Monday, December 22, 2008

Authentic Australian Experience

In between tri's and Christmas parties, I've been trying to fit in a few more Authentic Australian Experiences.

First, I went to the Eumundi Markets with my friend Julie. The markets are about an hour and half north of Brissie. According to the website they are "World Famous.". But I have it on good advice that their heyday was actually 30 years ago. Still, they were huge. Mostly arty, but also commercial. The biggest surprise there was the truly fantastic Mexican food. Sure, it's by Australian standards, but still, nice thick chips, real guac, pulled beef. I was happily surprised.

On the way home from the Eumundi Markets, we stopped at the big pineapple. Large roadside attractions (see the big lobster from my Great Ocean Road trip) are an Aussie icon. The pineapple is big - 3 stories tall. But in the end was a bit of a disappointment. It's free to climb up and the inside is filled with diaramas of a pineapples trip from the farm to the can. But there was no info on the pineapple itself. When was it built, who built it? It also was a bit of a let down that they'd clearly built this large parking lot and a special bridge across the highway to access it, and it was empty. There might have been 8 people there. Just felt a bit sad.

From there we stopped at the Abbey Museum. It's a 3 room museum, and we were the 3rd and 4th visitors for the day. The man at the front refused to allow me to pay the full price admission of $8. Instead I got the student rate of $5.50. The museum was surprisingly good. It followed civilization from cavemen times to the Victorian era. And had some pretty impressive artefacts (Mary Queen of Scot's shoe!). I am a bit more skeptical now, I mean, how does a 3 room museum in a Queensland country town get the shoe of a tragic queen? Still at $5.50 this was better than the pineapple.

Finally, I got to take part in an Authentic Aussie Surf Carnival. As part of our Christmas celebrations, my tri team broke down into country based teams: Australia, New Zealand, Rest of World. I brought my tiny American flags. Who knew how useful those would be? Some people got assigned new homelands since the Rest of World (or as I like to think of them, the American) team would be lacking. We did an ocean swim, a boogie board contest, beach flags (sprints, starting lying face down in the sand). It was a great experience. Picts are here.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Race Report: Raby Bay

Can't hold it in: I got in the top 10! Not like the top 10 overall. But in the top 10 of women aged 25-29. But still. There were 31 people in my category, and I came 10th. Better than that, I ran my 5K in 24:50. It's the first time I've run sub-5 minute Ks in a tri!

It was a sprint race. The third in the Queensland Tri Series. Each race has gotten a little bit tougher, a little bit longer. This one was a full sprint 750m-20K-5K.

And it was hot. They rotate the start times of the individual waves, so though I was one of the first heats at Robina, at this race I was the second to last. The race also has a kids race and an enticer race (mini-triathlon), so though the kids got started at 7. My race didn't actually start til 8:48. On a cloudless 32 degree day.

The swim felt good for the first half and bad for the second. I just lost my guts, started breast stroking every few strokes. My overall time was still sub 15 minutes, but I know I can do better.

On the bike I could see another BTS person shortly ahead of me. It was a 4 lap course, I caught her on the second, but she passed me back. But I passed her back again. Then an official on a motorcycle rode up alongside me. He says, "Looks like you lost your friend". I was a bit stunned. Officials don't talk to you, unless you've done something wrong. This guy was just having a chat. Very strange.

Luckily to combat the heat, there were gusty winds. Unfortunately, on the bike this made the ride out near impossible and the ride in super fast. At every lap, I'd sail in with the wind to my back, turn around, try to get out of the saddle to get my speed back, but with the wind pounding my chest, I'd bow back down onto my bars to push through it.

Then the run. The wind here really made a huge difference. 5K in four laps of 1.25K, coming back in to the crowds for the half way point. It felt good. Strong. I passed another BTS person on the course, but since we were so close to the last to go, the course was clearing out.

I forgot to stop my watch, so I didn't realize til the official results were released that I'd finished the run in sub 25 minutes.

I was sorely disappointed that after all of that there were no sausages leftover. A sausage on a slice of bread is an Aussie tradition. Though there were plenty before the race, it's not the time that I'm really in the mood. And afterward, they'd already packed up. Grrr.

Also, I got a little sunburned. I mean, I put on sunscreen, but it's only good for 4 hours. And it's not really good for that after a swim. But there's not much option. I can't put on more screen during the tri, the sweat will stop it from sticking. 4 hours and 30+ is the best I can find here. Other than covering myself in zinc, I can't figure out what else to do.

But those things aside, I broke into the top 10. It's only up from here.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


Last weekend I went to visit my friend Kimberley and Hamish in Canberra. They're both public servants there. Canberra, like DC, was the capital designed when the country couldn't decide if Sydney or Melbourne should be the capital. As a result, it's the only major city not located on the ocean. Ok, calling it a "major city" is probably not quite right. It's more like a "major town". Canberra only has 300K people, almost all of them working for government.

The visit was mostly about hanging out with friends, but I also wanted to take in some government, and K and H are excellent tour guides when it comes to that. We went to see New Parliament House on Saturday. New Parliament House is 20 years old, but the "New" differentiates it from "Old" Parliament House which preceded it. It struck me just how similar our governments are. Sure there's the big difference about having a PM instead of a President, but once you get beyond that, bicameral systems descended from Mother England just aren't that different.

That afternoon we checked out the War Memorial. Which is much more of a museum than a memorial. After being thoroughly educated on the Anzacs at Gallipoli and the bombing of Darwin by the Japanese, I came out stunned at the rules of war. How, in the midst of the bloody and futile months long battle with the Turks, they would call a temporary armistice with their opponents to collect their dead. Then, they'd each go back to their sides to continue fighting. It seems that the wars we're involved in today don't follow those gentlemanly rules.

The following day we saw Old Parliament House. It's must more British, and not nearly as circa 1980s as New Parliament House. In fact the chair for the Speaker of the House is a replica of the one used in the House of Commons in England. However, the original was destroyed in the bombing of London, and now the Brits have a replica of the replica made out of timbers from Queensland.

We also covered, what I can only assume to be, the defining event in Australian Political History. Since Australia remains a commonwealth of England, the Queen has ultimate power over the government. In the 70s, the Governor General (ie, the Queen's man in Australia) told her that government wasn't functioning because the PM refused to call an election (the PM can call an election at any point in his 3 year term). And so the Queen sacked the PM, and put the opposing party in power and demanded an election. Most famously the dismissed PM Whitlam stood on the steps of Parliament and said "May God save the Queen, because nothing can save the Governor General." This story was told and retold in both Parliament Houses.

We also explored the National Gallery, which was a sweet abridged museum. Each room covered one genre of art. It had all a work from each major contributor to the movement, then moved on. Here's the Monet in the impressionists, now just to your left you'll see the Dali in the surrealist corner.

Other than the political history, the biggest impression Canberra made on me was the weather. It was freezing. It rained on and off all weekend and never topped 50 degrees. In fact there was even snow reported in the mountains. Brrr. This queenslander can't handle that sort of chill factor anymore.


Sunday, November 16, 2008

Race Report: Robina

This was the weather after the race. Thankfully, it was clear skies during the race, but it was hot.

This was a short race: 400m, 15K, 4K. Swim was in a lake, which means it was not salty! So nice for once. Swim felt good, though my time was over 8 minutes which was a bit disappointed. The ride felt good, though heart rate was a bit high, probably due to the cold I had this week, or the blistering heat. 82 degrees, 75% humid. The run felt terrible for the first 1500. The air was still, and I started to feel like I shouldn't have drunk all that water on the bike. But once things settled in I felt good on the run. It was a 2 lap course, and I did the second lap about 10 seconds faster than the first. Overall I came 10th in my category out of 41. 1h 3m 53s.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Sushi Quest, pt 3: Sono

The sushi quest may end up being much shorter than previously anticipated. One of the restaurants in the city has closed. I think this leaves only one or two other options to try out. Bummer.

