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Thursday, 26 December 2013

On tinned meat and dense brains

I have been thinking much about tinned meat of late, because in the 1950s, we children in Waratah Street would rise at 4 am to wake our parents and open some parcels before we met in the street and play with our new toys. The childless Mr and Mrs Lane would keep an eye on us and then haul all the kids they could find off to the beach for a swim, while our bleary-eyed parents snatched a couple of hours of light sleep before we returned.

Then the parents would all pile into the Lanes' flat down the street and consume much fluid while we continued to run quiet riot in the street. Christmas dinner arrived at about 3 pm, and by then, my father was nicely pie-eyed, and ALWAYS cut his hand opening the tinned ham.  It was part of Christmas.  That was how I first recall seeing tinned meat.

Last night, Christmas night, I heard Stephen Fry on QI refer to the Franklin expedition consuming very early tinned meat, circa 1845.  Franklin, by the way, had earlier been the Governor of Van Diemen's Land before sailing off to seek the North-West Passage from the Pacific to the Atlantic Ocean.

The context of Fry's comment was that in the earliest days of putting meat in cans, the solder was too high in lead.  The expedition suffered lead poisoning, but it wasn't an early mistake, because canning meat was old technology by then.

I knew it was old, because I recalled right away that on Christmas  day, 1813, exactly 200 years earlier, just across the Blue Mountains, George Evans wrote (my emphasis added):
"Being Christmas day we remained for a day's rest; yet we walked about as much as a day's journey looking around us, and ascending Hills to see the Country, which is excellent pasture, the soil is light, but exceeds the Forest Lands in general on the East side of the Mountains. The day is so hott the Fish will not bite; it is the only time they have missed; therefore I opened my tin case of Roasted Beef."
That reminded me of Donkin's Hill, which I have yet to visit. It is at 14:58 S, 125:30 E, near enough, and it is named after Bryan Donkin who, with John Hall, made tinned meats in England. The hill commemorates a tin of Donkin's meat eaten there in 1820. The leader of the eaters was Lt Phillip Parker King, much later an Admiral and leader of Sydney's scientific community.  Here is what he wrote in September 1820:
"A steep peaked hill near our landing-place was named Donkin’s Hill after the inventor of the preserved meats; upon a canister of which our party dined. This invention is now so generally known that its merits do not require to be recorded here; we had lately used a case that was preserved in 1814 which was equally good with some that had been packed up in 1818. This was the first time it had been employed upon our boat excursions and the result fully answered every expectation, as it prevented that excessive and distressing thirst from which, in all other previous expeditions, we had suffered very much.
At the end of the 19th century, David Carnegie was rather more scathing of tinned meat:
"Tinned meat is good, sometimes excellent; but when you find that a cunning storekeeper has palmed off all his minced mutton on you, you are apt to fancy tinned fare monotonous! Such was our case; and no matter what the label, the contents were always the same—though we tried to differentiate in imagination, as we used to call it venison, beef, veal, or salmon, for variety’s sake! ‘Well, old chap, what shall we have for tea— Calf’s head? Grouse? Pheasant?’ ‘Hum! what about a little er—minced mutton—we’ve not had any for some time, I think.’ In this way we added relish to our meal."
These chaps have all been in my mind, because they are all potentially players in one of the Not Your Usual series, Not Your Usual Explorers, which will look at some of the unexpected people who went exploring in Australia.  Teenagers (even teenage girls), foreigners, convicts, Aborigines and women were all involved, as were a number of complete fools who also need to appear in any true history.

Speaking of fools, Christopher Pyne, has the notion that as Minister for Education, it is his anointed role to determine what shall be taught as Australian history, and I will warrant none of the above characters or events would appear in his tight-sphinctered list of dead white males.

George Evans is a typical example of the competent human who was attacked by feral oafs for extraneous reasons.  Like James Cook and Joseph Banks, among others of that era, George could not spell.  That was enough to set the third-rate pedant wannabes rolling in the aisles.

The public schoolboys sniggered and nudged each other because George thought a rivulet was a river lett. Superciliously, they added that to the map as a joke on old George, and he was barred from leading further expeditions.  Lucky John Oxley took George along as a 2-i-c, and safely away from the pen-pushers, had George running long-range independent forays.  Oxley understood competence.

That line of thought made me recall where I met Pyne's type before.  Now a bit of background: I have always been a debater, and like most debaters, I relished the role of third speaker, but as something of a demolition expert, I always got the gig.  I was articulate, I could think on my feet, and I knew where the jugular was.

When I went to university, slightly over 50 years ago, I found that most people treated each other as equals, taking people as they found them. That said, a certain type of wet-behind-the-ears public schoolboy would enquire as to the school I attended, and when I said I had attended Manly Boys' High, they would withdraw a little, as from a leper, saying in tones of shocked surprise, "Ooooh, you don't speak like a state school boy!"

Come into my parlour, said the third speaker to the fly...

I am small and harmless-looking. I would smile gently, and explain that while some people had to go to a special school to learn how to speak well, others of us acquired it through breeding.  Suddenly, they would realise that they were ankle-deep in acid.

Soon after, they became aware that ankle-deep is not good, not if you are head-downwards.

Before long, the word apparently went around about me, and as I approached, you could see this type scattering. They would cross, in order, themselves, their fingers, their legs, their eyes and the road as they fled from my gaze.

That is exactly the phenotype I see when I look at Christopher Pyne: ignorant, arrogant, stupid and quintessentially uninformed, sadly lacking in education, empathy or awareness. Pigeons ripe for the plucking.

Here is my challenge to this buffoon: meet me anywhere in public to debate what Australian history should be. I undertake to cross-examine you and demonstrate your woeful ignorance of facts, figures (both numerical and personal), motives, motivations, techniques and technologies, societies, societal standards, traditions, ideas and ideals, language and a great deal more.

In the improbable even that you win, I will have won in any case, because you will have been forced to take a crash course in Australian history. I recommend the book on the right as a starting place. The pictures are already coloured-in.

My bet is that he will end up resembling Carnegie's minced mutton.  I am growing old, but I am still up to slam-dunking a pip-squeak, and showing a pipsqueak up for what he is would be one of the best services I could do the next generation.

Please, Chris, come into my parlour.

For my last dunking of Christopher Pyne in hot psittacoid waste material, see The Foolish Minister.

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Words of wisdom from 1949

I spend a small part of each day correcting OCR records in the National Library's 'Historic Newspapers Collection', and today, I was digging in 1949. There is a method to my digging, but it is hard to spot: at one point, I went through and corrected every story published on the day I was born, though you would be hard put to find it now, because so many newspapers have come on line since then.

No matter: for those who know something of my affairs, I am solidly into the Cornish Boy series again, and that is eating my thinking time. More of the Cornish Boy and his adventures some other time, here is a fascinating series of excerpts taken from a lecture in 1949: the source and a link to it appear at the end.

