Category Archives: Australia

The tiniest Aussie van-house

I’ve been fascinated by the idea of Tiny Houses for years, but this one literally blew my mind:

I’m not sure I’m tidy enough to live in such a…neat…space, but I totally fell in love with the aesthetics of it.

Still smiling,
Meeks


Australia – May 20, 2022…and beyond.

The Offspring tells me that hashtag #scomonomo is trending on Twitter. That gives me great joy.

For international visitors, or those who have never been on Twitter, ‘scomo’ refers to Scott Morrison, the man who went to Hawaii while Australia burned, the man who justified his absence by remarking that it wasn’t his job to ‘hold the hose’ – i.e. fight those fires like the mostly volunteer fire fighting crews across Australia.

‘no mo’ stands for ‘no more’. As of last night, Scott Morrison is no longer the Prime Minister of Australia. Voters rejected him, and his corrupt coalition government across the length and width of this wonderful country of ours.

The graphic below describes the election result in visual terms. The link below the graphic will take you to one of the simplest and best descriptions of our system that I’ve ever come across:

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2022-05-22/election-how-labor-anthony-albanese-won/101087904

What makes me even happier than #scomonomo is the way it came about. Australians all over Australia voted for Independents rather than the two, major parties, and there’s a decent chance we’ll end up with 16 – SIXTEEN – independent representatives in the national House of Representatives. And a great majority of them are women.

Women who demand action on climate change.

Women who demand a national integrity commission.

Women who are an integral part of their communities and truly reflect the wants and needs of those communities.

Women who want a decent future for their children.

Woman who are standing up and telling those middle-aged, self-important, ego-driven, white, male, politicians in Canberra that we’re sick of the mess they’ve made of our country.

And one last thing. All these Independents are going to breathe new life back into our democracy because they are not beholden to a ‘party line’. They don’t owe party political faction leaders any allegiance. They are free to vote for or veto policies that do not reflect the people who elected them into office. That is huge.

Here in the West we seem to have forgotten what democracy actually means. It’s not about nationalism, and it’s not about elites. Democracy is about ordinary, every day people having a voice and being heard. it’s also about those people being served by the representatives they elect into office.

Service, a word that’s been forgotten along with ‘integrity’.

The representatives of the people are there to serve us. Not corporations or other vested interested or themselves. They are there to serve the people. Full stop. Period.

Will it actually happen, or do we face yet more broken promises and unfulfilled dreams?

The Australian Labor party will form the new national government of Australia, but they will likely have to consult, and co-operate with, the Independents we-the-people have chosen. If they don’t, they won’t get anything done.

I hope the start of Albo’s [Anthony Albanese, the new Prime Minister of Australia] victory speech is a sign that Labor has learned to serve:

‘…and on behalf of the Australian Labor Party, I commit to the Uluru Statement from the Heart, in full.’

The Uluru Statement from the Heart is a message from the Indigenous Peoples of Australia to all Australians. It is one of the most beautiful documents I’ve ever read:

‘We invite you to walk with us in a movement of the Australian people for a better future. We call on all sides of politics to support a First Nations Voice to Parliament, so that we can finally have a say on policies and laws that affect us.’

https://ulurustatement.org/

I believe that all Australians need to commit to the Uluru Statement from the Heart so that all of us can finally move forward, as a real nation.

I also believe that we, the white Settlers of Australia, need our First Peoples, desperately. They have been here for close to 60,000 years, and what they don’t know about this strange, harsh, beautiful land is not worth knowing. If we give them the respect they deserve, they may teach us how better to live in this land. How better to face the terrible changes yet to come, because make no mistake, even if the whole world were to stop greenhouse gas emissions tomorrow, we will have to live with the damage already done for generations to come. We will need all the help we can get. From science and our First Peoples.

Finally, after years of inaction, there is hope.

All my love,
Meeks


Worldbuilding with Inkarnate

All speculative fiction writers know about building worlds with words, but what if you need more than words to visualise the space in which your story takes place?

