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How to answer every Goodreads Trivia question correctly.

In my previous post, I described my glee at writing difficult questions. I've added a few more, and had the pleasure of seeing one rated as "impossible" in difficulty. At least until I gloated about this to my friends, who promptly answered the question and downgraded the rating. You'd think that true friends would take a hit for me, but no, they just wanted to demonstrate how smart they are.

Here, as promised, the answer to success at Goodreads trivia. And no, Discoverylover, this does not involve asking a friend for the answer!

Now, if you take the neverending trivia quiz, you will be presented with a series of literary trivia questions. I suspect that questions are being added faster than any normal person can answer them, so it really is neverending. Or, if one attempted to get to the end, there would be no time for actually reading the books.

Each question gives you three options. You may answer the question - usually because you already have a good idea of the answer. You may guess - an "educated guess" maybe, but a guess nonetheless. Or you may skip the question.

(Or cheat by looking up Wikipedia or something, but cheating is something that only cheats do, and I have no time for that.)

Only the first choice is a good one. Guessing answers is guaranteed failure, and skipping questions destroys your "streak".

But if you take the trivia test, you are bound to get a question on a book you know nothing about, and you must then either guess or skip.



The key to success at Goodreads trivia is to answer only the questions where you already know the answer. You therefore never have to guess, or skip. Just rack up an impressive score of correct answers and be the envy of your friends, top smirker in the mirror, strutter in library halls etc. etc.

Two ways of doing this. The easiest is to read a book and then find the list of trivia questions for that book. Presumably the answers to all the questions are fresh in your mind. In any case, you may skip those you are unsure about.

For example, trivia about Tom Sawyer. It's years since I read this, but I'm bound to know the answers to most of the questions. Easy way to rack up a good winning streak!

Especially if the questions are as easy as this one!

Two ways to get there. Each trivia question (if correctly marked up) will have a link on the screen, like this:
take other questions about

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

Second way to find a list of questions about a particular title is to go to the book's page, and scroll down until you see a link in the right-hand column marked "trivia about....

Alternatively, (my preferred method) of finding questions to which I already know the answer is to look at someone else's list of answered questions: Somebody such as "Book Pig", who has answered 83 667 questions. (The top rankings are shown on the Trivia Leaderboard and there are some impressive statistics there.)

Just page through the questions, answering only those where you are sure of the answer.

And in no time at all, you'll be up there on the leaderboard and your friends will be wondering why they never see you in real life.

Rudd Rage

Jul. 28th, 2010 01:11 pm
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A month ago Julia Gillard found Labor Party backing for her decision to move against Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd - a challenge Rudd decided not to oppose. Now, during the election campaign, veteran political reporter Laurie Oakes, a man of immense credibility, has dropped a series of damaging bombshells about Gillard's performance under Rudd. Revelations that could only have come from very senior government sources.

Rudd, naturally, denies being the source of the leaks.

I'm in mixed minds about our new Prime Minister. On the one hand, I like a lot of her attitudes to life. On the other, she's a political animal ever since university, having had no "real" job (much like her Liberal opponent Tony Abbott, it must be said) and I find it hard to warm to such creatures.

Her policies are pragmatic - in that they solve immediate political problems - but hardly practical or cost-effective in the real world. Her "Building the Education Revolution" program was a classic case of inefficiency and waste - though at least it didn't kill anybody the way that the prized Home Insulation Program did.

As for Rudd, I was prepared to give him a go, but when all that emerged from his office was pretty speeches, smiles and delays and denials - not a solid program in sight apart from the stimulus package of giving every taxpayer a few hundred dollars, which naturally was wildly popular - I gave up on him. As did the Labor Party, obviously.

And now we find that someone high up in the Rudd government - headed by a man notorious for making enemies and holding grudges over the decades, described as being "fuelled by rage" - has been leaking damaging information on the new Prime Minister during a crucial election campaign.

I'm sorry - I don't want either of these people running the nation.

Not that I think Tony Abbott is a safe pair of hands neither. His proposal to prevent illegal immigration by "turning back the boats" seems to me to be a way to solve the problem by drowning asylum-seekers.
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Television was the place to be last night.

First, Masterchef. This is the second season of a reality show based on cooking (as opposed to dancing or singing or losing great slabs of weight) and it is amazingly popular. Last night, the final.

Believe it or not, but one of the finalists was a twenty-year old uni student, having seen off dozens of other, far more experienced and knowledgable, contenders. All but one - a 31 year old lawyer.

Last night was the big cook-off, culminating three months of challenges, stunts and eliminations.

Surprisingly, the show is enormously popular, and the supermarket sponsor reports sales increases of up to 1 400% on some items featured in recipes. Spelt flour, for instance, a fresh bag of which can be found in my own pantry.

Everyone loves good food, it seems, and the tensions as the contestants form teams, react to stress, relate to each other and the judges, and ultimately find themselves walking out the door add spice and savour to a series of excellent dishes.

The producers have come up with ways to make and keep the show entertaining. Stunts such as cooking for a meeting of the Country Womens Association (basically farmers' wives) and feeding the experts with such staples as scones and fruitcake. I loved that episode. The contestants formed two teams and had to bake out in the open on trestle tables in a rural setting. Cakes sunk in the middle, jams were runny and the lamingtons lopsided.

The three judges - two chefs and a food critic - really make the show. They are firm, friendly, never familiar, and above all, fair. And entertainers in their own right. The poor contestants have to bear their food to the tasting table, where each offering is dissected, examined and chewed over. Make a hash of your omelette and you'll find yourself on the next limo home. With a television crew in the front seat, capturing every fleeting expression.

