Saturday, March 25, 2006

greetings Governor

If I'd known I'd end up shaking hands with the Governor, I would have put on a better shirt. I wasn't expecting that when I joined the semi-annual Open Day crowds at Government House in Hobart.

The place was built in 1857 and is one of the nicest vice-regal residences in the Commonwealth. Designed by William P. Kay, it is described in the brochures as "a fine example of an early Victorian country house in neo-Gothic style and is one of the largest of its type in Australia" (73 rooms!).

This is where the Queen stays when she's in town.

The standard of decoration and ornamentation is high, and you spend as much time looking at the ceiling as you do at the furniture, portraits and fine art. Here I am looking about....

The tour funnelled us through the drawing room, the ballroom and the conservatory. Our mouths were open and our eyebrows raised for much of the progress through the house. It was simply amazing.

Finally we came to the rear and exited through the conservatory into the grounds, where a military band was entertaining the crowd and community organisations provided light refreshments.

I have been in the grounds of Government House before, but this was the first time I'd had the opportunity to see the interior.

It was there in the final room that the Governor, the Honourable William Cox, and his wife Jocelyn, were shaking hands with the visitors. I think the woman in front of me actually curtsied.

As usual whenever I meet important people, my mind went a complete blank. "So, what do you think of our house?" asked His Excellency jovially.

Desperate to say something - anything! - I gabbled something about "Wonderful! It's wonderful." The governor didn't seem surprised; he probably gets that reaction all the time.

My sister, however, had a real moment of angst. Her camera's batteries had died seconds before the governor and his lady hove into view! A unique photo opportunity lost, alas.

At least we know we were there.

** ** ** **

We didn't do too badly in our first month of Broadband. Between me and my sister Julie we managed to download 6200 MB during peak hours and 1400 MB during off-peak time.

Not bad for a couple of old fogeys, I thought.

I remember the salesman looked a bit surprised when we opted for the 20GB-per-month option on our ADSL, but the next option down was absurdly low. We'd prefer to have too much rather than too little.

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Friday, March 24, 2006

pain, floods and monarchs

cartoon from

Cartoon by Dave Walker. Find more cartoons you can freely re-use on your blog at We Blog Cartoons.

Yes, I have been slow to update this month. The two things that have had me preoccupied have been my bad back and my sister's struggle with hydrology.

Moving that big market umbrella around the back garden so we could find a spot to sit out on the lawn last Saturday was a mistake. The degenerated disc in my back hasn't bothered me for a long time, but it certainly did this week.

What makes it difficult is that I'm at my stiffest when I get out of bed in the morning, but 75% of all my bending takes place in the first hour after I get up. Feeding cats, put out birdseed, getting dressed... you should see me trying to put on my socks.

A mixture of ibuprofen and paracetemol at various times of the day helped me get through things, but it wasn't much fun. You remember that Bill Cosby routine about hearing himself make the same sound that his father used to make when he got out of bed? That's what I was like.

And what, you ask, of Julie's problems?

Well, if you've seen any pictures of her house you'll have noticed that it's below the level of the road. Recently the front yard has become more and more wet. The dampness slowly spread across the yard and down the side, finally becoming a visible trickle of water.

Muddy patches become puddles. Puddles became pools of water. After a few days I couldn't get from one side of the yard to the other — I had already fallen over once attempting it.

After a few days, Julie phoned the Town Hall and asked if some of this water could be coming from the water pipes in the street. A crew arrived, looked around and dug down to the stopcock for the water supply to Julie's house. They turned this off so they could judge if the water was coming from her pipes or theirs.

Then they left.

And never came back.

Julie waited for a few days. There was no water inside the house, but there was plenty outside. Fortunately she was staying with me so it wasn't a personal difficulty, but she still had to carry water to her animals.

Do you know how much bottled water a horse gets through in a day?

(No, just kidding – there was enough water in the creek for Julie to be able to fill the horse trough with a bucket.)

Finally she phoned the city council again. Nobody seemed to know who it was that had been there the first time. Finally they referred her to what they called "the plumbing inspector".

He duly arrived (it turned out he rejoices in the title of Hydrology Investigation Officer) with an assortment of metal-detectors and other instruments. He went all over the footpath, making cryptic marks on the sidewalk with bright blue paint.

