Eric Lindsay's Blog July 2010

Thursday 1 July 2010

Corner Country Day 2 'Shear Outback' Hall of Fame -

This morning we depart Wagga Wagga and make our way along the Sturt Highway following the Murrumbidgee River to Hay, home to the Shearers Hall of Fame and the historic Murray Downs Woolshed. Here we learn about shearing history and look through the historic Woolshed. After some morning tea and some time to explore the museum we continue on to Balranald. We arrive in Mildura late in the afternoon and spend the night at the luxurious Quality Hotel Mildura Grand, Seventh Street, Mildura, phone 03 5023 0511.

Corner Country Day 2 'Shear Outback' Hall of Fame -

I must have slept a little between 4 a.m. and 6 a.m., after awakening at 1 a.m. I took the large bags out to the bus around 6:45 a.m. I am not sure how John manages the jigsaw trick of making everything actually fit into such a small space. We had a hot buffet breakfast at the Country Comfort motel at Wagga Wagga, where I restricting myself to small quantities of food. I expect to be overfed on any trip like this.

We stopped for morning tea at 10 a.m. We reached Hay before noon, and had a drive around the town. We seemed to cross the Murrumbidgee River a dozen times during the course of the trip.

A few kilometre outside Hay is the Shear Outback. We set up lunch in the parking lot, although many of us did a bit of a wander through the Shear Outback museum before eating. The highlight was Billy showing us how shearing was done. He had just started using hand shears, the old fashioned variety from before mechanical shears. Despite not having done this often, Billy made it look easy. He was using a sheep not grown for wool. Back a century or so ago, a typical sheep yielded maybe three pound if wool. A modern sheep stands twice as tall, and can produce up to nine kilogram of wool. You can not use the old techniques or even tools these days.

Back in the bus, Maxine put on an iPod rendering of part of the 1988 TV version of D'Arcy Niland's classic Australian story, The Shiralee, as a bit of background video. A lot of actors looking exceedingly young.

We stopped at Balranald for a rest. The tourist information place stayed open for us to visit, despite normally closing by three. They sure have a lot of frogs being depicted at Balranald.

We crossed the river into Victoria, as we were staying at the Grand Hotel in Mildura. We were given a grand suite, two rooms, and a bathroom with a large spa tub. We had been unable to get both air conditioners working correctly. Luckily Justin brought us a fan heater to solve the problem of the unhelpful air conditioner.

I had a pile of porterhouse steak for dinner, in the very nice Anna Room. The 28 of us pushed the capacity of the single table to its limits. We also had free wine vouchers, which we made use of in the bar prior to dinner. Alas, I was replete after, and did very few notes of the day.

Friday 2 July 2010

Corner Country Day 3 Mildura - Mungo - Menindee - Broken Hill

Today we explore Mungo National Park which was World Heritage Listed in 1981 in recognition of its rich Aboriginal heritage. Remains of the earliest humans to inhabit the Australian continent have been found in Mungo National Park and have recently been dated at more than 60,000 years old. Later today we visit Menindee, a town of 1,000 people on the banks of the Darling River and home to the 'Menindee Lakes'. The town has ties to several Australian Explorers, including Burke and Wills, Charles Sturt and Major Mitchell.

Later this afternoon we check-in to the Royal Exchange Hotel, 320 Argent Street, Broken Hill, phone 08 8087 2308, for our 2 night stay in Broken Hill. Dating back to 1889, the Royal Exchange is a charming boutique hotel which has been tastefully refurbished over the years.

Corner Country Day 3 Mildura - Broken Hill

It was raining in the morning at Mildura The weather radar was showing storms to the north. We were ignoring that, until I took our bags out to the bus a little before 7 a.m. And got sprinkled on. I did not like the drizzle that had started. After a fine buffet breakfast we all gathered in the lobby to check the news. Our driver John eventually reported that the road to Mungo and the national park was officially closed. The only way to Broken Hill was the boring Silver City Highway. So that is how we proceeded. John and Maxine organised a nice bunch of alternate events to fill the day, since we would arrive at Broken Hill very early.

Shortly before we reached Wentworth we found that there was an air conditioning water leak. Several folks got their bags in the overhead storage all soaked. Water was dripping on Sue from the air conditioning vent.

We stopped in Wentworth around 9 a.m. to view a status of Possum, David James Jones, who spent much of his life wandering the river, assisting animals in distress. John told us of his story, disenchanted by union control of of Broken Hill, and deciding to abandon society.

We stopped in Wentworth again to view the Murray and Darling River joining, where the two greatest rivers in Australia meet. As rivers go, it is not that impressive a junction, but that just shows how sparse the water flow is within Australia.

Next was a morning tea stop at Wentworth Jail. This was impressively massive stonework, although as jails go it was small. The were two cells for women. It appears the Salvation Army had scared the local god botherers, and the women band players tend to get seven day sentences for unauthorised music. The men tended to get 14 days. Mostly men were in jail for fighting in the pub.

We had morning tea beside the bus, as usual. There was a lot of bird life, including a few vivid green bird with red on the beak. We were driving away around 11 a.m. We also got to watch the second part of The Shiralee during the drive.

There were not many places on the road at which to stop. We pulled up at Coombah Roadhouse for lunch. John organised that we get use of their facilities. I could not resist the shop ice creams, and had one before lunch, and another after. However my lunch consist of a very small sandwich, about bite sized. Lack of food is not usually a problem in tours of country Australia, so I am trying not to overeat.

We arrived at Broken Hill (turn clocks back a half hour, as they are on South Australian time) around 2:30. We checked in to our rooms pretty quickly. Our room was warm, and had an enormous bed. It would have seemed a decent sized room had the bed not been so large. Bit of shuffling to find a place for the bags, but that was soon sorted.

Back at the bus at 3:15, as John or Maxine had organised a trip to Pro Hart's art gallery. That was a wonderful place, full of quirky paintings, and some other media. We also got to see a few of the neat Rolls Royce cars Pro Hart had collected. We are not art buyers. Jean was however taken by the various 1000 piece jigsaw puzzles available. She can get them via the internet. Maxine was shooing us out of the gallery at 4 p.m. which was a bit of a surprise, since dinner was not until after six.

However then John drove us to the Jack Absalom art gallery and opal collection. The Jack Absalom art gallery had a nice range of magnificent paintings of Australian scenery. I was most impressed by the views of country I had visited. Looking at the paintings up close revealed the colours were made of vast numbers of individual tones. Jack was at the gallery, and talked readily about his painting (since 1972), and his travels (the TV shows are available on DVD). He also talked about his life mining opals, in a hundred place around Australia. The opal collection is magnificent. I was very temped by the many prints of his paintings. But how would I get them home, and where would I put them?

We drove off at 6:15 p.m. for our three course dinner at the Legion club. A fine roasted vegetable cream soup. I had the battered fish, and avoided eating the batter. Dessert was chocolate cake and a small ice cream. Despite skipping much of the meal it was far too much for me. The serving staff said the chef used to work cooking for riggers on an oil platform, and did not know how to provide smaller quantities. It was very nice food. The four dollar wine seemed fine also.

We were at the end of one table, opposite Jill and Sue. They were excellent dining companions, and we had a fair overlap in travel experience and future plans. We did not get back from dinner until around nine.

Saturday 3 July 2010

Corner Country Day 4 Broken Hill Sightseeing

This morning we visit Silverton which has starred in many films, including Mad Max and Mission Impossible 2. We head back into town for lunch. We then visit the Broken Hill Geocentre which gives us an insight into Broken Hill's unique geology.

Late this afternoon we visit the Sculpture Symposium before dining in Broken Hill's premier restaurant, Broken Earth. The centre is located on the highest point of the Line of Lode remnant mullock dumps which transverse the City of Broken Hill.

Corner Country Day 4 Broken Hill Sightseeing

We have a glorious late day. No bags to pack early. Breakfast at eight, and a bus trip to Silverton at nine. I found the rather small servicing facilities at the very nice hotel a little frustrating, so I skipped breakfast (there is plenty of food at morning tea and lunch always). Instead I went to the newsagent across the road and bought the Weekend Australian newspaper.

Our morning trip at nine was a relatively short drive to Silverton, a former mining town, now tourist precinct. This had a variety of old stone buildings, including the former court house. There was a nice information centre next to the old court house. There were even some new homes being built. We exited the bus on the high ground overlooking Silverton. This had several art galleries, as well as a new house being built. The old church was also now a home, and looked like it was having some construction activity. The main street through Silverton had several tourist activity shops, and several interesting structures.

We made sure we visited the coin man. He takes Australian an old Australian penny, the large old copper style. Then he saws out the voids around the kangaroo, and other features on the coin, leaving the rim and the scenery. He told us he takes about three hours to hand saw each coin. He send them of to be gold plated, and sells them for $175. He seemed to think that a good deal for him. He also had some nice seven pence (a sixpence embedded in the centre of a penny) which he sold for five dollars. These he makes with a die press.

We had morning tea at Silverton. While waiting near the pub where parts of Mad Max were filmed, we noticed a wedding party, consisting mostly of 4WD drivers. There seemed a lot of them.

We drove on to Mundi Mundi lookout for some views of the surrounding countryside. Then it was back to Broken Hill, where we had our usual picnic lunch in a park opposite the tourist information centre. This park also had a mine pit head looking very obvious.

The next trip was to the Broken Hill Geocentre. This was a museum of mineralogy and display about mining in the area. They had a nice range of sample minerals. One active display I enjoyed was the rotating aerial view of Broken Hill, with the (mineral) named streets being shown in turn. That was pretty neat.

My experience with the free household washing machines back at the hotel was a bit frustrating. The washing machine I used was slow. So slow it made an English washing machine seem quick. I could not even start using the dryer until after five. At six, I grabbed everything from the dryer, and spread it out on the bed in case it was not completely dry.

Dinner was at the Broken Earth, which appears to be the premier restaurant in Broken Hill. Premier to me usually means fancy names I do not understand, for food I am not really partial to, at outrageous prices. However it is nice to see a classy restaurant from time to time. We had a deBortoli Pinot Noir. The prawn entree was just fine, although none of the entrees were what I would have otherwise picked. There was about twice the meat I could eat in my chicken unkiev (seemed to have fennel and tarragon, and was very tasty). Jean had the steak, which looked great, although far too large for me to consider. The creme boule was outright weird, and none of the desserts were much to my taste in any case. It took from 6:30 until around 9 to complete the meal, which is a bit too lengthy for me.

Sunday 4 July 2010

Corner Country Day 5 Broken Hill - Milparinka - Depot Glen - Tibooburra

This morning we head north along the Silver City Highway through the village of Packsaddle to Milparinka. The town's colonial buildings, including police barracks and cells have been lovingly restored as part of the Milparinka Heritage Precinct. They now provide an insight into life in Milparinka in its heyday during the gold rush of the late 1800's.

