On the Bright Side….

Following my last post about a month ago, C-19 seems to about on the track I predicted and just been labeled a pandemic by WHO.  Unfortunately not the Dr Who who can fix just about anything in the universe, but bureaucratic doctors who can officiate, record, make authoritative statements, compile statistics, make epidemiological studies, but can do bugger all in the real world.  As I said a month ago, C-19 will join the other scourges of mankind, but probably fade in it’s fatality rate as it evolves and tries and keep it’s hosts alive for further exploitation.

So I sense there is a dilemma amongst epidemiologists about strategies.  Easiest is to let the virus have it’s wicked way and sweep through society knocking off the sick and elderly to quickly produce some herd immunity.  A purge of the unfit and useless economic contributors is surely society’s gain.  Then again, these are the people in power, so that is not going to happen.

Another strategy is to “flatten the curve”.  That is slow down the spread by social isolation and travel bans to avoid overwhelming the health facilities.  This admits defeat about containment, but offers some possibility of palliative care for the worse afflicted.  This is current strategy adopted by Australia and most of the world.  It may not reduce infections or fatalities, but is aimed at preventing the health system being totally overwhelmed.  And if it can postpone the peak long enough, a vaccine could then save a lot of people and give enough confidence to drop the draconian restrictions and kick-start the economy again.

The problem with this is that the ‘cure’ could be worst than the disease.  China has crashed it’s production and economy, but I admire the heroic and effective efforts it has made.  Australia has just trashed it’s tourist industry by banning flights and insisting on 2 weeks of self isolation for anyone entering.  What a thrilling holiday that would be.  France has closed all cafes, restaurants and such, Italy is in lockdown, and countries everywhere grinding to an economic halt.

There will be real and terrible economic consequences.  I’m not talking about stock markets or the top end of town, as somehow they always seem to manage although they complain a lot.  I’m talking about small businesses and gig workers with no work and  performers and actors etc, suddenly deprived of an audience.  Will teachers be paid when schools are closed?  Any sick pay for casual workers?

On the bright side….  I am astonished that China has reported no new cases in the last two days.  Figures from China have long been suspect as having being manipulated for political reasons, but in this case, I can see no political gain having already admitted the problem.  Also, this is a virus, quite unresponsive to political correctness or being censored.  If the communist party were suppressing numbers, I think piles of corpses would soon gain world attention.  So I am inclined to think that the containment measures in China have worked.  The rest of the world is playing catch-up by implementing their methods without giving credit.  And without yet seeing the same success.  Italy has tried lockdown but the exponential curve continues.  Spain is in a similar crisis.  Germany seems to be doing better with containment.

Australia seems to be on the exponential curve with little sign of “flattening”.   How did China, the most populous nation on earth, get a handle on this and other countries lose control?  If I am right in thinking China has actually quashed the virus.  Why aren’t afflicted countries beating a path to China’s door to beg some guidance?  I am thinking that the difference in the effectiveness of ‘social distancing’ and ‘self isolation’  measures depends on the discipline of the population to implement the measures.  It may be that in Italy, Spain, Iran, and Australia there is a certain level of disregard for authority.  A bit of ‘she’ll be right’.

I have a message for the Australian people.  Toilet paper will not guarantee your survival.  Closer to the mark was hoarding rice and pasta, but that deprives other people.  I take note of a saying from west coast American native tribes “best place to store food is in the bellies of your friends”.   I think if this crisis cuts deeper than toilet paper, this will be remembered.  I hope so.

I also hope that many people get the opportunity, or are forced to consider what are the most important things for them.  Many things can be discarded as we get down to the fundamental requirements for a satisfying life.  So many material things are unimportant compared to health and relationships.  Of course food is way up there, but that is not threatened in the present crisis.  Winston Churchill said “never let a good crisis go to waste”.  Let us use it as an opportunity to consider what is really essential to our lives.



I was born in 1950 in the UK.  In an affluent educated country, just settling down after a catastrophic war.  Rationing was still in place for some things, but babies don’t see far past a warm tit.  I now have nearly 70 years to look back over and compare to what social conditions were like both before I was born and I have plenty of information to guess what social condition are likely to be in the future.

