Category Archives: Talking about things

Talking about things. Can be about writing or our books, but mostly not.

Fishy facts

Did you know that when you catch snapper they sometimes have a bump on their head?

According to a fisherman I heard on the radio yesterday morning, he’s seen the bumps and he’s seen the fish banging their head against a reef to get the crustaceans out. (He was diving at the time, not fishing.)

The radio host talking with him added this fun fact.  In their search for said crustaceans, snapper can die from eating too much of the mud along the bottom of the sea,

How do I know this?

I’ve had my clock radio ten years now. It’s nothing fancy. It does the job.  I can see it when I wake in the night. Most important, it’s easy to reset if the power goes out.  The one I had before that was horrible. It had one button to reset the time.  You pressed it and the minutes would flick by, one second at a time.  Hold your finger down for a few seconds and the time speeds up.  But, take your finger off too late and you go past the time you wanted to set it to and had to go around the whole 24 hours again.

Back in those days, we had quite a few power problems, too.

So I like my (now ten years old) clock. The alarm wakes me in the morning with news and music and weather.  That’s all I want. I don’t need—don’t want—talkback radio first thing in the morning. Seriously, all I want to do is go back to sleep.

The alarm itself is an AM radio.  Who needs an alarm like this anyway when you’ve got a phone with an alarm on it?

I do, because I forget my phone if it’s in the bedroom.

I might need to start using my phone soon, however, because many of the radio stations have left the AM band. (And sometimes on the FM band too.)  Some of them are going digital. A lot are closing down.

The only thing that’s making money at the moment are the talkback stations, and you know what I think of them for waking up to.  I don’t mind them later in the day, just not first thing.

So this is the third radio station I’ve had to switch to in the last two years.  On weekdays they play music, but on Saturday morning they have a fishing show.

It’s kind of surreal.  Saturday mornings I wake up to little snippets of fishing trivia like the above. In between gale warnings, and ringing various fishermen around the bay, and on the rivers, to find out where the fish are biting and what type of fish are being caught in that area.

Goodbye Cassini. Thanks for all the data

So I watched the last minutes of Cassini on Friday night (Melbourne time).  Got a bit teary, I must admit.

The Cassini-Huygens mission ran for twenty-seven years. The module itself was launched into space on 15 October 1997.

The Huygens module broke away and went on to Titan, while Cassini spent 13 years orbiting Saturn.

The decision to destroy the probe has a lot to do with protecting Saturn’s fascinating moons from contamination. Thanks to [Cassini] we now know that some of these worlds hide liquid water and may have the potential to support life.

Eric Mack, CNET, How NASA’s Cassini spacecraft will dive-bomb Saturn and die

Well done, Cassini, and responsible science, too.

There’s this great cartoon by Erika Neskvold (@erikanesvold) going around the Twitterverse, which I think anyone who had an interest in Cassini might appreciate.

I’m not sure about copyright here, so I’m not reproducing it on my blog, but here’s the link.

R.I.P. Carrie Fisher

Nothing to say, except that you were a role model. Not just in the characters you played, but in how you showed us all how you can rise above your own problems.

Not only that, you were a great writer.

First Tuesday in November

melbournecupTuesday is Melbourne Cup day.

A horse race.

It’s a public holiday here in Melbourne.*  In all of the state, now, I think, although it used to be only the metropolitan area.  I remember as a child having an extra-long afternoon recess at school, so the teachers could listen to the cup.  They even broadcast the race over the loudspeakers.  As a child I never really ‘got’ it, but now that I’ve lived in Melbourne (more years than I lived in the country), it’s an institution.

In fact, Melbourne spring used to start with the AFL grand final and Melbourne fashion week, and segue into the Spring Racing Carnival. After that it was Christmas.

Nowadays, Christmas preparations start way earlier. There’s also Halloween, which we’d heard of when we were younger, but it wasn’t a thing Australians did.  In the last few years has suddenly become huge. (If someone knocks on my door trick or treating, I have no idea what to do.)

You have to experience cup week at least once in your life. It’s a crazy time of parties, girls with hats and beautiful dresses, and impossible shoes (and flat heels in their bag if they’re truly wise), and guys in classy suits.

The weather is usually crazy. Mostly it either pours rain or it’s so hot everyone gets sunburned. There’s hardly ever just a nice day.  One year you watch the racegoers coming home sodden, the next year they’re bright red from sunburn.

Confession, I have never been to the actual race. Or to Oaks (Ladies) day, which is on the Thursday. It’s too crowded for me.  The closest I have been is at the station as the train disgorges hundreds and hundreds of post-race goers. So many that even when they get off the train they’re jammed so tightly onto the platform some of them can’t move.

But I do watch the race of course. And partake in a cup sweep or two.

So come Tuesday at three pm, I’ll be like most of the rest of Australia.  Watching a horse race on television somewhere.


