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Willis's Walkabouts Newsletter 62, November 2012

I've got far too much for a single newsletter. Some things will soon be outdated; others will not so onwards. I expect the next newsletter before Christmas. Christmas? If you read nothing else in this newsletter, read Things That Matter. That's my pre-Christmas message.

Browse this at your leisure. I've crammed so many interesting things into this newsletter that I recommend dipping in and out over a few days — or even weeks. I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed preparing it.

Note. The NY Times allows non-subscribers to look at ten free articles each month. I've got more links than that in this newsletter so I've marked them with a red asterisk (*) so that you can choose which are of most interest to you. They have currently got a special offer of 99 cents for four weeks access. After that, it's $15 every four weeks.

Willis's Walkabouts logo

In this issue

Now through February

Only six trips are still available. Two new ones are definite departures.

At least part of one old and one new trip are probable.

Two February trips will remain available until early December when they will either be guaranteed or cancelled.

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Overseas Trips — We Won!

You may recall the problems we were having with our overseas trips. We have found a new insurer who will cover our overseas trips for far less than our previous insurer. With the Aussie dollar so high, 2013 could offer even better value for money than our trips normally do.

Thinking about going to South Africa?. If you are going to spend more than a few days in South Africa's national parks, getting a Wild Card will save you a substantial amount of money. The link in this paragraph also allows you to sign up for their free email newsletter and read their online magazine. I've used it to work out new possibilities for our trips as well as for the good information it provides.

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Things That Matter

"Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma, which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice, heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary."

I first came across the quote above in a documentary about Steve Jobs I saw on one of my recent flights. I was curious and wanted to find out more. The quote was from a speech he gave at the Stamford University commencement in June 2005. It got better.

"When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: "If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you'll most certainly be right." It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: "If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?" And whenever the answer has been "No" for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything ó all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure - these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart."

How many of us allow ourselves to be trapped by our day to day routines, doing things that don't really matter to ourselves or anyone else/ How many of us will reach the end of our lives saying, "Gee, I really loved my job. I wish I'd spent more time working and less time with friends and family, less time doing other things I really enjoyed."?

You can read the full speech at 'You've got to find what you love'. I think it's well worth a read. More than that, I think it's a message we should all take to heart.

They Work Long Hours, but What About Results?

Following on from the Jobs' quotes, here's a similar thought. "Often, professionals are judged by the amount of time they spend at the office. But that gauge can be at odds with workplace efficiency." When appearances count more than results, you know that something has to be seriously wrong. Here's the * full article. How about you? Are you judged more by the hours you put in or the results you produce?

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How safe is your job?

If you are a plumber, a carpenter, an auto-mechanic or work in any similar job, the answer is it's pretty safe. Some things can't be outsourced overseas. Even a bushwalking guide is safe — as long as people are looking for that kind of holiday. However, "the growth of online staffing companies, which connect freelancers with remote clients for software and accounting jobs, could change qualifications for hiring." You can read about disappearing white collar jobs at * The Global Arbitrage of Online Work.

Another take on the globalisation of jobs is * In China We (Don't) Trust. "When there is trust in society, sustainable innovation happens. China is beginning to see the fruits of a little bit of that trust."

The Australian economy depends on China.

It doesn't depend entirely on China, but the faster part of our two speed economy certainly does and China is slowing down. Not only is is slowing down, but it is almost certainly going to slow down a lot more quickly n years to come. We live in an aging society. We can adapt but China's population is poised to crash in a perfect demographic storm. China's population will age very rapidly. Only Japan has aged faster — and Japan had the great advantage of growing rich before it grew old. By 2030, China will have a slightly higher proportion of the population that is elderly than western Europe does today." Think about what that means for us a few years down the track.

If the problems of an aging society weren't enough, it seems that many professionals are leaving or preparing to leave the country.

China is now undergoing their once a decade leadership transition. Some suggest that this might lead to increased influence for their military. China is already at odds with most of its neighbours with overlapping territorial claims. It wouldn't take all that much much for some dispute to get out of hand. Stratfor has an interesting article about The Paradox of China's Naval Strategy. It's an interesting read with a very good map of the maritime claims.

If you find the Stratfor article interesting, there is a link on that page which you can use to sign up for free weekly newsletters. They often make more sense to me than any other news source I've read.

Part-Time vs Full-Time

In the US, "Retailers are relying on part-time workers, a trend that has frustrated millions of Americans who want full-time jobs but must instead settle for reduced pay and benefits." They now have * a part-time life as hours shrink and shift. I'm not sure how bad it is here in Australia, but according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics October Report, 29.4% of employed workers were employed part-time. That's a large number. I suspect that many of them would prefer full-time employment.