This week I visited Sono, at the bottom of the Queen St Mall. It was by far the best ambiance. Wood paneled walls, small rock garden, waitresses in yukata. Sort of reminded me of Fugakyu. They offered a lot of non-sushi dishes. We opted for the large sushi/sashimi platter. This might have been a mistake for two of us, as I think it had no less than 35 pieces of sushi, and after a large bowl of edamame and miso (plus raisin toast on a few hours before) it was a bit aggressive. Still, the pieces weren't too large, and in the end I think we only left half a dozen pieces. What they did have though was a large variety of fish. Many I had never tried, but since they didn't identify them for us, I will not likely remember them. We had tuna, salmon, yellowtail (sometimes called kingfish), swordfish, snapper. I think there were 3 other varieties of white fish, but I couldnt' tell them apart. One that looked like mackerel, but wasn't. Maybe this sounds ingracious, but I sort of wish there were fewer varieties. I started getting them mixed up. The overall experience was great. I will definitely return. Though I still think I prefer the quality at Oshin.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Things to do before you die

My time in Australia is limited. I will, someday, go home. And I don't want to settle into that, I just live here I've never done the tourist things. I mean I don't want to do the touristy-tourist things, but it's like living in Paris and never going up the Eiffel Tower. My friend Julie gave me a deck of cards today each with a Brisbane Day Trip on it. They cover museums, markets, vineyards, ranches, rainforests. So, I thought it's time to put together my list. Things I want to do in Australia. Here we go:

  • Uluru (I'm on the fence on this one because of time and money, but it's supposed to be awe-inspiring)
  • Play on a touch footie team - Aussie rules or league doesn't matter much. I'll be equally ill-equipped in either of them. Maybe Aussie rules is better cause I can run. But either way, I think this will go nicely with my netball experience.
  • The Outback Spectacular, brought to you by RM Williams (they make the boots) - ok, they advertise this on TV and it looks like a Medieval Time Restaurant with an Outback theme. I mean seriously, how could I miss this?
  • Australia Zoo - I don't even like zoos, but I might be able to see a Bindi Irwin in her natural habitat, that alone is worth the price of admission
  • Canberra - I'm going next week, so it's sort of a gimme, but both old and new parliament houses are on the must tour list
  • Hangliding - I wanted to do this in Cairns, but never got around to it before the wind died for the wet. I think I can find a place around Brissie to do this.
  • Climb the cliffs at Kangaroo Point - I see people do this every weekend and it looks like fun. I've never been rock climbing before, but this seems like as good a place as any to try it out.
  • XXXX Ale House - it's shit beer, but it's local shit beer. And for ages the only beer in Queensland, and the brewery is right across the river.
  • Witch's Chase Cheese Co - (no explanation needed)
  • A half ironman. It's not uniquely Australian, but triathlon is a big part of my Australian experience, and I'd love to do my first one here. There's one in Feb, but with christmas, I don't think I'll have the time to properly train. Then there's another one in May, so that may be the goer.
I think that's enough for the time being. Any other suggestions?

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Yes, we can

Patriotism is a funny thing. It doesn't really exist in Australia, and I have trouble explaining it to my friends here. It's a feeling in my gut, a doctrine driven into each American child every morning with the Pledge of Allegiance and the national anthem. The love of country in the US is practically a religion. I was brought up on 4ths of July, Born in the USA, and the belief that I was fortunate to be born in the greatest nation in the world. It's a very personal thing for me. And a thing that has been attacked by the current political leaders for the last 8 years.

My second night in Australia, I went to see a play. The play was critical of both Australian and American military initiatives in Iraq. And I came away with this feeling. It was one of those "I can talk bad about my mother, but no one outside the family can" feelings. The Aussie's didn't see it that way.

My feelings toward the US for the last 8 years have ranged from frustration to shame. But, no longer. Watching the results come in, in my office yesterday with two colleagues, I felt that desperation vanish and be replaced by hope. It sounds cheesy, but I felt pride again in my country. That's right MY country. I hope I am not wrong, but I believe Obama may lead my country to greatness once again. And that makes me feel patriotic.

Sushi Quest, part 2: Hanaichi and Mizu

This week two sushi joints join the ranks of the Sushi Quest. Hanaichi in the Winter Garden on the Queen St Mall and Mizu in Newstead.

Hanaichi is a sushi train. I know, I know, I said no sushi trains, but I hadn't tried it, and I had a friend with me, and I figured it would be the more wallet-friendly of the options on the Queen St Mall. The most I can say for Hanaichi is that it was decent. Better than Sushi Train branded sushi trains, but not as good at Ginga (the sushi train closest to my house). They did mostly standard fair (nigiri: tuna, salmon, kingfish, prawn, eel, squid, octopus; rolls: salmon/avo, chicken/avo, duck). The pieces were small, and presented no need to chew through them. The thing that most turned me off from the joint was that they had a stack of sushi plate waiting to go onto the train - making me think the fair we were getting was pretty old already. For quick sushi on the Queen St Mall, I stick with the to-go rolls in the food court of the Myer Centre.

Mizu was a different story. I had lunch there today. They're less sushi-focused, more general japanese. I had the sashimi bento box which included 6 pieces of sashimi, prawn and vegetable tempura, salmon teriyaki, miso and salad. I thought this was very good value. The sashimi consisted of tuna, salmon and kingfish, with the kingfish being the standout on texture and flavour, and the salmon being the disappointment. But given that they didn't specialize in sashimi, I thought they were very good. I felt the other items in the box were all strong: tempura crispy, teriyaki sweet and flavourful and miso, um, miso-y. I would return to Mizu for dinner and hopefully find more sushi varieties on the menu.

Just a small PS: My faith in democracy and the American people has been restored. I watched the results and speeches with a few coworkers on a laptop in my office today. I was overcome by chills and tears at many points during the speeches. I am filled with hope for a country, I am once again proud to call my own.

Monday, November 03, 2008

An imperfect race: Noosa Triathlon

My first Noosa Triathlon (and second ever Olympic distance) was plagued with mishaps. No catastrophes. It was still a good race, just lots of little things.

Saturday morning I woke up at 3:30am. I'm usually an early riser, but really even I like to be asleep at that time. I tried to get back to sleep, tried reading, nothing was working, I was too anxious about the race, so I got up. I read the competitor briefing, and realized I hadn't printed out my receipt with barcode (!). Ok, not a huge deal, there's a Mailboxes down the road that's supposed to open at 10am. I get myself packed up and ready to go. Check my triathlon shelf no less than 5 times to make sure I haven't forgotten anything (no to bike gloves, no to chamois cream, yes to sunscreen and heart rate monitors).

I get to the print shop at 10, and they're not open, in fact, they're not opening. They are closed on weekends. Bugger. New plan, have to go into work on the way to Noosa (which is, btw, in the wrong direction).

I take the train into the valley to pick up the car (no car rental place in my neighborhood), and they can't find my reservation. It seems I managed to book the car to pick up at the airport and return to the valley. Gah. But fear not, if I can wait 20 min, they can get a car for me there. Now in my head, I had sorta been thinking, I'd leave at 11, be upto Noosa by 1, easily make it to register before 4. But I don't get the car til 11:30, then I have to go home and load it up with my gear (thank god the bike fits it, it was a close squeeze). Then to work, and finally.... on the road.

When I get there, they scan my receipt and the bloody thing doesn't read, so they have to call over a tech to manually input me. Good thing I went to print it out, right. I take my bike over to transition, which is not at all near the registration tent. And I've forgotten my little ticket to get my goody bag, but I convinced the woman that I wouldn't take more than one. And in the end, I don't know that I even wanted that one, it's not a very nice shirt, and the hat is the same as the one from Mooloolaba only blue.

Fast forward to Sunday morning. I felt relaxed. My transition area was set up, and I was chilling with the team. In the Noosa race the elites go off first. They race the same course and have the same no-drafting rules. In many elite races drafting on the bike is legal, which means that so long as you're out of the water at roughly the same time as the rest, you can ride in a pack for the whole ride, then the race really comes down to foot speed on the run. Personally, I think this is less exciting, and I'm not allowed to draft, so I don't think the pros should either. We watched the pros start the swim and the bike. Emma Snowsill won the women's race in just under 2 hours. She's also the reigning Olympic champion and took hoome her 5th consecutive Noosa win. The woman is inspiring.

Back to my race. Open water start, and no wet suits. So we're all treading water and it's a long start line, so it's not too busy. The horn goes off and away we go. It's nice being so spread out cause we're not swimming on top of eachother. But that only lasts til about midway to the first buoy, which is a turn, and every one pushes to get the inside lane. From then on it seems it's difficult to find open water, I'm always swimming in between people, feeling other hands on my legs. The course is in the canals of Noosa, which makes it calm and protected. But it's not a straight out and back course, and it's hard to get a feel for where I am in the course. And, about halfway through I realize that I'd forgotten to start my watch at the gun. Crap. Ok, i'll start it coming out of the water, and that will give me cycle and run times at least.

I recently purchased tri cycling shoes. The differences with these are that they only have one strap, so their easier to put on and take off while you ride, and the straps open out, so they don't get stuck in the gears. I started with my shoes clipped into the pedals, so all I had to do was hop on the bike and get going, then put the shoes on as I rode. Unfortunately, when I hopped on, my left shoe got caught on the ground, unclipped and dropped off. I had to stop, go back, get my shoe, put it on, and then get started again. Frustrating to see so many people pass me as I was just trying to get on my bike.

