Tag Archives: non fiction

Blackout, by Matthew Warren

How Is Energy-rich Australia Running Out of Electricity?

Publisher:South Melbourne, Victoria :, Affirm Press,, 2019.
Characteristics: xvi, 270 pages ; 24 cm.

This book interested me as the global warming and renewable energy generation debate has gotten more heated recently and I wanted some facts.

The author explains that the renewable energy issue has gotten too political with the people who design and build the power grid, the engineers, are being left out of the problem too much.

Demand and Supply

Power is unlike water and gas. These can be easily stored and served as demand requires. Power must be consumed as it’s generated. In simple terms, too much supply and the voltage goes above the standard 230V; if there’s too little supply the voltage goes too low.

High and low volts can cause household appliances to fail plus many other issues. The incorrect frequency (as it’s AC) must be kept within standards otherwise transformers and other devices will fail.

Power can be stored but there are few options. Batteries are not large scale enough for an entire state and hydro is only an option with the correct geography.

Coal’s Demise

Coal fired power stations take many hours to start up and once they are on they are left on for lengthy periods. Coal is only good for a steady power demand and one that doesn’t change too quickly. They cannot fill in the gaps left by renewables.

Australia’s coal powers stations are aging out and will be gone once the last one is decommissioned. Private enterprise won’t take the risk (due to global warming) and governments don’t have the money to commission new coal power plants.

Integrating Solar and Wind

To date the only two successful renewable energy options are solar and wind. These sources vary depending on the wind and sun, totally independent of consumer demand.

The gaps between supply and demand must be “filled in” to prevent network instability. Firm power supplies, that is one’s that can fill in the potholes of the difference between consumer demand and renewable energy supplies, are diesel generators, gas power generators, storage batteries and pumped hydro-power.

The King Island Renewable Energy Integration Project

A great example of integrating wind, solar, batteries and diesel generation is the isolated grid on King Island called the The King Island Renewable Energy Integration Project.

There’s a real time monitoring screen that’s interesting to look at to see where power is coming from and where it’s going to. For some reason there are times when the diesel is dumping power into the load resistors. Maybe the generator has a minimum power output.

The KIRETIP real time monitoring screen.

While this works well for a small network it’s unknown how well it will scale to power a whole state.

Roof Top Solar Panels

Australia is in the unique position of having the highest rooftop penetration in the world. The author makes a good point that it’s introduction has been unplanned and is causing oversupply and therefore voltage issues in the network.

Before buying a PV system it’s best to check that your household’s supply voltage is not higher than 250V otherwise your system won’t be feeding any power in and will shut down, forcing you to take power from the grid.

Utility Solar

A better option would have been to have utility solar; that is large PV arrays designed, installed and maintained by engineers.

That way households with unsuitable roof’s would get the benefit of cheap solar that is sited in optimum locations and is connected to the grid such in a way that it doesn’t cause network problems.


Blackout is an excellent resource to begin to understand the problems Australia’s power grid is facing and the challenges ahead to integrate renewable energy.

Given that King Island’s diesel generator provides most of the power Labor’s and The Green’s target to get the entire country to 45% renewables seems unrealistic.

We need to get the politics out of renewables and let the engineers and planners to do their jobs.



Unbreakable, by Jelena Dokic

Publisher:North Sydney, N.S.W., Ebury Press,, 2017.
Characteristics:310 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : colour illustrations, colour portraits ; 24 cm.
Additional Contributors:Halloran, J

I remember Jelena’s father, Damir Dokic, when he was on Bourke’s Backyard, and he looked ready to explode at any moment. I’ve never seen Don Burke be so careful with a guest. This was a small sample of what Jelena’s father was like. 

Unbreakable is very dark in places, the abuse both physical and verbal is frequent and disturbing. Being a successful professional tennis player was not enough to stop it. It’s hard to comprehend how a father can treat his own child in such a way. Her mother was abused but it’s unclear if her brother Savo suffered the same fate.

