Heading North again

The Spirit of Queensland at Cairns

About a month ago Pete and I drove up to Far North Queensland for a week’s holiday at Palm Cove, a little north of Cairns. We enjoyed our week, but had to curtail any other activities because Tropical Cyclone Debbie came calling. As it happened, she crossed the coast further south and wreaked havoc and massive floods down into the South-East corner of the state, and NSW. We had already planned our next trip, a train odyssey with a small group up to Cairns and across to the Gulf of Carpentaria, and we were pretty hopeful that after that very late cyclone the weather would return to normal programming; ie warm and dry.

Weighing in at Cairns

But Mother Nature can be a fickle old lady. Just before we started our new journey north the weather forecast predicted a significant rain event which would impact the northern coast, and then penetrate inland. Rainfall in the hundreds of millimetres was expected. Oh well. The skies were clear when we arrived at Maryborough West railway station to board the Spirit of Queensland for our journey to Cairns.

Maryborough West is (um) west of Maryborough, in the middle of not much at all. It’s a station and a few houses, and we were due to catch the train at 7:28pm. We didn’t quite believe the advice to be there an hour early for luggage and what have you, but we arrived faster than we thought we would and dragged our luggage up to the office at around 6:45. As expected, the place was unattended, so we kicked our heels in the waiting area. There’s no waiting room, just an undercover area with a few benches and a vending machine for cold drinks. Be that as it may, the local mosquitoes thought it was excellent. They were there in their squadrons and some of them were so big if a couple of them worked in tandem they could have carried us away.

A railway person arrived at about 7:10. The man weighed our bags, which were well under the 20kg allowance. I have to say I thought it was a bit odd to fuss over weight. I understand that’s important on an aircraft, but on a train?  Having attached the luggage labels, he informed us the train was running 20 minutes late, so we retired to the benches and the mozzies.

We eventually boarded at around 8pm. The train basically has two classes – economy, where you sit up for the whole trip, and rail bed, where your seat converts into a flat bed. It’s a bit like business class on an aircraft. Steve, who was lovely and as camp as they come, welcomed us onto the train and showed us our seats.

Everybody else had already eaten dinner, so all the lamb rump was gone. Chicken Kiev it was. Note the challenging movement of the tray.

Plenty of room to stretch out – but not the most comfortable seats

It’s a long journey, taking a complete 24 hour day from Brisbane to Cairns. But we had our tablets for reading, and the train had its own entertainment system, once again rather like an aircraft, but with a more limited selection. If we got bored, or wanted a drink or a cup of coffee, we could walk through to the club car. Our car had two toilets, and even a shower room.

Lunch. Smoked chicken and salad, with strawberry mousse. The food was pretty good.

At night, of course, there’s nothing to see out the windows but your own reflection, and that does tend to get a bit tedious. We watched a show or two, then turned in for not the best night’s sleep I’ve ever had. There’s a major difference between air travel and train travel. Once you’re in the air, unless you hit turbulence, air travel is pretty smooth. Train travel – at least on this train – is like being in constant low-level turbulence, with the train rockin’ and rollin’ on its tracks. Being a single line, it also had to slow down and speed up at intervals to allow for other traffic. And then there were the stops; at least ten of them. Eating was sometimes a challenge, and so was sleeping, even though the bed lies completely flat.

It’s raining out there

The big danger overnight was that the rain would cause flooding at Rockhampton, which could prevent further travel north. Fortunately, that didn’t happen and next morning the staff had us up early to convert beds back to seats, and serve breakfast. Outside the rain came down, obscuring pretty much everything more than a short distance from the tracks. This far north the views should have been picturesque. If you could see them. Back to the movies and TV shows, and a few rounds of Solitaire on the tablet. We reached Cairns only about half an hour late and were taken to our hotel close to the city’s main CBD. We were bussed to a venue for dinner – a cafeteria style arrangement at one of the sports clubs – roast meat and veg. I wasn’t impressed. If the intention was to have the group get to know each other, sitting at a long table in a noisy venue isn’t going to work. But hey. We’d made it this far and the rain had virtually cleared from the coast. Tomorrow would be another day.

Oops. I didn’t mean to do that

Deary, deary me. We got home from our trip to the wilds of Far North Queensland, and I couldn’t wait to turn on the computer to take a look at my photos on the big screen. I loaded the pics into Lightroom, then cleared the SD card (as you do). AFTER that I noticed a whole days worth of pictures were missing – the day when I really thought I’d made some great shots.

