The Blog (archived)

All posts in chronological order, as originally published
Page 6

Amazing Stories of Cats Coming Back

Friday, March 2, 2007

Once again a delightful cat story has made the news, reminding us of the incredible abilities of cats to find their way home over long distances.

Molly the cat, from Waikato TimesThe cat is Molly (pictured), and her amazing journey was reported here in New Zealand’s Waikato Times the other day. When Molly’s mother and son owners took her away with them on a long weekend visit to the Coromandel Peninsula, Molly went missing. After two days of fruitless searching it was assumed that Molly had gone bush to become a wildcat, and her owners returned home cat-less.

Last Sunday, after a journey of 150 km over four months, Molly delighted everyone by turning up at her Hamilton home - a home she had only lived in for three weeks prior to going missing.

As impressive as this was, other cats have travelled much further in finding their way home. The top 10 longest distances travelled by lost cats are:

  1. “Sugar” - 1,500 Miles in 14 months. Anderson, California to Gage, Oklahoma, USA
  2. “Minosch” -1,485 miles in 61 days. Turkey to northern Germany, 1981
  3. “Silky” - 1,472 miles in one year. near Brisbane to Melbourne, Australia, 1977-78
  4. “Howie” - 1,200 miles in one year. Gold Coast to Adelaide, Australia, 1978
  5. “Rusty” - 950 miles in 83 days. Boston to Chicago, USA, 1949
  6. “Gringo” - 480 miles. Lamarche-sur-Seine to the Riviera, France, 1982-83
  7. “Muddy Water White” - 450 miles in three years. Ohio to Pennsylvania, USA, 1985-88
  8. “Murka” - 400 miles in one year. Voronezh to Moscow, Russia, 1988-89
  9. “ChiChi” - 300 miles in three weeks. New Orleans to Blanchard, Louisiana, USA
  10. “Pooh” - 200 miles in two years. Long Island to South Carolina, USA, 1973-75

Their stories can be found here. Two of these cats managed to find their owners in places they had never been to before, which to me suggests that cats are at least as clever as dogs.


How to Travel Differently - Part 3

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Part Three in a series of tips for flexible non-conformist independent travellers:

Avoid must-do tourist activities (unless you really do want to do them)

In other words, be selective about what tours you go on, which sites you visit, and which activities you pay to enjoy (or endure). Don’t just do something because “everybody else is doing it” or because the guidebooks and brochures urge you to do it.

Remember that tourism is an industry, in which entrepreneurs are trying to sell products (activities and experiences) to customers (you, the traveller). Like other industries, some sellers are motivated by a genuine desire to please their customers, while others are in it just to make money … and will provide whatever activities they think they can persuade people to pay for. Ask yourself - is this activity something I particularly want to do, and will enjoy, or will my time and money be better spent doing something else?

The South Island of New Zealand is a great example of a vast smorgasbord of expensive activities for tourists. Some of them are excellent and deserve to be on everybody’s itinerary, but others have cheaper alternatives. In the eight weeks I spent there last year I only took part in four paid-for tourist activities and had a great holiday without feeling that I’d missed anything. Two of them were the boat trip on Milford Sound and whale watching at Kaikoura - “must-do” activities which I’d happily do again. Also a jet boat ride up any river is a great kiwi experience, but instead of doing it at Queenstown where it seems almost everyone else does it, I chose a better-value and more wilderness-like alternative in the Matukituki Valley.

zs060730-24.jpgHowever, in Christchurch I gave the heavily promoted gondola ride up the port hills a miss, instead visiting the same location - and many others - by hire car. All the brochures urged tourists to visit the Antarctic Centre (for a fee); instead I visited the Antarctic exhibits at the Canterbury Museum (free), and from what I heard it was probably more interesting for adults. I didn’t pay to visit any wildlife parks either - I found a free sanctuary for endangered birds near Te Anau, and saw some native wildlife out in the wild (such as this Weka on Stewart Island, pictured).

Many things that people pay to see on a tour can be explored just as well by anyone with a map and a hire car - with a little homework and maybe some exercise you can save a lot of money, and have time to linger.


