Look what came up

Mazda MX-6

Dammit, I’ve wanted one of these for years, and one has come up for sale on Facebook Marketplace. The MX-6 in this shape was produced from 1991 to 1997. Unfortunately this is a 1992 model, but it looks to be in great condition. It’s done 194,000Km. Price? $2,000.

The same chassis and engine was used to produce the Ford Probe, the US version that I’ve also lusted after. Ford owned a chunk of Mazda at the time.

Ford Probe, based on Mazda MX-6

At first I was sure I’d buy the Mazda, but then reality set in. I’ve got to get rid of the Honda first. I enquired on it but decided against it.

But I can’t let it go! At that price, it’s affordable. I think I’ll phone the guy this evening and arrange to see it asap. More pics:

Such good condition! And rare in Perth.

STOP PRESS: Damn, thought I’d better check the field and there’s a much better one, a 1996 model with only 102,000Km in Footscray, Melbourne, admittedly for $6,500 but… And it’s in the dark bottle green that I like so much. Tempting!

PPS: this one (the red one above) has sold, but I’ve bought this blue-green 1996 model in Melbourne.

I wanted to fly over and drive it back, but considering it’s mid-summer, possibly smokey and a bit hazardous, and weighing up the costs, it’s easier, safer, and a bit cheaper to get it trucked over here, so I’ll be doing that. It costs $1300, door to door.

?????????!!!????????? Then there’s this one:

Lexus SC400 Soarer

A 1992 Lexus Soarer with 159,000Km. Also $6,500 and in Perth. It’s a 4 litre V8 turbo coupe with Lexus build quality and reliability. It looks to be in superb condition. But the colour! Dull. I’d love to own it, though. I want them both, the Melbourne MX-6 and this.

PPPS: no, the Lexus doesn’t have the flair and style I want. I’ve decided I’ll sell both the Honda and the Verada, have just the MX-6 for a while, and possibly later buy a 2005 Honda Odyssey for touring. Hah.

Warm ain't it?

A weather station sold by Wish. About $25. I might buy one.

Phew, it was fairly cool for the first week of the month, but it’s warmed up and looks like continuing at around 35C every day for the next week.

But thank goodness we’re not experiencing what the east coast is going through. That’s scary. When you have to go and jump into the ocean to escape flames and smoke, that’s bad.

The worst thing is that this is almost a mass extinction on a smaller scale. This is showing us what it’s going to be like in the future with rising temperatures and continuing drought. And, as they say, even if the drought broke and we had massive rainfall, this would be another catastrophe as water, mud and floods meant more misery.

And it’s almost certain that these conditions will repeat from now on, to a greater or lesser extent. Climate change is real!

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In fact, if you think about future archeological digs in a few hundred years, if there’s anyone doing them that is, they are going to find a layer of ash and charcoal marking 2019/20 over there.

This year will also mark the extinction of huge numbers of small animals, insects and birds. The knock-on effects will be incalculable. Nature interlocks. The loss of one group, one species, will badly affect the food supplies up and down the chan with unpredictable effects. Good luck everyone.

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For my readers outside WA, the only major road between Perth and Adelaide, the next major city ~2,500Km away, was closed for 12 days until Friday, due to bushfires out on the Nullarbor Plain near Norseman. Too much smoke made driving too dangerous.

I had been toying with the idea of doing an eastern states drive this summer, so I would have wanted to drive through all the areas burnt, from northern NSW, down the south-east corner of NSW and Victoria, returning to WA via the Adelaide Hills, also badly burnt, then back to Perth across the Nullarbor where I would have been stuck due to the closure of the Eyre Highway. I would have been caught up in all that, if I’d gone.

It looks now as if my chance has gone for several years at least, that’s the foreseeable future.

Imagine being stuck at a roadhouse on the sole road out on the Nullarbor Plain, sleeping in your car, the roadhouse running out of bottled water and toilet paper, 42C (112F) temperatures, nothing to do for two weeks. I’d go screaming mad. No way to escape, except to drive back to Adelaide, of course.

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Back to the mundane. This was an offer from Amazon US the other day:

Amazon US price, in AU$920

This was the same product on Amazon Australia.

Amazon Australia. Same product, only AU$1405 more expensive here.

Please explain, Amazon. This is rubbish.

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Article in The Guardian today, re the limits of Moore’s Law, illustrating the shrinking size of transistors and space on chips.

That’s not the CPU/transistor side, although it may be the back side. Almost all those lumpy things are capacitors and resistors.