One thing: I have picked two elements from this to use in Cornish Boy, so I am off to amend the ms as soon as this goes.  See if you can guess which ones they are.

* * * * *

HENRY TONKS, a surgeon and one of the greatest art teachers England has produced… diagnosed one of the principal complaints of modern civilisation. I think it was Max Beerbohm who said that he was tired of the expression, 'the age of the common man.' What he wanted to hear about was the age of the uncommon man. The aim of civilisation is surely not to produce a uniform and dull level of shared mediocrity. Still less is it to produce a society, such as we see in certain parts of the world, where the voice of the uncommon man is effectively silenced. We must be on guard, therefore, against the dangerous cult of mediocrity which is steadily spreading throughout the world. One of the symptoms of this growth is the hostility that is increasingly shown to personal distinction in manner, in speech, in dress, and, not least, in intellect. No great nation seems to be exempt.

* * * * *

In the United States and Great Britain second-rate film actors, writers, and even crooners are mobbed as if they were national heroes; whilst in Soviet Russia painters who perpetuate the worst academic traditions of the nineteenth century are hailed as masters of the modern movement. I have already referred to the tendency for members of mass formations to impose their collective opinions and values on other members of the community. Scarcely less deplorable is the way in which the taste of the people is regulated and controlled by commercially standardised changes of fashion. It is a question, not of choice among many new looks, but of the one and only new look, which the public is allowed to take but not, alas I to leave. 

* * * * *

Respect for the past has ceased to be, for many sections of the com- munity, an important factor in regulating and guiding political decisions; for these sections the past is merely something to be swept away as quickly and thoroughly as possible. During the period of rebuilding that followed World War One a member of the Georgian Society remarked that the highest praise to be given any beautiful house in London was to say: 'It is almost good enough to deserve demolition.'  The remark is equally applicable to the lovely early Colonial architecture of Sydney. This architecture should be as inviolable as the parks. Like the parks, It serves no industrial or commercial purpose. Like the parks, it is a reminder of values other than those of industry and commerce. But in an age without respect for the past, and with little heed for beauty, these gracious memorials of Australia's past seem doomed to disappear.

* * * * *

THIS careless and ungrateful destruction is more than a symptom; it is a symbol. An age of mediocrity not only dislikes the past: it fears it. Fortunately ours is still a free society, and it is possible to draw attention to the dangers both of historical neglect and of false history. History teaches us that those societies which have turned to the past for inspiration have also best adapted themselves to changing circumstances.

* * * * *

A student of the Eighteenth Century may be forgiven if he draws attention to certain peculiar merits of that century. I should like to argue, if there were time, that it produced the last civilised society the modern world has produced. The century had a rational approach to life, an approach which is summed up in Its splendid title, the 'Age of Reason.' The basis of this rational attitude was not only good logic, which is rare, but good manners, which are rarer still. It was an age of tolerance, but not of undiscriminating tolerance. Its governing principle may be summed up in the sentence: 'Let us tolerate all but the intolerant.' 

This spirit of tolerance made it possible for an atheist, the historian Gibbon, and a Christian Bishop, Watson, to exchange sincere compliments in the midst of the most heated controversy of the age. It also made it possible for the far-reaching reforms of the nineteenth century to be initiated, if not without bitterness, at least in accordance with the peaceful machinery of a democratic constitution. In other words, the 'Age of Reason' is a reminder of those values of reasonable conduct, tolerance, free enquiry, and humane sentiment. which the world needs so badly to-day.

* * * * *

BUT there must be one reservation in our praise. The great qualities of the eighteenth century, its merits and its benefits, were, confined to a very small class. Very few members of this class seem to have worried, because this was the case. This was a grave fault, and I think we can claim an improvement in our own times. To-day, there are much fewer people who enjoy some peculiar privilege or benefit and do not look forward to the day when the same privilege or benefit can be enjoyed by every member of the community. 

Most of us, I suppose, have some idealistic friend who talks of the classless society. I must confess that I do not fully understand this phrase, for even if we eliminate the classes made by man, there will still remain the classes instituted by nature. But there is a sense in which the ideal of a classless society was realised even within the limitations of the eighteenth century. Let me venture upon a somewhat heretical definition.

* * * * *

A classless society is one in which the members address one another, not as 'comrade,' but as 'sir.' It is a society based not on universal familiarity, which is a low ideal, but universal respect, which is a high one. Such was the society of the famous Literary Club, of which Dr. Johnson, Reynolds, Goldsmith, Burke, and others were members. If we are to set before ourselves an ideal community, as we should, let it be one in which all members, however moderate their gifts or humble their occupation, show respect to others, and deserve it themselves. If man cannot only master his machines, but return also to the standards of the 'Age of Reason,' the future of democracy will be safe, and the common man will recognise and respect, both in himself and in his neighbour, un common potentialities.

* * * * *

The author is Joseph Burke who was then the Herald Professor of Fine Arts in the University of Melbourne, in the Syme Oration delivered in Brisbane to the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons the previous night 

Thursday, 12 December 2013

When pumice comes to visit

In July 2012, a seamount in the area of the Kermadec Islands, between New Zealand and Fiji, began to erupt. The result was a huge raft of floating rock. We call that rock pumice.

We have been picking up a bit of pumice recently, just odd lumps here and there, but in the past few weeks. the coast of eastern Australia has been getting quite a share of it.

What's more, the pumice has been carrying passengers, so over the last couple of days, I have collected a few of these to share with you.

In the first shot, there is an Australian $2 coin, which is there as a scale: it is 2 cm (8/10 of an inch) across.

I didn't use a scale on the others, but the life forms will let you jump from one to another.

The passengers included gooseneck barnacles, but only on a few of them, and sadly, the barnacles came adrift as I was carrying the pieces home.

The main other passengers were bryozoans , also call polyzoans, as seen on the left. To get a scale, look at the tubeworms (probably Galeolaria) in that shot and below.

The last shot is just a closer look at the bryozoan.

I am busy right now, working on a project called Cornish Boy, but sooner of later, I will get around to Not Your Usual Rocks, when I will talk about pumice, the only rock that floats.

 And why does it float?  Wait for the book!


Thursday, 5 December 2013

The last of the bushrangers

I have been exceedingly busy, getting the first seven Not Your Usual... books ready for publication. There are now five of the seven "in the bag", the sixth only needs some navigation links inserted, while number seven needs some serious revision.

That was the position when I came across a reference to a bushranger called Tom Hughes. In Not Your Usual Bushrangers, I had declared that the bushranging era was dead and over in 1880, following the executions of Captain Moonlite and Ned Kelly.  Annoying my sense of the neatness of things, Hughes came on the scene in 1887.  Here is a new end portion that I have just crafted for Not Your Usual Bushrangers.



Declaring somebody to be "the last of the bushrangers" can be a dangerous business. I was doing the last revision on this book when I chanced on a reference to a policeman whose father had once captured "Hughes the bushranger".