Antarctica is Warming, and Cooling Too

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

One of the things that intrigues me about weather and climate is no matter how much we learn about it, nature keeps throwing spanners in the works to remind us how much we don’t really know. Global warming is a prime example - as more evidence for warming piles up, more contradictions keep surfacing.

A story in Science Daily the other day reported a familiar sounding scenario: a warming trend over the last few decades in the Antarctic Peninsula has diminished sea ice, and forced penguin populations to migrate south. It says “all the global climate models predict a warming in the Antarctic and a decrease in sea ice along its margins”, and a reduction in sea ice appears to be fulfilling the predictions.

Something you’re less likely to hear about on the evening news is this story from NASA Observatory News. It states that between 1982 and 2004, Antarctica grew warmer around the edges (which includes the peninsula) but became colder over its massive interior. Another story from CO2 Science reveals that 72% of the grounded ice sheet is growing at a rate of 5mm per year. It concludes with:

“Contrary to all the horror stories one hears about global warming-induced mass wastage of the Antarctic ice sheet leading to rising sea levels that gobble up coastal lowlands worldwide, the most recent decade of pertinent real-world data suggest that forces leading to just the opposite effect are apparently prevailing.”

So, Antarctica is experiencing both warming and cooling. We humans are a clever bunch, but the complexities and contradictions of the world we live in remind us that we are not in charge, and that even understanding what’s going on around us is a challenge.


Curiosity and the Burning Bush

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Most people are aware of the bible’s account of God speaking to Moses from a burning bush. On the surface, God would seem to be grabbing Moses’ attention in a forceful, compelling way, but is that true? In a recent re-read I saw it as a something more subtle.

The relevant bit:

Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight - why the bush does not burn up.” When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses, Moses!”
[Exodus 3:2-4 (NIV)]

These points came to my mind:

  • No bush would completely burn up instantly. Moses must have been paying attention to it for a little while - long enough to have concluded that it wasn’t burning up.
  • For Moses to “go over and see” implies he was some distance from the bush and had to go out of his way to find out what was going on (he was shepherding sheep at the time).
  • Its only after Moses became curious about the bush, and did something about it, that God spoke to him.

I believe this is a typical style of encounter between people and God. He uses the direct approach when needed, but for most people, most of the time, its more subtle. God may orchestrate something to arouse our curiosity, but we usually only encounter Him directly after we show an interest and take the time to seek an answer. Its like God is a gentleman, issuing invitations then waiting for us to respond, rather than forcing himself upon us … as with Moses and the burning bush.

If you have no interest in God, and don’t seek him, you probably won’t find Him. But if you are curious, and seek answers …


How to Travel Differently - Part 1

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Travel is a wonderful privilege and a great adventure, but it’s all too easy to conform to the scripted role of tourist and stick to the popular routes, itineraries and activities. There’s nothing wrong with that: popular sights are usually popular because they’re worth seeing! But travel can be enriched by straying from the well trodden paths. Here in this blog I plan to share some tips that have enhanced my own holidays; the first one here, more to come as I think of them.

Part One in my series of tips for flexible non-conformist independent travellers:

Avoid Centrally Located Accomodation

This may not be suitable when transport is a problem, and will not suit party animals who need to be within staggering distance of pubs and clubs. But for others, staying out of town can have advantages.

In most towns or cities that I’ve been to, accommodation is concentrated near the city centre. Most people want the “convenience” of a central location, most organised tours use central accommodation, and guidebooks focus their efforts on listing these places. The result - centrally located accommodation can be crowded, noisy and is usually more expensive.

By staying somewhere out of town - and it doesn’t have to be far - you can normally avoid the crowds and enjoy a more peaceful location. It may be safer at night too, and costs may be lower. Visiting a city centre may require commuting, but by doing this you’re mingling with the natives (or the traffic!) and seeing more of the place, and more from the perspective of a resident than a visitor.