I’m a bit of a perfectionist yet even so, I recently discovered that a guestimate right at the start of Vokhtah was not only wrong, it was very wrong. That, plus needing a distraction from my first jab of AstraZeneca, lead me to Inkarnate, a brilliant, fantasy map making app.

Within the first week of playing around with Inkarnate, I had a map of Vokhtah that was a million times better than the dinky map I’d made using only Corel Draw 8. The trouble was, the more I worked on the map, the more I noticed the gaps in my worldbuilding. You see, the eyries of the Vokh don’t just appear as haphazard dots on a map. They are chosen for very specific requirements, such as:

  • the security provided by the cave system,
  • the proximity to water [and hence to food animals]
  • and the distance from other Vokh [the greater the better].

But if eyries have pre-requisites, so do the Trader caravans that service them. All iVokh can fly, including the Traders, but few can fly well. As for the Plodders who carry the bulk of the Traders’ goods, they can barely fly at all. And this is where biology and terrain combine to create problems, because if eyries need to be near water, but Plodders can’t fly over obstructions like rivers, how do the caravans travel from gather to gather? [A gather is like a human market place.]

In book 1 of Vokhtah, the only river the Traders had to cross was the Little Blue, and it had almost stopped running by the end of the dry season [Tohoh]. The ford across the river was dangerous but doable. But then what about the other seasons?

In my current WIP, I sidestepped that problem by saying that no caravans could travel during the wet season [Kohoh]. Neat. Unfortunately, when I came to filling in the Inkarnate map, I could no longer avoid the issue of terrain because the story of Vokhtah continues on past Kohoh into Tuhoh [the season of new growth] and beyond.

How in heck was I going to solve the problem of river crossings?

The solution to the problem of rivers required a complete rethink of the map, starting with geology and basic physics. Water always flows downhill, and depending on the slope and density of the material it flows through, it either slows down and spreads out:

… or it runs swiftly and carves out gorges. And sometimes it creates land bridges that span the gorge from side to side:

Or sometimes the bridge is actually the rim of a pool that sits high above the river. When the level of water goes back to its normal level, the rim provides a way from one side of the river to the other:

When there is too much water in the pool, it cascades over the rim and becomes a waterfall that feeds the river below:

And yes, I spent a couple of days just researching rivers and terrain here in Australia. 🙂 Much of the info. I discovered came from these videos:

The middle video was shot by an amateur so the helicopter noise is quite loud, but it feels real, as if you’re sitting in the helicopter, experiencing the trip along with the pilot and sightseers. Videos 1 and 3 are professionally produced and provide better visuals.

One of the things I learned was that Katherine Gorge, which is where most of the images were shot, is actually a deep cut through a plateau. All the images I’d seen before this were from the river level and made it seem as if the gorge had cut its way through a flat plain. Not so.

The realisation that the gorge was part of a plateau changed my whole perspective about the Inkarnate map, and how the eyries and caravans [of Vokhtah] would interact with the geology. The end result is this:

Click the image to zoom in closer. The legend on the left identifies the icons used in the map, including the eyries belonging to the Vokh, from the most powerful [large purple] to least powerful [tiny white].

The fuzzy purple areas represent the native vegetation of Vokhtah. As the planet is quite different to Earth, I had to re-imagine the evolution of plants without chlorophyll [the thing that makes Earth plants green and which they use to synthesize food from sunlight, water and minerals in the soil]. I pinched the idea from Earth plants that don’t have chlorophyll of their own. They’re basically parasites, but hey… 🙂

To be honest, I can’t remember exactly why I chose purple/lavender but you’ll notice that most of the water sources on the planet are shades of purple as well. A trick of the visible light off water in a binary star system maybe? The notable exceptions are The Eye [the lake at the top of the map], and the two rivers flowing out of the Eye [Little Blue and Big Blue]. The Eye is a maar lake and it was formed from a volcanic eruption.

This is a photo of Blue Lake in Mt Gambier [Victoria, Australia]:

Click the link above to discover more about volcanic activity in Victoria.