Luckily for my reputation, curiosity got the better of me, mainly because I had never heard of Tom Hughes. I saw a bit about him, and then saw that, after being acquitted of a robbery in 1887, the police were sure he was responsible for a number of burglaries in Perth and Fremantle, so they began watching him closely.

By 1944, The Daily News saw fit
to illustrate O'Connell's killing.
One night, two constables, Franklin and O'Connell, saw him near Fremantle, followed him, and when he ran, they gave chase. They got him by the legs as he went through a fence, but he drew a pistol and shot Constable O'Connell, who later died.

Hughes took off into the bush, but from my point of view, he was not worth looking into, just a burglar who killed a policeman. Assuming that he would have gone to the gallows for that, I almost dismissed him, then and there, as not much of a bushranger, and far from interesting.

I glanced at the next article in my search, and it was headed "Cowboy and Bushranger". I wondered if this might explain why Hughes was such a late entrant into the bushranging game. Could he have got romantic notions of bushranging, while he was in America, and moved to Australia?

I read on—and discovered pure dross. Take this introduction and note the overall smell of baloney, tinged with malarkey and topped with a liberal dose of Yellow Press sauce: it had apparently been published first in the New York Sun.
Colonel Tom Ochiltree sat in the barroom of the Hoffman yesterday drinking champagne with a friend, when a reporter came in. 
"Say, Tom Hughes has been bagged,' he remarked to the reporter. He was much surprised to learn that the reporter was not acquainted with Mr. Hughes. 
"Why, he was at one time one of the first citizens of Denison and at another time of Lareda. Why, everybody in Texas and every other State must have known Tom Hughes. But let me tell you, his capture was accomplished only because of his hard luck, and hard luck was an infrequent incident in the picturesque life of one of the old-time-spirits that fifteen or twenty years ago gave a zest to life in this country."
The Daily News (Perth), Monday 9 January 1888, 3,
 A Texas colonel, swilling champagne in a New York bar? Pull the other one, it's got bells on it!

Still, I did some checking, and found that there was a famous Texan Ochiltree who was a colonel, but he died in 1867, so that made this colonel sound fictitious. I saw, though that he was William of that ilk, so I looked for Tom, and uncovered an original character of that name who had been a Texas Ranger, a Confederate Colonel, a US Marshall, and a Congressman from 1883 to 1885, after which he retired to play the stock market in New York.

So  Ochiltree was genuine, but what of the facts? Hughes would have been dead at the end of 1887: nobody likes cop killers, so there was probably no story for me there! I felt somehow that there was a distinctly fishy odour to Ochiltree's yarn, but I was busy, so I set it aside to get on with some real work.

And so it came to pass, the following night, that my newspaper search filter was set to pull up records from the 1940s. The Tom Hughes itch started, and I ran a search on <Tom Hughes bushranger>, mainly planning to see when he went to the gallows. It would have been neat, I thought, if he was hanged before January 26, 1888, the centenary of the first white settlers landing in Australia.

What I found was a report with the heading "WA's Most Desperate Bushranger Dies". Its date was December 16, 1944. Now without wanting to underline my senior citizen status too strongly, he died after I was born, meaning that in a technical sense, I was born in the era of the bushrangers. Now there was a definite story for me, and it is largely summed up in the first three paragraphs:
WA's Most Desperate Bushranger Dies 
Tom Hughes, only bushranger worthy of renown in that dubious trade Western Australia has known, was buried in Karrakatta cemetery on Tuesday. Many years ago he hurried over that now consecrated ground when hotly pursued by mounted troopers who wanted him for the killing of a policeman at Fremantle. For weeks Hughes had been sought around Fremantle and Perth. It was not long after he ran over the scrub lands that are now Karrakatta cemetery that he was captured and he spent the greater part of his remaining life in gaol.
It is a remarkable fact that when West Australian bushrangers are spoken of the name of Moondyne Joe is first mentioned. Moondyne never engaged in gun play. He was an expert gaol escapee and he robbed settlers' huts; but he never fought pursuing police nor fired a shot at anyone as Hughes did on many occasions. Tom Hughes was born and brought up in and about a humpy where there is now the well populated riverside suburb of Bicton. As a lad he worked as a coachman for a Roman Catholic prelate, but he quickly became a burglar. He robbed the licensee of the Freemasons' Tavern which is now the Palace Hotel in Perth. After three trials, at the end of each of which juries disagreed, he was freed. 
Robberies At Fremantle There followed robberies of tools and explosives from quarries near the traffic bridge at Fremantle and a watch set by police culminated in the chasing of Hughes one Sunday evening as he sneaked away from the quarry with goods he had stolen. Lying in wait for him were two policemen named O'Connell and Franklin. That was in April, 1887, when Hughes was 21. When they challenged him Hughes dropped his bundle of stolen goods and scaled a wall into the street along which buses run into Fremantle centre today after crossing the bridge. The two policemen were so fast after him that they were able to grab his legs as he scrambled through a paling fence on the opposite side. People who had been at church were returning home when they saw the chase.
The Daily News (Perth), Saturday 16 December 1944, 23.
Further digging revealed that the Ochiltree story had some true bits about it, but it was a case of mistaken identity. Our Tom Hughes had a younger brother in Perth who had also tried his hand at burglary, but the boy was only 11, and Ochiltree's Tom Hughes would have been in his forties.
The American Tom had a cool head, if the following story of his being bailed up near Fort Scott in Kansas is true. When I read it, I almost wanted this to be the same Tom Hughes as the bushranger, given the way he tricked his would-be robbers.
Hughes, with his knees knocking together and lower jaw drooping, kept his hands up, but they wore flopping about in a way that made the man with the pistol laugh. He couldn't help turning his head a minute to remark to one of the men with him that he 'never see sich a idjit,' but he never said anything else after that. The moment his eye got around to his companion, Hughes' shaking right hand dropped down on the butt of a revolver somewhere about his clothing, and even before the robber saw the motion, Hughes sent a bullet through his heart. He shot one of the others with the next pull of the trigger, and then told the third to hold up his hands and make tracks toward Fort Scott, which was done instanter.
The Australian Tom Hughes was a superb bushman, who eluded the police for a large slice of 1887, but in the end they got him, after he was shot in the thigh. According to reports at the time, he told the police he expected to pay for his crimes (meaning with his life), and wished they had killed him outright.

He knew he was guilty, everybody did. So why didn't the bushranger Hughes swing? Well, it seems popular sympathy went his way, and all he got was a verdict of manslaughter for killing O'Connell. He was given a long sentence and closely watched, but it wasn't enough.

With the help of another prisoner, Jarvis, they overpowered two guards, seized a gun and forced other prisoners to put up a plank that they used to scale the 18-foot (5.5 metre) wall. Warders gave chase, but they lost the escapees' tracks and Hughes and Jarvis stayed at large for some time, but in the end they were caught.

Reading between the lines, he suffered for his brutal attack on the warder, but after that, he behaved himself and waited for his sentence to end.

