Friday, January 18, 2008

Christmas at the Zoo!

For Christmas 2007, a bunch of family members decided that getting together on Christmas Day was not going to be doable without truck loads of stress, so we’d hang out after Christmas. And, instead of doing the usual showing up at someone’s place with some food and an esky full of cold drinks [alcoholic or otherwise], we’d congregate somewhere public where cleaning up meant dumping all empties into the closest garbage bin. It started off as a combined Christmas present for my sister and her family, and my family. A day at the Zoo! I mentioned it to a cousin, she mentioned it to someone else and the next thing we knew, we’d set a date for five related but different families to “de-chill” after the Christmas rush.

We brought our own supplies. We paid our own way. We showed up in our own good time.

And we had a lovely day.

One of Sydney’s main tourist attractions is the Taronga Zoo, but it’s not the only zoo in town. Aside from the new establishment at Darling Harbour, which I’ve yet to visit, and the great aquariums [one at Darling Harbour and one at Manly], there is also Symbio Zoo at Helensburg.
Approximately an hour’s drive south of the city [and half that from where I live], Symbio’s really is a wonderful place to spend the day. If you want somewhere to take the whole family, see some animals, have fun and not break the already exhausted budget, Symbio Zoo is the place to go. Smaller than Taronga Zoo, yes. Fewer exotic animals? Also a yes. A good range of Australian animals? A big yes! And easy to view with areas that allow visual access and almost touching access [if you really want to be stupid]. Plus they have shows and feeding sessions throughout the day - all similar to Taronga, just on a smaller scale.

But the animals here aren’t the only attraction. Symbio also has spacious and shady picnic areas dotted around the landscape. You can set up under a tree next to the dingo enclosure, close to the wandering wild birds in the wetland area or by the pool.

The zoo opens at 9.30am, so my bit of the family arrived at 9.35 in order to claim some good space. I opted for the dingoes. They were yawning, well-fed puppies and there was a big fence between them and my preferred picnic table. The rest of our growing group opted for the pool. Seeing the practicality of that option [kids + hot day = need to get wet], I acquiesced. We claimed two tables by the pool under a massive shade tree and then trotted off to mingle with the animals.

The stand-out part of the whole day as far as I was concerned was being able to pat the dingo pups who were taken for a walk by their minder to visit with the visitors and watching another minder head off to the covered amphitheatre, koala on hip, for the cuddly koala show.
The kids loved the free-range kangaroo enclosure where everybody gets to walk around the cage and hand-feed the little beasties. There were joeys in and out of their mothers’ pouches. Grey roos, red roos and possibly a few wallabies [Really, apart from size, they all look the same to me. Reds are big. Greys are middlin’ and wallabies are usually smallish].

The lone camel was amusing as it alternately pooped, ate its poop and then started again. As was the lost joey taking a rest on the shady side of the Bald Eagle cage that ignored everybody except those offering tidbits of the zoo’s kangaroo feed mix. It looked like a bag of dried grass to me, but obviously there was something special about the mix as all the kangaroos loved it. The lyrebird is an interesting, if rather camera-shy character. It displayed its magnificent tail non-stop and as soon as anyone came near with a camera, turned around to display its back end as well. I, naturally, took a snap of that and was granted a few seconds to get a shot of the prettier side too. There’s a bird who knows how to manipulate the paparazzi!

I got some great pics with lots of close ups. The cassowary shown is one of my favourites. These birds are dangerous, but when my daughter told this one to be still so I could get a photo it froze as if in shock at being ordered around. As soon as I get around to it, I’ll upload them to my Flickr account. I’m pretty sure I opened up an account a few months ago...

In the meantime, check out the zoo’s website and plan a visit soon. Go early. It did get crowded. And if it’s a hot day, grab those tables by the pool – perfect spot to eat, drink, watch the kids swimming and share Christmas horror stories!

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Very mild super powers not quite up to scratch...

MS Word 2007

When I bought my new computer a few months ago, it came with Vista. My old software didn’t like the change so, of course, I needed to upgrade my MS suite to the latest version. Grrrr! It’s not that I don’t like change. Really, I love learning new stuff, but MS Word 2007 has got me by the short and... well, let’s just say that it has not been fun.

I’ll grant that I am slowly learning where the programmers/designers (whoever comes up with the torture techniques) have hidden everything, but it has never been so difficult (or so torturous) before. I will absolutely not cede that I’ve reached an age where lots of things get just that little bit harder. I am, and always have been, a dab hand at getting things to work and ferreting out the different language and usage of software packages. I consider it one of my “very mild super powers”

Let me show you a few examples.

1. The menu bars are completely different from anything I’ve used before. Even the customising dialogue boxes have me scratching my head. I don’t see the point of the change and several buttons I always used in previous versions are either no longer available or are in clever disguise.

2. I have to go looking for formatting buttons that are supposed to be Quick Access but in reality are slow access. First I need to figure out which section our formatting tool is now categorised under, then sort through the selection on offer. I’ll find it eventually, and it’s a given that also eventually I’ll get faster at locating my preferred formatting options, but in the meantime, sooo painful!

3. New commands. I don’t recall seeing commands such as “Learn from document...” in previous versions of MS Word – and I’ve crawled all through the commands lists on many occasions – and I’m not sure why I would want to “Insert Spike” into my work... I found these searching for my old formatting favourites among a few dozen other choices I’ve never heard of. Has Word suddenly become complicated or have these been lurking in the underbelly of the Word formatting world this whole time?

At any rate, I know that I’ll set up Word just the way I like it and when I'm forced into upgrading to the next version I'll be grumbling about how I've only just come to terms with this one. I admit right now that writing this article has helped immensely. I’ve now found a lot of my favourites. Perhaps it’s a comment on time or the lack of it and patience (and lack of it) rather than on change, inevitability and growing old. I just want to write stuff. I don’t want the hassle of figuring out anew how to format everything.

I’ve yet to attempt the latest versions of MS Powerpoint and Excel. One day when I’ve got an hour or two to spare (hah!) I’ll take a look at what they’ve become. For now, I’ll just muddle through with MS Word 2007.