Monday, 31 December 2007

Happy New Year

Some predictions for the new year:

People will die . . . some of them famous.

People will be born . . . some of them to famous parents.

There will be major natural disasters. To some they will be irrefutable evidence of climate change. To others they will just be a repeat of past events.

There will be famine in developing nations. Accompanying this will be guilt-ridden sympathy, a lot of talk, and a small amount of useful work achieving an actual solution.

Religious leaders will make ill-informed comments about politics. Politicians will make ill-informed comments about religion.

Our leaders will bicker over bureaucratic minutiae, while larger issues go undiscussed.

Under the ground, new dinosaurs will be discovered.

Out in space, new planets will be discovered.

Here on Earth, new technology will be developed.

The planet will continue to turn and mankind will continue to dream.

Happy new year, everyone.

Thursday, 27 December 2007

Cloverfield Update

I've been asked to provide an update on Cloverfield, J.J. Abrams' new horror movie due for release on January 18 (January 17 in Australia).

Back in August, Cloverfield was generating a huge amount of chatter on the net, after this teaser trailer was played before screenings of Transformers.

It appears to be a cross between The Blair Witch Project and a traditional monster-destroys-city movie, with all the action taking place from the point of view of kids with camcorders. You know, something like Godzilla for the YouTube generation.

Word is that it's actually an original monster, although it remains a credible theory that it's a cinematic treatment of H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos.

Since my last post not a lot has happened . . . the official title of the film has been confirmed as Cloverfield, and a new trailer has been released.

There's also a new official website here (to accompany the earlier ones here and here).

If you're keen, there's also a metric buttload of chatter and speculation around that you can get plugged into. Nerds all the net over have been dissecting the trailers frame by frame and expounding their theories to anyone who'll listen. I won't bother posting any links . . . stick "Cloverfield" into google and knock yourself out.

And that's about it. There's very little in the way of genuine information available. Abrams and co are keeping their cards very close to their respective chests.

It should be fun, as long as you don't go expecting Citizen Kane.

And if it is going to be Blair Witch all over again, then don't forget to take your motion sickness tablets.

Wednesday, 26 December 2007

Five days to go . . .

Only five days remain to get your nominations in for the 2008 Celebrity Dead Pool!

Here's your chance to ponder the eternal questions of life and death. Tell the universe whose time you think is up, who may be likely (sadly) to go before they deserve, and who you just flat out don't like anymore.

There's no entry fee to play and a double pass to Village Cinema Gold Class for the winner. Rules and scoring details are here.

All nominations must be received no later than 31 December 2007 (that's Melbourne time, kids) so email your entries to me at mattsdeadpool@gmail.com.

And thanks to my lovely wife for the awesome sidebar banner. Isn't she talented?

Tuesday, 25 December 2007

A very merry Xmas to all

Well, merry Christmas everyone.

It's the time to enjoy the company of family and friends, to eat too much, drink too much and wish goodwill to all men. These are, after all, Christmas traditions.

One my other favourite Christmas traditions is to bemoan the overt consumerism that's taking it over, and to reminisce about a (largely fictional) past back when Christmas apparently really meant something.

How far back in the past you have to go to find this universal "meaning" depends on your point of view. In historical terms you don't have to go back particularly far before it stops being a Christian festival at all, and becomes one revolving around the pagan worship of trees.

Actually, yeah, let's do that.

The other great tradition is, of course, the Christmas movie. I'm not talking about Jingle All The Way or (God help us) The Santa Clause. Not the usual sappy Hollywood fare pitched at 12-year-olds high on sugar and excessive brand-name consumption.

I'm talking about those movies where Christmas is simply used as a convenient and somewhat subversive backdrop for some hellish horror, knockout action, or piss-funny comedy.

These might be a few to consider after packing down the turkey and champers:

Bad Santa (2003)

It's nothing to do with Christmas or Santa at all. It's just about Billy Bob Thornton being a drunken asshole. Funny as hell from start to finish. And the fact that he does the whole thing in a santa suit makes it just that little bit funnier.

The Ref (1994)

Small-time crim Dennis Leary breaks into the home of Kevin Spacey and Judy Davis on Christmas Eve. He ends up holding them hostage, but it's not long before he finds out he's the one in danger. For the family, it turns out to be the best thing that's happened to them in ages.

Die Hard (1988)

Action classic in which Bruce Willis braves terrorists, encroaching baldness and the perception that he's only a comedy actor to save his wife, Christmas and the American way. Yippee-ki-yay motherfucker.

Gremlins (1984)

Director Joe Dante meticulously recreates the town of Bedford Falls (featured in that other Christmas perennial It's a Wonderful Life) for the sole purpose of seeing it destroyed by marauding miniature demons. Brilliant.

Trading Places (1983)

Contains the iconic scene in which Dan Aykroyd, after being royally screwed over by Don Ameche and Ralph Bellamy, pathetically and hilariously fails to shoot himself in the head. While drunk and wearing a santa suit. We wouldn't see such a great bad santa again until, well, Bad Santa.

Enjoy the season folks, and don't forget to get your entries in for the 2008 Dead Pool.

Email your nominations to me at mattsdeadpool@gmail.com.

Sunday, 23 December 2007

Dead Pool Update - Email Address

Greetings, players.

A few people have expressed concern about posting their nominations before anyone else . . . and showing their hand, as it were.

It's felt that waiting until the last minute will provide an unfair advantage over those with the courage to get their nominations in early.

This is a very valid concern and to alleviate this, I've created an email account for your use.

If you'd rather not advertise your nominations before the game begins, then please email them to mattsdeadpool@gmail.com.

I will collect and collate all the nominations, and post them once the game has begun.

Dead Pool Update

A couple of quick updates on the Dead Pool.

First, the keen-eyed among you will have noticed the link on the right-hand sidebar. Clicking on this will pull up all posts relating to the Dead Pool, allowing you quick and easy access to all the relevant info.

Second, the mysterious unnamed prize has been decided. The winner of the 2008 Dead Pool will be awarded with a double pass to Village Cinema Gold Class. This will be an Australian pass, and therefore useful only to Australian entrants.

If you're playing internationally, then . . . we'll work something out.

Good luck !

Star Trek the Sitcom

In a similar vein to the Office / Battlestar Galactica mashup, here's Star Trek TNG as a sitcom.



Priceless.

Saturday, 22 December 2007

Celebrity Dead Pool 2008

Welcome friends, to the macabre world of The Celebrity Dead Pool 2008.

The rules are very simple.

You nominate a list of up to 10 celebrities that you think will shuffle off this mortal coil between 12am on 1 January 2008 and 12am on 1 January 2009.

Points are awarded for each correct guess, and the highest score at the end of the year will win a prize.

That's it. It's very simple.

Please enter your list in the comments section of this post.

I will post updates as events unfold throughout the year.

The scoring method and rules are below.

Let's get to it.

-----------------------------------------------------------

Scoring

1. The score awarded for a correctly predicted death will be determined by the formula 100 minus Age at Date of Death.

2. A person's "age" will be defined as their Age Last Birthday. This figure is incremented at the instant of 12am on the date of the person's birthday. This means that if a person dies on their birthday, their age is taken as the age they had just become that day.

3. If a person is over the age of 100 at their date of death, the score will be zero.

4. In the event of dispute about a person's precise age, the issue will be investigated by the moderator (which is me) and a decision made based on the best available evidence. The moderator's decision is final and no correspondence will be entered in to.

-----------------------------------------------------------

The Rules

1. All nominated persons must be human and must be alive as of 12am on 1 January 2008.

2. If you make a nomination and the person dies before 12am on 1 January 2008, you may substitute another name. You have 1 day's grace, and the substitution must happen before 12am on 2 January 2008.

3. Nominated persons must be famous or infamous in their own right, not (for example) because they're sick, or because they're very old, or because they're hideously and tragically deformed, or because they're about to undergo an extraordinary, ground-breaking and very risky operation.

4. For a death to be valid, it must be reported by at least one major mainstream media outlet. Examples include AP, AAP, Reuters, a major national or metropolitan newspaper or a major national or metropolitan TV network. Your blog doesn't count.

5. The death of a local celebrity will only be valid if their death is reported by a national media outlet, or by a major media outlet in another city.

6. If a nominated person is on death row at the start of the game, no points will be awarded if they are executed. Similarly, if a nominated person is being held hostage at the start of the game, no points will be awarded if they are killed by their captors or in a rescue attempt. Points will be awarded only if the nominated person dies from another cause.

