Mobile Meteor

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Sunday, December 31, 2006

BA Gathering at Redoak

Just before Dana and I shipped off to New Zealand, we joined Candice and Todd from the States and a number of great Sydney BAs at Redoak. There was plenty of tasty beer, and the night went on a bit too well for me... we were up at 5AM the next morning to catch the flight to Christchurch, NZ. Highlights: free beers, dry-hopped IPA on cask just for BeerAdvocate, Todd blowing into the air mattress for a half hour before realising there was another plu open on the other side. You can check out photos from the night here. I resurrected the old dwarbi pose!

Two Thousand and Seven

Here we are in MMVII. An easy one to pick out during the end credits of a movie, that's for sure. What else will it hold for us, besides the easy movie-credit-reading thing? We'll have to see.

Monday, December 25, 2006

We Just Don't Feel Welcome

Traveling around New Zealand these past few days, Dana and I just don't feel welcome. We're driving a small little rental - a Corolla - at the speed limit and keeping left as we should... but still, wherever we drive, heads turn. They stare. They all seem to be thinking, "What the flip are you doing here?" Some actually shout at us, "Bah!" We laugh at them, of course, and continue driving, but it can be a bit unnerving. Tonight, after dinner at the Ascot Hotel in Invercargil, we decided to walk home. Again, heads turning, confused looks, and at one point a group ran along their side of the fence as we passed. These were cows, but many of the other offenders were sheep or horses. Thankfully all of the humans we have encountered have been very kind, but someone needs to sort out the livestock and beasts of burden. It's just rude.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006


Apologies to the 7 or so people who read this blog: I'm quite backblogged at the moment. Seriously, I have some really solid posts lined up about the Sculpture by the Sea in 2006, scuba diving with grey nurse sharks, more on the Great Ocean Road and The Grampians, New Zealand trip plans and even more on Christmas in Sydney. It's been a struggle to find time this celebratory season, but I hope to get more up soon. Tonight we went to Paddington for dinner and drinks organised by our friend Aaron. Ah, Aaron, your attempt to give up the mobile phone should trigger an entire post on our dependency on modern technology, but I don't have the time!

OK, maybe I do. Noble Aaron gave up his phone last week, returning to "old-fashioned planning ahead." In the old fashioned manner we planned to go snorkeling Saturday. A cloudy Saturday came... I had no way of finding out where/when/if I was meeting Aaron. I soon gave up and made other plans. No worries.
*It took Aaron less than a week to get a new mobile phone.

But here's another question for the world in which we live:
When did "blue" become a flavour and what exactly does it taste like? (Hint: It tastes nothing like blueberry)

Monday, December 18, 2006

Pete Has Gas

Pete, one of our lionhead goldfish, has been suffering from gas. He's been swimming funny for a few weeks. And by "funny" I don't mean he's hamming it up in the bowl, telling Jim to "Swim this way," and then swimming really funny so Jim follows in a similar manner. I mean sometimes I look in and he's belly-up at the top of the bowl or floating on his side. The first few times I thought he was dead, but when I poked him he swam away. Also he'd be swimming in such a way that he is obviously trying not to float to the top. It seems that Pete was swallowing too much air when he went up for his flakes. As a result, his belly would fill up with gas and his swim bladder wasn't strong enough to keep him from popping up to the surface.

Tonight he's beeen sleeping on the bottom alongside Jim for the first time in a while. How did I fix it? This morning I dropped a Beano in the bowl, and Pete quickly ate it up. This evening Pete let out a massive ripper, sending dozens of bubbles to the surface. I swear I think I saw him smile. Jim wasn't so happy.

If you found this post because you have a goldfish suffering from gas and want more info about how to give him Beano, please read on:
Don't feed your goldfish Beano. Wet the flakes down by adding them to a little bit of bowl water before you feed your fish, this way the flakes will sink. If you actually considered giving Beano to your fish, please hand all of your fish - no, all animals in your care - to someone who can take better care of them. Try the guy around the corner who clubs baby seals.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

There is Room at the Inn!

Oh joy of joys! One of the two hotels in Invercargill, New Zealand, that do dinner on Christmas took pity on two weary travelers and decided to roll out another card table to accomodate us for their Christmas buffet! Not long ago we were denied, but perhaps the manager watched It's a Wonderful Life or saw a moving display window at a department store. By "moving" I mean the characters in the display window were animatronic. And by "moving" I also mean that the sight of a twelve-inch reindeer bobbing its head awkwardly to "Rocking Around the Christmas Tree" melted his icy heart into a puddle of heart-love.

Dana and I are looking forward to the dinner, at which we will likely be the only out-of-towners, however, I miss the appropriateness of the "No room at the inn" motif. How would things have been if the owners of the inn in Bethlehem had a change of heart? What if Dave, proprietor of the popular inn אליעתתזר בן–יודה‎ had gone Christmas shopping that night - which makes sense because it was Christmas Eve... or about to be. So Dave goes to וסיעפתתדא‎ to pick up some earings his wife's been eyeing, and while waiting in line with all the other people who waited until the last minute he sees spies a rare window dressing including the nativity scene. Dave thinks, "Hey, wait a minute, I just told a young couple, one of whom was with child, that there was no room at the inn." Realising that this was not the most shining moment of his life, Dave seeks them out, whips out a cot and the course of history is changed. As we have it Dave didn't do this. I'm not sure if he wrapped up his Christmas shopping way in advance (pun intended) or if he didn't even get those earings.

Let's all just pause a think about it: What would our nativity scene look like if Dave HAD went out to get those earrings? It really makes you think.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

It's Still Not Beginning to Look Anything Like Christmas

Today we went to a housewarming party and then to another Christmas party. After the latter we swung by our old hood, Surry Hills, for a big Christmas party in a park. We sat with friends and drank wine, listening to the entertainers playing songs about gum trees and kookaburras before the carolling began. When it did I belted out my best Hark the Heralds to attract the attention of Lord Mayor Clover Moore. When I did, Ms Lord Mayor was eyeing me big time. Dana got jealous. I told Dana not to worry, the lord mayor just isn't my type. Anyway, we sang a bit any then left, through the bats of Hyde Park we walked, and when we got home it was still light out... and it still didn't feel like Christmas. Will it ever?

