Thursday, January 31, 2013

A Rainy Day In Melbourne

We've been here a week now and hadn't seen any significant precipitation, which I'd call awfully lucky for a vacation.  But today our luck finally ran out, and the rain moved in:

Tammy and I managed to get a tennis game in this morning, before it got wet, and Vicki and I even got to the nearby Subway for lunch just ahead of the first deluge. Since then, though, we've been socked in by the rain.  It was home cooking (steak, rice & corn) for dinner and now we've settled in for some Aussie TV viewing, as it's just too intimidating to head out in the downpour that's been happening for hours now.

In the absence of anything very interesting by way of a travel update for the day, here are a few tidbits that I've been looking for the chance to introduce:
  • "No worries" appears to be the most common go-to phrase around here, as it gets used in place of "You're welcome," "That's OK," and even "See you later," sometimes.
  • Everything's incredibly expensive here, sometimes costing as much as twice what we're used to paying back home.  However, the high cost of living can sometimes be at least a little misleading, as posted prices in AUS always include any taxes and tips that might apply.  So a plate of fish & chips for $22.50 seems outrageous, but to compare apples to apples you'd have to consider it as being more like $17.50 before adding 13% HST and 15% tip in Ontario.
  • Melbourne's impressive in many ways, including how energetic and vibrant it is.  You see a huge number of cyclists here, as well as people walking and running.  We'd only been here about a day before I remarked to Vicki that there were hardly any obese people to be seen, in sharp contrast to what you see today in any major American city, for example.  There's a real emphasis on physical activity here, making it easy for Tammy and I to undertake our goal of working out once a day during our visit.
  • Vicki's been keeping a journal of our trip, which she started in the Detroit airport before we got on our first flight.  I'm terribly impressed by this, as I know writing doesn't come naturally to her as it does for some of us.  I really hope she decides to type up her notes when we get home, so that she can share them with others.
  • I've loved getting to know Tammy again, after years of not seeing her very often.  This is the largest amount of quality time she and I have had in probably a decade or more, and I wouldn't have missed this experience for anything.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Beaches, Smooches And Sweets Day

Today was one of the hottest days of our stay here in Melbourne, so we decided to make it another beach day.  We went to the much-closer-to-home St. Kilda Beach, a short tram ride from Tammy's apartment.  The water was extremely calm, and only felt cold until you went under and got completely wet.  After that, it was delightful, so Tammy and I did a few laps and generally hung out together in Salt Water Heaven for close to half an hour while Vicki stood guard back on the shore:

When we'd had our fill of that, we walked by the entrance to the world-famous Luna Park amusement area and provided unsuspecting passersby with a brief public display of affection:

Then it was time for lunch at an Acland Street pub:

But we didn't order dessert, as we had a few stops to make on our way back to the tram stop:

That's right - we made purchases at three different cake shops! You got something you want to say about that? Nah, I didn't think so.  By the time we climbed onto the tram home, we had a small cache of yummy treats to last us for the next several days.

Not long after returning home, Tammy organized a family fitness session, managing to get all three of us down to the gym for 20 to 30 minutes of strenuous exercise in order to earn a dessert reward later on.

I'm not sure what our evening plans are just yet, but it's already been another fantastic day here in Melbourne.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Our Miserables Night

No, that's not a typo: we went to see Les Miserables last night!  I surprised both of my girls with the news that "I'd be OK going to Les Mis... I know how much both of you would enjoy that."  Then I surprised myself by actually loving it!  I know - a musical that I loved!  What are the odds?  We talked about it all the way home afterward.

Other than that, it was a quiet day here in Melbourne.  Ryan worked (we never even saw him, actually) while Vicki and Tammy shopped in the afternoon and I did a little writing.  I needed some down time after the hectic-but-wonderful long weekend, and I got it.

This morning Tammy and I were supposed to go for our first run, but that was scheduled for 7:30 and she's still sleeping as we approach 9:30.  It's probably too hot now for anything quite so strenuous, but there's always tomorrow (or possibly even tonight, if it cools back down and we're not busy).

