Sunday, January 29, 2006

Considering the options

I'm staying at my parents' place for the weekend, and they live at the beach. This means I should be outside and doing things at the beach, because being at the beach and then not taking advantage of the actual beach would be too stupid.

But. But.

Reasons For Not Going To The Beach

1. It's so long since I went for a swim, I forgot (until grabbing clothes for this visit) that my swimmers were thrown out years ago, having lost all their elastic. I filched an old pair once owned by my teenage niece, Surfergirl, but not being a teenager or a surfer myself, I'd feel and look like a goose in them.
2. Various bits of me got sunburnt yesterday, taking the dogs for a walk at said beach. My neck is now bright red and burning. Oww.
3. It's hot and humid outside. It's also hot and humid inside, but at least it's shady.
4. My parents are at church and won't be back for hours, and I don't have a key to their house. If I leave and lock the door, I can't get back in.
5. I'm scared of Beach People. They're all so damn gorgeous.
6. I'm too lazy to think of other reasons.

Reasons For Going To The Beach

1. It's a beautiful place – a long stretch of clean sand, rocks, rockpools, a headland, trees and a hillside to hide the busy road and Legoland housing estate in the background. I'll show you some pics when I get back to my own computer.
2. Yesterday the water was warm as far as I went in (knee-high).
3. Yesterday the whole place was almost deserted. (Probable explanations: onshore breeze, choppy water, and bluebottles lying around at high tide mark. They float in the water and if you're unlucky enough to touch one, it really REALLY hurts. But they've probably gone by now.)
4. Exercise.
5. Possible fun.
6. It would be what a non-lazy interesting person would do, and I half-heartedly want to become a non-lazy interesting person.
7. I'm too lazy to think of other reasons.

Hmm. Well now. Just let me think about this.


More weekend pics at Flickr. And if posting photos here makes this page too slow to load, please say something. It's damn slow on my computer, but so is everything else too.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Australian Raven

This is one of the birds from yesterday, and I think it's a young Australian Raven (Corvus coronoides), but if you know it isn't, please say.

The eye which used to live in that eye socket was a brownish colour; according to the book I'm looking at, the eye of an adult bird would be white.

It felt a tiny bit rude taking photos of the dear departed, but on the other hand, the poor thing HAS departed (as far as I'm concerned), and it was interesting to get such a close-up view.

And by the way, yesterday I said the bird must have died recently because its body was limp, but it's still in the same condition today (its head lolling about quite freely). So much for that theory, then.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006


To put what follows into perspective: I've been mowing here for a few years now, and can remember finding a dead bird in the grass only once before.

But today I found three: a Tawny Frogmouth, a Galah, and an Australian Raven. The first two had been reduced to mostly feathers, bones and a mass of squirming/scurrying things feeding on their remains (in the space of a week, too, because they weren't there last time I mowed). But the last bird - the Raven - died today. Its body was still limp.

It's too weird. Finding three in one day, and of different types? At first I wondered whether they'd all been hit by cars, stumbling away to die, but as far as I could tell, they weren't injured. Maybe all the rain last week harmed them somehow? Do birds get pneumonia, say? Alternatively, maybe something poisoned them? But I think that's unlikely: they were all in different areas across about half a kilometre, and I'm guessing they wouldn't have been feeding on the same types of things anyway.

Again I say, it's too weird. Three in one day. Very strange.


Yesterday I drove out to Nimbin with my Evil Sister (let's call her Mavis). She needed something from the Rainbow Power Company, and as it turned out they couldn't really help, but let's not hold that against them for too long. They specialise in renewable energy systems, and run the business from a small country town, so bravo, really.

Nimbin has had its ups and downs over the years, and maybe I'm not the only one who heard its drug problems were getting out of hand. I don't know whether that was ever true. It seemed to be a widely held perception.

But, based entirely on a ten-minute wander up and down the street, maybe things are different now. The town was looking rather pleasant. The street was clean, the people seemed healthy, and I didn't trip and kill myself on a discarded syringe, not even once. The weather was as hot and steamy as a damn sauna of course, but I've got to whinge about something, don't I?