Which is where, I think, a great opportunity has been lost. All this cooking, there must be a lot of dishes to wash up. Put the losers slaving over a steamy sink, I say. Better yet, have cameras trained on them as they discuss the remaining contestants. I reckon you'd get some great television once the contestants are off the show and have nothing to lose.

Last night? The lawyer won. He got an early lead in the knowledge test, able to identify platters of spices, rare fruit, sauces and seafood where the engineering student was forced into guessing. The early margin remained the same over a day of cooking boiled down into two hours, changing up and down a point or two, but the contest never really in doubt, given that both contestants handled the remaining challenges with equal panache, reducing the judges to salivating wretches as they sank their teeth into the tucker.

The show is having an influence on the wider world, quite apart from the massive ratings. Last week I heard some computer consultants discussing a new government project. "Well, let's see how it plates up," one said.

The one and only debate of the federal election campaign also took place last night, shown live on three channels, with the timeslot moved forward to avoid a clash over the cooking final.

Not much of a debate, really. Both Prime Minister and Opposition Leader stuck to their scripts, stayed on message, and refrained from either hurling insults at each other or answering carefully crafted questions accurately. In politics, a pointed question is really just an invitation to waffle on about your favorite policies.

An even contest, with opinions as to who won differing according to commentator. I couldn't pick a clear winner, but the party bosses could.

An interesting sidelight was the performance of "the worm". Each member of the studio audience is given a hand control with a knob, and the knob settings are displayed at the bottom of the screen in aggregate. A good performance and the line crawls upwards, or down again when the audience cools. The setting points remain on the screen, forming a wiggly line or "worm".

Three worms last night. A red one for the women, blue for the men, and white for the average. What was abundantly clear was that regardless of policies, the women voters support the female Prime Minister and the men support the male Opposition Leader.

One point I dislike about election campaigns. They are increasingly "presidential", with most of the focus on the party leaders. In reality, the election is for 150 Representatives and 40 Senators, with the party leaders elected only by their constituents. The effect, however, is that all but the party leaders fade into the background at election time.

We're not even voting for the head of state. The Governor-General is appointed every five years, a solid citizen who does nothing much but sign documents and open fetes.

The head of government is merely the leader of the dominant political party, able to be installed and removed by a secret vote in a back room. As occurred only a few weeks ago, when Julia Gillard rolled Kevin Rudd.

The Prime Minister leads a government of twenty ministers, each one responsible for a department or portfolio within that department. Kevin Rudd tried to do all the work himself and ended up doing nothing, leading to Julia Gillard's successful challenge. And now, with the spotlight firmly on her, it looks like she is heading the same way - a goddesslike figure instead of the team leader.

Swollen heads aside, the two party leaders are gifts for cartoonists. Tony Abbot, facing the camera, looks like a taxi with both doors open, according to one wag. Julia Gillard, turning sideways, reveals a long and sharply pointed nose. Under a head of bright red hair. The cartoonists have their work done for them, though of course it doesn't stop Julia looking like an anteater or Tony like Dumbo in the political cartoons.

On the whole, I think it's best to have big ears for listening, rather than a long nose for sniffing into the affairs of the voters.

For myself, I couldn't pick one over the other. Tony Abbott - ex-priesthood candidate - is a little too religious for my taste, but he's also a little more honest than his opponent. Neither of them is my first choice, but as Jed Bartlet is unavailable, one of them will have to do, and honestly, I don't mind too much which one.

Monks hood

Jul. 24th, 2010 07:04 pm
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Monk's Hood (Chronicles of Brother Cadfael, #3)Monk's Hood by Ellis Peters

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Brother Cadfael is, as aye, a splendid guide through mediaeval England on the Welsh borders. His wisdom and gentle spirit lead us here through a tangle of abbey and family relationships. Murder, middle age, and romance, set in Shrewsbury and Shropshire. This book will be finished all too soon, I fear!

[Later:] I stretched it out for a day or so.

An excellent mystery, with several likely candidates. And several minus one red herrings! I confess I picked the wrong one, until about a paragraph before Cadfael pounced.

There's a love story, albeit peripheral, to match the centre stage murder. Or perhaps two love stories, for one of the brothers is all too eager to point the finger at another who may be straying.

An officious policeman, a tangle of church politics, a question of law, and the bustling community of Shrewsbury, set against the rising Welsh hills an easy mule away.

Brother Cadfael is ever the shrewd detective, doing the best he can with his limited freedom and meagre resources. Perhaps his best weapon now that he's done crusading is his ready charm. He certainly has many followers in the abbey, in the town and in the countryside around.

And one in Australia. I've visited Shrewsbury twice now, gone into the hills of Wales - once by accident, once all the way to the sea - walked in the remaining portion of the abbey, seen the flow of the Severn, stood in the mediaeval market, and been utterly charmed by the town and the long gone monkhood.

Highly recommended for the atmosphere, the puzzle, the charm.

View all my reviews >>
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There's four main parties contesting the upcoming Commonwealth election.

Labor - the current government, led by Julia Gillard, who knifed the former Prime Minister a few weeks back.
Liberal - the previous government, led by ex-trainee-priest Tony Abbott.
National - pretty much just an appendage to the Liberals, not sure who runs the Nats. Doesn't matter.
Greens - led by Bob Brown, patrolling left field.