But the ride itself was brilliant! I was down on my aero bars most of the time, which I'm getting pretty good at. I passed people on the way out and was riding pretty fast ~35-37K/hour with the tailwind. At the 10K mark, the course turns off onto a winding track through the woods. It's a gorgeous, long climb. The type that you ride in the saddle to conserve your legs. The turns are numbered with 14 to the top. I saw another BTS suit up ahead of me, but I wasn't sure who it was. Then I saw the hot pink bike. It was Tanya. She'd started in my heat on the swim, and I was closing ground on her. She's super fast, so I was excited. When I came level with her, she gave me a "well done, mate" which thrilled me and I pushed on. She passed me back coming down the hill, but we played tag for the rest of the ride, maintaining a Holden Comodore's distance between us when we weren't passing eachother to abide by the no drafting rule. At 6K to go or so, I passed her, and she didn't pass me back. I felt unstoppable. I was watching the clock as well. I had hoped to do my ride in under 1:20, which would mean better than 30K/hour. I came in at 1:18! Sweet!

I get my feet out of my shoes, dismount my bike and start to run it in. I'm trying to hit the button on my watch to get my split time, and I lose control of my bike and lose my balance. I face plant coming into transition. Lucky I still had my helmet on! I slammed my knee pretty badly, and my hands, but I'm ok. I get up, and start to run it back in, this time with both hands on the bike. As I enter transition, I start walking, my head is spinning from the adrenaline and I start hyperventilating. I see several volunteers eying me, but I won't ask for help, there's no way I'm dropping out of this race. I rack my bike, take a minute to get my breath back and get some more water, and I head out to the run course.

My knee is throbbing and swelling as I go, which in a way is a good thing, cause it takes away from any pain in my shin. The run feels like the longest 10K of my life. Turns out, it almost was. I spent 58 minutes on the run, which just narrowly beats the time on my first 10K, which holds the title for longest 10K at 59:03. I keep thinking I'm further along the course than I am, thinking I must have just not seen the 3K marker, then a minute later, seeing it still ahead of me. Mentally it was tough, cause I haven't done that distance, my brain kept saying, you just don't have this in you. And I think the adrenaline spike from the fall didn't help. I just felt wiped out, like I had nothing left to give, even after the gu. It was just put one foot ahead of the other and finish this thing. Finally at 8K, I started to put the doubts aside and move with confidence, but it was a long hard slog. And to top it all off, I forgot to stop my watch at the finish, so I didn't have a time for the run either.

In the end, I came in at 2:48:57. I beat my Mooloolaba time by 3 minutes, shaving 1minute off the swim, 7 minutes off the bike, and adding 5 minutes to the run. I feel confident, with more run training (still no shin pain after 2 days!), I can get those minutes back on the run. I will beat 2:45 at Mooloolaba this year!

Friday, October 31, 2008

What Australian's think of the US election

This is a publicly funded radio program.

And, in other news

And, in other news, I'm heading up to Noosa today for the triathlon tomorrow. Results will be posted here:

My only previous olympic distance was Mooloolaba. I finished that in 2:51. So my goal for Noosa is something in the 2:40s. I expect the swim to be about the same (30 min), the bike to be faster (<1:28),>51). Better remember to pack my watch. I start at 7:26am AEST, which is 5:26pm Saturday EDT. I think the race will be covered by channel 7 here.


I was a coxswain at uni. I coxed all four years. In the end, I loved it and I hated it. Coxing is a thankless job. Steering is difficult, but keeping your crew happy is the hardest bit. What do you say when the boat is constantly off set? Or when you're with a crew who would rather be rowing a coxless boat? Or when you've just been passed by another boat? It's hard. And when I look back I have some very fond memories from junior year (Head of the South, Head of the Occoquan, Dad Vail), but that wasn't most of the time I was on the water. Most of the time, it was a struggle.

I've only coxed a handful of times since I left uni, and they were resoundingly bad. It takes time to develop a rapport with a crew and a coach. So, when my company entered 3 boats in the corporate regatta, I was hesitant. I am a triathlete now, not a cox. And I thought I'd rather row than cox. But really, I only have one day off a week from training, and I like it. I didn't want to lose it, so I declined from participating.

But this week, one of the boats was down a cox, and I was asked to fill in. I agreed because I've not been running anyway, so my training schedule is a bit light. And... it was great!

It was so much fun to be back in the coxswain seat. Particularly with a novice crew. My rowing knowledge came back quickly, and I felt like I knew what to say to help them get better at rowing. And though there were a few terminology issues (they call port side stroke side, and starboard side bow side - I still don't know what they call it when it's bucket rigged), it was smooth sailing. I may have broken my bow seat's spirit by the end, but I think they were all the better for it.

The race is the 23 of November. I'll be in Canberra that weekend, but I'll be with them in spirit.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Sushi Quest, part 1

Australian sushi is different. The two forms most commonly found are either takeaway rolls or trains. The takeaway rolls are great for a quick lunch. They are standard 4 in rolls that haven't been sliced, so you just eat them with your hands and they typically come with a small plastic fish filled with soy. Generally, the only raw fish you'll get in these is salmon and even that is not always available. More often than not, you'll find smoked salmon, cooked tuna and cooked chicken in these rolls. Still for $2.20, it's a bargain, and three of them make a good lunch.

The sushi train is definitely an experience. I had heard of these in the states, yet never seen one there. Small coloured plates of sushi traverse a conveyor belt that runs by your seat. Generally you get standard stock in these: tuna, salmon and prawn nigiri, salmon and avo rolls. A few places get more adventurous: salmon avocado and onion rolls! But most go really heavy on the mayo, which is just sort of gross. Especially considering that neither you nor the servers have any idea how long the sushi is sitting on the belt for. I reckon it's less than a day, but I don't think any thing else can be guaranteed.

I've decided I need real, American-style sushi. A place with a sushi bar, sans conveyor belt. An itamae who makes the sushi to order. Once a week, I'll try a new sushi joint, and post my findings. Invitation is open to any one in brissie interested in trying out some places.

Last night was the first night. I went to Oshin at Adelaide and Creek in the city. When I arrived there was only one other patron. I sat at the sushi bar and ordered tea, edamame and nigiri. They had yellowtail which was exciting cause it's not a staple of sushi bars the way it is in the states. The tea was cold, but the edamame was hot. And the itamae didn't start making my nigiri til I was done with the edamame. Salmon, tuna and yellowtail. Soooooo good. I judge good fish by a few things, but one big test is if I can bite through the fish. I guess before that is, do I need to bite through the fish. These pieces were large, easily two bites. And each piece gave way easily. The tuna was by and far the stand out: dense and rich.

I guess regardless of where I went last night, it would have been the best sushi I've had in brissie, but I think Oshin may be a standout. Next week's pick will have its work cut out.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Signs of spring

1. The jacarandas are out. They are these gorgeous purple flowering trees (pictured above from the balcony at work). Unlike certain stingy harbingers of spring (dogwoods, I'm looking at you), the jacarandas ignite with blossoms and stay in bloom for weeks. Under each tree is a carpet of purple flowers. They're nicknamed flame trees in this song which I find stuck in my head every time I see one:

(I prefer this version to the original, which you can youtube yourself.)

2. With the sun rising earlier in the morning and the lack of daylight savings time in Queensland, I'm beginning to redevelop my cycling knicks tan, that solid line across the thighs above which is pale and below which is tan.

3. The magpies are out. And they don't like cyclists. They attack cyclists in fact. As a result, many riders attach zipties to their helmets creating spokes. Others put eyes on the back of their helmets. Though the best solution I've seen was a combination of both: big googly eyes on springs sticking up from the helmet. So far, knock on wood, I haven't been attacked.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Civil obligations

I have voted in every federal election since I turned 18. But this time my absentee ballot hasn't arrived. I only asked for it in July. It's now two weeks til the election. I can download a "Back-up Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot" and send that in which means I have to go through more trouble, more forms, more international postage and for what? This ballot won't be counted since I'm required to vote in MA.

Is it worth it?

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Top ten lists I don't get

I got an email today. A forward. The Top Ten Things Only Women Understand . Maybe it's me, but I just don't get it.

Sure, I get number 9: the need for the same style of shoes in different colours. But certainly there must be some men who get that too. How about most of the men in my office who own the same shoe in brown and black. And so what if I don't know the difference between beige, ecru, cream, off-white and eggshell (number 5). Does that make me less of a woman? And if the number 1 thing that only women understand is other women then I feel like we'd see a lot more lesbian couples out there.

I guess I just thought the days of shopping around the same old, tired stereotypes for a chuckle and an "amen, sister!" were over. Maybe I've been reading too much Bitch magazine.

Is it wrong that I would be more tolerant of this sort of email if it went to my personal mail rather than my work mail?

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Ride Report: Brisbane to Gold Coast

Distance covered: 100.8km
Time: 3h 58m
Average speed: 25km/hr
Bananas: 3 (2 lady fingers, 1 standard, all unripe)
Gu's: 4
Muesli bars: 2
Trips to the bathroom: 3

Several of my co-workers had signed up to do the ride ages ago. Last week, I decided to the join the group. It was my first 100K ride since the Adelaide-Melbourne tour. And as it turned out, my first 100K ride that was not in the rain.

I felt much fitter this time than 5 months ago. Can't tell whether this is cause I am fitter, or cause it was only one day of 100K at a much slower speed. Either way, it was heaps of fun. There were two rest stops with food, water, bathrooms, mechanics where we all caught up after thinning out on the road.

