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Willis's Walkabouts Newsletter 64, February 2013

Disaster strikes! My main computer crashed just after Christmas. Most of my backups worked. My email backup didn't. See below for more on the sad story and how it might affect you.

Browse this at your leisure. Once again, I've crammed so many interesting things into this newsletter that you might want to dip in and out over a few days — or even weeks. But note, section two and two links in section eight will get out of date quickly.

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.

Willis's Walkabouts logo

In this issue

  1. Computer Crash
  2. Last Chance
  3. The Crisis of the Middle Class
  4. What We Are — and May Become
  5. Willis's Walkabouts 2013 Update
  6. Weather Worries
  7. Our Nanny State
  8. Grief, Death and a Lost Connection
  9. Overseas Trip Update
  10. Tech — Hi & Low
  11. Bushfires in Australia
  12. What Makes Willis's Walkabouts Different
  13. A Final Thought
  14. News About this Newsletter

Computer Crash

My main computer started playing up just before Christmas so I got almost religious about doing back ups. Sure enough, it died just after Christmas — not the best time to get repairs done. It was still under warranty but the warranty required it to be shipped to Sydney. I couldn't do that until after my Jatbula Trail trip. It eventually got sent off. I'm still waiting — but I have heard that my hard drive (touch wood) should be OK.

I had been using a back up program called SyncBack. It seemed to be working fine for everything. Each time I did a back up, it told me which files had been changed and duly went about updating them. At least that's what it did with most of the programs.

I was using Windows Live as my email program. When I went to copy the back up to my laptop, it didn't work. I've got no idea what happened or why. I did have my email set up to forward all emails to a gmail address so I should still have copies of them all, BUT I have lost all my replies and all the organisation where the emails had been organised into trips etc. To say that's been a hassle is a bit of an understatement.

If anyone reading this newsletter has any ideas of how to do better backups, I'd love to hear it. If anyone can suggest a different email program which would import my old Windows Live files (some of the old ones are still OK in a backup) and which would allow me to easily set up folders and subfolders, please let me know. (Gmail works well as something to use when I'm out of the office, but I find it a real hassle to organise when I'm at home.)

Finally, if you haven't received an email reply to something you think you should have, please accept my apologies and email me again.

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Last Chance

Only four trips are available before 28 April, special offers on the first three.

List prices — Where Are They?

Our list prices appear on multiple pages on our website. Several people have told me they were hard to find. I thought it should be easy. I can't fix a problem if I don't understand it. If you have ever had a problem finding a price, please tell me where you looked.

First Chance — Help a Park

We may be able to offer a new trip lasting 7-9 days.

Essential maintenance in parks around Australia is suffering because of a lack of funds. Nitmiluk is no exception. The Jatbula Trail is the most popular, long-distance walking trail in the Top End. As some of those who do it have no experience in overnight walking or bush navigation, the trail needs to be clearly marked. Every wet season, trees fall on the track while other markers get washed away by floods. When we did the trail just after Christmas, there were already places where it was hard to follow. Not a problem for a group like ours, but a potentially serious problem when the trail reopens later this year. I asked the chief ranger if he'd be interested in some help. His reply follows.

"It is worth planning for a trail maintenance exercise probably involving two Rangers with 6-8 clients working in two groups. We could aim to carry enough track markers to 17 Mile and then fly in additional markers as well as bring in two extra Rangers. The opening times vary each year depending upon the wet season and the water levels at places like Crystal falls. In the four years that I have been here opening times have varied from late April to early June."

IF enough people are interested, I'm prepared to offer a special trip sometime between late March and mid April for less than cost. (If I could afford it, I'd run it for free. That is, however, beyond my means.) The Jatbula Trail notes from my last trip should give you an idea of what to expect.

If you think you might be interested, please send me an email and let me know.

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The Crisis of the Middle Class

Western societies could be heading for a major breakdown with America leading the way. "American history was always filled with the assumption that upward mobility was possible." That's not so any longer."Adjusted for inflation, the median income is just below what it was in 1989 and is $4,000 less than it was in 2000." More than 20 years of going nowhere!

"In the 1950s and 1960s, the median income allowed you to live with a single earner -- normally the husband, with the wife typically working as homemaker -- and roughly three children. It permitted the purchase of modest tract housing, one late model car and an older one. It allowed a driving vacation somewhere and, with care, some savings as well. I know this because my family was lower-middle class, and this is how we lived, and I know many others in my generation who had the same background. It was not an easy life and many luxuries were denied us, but it wasn't a bad life at all."