I didn’t say Oops! Those of you who know me would be aware that a succession of adjectives starting with F was in the mix. Sorry, Mum, but sometimes nothing else will do. We’d stumbled off a train at 5am after a pretty ordinary nights’ sleep. You know how it is – you check the time every hour on the hour so as not to miss the stop. Lesson #1: don’t do anything remotely technical while in zombie mode.

After I’d recovered from the resulting heart spasm, I got my overtired brain into gear.Operating systems don’t actually delete anything. The pictures should still be there. If you’re thinking I could have looked in the recycle bin, the OS only does that with files on the hard drive, not temporary devices like SD cards. But even so, I suspected my files should still be there.

You’ll be familiar with the Explorer interface when you open a folder on your computer. You get a list of files, date, file type, size. Click on a filename, and you get the file. The interface is like an index card. Each entry contains information that the OS uses to find the data and display it. When you delete a file, the record on the index card is flagged as ‘deleted’. That’s it – unless you use special software to erase the actual data. Over time, your ‘deleted’ data will be overwritten as you save new data. But until that time, your existing data is still there, unchanged.

Back in the day, I could have wriggled my way into the OS and toggled that delete flag on the index record – but that was then, and this is now, so I went looking for an application to recover my pictures.

There are plenty of packages out there to do the job, but I’m very careful about software without a recommendation. I paid good money for one, years ago, that looked great – but didn’t work at all. I think they were collecting credit card details – so I cancelled my credit card, with the associated dramas. This time, I found what I was looking for via CNet, complete with a ‘how to’ article. And the best news is, the app is FREE. There is an option to buy a more sophisticated version, but I didn’t need it.

I installed Recuva and ran the app on my SD cards. It worked as described, but while the software found a lot of old data which hadn’t been overwritten, it didn’t find my files from the last month. After a fair bit of mucking about, and a good night’s sleep, I thought the issue was the program was looking for the usual image file types – .jpg, .tiff, .png, .bmp – but not Canon’s raw file format, .CR2. So I went into Recuva’s advanced mode and changed the search parameters to just *.CR2. And… bingo! I have my pictures back!

So if you ever have an ‘oh shit’ moment, deleting a file you didn’t mean to delete, try Recuva. In our case, it’s a bloody sight cheaper than a trip back to Karumba and environs.

And here’s a picture from that day, just as a bonus prize before I write the blog posts for the trip.

 

Into the Dark

Once upon a time there was a website called Authonomy, where writers would gather and spruik their wares to the Great God Harper-Collins, who owned the site, hoping to have their opus selected for publication. Many tried, many failed, many made long lasting friendships. During my time there, one of our number floated the idea of an anthology of short stories, each written to match a randomly selected song. I joined in the fun and was  allocated (I will follow you) Into the Dark by Death Cab for Cutie. You’ll find the song with lyrics on Youtube via that link. I’d never heard of the band, or the song. But I had a listen, and enjoyed the lilting tune.

Now something interesting happened. I wrote a story a long time before, for a contest or something. It wasn’t selected. But that story really fitted the song. Deja vu? Who knows?

I’ve modified the story very slightly from the version in the anthology titled Words to Music. It wasn’t ever a best-seller. We donated any earnings to charity. As so often happens in the publishing game, it’s not about the money. Anyway, here’s my contribution. Enjoy.

********************************************************

Richard Newby put the razor back down on the wash stand. There didn’t seem much point in shaving, really. It wouldn’t matter anymore. Not where he was going.

He sidled out of the ensuite, taking care not to disturb Mary. He paused and looked down at her as he passed the bed. They’d been married for fifty-four years; she’d been his companion, his soul mate. Perhaps he should tell her what he was about to do? He shook his head. He’d been through this, agonised over the decision. Best he kept it to himself.

Richard moved on, closed the bedroom door softly behind him and went into his study. He spent most of his time here, sitting in front of his computer, surfing the net or fiddling. Mary told him he should walk or play golf, and she was probably right. But he’d been in IT all his life, and the doctors told you to keep your brain active, didn’t they? Find something you love and do it. That’s what he’d done

He eased himself into his chair and turned the machine on, a slight smile playing around his mouth as the operating system loaded. He licked his lips, a tremor of anticipation… or maybe apprehension… running through his body. One way or another his life would never be the same again.

He loaded the song and listened one more time. It had been his inspiration, gentle and lilting. He smiled. Heaven and Hell displaying a ‘no vacancy’ sign.