The campaign is starting to get weird:

A Greens candidate called Bob Brown says Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda may not be responsible for the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States.

"There are huge questions that need to be asked - one building came down without being hit, architects say the buildings looked like they were brought down by controlled explosions," Mr Brown told the Western Port News.

"What happened to the bodies and planes at the Pentagon?"
—NineMSN News

This Bob Brown is not the same person as the Greens leader, though the colours match nicely.

The same article leads off with a wacko who assures us that people are killing themselves because of Tony Abbott's thoughts on sex. Unfortunately for Julia Gillard, this nutjob is an endorsed candidate for her party. She's probably thinking a few deep thoughts on his case, tending more towards death than sex, I would imagine.

Back when I was a political animal, we'd get people holding their hands up for endorsement with all sorts of weird and religious views. Their lives were imperfect because of various groups in the community, or some global conspiracy, or the fluoride in the water, and they wanted it fixed and if they got into Parliament they could fix it.

Needless to say, the media was fascinated by them, and our campaigns were a marvellous chaos. You never knew who was going to say what. The big parties would run tightly controlled campaigns, with everything approved by head office, the media pack driven around on the bus to one rehearsed event after another, and it was all boring as batshit. Our campaigns were the exact opposite.

Speaking of batshit, our guys were mostly good-hearted folk, but we had a few fruitloops, and we didn't have the party machine to stomp on them, and when they got a bit of media attention, they'd pretend their unnatural views were party policy that hadn't yet been announced, and the voters began to think we believed in UFOs, that the government committed secret atrocities, that we had a nifty tax scheme that would make everyone rich...

Oh hang on. That last bit was party policy. We had diagrams and graphs and everything.
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I don't know exactly happened, but somehow Goodreads has sucked me in in a way that similar literary networking sites have not. Visual Bookshelf, for example.

Goodreads is fun. Besides, they list me as an author, based on one self-published travel story - about New Zealand, which, unsurprisingly, I am wholly positive about - and a couple of pamphlets masquerading as NaNoWriMo novels without the really awful bits. Just the awful bits.

But perhaps the most fun is the trivia quiz. In a neat Web 2.0 setup, users are invited to submit trivia questions for "The Neverending Quiz".

Q. Which Shakespearean character is Juliet's paramour?

A. Macbeth
B. Hamlet
C. King Lear
D. Romeo

You write the question, submit multiple answers, indicate which is correct, and the thing goes live. Other users answer (or skip) the question in their bid to get as many questions correct.

It's like a wonderful great trivia night. Best of all, you get to see how your friends fared on the same questions. Jane answered correctly, Frank fluffed it, and Ophelia skipped it.

There's also a heap of statistics for each question, for your individual progress, and for your standing within the Goodreads community. On that last point, I'll just say that a lot of people have a lot of time to read books and answer trivial questions about their contents.

Great fun!

I decided that I'd write a question or six, and I turned to that delightful saga, Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin for material.

The whole point of trivia is that questions should exercise the mind. Not too much - the answer should be something that an attentive reader will know, or that an inattentive reader will suddenly recall on being informed. Or something that a nerd might puzzle out, without having read the book itself.

Something like the Romeo and Juliet question above would be beneath my dignity:

Q. Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City series deals with straight, gay, and transgender relationships in which city?

A. Salt Lake City
B. Horton, MO
C. Springfield
D. San Francisco

But with a bit of thought, one can be fiendish. For example, one of the early scenes in the first book is set in the best supermarket in the world, the Marina Safeway. The motto of the store echoes the reputation of the place as a pickup joint:

A dozen cardboard disks dangled from the ceiling of the Marina Safeway, coaxing the customers with a double-edged message: ‘xxxx xxxx xxxx xxxx xxxx.’
And friends were being made.
As Mary Ann watched, a blond man in a Stanford sweatshirt sauntered up to a brunette in a denim halter. ‘Uh… excuse me, but could you tell me whether it’s better to use Saffola oil or Wesson oil?’
The girl giggled. ‘For what?’

So I wrote a question based on this well-known motto:

The motto of the Marina Safeway, famous as a place to find a date, is quoted in Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City as:

A. "Ingredients for Life"
B. "Everything You Want from a Store and a Little Bit More"
C. "Safeway: Where You Get a Little Bit More"
D. "Since we're Neighbors, let's be Friends"

The correct answer is, of course, D, which was Safeway's slogan back in the Seventies, when the series began. However, since then, Safeway has used a number of slogans, each of which would be likely to be more familiar to contemporary American quiz-takers, as well as being faintly suggestive of getting spice with your soda.

I've written a few similar questions, each with four plausible answers. You've got to know the book, otherwise you are just guessing, or succumbing to my gentle misdirection. Notice how two of my (wrong) answers above are very similar. The temptation is to assume that the correct answer is one of the two.

The questions may be dressed up, with links to books and authors, book cover illustrations and author pictures. There's even the chance to add some explanation, revealed after an answer is chosen, as to why you got it wrong. It's all good fun.

Here are my questions. So far!

Next week: How to get 100% correct answers. Without cheating!
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And I Alone SurvivedAnd I Alone Survived by Lauren Elder

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Wow! What a story!

We know the ending - from the title - but along the way the reader can only gasp at the fortitude of this woman, clad in light clothing, heels and no underpants, making a journey that experienced hikers and climbers would think twice about.

While shocked, injured, freezing cold and disoriented. She had a broken arm and a deep leg wound, among other injuries, but still she managed to make it out alive from one of the highest, most inaccessible of California's mountains, where the light plane in which she was a passenger crashed in turbulence.