Damir suffered abuse as a child, but mainly verbal abuse degrading his abilities and then later being a war veteran would not have helped his mental state. His behaviour is so crazy at times that I think he must have some sort of psychological issue. Tennis Australia did try to intervene with professional help but Damir refused, no doubt he thought he had no problems.

Migrating to Australia proved problematic, Damir could not get work and when he realised Jelena’s tennis talent he saw her as a meal ticket. Jelena needed her father’s keen knowledge of tennis to succeed. She missed his coaching but this came with a terrible price. His behaviour embarrassed her and impacted on Jelena’s relationships with her tennis colleagues. Being a migrant the local talent was jealous of the help she got, and this resentment was made worse for example, by Damir shaking the fence behind Jelena’s opponents when serving,

I couldn’t understand why Jelena always publicly defended Damir’s behaviour. I was hoping Jelena would rebel and get out of the situation, but she didn’t want to break up the family and she dearly loved her brother Savo.

She later on had trouble getting rid of Borna Bikic, a coach, who not only gave no advice but began dating a tennis opponent. I think Jelena is too “agreeable” for her own good. She needed someone to defend her but the one person, her father, who should have defended her, abused her. Jelena met her supportive boyfriend, Tim Bikic, the coach’s brother; so something good came out of the relationship.

Damir’s determined coaching may have helped Jelena’s start in tennis, but his abuse and many bad decisions severely hampered Jelena’s professional tennis career later on. 


A highly moving story about Jelena Dokic that gives the reader a behind the scenes view of a volatile father and a determined daughter. You just wish that it could have ended sooner for her. Highly recommended. 


Ford Australia, The Cars and the People Who Built Them

Publisher: Chatswood, NSW, New Holland Publishers Pty Ltd,, [2016]
Copyright Date: ©2016
Characteristics: 335 pages : illustrations, portraits ; 27 x 28 cm.
Additional Contributors: Wallace, D. M. – Author 

Ford job ad. From the 1920's.
Ford job ad. From the 1920’s.

After reading about Holden’s history I was happy to see one about Ford in Australia as well. The book is very well researched and illustrated with many photos. It would have been good to see more about the manufacturing process and some of the heavy machinery used, but it’s possible that being every day scenes no one bothered recording their existence. 

And Ford have been around in Australia for a long time, the first Ford car arriving in 1904. About twenty years later local manufacturing began in Geelong, but mainly as CKD (Completely Knocked Down) kits imported for local assembly. Once more equipment arrived more of the car building process could be built at Geelong.

Not only did they make cars but also in 1941 armoured vehicles, patrol boats, cargo ships and sea mines.

Every car from the first Model T to the 2016 FGX Falcon XR8 is covered, but there’s not much information for my Ford Cortina Mark IV.

Car and engine development is well covered which left me with the impression that Ford engines were more efficient (due to some clever but simple porting in the head) and more advanced than the Holden ones. 

Economics, Government and Unions

Economics affect car companies significantly and they are also sensitive to changes in Government policy. The most significant change was in tariffs for overseas made vehicles coming into Australia. The rate was 59% and John Button had the intention of slowly bringing it down to 25%. However successive governments took it 5% and then 0%, something that was never intended at the start. 

During this time, to their credit, Ford was making progress with getting the work force to be more productive through building understanding between management and the workers. The productivity gains were not enough.

With Australia’s small population and remoteness building cars wasn’t viable, in fact some vehicles were costing manufacturers money to export them. So with unfavourable winds Ford, along with all other car manufacturers shut down manufacturing in Australia. Now Australia has no car industry or the means to make significant military equipment.


An excellent book which goes into much detail about Ford and also the car development and the surrounding politics and economic history that affects car companies. I particularly liked the small panels which talked about interesting individuals within Ford, they gave a real personal touch to the history of Ford.

