Tag Archives: 2015

Vent – the worst New Year’s Eve ever

Here in Australia the countdown to the New Year has begun – 14.5 hours to go if my arithmetic serves – but my mood is anything but festive. I just learned that my car is ‘cooked’.

For the mechanically challenged, ‘cooked’ is a technical term that means the engine is cactus, dead-as-a-dodo, finito. 😦

Apparently some part of my radiator broke off completely as I was driving home yesterday [in the heat with a car full of perishables]. The engine immediately started to overheat but I didn’t notice because…the engine was making a very worrying noise. Totally focused on the engine noise, and desperately trying to calculate whether I could limp home regardless, I didn’t notice the temperature gauge rocketing off into space. By the time I finally pulled over and the engine ‘stopped’, it was all too late.

I know all this because I have a wonderful mobile mechanic who checked the car out once it had cooled. He gave me the bad news just moments ago.

What happened to me and the shopping yesterday? That’s the fortunate part. I’d bought a bag of ice in case we have another blackout tonight so I was able to perch most of the perishables on the ice until The Offspring could come pick me up. My poor old car is still sitting by the side of the road though.

Once I hit publish on this post, I’ll have to ring the RACV [roadside assist] and get the car towed home. Then I’ll have to do a lot of grim thinking, and more sums. I’m not quite destitute, but the dog needs her –cough– anal –cough– glands removed so that’s an unbudgeted expense, and now I’ll either have to fix the car somehow, or buy a rust bucket that may end up being far worse.

Just for the record, I’ve had Jimmy [my Corolla] since it was 5 years old. Jimmy is now almost 28 and we’ve grown old together. I don’t want another car…unless it’s a Toyota Prius, but even second hand that aspirational vehicle is waaaaaaay out of my reach.

So, at this point it looks as if I’ll have to wait until the wreckers open up again in early January. Then I’ll have to cross my fingers that my mechanic will be able to find a decent second-hand engine. Then the actual wait while the work gets done. Finally, I’ll probably have to pay between 3 – 4? thousand dollars and I’ll be mobile again. All during one of the worst bushfire seasons we’ve had in a while. Not great.

All things are doable if they have to be done, but juggling everything with just one car in a fringe area like Warrandyte where public transport is…minimal…will be a challenge. It will mean racing out to do the shopping at the crack of dawn so I don’t leave the Offspring alone in the house with no way out for too long. It will mean feeling just a tiny bit fenced in. It will be unpleasant.

BUT!

If this is fate’s way of hitting me with the small stuff so I can avoid the great, big fiery elephant in the room then so be it. I can live with that, but I’m not going to enjoy the first couple of months of 2016 and that is the honest truth.

-sigh-

And now enough of this belly-aching. Thank you for letting me vent. My online friends have been both inspiration and consolation on more occasions than I can name. Thanks guys. Have a wonderful New Year’s Eve but stay safe, okay?

Much love,

Meeks

December 31, 2015


Merry Christmas to all and to all a Merry Christmas!

Here in the Antipodes, Christmas Day has dawned bright, hot and very windy, perfect bushfire weather. That’s one reason the Offspring and I did Christmas the European way – last night on Christmas Eve!

Masses of food, oodles of presents and a couple of games of Scrabble with the Offspring’s partner, David, rounded out a lovely evening…with not a digital device in sight. It was the most fun I’ve had in ages!

Today is for enjoying the presents, gorging on leftovers and keeping an eye on the weather.

For all of you, wherever you are, we wish you a safe and happy Christmas!

-hugs-

Meeks and the Offspring


Fire season 2015, Warrandyte – it begins

The authorities have not yet declared fire season open for 2015, but the weather is thumbing its nose at our attempts to tame it with calendars and calculations.

ENSO status graph

We are in the grip of a strong El Nino and it is bringing unseasonal hot spells, dry spells and fire.

Looking out over my property, and Warrandyte in general, I see mostly green, but there is not as much of it as there was last year – i.e. the grass is not knee high and heading for Everest – and the alpacas are having no trouble keeping it manicured.

The downside of this is that I’ll have to give my four-footed lawnmowers some supplementary feed much sooner than I’d like. The upside is that there ‘may’ be less to burn once everything turns summer-brown.

