Saturday, July 08, 2006

Shuttle Shakes

NASA (Need Another Seven Astronauts) today extended the mission of the space shuttle by another day, and added another spacewalk to the schedule. If the astronauts spacewalk any further, they will have walked far enough to have got home without the shuttle. While this could be handy in future missions if the astronauts forget where they parked, it suggests that maybe they might need to walk home. How sure is NASA that the shuttle can get home in one piece? Two shuttles have already been lost (a nice way of saying they fell to pieces), and shortly before the launch, pieces of foam fell off this one because of overnight ice. Has NASA forgotten that its cold in space? Prior to the eventual launch, it was postponed a number of times due to weather, something the shuttle has to pass through a lot of on the way home. This is the Big One for NASA, if anything goes wrong with this mission they are likely to be grounded for a very, very long time, if not forever. So pray that the pilots don't have sudden need of that billion-dollar toilet during re-entry.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Your Horoscope for Today

Today is a good day to look both ways before crossing the road, and you should be careful with your finances because if you spend money today, the stars predict you will certainly have less than you did. Unfortunately, the Guiding Star of your life has turned out on closer inspection to be a chunk of SkyLab still in orbit, so everything you've ever read regarding your horoscopes until now has been wrong. Your lucky number for today is 51,692, which is not a number found in very many lotteries so it isn't going to be much use to you. The influence of Mars and Venus on the conjunction of a four-petalled rose in Melbourne Botanical Gardens will almost certainly have had nothing to do with you getting any phone calls you might receive today. Your lucky colour is 'transparent', but it isn't recommended that you paint the house in it or it may lead to some embarrassing moments when people walk past. On the plus side, you and the other 552,510,503 people in the world who share the same zodiac sign will meet a tall dark stranger, fall instantly in love, get married and be taken away to Penthouse Suite No 12 at 18 Conroy Road, Cambamattin, but the night will turn sour as over five hundred million people keep taking all the blankets from each other all night, not to mention the queue for the toilet. Finally, the Psychic you are going to see on April 8th next year will ring to say she's had to cancel your appointment because her mother will die unexpectedly the day before.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

The Sky is Falling

Tasmania has a fox problem. At least, we have if the media are to believed. Or the experts on the Mainland, who say that if we would only believe the problem was real, it would be. Sounds like they've got a ex-Shrink or two on their staff. The fact that there hasn't been one single fox found in the wild since the multi-million-dollar task force was formed 8 years ago to combat the problem doesn't sway them - the latest result of all that wasted money is the supposed discovery that 'environmental vandals' deliberately released 20 or so cubs, though if you're asking why anyone would want to do that, you'd probably be best asking the loonies at this weekend's Psychic Expo in Launceston - you'd probably get a halfway-believable answer, which is more than the authorities have come up with so far. Not to mention that quarantine procedures are so tight in Tassie that you can't even get an apple past the guys doing the checking, yet somehow someone managed to get an entire truckload of yowling, frightened, smelly baby animals through? Was Blind Freddy rostered on at Quarantine that day, with his iPod at full blast and a peg on his nose?

Are there foxes here? Well there been over a hundred sightings, but in this humble writer's opinion that's nowhere near as many sightings as Tasmanian Tigers (and they're listed as completely extinct), just short of the number of sightings of UFO's, and slightly more than the number of sightings of Elvis in Wrest Point Casino's gaming lounge. We've been told for decades that even if there are still Tigers out there, unless they number sufficient for a viable breeding population, ie about five hundred, then they're doomed anyway. Yet somehow one inkling of a possibility of a remote chance of a prospect of an outside chance of there being a fox or two somewhere in the state, somehow amounts to a plague. Yes, the sky is certainly falling, Foxy Loxy - in fact, I think its already hit some people on the head.

