Friday, March 31, 2017

The World's First Foosball Table?

Anyone for Foosball?

Is this a picture of the world’s first foosball table?

Sadly, the answer is No.

What you are looking at is the interlocking apparatus for operating switches and signals by compressed air at the Pennsylvania Railroads’ Pittsburg Yards facility, from the late 1880s. A model of the track is shown above the levers, on which the movements of the switches and signals are electrically indicated after they are completed.

Mind you, I do like the idea of a giant Foosball game that uses compressed air to move a ball around. Now that is a game that would be fun to play!

The image comes the book The American Railway, which is available as a free download from Gutenberg.Org.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Cruising For The World’s Best Gigs

Ahoy, there! I know regular travellers who love to take long ocean cruises on those massive floating cities of the sea, otherwise known as modern cruise ships. 

Personally, I have never taken such a cruise, although I do seek out more modest water-based activities which I have written about before on this site (Up A Lazy River to Bear Mountain, Brooklyn Hidden Harbor Tour, and Who Pays The Ferryman?).

However, from talking to people who love the big ocean-going cruise experience, among the many things that keeps drawing them back are the sheer range of onboard activities and events that are designed to fill almost every waking hour of the cruise. On any given major cruise ship you care to name, there is a regular schedule of musical performances (bands, singers, dancers, theatre, etc), comedians, children’s entertainment, movies, programs for teens, late night clubs, lectures, and more.

British comedian Phil Walker performs on the Carnival Vista.
Photo courtesy of Carnival Cruise Line
But have you ever asked yourself, How does someone get a gig on these cruise ships? The answer is pretty straight forward. For example, the Carnival Cruise Line holds regular auditions in six main categories for entertainers wishing to join one of their vessels. Carnival is always looking for musicians, singers and dancers, variety acts and comedians, DJs and entertainment staff, youth staff, and finally, the all important technicians who keep all the entertainment programs functioning smoothly and trouble free.

Princess Cruises also puts out regular calls for entertainment staff when required.

What if you are not an entertainer, and still want to score a career on the ocean waves? Don’t worry, all the major cruise lines have sections on their websites that provide information about jobs at sea. The All Cruise Jobs website, even aims to provide a one-stop-shop for hundreds of career opportunities on modern cruise lines. On the site you can search across a range of categories including the already noted entertainment jobs, as well as those in retail, beauty, medical, sport and fitness, child care, and a whole range of others.

So what are you waiting for? Get on board. Here’s a very short promo video from Princess Cruises that gives you a look at one aspect of the type of entertainment—and entertainers—they have on their ships:

More Information

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Ending The Elephant Slaughter

Intercepting poachers at Lewa Conservancy.
I have never understood the attraction of hunting, either for profit or for adventure. I do of course understand the need for hunting if your personal survival depends on it. I also understand that many native populations around the world still rely on hunting wild game to supplement their diets, even if they have access to modern food sources. However, it is rare, if not completely unheard of for native populations who hunt wild game to indiscriminately slaughter large numbers of wild animals simply for ‘sport’ or ‘adventure’.

I was shocked to read recently that the Convention on The Trade in Endangered Species estimates that at least 20,000 elephants were killed for ivory in 2015. In fact, there are now fears that more elephants are being slaughtered each year than are being born. Needless to say, it is impossible to know exactly how many elephants are dying each year at the hands of criminal poaching gangs.

In 2016, the Great Elephant Census indicated that poachers slaughtered nearly 30% of East Africa’s savanna elephants from 2007 to 2014, some 144,000 animals. Poachers also killed nearly two-thirds of central Africa’s forest elephants between 2002 and 2013. Currently, fewer than 400,000 elephants are believed to remain in 18 sub-Saharan countries. While this figure may seem large, when elephants are being slaughtered at the rate 20,000+ creatures a year, it doesn’t take a brilliant mathematician to work out that at the current rate of slaughter, Africa’s wild elephant population could be extinct in twenty years.

Thankfully, there are organisations and people prepared to do whatever they can to minimize—even if they cannot completely end—this wild life slaughter. One of these people is the philanthropist (and former co-founder of Microsoft), Paul Allen, who has funded a new high tech anti-poaching system known as the Domain Awareness System (DAS). Responding to the elephant poaching crisis in the Great Elephant Census report, Allen and his team of technologists and conservation experts are partnering with park managers across Africa to provide the new technology to help protect this iconic species and other wildlife threatened by human activities. 

