Archive for April 2012

New Zealand, Part 4   1 comment

I have almost run out of my own photos to post about Kiwiland.  Fortunately I have friends with cameras who are much better photographers than I am.  These pix were all taken by Kevin Bracey, and with him or Chris taking pix, I will appear in them more often.  That’s a mixed blessing at best.

On my first afternoon on the South Island, Kevin introuduced me to a man Named James Trollee. He's a fishing guide among other things, and he knows his way around the waters of the West Coast of the South Island. I'm the old guy in the hat.

James took the three of us (Kevin, Chris, and Ken) aboard his small boat for a photography expedition. We started on a lake and headed down through marshy country searching for white herons.

Typical South Island weather as far as I could tell in 2 days. It threatened to rain. I have a terrible memory and didnt take notes, but this is Lake Ruatapu where a famous battle took place in the 19th century--about ten miles southeast of Hokitika.

Ruatapu River, kind of a swampy park. This is all protected land, and should be full of wildlife, but on such a cloudy day, I think the birds were staying home watcing television.

This is exactly the kind of wild country I imagine to be inhabited by goblins.

This is Chris Bracey, my gracious hostess. We were never in any danger, but safety-conscious James had us all wearing life-jackets anyway. They helped keep us warm.

White hunter, New Zealand style. In New Zealand they mostly hunt birds and fish, although deer have been introduced to the forests and are a meat source for islanders.

Camelback Mountain as seen from Lake Ruatapu. We went hunting for spoonbills at the end of the lake, and saw a black swan, but most of the birds were still hiding.

Some of the trees grow incredibly high. Their wood is both hard and water resistant and they were much prized as masts for the British Navy 150 years ago.

On the following morning, Kevin and I walked a mile on the beach of the Tasman Sea from his house into town.

This is what a happy Ken looks like. I wore the new hat that day.

This is a good place to end today’s episode.  Next time I’ll take you to an aminal rescue farm and introduce you to a real kiwi bird.

If you would wear your new hat to go beachcombing, or ever found anything really cool when doing so, leave a comment.

end

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New Zealand, Part 3   1 comment

I haven’t run out of photos yet on the New Zealand trip.  Here are a few more things I saw and did.

I didn't always get New Zealand exotic food. Once we stopped for cheese burgers at McDonald's. However, they had cooler playground for kids which included this old McDonald aircraft from the 1950s. Inside the cabin there's one seat on each side of the aisle and each seat has a small table. Compare that to the cramped flying quarters we suffer through today.

Because I got sick while traveling around the country, we cut the touring part short and returned to Mark's farm. I had a racking cough and a terrible sore throat. I still have a vestige of the cough.

Farmer Mark has chickens. His roosters woke me up every morning before dawn, and one of them paid for it by being Sunday dinner. The day before I took off for the South Island some chicks hatched. I had to get down on the ground to take this picture of them.

Every farm has a few bad eggs. These were left over from Easter a week earlier. They have been brought out to the boonies for execution by firing squad.

Gunner Charley could mow those eggs down from a distance. So could Mark. I did my egg termination execution style--walked up, put the muzzle of the gun on the egg and pow! Messy!

Then I flew off to the South Island where I was met at the airport by Kevin and Chris Bracey.  He took me off to see more tunnels and evidence of New Zealand’s gold mining history.

New Zealand miners had a quick way of getting through high rocky ridges. They just hacked tunnels straight through them. The reason for doing so was because gold had been found in the stream on the other side.

The South Island West Coast canopy rain forest is rugged country. Just imagine trying to get through this on foot if you didn't have a nice paved and well-maintained park hiking trail to walk on. After seeing these places I have much more appreciation for roads and trails than I ever had before.

I found a New Zealand troll lurking under a bridge on my hike through Mirkwood.

After the hike it was time for lunch. Chris Bracey treated me to a New Zealand fish sandwich--her own special recipe. I'd fly 7000 miles for another whitebait sandwich.

On my last afternoon in the South Island I got to see some of the local scenery. This is Camelback Mountain--what are the odds that I would find a mountain with that name in South Island--there is a Camelback Mountain in Phoenix.

