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Sunday, December 25, 2005


Christmas spirit

Here, where Christmas seems to be about teaching children to be greedy it is nice to occasionally see what is perhaps the true spirit of Christmas. My daughter and her son have been visiting me here in Brisbane. A few days ago they took a bus ride into town to meet an old friend. On the return journey, the bus driver wore a Santa suit and handed out a lollipop to each of his passengers. This, I assume, was his own initiative. What a delightful man he must be. For him driving a bus would never be a mundane job.

Happy Christmas.

Saturday, December 24, 2005


Off the air

Australia virtually closes down for the week between Christmas and New Year. Many businesses close completely and most workers take at least a week of their generous holiday leave—yes, most Australians get four weeks a year.

I am also taking a break next week. It is possible I'll get onto the internet and maybe even upload a blog but probably I won't. But I'll be doing some interesting stuff and taking a few photos. Hope you'll return in the new year to read about it in my blog and to take a look at my photo pages.

Happy new year.



Queensland is considered to be the skin cancer capital of the world. I believe we get more skin cancers per head of population than any other area. We are blessed with a pleasant sunny climate and beautiful beaches. Besides, in our culture a bronze tan is considered healthy. We spend hour after hour in the sun trying to get our skin to look like that of some of my Thai friends. But my Thai friends do not see bronze skin as a blessing. That is why whitening cream is such a big seller in their country.

Before I went to Asia in 2002 I went to a skin-cancer clinic for a checkup. Because we have the highest incidence of skin cancers we also have the most advanced diagnostic equipment. The doctor scanned my body and photographed any suspicious moles. He found one mole that looked dangerous so he cut it out and sent it for a biopsy. The result came back as positive. Yes, I had a skin cancer that would have killed me if it was left alone. Fortunately he removed it all.

While in Asia I did ask a couple of doctors including a skin specialist to take a look at my skin. But I was not happy with the level of their knowledge. So when I returned I booked myself back into the skin-cancer clinic. These guys are so busy there was a two-month wait.

Last week I finally got to see the doctor. Not the same one as before. When I took my clothes off for him to check my skin he said, 'Mmmm, you sure enjoyed the Australian sun in your youth.' Anyone who has seen much of my skin knows that it is covered in moles and brown marks. Yep, that's me in the picture.

I replied, 'Yes, I rode a surfboard every weekend when I was a teenager and I sailed a catamaran for many years.' He gave me the good news that I would continue to get more of these marks as I got older.

He checked me over. The supposedly suspicious moles were OK. He could tell that even without his scanning equipment. He even knew the medical name to describe them. He photographed a few for future reference and then found a strange mark on my neck. He said he had no idea what it was, so he scraped a bit off to send away for checking.

I waited a few days and phoned him for the result. It is OK. I have nothing to worry about—for the moment anyway.

Monday, December 19, 2005


Violent culture is not appropriate

An Australian columnist, Andrew Bolt (Sunday Mail and other papers 18 December), states that the recent Australian so-called racial violence is a very complex issue. Part of Andrew's solution appears to be that we give up the political correctness that means we should never criticise the cultures of our immigrants. However I feel Andrew is proposing a new political correctness that means we should never criticise our Anglo-American-Australian culture.

I propose that we should criticise violence at all times no matter which culture it stems from. We could start by taking a look at the violence that is endemic in many of the popular sports and movies of our Anglo-American-Australian culture.

Saturday, December 17, 2005


Where do we draw the line?

I come from a generation that challenged everything. Our parents had been raised by Victorian moral standards. The pendulum had swung a long long way and as we grew up in an atmosphere of oppression we kept asking: 'Why?'

Young people today challenge their parents but lets face it, they already have freedom to do just about anything. The challenges are token rather than real. In the sixties we really did have a revolution, mostly nonviolent but a revolution nevertheless. Western society changed drastically during and after the sixties. The pendulum swung just as far in the opposite direction and perhaps in many cases it swung too far.

I have always questioned the validity of censorship. I believe censorship is dangerous. Censorship has been used by many governments of many persuasions around the world to stifle dissent, to stop people coming up with solutions that did not suit them, the incumbent government.

But is all censorship bad? I have spent much of my life involved with children's literature. Many of my colleagues have proposed that censorship of children's literature was bad. But did they really believe that children should be allowed to read or view anything? Absolutely anything? I find very few of such people who agree with the proposition that children should be able to view pictures of adults having sex with children. Therefore I suggest that most reasonable people agree that some censorship is necessary. The question is: Where do we draw the line?