Parks & Wildlife Service
Department of Primary Industries and Water
National Geographic

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Tourist's Guide to Tassie Part 2 - Latrobe

Latrobe's main claim to fame is that its old and was once a lot bigger than Devonport. In its heyday it had four daily newspapers, whereas these days the council produces an 8 page rag once a month and the entire State has only three newspapers. It has a main street lined with old buildings, just like a thousand other Australian towns, and every second shop is either Antiques or a Bakery. Oh, and despite there being more platypus in many other places, it calls itself the Platypus Capital of the World; better than "Old Derelict Buildings Capital" I suppose. A lot of money has been spent on the grammatically incorrect "Australian Axeman's Hall of Fame" which houses yet one more Dave Foster-established shrine to himself. Down by the river, Bells Parade is a nice picnic area when there's water there, but the council can't decide whether it likes water or not and keeps constructing and demolishing the weir on a regular basis. My advice on Latrobe? Before you go spending good money there, check the back of your yard at home to make sure you haven't got the same 'rare antique' hidden in the junkpile, and bread is cheaper at the supermarket.

Discover Tasmania - Latrobe
Latrobe Council

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Declaration of Dependence

Click on the picture above for a larger view

Happy Birthday,


Blog Redesign

Now that I've been on for a whole 2 weeks, I've decided to redesign my blog to a custom look instead of using one of the built-in templates. It should be up in the next day or so, but here's a sneak preview (click on the image for a larger view).

Howdy Neighbours

I notice from the ClusterMap at the bottom of my blog that I've had a few visitors from New Zealand. I'd just like to make it clear that you're not at all welcome. I've worked hard for almost 2 weeks on my blog and I don't want it being ruined by a bunch of sheep-shoving kiwi frodo's. Go look at a geyser or write a new treaty or something.

New Zealand native language translation
E neetice frem the ClesterMip et the bettim of me bleg thet E've hid a few vesitors frem Nee Zeelend. E'd jist leak te meke et clear thet ye're net et ill wilcome. E've wirked herd fer elmist 2 wicks en me bleg ind E den't went et bing reined be a binch ef ship-shiving kiwi frido's. Ge lick et e geyser ir wrete e nee tritty er semething.

PS :) Ne offense meant, neighbours!

New Zealand on the web
The Allblacks
Greenpeace flagship 'Rainbow Warrior'

Monday, July 03, 2006

Tourist's Guide to Tassie Part 1 - Devonport

My advice is get off the Spirit of Tasmania and head straight out of town. If you really must see Devonport, here are the main tourist attractions:

Imagine riding on the steam train Puffing Billy in Dandenong, and now imagine the train breaks down soon after the start of the journey so you only cover 2 km. Now take the part of the journey you did complete, take out anything not flat, and replace it with a monotonous view of river mudflats. You've just had a ride on the Don River Railway, Devonport's best-known attraction. Drive around to the Bluff beach and look at some scratches in the rocks some vandals did a long time ago, then wander into the incredibly overpriced non-interactive wooden shed. That's Tiagarra, the Tasmanian aboriginal experience, done. Along the road a bit, after driving past the skate ramp and having abuse shouted at you by the local yobbos with nothing better to do, you'll find the Maritime Museum. Don't bother going in, its been open for a lifetime and no-one has yet. After lunch at the uniquely Tasmanian McDonalds, head for Home Hill where Tassie's only national Prime Minister once lived. Sure it looks like every house in the better Melbourne suburbs, but at least you had to pay to get into this one! Finally, drive up the big hill behind Devonport, go for a short walk to Allison Lookout, and see the city all in one glance. While you're there, scan the place carefully to see if you've missed anything of interest. Nope? Ok, time to hit the highway - its that thing that looks slightly wider than a back street. When you arrive back here in two week's time, be sure to check out the Tourist Information layover just east of the city. Why not check it out now, before you go touring, you ask? Because its on the wrong side of the split highway, so its only useful to tourists about to get back on the Spirit. Don't ask me why.

Discover Tasmania - Devonport
TravelMate - Devonport
Devonport City Council

Uncle Crooked

Yes, some of you have traced my family tree, and its true, my uncle is the famous "Crooked Mick of the Speewah". For the benefit of our Overseas readers, the Speewah is the biggest cattle and sheep Station in Australia. It lies out west of the sunset, and is so big that the men who repair the boundary fences take their wives with them, raise their kids along the way and retire about midway; their sons finish the second half of the job and arrive back at the Homestead to their own retirement, with their own sons ready to start out again.