The quotes above are from an article The Crisis of the Middle Class and American Power put out by Stratfor via John Mauldin. The main article begins on page 3. I think it's well worth a read.

I did some digging and came up with an interesting blog page from the NY Times. * America in 2012, as Told in Charts. They are all interesting but the ones about declining incomes and income inequality near the top of the page are the most important. "In 2010, a stunning 93 percent of all income gains went to the top 1 percent of Americans. Also astonishing: just 15,000 households received 37 percent of all of those income gains." That's got to be bad news for the stability of society.

Things aren't as bad here in Australia. "After adjusting for inflation, median personal income was 7.5% higher than it was in 2006, whereas median household income was 4.3% higher. Unlike much of Europe and North America, income in Australia has increased over the past half-decade." That quote is from Australian census: not quite the US, but income gap widens.

For better or worse, Australia tends to follow America in a lot of things. This is one trend we want to miss.

One suggestion as to how to overcome the inequality problem is * To Reduce Inequality, Tax Wealth, Not Income. The author notes that, "In 1992, the top tenth of the population controlled 20 times the wealth controlled by the bottom half. By 2010, it was 65 times." With his proposal, a large number of people would actually pay less in tax. It might be totally impractical, but it's worth a thought.

As an aside, when I did a Google search for "inflation adjusted median income Australia", the 'Australian census' above was the only decent link out of the first 60. There ought to be more detailed statistics out there, but I don't know how to find them. Any suggestions?

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What We Are — and May Become

Are you really what you think you are?

Take away your memory and what's left? But your memory is never wholly correct. "When thinking about the workings of the mind, it is easy to imagine memory as a kind of mental autobiography - the private book of you. To relive the trepidation of your first day at school, say, you simply dust off the cover and turn to the relevant pages. But there is a problem with this idea. Why are the contents of that book so unreliable? It is not simply our tendency to forget key details. We are also prone to "remember" events that never actually took place, almost as if a chapter from another book has somehow slipped into our autobiography. Such flaws are puzzling if you believe that the purpose of memory is to record your past — but they begin to make sense if it is for something else entirely."

I've been keeping a diary on and off for 40 years. Every so often I go back to look something up and discover that my memories of a particular event are wrong. I'm far from alone. New Scientist had a special collection of articles about memory in their 10 October 2012 edition. Click here to see two of them..

What we may become.

Are We Becoming Cyborgs?

"Are new digital technologies changing us in a more profound and perhaps troubling way than any previous technological breakthrough?" Here are a couple of quotes from the NY Times article * Are We Becoming Cyborgs?

The full article, * Are We Becoming Cyborgs? runs to six pages. I think it's well worth a read.

Many years ago, I read a science fiction story in which most people spent their lives wired up in little boxes, being fed intravenously while living in a virtual world that was much more rewarding than the real one. The author was on the right track, but didn't envisage what will soon become possible. Technology should soon reach the point where you not only see and hear but feel, taste and smell your virtual world. Think what that would mean for society?

Why live in the real world when a virtual world can be much more rewarding? Very few people actually produce things. If we didn't need all those things, our economy would collapse —: but if we needed little more than basic food, perhaps delivered intravenously, why work so many hours to buy things that can never be as rewarding as those in our brains? In a world like that, the human race would consume far less and slowly our impact on the real world would begin to decrease. Some people are already controlling mechanical devices by thought alone. The biggest limit as to where this kind of technology can take us is our imagination. We live in an interesting world.

Declining population

The Growth of Singles in America explains how the birth rate in the US has dropped to the point where it is well below replacement. The Australian fertility rate is similar.

The author of the main article believes that, "We could tilt more into a 'now' society, geared towards consuming or recreating today, as opposed to nurturing and sacrificing for tomorrow." He finds that alarming. But, we live in a finite world. Population growth has to end someday. What's wrong with sooner rather than later? With stabilising the population before we've exhausted all the easily accessible natural resources and exterminated a majority of the other species on the planet?

But, and there always is a 'but', when the population growth finally stops, that implies we have to take care of ourselves. The next generation can't or won't do it.

