31 December 2008

Adventures with my Eee - Part 4

Yesterday I bought another Asus Eee, a black 1000H model with Windows XP on it. The store had only one left (on sale). It has 160GB HD, 1GB RAM, wifi 802.11b/g/n, ethernet, 1.3M camera, Bluetooth, 3 USB ports, an SD card slot, microphone and earphone jacks, and an external monitor port (VGA). Full specs on the Asus website for those of you who want all the technical details. It weighs around 1.45 kg and its power adapter is surprisingly lightweight. I promptly downloaded and installed a specialised version of Ubuntu known as eeebuntu. It comes in three versions: Standard (all the usual software that comes with Ubuntu installs with the operating system), NBR (netbook remix) and Basic (minimal software). I chose Standard. The Eee's hard drive came partitioned into two 80GB drives, so I've now got the Eee set up for dual-booting, with 40GB for each operating system and its software, and 80GB for data files accessible by both o/s. I'm still installing application software. The screen is very crisp and clear; the keyboard is reasonably usable for a touch-typist (much more so than the smaller keyboard on the Eee701); the wifi and Bluetooth work with both Windows and Ubuntu; so I’m happy. This will be my main travel machine, and will also act as my Windows computer at home, replacing the older laptop (a Dell Inspiron 510m) that I’ve been using for that purpose; it, in turn, is going to a friend to replace the friend's elderly computer.

29 December 2008

Construction site: puddles and boats in the harbour

Rain fell overnight, leaving puddles to mark the low spots in the construction site. Several boats had come into the new harbour, presumably to seek shelter in case of wind and waves. That area has a usable boat ramp, handy if someone wants to come ashore in a dingy to shore, but we doubt that the gate is open to get a car in to the ramp.

26 December 2008

Today's online reading

I generally avoid watching, listening to, or reading what passes for general news (as opposed to science and technology news), as it's mostly negative: economic doom and gloom, people being intolerant and nasty to each other, murder and mayham. I do browse through the headlines, though, and spot the occasional items of interest to me. For example: Happy Birthday Earthrise, Christmas Eve 1968 on Apollo 8 orbiting the moon.

25 December 2008

Christmas view

Today is sunny, clear, hot (over 30C), and not at all humid (for here: only around 32%). Here is the more picturesque part of our view: Moving along to the right, here is the current state of the Port of Airlie construction: Compare with last year's picture.

21 December 2008

Scanning back issues of my fanzine

Inspired by all the online socialising I'm doing on Facebook, I've started scanning back issues of my fanzine WeberWoman's Wrevenge and making them available in PDF on my own website as well as two of the fanzine archive sites, efanzines.com and fanac.org. Plans for a brand new issue of the zine are fermenting in my mind.

20 December 2008

Visiting cruise ships

Cruise ships large and small visit Airlie Beach regularly, on their trips up and down the Queensland coast. These two arrived on the 8th and 9th of December, coming in around 6 AM (soon after dawn) and departing around 6 PM (not long before sunset).

Demolition of a derelict house

A derelict house just below us on the hillside is finally being torn down. This is probably due to local government saying "clean that up before cyclone season or we'll do it for you and charge you a lot of money". Scientists are predicting an "active" cyclone season for Queensland, so there is a lot of pressure on the half-completed construction projects to clean up anything that can blow around -- before they close up for the 2- to 4-week summer break. And of course pressure on householders with junk in their yards.
Removing the roof began 10 days ago. Using a chainsaw to cut the roof battens. No use of any of the required safety equipment is evident. Smashing down the weakened structure. Some cleanup of debris still to go, and some stubborn structure to knock down.

19 December 2008

More travel photo albums now online

I've just uploaded the photo albums for our 2002 trip to Darwin and back in the motorhome. The trip report starts here. Look in the text of each installment for the links to photo albums.

I'm on Facebook

After months of resisting, I've finally got a Facebook account. Increasing numbers of friends are putting photos there and have been encouraging me to get an account so I can see them. I'm rapidly discovering hordes of friends, particuarly from the science-fiction fandom community, including many in my age group, so I can see a lot of time spent catching up with them.

18 December 2008

Another Carlyle Gardens inspection

On Tuesday we drove again to Townsville, this time to attend a pre-Christmas pizza-and-pool party for new residents, and to inspect progress on the house. The weather was fine, sunny, and hot, though not excessively humid. We enjoyed meeting more of the residents (and collecting the latest gossip); the pizza was good too. Afterwards, we drove around the established part of the community (the "east side"), collecting ideas on window coverings and garden treatments. The next day we inspected our house, located on the "west side" (also known colloquially as the "far side"—a designation we quite like). We noted that driveway had been poured 2 days before, the kitchen cabinets were in, the roof ventilation and solar hot-water panel was in, final bits of tiling were in progress, and there was still no evidence of airconditioning going to be installed in the 2nd and 3rd bedrooms, as specified. I queried this point and this morning received a call to say "yes, it will be done!" Here are two more pictures. The first is taken from the other (eastern) side of what will be a landscaped park; the arrow marks our house. Projected completion date is now early January, weather permitting, but we're in no hurry.

12 December 2008

Support Creative Commons

Support CC - 2008 I'm a Creative Commons fan; I like their philosophy. If you're not familiar with CC, you can read about it here. Browsing around their website reveals much of interest, including notes on which organisations and individuals are licensing some or all of their output under one of the several CC licenses available.

08 December 2008

Support Wikipedia

Wikipedia is fundraising. Wikipedia Affiliate Button

05 December 2008

Adventures with my Eee - Part 3

Wanting to get the Eee working with my mobile phone as a modem, I bought a USB-to-Bluetooth dongle. (More recent versions of the Eee come with Bluetooth built in.) Lots of internet research and mucking around later, I got it working. Hooray! (I'll come back here later and insert some links to web pages that helped me figure it out.) Unfortunately, after turning off the Eee overnight, upon rebooting this morning I found that Ubuntu doesn't "see" the dongle. So apparently what worked to get it going wasn't persistent. More research needed, but no time right now. Here are two photos of the device I bought. It's one of the smallest ones available. I got mine from the local Tandy store, but they are readily available on eBay and other online shops.