Why Men Fail

A NY times op ed piece * Why Men Fail begins, "You're probably aware of the basic trends. The financial rewards to education have increased over the past few decades, but men failed to get the memo." A new book The End of Men by Hanna Rosin "argues that the reason today's women are having an easier time succeeding is because of their adaptability. Men are stuck in old mores."

If you have time to spare and want to know more, the author was interviewed on our own ABC radio, The end of men: and the rise of women which was aired on 30 October. You can use the link here to listen to the full interview. It's a 24.5 MB file. The full show runs almost an hour.

Income and Wealth Inequality

Our society is becoming more and more unequal. "The concentration of income in a few hands might mean, many economists say, a less vigorous economy." In the US, * the top 1 percent of households now hold a larger share of overall wealth than the bottom 90 percent does.

Economic forces may be behind the rising inequality, but ... public policy has exacerbated rather than mitigated these trends." * The Self-Destruction of the 1 Percent explains the problem in some detail.

"While inequality is not as stark in Australia, the country's one per cent have as much accumulated wealth as the bottom 50 per cent of the country — and the gap between the haves and have-nots is growing even faster than in the US.

Australia tends to follow America in lots of ways. The US gives us a great example of what we ought to try and avoid. Inequality and the top 1% in Australia gives another take on the issue.

Look at America. Look at the incredible amount of money spent on the last election, not just for president but for all levels. "Seven of the 10 most affluent counties in the nation are near Washington, D.C. That means a growing number of educated people are making a very good living advising, lobbying and otherwise influencing the federal government." * That Blurry Line Between Makers and Takers tells that story. Is that what we want here, the best politicians that money can buy?

We still have a choice. How much longer will we have it?

The 28 July issue of New Scientist had a special section called "The Age of Inequality". While you can't read the articles without subscribing ($199 per year or $69 per quarter for web access), I did manage to download and copy one I thought was particularly interesting, Inequality: The more money, the merrier?.

If you are curious about the other articles, go to the New Scientist home page and do a search for "The Age of Inequality."

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Willis's Walkabouts 2013 Update

Where can we go?

If you look at the current draft of our 2013 program, you will see some glaring omissions like Keep River and the Carr Boyd Range. A couple of months back I got a letter from a lawyer purporting to represent the Aboriginal traditional owners. the letter told me to cease and desist so I removed the trips from the program. Since then, I have been told that the group who sent the letter had no right to do so. I am in the process of organising a meeting with one or more of those who do have the right to speak for the country and hope to be able to include one or both in the final draft of the 2013 program.

Keep River is symptomatic of the problems I face with all of the NT run parks. The previous NT government handed all the parks back to the Aboriginal traditional owners saying that nothing would change in the short term. The short term is over. Last year, a meeting of the Watarrka Board of Management was being held just before one of our scheduled trips to Watarrka. I met with the Board and received a permit to continue our operations there. It appears that I may have to meet with the different Boards for each and every park where we might want to go. As we average less than one trip per year into those parks, this becomes a costly exercise both in time and in money. In the case of the Davenport Ranges National Park where I wanted to offer an exploratory trip to a park I'd only visited briefly on a private basis, I was told that I needed to put in a detailed proposal. That isn't possible for an exploratory trip. End of story.

Something new. Pungalina is a property belonging to the Australian Wildlife Conservancy. After acting as temporary caretakers for a year or two, two friends of mine, one a former guide, have been appointed as managers. They have suggested that I ought to run a trip there. I'd very much like to do so. The logistics, however, are daunting. Pungalina is a long way from anywhere. If I can work out how to do it, it will go into this newsletter and into the program. For now, have a look at the first link above and at the Wikipedia Pungalina - Seven Emu Sanctuary page so you can get an idea of what makes the place special and we might be able to do.


Ouch! In some cases, I hadn't updated my prices for years. I've gone over my actual recent costs and have got new quotes on many things. After February, every price in the program will have to rise, some more than others. If you book before a new price goes onto the website, I'll honour it if I can. Where we use charter transport, I'll meet you halfway between the old and the new. The sooner you get in, the less a trip will cost. (Ant that, of course, includes our advance purchase discounts.)

Trips with bookings.

The following trips already have bookings.

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Your TV might kill you

Or it might be your computer that gets you. "Every single hour of television watched after the age of 25 reduces the viewer's life expectancy by 21.8 minutes. By comparison, smoking a single cigarette reduces life expectancy by about 11 minutes." Think about that. Watching an hour of TV is more dangerous than smoking a cigarette. * Get Up. Get Out. Don't Sit explains the research that gave rise to this claim.