After lunch and a visit to some of the old buildings we head west to Depot Glen, named by Captain Charles Sturt on his 1845 expedition to find an inland sea. The stranded expedition team camped at this waterhole for months on end, waiting for the summer heat to abate.

This afternoon we continue on to the small outback village of Tibooburra. We overnight at the Family Hotel/Motel, Briscoe Street, Tibooburra, phone 08 8091 3314, which has a fantastic outback atmosphere.

Corner Country Day 5 Broken Hill - Milparinka - Depot Glen - Tibooburra

Leave Broken Hill around eight, after breakfast at our hotel. The breakfast commenced at seven sharp. We were mostly hovering like vultures somewhat earlier than that. Usual country breakfast, with bacon and eggs from the buffet. Before we left I managed to get a copy of the weekend Financial Review from the news agent across from the hotel.

Our first stop was Packsaddler roadhouse 200 km from Broken Hill, where we had morning tea.

Malparinka, a former gold rush town, was our lunch stop.

No Roads Go By Mrs Myrtle White is a book that John recommends.

Grave and Green Lake with actual water 100 km south of Tipooburra

Depot Glen 13 km from Tipooburra, where Sturt waiting by good water until the rains arrived.

We were staying at the motel across from the Tipooburra Family Hotel. Although pleasant in most respects, the mattresses had issues.

Walk through the town, taking photographs. There was a park with a longboat such as Stuart rolled across the continent. Had to replace my camera battery about then. Got as far as the fuel station where John and Maxine were shopping for supplies. There was a massive log of petrified wood in display, across from the screen of the former open air cinema. Beer o'clock at the hotel, followed by a roast lamb dinner at the hotel. That was very pleasant. Must have been, as I did not write these notes until several days later.

Monday 5 July 2010

Corner Country Day 6 Cameron Corner - Innamincka

We depart Tibooburra this morning to venture into the vast Sturt National Park. We make our way west through the park to a place called Cameron Corner, where QLD, NSW and SA all meet. The area of Cameron Corner was first surveyed by James Cameron from the NSW Lands Department in 1800. The area is also home to the longest fence in the world, The Dog Fence, stretching from the Great Australian Bight to Jimbour near Brisbane (5600km).

After enjoying some lunch at the Corner Store we continue heading west towards the Strzelecki Track and then onto the village of Innamincka, set on the banks of the Cooper Creek. We spend two nights at the Innamincka Hotel, Main Street, phone 08 8675 9901, in comfortable motel units.

Corner Country Day 6 Cameron Corner - Innamincka

The bus was late arriving from the overflow hotel with extra luggage loading, as there was not enough room for us all at the motel. Breakfast at Tipooburra Family Hotel, featuring mince on toast (shit on a shingle).

About 130 kilometres of dirt road to Camerons Corner before us. It was cold, with clouds shading us.

We stopped near the entry of the Stuart desert for a short break. During the entire drive the landscape was greener than I ever expect. There were flooded areas and lakes all over the place.

We had morning tea at Cameron's Corner, the place where NSW, South Australia and Queensland all meet. Naturally the sun came out when we entered Queensland. Lots of photographs taken. There is now a small store there at Cameron's Corner. We had saved our newspapers and a few books for this isolated outpost. John and Maxine had also brought tomatoes to the store. There was a great accumulation of 4WD vehicles, mostly belonging to the wedding party we had seen in Silverton and again in Tipooburra.

We stopped atop a sand dune along the way. The idea was to see birds, but what we mostly saw was a variety of dessert plants. Our bird watchers Sue and Jill did much better.

About an hour or more further up the dusty road, we stopped at the Strzlecki Creek for lunch. The water had obviously been way outside its banks recently, with flood debris all over the place. There was still a reasonable amount of water in the creek. We continued on towards Innamincka around two.

We stopped to view the Moomba gas field that Santos run, and take photos of the large site. Luckily Jean recalled that gas field mining sites often have a cellular phone connection. As the bus pulled away, we hauled out phones and iPad, and downloaded as much material as we could manage.

Another long dusty and bumpy road. While typing on the bus, the Undo Typing signal appeared repeatedly as the iPad decided it was being shaken as an undo signal. We made a brief stop at Geodynamics, 14 km from Innamincka, to confirm our tour tomorrow. 422 kilometres covered.

After unpacking the bags at the Innamincka Hotel, we walked to Innamincka Homestay bed and breakfast, to say hello to Geoff Matthews. He tells us he is looking to retire and sell off the place. We last saw it in 2001, and the improvements are incredible. Larger, the kitchen is very fancy. It has 40 solar cells in a large array, which is a great idea in an area that would otherwise need diesel for all power.

Dinner at the hotel was pretty fancy. It started with herb damper. I had barramundi, Jean had steak. I can't recall exactly what the fancy ice cream had in it.

After Jean went to bed, I watched a 99 cent rental movie from iTunes. The movie Below was a WW II submarine ghost story. Interesting approach to a story.

Tuesday 6 July 2010

Corner Country Day 7 Strzelecki Desert - Birdsville Track -

Innamincka is a small village with a population of no more than 50 people. The township once played a major role in early explorations of Australia's unknown interior. With its reliable water source, it made an ideal base camp or resting place for expeditions and cattle drives from the east and the south. Not far from Innamincka is a place called the "Dig Tree" where explorers Burke and Wills tragically perished after returning from their expedition to the Gulf of Carpentaria in 1861. Today the town services the ever busy tourist industry and local pastoralists.

We visit the Burke and Wills Dig Tree, and have morning tea there. In the afternoon we visit the AIM building. We also take a tour of Geodynamics, a geothermal power project.

Corner Country Day 7 Strzelecki Desert - Birdsville Track -

I finally got a good night of sleep, from around ten until five. We have a lazy day scheduled for our stay in Innamincka, starting with a buffet breakfast at eight. While I waited for Jean to arise, I watched the second half of the 99 cent rental movie Below.

At nine we headed out on the bus to the infamous Dig Tree. Burke and Wills missed their relief column, which had left only hours before. They had left supplies buried beside the Dig Tree. The expedition eventually perished, probably poisoned by some of the wild seeds they had seen the natives use. However they did not remove the poison by removing the husk the way the aborigines had done.

Once we hit Queensland, there was a fine bitumen road parallel to the old dirt track. Alas, for the first few kilometres, there was also a sign saying not to use it. Also alas, no sunbeam hit us when we passed through to Queensland. There were still the same stubborn steel grey and threatening overcast clouds.

At the Dig Tree we were greeted by the famous bush figure Bomber Johnson, who taught so many bush pilots to fly safely. He had some fascinating history to tell of the early days. He also had many historic photos and memorabilia. He has been working as ranger at the Dig Tree, employed by Santos owned Nappa Marrie station, which at 2800 square miles is one of the smaller stations. Another country figure who just can not manage to retire.

The Burke and Wills bridge was washed out last flood season. Well, the bridge survived just fine, but the approaches were washed away by the floods. We stopped to photograph the damage and Coopers Creek. Even at mid morning the weather remained cold, with high steel grey clouds.

We were a little late returning to the Innamincka sandwich lunch, which was plentiful. Jean and I bravely avoided eating a chocolate muffin.

Our afternoon trip was to the Geodynamics experimental one megawatt power plant. They were basically in maintenance mode, with a staff of three or four. They had two drill holes, over four kilometres down, one for injection, one for steam. Pressures of 10,000 psi. The site had been selected based on readings from sensors in other deep wells nearby that Santos had used. They use a closed loop system, with a heat exchanger to the turbine. They do their own reverse osmosis water filtering for the heat exchanger and turbine loop (you could see the compact reverse osmosis plant tucked away in a corner). The deep well brine is full of impurities, so that can not be allowed to contact the turbine.

Geodynamics encountered (I think) hydrogen sulphide, and hydrogen embrittlement of the casing, causing a failure in April 2009 of the Habanero 3 well. They had to change metals. They also ran through a gas pocket (and have to pay Santos for gas they flare). What I find myself wondering is how many suitable drill rigs are available, if the proof of concept drill holes all work. Their new drill Rig 200 is not scheduled to arrive until October 2010. The experimental plant was planed to operate in 2009, but is now scheduled for 2012.

The next target is a 25 MW plant, to power Innamincka. I gather this involves two injection wells, and three to gather steam. I thought the original plan was nine holes. However although you can drill maybe 30 metres a day through the insulating sedimentary rocks, the hot granite slows this to three metres a day. I need to check up more about Geodynamics. When I did check, I found their managing director of three years resigned three days later. Their chairman will be retiring at the next AGM at the end of 2010.

We visited the Coopers Creek crossing, and took photos of the weir. Amazing to think the water was four metres over the crossing last time the Outback Spirit bus was her. Plus the peak flood was 11.1 metres.

I wandered up to Innamincka Homestay with John and Maxine at 4:30 when they moved there. I was there for more photos, since our previous ones dated back to 2001. This is especially the case now Geoff is interested in selling the place, and retiring. Geoff had some amazing aerial and ground photos of the floods earlier in the year. A lot of the photos were floods caused by local rain, not floodwaters from Queensland.

Bar seemed a good idea when I returned, chilled from the walk in the cold wind.

Dinner at the Innamincka Hotel. I skipped the entree, and figured lamb cutlet would be fine for a main course. Some of the lamb was a bit raw, and I could not believe how fatty the lambs are this season. Jean had the kangaroo, which was as usual lean. Pavlova of course for dessert, but it lacked fruit salad. I think Wednesday is the fresh food resupply day. It is the day the mail gets sent out.

Our driver John reports we can get up late. The track to our next destination, Birdsville, is cut by unseasonable light rain. After a long phone session, he reported to the hangers on at the dining room that the 740 km Boulia to Alice Springs track is also cut off by rain. At the moment our only way out is to take the Strzlecki track south, down to Maree, and then the Stuart Highway to Alice Springs. However will there be any accommodation on the way?

Wednesday 7 July 2010

Corner Country Day 8 Innamincka - Birdsville

We head north up the Birdsville Track, through Arrabury and then Cordillo Downs, home to Australia's largest shearing shed, arriving at the Birdsville Hotel, 1 Adelaide Street, 07 4656 3244, late this afternoon. Enjoy modern, quality accommodation at the pub along with friendly outback hospitality. Except that the track is cut by water!

Corner Country Day 8 Innamincka - Leigh Creek

We were up at 6:30 after a restless night. Alas, the hotel were not expecting to provide a 7:30 breakfast, so a bunch of us hung around pressing our noses to the door. Breakfast actually started around eight, as usual at the Innamincka Hotel.

We were away somewhat after nine, with John receiving late phone calls about potential flights for some members of the tour. As anticipated, we were driving down the Strzlecki Track as far as Leigh Creek, where we now had accommodation at the Leigh Creek Tavern.

