Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Old Timer's Disease?

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I have been slowly getting my new laptop personalised, adding the software and adjusting the settings till it’s just the way I’m accustomed to. I had a page almost filled with a scrawled list of freeware that I wanted to load, from Audacity to YBook Reader.

bIt was four or five days before I twigged to the reason why this machine was a couple of hundred dollars cheaper than I had expected.

Placing a disc in the CD drive, I went to read a classic Doc Savage thriller off a disc from the Blackmask website. Nothing happened. After a moment the truth dawned — there was no DVD drive on the machine.

“Ah,” I thought.

At first I was taken aback at how stupid I’d been. I’d asked what I thought were the necessary questions in the shop, but it had never occured to me that in 2006 a new computer could come without a DVD drive. A quick Google search threw up some contradictory results: a couple of references suggested the Thinkpad R50e did come with a DVD, but most described it as CD only.

Ah me, I don’t seem to be off to a good start this year.

Monday night we were out at the monthly pub quiz at the New Sydney hotel, where our team The Amnesiacs won the gold medal for the second time in three months in spite of an inexplicable mistake made by yours truly.

When the category Science & Nature came round, my colleagues just handed me the sheet and more or less sat on their hands. The last question “What does the acronym Laser stand for?” was simple of course. Light Amplification by Stimulated Emmission of Radiation.

But when the answers were marked, we got that one wrong. I insisted to my team mates that I had written down the correct words, but when I looked at the sheet I saw in my own hand-writing that I had put down as the final word “Radio” instead of “Radiation”.

I sat there for a moment bewildered; I clearly remembered writing down the correct word, but here was irrefutable proof that I hadn’t. Somewhere between my brain and my fingers, something had gone off the rails.

Nevertheless, victory is victory and we were quite pleased as we drove home afterwards. I put the car keys down and went into my room to change. Five minutes later I returned and began a futile search for the keys. I even got down on my hands and knees and searched the carpet in case I’d knocked them off the table without noticing.

An hour later I discovered them still in the pocket of my trousers from earlier in the evening. Apparently I had put them down then absent-mindedly picked them up again and replaced them in my pocket.

I felt discombobulated and retired for the night with mixed emotions. I sat up for a while in bed flicking through a magazine without actually concentrating. 55, I thought, is a bit young to enter the doddering-old-man stage of life.

But facts are facts and obviously I am a small but perceptible step closer to going gaga.


"In writing fiction, the more fantastic the tale, the plainer the prose should be. Don't ask your readers to admire your words when you want them to believe your story." — Ben Bova, American science-fiction writer.


I have tried out a couple of free word-processors over the years. OpenOffice grew larger and larger with every new version and I eventually gave it up for the 602Suite word processor. That worked well for about a year, but I began trouble with some of the settings.

The release of a third version of Rough Draft seemed an opportune time to try it again and I’ve been quite pleased with it. It’s made available freely by its creator Richard Salsbury.

You can download it at no charge whatsoever from his website. “RoughDraft is a freeware word processor. Although suitable for general use, it has features specifically designed for creative writing: novels, short stories, articles, plays and screenplays. It's designed to be as practical as possible, offering all the features you need, but without being complicated or awkward to use.”

It has spell-checking and automatically saves your writing every ten minutes. Few authors will ask for more. That reassuring little signal in the lower left corner of the screen that says your file has been saved gives you a warm feeling all over.


My back has been troubling me since the week before Christmas but it seems to be slowly improving. Julie has a whole pharmacopoeia of pain-killers available in her medicine cabinet, but I’ve found that what seems to work for me is to take paracetemol before retiring at night and ibuprofen around lunch-time.

Otherwise it takes too long to have any effect if I take pills with breakfast and wait for them to work.

And there are other factors that make starting the day difficult. The other night I must have slept lightly, because I woke with memories of a series of vivid dreams, as though I’d spent the night in the front row of a movie-house screening a double feature. This happens now and again, and it take a while for one’s mind to settle down afterwards.

At least my Blood Glucose Level readings have been satisfactory this month. This last fortnight they have been around 6.5 in the mornings and sometimes as low as 5.4 in the evening. If I could just lose some more weight, my endocrinologist would be a happy chappie.


SBS doesn’t produce much original drama but they kicked off 2006 with a typically offbeat offering RAN: Remote Area Nurse. Susie Porter stars as nurse Helen Tremain who returns to her post in the Torres Strait islands after caring for her dying mother. She expects to be able to pick up where she left off, but life is never that simple.

Porter - who starred in the Australian movies Better than sex and Little Fish - returned from London where she’d been in a West End play to spend four months in the islands. She praised producer Penny Chapman and the local participants: “Penny’s a producer who brings heaps of integrity to a project and the scripts were so well-written. The islanders who star in the series are all untrained (actors) and they were so good. At times I’d look at them work and think ‘God, they’re better than us’ because they acted on nothing but instinct.”

The first episode was interesting and the photography in the Torres Strait is jaw-droppingly beautiful. This may be one of the few series worth watching during the Silly Season month this summer.


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