My conclusion is that I have had a most fortunate life, in a most fortunate time in history.  I was raised in a time of the burgeoning wealth of the middle classes, increasing freedom for youth and a general feeling of optimism for the future.  The dark cloud was the cold war and the spectre of nuclear war.  And those clouds gradually dissolved to a shadow on the horizon.  I could travel the world with just a few dollars and a British passport which demanded countries to allow “The bearer to go without let or hindrance”  through their territories.  It’s pompous language a relic of the colonial gunboat era.  I travelled through Afghanistan without let of hindrance and marveled at it’s long confused history which I had no idea about until I went there.  British schools of the 50’s and 60’s didn’t feature much Afghan history, which is a pity because it is a lot more interesting than the Tudor kings of England.  I arrived in New Zealand and Australia at a time I could be a permanent resident just by setting foot on the country.  How good was that!  I could buy a block of land, 156 acres of precious tropical rainforest after landing in Australia with little more than a change of clothes and US$11 just 2 years before.

I now see many threats in the future, and the younger generations do not enjoy the optimism of my carefree youth.  Some are chronically anxious.  They see climate change and it’s disastrous effects actually happening, and those that have been through the fires are at risk of PTSD, and some young people are fearful to have children because of climate change.  This pervasive threat is a reality and psychological burden for young people.  Another threat is much in the news at the moment, recently named as covid-19.  Or the coronavirus.  It will not be contained and will soon join the other scourges of mankind such as flu and colds.  This is creeping into media coverage and public awareness.  It is highly contagious and perhaps 3 or 4 times more than flu.  It is not being contained.  It will be a pandemic which I expect to get even in Possum Valley.  The death rate is around 2% so far in China, but seems to be less in patients overseas who probably receive more intensive palliative and supportive treatment.  I have seen on the internet that in Wuhan, they have built a 1000 bed hospital in 10 days, having run out of stadiums and schools.  Only in China can they cut the paperwork and send in the bulldozers the same day.  An unfortunate lab experiment is being conducted on the cruise liner Diamond Princess anchored off Yokohama.  About 10 days ago 10 cases of covid-19 were detected.  People were already compartmentalised into little cabins, and soon restricted to the cabins in their cruise ship/prison.  I have no doubt that every feasible precaution has been taken, but now 218 are infected.  I think this test tube, and largest cluster of cases outside China, indicates how infectious this virus is.   They will have to rename that ship if they ever expect to use it again other than for transporting sheep to the middle east.

random kitchen photo

I have often heard that everybody is connected by 7 degrees of separation.   Yesterday I was chatting with guests just outside my veranda, and mentioned my concerns that covid-19 is an inevitable pandemic.  They admitted to being tour operators and just a couple of days before having clients from Wuhan.  I took a couple of steps back to some nervous laughter, but it seems that even in an isolated spot in a rainforest, I am only 2 degrees away from the epicenter.

Another threat to the younger generations is the ridiculous income gap between rich and poor.  In Australia, there should not be any poor.  Simple as that.  There is more than enough to go round for us all to be satisfied.  And the price of houses and letting is prohibitive.  The older generations (that is me) are ripping off the younger generations when the historical imperative is to help and provide for your offspring.  The worst offences are building government debts for future generation to pay off, charging kids for their education, and worst of all trashing the environment for short term gains.  Yes, short term is all we greedy baby boomers have left, so maybe when death relinquishes our grip on power and wealth, you can establish a rational world economy based on renewable energy.

Our present government is a thoroughly professional body of people who have looked into the future and are dedicated to ensuring that it never happens.  They are sponsored by miners and deep in the pockets of old money.   A few years in parliament to collect the fabulous pensions and then do the rounds on the boards of corporations to collect the rewards that would have been a little unseemly while they were actually in government.  I believe there are actually rules where they have to wait a few months before they can ‘board’ the gravy train.  What a fig leaf.

So I have lived in very good times and never press-ganged into a war.  I am not so optimistic for the future and have often looked at my grandkids playing and thinking perhaps this is as good as it gets as they splashed naked in a rainforest creek.  It could be that real living standards are already on the way down.  Water undrinkable, air unbreathable, temperature unbearable.