One thing is certain: having served his time and been released, Hughes died at the ripe old age (in those days) of 79. He was a late entrant into the bushranging game, and he was young when he did so.

I think I am fairly safe if I now dub him "the last of the bushrangers".

But you never know...


And the series?  I am looking at a January release of seven e-books. Stay posted.

And just an afterthought, here is a link to an earlier piece I did on another unusual bushranger.

Friday, 22 November 2013

The Foolish Minister

I am playing whack-a-shark today (it's like whack-a-mole, but with shinier teeth), but I set things aside, because something is annoying me.

Yes, Minister, I write history. Do you?
I would like to muse briefly on the concept of educational policy, and the way in which it ought to formulated in the Westminster system. This is brought upon because I am a professional writer, and I write a lot of history. I am no historian, but I am soaked in history, and I know what matters.

History isn't about dates, it isn't about the names of dead white males, it is about ideas and about ideals. It is inspiration, it is about wit and intelligence. It is about methods, and technology, and cleverness, and bravery, grit and determination, wherever it comes from.

At the moment, a preening coxcomb (you point, I'll whistle) has been swaggering around declaring that he is the Minister of Education, and he will decide what is to go in the history syllabus.

The man is a fool, of course, but he also has the cunning of a sewer rat, and he is playing the populist card. Think of somebody talking about ''********-bashing'', given that the missing word is specified as a profession. If I say this form of bashing is a popular sport, what word will you put in place of ''********''?  It won't be sharks or moles...

Nobody would bother singling out dentists, accountants or grocers for extreme abuse (aside from Mr. Chesterton, who had a thing about grocers, that is). Those professions are not seen as worthy targets.

To my way of thinking, there are just three professions that draw down the spite and ire of the general public to the extent that people want to badmouth them and tell jokes about them—and politicians want to join in bashing them. Lawyers probably come first, then doctors, then teachers.

It occurs to me that we really ought to bash pollies first and foremost, but like the schoolyard bullies they undoubtedly were, once upon a time, they see the need to distract their victims by leading them to an attack on somebody else. So lawyers, doctors and teachers cop it from the public—but politicians fear crossing the doctors and lawyers, so teachers are the low-hanging fruit.

Two of these professions are seen as bastions of the rich (as in ''the law is an appropriate study for the avaricious who cannot stand the sight of blood'') and as homes for aloof users of obfuscatory language, but why are teachers in the target range?

Teachers are not well-paid when you look at their training and the hours they work, if you compare them with the other two professions—and they use simple language. While they have professional expertise, teachers describe what they do in simple terms, unlike lawyers and doctors. So why bash teachers?

Some people may be aware that over the years I have worn a mixture of hats, and some years ago, wearing my media hat, I attended a media briefing on genetic modifications, where several CSIRO heavyweights and UTS researchers gave excellent accounts of their work. I have formal training in genetics, and I found their accounts fascinating.

At the end, a well-known television nonentity spoke up (no names, but he liked backyards). ''I used to breed budgerigars, so I understand genetics, and I know that GM is wrong,'' he told the scientists, and those who (he assumed) would be hanging on his every word.

I know very little about the breeding of birds of any sort, but I do understand genetics, and I am well-versed in the many variations of technology.  From this background, I am convinced there is no such thing as a bad or wrong technology, though I realise that many technologies can be misused. The objection was founded on a sadly flawed premise.

Let me put it this way: GM can be used for good or bad purposes, so can a motor vehicle, which may be am armoured personnel carrier, a tank, a Mob getaway car—or an ambulance, a school bus or a fire engine. So would you ban motor vehicles or not?  You should, if you would ban GM because it can be dangerous!

Back to the idiot Don, for some reason, I said nothing at the time, but like the other people present who knew their science, I left the venue wondering how this bloke could be so thick as to think he knew it all. After several purely medicinal applications of diluted carbonated ethanol, we concluded that it was because the idiot knew so little of genetics that he really WAS convinced that he knew it all.

I believe that this is where the teacher-bashers come in. When we stand in front of a class, education, teaching, training, wisdom, knowledge, learning, understanding and erudition are all parts of what we should be transmitting, along with culture, enthusiasm and a few other things.  It is a rich and nourishing meal that we deliver, day in and day out.

But to the simple critics, teaching is what they did when they taught a younger blood-relative to ride a bicycle, or to swim, or to drive. There are no nuances, no finesse, no planning—you just step up to the mark and commence your spiel. No control problems either, because the young'n has volunteered, is alone, motivated, and with a relative.

Because the would-be critics have never stopped to evaluate their respective performances, they are convinced that they achieved perfect results in minimum time. In fact, any decent cost-benefit analysis and standardised pre-test/post-test evaluation would show that in most cases, the driver-teaching was abysmal in terms of productivity, woeful in terms of societal attitudes transmitted, and directed at reaching a pass-mark, not at achieving true excellence.

Why else do we have so many traffic accidents and incidents of road rage? I blame the teachers, you know...

Nonetheless, from their data-free position, the critics of the teaching profession believe themselves well-placed to sit in judgement on those who devote their working lives to trying to broaden the views of their children. It is their self-assigned role to find teachers wanting, because they have taught, and they know what it is all about.  As well might they claim expertise based on breeding budgerigars!

It is my belief, based on my own observations and those of my father before me (he was in the same game), that over the past 50 years, the most amazing disasters among New South Wales ministers of education were mainly those who had teacher training. Like my budgerigar-breeding acquaintance, they thought they knew it all. One of the greatest disasters had been a lecturer in education, another gained a Dip. Ed. as a tertiary teacher, but never faced a school classroom.

A minister of the crown is, by definition, a politician, one versed in doing that which is politic, They need good people skills, and I envy them that—even the poorest back-bencher outshines me on that dimension. Ministers would not be where they are without some sort of brains (Charlie Cutler was an exception), but they are generally not great thinkers, and ministers of any portfolio and political complexion are most certainly not people with expertise in the byways of their department.

No medico, lawyer or teacher is, by virtue of training in that discipline, capable of administering a large system in the area in which they are trained. They lack the necessary experience to lead, and they are far less fitted to play the part of despot.

It is the role of the minister to play the part of a ship's owner and say ''sail to this port", but not to specify the alloy that will be used to cast the propeller, the oil with which the engines will be lubricated, or the frequencies to be used by the radio operator. Any sensible ship's owner would leave that sort of thing to the captain and crew.

It is inappropriate for a minister, any minister, to formulate operational policy in any portfolio, and any minister who does so in the field of education is, to the extent that the ministerial policy is forced upon schools and students, an inept failure.

Ministers are not there to micro-manage: their task is to provide directions at the level of, say, ''we want more excellence''. Ministers are there to be advised, and to make choices between carefully designed policies. Allow them anything more than that, and we have a recipe for disaster.

