07 December 2007

Lucky Sevens: Election Day

Two weeks ago was election day, and George Bush's little buddy, John Howard, and his Liberal government were voted out. Note that 'Liberal' is not used in the normal American sense, but rather refers to the Liberal Party of Australian, who are politically similar to the Republicans. Kevin Rudd, leader of the Australian Labor Party, is the new Prime Minister.

Rudd kept a campaign promise and signed an international convention, leaving the US as the only industrialised nation in the world to not ratify the agreement. Your Lucky Sevens question: What is the international convention ratified by Rudd and the new Labor government this week?

05 December 2007

Hawaiian holiday

In the middle of November, Heather and I took a trip to Hawaii for her sister's wedding and a little holiday. The weather was great, the beach was fantastic, the turtles were out and the beach front wedding was beautiful. In short, it was a welcome holiday.
We didn't spend all our time on the beach, though. My father-in-law and I played a round of golf at Kapalua Bay, site of the 2008 Kapalua LPGA Classic. Paul and I each hired a set of clubs--Titleist, and yes, clubs make a difference. We each hit several shots too well, flying well over the green from 150 yards out with a seven iron, expecting to hit it 140. On the 18th (actually the 9th--we played the front nine twice due to some work being done on the back nine), I hit my tee shot 310 yards, with a 3-wood, easily my longest drive ever. I shot a 94, and given more experience with the clubs, I could have easily shot in the eighties. I'm certainly willing to give it a go as soon as Heather gives the green light for a new set of Titleist irons. The only part of my game that let me down was my putting, while Paul was getting up and down from the fringe of the green the entire round.

On Wednesday Heather rented a car, a Mustang convertible, one of approximately 257,000 on the island. Verdict: looks good, but it's not that great. The wedding, however, was very nice. The Pacific Ocean makes quite a dramatic backdrop for a wedding ceremony. The daughter was given, vows were spoken and the husband and wife were pronounced without a hitch. No wind-blown sheet music, tripping brides or awestruck flower girls here. It was a small family affair, followed by pictures, cake and more pictures, to allow for the changing lighting conditions. And even the Mustang seemed better on the way back to the hotel, once we could put the top down on it.

We still had a couple more days to relax in Maui after the wedding, and Heather and I spent one of them driving up Haleakala, a 10,023 foot volcano. I enjoy driving on cliff edges, but that's not Heather's favourite experience, especially when you leave the clouds behind at 6,000 ft. She is pictured here above the crater, and you can see the clouds just beginning to roll in the mouth of the crater. Visitors are informed at the site that if the wind is blowing right, the entire crater can be filled with clouds within five minutes. Next time you are in Maui, I'd recommend a visit, but here's some free advice: wear warm clothing. You might be catching rays on the beach later, but at the top of Haleakala, it's a bit nippy.

A holiday is always welcome, but this was a particularly special one, as we spent it with family, both old and new. I congratulate Craig and Michelle on their wedding and thank them for sharing it with us.

03 December 2007

Catching up

Things have been awfully busy around here lately. When I last posted, I was sitting in the airport in Honolulu. We spent a week on Maui for my sister-in-law's wedding and played tourists in Sydney again when Heather's parents visited. Right before all that, I finished my first semester of my Masters program. Needless to say, I have a lot to catch up on and am still gathering my thoughts, not to mention all the pictures.

So as I figure out the best way to catch you up on everything, I wanted to share an article with you from the Dallas Morning News. Please see New A&M coach Sherman has heart of a champion. I'm no fan of the Aggies, but my cousin, Steven Ramirez, was, and the article details the very special relationship between him and Mike Sherman.

11 November 2007

Jacarandas


About this time every year, the jacarandas bloom, and as you can see, they are quite stunning. And they are everywhere, even in the city. They only bloom for about two weeks, and the rest of the year they have regular green leaves, but at this time of year, there is purple everywhere you look. These pictures were taken by our German friend Klaus at the Quad on the University of Sydney campus. Enjoy.