We're now about 1 week into our 3-week vacation, and it's been terrific so far.  I haven't started feeling too homesick yet, but I'm sure I will.  It definitely helps having both Vicki and Tammy here... now if only Jonesy could've come, too! :(

Monday, January 28, 2013

One Crazy Fun Day Follows Another

Sunday's adventure to the Dandenong Ranges was followed up on Australia Day Monday with even more fun. Tammy and I started the day off right: going for a 2-hour bike ride around Melbourne, taking in the harbour and the nearest edge of The City (downtown) as well as several other areas:

Vicki got the driving tour while we were gone, courtesy of Ryan and the rental car. Then we all reconvened back at the apartment for our arvo (afternoon) and evening travels. We embarked on a 90-minute drive to Philip Island, to wade around in the water where the surfers go:

After lunch, it was Surprise # 1 of the day, thanks to Tammy & Ryan: koalas!

In the same conservatory, we got our first good glimpse of wallabies, also known as "mini kangaroos":

We then had dinner and hung out near another beach on Philip Island, waiting for the sun to get lower in the sky. Vicki and I didn't know why we were doing that, until we got to our final destination, and Surprise # 2 for the day: the world famous Penguin Parade!

Photography wasn't allowed during the march of the adorable little blue creatures as they came out of the ocean and headed to their burrows where hungry offspring awaited, crying out for food. It was a remarkable sight, though, especially as we moved to the boardwalk just above their path, placing us a mere foot or two away from thousands of waddling hunters returning home in small groups just minutes after sunset. I did manage to snap one fuzzy photo before the march began, showing one of the baby penguins waiting near its hole for its parent to bring home the proverbial bacon:
What an incredible experience it was to see this daily ritual acted out before our eyes!

Then it was time for us to make our own trek home, weary but extremely gratified by the day's events.  Major kudos to Ryan and Tammy, once again, for organizing and executing the perfect day trip for their guests.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

A Fantastic Day In The Countryside

Tammy and Ryan took Vicki and I on quite the tour of some areas outside Melbourne yesterday (Sunday, our time). We did a couple of short hikes through the Dandenong Ranges, which feature incredibly tall trees and ferns:

Vicki decided to play "Hobbit" and investigate the interior of a tree that called out to her:

She got a little scared once we pointed out that all manner of beast might live within that tree trunk, after which she required a bit of consoling:

Temporarily worn out from all the sightseeing, we rewarded ourselves with a late lunch at a wood oven pizza restaurant known as Ivy in a tourist town called Olinda:

The next stop on our tour was Sky High, where you're elevated enough to see Melbourne off in the distance as well as lots of farmland and other natural beauty:

Speaking of natural beauty...

... it was finally time to go looking for kangaroos! We visited Cardinia Reservoir, which is one of the best places in this neck of the woods for 'roo hunting. For awhile, it seemed we might come up empty, and then:
Success!! We saw a small herd of them, bounding across the dry grasslands not far from where we stood. That was definitely the highlight of the day, which is saying something in a day full of amazing sights, sounds, smells and experiences. Tammy and Ryan are the ultimate tour guides, and we can't wait to see what they've got planned for us next!

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Slightly Under The Weather Down Under

Last night I started noticing I had a sore throat, and it got worse as the evening progressed. The four of us were perched in front of the TV watching the riveting Men's Semi-Finals of the Australian Open, which kept me somewhat distracted from how uncomfortable swallowing was becoming. When I went to bed, however, it hit me full-on, and I spent at least half the night awake and feeling like crap. Today I sent the three of them, in the rental car Ryan had gotten for the long weekend, off to a winery tour that I knew Tammy and Vicki in particular would enjoy. I've read and watched various weird Aussie TV offerings all afternoon, but still feel somewhat lousy. It seems like I can't travel any more without getting/being sick, and that's definitely depressing.

Friday, January 25, 2013

First 30 Hours Down Under, In Photos

Here's Vicki and Tammy, not long after we got here. It only looks like Tammy's being scolded by her mother:

Last night, on the way out for dinner, Tammy took this shot of us with part of the downtown skyline in the background:

This afternoon the three of us headed into the city in search of comic stores and lunch, and wandered into Treasury Park (so named because it's right beside the Treasury Building):

Same location, but this time highlighting my even bigger, fatter belly compliments of all the First Class food and beverage we'd enjoyed on the way here:

So far Melbourne seems like a beautiful, vibrant city. Yesterday was a scorcher but today was much milder and that made it easier to walk around. Monday is Australia Day, meaning that Ryan should be able to spend a three-day weekend with us (lucky guy!) before he gets to escape back to the peace and quiet of his job on Tuesday. We haven't decided yet how to spend the long weekend but a rental car will be involved in some capacity.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Bushfires, Aussie Open And A Flap Over The Flag

Those are the topics dominating the news here in Melbourne this morning.  I rarely watch the news at home, but put me in a faraway country and I find local news absolutely fascinating!  You can always learn so much about your new locale from watching an hour or two of earnest correspondents reporting on and evaluating the big events of the day.