30 November 2008

Schoolies week in Airlie Beach

This week is "Schoolies"—the week when graduating high school students, having finished their final exams, go to several popular places and party. Airlie Beach is one of the popular places. Many of the kids are not yet of legal drinking age (18) but most of them have no trouble getting supplies. Many extra police are in town to keep order. The last couple of years, Schoolies week locally has been noisy but not marred by many fights (or lots of illegal drinking), unlike in some other areas, such as the Gold Coast in southern Queensland. I'm using the hot, humid weather as an excuse to stay indoors with the doors and windows closed and the airconditioning on. This keeps the noise from their so-called "music" to a tolerable level. Unfortunately the local weather on several days has featured strong wind gusts and some storms—not so good for trips to the reef and other on-water activities that might take the schoolies out of town (and tire them out). Still, we got through the week with minimal problems, a testimony I think to the town's attitude of welcome and providing lots of things for the kids to do, plus an escort service for girls returning to their accommodation and safe places for people to go and chill out if peer pressure is getting to be a bit too much for them.

26 November 2008

Adventures with my Eee - Part 2

In March I bought an Asus Eee, one of the models with a 7-inch screen. In October I replaced its operating system with a special Eee version of Ubuntu. Here is what its interface looks like. This week I got around to trying to use the 24-inch Dell monitor as a display for the Eee. This turned out to be somewhat more complicated that I had expected. It had worked easily with the Xandros that came with the machine, so I had not been expecting problems. However, if I plugged in the monitor before starting Ubuntu, the display (on the Eee as well as the monitor) went completely berserk. The Eee's display was apparently attempting to fit the monitor's resolution (so most of the display didn't fit into the available area), and the external monitor was completely unreadable, with horizontal lines of colour jumping around. After much mucking around, I found a sequence that works for me:
  1. With the video cable (to the external monitor) disconnected, turn on Eee, boot Ubuntu.
  2. Connect the video cable to the external monitor.
  3. On the Eee, go to Preferences -> Screen Resolution.
  4. Click Detect Displays. Set Resolution to 800x600.
  5. Click Apply. Answer "yes" to "Keep settings?" External monitor will come on.
  6. Close Settings window.
So far I haven't found a way around having to do this each time I try to use the Eee with the external monitor. However, I don't often want to do this, so it's not a big drama and I'm not going to spend a lot of time on finding a better way. The next upgrade of the operating system may change it all anyway... or perhaps I'll try out one of the other flavours of Ubuntu for the Eee. Here's a photo of the Eee running the big monitor.

25 November 2008

Good medical news

Yesterday we drove to Mackay for my one-year post-op checkup with the orthopedic surgeon. He said the x-rays looked excellent (pointing out various technical details) and told me that that he didn't need to see me again for checkups, though of course if I developed problems (especially pain) I should get in touch with him or someone else. He also said I had no restrictions on what I can do, though he advises against high-impact activities. He reckons the implants are good for at least 20 years, and probably 30, though nothing's guaranteed... depends on a lot of variables.

20 November 2008

Carlyle Gardens update

We had arranged to inspect progress on the house and pay our deposit on Tuesday. On the way into town on Monday, we stopped at our credit union (MECU) at James Cook University to pick up a cheque. MECU has recently purchased UniCredit, a smaller credit union with a branch office at JCU. We are delighted, because for 10 years our nearest branch has been in Brisbane! Not that we can't do all of our normal banking over the internet or at the post office, but for rare occasions it would be a bit more convenient to go into a branch office. But I digress... regarding the house: the brick siding and metal roof are on, the interior walls are in, the windows are all in place, and the major bits of floor tiling are done. But the bathrooms and kitchen still have to be installed, and all the plumbing and wiring connected, as well as the interior painting done. One of the salespeople said they'd be astonished if the builder managed to complete it all before 19 December, the projected completion date (and the last day before the builders leave for their 3-week end-of-year break). The project manager said he was leaning on the builder to preferentially work on the houses that have been sold, instead of doing them sequentially down the street. We told everyone that we were not in any hurry, so if it all slipped into next year, no problem... and we'd be overseas for all of February, so handover in March would be okay. We don't want to move in high summer anyway. While we were there, we met some of our future neighbours, who told us a few things. They had moved into the new section (two streets away from our place) in early September, and say they really like it, but there are some "issues" -- not with the community's management, but with other services. For example, the phone company still hasn't managed to get their landline connections working. They aren't too concerned because they have mobile phones, and they are not being charged for their non-existent landline service. They also cheerfully noted that the electricity company hasn't got their meters working yet, so although the power is on, they aren't being charged for what they're using. Here's a photo of the house as seen on Tuesday. See also this post and this photo album.

Rat damage fixed

We drove to Townsville on Monday and put the car in for service first thing Tuesday morning. Fortunately we were planning to stay over until Wednesday anyway, because we didn't get it back until mid-afternoon on Wednesday, although we were promised the car back by 5 PM Tuesday. The service people didn't even start diagnosing the problem until mid-afternoon on Tuesday, so they had no hope of finishing the job that day once they discovered it wasn't easy. Apparently the technicians eventually had to pull out the dashboard and then the back seat before they finally tracked the problem to its cause: insulation chewed off the wires near the fuel pump. Then after fixing the wiring they had to put the car back together again! On the plus side, we were pleasantly surprised at how relatively low the repair bill was, considering how much work had been involved. Meanwhile we drove around in a cute little Mazda supplied by the dealership at no charge to us, doing some shopping and visiting Carlyle Gardens again (see separate post).

15 November 2008

Houseguest and birds

Mike, a friend from Canada, was here for 10 days. He's the perfect houseguest: good company but doesn't need entertaining, tidies up after himself, and doesn't get in my way. Many days he was off on snorkeling trips to the islands or the outer reef, so we only saw him in the early morning and the evening anyway. Three species of birds came by our balcony to be introduced to Mike (and fed by him): cockatoos, lorikeets, and a young kookaburra (with its nervous mother hovering around nearby). Here are some photos.
Cockatoo has close encounter with Mike—several others are on the rail, just out of the picture. Rainbow lorikeet—one of a pair that visited. Kookaburra—his blue underwing feathers are visible but not obvious in this photo.