07 November 2007

Lucky Sevens: Melbourne Cup

Tuesday was the Melbourne Cup, also known as 'the race that stops a nation'. And yes, it does stop the nation. Tuesday afternoons at school are for staff and faculty meetings, but on the Tuesday of the Cup, our meeting consists of watching the race. Incidentally, my first day at the school two years ago was Melbourne Cup day. That was an interesting introduction to Australian schools. The Melbourne Cup is considered the premiere two mile race in the world. That's right: not just in the Southern Hemisphere. This year's winner, pictured here, was Efficient.

However, there was a situation this year that nearly canceled, or at least postponed, the Melbourne Cup. Your Lucky Sevens question for November is: What happened that almost stopped the race that stops a nation?

11 October 2007

Not your friendly neighbourhood Spiderman

I just locked my balcony door.

We live on the ninth floor, so for the few months since we moved into this apartment, we figured it was OK to leave it unlocked.

We were wrong.

According to this article from the Sydney Morning Herald, there is a thief out there who likes climbing the outside of high rise buildings and entering apartments through the balcony. He has been linked to 16 different robberies.

Here's hoping that our locked door keeps us from being number 17.

07 October 2007

Lucky Sevens: The Rugby World Cup

The Rugby World Cup is being held in France right now. Unfortunately, Australia was knocked out by the English Saturday night. The USA didn't make it out of their pool, surprise, surprise. Word is they have a talented pool of young players ready to develop in the next ten years. I'll believe it when I see it. Later Saturday, New Zealand was also dismissed from the comp in their loss to host nation France. These two huge upsets leaves the door wide open for South Africa, looking for their second title.
Your Lucky Sevens question for the month: How many Rugby World Cup titles has Australia won?

03 October 2007

The mark

I got an assessment back in class Tuesday night—got a D on it. As I am sure you would understand, it kind of freaked me out. All kinds of thoughts ran through my head: Maybe I don't belong here, maybe a Master's degree isn't for me, is it too late to drop, etc.

Then I heard a person sitting near me asking another classmate about her D. The classmate replied that it was a D for Distinction, the second highest mark you can get.

19 September 2007

Football v Rugby

Last spring (Northern Hemisphere for 'autumn'), I pitted Baseball against Cricket to decide once and for all which is the greatest ball and stick game. The coming of the Northern fall brings with it football, rugby and the definitive battle for supremacy among these contact sports.

But first, the ground rules. For the purposes of this comparison, I will be using the NFL, the pinnacle of American football, and Rugby Union, the more popular, and in my opinion, superior form of that game. Ten categories will be considered, worth ten points each, plus a five point bonus category. Let the best game win.

Best Team
Football (7) - Cameragate notwithstanding, the New England Patriots have been the team to beat for the past six years. However, due to free agency and the salary cap, the Pats pale in comparison to the great teams of the past.
Rugby (9) - According to the IRB World Rankings, New Zealand is the current world's best, and it isn't for a lack of opposition. They dominate on the world scene, despite the best efforts of Australia, South Africa, England and France.

Best Historical Team
Football (9) - This is always good for a debate, but I'll go with the Cowboys. They are tied for the most Super Bowl wins, and I'd put the Boys of the early 90's up against anyone.
Rugby (9) - This one is a little tougher, but I'll go with the All Blacks again. Their 1925 squad was referred to as 'The Invincibles', and that's good enough for me.

Best Rivalry
Football (7) - The best rivalries are in college, but the Cowboys/Redskins rivalry isn't bad, followed closely by Chicago/Green Bay, Denver/Oakland, Denver/Kansas City, and Dallas/Philly.
Rugby (9) - There are some good options here, but I've got to go with New Zealand/Australia. Seems to usually come down to these two teams and they are currently the top two teams in the world.

Outcomes
Football (9) - Ties are possible but highly unlikely. Overtime rules cost it a point though--I don't like the fact that the losing team might never touch the ball.
Rugby (6) - Again, ties are possible but unlikely in league competition, although they do happen more than in the NFL. In tournaments such as the World Cup, overtime rules include two ten minute periods. Better than a tie, but sudden death would be better.

