Category Archives: Australia

3D printing research – here in Melbourne

My thanks to SV3DPRINTER for pointing me to this interesting article from Swinburne University, right here in Melbourne [Australia]:

https://www.swinburne.edu.au/news/latest-news/2018/08/pioneering-housing-construction-with-3d-concrete-printers-at-swinburne.php

Although Professor Jay Sanjayan wasn’t giving away any technical secrets about his new process, the prospect of new materials to use in the printing process is very exciting. Nevertheless, it’s his comments about disruption to the construction industry that really got me thinking. 3D printing in construction makes it possible to automate construction.

But then what happens to the brickies and steel workers and carpenters whose jobs will become redundant?

I’m excited by the possibilities brought about by 3D printing, but also a little apprehensive. I firmly believe that some form of Universal Basic Income [UBI] will become necessary, possibly even in my lifetime. Sobering thought.

cheers

Meeks

 


Last chance to burn off, Warrandyte

Just in case you’ve missed the signs, Monday November 19, 2018 is the official start of the fire season here in Victoria.

That means no more burning off. Period. After the 19th, you will only have the weekly green bin collection to get rid of fallen branches, twigs and gum leaves. Given that eucalypts continue to drop branches and leaves right through the fire season, you’ll need the green bin space for new flammable material, not old.

That November 19th deadline also means you have just 3 more days to get rid of the fuel load around your houses. Unfortunately, the only day that will be really perfect for burning off is Sunday. According to the Bureau of Meteorology [BOM], Sunday the 18th of November will be:

Sunny. Light winds and afternoon bayside seabreezes around 10 km/h.

Today will be:

Mostly sunny. Light winds becoming west to southwesterly 15 to 25 km/h later this morning then turning southerly 20 to 30 km/h during the afternoon.

Tomorrow is supposed to be:

Morning cloud then afternoon sunny periods. Winds southerly 20 to 30 km/h becoming light in the late evening.

For both predictions, it’s not the heat that matters, it’s the wind, and the wind doesn’t have to be a northerly. The fire that destroyed two houses in Warrandyte on February 9, 2014 could have wiped out  the whole township because a really strong southerly was pushing the flames towards the village.

What constitutes a strong wind? I take no chances. To me, 25 km per hour is enough to make me twitchy. If I can hear the ‘freight train’ sound of gum trees wooshing in the wind, I’m lowering the shutters and checking my pumps.

From all indicators, this fire season is going to be a bad one so please become a little paranoid. And take this last chance to burn off.

cheers

Meeks


#VicEmergency, phone app question

With the continued dry weather and fire season fast approaching, I’m a bit worried by the VicEmergency app on my phone. Okay, lie, I’m a lot worried. I get notifications of fires within my watch zone, but the damn phone doesn’t ‘ring’. All I get is a vibration.

When I’m home, the phone sits on my desk so I can generally hear it as it bounces around. If I go to the bathroom or into the kitchen to make a cup of coffee, I hear nothing at all. Zero. Zip. Nada.

My phone is a Samsung Galaxy SII with the most up-to-date firmware it can take. I looked up the specs. My phone should be receiving the VicEmergency notifications without any problems. And I do, I just can’t hear them.

I’ve checked the phone and all the settings are fine. I get proper notification sounds for both calls and SMS messages. What’s more, when I was using the now defunct, EmergencyAus phone app. I had a special sound setup just for the notifications. If I heard that sound I knew to go check the phone, immediately.

-sigh- I really have to say this. The EmergencyAus app was ten times better than the VicEmergency app that seems to have pushed it out of the market. VicEmergency should be the better app because it includes data – such as wind direction – that wasn’t available on EmergencyAus. Read this post to see why wind direction is good.

The trouble is, the VicEmergency app is slow to load and slow to update.  I’ve seen fires showing on the app long after they’ve been downgraded to ‘safe’ on the VicEmergency website. That makes me wonder how much I can trust the app to provide emergency info. when there really is an emergency situation. And I can’t hear the alerts. In some ways, that’s the worst thing about the app because I’m now constantly worried that I’ve missed a vital notification. And that will only get worse as the season progresses.

So, the reason for this post is to ask other VicEmergency users out there if you get notifications with sound or not. If you do, what phone are you using?

I can’t afford to buy new phones for the Offspring and me, but I can’t afford to continue with this stress either. Not being able to hear the alerts has dumped me right back into the emotional state I was in after Black Saturday. People died because they didn’t know. 😦

Oh, and I did try to get some info. from VicEmergency itself but got no reply. Don’t you just love government agencies?

Any info. gratefully received.

