I just caught the end of a "town hall" sort of program on telly, on which the topic of discussion was illegal downloading of music in Australia. The main focus of the discussion was whether Australian ISPs ought be involved in the prevention and discouragement of illegally downloading, and if them doing so would count as punitive enforcement or not. Much like in America, the music industry here wants ISPs to sort of "play nanny," giving up information about their customers and enforce a sort of "three strikes" program after which a customer will be permanently disconnected.
The thing that I found most interesting is that, currently, the ISPs seem to be holding back the attacks of the music industry in ways that simply didn't happen in the US. They are currently saying "no way," that it isn't their job to be policing the Internet or held liable for what is done via it anymore than the post should be for materials sent through it. In The US, this sort of step was pretty much skipped over via legislation; it was simply made law that content owners can force ISPs to do their bidding for them, and thusly they've all had to do so. I have no doubt that it will eventually be the same here in Australia, but I'm really encouraged by the rational arguments against doing so that have been made so vocally.
The thing that discourages me, however, is that the debate seems to have been sold to many Australian musicians as if the Internet is some sort of music dispersal medium like radio or television. They seem to think that, like as with the radio, the ISPs are selling customers the ability listen to music, and thus ought pay royalties for the ability to do so. It's discouraging to me because it does make a sick sort of sense; they ARE after all charging their customers, and they ARE (sort of) providing them a mechanism through which to listen to music. If providing Internet access is eventually designated as the same sort of service as radio and television, all sorts of scary doors will eventually be opened, so I'm hoping that this line of thinking is put out to pasture.
The one thing that all parties involved in the debate keep bringing up, however, actually strikes me as the sort of system I'd like to see. Everyone -- save for the music industry, natch -- is advocating a low-cost flat fee for music usage, kind of like the television license fees to which people outside America are already accustomed. The figure that keeps being brought up is $10AU a month, after which you are free to listen to as much music as you'd like, however you'd like to do so. Enforcement of this plan would obviously be problematic; it's not as if the illegal file-sharing networks are going to put in place some sort of authentication system to ensure that only licensed individuals can access them. People will clearly still be able to access music without paying the fee. Why then, would anyone bother to pay the fee?
What I would like to see, however, is for some enterprising ISPs to bundle this "all-access" music license into the cost of their service. If the fee is $10 a month, they could subsidize it down to something like $5 or $6 extra a month -- or even cheaper as an introductory perk. This could also be bundled with higher data caps (oh yes, if you're not currently operating under a data cap, you soon will be) to create another sort of revenue stream for the ISPs. After all, if they're now going to be legally downloading tons of music, they're going to need to buy extra monthly bandwidth as well.
According to the program I saw, studies done in Australia show that just $10AU a month would be enough to fully remunerate all entitled parties with compensation. I suspect this figure would need to be re-factored for use in the US, but I suspect most people would be willing to pay at least double or triple that for unfettered access. Some people already pay this much on top of their Internet access fees to facilitate the ILLICIT transfer of music and video, and NONE of that money gets to any entitled individuals. Surely a workable scheme can be devised.
I joked earlier about how the "war on Christmas" drove us to flee to another country, but that's only the tiniest bit true. Granted, I get really upset every time I'm accosted by a Salvation Army bell-ringer, but I'm mostly just amused at how people get so worked up about someone wishing them a happy incorrect holiday.
Here in Australia, all the ads on telly that I've seen say 'Christmas.' There's nary a mention of generic "holidays," nor any mention of specific non-Christmas ones. I'm not sure whether this is due to the fact that Australia is considerably more secular a society than the states, or some other factor of which I'm unaware, but people are clearly laid back about the whole thing. Even the non-religious folk seem to have no qualms with wishing each other 'Happy Christmas," which is something I think the US could learn a few things from.
This laid-backness regarding 'uptight about Christmas' is why I was so utterly shocked to see this poster at the cinema yesterday:
I'm guessing that the title change is due to a generic "foreign" marketing campaign, wherein they just make one set of marketing images for all the english-speaking non-US countries, allowing for other countries who aren't nearly as laid back about the whole thing. Still, it's jarring. If they had done this in the states, there'd be boycotts and outrage. "How dare they take 'Christmas' out of the title of that sucky movie??!" Bill O'Reilly would have to have Reese and Vince on in order to berate them. Geez.
While D took the train to work this morning, I decided to go grab a pastry and a flat white -- and, more importantly, take advantage of the free wifi offered by the coffee place. I had a thick slice of toasted pear-raspberry bread (think banana bread, but pearier and raspberrier), which was delicious, and an hour or so of really, really slow wifi. Gloria Jean's Coffees is not the place to go in Cronulla for good wifi -- or even good coffee, really. Gloria Jean's is sort of the Starbucks of Australia, apparently, and while having an excellent range of pastries, I've not found thier coffee to be that great.
