Sunday, 20 April 2014

Can Telstra get any worse?

Insh'alllah, no.

A wise comment on a recent post suggested I should keep from venting my spleen until it was really needed.  The time has come.

I blogged about Telstra's network service a few days ago but despite that experience (and similar events reported by others) decided to use their wireless system to enable me to get internet access when travelling around the countryside.

So I got a prepaid wifi hotspot device from the Queanbeyan store.  This was a relatively painless process.  After checking the package I decided not to activate it that day and have been a bit busy since.  So today was the day.

I followed instructions to activate on line (very bureaucratic and detailed) and got a nice email saying it was all happening and in 4 hours they'd send me another message confirming that I was good to go.  About 6 hours later I hadn't got the message so I checked the task tracking number offered.  Oh oh: there is a problem: ring some number or another.

I did this and after a lot of annoying stuff got to speak to some fleshware.  He said the problem had arisen on 16 April rater than today 20 April I became a little annoyed as that could only be some stuff up by their Queanbeyan store.  When he got to saying that I had two choices:
  1. go and get another SIM card; or 
  2. wait up to 5 days to "remediate" the problem 
I plotzed (fair dos, Arabic to begin with, Yiddish here).  In fact the linguistics gets a tad complicated as, while Yiddish is based on Old German, I used some short Old English - ie Anglo Saxon - words.  I then asked to speak to his supervisor.

Apparently the supervisor was busy and could do no more than confirm those two options.  There was no more foreign talk but quiet politeness - which people who know me well realise is the time to move well out of range of the upcoming explosion.  Suddenly the supervisor became available and offered me 5 extra Mb of data to compensate for the inconvenience of option 1.  They would call me back at 6pm  (my suggested timing) to do the activation business.

It is now 6:15pm and the phone hasn't rung.  Do these people have any idea how to run a business?  By 6:45 the phone still hadn't rung so I called them.  Needless to say the voice activated direction system was a farce but after 20 minutes or so I ended up talking a young-sounding female who

  1. explained that the problem was that the guys in the shop tried to activate the device but that process got interrupted by a systems upgrade, and then
  2. actually managed to get me connected (and acknowledged the compensation deal offered previously). 
The call took, in total, 37 minutes.  Now we come to the two crucial tests:

  • Will the bloody thing work at Jerilderie tomorrow night? and
  • Will we also be able to connect Frances' iPad to the system. (anywhere)?
Given that I found one competent person in the Telstra operation one must assume that the answer to my opening question must be 'Yes' since they may find that a member of staff has actually been helpful and fire her!

National Folk Festival 2014: Day 2

As with yesterday I will begin at the end.  This was a performance by Martin Carthy, in my view the biggest name of the Festival.  (I'd rate him with Pete Seeger - of whom more later - except Martin is still with us.)
 The performance was as expected, excellent.  Most of his songs seemed to be about death or ships or both, but all delivered brilliantly, both his voice and guitar accompaniment.  During his gig - in the Marquee, the second large venue - the Riff Raff marching band - see below - fired up  outside to which he commented "That's a heck of a ring tone."

We had already been in position for a while when Martin started up listening to Luke Plumb and Peter Daffy.  They were also excellent.  I cannot imagine what goes on in Luke's brain remembering the tunes for his mandolin work.
Two performers are worth two pictures, but this one also gets in under the spiffy image rule.
We started the day with the Rusty Spring Syncopators.  They were playing jug-band music - very similar to the skiffle played in the UK in the 1950s.
A very lively start to the day, causing me to think back to the Sussex Hotel in Walkerville SA in the '70s where myself and my flatmates used to go and listen to the Moonshine Jug and String Band.  The venue ceased after a particularly raucous evening and band reinvented itself as The Angels: my guess is they had less fun, but made a LOT more money.  Of course, for a Jug band the washboard and thimble player is a key man.
I went and listened to a bit of (Dame) Margaret Roadknight in the Union Concert and while her singing was excellent the lyrics were a bit on the 'committed' side rather than fun.  (Less people die than in Martin Carthy's songs but they do so miserably.)
Here are the Riff-raff Marching band who started the Union Concert by marching in - and unfortunately straight out.  They were quite good albeit not in the Richard O'Brien class.
The other large band around was the Con Artists.  The "Con" in question is the Woolongong Conservatorium so it wasn't surprising that they were pretty good.  The image below was from day 1, when the crowds were a bit thinner than on Day 2.
This female singer was evident on Day 2.  She had an amazing voice, which out not to be surprising since I have found out from the band that she is a trained opera singer and professor of music at Woolongong U!

