Category Archives: Life and things

I wish it would rain

The full moon in cloud. So atmospheric.

The full moon in cloud. So atmospheric.

I know, it’s been far too wet in too many parts of Australia. Lake Eyre is still full, farmers in Tasmania and Victoria wish it would all lift its skirts and bugger off elsewhere and there’s STILL snow at Falls Creek. Western Queensland is well satisfied with the precipitation, thanks very much. But here along the Fraser Coast the grass is crunchy underfoot. And up North Fitzroy Crossing isn’t the only place watching the water levels. Bring on the monsoon.

Sure, I’ll complain about the rain when it gets too much, but in the meanwhile, a few inches would be nice.

I also wish the media would stop with sensationalising natural phenomena like the moon up there. We’re all so used to supermarkets going on about super sales and super size. But the fact is, the recent “Super” moon was just our regular old full moon at perigee-syzygy of the Earth–Moon–Sun system. Which means it’s at its closest point to Earth, so being closer, it looks a tad larger. Even so, if nobody told you, I expect you’d be none the wiser. You might say, “isn’t the moon bright tonight?” but that’s about it. It’s all rather well explained here, with a nifty diagram showing the actual difference in size to a ‘normal’ full moon.There’s also a reference to the apogee-syzygy, which has been called a micromoon. It’s not talked about much. We humans prefer to talk about larger sizes in all sorts of arenas.

That’s not a super moon in the photo, by the way. Personally, I think dear old Luna is pretty special all the time.

In other news, we attended my nephew’s wedding in Brisbane a few weeks ago. What a fun event it turned out to be. Very best wishes to Jake and his lovely wife, Amelia. It was our pleasure to attend.

On the writing front, I’m getting back to my Work in Progress provisionally entitled The Stuff of Legend. It has been a hard slog for a lot of reasons. The main one is that, although I write space opera, I still like to ensure the science works. If I find myself thinking, “but why would…” or just as important, “why wouldn’t…” then something’s wrong and I have to backtrack. Some people would just say I’ll fix it later and charge off to finish the first draft, but I don’t work like that. I need to know it’s all making sense. So… progress hasn’t been as fast as I’d like, but it IS happening. I’ve even booked a spot with my favourite cover designer.

Meanwhile, I keep abreast of the US craziness via my Facebook family, where I particularly enjoy the Obama-Biden memes. Here, take a look. The coming months will prove interesting.

I sincerely hope my American friends all enjoyed Thanksgiving with family and friends. But – and I say this from the heart – you can take your Black Friday and stick it… somewhere. We don’t need Black Friday in Australia anymore than we need Halloween, or, for that matter, Thanksgiving. Huh. Yet another ‘Super’ sale. Ours (traditionally) happens on Boxing Day – the day after Christmas, which I believe is not a holiday in the US. In many respects, globalisation sucks.

Let’s see now… this week’s photo gallery. A few sights that took my fancy.

Kimberley gorgeousness - the Ord river

Kimberley gorgeousness – the Ord river

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Summer at the Bay – low tide and fluffy cumulus cloud

The Chichester Range in the Pilbara

The Chichester Range in the Pilbara

Whitehaven Beach on Whitsunday Island

Whitehaven Beach on Whitsunday Island

A plague of butterflies

Any specs you can see aren't dirt - they're butterflies

Any specs you can see eg sky top left – aren’t dirt – they’re butterflies

It seems this year has been absolutely wonderful for the butterflies of Queensland. Over the last several days the air has been full of them – particularly at the beach. Yes, the beach, coming in from the sea with the strong north wind. Yes, north wind. Hervey Bay is on the east coast, but our beach faces north. It’s a little kink on the coastline. And the butterflies must have been coming from Fraser Island. And why not? If our local fruit bats can get over to Fraser to forage, why not traffic the other way? Years ago we saw butterflies crossing from the mainland to Brampton Island – which is a long way. Butterflies must be stronger than we think. In fact, some migrate long distances. The American Monarch is one such – but only the fourth generation migrates. Read the story here.