7. Each nomination list may have at most 10 names.

8. No name may appear on a nomination list more than once. You may, however, submit more than one list.

9. Any attempts to influence the result via murderous acts will result in immediate disqualification.

Friday, 21 December 2007

The Void

We've been in our new building for a week now, and I'm beginning to get used to working next to a vertiginous drop.

To give some perspective, here's a shot of my desk in the old building, just before we moved out:




And here's a shot of my desk in the new building (taken from the floor above):



Vive la difference.

Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Trivia Final 2007

After five weeks of nail-biting tension, backroom sledging and numerous jugs of beer, the Commercial Hotel Trivia Competition 2007 is over.

The scores have been tallied, all challenges have been laid to rest, and the result is clear.

We have won.

That's right, we won.

On this final night our numbers were reduced to three (myself, Kate and Eliza) as Shannon had some poor excuse about having to work or something. (Apparently Christmas is a busy time for retail . . . who knew?)

But even so, we have prevailed.

Eliza is going home with a shiny new laptop and the Fiat Pandas and The Johns are going home with their tails between their legs.

Victory is sweet.

Sunday, 16 December 2007

Into the Wild

How about that Sean Penn, eh?

His latest directorial effort Into the Wild is out, and it's really quite good. Not as good as his previous effort The Pledge, which was nothing short of spectacular, but this one doesn't have Jack Nicholson, so what are you going to do?

Sean Penn's a better director than he is an actor. Which is not to say that he's a bad actor. He does emotionally unstable better than just about anyone. But he's kind of a one-note actor. It's a good note. But it's only one note.

Into the Wild is a long, dreamy love letter to the American countryside in general and the Alaskan wilderness in particular. The film is based on a true story and follows the adventures of Christopher McCandless who, after graduating from college, gives his life savings to charity and heads off to live in the wild.

What follows are lots of sweeping shots of beautiful landscape, scenes with eccentric and colourful characters met on the road, and sweeping landscape shots featuring colourful and eccentric characters. You get the idea.

It's kind of like Easy Rider on dope instead of acid.

It's ponderous, a little slow, more than a little depressing, and tends to deify its characters more than is really necessary. I'm sure Christopher McCandless is an ace guy, but I'm also sure a lot of the set pieces in the film have been written to make him seem just that little bit more angelic than the rest of us.

Don't get me wrong, it's a great film. Emile Hirsch is very strong in the lead role (as he needs to be . . . he's on screen 95% of the time) and he is ably supported by the likes of Catherine Keener, William Hurt and Marcia Gay Harden.

But like all Sean Penn movies, this is an Important Film. It tells an Important Story that really Means Something. And how much you enjoy it depends on how much you're willing to buy into the vision. This one had me about 80% of the time, so I'll give it 4 out of 5.

Thursday, 13 December 2007

It's oh so quiet

Tomorrow will be my last day working in the old building at 447 Collins St. I've worked there for the last 7 and a bit years.

After more than 40 years in the same spot, AXA will be moving four blocks down the road to a spanky new building in Docklands.

People have been moving over for the last few weeks, and tomorrow we're the last lot to go.

My activities tomorrow will consist of finishing packing (one box to go . . . 5 minutes), a farewell morning tea for Melissa, who's defecting to MLC (maybe half an hour if the cake is good) and a meeting over in the new building (20 minutes tops).

We have to vacate the old building by 1pm for the movers. No problem. I've got a bunch of Heroes episodes to catch up on.

The great thing about moving has been the relative calm in the lead-up. Because we don't have only one lot of people moving and getting grief from those who aren't, it's been sweet. Everybody's moving, so everybody's distracted.

Cleaning stuff out of filing cabinets and putting it in boxes (or, more often, bins) has become everybody's regular task. And mentally taxing it ain't.

And I even have minions to do that for me.

So between all the packing and half the office being on leave anyway, it's been a very quiet week at work.

Of course prior to all this it's been a nutso year, so it's been nice to have a bit of a break.

I can wander into work in the morning. Have a cup of tea, check the news, check the blogs (see links at right), get into the odd Wikipedia spiral of shame, do a bit of work, have another cup of tea, rinse and repeat.

It won't last, of course. Once the move is over it'll be back to it. And hot on the heels of Xmas will be End Of Year and all the joy that entails.

But until then . . . stick the kettle on, Baldrick.

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

The results are in . . .

. . . and we won.

Ably assisted by some ring-ins in the form of Marissa, Jamie and Skye (not forgetting Rohan, who may just become our official mascot).

We now have a five point lead over the Fiat Pandas and a ten point lead over The Johns.

Stay tuned for next Tuesday's result.

That was the weekend that was

Very quick post. Going out to trivia tonight.

We've got a running trivia competition at our local. It's over six weeks, with the grand prize being a laptop. We're currently neck-and-neck with two other teams, with two weeks to go. How very exciting.

Anyway, the weekend just gone was tops. So tops in fact that I've not got around to writing about it until now. (That and I've been distracted by another semi-religious debate over at Budge's blog).

Ty came down from Sydney on Friday, and we headed over to Mt Franklin for a house party to celebrate Robb and Bianca's tenth wedding anniversay.

The medieval trappings of the ceremony ten years ago were sadly absent. We did, however, pull out the musical instruments and have the odd jam in between the eating and drinking and merriment.

The initial crowd was just Robb and Bianca and me and Ty. This was nice and somewhat symbolic, that being the precise crowd present on the night of my 21st birthday, when Robb and Bianca first met. Bless.

Then Paul arrived (all the way from Shepparton!) and Kate and Budge came along a bit later. And there was much drinking and merriment till the wee hours.

Breakfast on Saturday morning revealed an amusing surplus of bacon. Why was that the one thing that everyone decided they should bring? And why oh why can I still not get "Bacon, bacon, bacon . . . everybody loves bacon . . . " out of my head?

Great party. And a fitting celebration.

Headed back to Melbourne in the afternoon, hoping against hope that the cats had refrained from pissing anywhere in the house. Happily they had not. Hurrah.

Not much else achieved for the rest of the weekend, which was nice.

Although on Sunday did see a great movie called Control, about the tragic life of Ian Curtis. Highly recommended.

Gotta go. Bye.

Thursday, 6 December 2007

Blood and other bodily fluids

It's been an interesting day.

It starts as I'm leaving for work, and my cat Milligan decides to piss in my clothes cupboard.

He doesn't wait til I'm out of the room, or even looking the other way. I open the cupboard to get a shirt and he leaps straight in, almost with an air of "hmph . . . about time" and proceeds to do his thing.

Little bastard, I think. And yell.

It's not even so much the pissing. Well it is. But it's really the appalling lack of respect. I mean to say . . . right in front of me!

When I get to work I realise I still have the faint smell of cat piss on my hands. Very professional.

Apart from that, work is reasonably uneventful. So much so that I leave early(ish) to give some blood at the Red Cross.

Actually, the intention was to give plasma. I'd got a phone call on Monday asking if I would like to donate plasma instead, plasma apparently being the fluid your red blood cells float around in. Well, why not.

The idea is that your blood gets sucked out into a machine, separated into red blood cells and plasma, and the red blood cells get put back into your arm. Takes a bit longer than your average donation. But OK. That's the plan.

I turn up for my appointment, and after flashing my donor card, the nurse asks if I've had my veins checked. There's an embarrassing moment or two when I think she says "bones" instead of "veins" and have a nasty mental image of a marrow donation.

Once that confusion is sorted out, I say no, not as yet, having just walked into the place through that door directly in front of the counter I am now standing at. So I am handed over to another nurse, Cheryl, who asks me the same question. No, I say. I have not had my veins checked.

Well then. Cheryl straps up my left arm and begins to tap tap tap away at a vein. Then she purses her lips. Hmmm. Let's try the other arm.

So the in tube and the out tube both go in the same arm? I ask.

Yes.

Oh. So that arm will be really sore at the end of this.

Yes.

Right.

And again on the right arm. Strap up. Tap tap tap. Purse lips.

Well . . . it's better than the other one.

But still no good?

No. It's borderline, really. I might usually do it, but the computers are down at the moment.

(Pardon? I'm not sure what the logic is here. But I wasn't about to argue with the lady with the needle).

So a regular vanilla blood donation it is for me. I walk back to the office behind Cheryl for the usual pre-donation blood pressure / haemoglobin tests, feeling oddly ashamed. Would there be a drastic lack of essential plasma due to the paltry state of my veins?