A couple of days later another crew arrived and dug a hole six feet deep in the footpath on Saturday morning. I bet the neighbours were pleased when they cut their way through four inches of cement.

While we were looking down at the water in the bottom of the hole, one of the workmen said conversationally "We've found some more water after that first lot."

I looked at him. "Is this good news or bad news?" I asked.

It must have been a good sign though. Within 36 hours they completed their excavations and filled in the hole. Almost instantly the pools of water around the house began to dry up – they're now just muddy patches and we hope that in another couple of days they'll have dried out.

We live in hope anyway.

I don't know if it was 40 days and 40 nights but it felt like it.


Called in for lunch at a new outlet of Pasta Resistance in Collins Street, just near the entrance to the Chickenfeed discount store. A small restaurant but nicely turned out.

I had the pasta salad with bacon and broccoli and thousand island dressing. Quite acceptable.


I don't pay a lot of attention to sports at the best of times, but I did tune in for the telecast of the opening of the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne.

The climax was the presentation to the Queen of the ceremonial baton. She accepted it and spoke to the assembled athletes.

"One year and one day ago - on Commonwealth Day 2005 - I placed this message in this hi-tech baton. It has since been carried round the Commonwealth on every continent and across every ocean by many thousands of voluntary Queen's Baton Relay runners.

I hope that everyone who saw the Baton during its journey recognised it as a symbol of the unity and diversity of our Commonwealth of Nations. The Commonwealth Games are both a product of our unique organisation as well as a tangible example of the value of this partnership of peoples.

Tonight we celebrate the value of sport as a means of bringing together people from seventy-one nations and territories, and from a wide range of cultures, traditions and beliefs.

As we look forward to the next eleven days, I would like to remind you of the very successful Games at Sydney in 1938, in Perth in 1962, and in Brisbane in 1982. Together they underline the impressive contribution that Australia has made to the successful development of the Commonwealth, and to the encouragement of good sportsmanship and friendliness throughout the Commonwealth.

I am glad to have this opportunity to offer my best wishes to every athlete and official taking part in these 'friendly' Games. I congratulate everyone who has worked tirelessly to organise this great sporting celebration, which I hope will entertain hundreds of millions of people round the world."



Radio was seen as eminently practical on the farm, providing the latest
weather forecasts, agricultural market reports, and other information that made
the business of farming more productive. But perhaps more importantly, radio
brought formerly isolated homes into close daily contact with the rest of the
nation. This led many of radio’s developers to believe that the new medium’s
greatest promise would be realized in serving rural listeners. In a 1924 speech at
the University of Missouri, RCA's David Sarnoff argued,

Radio's greatest contribution to civilization lies not so much in what it
does for the city dweller but upon the signal influence it can bring upon
the life and action of our farm population. . . . the message that radio
brings to the farmer is the message of human contact, human sympathy,
and culture

Read more here

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Sunday, March 19, 2006

Sunday morning

Faith withers and dies when the Bible is regarded merely as a collection of men’s thoughts or as a subjective record of God’s actions, mused Charles Colson in an introduction to a book about the Bible.

Timothy 3:14-17 assumes that Timothy would have had a sound knowledge of the Old Testament

2 Peter tells us that the writers of the Bible were guided by the Holy Spirit. This is what we mean when we say they were “inspired”, not in the everyday sense of being inspired to write to Aunt Ethel – the truths they reveal were those communicated by God to Man.

While most people will admit that Jesus existed, there is no way to prove that he was the Son of God. That is where faith comes into play. All our preachers take it as given that the words in the Bible come from God – that it is the final authority for Christians and there is nothing that overrides or supersedes it.

You’ll find the world is full of people who know better than those old-fashioned opinions expressed in the Bible.

We shouldn’t fall into the trap of reading books about the Bible to the exclusion of reading it for ourselves – one of the catchcries of the Reformation translates as “Scripture alone!”

They also used “Scripture interprets Scripture” – difficult passages in the Bible should be interpreted in light of other biblical passages rather than the opinions of pundits and commentators.

In the book of Genesis, Satan begins by attacking our exact understanding of God’s words and all too often that is the attitude of the world: that the Bible needs to be interpreted by experts before we can understand it.

calvin’s preaching of the word of God in 16th century Geneva reversed the downward spiral of that city into spiritual and social decay. The less the church depends on the Bible, the more irrelevant it becomes, then as now.