The helmet was on a stand next to him, already plugged in. Richard slipped it over his head and pulled the visor down over his eyes. It fitted exactly, which was understandable. That was how he’d built it.

“Into the Dark,” he said.

 ************************

 Mary came in an hour later with his cup of tea and two biscuits.

“Here’s your tea, dear,” she said, putting the cup on the desk. “Are you going to take that thing off your head?” She shook his shoulder.

His body slumped sideways in the chair, the left arm dangling almost to the floor, the right on his lap.

Mary’s hands flew to her face. “Richard?”

She lifted his right hand, her fingers slipping around his wrist to feel for a pulse.

“Mary? Mary, over here.”

Mary frowned and peered at the helmet. “Where?”

“The computer, hunbun. Behind you.”

Mary peered at the screen, her expression wary. “Is this a joke?” she whispered. “Because it isn’t funny.”

“No, it’s me.” Richard, pointed at his chest. “That thing there,” he pointed at the body in the chair, “that’s just a hulk. I’m not there anymore.”

Mary gasped, her fingers flying to her mouth. “You’re dead?”

“It depends what you mean, hunbun. The body out there doesn’t work anymore because the operating system has turned off. But I’m fine here, in the cyber world.”

Her eyes widened. “You’re in the computer?”

“You might say that. Sort of. See that helmet on my—its—head? I worked out a way to transfer myself—my thoughts, my memories, my mind—into data sets. I’ve loaded all of that into this.” His hands swept down his sides to indicate himself, the being she could see on the screen. “What do you think?”

He was young again, of course. But better looking, fitter, more athletic, like one of those lifesavers at the beach. No need for the glasses he’d worn all his life. And he’d given himself a nose job and wavy, dark brown hair. And of course the tumour, that malignant thing in his chest, sapping his strength, turning his lungs to mash, that was gone, too.

“You look wonderful,” murmured Mary. “But… what about us? Why didn’t you say? When are you coming back?”

“I’m not coming back, darling. This was a one way trip. And I didn’t want to say anything in case it didn’t work. But it has and I want you to come, too.”

Another avatar appeared next to him. Mary at twenty five. Only with bigger breasts and thinner thighs. He’d given her thicker, longer hair and full, luscious lips.

“Remember her, hunbun? Wouldn’t you like to be her again?”

Hope and longing shone in her eyes. Of course she’d want to be twenty-five again.

“How? What do I have to do?”

“Put on the helmet and pull the visor down over your eyes.”

Mary frowned. “Will I die?”

“Only your body. You will be here, with me.”

“But what if somebody turns off the computer? They will, you know.”

“Won’t matter.” Richard waved his hand. “We’ll be out there in cyberspace, riding the net. There’s always a server switched on somewhere.”

“What about food and… and going to the bathroom and such?”

Richard dismissed it with a snort. “All bodily things. They won’t concern you anymore. Neither will arthritis and bad knees. We’ll live forever and never grow old.”

She chewed her lip. “What about the children? They’ll be upset.”

“They’re hardly children anymore. They’ve got their own lives. And really, we’ll be saving them a lot of pain. The doctor said the lump was getting bigger. He gave me six, eight months.”

“Oh.” Her gaze lingered on the corpse in the chair and then lifted back to the screen. “The lump’s gone?”

“Of course. And here, it can’t come back. Go on, Mary, take the helmet off the body. There’s a clip under my—its—chin.”

She hesitated, staring at the computer screen as if trying to see inside, beyond the glass. “I’m frightened, Richard.”

“Mary… hun… we’ve talked about this. You don’t believe in heaven or in hell.”

She almost smiled. “No. Of course not.”

“So the option is… darkness. One day, the operating system fails and it’s over. For all eternity.”

She rubbed her hand across her mouth. She always did that when she was nervous. “And then I’d be…” She sighed. “Alone.”

“And so would I, Mary. Come on. Darkness isn’t the only option.”

She stood a little straighter, head cocked to one side, considering. “What will we do?”

“Anything you like. You’d be amazed at the sorts of things you can find in cyberspace. Visit anywhere in the world, sample all sorts of places, do…” He sniggered. “Do some things we haven’t done for a long time.”

She blushed and smiled. A series of expressions flitted across her face. He knew what she was thinking; the things she’d be giving up. The children, the bowls club and her friends. He crossed his fingers. Please, Mary, please.

Mary sucked in a deep breath. “All right.”

