Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Cutting Edge of Technology

Western Australia is well known for being on the cutting edge of technology.  Why, it was as early as 1959 that Perth got the first TV station in Western Australia, barely three years after Sydney and Melbourne.  I honestly don't understand WHY some people say WA stands for "Wait Awhile."

And the blistering pace of technology did not slacken after that.  In 1965, barely six years later, Perth got a SECOND TV station.  Imagine that!  Your choice of TWO channels!  Then, a mere decade passes before, in 1975, trailblazing Australian TV broadcasters switched over to COLOR!  (Or 'colour' as they write it.)  I don't know how people were able to keep up with all that progress.

So what's next for Western Australia?  Well, on our street recently the power company has been busy upgrading the electricity distribution network to the very latest in cutting edge 19th-century technology: wooden power poles.

You see, the old ones were nearly rotted away and were falling over like dominoes.  Instead of converting to underground power, they opted to invest their time and money (8 billion dollars over the next 5 years) in fixing the old overhead distribution network, because it's cheaper.  But only in the short term.

It may be soaked in green insecticide and
have its own barcode, but it's still just
a tree trunk.  19th Century technology.
In the long run, overhead lines are far more expensive to maintain.  They are susceptible to insects, winds, falling tree branches, bush fires, car crashes, vandals, wayward  airplanes and children's kites.  I recall reading a news report of 900 homes being left without power due to "a light rain."

They say a major solar flare could disrupt power in modern industrial countries plunging entire civilizations into blackness, but in Western Australia, all it would take is a good stiff breeze.  Wind of the ordinary, non-solar variety.  Would this civilization survive such a fall?  Well, it's from no great height, so . . . .

WA has 660,000 wooden power poles, a fact which they now know, thanks to a new computer database which recently (read: finally) became operable after years of cost overruns and software development stuff-ups.  Actually, they admit that there are still some 4,000 poles on the network the locations of which are currently unknown.  How do you lose an entire power pole holding up your live wires?  Cutting edge technology, I guess.

In any case, the decision was made without the benefit of my whiz-dumb and all along our street the decrepit old power poles were methodically replaced with brand new ones.  For that to occur, the power had to be turned off from 9 AM until 5 PM on certain days while the work went ahead.  If you've been completely without power for an entire day recently, you will know what I discovered:  THERE'S NOTHING TO DO!

Overhead wires are only cheaper until something goes wrong,
like a light rain or slight breeze.  Or an idiot in a crane truck
forgetting to lower the boom before driving away.
But as I waited patiently for the power to be restored as the time approached 5 PM and the workmen were packing up and leaving, I heard a tremendous BANG!  I felt the whole house shake, and saw a crack open up in the ceiling.  I ran outside to witness one of their crane trucks heading down the street.  Its boom was sticking up in the air and it had the overhead power cables of half a dozen houses trailing along behind it, mine included.  It took out half a dozen more before the oblivious idiot stopped to see why there was now an entire power pole dragging on the road behind him.

Needless to say, the power did not come back on that evening.  Those workers (and many more, besides) were there until well after midnight feverishly stringing up wires to people's houses, and in some cases repairing the roofs of damaged properties.  Our house didn't get power until sometime the next day, making it more than 24 hours without electricity.

Fortunately none of the food in our fridge was spoiled, and we have a gas stove for cooking and gas hot water.  Thanks to another cutting-edge 19th century technology, candles, we were able to get through this without major injury.

OK - so maybe WA is a few centuries behind in the technology department.  But energy is just a fad anyway.  In a few more decades the electricity craze will be over and we'll wonder what all those poles and wires were for.  Meanwhile, Western Australia is catching up to the USA in one important area:  Junk Food.

I was recently able to purchase these items.  Not at a major supermarket chain, but at least in accessible stores in a suburban shopping center within 10 minutes' drive from my house. This is progress!  I've been deprived of these items for over ten years.  Soon, Western Australia will catch up to the US in obesity and diabetes.

Unless the power goes off.  Then we'll get plenty of exercise chopping firewood, like our ancestors did.  Hmmm - I bet those big wooden poles would burn pretty well . . .

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Australia Is Not for the Squeamish

What a weekend it's been.  The first thing I encountered when I arrived at the shed was the peculiar absence of any Redbacks.  Instead I was assaulted by a pong that no living thing could emit.

"Pong" is an Australian word that means a stench, smell, or bad odour.  This might explain why the video game industry had difficulty getting established in Australia after its disastrous first attempt.

The reason for the bad smell was immediately obvious.  My rodent bait blocks appear to be doing their job.  These two little fellows had the decency to "shuffle off" out in the open instead of crawling up inside the walls or furniture.  This way I could find them and give them a proper burial. Their rodent souls may have gone to heaven but their essence remains with us here below.  It took me hours to air out the Shed.

While I waited for the air to clear, I got busy building.  There is a chill in the air and winter isn't far off.  This brick hearth is for the wood stove I acquired last year, but was unable to use.  I finally found a flue for it in a building salvage yard, and the brickwork will contribute by holding the heat in longer.

But the most fun I had on this trip was a discovery I've been looking forward to since I last wrote about the abundant wildlife in and around the Shed during the peak of summer.  The alert reader may recall that I had thoroughly squashed a scorpion and was therefore unable to use it as a photographic specimen.  Well, this weekend I found another specimen!  This time, I held my stomping reflex in check.

I immediately recognized the terror-inducing primeval shape from across the room.  I got excited and prepared for the catch.  One useful thing I learned from my ex, a field entomologist, was how to really kill stuff dead while keeping it in one piece.  In one hand I grasped the BBQ tongs, and in the other I held a wide-mouth glass jar (ex-pickles) with a few inches of methylated alcohol in it.  All I had to do was grab the scorpion with the tongs and drop it into the alcohol.  Within seconds it would be perfectly preserved.

Not without some disappointment did I discover that the scorpion was already dead. Probably from the pong of dead mice engulfing the Shed.

Anyhow, for your viewing pleasure I can finally present to you, in full color, Scorpion Fluorescence.  Enjoy!

The Fluorescent Properties of Urodacus novaehollandiae under UV Illumination.

Get your very own  Ultraviolet Flashlight HERE.  Disclaimer: use of your UV flashlight may or may not be accompanied by weird sci-fi sounds and/or applause.  It all depends upon how AWESOME you are.