View from Moana Lodge, Plimmerton, New ZealandAs an example, when I visited Wellington in New Zealand last year I avoided the city centre accommodation and stayed in a backpacker hostel (Moana Lodge) in the coastal suburb of Plimmerton. It was cheaper, right by the sea, and in a pleasant area with good views along the coast (pictured; nicer than the views of neighbouring buildings from city accommodation) and not a tourist in sight.

Similarly, when in Christchurch I stayed in an uncrowded hostel 20 minutes walk from the city centre, in a quiet area near a park. In crowded and booked-out Queenstown I found cheaper and more pleasant accommodation in a holiday park near Arthurs point; a world away but only a five minute commute by hire car. I’ve found better accommodation out of town at many other places in Australia, NZ, and America. In fact these days, unless its a very small town, I only stay in central locations if I can’t find anywhere suitable further out!


Natural is not always better

Thursday, February 8, 2007

I have a chronic rash which requires ongoing treatment with a corticosteroid cream. These creams are potentially harmful if overused, and so I thought wouldn’t it be better to use a natural remedy?

In reading about tea tree oil I learned that this naturally occurring oil has anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties which might work in treating my rash. There was only one way to find out - I started applying tea tree oil to the left portion of the affected area, while continuing to use the corticosteroid cream on the right side for comparison.

At first, the tea tree oil appeared to be just as effective as the cream in controlling the rash. After about two weeks, however, the rash on the left side flared up in a big way. Either the tea tree oil was not really effective, or else would it was causing a reaction of its own.

I turned to Google. Much reading led me to believe that I’m one of the special 1-2% who suffer allergic contact dermatitis in response to tea tree oil. A new deodorant I had been testing also contained small amounts of tea tree oil, and a mild rash was also developing under my armpits. Instead of treating a rash, this natural substance had caused a whole new rash of its own, an example of a when a natural remedy is clearly not better.

The question remains - on non-allergic people, can tea tree oil treat a chronic rash as well as a corticosteroid cream? As I am unable to test this, perhaps somebody else would like to try it out.


The White Silence

Monday, February 5, 2007

It’s not often I read fiction that really stirs me up like this did. It’s from “The White Silence“, a short story by Jack London. He refers to the extreme cold and profound silence he encountered in the Klondike winter …

Nature has many tricks wherewith she convinces man of his finity - the ceaseless flow of the tides, the fury of the storm, the shock of the earthquake, the long roll of heaven’s artillery - but the most tremendous, the most stupefying of all, is the passive phase of the White Silence. All movement ceases, the sky clears, the heavens are as brass; the slightest whisper seems sacrilege, and man becomes timid, affrighted at the sound of his own voice. Sole speck of life journeying across the ghostly wastes of a dead world, he trembles at his audacity, realizes that his is a maggot’s life, nothing more.
Strange thoughts arise unsummoned, and the mystery of all things strives for utterance.
And the fear of death, of God, of the universe, comes over him - the hope of the Resurrection and the Life, the yearning for immortality, the vain striving of the imprisoned essence - it is then, if ever, man walks alone with God.

I haven’t experienced the Arctic North like Jack London did, but I’ve had a taste of what he was writing about. It was on the main range of Australia’s Snowy Mountains in the winter of 2001. My main campsite is pictured here, see my Snowy Mountains page for other photos.

wnksg11.jpgSnow-camping above the tree line - all vegetation and life buried under a blanket of snow, even the rocks plastered with ice. Under a clear sky, with stars blazing in the dry cold air, the temperature plummeted and the silence became overwhelming. With not even an insect to disturb the air, the sound of my blood circulating became audible in a feeble attempt to fill the sound vacuum. I’ve experienced the quietness of calm nights at home, but the still calm of the snowy wilderness took peaceful silence to a new level.

Hiking to Mt Kosciusko with snow shoes on a calm day brought another profound white silence. As the only speck of life in a sterile soundness expanse, I felt small and vulnerable … but in a refreshing and cleansing sort of way. The absence of sound and colour, plus the hypnotic rhythm of walking, certainly got the thoughts working in ways not possible in a more noisy world. As Jack London says, “it is then, if ever, man walks alone with God” - and I felt like I was.

