Damned computers…

30 10 2008

While I’ve been away, somehow my internal network has lost connection to the server, and I can’t access it from outside either. The PC Guru guys are on it, but some things will have to wait until I get home on Sunday as my husband hasn’t got the confidence to do some of the server stuff. They think it’s due to a Microsoft patch applied a few weeks ago to plug a security hole, as they’ve seen these symptoms before. Here’s hoping their solution works…

Update 3 November 2008: Seems it wasn’t anything to do with software on the server — the network card had died! There was another in the machine, so once I activated that with PC Guru’s help, everything worked fine. Another network card is on order as a spare in case this ever happens again.

Melt in your mouth

30 10 2008

For a long time now, my American friend Char has sung the praises of Krispy Kreme Donuts, but whenever I’ve been in the US recently, there hasn’t been a KK that was easily accessible. I’m not a big fan of doughnuts anyway, so have never gone out of my way to hunt them out. Kirsty, from Brisbane, has also sung their praises, so with their recommendations ringing in my ears, I was chuffed to find a Krispy Kreme shop close to the hotel. I even went across the road to get one! And OMG. They are delicious. So light and melt-in-the-mouth! The server recommended I start with the Original as I’d never had them before, but having now had that one, I’d be keen to try vanilla, cinnamon, and others!

So Char and Kirsty – thank you for recommending them to me. I’ve changed the way I think about doughnuts as a result of that one light and fluffy experience late this afternoon. Man, they’re good!

Sydney: Days 1 and 2

30 10 2008

I was glad I was here to work – my first two days in Sydney were wet: almost constant rain on Wednesday, and occasional rain today. It’s meant to be 36C tomorrow (HOT!), so I guess the rain will go and I won’t need my light coat. (I packed the coat at the very last minute — the weather reports for Sydney were mild, but the reality was that it was a bit cold, so I was glad of the coat.) And black is obviously the ‘new black’… everyone in the streets was in black clothing. It looked quite depressing.

Work consisted of some doing and lots of informal meetings with Linda, my boss. We got some things sorted about which day of the week I’ll work for them, and the scope of work for the next few weeks. Linda and I had breakfast, lunch, and dinner together on Wednesday — we had a lot to discuss and to catch up on! ;-)I haven’t seen her since a trip to Brisbane nearly a year ago.

Breakfast and lunch were in the food hall below Australia Square (where the office is). I got a bacon and egg breakfast for $8, which was an awful lot cheaper than the $29 breakfast at the hotel! Linda’s coffee cost $2.50 – much cheaper than in Perth.

Dinner on Wednesday night was in the Cockle Bay area of Darling Harbour, at a restaurant called Adria Rybar and Grill. Linda and I both had one of the rotisseried roasts – Linda had the lamb rump and I had the pork. Unbelievably tasty. I don’t know what they rotisseried/marinaded the pork in, but the flavour was infused all through the meat. It was absolutely delicious. Linda said her lamb was wonderful too. I had three really thick slices of pork, with no fat at all. And some veges. All for $25, which considering the location and the quality of the meal was an absolute steal. Linda and I shared a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc from the Marlborough region of New Zealand. Fruity nose with a nice crisp finish, but I can’t remember the name of it.

Dinner on Thursday night was by myself at the Carrington Restaurant in the hotel. It’s decorated very like a ‘gentleman’s club’, with Chesterfield sofas, dark wooden furniture, heavy curtains, dark carpet, crisp white linen napery, etc. — even a live piano player! I had Tasmanian Salmon ($35) with a Rocket and Blue Cheese Salad ($10.50), and a glass of Peter Lehman Cabernet Sauvignon ($10.50). The salmon was perfectly cooked for me (i.e. it had no raw bits in the middle of the very thick round of salmon), and it was very nice.

Getting to Sydney

30 10 2008

The drive to Perth on Tuesday was uneventful, though getting up at 5:00am less than two days after daylight saving time started wasn’t funny (4:00am in ‘God’s time’). I made it to my hairdresser on time and got the cut and colour done in time to get over to Wendy’s house by noon where I was leaving the car. Wendy drove me to the airport, and without any luggage (I packed light this time!) and with a preprinted boarding pass from my home printer, it was straight to the Qantas Club for me.