Anyway, back to our butterflies. It’s not just our patch of the state – the phenomenon was reported on the evening news. Needless to say, I had my camera with me, so of course I tried to take some photos. None of them would win a prize, but it’s pretty hard to get a picture of a tiny creature whirring past with a stiff breeze up its tail shaft.

In other news, it seems Trump is now president-elect in America. I’ll say no more, but ask you to read this fairly short and erudite essay. I have a BA(Hons) in history. I would say the gentleman’s conclusions are accurate. But the future is unknown. Maybe we’ll be invaded by aliens.

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It’s fairly battered, but it has come a long way

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Look at this! TWO butterflies in one shot!

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Most of the butterflies were white with a black fringe, like this one. With the wings down like that, it looks like a caterpillar with wings. Funny that.

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This Orchard swallowtail butterfly was in the garden, mooching around the citrus trees. The spider web put it off…

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… so it backed away and found somewhere else

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… When it found a suitable spot…

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… it laid its eggs

A brahmani kite at the beach gives me the eye

A brahmani kite at the beach gives me the eye

Let’s hear it for the girls

Makybe Diva

Makybe Diva

It’s Spring Carnival time in Australia – especially in Melbourne, home of the Melbourne  Cup, Australia’s greatest horse race. The news is full of horses, and trainers, and odds, and chances. And one of the chances was Winx. Here’s her profile. She won the Cox Plate last year – and won it again this year, at a canter. Then she was set for the Caulfield Stakes. There were only three horses in the field – nobody wanted to bother with a run they couldn’t win.

Winx has now won 13 races on the trot (if you’ll excuse the pun).  That’s not bad for any horse. Even the mighty Phar Lap only won 14 consecutive races, (only) and it’s nowhere near the 25 races won by Black Caviar. Whereas Winx was beaten once (I think) as a filly, Black Caviar never lost a race.

And hand up anyone who can tell me the name of the only horse to win three (3) Melbourne Cups? You at the back there… no, not Phar Lap, Carbine, Peter Pan, Rainlover, Think Big… Makybe Diva. A mare. Her at the top of the page. Bear in mind that the Melbourne Cup is a handicap, so Makybe Diva had to carry more and more weight every time she ran the 3200m race. In her third and last Cup run she carried 58kg – a weight-carrying record for a mare.

So what is the point of all this? Folks, Winx and Black Caviar and Makybe Diva are MARES. Girls. Females. The weaker sex. Black Caviar was the darling of Australia, not just the racing set. As her record of wins increased racetrack attendances were at an all time high every time she ran. Fans turned up wearing her colours – salmon pink with black polka dots. Immediately after her 25th win, her connections retired her. Now, like Makybe Diva, she’s a brood mare and producing very expensive foals. She has her own  Facebook page.

I guess it was inevitable that a three-time winner of the Melbourne Cup would be a gelding or a mare. Stallions have won the race twice, but that’s enough profile to guarantee enormous stud fees, and owners don’t want to risk injury. After all, a stallion can cover a *lot* of mares in a season, while a brood mare can only manage one foal a year (at most).

Seems that people are starting to realise that the ladies can make the grade if given the chance. Last year (2015) the Melbourne Cup winner (Prince of Penzance at 100/1 odds) wasn’t female – but the jockey was. Michelle Payne finally broke the jockey’s glass ceiling, putting paid to the myth that women aren’t strong enough to be jockeys. As she said at the time, it’s all about developing an understanding with the horse. The other very special point about the 2015 race was that the horse’s strapper, Michelle’s brother Steven, has Downs Syndrome. Here’s a link to the story.

And while Michelle didn’t get a ride in this year’s cup, (Prince of Penzance was injured and will probably never race again), she won a race on Ladies Day. May she win many more.

 

 

The science of climate change

Crimson sunset after a day of rain

Crimson sunset after a day of rain

Not so very long ago, before we embarked on our trip around Australia, I put forward my position on climate change ‘the religion’. Confessions of a climate change denier.