One thing is for sure, we are having a heat-wave in the first week of October. The temperature is forecast to hit 35, which is not that bad, but it will be accompanied by strong north winds.Those winds are the real danger, plus the pattern of north wind turning to southwesterly as the cool change comes through. Any fires still going at the time of the wind change can easily get out of control.

I don’t really believe today will be a super bad day because the ground is still fairly moist. Nevertheless, we’ve already had one 20 minute power outage from a tree down which shows how strong the wind is. It’s really howling. I’m glad I did these jobs early this year:

  • Burning off. I did the worst of my burning off during the cold, damp days of the last two weeks. There’s still quite a bit to do, but the area around the house is clear.
  • I also had the area just outside my fire-fighting pumps concreted so I can sweep or blower-vac the leaves away.
  • The pumps themselves survived the flood I caused during winter and have been checked and topped up. They are ready to go.

fireseason 2015 1

Speaking of that flood, you might like to see the landscaping that was inspired by it:

fireseason 2015 2

Once I found where the agricultural pipe from the pump housing area came out, it seemed silly to have all that potential water go to waste so I dug a lateral channel with a shallow-ish pit up above the quince tree [top third of the picture]. The original channel I turned into a pretend creek bed.

Then I thought, why not extend the creek bed down into the orchard area?

The spindly looking trunks [mid picture] belong to the two feijoa trees. Now half of the ground beneath them is kept cool by the big river pebbles and the other half can be mulched with heaps of mushroom compost. And it looks rather pretty, imho. 😀

And just because I am paranoid, I dug two more pits and filled them with pebbles. Both are deep enough so that I can fill them with water if need be. The seepage will keep the ground moist and the trees happy.

Right. -cough- Fire season jobs still to be completed are :

  • Some mechanical mowing using my electric lawn mower. I only have a few smallish spots to do [where there are weeds that the alpacas can’t eat], but it’s still not something I look forward to. I’m obsessively careful with the electric cord attached to the lawnmower, but that necessary care does slow the job down just a tad.
  • Fixing of one fire-resistant shutter. The cable has become ‘stuck’ so I can’t lower it past the half-way point. Not great as the window it’s meant to protect faces north. Not being able to close the shutter completely also means my poor little office heats up quick smart [it faces north too]. Luckily a nice man is coming out from Eurotec on Thursday.
  • Last on my to-do-list will be a complete test run of all sections of the roof sprinklers.

After all that, the Daughter and I will be back to ‘practising’ our fire-plan. We both have to be competent at getting the pumps started and the sprinklers turned on otherwise what’s the point?

Well, that’s it for now, Warrandyte. If you haven’t already started your preparations for this year, I strongly suggest you get off your butt and do so.

cheers

Meeks

 


Katy Faust in Australia, 2015

Firstly a very quick bio:

Katy Faust is the daughter of a lesbian couple and the owner of a website called ‘askthebigot.com’. When asked, she says she is against gay marriage because of the effect it would have on the children of such marriages. She is currently in Australia thanks to the ABC.

If you saw the Tony Jones’ interview with Katy Faust recently, you might remember the bit where he asks her why she ‘came out’ [originally, ‘askthebigot.com’ was anonymous]. Apparently the reason was because a gay blogger had discovered her identity and ‘outed’ her.

I have reblogged the post from that gay blogger in its entirety:

My Sincere Apologies to the People of Australia for Inflicting Katy Faust Upon You

 

tellthem

It’s not every day that one gets blamed on national television for subjecting an entire country to veiled bigotry. Apparently the reason Mrs. Faust got on an aeroplane and flew to the other end of the world to continue promoting bigotry was that I outed her identity (not that she makes money off of it.) Otherwise, of course, she’d only be promoting bigotry from the privacy of her Seattle home, her husband’s church or the nearest Starbucks.

There are a few things the people of Australia should be asking themselves about her, the first of which is who paid her airfare? Despite Katy’s softly-softly approach where she pretends to be a sweet and slightly naive housewife, her business project has always been to use homophobia for profit. You have to keep in mind that people don’t buy a domain name called Askthebigot.com, engage an editor and write clickbait articles because they’ve got a bit of free time between dropping the children off at school and marinating chicken for lunch.