(Stock image). Credit: © jhvephoto / Fotolia
The Domain Awareness System aggregates the positions of radios, vehicles, aircraft and animal sensors to provide users with a real-time dashboard that depicts the wildlife being protected, the people and resources protecting them, and the potential illegal activity threatening them.

Other high tech tools that are helping in this vital fight are satellites, drones, camera traps, animal sensors, weather monitors and eventually new technology yet to be invented. The new technology also helps take the guess work out of the anti-poaching fight. With real-time data at their fingertips, park rangers can respond quickly and effectively to catch poachers before they wreak havoc on elephant herds and other wild game. 

Sadly, however, it is not just the wild game that are threatened by poachers. Each year, heavily armed poaching gangs kill dozens of park rangers across Africa’s numerous game reserves. The Game Ranger website reports that, “More than 1,000 rangers have been killed worldwide and many more injured over the last 10 years.” Clearly, the stakes are high for both the wild life and their human protectors, so anything that can help reduce the human and animal death toll is to be applauded—which brings us back to the Domain Awareness System. 

The system has been installed at six protected wildlife conservation sites since November 2016. Working with Save the Elephants, African Parks Network, Wildlife Conservation Society, and the Singita Grumeti Fund as well as the Lewa Conservancy and Kenya’s Northern Rangelands Trust, a total of 15 locations are expected to adopt the system this year.

When the system is fully operational by the end of 2017, it will cover more than 90,000 square miles of protected area. An ongoing consortium of conservation NGOs, government partners, and technology companies, is working with Paul Allen's team to integrate DAS with software used in nearly 500 sites across 46 countries to measure, evaluate and improve the effectiveness of wildlife law enforcement patrols and onsite conservation activities.

One can only hope that the combined forces—human and technological—arrayed against the illegal trade in elephant tusks, can put an effective end to this criminal practice before it is too late.

Here is a short video outlining how the Domain Awareness System works in practice:

More Information

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

New York City Round-Up #2

Remembering Jimmy Breslin
I came very late to the writing of Jimmy Breslin when I eventually 'discovered' him last year and bought an eBook copy of The World According to Jimmy Breslin, a 1988 compilation of some of his best essays. Since then I have added another seven Breslin books to my collection, and I am slowly working my way through all of them. I’ll let Wikipedia introduce the man:
James Earle "Jimmy" Breslin (October 17, 1928 – March 19, 2017) was an American journalist and author. Until the time of his death, he wrote a column for the New York Daily News Sunday edition. He wrote numerous novels, and columns of his appeared regularly in various New York City newspapers. He served as a regular columnist for the Long Island newspaper Newsday until his retirement on November 2, 2004, though he still published occasional pieces for the paper. He was known for his newspaper columns which offered a sympathetic viewpoint of the working class people of New York City, and was awarded the 1986 Pulitzer Prize for Commentary "for columns which consistently champion ordinary citizens".
Breslin, who passed away last week, was one of the old school newspaper greats, certainly in the same league as Joseph Mitchell, Alistair Cooke, and Meyer Berger, although the focus of his topics was often quite different.

Read A Part Of A Cop’s Past Lies Dead, the column Jimmy Breslin wrote following the murder of John Lennon in 1980.

If you can't find print copies of Breslin's books, many of his most popular works are now available as eBooks for Kindle, iPad, and other electronic devices. If you have never read the man, I urge you to seek out his work online, in secondhand bookshops, or electronically, and spend a few weeks as I am catching up with his remarkable writing.

Wikipedia entry for Jimmy Breslin…

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In the shade of the 4 train’s elevated track, Jerome Avenue’s dense clusters of auto-repair shops, storefronts, and manufacturers have long formed the economic spine of the Bronx, one of New York’s increasingly rare blue-collar neighborhoods. But as the city government considers rezoning the corridor to add residential development, change looms for the neighborhood’s social and economic landscape. 