The course was great until the very end. The first 15K or so were through the busway, which had been vacated by buses. It was nice open road, no cars to contend with, though a surprising number of flat tires on that part of the course. Then we travelled along smaller country roads with some car traffic. Finally as we got into Southport we were down to two lane roads, with lots of weekend traffic. The Gold Coast has a lot of waterways, and thus a lot of little bridges over canals. And with this being the end of the day, people were really struggling to get up and over these bridges and were causing a lot of congestion with other riders. I think, had we taken a bit less time in the rest stops this wouldn't have been so big a deal.

One of the cool things about racing around SE QLD is that I start to see areas multiple times. Today's ride included some of the ride from last week's triathlon and a bunch of the half marathon course from July. I don't really know these areas - they just look familiar to me. Still it's a pretty cool feeling to think "cool, I've done this course before, I peed behind that tree!"

Friday, October 10, 2008

Grand Re-Opening

Well here it is folks! The new and improved (and public) blog. Subscribe to your heart's contents.

In other news, tomorrow is the Brisbane to Gold Coast 100K ride. It will be the first 100K ride I've done since the Adelaide to Melbourne tour. If weather predictions hold, it will also continue the trend of only ever riding 100K rides in the rain. Woohoo.

Pay cuts

here's what the currency exchange has done over the last year. When I arrived the AUD was worth about 86c USD. From there it went up, almost one to one, but it's always sorta hovered around that area. This means things in Australia are expensive relative to the US.

But recently, it's taken a serious dive. Today it's trading at 66c. This means a few things:

1. I'm rich! All my US savings, where most of my money is is worth almost 25% more than it was when I arrived, what a fantastic return!

2. I've gotten a serious pay cut. I knew leaving BCG would be a big pay cut, but every time the AUD falls it's like I'm getting another pay cut. Sorta hurts. Not sure what this will mean for my earning potential when I get back to the states.

3. Things just got a whole lot cheaper. So sure, my salary just took a nose dive, but so did my rent, my groceries and my tri fees. Sweet.

4. Now is a great time to be paying my aussie taxes with USD. Glad I've held off on moving that money over. Wonder what rate I use when I file my US taxes next year.

Monday, October 06, 2008

New blog format!

I've decided the old blog needed a facelift, so here we go. What'd you reckon? Too gray? It's made me realize how few pictures of brisbane I have. I mean, sure I could put an opera house picture up... but I don't live in sydney. You like the wombat? I guess to be fair, this pict is from South Australia, not Brissie either. Hmmf.

I'm also thinking about no longer requiring a password to read the blog. I think this would mean that you could subscribe to the blog more easily and get updates to your blogreader (unless blogger has changed the way this works in the last year). Useful? Not useful? Given that I'm no longer working for Noel, I could take down posts related to indigenous affairs and then it becomes more of a life/travel blog.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Race Report: Gold Coast Sprintman

Today was my first (and hopefully only) "low-impact-athon". And, you know what? It was great. The race was a bit shorter than an Olympic (1000m swim vs 1500m, 33K bike vs 40K, 7K run vs 10 - though it was even shorter for me since I didn't do the run). A few lessons:

1. Wearing a wetsuit is advantageous for a deep water start. It (a) keeps you warm and (b) keeps you afloat without much effort.

2. Getting out of said wetsuit is actually easier when it's wet than when it dry. This is not to say that it's easy.

3. If you can't run, don't try to walk the run. I didn't do this, but the two other girls on my squad who did ended up jogging. I know I would have been tempted and I don't want to do anything that will jeopardize Noosa.

4. If you tell some one in their first race that they shouldn't bother with the weight of a spare tire since it's really unlikely that they'll get one, then they will definitely get a flat tire 500 meters into the race. My sincerest apologies to Julie. I've never gotten a flat in a race ever, and now she'll never get another, I'm sure.

5. Racing against a larger field is better than just racing within the squad. The girls on the squad are fast. One came in 2nd in her age group, 2 others placed 4th and 5th in theirs. It was nice to be in a big enough field to have people at my level and to be able to cheer on my team as we went.

6. Some one misspelled triathlon on our tent. Go Brisbane Triathalon Squad!

Thursday, October 02, 2008


I have flat feet. And I walk like a duck. It's just the way I'm made, and it's not a way that's good for running.

Since I first started running in 2001, I've gotten shin splints. I usually manage them by orthotics, good shoes and just not running all that much. In Cairns I pretty much limited my running to twice a week.

I got new orthotics in March when my old ones started to disintegrate. But it seems the new ones just aren't quite cutting it. I got a shin splint in my right leg in May. My training for the half marathon suffered cause I'd run, the splint would come back, I'd take a week off, run again, the splint would come back... But things didn't start to get really bad til the Noosa training camp weekend. That weekend, I neglected to bring my strong anti-inflammatories and a good long run on three consecutive days on tired legs was the death of me.

The shin started hurting all the time, walking, running, lying in bed, I was in pain. I continued to try to treat it with rest, ice and AIs, but it just wasn't cutting it. I asked the assistant coach and he gave me some stretches to do. The following practice it was still really angry, so I asked the head coach and he sent me to physio. It was so painful the first time I went to physio he could barely touch it.

When I went to the states, I didn't bring my running shoes. The plan was for a good solid two weeks off. But now I'm back. I ran about 3Ks with my foot taped up, which felt better, then about 1K with it untaped. At which point the head coach benched me again saying I looked like Terry Fox (see video below).

My first triathlon of the season is Sunday, and it will also be the first triathlon I've started but won't finish. My orthotics are back with the podiatrist now for adjustment, and my coach thinks I shouldn't run for another 3 weeks, and even then it will be a slow process to get back into real running.

I hate it. I hate not being able to go out and do it. I hate missing practice. And I hate that I can't do anything about it except wait.

Thursday, September 18, 2008


I arrived in South Bend late Friday night after my flight from Chicago was canceled, and Paul generously drove the 3.5 hours each way (woulda been 2 if it weren't for Friday night traffic) to come pick up my sorry ass and drive me back to the Eastern Daylight Timezone.

All this was to ensure that we could go to the football game on Saturday. Paul had looted the Notre Dame bookstore in search of a t shirt that was cool enough for me, and had seven (yes, seven!) shirts for me to choose from. He also had Notre Dame emblazoned ponchos for each of us as it was supposed to rain all day.

First thing Saturday morning, we drove through the rain to the airport to pick up my luggage which had arrived late the previous night, then met up with a few of his friends for breakfast. Homemade bacon egg and cheese sandwiches to be precise. I had forgotten how good American bacon is. Australian bacon is closer to what the British serve. It's floppy and greasy, not crispy and stripey like they do it back here. It was a good base for the next 16 or so hours.

About 15 people had gathered for breakfast and we were all riding over to the tailgate in the back of a truck. However, with the rain pouring, Paul and I opted to sit in the cab. Which was a wise move considering all the water that got tossed back on to the lot of them. At the tailgate, there were two tents where we all milled around. It's tough to start drinking at 10am, but sometimes, you've just gotta do what you've gotta do. Nothing was going to make us much drier. About an hour or so into the tailgate it stopped raining, the clouds parted, and it actually became a really nice, if a little muggy, day. And then the people came out, if it had been crowded under the tents in the rain before it was nothing compared to the throngs of graduate students that are drawn out with the sunshine and some cheap beer.

Next, it's game time, we trudge through the parking lot and up to the gate. I have one of Paul's friend's student IDs and her ticket. I don't look too much like Margot, but no one seems to take any notice. Game starts at 4 or so, and after a good morning of drinking some people are hanging better than others. Ushers are aggressive in pulling any one out who seems to be stumbling. Our seats are pretty much just in the end zone and one section up. There are benches, but no one is sitting, every one stands on the bench the entire game.

First touchdown goes to ND. The crowd goes wild. All across the stadium, fans are picking up a friend in a push up position and tossing them in the air once for each point. Seven push ups for the first touchdown, fourteen for the second, twenty-one for the third before Michigan serves up a single point. Brilliant. ND is known as a good football school, but recently, they've sucked. The fans are diehards, but the team just hasn't come to the games. So a shut out game thus far is making people crazy. Michigan did score ten points in the first half, but I think we all went into halftime feeling pretty positive about the Irish.

Then the clouds rolled back through, and a fine sprinkle appeared. Throughout the crowd was the movement of jackets and ponchos being donned. Unfortunately, we had tucked our safely away in some one's car at the tailgate. We had no ponchos. By the time ND had scored another touchdown we were drenched. And the rain just didn't let up. At one point there was a veritable waterfall flowing down the stairs. It was probably a good thing for the Irish since it meant that every thing was slippery: the ball, the lawn, the linebackers. Both teams each scored another touchdown, but when the clock ran out the score was 35 to 17 ND. The first game Paul has been to that they won. I think I deserve a little credit on this one.