After that I headed to the grocery to get some photos of something that this American found particularly amusing. Next to all the steaks and pork chops and chicken and what-not in the meat case was a section for animals:
I don't know whether refrigerated meats for animals is a response to the tainted pet food epidemic from a couple years back, or if Aussies just love their pets more than Americans, but I'm reasonably certain that this doesn't happen in America. I'm not going to tell my cats about this when I get back, and I'd appreciate it if you wouldn't either.
After picking up another variety of Lemon-lime & Bitters at the grocery (thus far my favorite is still Schweppes's, but Bundaberg's is a really close second) and taking a codeine-infused paracetemol (that's Australian for acetemenaphine) to help soothe my severely sunburnt skin, I headed out for an hour-long jaunt down the road that runs between Cronulla and Sutherland. On the way I saw a few interesting things, but nothing nearly as exciting as this:
It was also mighty delicious. I could get used to roasted tomatoes, mushrooms and baked beans with my breakfast.
D just headed off to the train station to head to work, leaving me here at the cafe to take advantage of the free wifi to update y'all and to upload some photos. As promised, I've taken some photos of the greatest energy drink ever made:
It was really tasty, but I can't report any kind of psychedelic effects. Bummer :)
Before heading to breakfast this morning, I watched the local news broadcasts on telly, sort of round-robining through the 3 different news stations each time they got to the sport report. The big stories this morning are that the 30th ATM in Sydney was exploded during the night (they didn't get any cash this time, however), a famous Aussie bloke with the nickname "Chopper" was attacked by a nutter with a tomahawk, and that after months of talking up the 20-20-20 plan (reduce carbon footprint by 20% by the year 2020) was just reduced to 5%. There is apparently much protesting. Oh, also, there was great coverage of the Iraqi journalist who threw both his shoes at George W. Bush during a press conference.
I got a little bit sunburned whilst walking around yesterday, and one of my eyes is completely bloodshot after the plane flight. Now I understand why they call late night plane flights the "red-eye." International travel tip: it is counter-intuitive, but it's actually better to sit in the middle part of your plane's row as opposed to the aisle. At this point I feel pretty fantastic, not at all jetlagged at all. (Other than waking up at 5am local time and unable to continue to sleep.)
No phone connection yet, but at this point I'm seriously considering just not bothering. I'm clearly rather addicted to always being connected, and it will probably do me some good to have to go out of my way to check in. Anyway, catch you later. I'll check in later with some more things I've found interesting.
We made it safe and sound to oz. It's right about noon on Monday as I write this, due to the magic of time travel. Kind of jetlaggy. Or, the Green Fairy Absinth Energy Drink I just drank (60% alcohol by volume, the alcohol in question being absinth) is messing with my brain. If I drink another I'll take a pic for you.
Haven't worked out connectivity yet, but I've managed to upload a few pics from the journey thus far. Hopefully tomorrow I can get back the pre-paid SIM I got when I was here in March. I've got little magic hardware SIM-fooler thingies for both my G1 and my iPhone 3G, so there's at least double the chance I can get some kind of only vaguely-overpriced Internet access.
I've had just about enough of you and your War on Christmas, so I've decided to take some time away from you. We shall be spending our Christmahanukwanza ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE PLANET. Australia here we come.
Hopefully I'll be blogging and taking photos and whatnot as connectivity allows. Stay tuned.
While reading a story about elevators I was reminded of something subtly amusing from the Australia trip that I had forgotten to share with you.
1) In the United States, a company called Otis controls the elevator/escalator market. If you've ridden an elevator in the United States in the last decade, it is almost certainly one of Otis's. Next time you're in one, look around. I'll bet you a dollar you'll see the placard equivalent of an "Otis's Elevator" sign.
2) In Australia, much like most other parts of the world, what Americans refer to as "elevators" are known as "lifts."
3) Since learning about Otis's monopoly on elevators, I've always kept a lookout whilst riding in them for one made by someone else. I've never seen another elevator manufacturer in the 10 years I've been looking. Until visiting Australia, that is. There, a company called Schindler has the market cornered. I rode in five or six lifts in Australia, all of which were made by Schindler.
I'll leave the '1 + 2 + 3 = comedy <strike>gold</strike> oil' math as an exercise for the reader, but suffice to say that it cracked me up way more than it ought-to've.
We've been home from Australia for over a week now. Haven't felt much like writing or much of anything else, for that matter. In an email to Marcus, I likened the feeling to that of Buffy the Vampire Slayer after she got killed and then magicked back to life again, finding that she liked it a whole lot better in Heaven, and that she's rather perturbed at being back with all those burdens and responsibilities again. Australia is my Heaven, apparently.
