Sunday, July 31, 2005

jazz it up

Out on Saturday night to the Tasmania Inn to see the jazz trio Joe & The Joy Boys, who are acquaintances of my sister Julie. They swung their way nicely through a pleasant selection of standard oldies -- I particularly liked their renditions of "Girl from Ipanema" and "As Time Goes By". The sound system gave them a bit of grief but that's not unusual for Saturday night pub gigs.

It's the first time we've been to the Tasmania Inn since it changed hands, and my sister (who dislikes change in any form) was slightly disturbed by the changes they'd made to the decor.

We were both disturbed by the changes to the menu, where the cheapest item is now about $17. A bit dearer than it used to be.

The new owners, a family of Canadians, seem nice enough but I would be interested to know how much experience they've had in the hotel trade. It's a line that a lot of people go into without any prior knowledge.

I've been generally quite satisfied using Netspace as my back-up ISP, and I queried them about taking out a second account for a friend. They were quite happy about it and I went ahead with it at the weekend.

The problem for my friend Kay, you see, is that she's one of those rare individuals who doesn't have a credit card. If you think about it, that makes it almost impossible to sign up with the majority of internet service providers.

I suggested to her that if she was willing to pay me, I could charge it to my credit card and neither of us would be worse off. She certainly wouldn't be, since her last ISP charged $29 a month and the Netspace Supersaver subscription is only $7-95 a month.

The local press reported this week that petrol has soared to record prices around Tasmania, with some motorists paying a staggering 124.9 cents a litre. In Hobart unleaded fuel has reached 118.9 in most stations, four cents more than in other capital cities.

Despite a drop this week in the world price of crude oil, farmers and the transport industry are reeling from the high prices. The chief engineer of the Royal Automobile Club of Tasmania complained that oil companies were usually quick to raise prices but slow to drop them.

Too true, blue.

I've wondered why Network Ten persists with Big Brother when a quick check of the ratings in Melbourne and Hobart shows that it struggles to get into the ten most-watched programmes each week.

The series costs about A$25 million a year to mount.

Well, mystery solved. I now read that the show is always on the list of the "20 most-watched programmes" among viewers aged 16 to 39 around Australia. Apparently the advertisers don't really care that many people over 40 consider it a complete waste of time. The 25-to-54 demographic are firmly rusted on to the Nine Network anyway.

Speaking of the over-40s, DMG Radio Australia has launched its new Melbourne/Sydney network under the brand name Vega ("on your wavelength"). The new stations will be aimed at the 40-to-60 demographic, just as DMG's Nova network targets the under-40 group.

It's expected to lure listeners away from the ABC, news-talk stations and Classic Hits stations.

DMG - part of Britain's Daily Mail media company - has deep pockets. It's spent over $500 million to set up the five-state Nova network and the Vega stations. (And kudos to The Australian for not describing Nova as a "national network" -- any Tasmanian will tell you that you can't claim national coverage if you only broadcast to five out of the six states!)

I've reinstalled Firefox on my computer this week. I used to have it, but lost it when the laptop's hard drive crashed this year. Firefox 1.0.4 is apparently the latest model. I haven't tried it yet, so I'll be interested to see if I notice any differences to the old version.

I've also put on a free programme called Fraud Eliminator -- I am not paranoid, I'm just careful.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

full moon

The full moon is past -- it always surprises me how quickly the moonlight lessens after the full moon, since it seems so bright just before it's completely full. Some nights I hardly need the lights on the backyard while I'm taking the goose for a walk before she has supper.

I don't know what's gone wrong with my diabetes. I always used to be able to keep my morning BGL reading to 7.0 or less, but recently they've been edging up. The apex (or do I mean the vertex?) came Wednesday morning when it hit 8.5


My doctor isn't going to be pleased unless I get it down by the time I see him again. The only good thing here is that he's increased the time between appointments and I'm not due to see him again until December 7th.