All of the photos and videos in this post are of Australia, and this ancient land was my inspiration for Vokhtah. Thanks for coming on this little journey with me. 🙂

In my next post, I’ll start posting tips and tricks I’ve learned about Inkarnate, and how to use it with Corel Draw 8 to achieve special effects.

cheers,
Meeks


Spider-phobes look away now!

My thanks to My OBT for another Aussie themed post. I had no idea these teensy weensy, peacock spiders existed, much less that they were native to Australia. If you can bear to look at the prettiest spiders in creation, the video below features these little guys ‘dancing’ to Staying Alive by the Bee Gees [another Aussie export]:

To see some more hilarious videos of these little guys, and to learn more about them, please visit the My OBT website: https://myonebeautifulthing.com/2020/12/23/peacock-spider/

Oh, and I’m scared of spiders too, but these little guys are the exception! Enjoy. 🙂

Meeks


Christmas, Downunder style

Our cousins, the Kiwis, actually came up with this perfect Antipodean Christmas Carol but…it’s all in the family so I’m claiming it for Australia too! Mwahahaha…-cough-

My thanks to Carol of Carol Cooks, for introducing me to the Summer Wonderland video, and some fantastic foodie delights during the year. Apart from being a great cook, Carol also has a wicked sense of humour which is why I believe she should be an honorary Antipodean. Welcome to the Downunders, Carol!

As for everyone else, wherever you are, and whatever you plan to cook for your <<insert name of holiday here>> I hope you have a safe holiday even if it isn’t the most joyous one. Next year will be better, and next holiday will make up for this one.

Stay strong, stay safe, stay well.

Massive hugs
Meeks


Yellow Tailed Black Cockatoos

I’m so excited! I saw about five of these amazing birds…in my garden this morning!

The one that caught my attention was making a loud, insistent, hoarse sound, similar to the noise made by magpie fledglings as they wait for their parent to place food in their beak.

The young? cockatoo allowed me to get quite close – maybe just a couple of metres – so I could see the distinctive yellow patch on its cheek quite clearly. The colour of its feathers, and those of the four adults, was a much deep black though. The bird in the image above looks almost brown whereas my birds were definitely black-black. Maybe their feathers change colour with the seasons or something.

I’ve never been wild about the avian species and know very little about them, but since moving to Warrandyte I’ve grown to appreciate at least some of our local birds, including the resident magpies and kookaburras. I’ll now add black cockatoos to my welcome list. I just hope I manage to save some of the fruit on the trees from their all-you-can-eat smorgasbord. lol

cheers
Meeks


Step back in time…

I want to start this post by thanking Sandra, a real world friend and email correspondent for sending me these incredible, historical artifacts. Thank you!

Now, take my hand and let’s start with something all Australians will recognize – the Sydney Harbour Bridge:

Building the Sydney Harbour Bridge

Historians will love this old black and white news footage, but baby techies like me will be astounded to learn exactly how such a huge, single span was built. I literally could not believe my eyes. [If you don’t want to watch the entire eight minute video, click the red ‘play’ line at about 75%].

The next few images prove that history is cyclical. Or perhaps they just prove that humans never change:

Noses exposed? Really?
Now that’s what I call serious protection!
Everything closed until further notice…
See the modern tech?
Old school social media…
The bullet Australia has missed…so far.

I decided to include the following, more recent image because I wish we had something like it today:

Circa the 1950s?

Imagine if, instead of having to order online and get someone else to pick your produce for you, mobile shops would drive through the suburbs, ringing a bell or something, like the old Mr Whippy icecream vans.

Remember them?

