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Thursday, February 27, 2014

Hang it all!

With MORGAN EQUIPMENT on Bougainville Island, Christmas 1980.
Those gigantic harddisks held a mere 10MB!!!


My involvement with computers began in 1976 when I studied FORTRAN IV at the University of Papua New Guinea in Port Moresby. In those days of "steam-driven" computers all programming was done by punch cards. Much later came magnetic tapes and eventually floppy and then harddisks.

By the time I was "driving" MORGAN EQUIPMENT's NCR mainframe on Bougainville Island in 1980, I was writing in COBOL and the harddisks were holding a mighty 10MB of data. WOW!!! Ten megabytes!!!

As for computer games, there was nothing of today's sophistication. HANGMAN was about as exciting as it got!

Here, try it for yourself:



Rain, Rain, Go Away


Okay, so you remember the old nursery rhyme but what about the short story by the same name? Here it is for you to read on a day when your outlook on the world is as 'Venetian' grey and wet as in the photo above. (Of course, you can also all-knowingly nod next time somebody quotes you 'Rain, Rain, Go Away' and reply, 'Yes, good old Asimov; great story, isn't it?' You'll have them scratching their heads for days! ☺ )

A chap called Dave phoned from Canberra asking if the Cottage was available for the weekend. I told him it was raining and not to go away. How's that for a bit of honest marketing?

Another inquirer had sent me an email which read, "We are interested to view your place and stay for next Saturday evening. Can you confirm availability?" I told him that even though he may be interested in buying the place, he'd still have to pay for his stay. It's perhaps not what he expected because I haven't heard from him since.

One person I have heard from is Horst Berger in Tonga who's sent me a short thank-you note to pass on to all those who so generously donated money. He will write to them individually in the months to come but right now he's busy getting a roof back over his head.

I also read a newspaper article which suggests that the top end of Foa Island, which has two small resorts, took a direct hit. "It's pretty much a total right-off, I mean the resort's completely destroyed," says Darren Rice who owns Matafonua Lodge. "There are 10 fales and bungalows on the beach and they are all gone." Mr Rice says it will take at least 12 months to rebuild. The nearby Sandy Beach Resort was also hit, but the owner, Boris Stavenow, who's lived in Tonga since 1986, says he'll rebuild. (The article also includes a video clip which you can view here.)


Monday, February 24, 2014

Forget about global warming, G20, financial and polar meltdown - here's the real news!


One of Queensland’s landmark “big” attractions has disappeared in an apparent overnight heist. The 10m-high Big Mango at Bowen in north Queensland was prised from its concrete platform where it had sat for more than a decade.

Bowen Tourist Information Centre manager Christin Short was the first to notice when he arrived at work this morning – and assumed it must have been removed for repairs. But a call to the Bowen Tourism Chairman Paul McLaughlin confirmed there was no planned maintenance – and an inspection found the three-storey mango had indeed been unbolted and stolen.


Are you being served?


For years Padma has been a regular at the local Chinese restaurant. She's going to be even more regular: she's just started her new career - oops! - curry job with them.

For three hours three days a week she fills in for a friend who's gone overseas or into the maternity ward or whatever - I'm afraid I'm not the most attentive listener when it comes to all this feminine gossip.

Padma enjoys her thrice-weekly encounters with humanity. I just wished I didn't have to listen to it while I am getting stuck into my beef with ginger and spring onions.


Sunday, February 23, 2014

Saturday, February 22, 2014

The Lost Art of Sleep


I've just spent a sleepless night reading The Lost Art of Sleep which is a wise and funny as well as profound exploration of one of life's true constants where we quite possibly spend the best third of it.

Mind you, bed is also the most dangerous place on earth. More people die there than anywhere else. Maybe that's why each passing generation spends less time in bed than the one before.

Read this book next time you suffer from insomnia.


Thursday, February 20, 2014

I spent two years behind those windows


Sometime during the voyage out to Australia in 1965 and under circumstances I have long forgotten, I had made friends with a young German who had come out to Australia many years before with his parents as a child. He was now married and on his way back from a trip to Europe with his wife, baby, and mother-in-law with whom he had revisited his own hometown and that of his Yugoslav wife. This friendship was going to have a major impact on my future life in Australia - more of this momentarily - and to this day Hans and I have remained good friends.