Lord Your Word shall guide us
and with truth provide us:
teach us to receive it
and with joy believe it.

When our foes are near us,
then Your Word shall cheer us.
Word of consolation,
message of salvation.

When the storms distress us
and dark clouds oppress us,
then Your Word protects us
and its light directs us.

Who can tell the pleasure,
who recount the treasure
by Your Word imparted
to the simple-hearted?

Word of mercy, giving
courage to the living;
Word of life, supplying
comfort to the dying.

O that we discerning
its most holy learning,
Lord, may love and fear You,
evermore be near You

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Saturday, March 11, 2006

Archmides goes visiting

We did eventually get to see Steve Lazarowitz on a more temperate day, taking with us Julie's tamest rooster (who now seems to have been dubbed Captain Archmides).

I showed him how tractable the rooster was....

and he tried it out for himself:

In return he showed us some of his pets.

Who weren't quite as cuddly as the Captain in my opinion:

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Tuesday, March 07, 2006

weeds and weather

The beginning of March marks the official beginning of Autumn - or Fall as our American cousins like to call it - and indeed the first day was refreshingly cooler after those recent oppressively hot days.

It didn't last of course. Friday we had an appointment to see the man who was cutting back the undergrowth at my sister's house, then we were going to go visiting with one of her roosters. (Yes, she was taking with her the chicken that's so tame he stands on her wrist while she walks around.)

But the weather wasn't going to co-operate. We saw the guy at Julie's house (and he's done a wonderful job on clearing the front of all the greenery that was choking it - see above) but the temperature just kept climbing.

Julie looked overwhelmed by it and when it hit 36º [about 97º in the old Fahrenheit scale] we gave up and phoned to cancel. The humidity was just too much for us to handle.

I was surprised the next morning to find that the temperature had dropped 20º without the usual drama of a thunderstorm or a torrential downpour of rain.

Incredibly, the maximum and minimum temperatures for Hobart on Saturday were both just 16º.



Monday saw the switching on of the ABC's new FM transmitter in Launceston, transferring ABC Northern Tasmania [the old 7NT] from AM to FM. ABC Hobart remains on AM, but you have to wonder how many more years that will last.

Since FM broadcasting started in Australia back in 1980, the commercial stations have led the exodus from the AM band. Here in southern Tasmania, the AM band is now the province of the ABC and a handful of low-powered community stations.

An entire generation of young people have grown up who probably don't even know there is an AM band on their radio sets.

Still, not to worry. By the time ABC Hobart gets around to going FM, we'll probably be listening to it on radio sets that have streaming internet audio built in.

The first radio set I ever owned had big glowing valves that you could see warming up through the back of the case. That seems a long time ago (and indeed it was - that would have been around 1958).


An example of how we're isolated from the harsher aspects of the modern world.

On Sunday morning the preacher asked for prayer for a friend of one of our congregation (they both sing in the same group) - his son had just been murdered. There was an audible gasp of shock from the people sitting around me.

It started me thinking how removed from violence we are. This is the first time that even a friend of a friend has met an untoward death, and I can't think of the last time when somebody I knew was involved in any sort of violent incident.

Yet this sort of thing is taken for granted in many of the so-called civilized societies around the world. I toddle along in some sort of parallel universe, vaguely aware that somewhere in other places people are being shot, stabbed or strangled, but for all the effect it has on me it may as well be happening on Mars.

Maybe that's why the Port Arthur shootings shook Tasmania so badly in 1996. It was the sort of thing that happened "somewhere else". It was many years before we regained our traditional equanimity.

In fact a couple of years later when one of the tabloid television programmes broadcast an item about killer Martin Bryant that included a sound grab of his voice, I reacted badly to the string of previews for the show.

It was completely out of character for me, but I grabbed the telephone and rang through to the answering machine of the programme in question. "How can you do this?" I barked. "Have you people no shame??"

Apparently the producers were taken aback by the hostile response to the segment and made some token apologies (though it didn't stop them running it). Many people must have felt the same way that I did.

In fact just writing these few words and looking up the exact date of the tragedy is enough to make me feel uncomfortable, ten years on.