For those who don’t know who or what Mr Whippy was, you can see pics and read all about it on Woorillacaught’s blog: https://www.woorillacaught.com/mr-whippy/

We’d still have to wear masks and gloves, and keep 2 metres apart, but wouldn’t it be nice to be able to pick your own fruit and veg? Maybe have the baker’s van bring fresh, crusty Vienna’s to the corner of your street. And ice cream! I do miss the Mr Whippy van. 🙂

The past was anything but a golden age and yet, there are things from my childhood that I really do miss. What about you?

cheers
Meeks


Accessible art

I’m a real Philistine when it comes to modern art; basically I don’t like it. But I do love these:

The screenshot above is of a mural painted on a blank wall! It comes from blogger, MyOBT [MyOneBeautifulThing]: https://myonebeautifulthing.com/2020/06/09/patrick-commecy/

MyOBT is well worth a visit as Donna has heaps more photos of these incredible murals to show you. Oh, and they’re all done in France.

As soon as I saw the French murals, I was reminded of the siloart springing up here in Australia:

Very different styles, and yet the images are both beautiful and playful. They invite viewers in, and I think they’re wonderful. Here’s the link to the siloart website: https://www.australiansiloarttrail.com/

If you know of any other artworks like these, please tell us about them in the comments.

cheers
Meeks


Private Health Insurance in Australia – who needs it?

Disclaimer: I have just cancelled my private health insurance after almost 40 years. I will try to be unbiased as I present the facts that led to this momentous decision, but some bias is inevitable.

For Australians under 40, and international readers who know nothing about our hybrid health care system, I’ll start with a very brief overview:

The scheme [universal health care] was created in 1975 by the Whitlam Government under the brand Medibank, and was limited by the Fraser Government in 1976 to paying customers only. The Hawke Government reinstated universal health care in 1984 under the brand of Medicare. Medibank continued to exist as a government-owned private health insurance provider until it was privatised by the Abbott Government in 2014.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Medicare_(Australia)

Note: The government owned Medibank provided private health insurance in direct competition with private health insurers.

In 1999, the conservative LNP government led by John Howard brought in the Private Health Insurance Rebate Scheme. Depending on your age and income, the government will rebate 30% of the cost of your health insurance premiums. This rebate is subtracted from your health insurance premiums so you only pay for the remainder. This is the ‘carrot’ part of the equation. If you don’t take up health insurance by the time you hit the age of 30, you will pay 2% more whenever you finally do take up health insurance. This is the ‘stick’.

The purpose of the Private Health Insurance Rebate Scheme was ostensibly to relieve the pressure on public hospitals which are run by the states using funding from the Federal government.

When the rebate scheme was first introduced, premiums were relatively low and the private cover was a true ‘safety net’. In the 20 years since then, premiums have crept higher and higher while the payout for procedures and treatments has shrunk. This is true for both for-profit and not-for-profit health insurers.

As someone with a pre-existing medical condition, I’ve had basic hospital cover for almost 40 years. For most of those years, my premiums ensured that I could be treated in a private hospital by the specialist of my choice without long waiting periods or astronomical out-of-pocket expenses.

That all changed today when I finally realised that my basic hospital cover only did one thing – it allowed me to have my own specialist:

  • in a public hospital
  • in a shared ward
  • after I’d gone through the standard waiting period for public hospital treatment.

The following shows exactly what my private health insurance covers:

Apologies for the poor quality of the graphic but I wanted you to be able to see the whole thing. Every item with an ‘R’ next to it has ‘restricted’ cover only. This means that my private health insurance would only pay a miniscule amount [above and beyond what Medicare already pays]. Dialysis for chronic kidney failure, insulin pumps and weight loss surgery are not covered at all.

I don’t have kidney failure or diabetes or weight problems, but I can see at least five things I may need as I age. Sadly, with my basic private health insurance cover, I’d end up having to pay for them out of my own pocket anyway.

For me, the crunch came when I realised that I was already a [free] public hospital patient, but I was paying for the privilege.

Clearly, the hospital cover I had was next to useless, but when I looked at the levels of cover that would give me a proper safety net, I discovered that a) even some of the top plans didn’t cover me for everything and b) even if they did, I couldn’t afford them.

The sad truth is that I can barely manage to pay the $71.50 per month for the basic hospital cover I have/had. $71.50 doesn’t sound like much – it’s under $20 a week – but when you live on the age pension, $20 makes a difference. Wasting it on private health insurance that covers me for nothing is crazy.