27 October 2008

Getting Started with OpenOffice.org 3

I've been spending a lot of my time recently working on the Getting Started guide produced by the OOoAuthors group, especially the printed edition published by the Friends of OpenDocument Inc. through Lulu.com.

Getting Started with OpenOffice.org 3Getting Started with OpenOffice.org 3 (October 2008); a free download is available from the same page.

A version of this book, formatted for onscreen viewing of two pages side-by-side, was published earlier and is available on the OOo Documentation Project's website, along with PDFs of the individual chapters of the book.

22 October 2008

Rats revisited

We took the car to the auto electrician, who inspected it and said that he couldn't find any exposed wiring or other obvious problems, so the next thing to do was have it checked by the computerised system at—you guessed it—a Subaru dealer. Subaru doesn't make the necessary software available to other fixit places (at least not until a car model is at least 3 years old, which is when the basic warranty expires), so it's a dealer or nothing. The electrician said the car was safe to drive, but we of course could not trust any of the instrumentation. He didn't charge us anything for the inspection, either. The first chance we'll have to get the car looked at is the week of 17 November, so that's when we're going to Townsville; we wanted to go there anyway around that time. After we left the electrician's, we stopped at a service station to top up the fuel. It took very little, thus confirming that the fuel level was what we'd thought it should be. Of course, the gauge is still showing empty. Meanwhile one of our neighbours gave us some rat poison to put in the engine compartment. I hate rat poison, because some animal or bird might eat the dead rat and be poisoned in turn, so I'm reluctant to use it.

20 October 2008


When I returned on 9 October after a week away, I discovered that the car was showing an "out of fuel" light and the gauge was at the completely empty end of the scale. I speculated about whether it really was out of fuel or if a sensor had failed; and if it was really out of fuel, why that might be: a leak? thieves? I knew that we'd not driven enough since the last refuelling to use even half a tank. Well, after Eric got home from his travels (a week later), we put another 10 litres (2.5 gallon approx.) into the tank, but not only did the light not go out, but other warning lights came on. Scary ones, that the owner's manual said meant "contact Subaru immediately". So of course we didn't want to drive it anywhere. Today, Monday, I called the service department at the Subaru dealer from whom we'd bought the car, and he said "can't tell without putting it on to the computer; you'll have to bring it in to a dealer, but probably best to go to the closer one in Mackay" (only 150 km away instead of 300 km). So I phoned the Mackay dealership, who said much the same thing, agreeing that with no idea of the cause, they couldn't say whether driving it would be safe or not. They suggested calling the auto club, which I had considered doing in the first place. So I did. The auto club bloke arrived, checked fuses, hmmmm'd a bit, opened the bonnet, took one look, and immediately said: "There's your problem: rats!" showing us a piece of chewed insulation (teeth marks clearly visible). "If you don't drive it a lot, they come down the hill and build a nest in the car, often on top of the fuel tank, and chew the insulation on the wiring. We see a lot of that here." He said the car was safe to drive, but there was no need to take it to the dealer as the local auto electrician could deal with it. So I phoned the auto electrician, who laughed ("We see a lot of that here!") and made an appointment for us to bring it in on Wednesday. I guess we should drive the car more often!

13 October 2008

OpenOffice.org 3 is here!

OpenOffice.org 3 was released today. It is much improved, with some great new features, although its appearance hasn't changed much. I am among those who are really happy that it has only minor changes in the user interface (related to functional changes in the program) and not cosmetic changes to make it look more "modern"—but others disagree. You can get OOo version 3 from the OpenOffice.org website. Take it for a test drive. If you like it, keep it! No license fees or other charges. Thanks to OpenOffice.org Ninja for a summary (with screenshots) of new features.

12 October 2008

Ubuntu on the Asus Eee PC

In March I mentioned buying an Asus Eee PC running Xandros Linux. Today I replaced the Xandros with a special Eee version of Ubuntu, the Linux flavour that I run on my main laptop. A member of the Ubuntu Australia group kindly sent me a CD with the operating system on it (so I didn't have to download it), along with instructions for putting the program on a USB stick so I could install it (the Eee doesn't have a CD drive). This involved downloading some small programs and running them, to make the USB stick bootable and unpack the Ubuntu program files. Unfortunately, I couldn't install from my USB stick (it kept giving error messages), and I didn't have a spare one to try, so I used the same instructions to put the files on an SD card and it then installed with no problems. I'm much happier with the Eee now that it has a more familiar (to me) operating system on it, and the screen seems more readable to me, so I'm playing around with it quite a bit more than I did before. I've got an 8GB SD card in it to supplement the 4GB that comes with it. While at a science-fiction convention in Canberra over the weekend, I spotted two people with 7-inch Eee's (the model I have). One was running the supplied Linux, but the other had an alpha of Ubuntu 8.10 on it.

07 September 2008

Carlyle Gardens open day

The Carlyle Gardens retirement resort in Townsville (suburb of Condon) held an open day on the weekend of the 6th and 7th of September, and we attended. What we saw, and the residents we met, confirmed our impression that this was a suitable place for us to live. Our selection criteria included:
  • Located in a warm but not too humid part of the country, with a choice of suitable health care options and a convenient airport with good connections to other parts of the country.
  • Good, fast internet access available.
  • Easy access to recreational facilities such as a gym, pool, maybe a restaurant.
  • Convenient transport options if one doesn’t have a car.
  • Far enough above sea level and/or far enough from the coast to minimise the risk of flooding from storms (including cyclones), tsunami, sea levels rises, etc.
  • Not in an area likely to be flooded by river runoff or flooding, eg from heavy rain associated with cyclones.
  • Facilities to minimise inconvenience from power outages of up to several days (e.g., solar power sufficient to keep some things running—though not the air-conditioning). This ruled out most buildings with elevators.
  • The house or apartment must have no internal or external steps.
  • Must have some way to separate my space from Eric’s space, with a sound barrier between us.
  • Must have two toilets, and preferably two bathrooms.
  • Must have good storage space.
Our original idea was to wait a year or two or three and buy a house in a later stage of the expansion, but after studying the site plan we realised that the house that suited us best was in the section currently under construction, and it was best by a long margin. So we put down a bit of cash as an “option” (sort of a holding deposit) and came home with a thick document to read and lots of photos (album here). I just realised I’ve never lived in a new house in my adult life, and possibly only once as a child. We haven’t decided what to do with the apartment in Airlie Beach, except that we definitely plan to keep it for at least a few years, as an investment.
Recently built houses.
Our house, under construction.
Community centre. Below: location.