Monday, January 23, 2006

Race, The Power of an Illusion

An advert for Australian television viewers: tonight ABC TV screens Race, The Power of an Illusion and - based entirely on the blurb - it sounds interesting.
What if we suddenly discovered that our most basic assumption about race - for instance, that the world's people can be divided biologically along racial lines - was false? And if race is a biological "myth," where did the idea come from? How do our institutions give race social meaning and power by advantaging white people?
I remember a sociology lecturer once saying there was as much genetic variation within so-called "races" as there was between them, that it would be as valid to talk about the race of People With Red Hair as it would be to discuss any other race. Race is not genetic, in other words. We make it.

Big topic. Interesting implications. The potential for new knowledge to set the world awobble, etc. That's got to be good, yeah?


I was about to write a report, but found this instead, the PBS's "online companion" to the documentary.

Thursday, January 19, 2006


... proving I know not of what I speak, the rain hasn't gone, it's still here. We've had 78mm since I checked this morning, and the roof is leaking in places where it never leaked before. Maybe it's going to flood. Lucky I'm on a hill. Yee-har, et cetera.

Oxygen, nurse, quickly!

Right, then. It's the dawn of reality in the house of illusions. I've started looking at the basics of philosophy: what it's about, what I'll be expected to do. And as anticipated, the dense texts are going to be a problem. Look, for example, at this:

A human being is spirit. But what is spirit? Spirit is the self. But what is the self? The self is a relation that relates itself to itself or is the relation's relating itself to itself in the relation; the self is not the relation but is the relation's relating itself to itself. A human being is a synthesis of the infinite and the finite, of the temporal and the eternal, of freedom and necessity, in short, a synthesis. A synthesis is a relation between two. Considered in this way, a human being is still not a self.
Written (if you could call it that; was the man speaking or spitting??) by Søren Kierkegaard and quoted by the Sophia Project**. I keep looking at it and laughing, a reaction not too far from mild hysteria.




However! (slapping myself about the face and sitting up straight) It's time for action! From now on I have to read slowly. Very very slowly.





** A great introductory site provided by the Department of Philosophy, Molloy College, NY USA. The Reading a Philosophical Work section has some (presumably) great advice, such as:
5. Just Keep on Trucking
In the event that slowing yourself down and rereading a passage several times does not help you to make sense of a text, don't despair. After all, no one profits if you hurl your philosophy text against a wall, screaming obscenities about how stupid Kierkegaard is.
I need that on a poster.

The Sophia Project has some great resources and links. God bless the internet.


It rained overnight, and the rain gauge overflowed. There's a crack down the side at top left, so this is it being full (at 144mm):

Nice clean fence, yes.

Nearby districts recorded scores of 233mm and 223mm, so I'm guessing we were somewhere in the middle - let's say about 225mm (9 inches), which is rather a lot. It's still raining at the moment, or rain is falling from passing showers, but I think it's on the way out.

So. I've got a nice excuse for sitting here in front of the computer: can't mow, it's raining. And as it happens, I couldn't mow anyway because I butchered the mower the other day. Again. The poor thing must quake in fright every time I approach. This time I managed to get it tangled with a partly-submerged tree root, bending parts of the something-or-other out of shape, meaning that the deck (and the cutting blades) are suspended in a bit of a freefall. All staff (ie. both Dad and I) attempted repair with the time-honoured technique of bashing with a hammer, but to no avail. So the injured parts are today being repaired by people who actually know what they're doing.

And talking of which, here's a lesson for the young player: when photographing a rain gauge, don't line up the level of the water with the outline of the hills in the background, because that would be just stupid, wouldn't it?

Wednesday, January 18, 2006


Mark continues to produce some fine work over at The Adelaide 'Alleyways and Side Streets' Project:

Vicars Lane © The Adelaide 'Alleyways and Side Streets' Project

I like the site because of the gorgeous pics and don't actually care where they come from (sorry, Adelaide), but commenters can add their own experiences to the mix, to help create a document unique to time and place:

I encourage people to comment on these photos, especially anyone living in Adelaide who has thoughts or experiences regarding these places.
It's a great use of the internet and obviously a great use of the camera. Bravo.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Open Universities Australia

I haven't studied anything for years and this is feeling really exciting, so I'm going to make notes as I go along - for my own sake, as much as anything; making a travel diary, in effect.