Big Play Potential
Football (10) - This is football's moment to shine. You never know when the QB is going to throw a deep pass, a RB is going to break through for a huge gain or even when a safely is going to drop a WR cutting across the middle. Good times.
Rugby (8) - You get some big plays, but no forward pass removes lots of opportunity.

Specialization
Football (3) - And this is football's weak point. You've got offensive and defensive units, linemen, skill position players, etc. All it takes is the ability to do one thing well.
Rugby (8) - Some specialization, but for the most part, every player on the pitch needs to excel as an all-round player.

Sportsmanship
Football (5) - Rules have to be written to enforce sportsmanlike behavior. Shameful.
Rugby (9) - Tana Umaga, former All Blacks captain, once abandoned a favorable play to check on the Welsh captain who had been knocked unconscious. Pure class. It's a rough game, but the players respect their opponent.

Best Trophy
Football (5) - Not really a fan of the Lombardi Trophy. Kinda boring.
Rugby (6) - The Webb Ellis Cup. What is there to say? It's a nice enough cup.

Popularity
Football (6) - A good deal of the world watches the Super Bowl, but no one else seriously plays football. The American Football World Cup could only attract ten participants, and until this year, when the US first entered the World Cup, Japan had been a two-time champion. Japan!
Rugby (7) - It's not yet soccer's equal on the world scene, but rugby enjoys fairly widespread popularity, although it has been dominated by a handful of countries for most of its history.

Toughness
Football (9) - I get questions about this all the time from rugby fans, but I still give footballers credit despite the pads. As we learned two weeks ago from Kevin Everett, injuries still happen, even with a helmet and big shoulder pads. Football's hits and collisions are too big to try this game without protection.
Rugby (10) - Some players wear padded headgear, but otherwise players play without protection. And the hits are almost on par with the NFL. High speed collisions aren't as common and tackling rules help, but this is still a violent sport.

Bonus: Best Tradition
Football (3) - I'll go with the Lambeau Leap. Nice to get the fans involved.
Rugby (5) - New Zealand's haka is both a cultural celebration and fierce intimidation. That's Tana Umaga leading the haka in the video below.


Add it all up and rugby takes down American football and it isn't even close: 86-73. Football is a great game, but give rugby a try during the World Cup, shown on Versus.

17 September 2007

Protesting APEC

September 8-9 was the annual APEC forum, and it was big news in Sydney. It was such a big deal that Sydney was basically shut down on Friday for a declared holiday.

Why was it such a big deal? Because APEC brought George W Bush to town, and people wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to protest the war, globalisation, climate change, human rights violations and just about everything else. Leading up to the big weekend, the Stop Bush Coalition planned a major protest and attempted to get their plans approved by the police. The two groups didn't exactly see eye to eye on the protest, though—during the last week, the protesters were forced to alter their protest route. The police promised a strong showing and even purchased a $700,000 water cannon. I had planned on attending the protest, but decided in the last week to stay away.
However, as the protest began Saturday morning, the news coverage revealed no problems. I decided to join the protest rally at Hyde Park, their destination. Reports later in the day revealed 3500 police and either 10,000 (protester count), 5000 (police count), or 3000 (media count) protesters. There were only 17 arrests, 14 of which were quickly released, some within minutes of being cuffed, and two policemen were injured. All in all, it was a rather tame rally, especially compared to what the police were predicting.

Post-rally, both sides claimed victory and questioned the other side. The police claimed their strong showing prevented trouble, while the protesters said they planned a peaceful rally all along and wondered aloud why the police felt it necessary to bring such numbers.

Personally, I thought both sides came off as foolish. I understand the police's need for safety, but I felt they were heavy-handed. A water cannon? 3500 officers? Snipers on rooftops and in choppers? A little much. But I also thought the protesters came off as petulant attention seekers, a least the ones on the news. I suppose the media shares some guilt in this as well. Too many of the protesters I saw in the park appeared either misguided or disinterested in the cause.