The trees are so big on the Speewah that the tops are hinged to let the sun past, and it gets so hot there that freezing point is set at 99 degrees. At dusk, the temperature drops so quickly even the mirages freeze over. On the east side of the Speewah it can be so swelteringly hot that drovers need to wear an asbestos suit; the crows fly backwards to keep the dust out of their eyes, and the dust storms are so thick that you can build a house on them. Folk on that side of the Speewah count themselves lucky when they can start putting water in their tea again. On the west side its so cold that the horses have to be defrosted before you can put their saddles on, and words freeze as they come out of your mouth, so your mate has to pick them up and thaw them on the campfire before he can hear what you said.

My uncle, Crooked Mick, is a giant of a man who was born way back when the Jenolan Caves were just wombat holes and the River Murray was a possum having a pee. He's so big he has to go outside whenever he wants to turn around, eats two sheep for lunch and uses small trees for toothpicks. At birth he started growing so fast his father tried to slow his growth by ring-barking his legs; it didn't work but it did give him a nasty limp, hence his name. Mick is a helluva shearer and works so hard and fast that he keeps a rouseabout busy putting ice cubes in a bucket Mick uses to cool down the shears. One morning the boss told him to hop over and help the Cook; Mick had shorn another thirty-two sheep before his shears touched the floor. Another time, a crow was bothering him by blocking out the sun so he picked up a rock and threw it at the mongrel; the local aborigines complained and told him to put Uluru back where it was. Mick's best mate is Big Bill, the guy who made his fortune on the Broken Hill goldfields cutting up mining shafts and selling them as post holes.

Of course it's not only the men who are big on the Speewah. The mosquitoes have been known to blow out a station hand's candle in the evening while he's reading in his bunk, so they can get started on their bloodthirsty work, and they often steal the blankets to wipe their noses after a feast. There are the giant wombats, rabbits as large as sheep, crows like condors and kangaroos so big they make an emu look like a canary. And there's the famous hoop snake, which grabs its own tail in its mouth, leaps up and rolls after men on horseback. He needs a good horse to outrun one.

Such is life in the great Australian Outback. If any of you are interested, I might tell you how Crooked Mick built the railroad, or about the Great Speewah Flood. Post a comment if you want to hear more.

The Museum of Hoaxes
An Aussie in London
Tall Tales from Around the World

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Xevious on PSP?

Question: What happens when you drop your PlayStation Portable in the swimming pool?

I found out the hard way, and it couldn't be replaced under warranty because it was my own fault. So what to do with a dead PSP? Turn it into the world's smallest MAME machine, of course! For those who don't know, MAME stands for Multi Arcade Machine Emulator, that is, a free program that runs all those old arcade machine ROMs. I contacted the makers of the Space Cube, a cool PC that measures only 2 x 2 x 2.2 inches in size, and asked did they have one that was cosmetically damaged but running. I explained what I wanted it for, they were only too happy to sell it to me at a discount when they found out, because they were as interested as I was to see if it could be done. In order to fit all the components into my PSP case, I had to strip the PC of all its ports, cut extra ventilation holes into the back of the case (ventilation remains a problem, the unit still tends to run hot), bump up the flash memory capacity, and fit a (stripped down) SD card reader. I then copied all my game ROMs onto 4 gig SD cards. Remapping the PSP controls to the PC was a lot more difficult than I thought it would be, eventually I gave up on the PSP signals and installed membrane switches directly onto the PCB under the PSP controls. This meant I had to move quite a few components of the PC which were already in place, and that would have been next to impossible if I hadn't used Schmartboards for the project. It took a fair bit of tweaking, but I finally got the whole thing fully functional - the world's smallest MAME machine, and the only PSP with 3,412 games at your fingertips!

Space Cube