Some observations in the Qantas Club:

  • The ratio of men to women was about 10 to 1, which seemed much higher than usual.
  • The days of people dressing up a little to fly are LONG gone (and I’m glad they are); everyone seems to dress casually for comfort, including the guy in board shorts and thongs.
  • I might need a new phone ringtone 😉 Everyone with a Nokia seems to have the default ringtone, including me, so when one phone rings nearby, half a dozen people reach for their phone!
  • Internet access was spotty. I tried two terminals (they have LOTS now, which is great), and couldn’t access my email from my server or the webmail from my ISP, and my Gmail was doing some strange things. I later found that not being able to access the mail from my server was due to another issue… More on that later.
  • Workmen were doing noisy things with power tools on the plasterboard ceiling close to where I was sitting.
  • The soft drink post mix was out of order.
  • And what’s with stockings (knee-hi’s) these days? Nothing to do with the Qantas Club, but it was there that I noticed the brand new ones I’d put on that morning already had small holes and ladders. Not impressed at the waste of money.

The flight
This would’ve been one of the best flights I’ve ever been on with Qantas! It was a 747 so it took about 400 people. But only about 100 or so were on the flight, which meant that pretty much everyone got a 3- or 4-seat row to themselves! The most I saw in a 3-seat row was two people. Pushing up the arms between the seats and you could really stretch out! Excellent. And there was no competition for overhead locker space or armrest space. Sweet. I only had carry on luggage, so even the baggage carousel at the end would’ve unloaded quickly and people would’ve got their luggage nice and easy. We were served lunch – chicken chaseur for me.

Because it was a Jumbo, even in Economy we got in-seat screens, with several movies and TV channels available to choose from. I watched ‘Meet Dave’ with Eddie Murphy. A few laughs and no swearing – at least not on the ‘modified for flying’ version I saw. Then I watched an interesting and foot tapping doco on Ian Gillan of Deep Purple fame. We left on time (or even just a tad early) and arrived early. As I said, one of the best flights I’ve been on with Qantas.

The train trip in to the Sydney CBD
I decided to catch the Airport train into Sydney, and then, if necessary, catch a cab from the station to The Menzies, the hotel where I was staying downtown. Well, the train was an eye-opener. It was filthy, old, and very tatty. Lots of badly painted-over graffiti, scratchings on the windows (why do they DO that?), rubbish on the floor. Not a good introduction to Sydney for a tourist or traveller. And there were no announcements of upcoming stations until after we’d passed Central. Too bad if you had no idea where you had to get off as it wasn’t until you were stopped at a station (maybe 30 seconds) before you could see where you were. I continued on to Wynyard. According to the map I had, The Menzies was a block or two away, but in fact it was directly across the street from the station, so that was handy.

The room
The Menzies is a tired old lady, showing a few wrinkles around the edges. At one time it was one of Sydney’s top hotels, but not now. It’s nice, but nothing more. It’s also expensive (nearly $300 a night, corporate rate), but you’re really paying for its location. The room I was in was an Executive King, so I had certain expectations of its size and facilities. Only some of these were met… The bed was big and comfortable and the linen was silky smooth; the shower was hot and the water pressure was good; and it’s location was just around the corner from work. These were the critical things I look for in a hotel room and all were met. But there were some things that didn’t meet my expectations for the price and the ‘Executive King’ status. For example:

  • No drawers for underwear etc.
  • Small wardrobe hanging space – enough for one person with carry on luggage, but not adequate for someone with a suitcase of clothes, nor for two people.
  • Very dated tap fittings from the 70s and 80s. The rooms have been refurbed, but some things weren’t touched, like the cracked and broken tap handles.

    Broken tap fitting

    Broken tap fitting

  • It was impossible to adjust the air conditioning.
  • There were only two power outlets in the room – all bedside tables were screwed into the wall (!), and you couldn’t access the power outlets used for the bedside lamps.
  • The only internet access was expensive wireless ($13.20 per hour). Wireless wasn’t an issue for me, but if you didn’t have a wireless laptop you’d be stuck as there was no data port.
  • The bathroom had one tiny towel rail – had there been two of us in the room, we would’ve had nowhere to hang the second towel. I hung mine over the bathroom door as the single towel rail was filled with extra towels.
  • It took me about 5 minutes to figure out how to flush the toilet! It was operated by a power switch on the wall of the bathroom. Go figure. Once you know, it was easy, but there were no instructions on where it was or how to use it. I’ve never seen anything like it.