So today I stopped being crazy and joined the ranks of Australians giving private health insurance a big miss. These Australians include young people on government support, older Australians on government support, and a growing segment of our population surviving in the GIG economy. In short, all those people who can’t afford the kind of health insurance that actually provides value for money.

So who’s left then?

I’m not sure. The table below is from the government website:

The income categories are shown across the top and indicate that under 65 years of age, all rebates cut out above $140,001 for singles and $280,001 for families. Taking bracket creep into account, that’s not a huge income by 2020 standards.

This may be my bias showing, but I am feeling rather ripped off. I’ve been a good girl and paid my premiums for years, but it seems as if the only ones benefiting from the 30% health insurance rebate are the health insurance companies themselves.

As the health insurance rebate is being paid from our taxes, I can’t help wondering whether we wouldn’t be better off if the rebate were abolished, freeing up all that money for the public health system.

Meeks


ISBN in Australia

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In this section you will learn how to purchase a private ISBN in Australia.

ISBN in Australia

Thorpe-Bowker is the official agent for ISBNs in Australia.

To purchase one or more ISBNs, start by going to the Thorpe-Bowker website. Their web address is:

https://www.myidentifiers.com.au/

On the Thorpe-Bowker welcome page, click the ‘Sign in/Register’ option located in the top, right hand corner of the screen:

On the next screen you have the option of signing in or creating a new account. Click the blue ‘Register’ button:

You should now see an option for ‘I am a new customer’:

Below it, there is a message from Thorpe-Bowker saying that new customers will have to pay a one-off fee of $55 before they can purchase an ISBN. This is a relatively new fee and meant to cover the setting up of your account.

As Thorpe-Bowker is the only company selling ISBNs in Australia, there is now way of finding a better deal. Those who only intend to sell through Amazon’s standard distribution channels may prefer to use one of their free ISBNs instead.

Those who wish to purchase print copies from the Australian branch of IngramSpark [located in Melbourne] will have to purchase their own ISBN as the KDP ISBN is only valid for KDP.

To continue, click the blue ‘I am a new Bowker Customer’ button.

Next up you will be asked to fill in a registration form. This is pretty standard with mandatory fields marked with a red asterisk. One of those fields is ‘Organisation Type’.

If you’re a self-publisher, don’t worry. Click on the small arrow next to ‘Organisation Type’ and you will see a drop down list which includes the option for ‘Self Publisher’ :

Click the ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ button for promotional material and then complete the registration process by clicking the green ‘I Accept – Create My Account!’ button.

Once your registration is complete, return to the Thorpe-Bowker website and click Buy ISBNs & Identifiers on the main screen. Then select ‘Buy ISBNs’ from the drop down list:

Note: the option for ‘Buy ISBNs in Bulk’ will take you to a login screen for ‘VIPs’ who may buy ISBNs in their hundreds.

Next, you will be shown a page of sales options. Select the option/product of your choice by clicking the appropriate ‘Add to Cart’ button:

Bowker will display a summary of your order:

Click the blue ‘Checkout’ button.

The Checkout is fairly standard except for the fact that the only payment option appears to be Paypal:

This is rather misleading as there is, in fact, an option to pay by credit card, but you do it as a Paypal ‘Guest’.

Click the ‘Submit Order’ button and you will be shown the following screen:

To pay with your credit card, click the ‘Pay with a Card’ button.

You will now see a Paypal screen something like this:

Fill in the required details and complete your purchase.

You will now be returned to Thorpe-Bowker and a summary screen:

Note: you are under no obligation to take the survey.

To assign your new ISBN, click ‘My Account’ as shown above and select ‘My Identifiers/ISBN dashboard’ from the menus.

Assigning an ISBN to a book

You should now be looking at a screen that displays information about your ISBN[s] :

The screenshot shows a number of ISBNs, all of them unassigned – i.e. not yet linked to an actual book.

To link an ISBN to your book, click ‘Assign Title’ opposite the ISBN you wish to use.

Note: once assigned, ISBNs cannot be re-assigned.

