It’s been a good year for rhododenrons

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New Denver, British Columbia

We recently scooted through the tiny town of New Denver, British Columbia. One of the highlights was a cute headquarters for the mighty Valley Voice – a bi-weekly newspaper that promotes itself as being proudly “100 percent independently and locally owned.” Good on ’em, and up yours, Rupert.

Valley Voice, New Denver 2017

The windows were filled with community notices, which, among other things, advised of a public meeting about bears in the community, a ‘FibreFeelia’ textile arts get-together, a women’s wellness day, antiques fair, clothing exchange and scrap metals dealer.

Home to 500 residents, New Denver is in south-eastern BC, not far north of the US border. It is eight hours drive from Vancouver and 6.5 hours from Calgary, Alberta.

The town started out in 1892 and was originally called Eldorado. It expected to be the centre of a lead and silver mining boom. Then the name was changed, to claim an affinity with Denver, the genuine mining boom town in Colorado. Alas, New Denver’s boom was only mini and it petered out by 1920.

New Denver’s next raison d’être seems to have been hosting an internment camp for ethnic Japanese during World War II. That period is remembered at the town’s Nikkei Internment Memorial Centre.

Fast-forward to the Vietnam War when, being close to the US border, New Denver became a magnet for American draft-dodgers.

New Denver people protest cellphone installation, 2010

Locals protesting to the Telus installers in August 2010. (Photo: the Valley Voice)

Then the settlement achieved notoriety for being one of Canada’s last hold-outs against the new-fangled mobile phone. In a 2008 referendum, citizens voted against having a mobile service. Their beefs included alleged brain frazzling, and noisy phones preventing the town marketing itself as a tranquil cell-free sanctuary. Others may have just been reacting negatively to the arrogance of Canada’s national telco, Telus.

All to no avail. Two years later, Telus went ahead and installed the facility anyway, arriving in a phalanx of trucks that were met by a peaceful, but ineffective, citizens’ protest.

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Slocum Lake, at the end of the main street, was tranquil, cell phones or not.

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An Alaskan cruise

It was our first cruise and to be honest, we joined it because it was the only remotely affordable way of seeing Alaskan coastal scenery. We’d scoffed at the cruise scene in the past – we weren’t going to share a ship with a multitude of people and all that tacky glitz and tantara.

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Our ship, the Coral Princess, waiting for us at Whittier, near Alaska’s biggest city, Anchorage.

The coastal scenery was as fantastic as we’d imagined. And it turned out that the cruise experience was pretty damn good too. We’d do it again, though the cruise location would have to appeal in its own right. We wouldn’t cruise just for the sake of cruising. Many people do, though.

It was really relaxing on board – there’s a lot to be said for a week of zero responsibility or pressure.

Well yes, there was some pressure – to be up-sold on goods and services that weren’t included in the basic cruise charge. But it was easy to ignore such blandishments, because what came with our basic cruise fee was fine by us. There were ample opportunities to hugely increase our overall cost but we refused to play the game. Bad cruisers!

We didn’t pay extra to eat in specialty restaurants. We didn’t buy concession tickets for drinks and espresso coffee. We didn’t get spa treatments, turn up for expensive wine tastings, throw our money away in the casino, have our photos taken by the ship’s photographer, go to lectures about tanzanite jewels (buy! buy!), or put Tag Heuer watches on our wrists. Nor did we participate in an art auction for tacky paintings (we walked out of a ridiculous session early in the week, explaining the auction).

We didn’t even bother with our allocated ‘free’ waiter-service restaurant. We started at the buffet restaurant and stayed there because the food was excellent and there was no waiting for waiters or food delivery.

There were plenty of very expensive shore tours we could have taken. We went on only one special tour – to the mushers’ sled dog camp near Skagway (loved it). We didn’t book it through Princess Lines, which charged more for the same thing. The rest of our shore time was spent doing long walks, some on routes we’d already researched. We enjoyed these very non-Kiwi towns.

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Sled dogs relaxing after hauling us around the Mushers’ Camp. This team and its owner (the woman in green) are working their way through the qualifying stages for the famous Iditarod Trail race

We shared the Coral Princess with 2000 fellow-passengers, but rarely felt crowded. The ship was big enough to lose them. There were lots of  different bars, restaurants, shops and sanctuaries such a card room, casino and library. We enjoyed quiet times in the library, sitting in comfortable chairs reading our Kindles while alpine scenery passed by the window. In the evenings we we enjoyed some quite classy stage shows.

Most of the passengers would have been aged 55+, but there were younger people, including children and teenagers. There was an exclusive kids’ area in the stern of the ship, which we stumbled into when exploring the ship. We were promptly thrown out.

Overwhelmingly the passengers were white Americans, but there were quite a few south and east Asians, especially Chinese. There was a smattering of Latinos. Afro-Americans were conspicuous by their absence and I don’t remember seeing more than about half a dozen of them.

We were in a cheaper ‘Oceanview’ cabin*, rather than a cabin with an outside balcony. But it was good – one of a handful in this cabin class that were as big as balcony cabins and had the ocean view on the wall rather than above the bedhead. There was extra seating, including a sofa, and we watched the scenery in some comfort.

*I can’t bring myself to use the inflated cruise industry term, ‘stateroom’. A cabin is a cabin, even when it’s a flash one.

Having no personal outside balcony was no problem to us – it wasn’t tropical lounging weather and there were plenty of other places we could get outside views.