Hans and his family disembarked in Sydney to travel back to their home in Canberra whereas I, with most other assisted migrants, continued to the Port of Melbourne from where we were transported to the government's Migrant Centre at Bonegilla which was a camp along the lines of what you saw in the movie "The Great Escape" - except that Bonegilla was a darn sight worse.

Just like in that movie, I made my escape on the third day to begin my first job in Australia as 'Trainee Manager' with Coles & Company which had foodstores all over Melbourne. There I was, refilling shelves with groceries whose names I did not know, and had I known them would not have been able to pronounce, and helping blue-rinsed ladies take their boxes full of shopping out to their little Austin cars.

During the first days in Melbourne I had written to Hans in Canberra to let him know where I was, and before long he was on the 'phone to me suggesting that I might want to come up to Canberra. I didn't need much persuading! Hans got me a job as storeman/driver in the hardware & plumbing supplies company of Ingram & Sons in Canberra's industrial suburb of Fyshwick. I drove an INTERNATIONAL truck and delivered anything from ceramic floor tiles to bathtubs and roofing iron to building sites all over Canberra.

Not that I had a driver's license for a truck or had ever driven a truck before in my life but this was Australia, a young and vigorous country still largely devoid of formalities, and an even younger city, Canberra, still in the making: Hans simply took me down to the local Police Station where everybody seemed very impressed with my elaborate German "Führerschein" and where I was promptly issued with a much simpler but oh so much more useful Australian driving license.

I kept at this job for a few months but after I had almost burnt out the truck's diff at Deakin High School while bogged down in the mud with a full load on the back, and a slight but still embarrassing collision with the rear-end of another vehicle just outside the British High Commission, I thought it best to cash in my chips while I was still ahead.

I had earlier on answered an advertisement by the Australia & New Zealand Bank inviting school-leavers to join their ranks and, to my own surprise and joy - and very much thanks to the Bank's manager, Mr Robert Reid, to whom I shall be eternally grateful - I was accepted. I joined the ANZ Bank and, in keeping with my new "status" as a "Bank Johnny", moved from the migrant hostel on Capital Hill (now the site of the new Parliament House) into Barton House, one of Canberra's many boarding houses in those early years.

Working for the ANZ Bank allowed me to not only learn good, almost expletive-free English and mix with people a cut above the rest but it also introduced me to Australian commercial practices which would stand me in good stead as I worked my way through a correspondence course in accountancy with the then Hemingway Robertson Institute.

Two years later, I was well on my way to becoming an accountant and, having completed the obligatory two years in Australia, also on my way back to Germany. Even though I felt quite at home in Australia and no longer thought "they're a weird mob", I wanted to take one last look at the "Vaterland" to confirm in my own mind that the decision to emigrate, made so hastily and so much on the spur of the moment two years earlier, was the best thing I had ever done in my life.

Some six years after first arriving in Australia, on the 9th of December 1971, I appeared before Reserve Magistrate David Bruce Moorhouse at Arawa on Bougainville Island in the then Territory of Papua New Guinea, to swear allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, her heirs and successors, and to observe faithfully the laws of Australia and fulfil my duties as an Australian citizen.

At last I'd become one of them! No, not one of them but them: the weird mob! ☺


Wednesday, February 19, 2014

There is no alcohol in Saudi Arabia but you can get stoned anytime.


I've just listened to Karen Elliott House on ABC Radio National talking about her book On Saudi Arabia: Its People, Past, Religion, Fault Lines and Future and was totally riveted by it.

Not surprisingly, I immediately ordered from BookDepository.com this well informed, authoritative and illuminating book about the strangest country you probably never visit where men obey Allah and women obey men. Fortunately for men, Allah is distant, but unfortunately for women, men are omnipresent.

Not much seems to have changed since I lived and worked there for a number of years in the early 80s. I, too, had a run-in with the religious police who hit my legs with wooden sticks and told me to go home, not for wearing red nail polish but for wearing a pair of shorts.