12 Rules for Life, Jordan B Peterson

Publisher: [London], Allen Lane,, 2018.
Copyright Date: ©2018.
Characteristics: xxxv, 409 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm.
Additional Contributors: Doidge, Norman 
Scriver, Ethan van – Illustrator 
ISBN: 9780241351635 
Alternative Title: Twelve rules for life 

I first learnt of Jordan B. Peterson from an interview he did about why men and women progress differently in the workplace. He gave many excellent arguments and his reasoning made the interviewer look foolish. I wanted to read more of his work and his book “12 Rules for Life” was a fine start.

Each chapter loosely discusses a rule, but the author goes off on tangents and each chapter covers more than you would expect from reading the chapter title. It’s a book that hard to follow and reading it over a couple of times would allow the reader to gain a much better understanding. 

I was surprised and somewhat annoyed by the amount of religious references he used as evidence for many of his points. 

The Rules

  1. Stand up straight with your shoulders back.
  2. Treat yourself like someone you are responsible for.
  3. Make friends with people who want the best for you.
  4. Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to who someone else is today.
  5. Do not let your children do anything that will make you dislike them.
  6. Set your house in perfect order before you criticise the world.
  7. Pursue what is meaningful (not what is expedient)
  8. Tell the truth – or, at least, don’t lie.
  9. Assume that the person you are listening to might know something you don’t.
  10. Be precise in your speech.
  11. Do not bother children when they are skateboarding.
  12. Pet a cat when you encounter one on the street.


Rule 6 on page 157

There is much good advice to be read including this one:

Consider your circumstances. Start small. Have you taken full advantage of the opportunities offered to you? Are you working hard on your career, or even your job, or are you letting bitterness and resentment hold you back and drag you down? Have you made peace with your brother? Are you treating your spouse and your children with dignity and respect? Do you have habits that are destroying your health and well-being? Are you truly shouldering your responsibilities? Have you said what you need to say to your friends and family members? Are there things that you could do, that you know you could do, that would make things around you better?
Have you cleaned up your life?

Rule 11, page 298

Boys like competition, and they don’t like to obey, particularly when they are adolescents. During that time, they are driven to escape their families, and establish their own independent existence. There is little difference between doing that and challenging authority. Schools, which were set up in the late 1800s precisely to inculcate obedience, do not take kindly to provocative and daring behaviour, no matter how tough-minded and competent it might show a boy (or a girl) to be.

Boys need to be able to compete to thrive. This rule made me feel annoyed and angry how modern schools are being more “feminized” over time and causing boys to fail at school by not allowing them enough freedom.

Rule 12, page 345.

A superhero who can do anything turns out to be no hero at all. He’s nothing specific, so he’s nothing. He has nothing to strive against, so he can’t be admirable. Being of any reasonable sort appears to require limitation. Perhaps this is because Being requires Becoming, as well as mere static existence—and to become is to become something more, or at least something different. That is only possible for something limited.

Peterson states that we need limitations to give us being, if things were too easy, as for Superman, we would not develop character or resolve.


Overall it’s a book that is very thought provocative, and reading it over at least twice is recommended, if you have time and the interest of course!

The Biography of the Modern Bike, by Chris Boardman

Book – 2015  
Publisher: London, Cassell, an imprint of Octopus Publishing Group Ltd,, 2015.
ISBN: 9781844037834
Characteristics: 288 pages : illustrations (chiefly colour), portraits ; 26 x 22 cm.
Additional Contributors: Sidwells, Chris 1956, Author 

Boardman does a fine job covering the evolution of the bicycle, from the very first “bone shakers” to the many types of bikes available now.

Interestingly his definition of a bicycle (literally a vehicle with two wheels) doesn’t include the first bikes that were pushed along with the rider’s feet but includes tricycles and other human powered vehicles. So from his point of view bicycles didn’t come around until pedals or treadles were attached to the wheel.

Being a professional cycling athlete he spends much of the text about improving the speed of competitive machines. In detail he discusses the mechanical parts and even more on making the rider and bike more aerodynamic; especially as air resistance at speed accounts for more than 90% of the energy losses.