    Switch to flush the toilet!

    Switch to flush the toilet!

  • The vanity area in the bathroom was right beside the toilet and the only place where you could put your makeup, toothbrush etc. was on a narrow edge right above the toilet bowl that you had to reach to get to. There was a real danger of your toiletries falling in!
  • Very long black hair on wall of shower recess that was there for the entire three night stay… those who know me, know that my hair is never more than 3 inches long!
    Hair on shower wall

Scattergories meme

29 10 2008

Kathy emailed me a Scattergories meme, so here goes.

The rules: Use the first letter of your name to answer each of the following. They have to be real places, names, things..nothing made up! You CAN’T use your name for the boy/girl name question.

  1. WHAT IS YOUR NAME? Rhonda
  2. 4 LETTER WORD: Road
  3. BOY NAME: Roger
  4. GIRL NAME: Rebecca
  5. OCCUPATION: Road worker
  6. COLOR: Red
  7. SOMETHING YOU WEAR: Rouge (well, my grandmother did!)
  8. BEVERAGE: Ribena
  9. FOOD: Rutabaga
  10. A PLACE: Romania
  11. SOMETHING FOUND IN A BATHROOM: Roll of toilet paper
  12. REASON FOR BEING LATE: Reading the newspaper

Gone for a few days

27 10 2008

I’m heading off to Sydney at sparrow’s tomorrow. Drive to Perth, have haircut, drop off car at a friend’s house, get taken to airport, fly to Sydney. Wednesday and Thursday are at my Queensland client’s Sydney office, then Friday and Saturday I’m attending and speaking at a conference. Fly home Sunday, then drive home. Quick trip.

Quick trip to Perth

26 10 2008

Last Sunday I travelled to Perth for the Monday funeral of Glynn Watkins. I stayed overnight at my niece’s house and FINALLY met her lovely boyfriend, Michael. My niece is vegetarian and a mean cook, so she did some interesting things with ingredients I normally wouldn’t even buy. It was lovely to spend time with her—I only saw her briefly at the funeral.

As expected, Glynn’s funeral was HUGE. There were well over 200 squeezed into the church alone, and they relayed a CCTV broadcast of it into the church hall, which the Minister said was also packed. I figured somewhere between 300 and 500 people attended. The service (eucharist?) was very long and quite religious. Only two eulogies were given—one by one of Glynn’s ex-Deputy Principals, and one by his daughter Gina. Both were very funny and very sad. Gina did an amazing job of holding it together and gave a wonderful snapshot of her beloved father. After the service, the congregation was asked to follow Glynn’s coffin as it was taken to the hearse. And then a surprising and deeply moving thing happened—the current group of WA police recruits, whom Glynn had been mentoring, formed a guard of honour, lining both sides of the street and saluting as the hearse slowly moved off, with family and close friends walking behind.

A fitting tribute to a great man.

Japanese Meshwork: Finished

26 10 2008

My new sewing machine (Husqvarna Viking Sapphire 870) arrived a week ago (yay!), and I’ve been trying to find time to play with my new toy! (Work has been REALLY busy… and then there was the funeral to attend in Perth last Monday, and I’m off to Sydney for 5 days on Tuesday).

One of the first things I did as part learning how the new machine works was add frames, borders, a back and binding to the Japanese Meshwork piece I made at a workshop a few weeks back. The ‘batting’ I used was very stiff as I wanted to make this piece into a placemat for a Christmas table.

I quilted along the diagonal lines between the stars in the red border fabric, and ‘stitched in the ditch’ around the green and white ‘frames’. The backing fabric is the same chrysanthemum Christmas fabric I used in the meshwork ‘boxes’ and instead of adding a backing then adding the binding separately, I added enough extra to the backing to fold it over to the front and do the hand stitching on the front, giving the illusion of a ‘proper’ binding. The mitered corners weren’t hard—they were a bit like doing the corners on gift wrapping.