Friday, December 08, 2006

No Room at the Inn

Looks like Dana and I missed the boat. By "the boat" I mean eating dinner out on Christmas night. By "missed" I mean that we can't do it this year. I guess we could but not where we plan to be on Christmas: Invercargil, New Zealand. I called our B&B to get a recommendation and one was sent. It seems there are two hotels in Invercargil that offer a Christmas dinner. Both places are fully booked. I can guess that locals fill up the hotels, so what do travelers do? I've asked a few people this same question and most say, "People don't travel on Christmas." To quote a one Alanis Morisette, "Isn't it ironic? Don't you think? A little toooooo ironic. And yeah I really do think."

No traveling on Christmas? No place to stay the night? Sounds very familiar. How about one Ms Mary and one Mr Joseph: they were traveling. In fact, Jesus, whose birth we celebrate on Christmas, was a road baby. So shouldn't any nation that celebrates Christmas as a public holiday also enforce, militarily, every hotel to offer food and shelter to travelers? At the moment they do not, so we will have to fend for ourselves. I think we’ll end up with some snacks and a very nice bottle of wine for our first Christmas away from the home away from home.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Planning for New Zealand (Aotearoa)

Dana and I have been planning our trip to the Great Land of Hobbits: Kiwiland aka Aotearoa aka New Zealand. "New" Zealand? Where's the old one? Well, Zealand is the largest island in Denmark, so named because of the huge seal population (seal-land). New Zealand was colonised by whites from England, so perhaps these chaps were very observant and, noticing the equally huge population of seals, named it New Zealand. I'm not sure.

OK I just checked. It seems New Zealand was named after the Dutch province of Zealand. The new version of this province.

Aotearoa is the Māori name for New Zealand. It means "Land of the Long White Cloud"... so that says something for the weather we can expect. Māoris are the original human inhabitants of the islands, having arrived about 1000 years ago. New Zealand's Rugby Union team starts each game with the traditional Haka, where they strut their stuff and stick out their tongues to intimidate the opponent. The All Blacks are pretty good, so I guess it kind of works.

We're both very excited. We're limiting ourselves to the south half of the South Island, which is a lot larger than most people would expect. Also, NZ is also a lot farther from Australia than people think: about the distance that Chicago is from New York... it's certainly not swimming distance. Along the way we'll enjoy some tasty local beers, take in the scenery (which I'm told will always exceed expectations), kayak in the fjords of Milford Sound, bungee jump (one of us), and spend our first Christmas away from where we spent our first Christmas away.

Here you can get an idea of the distance and size of the islands. We'll be landing in Christchurch and heading south from there. Obviously we'll be a lot further south so the temperature may be a bit more like what we're used to in the States at this time.

I don't think we'll see a real kiwi, but we'll keep our eyes open.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

It Must Be Christmas

"You know it's Christmas when the cherries are in season," was a phrase a friend recently recited, and to which we responded with confusion. Then I heard, "It's the first day of summer... must be the time for putting up the Christmas decorations!" The warmer it gets, the more like Christmas it is! Just like last year, I'm struggling. Back in NY I took in the yearly round of Christmas decorations with a sort of sardonic acceptance. Here it's just absurd! So I used to think snow was the sign of Christmas; now I think stone fruit is the sign of Christmas.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

3rd Japanese Midget Sub Found

Here's my take on the vibe in Australia in 1942:
Holy shit.

That's the vibe, as I imagine it. Why? Well, in 1942 Australians were still technically British and Churchill was demanding that Australian troops be sent to defend India while the Japanese moved farther and father south towards Australia. Thankfully the Aussies essentially flipped Churchill the bird and sent troops into the islands north of Australia. With some help from the US (and not much help from the British), Australia kept the Japanese at bay until the end of the war. What many people don't know is how close the Japanese got to a full-scale invasion of mainland Australia. One person who definitely did not realise that or, more likely, chose to ignore it, was Winston Churchill. If you have not guessed, I think that the American inflation of this man's character is unfounded and that his treatment of Australia and Ireland set him far below the bar of the ideal leader.

Back to the topic at hand:

1942 - Darwin Bombed
On 19 February Darwin suffered the first attack on mainland Australia. In less than two years following, the Japanese led 97 raids on Northern Australia. By this time, MacArthur's headquarters was in Australia, and the Aussies were doing a good chink of the Allied fighting in that part of the world.

1942 - Sydney Harbour Breached

Now the moment you have all been waiting for... three Japanese midget subs enter Sydney Harbour. There was a net set up and that caught one - so the guys in that sub killed themselves by blowing up the sub. The second fired two torpedoes: one struck the Kuttabull, killing 19 Australian and 2 British sailors, the second torpedo aground and failed to detonate. This sub disappeared for over 60 years. The third sub was discovered before entering the harbour. Depth charges disabled the vessel and the sailors onboard shot themselves.

A combination of the first and third subs is on view at the war memorial in Canberra. They mish-mashed the recovered subs into something that makes you not want to ever get into one. What happened to the second one? It was lost... until last week.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Helicopter Ride Over the Twelve Apostles

While touring the Great Ocean Road, Jim treated Dana and I to helicopter ride. Neither Dana nor I had been in a helicopter before. Dana was a bit scared, and I was a bit scared for Dana. As it turned out, Dana fared very well on the flight and even hinted at wanting flying lessons afterwards! The flight was amazing. It was brief, but we saw so much during the time that recalling it is more like recalling an entire vacation.