Mind you, the religious police is not always just about red nail polish and shorts (a combination I personally haven't tried yet). In 2002, this same bunch of hateful bigoted bastards prevented more than a dozen girls from fleeing their flaming school building in Mecca, thus condemning them to burn to death because, while trying to escape the fire, their abayas and veils didn't fully cover them.

Saudis have a joke that summarises their society's passivity in the face of all this oppression:

The king decides to check the will of his people. So he sets up a checkpoint on a busy road. No one complains. So he asks his security officers to further test people's patience by also doing an identity check at the checkpoint. Still no one complains. Determined to find the public's limit of tolerance, the king asks the officer not only to stop the people and check their identities but also to ticket them. The line of cars grows ever longer on the busy Riyadh road, but still no public complaint emerges from a Saudi. So the king asks the officer to go one step further and slap those he stops, identifies, and tickets. Finally one Saudi man goes ballistic. The ruler asks that his angry countryman be brought before him to explain his outburst. "I have waited for hours in the queue", the man tells the king. "If you are going to do this to us, at least get two officers to slap us so the line moves faster."

So what of the future? The book's last pharagraph sums it up very well:

"So the Royal Saudi 747, richly appointed but mechanically flawed, flies on, its cockpit crowded with geriatric Al Saud pilots. Buffeted by mounting gales, the plane is losing altitude and gradually running out of fuel. On board, first class is crowded with princely passengers, while crammed behind in economy sit frustrated Saudi citizens. Among them are Islamic fundamentalists who want to turn the plane around, and also Islamic terrorists who aim to kill the pilots and hijack the plane to a destination unknown. Somewhere on board there also may be a competent new flight team that could land the plane safely, but the prospect of a capable pilot getting a chance at the controls seems slim. And so the 747 flies on into the headwinds, perhaps to be hijacked, or ultimately to crash."


A tropical equivalent of the Sydney Opera House


While making plans for the next Bali holiday, I surfed the net for alternative accommodation and came across the Bali Eco Village which, located on the side of a volcano a thousand metres above sea level and with open fireplaces and blankets on the bed, is not your typical Bali resort.

The resort had its start in 2009 when the owners, Endah and Mo Rufiko, built the big bamboo building first, which they thought was going to be semi-permanent, when they were struck by the idea of creating an eco-resort. 750,000 bamboo roof tiles, 350 bamboo trees and 2-1/2 years later, it consists of five bungalows and three standard rooms, all built in a fanciful style right out of a scene from the Hobbits.

With a king size bed downstairs and two single beds upstairs, the interior is rustic yet artistic with every piece of furniture and the majority of the building materials made of bamboo - railings, stairway, clothes stands, wastebaskets, bed frame, lashings, a soaring bamboo shingle roof and woven bamboo floor matting that bounce when you tread on it. Even the curtains have bamboo motifs.

I also noticed that it was listed for sale with Ray White Bali for Rp.5,500,000,000 which, after you've chopped off all the zeros, converts to something like AUS$550,000.

That's an awful lot of money for a pile of bamboo which in that damp jungle environment need constant maintenance and renewal. Still, I wanted to know more and so I emailed the agent last week. He replied, "Thanks for your interest in my listing. I am on the way to visit the resort and spend the weekend there. I'll meet the owner to update the details also. I'll email you when i get back, ok? Regards Seif".

Well, even before getting back to me, he has already 'updated the details' by increasing the price to Rp.7,500,000,000. Good one, Seif! Has the price of bamboo shot up by almost 50% in less than a week?


Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Land That Never Was


Having just read David Sinclair's biography of The Pound, I was drawn to his book The Land That Never Was, a bizarre tale of a Central American land swindle that rivals for implausibility those country song lyrics about “ocean-front property in Arizona.”

Yet folks in England and Scotland queued up, ponied up their pounds, and set sail for Poyais, a country that didn’t exist. Gregor MacGregor, creator of the swindle, rivals in undiluted chutzpah that fictional rogue Flashman, except there is little humour to be found in MacGregor’s cruel cupidity.

Early in 1823, a ship from Scotland dropped anchor near the Mosquito Coast between Nicaragua and Honduras and began scanning the shore for signs of life. The vessel’s occupants expected to find a thriving settlement. After all, they had read the exciting literature about opportunities in Poyais and had left their shops and professional positions to profit in the New World. But these settlers found only unfriendly jungle, puzzled aboriginal people, and some English survivors from a group that had arrived a bit earlier who told them the grim news: It was all a lie. Before it was over, a couple of hundred unfortunates had died from yellow fever and malaria, while hundreds more were ruined financially.