We greatly enjoyed listening to Enda Kenny from the lawns outside the Scrumpy Bar, but the crowds were such that we couldn't see him.  He is one of the long-term performers at the National right in to the Celtic tradition.

This installation in the Community Arts area was amusing.  The symbolism of watering cans outside the lady's kazi is quite interesting.
I commented yesterday about the lack of young people at the Festival.  This shot shows that there were a few more littlies there on Saturday.  They found the Drumming Monkeys right up there alley!
 This shot of the crowd outside the Enda Kenny concert gives a more typical section of the audience.
I did a couple of rough counts of the people in age classes.  In this view I estimated that there were 10 people aged under 40 and 26 over 40.  Earlier I had assessed the folk walking by me outside the marquee and rated 12 under 40 and 22 over 40.  (It looked as though about 10% of the latter were volunteers or performers.)  I think the age imbalance was more pronounced on Friday.

Another contrast was between the crowds here, and in the Marquee and the half full (at best) Budawang.  However the worst bit of scheduling is a Pete Seeger Tribute concert on Sunday being run in a venue called the Bally.  If that holds 100 people, they'd better be good friends, and it is totally enclosed!  Most of the big hitters from the Festival are down to perform and my guess it could easily fill the Marquee if not the Budawang.

Anyway that is it over for another year.  I'm not sure if I will be signing up for next year, althugh we did greatly enjoy Day 2.

Saturday, 19 April 2014

National Folk Festival 2014: Day 1

Let me begin with the highlight, which was also the final act we saw.  This was the Valanga Khosa band,
..led by (not surprisingly) Valanga Khosa.  From the sound of his surname one would guess he is a Xhosa native speaker but their music came from a number of different South African language groups.  The final number definitely sounded Shangaan to me.  Checking the liner notes of the CD - purchased on Day 2 - reveals that he is actually Tsonga by birth.  A Canberra lad ..
... did an excellent job on Saxophone and other wind instruments, reminding Frances of Jan Garbarek.  Mrs Khosa (Andrea) shared the vocal duties - very well - and showed great skills in the matter of dancing.
Towards the other end of the day, ie the beginning, another excellent act was Riley Lee and Jeff Peterson.  Very relaxed and quiet unlike the noise and excitement of the African jive (or come to that, Riley's work setting up TaikOz) much of their work reflected their Hawaiian background.  
On the matter of backgrounds the drop behind them is presumably a Boab, reflecting the WA focus of this year's festival.

More of the background to the stage can be seen behind the Davidson Brothers.  There is a view that the guy on the left, who isn't actually a Davidson, was actually looking for a Ned Kelly lookalike competition!
They were one of what seemed like many bluegrass outfits performing this year.  Possibly the number of bands playing this music reflected the involvement of the US Embassy in supporting US musicians who appeared here?  I basically like a lot of bluegrass when it adds value to the basic 100 notes per minute banjo playing (in past years the Sensitive New Age Cowpersons and Bluegrass Parkway have been great value-adders).  Unfortunately most of the bands playing today forgot the concepts of melody and harmonising so I tended to pass.

We had a look in particular at the Quarry Mountain Dead Rats and it appeared to me their attempt at adding value came via Pearl Jam or Nirvana.  Neither of these bands do anything for me, other than an exploration of gastric reflux.

The Infinite Elvis competition was not as good as previous comps in this series.  I really liked the Round Mountain Girls (all blokes) ...
... who not only did a good interpretation of an Elvis song but also seemed to channel Angus Young and Bon Scott through the interaction between the banjo and fiddle players.  They were having fun, which is surely the object of the exercise.