We set off near the tourist centre for the Twelve Apostles (which has no trash bins, but does have a squater-friendly toilet for our Asian friends) and flew south. If you've never been in a helicopter (toilet-free, squatter or otherwise), the feeling is like weighlessness. The pilot has complete control over front/back, left/right and up/down motions. Besides giving us the most spectacular view of the Twelve Apostles and its surrounding area, the trip gave us an entirely different view on gravity. So easily defied! You silly law, gravity. Silly, silly law.

Click here for shots of Loch Ard Gorge, Mutton Bird Island (Seahorse Island), fleeing cows and more!

Some Sort of World Record

I believe today was the 70th day in a row that the same song popped into my head. It's a great song, so it's not like I have "Hit Me Baby One More Time" playing in an incessant loop in my brain. Still, I fear the song could become unpleasant to me or at least drive me mad. What's the song? "DARE" by The Gorillaz. The song is multi-layered and video, which comes to my mind with the song, stars the legend from Happy Mondays, Shaun Ryder.

The entire video is here:

Please leave my head now, "DARE". Please. Make some room for DJ Shadow's "Organ Donor," I hear it may be moving back in.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Adventure Tours Waiting Game

Not long ago Dana and I (and Dana's relos) took a bus trip from Adelaide to Melbourne along the Great Ocean Road. The tour guide and scenery were fantastic, but we had some legitimate complaints about the lodging. Last week I sent an email to their customer service:

This past weekend I took the 3 day Great Ocean Road trip from Adelaide to Melbourne. The scenery was beautiful and the guide, Jen, could not have been better. Unfortunately, the trip was seriously marred by the accommodation and, apparently, how the accommodation details had been communicated to us.

About six months ago my parents were visiting from the US. I planned their Australian trip and sent them on this same tour as part of it. They are active adults, but since they are not used to hostels I booked them the accommodation upgrade. They loved the trip, especially the guide, (Jen was their guide too), and said the accommodation was nice. Knowing this trip is a backpacker trip, no one expected the hotel/motel upgrade to be anything luxurious, but they were certainly satisfied with what they got.

A couple of months ago my partner was planning a trip for her father and three others travelling with him. Remembering what a great time my folks had, she booked the trip for them, and for us to accompany them. All six of us opted for the upgrade.

The first night we stayed in the Happy Wanderer in the Grampians. My partner and I stayed in a freezing campervan. There was a\ private bathroom, but it was not connected to the campervan. We had to walk outside and around the back: it was essentially a ni e outhouse. While we were not thrilled we accepted the accommodation and laughed it off. I seemed awfully cheap considering the two of us together had paid $150 for the upgrade, but we were certain the hotel or motel the next night would be an improvement. What's more important is that my partner's visiting relatives had nicer rooms.

During the early afternoon on the second day, our guide called my partner aside to make sure she knew we would all be
staying in the hostel that night. This was a surprise and, concerned for the comfort of her relatives, she was very upset. Our guide called the office to confirm what our booking should be. The employee at the office said this had been clearly communicated to my partner. Obviously it had not. For the next few hours we tried to sort things out. It was very distressing and neither one of us were able to enjoy the afternoon - the Twelve Apostles, London Arch, etc. Jen put herself out, giving her private bathroom to our older traveling companions. She would not let us refuse the offer. Still, they stayed in the hostel but in a private room. We stayed in a private room and used the shared facilities. While the hostel was a nice one, we would not have paid $150 extra for this.

We booked our trip through this site: you click on the "hotel" link on the right side of the page, thedescription is "Hotel/Lodge Accommodation - Generally 2-3 star standard withprivate facilities." This is not what we had. I did some research on these places. Here is a breakdown of accommodation costs for this trip:

Night 1 - Asses Ears: $22/Person
Upgrade - Night 1 - Happy Wanderer:
$48 for Two in a Campervan ($24/Person)
Hostel - Night 2 - 13th Apostle:$25/Person
Upgrade -Night 2 - 13th Apostle: $30/Person for a Private Room

I believe all six of us deserve a refund for the upgrade of this trip:
The upgrade accommodation is valued at $7/person more than standard accommodation. Adventure Tours charged us $75/person for the upgrade. Nowhere on the booking form does it say that the upgrade may include shared facilities.

The fact that we would be staying in a hostel and have shared facilities was not effectively communicated to my partner when she was booking the trip. Dealing with the issue during the trip was stressful and resulting in a major lack of enjoyment with a significant portion of the trip.

I look forward to your response.

Denis Hurley

No reply yet - a week later. Photos of the trip itself will be posted soon, once we agree on which 75 of the 7500 we took.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

My Spoon Is Too Big

My Spoon Is Too Big!

The King and His Banana

Today I ate my first banana in eight months. I felt like a king. Here in Australia we used to enjoy inexpensive, healthy bananas on a regular basis, but Cyclone Larry changed all that. Cyclone Larry sounds like a friendly kids birthday party clown, but it was actually a horrifically destructive storm that hit Queensland (North-east Australia) early last year.

Cyclone Larry
95% of Australia's banana plantations were destroyed by Cyclone Larry. Needless to say, the cash crop for many farmers was no more. Australia, in a long-standing effort to prevent foreign diseases and insects, does not import bananas, so this particular produce was essentially unavailable to the people for quite some time. Bananas started to show up on the market - for about $14/kilo (about $6/Pound) - but these were small and bruised. Some did purchase them to support the farmers but the quality was not the same as those old Aussie bananas, so sales were low even for what little was produced.

So city-dwelling Australians felt the impact of Cyclone Larry "at the grocery store." I felt like a king when I ate my banana today, but the bulk of the farmers in Queensland are still struggling to get by. Even after the crops have recovered, the infrastructure will need many more years to recover. A sick clown has destroyed the livelihood for many people.

The Drought
The farmers in Queensland are still reeling from the effects of Cyclone Larry, and farmers all over Australia are reeling from the worst drought in Australian history. Even before spring is over, plans are being made to cart water into entire cities. Can you imagine living in a city of hundreds of thousands of people and running out of water? And these people wash, scrub and rinse the dishes all in the same water! And shave and brush their teeth in that water too! OK, maybe not really that last part. Or maybe they do now.