All in all, I left the rally dejected. The police and the government seemed oppressive and the protesters' message was lost in their chase for attention. On a good note, I'm going to turn this into a paper. We have to write about a conflict for my Peace and Conflict Studies class. I'm not going to discuss the rally itself, but rather the planning, or lack thereof, between the protesters and the police. Without having done too much research yet, I think the truth lies somewhere in between.

06 September 2007

Lucky Sevens: APEC

Sydney is in lockdown because of APEC this weekend. Heather and I, along with everyone else who works in the city, got a holiday today in an attempt to clear some traffic out of the city. This month's Lucky Sevens question: What does APEC stand for?

05 September 2007

City2Surf 2007 results

City2Surf was a few weeks back. I didn't get to train like I should have given our recent move and starting my Development Studies program. Plus, after running the marathon in May, I didn't exactly take the 14K seriously. Halfway through the run, though, I realized that 14K is still a little more than your average morning stroll. Especially when you get to Heartbreak Hill. But I finished in about 85 minutes, which beat my goal and beats last year's time. If I run it next year, I'd like to cut that down to sub 75 to qualify for the front of the pack seedings.

More important is the other goal that I beat. As I posted before, City2Surf encouraged runners to raise money for a charity this year. I was running for UNICEF and hoped to raise $250. Thanks to your generous donations, $365 was raised. In total, City2Surf runners raised just over a million dollars. Kudos to City2Surf for making this possible and thanks to you for making a difference for kids around the world.

16 August 2007

Australian advertisements

Here are two commercials getting airtime here right now. The first is from the Rapid Transit Authority, the same people who remind you to 'Look Right' when crossing the street.

This ad is taking some heat right now—Heather saw somewhere that they get one complaint per day from men claiming that it is sexist. Her response is that nearly everything else on TV is sexist to women. Either way, I'm pretty sure that the guys complaining are the ones driving like this.

This commercial is for Pura Milk. I thought the 'Got Milk?' campaign was good, but this one gives it a good run.

08 August 2007

Lucky Sevens: University of Sydney

Sorry I'm a day late—I guess that makes this Lucky Eights. Been busy with school this week. If anyone can help me find some articles about Cuban language policy, let me know.

Which brings me to this week's question, which should require some research for you, too: Where does the University of Sydney's Faculty of Arts and Humanities rank in the world? Hint: dig around the University website.

05 August 2007

City2Surf 2007

The 2007 City2Surf 14K is next Sunday. As always, the run begins at Hyde Park, very near our apartment, and finishes at Bondi Beach. A new twist has been added this year: participants are allowed to designate a charity to raise money for. I have chosen UNICEF, which I thought was appropriate given that I have just begun my Masters in Development Studies. My fundraising page can be found here.

Please consider making a donation to UNICEF. I chose this charity because it benefits kids around the world who don't have any of the things that I took for granted when I was a kid. It is a United Nations run organisation and I have the utmost confidence that the money donated will be well spent. Any amount would be greatly appreciated.

01 August 2007

Long time, no blog

Hi! My name is Chris and this is my blog about living in Sydney, Australia. I feel like I have to introduce myself again since it has been so long since my last post. Things have been busy around here. I have started my Development Studies program at the University of Sydney and all the homework and projects that goes with that. I have to make a fifteen minute presentation about Cuba in two weeks. Apparently, there really is no easing into a masters degree program.

Let’s see, what else is going on? Oh yeah, we moved. That was a shock to us. One day we got a call that our landlord put our apartment on the market, but didn’t really expect it to sell given his asking price. Next thing we know, it’s sold and we have to be out by August 20 when our lease expires. Apartment hunting in Sydney is a major pain, and quite a bit more expensive than it was two years ago when we moved here. There are lots of potential renters and not enough properties, so getting a lease signed is a competitive sport. We found a place we liked two and a half weeks ago, but were the second application in, even though we went straight from the apartment to the leasing office. The breaks went our way, though and we got the apartment. We signed the lease a week later and moved in this past weekend.