View Larger Map

07 August 2008

Trip to Cairns and Port Douglas

We just got back from our first longish trip in the new car, and the first longish trip in any car since my hip operations 18 months ago. We went up to coast to Cairns and Port Douglas and back again. We been told by a lot of people that good deals on hotels could be had, as the whole region is suffering from lack of tourists (cost of petrol is one reason; cuts in airline services is another), and so it proved when I checked on my favourite online booking site, Wotif. We left on Monday, 28 July, driving only as far as Townsville (300 km). The drive was very good: beautiful weather, and very little traffic on the road. The independent truck drivers are said to be on strike, so instead of the usual steady stream of semi-trailers, we saw about 6 in 4 hours. The main highway is two-lane most of the way (one lane in each direction), and the road surface is often in poor repair, so the lack of trucks was most pleasant. We did a bit of shopping and checked out a retirement resort (Carlyle Gardens) in Townsville that looks much like Panorama City in Lacey, Washington (where my parents lived): about the same size (number of residents), same sort of facilities and activities, and so on. I've been doing some internet research for a couple of years, but this is the first time we've actually gone to inspect one of these resorts. Eric's not keen, but he knows that one of these years we'll probably have to move somewhere for medical reasons, so he's willing to look at places that might suit us. Their website, by the way, is a bit out of date; it doesn't show the large new section that is under construction. We'll be returning for a closer look on their open day in September. We had a great drive up the coast, stopping briefly at Paronella Park, a mostly-ruined place with a fascinating history as a popular tourist destination in the 1930s and 1940s. We really enjoyed our 3 days in Cairns. We stayed three nights in a 5-star hotel (Cairns International) for about the cost of our usual 3.5 star motels. The weather was beautiful, so we walked around quite a lot (more than I've done for two years; very tiring, but definitely good for me). We ate in one of our favourite seafood restaurants (Barnacle Bills), among other places. Trips to the reef and rainforest are no novelty for us, so we didn't do any of that. Goofing off, and not accessing the internet, makes a really great break for us. Then on to Port Douglas, just a hour's drive up the coast from Cairns, where we stayed for 3 days at Le Cher du Monde on Macrossan Street, the main shopping-and-restaurant street. The apartment was quite comfortable and the location was ideal. Ours faced the pool, so if there was any street noise at night, we didn't hear it. More goofing off in beautiful weather, interspersed with long walks around town. We were interested to see that the old place we'd stayed in years and years ago (Coconut Grove) has recently been replaced by a large modern upmarket resort building. On our way back down the coast, we stopped for two nights at Port Hinchinbrook in Cardwell, a resort that turned out to be almost deserted of visitors, with extremely limited food options. We ended up driving the 3 km to Cardwell (a small town strung out along the sea shore) and picking up takeaway food (salads and sandwiches) there. Our cabin was otherwise pleasant, and had its own outdoor spa. Our original plans called for taking a cruise to the resort on Hinchinbrook Island for the day, but we chose not to, preferring to sit around reading our books instead. Then home to Airlie Beach the next day. I'm working on an album of photos of the trip and will post a link here when it's done and uploaded.

03 July 2008

On to Wollongong

On Friday we checked out of the hotel, dragged our luggage several blocks to a Europcar rental office, and picked up a car. I had chosen Europcar partly because their office was within a block of easy access to the freeway going south... where we wanted to go. We drove south, checking out the beaches south of the airport and then driving through the Royal National Park on our way to Wollongong. I had never visited most of this stretch of coast, despite having lived in the Sydney area for 10 years. The weather was beautiful. I didn’t find many photo opportunities in the National Park (most of the good views required more walking, or more precarious walking—such as on slippery stones over a creek—than I wanted to indulge in). Just south of the park is a great view towards Wollongong. Along this stretch of coast, part of the old road has been replaced with the Seacliff Bridge, which is just visible as a Z-curve in the photo below. The road is on huge pylons. It opened around 2 years ago. The only way to get good photos is by walking along the pedestrian walkway, but as this involved a much longer walk than I felt up to, we didn’t do it. Eventually we reached the Wollongong area and found the Bed-and-Breakfast place where we were staying for 3 nights. It had only been open for 6 weeks in a newly-built house, so some bits weren’t quite finished. Despite that, it was a comfortable place, the food was good, and the proprietors were interesting to talk with. They have only 3 guest rooms. On 2 of the nights, we were the only guests; on Saturday, another couple was staying there, but we didn’t meet them. Wollongong is a small industrial city with a growing university. It’s been reinventing itself as a tourist destin­ation, taking advantage of good beaches and a beautiful sea view, nice for more people than just those wishing to enjoy the surfing. On Monday we drove south aways to look at other parts of the coast, then back to Sydney, dropping off the rental car in the mid-afternoon. More lunch and dinner visits with Sydney friends followed.