As if that weren't enough, "researchers say life expectancy for some of the least educated Americans is contracting sharply, with the steepest falls for white women without a high school diploma." * Reversing Trend, Life Span Shrinks for Some Whites explains what's happening. Can it happen in Australia? I don't think we'll see the same dramatic drop that has occurred in the US, but I do suspect that we will see something similar.

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The Future of Books — Yet More

"While e-readers and multimedia may seem appealing, the idea of replacing an effective learning platform — the paper textbook — with a widely hyped but still unproven one is extremely dangerous." Dangerous? * Long Live Paper explains why. Some information has already lost as old computer files and storage formats are no longer readable, or at least not economically so. What will future historians make of the strange gap in their knowledge of their past?

"Though surrounded by computer terminals, many office workers still have practical reasons for using pen and paper in their daily tasks." * In Defense of the Power of Paper explains why.

* How Dead Is the Book Business? examines the implications of a merger between two of the world's six largest publishers. The author's answer is that it's too early to tell for sure.

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The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable

"We all like to think of ourselves as completely rational human beings, ruled by logic and reasonable analysis; but sadly we are not hard-wired for logic. We bring all sorts of biases to our decisions, and even the very way in which we process information in our human brains creates its own set of biases. We are hard-wired to see what we expect to see, and so we not only fail to see the forest for the trees but are equally prone to miss the trees while gazing at the forest. We all too often see what we think we should see (which is one of the reasons it is so hard to edit your own writing!)."

"We human beings seem to be attracted to simplistic explanations in the way that moths are attracted to flames, and sometimes with equally disastrous results."

The quotes above is from a recent John Mauldin newsletter. It makes a good lead for one of the most interesting non-fiction books I've ever read,

The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. Don't let the subtitle fool you, some of what we view as highly improbable is anything but.

Here is a quote from a review I found on Amazon. "Four hundred years ago, Francis Bacon warned that our minds are wired to deceive us. 'Beware the fallacies into which undisciplined thinkers most easily fall — they are the real distorting prisms of human nature.' Chief among them: 'Assuming more order than exists in chaotic nature.' Now consider the typical stock market report: 'Today investors bid shares down out of concern over Iranian oil production.' Sigh. We're still doing it."

"Our brains are wired for narrative, not statistical uncertainty. And so we tell ourselves simple stories to explain complex thing we don't — and, most importantly, can't — know. The truth is that we have no idea why stock markets go up or down on any given day, and whatever reason we give is sure to be grossly simplified, if not flat out wrong."

Economists use models that don't come anywhere near matching reality because they have no models which do. That's like using a map of Melbourne to try and find your way around Sydney. You'd probably be better off with no map at all. Your financial advisor, if you have one, probably gives no thought to many things which might happen to demolish your superannuation simply because they are not covered by his or her models. Scary stuff.

The Wikipedia article about the book is well worth a read. The book (I read the 2010 second edition) is even more so.

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In my last newsletter, I had a few things to say about education as I think that, "We need to think about both what works and what we are going to need to compete with the rest of the world." Since then, I've found several more articles about what's happening today. While most refer to the US, I believe that they apply as well, or nearly as well, to Australia.

* Average Is Over, Part II asks "What's preventing Americans from taking our education challenge seriously?" That article mentions an international test comparison. The top five countries/areas in reading, science and maths were shanghai, Korea, Finland, Hong Kong and Singapore. Australia ranked 9, 14 and 10, a bit behind Canada and New Zealand in the three categories. Not bad, but not great. You can see the full comparison at Student Performance in Reading, Mathematics and Science. While the Australian results aren't bad, they could be better. A recent experience of mine suggests that things are getting worse.

I used to teach maths. A former student of mine asked me to tutor her 16 year old son so he could pass an apprenticeship exam. I was appalled to discover that he needed a calculator to work out 4 x 6. Some of you might say, "So what? Everyone has a calculator these days." That may be true, but it's very easy to push the wrong button. If you don't have some concept of relative sizes, you won't have a clue that you might have got the wrong answer. There is a distinct potential for future disasters here.

On a positive note, I was pleased to see that the Australia, National Maths Summer School is still going strong. I was the NT teacher representative in 1984 and was most impressed with the quality of what was going on. Trying to keep up with the students certainly pushed me to my limits — and beyond.