Hokitika River Gorge where it comes out of the Southern Alps. Beautiful rugged country. I nearly fell into it while showing off on a log beside the trail.

A fine example of Dwarven stone work. You see this kind of thing all over the country.

My hosts invited me to take a shower here. I declined.

The road goes ever on. And usually, I'm bringing up the rear on these hikes. Wheeze! Pant! Gasp!

If you like the pictures, leave a comment.  You can find more of them in albums posted on my (Ken St. Andre) Facebook page. The tour will continue with pictures that my host took in part 4. end

Posted April 28, 2012 by atroll in Neal Stephenson, New Zealand--Travel

New Zealand Part 2   3 comments

Organization really isn’t my strong suit.  Neither is remembering things accurately.  From here on in, these blogs devolve into a bunch of pictures with whatever I can remember to say about them.  And they won’t necessarily be in sequence.

Before I get started, I’d like to say a little bit about the Kiwi accent (New Zealanders call themselves kiwis after the wingless bird–go figure!)  You see some strange spellings of place names in New Zealand–things like Whangamata.  If no one warned you, you might think the word was Wang-a-maw-tah.  It isn’t.  Wherever you see the wh in a name it’s pronounced as F–sometimes Fw where the w is not voiced.  So,  Whangamata is really Fong-a-mah-TAAA with emphasis and lengthening on the last syllable.  The letter e as in letter, bed, and wet is always pronounced like i in it.  So those words are littir, bid, and wit in the kiwi ak-sint.  The letter R is a very soft ah sound, and the terminal A in words comes out as an ar.  The word idea is eye-dear.  Law and Lore are homonyms.  My friend Kevin on the south island is called Kivvin by everyone who knows him.  Australians and New Zealanders, despite their propinquity don’t sound alike.  Crocodile Dundee taught us all to say might for mate, but in New Zealand it would sound more like meet.  I’m simplifying, of course, but that’s what it sounded like to me.  I can only guess how flat my American accent sounded to them.  I tried not to slip into pronouncing things the way they do for fear they would think I was laughing at them and having a go at their expense.

And now, some pictures from the other side of the the world.

This picture was painted on a wall in Whangamata. It looks like the Maori people dragging the sun up into the sky in the morning. I don't know what myth this illustrates, but my guess is that the central figure is meant to be Maui, the great Polynesian demigod hero equivalent of Hercules.

We stopped for lunch at this cafe in Whangamata on my first day of traveling around the North Island. We had already gone through the town of Thames and driven along miles of rocky beach. Mark said that Whangamata is a kind of artist colony, and I could believe it--the whole place seemed a lot like the main strip in downtown Scottsdale--lots of places to spend your tourist dollars. Mark and Charley are sitting at the deeper table in this pic.

I thought this painting was strange enough to photograph. When I go traveling I like to visit the local bookstores. This was a combined bookstore/cafe near Whangamata. Mark found a couple of books to buy, but there was nothing here for me except the horse with the cello. I did find a copy of Nada the Lily by H. Rider Haggard in another bookstore in another town later in the afternoon.

The offshore islands here and the beach below are marine animal refuges--protected national parks. This is a truly beautiful part of the North Island coastline, and I went for about a 4 mile hike here--2 miles each way.

This is the marine cave at Stingray Bay. It looked like an interesting place to get down to, but the path got so muddy and swampy that I had to turn back.

I am inside the cathedral at Cathedral Cove--one of the most famous tourist destinations in New Zealand. It is a huge sea cave open on two sides with beautiful white sand beaches in front of both openings. When the tide comes in, the two sides are cut off from each other. This is the only spot where I took my shoes off and actually let the ocean waves wash over my tired dogs, even though I was on beaches three times during my trip. It felt great, but it also got my feet all sandy and I had to walk back 2 miles with sand rubbing my feet inside my shoes--not so much fun as getting them sandy in the first place.