Especially noting the number of idiots with web pages claiming that the shootings were part of some conspiracy. If I'd happened to be at Port Arthur that day, I would probably have been dead at the end of the day. Pardon me if I don't feel like considering your crazy ideas objectively.


An intriguing piece in Media Life:

Only a few years ago, many people believed the internet would grow forever, adding new users as it went. Whatever saturation point there might be was years off, only to be reached when all of the country’s households were wired.

But it turns out saturation is already upon us, or nearly so. According to a study by Park Associates, a Dallas-based market research agency, growth in internet penetration this year will rise just one percentage point, from 63 percent to 64 percent. That translates to some 39 million American homes without internet service, and with only 2 million of them planning to go online this year. Roughly 29 percent of the 1,000 households surveyed said they do not even own a computer.

But just why these people, called internet abstainers, are staying away from the web is unclear. Thirty-one percent said they had web access at work, 18 percent said they were not interested in the internet, and 8 percent said they weren’t sure how to use it. Most, 39 percent, simply cited “other” and gave no further explanation for not wanting to be wired.

The verdict seems to be that it's something that will change as the generations do -- like electricity and telephone connections, which are now nearly universal. The modern generation are unlikely to stop using the internet, so its penetration will gradually become almost ubiquitous.


An unusual piece on ABC Radio National's Airplay programme titled "This Hideous Progeny", set on page 182 of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Mary is trying to write the final chapters.

It begins with The Monster rescuing The drowning girl. They are left alone on the page to ponder their fates and consider their past. The Monster becomes increasingly concerned about the development of his character. He is reluctant to become the hideous creature that Shelley appears to be creating.

In a desperate attempt to rewrite history The Monster, The Drowning Girl and a highly versatile The Rustic struggle to keep Mary on the page whilst Percy, Mary’s husband, becomes a constant distraction.

This Hideous Progeny is by Paul Livingston, perhaps better known as cult comedian Flacco. The cast includes Ralph Cotterill as The Monster, Lucy Bell as Mary Shelley, Meaghan Davies as The Drowning Girl, Keith Robinson as The Rustic and Richard Sydenham as Percy.

Listen to live music from deep in the heart of Texas on KZQX. Just click here.

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Sunday, March 05, 2006

Sunday morning

How do we know anything about God?

Why is there a Bible?

Easy questions? No, but ones that our preacher Robert addressed in this morning’s sermon at church.

Is there a way of discovering things that we can’t understand through our senses? Yes, by revelation. For example, we don’t know what is going on in other’s people’s minds until they tell us. That’s revelation – they reveal this information to us. Similarly there is evidence of God’s feelings towards us.

This comes in two varieties, which the experts call General Revelation and Special Revelation. General Revelation is the sort of thing that’s talked about in Psalm 19 – the created world as evidence of its Creator.

But surveying the stars does not inform us about the personality of He who made them. That’s where Special Revelation comes in: the way God speaks specifically to Man.

In the Old Testament, God worked through middlemen and go-betweens. The prophets and priests received God’s word and passed it on to their fellows. This might come in a vision or a dream or – rather scarily – an actual meeting such as Moses had on the mountain.

In the New Testament, God takes this a step further. He addresses his people directly, speaking to them face-to-face in the person of Jesus Christ. This is the reason that many churches do not believe there are any “new” messages from God being handed down today – after Christ, what else is there to say?

The study of the material world may awe us, but it can never instruct us in the way that the scriptures can.

And that’s why we have the Bible. Q.E.D.

God has spoken by His prophets,
spoken His unchanging Word;
each from age to age proclaiming
God the One, the righteous Lord;
in the world's despair and turmoil
one firm anchor still holds fast:
God is King, His throne eternal,
God the first and God the last.

God has spoken by Christ Jesus,
Christ, the everlasting Son;
brightness of the Father's glory,
with the Father ever one:
spoken by the Word incarnate,
God, before all time began,
Light of light, to earth descending,
Man, revealing God to man.

God is speaking by His Spirit
speaking to the hearts of men;
in the age-long Word expounding
God's own message, now as then.
Through the rise and fall of nations
one sure faith is standing fast:
God abides, His Word unchanging,
God the first and God the last.