Been pretty jetlagged after flying home. Getting over netlag as well; it's good to be connected once again. Seriously, the netlag was harder on me than the jetlag was. I think I have a problem.
It's been hard to sleep in this new timezone; midnight comes and goes without the slightest tiredness, and I've been consistently sleeping very late as a consequence. Going to Australia wasn't much of a problem in the jetlag department, but coming home was significantly worse. I guess late-night sleeplessness leaves me more time to spend with Jessica Fletcher. (It's not cheating if she's fictional, old, and just solving mysteries with me, right?)
I've been tinkering around with website stuff here and there. For several days after my return, whenever iPhone would check its "gps" position, it would occasionally return a latitude and longitude of 0. This had the effect of centering the map up at the top of nyquil.org near to the Louvre in France. I may have just traveled from the other side of the world, but I assure you, France was not on the trip. In any case, if ever you need to know the coordinates required to blow up the Louvre with ICBMs, just put zero in for each; that'll be close enough for horseshoes and ICBMs. I've not got my map-moving script ignoring any position updates of lat/lon 0/0. This may come back to haunt me if I ever decide to visit the Louvre, but I'm not planning any such trip any time soon.
Since returning home after spending scads of dollars -- both American and Australian -- over the last few weeks, we've been tightening our belts with some budgeting. This involves much less eating out, and significantly more cooking at home. This is something we've needed to do anyway, it's just so gosh-darned hard to get motivated. Being broke is great motivation. I've been trying all sorts of interesting things with relative success, so I may have to resurrect Cooking With Kooks.
Man, if there was ever any doubt as to how much of a geek I am, it's pretty much settled now. Dave and Ben are attempting to teach D how to surf, whilst I'm sitting here on the beach blogging. All the bikini-clad sheilas are undoubtedly checking out the fully clothed pasty geek hunched over his tiny green toy laptop typing away furiously. I can tell that they want me.
I'm not much of a swimmer and thusly am not much of an enthusiast of water sports, but I have to admit that it looks like fun. I never really liked swimming much in the first place, but after nearly drowning around the same time my man-boobs began to come in, I abandoned it altogether. I told them that I probably wouldn't be going out, but my resolve is weakening. They did bring a lycra surf top thingy, though... that might both suppress the man-boobs and protect my pasty white torso from the sun's harmful rays...
Oh, look's like they're headed back in, so mayhap I'll give it a go.
Oh man. Surfing is fun. And tiring. I'm positively knackered after only about an hour or so of learning. I managed to get to my feet a few times -- which balances out the few times I completely nose-dived into the wave, coming up sputtering and red-eyed. I only mowed over two children in the process, but don't worry: the little tykes were waaay too good at surfing and deserved it for showing us all up. Cheeky little blighters.
Ben and Dave left me a board, so I may give it another go tomorrow morning before brekkie. Surfing before brekkie. I think I'm fitting in here rather well.
We have to leave in just over two days, which -- despite this being the longest holiday upon which I've ever been and that I'm usually ready to head home right away -- makes me a very sad panda. It's been less than two weeks and I've already adopted much of the lingo, the dress, the laid-back attitude and even the disdain for American culture. (Did you know that Americans don't like beet-root on their hamburgers? That's complete lunacy!) I even enjoyed the heck out of the ham in my eggs Florentine yesterday. Now I just have to figure out a way to move here permanently some day, because it's clear that I was born in the wrong part of the world.
This post is beginning to reach the epic length all mine have been as of late and I lack the time to make it shorter, so I'll go ahead and bid you farewell once again.
We did indeed go to the Torranga Zoo the other day, seeing all manner of unique Australian animals and regular old run-of-the-mill zoo animals as well. Curiously, among all the crazy animals I'd never seen before was a neat network of waterways which allowed these giant koi to swim unfettered throughout the whole park. At every exhibit there was some crazy marsupial to gaze upon, but there I'd be, snapping pics of the koi and generally being enamored with them. I guess I like koi.
In addition to waterways, one other feature pervaded most of the park: trees and shrubbery. In Australia, trees and shrubs mean spiders; all it would take is a casual glance around and one would see gigantic webs, pretty much everywhere. Most of said webs were both slightly above head-height AND filled with the kind of spiders about which American spiders have nightmares.
(In fact, I've decided to rename "nightmares" to "night'nids." I just seems more appropriate; I don't care how scary some horse is -- it's just a freakin' horse. We're talking about spiders who routinely eat BIRDS. Show me a horse that eats birds and I'll gladly change it back to "nightmares." If you could make a note of this and begin changing your usage, I'd be much obliged.)
The few webs NOT containing spiders were somewhat comforting, of-times causing one to exhale with relief. Until, that is, you realize that a spider-less web means that you HAVE NO IDEA WHERE THE SPIDER IS. Throughout the park, pretty much the only place that DIDN'T have trees and shrubs was in the giraffe habitat. At first I thought this was because the giraffes eat all the plants, but then I realized that it was because giraffes are bloody expensive and the zoo-keepers don't want to have to replace them every time a spider goes and eats one.