Against that backdrop of uncertainty, Giacomo Francia, writing for the New York Times presents six short documentaries profiling an orange seller, ice cream vendor, glass cutter, hairdresser, mechanic, and pigeon keeper.

Giacomo Francia writes:
To make these profiles of the people who live and work around rapidly changing Jerome Avenue in the South Bronx, I decided to spend last summer [2015] there. That summer turned into 10 months. I spent so much time with the workers on Jerome Avenue that when I greeted them in the morning, smiling, they would nod back at me and say “cuidate” (“be safe”)! I found that the rhythm of Jerome Avenue is driven by the mechanics and street vendors who line its streets, and the shops run by hard-working families, who are often sustaining small businesses proudly handed down to them from generations past.

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Destination Midtown App
Planning a visit to New York City? If so you might want to check out the newish Destination Midtown app. Some of New York City’s top attractions are highlighted in this interactive tour guide to Midtown Manhattan. 

The app features ten step-by-step walking tours that include 34th and 42nd Streets, parts of Fifth Avenue and Broadway, as well as suggestions for rainy days, nights out, the fashion conscious, and others.

Destination Midtown claims to be “your perfect companion to all the best landmarks, museums, restaurants, and shops.” Along with the ten walking tours users will find:
• Detailed attraction profiles featuring locals-only info, insider tips, photos, hours of operation, and more
• Perfectly-framed selfie spots to help you snag that next profile pic
• Always-up-to-date event calendar with Midtown’s top happenings
• The ability to save your favorite walks, attractions, and destinations in “My Trip” to help plan your day
• “Back of the guidebook” info about eating, drinking, and getting around in the Big Apple
The app, which is available as a free download for both Apple and Android devices, has been developed by the Destination Midtown Alliance, founded last year by Empire State Realty Trust. The Alliance is a coalition of businesses and attractions who joined together to spread the word about Midtown Manhattan as a primary tourist destination. The Alliance provides visitors with a variety of interactive itineraries of Midtown’s best sightseeing, dining, shopping and entertainment, all within a 15-minute walk of the heart of New York City, and the Empire State Building.

Here’s a six minute video from Expedia highlighting some of the main New York City attractions including those around the Midtown area:

Sunday, March 26, 2017

New York Times OpDocs: Pickle

I spend far too many hours online roving far and wide across the interweb. One of my go to sites is the New York Times, where a very reasonable monthly subscription gives me full access to the latest news via daily bulletins, and years of archived articles and content.

I recently began exploring the OpDocs section of the NYT Online, and have enjoyed watching many great video's ranging in length from five to fifteen minutes. The video embedded below, Pickle, is a delightful look at the parents of Amy Nicholson, who made the film, but more importantly, she documents the many animals, rescued and otherwise, that Amy's parents have cared for over many years. With regard to the video, Amy writes:
For more than two decades, I have been visiting my dad’s farm on the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland, often returning to New York with anecdotes about one member or another of the unlikely menagerie that lived there. I would regale my friends with tales of cross-eyed cats perpetually on the verge of death, ailing chickens convalescing in the house or a paraplegic possum that fancied scrambled eggs for dinner. Practically all of the pets were rescues of some sort with various abnormalities, and the ones that didn’t cling to life well past their prime died prematurely.
I try to find a funny side to everything, and tragedy is no exception. This film’s unrelenting march of death has a light side, but hopefully between morbid curiosity and chuckling at the sheer volume of casualties, the audience will find a bit of themselves in this film. “Pickle” examines the depths of one couple’s devotion to their pets while exploring the complicated relationship that we humans have with all animals. If you find a hurt animal that you’re able to help, is it moral to come to its rescue, as we would with a human? Or is it true compassion to let nature take its course?
Amy Nicholson is a documentary filmmaker who lives in New York City. Pickle is her fourth film.

There are many other great short documentaries on through the New York Times OpDocs portal, and I encourage you to explore the collection on your own. As time goes on I will myself add more to this blog, if only to help spread the word about this great resource.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Magda Love: Global Street Artist

Magda Love: unfinished mural at Hudson and Clarkson, lower Manhattan

In my daily trawl across the internet, I am constantly finding interesting snippets of news, information, videos, and events, that catch my eye and make me wish I was right there where the event was taking place.