Faust is actually an astute businesswoman. According to the bio she gave epicquestmedia she studied Asian Studies and Political Science at St. Olaf College and received a Fulbright to study in Taiwan. That belies the notion that she would be capable of making such simplistic and illogical statements unless there’s something more to the story.

The fraud Mrs. Faust is promoting in Australia today is one where she conflates the issues of gay marriage and gay parenting in a rather absurd manner. Mrs. Faust herself was born to a lesbian mother long before the lgbt community considered marriage would ever become a legal possibility.

The vast majority of gay parents are in fact unmarried lesbians with children from previous heterosexual relationships, children just like Katy Faust herself . The link is to a Spanish study, but the figures seem to reflect those in other countries as well. Same-sex marriage legislation has been approved in various countries including Spain, Holland and Belgium, and there has been no significant rise in the number of lgbt families with children.

That means the existence of these families is entirely independent to their legal status as families. So Faust’s argument is dead in the water.

Where gay marriage is relevant to the children of members of the LGBT community is simply that they would afford those pre-existing families a number of rights and protections, including financial/legal protections in the case of separation and divorce. Access to the children, visitation, child-support and so forth.

hatepieSo if her propositions don’t actually protect children, the inexistence of gay marriage certainly didn’t affect her own childhood story– then we’re back to the money angle. Homophobia is big business in America.  In 2010 NOM raised US$9,197,742. In the first year of its creation NOM paid its leaders, Brian Brown and Maggie Gallagher, 14% of its budget. Now NOM pays Brown a salary of over $150,000 per year, and all he has to do is hate gay people and promote anti-gay propaganda. Fabulous job! Faust and her cohorts, Rivka Edelman, Robert Oscar Lopez, Janna Anderson and others want a piece of that ugly-hate-pie.

Little by little they’ve been raising their public profiles. Faust with her website, Lopez with amateur videos, Darnelle-Anderson with articlesand all of them together with a number of amicus briefs. They’ve realized filing briefs with various courts creates the false impression of legitimacy and seriousness. In fact the ink was still wet on Mrs. Faust’s brief and her pastor husband was already calling her an expert on the issue:

“My wife is an expert on this. I know what the Bible says, but from a logic / experience standpoint she is the expert. She has written an “amicus brief” for the upcoming Supreme Court Case on gay marriage next week.”

Let me just clarify that “An amicus curiae (literally, friend of the court; plural, amici curiae) is someone who is not a party to a case and offers information that bears on the case, but who has not been solicited by any of the parties to assist a court.”

If you dislike the colour purple you can submit an amicus brief in any case where the colour purple is the subject of the suit. Maybe purple stole your candy, maybe purple dumped you. You could even be colour-blind, it doesn’t matter. Your argument doesn’t have to have any merit whatsoever, you just need to have an opinion/experience related to the suit. If Faust is an expert on something, it’s in promoting and endorsing vile stereotypes that have long been dismissed by mainstream science and civilized society at large.

Hopefully Australia and its people will see through the scam. Hopefully you will join Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Ireland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom, the United States and Uruguay in saying no to bigotry and saying no to Faust and the anti-gay-for-pay crowd.

And just in case it was not blindingly obvious, I agree with every word. I can only hope that the ABC embraced Ms Faust in the hope of stirring up a nice little controversy, not in ignorance.

cheers

Meeks


Gmail for Beginners, Part 5 – opening an attachment & attaching a picture [Windows 7]

Part 1, Getting Started is here.
Part 2, Finding and Reading emails is here.
Part 3, Replying to an email & Saving a Contact is here.
Part 4, Composing an email & inserting a smiley is here.

Warning! Some of the screenshots and step-by-step instructions appearing in Part 5 are only applicable to Windows 7.

The screenshots and instructions pertaining to Gmail – i.e. how to open an attachment – will be the same for everyone, but the instructions for finding a picture on your PC [in order to attach it to an email] will only be relevant to Windows 7 users. This is because people using other operating systems – such as a MAC or Windows XP, Vista, or one of the 8’s – may not see the same things on their own PCs.

What are attachments?