Alas, the uploading of images didn't go as well as I was hoping, but one half-way decent shot of a spider made it up before the wifi and my OLPC gave out. The rest may have to wait 'til I get home. Without further ado, here's payment for sitting through my blather:
This guy is big enough to wrap his legs around a kiwi-fruit. See? "Night'nids," right?
Erik tells me that these spiders kill many motorists a year -- not by biting them, mind you, but instead by simply hiding behind vehicle sun-visors, waiting for the driver to casually flip it down. At this point, the motorist can't help but see the spider, whose simple presence terrifies them into driving off the road. This is a story I believe, because the first one I saw about made me go off the path I was on and into the crocodile pit just to avoid walking under it. Better the crocs than those spiders, I say.
Yesterday was D's first day of work for the folks who make Campaign Monitor, leaving me free to spend the whole day however I'd like. Yesterday I took a stroll down to the waterfront and took some more 'artistic,' less-'touristy'-type photos -- or, more accurately, attempted to. It's just too nice here to be focusing on the minutae that usually makes up my style.
I'm hoping to upload a few more pics this afternoon, but my hopes for better wifi at our beach-front hotel did not come to fruition. Turns out, it's $5 for fifteen minutes here, compared with $5 an hour at the Sydney hotel. Lucky for us, another kind soul has an open access point within range of our super-wifi equipment, meaning I can still be somewhat connected. (Arg. Hang on; I'm drying off on the balcony after my morning shower and fear that I'm beginning to burn. I best put some clothes on. OK.) When we inevitably move here some day, we're going to have open wifi with a little paypal tip jar or something. It's way too hot here in the direct sun, so I'm going to head down to the water to write down there. See you in 5.
Boy, I'm sure glad I opted to bring my OLPC; the battery life and daylight-readable screen are both fantastic. I can't imagine trying to sit on a bench and write with a normal laptop, so I'm really glad I got one of these while I had the chance. If it weren't for having to constantly stop and tell people all about this cute little machine that they can't possibly buy anyway, it'd be a machine perfectly suited to freelance writers. Maybe I should become one.
I've now got the ocean breeze at my back, surrounded by the cries of hungry birds -- irate that no one is giving them anything to eat -- and the sound of a gurgling fountain that looks entirely too much like the head of a giant stone penis, dribbling out fluid from exactly where you'd expect if you were familiar at all with penises. (Penii?) Appropriately enough, the sculpture is entited 'The Seed.' I'll snap some pics of it for your reference.
Speaking of birds: the gulls here seem to be of a different sort than I'm accustomed to seeing in the states; they're leaner, more muscular and slightly smaller. Yesterday I took pics of one in particular who had staked out an area as being his, violently ruffling his feathers and screaming when any other gull dared enter his space. This was aggravated when some kind soul (me) donated a found Nutella sandwich to them. This bossy gull spent the whole time chasing all the other gulls away from his sandwich that he failed to notice as two smaller black birds devoured the whole thing. He defended the sandwich for at least ten minutes, throughout which time he didn't even have one bite. I suspect he might be an American tourist.
Oh yeah: if you'd like to see the area in which I'm currently sitting, I shot a silly little video with the OLPC's webcam yesterday morning whilst air-drying on my balcony. It'll be the sort of greenish, blocky area towards the left side of the blocky screen. Note the .au in that url; it got there automatically :)
It took a few meals, but I've decided that my American taste buds are not particularly pleased with the flavor of pork in Australia; I can't really describe the difference, but I suspect it may be due in part to the lack of copious amounts of seasonings and preservatives (and hormones) that American meat producers include in everything. I've tried bacon, link sausage, and now a Sausage McMuffin with Egg from McDonalds, and it just doesn't quite sit right with me. I had an interesting turkish pastry-thing yesterday with 'mince' in it, which I suspect to be a ground pork product because of the same odd flavor which I found initially curious and eventually off-putting. I believe this to be the first occurance of something that I've found that I think is 'better' in America. Oh, 'tomato sauce' was the first. It's not quite ketchup, in that it's sweeter and doesn't seem to contain any vinegar, and it does not do to chips what ketchup does to fries in the states. Adding insult to injury, Heinz actually sells 'tomato sauce' here rather than ketchup.
There are countless things that are better here, though. The soft drinks in particular are fantastic, probably in large part to the inclusion of sugar rather than corn syrup. Delish. There are a variety of different soft drinks that I'm really going to miss when we have to leave, most notably being Coca-Cola's 'Lift,' and to a lesser extent, the 'Solo' range of beverages. I've searched in vain for Marcus's's New Zealand favorite 'J&L,' but both 'Lift' and 'Solo' taste remarkably similar to how he described it. As dissimilar as they'd like to appear, I guess Aussies and Kiwis share a fondness for lemon drink that I wish Americans would develop as well.