Our first stop was the Moomba gas fields. This was a new stop for John. For the first time he had been asked for a phone stop. The Moomba field has a Telstra 3G phone connection. We had our morning tea there also.

Lunch was at the Strzlecki Creek crossing, where blue skies made the area pleasant looking. We sure seemed to have a lot of 4WD vehicles around us.

I can not get over just how green the desert is at the moment. There are lakes everywhere, many from overflow of Coopers Creek. We even spotted fat cattle in the Strzlecki desert. I have never seen that before. Arid area cattle are typically lean, and often gaunt.

We stopped around 3:30 for afternoon tea at a dip in the road marking Koortanyanina Creek. Even that had water in part of the creek bed.

We reached Lyndhurst around 5:40, and pulled into the Leigh Creek Tavern just before our scheduled 6:30 dinner. Despite the short notice (that morning) they offered a printed menu, had the eighteen rooms we needed, and put on a roast beef or chicken schnitzel, and a very nice double chocolate pudding or a limited quantity of apple crumble and ice cream.

We were collapsed in bed not long after nine (well, ten in my case).

Thursday 8 July 2010

Corner Country Day 9 Simpson Desert & Big Red - Birdsville

Birdsville is a township of approximately 100 people and was originally named Diamantina Crossing in 1881 after the Diamantina River, which runs to the east of the town. The town however was renamed Birdsville in 1885 by the owner of Pandie Pandie Station who was amazed by the diversity of birdlife which inhabited the area. The town hosts a famous outback horse race on the first weekend of September which boosts the town's population from 100 to 7,000! Except we never reached Birdsville!

Corner Country Day 9 Leigh Creek to Coober Pedy

We need to make a very early start today, so breakfast is set for 6:30 a.m. We will load the bags after breakfast, as it will still be dark when we eat. The minus temperatures and frost are also a consideration.

We need to be on our way by 7:30 a.m. Seven of our fellow tourists need to be in Marree just after nine, to take a scenic flight over the rapidly filling Lake Ayre. Jean and I had dropped our plans to fly. Another person volunteered not to fly. That left about ten people competing for seven places. We will collect them at William Creek. For tonight, we have accommodation at Coober Pedy, at the Caves House Underground hotel.

As it turned out, the flights are all off. The only time to get ten seats on flights was at one o'clock, well after we needed to be past William Creek.

We departed Leigh Creek at 7:25 a.m. and headed north to Lyndhurst on time. We passed the Talc Alf sign, and John talked a little about this strange character, who Maxine had mentioned on the previous day. We had met the Talc Alf on one of our own trips long ago. John also talked about the Goyder line.

When we reached Lyndhurst, we found an indicator that the road to Marree was closed. Luckily further enquiry revealed the sign had been set wrong, and was being corrected even as we encountered it. We passed the ruins of the ghost town of Farina around eight.

Marree was the next town we stopped at. This town of a hundred people was once a thriving rail head. Now it has rusting remnants of the old Ghan rail engines. The Great Northern hotel has greatly expanded, with dongas all over, as more drivers pass through.

We made a stop at ten to photograph the strange sculptures along the road at one property along the Odnadatta Track.

Lake Ayre South had a viewing spot, so we stopped at eleven for photographs of the great salt lake, which is as much as twelve metres below sea level. There are no toilet facilities along most of the road.

Coward Springs shortly after for a rest break, where the owners were off leading a camel safari. They have rustic long drop toilets, which were in good repair nine years ago, and seem even better now.

William Creek was our lunch spot, a little after one. We were struggling to keep up our schedule by then. I love the various bits of rockets in the park museum they have opposite the William Creek Hotel.

After lunch, we left William Creek at two for the 160 kilometre drive to Coober Pedy. The road goes through relatively bare desert with little life.

We were a little later than four getting to Coober Pedy but not by much. Luckily there is a Telstra 3G connection here, so we could call ahead. Did a quick comfort stop, and then took a local guide on board the bus for a town tour.

The town tour was interesting to have items named and shown. I took a bunch of photos in haste, though the bus windows, so I have no idea if they will come out. The only stop was at the first church in Coober Pedy, which had some fine stained glass windows and was a mostly underground building, like much of the town. We also learnt that the sites for underground homes in the town were now exhausted. Only existing sites are now available.

Next we had a conducted tour of the museum. This included a demonstration of cutting and polishing opal. The highlight was the tour of the old mine that the museum occupies, whistle our guide explained how everything was done. The hand dug portions are much more cramped than the modern machine dug portions. The tour ended, as such tours must, in an opal shop at the museum.

We had surface rooms at the modern Desert Cave Hotel at Coober Pedy, across the car park from the main building. They were large and perfectly comfortable, but not as interesting as the underground rooms. This means we have a lot of stairs to climb to get to their fancy restaurant at the top of the hill. Wine was not cheap there, at ten dollars a glass. They put on a fine buffet dinner for us, preceded by a prawn entree, and followed by a chocolate and cream dessert. Despite not having done the driving, we were tired, and soon retired.

Friday 9 July 2010

Corner Country Day 10 Bedourie - Boulia

This morning we bid farewell to Birdsville and continue our travels north through Queensland's Channel Country to the small township of Bedourie. Bedourie is the main administrative centre for the Diamantina Shire, the second largest shire in Queensland after the Cooktown Shire. After some lunch we continue on to Boulia, known as the capital of the Channel Country. Except no-one was getting to Boulia, after the rain.

Corner Country Day 10 Coober Pedy to Alice Springs

Accommodation, or lack of it, is our problem. The only town with sufficient hotel space is Alice Springs, so we are heading there today, a day early. This is close to a 700 kilometre drive, so we want to be on the road by eight. We have a breakfast arranged at seven at the Crystal Cave, which luckily is at the same surface level as our room. I took the bags out to the Outback Spririt bus a few minutes before we headed to breakfast.

We were headed off at eight, on the long drive. We passed the usual gleaming rocks of the outback glimmer fields. To the sunward side of the bus, the rocks appear dark. On the other side, they appear the usual red of the outback. Our driver John and tour guide Maxine played an hilarious speech that Len Beadle had given about building so many of the outback roads when he was setting up access for the British atomic bomb tests at Emu and Marilinga. Later they were to play the first chapter of one of his books.

By 9:30 a.m. we had passed by Cadney Roadhouse. Our first break was at the greatly enlarged Marla Roadhouse junction with the Lassiter Highway. Inadequate toilets for the now thriving store. I saw a Golden North triple chocolate ice cream, chocolate ice cream, chocolate sauce, and a choc coating. This is a brand I have never seen previously. Alas, the queue was moving so slow I could not buy one.

We stopped a few tens of kilometres up the road at Iwantja Junction, which leads to a indigenous community. Gwenddl's daughter was working there, so she took the Nganampa ambulance and met us at the road junction for a brief and unexpected reunion.

The long absent clouds were back at midday. Not unexpected as Alice Springs had a forecast of rain for the next several days. We had lunch at the border, which now has some very impressive signage, and a heap of parking spaces. Maxine and John had organised pre-made sandwiches, so this was a quicker lunch than is often the case. We passed Kulgera police station and hamlet, where we had originally planned lunch, around two.

Passed the Fink River at 3:30 p.m. A short while later we pulled into Stuart Wells for a rest break. Jim has a wonderful roadhouse there, with some popular accommodation. A heap of us had ice creams this time. Jim very kindly had Dinky, the singing dingo, play the piano for us. He put on a splendid and spirited performance. Call of the Wild, I think.

We reached Alice Springs around 5:15, earlier than I expected. We stay at the very comfortable Chifley Alice Springs Resort. I was even able to get our laundry done before heading for our seven o'clock dinner at the Barra on Todd restaurant at the Chifley Alice Springs resort. Anne did not manage to get to dinner until well after the rest of our group, and alas seemed very much out of sorts.

Saturday 10 July 2010

Corner Country Day 11 Boulia - Northern Territory Border - Alice Springs

We depart Boulia this morning to make our way west towards the Northern Territory Border. We stop for morning tea at the Tobermorey Store before continuing along the Plenty Highway through Harts Range and Gemtree to arrive into Alice Springs late this afternoon. We spend the next two nights at the 4.5 star Chifley Alice Springs Resort, 34 Stott Terrace, Alice Springs, phone 08 8951 4545. Except none of that happened.

Corner Country Day 11 Alice Springs and Gorge Tours

After breakfast we boarded the bus for an 8:30 departure. We were a little late leaving, but had a relatively easy day of sites close to Alice Springs, covering less than 300 kilometres during the day. We also found our travel companion Anne had needed to go to hospital.

The first stop was the Reverend John Flynn memorial and gravesite near Alice Springs. The original rock marker (from the Devil's Marbles) has been replaced with a local stone, and the original returned, after consultation with indigenous people. The Royal Flying Doctor Service made a tremendous difference to life in rural Australia, and Flynn was the person who came up with the remote medical service idea and made it work.

It was overcast during the entire day, with fitful sunshine breaking through the threatening cloud only a few times. Photography was not easy, and several sites simply could not be seen through the clouds. We also found water crossing the road at creek areas several times during the drive. Luckily this trip was picked to be in bitumen all weather roads (as long as the creeks did not rise too much).

Simpsons Gap chasm walk from the extensive car park was very short, less than 15 minutes return. We managed that around 9:30. Many of these chasms are very narrow indeed, and this is one of the most narrow.

Standley Chasm walk. We had morning tea at this private site. The walk takes you along a creek bed with a lot of rough stones. It is hard on shoes and on ankles. The signs are a little misleading, as you would need to be moving pretty fast to do the walk in the suggested time. I kept complaining the car park was now a lot further away than it used to be. I reached the chasm fairly early, and thus was probably first to return. Luckily there seemed to be a biscuit still available from morning tea.

Standley Chasm was named for Ida Standley, a school teacher who taught not only the white children she was employed to instruct, but in her own time, also taught indigenous children. Back then, education for Aborigines was not considered essential.

Rain and water in creeks as we drove further away from Alice Springs. We splashed through several in the bus as we drove the additional hundred kilometres out of town, still keeping to the good bitumen road. It look us until about one o'clock to reach Ormiston Gorge, where we had lunch.

I like the Ormiston Gorge waterhole, as it is a very easy short walk along a well made concrete path. Alas, with water in the river very high, there was no chance to scramble along the creek bed into the gorge itself, like I did on a previous visit. I soon returned to the bus for lunch in one of the extensive shelter sheds than now grace this site.

I followed lunch by walking to the Ormiston Gorge lookout, despite the top of the gorge walls being shrouded in low cloud. This lookout gives a wonderful view of the canyon, and the walls. It also lets you look down at the path to the waterhole. The lookout track involves a pretty fair number of steps, which I will doubtless regret tomorrow. It is worth it for the views, and the photographic opportunities even without full sunlight.