Trip to Sydney & visit to Apple Store

In late June, encouraged by my walking progess, I took my first trip by air since my hip operations. The construction noise was driving me nuts, so one Monday morning I announced to Eric that I was going to Sydney for a week; would he like to come with me? Of course he agreed, so I spent an hour or so making plane and hotel bookings and on Wednesday we departed. As expected, I encountered no dramas with the airport security people, either at our local airport or in Sydney on our return. They seemed quite accustomed to dealing with passengers with metal hips and knees. As advised, I mentioned my hips to the attendant before stepping through the detector (which beeped loudly), and was then given a closer going-over with a wand. No big deal, and very little extra delay. We stayed in a different hotel in Sydney this time, for two reasons: we like to try new (to us) hotels whenever one has a good deal on Wotif, and this trip we wanted to do some different things in a slightly different part of the city than usual. The hotel I chose (Park Regis) is only two blocks from Town Hall Station and another block to the specialist SF bookstore, Galaxy. Then a few more blocks to the new Apple store, which had just opened a week or two earlier. We really enjoyed visiting the Apple store. We went early on Thursday morning, when it wasn’t busy, so we had a chance to chat with several of the young, enthusiastic staff and play with all the gadgets that interested us. We entertained one of the staff by listing all the Apple stores we’d been in, in the USA and (in my case) in the UK. This encouraged her to point out that the store has the biggest Apple logo and the longest Genius Bar (the help section) in the world. In overall size, the Sydney store is second only to the London store. Here are some photos. Apologies to those of you who don’t find Apple stores (and their architecture) as exciting as we do. An album of photos is here. Front of Apple store, Sydney. Note 15-metre tall glass panels along the front, and the big Apple logo. Eric and I at the glass staircase The glass staircase has two levels. From the upper level you can see people walking up the lower stairs. The big logo as seen from inside the store. Ground floor has computers (desktop models are at the other end of the room), Top floor is the Genius Bar, where staff diagnose whatever problem customers have with their computers or iPods. There are also 4 tables with computers for kids (featuring software for children), and (not visible in photo) areas for individual and group training—all free.

22 June 2008

New word of the week: Nerdgassing

"Nerdgassing: I Coin This Word In the Name of Humanity". http://scalzi.com/whatever/?p=834 Definition: The venting nerds emit when some (often minor) detail of a book/movie/TV show/comic book/etc either conflicts with canon and/or handwaves through some some suspect science. I enjoyed the comments, and the masthead photo on the blog, too. And the whole topic reminded me of the reactions of some people, especially a subset of professional editors, when faced with incorrect punctuation or usage (or what they see as incorrect punctuation or usage, which in many cases includes the way the Brits and Aussies do it).

17 June 2008

Reno in 2011 Worldcon bid

I'm now the Australian agent for the "Reno in 2011" WorldCon bid. A large group of my friends (scattered all over the US) are running this bid, in opposition to a bid from Seattle that is run by people I don't know. The Reno bid's website is http://www.rcfi.org/ I probably wouldn't attend (I don't do WorldCons unless they are in Australia), but I like their attitude... and I know that among the group is plenty of conrunning experience so they should do a good job of it.

11 June 2008

Leg improvement

On Saturday evening I stood up from sitting in Eric's recliner chair and something in my left leg went click and it HURT LIKE HELL when I put any weight on it. He helped me into the bedroom to lie down, and we both freaked. Saturday of a 3-day weekend—what a time for something to happen! Fortunately it didn't hurt when I was lying down, so I stayed in bed. Now the weird part—when I got up on Sunday morning, my leg felt—and functioned—better than it had for months. I was walking without lurching! We assume something snapped back into place (instead of out of place, as we'd first thought). It's still doing fine, and I’m finally improving my walking distance and speed. Oh, and as an extra bonus—my bad left knee has been hurting a lot less than before.

10 June 2008

New cupboards

For years I've been making do with two open-fronted sets of shelves as my "pantry" in the hall, but a few months ago I decided it was time to seriously attempt to replace them with something a bit tidier, that is with doors to hide the jumble of contents. After looking at lots of unsuitable (and often overpriced) cupboards in several stores, I finally located ones I liked and ordered from one of the local hardware stores three single-door flat-pack pantry cupboards. To the surprise of both me and Eric, the cupboards turned out to be really easy to put together. The instructions were good (good English, readily under­standable, with good clear diagrams), and the quality control of the cutting of the pieces and the hole spacing for screws was excellent. The quality is conspicuously better than most of the cheap flat-pack stuff we've bought in the past 10+ years, and not much more expensive. They are from a company in Western Australia. I did most of the assembly myself, enlisting Eric only for the heavy lifting.

05 June 2008

Kookaburras visit

Two kookaburras visited us this evening. We fed one some strips of chicken. It was interesting to watch the bird whack the chicken against the railing before eating it, as if it were a lizard or something that needed to be stunned or killed. One of those "wish I had the video camera out" moments!

29 May 2008

Eric in the newspaper

My concentration lately has not been helped at all by the construction work below us reaching another phase of pounding things into the ground. THUMP THUMP THUMP (etc). Today they started at 08:00! (They generally quit around 17:30, though they do take a few breaks, for lunch and such.) We probably should take a trip somewhere for a few weeks. Last week Eric was interviewed (and photographed) for the Sunday Mail (a big Brisbane newspaper), which devoted most of two pages to an article on "the battle for Airlie Beach". Eric got the big quote at the top of the page: "It's really developed and it's noisy, dirty and disruptive. The things which made it charming are starting to disappear." The main story (without that quote or any mention of Eric) got into the online version of the paper, but the quote, photo, and interview of Eric didn't; his bit was only in the print version. Oh well. I can't post it on my blog for all to see, because of copyright.

20 May 2008

Outrageous taxi dispatcher

While Eric and I were out walking today, we met an acquaintance who had injured her leg and was leaning heavily on a cane. She said she was waiting for a taxi to take her to a doctor's appointment at an office 3 km away, but said she wasn't sure if one would arrive to pick her up. She explained that when she had phoned for a pickup, the dispatcher had told her to go to the taxi rank (about 100 yards away) even though she'd mentioned she was unable to walk that far. We were outraged. We also assumed that the drivers themselves would be happy to come get her, despite the dispatcher being a jerk, so when we got to the taxi rank (where two taxis were waiting), Eric spoke to the first driver. He agreed that the dispatcher's statement was ridiculous and promptly drove off to collect the woman. I hope she makes an official complaint to the taxi company about the dispatcher. Update: Turns out she had a broken ankle, and she did make a complaint.