Maybe it's living in Queensland, but hanging out in soaking denim and a tshirt just gets cold after a few hours. We followed the crowd after the game, through the mud and rain to a bar. Ordered some extra large beers and a grilled cheese sandwich, and tried to warm up in Paul's roommate's enormous and thoroughly soaked coat. It did the job mostly. But nothing warms you up more than getting your boogy on. The bar itself was a throw back to good old fraternity basements, with a mix of beer, mud and I-don't-wanna-know that works its way between the toes when you're dancing in flip flops.

At midnight or so, we left to head home without really thinking about how we might get home. Something we probably should have thought of before venturing out, once again, into the pouring rain. The bar is about a 30 minute walk from Paul's house, which we started. About 10 minutes into the walk a kindly cab driver in a minivan stopped for us. When we opened the door we discovered he already had a fair. In fact, he had two. There were 4 people in the cab. We crawled into the back next to the girl who claimed she didn't mind sitting next to sopping wet people. We dropped her and her friend off at the bar we'd just come from, then drove to the other side of town to drop off the other two people (one of which could not believe how old we were! Paul likes to impress people by telling them I'm almost thirty. I hope this will wear off when he turns 29 in November). We offered to pick up the tab on the two kids getting out immediately before us. Then we picked up another pair of people on the way to Paul's who in turn offered to pick up our tab. What a charitable place!

All in all South Bend got over 10.5 inches of rain (that's 267mm) in just one day. That's more rain than the place has seen in 40 years. We were a part of history.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Back in the states

I'm back in the states for a few weeks to catch up with friends and visit Paul.

After being in Australia for over a year there area few American things that seem foreign to me.

1. Automatic flushing toilets. Sure, you only really encounter them in the airport, but still. The prevalence of dual flush toilets (giving you the option to use less water if you see fit) means that toilets don't automatically assume that you want to flush. What a fun change.

2. Paper towels are huge. Ok, many things are huger here than in Oz (SUVs anyone? And to quote a long favorite traveler: "In the US I'm over 5 feet, here I'm less than 2 meters"). But I had forgotten that US paper towels routinely come about 4 inches wider than Australian ones do.

3. Airport security is more of a burden. I swear when I left you didn't have to take your shoes off at every check point in every airport. Australia's check points hearken back to a day pre-9/11 when really all you needed to do was take out your laptop. In SF, I was treated like an imbecile when I forgot to remove my shoes. And I thought I was doing so well remembering not to pack any liquids or gels.

Otherwise, driving on the right seems ok, not too foreign, and I've stopped wanting to ask people where they're from every time I hear an American accent across the room.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Package karma

Sometimes I receive mail for former tenants from my apartment. Generally, if it's not important, I throw it away. If it seems important, I return to sender it. But with packages, they don't get delivered, I just get a package slip to go pick it up at the post office. Of course, I can't pick up the package, cause it's not addressed to me. Fair enough.

But then they send a reminder to come get the package. So I'm thinking maybe there's some one this girl hasn't given her new address to, whatever, it will get sent back to the sender. A few days later my mail box is stuffed (in the American sense, not the Australian one). There's a very thin package in my box. Also addressed to the former tenant. Wasn't sure exactly what to do with it. But it was from the states, and the customs form said swimwear. Now, that's intriguing.

So I thought, I'll open it and see if I can return it to the vendor. Well, it's a swimsuit top, green, this one in fact:

I can return it, but it will cost me $40 to ship it back. And I don't have the tenant's forwarding address. Yeah, so I tried it on. But it doesn't really fit, and it's only the tops. Now what do I do with it?

Now I think this transaction has ruined my package karma. Last week I got a package slip of my own. I picked it up on my way to work. Or rather, I made a detour on my way to work to get the package, but since it's not on my way, I had to take a second bus. Which the first time it came by was too packed to take on more passengers. So I had to wait. By the time I finally made it to work, I was running late. I got off the bus and started walking to work. I was on the bridge when one of my coworker's caught up with me and made a comment about our both running late. It was then that it occurred to me that I'd left the package on the bus, and the bus was already gone.

I got into work and called translink, turns out they don't run this bus, city council does. I call city council, turns out the bus could have gone to one of 4 different depots, and that I should wait til the following day to call back. I've called back, it's not there.

So I've screwed my package karma. If you'd like to test out my package karma, may I recommend sending to my work address.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Aussie! Aussie! Aussie! Oy! Oy! Oy!

A few thoughts on watching the Olympics from Australia:

Give me the medal count, I'll show you my country is on top.
American news is always touting the total medal count. China shows the count ordered by gold medals. Australians like to show the medal count per capita, which was showing them on top until Armenia, Slovenia and the Bahamas got medals.

Bring on the Asian.
Seriously, who thought this was a good idea?
How about, after Stephanie Rice won her race, the comedy team that polled random Chinese people to see if they "love rice?"

The American basketball team is still called the "Dream Team."
(Thanks, Paul, for pointing this one out)

Gymnastics are still part of the summer games.
Aussies are good athletes (just check that per capita medal table). But, due to the massive number of events, and all those great Aussie athletes, the coverage focuses on Aussie sports like swimming, polo or basketball. Australians are terrible gymnasts. It's easy to forget that there's even gymnastics at the games.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Noosa Training Camp

This weekend I went up to Noosa on the Sunshine Coast. My next big tri is in Noosa on November 2. It's the largest olympic distance triathlon in Australia and has been called the best olympic distance tri in the world. Noosa is 12 weeks out, so the squad went up to Noosa to practice on the course and all in all have a good weekend of working on our endurance.

The weekend boiled down pretty quickly to a routine: exercise, eat, sleep, repeat. I arrived on Friday afternoon, got changed and went for an hour and a half run out along the national forest. It was spectacularly beautiful with the sun setting as we climbed the cliffs out to the furthest outcrop and tried to first avoid the wedding guests and later to navigate through the forest in the dark. It was a nice run, but the course was a bit sandy, and my shin splint started acting up again. The run is followed by dinner and sleep.

Saturday morning starts with a 6:30am ride (yay, it's a sleep in!). We ride most of the Noosa course which includes a 3km winding climb. It's not too steep, but it's 16 switchbacks and it's through eucalyptus forest. I started in the back, but made my way up past all but 2 of the other riders by the top of the hill. We then rode out through some undulating hills and did some standing practice up some really steep ones. I'm getting much better at standing. Back to the resort and we have breakfast and I take an hour nap.

At 11:30 we head down to the beach for a nice long swim. Most of the team has wetsuits. I do not. I probably will buy one soon, but with water temperatures at 19 degrees, it was not completely unreasonable to swim just in my suit. The swim was around 2.2k in the end. Then, of course, lunch and another nap.

This nap was not as easy to rise from. At 3:30 I woke up for our 4pm run and decided I could snooze for another 15 minutes. At 3:45 I had to start talking myself out of bed "Get Uuuuuuup! Get Uuuuuuup!" My legs, by this point, were dead. But I made it out for the run. It was supposed to be along the actual Noosa course, but we cut it a bit short cause of traffic. Once we got moving my legs actually felt much much better. 45 minutes later and we were done for the day. Time for a real shower complete with soap!

The whole weekend was social with the squad but due to the high number of hours we spent training and the propensity to nap in between sessions, it wasn't as social as I had anticipated. Saturday night every one was just wiped out and knew that the following day held a repeat of this day's activities. I think the earliest to bed was around 8, and I don't think any one made it much past 10:30.

Sunday morning, back on the bikes at 6:30. This time more undulating hills after 45 minutes the group split up with those who were knackered heading back. I continued on with 6 others from the squad. And it was great. We rode in a tight pack, which is awesome. It's easy to go fast, and easy to hang onto the back of the person ahead of you. Plus, we were on a nice flat stretch. We then caught up with the super fast group (they started riding at 5:15). And we hung onto them for 30 minutes going about 5km/hr faster than we'd been going. This was fantastic, big group, good riding skills and with the blood flowing to my legs, I didn't even notice how tired they were. Til we got back to the hills. Then, they dropped me, it'd been 2 hours on the road and I just couldn't hack it. By the time we got back I was lightheaded and my hands and feet were numb.

More breakfast and a quick leg massage instead of a nap, then off to our last session: one more ocean swim. This one was a bit shorter since the boat we had swum to on Saturday was no longer mored in the harbour. We swam a triangle, at the first stop the coach essentially said you can swim back if you want, but you've got to ask yourself "Am I tired, or am I just lazy?" Yeah, so I swam the whole thing.

What a great way to end another year.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008


Coffee is a cultural obsession in Australia. Some claim it's the influence of Italian immigrants last century, but regardless of the impetus Australians love their coffee. And they're snobby about it. They have their own names for coffees a "no-foam latte" is a "flat white" (my personal favorite). They also serve a "long black" which is just shot of espresso with extra water.