The global street artist Magda Love is a perfect example of the serendipitous nature of web surfing. This talented New York based artist (an Argentinian by birth) has been creating vibrant paintings and murals right across New York City, as well as in cities and galleries around the world.

As a traveling artist, a single mother and a mentor to students throughout New York City, Magda (like most other artists) struggles with finding the perfect work/life balance. The short video below documents this struggle, while grappling with her biggest project yet – a massive six-storey wall on the corner of Hudson and Clarkson streets in lower Manhattan. 

As you can see from the Google Maps screen shot illustrating this post, the mural project is only partially completed. I got in touch with Magda yesterday, and in a message to me just this morning she writes that she recently signed the last contract to complete the mural, and that, “…hopefully, soon I’ll get back to it.”

Readers interested in seeing more of Magda’s art work will find plenty online with a simple “magda love graffiti” Google search. You can also connect with her via her Facebook page…

More information:
Magda Love online...
Magda Love: From Buenos Aires to Brooklyn...

UPDATE: After uploading this blog post, I went in search of more of Magda Love's work and found the following video that I thought I just had to add to this post. If you are interested in graffiti art in particular, and even art in general, I urge you to do your own Google search for Magda's work.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Silicon Jungle, 1985

During one of my periodic trawls through the Gutenberg website, I spotted a recent upload for The Silicon Jungle, which was published in 1985, and which is about when I first started mucking around with computers! I did a quick scan through the book and had to marvel at how arcane the world of computers was, way back when the technology was just beginning to find its feet so to speak.

Rothman’s computer of choice at the time was a Kaypro II, which he considered to be the perfect computer for his needs. I can see why—it had a very impressive—wait for it—64K of RAM. Yes, dear reader, that really is 64,000 kilobytes of RAM (Random Access Memory). Incredibly, the file size of the book cover seen here is a very modest (by today’s standards), 99,000 kilobytes.

Reading through books like The Silicon Jungle, I am reminded of the much quoted statement that was once attributed to Thomas J. Watson, the chairman and CEO of IBM from 1911—1956, which went something like: ‘I think there is a world market for maybe five computers’.

Modern research suggests that it is highly doubtful that Watson ever made this statement, but be that as it may, many other authors and experts have made their own assertions about computers and the software and hardware that is needed to run them, and Rothman was one of them. To choose just one example of many, try reading his thoughts on the humble computer mouse without laughing out loud, thirty-two years after he wrote them.

“If you’re a trained, high-volume production typist,” asked Seymour Rubinstein, the WordStar* developer, “what are you going to do with a mouse except feed it cheese?” Score one for Rubinstein. He says mice are great—if you have three hands. Doing graphics? A mouse, maybe. But damned if I’m going to take my hands off the keyboard to push the cursor from one spot on the screen to the next. It’s simply too much wasted motion. I instead just press the cursor keys right above the main keyboard. Or I use WordStar’s cursor-moving commands. And even if I hadn’t learned touch typing a quarter century ago, I’d still wonder if a mouse for word processing wasn’t the Silicon Valley version of The Emperor’s New Clothes. Next time you’re in California, maybe you’ll see Apple execs naked in the streets as well as their hot tubs. Well, maybe not. The mouse could be a great marketing tool for sales reps peddling Macs or Apple IIc’s to people hoping to do word processing. But experienced typists? Many would probably groan over all the excursions that the mouse forced them to take from the main keyboard.

By the way, my first computer was a state-of-the-art Commodore 128D. So take that, Mr. Rothman. My system had double the memory of your flashy Kaypro II. Sadly (or should that be, happily?), it wasn’t long before Rothman’s Kaypro II, and my Commodore 128D were superseded by much more powerful computers with virtually unlimited amounts of RAM and hard drive storage. If you don’t believe me, look at the advert here for a 10MB hard disk—a bargain at just $3,398.00. At that price, I bet people were snapping them up!

*Note: WordStar was one of the most popular early word processing programs. Of course, it was soon to be relegated to the dustbin of software history with the rise and rise of Microsoft Windows and the new graphics-based word processing software which included MS Word, WordPerfect, Lotus Word Pro—and those pesky mice that somehow found their way into the hands of every computer user.