Just the other day I was sent a link to a presentation about CO2 and global warming. It was made in 2007 by the BBC, and I wish I’d watched it years ago. Whether you’re a ‘believer’ in man-made climate change or not, I urge you to give up the time to watch this program. It’s 75 minutes long but worth every second. Please ignore the rather sensational title. Scientists, eminent in their fields,  present hard scientific facts to explain what really causes climate change on planet Earth. And it isn’t the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere.

I have closed comments on this post. But I’ll post a few pictures anyway.

A rainbow in a rain cell, dawn, Hervey Bay

A rainbow in a rain cell, dawn, Hervey Bay

A summer storm piles up on with a tornado touching down on the horizon

A summer storm piles up on with a tornado touching down on the horizon

A red dawn at the beach

A red dawn at the beach

Mammary cloud under a huge summer storm at sunset - fortunately tracking away from us

Mammary cloud under a huge summer storm at sunset – fortunately tracking away from us

 

Confessions of a climate change denier

NASA photo of Earth from space

NASA photo of Earth from space

The issue of climate change is a very hot topic and has been for years, to the extent that now it has become a form of religion, with the same sort of fanaticism you’ll find when staunch Christians and die-hard atheists are toe to toe. The atheist insists on proof that god exists. The Christian sees that and raises it with, “show me proof He doesn’t.” I’m quoting Ivar Giaever’s speech at the Nobel Laureates meeting 1st July 2015 – well worth watching.

It has become increasingly difficult to have a sensible debate on the subject, but since this is my blog, I can state my position.

Okay, I’ve outed myself as a climate change denier. Sort of. But let’s talk about what a “climate change denier” is, and is not. I don’t deny the climate is changing. That’s a bit like saying the Earth is flat, when we have pictures that show uncontroversially that this is not the case.

OF COURSE the climate is changing. It does that. Our planet is, after all, a living entity. Tectonic plates move, islands are created, volcanoes spew their contents into the atmosphere. The “issue” appears to be about whether or not we Humans are responsible for the current changes. (I note we don’t refer to “global warming” anymore.) And regardless of the answer to that question, what are we going to do about it.

Look, Humans are worse than cane toads. We spread, proliferate at the expense of anything that stands in our way (including other humans). But cause climate change? Because we increase the amount of CO₂ in the atmosphere? I think there has been a LOT of scare-mongering on that subject. We’re told 97% of scientists agree Man is the cause, but there’s plenty of evidence that this figure is inflated. Sure, quite a few scientists say we are contributing towards climate change. That’s not the same thing at all. I’m not posting links. This stuff is easy enough to find if you’re interested. Are the computer models right? Are the models using enough data? Has the data been tweaked? How do you explain the mini-ice age when the Thames froze at the beginning of the 1800’s? Why is Greenland called – Greenland?  Why is the Arctic melting and the Antarctic is icing up even more? What about Al Gore’s hockey stick graph? Was Tim Flannery right when he said the Murray-Darling basin would never fill again?

Climate is notoriously difficult to model. Supercomputers can’t do much better than a few days in advance. Cyclones are tracked on best guesses. And there’s that awful Chaos butterfly wreaking havoc everywhere. I don’t believe the models can predict what the circumstances will be like in 100 years’ time – for lots of good, factual reasons, not because of some sort of ‘faith’.

Right. I feel better now.

Honestly, it doesn’t matter a stuff what I believe. The climate is changing. Can we do anything to stop it?

The answer to that has to be a resounding ‘no’. We have to learn to live with it. Charging companies who release CO₂ into the atmosphere just puts money into Government coffers. Sure, we can move to other forms of energy, but we need something more reliable than wind or solar power. The price hikes for power in South Australia are testament to how well that worked.

Let’s concentrate on the things we CAN change. Clean up the ocean, cut back on the enormous waste in our way of life, preserve the forests. Encourage people to live in more densely populated cities where people don’t need cars.