In conversations with experienced people before our trip, the one thing everyone recommended was Arnott's 'Tim Tam' biscuits, so I popped 'round the corner shop and purchased several varieties. Those are some bloody wonderful biscuits, but I have to say my heart lies more in all the other varieties of biscuits that Arnott's sells. The 'Spiced Fruit Roll' is particularly wonderful, though difficult to describe. Imagine a 'Fig Newton,' but with a slightly pretzel-like (in consistency) toasted shell around it that your teeth crunch through before getting into the softer 'mantle,' and that the filling is not fig, but instead currants, raisins, orange zest and the same types of spices you'd find in mince (not the pork kind) pies in the U.S. and U.K. I suspect that we are going to need to acquire some more luggage with which we'll bring a several year supply back with us.
Speaking of raisins, here they are apparently frequently called 'sultanas' or 'saltanas' or something rather similar to that, requiring a creative renaming of a familiar product. Kellogg's 'Raisin Bran' becomes Kellogg's 'Sultana Bran.' Other more inexplicable renamings include Kellogg's 'Rice Bubbles' rather than the familiar (to this American) Kellogg's 'Rice Krispies.' I'm not entirely sure what 'krispies' denote here, but I suspect it might be the turds that cling to the ass-end off a sheep. For brekkie this morning I had a cereal that LOOKED for all the world like the krispies on the ass-end of a sheep, but tasted really wonderful, especially as the milk soaked in.
Oh: remember how I was initially weirded out by spinach at brekkie? Well, since then I've eaten a number of traditional Aussie brekkies featuring things such as gigantic sauteed mushrooms and roasted tomatoes (toe maaah toe), and 'hand sliced' thick white toast, which, apparently, is the greatest thing here since sliced bread; many cafes proudly advertise that their toast is hand sliced. It is all delightful, especially the roasted tomato and mushrooms. Also, these Aussies sure know how to poach an egg; that's enough right there to keep me here. Aside from the copious amounts of pork in most traditional brekkies, I'm in love with Aussie fare. I'll fit right in.
Since being here, I've developed what can only be described as 'a bit of a coffee addition'. I've fallen in love with what they call a 'flat white,' which is a small shot of espresso and a big cup of steamed milk. I usually add a dollop of honey to that and I'm good to just sit and drink it. Just talking about it now is making me want to go grab one. Alright, hang on a tick, I'm going.
Ok, back. So one other thing I really like about things here, is that cafes usually have different pricing for 'eat-in' vs 'take-away,' and there is no tipping anywhere. They actually pay the staff a good wage, charging the customer accordingly if they're going to have to be minded and/or cleaned-up-after. That's exactly the way I think it should be. Mr. Pink would be really happy here, had things worked out differently for him. Also, portions are smaller, and there are no refills on soft drinks. D doesn't care much for the latter, but as one who rarely drinks more than one serving, I'm tired of paying for everyone else's refills. Better for me is better all 'round right?
Prices here in Cronulla (a perfectly cromulent name for a town) are a bit more manageable than those in downtown Sydney. I just paid $3.50 for a large takeaway flat white, which is what I'd imagine Starbucks in the states would charge. Meals out are still pretty spendy due to being right on the sea in tourist territory, but my knocking about during the day isn't racking up quiet the cost that it would have were I doing it in Sydney. It's a lot cooler here as well, and the crowds less crowdy. I'd gladly be exiled here by the British constabulary.
With that, I'll bid you fare well for now. Next time: spiders.
A couple brief things I keep forgetting about whilst recounting adventures:
I know there is much anticipation for my verdict re: 'coreolis effect' on toilets, but I don't have much empirical evidence to report. All the toilets I've encountered are what I've dubbed "Chicago-style," (deep dish) and don't actually swirl much at all. A jet of water drops straight into the very deep bowl, and it all whooshes away without any perceivable rotation at all. I did encounter one in at a sushi restaurant last night that appeared to swirl ever-so-slightly clock-wise after the jet settled out, but I confess to forgetting to observe the rotation in the northern hemisphere; i've no idea whether this confirms what folklore purports or debunks it. What IS interesting, though, is the push-butto flush mechanism on all the toilets: each toilet has two flush buttons; one large and one small. This led me to believe that one is for 'number one' and the larger for 'number two," but having rpeatedly alternated betwixt the two on several different toilets (bloody Americans, don't they know there's a drought on?) I've not been able to tell the difference.