53,000 Free Books and Counting
I know I have mentioned the Gutenberg website before, but it won’t hurt to mention it again. The site is a clearing house for almost fifty-four-thousand books, all of which are in the public domain, and all of which can be either read online, or downloaded for free to eReaders such as Kindle’s, iPads and other portable devices that can use the ePub format. If you are a keen reader, and you have never checked out the site, you are surely missing out on a great treasury of amazing literature.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

New York City Round-Up #1

LinkNYC by The Numbers
Last year when I was in New York City, I began to notice a number of tall, futuristic-looking kiosks located on Manhattan pavements. I soon learned that they were part of a bold new experiment, funded (and owned) by Google. The kiosks provide free WiFi access to users as well as allow people to make free telephone calls, use USB ports to charge devices, access maps, and initially at least, use the built in browser for the usual online purposes.

Unfortunately, I never got a chance to use the kiosks since those that I did find, seemed to have been commandeered by one of the many street people in the city. Not that they didn’t have a right to use the kiosks, but from what I could see, they would sit by the kiosks, sometimes for hours, listening, watching, reading, and accessing who knows what content. Well, as it happens, we do know what some people were accessing (although not necessarily street people), with the result that the internet browser function of the kiosks has now been disabled after complaints that people were using the kiosks to watch pornography.

The installation of the LinkNYC kiosks was just a few months into its schedule when I visited New York over the summer of 2016. After a full twelve months of ongoing work, the system continues to be expanded across the city. Michael Garofalo, in this online article provides the following statistics about the program. All data is current as of the week of February 27, 2017.

631 LinkNYC kiosks currently active, of a planned 7,500
1,256,450 unique devices connected to the Wi-Fi network to date, approximately one for every seven New Yorkers
115 million Wi-Fi sessions served to date
870.86 terabytes of data transferred to date, the rough equivalent of streaming 33 years of high definition video on Netflix
150 feet wireless signal range of each kiosk
600,000 Wi-Fi sessions served in year one by the city’s most popular kiosk, at 1313 Broadway in Herald Square
$0 spent by New York City taxpayers on the system, which is operated by a franchisee and generates revenue through advertising and sponsorships

More Information

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Native American Art at The Met, Fifth Avenue
Housed in the old Customs House close to the foot of Manhattan, and across the road from the Bowling Green (4 and 5 trains) subway, is New York City’s National Museum of the American Indian. There is also another National Museum of the American Indian in Washington DC, and no doubt there are more museums touting their own collections in cities across the United States. 

Not to be outdone or ignored, is the collection of Native American artefacts housed at the Metropolitan Museum on Fifth Avenue. 

Mary Gregory reports that: A small but extraordinary collection of Native American masterpieces is in its final days at the Met Fifth Avenue. Consider a visit to this show as a concise course in Native American art history. From the second century to the 20th, from the Plains to the Southwest to the Northwest Coast, “Native American Masterpieces from the Charles and Valerie Diker Collection” highlights some of the best works ever made in each age and place. It’s like a greatest hits compilation, and not a single piece disappoints.

The exhibition ends in ten days—March 31, 2017—so be quick. See it before it ends.

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Leslie-Lohman Museum reopens with 250-work Exhibition
A bit less conventional for some, perhaps is a new exhibition which opened this month at the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art in New York’s SoHo neighbourhood.

Clair Wang writes: The large, wooden cross hibernating in the back corner of the spacious studio resembles a cactus from afar. Pinned against a white wall, its body is punctured by dozens of colorful glass vials, each containing an assortment of objects that represent a day in the life of mixed-media artist Edward A. Hochschild.

The “Vial Cross” is one of roughly 250 works displayed at the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art’s current exhibition, “Expanded Visions: Fifty Years of Collecting,” which opened March 10. The exhibit is the Wooster Street museum’s first following an expansion that nearly doubled the size of its original space. The effort, begun in October, will allow the museum to operate year-round, offering a mix of ongoing and future exhibitions, film screenings and artist lectures.