We left for nearby Glen Helen Gorge sometime after two. This is also a tourist resort area, on a former station. The property looks a little run down from the outside, but is magnificently situated in the shadow of the gorge walls. I have stayed there in the past, and would return any time. They have a few wonderful paintings of the area on the walls of the dining room. It always seemed a very friendly place.

Most of us walked to the nearby gorge, over the rounded pebbles of the creek bed path. On the trees around the creek bed you could see debris showing just how high the water can sometimes rise. Droughts and flooding rains indeed, and our trip was certainly divert by the rains.

We left around three, and were back at the Chifley Alice Springs resort before five. At the dinner this evening, there was a little presentation to John and Maxine, as an expression of thanks to them for their fine service during this Outback Spirit trip.

Sunday 11 July 2010

Corner Country Day 12 Alice Springs

Today we take a leisurely tour around Alice Springs which includes a visit to the Alice Springs Desert Park, The Old Telegraph Station and the Royal Flying Doctor Base Museum. This afternoon can be spent at your leisure. Tonight we celebrate our trip through central Australia and enjoy our final dinner together.

Corner Country Day 12 Alice Springs

I am up at five. I can hear the rain pelting down on the roof of the hotel, despite being on the ground floor. It was still raining at 6:30 when Jean arose. I have a bad feeling about activities today.

We went to breakfast a little after seven, and are due to depart on the bus a little after eight. Our destination is the Desert Park, on Larapinta Drive, not far outside Alice Springs. Jean sensibly declined to go out in the rain.

The weather was fairly miserable. A desert park is ill suited to tourists walking through the rain. The dense packed sand and gravel retains puddles of water, and there is little shelter from the showers. Even the brush shelters do not actually stop rain to any extent. In short, it is a far better fine weather experience, and fine weather is what you mostly experience in such arid regions.

The Nature House provided a shortened but informative show on birds if prey. I thought the cluster of prairie pigeons wandering around the ground were involuntary food. The staff member said they would likely be, if they had certain falcons on hand. The prairie pigeons look remarkably like a crested or topnotch pigeon. They keep low on the ground all the time, and can walk at a remarkable pace. They can fly, but mostly do not. They also do not really use trees as roosts or protection (not many trees in a desert anyhow).

Next was a brown falcon, which demonstrated swooping on objects (well, food) on the ground, and grabbing it with it's talons It carried the snack to a branch to eat it, or ate it in the ground.

The black kite (which is not actually black) was the star performer. It catches food in the air with its talons, and eats it while flying. I am not sure any other bird manages this talon to beak transfer in flight. It is an opportunistic robber of other birds in flight. It also made several attempts to grab contents from the food pouch the trainer wore.

I should mention that during the entire performance, a tawny frogmouth sheltered in the fork of the brush shelter, less than a metre from the audience. I suspect many people did not see it until the staff pointed it out. It is not unusual for these birds to be so close at this type of bird show.

We left on the bus just before midday for the Royal Flying Doctor base. The auxiliary provided a very nice lunch, including home baked cakes. These volunteers throughout Australia attempt to raise a million dollars a year. The Alice Springs folks apparently raised around $29,000. I had seen the museum and done the tour on previous visits, so I walked back to the Chifley Alice Springs Resort, to have a lazy afternoon. By then my umbrella was wrecked. It had worked fine previously, when I never used it.

We had our last dinner together as a group this evening. Some had already left to make better connecting return flights to their homes. Anne returned from hospital to rejoin the group, and looked much better. Her husband had flown in to assist her in returning home, so it was great to see she was being looked after.

Monday 12 July 2010

Corner Country Alice Springs - Last Day

This morning we all enjoy breakfast together before being transferred to the airport.

We needed to take QF797 from Alice Springs to Melbourne from 11:50 a.m. to 2:55 p.m. We made the mistake of making our own way to the airport via the airport shuttle. This shuttle was slow, uncomfortable, and cost money. The airport shuttle stopped at the casino for an interminable time while someone attempting boarding tried to pay a bill. Next time we are with Outback Spirit, we will accept their kind offer of transport to the airport. Despite leaving the hotel 35 minutes after us, their bus reached the airport first. Having to fly to Melbourne to get to Townsville is a pain in the arse. The Qantas seats were also a pain in the arse. Especially when booking through Qantas does not mean your luggage gets transferred to their JetStar subsidiary in Melbourne.

We had a booking on JQ918 Melbourne to Townsville from 5:15 PM to 8:10 PM on an Airbus A320. But first we had to collect our luggage from baggage collection (it was just about last off), and take it to the JetStar counter, past the Qantas counter. Not impressed by this system at all. Not that we were short of time. We finally got back to Townsville around nine. Which is about when I went out to collect mail, since we actually have a working postal delivery here.

Tuesday 13 July 2010


Unpacking, starting one load of laundry under a threatening sky. This is the dry season up north. I am not sure why clouds fail to understand this. Shopping at Coles at Willows, in which Jean got a trolley full of fruit and vegetables. She is very much the person who gets sensible food. We had nothing much for breakfast in the place. I think I headed off to McDonalds, that being the only place open and willing to provide a newspaper while I ate. Back early, still working on catching up with email and so on. Put the laundry under shelter due to the threat of rain.

iPad Apps Deleted

Deleting Apple applications on your iPad and iPhone can be a pain. If you do not delete them on all devices (iPad, iPhone, computer), they are apt to return.

I deleted Egyptian Mythology Lite, from Brighthouse Labs. This bunch seem to data mine sources to make the equivalent of quick and dirty ebooks books. They must have thousands of them in the Apple store. Personally I think most of these book applications should be dumped. I think most Brighthouse apps should be dumped.

DC Comics and Marvel Comics are both custom labelled versions of an existing comics viewer. As comics viewers go, they seem fine. However they are just a way to let you buy easily from an overpriced comics publisher. Then your comics are locked to that application. Wait until DRM free versions arrive.

Same comments essentially apply to a wide variety of magazines. The same problem with most magazine applications, despite many of them having full contents. Locked content, inconsistent navigation, overpriced relative to subscription, poor handling of type sizes. Try the web site via RSS feeds, and buy the paper version if an issue looks interesting. The Monthly. APC Magazine (not that you can view video on an iPad, as long as web sites persist in using proprietary Flash crap). Time Magazine. NPR (USA content only really).

Sydney Traffic Camera works fine, but I do not live in Sydney. Also, Quota can pick up cameras, as well as doing its primary job of checking download limits. I also deleted AIM instant messaging, as I did not know anyone who used it.

Epicurious is a very nice looking recipe application, in which all measurements are in Imperial. I can not believe it. Only three countries in the world do not have metric measurements as standard, and this application seems totally unaware of the metric system. Utterly useless, as you would need to convert all their quantities when shopping and measuring.

Wednesday 14 July 2010


Jean took her car in for a service, scheduled for 8:30 a.m. She managed to get a lift back home, arriving only a little after nine. That was pretty good! Meanwhile, I hung out the laundry, and started a second load. With a sunny blue sky today, I did not intend to waste drying time. On Tuesday threatened rain meant we had to bring the load of laundry into the porch. In the background, my computer was downloading as many videos as I could manage. We have one day left on our monthly download allocation, and may as well use up as much as we can manage.

Microsoft Collapse?

Microsoft is a giant corporation, with wonderful cash flows, and a 14 P/E ratio. However Microsoft is vulnerable. It has two cash cows. Microsoft Windows operating system, and Microsoft Office business suite. Web and internet applications do not need Windows. They need internet access (a communications company and an ISP get the money). Perhaps customers need a free web browser, such as Apple Safari, Google Chrome, Microsoft Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, or Opera. Meanwhile, Google are also giving away their Android operating system for smart phones and PDAs. You can also get the Linux operating system (the basis for Android) for free. While Microsoft has essentially the entire personal computer market, the phone market is now five billion units. And, Microsoft are somewhat in denial, at the moment. Plus, there is competition from Apple, limited for now, but still there.

Meanwhile, Google (who make all their money from advertising) have a free web based Google Apps office suite, which is inferior to Office. So does Microsoft, but you do not make money on free!

Against this, cloud computing is imperfectly available, and at best unreliable. I do not run business or office applications, but I still can not rely on internet availability. The question is when that will change?

HTML5 and CSS3 tricks

There are some nice HTML5 demonstrations available. These typically work best in WebKit based web browsers such as Google's Chrome, and Apple Safari, but also typically work in Firefox (especially version 4) and Opera 10.6. Internet Explorer 9, still in pre-release, is also often able to use them.

Google gives instructions on using HTML5 and more examples in HTML5Rocks. For example, Modernizr provides a Javascript library that helps older browsers render modern HTML and CSS better. Check to see which web browsers are HTML5 and CSS3 ready.

Thursday 15 July 2010


We wanted to go to the Domain shopping complex area, to get wet weather jackets for our trip. Neither of us have much that is waterproof. We had finally recalled that a Kathmandu outdoors and travel shop was in the Domain area these days. Luckily it turned out they had just started a major sale. Mindful of the Gore-Tex jackets some of our companions had been wearing on the Outback Spirit tour, we looked at some of these expensive items. Jean soon found a nice looking Gore-Tex jacket. I bought a medium Beaufort Mens Jacket. Jean found a quick dry shirt, and ordered some extras. I found a bunch of pack sacks to help keep luggage organised (I was getting tired of ziplock plastic bags splitting). Since they were dramatically reduced, I bought a bunch of them.

We also checked Anaconda outdoors, and Spotlight, since we were in the area, but did not have much luck in either.

iPhone 4 Bars

I make one point about bars on a phone (any phone). Bars are just about meaningless. You have no idea what signal level each bar means, except in the most vague terms. They will differ between phones, so everyone will compress the scale to make their phone look better. Even when you are about to lose the signal. Having the actual signal strength in dB would be meaningful. You also do not know how fast they respond. They may be set to update in a fraction of a second, or show a signal strength integrated over many seconds.

Having anything surround a phone, whether a concrete building, or part of your body, will attenuate the signal. This particularly applies to sacks of salty water, like a human body. So wrapping your hands around the antenna area (usually the bottom of the phone) will make the signal drop a certain amount. In the USA, FCC requirements for Specific Absorption Rate, or SAR, make it likely the antenna will be at the bottom of every phone.

If you want a long range phone, get one that has a decent half wave antenna protruding at the top. It is not real likely you will burn out your brain. Telstra usually indicate how well they expect each phone to perform in country areas.