I'm not quite the fanatic that Melbournians are, but I enjoy a good coffee, and I need a coffee, regardless of quality, each and every morning. The UniQuest office has a good coffee machine, complete with a milk steamer, and we're only charged $1 for it, a significant savings over most $3 coffees around campus. The ITEE tea room has a coffee machine as well, and also charges just $1. So every morning I can choose, do I want to visit my UniQuest colleagues, or hang out with the nerds. I've been trying to hang out with the nerds more, it is my job.

Last week, the UniQuest coffee machine broke. This was devastating to most, but I, of course, could visit the ITEE tea room and continue on my merry way. This week the UniQuest coffee machine is back in order, but I visited it on Monday and some one had left milk in the steamer over the weekend. It was disgusting and nearly put me off milk entirely. This morning I opted for the ITEE tea room since the image of curdled milk in the steamer hasn't quite left me. But this morning there was something wrong with its steaming apparatus. Just steam, no milk. :-(

Now, like I said, I'm no coffee snob, but I'm really hurting for a good cuppa.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Turning Australian

It's been over a year, and I still sound like a yank. This isn't particularly surprising to me. I never picked up any Boston overtones besides "wicked", and after 6 years, I still couldn't put on a good Boston accent. Even here, being immersed, I can't put on a good Aussie accent, it always sounds British.

I called a friend from Cairns yesterday, and the first thing out of her mouth was "You sound so American." I think after several months of not hearing me talk, she had forgotten that I don't sound like her.

The thing is, slowly, I know I am picking things up. There are new vocabulary words: I put "reckon" into my vocabulary on purpose. But I say things like "cheers", I call "stores" "shops" and I describe them as "shut" when they're "closed" without even thinking about it. There are particular colloquialisms like adding "hey" to the end of questions.

Yesterday, I realized there's another form of Australian influence in my speech: new words are inherently Aussie. Recently, I learned the word "imprimatur," which in Aussie is pronounce im-prim-ah-tah. It was only pointed out to me by another American that it's actually (in the states) pronounced im-prim-ah-ter. Awesome. Good thing I arrived in Australia with a huge American vocabulary.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Fire doors

My apartment building has an elevator. I live on the fourth floor (despite the button saying 3), and I take the elevator every time. I only discovered this morning why that is.

We had a power failure at about 2am this morning. Luckily (?) I woke up when the power went out, and reset my alarm. However, no one reset the elevator. So at 5:20 as I stood at the elevator with my bike (and way too many layers - see below), nothing happened. I gave up and took the fire stairs and went to practice.

When I got back home, the elevator still wasn't working. I hiked back up the stairs with the bike over one shoulder. When I got to my floor, I discovered the door was locked. Fine, so I get out my key. Nope, my key doesn't open the door to my floor. The only access to my floor is via elevator. (Naturally, at this point, the 600mL of water and the coffee I've had are starting to encourage my bladder to send messages to my brain.)

I wait, I bang on the door. Nothing. Finally, some one comes down from above and tells me the building manager has called the elevator repairman. I tell him this doesn't do me much good, since I still need to get in the door, now, get showered and get to work. He offers to get the building manager. A further 10 minutes later the building manager arrives. He opens each floor door, and shoves something in it to prop it open. Here is the conversation that ensues:

"Our keys should open the door to the floor."
"No, they're fire doors."
"Sure, but when the lift is out, we have no other means to access our apartments"
"No, they're fire doors"
"But that's ridiculous"
"Take it up with the fire brigade"
"But there's no fire!"

At this point I give up the argument, there's no point in arguing with man who is actively propping up fire doors.

Going soft

For a few days Brisbanites have been predicting cold for Tuesday night. There were rumours that the temperatures would actually reach 0 (the minimum recorded temperature for July - the coldest month of the year - is -0.1). On Tuesday night at the pool, the coach commended us for coming out for a swim on what was supposed to be the coldest night of the year.

This morning when I rose for my ride, I got ready. I put on a long sleeved thermal top, then a bike jersey (gotta love the pockets), then an athletic sweater, then a windbreaker. On the bottom I wore leg warmers (not like from the 80s, they're sorta like the legs off of running tights, with reflective panels). I wore a knit cap, long-fingered gloves and finally, my little neoprene booties which stretch over my bike cleats to keep the cold air out.

Turns out, it was 7 degrees this morning (45). And I was wearing roughly twice as many layers as I needed.

How did I ever survive in Boston?

Friday, July 25, 2008


Saturday mornings (when I don't have a cold), I go for a run or a ride early in the morning, return home for a quick breakfast and a shower, then grab my green bags and head to the markets.

The Green Flea Markets are located in Davies Park a 10 minute walk from my house. The markets are a combination of local, organic farmers market produce, some more commercially produced produce, handmade jewelry, second hand clothes, old records, chai tea, cupcakes, cheesy bread sticks, a one man band and a guy who cuts hair in a very fancy stall.
And I love them. They're busy and noisy and sometimes it take 10 minutes to get a coffee, but they're always good value. The produce is much better and cheaper than what you find in the supermarket, and many people come for saturday brunch, and bring a picnic rug to spread out on the lawn of the park.
I went to the markets this morning. It's the middle of winter, but the skies are clear the sun is strong and it's about 70 degrees. And I thought about how lucky I am, to live here and to get to go to my market every weekend.
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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Kevin Rudd is my MP

In a parliament, the prime minister is not chosen by the populace but by other reps from his party. In an election is district elects their member of parliament (MP), then whichever party holds the majority decides among themselves who the leader of their party will be. Although most of the time this decision is made before the general election. So last year when the election was on, the debates were between Kevin Rudd, the leader of the Labour party, and John Howard, the then PM and leader of the Liberal party. Then in the election, John Howard was not re-elected in his home seat. And, Labour won a majority in parliament. Thus big Kev is the PM now, and Brendan Nelson is the newly appointed "opposition leader" i.e., the leader of the Liberal party.

Why does this matter? Cause Kevin Rudd is the MP for my district. Now, I can't vote for him, but still. How cool is it to be one of his constituents.

In related news, the Premier of Queensland (i.e., the Governor) is the rep for South Brisbane as well. I'm so close to greatness.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The value of protecting algorithms

When I worked in Indigenous affairs, I posted my thoughts on that. Well now it's time for my new work to inspire some posts. Certainly, I'm not the first person to think about these things. And definitely, some of my friends have thought these things through much more thoroughly than I have, so I welcome your comments.

Working in the school of ITEE means I cover computer science as well. This means that a vast majority of the ideas that come across my desk are related to algorithms. Cool, right? But I'm begun to wonder, what is the value in protecting algorithms?

A researcher comes up with a really cool way to do something, say, searching video databases. The way he does it is different to his colleagues and works just as well. Now he's gonna publish a paper on this, cause that's what he's paid to do. But as soon as he publishes, the method is in the public domain, which in most countries means that you can't patent it. So, before he publishes, we rush around to get a provisional patent put in to cover the space. Phew, right, now we've got the beginnings of protection for this algorithm. He publishes, and further down the track, the patent is published as well. This means that no one else can use this algorithm without his permission, right?

But here's the rub, 1) algorithms are easy to tweak, tweak a bit here, a bit there, maybe you're no longer infringing and 2) how do you enforce it? I can suspect that Google's YouTube is using this algorithm, but I don't really know, and without being Viacom, I don't think I have much of a chance of getting Google to reveal their algorithm to me. So, why patent in the first place?

Counterpoint: Google patented pagerank (the secret sauce behind why their search engine dominates). Do they sue people they suspect of using it. Does yahoo really not use some approximation of pagerank?


Next time: When is it diagnosing a problem, when is it just dobbing colleagues.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Wikipedia's limitations

"All or part of this article may be confusing or unclear"

No shit. I wish I had a Young Lady's Illustrated Primer.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Laura has questions for Australian universities

1. Why is there no food available on campus after 4pm? Will this change when classes are in session?

2. Should potato chips (regardless of whether they are chicken or pork flavoured) be considered food?

3. Not really a question: I want my $2.10 back. I paid for 2 bags of peanuts, cause the first bag got caught in the machine, and I still only got the first bag.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Fourth of July!!!

Fourth of july

UniQuest has drinks every Friday. So, when Fourth of July fell on a Friday, I thought why not share the American spirit with my new employers. Trying to find the right balance of Americana that was cute, but not obnoxious was not easy. A few American flags, some sparklers, MGD and the Boston Pops on the stereo, and we had a full on Fourth of July bash.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Bloody motorist

It's been months since I was hit by the car. I am, for the most part, all better. I still should go get some physio on my left side. It still tightens up when I ride, and my left hip is definitely not as flexible as the right one, but I get by. I've got the new bike, and so for the most part, life has moved on.