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Willis's Walkabouts 2013 Update

Since the last newsletter, some trips have gone from nothing to definite departures while others have had to be cancelled. One charter has been confirmed and two more are looking possible. With limited transport and limited guides, each charter may mean we have to cancel a trip which is currently listed in the program. If we have to do that, it will be a trip without bookings so get in as soon as you can if you want to do a trip which isn't in the list below.

Trips with bookings.

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Weather Worries

Global Warning

The cover story from the 17 November issue of New Scientist began, "Five years ago, the last report of the Intergovernmental Panel on climate Change painted a gloomy picture of our planet's future. As climate scientists gather evidence for the nest report, due in 2014, Michael Lepage gives seven reasons why things are looking even grimmer.

  1. The Arctic is warming faster than predicted.
    The thick sea ice in the Arctic Ocean was not expected to melt until the end of the century. Now it looks like summer ice could be gone in a decade or two.
  2. Extreme weather is getting more extreme.
    We knew global warming was going to make the weather more extreme. But it's becoming even more extreme than anyone predicted.
  3. Food production is taking a hit.
    Global warming was expected to boost food production. Instead, food prices are soaring as the effects of extreme weather kick in.
  4. Sea levels will rise faster than expected.
    Greenland's rapid loss of ice means we're in for a rise of at least 1 metre by 2100, and possibly much more.
  5. Greenhouse gas levels could keep rising even if our emissions stop.
    The planet currently absorbs half our CO2 emissions. All the signs are it won't for much longer.
  6. We're emitting more than ever.
    If we stopped emitting CO2 tomorrow, we might be able to avoid climate disaster. In fact we are still increasing emissions.
  7. Heat stress means big trouble.
    If the worst climate predictions are realised, vast swathes of the globe could become too hot for humans to survive.

You can read the original article here.

Following on from #6 above, in January, * On Scale of 0 to 500, Beijing's Air Quality Tops 'Crazy Bad' at 755. "An air-quality monitor atop the United States Embassy recently measured an air quality index well above 500, which is supposed to be the top of the scale." The article goes on to note that, "The World Health Organization has standards that judge a score above 500 to be more than 20 times the level of particulate matter in the air deemed safe." Australia counts on China to take our exports. How long can they go on like this before their cities become uninhabitable?

On 10 January, the NY times ran an article * Heat, Flood or Icy Cold, Extreme Weather Rages Worldwide. "The growing incidence and intensity of extreme weather events is a sign that climate change is not just about rising temperatures." There would have been one change if the article had run a couple of days later. Sydney set an all-time record for the highest temperature ever recorded.

Back in August, New Scientist ran an article Climate change: The great civilisation destroyer?. It began "War and unrest, and the collapse of many mighty empires, often followed changes in local climes. Is this more than a coincidence?" Our technology will certainly allow us to survive more extreme changes than those which destroyed other civilisations in the past but things could conceivably get bad enough so our society would collapse as well. If that were to happen, it is unlikely that any part of the planet would be unaffected.

Given the recent bushfires and floods in estern Australia, the final link here is particularly relevant. In a recent story on the ABC, Fred Hillmer explained that "research into Australia's unique climate has proven invaluable in dealing with bushfires and other extreme weather threats." He then goes on to ask, "Shouldn't we also listen to what it says about global warming?"

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Our Nanny State

I used to think that governments in countries like Sweden controlled more of their citizens' lives than the government does here in Australia. After my recent trip to Sweden, I realise I was wrong.

"Australia is a nanny state. You only realise how much of a nanny state it is, however, when you go overseas and find that not everyone lives with the same amount of rules as we do." Don't believe it? Read Australia: the great nanny state, an article which appeared on the Sydney Morning Herald website in May 2011.

One freedom which most of you don't have that I do is the freedom to ride a bicycle without a helmet. * Does requiring safety gear make a safe activity seem dangerous? I think it does. "Statistically, if we wear helmets for cycling, maybe we should wear helmets when we climb ladders or get into a bath, because there are lots more injuries during those activities. The European Cyclists' Federation says that bicyclists in its domain have the same risk of serious injury as pedestrians per mile traveled."

I went to a lecture in Hobart a couple of years back where the Danish speaker made the point that as long as helmets are required, we will never see successful programs like they have in Europe where you can easily pick up a bike in one place and drop it off in another.