Oh no, I am assured.

In fact, they seem dreadfully apologetic that I'm not able to donate plasma. Their manner suggests my heart had clearly been set on the idea and I would be going home terribly disappointed.

Truth be told, I'm going home a little relieved.

The regular donation is . . . well, regular. I have the usual sausage roll and milkshake in the cafe afterwards.

On the way home, I run into Micky walking to the station. Then I run into my wife on the train. We've sent a couple of text messages back and forth before we realise we're on the same train, and actually in the same carriage.

Kate had had an awesome day as it happens, with her 2008 season trend forecasting presentation to their biggest client going down an absolute treat. Well done babe.

And then I arrive home to a pile of cat piss-soaked clothes in the laundry basket.

Life. Don't talk to me about life.

Sunday, 2 December 2007

Xmas Shopping

December is here. Tra la la.

Have you noticed we don't tend to hear the phrase "Only X shopping days til Christmas" so much anymore? I think it's because the number of shopping days now equals the number of calendar days, so it's just not as useful a piece of information.

The halls are decked, the bells are jingling, the nights are silent, and the mangers are away.

Shopping centres are full of the trappings of odd North American Christmas traditions and packed with shoppers eager to spend the minimum possible amount on presents for the minimum possible number of people. After all, there's another interest rate rise on the way.

We hit Highpoint (aka Knifepoint) this afternoon with a view to rolling it all completely. Didn't quite manage that, but we managed to get most of it done.

It was on oddly positive experience, actually. The crowds of great unwashed seemed less grumpy than you might expect. But I guess these are the early birds. The pressure's not on them yet.

I wouldn't be going within an adjacent postcode of the place in the week leading up to the 25th.

So you better hurry. After all, there's only 23 shopping days to go.

Friday, 30 November 2007

Mohammed the Teddy Bear

In the Sudan, British schoolteacher Gillian Gibbons has been sentenced to fifteen days in a Sudanese jail for insulting the prophet Mohammed. Her "crime" was letting the seven-year-olds in her class choose the name Mohammed for a teddy bear.

Apparently the good news is that she was cleared of the charge of blasphemy, which would have resulted in forty lashes.

For anyone outside looking in, this is just another example of the pernicious nature of religion.

Yes, this is an extreme example, and could be argued as being solely a case of religious extremism, not religion per se. But really, it is different only in scale, not in type, from the religions we supposedly feel comfortable with.

At its core, religion is about denying the evidence of your senses in favour of a way of thinking that you have been taught.

Further, religion is about denying your own moral compass (which contrary to what many Christians will tell you, has evolved quite independently from any religion) in favour of a prescribed set of arbitrary rules.

So under Islam, the rule is that you're not to insult the prophet Mohammed. Because it's the state religion, to do so is to risk jail and the lash. And to someone-or-other in power, naming a teddy bear Mohammed is an insult.

Under our Western version of Christianity, you're not to be gay. To do so is to risk isolation from your family and community.

These examples really amount to the same thing. The point is that religion makes otherwise good people reject what they themselves think is correct, in favour of edicts coming from the pulpit.

The practical difference here in our Western culture is that a secular decision has been made to keep state and religion separate. Here you don't get thrown in jail for being gay.

This teddy bear nonsense is the best example we've seen recently of why this is so important.

There are many fond of saying that our nation is founded on Christianity and Christian values. Thank goodness it's not.

If it really were, have no illusions that we would have very similar scenes being played out here.

Monday, 26 November 2007

Haiku

Int'rested in life
Talking to my friends again
Download's been throttled

Sunday, 25 November 2007

Good Result

Got a message from my sister a few hours ago saying "Ding Dong the witch is dead".

Couldn't have put it better myself.

I feel like a weight has been lifted from my shoulders.

I see a bright vision for the future and feel an optimism unlike anything I've felt in years.

I feel like we're on the brink of great and exciting change.

And I hope I won't be disappointed.

Saturday, 24 November 2007

Election Day. Finally.

Here it is, kids. The day we've been leading up to for what seems like forever.

First there was the lead up to the impending last-possible-day for calling an election, and much discussion on when it would be. (I still think it would have been funny to call it for January, making the Kevin07 campaign redundant).

Then once the date had been set, there was all the speculation over an interest rate rise mid-campaign ("it's unprecedented!!" screamed the headlines) and Costello's boast to ABC's Jon Faine that there would be no rate rise in October. Oops.

There was the odd amusing gaffe, like Abbott saying "bullshit" to Nicola Roxon (not an odd thing to say to a politician, but in front of CAMERAS??) and Peter Garrett speaking to that poisonous dwarf Steve Price in the QANTAS Chairman's lounge (in front of RICHARD WILKINS??). But on the whole such amusements were few and far between.

The whole thing has been very tightly controlled.

The whole campaign has in fact, from both sides, been solely about scaring people into not voting for the other lot. Actual policies and promises are out there, but you have to go looking for them. They're certainly not what you see on the TV ads.

Anyway, I'm bored talking about it and I'm bored thinking about it.

And I'm sure you're bored reading about it.

Go vote.

And cross your fingers.

Thursday, 22 November 2007

Slightly Pished

Never done a blog under the influence before, so this should be interesting.

One of the few joys of corporate existence is the occasional lunches. Just got home from a big one. Yeah.

Today it was an end-of-the-year-not-Xmas-party-cos-the-budget-won't-allow-for-Xmas-party lunch that wound up at around 9.30 this evening. Which isn't too bad.

It doubled as a farewell for Jennifer, a lovely lady who's been working with us here in Melbourne for all of ten months, and has decided that Paris is more fun and she's going back.

While I can't argue with the reasoning it's . . . no.
I just can't argue with that.

Lunch was in Docklands and there was much beer, wine, merriment and average-to-good food. (Actually, it was just around the corner from where our new building is. We'll be moving offices a few weeks . . . stay tuned for that one).

The point I wanted to make is, it never ceases to amaze me that there can be such a lack of engagement with people in what is essentially a purely social setting.

I know that these are colleagues. I know that this is a quasi-work function. But for Gods' sake people . . . loosen up!

Is it just that I work with a bunch of right-wing fuckers? Possibly. It's white-collar corporate after all.
But does that mean they have no souls?? They're still people aren't they??

I'm not so sure anymore.

Question heard over the course over lunch: "Who are you voting for?"
Response (not me): "Oh. You know. Does it matter? Someone needs to explain to me the difference between Labor and Liberal."

While I have expressed similar sentiments in a jocular/satirical fashion, this gobsmacked me. Because it was seriously put, and represented a genuine misunderstanding.

And not just misunderstanding. But a lack of willingness to attempt to understand.
A lack of care for the difference.

My feelings on this at the moment are quite extreme.

If the Coalition is returned on Saturday, I will seriously consider renouncing my citizenship to this country. I do not think I could handle another four years under the rule of this backward-looking crowd of hyper-conservatives.

Under Howard's Coalition, Australia has become mean, obsessive, selfish and xenophobic.

I used to be proud of my country. I used to honestly believe that we were unique in the world. That we were the one place that would accept with open arms those that came to us for help.

And at one point I think it was true. But it's not anymore.

We have all the riches in the world. With all the mineral wealth under the ground we are easily the richest per-capita country there is.

So why are our indigenous people living in such poverty? Why do we have sick people waiting on trolleys in hospital corridors? And why do we turn away those desperate souls that risk travel in leaky boats in a soul-searing attempt to seek our aid?

And why-oh-why are our average workaday people obsessing about such eldritch concepts as "interest rates"??!

Who is responsible for this ridiculously dysfunctional system?

Answer: we are.
We as a society have demanded bigger TVs and bigger houses and funkier clothes.
And if you draw out the line on the graph, this is where its gets you.

Anyway, I tried to explain this to my colleagues and was met with blank stares.

But maybe it was just the pish talking.

Sunday, 18 November 2007

Fun With Anagrams

One of my favourite websites is the Internet Anagram Server.

Here you can put in any word or phrase, and it will work out for you some amusing, and sometimes revealing, anagrams.

They have an anagram hall of fame, including such classics as

"Eleven plus two" =
"Twelve plus one"

and

"President Clinton of the USA" =
"To copulate he finds interns".

But this is all about me, so putting in the title of the blog I get

"I Like Portello" =
"Lo, Killer Poet I"

which is nice, or

"Musings of a Beta Nerd" =
"Bad Refs In A Smug Tone",

which is probably a little more accurate.

