Friday, October 27, 2006

more tranquil times

My old school is now the headquarters of the polar council CCAMLR, but when the council is in session with all the flags flying it looks more like Camelot. CCAMLR is the Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources which was formed in 1982, as part of the Antarctic Treaty System.


A shortage of catastrophe and crisis made this Thursday a bit better to take. The photocopier at the office seems to have settled down, so I only had the normal human vagaries to put up with.

The last couple of weeks had been vexing. I've found that I can take the uncertainties of my colleagues (take this out, put that in, move this there) a lot easier than the cold unrelenting non-co-operation of the machine world.

Today was a public holiday (Royal Hobart Show day) and the roads were refreshingly clear of traffic when we drove into the city. The afternoon progressed to a satisfactory conclusion and when I looked at my watch it was only 5:07, one of our earlier finishes.

We got home in time to sit out in the yard and have a glass of wine while we watched the poultry and the cats wandering about. The sky was clear and the sun was mild. It was such a pleasant evening that we took a leisurely stroll down the street, pausing every few yards to sample the fragrance of the various flowers in the front yards.

After a while we gradually worked our way back to my house. Passing the house next door, we paused for a chat with the neighbours. They had been out to the Show and the little girl had bought some baby chicks. My sister was fascinated and the girl brought two of them out to show her. Nothing like a shared interest to bring people closer together.

Speaking of shared interests, Julie and I were picked up a DVD of the recent movie version of The Fantastic Four. Watching it certainly brought back a few memories. We started reading the comic book around 1962 during its first year and followed it all through the 1960s and into the '70s.

Sure it was a Hollywood version of the original plot, but enough came through of it to please us. But Jessica Alba as the Invisible Girl? I think all male viewers will agree with me – "What a waste!"

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Monday, October 23, 2006

Starbuck debut


Starbucks opened their first branch in Hobart this month. It's in the old bank building on the corner of Collins Street and the Elizabeth Street Mall, where the MBF office used to be.

Passing by, I dragged my sister in for a coffee out of curiosity. I'd never even seen a Starbucks, let alone been inside one, but you can't not know about the chain unless you live under a rock.

It was comfortable enough inside, but they need a little tweaking. For example, there was a rack of CDs that had no prices visible, the cappuccino had no chocolate on top(this may be a cultural thing) and Julie's Flat White was much too milky in spite of a special request for not-too-much-milk.

It wasn't an unpleasant experience, but I don't see any need to repeat it. I'd rather patronise shops like Ephah in the Bank Arcade.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting
I was surprised (but pleasantly) to discover that you can now get free copies on-line of nearly all the stories of H. Beam Piper, one of my favourite authors of the 1960s. (One of his stories was on the cover of the first issue of Astounding Science Fiction that I ever bought.)

There's a whole shipload of great science fiction at sites like Many Books.

Meanwhile if you want to write your own novel, it's almost November. That means that it's time for NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing Month.

How many novels have been written through NaNoWriMo?
1999: 21 participants and six winners
2000: 140 participants and 29 winners
2001: 5,000 particpants and more than 700 winners
2002: 13,500 participants and around 2,100 winners
2003: 25,500 participants and about 3,500 winners
2004: 42,000 participants and just shy of 6,000 winners
2005: 59,000 participants and 9,769 winners.

A "winner" is anybody who successfully writes a 50,000 word novel in 30 days.

I thought about it in 2004 but chickened out. In 2005 I took a deep breath and started typing on November 1st. By the end of November I'd completed my 50,000 word novel with a couple of days to spare.

It was a strain but I got it finished. I was glad I took it on; it seemed that I'd accomplished something even if nobody but me ever read the story (a science fiction story titled "Scorched by Darkness" – it took me about six months to notice that I'd borrowed a lot from Shakespeare's "The Tempest" for the basic plot).

Will I go in it again this year?

Why not!

Last week I knew that Kay was very concerned about her power bill and the threatening letters she'd received from the power company. I tried to make some enquiries on her behalf, but I couldn't get her on the telephone to discuss the matter.

Finally I went round there and rang the doorbell. I've been trying to ring you, I said. "I haven't had any phone calls for a couple of days," she said in puzzlement.

I walked over to her phone and picked it up. "There's someone talking on it," she exclaimed.

Yes, I said, it's the television set in your bedroom – you didn't hang up the extension.

She looked surprised. I suggested that it might be a good idea to check the phone for messages every day, perhaps at breakfast or before she went to bed.

"I don't eat breakfast," she said.

Yes, but you could....

"I never eat breakfast."

In any event you might want ...

"I haven't eaten breakfast for 46 years."

I'M NOT SAYING YOU SHOULD EAT BREAKFAST, I bellowed. I'm just saying you should check for messages regularly!

"Oh. Right."