Allowing ministers to dictate curriculum or to determine daily and operational policy is the equivalent of making somebody transport supremo on the basis that he or she once saw Mulga Bill's bicycle, half a mile off, on a stormy evening, by lightning flashes.

* * * * * * *
This blog covers quite a few different things, so I tag each post. I also blog about history, and I am currently writing a series of books called Not your usual... and the first two have been accepted by Five Mile Press, The offcuts appear here with the tag Not Your Usual... . For a taste of Australian tall tales, try the tags Speewah or Crooked Mick.   For a miscellany of oddities, try the tag temporary obsessions. And language us covered under the tags Descants and Curiosities, while stuff about small life is under Wee beasties.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

All about answers

 I do apologise: I have been off writing a book. I have mentioned before that I am working towards a series of e-books under the series title Not Your Usual... and so I have been looking in other directions than to this blog.

The first batch reflects a cleaning-out of my files and a couple of drafts as well, plus a couple of things that I thought needed to be said. The initial release will include Not Your Usual Bushrangers, Not Your Usual Australian Hero (tall tales about Crooked Mick of the Speewah), Not Your Usual Gold Seekers (some nuts and bolts background to the Australian gold rush), Not Your Usual War Poems (going beyond 'Flanders Fields'), Not Your Usual Quotations (science quotations of a delectable kind), and Not Your Usual Australian Verse (well, it does actually include all the old favourites, but also a great deal of lesser-known stuff. 

For balance, I needed to get one more title to reflect the fact that I really am a science writer. Therein hangs a tale: I was using material previously researched and in most cases drafted, so it was mainly assembly and editing, and it went ahead very fast. I got to 330,000 words, equal to six trade paperbacks, and knew there was a lot more to come, so I rejigged the existing content into four volumes—with at least two more to come, and I have now cleaned up the first volume of Not Your Usual Science.

There is still some technical stuff and some  editing to do, but I am almost there. Anyhow, Not Your Usual Science is mainly about how we found answers to many of our questions, so here are a few musings on answers.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

In Old English, an answer was a reply made to a legal charge, a form of defence. Literally, andswaru was taken from two roots: and, meaning 'against', and swarâ, meaning 'swear', so to an Anglo-Saxon, an answer was a 'swearing against', but these days, we see it as a reply to a question or a response to an examination question.

It can also be a return hit in fencing, while to a musician, an answer is a part of a fugue, the name given to the subject when it is sung by the alto and the bass, but to dive further into this would be to dig into muddy technical waters which is a waste of time, as the holes are unstable.

Returning to crime and legalities, we have also injected a sense of personal responsibility into the word when we talk about somebody being answerable for something.

For the most part, we may answer a description, and we may answer a telephone, but most other answers are only offered in response to a question.

The computer community alone stands out in one sense, publishing lists of answers as FAQs, or frequently asked questions, rather than as FSAs, or frequently-sought answers.

Even in those pre-Norman days, the word was used in the main modern sense, and we will find terms like answaru liðe, literally a lithe answer, but more reliably, a soft or gentle answer, in the sense intended in the book of Proverbs, where we are told that a soft answer, an answaru liðe, turneth away wrath.

The 'and-' prefix is usually considered not to appear in any other words these days, but a trawl through Old English reveals a few interesting parallels, like and-efn which is equivalent to our 'uneven' in the sense of 'not equal'. The term and-git means intellect or understanding, which we might suspect has something to do with the modern English derogatory term 'git'. Certainly andgit-leás means 'foolish, so it may be that, by stripping off the negatives fore and aft, we got to a trimmed-down 'git'.

Some hint of a different sense of 'answer' appears in A Comedy of Errors, where we find this exchange in Act IV, scene i:
My business cannot brook this dalliance.

Good sir, say whe'r you'll answer me or no;
 If not, I'll leave him to the officer.

I answer you! What should I answer you?

The money that you owe me for the chain.
Here, the answer was a payment in response to the delivery of a chain, but this is a Shakespearean comedy, and identical twins are involved, so, well, you get the picture, and I am not answerable for it.

Gertrude Stein, of course, knew that answers are not everything. According to her biography, her last words were "What is the answer?" and after a pause, ". . . In that case, what is the question?"

This was a lesson that Douglas Adams learned well when he first published the answer to life, the universe and everything as "42", and then later published "the question" as "what do you get when you multiply 6 by 9?"

Curiously, the product of 6 and 9 is 42, provided you are counting in base-13 notation, where "42" means, in our more normal base-10 mathematics, 4 x 13 + 2 = 54 (base-10).

Mathematicians around the world are still trying to decide if this use of the tridecimal number system has any real value, perhaps as an indication of the number of digits found in mice when they are viewed in six dimensions.

How far we have come since the days when scholars would debate how many angels could dance on the head of a pin! Now we are more likely to seek the number of pins that can dance on the head of an angel.

Friday, 8 November 2013

Who needs to be right?

Christian Doppler was in Prague in 1842 when he wondered if he might be able to explain the colours of binary stars. He came up with an idea that we now call the Doppler effect, to do with the perceived frequency of a wave and the way the relative velocities of the source and the observer affect the observed frequency.

This picture has nothing to do
with this story: I just fell prey to
the pictorial imperative.

Confused by the opaque prose? Not to worry: think about what happens when a train goes through a level crossing where a bell is clanging: as we pass, we stop approaching the bell and start moving away, the tone of the bell seems to drop.

If somebody drives past sounding their horn, the pitch drops in the same way. It happens with sirens as well, but it's harder to spot, because the siren is varying anyhow.

Well, Doppler thought it might have been the reason why stars appear to have different colours. It was a great theory, but completely wrong.

Then in 1845, a clever young Dutch physicist with the curious (to our eyes) name of Buys Ballot said that it was all a load of old cobblers, but he reckoned there was something in the idea itself, even if it didn't cause the colours of binary stars.

He got some musicians loaded on a train on the Utrecht-Amsterdam line, and as they whizzed through Maarssen station at 70 kph, musicians on the platform listened to the calibrated note being played by the other musicians on the train, and the principle was established.

Sadly, even though Doppler was way off course, he had thought of the effect first, so even today, we refer to Doppler shifts, Doppler radar, Doppler this and that. It plays a big role in ultrasound work, and oddly enough, there is a Dopper effect on star colours, though our eyes can't see it.

Stars that are receding from is show a red shift, and the few objects whizzing our way show a blue shift, but we can only detect that by taking a spectrum with a spectroscope, invented by Kirchhoff and Bunsen. We really only recall Bunsen today by the Bunsen burner, which he didn't even invent! Credit in science can be funny like that.

A few years later, in 1848, nationalist uprisings hunted Doppler out of Prague and back to his native Vienna, where a few years later, he played a part in educating young Gregor Mendel, but that's another story.

Poor old Buys Ballot, who was right, and who proved that the effect existed, is hardly even a footnote, a bit like Maarssen station, which is now closed.