I don’t know what you do about the over-population of the planet, which is the main reason we’re in trouble. Maybe AIDS and Ebola were Mother Nature’s attempts at control.

On to this week’s pretties. I’ve selected a few landscapes of the wide brown land because we still have a car to take us to these places. In that respect, I count myself truly fortunate.

Wilpena Pound in South Australia

Wilpena Pound in South Australia

Lake Eyre

Lake Eyre

Esperance beach south-west WA

Esperance beach south-west WA

Water churns through the gap in the cliffs at Horizontal Falls

The ocean churns through the gap in the cliffs at Horizontal Falls

Saturday Soapbox

(c) Stock Unlimited 1504852

(c) Stock Unlimited 1504852

Political correctness and inclusion has gone just a bit too far. An article in the Australian prompted this particular rant. You have to subscribe to the newspaper to read the full text, but here’s the first paragraph.

Kids, 5, in sex-change stories uni research trial.

“Children as young as five have been used for storytime sessions featuring books with transgender characters, introducing concepts ranging from cross-dressing to gender reassignment surgery, as part of a university study being used to advocate for the expansion of the Safe Schools program into primary schools”

In this story book mummy explains to her son that she should have been born a man, so now she’s going to be his daddy.

Don’t get me wrong. It happens. I have a friend in the US, father of a son, who has decided to transition to a woman. I have two other friends, born male, who are transitioning to female. It’s a long and difficult journey, made all the more difficult by prejudice and distrust. It’s not an easy decision to start that journey. There has to be a compelling reason why a white male in Western society would want to give up the privilege that comes with that demographic to become a female. As individuals, they have my friendship and respect.

But I do not see any need to raise these issues with tiny children.

Far too often our Western society stops kids from being kids. These sorts of gender complications are surely unnecessary at the tender age of five. Teach them how to read, and spell, and draw. Wait at least until puberty to raise issues of sexuality. I shudder at the thought that kids will start to wonder if they were born the wrong sex. I was the quintessential tomboy in my day. I loathed dolls and anything pink and girly, loved toy guns and played Cowboys and Indians. When I was given a cowgirl suit I threw away the skirt. Was that a sign of a boy born into a girl’s body? I rather doubt it.

And since this matter of white privilege has come up, have you noticed the condescending attitude of male commentators towards female athletes at the Olympics? No? In case you missed it, here’s one article, complete with attempts to mansplain why the remarks were made. This article says a bit more, from a female point of view. There are plenty of others. This, to me, is a FAR more important issue to raise with kids at a young age. Teach boys to show respect for girls. Stop bullying. Promote equality. With that in place, I’m certain people who decide (when they’re old enough to understand what’s entailed, and that there’s no going back) to transition to another sex will receive a bit more understanding.

And now for this week’s pictures. Since it’s nearly spring time, here’s a few from our Greendale garden.

The spring back border - profusion of colour

The spring back border – profusion of colour

A bee gathers pollen from a clematis

A bee gathers pollen from a clematis

Tulips and Dutch iris under a deciduous tree

Tulips and Dutch iris under a deciduous tree

 

Olympic Games and Census thoughts

1504477Weeks fly by when you’re past a certain age. This one has flitted off into history. But it has a few highlights. The Australian online census for one. As it happens, this household was one of the few that filled in the information and got it into the system before the Denial of Service attack.

Let’s get this clear, folks. Denial of Service is NOT hacking. DoS is what it sounds like – somebody triggers huge volumes of requests to the system so that it becomes overloaded and fails. Which means genuine clients are denied service. It’s impossible to prevent such attacks, but it is possible to mitigate them. That’s where the security failed. Hacking is when somebody gets in and steals data. We may never know if that happened, but personally, I’d be much more worried about my bank, or Centrelink, or a credit assessment company, being hacked.

That said, I think the Government has (hopefully) learned some valuable lessons for when it develops an online voting system.