I just registered online for the
Open Universities Australia unit (the philosophy one) and it was really easy! And quick! And I'm amazed! :) The only hiccup was near the start where one of the buttons ("Total") was mostly hidden under the edge of a frame or something, and then later I put gaps in the credit card number (don't do it) but apart from that, plain sailing!

And here's the interesting part: the Open Universities undergraduate units really DON'T require previous study, or any documentation, or anything other than your name, address and money. The enrolment form asks when you completed the final year of high school, and having left at the start of Year 12, never completing the HSC (I went to uni through a mature age entry scheme, God bless 'em), I was worried this might lead to a need for references, or evidence of previous study/experience, or... something. But no. Nothing at all! Anybody over the age of 11 is eligible, no previous study required.

And the cost: I paid upfront because I'm only doing one unit so far, and may as well tackle the bill now. But here's the great part: OUA students can apply for fee-help, and if eligible, can defer the cost of their studies until repayments are taken through the income tax system later, similar to HECS.

Amazed! It's marvellous. Public education, really truly ruly. I love it so far.


Copyright Tohby Riddle (scanned from the Sydney Morning Herald's weekend supplement, Good Weekend, 14 Jan 2006, p.7).

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Polishing my school shoes

Last year I decided to enrol in some distance ed subjects this year, and I've tentatively decided what they'll be. Here's a clue to the first (from The Simpsons**):
Scott [TV anchor]: And now over to Kent Brockman for some grim economic news.
Kent [reporter]: Scott, things aren't as happy as they used to be down here at the unemployment office. Joblessness is no longer just for philosophy majors. Useful people are starting to feel the pinch.
It's not something useful.

I saw this unit description and thought instantly, That's the one: Mind, Meaning and Metaphysics (Macquarie Uni through Open Universities Australia#):
This unit introduces the big philosophical questions about human nature, mind and body, and the meaning of life. The unit begins with the philosophers of Ancient Greece. It then turns to conceptions of the mind and of personal identity that first emerged at the dawn of the modern period but which are still very much with us. The third section of the unit provides an introduction to some key thinkers of the twentieth century, including Freud, Heidegger, Sartre, and de Beauvoir.
But I have qualms, and they're getting qualmish. The only philosophy I've ever read is general easy-reading stuff. Maybe (probably) I'm just being idealistic and overly optimistic. It's not going to be Dishy De Botton wandering around being consoling, is it? It'll be dense dark text so thick I'll swear I'm back in sociology again...

I hated social theory. I hated the jargon and the page-long sentences and the stupid wankerism prancing through every second journal article. (Or did I just not understand it?)

But I like ideas. I want my brain to get out of its slothfest. I want to learn how to think properly. I like the idea of sitting around a campfire and talking to that man in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. And reading the unit description felt thrilling. So. I'll do a bit more trudging through lists to convince myself there isn't something better available, but in the end I'll probably go with this.

And the second subject will be maths. No, really. Bridging Mathematics, through TAFE’s Open Training and Education Network:
The program aims to:
- review previously learnt maths
- build confidence
- be a stepping stone to further maths study such as HSC maths or a relevant TAFE program.
It's basic. Good.

I'm tired of being hopeless with numbers. Maths is the language of science and the universe and I don't want to keep missing out on the basics of The Big Stuff. Mind you, I'm probably being hopelessly idealistic about this choice too. The simplest calculations send my brain into meltdown. Maybe alarm bells should be ringing, but at the moment it just sounds like they're playing a happy tune.

Why am I telling you all this when I haven't even enrolled yet? Because it feels like I'm on the way now, and recording the details here helps to chock the wheels so I don't roll backwards again.

I'm using you, reader. Dreadful, isn't it?


**$pringfield (or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Legalized Gambling), written by Bill Oakley & Josh Weinstein.
#Link is to the Macquarie Uni page for their internal students; I can't get the OUA to link properly.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

I write like a man??

I think I've seen this before somewhere - The Gender Genie - but just stumbled across it again and tried it out. It's designed to predict the gender of a writer, based on a 500+ word sample of their text (eg. blog posts). And not just once, not just twice, not just three times... FOUR TIMES out of five it predicted I'm male. No, no, no (stuttering in indignation) I'm not!