I'd like to say that's me in the surf, but it's my friend Mark. It is the next day and we're at another beach--not at Cathedral Cove any longer. This beach was notable for the rocks that wash ashore. I hear that mining operations on the coast break up some of the rock and it gets washed into the ocean, then tumbled along the shore until the reach their final destination. I searched for interesting rocks, but what I found were a few shells and two really pure pices of milky quartz--one of them is the size of my hand and probbly weights a pound.

These huge trees grow near the beach in this part of the country. This was the biggest I saw.

This boulder struck me as incredibly odd. It seems to exist in circular layers like tree rings, and for some reason the miners here cut it open and put it where people could see it.

This is a huge open pit gold mine, right in the center of a small town. From where I stood I couldn't see the bottom of it. Bulldozers, dump trucks, and other heavy equipment looked like toys inside it. The only other comparable open pit mine I've ever seen is the copper mine in Superior, Arizona. That was just copper. They are taking gold out of this big hole in the ground. Gold mining is a big deal in New Zealand.

On the following day, we went by this park called Karangahake--the windows. It was a gold mining area at the beginning of the 20th century, but is now just scenic. It is notable for old mining tunnels you can still enter, and windows carved in the side of the mountain that look out on a gorge full of water.

Here's a classic dungeon entrance if I ever saw one.

This is what a Dwarven mine would really look like--a narrow tunnel into the mountain accessed by narrow gage rails. There is no light inside the tunnel, and it got so dark we had to turn back.

After visiting the Dwarven mines, we headed for the land of Hobbits. They are thoroughly modern now. Gollum stole the Trollgod's hat.

Sigh! Gollum looks better in that hat than I do.

After Gollum took my hat, Gandalf let me borrow his cloak. Do I look like a wizard?

That’s probably a good spot to end today’s installment of Ken’s adventures in the antipodes.  Be sure to come back tomorrow to see what else I might have for you.

If you ever hang out with hobbits, explore old mines, or pick up rocks on the beach, please leave a comment.

end

New Zealand Part 1   7 comments

I have a lot of sayings that i live by.  They are trite, but true.  One of them is: IT’S BETTER TO BE LUCKY THAN GOOD.  Another is: IT’S NOT WHAT YOU KNOW; IT’S WHO YOU KNOW.  Well, I don’t think I’m particularly good, so I must be lucky, lucky enough to know a couple of people in New Zealand, who, once they got the idea that I could be brought down under to see them, followed through on that idea and made it happen.  I created a fan club for Tunnels and Trolls players on the internet.  You can find it at http://trollhalla.com.  It has been going since about 2002 or maybe earlier.  The internet gives it international scope, and T & T has had international scope since the 1970s.  In fact, T & T beat  That Other Game to both Britain and Japan and perhaps some other countries as well.  It is not surprising that there are players and fans in places like New Zealand.

When offered a once in a lifetime chance to go to New Zealand I leaped at it.  My trip lasted from April 5 to April 20th.  I left Phoenix on the 5th and arrived on the 7th fairly early in the morning.  I left the islands on the afternoon of the 20th and arrived in Los Angeles at 6 a.m. on the 20th.  Heh!  Time travel!  My time machine was a Qantas airplane–both directions.

Up, up, and away!

This isn’t going to be a very organized travel blog.  This is Atroll’s Entertainment, and I mean to tell you that I had a wonderful time on this trip.  My plan is to simply show you about 10 pictures each time on this trip and talk a little bit about what I saw and did.  Mostly, it’s to get the pictures on the internet so that family and friends who have never been there can get an idea of the experience.  I hope my memories and observations amuse you, dear reader, but if they don’t, feel free to bug out of this blog at any time.

A garden in the bush.

My principal guide and sponsor on the North Island was a man named Mark Thornton.  Mark is an expatriate Englishman who got tired of being a stockbroker in England, and decided to go south to seek his fortune.  At present he wears multiple professional hats, and one of them is as a farmer.  He has a small farm in Miranda.  The first picture I took was this one, showing the garden just downhill from his house, and the wild bush beyond it.  I thought it was just a beautiful scene.  A lot of the pictures I took came from Mark’s farm.

My word for this kind of place is jungle. I guess they call it "bush" down under.