I do not propose to answer that question. It is something that I believe needs to be debated. The question is very complex. How do we ensure that children are free to read and consider ideas that those in power might not agree with and at the same time protect them from that which most reasonable people believe to be harmful?

What we also need to consider in our present society is the availability of electronic material such as DVDs that once it is in the hands of adults becomes almost impossible to keep from children. We need to ask is this material potentially harmful to our children and therefore potentially harmful to the future of our society. In other words what sort of adults will the children of today become after exposure to the sort of material that is so readily available today and what sort of society will they create. Do we want a say in this or are we going to sit back and allow it to evolve as it will?

Where would you draw the line?

Thursday, December 15, 2005


Stories create our society

Some years ago I read a book by Jan Knappert called 'Myths & legends of the Congo'. The book was divided into sections devoted to each tribe. Ahead of the stories in each section was a description of the tribe. I could not help but notice the consistency with which there was a relationship between the stories and the nature of the tribe. If Knappert described a particular tribe as being peaceful by nature then invariably the stories that followed were ones that promoted or valued peace. Another tribe, perhaps living very close to the previous one, might be described as warlike. And invariably the stories would value warriors who could fight to death.

This lead me to realise the importance of the stories that our children are raised with. What sort of a society do we want for the future? Do we want a peaceful society or a warlike one? Or to put it another way, would we rather be able to walk down the street knowing we are safe or do we prefer to walk around our neighbourhood in fear of being attacked?

Take a look at the stories that are so popular in Western society today. The format of stories has evolved over the years. Once all stories were transmitted orally. In time they were written down. Over the years they have been published in books that have become more and more sophisticated. But who reads books these days? The majority in our society get their stories through electronic media: movies, television and electronic games.

There are in fact quite a range of stories for us to choose from in these media however I think it is time we acknowledged that stories that promote violence are all too common. In fact they are hard to avoid.

When my children were young I did my best to protect them from such stories. In fact I spent considerable time reading to them from carefully selected quality literature.

During this time the movie Mad Max was quite popular. When it was shown on television I tried to watch it to see what it was about. I could not watch it through to the end. I found the violence far too offensive. OK, so other adults are not as sensitive as I am, I accept their right to be entertained by such movies. However the movie was available on video. My neighbours, a family of five of similar ages to my children, borrowed it from a video shop and watched it together. I know this because my son, David, told me he had watched it at their house. David was less than eight at the time.

No, David did not grow up to become a violent monster from watching that movie. However, he and I had many discussions—every time I caught him watching television that I felt was inappropriate. I would point out that the creators of these stories had made a decision that violence was an appropriate solution to a problem and had written the story to show that the one with the biggest/most weapons always wins. I wanted him to understand that the one with the biggest/most weapons was not always right.

Now David as an adult is probably more of a pacifist than I am. And he is faced with similar problems. When Zack turned two a friend gave him the Spiderman DVD as a gift. The movie is clearly inappropriate for children under about 10 or 12 and Zack wants to watch his movie. David is forced to act like a really mean Dad because friends think this sort of movie is appropriate for a two year old.

I think the incidence of violence in our Western society is far too great. I know it is a complex issue and many aspects must be addressed to improve the situation. However I would strongly urge us as a society to seriously consider why we have such a fascination with violent stories.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005


You're different—we don't like you

When my daughter Melanie started school many years ago, she went to Belmore South Infants School in suburban Sydney. Believe it or not Mel was the cultural minority. I think she was the only kid in the school who had two parents born in Australia. In fact, many of the other kids were not even born in Australia. There was a kid whose parents were English. He was the nearest, ethnically, to Melanie otherwise they came from many countries all around the world. There was an amazing mix of cultures and races.

And everyone got along without any problems.

One night the school held an international dinner. Everyone had to bring a dish from their country that went onto the table for all to share. What a wonderful feast we had. And what a wonderful time we had meeting and talking to such an interesting mix of people from so many different cultures. Our lives were enriched by the experience.

While Mel was still in infants school we moved house. We moved to an outer Sydney suburb where just about everyone was of Anglo-celtic ancestry—all what you might call 'dinkie-die Aussies'. Over 90% of the kids at the new school would have fitted that description. So you would think Melanie would have fitted in quite well.