Our hotel has an ingenious power-saving device that I think needs to become standard at alll hotels: Upon entering your room, you side your special key fob into a receptacle near the door which then activates the lights and thermostat. As soon as one removes the key fob, everything shuts off. Since you need your key to get back in, this ensures that Americans can't waste power unless they are IN the room.
Lastly, in lieu of mints on our pillows, our hotel leaves fortune cookies. Players of the 'between the sheets/in bed' fortne cookie game may be particularly amused by this.
Internet access here is kind of tricky, in that it either costs $5 an hour from our hotel, or occasionally works for free thanks to the kind soul in a nearby apartment with an unsecured wifi access point. Because of both the spotty connectivity and the fact that this kind soul is paying for metered access, I've opted to not upload the pictures I've taken thus far. I think Tuesday we move from our downtown Sydney hotel to a much nicer one on the beach, courtesy of D's new employers. I'm led to believe that wifi at the nicer hotel will be of a more "unlimited" nature, which hopefully should allow for better access then. The Internet withdrawal is actually worse than the jetlag was. We are apparently pretty hard-core connectivity addicts.
I've spent too much time and money over the last two days trying to get my iPhone up and connected to both the phone network and the data network, all of which has been entirely fruitless thus far. It SHOULD work, though, so I suspect that something got botched when I unlocked it. On the plus side, the really nice guy at Telstra broke the rules and gave me a returned Nokia and charger so that I could use the pre-paid SIM for which I had already paid, activated, and funded with enough money to get me data access for my entire stay. I'm incredibly indebted to this fine young man because I would have either wasted the heaps of money I had already spent, or had to waste heaps more buying a phone in order to not feel like I had wasted it.
We spent most of the day yesterday playing tourists, spending heaps of cash on the Sydney Aquarium and the Sydney Animal World. (Or something like that; I' a bit sketchy on the name, and I can't look it up from here.) The aquarium had some really impressive habitats filled with the largest fish I had ever seen. I tried again and again to capture them with my camera, but they always came out looking like just fish; the enormous magesty of them was completely lost, so I ultimately gave up. I didn't get many good pics of fish but I did get some good surrepticious shots of people and kids looking at them. At the animal park there were wallabies (no hoofs), wombats, koalas and a veritable cornucopia of rodents that this rodent-lover would love to be able to smuggle home. Practically every exhibit we came to drew a 'ooh, let's get some of THOSE' from one or both of us. One of the advertised perks of the place was that you could pet a koala, but as it turns out, it cost extra to do so, so D opted not to pet one. (Though tomorrow we are going to the Torranga(?) Zoo, where one of the advertised perks is being able to pet a koala, so I guess we'll see.)
Speaking of costing extra: Sydney is bloody expensive. The exchange rate now between American dollars and Australian dollars is now pretty close to negligible, easing the mental calculations before purchases -- but straining our wallets. Depending upon where you are, a small bottled soft drink ranges from $4-$6. Last night I popped down to a nearby convenience store, leaving with two quart-size bottles of water, two small bottles of juice, six twenty-oz-size soft drinks, and two Girl-Scout-Cookie-box-sized packs of biscuits, totalling (apparently 'totalling' has two 'l's here) $46.50. Taking into account both the 'package deal' and D's student discount, our entry fees into both the aqaurium and the animal place was over $80 a person. Youch.
To my eternal shame, we've been playing the stereotypical Americans, eating an alarming percentage of our food from the nearby McDonald's and Hungry Jack's franchises. In my defense, it's (relatively) cheap, only one of us is currently bringing in money, and the fast food here is (thus far, anyway) way better than in the states. 'Hungry Jack' is what they call Burger King here, which makes me wonder whether Jack in the Box is going to say 'screw the disdain for monarchy' and co-opt the 'King' name since Burger King already took 'Jack.' This morning I had an 'Aussie Breky' from Hungry Jack, which is, essentially, a Sausage Biscuit with Egg, except disassembled and with an extra egg. The flavor of the sausage startled me a mite bit; it's not the familiar maple-y 'breakfast sausage' flavor to which I'm accustomed. It was, instead, a bit like salisbury steak. And very delicious. (They do have Sausage Biscuits with Egg, but I wanted to say 'Aussie Breky.')
After wandering through the aquarium for awhile, we were amused to realize that we were both reading all the information displays in our heads with Aussie accents. This, combined with the fact that I'm not really noticing any Aussie accents anymore, has me worried that I'm walking around doing a bad Crocodile Hunter impression. Actually, now that I think about it, I'm even more worried. I was just asked for directions by a couple of cute Japanese touristas who looked incredulous when I told them that I don't actually know how to get them where they're going, and that I'm not actually from here. I would really like to be, though.