26, Wooster Street, New York City
Ph: +1 212-431-2609

Monday, March 20, 2017

U.S. Capitol Building Tour

During my all too brief five night stay in Washington DC, I managed to squeeze in a tour of the Capitol building, and I do mean squeeze. I got into the last tour of the day, and within minutes realized my mistake. At the end of a long day, tour guides and security staff just wanted to go home, and our one hour tour - that included the awe-inspiring Rotunda and National Statuary Hall - lasted at most 45-minutes, as we were rushed from room to room with barely enough time to admire the Capitol's internal architecture, or time to pause and appreciate the wonderful collection of monumental paintings and the vast sculpture collection.

Sadly, those of us in the tour group who wanted to spend more time visiting the numerous displays and exhibition spaces in the Visitor Center had no time at all to do that. Clearly, visitors will need to allow another hour or two for this, and time their visit accordingly.

A Day In The Life of The U.S. Capitol Visitor Center
The two minute time-lapse video below, depicts a day in the life of the Capitol’s Visitor Center, and shows a constant stream of large school and veterans groups, along with thousands of other visitors pouring in and out of the building on what I assume is a typical day at the Capitol. So while joining the last tour group of the day may not be the best idea, visiting during the morning rush or mid-afternoon may not be such a great idea either.

Watching Congress In Session
The Senate and House galleries are open to visitors whenever either legislative body is in session, however the galleries are not included as part of the U.S. Capitol tour. Passes are required to enter either gallery at any time. American citizens can obtain gallery passes from the offices of their Senators or Representative. International visitors must inquire about gallery passes at the House and Senate Appointment Desks on the upper level of the Capitol Visitor Center.

Do Your Research
This student orientation video provides a good introduction to the Capitol Visitor Center and is worth watching, as are the numerous video on the U.S. Capitol’s YouTube channel here…

The official Capitol Visitor Center website has vast array of useful information that can either be examined online, or downloaded if visitors want to read through the numerous brochures highlighting different aspects of the building and its facilities. 

Permanent and temporary exhibitions at the Capitol

Last Thoughts On My Visit
Despite the rush through the Capitol Building, it was fascinating to hear some of the stories behind the works of art and the significant rooms in the building, and since the tour was free I can't complain about not getting my money's worth,.

 and despite my caveat about the obvious crowds of visitors during the day, I recommend that if you are planning a visit, go early, take a tour, and then allow plenty of time to wander on your own through the building, taking as many photos as you want—but only in areas where photography is permitted, of course.

Having given my truncated visit some serious thought, my recommendation would be to book a late afternoon tour, when the crowds have started to thin out, but get to the Visitor’s Center two to three hours before the tour begins if you want to view the exhibitions, visit the Senate and House galleries, or join one of the separate Specialty Tours or Activities, that also take place throughout the year.

Click here to download a .PDF map of the Capitol site…

East Capitol St NE & First St SE, 
Washington DC, DC 20004
Phone Number: +1 202-226-8000
U.S. Capitol Visitors Center...

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Shrine of Remembrance, Melbourne

This imposing memorial to the men and women of Australia's armed forces stands on a hill overlooking the Melbourne skyline. A recent rebuilding program has added a huge underground exhibition space which contains detailed histories of Australia's involvement in international conflicts, ranging from the First and Second World Wars, to Korea, Vietnam, and to more recent (and still ongoing) conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Information also shows Australia's participation in United Nations peacekeeping operations, which are arguably even more important, given that these operations can help stop local conflicts from escalating into major international wars.

Patriotism statuary
The Shrine of Remembrance was created to meet the needs of a grieving community after the extensive loss of lives in the First World War (1914 –18). 114,000 Victorians enlisted in the First World War. Of the 89,000 of them who served abroad 19,000 were killed. They were buried in distant graves far from home at a time when most Australians did not travel abroad. The Shrine provided a place where Victorians could grieve as individuals, as families or as a community. It also served to honour the courage of the men, women and children who remained at home. 

The Shrine of Remembrance was designed by two Melbourne returned-soldier architects, Philip Hudson and James Wardrop. The inspiration for the external outline came from one of the seven wonders of the ancient world—the mausoleum at Halicarnassus to Mausolus, King of Caria in South West Asia Minor.

The Shrine is composed of a number of elements consisting of exterior and interior features, a Crypt, a World War Two Forecourt, Visitor Centre, and the Remembrance Garden and Shrine Reserve. All are brought together by the grand design and the bold architectural elements that are each worth examining closely.