Appearance and Utility

I know I have a lot of views that are out of step with the majority of society.  And a major item is what motivates me to do things, value things, mend things, appreciate things and buy things.  I am heavily biased to assess situations, procedures, and objects by how well they are fulfilling their functions.  In other words by their utility.  It seems to me the society I love and live in, is obsessed with the appearance of things.  This is made most obvious to me by the searing in-your-face light of the advertising industry following its imperative to promote consumption with new sales long before the old item had ceased to function.

The most egregious example is the recent TV ads by Toyota I think, where the parents take the kids to a ball game and the ball hits the car.  “Yep, it’s a right-off” declares the father after seeing the small dent caused.  Another ad in the series a guy drives the car to what appears to be an urban dumping/exchange area, tosses the keys in through a window and furtively sneaks away.  Another is of a lady comes to her car and sees a spider on the front dash, yep it’s another right-off.  I think you have probably seen them.  The message is that just a little thing wrong with the appearance, and you need to chuck it away (there is no ‘away’ left on the planet anymore).  It reminds me of a very old and slightly racist joke about the oil sheikhs who bought a limo, then just left it and bought another when the ashtrays were full.  Consumerism gone mad.  The philosophy behind the ads of wasteful spending really, really annoys me.  And don’t even start me about the assault on the appearance of women to make them feel insecure if they don’t have perfect, eyelashes, hair, armpits, toenails, teeth, etc etc.  I hate this psychological assault on women, and it particularly affects young girls.  Hey, ladies, I like you for who you are and how you treat other people.  Actually we were designed with hair in the armpits, and probably for a good reason, but I don’t know what it is.  Relax, deep breaths, it’s OK.

And if I see another guilt-ridden ad for a product that kills 99.9% of germs, I might scream in frustration.  Actually, it has been known for a long time that if you manage to do that, and it is harder than the ads would suggest, it makes the family prone to allergies and auto-immune diseases.  Google “hygiene hypothesis”.   We actually have to get friendly with the right germs and try and get along with them for our health.  A healthy gut will have about 1100 species of germs in permanent residence, and a deficient system only perhaps 300.  Yes, wash your hands to prevent gate-crushers, but the old adage of “clean enough to be healthy, dirty enough to be happy” applies.  Your first defence against germs is the germs in residence.  They have a lot of practice in turf wars.

So it is possible that up to 50% of human effort in Australia goes to waste, and harmful waste at that.  For things we don’t need and many things where we would be better off if they had never been devised.  Hey, how would you like to work only 3 days a week for the same pay?  It is possible if you identify expenditures for reasons of utility, and expenditures for reasons of appearance.  Attitudes to appearance can be adjusted in your own mind.  Expenditures to satisfy advertisers demands, leave you in their debt.  Imagine if the whole massive advertising industry did not even exist!  I bet we could afford 10 more bank holidays.  And with the coming of the internet, the excuse that they are informing us of products of interest is a transparent fig leaf.  We can easily find what suits us best.

I leave you to contemplate if any of this applies to you, and how you could make a reassessment of your expenditures to align with utility rather than appearance.  You do not have to live your life to satisfy other people.

Welcome 2020

I wish a happy new year is in store for all my faithful readers.  Both of you.  For me 2019 was a good year when most things went right, business was good, weather was OK though often inconvenient, and I got to spend a lot of time with my grandkids.  My 2 grandsons who live just down the road aged 3 1/2 and 5 1/2, spent mostly 2 days a week with me at Possum Valley.  Up from 1 day a week the previous year because my daughter Alice was doing a uni course in pediatrics via home study, and I think we all know that little kids demand a lot of attention.  I am lucky in having an occupation where I can service cottages, meet guests, do maintenance etc with a couple of kids in tow.  They are even a handy excuse if I haven’t got the cottage ready when very forgiving guests arrive.  And for new guests, it encourages them to see me as gentle and human, rather than an old hermit/ogre when I have a couple of naked kids in tow.