Finally a date I won't forget! "An appointment that will live in infamy...." (I hope not!).

I called in at the local comic-book shop Area 52 yesterday.

"I got the July issues of Uncle Scrooge and Walt Disney's Comics & Stories last time I was in but I notice I haven't got the June issues. What happened to them?"

"That's odd, you should have got those. Let me look.... oh, here they are. Apparently they didn't get put in your box. Do you still want them?"

I bit my lip not to say what I thought, contenting myself with "Yes please."

Seeing these go for about A$15 a copy, you might expect them to take more care.

Received today from First Generation Radio Archives their new Round Robin. Twenty audio CDs -- no MP3 technology involved.

RR #25 contains over twenty hours of diverse radio entertainment, including comedy with Jack Benny, suspense with "Lights Out," "Inner Sanctum," and"The Strange Dr. Weird," the seldom heard "Cinnamon Bear" audition show, musical entertainment from Bing Crosby's "The Kraft Music Hall," "Philco Radio Time," Johnny Mercer, and "The Bob Crosby show," rare locally aired broadcasts, and a special series of never-before-available syndicated programs.

A panorama of old time radio entertainment, taken directly from original master recordings and restored for excellent audio quality. The early Jack Benny shows were originally recorded for Benny's own archives, for example.

In the mid-1950's, US Armed Forces Radio began recording and re-broadcasting the audio portions of some civilian television broadcasts over their radio stations. To today's listeners, this practice has happily resulted in the preservation of many high-quality audio tracks from television shows that in many cases wouldn't exist at all. Here, for example, we have "Stars of Jazz," a musical series from 1958 hosted by songwriter/performer Bobby Troup and featuring performances by Red Nichols and Frances Bergen.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Jazz on a winter's night

The Moonah Arts Centre put on a special event Jazz Night last week. It was twice the length of their usual concerts and they put out some tables so we could have a drink and some peanuts while we watched Georgina Richmond and Kalo Cocker sing with a jazz trio.

Dim the lights, put out some candles and it all got very atmospheric.

After a couple of songs, I thought to myself that "The Look Of Love" should be coming up soon. Ten minutes later, there it was.

The two ladies took it in turns to sing some of the old standards, finally collaborating on "Blue Moon".

All the songs were cover versions, I think, except for one original just before interval, Georgina's heartfelt "Blue Blackbird" which got a big round of applause.

I was safe to drive home afterwards without a doubt - I'd only ordered one glass of wine and I knocked that over before I'd finished it.

"A recent crash at Hobart's Elwick Racecourse was a sporting accident with a difference", said a news item in the Heritage Tasmania newsletter.

"Suspended high above the ground, one of the seven-tonne light towers being coaxed in to place snapped in half and the head crashed into the rear corner of the historic grandstand.

Thankfully for all involved no injuries were sustained, though there was a fair bit of mental bruising.

The Tasmanian Heritage Council is recommending that the building be repaired, however a structural assessment is required to ensure the impact has not created damage in other areas of the building, including the foundations.

Once this step is completed, discussions with the owners, insurers and the Glenorchy City Council will begin to consider how best to repair the structure. It may be possible to reuse some of the demolition materials, otherwise new materials will be sourced."

I remember the racecourse in the late 1950s when my father owned race horses and was often out there. One day my sister and I roamed all over the empty grandstand, finally pausing at one set of seats that had a view out over the entire vista.

"Hey!" shouted one of the staff. "Get out of there -- that's the Royal Box."

The closest I've ever come to royalty.

I mentioned previously that one of my chores in this household has always been to select books for the rest of my family. This week I've found it difficult to pry her away from her current novel, Robert Heinlein's The Door Into Summer. She hasn't read a Heinlein for a long while, and she found this one unputdownable.

Probably something to do with the fact that a cat is one of the main characters.

She was a bit puzzled by the future sequences (it's about time travel) set in 1970 and 2001, which seemed a bit odd. It was more comprehensible for her when I looked it up and found it was written in 1956.