I watched a small amount of the Alaskan String Band who seemed to be singing Manhattan Transfer tunes.  Frances heard more of them and reports they varied the style quite a lot.  Folk Music??  They did have the thinnest double Bass I have ever seen.
This group could be accused of being Morris Dancers: they were the only specimens of the species - surely the musical equivalent to Common Mynahs - I noted during the day.
We felt very safe, as we should having had to go through three checkpoints to get in!  Complete overkill considering the zero threat level.
 These signs were attractive.
While this sign was, as usual with Canturf, amusing.
 It seemed to us that the place was far less busy than usual.
There has been a lot of reorganisation of the site with the Fitzroy Pavilion not being used for gigs and the merchandising area, plus a lot of very small venues, shifted into an extended Northern loop. 
At one point I went to the Terrace to hear Martin Pearson.
This is a very small venue (perhaps holds 150 people).  He was doing a sound check and then said his gig didn't start for 25 minutes so I left.  Here is the queue of people waiting to get in.
It shows a complete lack of awareness of audience interest to book Martin in a small venue: he is always going to attract a big crowd.

The other annoyances were about the beverage service.  As usual they had the daft notion that you have to go to one counter to buy tickets which you go to another counter to exchange for booze.  It was even worse because this year they didn't have the ticket counter in the Sessions bar which is usually crowded with folk jamming and drinking.  (Another misjudgement. of audience interest.)  At lunchtime I felt the need for a glass of stout to go with my BYO pasty.  Unfortunately in that bar the draught beer was 'off'.  Neeearrgh.

My suspicion is that audience numbers are going to be way down this year, and this will lead to a reaction of increasing their management team.  What they actually need to do is reduce the administrative BS and get back to their basic interests: we couldn't think of a single folk act of the traditional definition available during the day.  (Varanga Khosa was about the closest - playing music from South Africa!)   The National is parallel to Tamworth, not competing with it!

A couple more thoughts about areas that should be of concern to the organisers:
  1. The entrance to the only large venue remaining (the Budawang) was enhanced by a tent for the Union Movement.  Presumably this is a reference to the days when the Union Movement was concerned about issues such as the environment.  Alas Jack Munday is gone and the idea of stopping a development project for the sake of the environment would be anathema to the CFMEU.  These days Union Officials seem to get in the media for misusing entitlements or making derogatory comments about their colleagues.  
  2. Frances noted that there were very few young people around.  Possibly that just means the moves by the organisers to prevent bootlegged tickets are working, but relying on the 50+ mob for an audience is a risk: the buggers keep dying!
  3. It seemed to me that a very high proportion of punters walking the 'streets' were wearing volunteer badges of hi-vis vests.  That probably means they haven't paid cash but donated time.  Fair enough; but it is a further financial pressure on the event.\
I will try to so some sampling to check up on points 2 and 3 on Day 2.

Friday, 18 April 2014

A few musings on characteristics

I'll start with a couple of amusements and then get on to some more serious stuff.

Frances was reading "How England made the English From hedgerows to Heathrow" by Harry Mount.  She was particularly taken with the  sentence:
"In England 100 years is nothing, and 100 miles is enormous.  In America its the other way round."
A somewhat similar approach to international comparison was evident in a comment about motoring when I first emigrated:
"Australian drive European cars American distances on African roads."
Australians certainly won't be driving Australian cars any time in the future.  When thinking about the quality of the roads one starts thinking about the quality of the politicians who are supposed to manage them.

This week that line of thought leads pretty quickly to the NSW Government, where the Premier resigned after misleading the Independent Commission against Corruption (ICAC)  in the matter of an expensive  bottle of wine.  Needless to say the Prime Minister (aka Dear Leader) was hot on his mouth to say what a principled chap the Premier was.  This quote from the ABC website:
The Prime Minister said Mr O'Farrell's apparent memory lapse was understandable."If you're in public life, you meet lots of people; from time to time people give you things," he said."They might give you ties, they might give you pens, a bottle of wine and, sure, a bottle of Grange is pretty special, no doubt about that, but given that premiers and other senior politicians have very crowded, busy lives, I don't think it's reasonable to expect everything from some years ago to be front of mind."
The Dear Leader also got stuck into a journalist (surprisingly, from The Australian) to question whether the NSW Government was corrupt.  The following comments come from another ABC story"
Nicola Berkovic (The Australian): "Do you trust this government - the state government - that is proving to be corrupt, to deliver your major infrastructure?"
Tony Abbott: "That, if I may say so, is an entirely unjustified smear. Let me not mince my words, madam, an entirely unjustified smear. And frankly, I think you should withdraw that and apologise, because there is no evidence whatsoever for that. Can you please tell me what your evidence for that is?"
[couple of irrelevant sentences omitted]
 Nicola Berkovic (The Australian): "I think that voters will have questions to ask about who a Premier who specifically said yesterday that if he was delivered a bottle of that nature he would remember it. Today a thank you note is uncovered and he resigns. I think voters would be quite sceptical about the way this has unfolded."
I think that the journalist missed the point.  The corruption was not so much the mis-statement to ICAC but a culture in which accepting a bottle of very expensive hooch from a businessman is seen as quite acceptable.  Vide the first quote from the Dear Leader above.  Note also comments by Nick 'Kermit' Greiner (a former Premier of NSW, also shafted by ICAC) that he should just have put it on a Register and it would have been OK.