Richard watched her take the helmet off the… his body. There was a smile on its face and its eyes were open. Mary closed them with her fingers. She stood for a moment with the helmet in her hands, pressing her lips together.

“Come on, hun,” he whispered. “Push the… me… out of the chair and sit down.”

Mary reached out with a tentative left hand. A push, little more than a tap on the shoulder. Richard’s bodily remains slumped a little more, but remained in the chair. Mary sucked in a deep breath, swallowed, and pushed harder. The body slid sideways out of the chair and collapsed into an untidy heap on the floor. She sat down, gripped the helmet in her hands and placed it firmly over her head. It was a little bit loose, but that was all right. She fastened the clip and stared at him, a sparkle in her dark eyes.

“Now put down the visor and say ‘Into the Dark.’”

A nervous flick of her tongue across her lips and then she slid the visor down over her face. “Into the Dark.”

Richard saw her body stiffen and then relax and sag, almost as if it was deflating.

Beside him, Mary’s avatar looked down at her new body and laughed. “How about a kiss, big boy?”

On food and being an immigrant

Vegemite jar pictureI was discussing Vegemite with some online friends recently. It’s quintessentially Australian, an icon which I’m delighted to say after having been purchased by an American company some years back, has now reverted to an Australian company. Unlike the happy little Australian Vegemites of my generation, I didn’t like the stuff at all. It had the colour and consistency of axle grease and tasted worse. We didn’t grow up with it, you see. I’ve acquired a taste for it, but it took a long time.

The spread’s origins are explained in the link above, but I reckon Terry Pratchett’s theory that failed wizard, Rincewind, invented the stuff by boiling copious quantities of beer in a billy is much better fun. As well as pretty close to true.  In fact, if you want to know how most of Australia’s icons originated, you can’t go past his book, The Last Continent. It’s actually about Forex (XXXX), not Australia, but that’s close enough. After all, XXX is Queenslandish for beer.  Here’s a spoiler-filled article all about the book.

Anyhow, back to food tastes.

Mind you, the Australians had their doubts about what we Clogs ate, too. You eat raw fish? Yes, yum, roll mops. And as for salted liquorice… at least if I had that with me on school excursions, I had it all to myself. I remember one friend asking to try it. I told her she wouldn’t like it, but she insisted. The look of dawning revulsion on her face was a picture.

Mum, of course, cooked the meals she and Dad were used to in Holland at home. She got a job as a cook at a school for nurses not all that long after we moved to Shenton Park and she had to learn a whole different cuisine. But we ate Dutch food, or at least, food prepared in a Dutch way. Potatoes formed an absolute staple and some of my favourites were variations on ‘stamppot’ – basically potatoes mashed with other vegetables, with some added bacon or some such. I loved hutspot, which is potatoes, onions, carrots mixed with chopped fried bacon. But really, stamppot can be made from potatoes and anything – sauerkraut, leeks, cabbage, whatever. Served with Dutch smoked sausage and mustard. Or there was hashee, which is basically a cheap cut of beef cooked slowly with lots of onions and served with potatoes and veg. Soup was another staple, often made with little or no meat, such as bruine bonen soep (brown bean soup) or Dutch pea and ham soup, thick enough to stand a spoon in.

Then there were the cakes. The Dutch used marzipan for chocolate letters or filled pastry during Sinterklas (their pre-Christmas celebration)but it also had pride of place in lots of every day cakes like gevulde koek. The first time I went back to Holland for a brief visit I walked along a street past a few patisseries – I don’t know what else you’d call them – and they were just putting out the freshly made cakes. The smells were incredible. You don’t get that from packets of imported cakes bought from the supermarket. Find out more about what floats the culinary boat in the Netherlands from this article. It has pictures.

Mum always used to make soesjes for birthdays. They’re profiteroles, not specially Dutch but quite delicious. I used to watch her make up the choux pastry, half cooking it on the stove top. Then she plopped shapeless lumps onto a baking sheet and after half an hour in the oven out would come these golden brown shells of nothing, ready to be filled. I got to smother the tops with chocolate icing and spoon cream (whipped with a smidgen of sugar and a hint of vanilla) into their middles. And then… and then I got to lick the cream off the beaters, and use my fingers to wipe off the mixing bowl for the chocolate icing.

Dutch apple tart was another all-time favourite. I made this just a week or so ago. Note the cinnamon. It gives the apples and raisins a lovely flavour. The lattice isn’t perfect – but what the hey – it just gets eaten. Best served warm with a dollop of cream or ice cream.  This is the recipe I used.