New Zealand is extremely mountainous.  There are some flat areas, but I didn’t see any of them until the second week I was there.  It rains a lot, and the vegetation grows wild.  I was very impressed with how wild the countryside seemed, all this less than 50 yards from the main house.  I wanted to fight my way through this stuff, but I didn’t have a machete.

Thick forest like this is just alien to an Arizona boy like me. I took a lot of pictures like this because I just love the look of it. Did not get deep into it, however. No place to walk.

One thing I saw a lot of in New Zealand that I haven’t seen much in other parts of the world are ferns.  The vegetation just seems more primeval–left over from an earlier, lusher stage of Earth’s history.

Home is where you go to bed. Here are my sleeping accommodations most of the time I was in Miranda. The Trollgod's hat has center stage on this bed, and looks very comfortable.

On my second day in Miranda I went for a walk up the road from Mark’s farm.  These scenes won’t look so strange to people who live in the country, but they’re rare and exotic for a city boy like me.

I wasn't sure at first what kind of birds these are, but they turned out to be turkeys. I never knew that turkeys would line up like geese. My host had chickens.

These cows are enormous in real life.

I met a friendly donkey on my walk. I haven't seen a donkey since I was a kid 50 years ago..

Nothing really showed me I wasn't in the U.S. any more like the road signs. There are a lot of Give Way signs in New Zealand and very few traffic lights. I'd guess we have more stoplights in the city of Phoenix than thay have in the whole country.

You can see the waters of the Coromandel Bay and the mountains on the Coromandel Peninsula beyond this handsome goat.  I will go off and explore that country on the morrow.

The zoo tour continues as I meet one of Mark's sheep that afternoon in a remote corner of the farm.

I think I’ll end this part of the blog here today.  Tomorrow I will leave my friend’s estate and go on a road trip around the North Island.

If you’ve ever been to New Zealand, or spent time on a farm, feel free to leave some comments here.

end

Posted April 25, 2012 by atroll in farm animals, New Zealand--Travel, Uncategorized

Tagged with

Walk About   6 comments

Way Up High

View of Phoenix from the top of South Mountain

A week after my river bottom exploration and a week before my recent trip to New Zealand, I took another Sunday morning walk, and this time it was in my original destination of South Mountain park.  This park is part of the Phoenix City parks system, and I firmly believe, but have no proof, that it may be the largest city park in the world.  It includes a whole range of hills that is about 30 miles long from east end to west end and ten miles deep from north side to south side.  The park includes numerous ramadas for picnic parties, and has good roads and hiking trails throughout.  My brother Brian and I went to my favorite trail on the south side of the park–the one that starts in Hidden Valley.

Here I am at the parking lot where the trail starts.

Because I had my brother with me, I was able to get some  pictures of me (and him) along the trail.  We started the hike at about 8:30 in the morning of Sunday, April 1, 2012.

First stop along the trail. I am trying (in vain) to look rugged and adventurous.

This is the near the beginning of the trail.

Spring in the Arizona desert. Note that some of the plants are still green. 🙂

We call them the South Mountains because they are south of the main city. They range in height from about 2000 to 2500 feet, and we are near the top of them here--hence my title of Way Up HIgh.

Further up the trail. Not much was happening that day. It was already hot, and everything except people had hidden away. I was disappointed not to see any wildlife.

I enjoyed the views where one could see a long way into the distance.

Here I am on the edge of a cliff. I kind of like to stand way up high and look over the edge of things.

Close-up. Do you think I should put these pics up on Facebook?

My brother Brian is 5 years younger than me. And in much better shape . . .

Brian likes to scuba dive. I'm sure he'd rather be underwater than out hiking the desert. We are both practical ecologists and support the conservation of natural resources, whether in the ocean or the desert.

After we finished the Hidden Valley hike we went over to Dobbins Point. You can see the elevation and the best view of the city from here.

Brian takes a look at the stone "ruin" at Dobbins Point. It provides a shady spot where one can rest and look out over the city.

And here I am resting--sans hat. Yeah, I don't have much hair left on top. I kind of like this picture of me in shadow--it's kind of a metaphor for my life--slightly off center and a bit in the dark.