Cleverly told, with "cutaways" to relatives and searchers, the story is incredible, and inspirational. How many of us, i wonder, would react in exactly the right way to survive such a calamity? She made the most of her limited resources, used common sense to make decisions, and endured what had to be endured, going from a comfortable Oakland home to a howling wilderness in an hour or two - and then out again on foot in a far longer time. Bleeding, shredded, aching and frostbitten feet.

How little separates us from disaster. In this case, a mere five metres higher and the plane would have crossed the ridgeline unharmed, those inside whooping with the thrill and the view. And then, life was on a razor's edge, with death from exposure or falling moments or millimetres away.

Until she found help, in one of the more surreal moments of the book.

I was glued to the pages.

Not a great literary effort, to be sure, but what a story! The crafting of the narrative echoes the practical, level-headed qualities of the woman who tells it. This is deathless prose, in a different and more literal sense.

View all my reviews >>


Jul. 13th, 2010 11:48 am
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Cool and misty day outside. Canberra's winters always seemed to me, when I first moved here, to be clear and blue and sparkling. Cold, to be sure, with a frost every dawn, but rarely overcast.

Nowadays, fifty-fifty. Maybe it's indicative of my state of mind to see more clouds than sun, but I doubt it. It's just different. More people, maybe. A wider change, maybe. Possibly both.

Whatever, I love Canberra, and so long as I do it safely ruggled up or in a heated office, winter here is to be enjoyed, not endured.

We've got a temporary cab to drive while Betsy is off the road. It's Silver Service, an old Statesman, and it's a chore, that's what it is.

That bozo who tried to overtake me in the bikelane a couple of weeks back, I'd like to sue him for the lost income, the inconvenience and the stress.

Getting into a new cab is difficult enough. The controls are different, the meter, printers, keypads and so on are all either different models or arranged differently or both, the kill switches for the various things are hidden away in different spots.

But an old cab - and TX70 has over half a million kilometres up - is an extra collection of bother. Small things are broken, or loose. The engine and suspension are no longer fresh.

Let's see. The bootlid struts are gone. Lift the boot up to put luggage in, it falls down. You unlock the boot using either the inconvenient button in the glove box or the stud on the key, and it unlocks and stays closed because there is nothing to push it up away from the catch.

It took me an age to find the switch for the Cabcharge keypad - which no longer fits on the holder because some crucial part is broken.

I can't change the date and time. Maybe there's a way, but if so it isn't intuitive amongst the hundred or so buttons forming the Statesman's ergonomic dash. Likewise resetting the trip meter.

The thing vibrates:
a. at a certain speed
b. when idling after about fifteen minutes.

The wiper blades are worn.

The rear ashtray falls open and won't stay closed.

One of the front park globes is gone.

Turn off the engine and the doors lock.

A hundred other things. Yeah, it drives, it works, it does the job, but it's no joy at all.

And no petrol in the tank. The dual fuel engine starts on petrol and switches to gas a few seconds later, but it really wants that petrol.

So there I am on the airport rank. I get to the front, a lady approaches with a bag, I turn off the engine - remember, I can't open the boot from inside the car, I have to lift it as I unlock it - and she slings her small soft bag into the back seat anyway. I crank the engine. And again, and again.

Passengers are streaming out, cabs behind are growing impatient, my passenger jumps out and gets the next cab.

Finally I get the thing going, get a passenger - no luggage - and he says "Kingston". A short fare.

I drop him off, and that's it. Five hours into a thirteen hour shift, I'm going home. This is NO fun.

Fill up with a bit of petrol and top up the gas, park it in the carport and have a pleasant remainder of the evening with the family watching some Montreal comedy festival. That's fun.

Then at four in the morning I'm woken by a text from the day driver. Problem with the printer. Then - battery flat.

So I'm out in the frosty predawn, moving cars and mucking about with jumper leads and blaspheming away as I describe last night's shift to him.

Thank goodness my day driver is a saint. Every moment with him is a joy. Talking taxis at halfpast four in the cold is a pleasure.

Well, give him joy of TX 70. Leather seats and six-stacker CD it may have, but it's a chore to drive.

He sent me a text a bit later on. He'd gotten a VIP passenger a fair bit closer to The Lodge than the Prime Minister, who remains in her Kingston apartment.
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I went out to set the chickens free for their daily romp and found that some leftover rainwater on the sheltering sheet of corrugated plastic over their coop had frozen.

I didn't actually see the temperature get below zero last night - the cab has an external sensor which I highlight on the dashboard display to frighten people who have just gotten off the plane from the Gold Coast or anywhere, really - but it got to 00° and then I decided to come home and get into a warm-ish bed.

I've begun a new blog, in co-operation with some co-writers. Flat Jay Walking is a vehicle for displaying the photographs of the lifesize picture of Discoverylover I took to Amsterdam (and left there, to be picked up and carried around Europe by various fun-loving folk). I'm hoping that everybody who had a hand in the adventure will make a post or two and upload some of the fabulous photographs.

It's easy to register as a contributor, and if I or my co-admin (RealJay) recognise the name, we'll upgrade the privileges.

Yeah, it's silly, but it's fun. There's a marvellous photograph of BookCzuk having a laugh as she cuddles FlatJay, sandwiched between her two menfolk, who look as if they'd rather be somewhere else.