But the best comes when we put it all together, and find that

"I Like Portello Musings of a Beta Nerd" =
"I Am Foreseeing A Troubled Poll Stink".

Spooky.

Thursday, 15 November 2007

Santa's Ho's

There's been some controversy in suburbia. A decision has been taken by some Australian department-store Santa suppliers that the fat man should refrain from saying "ho ho ho".

The reasons given: it could be interpreted as being derogatory to women, and it could scare the kids.

Of course, the first one is the real reason. While this is patently stupid, here in Australia we're actually lagging about 12 months behind the US on this point. The same mandate came down for stores over there last Christmas. And then, as now, it was a simple case of legal arse-covering.

It's interesting that somewhere along the line, someone's decided to make up a second reason. Just in case the first doesn't seem sufficient.

And I would like to take issue with this second reason. I put it to you that a big fat dude in a bright red fur-trimmed coat and enormous white beard is a scary image for kids anyway. The Ho Ho Ho has nothing to do with it. Anything the guy says has a good chance of freaking them out.

Besides, kids sitting on Santa's knee and bawling their eyes out while mum and dad look on proudly is an important Christmas tradition. Isn't it?

If you're going to follow the don't-scare-the-kiddies line of logic then you'd have to get rid of the fat man altogether, and replace him with your favourite Disney character. (I'll let you consider the logistics of sitting on Nemo's knee)

Anyway, the point is that this got me thinking about Santa in the context of our Judaeo-Christian traditions. I do this sort of thing.

It's always been a little incongruous to me that Santa, a pagan figure, is so synonymous with Christmas and the celebration of the birth of Christ.

I know that the aligning the these traditions is the result of various historical political conveniences, but what I'm interested in is why it has been continued. Even the deeply devout appear to have no problem attending mass one day and opening the pressies from Santa the next.

But maybe the ongoing tradition of the Santa figure has a lot more to do with our modern view of Christianity than we might think.

I put it to you that Santa is actually promoted to children, deliberately or otherwise, as a kind of proto-Jesus.

It's all there when you think about it: he's watching all the time. He knows when you've been bad or good. You can ask him for things that you want, and he rewards your good behaviour.

Growing up with an awareness of this mythical creature, who behaves in this very specific way, primes a child's mind for later belief in God/Jesus. And this is why the Santa legend has been allowed to continue comfortably alongside the Christian tradition of Christmas.

Of course, the bits missing from the Santa legend are the terrible punishments for bad behaviour (although past incarnations of Santa would leave a lump of coal in the stocking . . . a threatening reference to the fires of Hell?) and there isn't a corresponding evil Satan figure.

But that's fair enough.

After all, we don't want to scare the kids.

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

Rezoning

After years of waiting, the 1980s series of The Twilight Zone has finally been released on DVD.

I eagerly ran out to buy season one on the weekend, hoping against hope that it wasn't just the nostalgia talking . . . that it would be as good as I remembered it. And I'm pleased to say, it is.

When I was a kid I used to stay up late on Friday nights to watch it on TV. Because it was on so late, I'd often nod off while watching it, but I tried. Goddammit I tried.

It's remained very special to me, being one of the TV shows that got me in to science fiction in a big way, along with Doctor Who, Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy and the original Battlestar Galactica.

Of course The Twilight Zone wasn't all sci-fi, featuring as it did healthy doses of fantasy, horror, and good old 1980s nuclear paranoia. But it's the sci-fi stories that stayed with me, and rewatching them over the last few days has been like getting reacquainted with an old friend.

And tonight I even nodded off on the couch while I was watching it.

Ah, good times.

Monday, 12 November 2007

Star Trek Rebooted

The cast of the eleventh Star Trek movie has been announced. And as is often the case with these nerdy sorts of things, the announcements have been spread out over a couple of months.

Presumably this is because if they were done all at once, the chaos resulting from millions of simultaneous worldwide geekgasms would cause the universe to implode.

The other possibility is that the extreme level of interest in this project, particularly following director J.J. Abrams' success with Alias and Lost, has meant that every tiny little detail is pored over in great detail. So it just seems like it's taken ages.

This is a prequel to the original series, and reportedly a complete reboot of the canon. The nerds are understandably wary about this, and gathering in jittery packs around the net, eyes darting nervously around them as they discuss precisely what this might mean. Abrams seems determined to do things his own way, so it could mean anything.

As if to make his mark clearly, Abrams has, in a marked deviation from previous Star Trek incarnations, not filled the cast with a bunch of complete unknowns.

We have Zachary Quinto (Sylar from Heroes) as Spock, John Cho (Harold of Harold and Kumar) as Sulu, Karl Urban as Dr McCoy and the brilliant Simon Pegg as Scotty. Supporting players include Eric Bana, the marvellous Bruce Greenwood and Winona Ryder as Spock's mum.

Leonard Nimoy has scored a cameo as Old Spock, but it's yet to be confirmed if Shatner will be joining him. While it would be good to see Shatner in there, it could be awkward. Kirk's heroic death in Generations doesn't leave a lot of wiggle room for a credible cameo.

They better give him something, though. Otherwise he'll parachute onto the set claiming he Fell.

Through.

A wormhole.

I'm optimistic that it'll turn out well. Abrams is a good director and it's got a strong cast, so signs are positive.

But it's a long time until the planned release date of 11 January 2009, so anything could happen.

Sunday, 11 November 2007

Increasing Rates of Disinterest

All this talk about interest rates is starting to get on my nerves. There's been an awful lot of hot air and spin, and very little in the way of facts.

So here's my contribution. I'll let you decide which category it falls into.

The view on the right way to manage the holy trinity of inflation, interest rates and money supply has changed a lot over the last fifty years, particularly in Australia.

In 1996, it was decided that interest rates would be the lever used to control inflation. Prior to this, inflation was controlled by increasing or decreasing the money supply, or by changing various taxation bases. Interest rates were more or less left to their own devices (unless macroeconomic intervention was desperately needed, like Keating's "recession we had to have").

This fact makes recent comparisons between historical interest rates, and which political party happened to be in power at the time, somewhat spurious. And those using this tactic for political gain know this better than anyone else.

Before the 2004 election, interest rates were at record lows and the Coalition, under Mr Howard, won that election by claiming that they would keep them that way. Now interest rates are going up, and they've had to find another angle.

When Mr Howard says that interest rates are up because inflation is up, he's right. When he says inflation is up because the economy is doing well, he's sort of right, but he's starting to lay some spin.

Inflation goes up when demand is up, which can be good. It shows confidence. What is not good right now is that demand is actually outstripping supply. We have demand all over the economy for goods and services, which cannot be met. This is a simple case of limited resources. Or in econo-speak, a lack of capacity.

There aren't enough tradies to build the houses people want. There aren't enough accountants to count all the money flying around. There isn't enough manufacturing power to make all the shit people want to buy.

And it is this economic capacity that is the Government's responsibility. And it is in this area that they have failed.

Mr Howard likes the image of the Government of the day standing proudly on the stern of the economic ship, its hand firmly on the rudder. He does his level best to project this image via the media.

It's all rubbish of course. The only real way the Government can influence interest rates is indirectly, by influencing inflation. And the only way it can do that is either by reducing wages through its IR policies, investing in economic capacity, or increasing taxes.

And here's the point: the only real difference between the Coalition and the Labor party is that the Coalition is all about the first option (which we've seen through their changes to the IR laws) and the Labour party is (or at least claims to be) all about the second. Neither of them are likely to do the third anytime soon.

When Howard promised lower interest rates during the 2004 election, he was thinking that his planned decimation of the IR laws would be enough to achieve his promise for him.

Mr Howard seems to place no stock at all in the value of economic capacity. He's banked everything on his IR changes, which are so deeply unpopular that they're unlikely to last in their intended, draconian, form. And even if they did, they still wouldn't be enough on their own.

So whichever party wins the election on the 24th, we better start seeing some serious investment in infrastructure and education very soon afterwards.

If we don't, then regardless of who wins, it's all looking a little bleak.

Saturday, 10 November 2007

A Redesign

Thanks to my lovely wife for the amazing redesign of the site.
Isn't she just amazingly talented?

And a brief explanation on the subtitle:

A beta nerd is a person who aspires to be an alpha nerd, but just can't quite get there.

Alpha nerddom is, of course, the realm of such luminaries as Jon Stewart, Dr Karl, Richard Dawkins and They Might Be Giants.