The drought is bad and the resulting bushfires may be even worse. The photo above is of the currently burning Blue Mountains - just an hour or two out of Syndey. As I write this in the centre of Syndey I can smell those fires.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Face Recognition - Finding Out Which - Who Do I Look Like?

I've always been told I look like some celebrity, but never the same one:
"You look just like that doctor from ER!"
"You look like Gary Busey's son!"
"You look like that communist dictator in Cuba!"

And so I've taken the matter into my own hands and entered a few photos into a celebrity facial recognition program. I know that there is no way one photo could deliver accurate results. Two should do it.

Run1 - Straight-faced:

Run 2 - Smiling:

The only person who came up both times is NSYNC's Joey Fatone. I had no previous knowledge of this individual, but he's not a bad-looking guy. Yeah, he's Italian-American and I'm Irish-America, but we're both from New York and baritone and were teenage hearthrobs.

Honestly I think the greatest similarity is to Fidel Castro: in terms of facial bone structure, that is... and possibly in terms of political views as well. The word on the street is that there is some Spanish blood in my family on the Kelly side. Supposedly a Spaniard swam ashore to Ireland after the Armada sunk and entered into the ancestry of my mom's family. I like to think of this guy as Juan Pablo Kelly.

Friday, November 17, 2006

The Sydney Monorail

One fine day in 1988 Lyle Lanley visited Sydney and sat in on a town hall meeting. Here is the recorded testimony:

Miss Hoover: I hear those things are awfully loud...
Lyle Lanley: It glides as softly as a cloud.
Apu: Is there a chance the track could bend?
Lyle Lanley: Not on your life, my Hindu friend.
Barney: What about us brain-dead slobs?
Lyle Lanley: You'll be given cushy jobs.
Abe: Were you sent here by the devil?
Lyle Lanley: No, good sir, I'm on the level.
Wiggum: The ring came off my pudding can.
Lyle Lanley: Take my pen knife, my good man.
I swear it's Sydney's only choice...
Throw up your hands and raise your voice!
All: Monorail!
Lyle Lanley: What's it called?
All: Monorail!
Lyle Lanley: Once again...
All: Monorail!

And so it was set to be. Leonard Nimoy presided over the opening ceremony, and Homer saved the runaway monorail by sinking an anchor into a giant donut. Of course none of this is true... except for the fact that a monorail was actually built in Sydney and it still functions.

I have not been able to find any information about how they decided to build it or who funded its construction. I have heard rumours that the monorail was a gift to Sydney from South Korea for the bicentennial. I have also heard that the city gave the monorail to itself for the occasion. The monorail is mainly a tourist attraction but some Sydney-siders who live on the line do take it to work. It snakes through CBD, Chinatown and Pyrmont amoung other places. It's worth a ride if you're in Sydney.

And so I sign off of the least investigatory blog I have written. Needless to say, there is more to come.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Greetings from Sydney

Jim Vetrecin, Gail Weisse, & Kay and Wally Reuter are wrapping up their trip to Australia. More photos to come soon, but here is a shot from just about now:

That's a bit more welcoming than this photo:

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

7 More Bridges Walk

I'm recovering from my huge loss at the Melbourne Cup - no, celebrating my huge win... OK, I bet nothing. I wanted to get to my local TAB to have a punt but I just haven't had a moment free! Well now I do, so back over to the grand 7 Bridges Walk that was nearly ten days ago:

Now where was I.... ah yes we had just crossed the Anzac Bridge. I must note that the friends who accompanied us on the walk were kiwis, and kiwi Glenn pointed out that there is another difference between the Australian flag and the flag of New Zealand, besides the one star lacking on the kiwi flag: The stars on the NZ flag have a red border. This difference between AU & NZ culture is just the tip of the iceberg. I think, someday, I shall dedicate an entire blog entry to such differences.

The next bridge to cross was the first on the agenda that none of us had already crossed at some point - the Iron Cove Bridge. "The bridge is comprised of aesthetically distinctive piers and abutments which reflect the Inter-War Art Deco style." Yes this is true, but what's interesting is that construction on this bridge began in 1947 and completed in 1955. Does "Inter-War Art Deco style" refer to that period of architectural history between WWII and the Vietnam War? Perhaps. Or, more likely, this bridge is as much an example of "Inter-War Art Deco style" as it is an example of how behind the times Australia was back in those days. Either way the bridge is attractive, and the view back towards the city is beautiful.

After this we have the least aesthetically distinctive or aesthetically pleasing bridge of the walk: the Gladesville Bridge. This bridge does the job, of course, but approaching it you would not know you were about to cross any water. OK, OK, but "at the time of its completion in 1964, Gladesville Bridge was the longest single span concrete arch ever constructed." Considering this statement, much to the chagrin of the fans of the Gladesville Bridge, since then the following has happened, in order:
-1. A longer single span arch made of something other than concrete has been constructed. (Before the Gladesville)
1. A longer single span concrete arch has been constructed.
2. A longer single or multiple span concrete arch has been constructed.

-1: A steel, longer arch was actually build well after the Gladesville Bridge, in 1977 over the New River in West Virginia, USA, and is featured on the West Virginia quarter.
1: This has not happened.
2: Nope. Good attempt in Croatia, but not quite.
So this bridge is actually a feat of architecture. At the time it was built, the theory behind the structure was completely untested and a major construction record was set. Why do the Aussies downplay it with so many clauses? I don't know.

Sadly the two bridges immediately following the Gladesville are less technically impressive. The Tarban Creek Bridge looks like a weak imitation of the Gladesville. The Fig Tree Bridge looks like it was built by scouts. Both of these two bridges were build to connect with the road from the Gladesville and form the Great Planned North-Western Expressway Linking the City With The Sydney-Newcastle Freeway. Never happened.