You will now have to enter information about the book assigned to that ISBN:

The first thing to note before you begin filling in the Bowker forms is that you only have to enter information in the fields marked with a red asterisk, such as ‘Book Title’ above.

The second is that you do not have to upload the cover of your book at all.

This is important because you will need an ISBN before you can finalise the cover of your book. It is needed to generate the barcode provided by both KDP and IngramSpark. These barcodes are generated for free so you only have to purchase barcodes from Thorpe-Bowker if you intend to publish with a company that doesn’t provide a barcode.

Finally, the default view is Basic – i.e. only the most commonly used fields are displayed:

If you need to enter details not shown on the Basic view, you may wish to change to the Advanced view which contains all available fields.

Book Title

To begin entering information about your book, click in the field marked ‘Book Title’ and type the name of your book. This is a mandatory field.

Medium

Medium refers to the book’s material composition – i.e. whether it is a print book, an ebook, or an audio book.

Select ‘Print’ from the drop down list.

Format

Format refers to the type of print book – i.e. hardcover or paperback.

Select ‘Paperback’ from the drop down list.

Subjects & Genres

Subjects & Genres refers to the category of book you intend to publish. You can select two genres, but only one is mandatory.

Select the most appropriate genre for your book from the drop down list:

Authors & Contributors

Contributor 1 is the author. As an Individual, the author’s full name and suffix may be entered, but only the ‘Last Name’ is mandatory.

Type your Last Name and as much other information as you wish to enter.

The next mandatory field is ‘Function’. It refers to the role the Contributor played in the creation of the book. The only checkbox that needs to be ticked is that of ‘Author’.

When to add another Author or Contributor

As a general rule:

  • If you co-authored a book with another author, then that author’s name must be listed as a second Contributor.
  • If you supplied material to an anthology, then all the other authors of that anthology must be listed as well.
  • If the anthology was commissioned by an editor, then the editor’s name must be listed.
  • If you wrote the text for an illustrated book – for example, a children’s book – the the illustrator must also be named as a Contributor.
  • If the book was originally written in another language and translated into English, the translator must be named as a Contributor.
  • If, however, you hired an editor to ‘clean up’ the book and a designer to create the cover, you do not have to name them as Contributors.

Sales & Pricing

There are four mandatory fields in this final section: Publication Date, Target Audience, Title Status and Book Price.

Publication Date

As the ISBN is needed in order to publish the book, there are two possible ways of interpreting this field.

  • the publication date is notional – i.e. a date in the near future when you intend to officially publish the book, or
  • it refers to the original publication date of the book. For example, let’s say you publish a non-fiction book in 2010. Ten years later you revise and update that book and publish it as a second edition. Each edition of a book requires its own ISBN, but the publication date of the book points back to the publication of the first edition.

Clicking the Help icon produces this explanation from Bowker:

Target Audience

Unless your book is specifically designed for one of the listed targets, click the option for ‘Trade’. Trade refers to trade paperbacks and is the general purpose classification.

Title Status

Clicking the small down arrow opposite this field causes a drop down list to display:

‘Active Record’ is the status of any book that is [or soon will be] for sale.

Note: if the book is not due to be published for a substantial period of time – e.g. a year – ‘Forthcoming’ would be more appropriate.

Book Price

As a self-publisher, you may want to vary the price of your book for marketing purposes. Or you may sell it to a number of different market places with different currencies/price points. For all these reasons, you do not want to be tied to one price in Bowker’s records.

Click the option for ‘Write for info [No set price or free] as shown:

When you have finished, click the green Submit button.

Bowker will display a congratulations screen and that will be that. If you click on My Identifiers, you will now see your book linked to the ISBN.

You can now type the ISBN into the Copyright page of your book and submit it to KDP or IngramSpark for the barcode on the cover.

Note: Be sure to copy the ISBN for your book exactly as it is shown, including hyphens.

Log out from Thorpe-Bowker.

In the next section we will look at the National Library of Australia, Legal Deposit requirement.

Click here to display the Table of Contents


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