What's going on? I tested the thing with some text from other people, and it got them right. It's just me! Why? Do my posts seem male to you? On second thoughts, better if you don't answer that, in case the answer is yes. And now you can't answer no either, because I'll think you're just being nice and suspect you mean the opposite... ;)

It's not like my results were even close, either: the last piece of text scored a big 2,836 male v. 1,813 female.

No offence to men, of course, but bloody hell.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Being a weirdo

You know what it's like when you find yourself really enjoying something you never imagined you'd like doing, and there's no explanation for it? That's what happened when I was doing that road survey when the car broke down. Maybe you thought I was joking about that, but no, I really was sitting beside the highway for hours and hours, counting vehicles as they drove past, and enjoying it. I've got no interest in cars or trucks or highways. Or counting. Or recording the counting. Or analysing the results. Or transport. Or anything else I can think of that might be related. But I had a great time. I don't even know how I came up with the idea in the first place. ("Hmm, why don't I count cars? Why, yes! That's a FINE idea!") It was all just too weird, so I'm inevitably led to conclude that yes, I Am A Weirdo. Hello :)

And now I've spent hours and HOURS trying to make a table to put the survey results in. Who knew it was so complicated to make a table, for heaven's sake? It's like building the wall of China or something. You need to write code for every single cell (unless there's some alternative method I don't know about yet). And because Blogger adds a space after the end of every line, you need to connect each piece of code into one unending line, which then becomes a big scary block of unreadable text.

I couldn't work out how to control the width of the columns (Blogger doesn't seem to recognise the table width tag, or the cellpadding/spacing ones either, unless I've just got that wrong too)(but I put them in anyway, in case)(and is it clear I don't know what I'm doing yet?). The thing is, it was fun. Not laugh-aloud fun, just quiet enjoyment. It was nice, and I like nice.

Anyway, here's the table, and no, I don't expect it will be of interest to anybody else, because it's not even of interest to me. That's the weirdest part. Highway use? Do I care?? NO!! But my weirdo self is proud of this table. It's a thing of beauty and a joy for whole minutes. And if your browser thinks otherwise, (a) I apologise, and (b) beg you to curse on my behalf.

I'm not glum any more, by the way. Weirdos have more fun :)

Road Use Survey

New England Highway, approx. 14km north of Guyra NSW, 02 January 2006


* Two northbound lanes/one southbound lane/three lanes in total.
#C Cars.
#4 Includes those big 4WD tank-like vehicles, utes and motorbikes.
#T Includes trucks, campervans, and all vehicles towing caravans or boats (those towing trailers are included in car or 4WD categories)
#1 A changeover in timekeepers, from M's watch to her mobile phone. There were discrepancies.
#2 Our handy mechanics (Dad and our uncle) arrived, so I took a break until it became obvious the thermostat was going to take a long time to remove (the bolts were stuck).
#3 Another break.

Sunday, January 08, 2006


Here's a startling revelation: the problem with holidays is, they end.


And the problem with going to a city for a holiday is coming home to the country to find THERE'S NOTHING HERE.




Bloody hell. It would've been better not to go at all.

And you've already detected this is nothing but a big whinge? Correct. You also think I'm being stupid? Also correct. In fact, you think I'm being nothing but a Stupid Big Whinger? Correct once again, damn it.

Now I'll just make a bit more of a song and a dance about how extremely GLUM I am, and then it'll probably be time for a nice cup of tea. And then I might even wander through the grass and trees. Again.

You really wanted to know this, didn't you?

Alectown to Zeerust...

... via Dubbo:

... Hannahs Bridge:

... Jerilderie:

... Melbourne:

... and Tocumwal:

I've finally got all the trip pics up at Flickr. It seemed to take me all day and half the night. Well, actually it DID take me all day and half the night. Am I the slowest person on earth? (Hint: Yes.) Harumph!


And then the Flickr links brought pictures that looked wriggly. Huh? What's going on? I've reposted with photos uploaded from my computer instead.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Home again, home again, jiggedy jig

So my sister and I went for a drive...

I can't show you the photos till I get back to my own computer, but the summary is that we visited all the towns on our list (yay!), drove through a heatwave (boo!), and had a few little adventures along the way (equal measures of yay! and boo!).