I got a quote to replace the bike and have been calling the motorist for a while asking for his insurance info. He's been stalling. First he wanted the police report, then once it was done, he wanted them to send him a copy (which they don't do), so then I paid for a copy ($65, thank you very much), and posted a copy to him. Then he avoided my calls. I finally got in touch with him and he says he wants to contest the police report. Motherfucker. My response was, "Fine, you'll hear from my solicitor"

Problem is lawyers or solicitors won't take a case that's less than $7500. And my damages are only $2600. I can take him to small claims court, but I have to do that in Cairns, which means taking a day off, flying to Cairns, and there's still no guarantee that he'd show up, or even pay up with a court order.

So, I've hired a collections agency. They take 40%, which is pretty steep, but to have the problem go away and just get a check for $1000 is worth it. Especially, if they make this guy's life shitty in the process. I don't think of myself as a vindictive person. But, christ, the man could have just as easily killed me if there'd been another car behind me. And now he's being all slimey and trying to get out of. Fuck him.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Race Report: Gold Coast Half Marathon

I did not train as well as I could have for the half marathon. Between travel and shin splints, I just didn't do as many Ks. But last week I ran 16Ks in prep, and I sorta reckoned that it would take me 2 hours, which is an hour short of what a tri took me, so I could probably run for the long.

Last night, I tried to get to sleep early. I watched a movie, had a beer, and went to bed at 9:30. At 10pm my neighbors sounded like they had moved their party onto my balcony. It sounded like a good time, if I hadn't had to get up at 4am. When I finally did get to sleep, it was fretful. The movie was a thriller, and I kept having nightmares that someone had stolen my license. And I kept waking up worrying that I would sleep through my alarm.

I had forgotten to pick up my number last week, so when I got to the course, I needed to find registration. The start was at 6:30. So at 6:05 it was still dark, and registration was not easy to find. By the time I got my number, it was 5 min til the start, not enough time to get into the queue for the loo. OK, fine, there will be toilets on the course.

7000 people ran the half marathon this morning. The start was just packed. When the gun went off, I wasn't even on the course, I was on the other side of a barrier. Slowly, we hopped over the barrier, and walked toward the start. They had music playing. When I crossed, the song "Running" (by Kiwi band Evermore) was playing, there was a little downhill and I could see the field of runners stretching out in front of me for what looked like miles already.

Generally, I find the first 5K of a run the hardest, then things start to settle in, I find my cadence and my breath, and then I feel like I can just keep going. This morning, maybe because there were so many people in the field that it took a lot of time to get up to speed, I felt good right off the start. I caught up to the 2 hour pace setters (they carry balloons!), and felt fast, so I passed them. Besides, I was still gonna have to stop to visit the loo somewhere along the course.

At 4K, I found my pit stop. I lost 2.5 minutes in the queue, but definitely better than it would have been had I waited at the start. The 2h balloons were a minute ahead of me when I rejoined the field, so I tried to keep them in my sights, and re-pass people I had passed in the start. At 6K the rain started. It was just a drizzle, but it was a cold drizzle and it was enough to get the shoes wet through and through.

The course turned and across the sky there was a rainbow. Not just a little wedge of rainbow like you get in the states. It arced across the entire sky touching the horizon twice. And the rain stopped.

The first 12K of the race just felt great. In fact, I forgot to look at my time when crossing the halfway mark. At that point it started to get hard. There was no sign for the 14K mark which messes with your head when you're trying to focus on pealing off the K's. At the 17K mark things started to hurt. But I also realized I was going to finish in less than 1:55. I started focusing on how many Ks to go (which my math brain seems to turn off when I'm running so it was somewhere between 6 and 3K depending on when you ask me). At 18K, I could feel the blisters coming up. At 19K, I began counting my breaths to pull myself through.

And then, it was over. 1 hour, 53 minutes and 46 seconds after I started, I was finished. I crossed the line, got my water and banana, my medal and my tshirt.

In a few days, I'll stop waddling. In a week, the blisters will callus. And in a few months, I'll run another half, sub 1:50.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

I should have paid more attention in undergrad

If I had known when I was 20 that when I was (nearly) 29 I'd be looking at various academic papers and trying to determine if they were novel, would I have paid more attention? Or would I have just thought, I could rely on wikipedia (which is what I do).

So many of these concepts are vaguely familiar (principal compenent analysis, eigenvectors, support vector machines), but I feel like I never really understood them. I learned enough to regurgitate it to pass the test, then immediately repurposed those brain cells.

And now I'm left wiki-ing and scrounging the web for references, simple illustrations, something to get me to pass this current test.

Thursday, June 26, 2008


One year ago today, I stepped off a plane and into a world entirely unknown to me. With one American in Sydney and an Australian in Melbourne as my closest connections, I started the process of discovering Australia and myself.

Now looking back a year, I didn't know what I was getting myself into. A new culture, a new job, a new climate, and learning to be by myself. It wasn't always easy, but it's always been good.

Shortly after arriving, I read an article on the difference between "friends" and "mates". Friends you take or leave. You meet, might be friends for the night, or a month or even a year, but the bar is low to become a friend, and it's easy to go back to not being friends. Mates on the other hand seem to take on some meaning from the verb form of the word. Being a mate is more intimate. It takes time. I was friends with people in Cairns pretty quickly, but it took time to really develop into mates. Now, with most of them spread across Australia, I keep in regular touch with them in some cases more than with my American friends.

Coincidentally, today I sent my laptop back to BCG and I received a package from BCG with the remainder of the items I left at my desk in Boston. Now, a year from my arrival, I am completely severed from BCG. And isn't it great!

I looked back at my first post. My predictions. They seem sort of silly now, in light of the fact that Australia is no longer just a trip for me, but it's my life now. Of course I have more shoes, I've read more books, and still have not had a venomous attack. When I moved to Brisbane I still had my four bags, but now I had 3 boxes, and none of them a bike box. And I was ridiculously over the weight limit. Now I own silverware and plates, towels, and sheets. All the little pieces of a life here.

I'm still living a bit of a hybrid life. Still in a mostly furnished apartment, with a lot of my time spent thinking about or skyping to the US. Maybe that's the way it will always be, whether I'm in the US or Australia, always with a connection to the other.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Amendment: Slowest of the slow

Today I rode with the slow group, and I still couldn't keep up. I brake when going down hills or around corners or when there's a car anywhere in my sight. And then I'm constantly playing catch up.

Fastest of the slow, slowest of the fast

I've joined a tri team. The Brisbane Tri Squad. It is far more serious than my training in Cairns, and it should be since I have to pay a monthly fee. But it means that I have coaches to oversee my program and improve my technique.

Last week I did my first ride with them. They break into three levels. Level 1 being super fast, Level 3 being entry level. Or as the bike coach defines them "Fast, Very Fast, Incredibly Fast". So I decided I'd try out the "fast" or entry level ride. This ride felt a bit slow. Granted, one of the girls got a flat in the first 10K or so. But still, I thought it wasn't really challenging. I decided to take on Level 2 this week.

Fastforward to last Sunday. I wake up with some pretty tired legs after an hour of twenty minutes of hill running the previous morning. But decide to go ahead and join up with level 2 anyway. There are only 4 other riders and the head coach when I arrive. We take off at a good pace, but we're heading through the city, so there's lots of lights, clipping in and clipping out. I'm still not especially good at that, so I always have to catch up from the lights. Then we start hitting the hills. And my legs just don't have it in them. The coach is great, riding along with me, several meters back from the pack, and giving me pointers (really got my money's worth out of this ride), but still, it's obvious, I can't hack it. He and I turn back early, catch up with group 3, where he drops me off.

Now I'm of two minds about this. One says, I should stick with the group I can hang with, a less humbling and far more enjoyable ride. The other says, if I want to improve I should ride with the fast group and be challenged. I'll get faster faster. I think after this week, I'll go back to level 3 for a few weeks til I build up the courage to try them out again. Maybe next time with stronger legs.

Similarly, I've been swimming with the UQ adult swim squad. There are three lanes. I tried the slow lane the first time, and I was faster than the rest. But this time, I didn't get too encouraged by this. I stuck to the slow lane, and I was the only one. So the coach moved some medium swimmers into my lane. And I was back to being the slowest of the slow. Yay.

I want to use this coaching time to really improve my technique. Take stroke improvement classes, I've been doing an indoor ride (where I bring my bike and put it on a wind trainer - which makes it into a stationary bike) to get technique improvement on my cycling.

Oh, and I signed up for my next olympic distance triathlon. November 2, in Noosa (2 hours north of Brisbane). It's the largest olympic distance race in australia, and it's supposed to be a crazy awesome party. Woo hoo. A few shorter tri's between now and then, and of course the Gold Coast half marathon coming up in a week and a half.

Friday, June 13, 2008

For serious

I continue to settle in. Starting to figure out a routine, which sessions to go to at the pool, going for a ride tomorrow with a tri squad. But I keep feeling like this is for serious now. It didn't hit me when I changed the subtitle of the blog from 6 to 9 months, or even when I made it say "ongoing." But now, working and living in Brisbane, it seems like this is no long an adventure, it's my life. I live in a foreign country. I work here. Sorta freaky.