The Exterior
The east and west sides of the Shrine are marked at the corners by four groups of statuary representing Peace, Justice, Sacrifice and Patriotism. In addition, visitors can see sixteen stone ‘battle honours’ discs, commemorating Australia’s involvement in World War One battles at Gallipoli, Villers Bretonneux, Amiens, Ypres, and many others.

Western wall inscription: Let all men know...

The Sanctuary
As visitors enter the Shrine of Remembrance they enter the main Sanctuary inside of which are the Stone of Remembrance. This is set into the floor and contains the inscription; GREATER LOVE HATH NO MAN. This is part of a verse from the Bible (John 15:13), “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” The stone is aligned with an opening in the roof of the Sanctuary so that a ray of sunshine illuminates the word LOVE, on the Stone of Remembrance at exactly 11:00 am each year on November 11, Remembrance Day.
Crypt memorial: Father and Son
RAAF Display

At left: Located beneath the Sanctuary in the Crypt, stands a large bronze statue of a father and son representing the two generations who served in the both world wars. 

There is much else to see and do here, including examining the numerous displays in the exhibition space deep below the Shrine. In the grounds surrounding the Shrine visitors will find the Cenotaph and Eternal Flame, the Remembrance Garden and Shrine Reserve containing important statues and memorials—such as the one to John Simpson Kirkpatrick who is commonly known as “The Man With The Donkey”.

Finally, if visitors  to Melbourne and are able to visit the Shrine of Remembrance on the two most important days on the Australian memorial calendar—Anzac Day (April 25), and Remembrance Day (November 11), I’m sure they will find the experience to be both memorable and emotional, especially if they are up early for the Dawn Service.

Much of the information in this post is sourced from the official Shrine of Remembrance website and from Wikipedia

Note: Click on images to see at full size.

Friday, March 10, 2017

My 52-Book-Year #2: The Broken Shore

Peter Temple is one of Australia's best crime writer’s. He is a five-time winner of the Ned Kelly Award, Australia's most prestigious prize for crime fiction, and his novels have been published in at least 20 countries. He is also the writer behind the Jack Irish series that screened on Australian television last year—not that I had connected the two things (author/TV series) before I started to read The Broken Shore.

As per the standard tropes of the genre, our hero, Joe Cashin is plagued by the usual lawman's deficiencies: a failed relationship, smokes and drinks too much, is something of a loner, and has a hard-assed superior who thinks he alone has all the right answers, and who also thinks the crime at the heart of the book has been quickly solved and neatly wrapped up. Of course, Cashin does not agree and continues to follow up loose ends and new leads on his own. Needless to say, Cashin is proved right.

The story revolves around the brutal murder of a rich, elderly white man, at the (possible) hands of three Aboriginal youths. There is plenty of intrigue, false leads, dark secrets, small Australian country town politics, and seamy murders to keep lovers of the genre happy and guessing throughout the book.  

The quality of writing is a big step above most of the crime fiction I have read over the past couple of years. Temple writes were others fear to tread. He makes liberal and frequent use of the coarsest of everyday language such as c - - t, f - - k, and Australia’s versions of the ’N’ word, abo and boong. His police officers are believable, and their talk rings true, and happily, Temple doesn't waste a lot of time with filler of the sort I dislike so much in crime fiction—extended descriptions of landscape, streets, nature, and the back stories of his lead characters. When he does mention these elements they are brief and too the point. 

South African born, Peter Temple turned to fiction writing in the 1990s with the publication of his first Jack Irish novel, Bad Debts. This, and his subsequent Jack Irish novels (Black Tide, Dead Point, and White Dog) are set in Melbourne, and feature a protagonist who is both a lawyer and a gambler. In 2012, an ABC Television and German ZDF coproduction produced two full-length films of the first two Jack Irish books, with the international film star, Guy Pearce in the title role. How he juggles the two potentially conflicted occupations (law and gambling), is what helped to make the television programs, at least, great viewing.