After crossing six of our seven bridges, two sepos and three kiwis found themselves climbing up and down suburban hills 10 kilometers from home in search of the next bridge and challenging each other as to who could hold off the longest without a bathroom visit. This was a fun challenge since giving in pretty much meant knocking on someone's door. Chris gave in despite the offer of $50 from Fiona. This happened to coincide with our discovery that there were more than seven bridges in the walk. Channel 7 sponsored the event, and so it was called the Seven Bridges Walk, but we actually crossed NINE bridges! Maybe Channel 9 was too cheap to fork over the cash, but the two extra bridges kept us entertained, along with Jackarandas, Taliban Streets, and Scenic Car Parks.

Finally we reached the homestretch: the amazing Sydney Harbour Bridge. The Sydney Harbour Bridge is "the world's largest (but not the longest) steel arch bridge." The longest, when the Harbour Bridge was completed, was the Bayonne Bridge, which opened just before the Harbour Bridge. Since then the New River Gorge Bridge in West Virginia and the Lupu Bridge in Shanghai have surpassed it. However, judging by photos of these bridges, and in some cases experience, they can't compare to the Sydney Harbour Bridge. This bridge's magnificence is on the scale of the San Francisco Bay Bridge and the Brooklyn Bridge. This bridge was built by a young country during the Great Depression. It hosts the most fantastic New Years fireworks in the world. You can legally climb it. Can you beat that?

After this enjoyable/treacherous walk, the sepos and kiwis kicked back for a few beers at the Australian. Click here for all of the photos.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Melbourne Cup

The Melbourne Cup will be on Tuesday, 7 November this year. This horse race, held at Flemington Racecourse in Melbourne, is one of the biggest sports events in Australia. The tag-line is "The race that stops the nations"... and it pretty much does. The day, always the first Tuesday of November, is a holiday in the state of Victoria. Most of the rest of Australia stops whatever they are doing to watch the 3PM race. Many Australians, being Australian, decide to precede the viewing with a champagne lunch, starting at noon and ending sometime early the next morning. Not much work gets done on Melbourne Cup Day. Logical to have such an event on a Tuesday, isn't it?

The first Melbourne Cup was held back in 1861 for a gold watch and 170 pounds. Last year the prize was over $5 million. In 1861, 4000 people turned out for the race; last year over 110,000 turned up for the race itself and nearly 400,000 the Melbourne Cup Carnival. Now I don't know why more people who attended the Carnival didn't crane their necks to watch the race. Perhaps 290,000 of them were busy ordering a round at the bar. Last year, the horse Makybe Diva set a record by winning the cup three times. He's not running tomorrow, and I've yet to put my tips in... so I'll just pick on number, name or colour like usual.

But what is the Melbourne Cup really about? I think largely an excuse to wear a big silly hat. But Mark Twain attended the Cup in 1895 and had this to say, "Nowhere in the world have I encountered a festival of people that has such a magnificent appeal to the whole nation. The Cup astonishes me." If they wore the hats back then, they too would have astonished Mr. Twain.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

7 Bridges Walk

This past Sunday I walked the farthest I have in over ten years: 22 kilometers (~14 miles). A few years ago I ran nearly this far in the Brooklyn Half Marathon, and during the blackout of 2003, Dana and I walked nearly this far... but not quite. Sydney was sponsoring a typical spring/summer/autumn event for the city that consisted of walking over seven bridges in "Sydney".

Q: Typical?
A: Yes. Besides the three or four months during which it is slightly chilly, there is some great outdoor event for every weekend day. The Saturday before this walk Dana and I had lunch at a fantastic food and wine festival in Hyde Park. There were transvestites and lots of little dogs!... but sorry, I forgot my camera.

Q: Why the "Sydney" in quotes?
A: Because in Sydney you can walk 75 kilometers in any direction and still be in the "city"... unless you walk east.

So at 8:45AM, Dana, Glenn, Chris, Fiona, and I started toward the Rocks to pick up our passport and start the big walk. Chris and Fiona live in Pyrmont - on the walking course - but we had to go to the Rocks to pick up our passport. When registering the for the walk, there was a question that asked, "So... which village do you think you might start from maybe?" All of us thought, "Well I think maybe we might start from the Rocks," and so so we checked that box. When we received the confirmation email, it said, "You MUST start at the Rocks village, since this is the village you said you would definitely start from!" At the Rocks they grabbed a passport from a pile, taped the barcodes we had brought with us to it, and sent us on our way back through Pyrmont. {sigh}

Thirty minutes later we were at Darling Harbour, about to cross the Pyrmont Bridge. I heard that this is the busiest pedestrian bridge in the world. Or at least the southern hemisphere. I do love that "southern hemisphere" claim to fame. "Wow, there's nothing in New Zealand, Argentina, or South Africa that exceeds it???" It very well could be the busiest pedestrian bridge in the world. But, even if not, it's a swing bridge on which construction started in 1899 and a monorail traverses it. So it's pretty cool.

On through Prymont and up over the Anzac Bridge. The bridge was completed in 1996 and replaced the old Glebe Island Bridge, which looks almost exactly like the Pyrmont Bridge. Anzac stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. An Australian flag flies on the top of one Pylon, a kiwi flag on the top of the other. You can easily distinguish the two flags because the flag of New Zealand has one less star. The Anzac Bridge is the longest cable-stayed span bridge in Australia and amoungst the longest concrete cable-stayed span bridges in the world.

This puts us about one sixth of the way into the walk. More tomorrow...

Monday, October 30, 2006

Time Flies

This past weekend daylight savings started in Sydney and ended in New York. I've always had a hard time understanding why daylight savings starts when the amount of daylight increases. Shouldn't there be more of a need to save it when there is less? Then again, I was up Saturday morning for a conference call at 5AM and it was light out. Then next day, after daylight savings had started, I was enjoying a pint of critters at the Aussie and it was still light at 7PM. I won't complain anymore. Some people have a hard time getting why DST ends in the Northern Hemisphere when it starts in the Southern. It's because the sun starts to spend a lot more time on one side of the equator than the other. Six months later that fickle sun winds back up North, favouring Europe and North America.