11:45 am, Sunday:
Just had a 10-minute conversation with an American couple enthralled by my OLPC. I'm pretty good at giving people the sales spiel now, which is unfortunate since the only place they can be acquired is eBay. I think they would have done well to have some in the wild before ending the Give One Get One promotion, because the number of people that see mine in action and want to get one for their kids is staggering. Anyway, I better go back to my hotel and see whether I can get online and post this. I've spent the last hour sitting at the Australian version of Starbucks, called 'Gloria Jean's Coffees' ("Escape the daily grind.™"), which I'd feel kind of silly about if it weren't across the street from an Actual Starbucks. Bloody Americans, always expanding, trying to take over the whole world...
The following was written on my OLPC during the flight from San Francisco to Sydney, which boarded at 9:50pm PST, and was added to throughout the flight whenever something seemed like it was in need of being written down, and is finally being posted via a kind soul's unsecured wifi within range of our hotel.
6:45pm Thursday Sydney time:
Just finished the first of our in-flight meals, and have to report that Quantas serves some darn tasty food. Best airline food I've ever had.
Played a little bit with the on-demand audio/video entertainment system built into the back of every seat and find it incredibly awesome. They have a crapload of content on there, including a number of movies that are still in the theater. Going to attempt to hack into it later.
The lone disappointment I have with this whole deal is the crazy dual-mono headphone jack required to plug into the audio system, meaning I can't plug my nice Bose headphones into it, instead requiring the cootie-laden UNICEF-begging complimentary ones. Note to self, buy adapter in Sydney for the return trip.
This is the best travel experience of my life, partly thanks to the nice folks at Quantas. They really know how to treat travelers. Largely, though, I think the great experience is due to my brain's altered chemistry, which is something I've been too close to to really notice before. But seeing how easy-peasy and stress-free this whole trip has been thus far, my eyes are really starting to open to just how much better I'm perceiving the world now. It DOESN'T always suck. Why didn't anyone tell me?
5:16 am Friday, Sydney time:
Sleepng in Economy is rough. I really envy those lucky souls who staked out entire rows of four seats, stretching out across them, snoring loudly. Aside from the snoring, it turns out I didn't really need the pink noise; I had forgotten the ever-present hum of the jet engines lulling me into relaxation. I'm not sure if it's just hearkening back to sensations of being in the womb or my fantasies of living on the starship Enterprise, but I always greatly enjoy hearing and feeling the rumble of giant engines on ships and planes. I think perhaps I'll put a subwoofer in the bedroom and realy kick that pink noise up a notch.
I passed a little time last night with Roland of Gilead, experiencing Marvel comics's's adaptation of one of my favorite of Stephen King's creations. I'd been kind of hesitant to read it, as licensed comic adaptations are rarely ever any good, but it turns out my worry was for naught. The art is fantastic and the way they've structured the narration works really well. I greatly look forward to the new series that started on Wednesday -- you know, when it comes out in hardback a year from now; I don't doso well with keeping on top of issue release dates, and I can't stand all the advertisements in the individual issues. In any case, if you've ever had even a passing interest in the Dark Tower series, then Marvel's The Gunslinger Born is a really great place to start.
6:11 am, Sydney time:
Just finished breakfast. Potato frittata with bacon and spinach, coffee, yoghurt (with an 'h'), orange juice, fruit and a muffin. Very yummy. Oddly (to my uncultured American sensibilities) he spinach was not actually IN the frittata, but on the side like the bacon. I enjoy cooked spinach, but never once considered eating it for breakfast. It was delicious, and I heartily recommend spinach as a part of any complete breakfast I think frittatas must be different "down under," because I would have called it a quiche; a fluffy homogenous mass of baked egg, potato and roasted peppers. Whatever it was, it was sure tasty.
It just occurred to me that I neglected to talk about last night's dinner. I had braised beef in a mushroomy red wine sauce with potato mash, green beans and carrots, a feta and tomato salad, finished off with strawberry cheesecake in a vanilla sauce. Also a KitKat bar and hot chocolate with one GIGANTIC marshmallow that I think must've been the gelatinous remains of a single large hoof. Perhaps from a wallaby? Do wallabies have hooves?
Even the trays upon which the food is served are awesome. They're cute little red bento-esque sets consisting of one red kangaroo-emblazoned containment tray filled with interlocking -- ack. I need to switch batteries in my OLPC. brb. OK, where was I? Ah, bento sets. Each of the separate items are in cute little red enamel bento boxes with clear plastic lids, and there's a cute little ceramic/enamel red coffee cup and a wide-bottom chilled glass to partake of whatever beverage you desire. Even the cutlery is high-quality plastic/resin/enamel/whatever. Also, all the containers are the same height, meaning that loaded trays will stack nicely, even when you're done with your meal. I want to purchase some of these sets, but apparently they are the only thing not sold on the actual flight. Seriously, who buys things off an airplane?
