Saturday, 27 May 2023

Public libraries ...

 Since I retired I've used public libraries quite a lot as places to work, but not actually as places to borrow books from, purely because libraries don't always have the books I want to read.

This actually isn't quite true, they certainly have some of the books I might want to read but until recently it's been a case of going to library and seeing what they have on their selves. Very old school, and something I've lost the habit of.

Instead, I've developed a whole bunch of alternative strategies.

As far as factual books go, I usually end up buying them second hand from one of the online market places, but for fiction, I usually buy the kindle version - more due to habit than anything else.

Kindles are light, portable, have excellent battery life and can be preloaded with several books - ideal for travelling.

But, while I do travel, I don't travel so much these days, and as the price of kindle books creeps up I find I'm spending quite a lot of money on books I'll probably only ever read once, and while I do occasionally buy fiction second hand, we've only one decent second hand bookshop locally, meaning that often means using one of the online second hand  charity retailers such as Brotherhood Books.

Unfortunately, postage costs are also creeping upwards, meaning that sometimes the Kindle edition is the cheapest way to go.

All these strategies require you to have an idea in advance of what you would want. Fortunately there's quite a few crime fiction lovers websites out there allowing you to get an idea of what you might like and by whom,

So, in an effort to contain costs and stop swamping the house with stacks of paperbacks, I thought I'd give the public library service a go.

Now, the last time I borrowed a book from a public library was in Canberra in 2005. I'd used public libraries both in the UK and Australia before, but as my tastes became specialised - Roman history for example - I'd found them less and less useful, and at the same time, with more disposable income had taken to buying my fix of crime fiction from specialist retailers such as the long gone but still lamented Murder One in London.

In Canberra, I found the opening hours of public libraries incredibly inconvenient with the nearest convenient branch closing at 5.30pm during the week. It wasn't on my normal route home if I drove, parking was a pain, and if I got the bus, I simply couldn't get there in time.

And the time when I might have been able to use the library, Saturday afternoons, they closed early, and the buses on Saturdays were crap anyway.

When I moved to country Victoria, I joined the local library in the main to use the free wifi before we could get a working phone and internet service at home. As we're in a little pocket with very poor phone reception I couldn't just simply use my then 3G wifi router as  a stopgap while we waited for Telstra do their thing. In fact for a critical few days after we moved, using the local library's wifi was kind of a necessity.

But, I havn't ever actually like borrowed a book from them.

And of course, during the pandemic, we tended to avoid locations like libraries to reduce the risk of contact.

However, perhaps in part due to the pandemic,  it's now possible to browse their catalogue and reserve books online, as well as borrow e-books from them so I decided that perhaps I ought to try using the library to borrow books.

One thing I find good about the kindle is the size of the device, with a page size roughly the same as small paperback and the weight is about right for reading in bed. My 10" Android tablet, while it's light enough is not that comfortable to hold in portrait mode for long periods of time.

However, I have an alternative - the dogfood tablet - which functions well as an e-reader for public domain books and makes a decent Kindle substitute when required, so this afternoon I installed the Libraries Victoria catalogue search application and the BorrowBox e book borrowing application on it.

Installing them was fun, I had of course lost my library card and forgotten both my pin and library user number in the intervening years. Fortunately I'd saved the details in the Google password manager, so after the ritual cursing when trying to enter the rather long library user number on a 8" tablet keyboard, I got them both to work.

Guess the next thing is to actually start using them ...

Thursday, 18 May 2023

Broadbeans planted

 Today was seriously cold, one of those days when it never really warmed up.

Even so, I rugged up and dug over one of the garden beds, added compost, chicken mature, and a bit more compost to really enrich the bed after having had tomatoes and zucchinis (both heavy feeders) last summer.

Then the fun part - planting broadbeans, some Asian winter greens and some leeks.

That will probably be that as far as planting goes until the other side of winter when I put the early potatoes in, but that's not to say I don't have plenty of other work in the garden ...

Saturday, 13 May 2023


 The semi annual trip to the e-waste centre to get rid of old stuff - 3 old laptops, all wiped and with linux installed as a present for the unwary, an old 2008 vintage iMac, a couple of dead power tools, our answerphone, no longer required since we ditched the landline, dead fairy lights and solar powered outdoor lights, not to mention a kettle and a bag of dead batteries.

Strange how the stuff builds up - it should have been more, I realised I'd forgotten to wipe J's old iMac, so that will be in the next load. 

