Monday, 31 January 2011

Clearing out the baggage

January is one of my least favourite months. I am often still tired from the year before and that doesn't magically disappear on New Year's Eve. I sometimes wish it would burn up in the brilliant light of those fireworks. That would be a proper end to a year. (Note to self: perhaps I should invent a new religion this year or at least a few rituals).

I often don't know what the new year holds for me and that is stressful in itself for someone who likes to be in control of things or at least know where things (myself included are going). January is also a curious blend of the end of the long school holidays then the sudden transition to school routine for the kids and myself. All of a sudden we're back to timetables, sports, music, Scouts and all the paraphernalia of everyday life. Throw in a flood and I feel totally discombobulated.

This year I am trying to become calmer and more rational in my dealings with life. So on this last day of January I am going to have a whinge about something and then let it go, hopefully never to sully me again.

Before setting off on our epic family drive to Sydney and back after Christmas, I decided to test-drive our local library's digital loan system. I love books and I enjoy techie things so I thought it was great that our local library was offering digital loans. Hours and hours of aggravation later I was just pissed off. So much so that I wrote a furious email to the library which I fortunately diverted to my draft file while I sat on my anger a while. My dissertation advisor gave me the good advice not to send off letters in anger and it's saved me a few times. Not that the crankiness was unjustified but I probably didn't need to burden some overworked and underpaid librarian with my rant. Instead I am going to burden you then let it go…

This is what I wrote at the time:

Dear XyZ,

I recently tried to borrow a digital book and while able to borrow it, was completely unable to play it. I have a Mac and downloaded the recommended version of OverDrive. However, the Mac version of OverDrive won't play the more updated versions of the books. On the OverDrive site the version of the console for Windows is 3.2 while for the Mac it is 1.1. I received the message "This version of OverDrive does not play WMA Audio Books." Your site recommended that I use Flip4Mac but it does not support "content that is protected with Windows Media digital rights management (DRM)" which this content is.

I realise that the library site said that the book was not formatted for Mac but I need to use my Mac to transfer the file to my iPod. The recommendation to simply use iTunes doesn't work as to use iTunes I have to use my Mac. This is a ridiculous situation that a Mac user cannot use a product that is formatted for an Apple product unless they use a PC with Windows software. It is also unhelpful that your site suggests solutions that do not work. Why not simply say at the portal that "only PC users are welcome here"?

It is also a ridiculous situation that once I have "borrowed" a digital book, no other user can borrow it until I "return" it. Why are you using a system based on old models of libraries when you have digital editions that can be borrowed by as many users as want to at a time? Now I have five books that I have removed from circulation that I can't access or listen to and no-one else can either until my three week loan period expires. This seems a very poor implementation of technology whether it is by your choice or by software and book publishers stuck in twentieth century notions of readership and book publication.

I have completely wasted several hours of my time and will in future only borrow "real" books or purchase audio books from iTunes directly. At least I will be sure that I will be able to play them. Perhaps this was not an issue in the past but as more and more people use iPads, iPods and similar Apple products, more and more of your patrons will be alienated. And perhaps you will draw the conclusion that people aren't interested in digital books when in reality they simply aren't interested in obtaining them from sources such as the library. And that will be your and our loss, because your library is a wonderful asset to the community and should continue being so in the future, whatever direction technology takes books.

Yours sincerely,

An irate library client

Letting go NOW...

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Flooded with images

I am often the first person to whip out a camera and take a picture but I have been strangely unwilling this week. This flood has been widely documented and the flood of imagery has been overwhelming. It's hard to take a picture that shows the magnitude of what happened. And it feels wrong to take pictures of others' misery. So I have been constrained by my own misgivings. Here though are a few images of what the water meant to us.

The dam going over the top of the wall.

Marburg Valley with the detention basin full and over the spillway.

The top part of our road after the rain (the bottom of it was still under water).

Anatomy of a road.