Not so.

It seems that when everyone is the same then differences are created. Mel was the new kid so she was picked on because she wore glasses. She was so upset by this I had to go to the school to sort it out.

We Australians like to point the finger at migrants and blame them for our troubles but perhaps we should be looking at our own culture to see why we have such difficulty getting on with people.

Sunday, December 11, 2005


Heaven & hell

Do heaven and hell actually exist? I don't claim to know. But ask you to consider this possibility.

Heaven and hell are actually the same place. There is only one place of the dead. The difference relates to forgiveness. No, not whether you have been forgiven but whether you have forgiven. Everyone you have ever known goes to the place of the dead. That means that all the people who have ever annoyed you here on earth will be there. If you have forgiven them they will be your friends and you will be in heaven forever. If you have not forgiven them, you'll spend eternity with your enemies and you will be in hell.

Friday, December 09, 2005


'Thai' experience in Australia

I have eaten 'Thai' food twice in the past few weeks. In the first restaurant my friends and I took a table towards the back. There were two small kids at the back table, perhaps the proprietors children, who might have been Thai. They watched us come in so I said 'Sa wat dee khap' to them. They simply looked away without responding. Their reaction was as you would expect from Western children who have been taught not to talk to strangers. Or perhaps they did not understand me. I noticed their conversation was in English. The food was pleasant.

Last night a friend took me to another restaurant that she recommended. We were greeted by a Western man who spoke with a European accent. My friend had said that she thought his wife was Thai. There was a young blonde waitress who was dressed in traditional Thai cloth. The menu listed 'gaeng kheow warn' and in English said it could be served with chicken, pork or beef. I ordered 'gaeng kheow warn gai' and he did not understand. I had to say 'chicken'. We also ordered fish with chilli sauce. In both cases the sauces were delicious, the food was attractively presented but the meat was tough. It was disappointing as a 'Thai' experience.


Why not leave a comment?

Prior to moving to Blogger I was not encouraging comments. At another site I once used It seemed there were more people reading the blogs and commenting on them than there were writing them. Often the comment would be immature or flippant. At Blogger I find there is less community interaction, so far anyway. Probably most of the people who read my blog are reading it because they have chosen to rather than finding it randomly. I am aware that this could change.

I do not have a problem with someone adding a comment that disagrees with my view. I am happy for my blog to be a forum for different ideas. However I would prefer that the comments are intelligent and considered. Obviously I cannot control this. I don't feel that I need to comment on every comment unless I think additional clarification is necessary. Stupid or offensive (in my opinion) remarks will be deleted.

The Blogger site does allow anonymous comments. If you feel inclined to add something you don't have to be identified. However, if I know you and you want me to know who it is, you could simply add your initials. I'll have to guess.

Have your say, you're welcome.

Monday, December 05, 2005


Thoughts on buying a computer

A friend has asked me for advice on buying a computer, I thought I would share my limited knowledge with my blog readers too.

First thing to consider is the choice of operating system. There are basically three operating systems available. Most people opt for a Microsoft one. Most of the computers that I have purchased have come with an Apple operating system. Some choose Linux. If you are considering Linux then you probably have more expertise than I have. Therefore I will not include Linux in my observations which I trust will be useful for those with less expertise than me.

The first consideration when choosing an operating system is what you will use the computer for. For most people who have basic computer needs I believe that Apple's OS X is much more stable and much simpler to use than any of the Microsoft systems so far. People who have never used an Apple computer tell me they wouldn't know how to use one. However I have learned how to use a computer on Apples and I find that most of the knowledge I have gained can be used to figure out how to use a Microsoft system so it should be just as simple the other way. Perhaps there is not much more difference between Apple and Microsoft than there is between different versions of Microsoft.

A few years back a friend asked my advice before buying a computer. He was just starting university. I said that Apple suited me but it may not do what he wanted. He needed to check at the university and see if the lecturers could accept Apple formats. At the university he asked people why they recommended one operating system or another. Those who recommended Microsoft invariably said, 'Because it's what everyone else uses.' Whereas the Apple users could give specific reasons why their computer or operating system better suited their needs. My friend bought an Apple Macintosh and had no problem with the format of his assignments.