14 May 2008

New car

On Monday we drove to Townsville (300 km north, about 4 hours with rest breaks) to get the car serviced. It was very overdue for a service, though it hasn’t been used that much. The log book shows that in a typical year we drive around 5,000 km; even with the around-Australia trip in 2004 contributing nearly 20,000 km, our total distance for a bit over 5 years is under 45,000 km. The tyres need replacing (turns out the tread was worn to an illegal level), but otherwise the car’s in great shape. But it’s reaching the age where things are more likely to go wrong, and its resale value is plummeting, so I wanted to test-drive the new models (Subaru Forester X), which sounded great in the reviews and in the specs on the Subaru website. And with the Austra­lian dollar at or near its highest value in many years, the cost of new cars is about the same as what I paid for mine five years ago. So I test-drove the car, liked it, dickered a bit with the salesman, consulted with Eric, and bought the demonstrator car (for a small discount off the nominal price). A bit of phoning and faxing later, I had arranged with my credit union to transfer the money from my account into the car dealer­ship’s bank account, so by the following day we sorted out the last of the paper­work and I was able to drive the car home. The trip home was delayed (predictably) by the dealership not having it cleaned and ready to go by noon (as they had promised), but by 3 PM we were on our way. Less than 10 km down the road, my mobile phone rang; the salesman sheepishly said that he’d forgotten to put the registration sticker on the car. Oops! So back we went, got the sticker, and set off again. By then we had no chance of getting home before dark (which is around 6 PM at this time of year). We don’t like driving at dusk because of the increased chance of running (literally) into wildlife on the road, but fortunately that didn’t happen.

11 May 2008

Medical update

Medical update: When I saw the physio on Wednesday for a monthly checkup, he seemed reasonably pleased with my progress, though it's obvious to both of us that I still have a ways to go. He then had me do some new exercises (with an exercise ball, one of the big ones you can sit on) and seemed a bit surprised that I did the first few quite easily and well. So he immediately put me onto the intermediate series of exercises, some for strength and others for balance, and on the way home I bought an exercise ball to add to my extensive collection of equipment. I liked them when I was going to the gym. I also bought a new electric jug—this one with a covered spout, to discourage geckos and other wildlife from falling in.

01 May 2008

Marina construction update

Although I complain about the noise and dust from the marina construction, it's often very entertaining. Yesterday was better than a 5-ring circus. In addition to the usual collection of diggers filling trucks with dirt to be taken from one part of the site to another, we had: a series of trucks delivering drainage pipes, sand, gravel, rolls of plastic, large boulders, and other constructions materials; two large diggers creating a big trench in the previously-flattened area and other equipment planting drainage pipes in the trench; trees being removed and preparations made for shifting the site offices to another part of the site; and—in the center ring!—the display and sales office (about the size of a 3-bedroom house) being moved several hundred yards to its new location. The latter process took all day and included 8 or 10 helmeted people peering intently under the building as it was jacked up and a huge flatbed truck moved underneath it, then a heavy tractor was attached by a chain to the front of the truck and hauled it part of the distance (probably a slight slope was involved and the truck couldn't cope on its own), after which the truck drove the rest of the way and made a complicated 5-point turn to get the building oriented as they wanted it, and finally—just before sunset—it was moved into position. This morning they reinstalled the jacks, removed the truck, and have now lowered the building to rest on concrete pads under the stumps. We have photos of the whole process; I hope to get them into an album and online soon.

29 April 2008

Geckos beware

Yesterday started off with a shock: I boiled my tea water in the electric jug (similar to an electric kettle) and then discovered the jug contained a (now boiled) gecko. Apparently the poor creature had fallen in through the spout sometime overnight. I don't know whether it had drowned before being boiled, but either way—the incident really put me off the idea of tea for the day. I think it was the same critter that had fallen into the honey container a few weeks ago. Sigh... I'm planning to get a new jug; I can't bear the though of using the old one, even if I clean it thoroughly. Meanwhile, the microwave oven boils water just fine. Eric took photos of the deceased, but I won't inflict them on you.

21 April 2008

Medical update

Eric and I drove to Mackay for my routine checkup by the orthopedic surgeon. As expected, he says all is well regarding my hips. I just have to keep practicing walking properly until I get it right. All the hints he gave me about walking are the same as the physio's instructions (though the physio added some specific exercises to the list), so my biggest problem is impatience. I’d probably improve faster if I following my exercise regimen more thoroughly, I must admit. And losing the weight I gained last year would no doubt help a lot too. As for the knee pain, we'll revisit that issue in 6 months at my next checkup. He says it's quite possible that the problem will resolve itself when my walking gait improves. I hope! Otherwise, he thinks it's more likely something that can be fixed with "keyhole surgery" instead of something more invasive, since the x-rays show no sign of bone wear. I've been reading a bit about the marvelous things they can do with artificial cartilege and/or fixing tendon/muscle attachments—whatever the actual problem might turn out to be. After my appointment, we did some shopping but I ran out of enthusiasm before we got through the whole list. We did find several small items that we've been hunting for some time, so we considered the day a success. I did most of the driving, and I'm delighted to report that nothing hurt or cramped up or went numb or any of the other annoying symptoms I sometimes get from being in the car for too long. When we got home, I immediately fell on the bed and slept for two hours—I'm definitely lacking in stamina after so much inactivity over the past year.

12 April 2008

Scanning old slides

Today I finally started on a project I've been avoiding for years (because of the volume of work involved): scanning all my old slides into digital form. Several years ago I bought a scanner than handles slides and film, and I used it a bit but then got distracted by other, more interesting, projects. I have around 4,000 slides dating back to the 1960s, covering travels in Europe, North America, New Zealand, Australia and possibly North Africa. The quality of the scans isn't great, but in many cases this is because the colour in the slides has deteriorated over the years. Perhaps I'll use The Gimp to turn them all into sepia so they look even older.

28 March 2008

OpenOffice.org 2.4 has been released!