Meeks


Apples, alpacas and some results

First and foremost, to all those who re-blogged and retweeted my ebook free promotion over the last two days…THANK YOU! There were 40 downloads and I’m grateful for each and every one. 🙂

And now to soothe my frazzled nerves and yours, I thought I’d show you what else I’ve been up to:

Exhibit 1 – one of the alpacas that mows my grass, strips my rose bushes and turns my fruit trees into umbrellas

You may also notice that there’s not much grass on the ground. This time last year, the two alpacas would have been chewing through knee high growth. It’s been dry, very dry.

Exhibit 2 – the apple tree inside the new fence

I got  a bit artistic with this shot. 🙂 The metal framing the picture is actually the reo ‘gate’. More on that in the next shot.

This whole project started because I was determined to save the apple tree from the alpacas. Most of my fruit trees are tall enough to survive having all their lower branched pruned into an umbrella shape by the ‘girls’. The apple, however, is kind of a dwarf, and I made the mistake of planting it too close to the fence. As a result, even when the alpacas are locked out, they just reach over the barbed wire and nibble away [that’s why there’s new growth in the middle of the apple tree but not on the ends of the branches].

The first step, therefore, was to put wire mesh above the fence. To do that, I had to hammer some star pickets into the ground and then screw another star picket half way up to increase the combined height [star pickets have holes along one flange so if you marry up the holes you can screw them together]. Then the wire was attached to the ‘posts’.

You can see how the star pickets are attached in Exhibit 3.

Exhibit 3 – the fence

The grid of metal wired to the star pickets is the ‘gate’ leading into the fenced off area. The grid is called ‘reo’ by tradies, but it’s official name is ‘reinforced wire mesh‘. Reo is used to reinforce concrete as it’s being poured. The heavy duty variety is also rigid enough to make an excellent gate. And that’s what I did. Haven’t quite finished so the gate is just wired shut for now.

Exhibit 4 – the enclosure

This last pic just shows the wire enclosure around the apple tree. If you look closely you can see the doubled up star pickets and wire mesh.

Apple tree 1, alpacas 0. -fist pump-

My hands are covered in bandaids and my back hurts, but seeing the apple tree burst into green makes it all worthwhile.

cheers from Warrandyte!

Meeks

 


Sakura festival…in Melbourne!

Despite loving all things Japanese, I’ve never been to Japan, but now I can say I’ve been to a Sakura [Cherry Blossom] festival. Ta dah:

[Apologies for the size of the photos. I wanted them to be as lovely as possible]

These are ornamental cherry trees gifted to Melbourne by the government of Japan. The grove was planted in Banksia Park, which is situated on the boundary between the suburbs of Heidelberg and Bulleen.

Not all of the cherry trees survived the harsh, Australian conditions, so the Japanese community in Melbourne took the fledgling grove under its wing, saving as many trees as possible and caring for the whole grove. The photo below shows one of the cherry trees that was saved:

You can see how close this poor tree came to dying.

Thanks to the efforts of the Japanese community, people like me can now enjoy a little taste of Japan without having to leave home.

Arigato gozaimasu!

Meeks

 


Warrandyte, bushfires & PALs

It’s only half way through September, and the grass is still green, but scratch an inch or two below the surface, and the ground is bone dry. Or at least it is in hilly Warrandyte where the rain flows off long before it can properly soak in.

So, I’m worried about the fast approaching bushfire season. East Gippsland is said to be most at risk this year, but the Green Wedge in Nillumbik Shire can’t be too far behind. And we have more people living in the shire:

‘The Nillumbik Shire Estimated Resident Population for 2017 is 64,626, with a population density of 1.50 persons per hectare.’

That’s a lot of people, but when you look at where most of them live, the figures take on a deeper meaning:

The area outlined on the map is the Shire of Nillumbik. If you read the legend to the right of the map, you’ll see that most of our population clusters in the pink and red areas to the south [the pink area circled in orange is my area, North Warrandyte].

An important feature not shown on the map is that much of the southern part of the Shire is intersected by the Yarra River.

The two areas circle in orange represent the two bridges that are the only way of crossing the Yarra from my side of the Shire.

The Offspring and I live on the north side of the Yarra, so we have to cross the Warrandyte bridge to get into Warrandyte Village, and from there to somewhere further south.

That bridge is currently being extended from 2 lanes to 3, but it’s not finished, and access is even worse than normal. Going in the other direction, we have to go through Eltham and cross a second, 2 lane bridge to get south of the river.

Guess which direction the worst bushfires come from! Clever you, yes, the north. Caught between fire and water, lovely.

Now, let’s have a look at the terrain around Nth Warrandyte. This is an aerial view of the area around the bridge:

The blue line is obviously the river. The red bit is the bridge in the middle of the orange bullseye. Up from the bridge is Nth Warrandyte. Down from the bridge is Warrandyte village, a popular tourist spot on weekends.