Most of Australia is full of flies all year round. This is why the fly is the national bird of Australia and why waving a hand in front of your face is called the Aussie Salute. While visiting the Northern Territory I learned ventriloquy for need of speaking with my mouth closed. Us occupants of Sydney are lucky and are subject to overwhelming quantities only during a yearly "plague". We are in the middle of it at the moment. This video clip explains where the flies come from: shit in Queensland. It seems they hatch in feces and then get blown all the way down to Sydney. We only have about two more weeks of it... thanks to the dung beetles.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Merry Christmas!

Ah, Christmastime in Sydney: it started weeks ago! For over two months we get to enjoy fake Christmas trees, Christmas carols, and plenty of Christmas candy... all the while experiencing increasing heat and humidity. This will be my second holiday season in Oz, and I don't think it will seem any less absurd. While Santa on the beach in a bathing cozzie and surfer's wearing Santa hats are both amusing, two months of Christmas merchandising is a bit much. The main problem is that there are no competing holidays.

In the US all of the stores are black and orange from September through October - full of pumpkins and witches. This is a happy and gentle transition from the Back to School decor. After blinking the stores have suddenly change colour and the pumpkins have become turkeys, the witches have become pilgrams (ironic?). In the drug store, all the candy corn has been swept into the back storeroom for the next year and plastic Indian corn fills the aisles. Towards the end of November it feels like the Christmas decorations are pressing in from the walls, about to spill out and knock over the shopping carts... but for some reason it's still a surprise when you walk into a CVS for some gum and everything is red. But even then there is some respite: the red and green is accented with Blue and Silver. Christmas does start earlier in the form of music, to be sure. How many times can you listen to Monster Mash? And so, in the US, we have two months of Dominick the Donkey, Alvin & The Chipmunks, and any pop star who was smart enough to realise you can make a ton of money on a Christmas album - even if it sucks. They still play New Kids on the Block at Christmas! Still, audio invasion is one thing, at least they spare you the visual.

Q: So why is it so different in Sydney?
A: Lack of holiday buffer.

- Halloween: It's never taken off. Australians don't need a holiday for fancy dress. Some some reason they're willing to dress up in costume for a party any other time of the year, but refuse to do so on Halloween. And they also can't remember the date. This year it's today (the 28th)!
- Thanksgiving: Well this is an obvious one.
- Hanukkah & Kwanzaa: yeah right.

And so we'll be walking by David Jones in shorts and thongs (flip-flops), watching the window displays and not quite being fooled by all the wreaths. And it doesn't end on the 25th of December. Let's take it one step further: Boxing Day.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Wreck Diving - Part 3

Sunday we had a very early start for our dive on the Valiant. Fellow diver Wade helped me out immensely by picking me up outside Town Hall at 5:45AM. Let me just take this opportunity to comment on the timing of this dive. It's one thing to have to wake up at the buttcrack of dawn, but just a week away from daylight savings, this time was well past the buttcrack of dawn... this was nearly mid-spine! I shot out of bed when I noticed how bright it was outside. "Shit! I overslept!" But no, it was 4:30. Too late, I was up and soon walking in the rain through QVB to Town Hall. I love living in Sydney CBD but it's not ideal for diving, especially when you don't have a car.

Wade and I travelled north to beautiful Palm Beach for our scheduled 7AM boat departure. The temperature was about 12C/52F, and at 6:30AM we were squeezing into our wet wetsuits wondering why we don't have another hobby for days like these - like crocheting. The boat left a bit late, but you can understand the delay given the skipper had to dive into the water in his skivvies to fetch the boat. Water in the bay was calm but as we approached the heads we started to hit some major swells. At one point, I swear, the entire boat was in the air. If the dive had not been scheduled to start so early - and so we were all already there - I'm pretty sure it would have been cancelled. After a 15 minute trip to the Tasman Sea we were looking for the buoy. We noticed a fishing boat not far off but often completely obscured by swells between our two vessels. It was a fishing boat looking to catch some of the fish hanging out in our wreck. The fisherman buggered off, and we spent the next 10 minutes trying to grab the buoy to tie a line to the mooring. Fellow diver Andy nearly went overboard several times while trying to hold onto the buoy the seas were so rough. The buoy was completely underwater in the larger swells.

Eventually the boat was tied up and we were gearing up. Since the boat was alternating between tilting 45 degrees one way and then 45 degrees the other, it was a challenge to get our gear on. The skipper was great and helped us all along and into the water without incident. Did I mention it was quite cold? The clouds and rain didn't help, but once we were in the water things were not so bad. Swimming to the mooring line, about a kilometre from Barrenjoey Head, I thought about the fact that it was great white season in New South Wales. Sure I was dressed like a great white's favourite dish, seal, but I was able to remind myself the extreme odds against being eaten. That worked. We descended.

Chris and I spent about 22 minutes down at 28 metres. Visibility was OK and the wreck was very interesting. We inspected it and looked for an entry point. There was a bit of surge, even at that depth, so we were tossed about a bit. Some saw a couple of massive moray eels but we didn't see them. The wreck had a load to inspect: many places to swim up to and poke your head in to have a look around with a torch. Schools of bullseye are always fun to surprise. The just look so... surprised! After some reel work, Chris and I ascended and did a three minute safety stop at 5 metres (to keep us from getting the bends). After I removed a gloved hand from the mooring line I saw a small brown twiggish thing on it. It seemed to be moving across my hand. "Wow, that's neat!" I thought, "That piece of something inanimate appears to intentionally move across my hand as if it were a sentient being." After it made about five deliberate moves in the same direction I realised it was alive. I still don't know what it was but it was about a centimetre and a half long and moved liked an inchworm. Maybe it was a centimetreworm?