Oh, and "no worries" is most definitely Australian for "you're welcome."  Being Canadian, I say  "thank you" a lot, which means that I'm hearing "no worries, mate" on a regular basis.  Funnily enough, I wasn't even all that worried to begin with.  I'm feeling pretty mellow down here thus far, not even stressing over the food choices for once.  I had both a great lunch and a delicious dinner yesterday, which was an especially nice start to our stay Down Under.

Life Down Under

Our 32 hours of travel, starting with my brother Richard kindly shuttling us to Detroit Airport and ending with a $70 cab ride to Tammy's apartment in Melbourne, went very well.  If you have to fly as far as Australia, paying for first class (or business class) is definitely worth it.  The seats were incredibly roomy and folded out into beds, allowing me to get my first ever significant amount of sleep on a plane.  I think I may've racked up as many as 5 hours of snoozing out of the 15 total that the flight occupied.  But even the other 10 hours were enjoyable, with much of it passed playing Resistance: Burning Skies on my Vita as well as various free games on my laptop.  Vicki watched a couple of movies and seemed to be entertained by them.  Having a power outlet available as part of my seat made a huge difference in keeping me going, electronics-wise.

I had a lengthy afternoon nap today.  We'd arrived at 9:00 a.m. local time (5:00 p.m. on the second day of travel according to our internal clocks) and spent the first several hours walking around Tammy's neighbourhood and grabbing lunch.  Thanks to that nap, I'm still feeling perky as we approach 11:00 p.m., even though Vicki, Tammy and Ryan have all crashed already (Ryan worked a full, 10-hour day).  It should be interesting to see how long it takes before my sleep cycle gets back to what passes for 'normal' for me.

I should soon have some photos to post here to give a sense of what sort of things we're seeing.  I will mention that the stores are quite different down here, at least in terms of brand names.  While McDonald's ('Maccas' here), Subway, EB Games, 7-11 and Burger King (known as 'Hungry Jack's' to Aussies) were all familiar, the vast majority of the signs were for companies I'd never heard of.  My two favourite of the day were Condom Kingdom and Massive Wieners, only one of which, surprisingly, was actually in the sex trade.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Leaving On A Jetplane

We're sitting in Detroit airport right now, with about 2 and a half hours until our flight to Los Angeles departs.  Then there's another 5 hours of cooling our heels at LAX tonight before the long haul flight from L.A. to Melbourne (Australia) which will take us to daughter Tammy!  Emma's holding down the fort in our absence and making sure that nothing bad happens to Jonesy, right Emma?!

This will be the longest trip Vicki and I have ever made, both in terms of distance and time away, but it'll definitely be worth it to get to see Tammy after 9 months or so.  Now I just have to get through the next 36 hours of airplanes and airports...

Monday, January 21, 2013

Happy 2nd Term, President Obama!

Today's the Inauguration for Barack Obama's second presidential term.  He remains in office at a time when his country appears to be melting down, between the lunacy of the Republican Party and the incredibly scary civil-war-over-guns that seems to be brewing.  It's hard to imagine what the U.S. will look like four years from now when the reins of power are handed over to someone new, but at least we can draw a little comfort from the fact that the near-term American policies won't be determined by the principles of Mitt Romney and the Conservative Machine. 

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

14 Wonderful Words With No English Equivalent

What a great list!!  How come we can turn 'leverage' into a verb but we can't come up with words for any of these much more useful concepts?

No Brother Of Mine Has Sold 100 Copies!

Thanks to Vicki selling a copy of my 2nd novel today, we've now hit the 100 sales mark!  From a self-publishing point-of-view, that's a significant milestone to achieve, especially when you consider that it's not in any bookstores and is really only available 'widely' via the Kindle Store.