* We also had a public holiday this year for the football grand final. We Victorians have our priorities down well. 🙂

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History: what goes around comes around

Roman public toilets, which apparently were a common place to do business and catch up.
Roman public toilets, which apparently were a common place to do business and catch up. Although, according to one article I read, it wasn’t as great as it was made out to be.

Isn’t it funny how much ‘civilisation’ we lose, and continue to reinvent, time and time again.

Take plumbing and sanitation.

Stone age farmers in the Orkney Islands built drains under their houses and had toilets over the drains.

The Indus Valley civilisation in Asia (Afghanistan to Pakistan and northwest India) had a public water supply, covered sewers and an elaborate underground drainage system.  Houses had their own private toilets.

Ancient Rome? They had running water, public baths, public toilets and sewers.

The Minoans of Ancient Crete used underground clay pipes for water supply and sanitation.  They also had a version of a flush toilet.

Even the Mayans at Palenque had underground aqueducts and flush toilets. And they had household water filters, using limestone.

Pretty amazing, hey?

And then the middle ages happened.  Wastewater collection seems to have consisted of open drains, that over time were covered.  As for sanitation, that seemed to revert back to holes in the ground with a seat over them, or a seat over water, or pails that had to be emptied.

Until the modern flush toilet came along.

Now, it seems, we’re back to what they had in the past.

Winter is here

Wnter is here
It’s not that cold here in Melbourne, but sometimes it feels like it. I can’t recall how many years ago it has snowed in Melbourne. It’s rare that it does, and the snow melts quickly.

 

We received the copy edits for Confluence on Friday.  3,397 revisions.  It sounds bad, but we’re getting better.  A good half of those seem to be comma-related.  Add commas, remove commas.  You’d think we’d know them by now, wouldn’t you?  There are a few places we had hyphens where our copy editor took them out, and vice versa.  (I nearly put a hyphen in there, but looked it up. It doesn’t need one.)

Around 3,000 of the changes are doubles. For example, add a comma, the whole word gets deleted and a new word with a comma is added.  So there are technically under 2,000 changes all up.

Meantime, it’s freezing here in Melbourne.  (Freezing for us is getting down to single digits Celsius. Not cold by many people’s standards, but it is by ours.)  I confess to staying inside a lot. Reading lots of books.

My long woollen coat has been getting a lot of wear.  Last year I wore it around ten days in total.

I’ve been on reading binge, catching up on things I haven’t had time to read while we’ve been writing.

I’ve churned through a lot of series books.  Interestingly, I have noticed that I have no trouble reading books one and two in a series, but the series has to really grab my attention for me to pick up book three.

(Chews fingernails, for Confluence is book three.)

I have friends who don’t like to read a series until the series is finished because they want to read them all at the same time.  Yet, if I have to wait for a third book, with the break in between, I think I’m more likely to read it.

Or maybe we should just write duologies in future.  🙂

Starting a new story

How we feel about our stories -- stage by stage
How we feel about our stories — stage by stage

It’s starting to feel like autumn here in Melbourne, Australia. The other night, coming home, I smelled wood smoke for the first time.  The nights are cool, even if the days are hot. We’ve started to turn the heater on more regularly.  Not that we didn’t turn it on earlier this year, but that was irregularly.  Last month there was one week where it was so hot we turned cooler on, two days after that it was so cold we turned the heater on, and two days after that we turned the cooler on again.

Daylight saving is over. We’re going home in the dark.

Now that we’ve sent the next draft of Confluence away, we’re both reading books. Lots and lots of books.

Binge-reading is fun, but you get to a stage where you read so much you become picky about the books you read. I set aside two good books part-way through because I wasn’t in the mood for them.  I hope I go back to them, because both of them were good, they just didn’t interest me at the time.

Writing’s a bit the same.  How you receive one of your own stories depends on your mood at the time.

Right now, we’re looking at old stories.  At times we think, “Oh, I love this story. This character is so great, and it’s a neat story idea.” Other times we read the same story and all we can think of is, “This story needs so much work.”

Luckily for us, we tend to go through these stages at different times, so when I like a story, all Sherylyn can think about is the rewrites, and vice versa.

It’s fun, looking at the old ideas though. So many ideas already, so many new ideas. Waiting for the little spark that tells you this is the story you can live with for the months of writing it.

If your new Year’s resolution is to build a website

Hacker

Opportune theft is everywhere

Somewhere in the Ukraine there’s a team of hackers who seem to spend all their time trying to break into our website.  It feels like there is, anyway, because for months I’ve been banning Ukraine IPs from the site.

In reality, this Ukrainian hacker is probably a lone IT guy, with a single computer and a great algorithm, but boy do we get a lot of attempted logins from there.  So many it sometimes feels like it’s big business to them.

There are other problem spots that pop up from time to time.  One in China, one in India, one in Brazil, one in the US.  But the Ukraine site (same city, different IPs) just keeps coming.

It’s funny, but until I installed a security program on our website I didn’t realise how often people tried to hack us.

New year’s resolutions

This time next week it will be 2016, and many of us will have made new year resolutions. One year mine was to set up a website.