Not happy with my readings for the last few weeks; my Blood Glucose Level numbers are higher than they should be.

I think I've only had one satisfactory morning reading in the last three weeks -- 6.3 the day before yesterday. Everything else has been higher.

Not sure whether it's a low-level infection, fatigue or stress... or maybe a combination of all three in varying amounts.

I've been enjoying the new Doctor Who stories a lot. This month's two-parter set in World War II's Blitz-affected London was quite compelling.

The vision of the alien zombies re-made in the mould of a lost child in a gas-mask was almost as disturbing as Nigel Kneale's third Quatermass story. For light relief we had Rose flirting outrageously with a time-travelling con man with movie-star looks.


Wednesday, July 20, 2005


In the morning I got up and made a cup of Earl Grey tea while watching the Rosella parrots in the backyard. Every time they visit, I'm struck by how vivid their colouring is; if you saw it in a textbook you would probably assume the printers had exaggerated the tint.

My sister was still recovering from her weekend trip to Devonport. She is such a creature of late nights that it only takes a couple of early morning starts to really set her back on her heels. It will probably take another day till she's over it.

The Sunday morning sermon at church this week was from our second minister (R2 I usually call him) and went right back to basics with the fifth chapter of Genesis in a sermon titled "Adam's Family".

From one man, the book of Acts tells us, God made all the races of humanity. And since God created Adam, we are all descended from God the Creator. As we try to become more like Jesus, the family resemblance becomes more marked.

A lot of the Old Testament is devoted to carefully noting the lives and family links of God's people. The individual and the family group are both important in the eyes of God. This chapter traces the family tree from Adam down to Noah.

Like Enoch, we all need to walk with God in ways that please Him. [Trivia question: who were the only two men never to die? Enoch and Elijah]

Noah's true glory was neither as a boat-builder nor as a descendant of Adam, but as a link to the birth of Jesus the redeemer.

Praise to the Lord --
O let all that is in me adore Him!
All that has life and breath
come now with praises before Him!
Let the 'Amen' sound
from His people again:
gladly forever adore Him!

Later in the day I went out to the Federation Concert Hall down near the waterfront. There was a free concert on that afternoon -- a jazz quartet featuring guitar, drums, saxophone and Hammond organ.

The music was good, but what gave it that extra something was that it was a live broadcast for the national radio programme Sunday Live. If I had a coughing fit or one of the musicians fell off the stage, it would have been beamed instantly across the country by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's Classic FM network.

It was the first time I've seen a radio programme being broadcast (aside from the time I was interviewed by the ABC about the H.G. Wells anniversary) and it was much more straightforward than the days of Old Time Radio.

The announcer, Lee Parker, vanished behind a screen when she wasn't actually introducing items, and the microphones were nothing like the elaborate gear seen in old photographs.

Curious to think that once nearly all radio shows were done like this -- staged live and beamed out across the country. Comedy, drama, variety, children's shows. Remind me sometime to tell you the story about Bing Crosby and the birth of the tape-recorder industry.

That evening we were listening to the late show on ABC radio while Julie was feeding her animals. The Sunday night quiz segment is usually made up of questions about religion, but to my surprise after the first couple of questions they began to concentrate on science fiction movies that had some religious tie-in.

I picked up my mobile phone and started dialling. By the time I got through, we were down to the final question. John Cleary played a piece of the theme music from 2001 and asked "How is that music related to the statement 'God is dead'?"

The next couple of contestants fell at this hurdle and I sat there thinking "Come to me, come to me..."

Then I was on. "Michael from Hobart -- can you link those two?"

"Yes," I said cautiously. "The music 'Thus Spake Zarathustra' and the quote are both linked to..."(I paused imperceptibly as I realised I wasn't sure how to pronounce the name correctly ) "...Nietzsche, Friedrich Nietzsche." I slurred the surname a little and hoped for the best.

"Correct! You're this week's winner." Phew!