Though for the elder one, greeting guests in the nick may be a thing of the past as he still likes to meet them, but rushes to don a few clothes when he hears a car coming down the track.  His recent modesty is probably my fault.  We were showing a family around Blackbean Cottage and he was talking their ears off as usual, as he does know a lot about Possum Valley and bush life in general, when I interrupted him and suggested he stopped playing with his dick when talking to people as it was rather distracting.  I said it very lightly, not at all in an admonishing tone, and the guests laughed and suggested it was going to happen for a while yet.  But I think I have inflicted a permanent inhibition on him.  He still likes running around naked, and come to think of, so do I, though the running bit I can do without.  I got up this morning and it was 18C and a sunny day coming, and a rare occasion with no guests, so being quite comfortable, I didn’t bother to put on any clothes.  It steadily climbed to 30C and is now gently declining.  On such a day it is very comfortable to let it all hang out.  And hang it does, in unsightly bulges in all directions.  Guests may rest assured that I will never present them with such a horrifying spectacle and will be suitably dressed in my usual shabby clothes when I greet them.

As recorded above, I had a little “inconvenient” weather.  For a lot of 2019, many people down south had disastrous weather.  Drought and fires has been the reality lived by people in the bush in southern states, and the city people haven’t escaped unscathed with choking smoke and baking temperatures.  Even people in Dunedin in NZ can see it and smell it.  And our grinning spin-doctor-in-chief, otherwise known as Scomo, has empathised for all he is worth (about nothing), and said this catastrophe is what we can expect so suck it up out there, while I get on with business as usual and send our thoughts and prayers rather than any actual help.  I’ll be digging coal, fracking gas, making money etc.

Have we had enough fun yet?  Can we plan a little bit further ahead than the new year’s resolution will last?  Has Scomo any plan beyond managing optics?  Pass round the fig leaves and try to make it to the next election everyone.

It used to be that managing the present was good enough for effective government.  That was about 200 years ago, because things didn’t change much.  Since then there have been accelerating changes that governments have hastily dealt with by makeshift remedial actions. Now the future rushes upon us and governments should leave maintenance in the hands of bureaucrats and focus their entire attention on the future.  Scomo and his government seem the least likely people on the planet to achieve that aim.  I could convene a committee at the local aged care nursing home that is more progressive than him.

It has got to the point where on a press-the-flesh ultra sympathy tour, people left his handshake just dangling.  The ultimate Aussie insult.  How could a PR specialist have got it so wrong?  Because he is decades behind what the Australian people already know and is still in denial.  The climate emergency is happening now and accounting tricks won’t make it go away.  The laws of physics can’t be amended, suspended or repealed at the whim of government.

The authorities have admitted that the fires can’t be extinguished despite the valiant efforts of the firefighters, but must wait upon gentle, beautiful rain to rescue a nation in torment.  Perhaps in February.

Grandpa, are you going to live here forever?

That was a question from Philip, my 3 1/2 year old grandson.  He had been sitting quietly on a stool at the breakfast bar as I busied about the kitchen.  He had been thinking about the future, and I was quite taken aback.  That he even had a concept of the future was news to me.  Me, him and Possum Valley go way back to when he was a baby only able to crawl.  I was looking after him a day a week with his elder brother Henry doing the grandparent thing and freeing up time for his parents to do work and establish their farm.  So Philip sees me and Possum Valley as part of the furniture.  Always there and perhaps rather musty smelling.

I groped around for an answer, and told him forever is a really really long time, and I wasn’t going to last that long and was going to die before that.  He didn’t have a problem with that as he lives on a farm and has witnessed animal death, nor a problem when I said that everybody dies.  I don’t believe that hiding reality from even the littlest kids does them a favour or even gets past their bullshit filter for very long.  Then came the curious anomaly that he thought his mother would die, but his father wouldn’t.  I let that go.

I went on to tell him that I intended to stay and work at Possum Valley for as long as I could, but would get old and weak so that at some time I would have to stop working and maybe leave Possum Valley.  I couldn’t tell him what would happen after that as I don’t know myself.  I have rarely had such an incisive conversation with anyone, let alone a 3 1/2 year old.

I have always been of the opinion that it is important to respect children, what they think and what they say, and to listen to even incomprehensible ramblings because even if you don’t get the point, it is important to them.  This time it was important to me.  I really need a more comprehensive plan rather than just totter into the future until I fall over.  I will have to have some conversations with my daughters and their partners with a view to phasing me out as required.  Hopefully I can put the plans in place, but the implementation off for a while yet.

Thanks Philip.

Fortress or Glasshouse?