I dare not claim to be in such company.
I am not worthy to load their pocket protectors.

They lead the way.
They light the path.

And we can but follow.

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

Melbourne Cup Day

Is Melbourne the only city in the world that gives its citizens a day off for a horse race? Probably not, but surely this isn't normal behaviour.

I occasionally feel guilty for taking this day off, given that I have no interest in horse racing whatsoever. But that's only for about a second. Then I roll over and go back to sleep.

It's interesting, though. And I suppose it fits with Australia's image as a nation of punters. But the average sports talk in the office during the average week is not horse racing. It's footy. So why don't we get a day off for the Grand Final?

I guess at some point, an event like the Melbourne Cup reaches a kind of critical mass, where those who aren't really interested talk about it just because everyone else does.

We see the same thing with any amount of other empty-headed media fodder, like when stories about Britney Spears seem to take precedence over everything else.

Recently, it's been the lighter side of the Australian federal election coverage. Sure it's important, but how much is fluff, spin and clearly "non-core" promises, and how much is credible reporting of political intentions?

Our fine media outlets have even managed to put an election spin on the Cup, showing Howard looking sour because he backed a loser, and Rudd raising his beer high in celebration of backing the winner. Is it an omen?? Ho hum.

Oh, and in other news, some people died someplace.

Tuesday, 30 October 2007

Aunt Betty

Kate's great-aunt Betty passed away on Sunday morning.

Betty was the younger sister of Mavis Jean, my wife's beloved grandmother who passed away in February. For Kate's family, Betty was the last of her generation.

We went to Bendigo this afternoon for Betty's funeral. It was just a small family affair, short and simple. No fuss. Just as Betty wanted it.

From a child in Echuca, to a lady about town in Melbourne, to a farmer's wife in Marong, to an amusingly sarcastic senior citizen (you know . . . one of those cool old people we all hope we get to be), Betty always lived life to the full. It sounds twee to say it, but with Betty it was really true.

Her husband Jack died in 1989, and she spent the last years of her life in her little house in Kangaroo Flat, looking after her garden and her dogs. It was somewhere you could always go for a nice cup of tea and a chat.

(Actually, Betty and I bonded over our love of a nice cup of tea. And Betty's wedding present when Kate and I were married in March . . . was a genuine 50s anodised teapot. We use it every single day.)

Betty would sometimes drop in when we were visiting with Mavis. It was beautiful seeing the two sisters together. They would tell stories about being young ladies in Melbourne during the war. They worked together in a cake factory during the week, and came into the city every Friday night for the dance at the Town Hall. They would spend their shillings on new dresses, and their dance cards would always be full.

When Mavis died earlier this year, Betty didn't come to the funeral. But everyone understood this. She would do her grieving in private, thank you very much.

And last Tuesday she had a massive stroke in her home. When they got her to the hospital, it was clear that she wasn't going to recover.

In her final hours her family stayed by her side. She passed away peacefully on Sunday morning.

We'll miss you Betty.

I Believe

I believe that religion is the greatest evil to ever befall this Earth. No other single thing has caused so much death and suffering.

I believe that religion is used as a tool by the powerful to exploit the powerless.

I believe that religion suppresses thought, knowledge, and ultimately wisdom.

I believe that there is no reliable objective evidence to support any religion. I believe all we ever have is the subjective word of the faithful.

I believe the philosophies of the Bible and the Koran have been irreparably corrupted by those who claim to believe in them.

And I believe that in a thousand years what we know as Christianity, Islam and Judaism will be as irrelevant and quaint as the ancient Gods of Greece and Rome are today.

Sunday, 28 October 2007

Daniel Kitson in C-90

Last night we saw Daniel Kitson perform his show C-90 at the Fairfax theatre in the city.

I can say quite unashamedly that I love Daniel Kitson. At his Comedy Festival gig back in April, I was blown away by his combination of self-deprecating, almost daggy, persona combined with an amazingly surreal outlook on life. That and the fact that I laughed so much I was slightly sore the next day.

C-90 is not really stand-up, being a fully scripted one-man show. But it's not really a play either. It's more like an extended storytelling session with a set and some basic but effective lighting.

The story of C-90 is simple and beautiful. Henry works alone in an office cataloguing and filing discarded mix tapes. He's lost his passion for the work, but on his last day in the office, he receives a tape personally addressed to him. It's a 90-minute tape; a C-90. He listens to it, and it is a revelation. It rekindles his passion for his work. And starts him on a quest to find who sent it. But it's his last day, so he doesn't have much time.

And that's it. The beauty of the show is in the detail. Like the fact that it's Henry's last day because business in the mix-tape cataloguing business has inexplicably dropped off.

And the fact that Henry has never listened to any of the mix tapes he's filed, but can tell you in great detail about each one's manufacture, the type of paper used for the inlay card, and the gender of the person who owned it by the way the it smells. The only reason he's able to listen to the tape he's sent is that it's been sent along with a tape player.

I just can't say enough nice things about this show. It's funny, clever, poignant, sad, surreal, well-written, well-told and heartfelt.

Last night was Kitson's final ever performance of the show, which he has been doing on-and-off in between stand-up gigs, for the last eighteen months.

It's a beautiful piece of work. I only hope it gets a new life through some sort of recording.

Even if it's only on C-90 tape. I'd buy a tape recorder for that.

Friday, 26 October 2007

Widening the Western

On Wednesday Kevin Rudd announced that if elected, he will provide $1 billion in funding to widen the Western Ring Road and strengthen the Westgate Bridge.

The reason given (apart from the usual rhetoric about "investing in the future") is that it will reduce congestion. Pardon my cynicism, but a couple of important points need to be made here.

First, any first-year civil engineering student knows that you don't reduce congestion by widening roads. You just get more cars, and you're back where you started within five years. (In fact, anyone twelve-year-old who's played Sim City knows this.)

Second, why strengthen the Westgate bridge? It's not old enough to be needing that sort of maintenance yet. Unless you're expecting substantially more vehicles.

Or substanitally heavier vehicles. Which leads me to my third point: the imminent dredging of Port Phillip Bay.

Dredging and deepening the bay will allow more (and bigger) container ships into Melbourne's ports, which will mean a lot more trucks running through Melbourne's western suburbs. (This was the subject of many a scare campaign during the recent Williamstown by-election).

And that's what this is really all about.

The road is being widened and the bridge strengthened to allow for all the extra truck traffic. And actually, that's fine, and a perfectly valid reason for widening the road and strengthening the bridge, so why not be upfront about it?

Obviously, because it won't be popular. Promising to put extra trucks on the roads is just not sexy, and now's not the time to be pissing off voters in the safe-ish ALP seats of Gorton and Lalor. Much better to say it's all about giving you, dear voter, an easier run into work.

Political spin aside, the lack of vision this displays is extraordinary. Suburbs in the west are going through an unprecedented residential boom. With all the extra trucks expected, it will soon become clear that the road simply cannot be made wide enough.

But it's not necessarily Mr Rudd's fault. He's just stumping up the funding. It's the Victorian government that's in charge of the roads. They're the ones that have made the call on what they want.

Of course, if they were serious about congestion on the Western Ring Road, they'd put a train line out to Caroline Springs and extend the Werribee line to Wyndham Vale or Tarneit. Alternatively, they could run a new satellite train line along the length of the Western Ring Road, and connect the Werribee Line to Broadmeadows via Tullamarine airport.

(Having just spent some time in European cities where a train to the airport is standard, I find it a little embarrassing that we don't have one).

Now that would reduce traffic.

And they're going to be compulsorily acquiring land anyway, so why not put it to good use?

Thursday, 25 October 2007

Oktoberfest

One of the reinsurance companies we deal with at work is based in Germany, and every year they invite us, their clients, to celebrate Oktoberfest.

The part was last night, which is about a week after the Oktoberfest celebrations finish in the Fatherland . . . I'm not sure why this is. It may be because it affords their MC the opportunity to tell amusing stories about Australians at (the real) Oktoberfest.

Being a roomful of Finance nerds, these amusing stories mainly took the form of recounted statistics, such as the fact that of the 600 passports reported lost, 150 of them were Australian. And of the 100 babies breastfed in the rooms provided, none of them were Australian (the obvious conclusion being that Australians had fed their kids on beer).

A bewildering array of other further statistics were offered, some humorous, some not. It soon got to the point where I was having flashbacks to our company actuarial dinner earlier in the year.