Reading of Jack London’s white silence made me want to ride a dog sled up the frozen Klondike, but we can’t all visit the Arctic, or the Snowy Mountains, or a desert. Fortunately, however, some of the mental and spiritual benefits can also be gained by a walk in the bush (without an iPod!) or a stroll along an empty beach.


Anti-Perspirant: Regular Versus Aluminium-Free

Friday, February 2, 2007

You hear a lot these days about the dangers of aluminium; in particular its neurotoxicity and possible link with Alzheimer’s disease. While there is much debate over this issue, and you can’t believe everything you read on the Internet, I thought it might be wise to try an aluminium free antiperspirant … just in case.

My main concern was - do they work as well as regular antiperspirants? I’d like to be aluminium free, but I sweat a lot, and don’t want to stink! Obviously some sort of test was in order.

ttoap.jpgThe product I decided to try was an aluminium free sports antiperspirant from Thursday Plantation. It contains tea tree oil - an essential oil from the Australian tea tree which has anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties (not to mention a pleasant but subtle smell). To make a proper comparison, I applied each morning this antiperspirant to the left armpit, and a regular antiperspirant to the right armpit. Over several weeks of summer weather I’ve been able to compare the sweatiness and aroma of both armpits, and come to a conclusion.

The result: the aluminium free antiperspirant works just as well as the regular aluminium-based version. At least that was my experience, using the Thursday Plantation product. So once I’ve used up the old stuff and completely switched to the new, my armpits will be free of both aluminium and stink.

Note: this is my own honest opinion; I receive nothing for speaking favourably
of Thursday Plantation products (but I wouldn’t mind if I did).


Australia - Home of Cow Racing

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

In 2000 a retired dairy farmer - Pete Ondrus of Michigan, USA - realised that the Guinness Book of World Records had no record for the fastest cow. In response he founded the Mid-Michigan Cow Racing Association and the World-Wide Cow Racing Association, with the motto “Don’t milk them, race them”. He held his first cow race that year, and it appears to be an annual event although his website has not been updated since 2004. Most people would not be surprised to find that such an event began in America, but did it?

compasscup.jpgPete Ondrus was apparently unaware of the Compass Cup, a cow race which has taken place every year since 1974 in the town of Mt Compass in South Australia. As far as I can tell, this was probably the world’s first organised public cow racing event. It began when a 12-year-old Guernsey was called in for milking and ran full speed for the milk shed. This fired the imagination of a Rural Youth Adviser, who formed a committee and organised a cow race as a fund-raising event for the town. Its popularity grew, despite the challenges of getting any cow to go fast, and the 34th annual Compass Cup was held last weekend.

If you picture people sitting on dairy cattle and trying to make them race, and making a big community event out of it, the phrase “only in America…” may be a normal response. So for me it’s strangely satisfying to think that Australians can lead the world in this delightfully unconventional activity.

Photo credit:


When Procrastination Isn’t Bad - 2

Friday, January 26, 2007

Another time when procrastination is potentially a good thing is when “warming up”. This could be when getting up in the morning and launching into the day, or when arriving at work and starting on the day’s tasks.

Some people can dive right into things - being alert and busy within minutes of waking up, or reaching their full speed and productivity within minutes of arriving at work. Others, like me, are simply not built to operate that way; we need more time to get mentally into gear, organise our thoughts, and build up to full productivity. For the latter type of people, trying to “hit the ground running” prematurely can be counterproductive, whereas we work much more effectively after a warm-up time, which others may view as procrastination. Both approaches may achieve the same end result, but in different ways.

An article at - Are You Just Getting Warmed Up by Tony Clark - explains the warming up type of procrastination well:

“Iím honestly not procrastinating in the traditional sense, but need some time to ramp up into my day. How do I know Iím not just slacking? Because when I jump right in, most of what I produce is crap. But if I give myself time to get warmed up - have some coffee, check some feeds, read some mail - when I do get to work, Iím way more productive. Iím also much more focused.”