Many types of bikes are looked at, even the “Chopper” bike that Raleigh produced in the US. He made an interesting observation about recumbent bikes. I thought that they would be ideal, easy to pedal and being low there’s less wind resistance; but they are difficult to manoeuvre with a relatively large turning circle and as the rider can’t stand on the pedals they can be hard to ride up hills. 

Bicycle accessories such as gears, pedals and riding shoes are also discussed; so it would be a good way to become educated about what’s available before spending your money.


Boardman does a great job covering the development of the bicycle plus covering the different materials used, designs and some of the latest products available to make your cycling more enjoyable and faster.



The Tattooist of Auschwitz, by Heather Morris

Book – 2018  
Publisher: Richmond, Victoria, Echo, a division of Bonnier Publishing Australia, 2018.
ISBN: 9781760403171
Characteristics: 277 pages : maps, portraits ; 24 cm.
Additional Contributors: Faith, Nicholas 1933-,
Wolmar, Christian

I saw this book featured in a Melbourne newspaper; and from the review it sounded great. The local library had it so I reserved it immediately, which was just as well because when I finished it there were over one hundred people waiting for it!

At first the novel comes across as an easy to read Mills and Boon like romance tale. But once I read more about the terrible situation in the prison camp and the small actions that can make a difference whether you live or die I soon appreciated it for the great story and inspirational story that it is.

It’s clear that Lale Sokolov is excellent at communicating with people and befriending them. He uses his network to help him get through the extremely difficult situation that Auschwitz imposes on him. I liked learning how he traded items and favours to help himself plus others to make the camp a little more bearable and to avoid being singled out and killed by the prison camp officers.


“You know something, Tätowierer? I bet you’re the only Jew who ever walked into an oven and then walked back out of it.”

He laughs loudly, slaps Lake on the back and strides off ahead.

And yet here he is now. Two years have passed. He lives in community largely split into two Jewish and Romani identified by their race, not their nationality, and this is something Lale still cannot understand. Nations threaten other nations. They have the power, they have the military.

How can a race spread out across multiple countries be considered threat? For as long as he lives, be it short or long, he knows he will never comprehend this.

A highly moving and tragic story that’s true and been sourced from a Melbourne resident. A top read.


Further information

Heather Morris

The Tattooist of Auschwitz

Walk Through Auschwitz


I Tried to Run a Railway, by Gerard Fiennes

I Tried to Run a Railway

by Gerard Fiennes

Book – 1967  
Publisher: London, Head of Zeus,, 2016.
ISBN: 9781784977368
Characteristics: 214 pages : illustrations, map ; 25 cm.
Additional Contributors: Faith, Nicholas 1933-,
Wolmar, Christian

This is definitely for railway enthusiasts but readers with an interest in business management will also find it fascinating.

It’s written in a somewhat quirky style. There are many expressions that have long since disappeared from common language, and some have never been used in Australia.

You can feel Gerard’s frustration with dealing with the upper echelons of British Rail’s management in getting many of his plans implemented. No matter how hard you try sometimes your plans just can’t be sold.

Despite the frustrations he did have quite a bit of success improving services for passengers and reducing costs by merging goods yards.

He is critical of British Rail’s decision not to change over to diesel or electric traction sooner and of Gresley’s push for steam, his favourite way to haul trains. For a manager like Fiennes trying to get the most economical running out of the railway as a business steam traction would be the least thing he needed.


An interesting insight into business management in Britain in the 50’s. Railway enthusiasts and those who study business management will enjoy reading this book.


Fire and Fury, by Michael Wolff

Inside the Trump Whitehouse

I was drawn to this book by its notoriety. After barely making it past the first chapter I just couldn’t read any more. Rarely do I give up on a book, but if you aren’t enjoying a book then why bother?

It’s badly written and the text goes into too much trivial detail about the meetings of the Trump administration. Most of the more interesting points and affairs have been widely published by the newspapers and electronic media already, so you feel that the effort to read the book is not being rewarded.

A book I couldn’t put down soon enough.