Fortunately, we had been handed a 500ml stein on arrival and pointed to the bar where they had DÄB on tap. That went quite some way towards making the whole thing a little more bearable.

Anyway, once the speeches were done and the band had started up, the rest of the evening was made up of the typical sort of small talk that goes on at this type of thing. It wasn't all bad, though. I did get to catch up with a few people who've moved on to other companies and that I haven't seen in a while.

The food was also excellent, but oh-so-German. It was all bratwurst, sauerkraut, sausages as thick as your wrist and bread that would leave a hefty dint in the floor if you dropped it. Dessert was strudel and black forest cake and jam doughnuts.

So full. So so full.

All in all, it was fun. But of course, there was something of an ulterior motive beyond the free food and beer.

In previous years this particular company has generously provided tickets to the Australian Open Tennis. So over the course of the evening there was a certain amount of talking to and smiling at the right people. And when I got to work this morning, I sent an email thanking them kindly for the invitation.

I'll let you know how that turns out.

Sunday, 21 October 2007

Copenhagen

We left Brussells early on Wednesday morning. Still can't shake the feeling that Brussells is just Amsterdam without the sense of humour. The feeling remained as we headed back to Amsterdam (briefly) to catch a short flight to Copenhagen.

Our first impressions of Copenhagen were that the airport was nice and clean and very well laid out. Continuing that thought, the trains to the city were new and efficient. The central train station was well-looked after and the roads a brilliant example of how to seamlessly integrate cars, buses and bikes. This is a town that definitely knows how to do public transport.

Going further, the buildings are cool (Danish design, don't you know), the people are friendly and the coffee is excellent. Basically, within half-an-hour of arriving, Kate had decided she wants to live there. I had to agree.

If Brussells is Amsterdam without the sense of humour, Copenhagen is Amsterdam with a better sense of style.

On Thursday morning we had breakfast at Meyer's Cafe, around the corner from the hotel. We just stumbled upon it, and later found that it was recommended by Wallpaper* magazine as the place to have breakfast if you're only in Copenhagen for one day. Yay us.

Next we took a cruise around the canals and the harbour to look at all the great architecture. This is a town where the arts are valued much more highly than sports. Therefore, the major capital works currently underway include a new theatre and opera house by the water. My kinda town. Finally, a quick visit to the Museum of Art in the botanical gardens (quick because we only had about 45 minutes before they closed).

Friday morning we enjoyed the free organic breakfast at the hotel (organic also was the shampoo in the room and the beer in the bar) before deciding to go to Sweden for lunch. As you do.

The train from Copenhagen to Malmo on the west coast of Sweden only takes about 40 minutes. Had some lunch, did some shopping (particularly at department store H&M - we need one of those in Australia) and headed back.

Friday night was "Culture Night" in Copenhagen. This is a once-a-year event where all the museums and a bunch of culturally important places are open free until midnight. We looked around the ruins under Christiansborg Palace, which has been repeatedly burnt/pulled down, and rebuilt, over the last few centuries. We also saw the Design Centre (where it is clearly established that every cool modern design you can think of is Danish) and the National Museum. The latter was a little dull, but the actors swanning around in period dress and 3-foot hairstyles were moderately entertaining.

Saturday was then all about doing the last few things we felt we must do before leaving. These were to visit a flea market in Fredriksborg (shades of the dodgy market in Brussells . . . see previous post), visit Christianshavn (supposedly an experimental free state, but more like a Little Amsterdam in the city) and finally a visit to the Museum of Erotica. The latter was interesting, particularly with its details on the sex lives of celebrities, and lots of very cool vintage images.

And that's it. We left on Sunday morning in definite agreement with Mr Andersen . . . Wonderful, Wonderful Copenhagen.

The remainder of the trip was just 35 hours transit back to Melbourne, including 7ish-hour layovers in Amsterdam (where we met up with Shannon again) and Kuala Lumpur. Details on the trip home vary between those that are too dull for discussion, and those that have been withheld to protect the innocent. Nuff said, really.

And now some photos.

Canals in Copenhagen


New Copenhagen Opera House


The Baltic Sea between Copenhagen and Malmo, taken from the train window. In the distance is a bank of wind turbines (Danish designed, of course). These contribute to the 19% of the nation's power that comes from wind, and to the city's plan to be carbon-neutral by 2025.


Awesome hairstyles on display in the National Museum. It brings to mind Jennifer Saunders' effort in the excellent Let Them Eat Cake. Except on Ms Saunders' ship the cannons actually fired.


Not as many bikes as Amsterdam, but still a good effort. Apparently only 20% of city residents actually drive to work.


Christianshavn streetscape.


Spiral tower in Christianshavn.


Fountain near the main shopping strip. No water restrictions in Denmark.


Finally, the layover in Amsterdam. Well you wouldn't just hang around the airport, would you?


And that's it. Arrived back home early on Tuesday morning, local time. Back to reality.

Hope you've enjoyed our travels.

Saturday, 20 October 2007

Paris and Brussells

I've been back home for a few days, so the holiday diary now seems a little superfluous. However, I hate to leave it incomplete.

After leaving Tourtoirac, Kate, Shannon and I hopped a train to Paris. Sarah and Greg were staying in the south for a few more days, before heading off to Spain and Italy.

We arrived in Paris in the late afternoon on Sunday, and would be leaving early on Tuesday morning. So we would have only one full day, and a checklist of things to do. This was to see the three cathedrals: Notre Dame, Sacré Coeur and Sainte-Chapelle, go shopping in Place des Vosges and go to a cemetery. Not really important which one, but we did want to see at least one dead celebrity.

(We ended up going to Montmartre cemetery, because this was the closest to our hotel. Celebrity spotting was limited to Alexandre Dumas and Hector Berlioz. Hmmm. Might try the one with Jim Morrison next time.)

We actually did manage to do all of these things, as well as fit in some overpriced coffee, a nice lunch and a nice dinner. The dinner would have been better if we hadn't been accosted by some obnoxious Aussie tourists who insisted on talking to us about the way Parisians treat their pets, but still.

The cathedrals were all appropriately spectacular, particularly the stained-glass windows in Sainte-Chapelle.

Tuesday morning we took the train north to Brussells, where we farewelled our travelling companion Shannon, who was off to explore Rotterdam and then Berlin.

Brussells was not really what we expected. Being the capital of Europe (apparently) and the home of the UN, I was expecting something like Canberra, or at least The Hague. What we saw was more like Footscray expanded out to an entire city.

This is not necessarily a problem, as I happen to like Footscray. It's just not what I was expecting.

We would be in Brussells for less than 24 hours. The aim (well, my aim) was to bask in all things Tintin as much as possible. Kate had heard about a street market near our hotel, so that seemed like a good place to start.

Once we found it, it turned out to be a combination of people selling very cool vintage furniture and objêts, and others flogging utter unmitigated junk. Seriously, some of the stalls looked like someone had upended their third-drawer-down on a blanket. Not much Tintin, sadly.

But nearby was a Tintin merchandise shop, where we could admire a €3,000 signed poster, cels from the 1980s TV show, and various sketches and whatnot from Studio Hergé. Inspired by this, and receiving directions from the store owner, I then headed out to the comic book museum. (Kate respectfully declined to join me.)

And it was simply fantastic. Comprehensive histories of Belgian and other international cartoonists (lots on Hergé, natch), their creations, and more detail than you might care to know about the development of comic styles over time. Budge, you would have loved it.

When I got back to the hotel, Kate and I went for a wander through the backstreets, as we tend to do. We found Katje's Kitchen, a great little restaurant run by an expat Dutch guy. Great food, great atmosphere. If you find yourself in Brussells, drop in.

Left the next morning for Copenhagen, which will be covered in the next exiting instalment.

And now some photos . . .

Drinks in Paris.


Paris red-light district, featuring the Moulin Rouge. The queue outside goes for blocks.


Saints outside Notre Dame. The fifth from the left looks like my father-in-law Russell. No, really.


Outside Sainte-Chapelle cathedral.


Stained-glass windows inside Sainte-Chapelle.


The view over Paris from the front steps of Sacré Coeur.


My personal shrine. Tintin mural at Brussells Midi train station.


Brussells streetscape.


Dinner at Katje's Kitchen.

Monday, 15 October 2007

Photos from Tourtoirac

Back online after a bit of a break. Since the last post we've been through Paris, Brussels, Copenhagen, and back to Amsterdam (briefly). Right now I'm sitting in Kuala Lumpur airport waiting for the final leg of the flight home to Melbourne.