I've discovered Goodreads. Aaargh! Another booksite. Which is better, does anybody know? This or Librarything or Virtual Bookshelf or anything similar? I like books, I really do, but I'm not going to spend ALL my time reviewing them on a dozen sites, including my own blogs.

I thought our new Prime Minister was doing really well, but I think she may have lost me with the asylum-seeker plan. Not the plan itself, which would likely work, but her declaration that it wasn't anything like the "Pacific Solution" of the Howard Government which cut the boats to zero and was roundly condemned by Labor. Every newspaper in the country is talking about the "Timor Solution", lady. It's the same bloody thing with a different name!

Is she going to try to win the election on the trivial differences between her plan and the last one? She's going to lose credibility big time if she tries that.

There's one more issue to be cleared off before she makes the trip out to see the Governor-General. That's climate change. I think that, rather than dream up a whole new plan, she'll advise a double dissolution election on the old one that Rudd didn't have the guts to stand up for. That doesn't mean she is required to have the joint sitting to pass the legislation after an election win, just that it clears the issue off the table and makes her appear firm where Rudd was foul.

She's the favorite to win the election. I can't say I love her - I love very few politicians, apart from Jed Bartlet - but she seems marginally less unsuitable than Tony Abbott, the Liberal leader. Why is it that the only people we get putting their hands up to be elected nowadays seem to be those who have been active in student politics and working as a party functionary ever since? Aren't there any real working people around? People who haven't spent their whole lives telling lies?
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The plane came in from Heathrow, passing over Boston late in the evening, where the fireworks were reflected in the harbour. A sparkling sight from ten kilometres up.

There was some delay at JFK, with luggage and immigration. A plane had come in just ahead of ours, loaded down with anxious folk from Africa, and things took their time. It was a few minutes shy of midnight before I got to the immigration bloke.

He looked at my passport.

He looked at me.

"Happy Birthday!" I smiled.

He took a couple of beats, then the joke sank in and he smiled back.

I hope I made his Fourth of July a little bit happier.

Me, I had a grand time in the early morning, with friends to show me Manhattan. So many things to see - my eyes were wide open until the fatigue caught up with me a little after dawn and I started falling asleep in mid-sentence, wanting to see everything but needing just a little battery surge to keep going.

So many things to love about America. Our big brother, showing the way to independence, democracy, a better way of doing things.

A few things to dislike, but on balance, I'm a fan.

Happy Birthday, America!
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Back in the old days, not too long ago, the aim of illegal immigrants was to get to Australian shores undetected, change into clothes that wouldn't give the game away and disappear into the population. One memorable incident involved about twenty ethnic Chinese suddenly appearing in a sleepy North Queensland town, all in business suits, clutching cheap suitcases, and asking about transport to Sydney.

Yeah. Way to blend into the population of a small town where shorts and singlets are the go, everyone went to school together and the only way out is to call a taxi from the next town, an hour's drive away.

Nowadays, it's all changed. They want to be found. Illegal or not, the best and quickest way to settle in Australia is to ring up the authorities and claim asylum. The latest lot arrived, found nobody waiting, and made a call to the emergency number!

Look, I'm as sympathetic to refugees as the next person, but this is just taking advantage. If we have an annual intake, I'd prefer to take our refugees from those who get out of the troubled country, then apply at the nearest Australian embassy or consulate once they are out of danger, and be flown safely in when their applications are approved. Those who force our hand, presenting their arrival here as a fait accompli, I'm not so sure about.
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You want a young Liza Minelli nude? Well, here she is as Pookie Adams, a banana peeled in a tacky cabin in a joint end-of-virginity scene with co-star Wendell Burton playing fellow college freshman Jerry Payne.
Jerry: [seeing Pookie naked for the first time] Gee, Pookie, your body's just... beautiful.

I have to agree. She's gorgeous. But you've got to wonder why, as he gently removes each item of clothing, he carefully hangs it up to avoid wrinkles. Situations like this, what's wrong with the floor?
Pookie: Yeah? Well, I'd better get my beautiful ass into this beautiful bed, before it freezes off!

Read the rest here.
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The high school reunion went well. I took notes and misplaced my camera, but I enjoyed the evening and will blog fully later.

Shopping with the inlaws was a bit stressful, especially for Kerri. There was a lot of co-ordination involved, getting to and from places in what is now an unfamiliar city. Kerri's mother is a demon shopper, but frail, encumbered by lots of equipment, and in frequent need of long bathroom breaks.

I delivered them all to the inner-city shops, made sure that all was good, and then gleefully evaded the ladies shopping that ensued. I bought a couple of WordPress manuals and a new giant Starbucks Brisbane mug. Arrived at the meeting point a little early - at another Starbucks - lined up for ages for a couple of slender lattes - and was able to present one to me frazzled wife when she arrived. Sent M-I-L off home with S-I-L, and we had some time to ourselves. Sat down to finish off our lattes, then looked around some bookshops for a couple of craft books she wanted.

Then we retrieved the rental car, drove around some of our old Paddington haunts, and headed off for the airport, where we lounged in the lounge before our evening flight home.

Monday night was bad. I was returning to the airport when some bozo whose mission in life was to overtake every other car on the road decided I wasn't getting out of his way quickly enough and overtook me on the left in the bike lane. There wasn't enough room, he tried to push me out of the way, and our lovely silver cab is looking bruised and battered. Driveable, but shorn of side mirror and indicator, with scrapes and bumps all down her left flank.

I was disgusted to see that the other driver had his wife and infant children in the car with him. What's more important in your life, I wanted to ask him, overtaking random taxidrivers or getting your family home safely?