How far do we want to go? * The Perfect Non-Crime asks "Does it infringe on our freedom to make it impossible to commit crimes?" I think the author makes some good points. It's something to think about while we still can.

An Interesting Exception

Pokies are addictive so why aren't they regulated to the same extent that alcohol and tobacco are? The Australian Government's Problem Gambling website notes that "Australians spend nearly $12 billion a year on poker machines." That's close to $600 for every man, woman and child in the country. GetUp ran a petition trying to get the government to impose restrictions. They didn't get far. They claim that "Woolworths is the largest operator of dangerous high-loss poker machines in the country?" That's big money for one of the largest companies in the country. And big tax dollars for all the states. I suspect those are the main reasons that the push for restrictions failed. You may not be able to go for a bike ride without a helmet; in the NT, there are many places where you can't buy cask wine; but you can still go out and lose $10,000 you don't have playing the pokies.

* I'm Losing Money. So Why Do I Feel So Good? "shows how digital technology in casino gambling can fan players' hope of success — and keep them in front of the screen." If you know someone with a pokie gambling problem, you ought to give this a read.

Bureaucracy Gone Mad in America.

Back in August, The Economist had an online story about alternative fuels, Difference Engine: Competition at the pump. I was particularly taken by the paragraph below. The EPA is the Environmental Protection Authority.

"As the EPA's regulations stand, it is illegal to convert existing petrol-driven cars to run on ethanol or methanol, or even battery power. Doing so invalidates their emissions certificates. Tesla Motors, an electric-car company based in Palo Alto, California, was fined $275,000 by the EPA because the emissions certificate of the vehicle its battery-powered roadster was based on (a featherweight Lotus Elise from Britain) had been invalidated by removing the source of those emissions and using a pollution-free electric drive instead."

Bureaucracy gone mad? I think so. Could it happen here? I'm not 100% sure, but I suspect that something similar could easily take place in Australia.

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Grief, Death and a Lost Connection

The two things that everyone alive shares are the fact that they were born and will eventually die. Losing three of my former guides in ten months has given me reason to think about the inevitable end a bit more than I would otherwise. The following stories all said something to me. I hope they say something to at least some of you as well.

Grief and Death

A Lost Connection

Humans and Nature: Can the Gulf Be Bridged?
"To be able to grieve for the loss of something, we have to first develop love and affection. It takes time. It takes a deep connection, cultivated emotions that emerge from knowing and experiencing a place or a person again and again." ...."our perception of nature as separate has spawned a lot of the environmental problems we see today. When we hike in a national park or protected area and experience nature as something removed from our daily routine, we come to know it at as something apart from us."
Thinking of how so many have lost their connection to the natural world on which we depend reminded me of a series which has been airing on SBS1, Secrets of our Living Planet. The last two episodes are still available online.

Two More

The following two items don't really fit here but they fit here more than they would fit anywhere else. I enjoyed them both.

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Overseas Trip Update

We are offering four overseas trips this year.

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Tech — Hi & Low

Old Tech

What happens when some of our old technology becomes obsolete?

New Tech Hazards

Made in the USA

While Australia doesn't have America's advantage of a huge domestic market, there are some lessons we can learn from * Why Apple Got a 'Made In U.S.A.' Bug
Apple's decision to make some of its computers in the United States shows how little assembly costs matter in the global computer market.

New Tech You Can Use

Social Science

"Social science continues to remind us of the power of social context, and the thousands of variables that shape our unconscious. Here's a * smattering of recent research."

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Bushfires in Australia

I've long been concerned about what I consider to be excessive burning in northern Australia. I'd like to thank Ian McCallan for the following.

Fire in Australia

"You may remember I was on your 42 day walk in the Kimberley with my wife Jennifer a few years ago. I was horrified at the devastation and de-forestation by fire of the areas we walked through.

The graph at left is a history of bush fires in Australia. The section shown goes back 40k years but the researchers went back 70k years. They could find no evidence of any increase in fire activity when Aboriginals arrived in Australia, but as you can clearly see there was and continues a huge increase in bush fires in the past two hundred years."

"In our area, immense damage is being done to the forests here by totally incompetent National Parks management who now proudly proclaim they are going to burn all of Queensland's forests at some stage over the next few years. Incredible."

Ian goes on to argue that "the so called management of forests by fire is totally ridiculous and extremely destructive. These same forests have been managing themselves very successfully for million and millions of years without any destructive assistance from man.