Having a reasonably tuned external antenna made of metal, as Apple have done with the iPhone 4, will improve performance somewhat in most cases. Since the iPhone 3 was never an exceptional long distance phone, this is worthwhile. Except for one thing. Being real close to an antenna (even if it is insulated) can detune the antenna. So then it performs worse. The amount of bridging will tend to be affected by your skin characteristics, and climate conditions, and how thin the insulation is (you are forming a capacitor). Plus if the signal is not weak, it may not matter at all in terms of reception.

I found some nice blog posts by antenna specialist Spencer Webb explaining all this. experimental tests of iPhone 4 death grip and hold the iPhone 4 like this. FCC rules and antennas.

What is the solution, when wearing your phone on your body will also affect the iPhone? Clip the phone to a bag or purse, and use a earphone. It will work fine.

Friday 16 July 2010

To Airlie Beach

I was awake before five, so I had a hasty shower, and set off in Jean's Subaru a little after five. About half an hour late I thought to switch on the car radio and listen to the ABC news radio. I was passing through Ayr an hour after leaving. At sunrise I was at the Inkerman pub and general store, getting a chocolate milk as a substitute for breakfast. The toilet block outside Bowen was closed for cleaning. Grump.

Finally pulled into the Centro Shopping Centre at Cannonvale a little after eight. After the chocolate milk, one of my first stops had to be the toilet there. BigW budget videos had a bunch of DVDs. I found an original Howard Hanks black and white version of The Thing, based on John W Campbell's Who Goes There. Another science fiction item was the relatively recent District 9. I also bought the twelve episode Watchmen comic on DVD, mostly out of curiosity. Having visited Jack Absalom' art gallery in Broken Hill recently, and met the man himself, I got a $4 version of his old DVD In the Steps of Charles Sturt. We had visited the site of Sturt's Depot Camp recently. I suspect I need to seek others of the Absalom DVD series.

The Dollars and Sense store did not seem to have the clips to hold coat hangers that we have been after for ages. I did however get a cheap battery operated standing reading lamp, and a clip board I had needed. I found a cheap pack of alkaline AA batteries at Harvey Norman. I also saw and talked to the Harvey Norman employee who had so often sold us computer gear. He had been off sick for some time, but was at least partly on the mend now, which was good to hear.

Steve at Leading Edge Music had a chat with me. It seems the old Australian movie Jedda is not available through the regular distributors. I saw that in a newsagent in Katherine. On the other hand, Steve had the revised and remastered Star Trek original series with the new special effects. The price is outrageous, but at least that formerly USA only version is available. I will have to think about that one.

VideoEzy had some former rental DVDs, so I got the disaster movie 2012, and another science fiction movie called Moon.

I did some food shopping in Woolworths, and then drove home. Luckily there was space in our usual spot in our regular parking lot under the shelter shed/


There was a note under the door from Whitsunday Terraces reception, signed by resort managers Tim and Wendy. They complain about the volume of packages and general mail being received, and not collected. I suspect this has increased now there is no Airlie Beach post office. Reception would not accept packages larger than an A4 envelope. Not sure how they intend to stop delivery drivers from being lazy. We always use the correct address, and some delivery drivers always ignore it. Residents have to register with reception (we were trying to reach Birdsville at the time this notice came out, but neighbour Michael kindly put our names down). Mail will only be held one week before being returned to sender. No wonder Jim sent me email asking which concentration camp the managers previously ran. Not that either of us encourage mail sent here, since the post office will not deliver.

The Boathouse apartments at Port of Airlie are still being constructed, something about which I had once had doubts. There were a whole heap of cars parked down there, so construction must have gone back to being full on. Either there is more parking planned, or they are making more shopping space. A lot more earth has been spread over the former muddy areas. I am beginning to hope that landscaping may commence this year. There is a barge with a pile driving crane, and some new pilings have been driven in the soft mud of the marina. Michael said he had not heard pile driving, but he also said he was away in Brisbane for the past few weeks.

Down the twelve flights of stairs at the Whitsunday Terraces to the main street of Airlie Beach. I was able to collect my prescription tablets from the chemist. It is too early to get a haircut, and next time I am home will be too late. Got some bubbles and white wine in case I had party visitors on Saturday. The number of closed shops has increased. The newsagent site is now empty, with all the fittings removed. Hogs Breath, with new owners, have their bar right near the front of the entry now. Only saw one customer there however. Several other shops nearby remain empty. Internet cafe numbers seem to be on the increase again, for the benefit of backpackers. Not a sign of upmarket visitors, to my mind.

During the afternoon I caught up with some cleaning at the Whitsunday Terraces, and read the remains of the March Analog. I also watched Howard Hanks black and white version of The Thing, based on John W Campbell's classic SF short story Who Goes There. As usual I kept getting distracted by the view.

There was little on TV during the evening. TV stations are becoming increasingly irrelevant. Michael pointed out that his TV was receiving digital channels. I thought the resort transmission system could only handle old analogue TV, so I have been picking that up via a VCR tuner and DVD combination (I do not own a TV). Instead of TV, I watched the DVD of the disaster movie 2012. Nice special effects, but not all that sensible as far as I could tell.

I packed up the old ADSL modem router, since we no longer have landline phones connected. I do need to tell people to use my mobile phone number. I was able to connect to the Internet just fine via my Telstra 3G connected Apple iPad, and via my iPhone.

Saturday 17 July 2010


With no news agent or Post Office in Airlie Beach these days, I drove to the Whitsunday Shopping Centre around 7:40 a.m. It seems the news agent there opens at the traditional early hour, and I was able to get the weekend newspapers I so enjoy. I did a bit of an inspection of the shopping centre. An astonishing number of shopfronts in Airlie Beach are empty, just as had been suggested to me by local business owners. This included some that had been pushed out over a year ago. I do not understand the motives of the management here.

My parking space back home at the Whitsunday Terraces was still intact when I returned. I parked Jean's car, and walked the twelve flights back to the main street. The open air markets were in full swing, with parking in short supply (which is why I walk there). My favourite breakfast folks were there again, so I had my egg and bacon treat as I wandered the narrow paths of the market area.

Had a nice chat with Rex, who complained about parking near his stall. For some reason I did not have his email address in my phone, although phoning him works better than email. When I saw him later, he managed to see me a raffle ticket for a fund raiser for the Proserpine Citizen's Band. Despite a cutting breeze, it was warm in the winter sunshine, so I rather enjoyed walking around. In contrast, Rex was this time all rugged up in winter jacket, and looked cold.

Michael had managed a very neat looking stall for his return to the markets after a long absence. The display boards he had been working on last night were looking very effective. I was particularly attracted to the magnet display boards he had made using bright sheet steel. He later reported sales were good.

I had a chat with Glenn and Alison. Glenn had a skate boarding visitor, a young soldier from Townsville, and they planned to watch skate board movies all evening. So no party tonight. Jim was also away in Adelaide this time.

I came across Rocky Hannan, a new stall holder, who had Rum Reggae brand two pocket cotton tropical shirts from Indonesia. It is rare to find tropical shirts in cotton and similar breathable fabrics. Although being Batik, they did not have the fierce brightness I desire in shirts, I bought eight shirts, partly to encourage this trend to tropical cotton.

I got through The Courier Mail during the afternoon, and started on The Weekend Australian. I also managed to read the April Analog, plus some other magazines that were in my ToDo pile. Alas, the back list of Science News still defy my efforts.

TV during the evening was the usual disaster, once the election campaign material was out of the way. I watched the science fiction movie Moon, since I had the newly purchased DVD.

Australian Election

Midday new Labor Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced the Australian election, to be held Saturday 21 August. So, it seems fear of being exposed as a money wasting spendthrift or being dumped by her backstabbing factional union mates in Labor is greater than the need for establishing incumbency by being Prime Minister longer than three weeks. Thank goodness we will be away during most of the tedious spin of the election campaign.

It seems the Labor campaign slogan will be Moving Forward. This meaningless phrase got repeated about 36 times by Julia Gillard during her speech announcing the election (and starting the campaigning). Moving forward aimlessly seems more like it to me. For once the ABC actually did some coverage of breaking news.

In theory I should like Julia Ginger Ninja Gillard. A avowed atheist, who sees little need to mouth platitudes to the remaining truly religious people in the community. While Australia is nominally Christian, the vast majority never attend church. Julia Gillard also sees no need to be married, and has for a fair few years lived with her partner without benefit of wedlock. I like both attitudes. However I am disappointed this free thinking does not extend to support for the concept of (civil) marriage outside heterosexual couples. Labor has at least one lesbian cabinet minister. Surely the issue has been raised? For that matter, some of my friends are in threesomes, and consider themselves married. Why is that so bad?

In contrast, the Liberals are led by Captain Catholic, the Mad Monk Tony Abbott. He is very much a god botherer, a true believer. I fear religious intolerance. Religions have a long history of hate crimes against pretty much everyone. As well as the god delusion, they also appear to think anyone outside them should care about their doctrines and dogma. I suspect Tony Abbott is a good bloke, but the next leader may not be.

Like Gillard, Abbott seems to have little interest in careful economic management, which is about the only thing I really want a government to get right. As well as a qualified treasurer, I would like to see a finance minister capable of saying no on both sides. Abbott proposing an increased tax on large business is not a good look, at a time Labor is proposing a small drop in the company tax rate.

Australian Electoral Commission

The Australian Electoral Commission keeps the electoral rolls and organises elections. The Federal election was announced today, Saturday 17 July, to be held on Saturday 21 August. That means the writ will be issued on Monday 19 July, which means you must be enrolled to vote by 8 p.m. on Monday. You must update electoral details by 8 p.m. Thursday 22 July. You must nominate as a candidate by noon the following Thursday, 29 July, and candidates will be declared 24 hours later.

First, I checked my electoral enrolment information, since the idea government departments have of my address does not correspond really closely with reality (minor database issues). I will be overseas during the election. However this is a very temporary state. I completed an Overseas notification form, to cover myself if I could not manage to vote. Since I don't have a printer or scanner connected, completing the PDF form provided some interesting issues … especially signing it. The other issue is not having a postal address (not my fault - talk to the management of the twice closed Airlie Beach post office).

You can apply for a postal vote, and even do it online, with some difficulty. Unfortunately, timing issues make it unlikely that a postal vote would reach us before we leave Australia. After that, we are travelling by train until we reach Moscow, just prior to the election. No way to return the postal vote within the voting deadline, even if we can get our hands on one. This may be the first Australian election since I was of voting age in which I do not vote.

Sunday 18 July 2010


I finally awoke sometime after six, after a good night of sleep that I needed badly. My Sunday morning are usually occupied by watching the various public affairs programs on TV, while reading whatever remains of the weekend papers. Naturally enough, everyone was talking about plans for the election.

However politicians deal in announcements, and only rarely do they deliver on what they announce. I am really tired of bullshit promises from politicians, about things they are inherently unable to deliver. Entrepreneurs, importers and manufacturers tend to deliver, as do tradesmen and artists, and even freight carriers. I value all these folks far higher than politicians and their promises.