People ask me how long I'm here for, and I say "indefinitely". It's not that I don't think I'll ever come back, it's just that I no longer have an end date.

My Australian anniversary is in 2 weeks. And after that I'll look to celebrate another fourth of July and a second birthday abroad. It is still the right thing to be here, I just have to remember that the clock doesn't stop just because I'm away.

In related news, the two other Americans at work and I are trying to figure out how to celebrate the fourth. I was thinking tiny American flags on every one's desks. Perhaps pigs in a blanket. Maybe trying to scare up some Sam Adams and some reese's cups (no I still don't eat peanut butter, but I'm thinking of the Aussies). Any suggestions? Volunteers to ship American goods down under.

And finally, I bought this recipe magazine. It seems unlikely that it is entirely created, photographed and edited by gay men. But, I can see no other possible explanation for this photo:

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Contact info


I moved here are my new details:
2402/6 Manning St
South Brisbane QLD 4101

My mobile remains the same +61 438 632 855

And my new work address is:
Level 7, General Purpose South
Staff House Road
The University of QLD
Brisbane QLD 4072

work is still the best address for packages.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Settling in

Four days of work and a new bike. So far, so good.

It may be a bit early, but work seems pretty awesome. I work with the techology commercialisation team (which is about half the company, ~40 people), but I sit with the school of IT and electrical engineering 3 stories downstairs. I come up to UniQuest several times a day for meetings and lunch. I've been wandering the corridors introducing myself to grad students and researchers. And otherwise looking at a few technologies that some profs have brought my way. My office is huge, though relatively bare (I'm thinking of taking my digital picture frame into work). The people are all welcoming, the hours are officially 8:30 to 5:30, though the office is empty at 8:30 and pretty vacant again by 5:15. But most importantly, I feel pretty comfortable, even though I still don't know what I'm doing. I feel confident I can do this job well. What a change from BCG.

I live a 5 minute walk to the big bus station where I can take the express bus which takes about 12 minutes to get to campus, then it's another 5 or so minutes walk across campus to my building, General Purpose South (and I thought MIT had a bad naming scheme). The only problem with the commute is that there seem to be 4 different schedules for the bus: there's the online one, the one that's published at the stops, the digital one that flickers up at the stations, and then the one they actually run on. None of them is particularly indicative of the others. But in general, they run every 5 minutes in the morning and every 10 minutes in the evenings. So... Not so bad.

I need to do some work clothes shopping. I didn't bring a lot of "work clothes" over to Cairns, and the office is actually an office, unlike CYI. Plus I've shrunk a bit since I bought these work clothes, so things seem to hang off me. Guess this means more shopping this weekend. Thank goodness for Queen's Birthday sales! That's right, I have Monday off for the celebration of the Queen's birthday. It should be noted that the Queen Elizabeth II's birthday is actually on the 21st of April. Of course it's not the Queen's birthday in Western Australia, cause it's celebrated there sometime in September.

The apartment is coming together. Still needs a different TV stand, a BBQ on the porch and a bit more decor, but it's good. The curtains help a lot.

And then there's the bike. I just picked her up today, and she's a beauty. Small and stealthy. I'm thinking her name might be Leticia. Not luh-ti-sha, but la-tee-see-ah. Despite being an American bike, she just seems exotic. Tomorrow morning I'm gonna take her to the indoor bike studio for her first ride. I'm still nervous about riding her. She's so new and shiny. And I will try to do better by her than my LeMond, but I can't promise that she won't take a beating. I'm still learning.

I haven't joined a tri club yet. I'm still trying to figure out with my work schedule what will work best. The ride tomorrow morning is with the Brisbane Tri Squad and the studio is just down the street from me. But they swim in the Valley which is too far for me to go. There is a tri club at UQ, but I'm not sure if it'll work either: they practice at UQ at 5:30am which means I'd have to ride to work everyday in the dark, cause buses don't run that early.

So slowly, I'm starting to build a life here.

Living in Brissie

Saturday, May 31, 2008

New bike!

Bike shops make me nervous. I think it's cause even after 100 miles in one day, I still feel pretty clueless about bikes. I mix up my down tube and my down bars. I'm never sure what it means to go up or down a gear (especially depending on whether it's on the front or the back gears). So I've been dragging my feet about buying a new bike. I want a new bike, but all those decisions, trying to find a good price, a trustworthy mechanic, an upgrade from my old bike, but not too much bike that people look at me and think, "What's that girl doing on such a nice bike?" It's all been a bit too much. But with my extended holiday coming to a close(work starts on Monday), I needed to get moving.

I've checked out 3 bike shops that are in walking distance of my house. Is it so wrong that bike shop I eventually bought the bike from was the one that didn't make me nervous? It was also the only shop to discount the bike price. And the most affordable bike overall.

Here she is, my new bike:
I've ordered it in black. But it's a clear coat that shows the carbon fiber. She should be here, built and fitted by next weekend! Hooray, bike! Any name recommendations?

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Longtime silence is a prime indicator of romance

Sunday, I received this email from a friend:

"What is happening in Australia? Nothing on ye olde blogue for a while, nor Facebook ... have you got a boy? Longtime silence is a prime indicator of romance, I say."

Very astute. My hiatus has been caused by a man. Way back over christmas I had a date in Boston. Well, I've just had my second date: a two week holiday in Australia covering Sydney, Cairns and Brisbane. Allow me to introduce, Paul:

We spent the first week in Sydney (at the Westin, which we can highly recommend, especially the club lounge with free breakfast, cocktails and canapes everyday) doing touristy things. We took the ferry across the harbour to the Taronga zoo, which is built into the side of the hill and has spectacular views of Sydney and some pretty cool animals as well.

Day two, we went to high tea at the Opera house (pictured above). Tea included tea, champagne cocktails, tiny sandwiches with the crusts cut off, and more sugar on one plate that one could possibly manage. It also included a short program by one of the opera's sopranos who sang one of my favorite arias, O Mio Babbino Caro (yes, the one from a Room with a View).

Day three, we nearly missed our wine country tour when we didn't change hotels (I mean really how can you change hotels when there are canapes every night). But we made it. It's a two hour drive from Sydney to the hunter valley, where we visited several small wineries, then went on a cheese tasting tour on our own. Ok, I'm going to be honest. We spent about 3 times as much on cheese as we did on wine. And we ate all of the cheese the following day. I love cheese.

Day four, we ate cheese.

We did eventually make it out to the Victoria Room in Darlinghurst for several amazing cocktails: tequila manhattan, a drink with bourbon, chambourd, and ginger beer that we couldn't get enough of, and finally a cuban blazer. Our bartender, far more the cocktail enthusiast than most, was fantastic. We were rifling through the cocktail book (not really a list) and she asked us what we liked and devised our cocktails for us. Devine.

Day five, we hit the paddington markets, then headed up to Cairns.

I was more sentimental about Cairns than I thought I might be. I believe I narrated every shop and corner we passed. And Paul was good enough to feign interest in my fun facts (couldn't really call them stories, "This chemist is new!!"). We took the skyrail up to Kuranda, mostly just to take the skyrail (Gondolas that take you from the coast over the rainforest to the tablelands). And had a fantastic Aussie BBQ on the Esplanade with Kimberley and Hamish, complete with a park ranger asking us to at least not be so blatant with our alcohol. We weren't rowdy, but we'd decided to recreate the bourbon drink from the Victoria Room, so we had many alcohol bottles out on the picnic table.

The following day we went up to Port Douglas and took a reef tour with two intro dives. It's scuba diving without any of the training! That sounds unsafe, but really, you have a guide who adjusts your buoyancy, and we never went further down than 8 or so meters. It was fantastic. Giant clams, gorgeous coral, a shark, a barracuda and nemo. The drive to PD also included a bit of narration ("the paddock with wallabies", "the turn around point for a 50K ride", "the turn around point for a 60K ride", "the furthest north I've ever cycled" - exciting stuff).

Next we drove South to Mission Beach and stayed in the rain forest for two nights at Sanctuary. Here we stayed in a tiny hut (think screened in porch) in the heart of the jungle. I took a lovely yoga class, and we watched Queensland get spanked in the state of origin game*.

Upon returning to Cairns we spent the afternoon in my favorite bar, Tides before heading down the Brisbane.

Contrary to Rowan's suggestion, I did not just import Paul to help me do household things. However, he did help me hang my curtains. In Brissie, we mostly just explored my neighborhood. It was fun just to have some one to check things out with. We tried out the jazz happy hour at the Queensland Performing Arts Centre, had dinner at Satchmos with a live band, pub crawled our way back to my house from the West End and had the world's largest tapas at Sling.

And now he's back in the states. So what does one do for a third date?

Paul in Sydney

Paul in QLD
*State of Origin is a three game rugby league series where professional players play go back and play for their home state. Only Queensland and New South Wales play rugby league, so it's always the rivalry between the two. This was the first game of the series. Game two is in several weeks.

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