One of the reasons I bought Possum Valley 43 years ago, was to preserve a bit of very important rainforest I saw being thoughtlessly cut down. For timber or cleared for farming.  Another was thoughts of a hippie colony and self-sufficiency, communal living and free love.  I never did get there, especially the last one.  I now recognise there was also a bit of survivalist thinking as the cold war ground on and nuclear Armageddon was a possibility.  I figured that Evelyn Central with a post office and a small wooden hall for the occasional moon dance wouldn’t be a prime target for an H-bomb.  I was right.  It hasn’t been nuked, and the post office isn’t even there anymore.  That threat has passed, but another one, just a vague rumour in 1976, was climate change.  I could clearly see the human threats to the environment back then, with bulldozers and such, but only dimly grasped that the whole atmosphere could be altered by human activity with catastrophic results.

So I bought 63 Ha of precious rainforest and have successfully protected if from being flattened by bulldozers.  But only recently have I realised that I can’t protect beautiful Possum Valley from droughts, rising temps, more devastating cyclones and possibly even being wiped out by fire.  Traditional thinking has it the tropical rainforest doesn’t burn.  It can be badly singed on the outside, but doesn’t burn.  Until recently.  Fire penetrated into the rainforest south of here and burnt out 250 Ha.  It had been damaged by a recent cyclone, but it does point to the possible vulnerability of rainforest.  Unlike the gum forests, rainforest trees aren’t equipped by evolution to recover from serious fire damage.  I had taken solace in the climate change modelling which showed that FNQ would maintain it’s average rainfall while it would decline in the south east.  I was pitying the poor farmers down south already rainfall challenged, but didn’t realise an increase in seasonality, more in the wet, but less in the dry could hammer the rainforest.

This spring has been a wake-up call to many including me.  My fortress is being assailed on every side.  I have not had the terrible experience of the horrible bushfires that have swept through QLD and NSW and devastated so many homes and properties, but I have been forced to think about the changes I have seen here over the years.  When I first came here in 1976, I was astonished by the abundance of insects of all kinds.  Sudden swarms of beetles that appeared in billions and set up a constant drone and clicking as they crashed into windows.  Around this time of year there were so many moths at night they were a real nuisance flying round the lights, but were amazing in their diversity and garish colouring.  The Ulysses butterflies flashing across the valley in the day, and the fireflies that came as soon as it was dark.  Where are they?  They had their seasons and were always variable from year to year, but now I realise I haven’t seen any of them for many years now.  It has been so hot recently, 32C today, that I have left all the doors and windows open day and night.  Years ago the place would have filled up with bugs, but not now.  This is only anecdotal evidence, as I have not taken any quantitative or reliable observations.  Around the world there is concern about crashing insect numbers, in Europe mostly put down to the agricultural use of pesticides, but here it has been very infrequent perhaps one or two times a years by a crop sprayer and then several kilometers away.  And not at all in the last few years as the potato farmers seem to have given up and beef cattle taken over.

In this driest spring on record, I had 3mm of rain in Nov and that was better than most around here.  The trees and bushes in the rainforest hang limp and sad.  Leaves cover the ground shed by trees no longer able to support them and are crunchy underfoot.  Worst is along the track in because it follows ridges and even the narrow track lets more light in.  I read in a recent report by the Wet Tropics Management Authority that the rainforest is under as much threat as the reef.  Great changes to the ecosystem could be expected with increasing temps.  Several species of highland mammals were at risk, such as the lemuroid possum and lumholtz tree kangaroo.  Apparently the lemuroid possum starts falling dead out of the trees at about 29C rather like some bats recently.  As it has been over 30C for the last week, perhaps they are already extinct.

Australia burns.  Hundreds of houses destroyed.  And Scomo says it is not time to talk about the climate emergency in deference to the people suffering loss.  Mealy-mouthed, simpering PR crap you worm!  The people burnt out responded by dumping the charred remains of their once beautiful house on the lawns of parliament house and said “this is exactly the right time to talk about climate change”.   The accumulating evidence of climate change and the recent and continuing devastating fires even before summer has started, seems to have galvanised people around the country.  Even here in conservative rural Atherton, 60 people staged a demonstration to try and get local, state and federal government to address the issue of climate change.  I’d have gone along if I’d have known it was happening.  Placards, marching, speeches and chanting slogans.  Gads, it’s been a long time since I did that.  And in Atherton!  From the picture in the local rag, it seemed that most of the marchers were of my vintage.  So the young have been aroused by Greta Thunberg, the middle aged with children are not so visible as they have to get to work and feed the kids but have been installing solar panels on the roof in fantastic numbers, and the silver-tops like me are very concerned for our grandkids and the fate of the beautiful planet we inherited but didn’t manage to look after.  The only people in Australia oblivious or in denial about the climate emergency are the people we have elected to guide us into the future.  Their focus seems to be bent on denying a few seriously ill people on Nauru any medical help.  It just seems pointlessly punitive. I don’t think they have a grasp of the big picture and the perils facing Australia.  Nor does Dutton seem to have a single drop of the milk of human kindness.