 

 

Reflections on TV these days

I’m not a great watcher of television. Never have been, really, but in the last few years most of the TV channels churn out “reality” TV shows – cheap to produce and I suppose they must be popular.  I remember quite a few years back, Pete and I were returning from Brisbane to Melbourne on a Sunday afternoon. Our car was parked in the long term car park, which is serviced by a fleet of small buses going between the car park and the terminal. We caught one of these buses and listened to the conversation between a large group evidently travelling together. They had been to the Big Brother house, where the reality show was being filmed. They were right into it, talking about the … what do you call them… contestants? in the house as though they knew them. Pete and I exchanged a few looks with each other. I think we managed ten minutes of the show, maybe twice. But we must be in the minority, because reality show ‘stars’ seem to be able to make a fortune out of this stuff. The Kardashian shows have been around for a decade. You can buy the DVDs in Big W etc. And Kim Kardashian’s butt and boobs must be around the most-photographed in the world. Particularly by herself.

Apart from that, we have reality shows following the activities of customs officials, road patrol cops, the dog squad, vets – you name it. We get to see the versions from overseas, too. New Zealand airport arrivals, UK immigration officers etc etc. Then there’s the real set-ups. Married at first sight, the seven year itch thing, the biggest loser, survivor, I’m a celebrity – get me out of here.  It’s pretty hard to find any decent drama on the box these days. Unless you buy a subscription service, or you’re prepared to sit through the endless commercials on each channel’s extra services where they air the old shows.

Even the news has plummeted. The ABC is so far left that it might as well join the Labor (sic) party. With the exception of Aljazeera, which still employs journalists, the other channels seem to revolve their news broadcasts around dolly birds with long hair standing outside places like the law courts or maybe the scene of a crime, telling us what the studio announcer has already told us, with a few guesses at what might happen next. During the recent tropical cyclone Debbie there must have been at least a dozen ‘reporters’ scattered along the coast. One idiot was filmed at Airlie Beach, rain-soaked, with the wind howling, exhorting people to stay inside their houses. As for the morning breakfast programs – I get out of bed and log on to Facebook, while Pete watches TV. I reckon I know about most of the important stories before he does, and I don’t have to listen to the inane banter.

Apart from the obligatory news and weather, just about the only programs I like to watch are cooking shows. I hasten to add that does NOT include the egregious My Kitchen Rules. That’s a contrived program about people set up to present interpersonal dramas (a reality show). ie it’s not about the food. I do watch Masterchef. Yes, I know it has its set-ups, especially when the team competitions take place. But that show IS all about the food. That said, I’d rather watch Maggie Beer, Rick Stein, Nigella Lawson, Jamie Oliver and the like. My particular favourite was Two Fat Ladies. One of the ladies was an ex-lawyer who was a reformed alcoholic, the other liked a drink and a smoke. She rode the motorbike, while her ex-lawyer mate sat in the sidecar. They made smashing food, with not a low fat alternative in sight. It was always butter, cream, and lard. Real food.

And on the subject of food, have you noticed how weight loss has come full circle? When I was young and slim and conscious of what I looked like in mini skirts and jeans, if I put on a couple of pounds the drill was to stop eating carbohydrates such as bread and potatoes. If you wanted a snack, you ate a stick of celery, or a chunk of cheese. Now, after years of manufactured rubbish like low fat yoghurt and cheese, soft drinks loaded with aspartame, margarine (remember ‘I can’t believe it’s not butter?’), fat meticulously cut off everything before cooking, and no more than three or four eggs a week (because cholesterol), we’ve come back to real (unadulterated) food in moderation. That transition has taken about forty years. I recall my mother always had a jar in which she collected the drippings from cooking meat or bacon. It was a staple of her cooking, as well as a good way of using a valuable resource. Maybe we can start doing that again.

Okay, rant over.

In other news, I haven’t done much writing, although I’ve started a new story. But while I was doing some computer housekeeping, I ran across a blog post I wrote six or seven years ago, about the evolution of my earliest books. You’ll find it at Space freighters’.

Now for pictures. These are some of my favourite bee pictures.