It wasn't as if I was dawdling along the road, neither. I think this guy might have been enraged by the fact that after speeding along the road, overtaking everything in sight, including me a long way back, he got stopped by a red light and I was able to sail through at full speed a moment after the light changed to green. Comes of going through that intersection a hundred times a week for years. You get to know the light cycles.

I wish I'd been more alert for what this bloke might do, but honestly, who expects someone to overtake on the wrong side in the bike lane? Geez. If I hadn't been constrained on the accident report form to tell the truth, I would have put his numberplate down as "2CM".

Now our cab has been off the road for three days, the owner, my day driver and I have lost a chunk of money, the taxi service in Canberra has suffered, and so has my happiness and self-esteem. I've had far more accidents in the last three years than in the thirty years before, and I'm not sure I really want to keep this up.

On the subject of happy, I've begun yet another blog. More on that later.
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Last night I finished insanely early - like about nine. I had a headache, I was tired, it was wet and dark and cold.

Tonnes of work around, but I took a passenger from the airport to Turner, Turner is next to Braddon where the Shell servo is located, the car has a card for Shell gas, and well, I just gassed up and came home.

In an hour I'll be at the airport myself. Kerri and I are flying up to Brisbane. She's going to take her mother shopping. Kerri's mother is a frail old lady, but a world-class shopper. She wore me out a year ago when I had her for the day and we just popped into one of those hardware sheds for a few things. She had a list. We pretty much spent the day in there, not counting the stuff we took home, found it didn't fit and returned. I was pretty much wasted for the rest of the weekend, especially once I'd spread the gravel and done the weeding.

For me, it's my high school reunion. We meet at 1630 for a tour of the school grounds, then the evening will be spent eating finger food in the bowls club next door. It's been 36 years since I saw these people. I trust I'll enjoy the event.

And then we fly home on Sunday night.
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There's a moment in Kevin Costner's The Postman that I treasure. The rest of the film is mercifully forgettable, but when Costner, as a self-appointed mailman in a decaying world, is captured by a freebooter army of goons and lunkheads, and made to be the projectionist for their nightly movie show, he is almost stoned to death when he dares screen something other than their favourite: The Sound of Music.

Nearly half a century after its filming in the summer following JFK's assassination, audiences dress up and sing along at special screenings, guided tours visit the locations of the film, the legend grows and the royalties come rolling in.

It's a movie I've watched again and again, from the enchantment of first seeing it in one of those gorgeous old cinemas in Brisbane, all gold leaf and velvet, uniformed usherettes under a crystal chandelier. Years later, back in the days before DVDs or even video, Mum's church filled the hall with a rented projector and a hired print. The congregation was enraptured, self included.

It's just a great good story. Again, one of the classic plots: the poor country girl, after initial difficulties, marries the prince (or in this case the heroic sea captain) and lives happily ever after with a castle full of children.

The scenery is superb, the songs are catchy, the children are cute, the bad guys get outwitted and the loose ends are all tied up as the family hikes over the Alps to freedom.

I know full well that a lot of it is the purest tripe...

Read the rest of the Hello It's Me post here.
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There was a state by-election in New South Wales over the weekend. The seat of Penrith, deep in Western Sydney. That's Labor territory. For nearly three decades Penrith has been held by the Australian Labor Party.

The election was sparked by the resignation in disgrace of Karyn Paluzzano, who had lied to the Independent Commission Against Corruption after rorting staff allowances.

The new Labor candidate lost heavily, with about 24% of the vote, while the Liberals won the seat with an absolute majority of 51%. A swing of 25%, the biggest in State election history.

We're talking way out on the edge figures here. This was not a normal result. If we saw only half that swing state-wide at the NSW elections due early next year, Labor would be reduced to a rump, with a Liberal/National Coalition Government sprawling over three quarters of the seats in the Legislative Assembly. If the primary figures were repeated in every seat, Labor would be wiped out entirely.

Let's start from the top. The Labor Prime Minister, who has a net approval rating of minus nineteen percent, and whose party is behind in the opinion polls, says the election was fought on state issues, not federal.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has rejected suggestions that it is a bad sign for the Federal Government at the next election.

"I think it is our long experience in the political process that the Australian people vote differently on state and federal political matters and they have done for quite some time," he said.

The Treasurer, Mr Swan, echoed those comments on Channel Ten on Sunday.

"It was a state by-election fought exclusively on state issues - I don't see any federal implications at all," he said. ABC News

The Labor NSW Premier Kristina Keneally has likewise distanced her government from the result.

She has blamed anger at the former Labor member for Penrith, Karyn Paluzzano, for the party's poor result.

"In this case the former member did not act with that integrity that the electorate expects and when I was out in the electorate I heard that over and over again," she said.

"People were disappointed that the former member had acted without that integrity that is expected by elected representatives."ABC News

And the Labor candidate (who seems like a decent sort of chap) blamed the loss directly on the rorts of the previous member.

But what incentive is there for a voter to punish a new candidate for the sins of the old? There is always a certain protest vote in by-elections, but nothing like this. Members have resigned in disgrace in the past, but the subsequent by-elections have never recorded such swings. There has to be something more.

Penrith was the third state by-election since Labor won a narrow victory in 2007. In 2008 there was a 22% swing to the Liberals in Cabramatta, and a 23% swing in the same direction in Ryde. You'd think Labor would have taken those results as a wake-up call, and lifted its game.