A rather sad post, but I do have to assess where I have been and where I am going.

Catching Up

I haven’t posted for a while, and I guess that it is because I have no earth shattering news, or that I suspect nobody is interested anyway.  My ego had been inflated by having 2500 subscribers, until I realised that most of them were robots dedicated to spreading spam (an unwholesome meat product).  And as my website sent out notifications of new posts to each, I had been turned to the dark side and become a spammer myself.  So I disabled and deleted the subscriber app.  I just don’t know that many people in Russia or Romania.

So this is in the nature of ‘letter to self’.  A review of the last month to see if my life is improving or declining.  Got the sauna finished and new guttering up on Blackbean Cottage, but a mouse disabled my hydro generator control system in a suicide attack.  That issue yet unresolved.  The unusually hot spring weather has dissuaded me from heavy labour, but been a boon for my grandkids to play in the creeks.  The rainforest is suffering with the wild ginger curling up it’s leaves, the brambles and small trees drooping and browning off.  The creek is dwindling away putting further pressure on the already crippled power system.  And I am one of the lucky ones!  Much of Queensland and NSW has been subject to unprecedented fires with total fire fronts 6000 km long.  Think about the word ‘unprecedented’.  It means hasn’t happened before.  But it has happened now, and will happen again with increasing frequency.  There was a time when climate change by human agency was proposed.  There was a time when climate change was debated due to short term data.  Now we are in the period of abundant, comprehensive and overwhelming data that it is happening now, with disastrous consequences.

I was outraged by Scomo’s pronouncement that “this is not the time to talk about climate change while grieving Australians are suffering”.  Many of those grieving for loss of life or home got right up him and said this is exactly the right time.  His mealy-mouthed, sly, disingenuous piece of PR, trading on the loss of victims, earned him the odium he deserves.  Still a few days to go before summer when the official fire season start, and the rural firefighters are just about dead on their feet and 150 fires burning in NSW with  64 uncontained.  The forecast from BOM until the end of Feb is for hotter, drier conditions than normal to come for the whole of Oz except for a tiny patch just inland in the north west.  Congratulations Marble Bar for just getting your usual blistering temperatures.  Most of the rest of us have an 80% chance of above average day and night temps.

I am appalled that new fossil fuel projects have been advanced by government approvals.  Adani in Queensland, fracking in the Top End.  It took geological forces 250,000,000 years to sequester that carbon.  If we burn it and put it back into circulation in 50 years, doesn’t that seem a bit hasty, a bit rash.  In fact total insanity!!

The powerful neoliberal and corporate forces seem to have such a strong grip on the levers of democracy that elections are window dressing, a mere nod to the idea of the people having representation.  The people are voting with their feet to support alternative energy with so many people installing solar panels.  The government, lump of coal in hand, is doing everything to stop the future from happening.  Our government in thrall to legacy industries, doomed to extinction but with plenty of accumulated wealth, is wringing the last residual money from a collapsing system.

My Personal History of Electronics 1950-2019

I was born in 1950 when very few homes had any kind of electronic device.  In the early 50’s television started to be broadcast in black and white and 2 channels which shut down at 10.30 pm I think, and wished viewers a good night before displaying the ‘test card’ which was a geometric pattern so installers could ‘tune in’.  My parents weren’t too sure whether TV was a good idea, and might displace family activities such a sewing, games, conversation and sleep, so I had to wait a couple of years until they relented.  They were totally right about it displacing family activities.  The television arrived resplendent in a polished wooden cabinet casing, with half of the front a screen and the rest large dials and switches.  It was of course powered by valves.  These are large glass vacuum tubes with heaters in every one.  The TV sucked a huge amount of power, got very hot, and I dare say it was possible to cook one’s evening meal on it.  Giving new meaning to ‘TV dinners’.