ABC Roadshow comes to Tasmania
Saturday 21 October: York Park gates, Launceston
Monday 23 October: Campbell Town main street
Wednesday 25-Saturday 28 October: Royal Hobart Show
Monday 30 October: Huonville

"The ABC's Roadshow Trailer is coming to Tasmania, and will be travelling to communities across the state. Come along and visit the trailer: experience the magic of making TV and Radio for yourself, meet ABC faces and voices, all free of charge. The Country Hour will broadcast their program from the trailer from Monday 23 October; meet ABC Northern Tasmania's Shane Foley (Breakfast) and Roisin McCann (Drive) for a free BBQ during the Country Hour at Campbelltown; bring your children to meet the teddies Amy, Lou Lou and Morgan at the Royal Hobart Show."

I might go out and see them at the Show. Geoff Richardson from the weekend radio show The Coodabeen Champions will be broadcasting from the trailer.

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Tuesday, October 17, 2006

flaming days


"What an unusual day it's been," said my sister on Thursday night. Flames and disappointment. Stress and chaos. This week was not quite what we’d hoped for.

Wednesday I had hoped to get a major printing job over and done with, even if it meant a special trip in to the office for the afternoon. That didn’t happen - the photocopier was breaking down at least once a day, sometimes twice.

But those annoyances faded to nothing Julie and I drove down to Kingston for dinner with some friends. When we made the appointment a couple of weeks ago, we couldn’t have foreseen that it would be a day of high fire danger.

My sister was driving, since I can usually cope only with city and suburban conditions. As we left the city and headed south, we were wary of fires reported near Mount Nelson and it seemed that was right. The further south we went, the more smoke and haze there was in the air.

Traffic slowed to a crawl as we passed emergency vehicles stopped by the roadside. The smoke grew thicker and we saw a policeman trying to clear the smoke out of his eyes as we drove past.

I tried to snap a few pictures with my camera phone through the windscreen, but trying to capture such a big canvas was next to impossible. Then I looked sideways and gasped in disbelief as we passed a burning tree - the flames were less than ten feet from the car.

During the 1967 bushfires I didn’t leave the safety of the city heart, but I began to get some inkling of what it must have been like for the rural population on that day.

The dinner was pleasant enough, but we turned for home afterwards with some trepidation. At first everything seemed normal, but as we passed the crest of the highway we could see off to one side a series of vertical orange lines in the darkness. Countless trees still burning after the fire had gone through earlier that day. An unsettling sight.

That night it was too hot to get much sleep. I tossed and turned a lot.

Thursday we stayed tuned to the radio for any updates. There were still remnants of yesterday’s fires and the Fire Service warned that conditions were the worst they’d been in years - strong winds, high temperatures and very low humidity.

We went out early to drop off Julie’s mastiff at the vet to have some stitches repaired. At least he’d be comfortable in the air-conditioned vet hospital. Then in to the church to spend the afternoon working in the office. The 19th century sandstone walls kept out the 33° heat [91° in the old fahrenheit scale], but most of the people there grew increasingly concerned about what was happening at home.

Rod left early in the afternoon when a major fire began menacing his suburb on the eastern side of the river. Robert left a while later; his wife had phoned to say that she could see smoke but no flames although the power was off in the entire area.

That left Julie and I with the photocopier repairman, who was grappling with the intricacies of the machine’s innards. (Our last repairman told me once that copying machines were more likely to go wrong than anything else because they were an unholy combination of the electrical, the mechanical and the chemical; it seems he was right.) After another hour he gave up and said he’d need to return the next day with more equipment.

The traffic out front was slow, with commuters heading down the southern outlet hampered by smoke. Fire Service trucks and volunteer fire fighters were heading across the river, taking up one lane on the bridge just for the emergency services.

You feel pretty helpless at a time like this. You’re perfectly safe, but there’s nothing much you can do for others. Certainly you don’t like to make too many phone calls of the “Are you all right? Are things OK over there?” type - people have got things to do.

We stayed in town and had a meal of wallaby at the hotel down the street, then picked up the dog from the vet. Fires were the least of his worries; he was still feeling the effects of the anaesthetic and slept most of the way home.

But turning into my street at dusk was a sobering experience. The end of the street faces across the river and we were looking right at the fires. There were bright specks all over the western face of the hills, and across the summit of one there was a row of fires, like a torchlight parade of giants marching over the hill and down the other side.

It was again another restless night, even though by midnight the smoke seemed to have cleared and the night breezes were soft and cooling. But that crown of flames could still be seen on the hilltop.

And this is October. I can’t remember ever hearing of such dangerous fires this early in the season.

The punchline about the weather is that by Monday morning the news bulletins were interviewing farmers complaining about frost damage caused by a cold snap on Sunday night!

On my radio dial this week…

SUSPENSE “Heaven’s To Betsy” with Truda Marson, CBS 10/11/55

I haven’t heard Suspense venture into the science fiction field very often, but this low-key entry is not without interest. A run-of-the-mill suburban family find themselves in the spotlight when a glowing UFO crashes on their back lawn. “A man’s home is his castle,” says the husband. “This is my house, this is my backyard, and that is my flying saucer!”

The story ends on a sober note when the alien object’s glow begins to fade. The wife maintains that the UFO is in fact a living being, not just a vehicle, and that it is dying before their eyes.

Compared to much of the science fiction of the mass media in 1955, this is very sensible and restrained stuff indeed.