He draws an analogy with warming up a car on a cold morning - scraping off the ice then leaving it to idle while the engine warms. This warm-up time improves the performance and the life of the car … and some people need this idling and warm-up time too! You just have to be careful to know whether your procrastination is the legitimate warm-up time you need to function at your best, or just slackness. We are all different, so only you can judge that.


When Procrastination Isn’t Bad - 1

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

To procrastinate - to put off till another day or time; defer; delay - is usually thought of as a bad thing. Indeed, some dictionary definitions allude to “habitual carelessness or laziness” as causes, or describe such delay as “needless”. I don’t think it’s a black and white issue. While most procrastination may be counterproductive, there are times when putting things off can be good, and I’d like to share some examples.

1. As an antidote to impulsiveness, particularly impulsive shopping.

Have you ever bought something on impulse and later regretted it? More procrastination when shopping can avoid this, as it gives an opportunity for reasoning to overcome impulsiveness. This may not matter with something like a tub of yoghurt, but with expensive items it can be very important indeed.

In my line of work I’m exposed to a lot of expensive computer gadgetry, and read magazines which heavily advertise such gadgets. I also read outdoors magazines and frequent shops which sell all the latest hiking and camping gear. Gadgets and cool gear can be tempting when shopping, so on the odd occasions when I see something that I just have to have, I deliberately procrastinate. Even if I feel that buying an item is justifiable and the price is good, I usually put it off - the higher the price the longer I’ll put it off. After several days or weeks and some contemplation or research, if I still think that buying the item is justifiable then I’ll do it. More often than not, I’ll realise that I don’t really need the thing, or that something cheaper will do. The result: deliberate and purposeful procrastination when shopping has saved me a lot of money.

I’ll share some more examples of good procrastination … when I get around to it!


If You’re Fat with Heart Problems

Sunday, January 21, 2007

An American researcher has found that patients hospitalised with heart failure were less likely to die during their hospital stay if they were fat! This is according to a New Scientist article yesterday, which concluded:

“Fonarow suggests that fat people may cope better with heart failure because they have more metabolic reserves to draw on when the heart isn’t pumping blood fast enough to meet the body’s needs.”

Of course, being overweight can lead to heart problems and so is best avoided. But if you already have a heart problem due to other causes (like my faulty valves) it’s nice to think that being a little overweight may not be entirely bad news.


Comet McNaught

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Comet McNaught has been in the news lately, not surprisingly as it is the brightest comet to be seen in 40 years (see ABC news story and Spaceweather photo gallery). Last night I visited Perth’s City Beach to get a clear view of it, and of course some photos.

It became visible to the naked eye as soon as the sun dipped into the Indian Ocean - although at that point it was easily missed if you weren’t looking at exactly the right spot. Gradually it revealed its full glory, looking brighter as the sky darkened, but disappearing beneath the horizon before the sky was fully dark. A strong sea breeze made photography difficult: even with a tripod most of my long exposures were blurred. However I was pleased to get one reasonable photo, as shown here. It was an eight second exposure which I have not enhanced or modified in any way - it shows realistically how the comet looked to the naked eye.


Birthday of Lint Collection

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Today marks the 23rd anniversary of that fateful day in 1984 when I began collecting the lint from my navel each day. I’m still collecting it, and still hold the record for the world’s largest collection.

Belly button fuzz jarThe main collection is sealed and stored in a safe place, with my daily harvesting being added to a separate small container. In recognition of my collection’s birthday I have transferred the past year’s lint from the small container to the main collection, together with the lint from the tiny container I carry while travelling. An updated photo of the collection is now on the Navel Fluff page.

This small container I add to each day (pictured) is noteworthy. Just when I thought everything that could be made from clay had been made, this turns up! It was very kindly sent to me by Brenda Beasley of South Carolina, who is herself a collector (of statues of liberty and related paraphernalia; see her website). It’s perfect for storing tiny balls of lint - I wonder if its makers ever imagined it would be used in gathering the world’s largest navel lint collection.

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