This year, other people will have the same goal.

Websites (with blogs) are a tad old hat by now. Most people Facebook or Twitter or use one of the multitude of social media outlets out there.  Me, I still love my blog best.  It suits the way I work.

Enough people will start up their own blog to make this particular post useful.  And if it stops a single person being hacked, well, I’ll be pleased to help.

So let’s say you’re someone like me—a writer—and you want to set up a blog or a website.  What can you do to keep the opportune thieves out?

How do you discourage the hackers?

I’m not going to tell you how to protect your site totally, but here are a three simple tips to make it a harder to hack your system.

Tip 1: Strong password

The first one, and the most obvious, is to choose a strong password.  Google ‘strong password’ on the internet and you’ll find out what a strong password is.

And yes, I know they can be hard to remember, but you can train yourself to remember them by turning off the ‘remember this password’ feature and typing in the password every day for a month. I guarantee it will stick eventually.

Tip 2: Don’t use ‘admin’ as a user name

Many programs give you a default login name of ‘admin’.  Don’t use this. Choose something else. 90% of all attempts to hack into your website will do it by using ‘admin’ as the user.  Don’t make it easy for them.

Tip 3: Don’t use the name that is displayed on your posts as the username

Your experienced hacker does try other names on occasion.  Do you know which names they try?  Those displayed on your blog posts. Thus, if you ensure the username doesn’t match the name displayed you’re making it a lot harder for them to log in.

It’s like burglary. You’ll never stop the determined thief with his lock picks and his bag of tools.  But you can stop the opportune thieves—those who see the door open, or the handbag ready to snatch.

There are other things you can do, of course, but these three simple tricks will go a long way to help make your website secure.

Go for it

If your new year’s resolution is to build a website, then go for it.  It’s a lot of fun.

Smart magpies

It’s 40 degrees Celsius outside and I’m trying to take a photo of the magpie outside the door.  So far, all I’ve done is scare it away.

So no photo for this blog.

We lived in the country when we were kids. We rode our bikes everywhere.  When we weren’t swimming in the creek, that was.

Spring added an extra hazard to any bike ride.  Swooping magpies, protecting their nests.  (I’m talking the Australian magpie here, which is a different species to the European magpie.)

If you’ve never been swooped by a magpie—it’s scary, and there’s nothing you can do about.  Well, there is, but some of the commonly accepted methods—like putting eyes on the back of your bike helmet, or on an upside-down ice-cream container worn on your head (sans ice-cream, of course)—don’t work.

Magpies are territorial, and we have magpies who live in our yard. They don’t swoop us.  (I hope I haven’t jinxed us by writing this blog.)  Their song is lovely in the morning.  They’re also great mimics.

Anyway the magpies quickly learned that evaporative cooling is as good for them as it is for us.  It doesn’t take them long to find the door we have open when we turn on the air conditioner. And that’s where they settle themselves, right in the breeze, for as long as we have the cooler on.

Jurassic World (Park): High Heels Edition

An image from 'Jurassic Park: High Heels Edition (Parody)' by XVP Comedy. Watch the full video below
An image from ‘Jurassic Park: High Heels Edition (Parody)’ by XVP Comedy. Watch the full video below

As crazy as it sounds, I have really enjoyed the discussion about Claire’s (Bryce Dallas Howard’s) heels in Jurassic Park.

Google ‘running in heels Jurassic world‘ if you haven’t heard about it yet.

Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), the operations manager of the Jurassic franchise’s latest dino-themed pleasure park. While fleeing Indominus rex, an especially terrible species of terrible lizard, Claire runs across floors of slick stone and grounds of moist mud. She sprints and leaps and crouches. She drives an ambulance. She shoots a gun. She saves some lives. She takes some others. She grows as a person, and as A Woman. And she does it all in ridiculously spiked heels that you really, really hope are decked out with a good pair of DreamWalk Comfort Insoles.

This, of course, is absurd. And it is so obviously absurd that Claire’s perma-pumps are the source of a running joke within Jurassic World, manifested both through dialogue—Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) at one point explicitly mocks Claire’s entire flee-unfriendly outfit, which results in her removing clothing, but not swapping shoes …

The Perma-Pump: Jurassic World’s Silliest Character

It a gag that keeps going and going, and still gets lots of comments on various websites.

I can even see that a character who spends most of her time in the office like Claire does is likely to wear heels most of the time. I would have expected, given she does apparently go out into the park occasionally, that she would have had pair of flats in her bottom drawer (like those of us do who only have to tackle city streets), but—

Apparently, it was Howard’s choice to wear the shoes all the way through.

It’s refreshing that this has become such a point of discussion. Once upon a time no-one commented on the impracticality of women running for their lives in heels that are more likely to cripple them than to save them.

So refreshing, in fact, they even made a parody of it. Of Jurassic Park, really, but it’s the same silly fun.

Jurassic Park: High Heels Edition (Parody) by XVP Comedy