The in-seat entertainment center is telling me that we're about an hour and a quarter from Sydney -- which is convenient because even if I didn't find upon packing that my GPS had died, it turns out I'd be thrown off the plane if I were using it. I always have wished to know my exact position, heading and speed whilst flying, and thankfully Quantas has accommodated my desire quite handily. I've decided that from now on I'm flying on Quantas EVERYWHERE. In the wee hours of the morning while watching the neat Google-Earth-esque GPS display, I had the opportunity to not just wave aloha to Hawaii, but also wave aloha as well in the span of a short time.
I didn't watch any movies this trip, but plan to watch No Country For Old Men and maybe The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Gerald Ford on the return trip. Or maybe Letters from Iwo Jima or 3:10 to Yuma. I did discover, though, that the new Nine Inch Nails release Ghosts I-IV is excellent 'airplane music,' complimenting my iPhone solitaire playing and Tetris training quite handily. I've seen a few kids around with Nintendo DSs that I'd like to challege to some head-to-head gaming, but sadly the authorities don't allow radio transmissions to be employed on planes. Someone needs to invent some kind of cable to connect portable video gaming systems together for multiplayer use -- that'll be the future of gaming, I tell you.
7:35am Friday, Sydney time:
We are descending to Sydney, so I need to put this thing away now.
Customs was interesting. They have these insect/fruit/plant/animal-sniffing dogs roaming around sniffing everyone for potentially ecosystem-destroying contraband, and they really seem to enjoy their jobs. This one lady kept getting targeted by dog after dog, but the handlers never seemed to investigate after the fact. I thought this odd, so I began paying attention to her rather than looking for our bags on the carousel until finally the mystery was solved. The handlers had enlisted the lady as an accomplice to testing the effectiveness of the dogs. Turns out she had a special sock stashed in her pocket for which the dog were eagerly hunting. This raised several questions in my mind: firstly, while the dogs were trying to earn treats looking for the sock, were they still sniffing out killer caterpillars and invasive plants and secondly, is it possible that since the handlers obviously knew who had the sock and kept bringing the leashed dogs by that they were influencing the dogs's decisions? It's quite a racket those beagles have set up for themselves.
Gots stories to share. Might have to videoblog or something. Because that's SOOO much easier, right?
1) We're going to Australia at the beginning of March. Two weeks. Four days of which are earmarked as "Australiany Stuff" days, while most of the rest of the days are "Work Days" for D at her new Australian employer's facility, leaving me free to explore the undoubtedly vast assortment of daytime television in OZ. (She'll be working from home in the States after that, though.) Awesome. Suffice it to say that my life's dream of opening the first Outback Steakhouse franchise in Australia has rapidly taken a turn towards plausibility. (I'll call it "The Original Outback Steakhouse" and cash in on all those American tourists looking to do "Australiany Stuff.")
2) Got the stinkeye from an elderly gentleman at the grocery store the other day. Thought it odd. Then ended up behind him in the checkout lane to hear him railing about men who carry bags.
<blockquote>Guy: "They have a name for bags you carry your stuff in: PURSES. You really have to wonder about any man carrying a bag. I mean, that's what wallets are for. What would YOU think if you saw a guy carrying a bag?"
Checkout Guy: "That he has too much stuff to fit in a wallet, or he doesn't want to sit on his wallet?"
Guy: "Uh-huh. 'Too much stuff.' Sure."
Checkout Guy: "What about backpacks? Men carry those."
Guy: "I'm not going to carry a backpack, either. That's just not the kind of man I am."
Checkout Guy: "OK. Have a nice day."
Me: "Hang on, I have to fish my wallet out of all this stuff in my PURSE."
Checkout Guy: "Ha! Nice. :)"</blockquote>
I had one of those light-bulb moments as soon as I heard him start his railing against bags, because it perfectly explained why he was eyeballing me earlier. The funniest bit to me was that the ignorantly intolerant man in question happened to be a man of color with a wife of, shall we say, "much less color." You'd think that someone who has probably had to put up with a lot of intolerant, ignorant bullshit over the years would be a bit more hesitant to engage in the same behavior himself, but whatever.
3) Now I've plumb forgotten what else I was gonna tell y'all.
4) Oh yeah, now I remember. Pretend I spent a bunch of time making a graphic advertising my new show instead of just telling you the title: "Danzig with the Stars."
5) In addition to posting being hard, so has been answering email and replying to comments. Of which many, many "Emma Watson 3-D boob-related" ones have come in. (Over 50,000 people have viewed that post since Christmas, 109% of which are ardent that I'm a big fat idiot.) I'm not ignoring anyone, just extremely apathetic.
6) I forgot to take a brain-related drug to which my body is addicted the other day, resulting in a couple days full of little mini brain seizures. Talk about a crazy sensation. Know when you're nodding off while watching TV or something and suddenly jolt awake? Imagine that like 10 times an hour. Fun.