The National Maths Summer School caters for a tiny minority of gifted students. * Young, Gifted and Neglected explains that "Public education's neglect of high-ability students doesn't just deny individuals opportunities they deserve. It also imperils the country's future supply of scientists, inventors and entrepreneurs." Overall, that is just as true here as it is in America.

* Technology is changing how students learn. According to two surveys in the US, "there is a widespread belief among teachers that digital technology is hampering students' attention spans and ability to persevere." I can't see that it would be any different here.

It's not just technology, it's drugs. "At high schools across the United States, pressure over grades and competition for college admissions are encouraging students to abuse stimulants." The * Risky Rise of the Good-Grade Pill tells that story. Is it significantly different here?

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Spare Parts for Your Body

Artificial hips, knees and some other bits have been with us for years. None of them, however, are as good as the real thing. Wouldn't it be nice if you could grow spares That day may be closer than you think. Here are some stories that tell some of what';s happening.

There is a lot more out there. No one really knows just how far we can take the new technologies. And no one knows how much they will cost? Will the rich and insured get preference?

Society needs to start thinking about some of the issues sooner rather than later. * How Science Can Build a Better You asks How far would you go to modify yourself using the latest medical technology? It's not just normal replacement parts. Augmented humans may be coming sooner rather than later.


Help! Darwin is not well served with eye specialists. If you might be able to answer some questions about a serious eye problem or know someone who could, please let me know. Surgery may be required, hopefully later rather than sooner. But if and/or when remains an open question.

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Last Ice

'Last ice' is an exaggeration. the antarctic ice sheet will be with us for a fair while yet. At the other end of the planet, things are very different.

* Ending its summer melt, the arctic sea ice set a new low in September. It covered only 24 percent of the surface of the Arctic Ocean, down from the previous low of 29 percent set in 2007. "Some scientists think the Arctic Ocean could be largely free of summer ice as soon as 2020." so what? That might be bad for polar bears but surely it will be good for people — well some people? Maybe, but it's likely to be bad for even more.

The Arctic ice melt could mean more extreme winters for the U.S. and Europe. That's because of disruptions to the jet stream. While current climate models suggest that melting arctic ice is unlikely to shut down the Gulf stream in the next 50 years or so, you've got to remember that, to date, the arctic climate has been changing faster than any of the accepted climate models have predicted. If the Gulf stream were to shut down, much of northern Europe would become almost uninhabitable. London is as far north as the southern tip of Hudson's Bay. What happens if it gets a similar climate? What happens to places like Scotland and Scandinavia which lie much further north? What do we do the the climate refugees which would inevitably follow?

The new documentary Chasing Ice captures "the epic death throes of Arctic glaciers, conveying the reality of climate change viscerally and persuasively."

New Frontiers

Melting ice may make parts of Europe a lot colder, but it opens up opportunities elsewhere. * Greenland's Unfrozen Future is a short video. "Greenland's receding ice has exposed vast deposits of valuable minerals and new opportunities for an island in economic decline." Good for some, not so good for others. The video is accompanied by a * related article.

It's not just Greenland, the * Race Is On as Ice Melt Reveals Arctic Treasures.

I made my first visit to the arctic in 1969, visiting Churchill on the shore of Hudson's Bay long before the polar bears there became a tourist attraction. I worked as a deckhand on a river boat on the Mackenzie river in Canada's Northwest Territories back in 1971. I've been back many times since, most recently to the arctic parts of Sweden and Norway in July and August this year. I'd like to go back again before it changes forever. Northern Sweden and Norway will be in our 2013 program. Watch for details.

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Drugs — Changing Times

Our drug laws are, to say the least, irrational.

Surprise! Caffeine can kill you.

It's not likely but as more and more energy drinks contain higher and higher concentrations of caffeine, we are getting into unknown territory. The stories below are from the US but, as far as I can tell, while the amount of caffeine in cola drinks is restricted in Australia, the amount in energy drinks is not.


Prohibition didn't work with alcohol in the US in the 1920s. All it did was create crime on an unprecedented scale. Our current drug laws do much the same. The existing drug laws in America are the main reason that the US has the highest number of people in prison in the world, both per capita and as a total. (As a comparison, per capita, New Zealand ranks 71st, England & Wales 92nd, Australia 113th and Canada 132nd — less than one sixth of the US rate.) On the other hand, if it were a country, with 663 people in gaol for every 100,000 adults the Northern Territory would come in at number two. There's got to be a better way. Whether or not that way is politically palatable might be another question.

The illegal drugs trade in Mexico which exists mainly to supply the American market has become one of the greatest criminal enterprises in the world, almost a state within a state. Times are changing. * South America Sees Drug Path to Legalization tells how, "Across Latin America, leaders are considering more permissive policies as a way to fight the spread of drug-related violence."