I finished the novel I was reading and decided to take a look at one of the books I bought at the Thylacon convention. Musing on this, I mentally ran through the list of stories that were involved. Which one did I want to read first?

It only took a moment to decide. Mission of Gravity by Hal Clement.

This was one of the novels I read when I first started reading science fiction in the 1960s, one of those snazzy Penguin paperbacks with an upmarket modern-art cover (no spaceships or monsters for Penguin!).

I'm fairly sure it was the first novel I read in which the narrator wasn't a human being. A memorable character from a high-gravity planet, Barlennan is (to be candid) a centipede.

Even forty years later I remember how utterly fascinating I found the book.

"High time I read it again," I thought and reached for volume 3 of The Essential Hal Clement. .

Murray Leinster, Cordwainer Smith and Eric Frank Russell will have to wait till later, much as I love them.

Thanks to NESFA Press for bringing back into print these great old authors. And thanks to Justin Ackroyd for having them on his stall at the convention.


Sunday, July 17, 2005

livestock in depth

If you'd looked over my shoulder the last few days you would have seen me getting a refresher course in feeding my sister's livestock. "This goes in there. Then you put two of these and one of those for that one. Give her two scoops. Throw an extra handful to the duck with only one foot. Remember to shut this latch...etc etc etc."

She was off to a seminar for Christian women in the north of the state and somebody had to feed the dogs, cats, horse and poultry. It was only 36 hours but obviously she thought I needed to be brought up to speed on who got what and when.

Murphy's Law came into action of course, and the evening I was out in the barnyard was the coldest night we've had so far this winter, going down to 1°. I wasn't sorry to finish and get home.

24 hours later I got a text message saying she'd be home soon - "only 180km to go."

Meanwhile the Queen's Baton is visiting all 71 Commonwealth countries as a lead-up to the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne.

When the baton arrives in Australia in January it will tour every state and territory and be carried by 3500 people through 500 communities. Finally the baton, carrying a message from the Queen, will arrive at the Games' opening ceremony at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on March 15th.

Went round to Kay's place on Saturday afternoon and helped her download her e-mail. She hadn't been able to do it for a few months and she had 1300 messages in her inbox. Nearly all of them are free newsletters but she was very concerned about the possibility of them being deleted if she didn't download them.

It was a fraught half-hour. Kay panics so easily that pushing any button can be enough to make her swoon. I minimized a window and she let out a shriek "It's gone! What happened?" I explained that nothing had gone wrong and she subsided for the moment.

I had hoped that reading some of the articles in Netguide magazine might help her, but it doesn't seem to have made much difference.

Harry Potter creator J.K. Rowling has topped's list of the 25 best selling authors of all time. Runners up were self-help book author Spencer Johnson, romance novelist Nora Roberts and Dan [Da Vinci Code] Brown.

Whatever you may think about the Harry Potter novels, Rowling is the classic self-made millionaire. She started off writing her first novel at a table in her local coffee shop, with no idea that the book wouldn't just be published but would become an international phenomenon.

It's been a long time since we've seen an author who succeeded purely on the strength of her imagination -- not a committee or a focus group to be seen.

UFOS, LIES AND THE COLD WAR was a German programme shown on SBS-TV this week. This programme states that from 1947 into the1960s, US intelligence was able to use UFO paranoia strategically to cover up secret weapons testing. UFO sightings began in Sweden with the so-called ghost rockets in 1946. The Swedish authorities assumed the Soviets were testing German rocket technology. From 1947, in the US, there were a large number of sightings of green and blue balls of light over Strategic Air Command centres involved in nuclear weapons programs. A feeling of anxiety and paranoia took over. The intelligence services investigated the phenomena, all the while playing them down in public.

Ironically the UFO hubbub was used as a smokescreen to cover up research and development programs in the US, the USSR and Britain. It was assisted by bureaucracies in order to keep important national secrets, such as the development of the U2 spyplane.

A different look at what we used to call "flying saucers."