Obviously, there's no way I could've moved so many copies of No Brother of Mine without the help of lots of generous people.  First of all, there's everyone who pre-ordered a copy, almost a year ago, which allowed me to do a sizable first order on the book.  Since then, Vicki has sold at least a dozen copies (probably more), including over Facebook and to perfect strangers that she's met on the train or wherever.  My niece Vanessa accounted for nearly a dozen sales, thanks to her getting the book (and me!) into the lovely Quai du Vin book club.  She also offered to provide sale # 100 yesterday, as she wants a copy to give to a friend, but I'm going to save that potential sale for another special occasion, which should be coming up shortly (more details later).  My sister-in-law Meena bought five copies of NBoM just so that she could give them away to friends, which was incredibly sweet of her.  And finally, I was lucky enough to have one of our neighbours who saw my flyer buy six copies to put up for sale in the hospital gift shop that she's on the board for.  So I'd say it's abundantly clear that I've had some awesome helpers on this!!  Thanks to you all!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Counting Down To 100: 1 To Go!

My pursuit of 100 sales for No Brother of Mine is now inches away from completion!  If you'd like to be the one to push me over the finish line, now's the time to buy a copy of my 2nd novel, either from me directly or via the Kindle store.

Friday, January 11, 2013

For Those Who Like To Blame Real-Life Violence On Its Video Game Equivalent

Sorry, but the data just doesn't support your viewpoint.  In fact, it outright refutes the idea that "more video games = more real world violence", as shown by the trend line across industrialized countries in that article.  That doesn't mean that you can't continue to espouse your opinion that banning violent video games would make society safer; it just means you're a moron to do so.

[Gun ownership, on the other hand, might provide a clue as to the reasons for gun violence.]

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Odd Video For A Nice New Bowie Song

New album to follow in March, his first in a decade.

Positive Externalities And The Resentment They Cause

This is a great article by Canadian-born Cory Doctorow, describing the current fixation with "getting my cut" from things that we did or created without any expectation of financial reward. 

"You translate a document because you need it in two languages. I come along and use those translations to teach a computer something about context. You tell me I owe you a slice of all the revenue my software generates. That's just crazy. It's like saying that someone who figures out how to recycle the rubbish you set out at the kerb should give you a piece of their earnings."

It's a fascinating read that may make you look at the topic in a new light (or, for the first time!).

Halfway Home?

I just finished Chapter 7 of the 3rd novel, minutes ago. It's a short chapter, balancing out the very long one right before it. It feels like I'm somewhere around the midway mark: everything's been set up, lots of balls are in the air, and some mysteries have been introduced. My brother Richard has helped with a few bits in it, and Julie suggested a couple of helpful plot ideas last week. Even with those contributions, though, this story has been written on my own more than either of the first two. Hopefully that doesn't turn out to be a bad thing!

As usual, one of the hardest parts of writing is the not being able to talk about it while you're doing it aspect. Another challenge is the unshakable feeling that whatever you come up with won't be as good as the book before it, which I definitely had while writing No Brother of Mine, and am experiencing again, now that NBoM is the new bar against which I judge myself.  There's not much I can do about that, however, except try to write the best book I can.  So on I go!

Summing Up My View On Air Travel

This Freakonomics article, focusing specifically on baggage fees, includes the line:

"Air travel, even economy class, was once a joy; now it’s an exercise in stoicism."

That perfectly sums up my feelings about flying, which I used to love but now loathe. Whether it's the reduced seat space, the over-the-top security (one guy, once, tried to blow a plane up with explosives in his shoes, so now billions of people have to remove their shoes each time they go through security?), the nothing-is-included approach to the fee structure, or the increased frequency of delayed or cancelled flights, air travel absolutely sucks now. I can't wait for the teleportation machines, personally.

Sunday, January 06, 2013

Counting Down To 100: 3 To Go!

Following another round of flyers late last week - into an area just a little farther away than before - I've boosted our total up to 97 copies of No Brother of Mine sold!  My goal of hitting 100 within the next couple of weeks is now looking positively possible... and that makes me very happy!  If you've read the book and enjoyed it, now's the perfect time to buy another copy off me to use as a gift for a friend.  It'll be the best post-Christmas gift they get all year, I'll bet!

2012: The Warmest Year On Record

Climate change denialists will keep right on denying that anything's happening, I'm sure.  But the evidence against them is starting to get ridiculously overwhelming of late.  As this article shows, it was a pretty one-sided story in 2012.  Not only was it the warmest year ever recorded, but there were also 362 new high-temperature records set in the U.S. compared to zero records on the low side.  That's right: the score was 362-0 in favour of a warming planet. And yet somehow the media will manage to convey the impression that there's still lots of room for debate here.