Having finished with the last of the weekend newspapers, I continued with the September Analog magazine, which arrived unexpectedly soon after the very late March and April issues. However these days I get most of my reading matter via the Internet. Today, I mostly read it via my iPad.

Apple iPhone, iPod and iPad

New Apple iPhone models appear each year, so if you want a recent iPhone model, you need to be aware of when in the year they might be available.

For an Apple iPhone, this is typically June. iPhone: 29 June 2007, iPhone 3G: 11 July 2008, iPhone 3GS: 19 June 2009, iPhone 4: 24 June 2010. It will be the end of July before the iPhone 4 is released in Australia. I don't really expect to be able to get one until September or October.

For an iPod Touch, the release date is typically in September. iPod Touch 1G: 5 September 2007, iPod Touch 2G: 9 September 2008, iPod Touch 3G: 9 September 2009. Apple will have a clearance of older model iPod Touch in the month or two prior to September. This is typically something like getting a free or cheaper iPod Touch when you buy a MacBook for school. You can probably expect a front facing camera to support video chatting in a new model in September.

Given that pattern, it seems likely that the Apple iPad will also not see another model release until around April 2011. A new model earlier than that seems unlikely to me. This is especially the case for the iPad, as the suppliers of components can not keep up with demand. Additions likely in the next generation iPad would include a front facing camera for video chatting, and an accelerometer. It appears the case design already has space for these. The price is unlikely to change.

Monday 19 July 2010


I was on the road again around 5:30 a.m. This turned out to be a bad idea. On the Bruce Highway, still in the pre-dawn darkness, a wallaby hopped across the road straight under my right hand tyre. You usually do not get wallabies until first light. It was too dark to tell how much damage the dead wallaby did, but the right hand front of Jean's car was making noises as I drove off. When it was lighter, I managed to pull some of the ABS plastic shell around the wheel a bit further out of the way. However without cutting tools I could not cut it away completely. So it flapped in the breeze until I reached Townsville, and used some shears on it.


Jean wanted to take a walk in the afternoon, and use the rowing machine at the gym. I walked along with her. At reception, Leigh expressed an interest in my Apple iPad. I showed off a few of the GPS tricks. We wasted some time locating her house on Google Earth, but Jean showed up and insisted on steering the thing. Did not take her long to find the place.

I like encouraging use of the iPad (and despite the small displays, future surplus iPods and iPhones). I see this as a potential way to induce older residents to start using modern technology, at least for email and video chats. Even if their grandchildren are really the drivers of the whole thing.

We visited the bar (Jean needed to sit after all the exercise). We talked with Ray for a while. After the bar closed, I checked in with Geoff and Margaret about how the Carlton Theatre was going. Given how well they look after it, I am not sure why I bother.

Tipping Point

Amazon have participated in some tipping points previously. The availability of books on the Internet has been a major factor in the massive decline of independent bookshops. Two thirds of USA independent bookshops have disappeared.

Amazon now point to a digital tipping point. Their sales of eBooks now exceed their sales of hardcover print books. This (northern) Spring and Summer, Amazon sold 143 eBooks for every 100 hardcovers.

Tuesday 20 July 2010

USB Ports

I could not connect to my iPhone via the USB hub on my Dell computer monitor. So I tried my USB connected Time Machine backup drive. No sign of that working either. I think the USB ports on my Mac mini have failed to come up when I came out of sleep last time. Very strange.

Putting the Mac mini to sleep and waking it does not work. I woke it via the Dell USB hub, which sort of proves it is detecting USB events. However there is no power going to devices I plugged into the Dell hub. Nor is the backup drive waking, despite being directly connected to a USB port on the Mac mini.

A complete power down and restart got the USB working again. However I do not like this sort of fault, as you normally never need to reboot a Macintosh.


We remembered to start watering the garden. Duncan always does it better than we ever manage. The only reason I remembered it was I had started to update my iPhone, after fixing the USB ports. So I could not disconnect my phone to put it into my pocket until the update was complete. I needed to stall the shopping trip.

Willows worked well. Reasonable parking. We mostly found what was on our shopping list (we each found wire coat hangers). Got a tax pack, finally, since the newsagent had some. Jean asked them. I kept looking everywhere except behind the counter.

Jean went chasing car repairs. First via the insurance, who recommended places, and then via phone. She has a little list.

I put another set of solar spotlights out in the garden, after charging the battery during the day. That should set off extra lights if anyone approaches from the other side of the garden, since I pointed the IR sensor in that direction. I have been intending to install these for ages.

iPhone and iPad Connections

The USB connection to both my iPhone and my iPad is flakey. The iPhone updated to 4.0.1, but some syncing of content seemed to have issues. Now it is possible that it was simply incompatible media, even though I thought it was correct.

The iPad update to 3.2.1 basically failed, with an update and restore message. The Apple note lists various error messages. I needed to start a restore process. That seems to be loading onto the iPad. I have seen this sort of initial failure previously, but do not know the cause. The iPad is now doing a reboot, ready to connect to iTunes. Then I need to restore my previous contents from my backup. This takes a few minutes. With the restore complete, the iPad moves to syncing with iTunes. Unfortunately, syncing never manages to complete, as the USB connection fails too quickly. I decided to disable the Iomega backup drive, as I suspect it has a USB problem that poisons the entire USB system.

This time the iPad applications all synced, and it moved to syncing media content.

What do Apple say about iPhone, iPad, iPod touch: Troubleshooting USB connection? Use a high power USB 2 connection on the computer, not a hub.

Wednesday 21 July 2010

Repair Shopping

Jean took her car to the panel beaters the insurer recommended. My iPhone GPS indicated where it was, although Jean was already headed pretty much to the right place. The panel beaters sure do take a bunch of photos for insurance work. Said they needed it to get permission to go ahead.

We visited Kathmandu so Jean could collect the shirt she had ordered. I got more packing bags, so I can organise travel bags (and possibly cupboards).

Off along Ingham Road to the concrete pavers place. We were able to get the four concrete blocks we would need to complete the pavement and patio in the garden. I am starting to run out of excuses for not completing the thing.

Later Jean reported that the windscreen repairers would be arriving at 9 a.m. tomorrow. I bet they manage a repair in remarkable time.

Apple iPad Spelling

I mostly like my Apple iPad correcting my spelling. However, it defaults to a USA dictionary, which is not what I need in Australia. I thought I would be using an Australian dictionary. In Settings, General, International, my region Format is Australia. However that is not enough to get an Australian dictionary.

You can enable the English UK keyboard, which allows the British English spelling checker to operate. However that means the keyboard now uses a pound sign rather than a dollar sign for currency. It is very annoying that there seems no way to customise the iPad for Australia, when the iPhone manages Australian spelling and a keyboard with a dollar sign just fine (albeit in a very obscure manner).

PhlatLight LEDs

I notice a bunch of video projectors these days rely upon Luminus Corporation PhlatLight LEDs. These high intensity photonic lattice LEDs use an MIT breakthrough to generate light from their face, rather than their junction edge. At the moment they are aimed at high intensity portable projectors, and offer up to 60% greater efficiency. Unlike regular high intensity projector lamps, they also offer a two year warranty.

The Luminus PT-54 three LED projection chipset offers a 5.4mm emitting surface, suitable for pocket projectors, with instant switch on. They can offer 1300 lumens continuous operation at 8000K colour temperature. Laser enthusiasts have hacked these projector lamps to really dazzle.

Thursday 22 July 2010

Windscreen Repair

The windscreen repair driver phoned around 8:30 a.m. to get driving directions. The repairman was here well before his 9 a.m. scheduled appointment. The cracked windscreen on Jean's car was out of the car by nine. I was very impressed. So were our various neighbours, many of whom visited to inspect this replacement process. Some then tried to get their own car windscreens repaired. Jean took some photos of the repair process. The replacement windscreen was all installed by 9:30 a.m. We do have to wait a few hours for the glue to dry before using the car.

Now, if the panel beater insurance folks phone in the next few days, Jean's car might be all patched before we leave. At the moment the panel beater say we are scheduled for Monday 2 August. We are not happy with that timing.

Facebook Problem?

I kept finding multiple web sites remained downloading after all their content seemed to be visible. Suspicion fell on sites that included a Facebook social plugin asking you to Like that site. In a small survey, no site lacking the symptoms had a Facebook Like option. All sites that were causing problems did have Facebook links. I tried using Adblock for Safari to kill off Facebook, but that did not work.

Switching off Javascript stops this repeating download behaviour, but many web sites need Javascript. If Facebook piss me off much more, I will drop my account, and take to blocking Facebook at the router.


I notice the Google Chrome web browser now has extensions, including an Adblock. Google say this was possible because Apple included the extensions facility in WebKit. So now there is an Adblock for Safari. As you would anticipate, this blocks advertising on the internet.

Unfortunately on my first trial of Adblock, Safari managed to chew up something like three gigabyte of memory. This is not good for computer speed and responsiveness. I had to kill off Safari with Activity Monitor, and restart the last bunch of closed windows when Safari started again.

With an election approaching, I rather wish someone would do a survey of internet users. Assume the Australian government were going to censor the internet, regardless of public opinion. Would they prefer the Australian government to block porn, or to block advertising? Now that would be democracy in action.

Doxie Portable Scanner

I like the size of the Doxie Portable Scanner, which is a dumb scanner driven entirely via software. Doxie costs US$129. It runs 200 DPI in greyscale, 300 DPI in colour. It supports Windows XP/V/7, and Macintosh. Just download the software after you buy. You use it in conjunction with your existing image or text manipulation software. I think it was formerly sold by Pentax and Brother, as the DSMobile 600. Now it might be IntelliScanner, who do bar code scanners.

Looks an interesting solution for single sheet scanning, especially for frequent business travellers. If you are at home, an all-in-one may be as cheap, and somewhat more use, although I have found them less than satisfactory as scanners. If you hardly ever need to scan things, just take a photo with a digital camera.

Friday 23 July 2010

Labor Government Censorship

Government plans to force ISPs to snoop on and report the web surfing habits of all Australians remain secret. Web snoop document censored by staff at the Attorney-General's Department. The document was circulated around ISPs several months ago. The Age used Freedom of Information to access the secret document, however 90% of it was censored. Later the Greens slammed OzLog secrecy, so it is not just paranoids like me who object.

This Labor government and its attitude towards access to the Internet really suck. No government that acts this way deserves to remain in office. It is not like Labor are any good at anything else they attempt either. Look at the failed Grocery Watch, Fuel Watch, the fatal home insulation scheme, the rorted Building Education revolution and its quadruple priced shanty buildings in schools, the abandoned carbon emissions trading scheme, the lack of conviction about anything, the continued spin about their intent. The list goes on and on.