In * Damien Cave Takes Questions on Drug Policy in Latin America the author of the above asked readers to submit questions which he would try and answer. The first link in this paragraph is to an information page. To see the actual questions and answers, use the link at the bottom of that page or * Answers to Reader Questions on Drug Policy.

In the US election, voters in Washington and Colorado voted to legalise marijuana. It's still against federal law, but the tax starved states are beginning to recognise that it is not only a source of revenue, it would also save them some of the incredible amount of money they spend on prisons. It costs Mooney to keep people in prison — lots of money. Prison conditions are so bad that The US Supreme Court has ordered California to release another 30,000 prisoners by mid 2013.

The first past the post system in American elections generally keeps third party votes to a minimum but, for what it's worth, the third and fourth largest political parties in America, the Libertarians and the Greens may not agree on much, but they both agree that the current drug laws need a complete overhaul. How long will it be before that idea becomes mainstream?

"Alcohol-related harm is a major cause of mortality and morbidity in Australia, causing around 3,000 deaths and 65,000 hospitalisations every year. The annual cost to the Australian community in 2004-05 of alcohol-related social problems was estimated at $15.3 billion." If we were consistent, we'd regulate alcohol and many currently illicit drugs in the same manner. But, as mentioned in the Black Swan section above, "We are not hard-wired for logic. We bring all sorts of biases to our decisions."

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Privacy and the Web

Young people who have grown up in the internet age accept that the kind of privacy their elders knew no longer exists. They don't, however, always recognise that something they post at age 16 might come back to haunt them when they are looking for a job years later.

Here are a few stories which give a glimpse of our near future.

Beware the Smart Campaign

This one deserves a space on its own. Everyone knows that Obama won the US election. Relatively few know how. * The new winning formula: very expensive voter research. "The winning campaign's 'chief data scientist' was previously employed to 'maximize the efficiency of supermarket sales promotions'."

"Democracy should not just be about how to persuade people to vote for one candidate over another by any means necessary." It might be expensive now, but that won't last for long. Where the US goes, Australia often follows. While our political parties don't need to get their supporters to vote, the technology is there for them to target individuals in a way which never before was possible. Is that the future we want?

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Now or Never

Two videos that expire soon.

Taking Australia's Temperature

Taking Australia's Temperature was a special ABC Catalyst program examining 100 years of Australian climate records. While it might be possible to argue about what's caused the changes, there is no arguing that things have changed. Highly recommended. On line through 28 November.

Death of the Oceans?

SBS2 recently ran a David Attenborough documentary called Death Of The Oceans?. I think it's well worth a watch. You can view it online through 23 November.

I could easily double the content of this newsletter but rather than overwhelm you now, I'll stop here and try and get another newsletter out before Christmas.

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News About This Newsletter


Before I finish one newsletter, I'm already working on the next. I often find that I've got too many interesting things for a single newsletter. I'm also always looking for other interesting items I can add. I'm particularly interested in environmental issues, especially those which might affect bushwalking and in the technology which is shaping our lives. As I said in the last newsletter, Suggestions welcome.

Sending the newsletter

The program I use to send the newsletters is hosted on the same server that hosts our website. The newsletters are sent from walkabout@bushwalkingholidays.com.au. This is the contact address on our website. If you would like to continue to receive these newsletters, please include this address in your "friends list" so that it isn't blocked.

For some reason, some servers block the newsletters no matter what you try and do. I send these in small groups from my normal email. It's not a simple problem. If anyone thinks they might have an idea how to overcome the problem, I'd love to hear from you.

Emails sent to walkabout@bushwalkingholidays.com.au are currently automatically forwarded to rrwillis at internode.on.net. If you want to send an email to that address, replace the word "at" with the symbol @. I am trying not to put that address any place where it can be harvested by spam bots.

We don't want to add to the mass of email spam. If you don't want our newsletter, please send us an email and let us know. We'll then delete your name from our newsletter list.

Our email address is walkabout@bushwalkingholidays.com.au.

Note. The program we use to send this newsletter has an automatic delete at the bottom. Clicking that link will delete you from the mailing list on the server but it will not delete you from our main database. My newsletter mailing program will not allow the auto delete to send me an email notifying me that a deletion has been made. If you want to be removed from all further mailings, please send an email to walkabout@bushwalkingholidays.com.au

If you know someone you think would enjoy this newsletter, please forward it to them. The more people who get it, the more likely it is that I'll be able to run the trips which might interest you.

Best wishes to all,
Russell Willis

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