This week’s ponderings: owls, a movie, whether we should keep working

This column originally appeared in the Feb. 4, 2016, issue of the Portage County Gazette. Owl update: the regal creatures have continued to appear annually in Wisconsin since the original publication. Photo below by Tim Krause. Photo of owl in field by Christina Streiff.

Being a column about recreation, this is also where we consider important questions of life. The word “recreate” is, after all, literally about reviving and remaking ourselves.

Here we ruminate on issues related to play and work, meaning and meaninglessness, our use of time, and whether a colonoscopy is more fun than hiking the Appalachian Trail.

We have both little questions and big questions.  The little ones:  Why do the snowy owls keep coming back, and is the movie “A Walk in the Woods” worth seeing?  We’ll get to those.

The big one, which only readers can answer for themselves, is this.

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Hey, Aussies … stop making fun of us. We’re tougher than you think.

Just one of these has caused panic on the East Coast, but they're common in Australia.

Just one of these has caused panic on the East Coast, but they’re common in Australia. (Screen capture from Fairfax Media video)

Australia is home to more deadly creatures than any other continent, and the typical Aussie response is to pooh-pooh their dangers. But that doesn’t mean folks in Oz should hit us below the belt when something comes along that we’re not used to.

This amusing report pokes fun at New Jersey’s response to the unusual appearance of a single bluebottle, also know as the Portuguese man of war.  Complete with ominous music, the accompanying video makes light of a situation that’s rare in Jersey but in Australia occurs frequently and with far greater numbers of bluebottles.

Granted: the Jersey folks overreacted.  But not all North Americans are wimps.  Wisconsinites have dealt with strange creatures that would send shivers down the spines of even the toughest Australians.

“It has more things that will kill you than anywhere else.” Bill Bryson on Australia

Yes, Oz is well known for the extraordinary presence of venomous bugs, snakes and even mammals, not to mention other dangerous creatures like great white sharks and the cassowary.  Bill Bryson’s book In a Sunburned Country  devotes a great deal of discussion to this charming aspect of the Land Down Under.

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MAPS.ME: A very handy offline map for travelers

If you’re one of those rare souls who aren’t connected all the time but have yearned for a good electronic atlas, MAPS.ME may be the next best thing.

Maps.ME gives wonderful detail and has a useful search function.

MAPS.ME gives wonderful detail and has a useful search function. (Sorry for the dark image — used another new app, Mobizen, for capturing the screen image but haven’t quite mastered the details.)

I’m one of the few who have yet to adopt a smartphone, but I do rely on my Nexus 10 tablet for a few things during travel.  The offline atlas that I’ve wished for may be here in its closest form with this Android app.

MAPS.ME is available for free in the Google Play store.  I also found it in Amazon’s Andoid App Store, but not the iTunes Store.

I’ve always been a hard-copy map guy.  The size and detail of an atlas or a laminated foldup map appeal to me far more than the miniature, highly focused capsules of the world given to us in a standard GPS screen, and I’ve seen too many folks who are slaves to their GPS while being completely unaware of their surroundings. Continue reading

Best Australian guidebooks? Depends …

Lonely Planet has 15 different guidebooks for Australia alone (click the picture to go to its Australia products).

Lonely Planet has 15 different guidebooks for Australia (click picture to see its page).

One of the great services provided by the UW-Stevens Point International Programs office is its library of guidebooks and other resources. If you’re thinking about the Australia winterim 2015-16 trip, you can check out several guidebooks or videos and learn a bit more about what Australia has to offer.

Among them are the Lonely Planet printed guidebooks to Australia and to Sydney & New South Wales (where the UWSP winterim is focused), as well as that publisher’s DVD version of “Australia: The South East.”  I’ll be reviewing each of these, as well as a number of other guides and resources, over the next few months.

It turns out Lonely Planet started as an Australian company, so one would expect its Australia products to be excellent.  (It does guidebooks for the world, though — it recently listed 489 different ones on its web page.)

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