Monday, 4 November 2013

All about earth

Our word 'earth' is from a Germanic root (and here I will use the þ symbol for the 'thorn', the soft 'th') erþa in Old Teutonic and airþa in Gothic, while the Swedes and the Danes have jord, and the Dutch have aarde (to make hard work of it, the aardvark of the Boers is a dirt-pig, or maybe an earth-pork), and in German, the ground is die Erde.

Soil is the tribal patch of ants. Don't knock it!
The Anglo-Saxons used eorþ and had some delightful combinations: the cucumber was an eorþ-æppel or earth-apple (and nothing like a pomme de terre!), a person who was injured and crept on the earth as an earth-creeper was an eorþ-crypel (compare this with our cruel label,  'cripple'), and an earthquake was what we would now call an earth-din (eorþ-dyne) or an earth-shaking (eorþ-beofung), while the things that lived on the earth were eorþ-cyn, or earthkind.

But even in those days, 'earth' also had the idea of element attached to it, as in this Old English phrase: "Seó eorþ is dryge and ceald and ðæt wæter wæt and ceald" — the earth is dry and cold, the water is wet and cold (compare 'Séo' and the German 'sie').

There seem to be about six ideas used in different languages that relate to "earth": in English they are represented by dirt (as in 'dirty'), soil, land, earth, world and planet. In Latin, the main terms are terra, humus and solum, with humus being what we are buried in, according to the student song, Gaudeamus igitur (which means let us rejoice, but seems usually to be sung as a dirge), rather than our more restricted use of the word. I wonder what Latin word was used for earth in the sense of one of the four elements?

Ant lions live in the earth, too. Look out, ants!
At different times, many of these have been used interchangeably. John of Gaunt is made to speak of "This blessed plot, this earth, this Realme, this England" in Richard II, but England is Angleterre to the French, and our Great South Land is Terra Australis.

(Whatever happens to the Great in the Latin version?)

Anyhow, terra which is the soil in the Italian terra rossa is now a land, as it is in Tierra del Fuego, though not yet promoted to the level of terrestrial, which can be either on dry land (terra firma) or something found on our planet, as opposed to extra-terrestrial.

We speak of a man on the land when we mean a farmer of the male persuasion, while those who live off the land are exploiters of the environment in all its forms.

It seems almost as if the word we use depends on our continually widening horizons over the past millennium or so. For example, the Icelandic jörð can mean earth, land or estate, depending on the context.

What began as the garden became the land we lived on, then the tribal patch, the land that the clan lived on, then perhaps a continent, and finally the world.

All the same, the world of the Romans (mundus) was far less than the world of the Italians or French (mondo or le monde). To the Romans, the world was just a small patch around the Mediterranean Sea (which is the sea 'in the middle of the world').

The need for a name for the area larger than one's normal reach and travels came with trade. The Swahili word for 'world' is dunia, and the same word is used in Indonesian.

This is not surprising, as it is an Arabic word, brought in by Arabic-speaking traders in each area, but I have minimal knowledge of Arabic, so I cannot say what precisely it means in Arabic.  All I know for sure is that the same word is also used in Turkish.

I note, in passing, that Frank Herbert apparently had some Arabic, and his planet of Dune was almost certainly cognate with dunia — he uses enough other Arabic-related terms in that novel.

So the short answer is that our word 'earth' is very old Germanic, but the interchange over time of the various words used to mean the stuff under our feet is a much longer story.

Hoist with his own petard

I will studiously not comment on this, much as I would like to: I have just drawn it from the archives to use in the current book.

"Bischoff, one of the leading anatomists of Europe, thrived some 70 years ago. He carefully measured brain weights, and after many years' accumulation of much data he observed that the average weight of a man's brain was 1350 grams, that of a woman only 1250 grams. This at once, he argued, was infallible proof of the mental superiority of men over women. Throughout his life, he defended this hypothesis with the conviction of a zealot. Being the true scientist, he specified in his will that his own brain be added to his impressive collection. The postmortem examination elicited the interesting fact that his own brain weighed only 1245 grams."

Scientific American, March 1992, 8, quoting from an unidentified source in Scientific American, March 1942.

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Blondlot's N-rays: another fraud

Two views of the Piltdown skull.
The longest translation of War and Peace, according to the hapless Greg Hunt's bible, Wikipedia, contains 587,287 words. In the past 36 days, admittedly drawing heavily on material previously written, needing only cleaning-up and light editing, I have assembled 117,576 words in the new work, or just over 20% of War and Peace.
The much-less-known Piltdown cricket bat, which I saw in 1993.

Barbara Cartland, infamously, could "write a book in ten days". I doubt that these tomes exceeded 30,000 words each, so I am writing at ~1.09 cartlands.

Now will the literary merit be closer to Tolstoy or Cartland? Only time will tell, but there is a lot to come in a massive backgrounder to nearly all of modern science. I won't do string theory.

Just a brief note about the pics: I am unsure if the Piltdown skull was a fraud or a hoax, but I am certain that the Piltdown cricket bat was a flagrant hoax, meant to be seen as such and draw attention to the skull.  I will say more about that, some other time.

Frauds, unlike hoaxers, try not to leave clues, but in most cases, they are caught out by discrepancies and sceptics. There remains some doubt about René-Prosper Blondlot of Nancy: he may have been swept up in the same rush of chauvinism that gulled Arthur Keith into accepting proof that humans evolved in Britain.

It was, after all, just a few years after Wilhelm Röntgen had found those mysterious X-rays, and what a vile Hun could do, a Frenchman could surely do better?

In fact, a Frenchman already had, because in 1903, Henri Becquerel shared the Nobel Prize in Physics for discovering radioactivity, which happened by accident as Becquerel was trying to find something like X-rays but different.

That was also the year in which Blondlot announced his "N-rays", named for his home town, Nancy. He declared that these rays passed through aluminium sheet up to 70 millimetres thick, but said the thinnest iron foil stopped them dead.

N-rays were emitted by a heated wire, could be stored and re-emitted by a house-brick which had been left in the sun for several days, and could only be detected in a darkened room, where, when the rays illuminated an object, it became easier to see the object. In other words, a brick giving off N-rays, held close to the head, made it easier to see dim objects.

The rays were refracted by aluminium prisms, and Blondlot measured the refraction index to a precision of three significant figures. The only problem was that other scientists could not replicate Blondlot's results, and after A. A. Campbell Swinton wrote to Nature in early 1904, saying as much, people began to doubt the whole affair.

Still, it was announced in August 1904 that the Paris Academy of Sciences had decided to award its LeCompte prize of the value of $10,000 to M. Blondlot for his researches on the rays. The American journal, Science, referred to them as "so-called" when it shared this news with its readers.

Enter R. W. Wood, who visited Blondlot's laboratory. Writing in Nature in September 1904, Wood identified a number of ways in which the results may have been obtained by unconscious error, but then he laid the possibility of unconscious error safely in its grave, when he purloined the aluminium prism that was central to the experiment, as he explained. 

