Wednesday, January 26, 2011

My Summer Holiday Reading

It has been a very wet and cloudy summer so far this year. Not a lot of beach time.
But with a big stash of books on hand it was good to catch up on some reading.
Here are a few books that I enjoyed.

Peter FitzSimons is a journalist, an ex Wallaby (Australian Rugby player) and a prolific writer with twenty one books so far to his credit. He is predominantly a biographer. This time however he has written about growing up on a citrus orchard in the Peats Ridge area just north of Sydney during the 1960s.
An entertaining book written in his usual humorous style full of characters synonymous with the Australian bush and that era. The hardships and discomforts of country life are tempered by family love and support. Many of the scenarios reminded me of my childhood even though it was in suburban Melbourne. And, yes, it was indeed a simpler time.

Andrew Jackson...hero or villain? He was certainly a man of contradictions. A supporter of slavery and Indian removal on one hand, and on the other, a reshaper of American politics, including popular campaigning techniques, media manipulation and engagement of citizens in the process. He transformed both the American presidency and the nation he led during his two turbulent terms in office.
The book covers all the usual ground, Eaton affair, the Bank Wars, Federal Import Tariffs and Nullification as well as the many personal and political conflicts with the other major players of the time.
However there is plenty of new material gleaned from personal papers in the Hermitage archives.
Can be read as a history book or an historical novel.
A good follow up to the above Andrew Jackson book covering the sorry tale of native American tribes' forced removal from the east to the mid west over a number of presidential administrations. It is a story of greed, betrayal,and racism vividly told in the typical Langguth character driven style. I found the story of internal tribal conflict over Removal particularly interesting and not one generally well known.

A work of fiction which includes some actual real life characters eg. Father Damien, woven into the story. It's a tale of the leper colony on Moloka'i, Hawaii with a little bit of Hawaiian political history and centuries-old Hawaiian religious beliefs and mythology thrown in.
An easy read and with a 'hard to put down' status.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Back Up!

It seems I am destined to buy computers with a four year shelf life.
My HP laptop started doing 'funny things' a few months ago and, from experience, alarm bells started ringing.
So I started to back up my files.
Then all went quiet and I thought it was just a false alarm.
But no, a few days ago............POOF!
The dreaded blue screen.
Optimistically I took it into the repair shop. I always do this and always I get bad news and a bill for $50.
This time was no different.

So now I have a new one. Not another HP (you have had three chances, guys) but a Toshiba.
Learning a new operating system, Windows 7, reloading other programs and reestablishing 'favorites' is a time consuming task.
At least I have my precious files including photos and word documents.
The only exception are emails. I looked at backing these up a few times but it was a quite a convoluted procedure which I sadly postponed. But at least I had backed up my email address book.
So the lesson to be learned from all this is BACK UP!

External HDD's are cheap and easy to use. USB sticks even more so.
Put aside an hour or so every week or two and just do it!

Friday, January 14, 2011

The Queensland Floods

This is all happening 1000km or so to the north of us so we are unaffected. The Northern Rivers of New South Wales are also in flood.
It has been devastating for all concerned with many lives lost.

The Brisbane Times Newspaper is the best web site to catch up with all the details as well as some pretty grim pictures.
But as usual, Australians meet adversity head on with a little humour.

A statue of Rugby League football hero, Wally Lewis, outside the Brisbane football stadium is dressed appropriately.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Daughter's Italy / Part 2

My travel companion Ms. B, and I landed in Naples airport on a humid afternoon with a long and unbeknown to us, convoluted trip ahead of us. We had challenges you see. Not only did the trip from Naples to Positano involve various planes, trains and automobiles, but in true family form I was H-u-n-g-o-v-e-r. Yes, with a Capital H. I had been out partying until 1am in my old Cambridge stomping ground and then I couldn’t sleep because I was paranoid about missing my flight. Polish vodka + old friends + early morning flight = Travel nightmare!

Something to remember when visiting Naples, well actually – strike that, make it ALL of Italy is that the male population are not backwards in coming forward. You could have heard a pin drop and the necks cracking as we collected our luggage and made our way to the bus. I hurriedly explained to the incredulous Ms. B that we were not about to get mugged by the group of mafia looking types that followed us, but they were simply staring because we were WOMEN. You know.. because Italy doesn’t have any women – right?
After navigating the connections that took us to the dizzying heights of Positano we disembarked the bus with a sigh of relief. I should have known that Italian bus drivers could drive one handed along sky high cliffs, while arguing with a passenger in addition to talking on his mobile phone. Believe me, my friend, The Hangover (yes, at that stage it was still with a Capital H) was tagging along in full force.

There’s always a problem with taking the bus in Italy. Knowing which stop to get off at – we knew we were in Positano… we could even see our hotel… but what separated us from it was about 1000 steps down to it (who knew we should have waited another stop?). So off we trudged. In the rain. With our suitcases. And a new friend who became a fixture in our Positano stay. Randy the dog (I will leave it up to you to deduce how he came to earn his name.. along with his girlfriend…. Mandy).
A pizza, a few glasses of Chianti and a generous serving of gelato in one of the seaside restaurants soon set things straight (and farewelled the Hangover – Hurrah for small mercies!).

I had one thought as we watched the sun slip into the sea…
Italy….. I really, truly, unashamedly love you.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Looking Back at 2010

A Happy New Year to all my readers.
Looking back, I guess the major highlight of 2010 was the breaking of the seven year drought. With the La Nina influence in full affect, rain came to most of Australia. Lake Eyre filled, even the Todd River in Alice Springs flowed and metropolitan dams that were down to twenty percent or less capacity are now over flowing. In fact a lot of NE Australia is now in flood.
Our dams and tanks are certainly full.

Weather also produced one of our year’s low lights when a horrific wind storm in early September battered us for 24 hours bringing down trees and leaving us without electricity for 3 days. Luckily there was no one hurt or house damage done.
Our decision to stay home and travel was a good one. The journey through western New South Wales into South Australia to the fringes of the outback and back through coastal Victoria was a highlight of the year.

We backed this up with a trip to northern Queensland and the Great Barrier Reef with American family in September. The day we spent snorkeling on the outer reef was magic!

Politically, our first woman Prime Minister, who came to power during a party coup, was re-elected for another term albeit as head of a minority government.
Australia had missed out on the worst of the global financial crises but the poor situation in North America and Europe continued to influence our stock market which bounced along at a regular level for most of the year. At least it is well above its lowest levels of a few years earlier.
The big news was the strength of the Australia dollar with it being worth more than the US dollar for the first time since it was floated in the early 1980s. Its strength was also reflected in record levels against the Euro. How long will this last is anyone’s guess but our currency is noted for being an investment ‘plaything’ so we just have to take advantage while we can. Certainly the high level reduces the competitiveness of our export industries eg. minerals, which are a major component of our economy.

So what are our plans for 2011?
First off we will enjoy the rest of summer, mainly at the beach, and then get through harvest. Then we will look at some travel plans for later in the year. With our strong currency the USA or Europe (or maybe both!) look tempting. But with the success of staying home to travel in 2010, southwest Western Australia and Tasmania are also on the radar.
So much to see, so little time!