A bee on a sunflower

A honey bee approaches a callistemon

A native blue banded bee (these guys are tiny)

A close-up of a blue banded bee with a salvia flower. This bee is quite old – you tell by the bald patch on its back

Honey bee and Geraldton wax

Matching bees on everlastings

Bee and rosemary

 

A catalogue of travel

The bay reflects the clouds as the sun rises

The world’s something of a train-wreck at the moment isn’t it? You can see it happening but you can’t bring yourself to look away. I don’t have anything particularly cheerful to say, so I won’t say much. I’ve promised Himself I’d make a Dutch apple tart tomorrow. Fair’s fair, after all. He’s making Peter’s Famous Chicken Soup tonight. That’ll keep us going for a few days. We don’t waste food in this family. We haz a freezer!

Apart from that, for those who care I’ve started on a new story. And for those who don’t care, I’ve catalogued our travels so you (and I) can easily find a stop along the way. You’ll see a link at the very top of my website that says ‘TRAVEL’. If you click on that, you’ll get a table of journeys we have made. Click on one of those and you’ll get a list of where we went. You can opt to start at any point and journey along with us by clicking the links at the bottom of the post, or whatever scratches your itches.

I had a lot of fun reading my own posts as I put the catalogue pages together. (Don’t tell anyone, but I reckon I did a great job 🙂 ) I fact, I’m very sorry I deleted the posts from earlier trips.

 

 

May the Fourth

Picture of Star Destroyer with words may the 4th be with youMay the 4th. Star Wars day. Back in 1977 a Galaxy Far Far Away crawled up the screen of a theatre near you. Since then, a whole new generation has been introduced to the worlds of the Force and an industry is in full swing, churning out books, toys, games, costumes – you name it. Yes, the science is suspect (at best), the worlds are alternative Earths, the aliens awfully humanoid. But through it all, I loved it and I still do.

Back then, I was teaching. My ten-year-old class loved the new movie. I didn’t go and see it until the long summer break, some nine months later. I’m not a great movie fan and science fiction for me was Asimov, Clarke, Heinlein, Bradbury. I’d LOVED 2001: A Space Odyssey, so this kid’s SF fantasy romp was beneath my level of sophistication. Still, needs must. I went along to the movies and was surprised to find I thoroughly enjoyed it. Lucas hadn’t needed to call it A New Hope back then. I particularly, especially loved that opening scene where the ISD (Imperial Star Destroyer to those not in the loop) chases Leia’s consular ship. Yes, I ducked. That was truly awesome.

But when The Empire Strikes Back was released, my mood changed from “what fun” to a gibbering, orgasmic mess. I saw that movie four times in ten days. Why? Luke Skywatcher? Nah. Luke never did it for me. Han? Yeah, okay, not bad. Darth Vader???? Oh, yesssss. Tall, dark and powerful. In ANH he was portrayed as a shouting bully-boy with smudges on his face mask, albeit with a quirky sense of humour. In TESB he has grown. He’s the man in charge. His face mask gleams. His sense of humour is still there. And he’s got… EXECUTOR. Be still my pounding heart. The ultimate spaceship. Oh, man. That scene where Vader is at the picture window on the bridge, surveying the Imperial Fleet, every massive ISD dwarfed by the mighty flagship. Excuse me while I dribble. And with the Imperial March playing in the background – da da da dada da dada daaaahhhh…

I bought the figures, the models, the books (don’t bother) and eventually, the movies – in VHS (I still have them). I reckon I’ve seen TESB a hundred times or more.

I couldn’t wait for Revenge Return of the Jedi. But it didn’t really do it for me. Oh, the speeder bikes were cool and Executor was back. But some of it was so… dumb. Like Leia in a metal bikini. WTF was Jabba the Hutt intending to do with her? I mean… you hear the stories about sheep and camels. But really? Surely Jabba would be expected to take a fancy to one of his own kind? Later on, the Emperor’s idea of persuading Luke to join him would’ve had him kicked out of the snake oil salesmen’s guild. Very clumsy. And building another Death Star with the same intrinsic fault? Dumb dumb dumb. And then they crashed Executor. My heart was shattered.

Still, I was desperately disappointed when the series ended. Fortunately, spin-off books began to appear, some worthwhile, some garbage. Timothy Zahn’s Heir to the Empire trilogy was a stand-out (here’s my take on why) and Brian Daley’s The Han Solo Adventures was also well worth an afternoon or two. Alan Dean Foster’s Splinter of the Mind’s Eye was a bit of fun, set between ANH and TESB.

Like many others, I was ecstatic when Lucas announced the three films filling in Darth Vader’s early years. And like everybody else, I hated the prequels.

Still and all, I was even more excited when Star Wars was resurrected. And although quite a few people liked The Force Awakens, I didn’t. To me it was A New Hope with a few tweaks and absolutely no imagination. But Disney made up for it with Rogue One. Now I’m hangin’ out for The Last Jedi. Tragic, really.