Lots of updates to make, but I figured I'd start where I left off.

Not a lot happened during the rest of the stay in Tourtoirac. Activities mainly consisted of visiting other small towns, markets and Cathedrals, and playing cards by the pool.

The chateau in Hautefort was a definite highlight (see previous post) as was the medical museum in Hautefort. The medical museum presented a decidedly creepy history of European medicine over the last 400 years or so, in a building that had variously been used as a hospice for plague patients, and orphanage and a nunnery.

We also visited the caves of Lascaux, which feature an astonishing array of (approximately) 17,000-year old Cro-Magnon cave paintings. They were accidentally discovered in 1940 when a dog being walked through the forest fell into the caves through a hole in the ground. The caves were opened as a tourist attraction a few years later, but closed in the 1960s as exposure to humans has led to a fungus or some such growing on the paintings and destroying them.

Not being keen to let all those tourist dollars disappear, the operators have meticulously recreated the caves and the paintings (known as Lascaux II) and run guided tours through them. It's sterling work, and if they didn't tell you they were recreations you wouldn't necessarily pick it.

On the Friday we went canoeing down the river Auvezere, which runs through Tourtoirac. The water was low, in fact never more than about a metre deep, so the life jackets we were wearing seemed a little superfluous. A couple of times we actually had to get out and drag the canoes around as we were getting caught on rocks.

Our final night, Saturday, was celebrated with our lovely host Jo, her husband John, and a gaggle of ex-pat Australians, some of whom had settled locally and some that were just passing through. Great night, and a fitting end to a lovely stay.

Here's some photos from Tourtoirac and surrounds.

Lunch at the Medieval Cafe in Hautefort. From left: Russell, the top of Sarah's head, Jill, me, the back of Greg's head, and Shannon.


The beautifully named Bastard's Walk in Hautefort. Named after the Baron and Baroness de Bastard who lived there. I'm not making this up.


The eponymous chateau at Hautefort, location of the film Ever After. (Note: that's Sarah, not Drew Barrymore)


Gardens at Hautefort chateau. This is actually a contraband shot, as cameras were verboten. I'm going to hell.


Monastery at Brantome, location of unseemly activities by the monks.


Bridges in Brantome. (Note the smoke on the water behind the bridge. Bauw bauw bauw . . . bauw-bauw bauw-bauw . . . etc)


Cathedral at Brantome.


Thousand-year-old cathedral in the village of St. Jean de Cole.

Tuesday, 2 October 2007

Tourtoirac

Well, that's it for Amsterdam. After three days we'd pretty much seen all there was to see (it's not very big after all) and on Thursday Kate and Shannon and I took the train to Rotterdam.

Being Holland's major port, Rotterdam was almost bombed out of existence in WW2, and so has been almost entirely rebuilt in the last 60 years. We took a cruise around the city ports, looking at the buildings and architecture, including the very few that had survived.

On Saturday morning we left Amsterdam early to catch a sequence of trains to Thiviers in the south of France. The first was a Eurail to Paris, the second a Paris metro, the third a regional train to Limoges and the last a very regional train to Thiviers.

Given we had a few delays, it's astonishing that at the end of the day we were a grand total of five minutes late. The main issue was queuing for tickets at the Paris metro, which meant we made the train to Limoges with only three minutes to spare. That was close. Then the train to Limoges was stopped for about twenty minutes outside what looked like an army barracks. (The popular theory was that some miscreant was being hauled off to be shot. Whatever . . . we kept playing cards). Fortunately, the train to Thiviers was also delayed, and then sped the rest of the way, so we ended up being more or less on time.

From Thiviers we were driven in style (well, in a rented 4WD crammed in with all our luggage) to Tourtoirac. Here we're all staying in a converted barn, which is actually a lot nicer than it sounds, with Kate's parents.

The days since arriving have consisted of visiting pretty little French villages like Brantome and Hautefort, eating baguettes and croissants, wearing berets and striped t-shirts and playing the accordion. You know the type of thing.

The most interesting bit so far has been Hautefort, which is the site of a 12th century fortress that's been destroyed and rebuilt numerous times over the centuries. It's all very fairy-tale-looking, and so was used as the set for the movie Ever After. After visiting the castle we went back to the house to watch the movie, going oooh look that's the topiary etc. Ah, holidays.

Not a lot to report from here, really. This is the kickin-back part of the journey. On Sunday we'll be heading off for Paris for a few nights, followed by Copenhagen.

Photos from Amsterdam

Very early morning arrival in Amsterdam Schipol airport.


Early morning in the streets of Amsterdam. The slight lean on the buildings is not an optical illusion and not due to the camera angle. Amsterdam is all built on marshy ground and as far as I can see, subject to imminent collapse into the mud.


Waiting outside the apartment for the agent. Ours is the one to the right of the red doors. Note all the bikes.


One of many canals. Pronounced "cay-nells" or alternatively (if they're not nearby) "far canals". That's hilarious after a few days in Amsterdam.


One of many windmills.


One of many coffeeshop visits. Note the name of the shop behind the window. You know you're in Amsterdam when.


Amsterdam tram. Pretty much the same as the Melbourne variety, but a little more reliable.


Building site near the Van Gogh museum. The crane is dropping part of the new building's foundation, which is a steel girder about 5 storeys high. This is what it takes to get buildings on a solid footing.

Thursday, 27 September 2007

Amsterdam

Here we are in Amsterdam.

The trip was long, but pleasantly uneventful. Even the 1-hour layover in Singapore, which had the potential for a bit of Race-Around-the-World style airport dashing, was straightforward, mainly because we arrived from Melbourne half an hour early.

We got into Amsterdam at about 5.30am on Monday, breezed through Customs (which makes sense . . . who's going to smuggle anything into Amsterdam?) and caught a double-decker train into the city.

We weren't going to be able to check into our apartment until about midday. But that'll be ok, we thought. Surely a party town like Amsterdam never sleeps.

Actually, it does. Between about 4am and midday on Monday is when everyone seems to recover from the rest of the week. Nothing opens until midday. In the three days we've been here we've not seen the place as dead as it was when we first arrived.

Eventually we find our apartment, get in touch with the agent, and get them to let us in. Like most Amsterdam houses (and people), it's tall and thin. The staircase is about 80cm wide and goes up at an angle of 70 degrees. No point wasting space on things like staircases. This'll be tricky after a big night out, I thinks to myself.

(Side note: apparently it's a tax thing. Between 1200 and 1900 or thereabouts people were taxed on the width of their houses, so the standard house design is tall, deep and thin. You can tell the really rich areas cos it's where the houses are wide.)

Tuesday we decide to get a bit of culture (it can't all be red-light district, can it?) and go to the Van Gogh museum. Actually, it was only Sarah and Greg and I that went. We lost Kate and Shannon in some market along the way. I think deliberately on their part.

The Van Gogh museum was interesting, but clearly made up of the bits and pieces no-one else wants. None of the really famous painting are there, except for Irises and one of the Sunflowerses (but not the good one). It was all arranged in chronological order though, so you can see him getting madder and madder. Which was nice.

What amazed me was that he was only 37 when he topped himself. He looks about 70 in those self-portaits.

This morning we took a cruise around the canals. The cool thing about Amsterdam is that you're never more than a block away from a water view. The uncool thing is that it's also the sewer and serves as a reminder that it's all going to disappear under the ocean before the century's out. Still, we can enjoy it while it lasts.

Or maybe they can make the dykes bigger. Actually, now that I think about it, Amsterdam will probably be the one place to survive the rising oceans, given it's already below sea level.

That's about it for the moment. Sorry about the lack of photos. Unfortunately, I can't seem to upload from this particular net cafe. We've taken a bunch, though, so stay tuned.

Sunday, 23 September 2007

Itinerary

So here's our itinerary.
We'll be flying out this afternoon.

Sept 24 to 28 - Amsterdam

Sept 29 to Oct 6 - Tourtoirac, France

Oct 7 & 8 - Paris

Oct 9 - Brussels

Oct 10 to 14 - Copenhagen

That's it.
See you in the funny pages.

Saturday, 22 September 2007

War of the Worlds

Robb and I went along to see War of the Worlds at Rod Laver Arena last night. And I have to say, it was absolutely the best live glam rock show adapted from a classic science fiction novel that I've ever seen.