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A guy I used to work with at Channel 7 has started a project in a Facebook group, to compile a book about TVW Channel 7 Perth from 1959 to 2017 when it was all demolished.

This is right up my alley, something I’ve wanted to do myself, but only from the Engineering viewpoint.

He’s calling for contributions, but the request is for about 2000 words and only four images. Whaaat?

I’ve told him (on F/B) that this would hardly cover my introduction. To recall all my memories, mostly good, from 1966 to 1999, with a selection of four from my hundreds of images? He must be mad.

In fact this puts me off contributing. I can’t squash it down that small. The editing would be too severe. I’ve said I’ll write my piece as economically as I can and submit it, but I don’t know if I’ll accept those conditions. I might go back to my original plan to do an Engineering history.

Happy New Year 2020

Bali sunrise © PJ Croft 2016, 2020

Don’t you love the way 2020 tripples off the keyboard? Easy typing.

Yes, the start of a new year after a rather dull 2019. Not that I’m complaining. I did a Bali trip in May and came back feeling fitter in my legs after a month of pool exercise every day, and lots of walking and climbing stairs. But it soon wore off. I just can’t get myself moving here, apart from walking around the shops. I know I have to, I just lack the will power. Must try harder. Dammit, I’ve got a treadmill here, why can’t I use it?! I do a bit, but not much.

OK, new year resolution no. 1, do it!!!

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New Year resolution no. 2, just do it! I did it.

New Year’s Eve, at a venue in Perth with Isabella, a good friend. It’s an LGBTI venue, but that’s OK, I’m a lesbian. 😉

It takes a bit of courage to go out like this, but no-one stares, no-one cares. Attitudes have changed a lot in the past 15 years. I no longer fear it.

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I decided to check my automatic watering controller just now. I haven’t looked at it for a while and opened the cover nonchalantly, only to find that a nest of wasps has taken residence inside! I jumped back smartly and although they buzzed around, they didn’t attack me. I was most worried about a wasp or two getting up my shorts or shirt. That would have been fun.

I found that some low-life has cut the nozzle and snap fitting off my side hose again. Grrrr.

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The Verada is making bad noises. I think it’s the power steering pump belt as it squeals whenever I steer either side. I hope it won’t be expensive to fix.

I don’t know whether to keep these cars. The MDX is unnecessary and has to go. I like it, but it’s going to cost me $450 approx for the next six months’ licence.

The Verada is nice, but these squeals and the shock absorbers are a worry. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a near new car.

By the way, I always wanted a Mercedes CL, yeah? One finally came up for sale in Perth, a 2003 model. He started at $12,000 and came down to $9,950. I was sorely tempted but as I’ve said, it won’t fit in my garage. It must have sold. One day, Mabel!

Ho ho ho

And a very Happy Christmas to all my readers. Another year gone, pretty uneventful for me, thank goodness. No dramas, no illnesses. That’s the way we like it. I hope it was the same for you.

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Aarrrgh, the days are getting shorter, the nights are drawing in. It feels strange that we’ve passed midsummer, December 21st or 22nd, while it feels as if summer has hardly begun. Personally I like the long evenings, with sunset at 7.21pm and plenty of light left after that. And seeing the morning lightening the blinds at 4.30am. Bah winter, stay away.

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My friend is having Christmas in Vienna this year, having had a knee replacement about a month ago. She’s with her family, so that’s good. Will you be having a white Xmas, I asked? No, it’s too cold, she said, just cloudy and rainy and cold. Brrrr. I know where I’d rather be.

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I’m at home, shirtless, fan on but no need for air-con. It’s actually a bit cloudy outside with 36C predicted. My two good mates will be coming for Xmas dinner, the Italian kind (home made pizza, yum) accompanied by cold ales and tall tales. I’ll offer a movie from Netflix for dessert, maybe The Irishman, but at three hours it’ll be too long. Still, there are plenty of choices.

I’m quite pleased with my subscription and use it several times a week, but a friend raised a point I hadn’t thought of: by paying for streaming TV, I’m contributing to the death of free-to-air TV in Australia, thereby reducing diversity of opinion and reducing Australian employment.

Hmmm, he’s right, you know. It’s a dilemma. I don’t find anything of interest on the commercial channels, although I’m a staunch viewer and supporter of the ABC and SBS. Yet most of their best material is from overseas.

I don’t know the answer, but I don’t think me cancelling my Netflix subscription would be able to turn the tide.