In case you didn’t know, moving is a pain, even if it is only one kilometre as this move was. All that saves you is a long drive. In fact, this move was harder than our move from the US to here in some ways. At least then, our stuff was picked up and dropped off at our front door. You still have to disassemble and package everything. Addresses still need to be updated. Utilities still need to be changed. That has been the worst part—I have gone round and round about our telephone and internet service. All is finally settled, although we still have to wait 7-21 days for our broadband to be activated, and the temporary dial-up connection is slow as.

I never got pictures of our old place up, but I hope to do that next week in the form of a ‘before and after’ post. While we were happy there, we have upgraded by moving into this new apartment. Details and pictures of those upgrades coming soon.

17 July 2007

Plan B is in effect


Heather and I had planned on going back to Dallas for Christmas this year then taking a trip through South America, visiting Mexico City, Machu Picchu and Rio de Janeiro. However, after talking with a travel agent last Friday, we have come to the realisation that that is economically prohibitive. We'll have to save that trip for when we are living in the US again. In the meantime, we have come up with a pretty nice Plan B. Four words: around the world tickets.

From Dallas, we will travel to London, which has been on my list for ten years. Then it is off to Delhi, India, Heather's hot spot of the moment. From there, we will see Bangkok, Thailand. Three stops, three very different experiences. Not too shabby for a back up plan, and it's all because it is cheaper to fly around the world than it is to fly around South America. In fact, it's cheaper to fly around the world than it is to fly to Dallas and back. Airlines are crazy like that.

07 July 2007

Lucky Sevens: Cafe de Wheels


This is the first in a monthly series I'm starting here called Lucky Sevens, that will appear on the seventh of each month. It will consist of some facts or trivia about Australia, along with a question for you to answer. First to give the correct answer in the comments wins. I'll add a Lucky Sevens scoreboard to the sidebar to keep track of all winners. I'm also going to go back through my archives and add winners to some questions I've had previously, so nobody misses out.

Harry's Cafe de Wheels is a pie stand in Sydney that has got to be the best place to eat for under seven dollars. The pies are hot, made from quality ingredients, and are great on cold, windy day. I recommend the cheese and bacon pie, with cheese sauce on top.

Harry's opened in 1945 as a food service cart in Woolloomooloo near the harbour. As the story goes, city regulations required that mobile food carts had to move a minimum of 12 inches each so, so Harry's was nudged back and forth each day to comply with the mandate. Since then, three other locations have opened, including on in Haymarket, which I frequent.

Any Amazing Race fans? Harry's was also featured there in 2002 as a Fast Forward where racers had to eat pies. Heather talks about going on the show, and while I am not interested, that is one task I could handle.

Lucky Sevens question: Shouldn't be too hard. Who is the man eating a pie from Harry's in the above picture?

02 July 2007

Be a Pepper

In the past two years, I have had access to Dr Pepper for a total of three weeks, and that was thanks to my parents and in-laws keeping the fridge stocked on my visit last year. I occasionally hear from someone that you can get it at this or that particular convenience store, but I've never seen it. I was starting to feel as desperate as Indy here to get my hands on a Dr Pepper.

And then Heather found Sugar Fix. Turns out, Dr Pepper is about a ten minute walk from our flat. I am enjoying the 'authentic blend of 23 flavors' as I type this.

So how much does heaven in a can cost Down Under? Thirty bucks for a twelve pack—and it's worth every bit of it.

28 June 2007

Big night at the Opera

Today was a big day for the Sydney Opera House. A television news teaser just announced that the SOH has been named a World Heritage site. Opened in October 1973, it is the youngest to be included on the World Heritage list. It was considered for the list because it represents 'a masterpiece of human creative genius'. It is only the second Australian building to make the list, and seventeenth Australian site overall. Today's nominations bring the total up to 843 sites worldwide.

This is big news for Australia. World Heritage status is a tourism boom, even for a site like the Opera House that had over four million visitors last year. It also provides protection for the SOH, including a 2.5km radius barrier around it protecting views to and from the site.

It's too bad this announcement didn't come a week earlier. My year 7 geography class just began an assessment task requiring research on a World Heritage site. Several of them thought they were going to do the Opera House, only to check the list and find out it wasn't there. They have since moved on to other sites.