Meanwhile, if you feel like giving The Man the Finger, do your web searching using Google in SSL mode so no-one sees the results. Regular email is just like sending postcards. Even your login and password are plain text. Encrypt your email sessions Plus anything on your computer can be read by forensic computer specialists. Encrypt your hard drive so no-one can read it. Plus fake things so even if a court orders you to give up a password, they can not prove you still have hidden files.


I had noticed in the advertising flyers that BigW had iTunes cards at 2 @ $20 for $30. Since I did rather well with the iTunes cards last time I bought them, I thought I would get some more cards. I mostly buy Apps with them, pretty much never music. However I have been getting the odd 99 cent rental movie to play on my iPad while travelling.

Jean phoned me while I was about as far away as I could get. Wanted me to rush back to Lowes to sign up on one of their discount plans. That seemed reasonable, as we both buy things at Lowes. In fact, I bought a pair of woollen gloves for the Russian trip.

Jean went off to do sensible food shopping. I am not sure what I bought, but I am sure it was not sensible. Jean dropped me off to put her shopping in her fridge, while she went to the egg place to get more giant eggs.

Saturday 24 July 2010


We did a rush trip to Sunland Plaza at eight so I could get my weekend newspapers. Alas, I had not had breakfast, and recalled the IGA advertised crumpets. There they were, at 99 cents a packet. As long as we can restrict our crumpet buying to only buy when under a dollar, we might manage not to blow our diet every breakfast. At least we were not there at a time that would have let us get some rum.

Later in the way we took a walk and I delivered the Whitsunday Times to Neal. For a while there I thought the closing of the newsagent at Airlie Beach would mean I would not get any more copies of the local newspaper.

iPhone Field Test Mode

I recall, you used to be able to set an iPhone (and many other phones) into Field Test Mode. You dialled *3001#12345#* and it would bring up a nice set of data on signal strengths and availability of towers. When I last used it, it was pretty comprehensive. That worked on my iPhone 3G.

Now that my iPhone 3Gs has been updated to iOS4, the Field Test Mode is no longer working. I am not sure when it disappeared. Anandtech explain how to fake a field test, but it is complicated.

Using *#06# displays your phone IMEI number. There are a whole bunch of ATT call codes available. Most will not work on other phone companies. Just go to Settings - Phone to get access to many of these.

Sunday 25 July 2010


I was so busy downloading ebooks that I forgot the time. This is my morning for watching the current affairs programs on TV. They tend to get a little more critical during an election, but that did not seem the case this morning. I also read the remains of the weekend newspapers.

My count of ePub based e-books exceeds 220 now. I had to add covers to most of the older Baen ones. Luckily this is just copy a cover .jpg and paste it into the Info for the ePub file in iTunes. A bit tedious.

-inurl:htm -inurl:html intitle:”index of” +(”/ebooks”|”/book”) +(epub) or something similar works reasonably well as a Google advanced search term for finding ebooks produced in ePub. See Google's directions on using search if you want to modify it.


A sigil is a symbol made for a magical purpose. In computers, it is the funny symbol attached to the name of a variable, showing what type of data is intended, or the scope of the variable. Early examples were the $ symbol used in front of a variable name in the statically typed BASIC language. Perl uses a lot of sigils, but since Perl is a dynamic type language, it used them for general types, not fine grained data types. The term sigil was used by Perl programmer Philip Gwyn.

A sigil like $ in BASIC (to indicate a variable) should not be confused with the use of a unary operator like $ for lexical indirection to refer to the content of a Shell variable. Nor is it the same as Hungarian notation, as a sigil forces a datatype, whereas Hungarian notation merely helps remind a programmer what was intended. Hungarian notation does not enforce data types, so you still have to declare them to the compiler.


Sigil is also the name of a free and open source editor for producing ePub e-books. University student Strahinja Marković's Sigil is available for Linux, Macintosh and Windows via Google Code hosting. It seemed to be announced mid 2009, and is quite an ambitious project. By this I mean all the things I was thinking I would need to do manually seem to be included or being worked on. However Sigil has issues that make it unusable at the moment. So I have to find ways to create ePub myself. Read the Sigil FAQ. There is a Sigil discussion forum at MobileRead. The Sigil developers blog gives more notes on progress.

Recently Apple iPad users have discovered e-books, ePub and Sigil, and written about it. All about EPUB, the ebook standard for Apple's iBookstore by Steve Sande on TUAW. Tutorial – Create an iPad compatible eBook with Sigil by Jimmy Hayes in iCreate. You can create ePub with Adobe's InDesign CS5. I thought InDesign CS4 did a poor job of ePub output. You should note Adobe Digital editions does not handle font substitutions. If the font you choose does not include a particular glyph to display a character, you will get junk.

There is also a lot of mentions of Sigil for Windows in online magazines. You can Edit ePub eBooks with Your Favorite HTML Editor, but need to be familiar with zipping files, and with XHTML 1.1 and CSS . Improve the Quality of ePub eBooks with Sigil shows using Sigil in Windows. How to: Create an e-book using Sigil

Monday 26 July 2010


If you want to convert a PDF to ePub e-book then the free and open source Calibre converter is a good choice. Kovid Goyal's Calibre is an e-book organiser, viewer and converter, and allows you to modify metadata.

There is an extensive list of ePub generating tools available at Lexcycle, designers of Stanza ereader software, which also runs well on Apple iPhone and iPad. Alas, Stanza desktop beta on a Macintosh is not very attractive. Check Stanza FAQ for good background information on a well regarded ereader. There is another list of e-book creation tools at Nook.

iPad e-book issues

I notice complaints about a lack of cover art in ePub e-books on an iPad, followed by more cover tests. The problem is the IDPF standard for ePub is screwed for book covers. There is no standard way to handle them. You can hope to find a cover via the opf file, or by looking for a graphic called cover. Cover sizes can also become interesting, as this test shows.

Tuesday 27 July 2010

GPS Camera

I notice Panasonic have a 12 times Ultra Zoom camera that includes built in GPS for geo-tagging images. The Lumix DMC-LZ7 (sometimes called TZ10) includes optical image stabilisation. It has a nice quality LEICA DC VARIO ELMAR 25mm ultra-wide-angle lens, that ranges from just about wide angle to even more zoom than the nominal specifications. The optical sensor is a bit over the top at over 12 megapixel, but you can play some aspect ratio tricks with that. To my great delight, 30 fps 1280 x 720 Motion JPEG (MPEG) is available in video, although you would need an ultra high speed SD card for storage. Plus the camera is reasonably compact, even shirt pocket, for an ultra zoom. Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS7 Review from Digital Camera Reviews.

Fluid Web Design

Ethan Marcotte says Fluid Grids combine the aesthetic rigour and clarity of fixed-width, grid-based layouts with the device and screen size independence and user-focused flexibility of fluid layouts. Max width helps a heap too. However responsive web design is not easy, as this example of fluid text and graphics shows, you have problems with graphics. So make fluid images with max width 100%. Windows will do a horrible job of resizing images, but that is Windows. The final example does fluid design is impressive. Except the font size appears fixed, and the column width is too wide on a wide display (you need to use media query to add columns).

Another hint, you can supersize a background, and use media queries to remove a background on small devices.


I bought myself a few more discounted iTunes cards, when we went shopping for the newspaper at Willows this morning.

The Carlyle Gardens Computer Club meeting was on this evening. The presentation was a little different, being about how Microsoft Publisher is used to design and prepare the monthly Carlyle Chronicle newsletter. Melody did all the work on the computer, actually demonstrating how a few sample pages were pulled together. Sheena did the talking about how and what was happening. I thought it worked well. Although the mouse provided seemed very jumpy.

Wednesday 28 July 2010

Apple Releases Updated Computers

Updated Mac Pro announced. From a quad core through 6 and 8 to dual six core Xenon processors at up to 3.33 GHz, and one or two terabyte drives, with up to four optional 512GB solid state drives. ATI Radeon HD 5770 graphics processor.

The all in one iMac desktop line finally gets Intel Core i3 dual core processors, with optional 32nm i5 dual core (on 21.5 inch) and 45 nm i7 quad core (on 27 inch) available. These will all be the low voltage, low power consumption models. The Intel integrated graphics offering is still weak, and Nvidia integrated graphics can not be used with the i series CPUs. The entire line moves to AMD's ATI mobile Radeon HD 4670 (256MB GDR3 SDRAM) (a last generation mobile GPU) or HD 5670 (512MB GDR3 SDRAM) discrete graphics cards, in which must be a major blow to Nvidia. Only the top of the line model has the mid-range ATI Radeon HD 5750 (1GB GDR5 SDRAM) (the ATI HD 5750 has 22% lower power consumption than a 4850 for similar or marginally better performance). Unfortunately, it also uses the glossy displays which are pretty much useless if you allow any light in your room.

The Intel i3 is a pretty wimpy version of the Intel processor line. Use throughout simply indicates Apple engineers do not believe most users have a real need for full on processing power. I agree, but it would not stop me indulging myself with an i7.

You can optionally include a 256GB solid state drive as well as a standard hard drive on the 27 inch model. This is the first time an iMac has offered two drives. If you do, your iMac will have the operating system and applications installed on the faster solid state drive, leaving the hard drive for data. However solid state drives are still very expensive.

Apple Releases Peripherals

Magic Trackpad is a larger version of the glass multi-touch gesture trackpad featured in the MacBook Pro. The entire surface acts as one big button (it is actually the feet that register the click). It operates wirelessly via Bluetooth from two AA batteries. The packaging is highly similar to the standard Apple Bluetooth keyboard, with the same height, depth and angle of repose. These Apple trackpads are the first pointing device I have used that rivals (or exceeds) the control you get from a mouse. Apple are busy training people to use a multi-touch trackpad instead of a mouse. I have no doubt the next step will be a MacBook Air without a keyboard.

The new Apple 27 inch cinema display monitor appears to use the IPS display from the 27 inch iMac, and is compatible with Mini DisplayPort equipped Macintosh computers. The screen has a 2560x1440 pixel, 16:9 arsenic-free glass display with IPS technology that provides a 178-degree view and has ambient light sensing to adjust screen brightness automatically. It includes iSight video camera, microphone, and a three port USB hub. The built in cable provides MagSafe charging for a MacBook portable computer, as well as a USB and a Mini DisplayPort connector. The speakers include an inbuilt sub-woofer, and are driven by digital amplifiers totalling 49 watts. The display size is a downgrade from older 27 inch 16:10 displays, that did 2560x1600. I do not understand why the industry is going for the 16:9 aspect ratio. Unfortunately, it also uses the glossy displays which are pretty much useless if you allow any light in your room.