Up in smoke

Americas Cup 1986 © PJ Croft 2019

Our underground cabled internet/phone/TV failed yesterday, somewhere around 6pm, I think. I thought it was my modem at first, but cycling the power did no good. Then my neighbour texted to ask if I had TV reception. Nope, so I knew it was a system failure.

I waited a while then called iiNet Support. Surprisingly, I only had to wait a couple of minutes at around 7pm. They didn’t know what the problem was, but asked me to let them investigate and to wait. It came good at about 7:51pm.

I only mention this in detail because a memory returned a bit later.

On Sunday morning at 02:20am I was up for a “bathroom break” and when I returned to the bed, I heard men’s voices, quite low level, outside my bedroom window, on the footpath (my bedroom windows are only about 3m from the footpath). They had torches and the light was flashing around, through my blinds. They had a van, because I could hear the doors, and I heard chinking sounds as they lifted the concrete cover over the cable pit in the footpath. That’s what it sounded like, anyway.

Did I get up and open my front door to see what was going on? You guessed it, I didn’t. I was half asleep and too lazy to get up. Besides, opening the front door at 2.20am in my jarmie shorts? Noooo.

After 5 mins or so, doors slammed and they drove away. About 15 mins later, they came back and did something else, I don’t know what. There was lots of muted discussion, then they went away again and that was it for the night. I’d forgotten by the morning.

So who were they, what were they doing at 2.20am on a Sunday morning? They must have been Opticomm men because that’s the company who installed this underground system and who do the maintenance for it.

Then three days later, the system fails for two hours around here. Support told me there were lots of calls, so it must have been widespread. Velly strange!

[Update] It failed again yesterday (Wednesday). Same times, roughly. Off for two hours, phoned iiNet Support, they don’t know why, passed it on to Opticomm. Then it just comes back. I hope this isn’t going to repeat.

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“I well tack them if that don’t or old and don’t won’t them”

This is an ad on Facebook Marketplace. It’s next to a picture of a Windows 10 screen on a laptop. I think it means he wants to buy laptops, but who knows? It sounds almost like Olde English. I’m reading books on Shakespeare at the moment.

People place their ads on Facebook, but they obviously don’t read back over what they’ve written. Perhaps they can’t read? I think many, many people are barely literate, even in this modern world.

It’s also terrible that maths literacy (not litracy! There are four syllables) is still declining in Australia compared to the rest of the world. The Chinese and Singaporean kids are leaps and bounds ahead of Aussie kids, and that’s going to hamper us for generations to come. I think we’ve already lost the next war, the cyber war.

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I’ve just received my daily package from the Wish website. That’s 16 orders I’ve placed now, since early October, each order consisting of 20 or more items. Today, I’ve received a plastic compartment box with an assortment of glass fuses from 200mA to 20A, for about $6; another packet of 10 special tubular screws for putting thick collections of sheets of paper (i.e. books) together, about $5; another packet of 10 miniature plastic trees for my model railway, about $4; a free pair of fine tipped cutters; four packets of thermal fuses in various temperatures, about $6; and so on and on and on.

I’ve just about bought everything I can think of that I might need for now. I have enough mini trees to build a realistic forest along the lines, and enough miniature street lights to populate several streets and car parks. They are both tiny LEDs and mini-incandescents as well, to give a mixture of lighting. Lots of relay assemblies to control things with one switch, and so on. And to make my day, Silicon Chip magazine are producing a full DCC control system in January’s issue, just what I wanted. I’ve built up two copies of their 10A booster power supplies from a few years ago, so I might be able to start running trains soon. Just for test at the moment.

It’s about time, I’ve been fiddling and faddling for years on this.

Wish have changed their policy; there used to be postage charged on every item, and it often used to amount to as much or more as the cost of the items.  But many, many items were shown as “Free, just pay postage”, so I took advantage of a lot of those.

But now, postage is included on all items, so the price you see is the total. But there are no free items any more. I could never understand why they gave stuff free. I assumed it was loss-leaders, but I was buying anyway, I hardly needed to be enticed. I also thought it might be manufacturers’ excess stock. Who knows?

[Update] The “Free, just pay postage” items are back. They must have received complaints, I suppose. I’m pleased, because a lot of the free offers are interesting to me.

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Phew, hot weather. It’s 38C here today, on the way to 40C on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and probably Sunday. At least we don’t have the fire problems of the eastern states, and although it’s very dry here, it’s not the millennium drought they are having in the rest of the country. It rained quite heavily for 10 mins or so last Saturday. WA, world’s best climate!