And I still have the old android 4 Alcatel tablet,  I used to use as a note taker before I retired, and then for a couple of years after I retired. 

It still works, as does its little bluetooth keyboard, and I'm in two minds about it - hopelessly old but powerful enough for email and an editor, so perhaps I'll keep it around a little longer, although my old ipad mini and keyboard combo is a little nicer to use

Thursday, 11 May 2023

Frosty and getting ready for winter...


Autumn is always a time of change.

The days cool, we have rain and then occasionally frost. It’s unusual to get frost much before June, but this year the frosts have come a couple of weeks only. 

The nasturtiums had been making a brave show, their big leaves like satellite dishes trying to catch the late autumn sun, and their bright red flowers adding a dash of colour to a winter garden, but then a few days ago we had a run of overnight frosts, which means the end for the nasturtiums.

Nasturtiums really don’t like frost, so after a -3C night they wilted and browned, so today I pulled them out. Hopefully they’ll return next spring, they’ve dropped a fine load of seeds promising new growth once the weather starts to warm.

As always with autumn a lot of the work is tidying and pulling out annuals, not to mention the seemingly endless chore of tidying up fallen leaves.

I cut the grass for what is probably the last time before spring as the garden gradually slides into winter hibernation.

But it’s not all the slide down to the chilly depths of winter, there’s also work to do for the year ahead. I ordered some new seed yesterday - broad beans and Asian greens to give us some green veg over winter and hopefully a decent crop of broad beans  in the spring.

Other, less hardy crops will have to wait until the cold weather has passed …

Sunday, 7 May 2023

Freezingly cold and not a lot of gardening

 Amazingly, despite the Easter washout, the weather picked up, and we had a decent week or so before the bad weather came back, putting a temporary halt to my taming of the couch grass clearing out the large flower bed that was wrecked by the rain in October.

Today, like most of the last few days, has been wet and cold, seriously so, with the threat of snow and hail.

In between the rain, I did get a little bit done but I'm getting twitchy as I need to get a garden bed ready to plant my broad beans and perhaps some Asian greens. The weather forecast suggests next week's going to be mostly cold and dry, so maybe, just maybe I'll get my beans planted.

Otherwise, it's been fairly quiet.

I'm finally on the homeward stretch of the Dow's Pharmacy documentation project with basically two large floor to ceiling display cabinets to work through and that's it. I'd hoped to be finished by now, but Covid and other things have slowed things down, which means, given this week's weather, I'll be lagged up in thermals once more while I finish the project.

I've also taken a few more shots on my film cameras. One problem I've come across is that the light meter on my Vivitar V335 has died - I did replace the batteries, but to no avail. The short term work around is to press an old light meter I have into service.

Longer term I've bought a second hand Praktica MTL3 from ebay. The guy selling it did warn me that the lens would need servicing so I've also sourced a reconditioned lens for it.

As with all old cameras, the light seals might need replacing, but MTL3 replacement seal kits are available online - the camera's popular with retro photography enthusiasts - for around $20.

Elsewise it's back to a truly retro 1960's experience with my old totally mechanical Praktica Nova.

When I lived in Europe, I found that in analogue days, I could estimate camera settings reasonably well through skill and judgement, but here in Australia, I find I tend to underestimate quite how bright it is. 

That, and the fact that most film readily available is a minimum of 100ASA, as opposed to the older, slower, more forgiving, 50 and 32ASA films I used to use, means that something like the MTL3 with a working light meter might be useful as a training tool to get used to working with film again.

However, I do feel that I'm getting ready to get more serious about this.

Otherwise, not a lot, last weekend I spent more time than perhaps I should have on postcards and encryption, which was intellectually satisfying, if a bit of a buggering about.

This weekend, J was helping run a local art exhibition so I was on cooking and domestic duties which last night meant a rich tomatoey Greek style lamb stew that possibly owed more to Jamie Oliver than Greece proper, chunky pasta, and a bottle of pinot noir. 

It was of course the day of the coronation, but we passed, preferring to watch a Portuguese crime drama on demand ...

Wednesday, 19 April 2023

Twitter is gone from my life

 Well, I've stopped procrastinating and deleted my twitter account.

So this morning I took all the twitter widgets off my blogs, deleted the twitter app off my phone and tablet, then deleted my account. 

In the last few weeks I only kept it because of some accounts on Roman history and archaeology that I follow, plus a couple of others, but increasingly it was becoming a bit like instagram - some interesting content but a hell of a lot of extra fluff and puff.