Here’s the finished product:

Japanese meshwork - Christmas table mat

Japanese meshwork - Christmas table mat

Vale Glynn Watkins

16 10 2008

Late on 9 October 2008 at age 82, Glynn Watkins passed away.

Those few words give no hint as to the loss I feel at his passing and the loss I will feel for many years. Glynn, his wife Shirl, and children Peter, David, and Gina, have been close friends of my family for nearly 50 years. Glynn and his family was present at all our major (and many minor) family events, and we were there for many of his family events too. In their retirement, Glynn and Shirl travelled to places near and far with my parents, a ‘habit’ that started when they travelled to New Zealand together for a couple of weeks back in the 1960s, leaving us kids with our respective grandparents.

So why was Glynn such an important person in my life? Other than being a close family friend for nearly 50 years, Glynn was my primary school headmaster (Waroona District High School) for some six years back in the day when the boss of the school was called a ‘Headmaster’ and not a ‘Principal’. Even though I was only very young, Mr Watkins, as we always called him then, was an incredible influence on my life. He showed me what a true educator and teacher was. He was my mentor, a man I looked up to and respected deeply. Unlike many headmasters of the time, Glynn took an interest in both the good kids and the bad—and all those in between. Being called to the Headmaster’s office was not necessarily a fearful time (unless of course, you’d done something wrong!). He would call you in to praise or congratulate you on an achievement, and would come into the classroom to take an active interest in the teaching and learning program. Maybe he was just checking on the new teachers—no matter, it always felt like he was really interested in what we were doing.

Outside school, he was still ‘Mr Watkins’, but I saw him in a more relaxed light, kicking a football with us kids, singing ditties with his good friend Moir (“Mud, mud, glorious mud. Nothing quite like it for cooling the blood…” [Flanders and Swann]), enjoying a quiet beer, trying to avoid exposing his lily-white skin to the summer sun in the local swimming holes and dams, and enjoying a laugh. And what a booming and infectious laugh he had.

The year I started high school, Glynn and his family were transferred to Manjimup Senior High School. But the friendship between our two families ran deep, and many happy hours were spent at each others’ places over the school holidays. He became ‘Mr Watty’ to me then.

Years passed and I became a high school teacher. Without realising it at the time, I’m sure that Glynn had a big hand in my belief that teaching was an honourable and worthwhile profession. His sense of fairness and his clearly defined lines between what you could and couldn’t do, became part of my teaching strategy. I hope that I emulated the great teacher he was, even a small way.

Over the years, ‘Mr Watty’ became ‘Glynn’, and I found out how proud he was of my achievements and those of my sister. He had no hesitation in handing out praise, and it was always sincere, never hollow. Even after he had retired from education, I never heard him speak an unkind word about any students he had in his care for so many years.

So who was this Glynn Watkins? The Glynn that the world saw was an incredible man—a gentle man in the truest sense of the word. He was an educator, an innovator, a mentor, a role model. He was incredibly well-respected in education circles, and was given the honour of Principalship of a brand new metropolitan high school where he was able to pick and choose his own staff (this is not something that happens in West Australian government schools, even now). His staff adored him, and, in all my years in government schools, I never heard a bad word about him, even when in the company of teachers who had no clue I knew him well. In 1987, his services to education in Western Australia were honoured with a Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM).

Glynn was a man who was never just an observer of life, never just standing on the sidelines; instead, he grabbed life with both hands and threw himself into everything he did, whether it was education and teaching (a vocation—not just a job—for Glynn), his roses and orchids, his singing, his public speaking, his Lodge and Probus club, his RAAF, and all the other things I’m not even aware of.

Most importantly though, Glynn was a family man who willingly made time for family and friends, no matter how busy he was. He loved Shirl deeply and profoundly, and they were true soulmates for more than 50 years of marriage. He loved his kids and grandkids with a passion and was incredibly proud of them. He delighted in sharing stories of their lives. And boy, could Glynn tell a story!

He was a superb raconteur, with a razor-sharp wit. He could grab hold of a room with the power and projection of his deep voice, then keep everyone enraptured and laughing for hours on end, just as he did even on his 80th birthday. Yet he was never egotistical about his abilities and never jumped up to take a microphone just because it was there. And it wasn’t just his speaking voice—those Welsh genes of his were an asset to the Perth Male Voice Choir.

Glynn, you were a man among men. A role model, a mentor, and a friend. If I was able to have two Dads, you would have been my second one. You will be deeply missed by those who had the honour and pleasure of being touched by your wit and humour, your compassion, and your friendship. This State has lost one of its true educators, and a great man.

To paraphrase the lyrics of Gilbert and Sullivan, Glynn was the “…very model of a modern Major-General.”

My deepest sympathy goes to Shirl, to Peter and David (my childhood ‘brothers’), to my ‘little sister’ Gina, and all your families.

Glynn Watkins on his 80th birthday, with proud daughter Gina

Glynn Watkins on his 80th birthday, with proud daughter Gina

Weekend away in Albany: Growers Day

13 10 2008

Back in 2000 I edited a PDS (Product Disclosure Statement) of an MIS (Managed Investment Scheme) for a company in the business of creating Australian Blue Gum tree farms. I bought a share in that particular offering, knowing that it was speculative and that it would be some 8 to 12 years before I saw any return (if any) on that investment. Since then, the company that set up the tree farm has changed hands several times and ‘my trees’ are now managed by a company in Albany, on the south coast of Western Australia.

This company sends out information each year on their free “Growers Day”—a day where investors like me get updates on our trees, and get taken out to view various aspects of the operations. Everything from pollination, to watching the final wood chip pile being loaded on to a ship bound for the Japanese paper mills. I’d never been before, so this year we decided to go and make a weekend of it.

It was a fascinating day and I learnt a lot. I felt sad when I saw the effects of the harvesting, but was alternately glad too—glad that our incredibly rare native trees were no longer being used for wood chips. (NOTE: These Blue Gums are native to Tasmania and are bred especially for harvesting for wood chips. The land they are planted on is old, cleared pasture land, either leased from farmers or owned by the company. Native forests are not cleared specifically to plant Blue Gums.)

Some of the more interesting parts of the Growers Day:

  • Flower pollen collection and pollination (you too can be Chief Bee, or the Chief Pollinator, if you wish! Or perhaps ‘Flower Emasculator’ is more your preferred job title…)
  • Seed genetics—super mothers and super fathers combine to produce super children.
  • Seed planting and propagation
  • Soil, weather, and other conditions affecting growth rates
  • Risks, such as fire, pests, and diseases
  • Harvesting—where we learned that more costs go into the day a tree is harvested than in its entire life
  • Debarking, chipping and transporting to wood chip stockpiles at the port
  • Loading onto ships bound for Japan for making high grade paper, such as the outer layer of paper used on wine labels
  • Current costs and returns per hectare, and current price per bone-dry tonne

So, will ‘my trees’ give me some return on investment? They should do, but with the current economic climate, who knows. We were assured that prices for wood products don’t fluctuate a lot… but they’ve said that about iron ore too. They aren’t due for harvest until around 2010, so I guess I’ll find out then.

Male parts are removed to leave a scar in the resulting seed pod, pollen is collected from other plants, then deposited onto female part using a small tube which protects female being pollinated by other pollen

Male parts are removed to leave a scar in the resulting seed pod, pollen is collected from other plants, then deposited onto female part using a small tube which protects female being pollinated by other pollen and other pollen-carrying agents such as bees, ants, and birds

A small stand of trees left behind after harvesting

A small stand of trees left behind after harvesting

Jaws of death - cut tree at base, collect 5-10 trees in 'arms' then lay them down ready for the debarking and chipping process

Jaws of death - cut tree at base, collect 5-10 trees in 'arms' then lay them down ready for the debarking and chipping process

Jaws of death - close-up

Jaws of death - close-up

Cut at the base

Cut at the base

Trees awaiting debarking and chipping, and others awaiting death

Trees awaiting debarking and chipping, and others awaiting their fate

Prt of the 100,000 tonne wood chip stockpile

Part of the 100,000 tonne wood chip stockpile