I cannot understand the PM, Morrison, Scummo. In constant denial mode, refusing Commonwealth government help to the volunteer firefighters no matter how much they plead. What is wrong with this evil person?

Due to the smoke problem in Sydney, his wife and daughters have flown out of there to Perth. When questioned why they escaped Sydney, he said they had planned a Perth trip for some time. Nice work if you can afford to do that, eh Scummo?

How bad is it when the Prime Minister of Australia is commonly known by that derogatory knickname, Scummo, derived from ScoMo, but meaning Scumbag. That’s what he is. He is dragging the reputation of this country into the mud. How bad is that? I hawk and spit on him.

Watch out, there’s a thief about

0170042-01

Grrrr!

I’ve been robbed. Yesterday I noticed that something seemed odd in the garage near my Honda,  the west wall with all the shelves in other words. I had two boxes stacked there until I have room to open and install them, the bottom one a small table saw and on top of it, a boxed drop saw. Both were/are from Aldi and both were/are brand new, unopened.

Last night it hit me – the top box, the drop saw, is not there. I had to double check this morning but it’s true, it’s gone.

About Monday I went out, driving the Honda, so clearing the area of the boxes, and I’m certain I closed the garage door. I saw it going down.

When I got back about four hours later I found the folder door open to the laneway. Oh well, I thought, it’s happened a few times before and seems to be stray leakage from someone else’s remote or other electronic equipment. Impossible to diagnose or remedy.

So it looks as if someone saw the boxes and was tempted. It must have been a male because the saw was pretty heavy, and he would have needed a car because it’s pretty bulky.

It was only an Aldi and it only cost $70, but it hurts. Nothing I can do about it. My fault for having a vulnerable garage door. Phut!

Lazy Sunday afternoon

Charles twit

Now that’s man-spreading. Even royalty does it.

Browsing the web, on the AutoDesk site (software company, makers of the famous AutoCAD, you may have heard of it), in the job openings section, they have a vacancy for a Backend Engineer. I wonder how much thought they gave to that title?

By the way, in just the engineers section of the job vacancies, out of about 20 categories, there are 139 vacancies worldwide! This is a massive US company. It dwarfs Australian companies.

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I can say I was one of the first users of AutoCAD, with version 1 way back in the late 1980s at Channel 7. Up to then we had done all our drawings, and there were hundreds, on tracing paper using Rotring Indian ink pens. If you used them you might remember how they dried out all the time, how they leaked, how easy it was to make mistakes and how difficult it was to correct them. Fibreglass brush erasers that rubbed a hole in the paper. Black ink stains on fingers and clothes. No way to use colour or layers. And it was so slow. It was awful.

So when we got the chance to try this new CAD thing (Computer Aided Design/Drawing) we jumped at it. The first product, AutoCAD, cost $4,000 in about 1989 and was supplied by an AutoDesk approved local company already installed and set up on what was called a “blue-print system”. That was a PC (IBM PC or approved compatible) that had been tested and approved by AutoDesk as capable of handling the demands of this software.

These were the days of 80286 CPUs, maths co-processors, 1MB of RAM, Centronics printer ports, RS232 serial ports for the mouse and graphics tablet and running the MS-DOS operating system. The computer struggled sometimes (“redraw” and wait) and all the tricks of autoexec.bat and config.sys had to be used to ensure things got loaded properly so as to use that tiny amount of RAM. You think computers these days are hard? They were infinitely harder back then. This was well before Windows came along. Programs ran under DOS control, with 5¼” floppy disks and 40MB hard drives.

Anyway, I well remember I was on the night shift and about 5pm the chief engineer came and handed me the manual for AutoCAD v1, or may be v2, and said, “How would you like to have a look at this?” Oh, yes please.

Our system was supplied as a loan demo test system on an Olivetti PC with a big heavy 12″ square tablet using a pen with a single level of pressure as a select switch, like a left mouse button. The tablet had embedded wires that sensed the position of the pen and pressing down made a dot that started or finished a line on the screen, or a curve, and so on. The screen was colour, but only 14″ in size and the palette was limited to about 16 colours. You get the idea? This was primitive!

Anyway, I spent several hours that night working out how to use it and next day said I thought it was good. I was understating it. It turned out to be brilliant! The amount of time it saved us and the ability to use layers, coloured lines, predrawn symbols, to modify drawings as things were changed, electronic filing of drawings… it soon became necessary to almost book time to use it.