The big finale to the trip was blowing a head gasket. I don't know what the thing is or what it does, just that your car needs one. And probably somewhere around the time of the gasket's demise (before or after, I don't know), and somewhere in the region of Werris Creek NSW, and somewhere in the middle of the last day of 2005, the poor car's thermostat also consigned itself to car parts heaven. Steam started hissing from under the bonnet, the temperature gauge jumped up into the red, and suddenly we were off the road.

And that's when Good Samaritans started appearing. A couple nearing the end of their travelling days (or so they said) found us the number for NRMA (the NSW motoring organisation), though before we had a chance to ring (and be told they couldn't help because the car was registered interstate where membership of the equivalent organisation covers the person rather than the vehicle), another couple who were headed for a New Years Eve party stopped to help fill the radiator (clues: treat a hot radiator cap with great respect; run the engine while you're pouring the water in if the engine is already hot; and be aware that an open radiator can spew like a geyser without warning).

We rang our Dad and then he rang our uncle (a person pretty handy with cars), who advised us to drive without the radiator cap on until we'd made it safely to Tamworth. When the temperature gauge went back into the red we had to pull off the road to refill the radiator and this happened about every 5 or 10 kilometres. Finally, sweating (the car doesn't have air-conditioning and the temperatures were hitting the high 30s and low 40s Celcius), we limped into sunny Tamworth to find that every mechanic in the world had gone on holidays for three days, thanks to New Years Eve.

Okay then. Air-conditioned motel (oh the joy!), showers, dinner, watching a very crappy New Years Eve thing on television, and soon it was a new day and a new year.

A fellow customer in a servo carpark had told us the car's thermostat needed to be removed, which is exactly what our uncle had predicted, but there were no mechanics or handy people available to do this. We bought nine 5 litre plastic buckets, filled them with water from a tap beside the very scenic Tamworth cricket ground, and armed with the eight 1.5 litre drinking water bottles we'd previously stuffed in the car (already overloaded with my sister's stuff from moving house) we set off once again.

This time we made it to Guyra, which equates to moving at 20 km per hour. Yes.

Another motel, though sadly not air-conditioned. We did have a groovy meat pie dinner at Guyra Bowling Club though, where some youngsters were apparently celebrating the absence of serious bowlers by bowling across the green diagonally. Very cool :)

Overnight Dad and our uncle decided to drive up to rescue us, and thank God for them doing so, because next morning about 15km north of Guyra the car started billowing white smoke, and that was the end of that. We only just managed to get off the road, and then couldn't go any further. It took our guardian angels about four hours to reach us, and we used the waiting time productively: my sister sorted through her phone accounts, did a bit of work, and rounded out the hours with crosswords; I did a roads use survey, counting and recording numbers and types of vehicles going past, and I mean counted them for four hours, and loved it. I think I have mental problems.

Our uncle took one look at the engine and confirmed the diagnosis: the thermostat needed to be evicted. Thereafter followed a few hours of wrestling with the bolts, trying to get the damn thing out. He and Dad finally achieved this - much joy and relief - then reconnected something or other, filled the radiator, turned the car on, and... bad news. Water spurted from a gasket.

Dad then decided to try towing the car, and we did this successfully for a few kilometres before the chain (would you believe it) broke.

For our next trick, we went to the farmhouse adjacent to ask if we could leave the car there until it could be towed away. But we hadn't reckoned on the Good Samaritan factor: the lovely couple living there had gasket paper in their garage, which my uncle then used to fix the engine. Again.

So off we drove once more, over the hills and far away. And all was going well until we got to Glen Innes and suddenly the car was clattering again. We pulled into the main street and decided to first recover over lunch, before opening the car bonnet and drawing a small crowd of amateur mechanics who clucked over the engine and finally reached a consensus: the head gasket is dead.

The short end to the story is that the car is still in Glen Innes, waiting repair, and the final leg of our road trip was spent sitting on the floor behind the seats in Dad's two-seater ute, which was surprisingly comfortable except for some numb-bumness.

So! We made it home alive, thanks to the kindness of strangers and loved ones, and it's nice to know that's possible. And even the heatwave wasn't so bad - 42 degrees Celcius in dry heat? No problem. It was almost but not quite pleasant. (Until this I hadn't realised just what a HUGE difference humidity makes.) And now, if only the owner of the car will forgive us for killing his poor baby, all will be well.

Fingers crossed :)