Back on the boat for our interval. For non-divers: you have to wait a specific amount of time, depending on depth and bottom time, before re-entering the water. We all thoroughly enjoyed this time shivering and vomiting from seasickness. Actually only a few divers got sick. The rest of were too frozen for our bodies to realise the disturbance to our equilibrium. After about 40 minutes we were in the water and returning to the sunken ship. This time we actually penetrated the wreck. One of main reasons for doing a wreck specialty course: to learn how to safely penetrate a wreck. It can be dangerous if you don't follow the correct safety precautions. What could make it dangerous? Not being able to find your way out of the wreck before you run out of air. To make sure you can find your way out, you tie a line outside of the wreck and pull it along as you explore. Then you follow the line back out. Also, you have plenty of sources of light AND ensure you can always see the natural light of the exit. Getting stuck is not a major concern because all certified divers are trained how to get out your gear and work on it while underwater - and there's always your buddy's alternate air source. The main reason you would not be able to get out: silt. Many wrecks are undisturbed for a long time and once a diver enters, the fine silt may get stirred up. Saturday's dive site was full of silt and it was quite disorienting. You often did not even know if you were rising or sinking without looking at your depth gauge. If you have a reel, however, you don't have to see to get out. There, mom, I hope that makes you feel better. I'm cautious and will always play it safe. It is thrilling to enter a wreck, even one as small as the Valiant.

After the second dive the dive day, as well as the course, was over. The sky cleared just as we were out of wet suit and back into dry clothes. Now I'm a certified Wreck Diver. And the day was still young - enough time for some lawn bowls!

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Wreck Diving - Part 2

I left off my last post with where the Saturday wreck specialty dive was finally set to be: the Wollomstrom wreck in Gunnamatta Bay. As you can imagine for a day where the original dive was cancelled and backup was soon to follow, it was a rough day for diving. The bay is sheltered, so the water would not be rough, but it was cold, windy and rainy. It's dense with private vessels and the entrance to the beach is through a popular local park. Along the beach is a netted swimming area. This is the perfect place for kids to ask you questions as you get in the water like, "Can you look for my Buzz Lightyear?" and ask you when you get out, "Did you see any sharks or bodies?" To which my answers were, respectively, "Sure, but I'd be better off if Woody were with me," and "Thankfully no."

After gearing up and wading into the gentle surf, we put our fins on and swam a bit out to a mooring not far from the ferry channel. As previously mentioned, visibility is shockingly bad, so we took a bearing with our compasses, descended, and set off. My buddy (Chris) and I swam at about 10 meters depth for several minutes. We passed an old, sunken telegraph pole, but soon it was clear we missed the wreck. Since we couldn't ascend without risking coming up in the channel, we used our compass reading to go back the way we came. Most of the time the visibility was so poor that we had to hold hands, but every now and then we enjoyed the sight of a starfish on the silty bottom. When decided to ascend. I was nervous about where we where, and, being the first to pop out of the water, I quickly spun around in search of a boat to knock me unconscious. Nope: when we ascended we were not far from where we set off... so we felt good about the navigation and gave the wreck search another shot. About a minute into our second attempt we spotted another diver and were startled to find the wreck so close. It was, just as I remembered, a pretty weak wreck dive. But there were some fish and we surveyed the wreck before returning to the mooring we set off from.

After a short dive interval full of Tabasco-laden tomato soup, we were back in the water. This time we were supposed to draw a map of the wreck on our slate. To save time the instructor went down first. He was to tie a reel onto the mooring, find the wreck, and give a tug to signal for us to follow. For twenty minutes we waited at the bottom watching the barnacles on the mooring. Eventually Chris and I set off on our own. We found the wreck straight away but the silt was so stirred up that there was nothing to draw. After some brief exploration I suggested to Chris that we return to shore underwater rather than return to the mooring. Relying again on our compasses, and holding hands, we set off. Soon enough we were up against the netting for the swim area. Chris knew that there were heaps of White's Seahorses here so he inspected as I checked out the pillars and bottom. Chris was unable to locate a seahorse, but I found a few gems: another wreck! An old pram (baby stroller) on its side and completely taken over by marine life. You know it's an old pram when there are four wheels the size of individual size pizzas. Next I found a hat sitting upright on the bottom. I don't think it had been there for too long but I wasn't going to disturb it. There were heaps of jellyfish to poke and shine our torches through, Finally, Chris and I swam past footprints and soon were past where we had put on our fins.

I really enjoyed the dives this past Saturday. While I would not recommend the site to a dive, it's a good place to learn and try to make the most out of a site.

Sunday we were off very early for the Valiant...

Monday, October 23, 2006

Wreck Diving - Part 1

This past weekend I completed my wreck diving specialty course, and there certainly could have been a better weekend for it. I have been excited about the course for some time. Wrecks are fantastic dives for many reasons. They provide shelter and so are quickly taken over by marine life and act as a reef. All sorts of fish love to hang out in them. Wrecks are visually striking and excellent photography sites. They also encourage a diver to research its history, which is often as interesting as the dive itself. And so the wreck course was on.

There are heaps of wrecks around Sydney, owing to plenty of harsh waters. Saturday we were supposed to do the Bombo down in Wollongong. The Bombo served in WWII and continued on for commercial shipping afterwards until it sank in 1949. The story is quite interesting but tragic. 12 crew died, 2 survived... and they were so close to shore. The wreck, 32 meters down, is in the middle of a high-traffic shipping channel. I was supposed to dive this site a few months ago but the large number of massive ships - and miscommunication regarding their schedule - forced us to abort. I was thrilled to get another chance to see it, but this past Saturday the seas were too rough for the site and Friday the location was moved to inside Sydney Harbour.

The new plan was to do the Royal Shepherd and the Centurion. The Centurion sunk one night in 1887, the Royal Shepherd sank one night in 1890, both with no casualties except the cargo. Both seem to have been simply the result of sloppy seamanship. I had been to this site before and there were loads of fish. Large cuttlefish, pufferfish, some small sharks... Unfortunately Sydney Harbour was even too rough to dive and Saturday morning our location was changed again.