I can’t finish without mentioning that this year we’ll be without Princess Leia and without R2D2 – or at least the actors who played those parts. So a last salute to Carrie Fisher and Ronnie Baker. At least the Star Wars legacy will remain for many years to come.

I’ve moved all my books

I started by putting my toe in the water, decided the temperature was right, and shifted all my books from Draft 2 Digital (D2D) and Amazon, over to Pronoun. All the titles are now available again on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Google Play, Kobo, and iBooks. But they all have different URLs because of the change in distributor.

It’s not a simple move. Links had to be updated on my own website not just on the book pages but also in posts I’d written. Fortunately, I have a broken links widget that tells me (um) when links are broken, and where. Apart from that, there are the links at SFR Station. Then I had to ask Amazon to kink the new version of books to the earlier one, so the accumulated reviews would appear. On the way through, I tweaked a few blurbs (book descriptions for those not in the know), and changed a cover. That’s the new cover for A Victory Celebration at top left. It’s a sexy little story, and the previous cover didn’t reflect that. (It seems readers like a bit of sex. With me, that’s about as sexy as it gets)

Why did I move?

Well, for a start, Pronoun doesn’t charge for its services, whereas D2D charges 10%. Pronoun, which is owned by Macmillan, has obviously negotiated a royalty deal with Amazon. If you list a book for less than $2.99 directly with Amazon, your royalty is 35% of the list price minus costs. For all other values, authors get 70%. But Pronoun pays 70% on ALL books at Amazon. Hey, if you have a $0.99 short, you get $.70 instead of $.35 (rough figures to make it easy, okay?) Doesn’t sound like a lot, but it all adds up.

Then there’s the formatting. You load your Word .docx (no other format is accepted) to Pronoun and you’re given a choice of six very good looking layouts for your ebook. D2D does a good job, but Pronoun adds bells and whistles. You can load your own epub if you’re specially enamoured of it – Pronoun will convert to .mobi.

Pronoun is also helpful when setting a price, providing comparisons of prices with books in the selected genre of a comparable length.

You’re given assistance when selecting the all-important key words. When you pick your two genres, you’re presented with a list of search terms, with a figure for how popular they are with users, and how high you might get in a sub category of that name. You can also enter your own search terms, and Pronoun will process your words in the same way, showing suggestions and popularity. It’s all good information to help you reach the highest possible audience.

And the main reason? One stop shop. I make a tweak and load it in one place. Pronoun does the rest, including Google Play, where I haven’t been able to jump through the publishing hoops before. I get paid into Paypal once a month, two months after the money is earned (that’s pretty standard). And I have a lovely author page for you to look at. Here it is.

The Pronoun support people have been great, even fixing up a bug I told them about when I first signed up. The formatting guidelines are well-written and easy to understand, as is their contract. I did have to dig just a little bit, though, to find out how to tell them about my EIN tax document – without a recorded EIN against my name, US companies have to charge foreign folks like me 30% US tax. Check the FAQs – they’re good.

The downside

  • The graphical presentation of sales is nice, but I’d like monthly figures in an Excel spreadsheet, much as D2D provides.
  • It takes a little longer to get your books loaded at the retailers. B&N is usually the longest, taking several days to a week. But even Amazon might take three.
  • You don’t get the instant gratification of watching sales on Amazon’s sales charts. However, if you’re desperate, you can always check a book’s ranking to give you some idea.

If you want a bit more detail about working with Pronoun, I wrote a blog at Space freighter’s lounge when I first dipped my toe. Here it is.

In a way I’m sorry to leave D2D. They do a great job, provide good reports, provide great user support, and offer access to other distribution outlets like 24 Symbols, Oyster, and Tolino. I could have left my books there to gain access to those additional channels, but I wasn’t making any sales there, so opted for the simple life. Besides, D2D cannot distribute to Amazon or Google. And I already mentioned about royalties, layouts, and marketing extras. Did somebody mention Smashwords? I took my books from there several years ago. It was all too hard, with none of the marketing extras, and with no return on investment.

So… if you have my books listed anywhere, be advised – the links have changed. Except for print, of course. That still happens through Create Space, who STILL operate in the Dark Ages and send people in third world countries like Australia printed paper cheques.

 

Our place in the Universe

I’ll admit it. I don’t have much to say about anything this week.