A feature you can’t see from that aerial photo is the terrain. Up hill and down dale describes it pretty well. The perfect playground for bushfires that love racing up hill.

All that dark green stuff? Gum trees and scrub, all of it native and all of it evolved to burn. My block is  relatively open, but further from the main road the blocks are densely treed and the only way in or out is often via dirt roads.

I have every fire protection under the sun. Most of the houses in my area have nothing. Even the pre-school and CFA fire station are nestled in amongst the trees with no in-ground water tanks, roof sprinklers or fire-resistant shutters. The area is a bushfire disaster waiting to happen, and Nillumbik Shire Council has done nothing to mitigate the risk, for years and years and years. If you’re interested, here’s a post from May, 2017 that looks at the Council’s budget for bushfire mitigation. Yup, they really take it seriously…

So, I’m worried, but this year there may just be a bit of hope on the horizon. Two years ago, an organisation called Pro-active Landowners [PALs] became a force to be reckoned with, and the Council elected in 2016…changed.

The following recommendations are taken from a recent PALs submission to Council:

Essentially, PALs is recommending that the bushfire danger in the Shire [which is huge] be managed.

It sounds so simply, yet for decades, Council has done anything but. I don’t know whether the interest group within the Council felt that nothing could be done to manage the risk – i.e. act of god etc. Or they were so determined not to let big, bad developers ‘ruin the green wedge’ that they were happy to see it all burn instead.

Council mitigated nothing while tying the hands of the CFA [the Country Fire Authority is supposed to save us from bushfires]. Worse, Council stopped landowners from protecting themselves either. You have no idea how good it feels to finally have a voice.

If the PALs recommendations bear fruit, we will finally be able to reduce the fuel load in the Shire. Fuel load is the leaf litter, twigs, branches and undergrowth that feeds a bushfire, and Warrandyte has masses of it. But even if every resident of Warrandyte cleaned up religiously, there are great swathes of public land that are virtually untouched because the previous Council wanted to keep things ‘natural’.

The irony is that the Green Wedge is anything but natural.

Pre-settlement, the Aboriginals used to manage the land by doing many, small, cool burns. These cool burns created a patchwork of burnt and unburnt land so that the native fauna had somewhere to escape to. The net result was that the fuel loads never grew too high.

In areas not managed by the Aboriginals, nature itself managed the land with lightning strikes. Lightning would start small bushfires that would run until they finally died out. Again, because these small bushfires happened so regularly, the fuel load did not have a chance to become truly dangerous.

And then the white man came along with his English farming practices. Farmed land had to be protected, so bushfires had to be put out before they could do much damage. The net result was that parts of the land were over managed – i.e. the farms – and great big areas were left completely unmanaged, allowing the fuel loads to grow. The character of the land changed, and the bushfires turned vicious. 1939 was a very bad year, and so was 2009.

2009 was the year in which ‘…173 people tragically lost their lives, 414 were injured, more than a million wild and domesticated animals were lost and 450,000 hectares of land were burned’ in the Black Saturday bushfires.

If you’ve ever built a camp fire, or an open fire in a hearth, you’ll know that fire needs just two things to burn – fuel and oxygen. That’s why you build a teepee of twigs and dry kindling to start the fire. The open structure allows air in to feed the flames. After the fire is going though, the kindling is no longer needed because hot air rises, sucking in cooler air from below.

A bushfire does much the same, and the bigger the fire the more powerful it becomes, preheating the fuel ahead of it so it will burn even faster. The Black Saturday fire was so powerful, it generated its own weather.

No amount of human technology could have stopped the Black Saturday fires once they started. But a bit of wisdom might have stopped them from starting, or at least reduced the loss of life. But we weren’t wise.

Two acknowledged experts in bushfire behaviour submitted reports to Nillumbik Council prior to Black Saturday. Both reports warned about the dangerous levels of fuel in the Shire. Both reports were ignored. 9 years on, the lessons still have not been learned: when it comes to bushfires, fuel load is the only thing we can actually control.

The Black Saturday Royal Commission recommended mandatory prescribed burns of 5% to public lands each year. They haven’t happened, and part of the reason they haven’t happened is because of the bureaucratic red-tape that’s required before a burn can take place. Sadly, the weather rarely keeps these kinds of ‘appointments’ so either burns are cancelled because the conditions are all wrong – rain or high winds – or they go ahead in less than optimal conditions. And sometimes they get out of control. So even less incentive to do burns.

I’m no expert on bushfire management, but I can’t help wondering why we can’t let the CFA do mini burns every single day that the weather conditions are suitable? Why do burns have to be these big, dangerous things?

When I burn off, I do lots of smaller piles rather than one huge one. It makes sense to me. Mini burns, often. It would work, why can’t we at least try it?