In the past there had been compatibility issues between Microsoft and Apple however with the latest Apples this should not be the case—not so far as sharing files goes. The only files I have difficulty reading are Powerpoint shows. People send me clever files they think I might enjoy as email attachments. I can recognise them by the file extension of 'pps'. If this was important to me I would buy Powerpoint and instal it on my Mac. But I don't think there has been one that I can't live without, therefore I simply delete the file and forgo the pleasure.

When people send me Word files I can open them either in Appleworks or Text Edit which come included in the price of my Macintosh computer. I can also create files in these programs and save them as Word files that can be attached to an email and opened by my friends who have a Microsoft Windows operating system.

Microsoft Word is definitely a superior word processor to the one in Appleworks. If I was doing a lot of writing I might consider buying it. In fact, some say that Word for Mac is a superior program to Word for Windows. However I choose not to run any Microsoft programs on my computer. This is not a bias but a safety precaution.

At the moment I believe there are no viruses that affect Macintosh OS X. There are thousands that affect Windows operating systems. There are, however, viruses that affect Microsoft programs such as Word and Outlook Express when they are installed on an Apple computer. Therefore I prefer not to use such programs. There are alternatives that are suitable for my needs. I have had no problems with viruses on this computer. I'm sure viruses have come to me in emails but they just don't do anything. However there are no guarantees where viruses are concerned. Still, virus writers prefer to create more havoc rather than less. They tend to target the more popular Microsoft programs. I think we Apple users will be safe for some time.

When comparing computer prices it is important to consider the software that comes with the computer. With my Mac, included in the price, I got the following:

Appleworks: includes a word processor, spreadsheet (compatible with Excel), database, drawing and slideshow. Unfortunately Appleworks is perhaps a little dated now but it is still very useful. A few years ago while I was running a business, 90% of the work I did on my computer was done on Appleworks.

Text Edit: a very simple to use but light-on-features word processor. I use Text Edit for most of my writing these days. When the writing is complete I copy and paste it into whatever program is appropriate. For example, I am writing this in Text Edit, I can paste it into my Mail program as an email or paste it into the web browser to upload for my blog.

Mail: a sophisticated email program.

Address Book: a sophisticated data base for keeping contacts, works with Mail.

Safari: a sophisticated web browser.

iPhoto: stores and processes photos, is simple to use and probably meets the needs of most casual digital photographers.

iTunes: great for storing and playing music.

iCal: a calendar/diary program.

DVD Player



iChat: a chat program that I never use.

Preview: opens files from many different formats.

World Book Encyclopedia

Garage Band: a virtual recording studio

and a few other useful little programs. Most of these programs have similar interfaces. They are designed to work in the same way as each other so what you learn when you use one program can be transfered to another. When appropriate the programs work together. I bought my computer over a year ago. The software bundle may be slightly different now and it may differ from country to country but it will be similar.

When I tell my friends in Asia about all of this the usual response is that they can get pirate programs for free or for little more. Perhaps you can but how well do they work? There is no guarantee on pirate programs. While they are supposed to be exact copies, my observation is that bugs are not uncommon with them. But there is no one to take your problem to. You have to solve it yourself. At least with Apple software it is guaranteed along with the computer.

You might think I am a little biased towards Apple. Perhaps but not as much as some. There are Apple freaks who buy every update that Apple releases. I am still using the OS and software that came with my computer. It still does the job I bought it for. There have been updates available which will improve the performance of my computer but at a price. I have looked at them and have decided that I can live without them. I am not that fanatical. And IMO, my computer is still way ahead of those with any Microsoft operating system.

If you ask a Microsoft user about Apple they may make derogatory comments. If so, ask them how much time they have spent on an Apple. I use both systems often. In work situations I put in 250 hours or more each year on computers with Microsoft systems.

Hope that helps you choose the operating system now for the hardware.

If you decided on the Microsoft OS then you have thousands of choices for a computer. They range from incredibly cheap to quite expensive. Most of the cheap ones have brand names you may have never heard of. The better known brands are likely to be more expensive. Most of the computers I have used in work situations have probably been cheaper brands. I can't say I am over impressed with them.

I have friends who have IBM ThinkPads and when I use these computers I get the feeling that I am using a quality product. Like my Mac, they are not perfect. Like my Mac, they occasionally break down but like my Mac they are worth repairing. You can choose to save your money and take your chances or you can buy a product that has a name and is likely to last.