Another point which no-one has pursued is that the Premier has not just forgotten being given the wine but also drinking it (unless of course it is still under the Premierial house with all the other 'things' he has been given).

Possibly this proves a point made by Peter, a friend who shared a bottle of '72 Grange with us for my birthday in 1987.  (I'll point out that we bought it in 1975 for $7.00 (the cost then of 6 bottles of beer) a bottle when Penfolds had to clear a warehouse to make room for the next vintage.)  We accompanied the wine with Turkish pizza and he commented that the combination would always be memorable, whereas knocking back Grange with filet would just blur into the gustatory background.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Fungi of the Lyrebird trail

I have been given some photos taken by Jean Geue and Dave Herald on the ANPS walk to the Lyrebird trail in Tidbinbilla.  I've sought the help of Fungimap in identifying them and their advice is below.

Jean's photos

Trametes versicolor
Hygrocybe sp.  or Laccaria sp.
 Gymnopus sp. 
 Collybia eucalyptorum
 Omphalotus nidiformis

Dave's image

Unfortunately they need to see the underside of this cricket ball impersonator to make an ID.

The COG walk on 16 April went to Tidbinbilla to do the Birrigai Time Trail.  This was brilliant for birds and fungi but I felt a bit too much roo-grazed grass and Kunzea scrub to be good for an ANPS walk.  Folks might be interested in the blogpost.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Robins Galore at Tidbinbilla

24 members and guests gathered in the carpark at Tidbinbilla Nature reserve following the suggestion of John Bundock.  He and Sandra had done a couple of trial forays noting a lot of Flame Robins on the first but not the second. 

Here is the backdrop, looking up to Gibraltar Rocks.
reverting to the research, today was definitely a day with a lot of Flame Robins.  At one point, as we approached the Kunzea ericoides above the open grass paddock near the start, 12 'brown birds" (ie females or juveniles) were visible on the mullein stalks and rocks while 4 male birds had flaunted their luridness earlier.
Mixed in with these was a single Scarlet Robin (unclear whether a female of a male just coming into colour).   (I have since been told there were others of this species observed after I had moved on including this ,ale photographed by Lindell.)
Then a black and white bird was seen which was not a Willie Wagtail.  This soon resolved to a male Hooded Robin, 

... and 2 females were also noted.   The final Robin noted was an Eastern Yellow Robin (EYR) lurking just within the boundary of the Kunzea.  (A second EYR was noted in the vicinity of the rock shelter.)

There were also many (at least 26, but they were not cooperative in the matter of being counted) Dusky Woodswallows were swooping around the grassland.  They seemed to be enjoying monstering the Robins.

Entering the woodland two Black-faced Cuckoo-shrikes were seen.  This was followed by 6 Diamond Firetails (a 7th was seen later when we re-entered the grassland).  

3 Wedge-tailed Eagles were soaring overhead. two of them very high.

A Crescent Honeyeater 
was heard calling and Yellow-faced Honeyeaters were steadily migrating through the area, heading over towards the Bullen Range.  In total we recorded 44 species.

There were a few Eastern Grey Kangaroos ensuring that the grass didn't get too long.
There was a very good collection of fungi both in the bush and the grassland.  Here is a member of the group (obfuscated for privacy) getting a snap of Phlebotus marginatus (rated as the largest fungal fruiting body in Australia)  ...
 .. and here is the subject.
This is Gymnopilus junonius, a common and non-harmful fungus (unlike the superficially similar Armillaria luteobubalina which is a serious problem in gardens).
 Out in the grassland there were some examples of Macrolepiota dolichaula.
 Some of the granite boulders were pretty impressive.
 They provided good shelters for the original settlers of the area ...
 .. with very attractive colouring when given a dose of flash.
As will be apparent from several of the images the weather was great as was everything else.  Many thanks to John for suggesting this stroll.