A potential downside of our cabin location was that it was well forward on the ship, so we would have been thrown around in rough weather. We took the risk and were rewarded with a millpond.

Below are some of the mountains and glaciers included in a a video slideshow I’ve uploaded to YouTube – click here.

Or click here to take a look inside the Coral Princess.

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Not bad to wake up to on our first morning on board. On our way to the Hubbard Glacier.

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Hubbard Glacier. Fortunately a nice day, though it was chilly close to the glacier.

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Hubbard Glacier

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Some hardy souls just wore t-shirts.

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Further south we entered the spectacular Bay of Glaciers National Park. We spent most of the time here, at Margerie Glacier. Park rangers boarded the ship and described the sights in the theatre and out on the deck. The weather was drizzly and cold, but not bad enough to keep us indoors.

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Margerie Glacier. From time to time we saw and heard chunks of ice ‘calving’ off the face of the glacier and splashing into the bay.

As well as enjoying the mountain and glacier scenery, we called into three very isolated towns with colourful histories. They included two small towns – Skagway and Ketchikan – and the larger Juneau, which has 33,000 people. Juneau is the capital of Alaska. None of these towns can be reached by road.


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The Coral Princess tied up at Skagway. Click here for a video slide show of our visit to this town.

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Ravens welcoming us at the Juneau dock. These birds were huge and they were everywhere. Ravens are big in Native mythology (though the appellation ‘native’, for indigenous populations is no longer considered PC in New Zealand, in Alaska it’s still what it is). Click here to see the Juneau video slideshow.

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Parked in Ketchikan, right on the main street. Fortunately our cabin was on the port side of the ship, which on a southward cruise gives the best views. Binoculars are a must for this cruise.  Click here to view the Ketchikan video slideshow.



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Getting closer to the big pick

Yesterday I took some vineyard photos for a book I’m working on for the Wairarapa Archive, called The Look of Martinborough. The book will show how Martinborough has looked, from the earliest times to the present day. I’m writing some text, but it’s mostly photos – hundreds of them. As the earlier ones are black and white, I’m carrying that look through the whole book. It’s been interesting working in monochrome again for new photos – I’m having fun.

Right now the most distinctive look about our vineyards is bird-netting.

Claddagh Vineyard, Puruatanga Road.Claddagh Vineyard, Puruatanga Road.

devotus-nettingDevotus Vineyard, Puruatanga Road.

Posted in Martinborough wine, Vineyards, Wine | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Microsoft bad, good then bad again

onejpgFor several years I’ve made effective professional use of cloud storage on Microsoft’s SkyDrive, now known as OneDrive. I’d managed to accumulate about 25Gb of free storage on OneDrive and was using it to automatically back up files associated with current projects, plus my administration files. It was a bit of a kludge: I’d back up current work files to the cloud, then, once the jobs were finished, I’d archive those files elsewhere on my computer’s hard drive and to a USB hard drive.

Then earlier this year, Microsoft welshed on the deal and cut all users’ free OneDrive storage limit back to 5Gb. Bastards!

Office 365Five gigabytes was not enough, but there was a pretty sweet replacement deal on offer: a whole terabyte of cloud storage, plus free use of the latest Office 365 suite, for a fairly reasonable annual rental. I accepted the offer and now all my data files, including archived ones, live in the cloud. Two laptops plus two mobile devices are synced to it.

Since recently revitalising my older Dell Windows 7 machine via an OS reinstall, I find myself using that laptop quite a bit – partly because some of my key Photoshop plugins don’t work in Windows 10, which my Acer machine has. I set up OneDrive on the Dell and it immediately synced to my cloud storage, downloading about 160Gb of files. (Fortunately I have an unlimited broadband account!)

So now my files are always up to date, on the physical hard drives of two laptops and in the OneDrive cloud. And I still back up the most important files to a separate USB hard drive. Yes, I’m paranoid about backup but yes, I now have reasonable peace of mind.

Then a couple of days ago I upset the applecart by changing my OneDrive password – on the Dell. It worked fine and the sync to OneCloud was preserved. Not so dandy with my other laptop, which was now shut off from the cloud. The OneDrive icon in its System Tray wouldn’t stop ‘signing in’ and I couldn’t figure out how to tell it about my new password.

Fortunately, Microsoft came to the rescue. The company now has a pretty damn good ‘Answer Desk’ customer help system, based on text chat. After less than five minutes I found myself chatting back and forth with a very helpful young man from the Philippines. He offered to take over my computer and sort the problem out. I accepted and from there it was very simple. After a quick nosey round he went to OneDrive’s System Tray icon and told it to exit, then to restart. Bingo: OneCloud reconnected automatically, with no password being re-entered.

So simple, yet I never saw that solution on any of Microsoft’s web help pages.

A rip-off
Though I think the OneDrive/Office 365 deal, especially with the one terabyte of storage, is pretty good, Microsoft is grossly overcharging Kiwis compared with our cousins across the ditch. An annual subscription to the Home plan in Australia is Au$119. In New Zealand it is NZ$165. Right now the Aussie dollar isn’t worth much more than ours, and the Australian price would convert to NZ$123.50. Yet we’re being asked – sorry, told – to pay $165. How can they possibly justify such a difference? The software is delivered online and the product support for both countries is in the Philippines. Where are the extra costs to justify the Kiwi tax?

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