So how many sites have you been to? With today's addition, I'm up to seven—only 836 more to go.

23 June 2007

Qantas Wallabies commercial

This is the Qantas Wallabies commercial that aired during last week's game versus South Africa.

16 June 2007

Full moon

The Wallabies played the Springboks of South Africa last night in Cape Town. The Wallabies lost 22-19, but there was a funny incident at the end of the first half.

One of the South African players broke through the Wallabies line for a nice gain before being caught from behind. As he was tackled, his shorts were yanked down to mid-thigh, revealing bare white South African bum. This was punctuated by the announcer's 'Ohhhh!!!!', followed a few seconds later with 'well, there's a crack in the Wallabies defense.'

13 June 2007

Skypin'

Thanks to the miracle of the internet, and specifically Skype, we now have a Dallas area local phone number. So if you are in Dallas, you can call us Down Under for nothing from your home phone. Or if you have nationwide calling on your cell phone (does anyone not?), that's a free call, too. Shoot me an email if you want the number.

Also, we finally got a webcam, so if you are on Skype we can make a video call and you can remember how good looking I am. Search for me on Skype or send me an email and I can give you that username, too.

Just remember, we are fifteen hours ahead of you, so when it's noon in Dallas, it's three in the morning here!

07 June 2007

Back to school

When I was in eleventh grade, my high school was just starting a 'write across the curriculum' program. Some of the subjects, in this case math, got a little creative with writing, since writing was not a regular part of the class. Ms. Voss, my math teacher, had us write three letters to universities, requesting information packets. She wanted us to choose one school we were confident we could get into, one school that would be a challenge, and one that would be a dream application. I chose the University of Sydney as my dream app. I'm not really sure why. Maybe it was because my parents had been to Australia a few years earlier and it seemed exotic. Like most American kids, I considered anything foreign to be exotic. I never actually applied to Sydney back then—it was just a letter I wrote because my teacher told me to.

Well, sixteen years later, I will actually be a student at the University of Sydney. I recently submitted an application for the Master of Development Studies program and got the call today that I'm in. Basically, it is a study in developing countries and, as the department head describes it, the program allows the freedom to 'cherry pick' your classes. I'll be able to choose courses in human rights, peace and conflict studies, globalisation, communication and indigenous issues, to name just a few. My problem will be choosing only eight classes. Click here to see more about the program.

Classes are offered in the evening, so this won't affect my work. It should take me two years to complete the degree, assuming that I take two classes a semester. I start at the end of July.

I'm excited. Nervous, but excited. I went to an information expo a month ago promoting the program, and it was nice being on a campus again, talking to professors, being 'academic'. It will be particularly exciting studying topics that I am very interested in.

So what's next? Well, I don't know exactly. Maybe nothing other than a pay raise for earning a master's degree. But what I would really like to do is work for the Carter Center, the United Nations, or some similar organisation that would enable me to work as an advocate for a developing country. How about that, Dad? Jimmy Carter, my boss. Heather is taking Spanish now, and I'll start next term, too, just in case. Gotta brush up a bit on my espaƱol if I want Jimmy Carter to be mi jefe.

I've got time to figure all that out. For now, it's time to hit the books. Ms. Voss, thanks for the writing assignment—it took a while, but I got into my dream school.

06 June 2007

Wilco show iMix

I finally put the previously promised Wilco iMix together, consisting of the playlist from their concert at Enmore Theatre. I tried to include tracks from their live album Kicking Television, but my US iTunes account doesn't recognise my Australian CD. That's really too bad, because it makes sense to use live tracks when recreating a concert playlist, plus some of the live songs are better than the studio versions—more energy. So in addition to my iMix, I also recommend Kicking Television.
I'm trying to put together more iMix setlists for concerts I've been to. I have ready to post in the next few weeks, but if anyone knows where I can find Ben Folds setlists on the World Wide Web, let me know.