OpenOffice.org 2.4 (the free, open-source office suite for Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, and other operating systems) was released yesterday. It includes some great new features, which are described (with copious illustrations) at the OOo Ninja site. To download the program, go to the OpenOffice.org website and click on "I want to download OpenOffice.org". The page should detect your operating system and provide a large green button to click to start the download. There is a link just below that to click if you want to download a copy for a different operating system or a different language. If you have visited the OpenOffice.org website before, you will notice the greatly simplified new design of the home page and the cleaner, more modern overall look of the top banner and sidebar of the whole site. Good work, OOo website team!

27 March 2008

Eric takes an "aerobatics" flight

Eric had received a gift certificate for an "aerobatics" flight in a Tiger Moth biplane operating out of our local airport, so today we drove out to the airport so he could take his flight. We see (and hear) this plane several times a day, most days, doing its stunts (rolling over, spinning around, etc) over the bay near our apartment. Eric says the flight was great and the stunts did not in fact feel like riding a roller coaster, as he had expected. Although he couldn't take photos during the stunts, he got some good photos on the flight between the airport and the bay (a few km). A photo album is here. The photos of the plane in flight were taken from our balcony on a different day (without Eric in the plane). It's very difficult to give an idea of the stunt flying without using motion photography. Perhaps we'll get a video sequence one day.

26 March 2008

Jean buys an Asus Eee PC

The local computer store is having a sale. We went there today to buy a scanner and came home with a multifunction scanner/copier/colour-inkjet-printer to share, a terabyte USB hard drive for Eric, and an Asus Eee PC for me. It's cute, weighs less than 1kg, runs on Xandros (Linux) and has most of the programs I use every day, like Firefox, Thunderbird, and OOo all set up and ready to go. It's also set up to access Google Docs, Wikipedia, Gmail, and a bunch of other things with one or two clicks. The keyboard is a bit too small for me to comfortable type more than short things like the occasional email, and the screen is very small (but clear and readable). Could be a useful travel machine. In the photos below, picture 3 shows the Asus Eee on the lower left, my Dell XPS M1210 (12.1-inch screen) on the right, and my 24-inch monitor displaying what's running on the Dell. Picture 4 shows the Eee's display mirrored on the big monitor—great for showing something to a group, or for someone with poor eyesight who needs things enlarged a lot. (I am a bit in that category myself; on any high-resolution device, including large-screen computers, I usually need to enlarge the fonts a lot.)

25 March 2008

Eric buys a MacBook Air

After resisting temptation for over two months, last week Eric bought a MacBook Air. It arrived today. I must say it's the most elegant computer I've ever seen... as well as being ultra-thin and lightweight. The top photo below is us testing one of the marketing gimmicks from the MacBook Air announcement, where Steve Jobs slides it out of an envelope to show how thin it is. We had to find an American-sized envelope for this to work, as Australian ones (designed for paper of narrower width) didn't quite fit.

24 March 2008

More travel photo albums (WA)

Since my last post on this topic, I've created several albums of photos from the Western Australian part of Eric's and my 2004 around-Australia trip. The latest album, featuring photos of Karijini National Park (also known as Hammersley Ranges National Park) starts here. The narrative that goes with this album is on this page, from which you can navigate to other parts of the trip report. Creating albums like these (using JAlbum) is very quick and easy—the most time-consuming part for me is selecting the photos to include. Between us, Eric and I take a lot of digital photos; including all of them would bore everyone. Then I want to crop (and, sometimes, enhance) some of them, which takes yet more time. Did I mention that I use The Gimp (a free, open-source alternative to Adobe Photoshop) for photo manipulation?

23 March 2008

Easter, bilbies, bunnies, and chocolate

Not being Christian, I don't participate in the religious aspects of Easter, but I've always appreciated the 4-day holiday we enjoy in Australia at that time. This year the most conspicuous aspects of the holiday are a blissful silence from the very noisy marina construction site below us, and a lack of chocolate bilbies in town, since the chemist shop that normally stocks the Darrell Lea variety was flooded in January and still hasn't reopened. I mentioned bilbies, both the live and the chocolate varieties, in last year's post on the topic. One can get chocolate bilbies from places other than Darrell Lea, but Darrell Lea is the only manufacturer that gives part of the profits from each sale to the Save the Bilby campaign. In addition, the Darrell Lea bilbies come in four varieties (milk, dark, white, and sugar-free chocolate) and their chocolate tastes better than interior brands. Lastly, Darrell Lea chocolate bilbies look much more life-like than other brands'. Why bilbies? Because they are a native, endangered species that looks a bit like the imported 'bunny' rabbits, which have caused considerable damage to Australia wildlife. But what do bilbies, or bunnies for that matter, have to do with Easter? And what's with the eggs (chocolate or otherwise)? Eric (and About.com have reminded me that the rabbit—or more accurately the hare— was the symbol of Eastre, the Saxon fertility goddess. Eggs have been symbols of fertility since the ancient Greeks and Romans. The early Christian clerics took over more lively celebrations when the pagans wouldn't give up their Spring festival, so eggs and bunnies got incorporated into Christian 'Easter' celebrations despite having nothing to do with the resurrection of Christ. All of that is most relevant this year, when the date of Good Friday happens to coincide with the Equinox (start of Spring in the northern hemisphere), a traditional time for pagan celebrations.

21 March 2008

One writing project leads to another

I'm using the OpenOffice.org 2.x Writer Guide as source material for much of my new book on self-publishing, reorganising parts of it and adding new material more specific to my target audience. Parts of the Writer Guide have not been updated in over a year, so I'm finding lots of little (and not so little) mistakes, including info that became obsolete some time ago but was never spotted and updated. Since I'm updating that info for my own book, I feel obligated to update the Writer Guide itself (both the source files and, in some cases, the wiki version) as I go. I'm also referring to the new edition of the Draw Guide (which has been translated from German and not fully edited and published yet) for tips to help me create some graphics for my new book. Of course I'm spotting editorial corrections needed for the Draw Guide, and distracting myself from my main task by making those corrections. None of these are very onerous tasks, but they do mean that one writing project spawns several others, all of which take some time. It's amazing how a day can disappear on what started out as a small, apparently simple, task.