I expressed surprise that a ray bundle 3 mm. in width could be split up into a spectrum with maxima and minima less than 0.1 of a millimetre apart, and was told that this was one of the inexplicable and astounding properties of the rays. I was unable to see any change whatever in the brilliancy of the phosphorescent line as I moved it along, and I subsequently found that the removal of the prism (we were in a dark room) did not seem to interfere in any way with the location of the maxima and the minima in the deviated (!) ray bundle.
Just in case it looks as though the removal of the prism was an accident, Wood goes on to add:

The approach of a large steel file was supposed to alter the appearance of the spots... A clock face in a dimly lighted room was believed to become much more distinct and brighter when the file was held before the eyes, owing to some peculiar effect which the rays emitted by the file exerted on the retina. I was unable to see the slightest change, though my colleague said that he could see the hands [of the clock] distinctly when he held the file near his eyes, while they were quite invisible when the file was removed...My colleague could see the change just as well when I held the file before his face, and the substitution of a piece of wood of the same size and shape as the file in no way interfered with the experiment. The substitution was of course unknown to the observer.

This was the end of the N-ray era, though Blondlot never conceded that he had been duped, or had duped himself, or deliberately faked any results. He believed for the rest of his life that his guest had betrayed him by acting in such a duplicitous manner.

I will tell you more about my fraud that I have been fighting with, once I see the money, but the skinny is that he has agreed to pay me the money that was taken fraudulently, but not agreed to meet my other conditions. Meanwhile, a curious file of Chinese origin, a0465032.exe has appeared on my computer and been deleted.  Googling that revealed only a page in Chinese, and my guardian software advised me against seeking to have it translated.

Curiouser and curiouser...

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Rogues or incompetents?

Comment added September 2016: the authorities have finally caught up with these crooks, and NSW Fair trading has warned the public about them.

See this link for a news story.

Comment added at the end of 2015: in the past couple of years, 1200 people have looked at this page. I hope that means I have stopped 1200 people from being treated as I was.  If you are cranky with this bunch of shonks, please post the URL for this page somewhere on their website, because they have blocked me from posting or commenting. 

And in late March 2016, this entry is getting more than 200 hits a month. That tells me these people are still taking people's money for trash.  PLEASE: document your experiences and publish them as I have done. Also, go to online forums where you can post reviews, and either share the URL for this page, or tell your own story, to show that this isn't just the whining of a single crank: it is the outrage of the mob.

After all, in real life, I am a professional writer whose interests are history, technology and science. I don't really have time for stuff like this.

I realise that this will be of small interest to my usual readers, but I am placing this here, so that anybody Googling CameraSky or Android Enjoyed (that's CameraSky or Android Enjoyed) will find it, and be warned not to deal with these totally unreliable idiots. There are also some useful tricks here that you can use when dealing with slippery characters.

CameraSky, you may be able to stop me commenting on your Facebook page, but good luck in blocking THIS!  You lied to me repeatedly, you swindled me, you dodged the hard questions, so now it is time for you to take your medicine.
A bit of background: over the years, I have unravelled a number of frauds. One was Dulong and Petit's 19th century chemistry fraud, another was the exposure of the Control Data Corporation's fraudulent selling of a dodgy computer-based system called PLATO to the New South Wales government, and another involved exposing a ring of public servants working a swindle based on penalty rates. I understand fraud.

I also understand making misbehaving companies toe the line. I have done this to quite a few corporations over the years, but I will just mention two here: Virgin Australia and the St George Bank.  I do not appreciate being messed around with.  So CameraSky and Android Enjoyed, who were warned of my habits, can have no complaints when I take them to the cleaners.

Image 1
I made the mistake of purchasing a camera from what appeared, to all intents and purposes, to be an Australian company.  I chose them because they held themselves out, falsely, to be located in Australia.

They call themselves CameraSky, and if you Google them, you find this website: and that page features this: "Call Us Now: NSW (02) 8005 7891 or VIC (03) 9018 5439 10am - 10pm AEST 7 Days a week".

Sounds Australian doesn't it?  Notice how they cleverly imply an Australian presence without ever actually saying so? (Image 1).

Incidentally, they managed to register that domain without disclosing any address, which I would have thought was illegal.  That evasion is understandable though, if they are trying to pretend that they are Australian.

They also trade as Android Enjoyed, and that company similarly pretends to be located in Australia (Image 2):
Image 2
Please, dear reader, don't be fooled, as I was. They may have one or two telephone answerers here in Australia, but they are a Hong Kong-based operation.  As such, they think they can cheat as much as they like, and never pay any penalty.

Muggins here was prepared to pay a bit more for his camera, in order to use an Australian supplier, and I trusted their promise of delivery in four to seven days, because I was attending an awards ceremony in Perth, where I was collecting a prize, and I wanted a new camera to record it.

I placed the order on about September 4, knowing that I was leaving Sydney on September 15.
Image 3

At 15:06 on September 4, they sent off confirmation, as you can see here. (Image 3)

Plenty of time, I thought, Sydney isn't a remote area.  By Monday 9th, the order was on their records, but on Wednesday 11th, it still hadn't moved.  It was just "queued for shipping". I had been onto them the day before to ask what the delay was, but now I was getting annoyed.

OK, this wasn't an expensive item, but any delay was going to cause me problems, and when something causes me problems, I cause problems right back. As you can see :-)
Image 4
Time was running out, so I made contact again, using their online system.  That meant I had records, and I warned them at the start that I was taking screen grabs.  Hey, maybe they were just incompetent...

Anyhow, I got the run-around. (Image 4)

Here, below, is how I explained it, nicely, but firmly. (Image 5)

Image 5
The careful observer may notice the names being used: "Marie" and "Claire".  I'm not sure whether they were one and the same, or where they were, but they stone-walled. Well, actually, they lied.

Image 6
Inage 7
I suspected as much, hence the increased strength of my response, when I promised to  make an example of them. So, you people at CameraSky, argue you way out of this blog, if you can!

By the 12th, I was definitely smelling a rat, because no tracking number had been provided. (Image 6)

I finally got an answer, which you can see on the left: "your order will be ship today".

Curious: they said (see Image 5) that it had already been shipped the day before!

Clearly, these people were in the dodgy category.  You may call them crooks, but I don't. (Image 7)

Well, I was obviously dealing with muppets, so I stopped using the web-based system, and started firing off emails.

Later on the night of the 12th, eight days after the order was placed on a promise of 4-7 days for delivery, I got this email: I have corrected their shoddy typing, but this does not change the meaning, and guys, if you want to take this to court, I am only providing part of the evidence here.

"We are ready to ship your parcel however the last piece of the item for the product that you ordered was found with dented box and to ensure quality, we will not be able to ship it immediately, please let us know if you can wait until we receive the new stocks, it normally takes around 1 week. I understand that this is highly unacceptable. Rest assured that we have applied measures to ensure that this does not happen again. I am looking forward to hear from your very soon. Thank you!"
On the 14th, some nameless drone said that he or she had
"...escalated this issue to our management team, unfortunately no one is available on weekends except for customer service.  We will notify you by Monday as soon as we get a word from them."