A geeky friend once told me it was a better proposition to buy a cheap computer and fix the problems that arise. It is—for geeks who can fix their own problems. But for the rest of us, we have to give money to a highly paid technician to keep our computer going. I'd rather spend a little more up front than have the troubles later.

If you decide on the Apple Macintosh operating system you have fewer choices. At the moment it is only available for computers that are made by Apple. That might change but at the time of writing that is the situation. None of Apple's computers come into the cheap-and-nasty price bracket. They do however have models that are quite competitive considering what you get for your money. Even at the cheaper end of Apple's price range you are still buying quality.

A few years back MacAddict magazine ran an article where they looked at what had to be done to destroy a Macintosh computer. They started by dropping it from waist height and then treated it progressively worse, even having it run over by a truck. Yes, eventually it gave up but it was amazing how much abuse it could take before this happened.

I once dropped my Macintosh iBook onto the concrete floor of a computer lab at Mahasarakham University. I was trying to carry too much and it slipped from my hands. I had not turned it off before this happened. When the students in the lab heard the crash they all turned their heads and gasped out loud. 'Don't worry. It's a Mac,' I said calmly. I picked it up and took it back to my own desk. The OS had crashed. I pressed the start button and the computer restarted with no problems.

One of the disadvantages of buying a Mac is that when you do need to get it serviced you had better not be in some remote place. If you have a Microsoft OS anyone who knows anything about computers can fix it. However I will not let anyone without Mac experience touch the inside of my computer. And such people can be hard to find. My hard drive died when I was in Mahasarakham. Yes, it does happen. No, not the same computer that I dropped. The computer was under warranty but I had to take it several hundred kilometers to Bangkok to get it fixed. Apple have a good international warranty but you have to get the computer to an authorised Apple service centre. Once it is out of warranty I would still want to do that if I had a problem.

The other negative about buying an Apple computer is that if you have specialised needs there may not be software available for you. Game freaks usually buy Microsoft OS. If there is any other software you particularly want to use, check to see if there is a Macintosh version available before you buy a Mac.

Whatever computer you decide on you also need to consider the specifications you require. At the cheaper end of the scale manufacturers, including Apple, usually cut costs by cutting back on what any experienced computer user would think of as basic. Don't buy a computer with less than 512 mb of RAM. Consider buying even more RAM if you can afford it or if you plan to use your computer for memory intensive tasks such as photo editing or music creation.

How much storage space do you need on your hard drive? Basic operating systems and software take up quite a lot these days. I bought my computer with 30 GB of storage. If I was buying now I would buy at least twice this. Anyone who expects to store large amounts of photos, movies or music would need to consider accordingly.

Good luck with your selection. May your new computer give you as much pleasure as mine does me.

Friday, December 02, 2005


Of temples & wildlife

Anyone who has been looking at my flickr photo pages will be aware that I have been taking a look at some of the Asian temples in Brisbane. On Monday I went with two of my friends to see the Chung Tian Chinese Buddhist temple in Priestdale. Unfortunately we did not check the opening times and we discovered that the temple is open every day except Monday. It is set on a hill with a long drive. I took some photos from the gate to show my friends the power of the zoom on my Panasonic Lumix fz20.

Nearby is a waterhole in one corner of Underwood Park. This park comprises mostly sporting fields but it is nice that this corner has been left natural and is a haven for several species of waterbirds.

After spending an hour or so enjoying this area and taking a few photos we decided to go to Daisy Hill Forest Park to eat our lunch. In the centre of this park is a picnic area which attracts many wallabies and birds that are semi-tame and will hang around the picnic tables looking for handouts.

Went for a walk through the forest then that took us a couple of hours. When we returned to the main area we took a look in the Koala Centre. I've included just a couple of photos with this blog. If you'd like to see more follow the links on the sidebar, photos of the day are included on three different pages. They include ducks, dusky moorhen, water dragon, noisy miner, wallabies, crow, magpie, bees, koala, the temple and the waterhole.

My friends in Asia sometimes have the impression that we see kangaroos every day. Well, I have to say that these wallabies are the first macropods I have seen since returning and I saw none on my previous three month trip in which I drove from Brisbane to Melbourne and back—that's over 4,000 kilometres. And koalas? Well, I have done a lot of bushwalking in my life but I have only once seen a koala in its natural habitat. In the koala centre they have a tower that enables you to take a look in the tree tops at koala level. Couldn't see any. The one in the photo is actually captive.

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