The valves burnt out with great regularity, so TV aficionados often had a box of spare valves to plug in in place of the blackened ones.   “Dad, the TV’s gone again and I want to watch Noddy and Big Ears” was the frequent cry.  I also remember having a portable radio with valves and a 67 V battery which lasted about half an hour.  The battery was also used as a child bravery test by putting one’s tongue across the terminals.  Voluntary torture.

Then somebody invented a workable transistor.  My, how the world has changed.  You probably own 20-50 million transistors.  They used to be worth $1 each, but you will be disappointed to learn they have not retained their value, so you cannot retire yet.  There are several million on a computer CPU, or smart phone, or even your fridge or washing machine.  Not to mention your TV, where we started this electronic adventure.  Your car has more computing power than available to Armstrong at the first moon landing.  In the 1960’s an IBM executive said the world market for computers would be about 10.  Which is why they are still making pencil sharpeners.

I really got to the cutting edge of electronics when I went to university to do mechanical engineering, a heavy user of number crunching.  In the labs we had a PDP8 computer to process lab tests.  It was programmed in machine language.  That was digital, or all it could understand was 0 and 1.  I can’t tell you how laborious that was to code onto a strip of paper with punched holes a program, then the data, and instructions to output the results.  It made a slide-rule look good.  Another lost art I mastered.  However there was a mainframe computer in the university that understood high level languages such as Algol, Cobol and Fortran.  One computer for 3000 students.  It didn’t contain any stored programs.   I had to create the internal logic with iterative operations such as ‘if I=20 then go to line 486’ for the program to take each step in computing a result.  I went to a room with typewriters where I punched holes in cards.  Hundreds of them in exact order that I bound with elastic bands and left on the stack of in-going programs.  I got the result perhaps 2 weeks later by daily checking the out stack.  Usually the result was failure with “Failed to compile” with error routines 27,104, 337, 582 etc and it would give a line number.  Then go back to the massive tome of errors and look up the number to find the cryptic words such as “integer not declared”.  I did so declare that integer!!  Then back to a previous line not mentioned as an error to find the card, pour over it to see I had mis-typed a semicolon instead of a colon, obscured by the fuzzy pin printer.  Then wait another 2 weeks for the next try.  Probably another failure.  In my entire time at uni, I managed to get 2 programs to run.  I could see computing was the future of engineering, but that was probably why I went to smoke hash in Kathmandu instead.

All the above is a lengthy preamble to try and convince you that I am not the world’s worst plonker when it comes to electronics and stuff.  Or perhaps to convince myself.  I have recently had a major problem with a mouse.  No, not that thing close to your right hand, or to be stroked on a pad, this was the real thing with fur and whiskers.  It got into the box housing the hydro governor, crept under the circuit board that controls it and got toasted.  It’s boiling body fluids shorted the circuit board, burned holes in it and coated the board with a thick layer of carbon residue.  Not surprisingly, it ceased to function.  Both mouse and board. The first I knew of this was the smell.  I was at the computer and got the stench of burning insulation.  Oh bugger! this isn’t good.  I got down on hands and knees like an airport beagle but couldn’t sniff it amongst the computer/internet equipment.  I went to the laundry where the washing machine was thumping away.  No problem.  Then outside to the mass of electronics that controls the electrical system.  I got the acrid stench of burnt electrics and could see the thick carbon deposits.  It took a while to see the tip of the nose of the mouse peeping out from under the circuit board.  I pulled it out with pliers and had a moment of sympathy with the hapless animal.  Just a moment, before I tossed it off into the bushes.  Oh bugger!  This electronic device was made especially for me as a one-off.  By a company that no longer exists, commissioned by my father-in-law now long dead, composed of components 37 years old, and made by an unknown person who is probably retired.  For those of you who have pursued warranty clauses, you can possibly see a problem.

I dismantled and surveyed the charred remains of the circuit board with little comprehension.  Time for phone a friend.  My techie mate Martin is in Canada but has a mate in Cairns who has been to Possum Valley.  He is willing to look at the problem and thinks he may be able to resurrect this ancient piece of electronics.

Here’s hoping.