And that concludes my South Mountain hike–nothing special as desert rambles go.  Still, it was a pleasant way to spend Sunday morning.    And it does give a good picture of the real Arizona desert.  When I went hiking next, I would be on the opposite side of the world in New Zealand.

If you like the pics, or have ever been hiking in the Arizona desert mountains, why not leave a comment?

–end

A letter with some history in it   2 comments

Imagine such faces on a keychain.

I have been blessed with many incredible friends in my lifetime.  As I straightened up my apartment this afternoon, I found the following letter, and some of the keychains mentioned in it.  The paper is folded and warped by time, but I still have 2 of the 4 keychains mentioned, and I am currently using another that she sent me at a later time.  Reading this letter made me smile and recall what a wonderful friend M has been to me, although we have never met in person.

In previous ages of the world, it was customary to keep copies of the correspondences sent by noteworthy people—or maybe everybody did it.  While I certainly haven’t kept any copies of letters that I’ve written to other people, I have kept a few that people wrote to me.  Back in the days before email, people often exchanged good wishes and news by means of written words carried by the post office to distant places, and I both loved to get mail and to send it.  I still enjoy getting mail from people, as opposed to corporations, and I still sometimes write to others.  Yeah, I know, I’m hopelessly old-fashioned.

The physical copy of M’s letter won’t survive much longer—after 11 years of being crumpled in a box with much other ephemera, it is in pretty bad shape.  But, by posting it here online, it is my hope that it will survive much longer than it would have if it just remained in a box.  And I hope this token of friendship will brighten the days of those who read it—just to know that such friends exist in this world should gladden you.

Ken St. Andre

April 2, 2012

_________________________________________________________________________________________________

December 12, 2000

Dear Ken,

As tradition would hold it against you if you disobeyed, you cannot open your present until December 25th.  But forseeing what some might call desperation, I have included in the package a couple of souvenirs I had picked up for you during several of my trips.  Somehow plain postcards don’t cut it for me.

The souvenirs are numbered.  And they each have a specific meaning as I explain as follows.  I don’t know if you like keychains or not, but they are also a practical gift and so I’m inclined to give those instead of other souvenirs that just sit in a shelf and gather dust.  The following are from the Dominican Republic (Caribbean, below Cuba and next to Haiti).  I’m still looking for the ones from Greece, but since that’s another suitcase it’s also a whole different story.  I’ll send them as soon as I find them.

No. 1 Are a Tambor (Drums) and a Guira (Sorry, no translation for that one).  They are the basic instruments for playing Merengue music.  The Tambor is played with bare hands.  The Guira is supposed to have holes made with an ice pick where you can see little bumps, is played by scratching an old comb sideways against the perforated surface.  The sounds are really strong and grave, and they work just fine for that kind of tropical music.  Want me to teach you how to dance Merengue or do you already know?

No. 2 Represent the symbols of the country (Dominican Republic).  On the white side you can see the flag—four quadrants with blue and red interchanged and separated by a white cross—the blue represents liberty, the red the blood shed for freedom of the country and the white signifies unity with God and country.  On the black side is the coat of arms—it’s usually placed in the center of the white cross on the flag—and the book opned in the middle of it is the Catholic Bible.  The blue ribbon on the top reads “Dios Patria Libertad” which means “God Country Liberty”.  The red ribbon on the bottom reads “Republica Dominicana” which means “Dominican Republic”.  On the right side of the Bible you can see some branches of palm tree and on the left laurel branches.  Both trees are the official trees of the D R.   Laurel represent royalty (i.e. the Romans) and the Palm tree represents tradition.

No. 3 and No. 4 Represent traditional masks of the Carnival of La Vega.  The tradition is that in all the towns there is a week of celebration before February 27th, the date that marks the independence of the Dominican Republic from Haitian dictatorship.  The patrons that wear the masks are called “Diablos Cojuelos” (Cojuelos Devils) and sprung from the belief of letting out the bad spirits before Holy Week.  They are worn along with the most elaborate costumes you can imagine.  The decorations on the costumes include little mirrors, jungle bells, and almost anything that can be pinned to clothing.  The ones I sent you are from the town of La Vega, they are the most respected costume makers for the event, and so their costumes and masks are the prettiest and most bizarre.