Sunday, July 10, 2005


The news from Britain, commented our minister in his sermon this morning, ran the gamut of human emotions – from the euphoria of Olympic selection to the horror of terrorist bombings. Is there a solution to the troubles of humanity? It doesn’t seem like it. God has the answer but the world doesn’t want to hear it. “I am the way, the truth and the light.” This passage is offensive to many because it is exclusive, they say; salvation is restricted to those who come to God through Jesus Christ. Not good works, or religious ceremonies, social engineering or ethical speculation.

Regardless of what the world thinks, he continued, there is only one God. And there is only one way to reach Him.

An outsider looking at us through our mass media would have no idea we were a so-called “Christian country”. There would be no evidence of the close communion with God that is essential for all of us.

The world and the Bible offer different answers. The problem is not with the Bible, but with the worldly beliefs of the human race.

Jesus Christ transformed lives when he walked the earth and he does so today. The world won’t be changed by Olympic committees or the United Nations, but only when people accept the truth of John 3:16

The church's one foundation
is Jesus Christ her Lord;
she is His new creation
by water and the Word:
from heaven He came and sought her
to be His holy bride;
with His own blood He bought her
and for her life He died.

Elect from every nation,
yet one throughout the earth;
her charter of salvation --
one Lord, one faith, one birth:
one holy Name she blesses,
and shares one holy food;
as to one hope she presses
with every grace endued.

Though with a scornful wonder
men see her much oppressed,
by schisms rent asunder,
by heresies distressed,
yet saints their watch are keeping,
their cry goes up: 'How long?'
And soon the night of weeping
shall be the morn of song.

In toil and tribulation,
and tumult of her war,
she waits the consummation
of peace forevermore:
till with the vision glorious
her longing eyes are blessed:
at last the church victorious
shall be the church at rest!

Yet she on earth has union
with God the Three-in-One;
and mystic, sweet communion
with those whose rest is won:
O happy ones and holy!
Lord, grant to us Your grace,
with them the meek and lowly,
in heaven to see Your face.

R2, our other minister, was musing on the recent problems of a certain Melbourne celebrity: “Steve’s fall from grace has received much attention this week. I’ve followed his career with interest since I boarded with him at College. He was brilliant and funny then – and was open to the gospel. Sadly that seems non-existent now, but he is a devoted family man and has done much for his State. Which leads to the bewilderment of why he threw it all to the wind in one stupid act, and then tells us to take note that he actually lost money on the share deal. Dumb and dumber Steve.
He wouldn’t be the first to see his need of God amidst personal failure.. I prayed for him back then and I pray for him now that this might lead him back to the faith he seemed to once embrace.
But enough finger-pointing. Jesus told his followers to be aware of the signs of the times in Luke 13 – and to learn from then for our own lives. One lesson is the deceitfulness of riches [Mark 4:19]
Steve is a multi-millionaire; when is enough enough? His saga coincides with a report this week that shows only 1 in 5 millionaires with over $3M are satisfied, while the percentage of those earning $25,000 p.a. is much higher. Amazing – but not really when you weigh up the teaching of Scripture about priorities, values, greed and responsibility.
The Live8/G8 challenge re Africa’s poverty could quite “easily” be solved by a biblical response to equity and wealth between North and South. There are many issues involved like corruption and Prime Ministers spending $9,000 a night on a hotel, but we best start with our own life... and faith.”

Friday, July 08, 2005

fun and fear

John, Steve, Dana and I brace ourselves for another round of questions

Monday night was the regular quiz night at the New Sydney Hotel in Bathurst Street. It's organized by the Irish Association but the questions aren't necessarily Irish. However since it was July Fourth I thought there could be an American theme.

My sister Julie had downloaded a couple of pages from a website -- information about American states and about all the Presidents and Vice Presidents in US history. I looked through them but my days of studying were decades gone and I thought to myself "I'll never remember all this."