And then there’s the Olympic Games. I used to be a fan, but my interest has waned over the years. We all had such high hopes when the East German doping scandals were uncovered way back then. Then there was the Chinese state-run doping. Then there was Lance Armstrong. Then there was the paralympic basketball team which won gold, and was then exposed as fraud. I could go on. Fixed cricket matches, drug cheat tennis players, and now the Russians have been exposed as state run dopers. Sorry, but I don’t believe any of it anymore – that covers pretty much all sport, not just the Olympics. It seems today you can’t win in elite sport unless you use banned substances. And even when the athletes are clean, you wonder. Michael Phelps? Chris Froome? It’s all about the money, isn’t it?

Speaking of money, it goes without saying that the International Olympic committee is likely to smell as sweet as FIFA, for the same reasons. But that’s just one part of the pie. National Olympic committees spend millions (at least) on putting up bids. Then when they win, they spend billions on the facilities. And that means in countries like South Africa, India, and Brazil, poor people are kicked out of their homes to make way for car parks and glittering edifices.  And the opening ceremonies are all about doing it better than the last show. I’m not surprised the Brazilian people are not happy. Imagine if all that money had been spent on improving the lot of the people?

Okay, that’s my grumpy-bum rant for this week. Here’s a few raptor pictures.

This osprey has just finished its bath in the shallows

This osprey has just finished its bath in the shallows

A Brahmani kite joins its mate on a rock

A Brahmani kite joins its mate on a rock

A Brahmani kite angles its wings as it flies down the beach

A Brahmani kite angles its wings as it flies down the beach

A spotted harrier cruising to look for food

A spotted harrier cruising to look for food

It’s that time of the year again

Raser Island gets rain something like 300 days a year - this is one of those days. We're in Platypus Bay

Fraser Island gets rain something like 300 days a year – this is one of those days. We’re in Platypus Bay

It’s that time of the year again. The whales are back! Humpbacks are on their annual migration from Antarctica to the Whitsundays to have their babies. They stop off in the shallow, calm waters of Platypus Bay off Fraser Island to fatten their calves, mate, and generally mooch around before heading back down to the rich feeding grounds around the South Pole. This break in the journey gives us humans a unique opportunity to get up close and personal with these enormous, curious, gentle giants.

I go whale watching at least once a year, every year. Each trip is different, no trip has been disappointing. Sometimes you see the spectacular breach, sometimes you’ll see mums and bubs, sometimes pods of four or five males doing that macho thing, sometimes a curious juvenile will pause and stick its head above the water to check out the little critters on the boats.

This year a couple of friends and I went out to see what was around. The weather had been poor, with wind and rain, but the bay settled down for us, with a breeze from the south – which meant Platypus Bay was protected by Fraser Island. We encountered a number of pods, most of which were pretty quiet (as in no breaching etc) but the boat was ‘mugged’ by a group of five juveniles which hung around VERY close to the boat and swum under the hull. We saw some tail stands, a bit of tail slapping, and one whale breached on the other side of the boat from where I stood with my camera.

Yes, I took photos. But (clears throat) I pretty much deleted all of them. Operator error I’m afraid. The shutter speed wasn’t high enough to stop the action – which is good sometimes – but not always. However, all is not lost. I have lots of whale pictures. So here’s this week’s photo gallery. I have whale photos on all the sites where I sell pictures. Take a look at Red Bubble or at Dreamstime or at My Profile on Can Stock Photo

A young whale spy hopping - checking out the people on the boat

A young whale spy hopping – checking out the people on the boat

Check out the size of the whales against this runabout - and they're not even bog ones

Check out the size of the whales against this runabout – and they’re not even big ones

A whale leaves a footprint made by the huge tail

A whale leaves a footprint made by the huge tail

Rainbow in the spray. It has just exhaled

Rainbow in the spray. It has just exhaled

This was so close I couldn't catch all the action

This was so close I couldn’t catch all the action

But I did with this one.

But I did with this one.

Musings on my week

This is where we live - NASA

This is where we live – NASA

This week is all a bit introspective and doom and gloom, so feel free to  scroll down to the photos.