Although I say it saved us time, the system was really very slow. Drawing circuit and system diagrams took a long time and plotting them out on paper added as much as 30 mins when you’d finished a drawing. Then you discovered your mistakes and had to correct them and do the plotting again. It was common to go to lunch while a plot was being drawn.

AutoDesk grew the software fast in the next few years and we were soon on to version 3, 4, 5, up to 7 and so on. Each upgrade involved a cost of at least $1,000, not to mention new PCs required to handle the increased speed and memory requirements. Naturally, old versions became available for free, if strictly unofficial use and I soon had version 2 up and running on my 80286 with maths co-processor at home. I think I had 640KB of RAM and a 40MB hard drive. It seems crazy now.

Anyway, I used to do drawings at home using just the mouse instead of a pen, and doing test printouts on an NEC dot matrix printer. Crazy, but I would take my drawings to work on floppy and transfer them into our system, correct them and plot ’em out. There was no USB and virtually no viruses in those days.

Then Windows came along. I remember first seeing it when Windows v1.0 came supplied in the box, on about 8 3.5in floppies, with a program called Asymetrix Toolbook, which was designed to run on Windows. This must have been about 1989 too. It was very primitive, blocky and jaggy and easily crashable. I’ve got screen shots of each version…

windows1

Windows 1.0

Win 2.0

Windows 2

Win 3.11 1993

Windows 3  1993

Win 95 1995

Windows 95   1995

Win 98 1998

Windows 98  1998

Win ME 2000

Windows ME 2000

Win XP 2001

Windows XP  2001

Win 7 2009

Windows 7  2009

Windows-8

Windows 8 2005

windows-10

Windows 10

The next memory is being in Hong Kong in October 1992 on my return from Japan, and trying to buy “bootleg” software. AutoCAD was the holy grail and I went from my hotel on the island, by the ferry to the mainland and a train to a northern suburb (it might have been Mong Kok) shopping centre I’d been told about. Yes, it was everywhere in the shops, and Windows too, so I bought both. It was all floppies in those days, and it took a lot of disks. In my naïvety I questioned the shop seller about whether I could be sure I was actually getting the software on the disks. I got a lip curl and a snort. “Well, I can’t bring it back if it doesn’t work” I said. He just laughed and turned away. I was very naïve.

12Jan91-37

My computer den, Jan 1991. MS-DOS 286 PC, 13″ b/w monitor, NEC dot matrix printer.

So back home and at work, AutoCAD progressed to 17″ monitors (wow), Windows (I’m not sure we ever went that far at work?), and a new tablet with much better sensitivity and resolution.

But one guy in Engineering took a strong interest in the system and kind of took charge, with the tacit approval of the chief engineer. He spent nearly all his time at it, went on training courses and handled all the upgrades as if they were church rites and he was the bishop. It didn’t hinder me much because I used to do a lot of my drawings, not that there were many, at home or in other drawing programs on my office PC but it was a bit irritating. I got frowns and dubious looks and scrutiny of the drawings, with a few tut-tuts, but it was generally OK.

By then ink jet printers had progressed far beyond the capability of plotters, and printing A3 (the biggest we needed) was easy at home, so I did. Drawings printed in about 1/20th of the time a plotter took, without all the rigmarole of making sure the coloured pens were in the right holes of the plotter and not dried out and so on.

AutoCAD was and still is a mind-blowingly complex program and not easy to use. It’s still the pre-eminent CAD program even now, 30 years later. It costs about US$4,000 per year to use now. You don’t own it, you rent it. I remember thinking that if one was to make oneself an expert, one would never be short of a job, so I had this idea that by buying computer books, I would become that expert. I spent many hundreds of dollars on books 6″ thick or more. Did it make me an expert? Naaah. If I’d really put the work in, maybe, but I had a life to live as well.

I spent thousands of $$$ on computer hardware, software, books and magazines in the late 80s and 90s. It did work – I became Supervisor, Broadcast Digital Systems for the last five or six years and I managed to persuade the company to give me a $4,000pa computer allowance and buy me a $7,000 piece of software called Authorware. This went nowhere near what I’d spent before, but there ya go.

I foresaw a future career in Authorware, by the way, another complex program with 6″ thick books written about it, but what I didn’t foresee was that html and the web became a much easier way to deliver training courses. The Authorware company (Macromedia) was bought by Adobe who maintained the program for a few years, then abruptly shut it down, throwing many guys who had become training specialists using it on the scrapheap. Despite protests, Adobe refused to sell the source code to any other company. So that was it. I have a $7,000 piece of software, now worthless.

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