We joined Steve & Dana at the pub, followed by John - he's an architect who plays cricket, so we were relying on him for any questions about architecture or test matches.

As usual the questions were a mix of easy, hard and very hard. We didn't do as well on the entertainment questions as we hoped, and the sports questions made a mess of us. But there were a couple of questions on American themes.

The first one was a question about which of the boroughs of New York was on the mainland. Steve lived most of his life in the Big Apple and knew it was the Bronx.

Then they asked for either of the two states that are geometrically regular, meaning they look perfectly rectangular on a map. A thunderbolt seemed to strike the top of my head. "I saw this just this afternoon," I groaned, clenching my fists against my forehead like a cliche of deep thought.

Suddenly the clouds cleared. "Wyoming and Colorado", I cried.

Funny the way memory works sometimes.

Wednesday night we were faced with a dilemma. There was an Wurlitzer concert on at Linmor Hall with a visiting organist, but there was also a performance by Circus Quirkus at Wrest Point.

Seeing we were strapped for cash this week, the fact that the circus tickets were free was a point in its favour and we ended up down at Wrest Point.

It was quite an amazing show -- the traditional arts of acrobatics, juggling, tumbling and clowning are still as impressive as they ever were, and some of these guys were really good at it. I've never seen anybody juggle a table with their feet before.

The audience especially went wild for the three African acrobats whose high-energy act was greeted with thunderous applause.

A less happy moment was arriving home from work Thursday night and turning on the television to see the devastating consequences of a series of bombs that had gone off in London.

The scenes of shocked and wounded travellers, reports that army officers were posted on rooftops with binoculars, and journalists saying they could only get to the scene by bicycle due to the chaos in the streets ... it was all uncomfortably reminiscent of the H.G. Wells original novel of War of the Worlds.

Memories welled up of similar shocking news from the past. The Port Arthur shootings. The Twin Towers. Felt very unsettled as the death toll mounted and the details about the bomb blasts came in.

I went to bed and tried not to think about it. It was a cold night and burrowing down into the blankets I managed to get to sleep in the end.


Monday, July 04, 2005

plays and parties

Saturday was a very busy day. In the late afternoon I lay down and napped for half an hour to give me the energy to go out in that evening to The Playhouse.

I'd been unwell last month and hadn't made it to the first of Rep's Shakespeare season, but I did want to see the last night of other play A Midsummer Night's Dream

Before we left for town, I read the first few pages of the relevant chapter in Lamb's Shakespeare to refresh my memory of the opening of the play, since I suspected it might take a few moments to attune my ear to the players.

Robert Jarman's production had a few quiry moments - the set decorated with film posters, the people of Athens dressed in K-Mart pyjamas - but overall the Bard still came through pretty well. Aniela Grun was appropriately regal as Titania, and of course Ray Sangston's Puck gets nearly all the good lines.

Three groups of characters weave in and out of the story, making up one of Shakespeare's most original offerings.

The capacity audience cheered wildly at the curtain, throwing streamers as the cast took their final bow of the show.

Even after four centuries, still a big crowd-pleaser.

As soon as we left church on Sunday morning, we went into high gear so we could finish at Julie's property then head south along the Southern Expressway. Turn off towards Sandfly, then head towards Allen's Rivulet. Another furlong and you came to the house where a rare event was being celebrated -- a Diamond wedding anniversary, complete with a message of congratulations from Her Majesty the Queen.

Friends and relatives of Don and Nan came from as far away as Launceston to wish the couple the best. One of the in-laws murmured that in the modern world this would probably be the only 60th wedding anniversary he would ever attend.

There was food, fellowship and the singing of "For They Are Jolly Good Fellows". Don thanked us for coming and said that their door was always open -- "Until 7:30 when I go to bed and leave Nan surfing the net" he concluded.

Steve took us for a walk around the property and showed us their resident paddymelon wallaby (like a small kangaroo) who lives in their backyard. Her favourite treat? A freshly picked rose.