I read an interesting article recently about the times we live in, and how many of us (including me) think it’s a very dangerous time. Is it me or is the world going crazy? Well worth a read. There’s a lot to like about what he has to say, and certainly the spread of social media has had a profound impact on where we source our news, and what we read.

And yet… Humanity never seems to learn. Since 2014, and for a few years yet, we have ‘celebrated’ the centennial of the Great War, with regular articles of one battle after another. We don’t get that for the Napoleonic Wars – just Waterloo, and Trafalgar. The Napoleonic Wars devastated Europe and its population it took decades for mainland Europe to recover, and incidentally, that was one of the reasons why Britain, which went through relatively unscathed, came to dominate the Western world. [Gets off history lectern]

Me, I’m a bit over heroism and sacrifice and fighting for our future, our very way of life.  Sorry, Australian troops in WW1 were certainly heroic and sacrificed their lives or their health in these awful battles. But they were cannon fodder, used up and spat out in a war which had even less to do with them than it had to do with the rural villagers of Britain, mown down by the German machine guns. All that war did was sow the seeds for the next one, in which our soldiers did indeed fight for our future, our very way of life – with their backs to wall.

Which brings me back to what’s happening now.  More and more, the world is beginning to resemble the political playing fields of the nineteen thirties. Putin is effectively dictator of Russia, making no secret of his expansionist policies. Erdogan, in Turkey, manufactured a coup to help seal his own despotic rule, to me reminiscent of Hitler’s Night of the Long Knives. The West is worried about Islamism (not ordinary people worshipping a God but fanatical nut jobs bent on murdering innocent people – which is reminiscent of the spread of Islam in the 8th and 9th century). The USA is turning ever further right wing, mass shootings have become commonplace.  “Democracy” is failing. And when will the West learn that you cannot force democracy on people? Nor can the West hope to assimilate millions of refugees with radically different beliefs and societal mores. You have only to look at the experience of women in German cities attending New Years Eve celebrations, where they were set upon and sexually assaulted by hordes of young men.

Seems to this old biddy that we’re heading into dangerous global waters. But meanwhile, here’s a few more insect shots for us all to enjoy.

Two dragonflies doing what dragonflies were designed to do

Two dragonflies doing what dragonflies were designed to do

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A European bee and tiny native Australian bees all drawn to the nectar on a waterlily

A tiny native bee collecting honey from a scaveola flower

A tiny native bee collecting honey from a scaveola flower

And to finish, a butterfly captured in flight. Do you know how hard that is to do?

And to finish, a butterfly captured in flight. Do you know how hard that is to do?

It’s been a busy week

Only one of the twin mountains of mulch

Only one of the twin mountains of mulch

I’m soooo tired of the f*cking American presidential election. Sorry (if you’re an American and think it all makes sense) but I think it’s a huge waste of money – billions spent over what feels like a couple of years, every four years, and for what? Unless the President has the support of the House of Reps and the Senate, s/he is pretty much a figurehead blamed for everything that isn’t working. Still and all, that’s America’s business, just as Brexit was British business, and our own too-long election was Australian business.

All of them show a pattern, though. We’re all sick of professional politicians. And that’s all I’ll say. This blog is all about ME.

backgroundI’ve published my latest novelette, Him Outdoors and I have been shifting a mountain of mulch, (see above) and I’ve recommenced work on the nameless story. I also did a fun graphic, just because.

And this week’s pictures is a continuation of the insects theme.

 

 

 

The male hornet literally picked the female up and flew her up to the fence. I don't think there was too much consent involved.

The male hornet literally picked the female up and flew her up to the fence. I don’t think there was too much consent involved.

A dragonfly clings on to a twig in a breeze

A dragonfly clings on to a twig in a breeze

This caterpillar is preparing to pupate. See the silk strand attaching it to the branch?

This caterpillar is preparing to pupate. See the silk strand attaching it to the branch?

Butterfly laying eggs

Butterfly laying eggs