Apple AA Battery Recharger. There are heaps of AA NiMH battery rechargers available. Most of the compact ones use a simple serial resistor restriction of the charge current. Apple have made a charger that (like some fancy models) reduces the wall socket current drain to very low levels when the batteries are charged. Apple claim it draws 30 milliwatt in standby. It includes six rechargeable batteries, and is at a pretty reasonable A$39 price for the package. Interesting that Apple went for that option.


The hot water is luke warm today. Not surprising, given the number of days of unseasonable cloud cover we had had for the past week. I hope for a little direct sunshine today, to boost the solar hot water temperatures somewhat.

We even did a load of laundry early in the morning. I even put another load into the washing machine before we headed off.

We were into avoidance behaviour this morning. Headed to Willows, where Jean and I both looked for lightweight jackets that looked good (or even passable). I tried Lowes, BigW, Target, and with increasing desperation Best and Less, Just Jeans, Rip Curl, and then Ed Harry. We retired with this quest unfulfilled. It should not be so hard to find stuff, at a time retail stores are all claiming sales are down. I would have thought trying to stock what people ask for would help sales.

We also checked the Post Office for a travel sim. They knew of them, but did not have any. A check online showed that the Domain Post Office might have them. I did manage to get an iPad pre-paid 3G refresh, for when we returned.

iPad Overheats in Sunshine

I hear some moron in the USA (where else) has launched a class action suite because the Apple iPad overheats in sunshine. Well, d'oh! You have a device that works fine with a power drain of 2.5 Watts, and which runs for 10 hours with a 25 WH battery, which is 2.5 Watts. It has passive cooling, not fan cooling. You put it in direct sunlight. It has an area of around 230mm x 200mm, or around .045 square metres. Direct sunlight gives you 1000 Watts per square metre, so your energy input is 45 Watts. The aluminium side probably reflects 90%, the LCD side does not. So you have an additional heat input of at least 4.5 Watts.

Of course the iPad overheats. If you are insane enough to sit out in the sun, you will overheat too. I think people who bring law suites like this should be sterilised with a blunt instrument. Their lawyers too. They are both too dumb to be allowed to breed.

Thursday 29 July 2010


I was up at 2:30 a.m. Contrary to morning enthusiasts, this does not make for a good start to the day. Since I was up, I downloaded updates for computers.

The pair of bush curlews are again very noticeable (for a bird that blends in with ground cover) near the drainage ditch. They have been nesting on the ground. I need to get some better photographs of them.

Another of our compact fluorescent downlights failed last night, after around 15 months. If we assume we use them 4 hours an evening (generous, I think) that makes a life span of under 2000 hours. Given one compact fluorescent downlight failed in April 2009, in the first month we were here, so far I am not impressed by the life span of CFL (they typically claim 8000 hours).

When I tried to remove the compact fluorescent lamp, the retaining ring at the bottom of the fitting would not release it. I could not recall whether there was some trick to removing and replacing the fluorescent lamp. Jean phoned Allan, who found exactly the same problem I had encountered. The retaining ring just rotates until it hits a stop. The bulb rotates with it. The only way to get the globe out was to pull the entire fitting out of the ceiling. This is an absolutely insane design in a retirement village.


Want to design a custom case for your iPhone, iPod or iPad? Apple make all the case dimensions available. For example, here are the Apple iPad 3G dimensions, and the Apple iPhone 4 dimensions. So the folks at Core 77 design magazine overlaid an iPhone display on the iPhone 4 plans. Looks pretty neat to this geek.

Put an ePub ebook in iTunes Store

I want to mention first that you do not need to put an ePub on the iTunes store. Anyone can drag and drop an ePub into iTunes on a computer. So what follows is if you want to sell ePub via the Apple iTunes Store. David Gewirtz wrote Six tips to get Apple to accept your ebook. You should note some of the terminology used is not what I expect. BOM first character in a text editor means Bill of Materials? I think David may be been asleep when he wrote that instead of Byte Order Mark (besides, BOM is not needed for Unicode).

You need to be able to sign in to Apple Connect. If you are a registered Apple software developer already, then you need a separate email address for ebooks. You get a signed publisher contract. Now you can use Read iTunes. David produced his ePub starting from InDesign, which I would not do. I would use something like Sigil to ensure I had good metadata.

You need to validate your ePub, using the free ePubCheck. Your manifest must have a tag for every file (and every tag must match a file). Watch out for temporary files that should have been deleted.

Files must all be in either UTF-8 or UTF-16. Not a mixture. No plain ASCII (or other) files. David changed all his file names so they were correctly URL encoded. He also made them all lower case. He also removed all entity encoding.

Friday 30 July 2010


The internet is useless today. Downloads of even tiny files are taking forever. I thought the network in the house had failed, and even rebooted the router, but the problem seems to be external to us. I was trying to download updates for OS X 10.5 for my old iMac G5 ALS, but it has been downloading for over two hours. Forty megabyte items are showing as taking 25 minutes. I thought I needed to ensure it was up to date on software. It was 4:39 p.m. before the last download ended! the iMac G5 rebooted at 4:47 p.m. It was ready for login at 4:49 p.m. Then it decided my Bluetooth wireless keyboard needed a firmware upgrade, so it took until 5:06 p.m. for the next reboot.

We are into avoidance behaviour again. Did the laundry, since there is some sunshine. There is a lot of morning mist, and it is interesting to see news headlines than many airports are having mist problems. Mixed with the mist here is smoke from whatever was making ash float down during much of yesterday.

Off to Domain shops. First, at Bunnings, I bought an eleven watt Lightstar by Crompton Lighting GU10 electronic fluorescent gimbal downlight kit, SKU KLS23WGU1011W. This fits in a 90mm ceiling cutout, and appears identical to the ones in our ceilings. Unfortunately, I can not discover why the retention rings on the ones mounted in our ceilings are jamming instead of coming out easily. I guess I will have to study the next broken fluorescent downlight even more carefully. We also got a battery night light, for travel. It was larger than we had hoped. Fine if we are using the car, not so good if travelling by air.

More travel pack sacks from Kathmandu, but in the smaller sizes this time. We are also on a quest for the mythical Post Office with the equally mythical Travel SIMS. Luckily we found both. Hope they work.

Publishing an ebook in ePub

There is advice on manually assembling an ePub file at Web Vivant. Also on publishing to iBookstore. Getting through the US tax department hoops is insanely awkward.

Adobe InDesign (as at CS3) is simply incapable of correctly producing an ePub (much the same way Dreamweaver can not produce valid web pages). Here is how to correct InDesign ePub output. The next step is fixing content.opf and manifest. The last step is fixing the toc.ncx and CSS. WebVivant also recommend the dated (2007) but handy EPub Format Construction Guide by Harrison Ainsworth.

There are also various internal ePub files that must be correct. There are even decisions about where the book should open.

Transition to Digital Media

I am going to reference a series of articles on how to survive the transition to digital publishing. The first lists twelve steps to consider, all of them major differences from more traditional publishing. The entire workflow is digital.

eBooks print concurrent design and production. Books are back converted from formats designed for print or PDF. If your work flow starts with writing in Word, you have already lost the plot. Some books will never be good candidates for conversion, or even digital production. Fiction converts very well, as it is very plain, with few illustrations, and easy to convert. Some non-fiction works similar to fiction. Academic work went digital long ago. Reference works convert badly.

There is a demonstration of simultaneous publishing. Simultaneous digital design should reduce costs, not increase it. Traditional methods mean a print book, a large print, and an eBook get converted several times, something that should never happen. It also means low cost conversions, and low quality. Editorial, production and archiving were the first three points to consider.

Simultaneous design for multiple formats needs consideration of font availability, and colour. While photos can be almost any size, descriptive illustrations must have readable text.

Infogrid Pacific make available a number of free sample ePub books, which demonstrate the ability of their conversion process.

Saturday 31 July 2010

Making ePub ebooks

I liked the ePub eBook tutorial JediSabre did, as it had pointers to other resources. Unfortunately, it is a bit dated. See also Craig Mod Bools in the Age of the iPad, on why ebooks are no threat to great books, only to throwaway disposable paperback fiction. Fiction is formless. It is the easiest to convert. Other books need their form, and will be very hard to turn into great ebooks. I look forward to beautifully produced ebooks. It is coming. Craig has posted on embracing ebooks, and why iBook and Kindle both have major problems. However he also highlights what ebooks could do well.

InfoGrid Pacific do web service based application conversions to ePub, and seem to have a good idea of how to do it well. XML based books and ebooks is their business. They start with an XHTML based workflow, for best conversion to multiple formats. Read their series of articles on how to do great ePub. Cheap automated conversions generally suck (although for fiction they are probably going to work). Some books should not be converted to ePub (because the readers can not cope with them yet). I was also delighted to note they are not impressed with Apple iBook, especially the justification options. They also dislike the simplistic Adobe ADE. They also have an interesting rewrite of ADE best practices for ePub, to bring it more up to date. They also have more ePub best practices, and Apple iPad support.

As an aside, the ADEPT Digital Rights Maintenance copy blocking provided by Adobe Digital Editions (ADE) means ADE ePub can not be viewed on an iPhone or iPad. See instructions for removing DRM from ADE ebooks. Here is another set of instructions for removing DRM from PDB for eReader ebooks.

Fonts in iBook ePub in iPad

The Apple iPad has 44 fonts (in 110 font styles) as demonstrated for iPad. However the fonts break in iBook if you select a font from the pulldown menu. They do not persist. Also, using Calibre in your production may change fonts. Watch out for the iBooks Palantino bug. However it appears an iBook 1.1 update has killed font selection using CSS, contrary to ePub standard, with pseudo support for fonts in iBook. Interestingly, Google make fonts available for embeddi g on a web server.

When testing ePub on an iPad, here is how to deal with iBook caching of content.

Hyphenation in iBook on iPad

It is a kluge, but soft hyphenation works in iBook on the iPad. Interestingly, ADE makes the break at the soft hyphen point, but neglects to add the actual hyphen. Some other readers fail entirely. In any case, search routines (except in Firefox browser) will fail to find soft hyphenated terms. The problem is one that needs to be solved by ebooks having a hyphenation engine. In this regard, I note that Donald Knuth's routine for TEX has been converted to an open source Javascript.

Pushing CSS in iBook in iPad

I have been wondering how far you can push the CSS in iBook on an Apple iPad. So did Richard Pipe at Infogrid Pacific. So he had fun with iPad iBook CSS. Not only did he publish the results, he also made the test ePub available so you could check it yourself.

ePub image test cases for iPad also demonstrate how to include images. Richard expands on image control XHTML and CSS. For even more fun, here is the multimedia iPad experiments.

CSS does not allow page breaks, except in print media. However iBook explicitly works on a paged basis. WTF. So how do you add a page break in an ePub for iBook? It seems you have to cheat with images that occupy 100% of a div.

Eric Lindsay's Blog July 2010