Saturday, January 05, 2013

My New Toy: A PlayStation Vita

In the run-up to our 3 week Australian trip to visit Tammy, I've been trying to think of ways to make the 25+ hours of plane-and-airport time - each way! - at least somewhat bearable.  I used to love flying, but even before 9/11 it had started to lose its appeal.  The tight confines of modern planes don't agree with my 6 foot, 2 inch frame, I really can't handle airline food and the whole experience is just always so damned boring!

One of my ideas was to buy a handheld gaming system, since that sort of activity is one of the few where I can completely lose track of time.  I wasn't sure which system to get, but in the end my loyalty to all things PlayStation won the day: I bought a Vita!  I got the Call of Duty: Declassified bundle, providing me with one game that I expected to enjoy.  At the same time, I bought Resistance: Burning Skies, one of only two Resistance games I've not already played (Resistance: Retribution, for the PS Portable, is the other).  I received that package of Vita + games yesterday, less than 24 hours after I'd ordered it from Amazon, and I've already tried both games out to make sure they're going to hold my interest (seems like they will!).  However, I'm still wanting to get another game or two, as there's going to be a lot of time to kill.  On a friend's recommendation, I've ordered Unit 13, which looks like another good shooter.  I'd certainly be happy to hear thoughts on other games for the Vita, if anyone has them.

The hour or two that I spent setting up and trying out the Vita yesterday fit with my expectations of the system, based on the reviews I'd read: it's sleek and impressive in many ways, and frustrating in others.  I like the look and feel of it, and some of the ways R:BS, in particular, uses the touchscreen capabilities of the device are mighty impressive.  On the other hand, there are some strange design choices that I just don't understand.  As a simple example: there's a browser built in, which claims to support the concept of bookmarking sites you like.  So far, so good.  However, it seems to keep a history cache of every URL you go to, as well, and intermingle it with the bookmarks you've specifically set.  Rather than giving you an easy way to clear the history cache, though, the only option you appear to have is to clear history and bookmarks!  I almost couldn't believe it, until I tried it: I selected "Clear History" and sure enough, there went all of the bookmarks I'd carefully set.  Damn, that's dumb.  Another example involved the e-mail app on it, which defaults the protocol choice to IMAP (rather than POP, or POP3), and only allows you to change that selection when you first add the account.  You can change just about every other attribute of your e-mail account afterwards, including the server names and passwords, but you can't edit the protocol.  I hadn't noticed it was set to IMAP at first, until my attempt to use that account failed.  Then I actually had to delete what I'd set up and go through all that typing on the virtual keyboard all over again, which was really frustrating.

Having said that, though, I woke up this morning with a strong urge to power up my Vita and play some games.  I had to remind myself that those games are for the trip!  And I think that's a good sign, as a few truly immersive shooters could most certainly make our travel doldrums fly by.

Breaking The Breaking Bad Final Half-Season

If you're a fan of the incredible TV series, Breaking Bad, then you'll want - no, need - to read this article about show-runner Vince Gilligan's thought processes as he works through 'breaking' the final eight episodes down.  Warning: there is at least one significant spoiler for the mid-season finale, so if you're not 100% caught up on BB right now, you should wait until you are, before following the link.  I can't wait for July to get here so that we can finally see how it all ends for Walter White and company.

Friday, January 04, 2013

Leaded Gasoline And The Crime Rate

Hey, this is fascinating!   I always bought into the "legalizing abortion reduced the crime rate" theory from "Freakonomics" but now we have a competing hypothesis.  Which isn't to say that legalized abortions aren't still a good thing...

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Riddle Me This: What Do 2013 And 1987 Have In Common?

I saw an interesting fact on BoingBoing today, leading me to produce this riddle: What do 2013 and 1987 have in common?  Your first thought might be, "They're both 13 years away from 2000", which is obviously true.  But the answer I'm looking for is more interesting than that, and here's a clue: they're the two most recent years to have something very specific in common, numerically-speaking.

If you haven't seen the answer to this elsewhere, then please feel free to leave your guess(es) in the form of a Comment to this post.  After a few days I'll post the answer as a Comment myself, in case anyone's waiting for it.  In the meantime, put your thinking caps on, all!

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

How Psychopathic Is Your Profession?

From BoingBoing comes this report on which professions are most, and least, likely to have psychopaths in them:

I'm surprised to see Tammy's accounting cohorts made the second list, although she might be able to name the odd outlier there, even so. Software jobs don't appear on either list, which is probably understandable. We're not about power (+) or feelings (-), after all; we're all about logic and structure, just like everyone should be! :-)