Labor is going to be devastated at the next State election. The drover's dog could win for the Liberals. Voters do not reward dishonest, incompetent governments. Simple as that.

The NSW Labor government is well on the nose, no doubt about that, with a continuing list of scandals and failures that no amount of leadership shuffling has ended.

But the Commonwealth government is travelling well on core issues, with a tiny jobless rate, a strong economy, and most departments delivering their services well. Where has the recent free-fall in opinion come from?

It's personal.

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott says people are sick of the Government's spin.

"They're sick of the broken promises, they're sick of the financial fiddles, they're sick of the addiction to spending and taxing and I think it's a growing feeling right around Australia."

Nationals Leader Warren Truss has told the ABC's Insiders program the Federal Government should take note.

"The same style of Government that was evident and has been evident in New South Wales and Queensland for some time is the same style that's happening in Canberra - big announcements, blockbuster type promises, but then no action, no outcomes and no results and people frankly are sick of it," he said.ABC News

I think that Abbott and Truss have hit the nail fair and square on the head. Broken promises. Voters elect representatives based on what they promise. It's always a string of promises at election time, and when those promises are broken and the leaders resort to further evasion and dishonesty to explain why they are not to blame, then where are the voters to put their trust?

I don't normally comment on politics these days, but my bullshit meter has been ringing loudly recently, and I can't help but point the finger at those flinging the brown stuff.

Spin is the curse of politicians. Things go wrong and it's apparently not the fault of those with their hands on the levers and their fingers on the buttons. Yeah right.


Jun. 20th, 2010 09:16 pm
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My test site is slowly progressing. WordPress 3.0 was released a few days ago, and I updated all my WordPress blogs. My BCX site was an early 3.0 version, and that had been working fine with BuddyPress.

Today I wrote a widget plugin, using a template from the WordPress Bible I bought in San Francisco. The instructions were clear enough, and once I'd sorted out a syntax error in the sample code, I had the thing installed, activated and running.

That's a start. I'll build on this in weeks to come.

A few words about the architecture. Each player - and there can be hundreds, if not thousands of players - will have a blog on the site. Not that this will be a blog for recording daily activities or opinions or book reviews. You could, I guess.

There will be a widget tied into the database for entering orders. Some immediate feedback as to whether the orders were feasible or not - like if you wanted to drive somewhere without a car it wouldn't work - but the main processing would take place on a fixed timetable, when orders from various players would be processed together, resolving conflicts and reporting results.

Results would be posted as a private blog entry. Read it, analyse it, work out what to do and submit fresh orders.

This is a twist on the traditional play-by-mail game model, where it might take two weeks for an orders cycle.

I want a shorter cycle, on the order of hours, rather than days, but I don't want players to be completely exposed if attacked. Flash an update to a player who is being attacked so that they can issue their own orders, call in reinforcements etc.

Unless, of course, some surprise factor is being played.

I'm envisaging a model where characters are controlled by the players, moved around the play area, given tools and actions, and made to perform actions. Bands and units may be built and moved and controlled through leader characters.

The setting is a more or less modern nation in a state of tension, with diverse community movements and organisations attempting to keep or change control over territory and population.

More later.
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Charles and Betsy

Last October we said goodbye to Betsy, our lovely silver Holden Statesman taxi. Almost new, she was loaded down with great features, and was a pleasure to drive.

But while I was off in America, the owner managed to write her off. One design flaw is that the A-pillars are very thick, hiding oncoming traffic at intersections. He didn't mean to hit the other car, but he did, and hard enough to do some serious damage.

But he bought her back off the insurance company and over the past half year or so, while we've been driving loaner a Ford Fairlane, he's gradually put her back together in the back of the workshop.

Yes, Charles the Fairlane that I crashed a week ago.

Friday it all came together and we swapped the patched-up Charles* for renewed Betsy. I got to drive her first shift as a reborn cab, just like I drove her first shift as a new cab last year.

What a pleasure! She's got some wonderful functions, such as automatic windscreen wipers, front and rear parking sensors, MP3 disc player. The gas tank in the boot doesn't rattle, so I don't have to use the "ex-girlfriend" joke any more.

On the slight downside, there's no seat memory - a boon for a car with three regular drivers - and the transmission makes a racket. Put your foot down, and the world can count the revs.

There's also a new taximeter, so I'll have to upgrade my muscle memory after three years of hitting the old set of buttons. At least this one comes with a user manual, which is a lot more than ever we got with the old one.

* Charles was repaired with bits from another Fairlane that just happened to be stuffed in the back of the workshop, and - trust me on this - there's a fair bit of duct tape hiding some of the scars.
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Brisbane's West End, mid-70s. Saturday morning and a group of we high school seniors were off on the town to watch a movie under the guidance of our English teacher, Ray Fuary.

Mr Fuary was a ratbag, simple as that. In the largely conservative world of Bjelke-Peterson's Queensland, he surely voted Labor, smoked dope, and hurled bricks at sacred cows. He was a breath of fresh air, and just a bit scary.

The movie was Harold and Maude, one that had never made the mainstream cinemas in Brisbane, but had somehow attracted Mr Fuary's ratbag attention to the extent that he thought it worth exposing a class of callow teenagers to. To entertain us, to shock us a little bit, to make us think.

I was a few minutes late and as I sat down beside a schoolmate, I asked him what I had missed. "Not much," he replied. "The star committed suicide in the first few seconds."

Read the rest of the review here.
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It's love. Let's make no mistake. I love New Zealand.