MacGregor spent only eight months incarcerated in France before being acquitted of his crimes. The author follows the swindler from his early failures in the British military to his creation of a false lineage and a false identity. MacGregor somehow managed to endear himself to the Venezuelans; he served in their army for a bit, and they later buried him with full military honors.

MacGregor's grand swindle predates the Marquis de Rays' La Nouvelle France by a full fifty years. This particular scheme vanished as completely as MacGregor's with the exception of a mill's grindstone still mounted as a memorial in Rabaul when I lived there in 1970.


The Haves and the Have Yachts


This gleaming-white motor yacht, MV TENACITY, has been anchored across from us on the other side of the river for the past four days. As it had been there on several other occasions in months gone by, I made the Noel Coward-ly hands-across-the-sea gesture of rowing over and introducing myself as commodore, secretary, treasurer and only-member of the Nelligen Yacht Club.

It turned out the owners of this floating gin palace are no other than Ross & Jennifer who for some 25 years owned and operated the only camera shop in the Bay. By sheer good luck, Ross sold out before the digital age when every smartphone has an inbuilt camera and every image is stored digitally.

Want to know what a few hundred thousand processed rolls of film look like? Look across the river! ☺


Sadly, I never became a lion tamer


I did everything the vocational guidance counsellor suggested: I served my articles with an insurance company, I was a human ATM in a bank, I even sailed the wide accountancy, but, sadly, I never became a lion tamer.

It's fun to charter an accountant
And sail the wide accountancy,
To find, explore the funds offshore
And skirt the shoals of bankruptcy!

It can be manly in insurance.
We'll up your premium semi-annually.
It's all tax deductible.
We're fairly incorruptible,
We're sailing on the wide accountancy!

We are the studio accountants,
We use computers and the fax,
We make them pay every way,
And then we write it off for tax,

Creative agents cannot touch us,
And lawyers are a joke dear, let's be frank,
They'll never ever screw us dear,
Let the bastards sue us,
We're laughing all the way clear to the bank

For a summary of my misspent youth, click here.


The calamity after the storm


Friends of Horst Berger's have just emailed me these images of Horst's 'fale Tonga' after Cyclone Ian.

A Canadian friend, who has a fount of wisdom that never dries but sometimes freezes up, has suggested that "Horst should think about mining blocks of dead coral for construction of the next domicile. Actually there should be enough downed palm trees to build himself a pretty substantial log cabin although I don't know how long a palm tree lasts without rotting in that climate. I, personally, would start out building an undersand bunker and then install a telescoping roof with collapsable walls so that when the wind came up you would just lower the roof flat to the ground over the bunker and stay there until it all blew over. Just don't build too close to tideline or your bunker will become a swimming pool. Mind you, everywhere there is just slightly above sea level, so it's probably all mute."

Don't thank me for this; I'm just passing it on (together with any spelling mistakes ☺ )


Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Eureka Effect


I was intrigued by the title of this book which describes Archimedes' discovery of the principle of water displacement while taking a bath to Einstein's Theory of Relativity, from Brunelleschi's development of perspective drawing to the Impressionist revolution, from the taming of fire to the creation of the laser, "breakthrough thinking" that is, a sudden, seemingly unaccountable moment of inspiration has shaped and advanced civilization.

I found it in my favourite op-shop in Ulladulla. We'd driven there for a bit of 'aqua-therapy' on Saturday instead of our usual mid-week session as we'll have guests staying with us until Wednesday.

It was just one of several interesting books competing for my attention: The Pound - A Biography by David Sinclair, which is the story of the currency that ruled the world and lasted a thousand years; The Men Who Killed QANTAS by Matthew Benns, rather topical at a time when the airline is seeking government assistance; and Margaret Mead and Samoa - The Making and Unmaking of an Anthropological Myth, a somewhat heavy and academic re-assessment of Margaret Mead's famous book Coming of Age in Samoa which I first read when I lived and worked there in 1978.

That's enough reading material for next week!