The PALs submission to Nillumbik Shire Council may not solve all our bush fire woes but it would be a huge step in the right direction. Fingers and toes crossed that commonsense finally prevails in the Shire of Nillumbik.

Meeks

 

 


Jennifer Scoullar – Rural Australian Romance

Some of you may remember a review I wrote for Jennifer’s first novel – Brumby’s Run. Even though Romance isn’t really my genre, I loved Jen’s writing, her characters, and the way she brought country Australia alive on the page.

Jen is a traditionally published author [Penguin], but like us Indies, she has to help with marketing. To that end, she’s asking her readers for help to establish a ‘launch team’. That’s where I come in coz Jen’s a mate. This is a bit from her post:

‘A launch team consists of a select group of fans and supporters, who will help build some buzz around a new title. The main way they can help is by writing reviews, particularly on Amazon. Nothing boosts a book’s chances like having a solid number of online reviews shortly after its release. This can be achieved by letting people read your book early…….So in light of this, I’m enlisting interested people to join my marketing team by giving away a digital advanced readers’ copy of my upcoming release. The Lost Valley is Book 2 in my Tasmanian Tales trilogy, that began last year with the publication of Fortune’s Son.’

I can assure you that Jen’s writing is superb, and you will enjoy the ARC [advanced reader copy], especially if you have any interest in Australia. If you go to Jen’s website, you’ll see that she’s the real deal. She lives in the country and is mad about horses. 🙂

https://jenniferscoullar.com/2018/06/15/building-a-launch-team-the-lost-valley/#comment-15534

If you can give Jen a hand, please visit her site and take it from there.

Thank-god-it’s-Friday!

Meeks


Kookaburras – update

Some of you had trouble with the laughing kookaburra video so I’ve found one that should work better. Sorry about that!

One of the many things I love about Warrandyte are the kookaburras. Have a look at the little guy who came to visit the other day. As always, apologies for the poor quality of the pics:

Tell me he wasn’t posing!

And for those, like me, who didn’t know that kookaburras are part of the kingfisher family, here’s some info. from wiki:

Kookaburras are terrestrial tree kingfishers of the genus Dacelo native to Australia and New Guinea, which grow to between 28–42 cm in length. The name is a loanword from Wiradjuri guuguubarra, onomatopoeic of its call. The loud distinctive call of the laughing kookaburra is widely used as a stock sound effect in situations that involve an Australian bush setting.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kookaburra

And finally, that laugh:

I’ve included one last video to show kookaburras in their natural setting, more or less. One, in particular, exhibits some of their instinctive behaviours. It bashes its ‘prey’ against a ‘branch’ to kill it before swallowing. Don’t worry, the bits of meat aren’t alive!

If you’ve ever read the original ‘Dot and the Kangaroo’, you may remember that in one scene, a kookaburra saves Dot by diving down, grabbing the snake that’s threatening her and bashing it against a branch to kill it.  I’m not sure if a real kookaburra would be strong enough to handle a full sized snake like that, but the image has stuck with me since I first read the book. If you haven’t read about Dot, you really are missing something special. 🙂

cheers

Meeks

 

 

 


Coal vs solar? No contest in China

The world is quickly abandoning coal, the dirtiest of fossil fuels. But that’s not the end of the road for coal mines—in many countries they’re coming back to life as solar farms. Over the weekend, the world’s biggest floating solar project began operating in the eastern Chinese city of Huainan, which accounted for nearly 20%…

via Dead coal mines everywhere are being reincarnated as solar farms — Quartz


Elon Musk wins his bet in South Australia!

As a long time fan of renewable energy, the latest news about Elon Musk fills me with glee. He bet that he could install a megabattery in South Australia in 100 days, and he’s come in ahead of schedule!

The story began last year when South Australia suffered a massive storm that destroyed infrastructure meant to allow Australian states to ‘share’ energy on a huge network. Due to some market manipulation on pricing, and a toothless watchdog asleep at its post [yes, AEMO I’m looking at you] South Australia suffered crippling blackouts, off and on, for weeks.

As the South Australia government is Labor and had invested heavily in wind farms, the Liberals in the national government went on a renewable energy bashing spree without offering up one, single practical solution. And then Elon Musk spoke up and shamed them all. He said that he could create a mammoth battery capable of storing the energy from the wind farms until needed. Then he bet the cost of the battery – $50 million dollars – that he could make good on his promise in 100 days. If he lost, he would carry the cost of the project.

Well guess what? -big grin- South Australia has a $50 million dollar bill to pay!

More importantly, all the dinosaurs in our government advocating for dirty coal power stations have been silenced, at least for a while.

You can read the whole story here:

https://futurism.com/elon-musk-megabattery-australia/

Today really has been a good day. Thank you, Elon Musk. 🙂

cheers

Meeks


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