In other words, more obfuscation.  Oh, and remember that the time limit had now run out.  Well, on September 19, 15 days after the 4-7 day order was placed, they sent me an email to say the items were sent. I questioned the charging of "express delivery", and got this brush-off:

"Please be informed that your order was shipped on September 19 and your tracking number is 218706137215.  You have paid for express shipping that means you will receive the item 4-7 working days FROM THE TIME LOT WAS SHIPPED and not form the time you purchased it."
In other words, "hello sucker!".  Well, the goods arrived on September 23, 19 days into a promised 4-7 day wait.  The camera was fine, but there were two outstanding issues, and I taxed them with them.

I will give them one thing: they are good at offering empty apologies and not making any restitution.

Well, I started pushing them for a refund and required an admission concerning the lies I had been told.  They tried a new gambit:

Image 8
"Once again, we sincerely apologized for all this confsuion, however I cannot find any email from us sent to you last Sept 9 saying we have shipped your order, however rest assured we will do our best to improve our service, we hope you will recieve your parcel very soon. Thank you so much."
Now as the careful observer will note, the claim wasn't made in an email, but in a web-based conversation, one which I had warned them I was recording, right at the start.

You can see that first warning, right here, on the right. (Image 8) Later, there were other warnings.

So I dressed them down, listing what I deem to be their various acts of misleading and deceptive conduct. They had implied that they were Australian, they offered fast service, and they lied about having sent the goods. Also, they had charged me for a warranty, but none was provided.

I got this response:

"We are very sorry for the confusion, please do know that it is not our intention to mislead you. We have our Company Registered in Australia. Operation in Hong Kong for Shipments, Stock  and Logistics.Customer service is partly located in Australia, partly in Asia and in Hong Kong. Orders will be processed in Hong Kong's centralized and shipped to customer as Direct Import in Australia, New Zealand and Europe.

"Australian phone number we have provided on our website. We only provide that number so our Australian customers will be able to call us locally without an expensive international call rate. And with regards to the refund for your express shipping fee of $36, i will have to check that from our management. Allow me to get back to on you on this tomorrow. Hope you will accept our sincere apologies for this inconvenience. Thank you!
Image 9
All very nice, but what about my warranty, I asked?

On September 29, "Marie" was still checking with management, but the next day, I was sent this jpeg which was held out to be my warranty. (Image 9).

I said to them, surely you don't expect me to accept that: it has no date, no address for return of goods, no identification of the product, no details at all: it isn't worth the paper it isn't printed on (and it wasn't printed in any case, but I was waiting for them to point that out). I wanted to cancel it, right now, but I wasn't about to leave quietly!

I got this in return:
"Please be informed the warranty is card that comes with the product will not apply in Australia, because item ships from overseas, we can only provide you the soft copy of our warranty card and now our Finance Officer is processing your refund for the express shipping cost."
So they were paying up on the completely spurious express delivery, but not on the worthless warranty.  They fell silent for a couple of weeks, then "Marie" came back with this:

"I have just make a follow up with our Finance team regarding your $29.95 refund. We will get back to you as soon as we received advise from them."
Again there was silence until October 22, when I got this email from "Althea":

Your request (2445) has been solved. To reopen this request, reply to this email.

Hello Peter,

We are sorry but we can't provide you with a refund for express shipping since this is demanded by courier and we can't shoulder that cost.
I replied to the effect that I would decide when it was solved, and I wasn't asking for the express delivery refund (which, recall, I had in my hot little hands!).  I wanted, and expected, a refund on the worthless warranty.

Then I went to write some corrosive messages on the CameraSky Facebook page, comments were blocked. When I started the same ploy on Android Enjoyed, a pop-up window said that I had been denounced as a spammer and blocked.  OK, I WAS repetitive, but I am merely trying to get justice.

Image 10
This morning, October 24, they posted on the Android Enjoyed Facebook page, which I am unable to reply on, the following non-response  (Image 10).  They are still talking about the $36 that they already refunded, I am talking about the totally fraudulent charge for a worthless "warranty".

So, friends who have read this far, please go to the Facebook page of either CameraSky or Android Enjoyed, and post the URL of this page as a message, just once, in one of their ads.  Maybe add a little suggestion that people considering buying there should read my comments on their standards of probity and service before buying themselves a lot of annoyance.

Or if you feel like it, use this link to go to their comment and remind them that the subject is a refund of $29.95 for a worthless warranty.  Remind them that they can't hide.

CameraSky and Android Enjoyed, understand this: you have 48 hours from when I post this to pay up, or this post is going to stay here.  Say or do anything to annoy me, and it stays here.  Fail to admit all of your faults in a detailed list, and it stays here.

The customer is always right, but sometimes, the customer is right on your hammer. When that happens, discretion is the better part of valour.

Postscript, March 2014

Well, the wretches finally, after a great deal of badgering, finally realised that I was determined to trash their brand, refunded the warranty money.  They did not meet my requirements that I set as a condition of removing this post.  They did hand over the money, but that only reflects credit on me, not them.

There were other tactics I used, like product reviews like this one.  Now, today, 28 March, they posted this response:

Hi Mcmanly, we noticed our records show you received your refund, please note the extended warranty is not worthless and that the extended warranty is a shop level extended warranty as described not a manufacturers extended warranty as presumed.
Here is how I responded:

My statement stays. Your potential victims need to see it, and be warned by it.

BECAUSE, and only because, I turned up the heat and mounted a full-scale Facebook and web offensive against you and your totally dishonest, fraudulent and worthless warranty, you grudgingly and belatedly gave back my money — and now you think I should be grateful? Dream on!

You people pretend on your website that you are located in Australia, but you are what is called a "grey" retailer, operating out of Hong Kong. I made THAT clear as well.

It wasn't really as if you were cheerily refunding the money you had cheated me out of. The fact that you hope I will now say nice things about you tells me that I was wrong in one respect: I thought you were clever criminals, but I now think you are just stupid and bumbling incompetents.

Now I suggest you go and read my blog entry at

I think I might add a bit more, later today.
And as you can see, I did.

Dear CameraSky, quit while you are only slightly behind, or I will come after you again.  Take my word for it, you will never be ahead.

On my patch, on my watch, traders do not dictate to customers — and I am watching you now.  Think carefully: do you really want to remind me again that you exist?
Postscript April 7:
These characters had my comments pulled.  Obviously the truth hurts.  I have just replaced those comments with a toned-down version, but you can read the original here.

Postscript September 4, 2014
They are still at their old tricks. In the past few months, I have had four spams. I just went to their Facebook page, and discovered that I am STILL blocked from posting there. I also found that they are still conning people. If you read this, please go to their site and post this link on their Facebook page: