Friday, 30 December 2011

ATEMA Day Twelve: Casino To Crescent Head

It didn't rain itself out at all. It rained steadily all night, and when I got up it was still raining. Loading the bike was getting quicker all the time, particularly since I now had only half the raincovers I had started with, so I was on the road before 8. And it rained all the way to Grafton, where it stopped for some unaccountable reason, allowing me a clear view of the rain pelting down on the ranges to the west.

From Grafton I could have taken the Gwydir Highway to Glen Innes, one of the roads in the Atlas, or my originally (revised) planned route to Armidale via Waterfall Way and other roads, but as I rode into Grafton I decided I wasn't going to do either of those things. Neither of those roads promised to be much fun in the wet anyway, but in addition was the consideration that as I rode to the top of the range it would be cold, and my fleecy top was in the rear pack, and very probably wet. So I decided to give both routes a miss and head straight down the coast, which would still be wet but at least it would be warm.

The road to Casino is the only road that passes through downtown Grafton, as the Gwydir Highway and the Pacific Highway both bypass it. Initially I rather liked Grafton - the streets were wide with a lot of prosperous looking shops, and there wasn't much traffic for it being nearly 9am on a weekday. Then I discovered the great big bridge across the Clarence River, jam packed with people going the other way in cars and trucks, barely moving, with that sour expression people get when they're held up in a traffic jam and can't do anything about it. Imagining the town centre populated with pissed-off people in another 30 minutes rather changed my impression of the place.

As I left Grafton it started raining again, which continued pretty much all the way down the coast to Coffs Harbour, where I stopped for fuel. And where it stopped raining and the sun tried to come out. For the latter half of that section the Pacific Highway runs very close to the coast, which might have provided interesting views on a sunny day, but in the rain a) you couldn't see anything, and b) moving my head slightly in any direction from straight ahead sent a trickle of cold water down the back of my neck.

After fuel I decided I decided I needed Andrew fuel (at this time in the morning that would be coffee) but that proved to be quite difficult. The Town Centre I was in (I followed the signs off the highway) had lots of banks, and chemists, and a Post Office, and a Woolies and a Coles and a Bunnings and ..... not a coffee shop to be seen. So I followed the signs down to the pier, where indeed there was a solitary coffee shop, edge on to the pier with a nice view of the road. I was tempted to give it a miss anyway, but when I discovered the premises next door had an intruder alarm making loud siren noises, that settled the issue.

So, disappointed, I rode back to the "Town Centre", thinking perhaps I might have missed something. As I passed through the roundabout in the middle of the "Town Centre" I suddenly became aware that the purblind nutjob in the 4WD entering the roundabout from the left hadn't seen me, and since he was looking right he now never would see me.

PANIC!

Since there was nothing else I could do, I gunned the bike and just managed to get out of the way. Thank you, Kawasaki, for making motorcycles with powerful engines. He drove off, no doubt totally oblivious, and I suddenly discovered I was approaching a pedestrian crossing full of peeps at far too high a speed. Thank you, Kawasaki, for making motorcycles with powerful brakes. I got a couple of dirty looks from peeps who had assumed I was going to ride straight into them, and no doubt they'd soon be moaning to the beat coppers about hoon motorcyclists, but there wasn't much I could do about it.

So I pootled off to see if I could discover any other attractions in Coffs Harbour. I failed. When I arrived back at the Pacific Highway for the third time, I took the hint and headed south, coffeeless but relieved to be undamaged.

Just south of Coffs Harbour it started raining again and it didn't really stop until Macksville. From Macksville you can take an inland loop via Taylor's Arm Road and you could stop at the Taylor's Arm pub (made famous by the "Pub With No Beer" song). I wasn't interested. I took the South West Rocks exit instead, since I had fond memories of the place. And the minute I left the Pacific Highway it stopped raining, and so I was able to stop for the extensive roadworks delay near Jerseyville in intermittent sunshine.


I didn't recognise South West Rocks - the old pub had gone to be replaced with a new pub and some other shops. It was nearly lunch-time at that point, and I toyed with eating there while I stretched my legs and enjoyed my beer, but I had even fonder memories of Crescent Head, so after the beer I headed off, into what turned out to be some lovely riding as the well-made road followed the river initially, then turned off to follow the back edge of the dunes to Crescent Head.

The fond memories of Crescent Head have, in part, to do with the remarkable pub, which is over 3 main levels and is a great big cathedral space with surfboards and sharks suspended from the ceiling. The kitchen is at the top, the main bar at the bottom and the main dining space in between; the table and bar staff spent half their lives running up and down stairs. It was lovely, and the food and beer were pretty good too.

I decided to check into a motel and stay in Crescent Head overnight, since it had been raining on and off during lunch. So I got a couple of beers for the afternoon from the combined pizza place / bottle shop under the pub, and pootled off to find myself checking into the Wombat Beach Resort. I don't normally name the establishments I patronise, but this place was far and away the most attractive of the on-the-road places I had stayed at (Green Mountains and Mooloolaba are different, since these were pre-planned destinations). It must have been designed by the same architect who did the pub, or someone influenced by it - all exposed beams, cathedral ceilings and exposed tumbled brick. Really very nice, which rather made up for the fact that it wasn't really a 'Resort', it was nowhere near the 'Beach' and there weren't any 'Wombats'.

It started raining in the middle of the afternoon, and was fairly pelting down when I went back up to the pub for dinner. And it stayed that way all night.

Sunday, 25 December 2011

ATEMA Day Eleven: Mooloolaba To Casino

I woke at dawn, which isn't difficult to do when your hotel room is practically on the waterfront and facing due east. It was overcast and the Glasshouse Mountains were concealed by rain, which didn't look promising. The Reception Desk wouldn't open for a couple of hours, so I went for a walk. It was strange - only a few kilometres inland the rain was pelting down, but here on the oceanfront it was dry and still and it certainly wasn't raining out to sea.

I finally decided that if it was raining when I got to the Bruce Highway, I would skip the Glasshouse Mountains and just ride straight down the highway and the Gateway to Nerang, which was the jumping off point for the Numinbah Valley Road. And it was raining (heavily) when I got to the Bruce Highway, so that's what I did. It pelted down all the way to Brisbane, and then stopped; the sun came out for a while, and I had an uneventful ride to Nerang.

At Nerang I discovered that the rear bag raincover had blown off somewhere, the left pannier raincover had split along its full length, and the right pannier raincover would have followed suit except that the fibres at the split had managed to tie themselves up in knots, effectively preventing further splitting. Since most of the luggage contents were in plastic bags, I decided to ignore the damage (I was running out of gaffer tape and patience anyway) and, after fuelling up, headed off up the Numinbah Valley Road.



The Numinbah Vaslley Road was the best bit of riding on the trip so far, at least as far as the Queensland section is concerned. There are really 3 bits to this road: the first third is what the locals call the Hinze Raceway (winding and very smooth); the second third is the climb up to the top of the Border Ranges, with a most spectacular view at the top at the border itself; and the last third is the narrower and very twisty descent to Murwillumbah, in New South Wales. At Murwillumbah I discovered that the left pannier raincover had also decided to abandon ship, but since the only thing in there that wasn't in a plastic bag was the bottle of whisky, I decided not to worry my pretty little head about it.

For some unaccountable reason I decided I didn't like Murwillumbah, and after exploring more of it than I had intended to as a result of a wrong turn, I decided I wouldn't stay any longer than it took for me to stretch my legs. So I followed the Kyogle Road to, well, Kyogle of course.



Strangely, even though Kyogle is quite a large place and the village of Uki is tiny, all of the signs on the way out of Murwillumbah directed me to Uki, which forced me to resort to my map. However, it was a lovely ride (still without any rain) and I was tempted to stop at the pub in Uki and have some lunch, but in the end I decided to press on to Casino. There was a little bit of light rain between Kyogle and Casino, but then it dried up.

My motel in Casino provided undercover parking for the bike and an in-house restaurant, both of which were good things, but compensated by providing the smallest motel room of the trip, scarcely bigger than the double bed. So small, in fact, that whenever I was in it (except when sleeping) I left the door open. I went exploring, looking for a cafe, for I had missed lunch, but all I managed to find was a pub (typical Andrew). It was a bit late for a counter meal, so I bought some beer and retired to my little room to read.

In the evening it turned out the restaurant only catered for guests in the motel, and I was the only diner. Despite this they offered Beef Stroganoff, which was very nice, accompanied by some surprisingly good no-name red wine, which was also very nice, and also accompanied by heavy rain outside, which was perhaps not so nice but if it was going to rain itself out overnight I didn't mind.

Friday, 23 December 2011

ATEMA Days Nine And Ten: Mooloolaba

Sunday dawned sullen but warm, with showers threatening for the afternoon. With a morning motorcycle ride canned by the overheating problem, all that remained for the day was lunch with N and C in Buderim. I decided to ride since their place was only 5 minutes away, and while the engine warmed up it never got to a threatening temperature. Lunch turned into a 5-hour affair which seemed well in keeping with a Sunshine Coast life style, but which would have put paid to any dreams of an afternoon ride even if the bike hadn't been overheating. As it happened the showers came after I got back to the hotel, by which time I was so full that skipping dinner was an easy choice.

Monday was bit more of a sunny day although there were still lots of clouds about, so I took the bike off to try and get it repaired. I cannot recommend these guys highly enough:



While Rod stopped what he was doing and attended to my bike, Paul drove me back to my hotel. So I spent the rest of the morning footling around on the Mooloolaba Esplanade, inspecting art galleries and spending quite a bit of time checking out the houses for sale posted in the window of the real estate agent - while I didn't see anything I wanted to buy on the spot, they were surprisingly cheap, at least by Canberra standards. When Paul rang to say it was all fixed, I grabbed a cab and was shortly presented with a bill for $77.00.

Paul said: "You were lucky!" Well, I didn't feel particularly lucky, not being able to go for rides in the Sunshine Coast hinterland, so I asked why. "We managed to get it going." he said, "If you had needed a new one it would have $1,350 just for the part." Stunned, I asked what it would have cost to replace the radiator. "About the same." he said. So I happily paid their very modest bill and rode off.

I fuelled up and then repeated Saturday morning's ride up onto the Esplanade with some trepidation. This time the engine temperature got to 100 degrees and then the newly-fixed gold plated fan with titanium bearings kicked in and the temperature stayed constant. They had said they had bench tested it for an hour, but I wasn't totally prepared to trust it until I saw it operating for myself.

So I went and had a nice lunch and I might have had a celebratory beer, I don't say I didn't. In fact, I might have had two. After which I went back to my hotel, and when I got to my floor I went across to the window in the lift lobby, which faces west, and I looked out towards the Glasshouse Mountains. I couldn't see them; in fact, I couldn't see anything beyond the Sunshine Motorway for the rain pelting down. Going for a ride in that didn't seem at all enticing, so I went back to my room, did some clothes washing, found a beer and my book and curled up for the afternoon. Strangely, despite the rain blanketing the hills, not a drop fell in Mooloolaba.

So, a bit more replanning: scrap the Blackall Range and the Maleny loop. Tomorrow, still do the Glasshouse Mountains road, then take the Gateway and the Pacific Highway down to Nerang, then take the Numinbah Valley road to Muwillumbah. Then push on to Casino and do a bit more planning. Since I wasn't expecting fine dining in Casino, I decided to succumb to the temptations of the Mooloolaba Esplanade again for dinner.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

ATEMA Day Eight: Alexandra Hills to Mooloolaba

The plan was to take The Gateway and the Bruce Highway as far as the Caboolture turnoff and then take the road past the Glasshouse Mountains and so on to Nambour via the Blackall Range before swinging back to Mooloolaba and checking into the hotel and ditching the luggage. Then, after a suitable lunch, I would head up towards Noosa, swinging off to the west before I got there to pass through the Eumundi and Maleny Loop, which, after what promised to be some excellent riding, would bring me back to Mooloolaba via Caloundra.

It was sunny in patches and dry, although a bit windy, when I set off, but after I got onto the Bruce Highway the clouds began to look more threatening, and the voices in my head were positively shouting at me: "Don't mess around, go straight to Mooloolaba." Missing the first part of the planned ride past the Glasshouse Mountains was no big deal, and I could always do the Blackall Range as part of the Maleny Loop, so I listened to the voices and rode straight up the Bruce Highway.

It didn't rain in fact, although it threatened a couple of times, and when I got to Mooloolaba the sun was out and it was a lovely warm sunny day. As I came up onto the Esplanade, which was the easiest way to my hotel, I happened to glance down at the instrument cluster to discover, to my horror, that the engine temperature had reached 105 ... no wait, 106 degrees, and as I pootled along the Esplanade where the speed limit is 20km/h, it eventually rose to 118 degrees and then the temperature light started flashing at me, just as I pulled into the porte cochere.

When I switched the bike off it was pretty obvious what was wrong - the engine fan wasn't working. It normally kicks in at 100 degrees and will hold the engine temperature at between 100 - 101 degrees indefinitely while the bike is stationery. Whether this was caused by the Canungra drop or something else I couldn't tell, but it seemed the voices in my head knew something I didn't. So I checked into my hotel - the room wasn't ready, off course, since it was lunch time, but they took my luggage, and I rode down to the underground car park - and again the engine temperature rose to 105 degrees before I stopped.

So I wandered around the Esplanade, had a beer, had a meal and then spent some time photographing the wildlife:


This particular wildlife was photographing waves crashing onto rocks, which I did myself (photographing, that is, not crashing onto rocks) but I did it from a safer distance. After which I got my hotel room and tried to ring a couple of motorcycle repair places in Maroochydore. This being Saturday afternoon, no-one was there and I wasn't surprised; clearly repairs would have to wait until Monday. That scrapped the afternoon ride, so I got some beer and read a book instead.

Monday, 19 December 2011

ATEMA Days Six & Seven: Alexandra Hills

These two days were planned goof-off days, although now interrupted by running around getting a new clutch lever and having it fitted, as well as having the straightness of the forks checked. On Day Six T took me to Raby Bay (the less said about that the better), Cleveland (which was nice) and Cleveland Point, where the pub was quite nice, although we had to be inside because of the blustery wind.

On Day 7 T took me to the Gold Coast, because I asked him to. The idea was to 'enjoy' a quick pootle around and then return, since I was prepared to continue to hate the place, a prejudice I had developed the last time I was there 33 years ago. But the actuality wasn't at all what I expected.

For someone who has been to Singapore, Hong Kong and Shanghai, as I have many times, the tall towers just don't rate. It's not that they aren't tall enough, it's that there aren't very many of them and they're quite a long way apart, at least by Asian standards. So I just mentally blotted them out. What was left was really quite attractive. The main drag had the feel of all seaside towns, all bikini shops and cafes, but there were heaps of young good-looking people about, and, unusually, the main street wriggles. You can't see the high-rise from the footpath anyway because of the awnings, so it feels like you're in a two-storey environment.

I came away with my prejudice shattered, which is no bad thing. We stopped at 'The Best Pie Shop In Australia' (there's a sign that says that in the car park) and while I'm no judge of pies, they were pretty good.

And after all that excitement I was itching to get back on the bike and find another road.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

ATEMA Day Five: Green Mountains To Alexandra Hills

I woke with the dawn and since I don't breakfast I decided to take a nature walk in the rainforest. You don't have to go very far before you are completely isolated. O'Reilly's is very quiet anyway, but the rainforest was extraordinary - huge silence most of the time, punctuated with chirps, squeaks, scratchings and calls.


It's almost impossible to photograph. That is, you can take lots of photographs, but they will fail to capture what it was really like.


One of the things O'Reilly's is known for is Bernard O'Reilly's heroic efforts in finding the wreck of the Stinson airliner in 1937. The story is here:

Stinson Rescue

I had wondered whether it was worth my while going to have a look at the remains of the wreck, which are still there, but then I read the fitness requirements and decided most mountaineers wouldn't be fit enough, let alone an old motorcyclist with just one lung, so I contented myself with inspecting the memorial instead:


After all that excitement it was time to pack and get rolling. The sky was grey and threatening, and showers had been forecast for the Brisbane area today, increasing in the afternoon. My plan was to get to my destination before the showers hit, but since it wasn't raining yet I left the raincovers off the lugguage.

Riding down the mountain was just as twisty and narrow as riding up; there was a bit less traffic going the other way but there wasn't a lot in it, and I was actually relieved when the road flattened out and Canungra appeared. I saw rain sheeting across the hills behind Canungra, so I decided to stop and put on the raincovers.

Disaster!

I stopped near a small park opposite the pub and attempted to get off. The natural landing space for my left boot was a small dip and I just couldn't raise my right leg high enough to get it over the rider's seat. So I got back on and attempted to dismount in the conventional way by swinging my right leg over the luggage. I didn't swing high enough and my right boot got snarled up with the luggage and I ended up toppling the bike off the sidestand and very nearly on top of me.

A young woman who had parked her car in the spot behind me rushed over to help (thank you, Tabatha) as I lay flat on my back in the gutter, winded and in shock. Eventually I hauled myself to my feet, shed some gear, and, with the help of one of Tabatha's Jehovah's Witness colleagues, managed to get the bike back up on its stand.

Despite the noise of the impact the damage appeared to be relatively minor: clutch lever snapped in half but still usable, scratches to the bar end, mirror edge and LHS engine cover, and a small dent in the tank. Remarkably, despite the left pannier taking the shock at the rear, the bottle of wine in the outer pocket was intact. Even the forks appeared to still be true. The small god who looks after stupid motorcyclists must have been calling in favours from one end of heaven to the other.

So I thanked Tabatha and her colleague, fitted the raincovers and resumed my journey. It rained quite heavily at Beenleigh and then stopped for the rest of the trip. I arrived in Alexandra Hills (after getting lost and seeking directions) around lunch time in brilliant sunshine. I would be spending 3 nights here, so there would be time to get a new clutch lever, and have someone else check the forks.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

ATEMA Day Four: O'Reilly's

After checking in and negotiating a crowd of folks in their mid-60's who didn't seem to realise there was a motorcycle about to run over them, despite the musical tootling of my horn, I found my room and my garage:



Pretty swish motorcycle accommodations. The room was nice too: big, airy, with no television or telephone (although there was mobile phone coverage), and the view from the balcony was simply stunning:


I think we are looking towards Tweed Heads there, and the volcanic plug is very near the coast, but I could be completely wrong too. Further round to the east, in a different mood, it looked like this:


You can't possibly look at a view like that and not be happy.

But there were other attractions. Some of the local wildlife isn't terribly wild. A Rosella size parrot:


I heard the guy in the next room, who was out on his balcony too, yelling and cursing about something, and I thought maybe some kind of gigantic tropical spider had fallen on his head. Turned out he was yelling at these parrots. What the brave ones do, and what the one in the photo above did about 2 seconds after I took the shot, is fly at you and stroke the side of your head with a wingtip. I took it as a friendly gesture, probably learned as a way of reciprocating to humans who reach out and stroke the side of their head and neck, although why people want to do that, I have no idea. Anyway, they certainly scared the bloke next door.

The other parrots, who were bigger, were even tamer:


What these guys do is pose for the photo, and then fly up and perch on you. Parrots all over the world do this, I have no idea why. This one was actually calculating his/her flight as I took the shot, and so a few seconds later he/she flew up and perched on my shoulder. I shook him/her off (gently) since I didn't want parrot shit down the back of my shirt, and he/she retreated to the balustrade for a moment before having another go and perching on my head. I didn't want parrot shit on my head either, so I shook my head and he/she desisted. But it was fun.

There were other birds; twitchers among you may know what this is:


And Brush Turkeys were common, both in their natural habitat (this one and its mate are building a nest, although the mate is camera shy):


And, at an early morning bird-watching lecture, this one scared the spots off the woman whose legs you can see top right by doing nothing more aggressive than walking up behind her:



After all that avian excitement and a bit of exploring, it was time to retreat to The Rainforest Bar for Happy Hour, which meant half-price drinks. Continuing the avian theme I had a glass of Famous Grouse (the blend, not the 18yo single malt, although they had that too) which cost me $10.00, and which I therefore nursed while I surveyed the bar. There were exactly two types of people in the place: a minority, of young adults no older than 20, and a majority, of people 55+ and many 65+. They all looked fit and healthy, although everybody looks like that when you've had a glass of Famous Grouse, and they all seemed to be happy. Absolutely nobody in the 20 - 50 age range.

So I went down to dinner (literally, The Rainforest Bar is upstairs) at The Retreat Dining Room and discovered there had been another culling of the population - all of the young people stayed upstairs to eat in the bar, and there was nobody in the Dining Room younger than 55 except the staff.

I had the best meal of the trip so far (lamb shanks cooked to perfection) accompanied by good wine, and I was asleep in bed by 9:30pm.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

ATEMA Day Four: Tenterfield To Green Mountains

THE RIDE

Pack up, load, check out, roll. It was becoming easier day by day. Sunny and warm. This promised to be as good a day as Day Two, if not better, because four of the roads were in the Motorcycle Atlas, with only one short transport stage. First step: hook right off the main drag in Tenterfield onto the Bruxner Highway, heading for a place called Sandilands. This is the better bit of the Bruxner, involving lots of sweeping bends as you go up hill and down dale. I knew I was admiring the scenery too much when a Ford Territory AWD hurtled past me on the only bit of the road for kilometres suitable for overtaking, but I wasn't travelling that slowly; that driver was a hoon.

There were ominous signs saying the bridge at Tabulam would be closed between 11:00am and 1:00pm, but since I had no clue where Tabulam was I decided to press on anyway. Tabulam is about 70km from Tenterfield as I discovered, and after passing the bridgeworks I came across a road to the left labelled, usefully, 'Tabulam Road'. The General Store and servo at Tabulam had signs all over it telling travellers how bike friendly it was, and there was a defunct sawmill opposite just like the Atlas said there would be, but I wasn't convinced, so I continued on down the highway looking for the elusive Sandilands. After 8km I gave up, turned around in the gravel of the Clarence Way junction (nearly spilling the bike in the process) and returned to Tabulam to get directions.

" Where does that road go?" " Bonalbo and Urbenville. " " Does it get to Woodenbong? " "Eventually. " My heart sank at the 'eventually' bit, but I decided to take the road anyway. The first bit was awful - the road followed a creek, and was little better than a heavily patched seal coat over uneven dirt, with frequent washaways. I was just getting to the point of returning to Tabulam and taking the Bruxner to Casino instead when I arrived at an unsignposted T-junction and turned onto the road I should have been on to begin with. This was much better, although still narrow, and for the whole run to Woodenbong I didn't see another vehicle except parked in places like Bonalbo and Urbenville.

Urbenville is not as pretty as Bonalbo, but it has the unusual feature of motorcycles mounted on the roof of the verandah at the pub. Fearing these might be trophies I didn't stop.

Woodenbong appeared soon after, and after a bit of watering (of me) I turned onto the Mt Lindesay Road. This was spectacular - smooth, with tight turns, sweeping turns, hairpins, you name it. And again I didn't see another vehicle going my way until I got to the flatter bits leading into Beaudesert. At Beaudesert I spent a bit of time hunting around for a fuel station - there wasn't one on the Mt Lindesay Road leading into town, there wasn't one on the road I would take next leading to Canungra. I eventually found a small one on the road to Brisbane, but it did make me wonder what the locals did for fuel. And since Beaudesert didn't seem to have improved since I first hated the place over 30 years ago, I didn't hang around.

After the transport stage to Canungra, I stopped at the pub for a beer and food, and read a newspaper which, among other things, gave a list of the road closures caused by the floods: Newell Highway between Moree and Goondiwindi; Carnarvon Highway between Mungindi and Moree; Gwydir Highway between Moree and Collarenebri; Kamilaroi Highway between Narrabri and Wee Waa; Kamilaroi Highway between Gunnedah and Boggabri; Thunderbolt's Way near Emu Crossing; and Oxley Highway between Carroll and Gunnedah.

No mention of the Nymboida flooding, but, erk, Thunderbolt's Way? I'd ridden the entire length of that road only two days ago. Certainly the western-NSW return route was out of the question.

Sobered, despite the beer, I hopped on the bike for what seemed, on the map, to be the best riding of the day: the Lamington National Park Road to O'Reilly's at Green Mountains. It wasn't good riding at all. The road is a pretty smooth seal coat over compacted dirt, but it is very very narrow, and a great many bends had Stop signs. There were a great many bends indeed, but with cars and 4WD descending in the middle of the road, and usually unwilling to budge for a motorcycle the ride wasn't fun at all until I got to the top of the ridge and the road widened a bit. However, you couldn't press on too fast, or you'd whack your head on a tree through one of the wiggly bits.

Nevertheless, I arrived at O'Reilly's unscathed in mid-afternoon. What followed was, simply, delightful.

Monday, 12 December 2011

ATEMA Day Three: Armidale to Tenterfield

THE PREVIOUS NIGHT

The motel room had a minibar in the fridge - how civilised is that? So I got my beer shortly after I had finished unloading the bike. I improved my hydration watching the cricket on telly for a while before switching to the news. And from my point of view it was all bad. First, there was a rain band sweeping across southern Queensland, due to settle over Brisbane the day I was due to get there - bother! Second, and worse, there were floods in New South Wales, particularly in the north-west but also in other areas, and roads were cut; in particular, the Newell Highway between Moree and Goondiwindi was cut, Moree was isolated and the neighbouring town of Wee Waa was being evacuated.

That was a problem because I was planning to return that way. Since there are no good motorcycle roads out on the normally parched and always flat western plains of Queensland and New South Wales, you might wonder why. I wanted to come back that way because I wanted to see Goondiwindi and had wanted to do that for a great many years. And the reason? It has nothing to do with the real Goondiwindi. In the 1975 Peter Weir film 'Picnic At Hanging Rock' three schoolgirls mysteriously disappear without trace while on a day-trip to Hanging Rock in Victoria; one of the three girls, Miranda, is so impossibly beautiful that her teacher Mlle Du Poitier (Helen Morse) describes her as 'a Botticelli angel'. I had somehow got it into my head that a place that could produce a girl that beautiful might be worth seeing.

There's a bit of cognitive dissonance going on here, of course. While the film is just a film, the book of the same name (by Joan Lindsay) on which the movie is based makes a big effort to present itself as in some way based on a true story. Nevertheless, it is all fiction, and the actress who played Miranda in the film, Anne-Louise Lambert, was born in Brisbane. And if she is representative of Botticelli angels, as she certainly appeared to be, then they're very tall (Ms Lambert is nearly 6') and nowhere near as petite as Botticelli represented them.

I was so busy looking at my motorcycle atlas trying to work out an alternate route back that I didn't pay close attention to the rest of the flood report, and so I might have misheard the next bit, which said that the Nymboida River had flooded and police were telling motorists to stay away.

That was an even bigger problem, because the next day I was planning to return to the coast at Grafton, using part of Waterfall Way, and Armidale and Grafton Roads, and the Nymboida River lay right across the route. So I grabbed my atlas and went to chat with the receptionist about where was good for dinner. She recommended an Italian restaurant (because she knew a bloke who worked in the kitchen) and gave me clear directions to the place. So I jumped on the bike and pootled off into a warm Armidale evening, thinking of saltimbocca. I found the place easily enough and judging by the menu taped to the door it was everything she said it would be. I had to judge it by the menu taped to the door because it was closed.

So I pootled around downtown Armidale and discovered there was a lot that wasn't open on a Sunday night. I eventually stopped at a funky little Thai place just up the road from the closed Italian restaurant, and bought a bottle of wine from the bottleshop across the way. The meal was very nice, as was the wine, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself. The proprietor practised management by shouting: not at all in anger, he was just loud. He shouted at the kitchen staff and the waitress; he yelled down the phone at people ordering takeaway; and he bellowed back at you what you had just ordered.

The waitress, who looked to be 12 years old and so, being Thai, was probably more like 35, ticked me off about not eating all of my meal, which I thought was a bit over the top given there was only one small piece of chicken left. She looked as if she was going to stand there until I ate it, but relented and brought the bill instead. On the basis of these experiences I decided I quite liked Armidale.

And I decided that I had very little choice; next day I would have to go straight up the New England Highway to Tenterfield.


THE RIDE

What can you say about riding transport stages? Nothing much. It was warm and dry. There were two highlights. The first was the town of Glen Innes, where I stopped for fuel. Unusually for an Australian town the highway doesn't pass through the middle of town, but rather on a road one block back, and a divided carriageway at that. That means trucks don't pass through the heart of the town, and all the servos and Red Roosters and all the rest of that visual pollution is off the main drag. So the main street looks like a proper street, with a Town Hall and many shops, including several quite busy cafes that would have been unbearable if trucks had been passing by. It gave me the impression it had recently come upon hard times but was making a huge effort to hide this from the neighbours.

The second highlight is a smooth and twisty descent about half-way between Glen Innes and Tenterfield. I launched myself into it with joy, which lasted the whole 12 seconds it took me to catch up with two 4WD towing caravans stuck behind a B-Double compression braking down the mountain at the regulation 40km/h. Sadly, but unsurprisingly, that was the only twisty bit on the day.


TENTERFIELD

This town is an example of why you should build a bypass. It might have been quite attractive for a one-street town if it wasn't for the endless procession of semis and B-Doubles passing through. I had asked the receptionist at the motel where I could get a good lunch, and when she discovered my idea of a good lunch included beer, she recommended the tavern. So I waddled off to find the tavern. I found a two-storey pub where the tavern might have been, but it was shut and covered with for sale signs. When I reached what I thought was the end of town with no tavern visible, I doubled back and found a pub up a side-street. So I got a beer, studied the counter lunch menu, and asked the barman about it, to be told (despite menus all over the place) that there weren't any counter meals because " ... it's the chef's day off."

I had lunch in a cafe eventually, which was adequate but uninspired. By this stage I had determined that the only decent place to eat dinner was the restaurant in the motel, so I booked a table with no great expectations and spent the rest of the afternoon watching cricket and sucking on a couple of beers from the minibar.

Now I had noticed that the restaurant seemed to be trying to be a bit posh, having tablecloths and all, but the receptionist assured me that my t-shirt attire was perfectly fine, so I showed up on time and prepared myself to be disappointed. I was completely wrong. The menu was inventive and they had very good wine by the glass (this being the country they hadn't yet caught up to city ways, so a glass meant a glassfull). The food arrived promptly, and was excellent.

I went to bed a happy Andrew, looking forward to returning to the good motorcycle roads the next day.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

ATEMA Day Two: Northbridge To Armidale

THE PREPARATION AND PACKING

First, some gaffer tape repairs on the rain cover for the RH pannier, all very nautical with the seams overlapping 50% and the interior layers at 45 degrees to the outer. The previous night I had been unable to locate the second bottle of wine despite several searches of the luggage, but the cold light of day revealed it in the outer pocket of the LH pannier, exactly where I had packed it in Canberra. I have no explanation for how it managed to hide the night before.

A little bit of repacking and redistribution allowed me to close the expansion zips on both panniers, and by slinging the camera round my neck I was able to close the expansion zip on the rear pack too.

D said he thought Armidale would be a bit of a stretch in one day, and he would have made that judgement based on driving a comfy car down the highway. I was going to be as far away from the highway as I could get, and I was itching to get going, so I politely noted the advice and privately determined to ignore it.


THE RIDE

An uneventful transport stage from Northbridge to Wahroonga in warm sunshine boded well, and after the fuel stop I headed off down the Old Road (Old Pacific Highway) on the first of the motorcycle rides from the book. It was delighful, with smooth surface and plenty of bends. Most of it is posted 60 km/h, but you ride to the conditions, don't you? I thought there were a lot of motorcycles on the road until I passed Pie in the Sky, where there even more parked by the side of the road. And when I passed the cafe at Mount White I swear I saw hundreds of sports bikes.

At Calga I turned off and followed the second route of the day from the book, the Wollombi Road. More excellent riding with good surface and plenty of bends, if perhaps not quite as twisty as the Old Road. I passed through the little hamlet of Bucketty so quickly I didn't even see it, which was a pity because I had hoped to discover why Bucketty is on the Wollombi Road rather than Buckett's Way. As it turned out, Bucketty doesn't actually exist, so it didn't matter.




It was getting close to morning tea time by the time I reached Wollombi. I had intended to push on towards Singleton, but there was a large ROAD CLOSED sign and evidence of roadworks, so I hooked right towards Cessnock instead. There were dozens of bikes outside the very attractive cafe at Wollombi, including many cruisers and big bore tourers, but I wasn't in the mood for conversation, so I didn't stop. I pushed on to Cessnock and made that my stop for lunch.

The waitress in the pub where I stopped for beer and food chastised me for not eating all my lunch. I thought of trying to explain that 60 year-olds don't need as much fuel as twenty year-olds, or that riding a motorcycle at less than MotoGP speeds demands barely more energy than sitting in a chair, but in the end I mumbled something lame and she went away. The truth of the matter was I was too tense to eat - I was hundreds of km from home on completely unfamiliar roads, and I was shortly to embark on the second longest leg of the planned adventure where I had some doubt that I would have enough fuel to get to my destination.

So I pootled down the main road to Raymond Terrace and fuelled up. I put the tank bag behind the rear wheel, which turned out to be a mistake, because when I remounted I forgot it, and took off down the Pacific Highway without it. Fortunately some Good Samaritans in a 4WD chased me down the highway and flagged me down and gave me the bag. I was very grateful and resolved in future to put the tank bag somewhere really inconvenient, such as in front of the front wheel, so I wouldn't forget it again.

The 4WD took the exit to Gloucester and I did too, now following Buckett's Way. It would have been a pity to get stuck behind a car on a nice motorcycle road like this, but they were really hustling along and I was content to stay behind. Taking the route I took you only ride half of Buckett's Way because after Gloucester it swings back down to the coast, but the bit I rode was enough. At Gloucester we both swung off onto Thunderbolt's Way.

Not far from Gloucester we ended up stuck behind some nervous nellie P-platers in a convoy of 3 cars, all braking when it wasn't necessary and accelerating exactly when they shouldn't. I stood it as long as I could but when a suitable stretch of straight road appeared, I blasted past everybody, including the Good Samaritans, and from that point until Walcha I didn't come across another vehicle going my way.

Thunderbolt's Way is delightfully twisty and mostly smooth, but there are some patches of choppy surface, particularly near river crossings. It was late in the day by the time I got to Walcha and I was running low on fuel. The first service station I saw had obviously been closed for a very long time; the second one had a pump but it was also the NRMA depot and I had passed the NRMA tow truck rescuing someone about 20km south, so I wasn't expecting it to be open. Fortunately there was a third place over the bridge and down the Oxley Highway a bit.

And after refuelling the run into Armidale was uneventful, and I found a comfy room for the night perhaps an hour short of dusk. About 450km all up and I was now saddle-sore and in desperate need of beer.


Friday, 9 December 2011

ATEMA: Day One

THE PACKING

Packing proved to be a lot more complicated than I had expected. Eventually I had a system: the seat pack would hold the First Aid kit, the fleecies and the camera. The panniers would hold the undies/socks and T-shirts in the main compartments and the wine bottles and rain covers in the side pockets.

Wine bottles? What is this man doing?

Well, what he is doing is loading up with a couple of nice wines unobtainable from retail outlets as a gift for friends offering accommodation. I will, of course, have to help them drink it.

Finally, the tank bag will hold books, maps and all the odds and sods such as disk lock, mobile phone charger, etc.

Hmmm. With everything attached to the bike, two things become obvious: first, the right hand pannier is drooping a bit close to the (soon to become hot) exhaust pipe, and once I fit the rain cover I suspect they will actually make contact. Second, there is now no way I can mount the bike in the usual way by swinging my right leg over the pillion seat - with the pillion seat pack fitted, I will have to raise my right leg and push it over the rider's seat. Undignified and awkward.


THE RIDE

Despite the awkward mounting method, I finally got aboard and set off. It had rained heavily during the night, and my plan was to follow the rain band down to Sydney, thereby not getting wet. But I fitted the rain covers just in case.

So I went to Goulburn via Tarago, since you can't travel the old Federal Highway for any length as it has been obliterated by the new one. Leaving around 10:30am saw me chasing the rain in fine, sunny weather, if a bit humid. After the coffee stop, a quick leg down the Doom Highway before turning off onto the Highland Way and a petrol stop in Bowral. Where I discovered fuel stops were going to be protracted affairs - shovelling 10 litres or so of fuel into the tank takes next to no time, it was all the other bits that took the time.

Here's how it goes: pull up at a bowser that offers plenty of room to make a left-side exit off the bike. Stop engine. Do the awkward dismount. Remove helmet and gloves. Remove tank bag. Open tank and fuel up. Zero trip meter. Replace tank bag. Pay for fuel. Don helmet and gloves. Awkward remount. Start engine and go. I swear at least two cars went through the other side of the bowser while I was doing all that, despite the fact that they needed to pump 50-odd litres each.

Long before the multi-lane Doom Highway had even entered anyone's dreams I used to commute between Sydney and Canberra every weekend. I was on familiar roads from long ago. Just go down here, then up there. Simple, reely. Wait, what? I don't remember this bit - what is going on? Wait, what - 110km/h sign? I'm on an on-ramp, aren't I. Yep, the old road from long ago delivered me straight onto the Doom Highway. So I peeled off at the next exit and found my way down the Razorback.

Ah, memories. I had a few minutes of enjoying the Old Hume Highway all by myself, sweeping round the bends, before I caught up with a truck and had to pootle for the next 10km. Not a very large truck, to be fair, but unpassable anyway. Which brought me to Camden and a T-junction - sign to the left says Camden Town Centre, sign to the right says Liverpool. So I went right and after 15km or so of multi-lane arterial I ended up back on the Doom Highway. Aaargh!

Oh well, peel off again at Liverpool and take the old road through the southern suburbs, noting with nostalgic joy that the old system of the set of lights up ahead turning red just as the ones you were stopped at turn green hasn't changed a bit. The only thing that was different was that this bit of the trip was much quicker without the trucks.

Now I had sought advice from Google Maps as to the best way to get onto the Harbour Bridge, since I was certain it would no longer be the same way as 40 years ago, and Google said: Turn left at Frederick Street, and follow that until it joins the Western Distributor which will take you onto the Bridge. Which was true, as it turned out, but these systems don't understand how traffic lights impact on your route. Frederick Street was fine until it crossed Parramatta Road, where the lights were set to give Parramatta Road through traffic a full 3 minutes and Frederick Street 15 seconds - it took 3 light changes before I was close enough to the front of the queue to be able to nip across.

After which getting to Northbridge was a doddle, the weather still being fine and sunny if a bit hot. Which is where, as I was unloading the bike, I discovered two things: first, the exhaust pipe had melted a hole in the right-hand rain cover. And second, I had bought a bottle of Scotch for my nightcap while travelling, but because of the two wine bottles it hadn't made it into the packing. I didn't really care much about the rain cover, but the missing Scotch would have to be replaced forthwith. J & D were a little bemused by my urgency, but D and dog accompanied me up the hill to the local Woolies where I bought a replacement.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

A Truly Excellent Motorcycle Adventure

I had been thinking: wouldn't it be nice to ride those great NSW and QLD roads that I'm often reading about on the Interwebs and in Road Rider. So, having had a little time to think about it, I made a plan. I will ride from Canberra (home base) to Mooloolaba, taking every interesting bike road that presents itself, and on the return journey I will take as many good bike roads as I can that I missed on the way up.

First, since I don't know where most of these roads are, I will need a guide:



Many of the roads have wonderfully evocative names: The Old Road, Wollombi Road, Buckett's Way, Thunderbolt's Way, Waterfall Way. The only additional rule I was setting myself was that the trip had to be on tar - it's not that I'm afraid of riding on dirt, but I was going to be travelling alone, and I didn't want to risk an off on a road that was only used once a week.

Now the South Coast trip had revealed some inadequacies with my luggage, so it was time to buy some additional bits. From the left: magnetic tank bag, left pannier, right pannier, pillion pad bag. Each has its own raincoat. Some essential items to go into the pad bag are displayed in front.



Finally, time to have the bike serviced (it was due anyway) and plan the route. The service revealed that the LED tail light / brake light assembly had failed. This isn't like back in the day, when you carried a few spare bulbs as a matter of course. This LED assembly is $350 (fitted) and there is just one in Australia. Order it, I shrieked, well aware that I'm leaving in 3 days. OK, should be here in a couple of days, they say.

As it turned out, the necessary part would arrive, and be fitted in time. That only left the route planning. Could I ride around 450km per day, day in, day out? No idea. Possibly. Probably. So I decided I would stay in motels in the main, and for some important destinations I made an online booking.

Departure day looms, and all that remains is to do a little packing and be on my way. How hard can it be?

Monday, 7 November 2011

Mike Bloomberg

Were you worried that Sarah Palin or another of the Tea Party nutjobs would get the callup to run for the Republicans in the USA presidential election? Apparently a great chunk of the US electorate is so disenchanted with both major parties that they are looking for a "third force'. Mike Bloomberg (presently Mayor of New York) thinks that might be him.

Read this article (and its postscript) to discover why he would be the worst of all possible outcomes, and get (free) the clearest explanation of the 'sub-prime crisis' I have read:

Mike Bloomberg

Sunday, 30 October 2011

The Australian Airline

The topic was: what was my take on the quarrel between Qantas and the various unions? I observed that Qantas had announced that it was going to move part of its operations to Asia and as a result cut 1,000 Australian jobs. This decision and announcement was approved by the Qantas board. The reason the unions were being so difficult is that they had demanded guarantees of continued employment for their members and these were not forthcoming. In addition, Qantas had repeatedly failed to make any offer on pay over a period of several months.

If I were Dictator of Australia I would invite Mr Joyce to visit my office and I would say:

" Mr Joyce, the Government of Australia has determined that the Qantas decision to move part of its operations to Asia is anti-Australian, and we therefore invite you to move the whole of Qantas' operations off-shore. The Government understands that this will cause Qantas to terminate the employment of quite a lot of Australians, but that won't be a problem, because the Government intends to establish a new Australian airline, operating domestically initially and subsequently internationally, and this new airline will employ every single one of your Australian staff. With their wages, conditions and entitlements intact.

" The new airline will be known as The Australian Airline (TAA), which may not mean a thing to you, but it has quite a lot of resonances for Australians. The airline will initially be 100% government owned, with that ownership diminishing to 50% over the first 5 years, and then staying at 50% thereafter. Just like Singapore Airlines, really.

" Now you're going to find that you have many short haul aircraft surplus to your future requirements, because your licence to operate domestically is going to be revoked. However, the Government will be happy to purchase every single one of them at a fair price to be determined by the Government Compensation Tribunal. Subject to extensive airworthiness checks by Air Services Australia, of course. In order to prevent you being your usual sneaky Irish self and flying the aircraft offshore we have grounded the Qantas domestic fleet as of right now.

" Now I'm sure you don't have any questions, because it's all pretty straightforward really. So on your way out the door, could you please call your staff and get them to start painting out the kangaroo on the tails of your international fleet? Better get rid of that 'Spirit of Australia' gubbins on the fuselage while you're at it. Quite inappropriate tag line for an Asian airline, wouldn't you think? "

Well, it's all very satisfying and self-indulgent, but it ain't gonna happen because Gillard doesn't have the ticker for that sort of decision. And Abbott isn't bright enough to think of it (probably couldn't sell what amounts to a nationalisation to his party anyway).

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

What's Hiding Under The Covers?

I came back from my walk to find a familiar motorcycle in the driveway and one of my sons inside the house. He said there was something for me hiding inside the house. Well, it wasn't very well hidden, but it looked so funny, all tucked up in bed, that I couldn't resist sharing my good fortune with my readership. Yes, dammit, I mean both of you   :-)

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Hypocrisy Writ Huge

Joining a chorus of calls for an investigation into how Moamar Gaddaffi actually met his death:

" US secretary of state Hillary Clinton has backed calls for an investigation into the circumstances of his death.
Ms Clinton says there needs to be accountability for Gaddafi's death.
' I would strongly support both a UN investigation that has been called for and an investigation that the Transitional National Council has said they will conduct,' she said.
'I think it's important that this new government start with the rule of law, start with accountability.' "

So it's perfectly OK for NATO aircraft to hit Gaddafi's convoy with a sufficient number of high-explosive missiles to turn each one of 70 vehicles into a blazing inferno, but when the Misrata Militia finally catch Gaddaffi hiding in a ditch after escaping the bombing, it's not OK for them to kill him.

What about being called to account for vastly exceeding your remit, Hilary? The UN mandate was for a 'no-fly' zone. Are you trying to pretend that Gadaffi was trying to leave Sirte in a fleet of flying cars? Or are you taking 'no-fly' to mean 'no-flee' a.k.a. there's no escape?

Monday, 10 October 2011

Country Railway Station

Country railway stations have charm all of their own. Sadly, the number still in use continues to diminish. Yass Junction is one of the few remaining and that is because it is on the Southern Mainline. Two trains a day stop here: the XPT Down (from Sydney to Melbourne) and the XPT Up (from Melbourne to Sydney). The overnight XPTs only stop by special arrangement.

No idea what the bloke on the other platform is doing, since both trains stop at this platform, not that one. But even on a grey, wet day, the railway architecture is charming.

No sign of the train, and we're now 10 minutes past the scheduled arrival time. The station mistress tells me it will arrive in another 35 minutes just as the PA system announces that it will arrive in 15 minutes. She says: "Listen to me, not to that stupid thing, it's always wrong." A quick SMS to one of the passengers on the train confirms that they are just over half an hour away. Nothing to do but wait and watch the rain. And spot things:

A very neat piece of vandalism. Or may be it just fell off. Memo to Countrylink: don't use transfer letters, get a signwriter to do a proper job.

Are there really people who steal plastic bags full of garbage from a railway station platform? And if there are, are they really so stupid that they don't bring knives to cut away the bit of the bag secured by the padlock?

Finally, exactly 45 minutes late, just as the station mistress predicted, we have a train. After I took this shot I got to give the driver a wave, thinking "Why do people wave at trains?"

Monday, 26 September 2011

Damper

For the 'Ticket of Leave' lunch in early October (family celebration of 50 years in Australia) we are trying to create a feast in which the ingredients would have been available to the first ticket-of-leave men back around 1810. In addition to the offerings I had already dreamed up, my brother asked for damper. Now I have tasted damper just once, on a camping trip decades ago, where it was made in a proper camp oven.

I hated it.

Nevertheless, I thought I should honour the request, at least to the extent of giving it a go. Despite it being very easy, I managed to get some things wrong, but as you'll see when we get to the end, it didn't make much difference. Preheat your oven to 200 deg. C (Mistake No 1: I forgot to deduct the 15 deg. C that accounts for a fan forced oven). Take 3 cups of self-raising flour and a pinch of salt and combine in a large bowl (Mistake No 2: I used too much salt - it really is just a small pinch). Cube 80g of chilled butter, and rub into the flour mix until it resembles fine breadcrumbs.

Now for the yucky bit: add 3/4 of a cup of water and, using a round bladed plastic knife, cut the mixture together. Then finish off with your hands until the mixture is fully brought together. What you have now is slightly salty flour-and-water glue. Quite a bit of the glue will end up on the kitchen taps and in the sink while you attempt to clean your hands. It really is very good glue.

Turn the glue ... sorry, dough ... out onto a floured board, knead for a couple of minutes and then form into an 18cm disc. Stick the dough onto a baking tray, make some cuts in the top and lightly dust with more flour (Mistake No 3: I provided more of a medium flour dusting). Then put it in the oven for 30 minutes.

(Mistake No 4: I put it on the top shelf of my already overheated oven. Middle is a better idea.) (Mistake No 5: I forgot I was baking damper and got engrossed in a book, and left it in there for 35 minutes).

Transfer to a wire rack and allow it to cool slightly, then serve or store. And the result?

Well, it looks the goods - the splits in the top are caused by too long in a too hot oven, but otherwise I'd pass the appearance. Now I don't expect it to be moist inside after all that overcooking, but what does it taste like, eh?

YUCK!!!!!!!! It tastes like floury baked glue. As well as being a bit salty. We are certainly not having Andrew's Special Home Baked Damper at the Ticket of Leave lunch. I shall bake some nice bread using yeast, and authenticity can go out the window. I'll pretend I stole the yeast. Or, for added authenticity, I'll really steal the yeast.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Assembling The Robotic Arm Day 5

The end of my dithering was a decision to live halfway dangerously (story of my life, come to think about it). I'll put the hard hat over the PCB because it's only held by one screw anyway, but I won't fit the cable tidies until I'm sure everything is working properly.

So, hard hat fitted and all the cables plugged in. The robotic arm itself is complete, now for the hand controller.

First, fit the PCB into its half of the casing and crimp the control wires so they are correctly aligned to the exit port.

Next, fit the contacts for the controller rockers and make sure they are perfectly straight, because the action of the screw is to rotate them and you need a third hand to stop that happening.

Next, drop the rockers into their respective spaces. Each one is labelled on the handle, so in order to make sure you have them right, you have to hold the assembly over your head. Then, having done that, you put this side of the casing down on the workbench, which pushes the rocker handles and they all fall out of position. That's why the casing is supported on things in this image.


Drop the other casing (the one with the PCB) on top and secure with 4 screws. It wanted to jiggle around a bit while I was doing that, but I spoke sternly to it, and it laid off. Invert, and the hand controller is set to go.
Moment of truth: would all of my gearboxes be up to the job? Would anything work?

Yay! Yippee! Hoot! W00t! All of the gearboxes working exactly as specified. Hmmm. Headlamp not working, because stupid here plugged it in the wrong way round. Reverse light cable plug, now it's working. (I always thought light circuits were bidirectional, but clearly this one isn't).

Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to present Edge, The Robotic Arm:

Hungry for a load. Now to prettify all those cables a little bit.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Assembling The Robotic Arm Day 4

Today the target is finish the gripper assembly and mount it on the arm, then add whatever other bits are necessary to get to the point of final wiring.

Add some bits to the end of the gripper - pretty terrible photograph really. The bits are the 2 arms with interlocking cogs held in place with shiny tiny screws. Easy peasy.

Serves me right for saying "easy peasy". The next two bits are sandwiched between shoulders in the gripper and the screws have to pass through one shoulder, the end of the part and then bite into the other shoulder. So you need one hand for the screwdriver, one hand for the screw, one for the part and yet another hand to stabilise the gripper while you're doing all this. A clamp might have helped I suppose.

All those bits I just added are now attached to the gripper claws, to which I've attached some squishy pads to aid their grippiness. This task is similar to the last one except that you need 5 hands because all of the bits you are trying to fit together are free to rotate as much as they want. However, they all fitted together quite neatly in the end.