Research has now also shown that there are no Australian plants or animals that are fire adapted, a common claim from National Parks. I have included the US clean air act as it accurately describes the extreme danger of continually breathing in wood smoke the principal ingredient of which is the highly dangerous substance Pm2.5.

While the Kimberley is the worst fire destruction I have ever seen, I understand that Cape York is similarly de-forested by annual burns. This deforestation has a very substantial effect on climate, By stripping away the canopy, sunlight dramatically increase the heat of the ground, particularly rocks which act as a giant heat sink. Consequently when the forest is destroyed the range of temperatures is much much wider. If you look at other areas of the world in the same latitude as the kimberley these are commonly heavily covered in dense tropical forest and the range of temperatures winter to summer is about 28 to 32.

With the forest completely destroyed as it is in the Kimberley this range of temperatures is far wider with temps in the forties common in summer and much lower temperature in winter.

Here are some good references to back up his arguments.

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What Makes Willis's Walkabouts Different?

There is no other tour operator anywhere in the world offering exactly the same kind of trips that we do.

Our tours are not for everybody. While we try and explain exactly what we offer on out website and in the information we send out, we still get some people who come on our trips expecting them to be like other tours. Some are wonderfully surprised; others are woefully disappointed. We'd rather miss some bookings and avoid those disappointments. Here are a few of the things that make Willis's Walkabouts not just different but unique.

Taken one by one, there are others who offer similar things. Taken altogether, there is no one else. That's one of the reasons why several of our clients have done ten or more of our trips, why 40-50% of our clients each year are repeat customers and why so many of the rest come based on recommendations from friends.

The Challenge — Win a Free Trip

The challenge is in three parts.

  1. Read the more detailed document What makes Willis's Walkabouts different/unique tell us how we can improve it and what sort of photos we should use when we put it onto a web page.
  2. Turn it into a half-page ad. Let us know what kind of photo or photos we'd need and we'll supply a selection. Or maybe you have one of your own from one of our trips.
  3. Find another tour operator anywhere in the world who matches all the criteria above and in the What makes Willis's Walkabouts different/unique document.

The Prize

  1. If we use your response to #1 above, you get the larger of a $250 or a 33⅓% discount on a trip.
  2. If we use your response to #2 above, you get the larger of a $250 or a 33⅓% discount on a trip.
  3. If we agree with your answer to #3 above (or can't show you why we disagree), you get the larger of a $250 or a 33⅓% discount on a trip.

Sorry, no cash. We can only offer discounts. The percentage discount will be taken off after any other discounts you might be entitled to. Sadly, there has to be a limit. The percentage discount can apply only to trips to the value of $3000. If you choose a more expensive trip, you can apply the amount you would have saved on a $3000 trip to the one you choose.

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A Final Thought

When I read the story below, I thought it would be worth sharing.

A professor stood before his philosophy class and had some items in front of him. When the class began, he wordlessly picked up a very large and empty mayonnaise jar and proceeded to fill it with golf balls. He then asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was.

The professor then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly. The pebbles rolled into the open areas between the golf balls. He then asked the students again if the jar was full. They agreed it was.

The professor next picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar. Of course, the sand filled up everything else. He asked once more if the jar was full. The students responded with a unanimous "yes."

The professor then produced two Beers from under the table and poured the entire contents into the jar effectively filling the empty space between the sand. The students laughed.

"Now," said the professor as the laughter subsided, "I want you to recognize that this jar represents your life. The golf balls are the important things — your family, your children, your health, your friends and your favourite passions — and if everything else was lost and only they remained, your life would still be full. The pebbles are the other things that matter like your job, your house and your car. The sand is everything else — the small stuff.

"If you put the sand into the jar first," he continued, "there is no room for the pebbles or the golf balls. The same goes for life. If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff you will never have room for the things that are important to you."

"Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness. Spend time with your children. Spend time with your parents. Visit with grandparents. Take your spouse out to dinner. Play another 18. There will always be time to clean the house and mow the lawn."

"Take care of the golf balls first — the things that really matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just sand."

One of the students raised her hand and inquired what the beer represented. The professor smiled and said, "I'm glad you asked. The beer just shows you that no matter how full your life may seem, there's always room for a couple of beers with a friend."

May you all always have time for the things that really matter.

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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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