Attachments are simply files that you send along with your email message. Most of these files cause no problems whatsoever, but some hackers will use attachments to sneak viruses onto your computer. These viruses are triggered when you ‘open’ the attachment. For this reason, ALL attachments should be treated with caution.

Internet security and staying safe

When I first started browsing the internet I thought I would be safe from viruses because, well, you know, how would a hacker even know I existed? It was not as if I was someone important.

-blushes with embarrassment-

What I did not know was that hackers do not care about me personally. In fact, they do not target me at all. Quite simply, hackers throw out huge, baited nets and wait to see what bites. And yes, my PC did get infected.

I’ve learned a lot since then, and one of the things I’ve learned is to be very, very wary of attachments. Before I click on an attachment I check a couple of things carefully:

  • do I know the sender? If the answer is ‘no’, I automatically assume the attachment is suspect and  delete the whole email,
  • does the sender [someone I do know] sound a bit odd – i.e. is the email a generic sounding one-liner such as ‘hi, thought you might like this’ or something similar? If it is, I’ll delete the email and the attachment first and apologise, if necessary, later.

This lack of certainty when it comes to attachments brings me to a bit of netiquette – if you are sending someone an attachment, it is a really good idea to tell them about it in the email message itself.  It’s a small thing but will reassure the recipient the attachment is safe to open.

As a general rule, however, I will never open an attachment if the filename ends in ‘.exe’ or ‘.zip’.

[Note: for a description of filenames, seeHow can you tell what’s a picture file and what isn’t?below].

There are exceptions to this rule of thumb, but beginners should probably delete first and ask questions later.

So what attachments are safe to open?

Picture files are generally safe to open, unless there is something else suspicious about the email – e.g. it’s from someone you’ve never heard of, or promises something unsavoury.

How can you tell what’s a picture file and what isn’t?

Like people, files have a ‘first name’ and a ‘family’ name. The ‘first name’ describes what’s in the file while the ‘last name’ describes what kind of file it is – i.e. one of the picture files, a text file, a music file, etc.

To illustrate this naming process, have a look at the following example:

picture file exampleThis is a simple picture created in Windows Paint. It was saved as a file called:

picture file example.jpg

‘picture file example’ = the first name of the file

‘.jpg’ = the family name of the file – i.e. what type of file it is. In computerspeak, this part of the file name is called the file extension. The file extension tells the computer how to handle the file – i.e. as a picture file rather than, say, a music file.

Examples of picture files

The following are examples of the most common types of picture files. Notice that only the file extension changes in each filename:

mypicture.jpg

mypicture.bmp

mypicture.png

mypicture.tiff

If you get an email from a friend, and if the attachment in that email ends in any of the above file extensions, the attachment is safe to open.

How to open an attachment in an email

Returning to our friend, Kenneth, I discover that he has sent me an email at meekasmind@gmail.com. The email has a file attached. When I read the email, this is what I see:

gmail attachment received 1

As you can see, part of the picture has been truncated in the preview. To see it all, I point the mouse at the picture. This causes an overlay to be displayed:

gmail attachment received 2This overlay shows the full filename of the attachment, including its file extension which tells me it is a picture file. Also of interest is the ’15 KB’ which tells me how big the file is.

[Note: A huge picture file would be shown in GB, an average picture file would be shown in MB, and a small picture file would be shown in KB. Thus the attachment from Kenneth is quite small and will take next to no time to load]

The overlay also contains the buttons for two options – Download and Save to Drive.

Save to Drive option

Clicking this option will save the file to Google Drive [a storage area in the Cloud]. This option is not covered in the Beginners guide.

Download option

Clicking the ‘Download’ option will copy the file from the email and save it to my own PC. Once the file is on my PC, I can do whatever I want with it. This is the option we will be exploring.

When I click the Download button [in Windows 7], the screen changes to display the last location at which I saved something. In the example below, you can see that it was in ‘Libraries, Documents, My Documents, My Games, Final Fantasy xiv – A Realm Reborn’. This is not where I want to save the attachment.

gmail attachment download 1

To make it easier to see where I’m going, I will close the Documents folder I am in. To do this I simply click on the small arrow next to ‘Documents’ in the navigation pane:

gmail attachment download location

I can now see the main folders quite clearly, including the folder I want to reach. It is called ‘Pictures’ :

gmail attachment download location 2

A single click on the ‘Pictures’ folder causes the ‘Pictures Library’ to be displayed. In the Library is a folder called ‘Sample Pictures’. This is where I want to save the attachment:

gmail attachment download location 3

The easiest way to open the folder is to click on the ‘Sample Pictures’ icon once. This will highlight the icon, and it will cause the ‘Save’ button to change to ‘Open’ [as shown above]. Now all you have to do is click the ‘Open’ button.

Once ‘Sample Pictures’ opens up, the ‘Save’ button reappears.

Click the ‘Save’ button to save the attachment to this location.

Now that I’ve saved the picture file to my PC I can edit it if I want to. I do, I did, and this is the result:

picture file example black and whiteNaturally, I want to share the new picture with Kenneth so I compose an email to him [see Part 4].

Before I click the ‘Send’ button, however, I click the small ‘Attach Files’ icon shown at the bottom of the compose form.

It looks like this:

picture file attach icon

Clicking the attach icon in Gmail causes the following screen to be displayed in Windows 7:

gmail attachment send location 3

This screenshot is almost identical to the one we saw before…except that in this one, the image peeping out of the folder is of the edited house. That’s because I saved the edited file to the same location as the attachment.

Click on the ‘Open’ button [as shown above]. The following pictures are available for you to attach to your email:

gmail attachment send location 4

Clicking on an image displays information about it, including its dimensions and size. You will also see a much larger preview of the image. When you are sure you have the correct image, click the ‘Open’ button as shown.

You should now be back in Gmail, looking at the message you typed to Kenneth. Down near the bottom of the form, you should also see the name of the file you have attached to the email. This is what mine looks like:

gmail attachment send location 5

Click the ‘Send’ button and that’s it. As always, Gmail will display a yellow confirmation message telling you your message has been sent.

Before I finish, a quick word about the other way of attaching a photo to an email. And yes, there is another way. It looks like this:

gmail attachment insert photo1

The difference between ‘Insert Photo’ and ‘Attach Files’

If you click the ‘Insert Photo’ button, you will be given the choice of inserting an image as an attachment or as an inline picture.

If you select the ‘Inline’ option, the image will be embedded into the body of your email message like this:

gmail attachment insert photo3

Sometimes it’s nice to embed a photo like this because it means the recipient doesn’t have to do anything but look at the email. Unfortunately, the drawbacks are that:

  • the process is not quite as straightforward as it should be, and
  • the recipient cannot easily download the image onto his/her own PC. It can be done, but not in a straightforward way.

If I ever do an Advanced Gmail how-to [shudder], I will include the ‘Inline’ function, but given the unfinished state of Gmail at the moment, I don’t see that happening any time soon.

I did not intend to review the new version of Gmail, but after a month of working on it for this series, I can honestly say I am not impressed. I had to work around certain key functions – like Contacts – because the interface was so poorly designed and/or implemented. And even the Inbox functions leave a lot to be desired. Too much is hidden, making not-so-advanced functions hard to find, hard to use and hard to explain.

In many ways, the new Gmail reminds me of Windows 8. There too, key functions were hidden, or implemented in ways that were not at all intuitive. And people hated it, myself included.

I truly believe that function should never be subordinated to form. I don’t care what something looks like so long as it works. Sadly both the new Gmail and Windows 8 placed form well and truly over function.

To be fair, I understand that mobile devices have made it necessary to simplify all applications in order to conform to the new ways of doing things, but we have not yet reached the point where serious work is done on those devices. Imagine trying to write your magnum opus on your mobile phone! Or if that’s not your style, imagine trying to create a complex spreadsheet on your phone.

Mobile devices are simply too limited for the kind of work we currently do on desktops or laptops. Therefore it does not make sense – from a user’s point of view – to reduce everything to the common denominator of the mobile device. Yet that is exactly what Windows 8 and this new Gmail are attempting to do.

As the younger generation would say – ‘Fail’

cheers

Meeks

 

 


Watch a real exoskeleton at work!

Sci-fi movie buffs will be familiar with this scene from the movie Aliens 2 where the heroine [yes, a woman] uses an exoskeleton to try to save a child from the baddie.

And if aliens are not your cup of tea, how about Iron Man from the Avengers movies? That pretty red suit he wears is not just a fashion statement, or yummy body armour, it’s actually an exoskeleton as well.

But now, for the first time, real exoskeletons are making an appearance in the hospitals of Japan. Designed to aid both patients and carers, this amazing, robotic invention is set to become commonplace in the real world.

And that, my friends, means that at least one, small part of my Innerscape story is no longer sci-fi! If you’re curious, my protagonist, Miira, wears an exoskeleton in the very first scene to give her a degree of mobility and independence. [You can read the most recent version on Wattpad here]

Ironically, I snuck the concept of an exoskeleton into the beginning of the story to provide a subtle clue that Innerscape was, in fact, a science fiction story. Now I’ve been foiled by the rate of technological advancement. It makes me wonder what else will be out of date by the end of the year, let alone the end of the century.

I’m not complaining, but this incredible technological advance does highlight one of the major drawbacks of writing in the ‘near future’ – no one can accurately forecast what that future will look like. Still, it’s fun to try. 🙂

cheers

Meeks


Leonard Nimoy – Live Long and Prosper – 1931 to 2015

More than any rockstar or rockband of the 60’s, this man and his alter-ego – Mr Spock – epitomized my teenage years. Would I be writing sci-fi now if not for him?

Back in those days, Star Trek was ground-breaking because it let you see concepts hitherto restricted to books, and your imagination. And pictures pack a punch.

Thank you, Leonard Nimoy. You will be remembered.

 

leonard Nimoy last tweet


Is this the end of Aussie apathy?

revolution picBack in the ’70s, when I was going to uni., we used to bemoan the fact that our parents, and most ‘adult’ Australians, just didn’t care about big, political issues. So long as the economy was ticking along nicely, they were happy to keep the incumbent government in power. For example, Sir Robert Menzies was Prime Minister from 1949 – 1966. That’s 17 years, without a break!

We, however, were more politically aware. We cared. We would hold our governments accountable.

We, of course, were the Baby Boomers, and we did do more than our parents before us, but there were still unspoken codes of conduct for voters and politicians alike:

– A State or Federal government had to be really on the nose [Aussie for really bad] for it to be voted out after just one term [3-4 years],

– Parties did not knife their leaders in the back, at least not once they were in power. That kind of politicking was meant to happen behind closed doors, while the party was jockeying to get out of Opposition.

In short, there was an element of the gentleman’s club about Australian politics. I think we can safely say that old school etiquette is well and truly gone. Or as our much unloved PM, Tony Abbott, once said, ‘dead, buried and cremated’.

In the last four years we’ve seen a never-ending merry-go-round of parties and leaders, all wanting their 15 minutes of fame. But we’ve also seen the electorate throwing its weight around like never before. The voice of the people is loud and raucous, and it’s being heard in high places.

[Sorry about the cliches but you must admit they fit really well just there. ;)]

A lot of the motivation behind the electoral swings is self-interest – middle and lower class [sic] voters are sick of politicians who promise one thing and deliver pain instead. In the past we’d shake our head with a cynical ‘Hah, politicians, what can you expect?’. These days our cynicism has turned to anger, and even if we can’t force the politicians to behave, we know we can pay back some of the pain they give us, and so we do.

So far, this awakening amongst the electorate has not been particularly good for politics because, instead of motivating politicians to ‘do better’, it’s just motivating them to jump faster every time a poll confirms or predicts a slump in popularity.

That is not the way to run a country. But, not knowing, and not caring what the electorate wants is not the way either.

The thing that excites me is that we, the voters, are finally starting to train our politicians. Catering only to the big end of town is not acceptable. Catering only to the unions is not acceptable. Making surpluses on the backs of the weak and needy is not acceptable. Being effing selfish is not acceptable. Being arrogant is not acceptable. Being a professional politician is not acceptable.

We are still a long way from training our polies to be ethical servants of the people, but I think we have made a beginning, and that is worth cheering about.

So if this truly is the end of Aussie apathy then I’m all for it. I’d rather see some chaos amongst the political parties than go back to the polite, but paternalistic standards of the past. Voters unite!

cheers

Meeks


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