Anyway, gone now.

Wednesday, 12 April 2023

Ah Easter!

 Living on the edge of the Victorian Alps as we do, Easter is is either a balmy continuation of Autumn, or the first blast of winter.

This year, it was most definitely the latter.

On the day before Easter, the Thursday, we went on a simple bushwalk doing the circuit of Lake Catani on Mount Buffalo, starting from the Chalet car park. (The Chalet is now moribund, with plans to reopen part of it as a cafe falling foul of the pandemic.)

It had been about 17 or 18C when we left home but it was more like 12C when we parked the car. The car park was overrun with mini buses full of school groups on their last pre-Easter activity day, but we found a space - the advantages of a relatively small car - and set off on the walk.

Whatever the school groups were doing it wasn't hiking, we more or less had the lake to ourselves giving us an enjoyable two and bit hours wander around the lake, just taking in the quietness and beauty of it

Even on the way back down the mountain the road was quiet, but once we turned on to the Great Alpine Road at Porpunkah there was a continual oncoming line of caravans, four wheel drives and utes, all intent on camping somewhere in the Ovens valley.

We took advantage of the roundabout in Myrtleford to make a right across this oncoming horde and looped back over the hill to Stanley and home avoiding most of the traffic.

Friday it rained. Seriously rained, a day to stay inside and read books and listen to the radio.

Saturday started out wet, which was a pity as it was the day of the Golden Horseshoes festival, but during the morning the rain cleared and the day picked up, even if it stayed cold.

We'd just got to the point of rugging up to go and watch the afternoon parade when the power went out.

After five minutes it hadn't come back, so I checked the trips and it was definitely the power company, not us. Normally I use our little travel modem to check the power company's status page, but it couldn't make a connection, I guess because some of the nbn infrastructure had been taken offline by the outage.

After half an hour or so I called the power company who told me that half of Beechworth was out as well as some of the surrounding villages and it could be some time before the power was back.

Time to swing into emergency mode, and get out the storm lanterns in case the power stayed off after dark (it did), get out our old gas camping stove, heat water to make tea and fill thermoses, find the head torches (all of which needed new batteries) and our emergency AM/FM radio (ditto).

Fortunately we had spare batteries for them and it served as a wake up call to get spare batteries for the storm lanterns for winter and generally check our preparedness for winter proper.

After that it was a case of puffer jackets and waiting for the power to come back.

We put the AM/FM radio on - something we don't normally do, as in this age of the internet we normally listen via either a smart speaker or our dedicated internet radio.

Consequently we had absolutely no idea what station was on what frequency.

We couldn't find anything on the AM band and FM seemed  limited to a couple of local music stations, a mad country and western Christian station, the local ABC station which, being Saturday, had wall to wall footy, and ABC Classic which was being its usual dreary self (I used to listen to Classic on the drive home, but latterly its programming seems to have got duller and duller).

We settled on Classic on the basis that it at least had a six o'clock news broadcast.

Dinner was crackers, cheese, and a tin of chicken soup that we had never ordered but had mysteriously arrived in an online grocery delivery - our guess is that it fell out of someone else's consignment in the van and the delivery driver had picked it up and put it in ours.

Still, however it got there it was welcome, and to wash it all down,  a glass or two of local red.

Without power and internet, none of our technology worked, except for our kindles, both of which have backlit screens meaning we could at least read without decent light.

And then, about 8.30pm, the power came back. We waited for five minutes to make sure it was really staying on, cleared up and put away everything and settled down for a hour's tv before bed.

The power did go off again in the wee small hours, but came back at about 3am when everything beeped and buzzed into life, waking the cats, who of course ran about and got in the way in the way that only cats can do.

Sunday and Monday were almost normal. Distinctly chilly, but normal, but on Monday night the overnight temperature dropped to around 3C, and wasn't much higher when I got up early for a day's volunteer documentation work at Chiltern.

So, into cold weather gear, thermal t-shirt, fleece jumper, old St Andrews University beanie, woolly socks and an old down gilet

a truly stunning ensemble, but enough to keep me warm in the old unheated pharmacy building. Normally I don't need to start seriously rugging up like this until mid-May, but winter seems to be coming early this year.

Still, as the project's almost done, there shouldn't be too much of this this year.

Today it was simply cold and wet. I had to go over to Myrtleford  this morning to pick up some things from Coles and met an oncoming stream of campervans and caravans coming back down the valley from the mountains.

I guess a lot of people had simply had enough and decided to go home early ...