I also included some stamps that I thought you might like.

I hope you enjoy the Christmas gift, it’s not much but it definitely reminded me of you.

I also hope you can remember me always.  One of the best things that happened to me this year was meeting and getting to know you a bit.

                                                                                    Merry Christmas!

                                                                                    Love always,

(signed with a red wax stamp bearing the letter M)

Posted April 5, 2012 by atroll in Uncategorized

From the Vaults: Crusaders of Khazan review   2 comments

Tunnels & Trolls:

Crusaders of Khazan

New World Computing

Version: IBM PC  ($49.95)

Sound/Music: 5

Graphics: 7

Playability: 9

Overall: 8

Originally a nonelectronic board game published by Chaosium, one of the most famous role-playing games has finally reached the computer.  The box reads: “Orcs and trolls hunt the fields of men . . . as  you begin your quest to find the wizard king.  This description presents nothing new for fantasy role-playing software.  But despite the similarity of title and some overlap of play mechanics, New World Computing’s Tunnels & Trolls: Crusaders of Khazan shouldn’t be confused with Dungeons & Dragons.  The game’s ease of play and unique atmosphere more than make up for its superficial similarities to any other game.

The main strength of Tunnels & Trolls: Crusaders of Khazan lies in its menu-driven play.  Like everything else in the game, character generation is quick and uncomplicated.  Players may be warriors or wizards or rogues, who have limited skills of both.  If the initial characters die or prove inferior, the towns of Phoron and the Dragon Continent are brimming with pregenerated personalities ready to take their  place.  A pleasant touch is the addition of graphics to the character status, showing what armor and equipment is readied.

Combat occurs on a special tactical display complete with quicksand, water, trees, and other obstacles.  Players act in order of their speed ratings and have the unusual martial arts option of pushing, which often knocks opponents unconscious.  The designers made good use of artificial intelligence in the game.  All the computer-controlled foes fight more intelligently than in most games and capitalize on player mistakes.

Some of the creators of the original Tunnels & Trolls worked on the computer version.  They managed to give Lerotra’hh’s domain and the free city-states a sense of logic and subtlety not found in many other games.  Each location reflects the Death Goddess’ influence, not only in the availability of goods and services, but also in the citizens’ culture and moods.  Some act morosely while others have become militant in their paranoia.  Encountered individuals do not make forced, elaborate speeches.  They talk—that is, when characters understand their languages.  Opponents are more often malicious or spiteful than “evil.”

The interface seems primitive today. It seemed pretty cool back in 1990.

Tunnels & Trolls: Crusaders of Khazan does not have an elaborate musical score or an allegory-laden scenario.  But it’s an extremely playable game with atmospheric detail long missing from the genre.

–David S. Moskowitz

This review appeared on pp. 95-96 in a magazine called VIDEOGAMES & COMPUTER ENTERTAINMENT with a June 1991 copyright date on it.

It amazes me how sloppy reviewers can be in their credits.  Tunnels & Trolls was never a board game—no boards are involved—it was always pure role-playing.  In addition, the original publisher was Flying Buffalo, Inc., not Chaosium.  The city of Phoron mentioned first is an island, not a city.  The city is called Gull and was the creation of Michael Stackpole. However, the reviewer does at least note that that the cultural feel of the game is more “realistic” than most of the cfrpgs of the time.  He notes that some of the game’s original designers were involved in its creation.  That comment is semi-true.  The world and most of the cities along with the basic game rules were mine, but the story was completely written by Liz Danforth.  The original programming was done in Japan, and New World had to do some clever reprogramming to make the game work in the U.S.  It should be  noted that the T & T computer game was released in Japan before it made it to the United States, and got much better reviews and coverage over there than it ever got over here.

If reviewers have ever butchered your computer game, or perhaps if you’ve ever reviewed a computer game, you could leave some comments here.

–end

Posted April 4, 2012 by atroll in Uncategorized