Friday, 14 January 2011

Four odd things

1. In the middle of the rainstorm, our phone rang and it was a telemarketer. Neither flood nor disaster…
2. ABC had a prominent notice on one of their television news bulletins asking people to "converse" water.

3. Our only piece of mail this week was a Telstra bill. See #1 above.

4. I received an email from the mobile library telling me that I had overdue books. The library is shut and I can't imagine that any mobile library is going to be out on the streets for some time.

Life goes on…

Thursday, 13 January 2011


Today was a completely normal summer holiday day. I did five loads of laundry and pegged them in succession on the line. I weeded the garden and planted some cuttings I brought back from the holidays. The tomatoes, basil and chives are thriving and I laid out another tranche of lettuce. Mr Blithe mowed. The children played with toys and pets and squabbled intermittently. We shared cafe lattes and gingerbread after lunch. We made phone calls, checked email, browsed the web, listened to music and watched television.

Nothing in particular stood out other than that it is a lovely day. The sky is blue and powder puffed with clouds. A cool breeze blows and military helicopters pass low overhead. The heavy thunk of the rotors and the grass bending in their passing is the only sour note. I wonder if they look down and see us here on our hilltop going about our very ordinary, everyday activities? Does it comfort them or bother them? Or do they notice nothing in their focus on their grim mission?

For these helicopters are combing the countryside looking for bodies -- preferably survivors but at this stage, they're girded to find victims. Upstream heading west into the Lockyer Valley and the Darling Downs, communities are devastated by the wall of water that came down the creeks and rivers. Downstream heading east into Brisbane, the city watches the river rising and falling with the tide and inflows from further west. Ipswich tries to clean up its CBD while Brisbane waits for a final peak before starting the effort.

We had heavy rain and 36 hours without electricity. Our road washed out. The water found a few new pathways into our house. The valley flooded and roads were cut. But we are lucky.

I thought today that in some ways our experience has been similar to those surviving the 1893 deluge. Perched high on the hill, unable to go anywhere, we simply went on with our lives. We played cards, read, peered down the valley, cooked and ate by candlelight and went to bed early. In many ways we are more fortunate than those more dependent on an urban infrastructure. We have our own water and sewage. We have a generator to run the essentials. I'm used to the fact that a supermarket isn't just around the corner and keep the store cupboard full. At some point we'll have to descend from our aerie and return to the realities of a working life.

But for now, ordinary is good.

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Resolutely entering the new year

I always intend to make New Year's resolutions but somehow or rather time slips by me and I've missed that wonderful opportunity to think about the year gone and the year to come. My thoughts about new year usually occur in the quiet of mid-January. It's not that January is much calmer than other times of the year. The kids are still on holiday. I'm still trying to finish up all the things I promised to get done by Christmas and I'm trying to come up with new projects/funding/income for another year. But there is a kind of lull when I try (again) vainly (again) to organise myself, tidy the house and think of the future.

2011 is a significant year for me. A little over five years ago, I was wondering about whether to have another child. I remember saying to Mr Blithe "But if we have another child, they won't be starting school until 2011!" It seemed so far away. I worried about the effect on my career and life and yet took the plunge (so to speak). 2011 seems to have raced up on me and my baby is starting school in a fortnight. I still don't know what 2011 holds for me and I still don't know what I am going to do when I grow up but here are a few goals:

  • To clean up the "filing system" on my bedroom floor.
  • To find some kind of stable work (that is, steady work rather than working with horses!)
  • To improve my balance between work for money, work for interest and family life.
  • To write more.
  • To continue my efforts to be kinder to people including myself and to be more patient.
  • To be braver.

As part of my efforts to be braver, here is me hanging from a bar over a 2 storey drop at the free fall slide at Questacon in Canberra. I piked twice but managed it on the third go after grilling the poor attendant about potential risks, hazards, approximate height of the drop, average injury rates etc…it's a wonder he didn't just push me off the edge. And yes, the boiler suit is required and is not my normal attire.

Happy New Year everyone. May your year be full of challenges bravely met and goals reached.