And so on over to the Itara in Gunnamatta Bay. Note the lack of link to more info on the Wollomstrom. It's a small tugboat that sank in the silty bay, known for its terrible visibility. Surprisingly I had been to this site too: the last time the Bombo dive was cancelled. The vis would get so bad you had to hold hands with your buddy. But this was a course and tough conditions help you improve diving skills. I had a good buddy and knew we would make the most of it... even if the most exciting thing about the dive is the knowledge that if you came surfaced directly above the wreck there would be a good chance your head would be knocked off by the ferry or one of the many pleasure craft. More on that tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Diving Photos - The Leap to The Steps

As promised, I've uploaded some photos from my dive this past weekend. Details of the dive and a short video of a baby cuttlefish can be found here. Some of the highlights from the dive:

Large Snail (Whelk?)

Just cruising along. I think this type is called a whelk. If you know, please let me know.

Eastern Blue Groper

These are very curious fish. They swim amoung divers and seem to be begging for food. Thankfully it is illegal to spearfish them.

Weedy Sea Dragon

Weedy Sea Dragons are classified as near threatened. They are fragile creatures who maintain their depth with a tiny bladder. They blend in well with the weeds, but you can corral them into view without touching or harming them.

Port Jackson Shark

We saw two good-sized port jacksons but I did not get any good shots. This is one of the many eggs we came across. The spiral, pinecone-looking thing IS actually an egg.

Baby Cuttlefish

Ah, cuttlefish - my favourite creatures of the sea. This little guy is just a baby. Hopefully he will grow to be one or two feet long. His tentacles are up so that he can easily grab prey and pull it into his mouth to be crushed by his strong, parrot-shaped beak. His colour and texture change depending on the surface he hovers above. If you watch the video you'll see him turn smooth and white when he moves over the sand.

View the entire gallery here.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Baby Cuttlefish - Diving The Leaps and The Steps

I took my camera diving this past weekend and managed to get some decent shots. Good old Kurnell - Captain Cook Park. Sunday was a lot cooler than Saturday but the rain held off. "Why would you care if it rains? You're underwater, you knob!" you may say. Well yes we are underwater, but I'm not a knob.

For the first dive we jumped in at The Leap - so called because you just step off the side of a rather high, sheer rock into the surging sea. We swam out about 15 meters before dropping and doing a drift dive down to a point called The Steps - so called because you have to walk up many, many steps to get to the carpark. "Why don't you walk down at The Steps rather than up it? It seems awfully silly to make yourself walk up it," you may say. Because then how would we get out of the water at the aforementioned high, sheer rock? Now who's silly.

The first dive was a bit murky thanks to a southerly blowing in from... the South. Still, we saw a huge sea snail, some blue gropers, a weedy seadragon, loads of nice coral and fish. The second dive was great, with better visibility and loads more to see: many more gropers, about eight weedies, port jackson sharks, and two baby cuttlefish. These are my favourite things to find while diving. These are the smallest I've seen - most have been about a foot to two feet long. These were a mere four inches. In this video you can see the guy with his tentacles up, in hunting pose, backing away from the camera before changing his colour to match the white sand and jet-propelling him away from me:

I'll get more photos from the dive up soon...

Friday, October 13, 2006

Pyrmont Good Food Markets

On the first Saturday of every month the Sydney Morning Herald sponsors a market in Pyrmont. I think this is the best growers market that I have ever been to. Snails, goat, lamb, trout... wait I just realised that I've posted about it before... yes yes, when I posted about the rainbow trout recipe. I apologise for repeating myself. Here is a picture of the fertile market ground:

Sunday, October 08, 2006


A friend of mine has called into question a statement I made in a previous post. In that post I said that, since a toilet flush is not effected by the Coriolis effect, the direction in which it empties is random. I have thought about this some more, and it's probably not random at all but determined by some combination of gravity, plumbing and water current at the time of flushing. Yes I have a friend who is more pedantic than me. Thank you for the correction, Glenn.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

It Has All Been A Lie

It started with the Tooth Fairy... Next it was the Easter Bunny, a free lunch, Pluto as the 9th planet, the Crocodile Hunter's invincibility and, most recently, Santa Claus. You would think the lies and deception end would there... but no. I have just learned that something I have taken as truth is a LIE:

Yes that is our bathtub (with spices in it) draining clockwise. Water in Sydney, and the rest of the Southern Hemisphere, empties down a drain just as it does in the Northern Hemisphere: randomly. The Coriolis effect applies to storms like hurricanes and cyclones based on the Earth's rotation. It seems that most of us have toilets that flush must faster than it takes for the world to turn, so there's no impact there. I shall sleep now.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

The Australian Beer Festival

The Australian Beer Festival took place this past Saturday and Sunday at the Australian Heritage Hotel. From a participant's point of view it was a huge success! The stands were set up along both streets and exhibitors came from all over Australia. My personal favourites were Five Islands Brewing Company, Hunter Brewing, Redoak and Matilda Bay's Alpha Pale.

FIBC's Mick and Tim were up from the Gong with three tasty brews. Their pilsener is available in bottles, but not here in Sydney yet. There's talk of bottling their wheat. I sure hope they do: it's a beautiful German style hefe. I can't think of any Aussie wheat that's as good and available in bottles.

Hunter has a really nice pale ale to join their kolsch as a tasty beer made in wine country. We had the opportunity to speak with Jeremy, a brewer from Matilda Bay, and learned that they really encourage them to experiment with new styles of beer. It sure paid off with their pale ale... and their coffee-flavoured crema is worth a go. Redoak offered three from their selection as well as blackberry hefeweizen sorbet. Dana and I have popped over there for desert - it's fantastic.

Even more enjoyable than the beer was the company! Several BAs made their way to the event. It's always great to meet fellow beer lovers.

And a shout out to Dave Gumm of Dave's Homebrew.

View all the photos here.