radio, I was near the phone during the midnight quiz The Challenge last week and I managed to get on during the last part of the quiz. I had something of a dream run for several questions. "I'll take the Alfred Hitchcock questions, thanks Tony." "Yes, I thought you might." Bing. Bing. Bing. Bing.

Then we came to the only two questions left, from the Sports category. This is my weakest area, since to me most sporting broadcasts are a sort of moving wallpaper.

"Question 24, what is the colour of the top of the highest-scoring hoop in a game of croquet?"

I was speechless for a second, then said "Tony, I think that is the most obscure question I've heard on The Challenge this year!"

"Hmmm, and what is your answer?"

I thought back to something I'd read that if you asked people to name their favourite colour, six out of ten would say red. "Red," I said.

"Correct! And for all the prizes, question 25: in fencing, which is heavier, a foil or an epee?"

I thought carefully. I summoned up all the resources of a lifetime of reading and watching movies. After a moment of intense concentration, I gave my carefully considered answer.



I spent an evening sorting through those boxes of Argosy that I got from Keith last week. The results were a bit puzzling.

There were 148 copies, but to my surprise there were a lot of duplicate issues. This didn't make sense if they came from a collector trying to put together a complete run - there were four copies of some issues.

It almost looked as though someone had been accumulating as many copies as possible, though some were in fairly poor condition and wouldn't have been worth re-selling.

My next step should be to drag out my own collection from the attic and check them against this lot. "You don't have a list?" said Julie.

"I always meant to make one," I said, "but I never got round to it." Maybe I should do it this time while I've got them all out.

Well, it was certainly a good week for fans of the television series Stargate SG-1. For some reason we had two double-episodes in 48 hours.

Thursday night we had the two episodes that wound up season 7. Then Friday night we got the first two episodes of season 8.

When Richard Dean Anderson was put into suspended animation at the end of the seventh season, I thought this would be the last we saw of him for a while (cf Han Solo in Star Wars). Instead he not only thawed out in the next episode, he was promoted to head of Stargate Command.

What this (possibly unwise) move portends, we shall have to wait and see.

And congratulations to those good folk at The New Yorker who this month published their 80th anniversary issue.

Happy birthday to the magazine that gave us James Thurber, E.B. White and so many many other great writers.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Old Time String Band

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One Saturday night recently we went out to a club in New Town – something that is a bit unusual for me and my sister. But we'd heard at the Music Showcase last week that there was a CD launch there for a local group.

It turned out to be a bit more elaborate than I'd expected. I thought the band would play a couple of songs, plug their CD and serve refreshments. We ended up getting home about 11:30pm.

The CD was the first one for H.O.T. (the Hobart Old Time String Band). Not only were they doing some of their songs, but there were a lot of other groups – the Hobart music scene is small enough that a large group like HOT overlaps in membership with four other bands.

This meant we also heard from Eclectic Jug, One Step Back, Rocky Tom and especially the female trio The String Chickens whose music and style were retro with a twinkle in the eye. When are they going to release their own CD?

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We stopped for supper at interval (and quite a spread it was too) then another hour of enthusiastic music before we finally stumbled out into the cool clear night air. At least in the modern world you don't have to cope with the smoke-filled clubs of previous decades. I don't think I could stand a room filled with cigarette smoke nowadays.

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cool cat

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A distinct feel of autumn in the air this week. Only a few weeks after we were perspiring and fanning ourselves, we had the electric heater on for a couple of hours one evening. Julie's cat Jezebel thought this was great – being a Rex cat she has almost zero fur and is always interested in any source of heat.

This month is a bonanza for royal-watchers; for the first time, we have members of the British, Swedish and Danish royal families in Australia at the same time.

The big attraction of course is Mary Donaldson of Hobart – or Crown Princess Mary of Denmark as she is now known. She and her husband Fredrik have been bringing out the crowds wherever they go.

But not everyone is happy. Writing in my local paper The Mercury, Greg Barns thunders that anyone who bows or curtsies to Mary or Fredrik demeans themselves, their families, and any sense of equality or fair play they may have. Phew!

To paraphrase Lincoln, I guess you can't please all the people all the time.

Even the most dedicated fan of the Just A Minute radio programme must have felt the need to lie down for a moment on hearing the panel on this week's show included Pam Ayres, Clement Freud and Julian Clary! Waaaaugh! The words "eclectic mix" hardly seem strong enough.

Report from Ansible -- The 98th and last Star Trek: Enterprise episode airs in the USA on 13 May. This takes the Trek franchise off television for the first time since 1986; and for the first time since 1975, there will be neither a movie nor a tv show in the pipeline.

The good news for Australian fans, however, is that the television networks here have been so slack about screening the show (it's currently on at 1 a.m. on Wednesday mornings!) that we have another couple of years still to see.

Every cloud has a silver lining.

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