Released back in 1978, Jeff Wayne's musical version of The War of the Worlds went on to become one of the biggest selling albums of all time (well, top 100 anyway), and has gathered a cult following that lingers even today.

It's a double-album suite of music, with H.G. Wells' story narrated by the mellifluous tones of the Richard Burton. (Mellifluousness appears to be a requirement for this role . . . Spielberg got Morgan Freeman to do it in his recent adaptation). On top of this, the original album featured a who's-who of 70s rock, with Justin Hayward, David Essex, Chris Thompson from Manfred Mann's Earth Band and Phil Lynott from Thin Lizzy.

The music is all late-70s rock with wah-wah guitars, distorted bass and synthesised keyboards. It's cheesy in parts, but I'm guessing that was the case when it first came out. Burton's narration brings a gravitas to proceedings, and it was great that they kept it intact for the live show. Unfortunately, the CGI Richard Burton hovering above the stage was a little more Max Headroom than Marc Antony at times.

Still, the band was amazing, as you'd expect. Hearing the music played live was great and they certainly did it justice.

There was a giant screen at the back of the stage showing various images of the story. There were the Victorian-era paintings featured in the original album, along with some new CGI images. Some bits worked better than other. The Red Weed movement at the start of Act II was stunning, with simple but intensely creepy animations of wispy weeds crawling over the land. The Heat Ray bit near the start was less successful, with confused visuals and repetitive lighting that started to get irritating after a while (especially for the people sitting in the two spots in the audience that kept getting hit with the "Heat Ray").

And I just don't know quite what to say about the giant Tripod that got lowered down onto the stage at one point. I could sort of see what they were trying to do . . . but . . . mmm. No, not really.

The performers' styles were either classic rock strutting (Justin Hayward/Chris Thompson/Shannon Noll) or musical theatre showiness (Michael Falzon/Rachael Beck). But for the parts they were playing it all worked pretty well. I must say that Shannon Noll was a real surprise. The part of Parson Nathaniel takes a fair bit of acting talent to pull off, as well as rock-god vocals, and Mr Noll did quite well.

All in all, I loved it. But I'm far too biased to make any sort of objective comment. I'm not sure it would have made any new fans, but then again, I don't think that's the intention.

Quite a brilliant move, when you think about it, basing a musical on a classic science fiction novel. There should be more of this sort of thing.

Who wouldn't like to see an all-singing, all-dancing version of Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash? Or a cabaret based on Asimov's Foundation series? And Ender's Game is just crying out for the high school musical treatment.

There's definitely a market out there. Rod Laver Arena was packed last night, and these people had even braved the rampaging hordes of drunken Collingwood and Geelong fans that were loose in the city. That's commitment, people.

And no, they weren't there just to see Shannon Noll.

Wednesday, 19 September 2007

The countdown continues

I've been instructed to give more regular updates of the countdown to Europe. (Would that be The Final Countdown? Ba-doom-boom)

So it's now four days.

I've also been instructed never again to write anything as boring as the last entry. My most humble apologies. Hmph.

Now, I've taken Friday off from work, so I've got a couple of days free before we fly out on Sunday.

Some people at work asked me, somewhat incredulously I might add, why this was. I pointed out that I had stuff to do . . . pick up plane tickets, get some Euros, start packing, and clean up the house a bit (given that Eliza's kindly offered to come and house-sit).

But the real reason is that in this lead-up to travelling overseas, I'd just rather not be at work. I'm not focused. I've stopped caring. I'm going to meetings discussing issues that are going to bite while I'm away, and I'm staring out the window.

I still have a modicum of interest left for a couple of specific things, but come Friday, there would be absolutely no point in my being there anymore. So I won't be.

Also, I'm going to see War of the Worlds live at Rod Laver on Friday night, and I need to get psyched. So looking forward to that.

Before we fly out on Sunday, I'll post an itinerary here so those wishing to do so can keep track of where we are.

Almost there, guys. Europe awaits.

Friday, 14 September 2007

Your form guide to the Williamstown by-election

As a mild diversion from all the holiday planning, we have the Williamstown by-election tomorrow. This was prompted by the somewhat sudden resignation of the Steve Bracks back in July.

Given that this the safest ALP seat in the state, the result is more or less a foregone conclusion. The Libs and Nats aren't even bothering to field candidates. Presumably they've got better things to do, like . . . um . . . what do state opposition parties do again?

Like most state elections, this one will be fought on voters' perception of the parties at a Federal level, and on a couple of issues utterly meaningless outside the immediate area. Here, those issues are the deepening of Port Phillip Bay (which will lead to more ships and hence more trucks in local streets) and the re-opening of the underpass at Yarraville station.

And the candidates are:

Wade Noonan - AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY

Clearly the hot favourite, and notable for putting the most propaganda directly into our letterbox. Also notable for prompting the most anti-ALP propaganda, from the likes of the Maribyrnong Truck Action Group and Blue Wedges, a group opposed to the bay deepening, which the ALP supports.

Janet Rice - THE GREENS

They're in with a chance. They've certainly had the most creative campaign. The other morning a group of them (what's the collective noun for a group of Greens? A branch?) dressed up in 1940s gear and handed out copies of the Williamstown Line timetable from 1940. The point was that there are now 28% fewer trains in peak hour than there were back then.
One of them was a dude in a Jimmy Stewart suit, dippin' his lid to the ladies. Which was nice

Vern Hughes - DEMOCRATIC LABOR PARTY

The DLP are a somewhat obscure group of social conservatives that were big back in the 60s and 70s, and have recently made a resurgence. They manage to simultaneously piss off both left-wingers like the Greens (by opposing gay marriage and abortion), and right-wingers like the Coalition (by opposing economic rationalism).
They claim on their website that this makes them politically central. But this is a little like saying that a comfortable temperature can be maintained by standing too close to a fire with ice up your bum.

Veronica Hayes - FAMILY FIRST

We haven't heard a peep out of Family First during this campaign. They're clearly using this as a training ground on how to deal with election loss.

And finally, Nathan Tavendale, Catherine Cumming, Vivienne Millington, Wajde Assaf and Janis Rossiter - THE INDEPENDENTS.

Campaigning from these guys has been almost non-existent.
Presumably they think it's not worth the effort.
They're probably right.

Thursday, 13 September 2007

Ten days and waiting

I've been instructed to update the time remaining until we go.

It's now ten days.

It's odd though . . . it feels like it should be sooner. Like any major life events, once the date is set it begins to feel like nothing else matters, and all we're doing is marking time.

I've noticed this sort of thing before; like the last time we moved house, and before our wedding earlier in the year.

This effect is particularly noticeable at work. I've managed to delegate most of the tasks that are going to continue while I'm gone. The stuff I actually have to do will be done by about Tuesday. (Famous last words, of course. I hope no-one from work is reading this).

We're currently getting into the really important details of the trip. Like which movies will be showing on the flight. Fairly average pickings there, actually, with the likes of Superman 3 and Fantastic Four 2. The TV show selection looks a little more promising, with stuff like Father Ted and Welcher & Welcher. Nice.

It's only ten sleeps. But I want to go now. Right now.

Sunday, 9 September 2007

Two weeks and counting

Two weeks from today we'll be leaving for three weeks in Europe. And I can't wait.

It still doesn't seem quite real, although picking up the new luggage today (a beautiful wedding gift from Bruce & Trevor) brings it one step closer.

This trip is actually the reason I began blogging in the first place. I thought it'd be cool to keep a travel diary, and you know, didn't want to leave it til the last minute. I figured you need to get the hang of this sort of thing before you set off.

I realise that starting four months out may appear overly cautious. But I stand by my decision.

Having said that, this blog hasn't really been a recording-events-for-posterity kind of thing. It's been more of a here's-the-nerdy-thing-amusing-me-this-week kind of thing. Still, it can't be that hard, can it?

I can only aspire to the brilliance of Micky and Podge's travel diary from last year. Now there was a blog that was worth checking every day. I actually started getting mild withdrawal symptoms when they failed to update it for extended periods. My God, I would think to myself. I hope they didn't fall into that volcano!

Now, our journey will feature fewer volcanoes and more drinking by the pool, but still. I solemnly promise that I will be updating you, dear reader, every time I manage get off my arse and find a net cafe.

The updates might be daily. They might be weekly. It might be once during the layover in Singapore on the way, and once again during the layover in KL on the way home.

But whenever it is, you can be confident that it will be . . . um . . . nope, no idea.