Clearly this robotic arm is a miner, since the head apparently requires a bright yellow hard hat and a light - you can just see the bulb of the LED in front of the hard hat. The hard hat is a push fit, so I think it can be taken off whenever you want - just like a real hard hat, come to think of it.

Attach the gripper to the robotic arm and attach some pistons between the gripper and gearbox M2. Before I attached the pistons the gripper head drooped and the gadget looked so hilariously sad that I couldn't stop laughing as I took the photograph. As a result of which the photo was all blurry and no amount of Photochop could rescue it, so I've had to omit it.

Attach a platform for the PCB that controls the power delivery to the gearboxes, and realise that the designers have assumed you'll get sick of playing with the gadget long before the batteries lose power, because I am now sealing the batteries into their compartment with bits that are screwed into place.

Here the PCB is fitted and the wires from the main compartment plugged in. The remaining task is to give this part of the assembly a bright yellow hard hat with a hole in the middle, and then plug in all the remaining cables through that hole. At this point I stopped and dithered. It would be easier to plug everything in now and test it on the basis that if something doesn't work I can access all of the connections. However, there's a satisfying sense of completion in fitting the last bit. Dither. Dither. Dither.

Friday, 9 September 2011

Good And Evil

Diogenes asked:

" Evil.

" Is there such a thing? (Lynda La Plante thinks so.)

" If you think evil exists, how do you define it? "

I started my response as a comment to his post and then realised I had no clue how to insert a picture into a blog comment, which I needed to do. So I moved a copy of my response here in order to be able to finish it. I said:

As you say, it's a huge topic and while I have composed a truly beautiful response, this comment box is too small to contain it. :-)

Let's try and make the problem a bit smaller. William Lane Craig (a Christian) divides evil into moral evil (harms perpetrated by an agent) and natural evil (harms resulting from things like earthquakes, for example).

I'm going to say evil is that which is not good in some moral sense. Therefore there is no such thing as natural evil: the world just is. Earthquakes don't get to choose whether they happen or not, therefore they can't be evil.

Then I'm going to say that in order for there to be moral evil there must be morality, and on this planet that is the peculiar province of human beings. I'll withdraw that if a whale contributes to this discussion, but not otherwise.

Then I'm going to say that there must be degrees of good and evil - thinking about how genocide might solve a particular problem is nowhere near as evil as actually going ahead and doing it. We all have evil thoughts occasionally, but very few of us turn those thoughts into actions. So evil must incorporate actions.

Finally I'm going to say that, while we use the same word for both situations, the good-which-is-not-bad is actually different from the good-which-is-not-evil. Bad doesn't lie somewhere on the good-evil continuum, it's at one extreme of the good-bad continuum. If we place the two continua at right angles, we've constructed a coordinate space into which we can now place actions:


I have no doubt that all of my choices are contentious. Don't think Mother Teresa is an appropriate choice for the Good-Good corner? Fine. In your diagram replace her with Nelson Mandela or Martin Luther King. Don't think Hitler is a good choice for the Bad-Evil corner? Fine. In your diagram insert Attila the Hun or Anders Breivik. And so on.

The two choices for the opposite corners are much more complicated and require posts of their own, but you can see my logic: thalidomide was made and administered with the very best of intentions but the outcome was very bad. While the opposite corner is complicated  too: Hiroshima was good in terms of saving the lives of many combatants but only by obliterating hundreds of thousands of civilians.

So in answer to Diogenes original question "Does evil exist?" I say yes, too right it does, and in answer to the question "How would you define it?" I say, you can't define it well in words, but it's the top right of my little diagram up there.

Friday, 2 September 2011

Assembling The Robotic Arm Day 3

Obviously it has taken more than 3 days to get to this point - elapsed time is over 2 weeks, but here are the results of the 3rd day of actual construction.


Secure gearboxes M2 and M3 together. So M5 (hidden in the base now) controls rotation; M4 (perched on the base) controls pitch of the rearmost part of the arm; M3 (on the right in this picture) controls pitch of the foremost part of the arm; M2 (on the left) controls pitch of the wrist bit; and M1 (yet to be built) controls the gripper.


Secure the wrist axle to the front, and the assembly is now ready to be fitted to Gearbox M4 to create what you might think of as the shoulder, upper arm, elbow and lower arm (it doesn't pay to take the analogy too far).


Like this. Got wires going everywhere now. Essentially there are now 3 tasks left: assemble and attach the gripper, complete the battery assembly and plug in the wires; and assemble the hand controller and plug it in.
Another 3 construction days, I think. Let's make a start on the gripper.


Aaaaargh! This is Gearbox M1, which controls the gripper. You can't see it in this shot, but it is supposed to be held together with 4 tiny self-tapping screws. Except I could only find 3. Either I've used the missing one somewhere else (unlikely) or I never got it in the first place (also unlikely) or it's run away while I wasn't watching and perhaps joined the missing nut (most likely) - it'll end in tears, I tells ya, a self-tapping screw and machine nut just ain't natural. I toyed with the idea of gluing the gearbox together, but after twisting the assembly as hard as I could, I think it will be OK with 3 screws.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Feel Like A Giggle?

Next Tuesday night at 8:30pm on ABC1: a one-hour special edition of Australian Story featuring Australia's very own wannabe terrorist [dramatic pause] David Hicks [cue canned applause]. Watch David squirm as he explains how, when he was in Afghanistan training with Al Qaeda, he didn't realise it was Al Qaeda [cue mocking laughter]. Listen to David explain how he always objected to the WTC bombings despite going to Afghanistan to train with Banana bin Laden after said bombings [cue loud mocking laughter]. Shudder with David as he relates the fiendish torturing he suffered at the hands of the US military [cue general hilarity].

Should be a hoot. Don't miss it.

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Assembling The Robotic Arm Day 2

Here we are with Step 13 complete, 4 gearboxes assembled, although the last one (designated M2) only has 3 nuts because someone lost one of them:


Here's the 4 gearboxes.

Step 14 involves assembling the components for the base to which the arm attaches. You then insert Gearbox M5 (the first one I made) into a pre-formed well. Also the connectors for the batteries have been fitted.




In this image the wires have been routed roughly as the instruction manual said. Later I will change the routing of the wire from the far end to give me a little more slack.


Step 15: Add more bits over the top of the gearbox, insert the batteries and re-route the wires.

Wait a minute: did I just seal in a gearbox without using a single one of its nuts? I did, didn't I? That means if I now undo most of what I just did I can pinch a nut from Gearbox M5 and transfer it to Gearbox M2, which will need it. So that is what I did - undo stuff, extract the gearbox, disassemble it, steal a nut, and stick everything back together again, to arrive back at this point.

At which point, as I inserted my scavenged nut into Gearbox M2 (amazingly it went in correctly at the first attempt) I realised I'd just been a bit silly - why hadn't I scavenged all of the nuts instead of just one? Well, I'm not undoing everything again, I'm just not.


Step 16: mount the turntable that will allow the robotic arm to rotate, and relocate the battery terminal cable.


Step 17: secure Gearbox M4 to the turntable cap (using the troublesome nuts) and fit the assembly to the turntable.

Now it's beginning to look like something, and my cache of plastic parts and tiny bolts and screws has diminished. The next step will be to assemble the lower part of the arm, using up the 2 remaining gearboxes (the last gearbox, M1, is created as part of the gripper assembly).