01 June 2007

Surfing 50 States

If there is one thing I have learned in our time here, it is that Australians are a crazy bunch. I found something today that further confirmed this: Surfing 50 States.
These two Aussies took a seven month trip, driving across all 50 states in search of something in each one to surf. And they were successful. Your first question is this: how did they find a place to surf in the inland states? Answer: no one said it had to be water. 'Surfing' was defined as standing on a surfboard with forward momentum.
Looks to me like they had quite an adventure, and I freely admit that I am jealous. This sounds like a great trip. Congrats to the Surfing 50 States boys. Check out this sampler video of their adventures.

22 May 2007

The Great Ocean Road Marathon


I ran a 10K on Sunday in 58:30. Not to bad, considering I still had nearly 32K to go.

Add it all up, and I participated in the Great Ocean Road Marathon, a leisurely stroll from Lorne to Apollo Bay. The run is shown on the map above. To view the full map at Google Maps, click here. Check out the satellite view and zoom in on parts to get an idea what I saw. As you can see here, my final time was 4:29:17. For my first marathon, I'll take it.

Especially considering how difficult training has been for me this year. My training runs have been significantly slower than in the past and I have been dealing with nagging injuries the whole time. To be honest, I was pretty discouraged heading into the race, and had resigned myself to enjoying the ocean views and trying to finish before the road opened back up. I had originally set a goal of 4:30, so to actually beat that after all the difficulties felt great.

And the views were great—the road traces the ocean the entire way, weaving back and forth. The only exception is a stretch about 500 metres surrounded by eucalypts, but that is where the koalas are hiding. I spotted five. If you look at the elevation chart further down, you'll notice that some parts of the road are almost at sea level, while others are quite high up, so you enjoy both the sounds and spray of the surf and the wide, panoramic views. It's almost enough to make you forget that your knees are killing you.

Because of my difficulties during training, I did not intend to run the entire distance. So I was quite surprised when I did, excepting brief walks (30-60 seconds) through the drink stations every 5K and walking up two steep climbs at about 27K and 33K, about two minutes each.

Of course, I don't mean to imply that I didn't want to walk, or that I wasn't hurting. At the end of the race, I rated my body pain like this:

  1. hips
  2. left big toe (blisters)
  3. knees
  4. feet
Other than that, I felt great.

After three days, I am pretty well healed. My only remaining concern is the toe. Turns out, the blisters on the side were nothing. The real problem is the blister that developed under the nail—I think I'm going to lose it. Pictures, anyone?

Below are a couple of my charts from the race. The first is my 'lap time' for each kilometre and the second is the previously mentioned elevation chart. These charts (and many others) and the map at the top are courtesy of my Garmin Forerunner 205 (also pictured above) and MotionBased. If you run or cycle, I would highly recommend one of these. Yeah, they are a little pricey, but absolutely worth it. It tracks your distance, time, pace, bearing, elevation, calories burned, etc. You can set it to auto pause when you slow down or stop. You can 'race' yourself against a previous run or a preset pace. It can auto lap at preset distances, times or points. Basically, it's like having a state-of-the-art treadmill on your wrist with one exception: while it is a little bigger than a standard watch, it is definitely smaller than a treadmill.

Plus, you can load all that data onto your computer, get all these charts, graphs and maps. You can create specialised training sessions or trails on your computer and load them to the Forerunner. I could go on and on—just go to the websites and check it out yourself. And tell them Chris sent you.

Time chart

Elevation chart
Key stats from the race:
Distance: 41.66K
Time: 4:29:17
Minimum elevation: 1 m
Maximum elevation: 72 m
Temperature: 12-16°C
Koalas: 5

Finally, supersportimages.com already has pictures from the race up. Click the link and select 'view photos' under the May 20 Great Ocean Road International Marathon—my bib number was 139. In one picture I show a five for the koalas. In another, I flash a 'hook 'em Horns'. There are a few other good shots with ocean backgrounds.

I said I was discouraged before the race, but I'm glad I did it. I didn't expect it, but I do have a sense of pride and accomplishment about it. Will I run another marathon? I don't know—we'll see after my toenail grows back.