FIBBER McGEE & MOLLY 47-10-07 football story

Fibber plans a surprise for their anniversary. A highlight - running into an indecisive acquaintance who turns out to be the local weatherman.

RED RYDER 42-03-14 Frying Pan valley

Tolerable juvenile western which was also a long-running comic book. First one I've heard of these; maybe it improves on further listening, but I think I prefer Hopalong Cassidy and Wild Bill Hickok to the exploits of "America's famous fighting cowboy."

THE GREAT GILDERSLEEVE 48-05-26 Gildy drives a Mercedes

This one is fun - Gildy allows himself to be persuaded into driving a luxury car for the day ("It makes you look like a millionaire playboy") and misunderstandings snowball.

PHIL HARRIS 49-11-27 lady wrestler

Irked by Alice's investments, Phil decides to invest in something - and after taking Remley's advice he ends up with a wrestler called The Masked Mangler... a female wrestler in fact. (Did you know female wrestlers were illegal in California in 1949?)

A lot of people know what to do, but not everyone will do what they know.

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Monday, October 09, 2006

Salmon Ponds

salmon ponds 01

The Salmon Ponds, established circa 1860, is the oldest trout hatchery in the Southern Hemisphere. It's about 45 minutes drive up the Derwent Valley from Hobart, on the western side of the river. Drive in through the spectacular drystone walls on either side of the entrance and it's like entering a Secret Garden.

salmon ponds 03 Julie

It's been a popular spot for family picnics since the late 19th century. The grounds are laid out like a classic English country garden. You can visit the wonderfully rough-hewn old building that housed the Trout Hatchery, the centre of the original operation.

salmon ponds 04 riverwalk

The Hawthorn Arch was the original entrance in the 19th century. The old Keeper's cottage, built in 1865, now doubles as the Museum of Trout Fishing and as the Tasmanian Angling Hall of Fame. Even if you aren't a fisherman, there's a lot of interesting stuff about the problems of transporting trout and salmon eggs out from Britain 150 years ago (i.e. before refrigeration).

salmon ponds 05 feed trout

They actually encourage you to feed the fish, who are always happy to see visitors. If you want to feed yourself, there's a barbecue area or you can visit the restaurant (tweely titled Pancakes By The Ponds).

There's a lot of bird life around, including the Superb Blue Wren (first time I've seen one in real life – they are superb!) and the occasional sinister-looking raven.

On the way home we called at St Matthew's Church in New Norfolk, built in 1824. I've never seen a church this size with so many stained glass windows.

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Friday, October 06, 2006


One of the things about sharing a house with Julie is the unending stream of animals brought through the doors. This week she brought over a tiny duckling which looked like it wasn't going to survive. She nursed it along for a week but it didn't make it. If there's one thing my experiences with my sister's poultry have taught me, it's how frail and fragile life is.

This of course is the reason that I can't use any of the reading lamps in my house: they've all been pressed into service in makeshift incubators for ailing chickens and ducks. It would be interesting to check my electricity bill for before and after they arrived....

Slowly I get better and better each day. The only sign of my flu now is the intermittent barking cough that sounds worse than it feels.

My sister, however, is being much slower to shake it off and retains many of the symptoms that plagued her all last month. This is regrettable because this weekend is her 40th anniversary school reunion and she'd rather not be coughing all over her old friends.

When I say I'm almost well again that might be a slight exaggeration. I do find that I no longer have the stamina or the concentration that I normally expect. Yesterday the photocopier went wrong yet again at the office and I all but threw up my hands and surrendered utterly. (Fortunately the repairman made a rush visit and got us going again – thanks to Dane and all at Prosys Office Equipment.) I wouldn't have folded up so quickly under normal circumstances; it seems I still have a little way to go.

For example, I was knocked for six by an unfortunate coincidence last weekend. Saturday was Grand Final Day, which unsettles me not because I'm a football fan but because that was the day my mother died. On Sunday I tuned in to watch Songs of Praise as usual and found that they were doing a special programme on bereavement. Out of 52 weekends in the year they had to choose this one. The first man they interviewed described his loss in terms that were so similar to my own that I almost burst into tears. My emotional reserves seem to be at an all-time low.

Likewise my memory is not good, though it's a lot better than Julie's is (I've lost count of the times she's mislaid her mobile phone this month). Last night I took the video cassette out of the VCR after watching the latest episode of Mythbusters. Tonight I went to use the same tape to record something after that show. Do you think I could find it? I trailed around the house for half an hour like a lamb that had lost sight of its mother. Never did find it.

Slowly getting used to Daylight Saving. It always takes a week or so to get used to it. I do have some difficulty working out when to listen to the streaming-audio programmes on Internet radio – I know that My Word on KIPO is an hour later, but I seem to have trouble keeping track of when to tune in to WRVO's evening of Old Time Radio.

Remember the haiku I sent in to the local radio station contest? Well, I didn't win, but they phoned up the other day to say they were sending me a consolation prize. I duly received a colourful 2007 calendar from Delicious magazine (value $16-95) which should look good on my wall next year. Not a bad result for a poem that took me five minutes to write.

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