From the moment I landed in Auckland with my bride on our honeymoon, twenty-something years back, I have been intoxicated by the land, the beauty, the people, the history.

For two weeks we roamed the two islands from top to bottom, pausing in our campervan at scenic beauty points, admiring the raw and rugged mountains, tramping up to glaciers, boating along underground rivers lit only by millions of glow-worms, and simply enjoying the land, each other and happiness.

And for the next twenty years, as we raised a family and settled down, we dreamed of returning.

Which at last we did, retracing our steps, this time staying with friends or in motels, swapping the campervan for a rental car with a couple of teenagers in the back seat.

The magic was there, as strong as ever. For our two kids, it was their first overseas trip, and while I can no longer think of New Zealand as quite the exotic destination it seemed at the time, it was still a suitably foreign land.

Twin manias marked our return visit. Lord of the Rings and BookCrossing.

Top BookCrossers

BookCrossing first. I'll write more about it one day, but basically this crazy American idea is that you go to a website, get an identification number for a label which you stick in a book, which you then leave - on a park bench, in a coffee shop, dangling in a plastic bag from a tree, or, as I did one sunny afternoon, under the snout of a New Zealand glacier. People find the book - after all, a book is a valuable and useful object - read the label which directs them to the site, enter the ID number and read about the book. Who registered it, what travels it has had, where it was "released into the wild". And if they want, they may make their own entry in the book's journal.

The stories build and continue, but though the books have tales to tell, by far the most interesting element of the operation is the half million or so BookCrossers around the world. Well-read, clever, generous and quirky people, they are such a delight to be with that for the past few years of my life I have devoted myself to meeting as many of them as I can, at various meetings around the world. Which is how I found myself sitting at Discoverylover's smiling feet, one evening in Wellington.

I left a trail of books around New Zealand. On beaches, in parks, on the interisland ferry, on hostel swapshelves and by pools of boiling mud. And I got to meet some of the most amazing BookCrossers in the world, people who had released thousands of books.

The Lord of the Rings was the second madness. Peter Jackson had just finished filming his trilogy of movies and the whole country was Lord of the Rings crazy.

In Wellington huge figures of orcs and elves, trolls and Nazgul decorated the buildings, every restaurant seemed to have a themed menu, the Post Office had issued Lord of the Rings stamps, and you could not turn a corner without a billboard proclaiming the premiere of the third and final movie, The Return of the King.

And I must say that New Zealand landscapes lend themselves to the flavour of Tolkien's Middle-Earth. The mountain ranges are tall and snowcapped, the hills are green and rolling, the forests dark and impressive. As we drove through the land, we could almost sense the hobbits in the rural hills and groves, the orcs in the wild places, the trolls in the mountains and the mighty armies marching over the long plains.

I enjoyed my second honeymoon as much as the first, taking such pleasure in the experience that I wrote a book about the two trips, called Bookcrossing through Middle-Earth. Self-published on Lulu, it has seen a modest success, and while it is little more than a peek at this small country and proud history, I enjoyed writing it, and there are some patches of humour in it.*

Since that trip. I've been back once or twice each year. Sometimes, a roadtrip, sometimes a week, sometimes a night in an airport hotel. But one thing's for sure - if the New Zealanders are holding a BookCrossing convention, I am there!

The scenery is stunning. I like to say that it leans in the window and says "Hello!", and compared to Australia's largely horizontal vistas, that's what strikes me. The mountains tower overhead, one looks down over glittering lakes, blinding white glaciers, convoluted shorelines of capes and inlets, and everywhere you look, the eye is thrilled by something.

Queenstown is possibly the most beautiful place I've seen on this planet. Looking down over placid Lake Wakitipu from Bob's Peak, the tourist town is a quiet green gem surrounded by water, with the stunning backdrop of the snow-capped Remarkables beyond. It is the sort of place where overseas film stars maintain holiday homes, and may occasionally be seen walking amongst the backpackers.

Dunedin, southernmost of the four big cities, has a quaint Scottish charm to it. Chill and dour in winter, the grey stone buildings of this university town evoke the Scots capital. Robbie Burns looks down on the central square and Highland Pipe bands compete each year, marching and skirling through the streets.

Christchurch probably has my heart most of all. This comfortable city has the beautiful River Avon winding through the middle, parkland to one side, old stone buildings and modern office blocks on the other. Boatered punters take tourists out on the shallow river. In Autumn, the leaves are a riot of colour.

Wellington on the North Island is the capital, reminiscent of San Francisco overlooking a harbour with wooden houses perched on hillsides. The city itself is cramped between mountains and sea, and it hosts one of the best national museums in the world. Te Papa holds the soul of the nation, Māori and Pākehā history and heroes in great galleries, the unique flora and fauna beautifully presented.

And, northernmost of the four, Auckland is the largest. Fought over for centuries by the Māori for its strategic position, it occupies a narrow land between two harbours. Aptly named the City of Sails for the yachts that crowd its waters, it has the population and the feel of a great city. For myself, I love the ferry ride across the harbour to Devonport, home to a library of second-hand bookshops and quaint cafes.

Or a meal I once had, of exquisitely tender lamb shanks washed down with Monteith Golden Ale, beside the Viaduct Wharf where the America's Cup competition was held, a gay waiter outrageously camp for us.

New Zealand holds so many wonderful memories for me. I can't do the land justice in a blog post - I should write a book.

Oh wait, I did!


* Mostly in the footnotes.


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