16 March 2008

Writing another OpenOffice.org book

Although I “retired” at the end of 2007 from my role as lead editor of a group (OOoAuthors) writing OpenOffice.org user guides, I still have a lot I want to say about using the parts of OOo that I use everyday and think I understand fairly well. So I'm self-publishing again. My first project is a book with the working title of Self-publishing using OpenOffice.org Writer. The book is for beginners to intermediate users of OpenOffice.org Writer. It concentrates on the needs of people writing a book-length document such as a thesis, a novel, or a software user guide, including people who want to self-publish their book using one of the on-demand printing services like Lulu, Booksurge, or Lightning Source. I'm publishing the draft on one of my websites (Taming OpenOffice.org), using WordPress. This has been an interesting learning experience, because I wanted to make the navigation sidebar for the book’s pages different from the sidebar for the rest of the website. The simplest solution I could find (that I could understand) was to create and use a second page template, so that’s what I've done. I’m sure there are other ways (such as a conditional PHP statement) to make the sidebar show what I want, but at this point I don't want to distract myself too much from the writing by trying to learn enough PHP programming to get that done. I intend for the book to be available eventually in HTML, PDF, and printed forms. And when that's done, I have several other books in my mind, eager to get out.

07 March 2008

Learning to walk again

Although I was able to walk again fairly soon after my second hip operation, four months later I'm still not walking well. I have a very noticeable limp or lurch, which is much worse if I'm not paying close attention to what I'm doing or if I'm a bit tired. So, a few days ago I finally got around to visiting a local physiotherapist to see if he could suggest anything I could do to improve my walking. He didn't tell me much I didn't already know, but he did tell me some specific exercises I should be doing (or doing differently than I'm doing them now) and he pointed out a few things about my walking that I didn't know (because I can't see what I'm doing or feel just what the real problem is). One of his suggestions was to exercise in a swimming pool. I said that was an excellent idea, but the chances of my actually doing it were very low. (Me: "I could say 'okay, I'll do that', but I gotta be honest: I won't. Anything that involves getting dressed, out of the house, down two flights of steps, and driving or walking somewhere... it won't get done. So let's talk about stuff I'm likely to actually do.") I was wearing my "Grumpy Old Woman" t-shirt, just for his benefit. Eric and I had been investigating treadmills, and the physio agreed that using one was an excellent idea, especially after I assured him that I DO ride my exercise bicycle, because it's right there next to my desk. Last week the local Sports Power store (where I had bought the bicycle and some weights and various other odds and ends over the past few years) had not had in stock the treadmill that I was interested in, but some arrived yesterday, so we went in and bought one. The ever-helpful Wayne from Sports Power delivered it later in the afternoon and unpacked, assembled, and tested it. My room is now rather crowded, though fortunately the treadmill will fold up to free up a bit of floor space if needed. Here are some photos.

21 February 2008

Document Freedom Day

A news release from the folks behind Document Freedom Day (DFD) says that 26 March is "a global day for Document Liberation with grassroots action for promotion of Free Document Formats and Open Standards in general. The DFD was initiated and is supported by a group of organisations and companies, including, but not limited to the Free Software Foundation Europe, ODF Alliance, OpenForum Europe, IBM, Red Hat and Sun Microsystems, Inc." If you'd like to advertise this event, the DFD website has some nice banners and wallpaper.

In addition, for those particuarly interested in promoting ODF (OpenDocument Format), Pete Harlow has produced a banner ad (see below) and a set of wallpapers for various screen resolutions. http://www.catnip.co.uk/ads/banners/addfdm03.png http://www.catnip.co.uk/wallpaper/thumbodfdfd001.jpg http://www.catnip.co.uk/wallpaper/odfdfd001-800x600.png http://www.catnip.co.uk/wallpaper/odfdfd001-800x600.jpg http://www.catnip.co.uk/wallpaper/odfdfd001-1024x768.png http://www.catnip.co.uk/wallpaper/odfdfd001-1024x768.jpg http://www.catnip.co.uk/wallpaper/odfdfd001-1280x1024.png http://www.catnip.co.uk/wallpaper/odfdfd001-1280x1024.jpg http://www.catnip.co.uk/wallpaper/odfdfd001-1600x1200.png http://www.catnip.co.uk/wallpaper/odfdfd001-1600x1200.jpg

17 February 2008

Rain, rain, more rain

The wet and windy weather returned overnight, after a few days of intermittent rain while the storm went south 150 km and caused major flooding in Mackay. Then the storm turned around and came back to us last night. Actually, there's been lots of rain all up the coast and all the usual roads are flooded (again), so the truck with the Saturday newspapers couldn't get through and AFAIK flights in and out of the airport were cancelled (perhaps because people couldn't get to or from the airport, or perhaps because the runway needed repair after water damage earlier in the week). The good news is the electricity has stayed on, except for one 45-minute outage a few days ago. Our backup power supply kept the internet connection working and of course the laptop kept going, so I just carried on working. The phrase "surfing the Internet" takes on a new meaning when the weather's like this. Down in Mackay, they're cleaning up the mess. People are warned to stay out of the floodwaters because of the danger of crocodiles.

14 February 2008

More wild wet season weather

Heavy rain and wind overnight on the 12th tossed yachts onto the beach and the rocks, here in Airlie Beach and at several other places on the coast and in the islands. Eric didn't take the camera out into the rain when he went on a futile quest for the morning newspaper (the truck had been delayed by the weather), but he said he counted at least 14 yachts on shore, most of them looking decidedly the worse for wear -- and that's just in the 500 metres of our town. This picture is taken a bit further along the coast towards Cannonvale. The newspapers did get here later in the morning, but then the roads north and south were cut by floods, as is usual folllowing heavy rain; this includes the road to the airport. We're on high ground and doing fine. Haven't heard if more landslides have occurred in the area, or how many trees are down. So far the electricity has stayed on. We actually had surf on Wednesday morning! Only a few feet high (perhaps as much as two metres?), but that's pretty exciting given that our "surf" is normally only a few inches high. People were out on surfboards. Today (Thursday) Eric and I walked along the beach and photographed some of the damaged boats. An album with a selection of photos is here: http://avalook.com/airliebeach/airlie0802/