Temple has also written An Iron Rose, Shooting Star, and In the Evil Day (known as Identity Theory in the US), as well as The Broken Shore and its semi-sequel, Truth. Based on this one story, I would be more than happy to seek out more of Peter Temple's work, and there is a lot of it, apart from the four Jack Irish novels.


Thursday, March 9, 2017

Luna Park, Melbourne, Victoria

Melbourne's Luna Park may have seen better days, but try telling that to the hundreds of thousands of children, teenagers and adults who flock to this fun park throughout the year. Entry is free, but of course the rides and attractions are not. I visited on a Monday afternoon, and the place was buzzing with activity, and excitement. The rides and attractions are somewhat 'old school', and small in scale  compared to large, modern fun parks, but it is very popular just the same.

Overlooking Port Phillip Bay, this historic park—now in its 105th year—has been a favourite destination for generations of Melbourne families, and visitors alike. NOTE: Luna Park is open every weekend, and every public holiday except Christmas Day. However, it is not open during the week during school terms—or to put it another way, it is only open during the week when school’s out for summer, and other mid-year vacation periods!

Having said that, just to confuse the issue, the Park does open for the occasional special event during school terms, so I highly recommend readers check the Luna Park Opening Hours page to see if it is open for just such a special occasion.

The Ride of Your Life?
Luna Park offers 18 attractions which are suitable for a wide range of ages. However, all rides carry a minimum height restriction (and in some cases a maximum height restriction). Very young children may have to be accompanied on some rides by an adult.

Check Luna Park’s Rides and Attractions page to see a complete list of rides and which restrictions (if any) apply to them. Speaking of which, among the more exciting attractions Luna Park features the Circus of Screams, Power Surge, Twin Dragon, and Spider rides, and those ever present fair ground staples, the Sky Rider Ferris Wheel and of course—Dodgem Cars.

Life is a Carousel, Old Chum…
Luna Park’s wonderful Carousel is said to be the largest and most elaborate in the Southern Hemisphere. Visually stunning, its 68 horses and chariots are individually hand painted and intricately decorated in brilliant colours. Each horse is unique and even has its own name.

The Carousel was built in 1916 by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company, and was number 30 out of a total of 80 carousels built by the company.

The Great Scenic Railway
With the Great Scenic Railway roller coaster, Luna Park lays claim to “the oldest operating roller coaster of its kind in the world,” although how they substantiate that claim, is unspecified. I assume the “of its kind” part of the claim relates to the fact that the Great Scenic Railway was originally built entirely of wood! Even more improbably is the fact that the carriages are still controlled by a brakeman who stands in the centre of each carriage and controls…what? Speed? Ascent and descent? Oncoming traffic? Okay, don’t panic. I’m only joking. That crack about oncoming traffic was put there to see if you are paying attention. 

Mummy, I’m Hungry!
The food franchises are of the fast food 'pie and chips' variety, along with the ubiquitous Fairy-floss (or Cotton Candy as Americans like to call it), pop-corn, snow-cones, and hot-dogs. While the prices are quite reasonable the choices on offer leave much to be desired.

Café Luna is a little more upscale, and sells gourmet pizzas, deli-style sandwiches and burgers. Apparently the café also caters for vegetarians as well. Personally, if you are planning a long visit—and given that entry is free—I would recommend patronizing one of the local cafés or restaurants nearby where the meal choices are broader and healthier.

Visitors with Special Needs
While the main Luna Park site is accessible for visitors with special needs and disabilities, many of the rides and attractions are not able to accommodate people with major disabilities, or who are wheelchair-bound. Check Luna Park’s Special Needs page for a complete breakdown of what visitors with disabilities can expect when they visit the park.

Getting There
Visitors without their own means of transport, can get to Luna Park with a minimum of fuss and expense from the CBD by taking either a number 3a East Malvern-bound tram, or a number 16 Kew-bound tram from the tram stops on St Kilda Road by Federation Square.

Another option is the number 96 St. Kilda Beach tram which runs along Collins Street, and also takes visitors directly past Luna Park.

Here’s a video compiled from multiple roller coaster rides that give you a good look at what a ride on the Great Scenic Railway entails.

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Address: 18 Lower Esplanade, St Kilda, Port Phillip, Victoria. Phone: +61 3 9525 5033
Yarra Trams… for public transport options.

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