Cassini, the probe that has been exploring Saturn for the past several years is on its last hurrah. It will be ring-diving for a few more weeks – if it doesn’t hit anything in the process. And then it will take its final plunge into the planet’s atmosphere. You’ll find out all about Cassini here.

You know, when you see Planet Earth from that distance, a tiny dot glimpsed between the rings, it makes you realise how insignificant we really are. Carl Sagan said it better than I ever could. If you’ve not seen/heard this before, from his wonderful series Cosmos, take a look. Sagan: the pale blue dot

And now I think I’ll just share a few photos with you. (I didn’t take all of them)

This is where we live – NASA

Dawn

Moonrise

The enormity of space

This is a very distant star cluster. Take the trip click on the picture

The perils of house-hunting

It was a long, hot, dry summer in Hervey Bay this year. In some respects the arrival of Cyclone Debbie was a blessing. Don’t misunderstand, I have the deepest sympathy for all those people who endured the lady’s fury. But Hervey Bay is too far south to feel the full fury of a tropical cyclone, and when Debbie became a deep low, bringing high winds and flooding rains to the Sunshine and Gold Coasts and into NSW, we were protected by Fraser Island. We didn’t mind the rain, though. We had just had the driest summer since we’ve lived here, and summer is supposed to be our wet season.

Be that as it may, the weather has cleared, all the plants heaved a huge sigh of relief, and the birds abandoned us. If you’re one of those people who think feeding birds is a bad thing, rest assured they still prefer their natural food. The callistemons are in bloom, and we hear the birds; we just don’t see them. When the flowers die off they’ll come back for a spot of apple juice, or a nibble at an apple, or some multi-grain bread.

One thing about an absence of lorikeets is that we can be visited by some of the shyer species. We have nesting boxes in our trees, and although one is a long-time abode of a possum, one is empty. A pair of pale-headed rosellas have been eyeing it off. She goes for a look, while he waits below, giving advice.

There has been a pair of rosellas around as long as we’ve lived here, and every few years they’ll be looking for a nest. The first year we lived here was interesting. The house had one of those pot-bellied space heaters, with a round metal chimney up through the roof, fitted with a raised cap like a Chinaman’s hat. That sort of arrangement was perfect for birds who nest in hollowed-out branches in trees. The female bird slipped under the gap between the raised ‘hat’ and into what she would have thought was a log – and slid right down to the bottom. We couldn’t reach her in the stove – she was above a flue. What to do? Pete got up on the roof and took off the cap, but the bird had nothing to climb up, and of course couldn’t fly. So we lowered down a thick rope with a knot on the end, hoping she would cling to it and we could draw her up. The male bird was watching all this from a nearby vantage point, no doubt worried out of his little bird brain.

It took a couple of goes. She caught on quite quickly, and Pete drew her up almost to the top. But she let go too soon. The next attempt was a success. As soon as she could spread her wings she and the hubby were off.

We always thought the heater was a waste of space. I think we lit it twice in all the years before we got rid of it when we replaced the roof. The nesting boxes are much safer, of course, designed specially for birds of that size. Lorikeets have used this one in the past. I’d love it if the rosellas took up the tenancy – but lorikeets are aggressive little shits, so I doubt if it will work out.

In other news I had a brush with melanoma. Like most Australians my age who grew up in the surf and the sand, spraying our bodies with coconut oil to work up a lovely golden tan, I’ve got plenty of age spots and moles. One large spot on the side of my jaw appeared to be falling apart, so I went to see the doctor. He said it was a squamous something-or-other and not to worry. But since I was there, he checked the collection on my back. Nothing nasty. Then (as a bit of a joke) I pointed at a tiny spot on my left arm just above my wrist. It was circular, not lumpy or misshapen, about the size of a pin head, but it was black – therefore unlike any of the other blemishes on my skin. The doc’s body language changed remarkably. “I think we should take that out,” he said. Who was I to argue? So we made a time and he punched this thing out, so small it didn’t need stitches, and sent it off for pathology.

The wound required 8 stitches. It has healed nicely

You know it’s not a good result when the surgery rings you to make an appointment. I was told that tiny spot would have become a melanoma, which is the most dangerous form of skin cancer. He thought he’d got the lot, but he suggested he remove a bit more skin to be certain. There would be a scar. So now I have a scar above my left wrist. But I don’t have a melanoma. Fair trade if you ask me.

And I wrote a review of the latest Star Wars novel, Thrawn. It’s over on my other blog if you’re interested. Here’s the link.