17 May 2007

Railway reading: City Weekly

Thursday is City Weekly day. This is more of a food/style/culture publication. For example, the cover story this week is Bellissimo!, a piece about Sydney's Italian Festival (May 22-June 11). Also included are TV, music and DVD recommendations and various small style pieces. Mostly though, it's a collection of ads for hotels, restaurants and boutiques.

And that's about it. I know it doesn't sound like much, and it is a lot of filler. But this is one that I'll pick up every once in a while if the cover seems interesting.

Rating: Two trains.

16 May 2007

Railway reading: The Epoch Times

Sorry I missed yesterday. I didn't even think about picking up the daily reading in the morning. I'll make it up next week.

Wednesday is The Epoch Times day. This is a weekly newspaper that is published around the world in various local formats. The strength, and in fact origin, of The Epoch Times is news coverage in China. It began in 2000 as a news outlet to fill a need for uncensored news in and about China. In 2003, they expanded to include news from around the world, but still include significant news on China. For example, there is a Chinese language edition handed out alongside the English edition, and there was also an additional 'exclusive report' titled 'Nine Commentaries on the Communist Party'.

On the front page, I read about the Australian government's boycott of Zimbabwe cricket, the ivory trade on eBay, Tony Blair and how the UK's health system is better than Australia's.

Inside, I read about fires in California and Alaskan oil spills.

In the travel section I learned that the Great Barrier Reef was voted the best destination by the World Travel and Tourism Council.

The Life section had a piece about lawn bowls.

Science & Technology covered the discovery of King Herod's tomb and reminded me to cheer on Australia as they defend their title at the RoboCup 2007.

Opinion had a column discussing Ehud Olmert, Prime Minister of Israel. In Business I read about tax cuts and home mortgages.

Arts & Entertainment had articles about Live Earth 2007 and the upcoming Sydney Writers' Festival.

Sport covered Roger Federer's split with his coach and the all South African final in the Super 14s.

And of course, sudoku.

All this and more can be found on The Epoch Times website.

Rating: Three trains. Pretty good information, although a little stale on occasion due to the weekly format.

14 May 2007

Railway reading: 9TO5

Things have been quiet around here, but I'm planning on making it all up this week. This is the first part of what should be a series running all week on the various magazines and handouts that are available each day at the train station.

Monday is 9TO5 day, geared to the ladies. Lots of shopping, gossip and pink. And horoscopes, of course.

Cover story: A one page interview with Avril Lavigne, who was in Sydney last week promoting her new album. Topics covered include her fashion style, career, married life and growing up a child star.

Feature: An article on the dangers of plastic surgery. Specifically, a young woman who tried to do it cheap in Thailand. 9TO5 advice: 'Avoid cut-price sales.'

Fitness: Reducing your real age: eat a good breakfast, eat honey, eat foods with healthy unsaturated fats.

What's hot: Designer gumboots, pomegranates and 'design your own superhero undies' (Bonds, if your interested).

What's not: Men's handbags, Paris Hilton trying to avoid jail and athlete salaries.

Also included: Celeb fashion, socials and travel. All equally shallow.

Pages: 55

Rating: One train.

Good thing I'm not in their target audience.

01 May 2007

TV Turnoff Week 2007: The verdict

TV Turnoff Week 2007 is finally over, and it couldn't have ended a moment too soon. I'm telling you, Heather and I almost went crazy. I spent the week staring at anything shaped like a box, hoping for a moment of TV entertainment. I didn't know what day it was without a TV programming routine to remind me. Worst of all, I cried myself to sleep each night, and dreamed in technicolor sitcoms, reality shows and crime dramas.

Or not.

It was actually quite refreshing. Newsflash: there are other things to do with your time than watch TV.

On Monday, we went to go see A Friend of Mine, a film that was part of the German film festival in Sydney last week. It was billed as a comedy, and while there were funny/amusing/cute parts, it was a drama. But it was good. Not what we were expecting, but good. (By the way, some of you may be questioning going to a movie during TV Turnoff Week. The point is that we were out of the house and met with friends, rather than sitting at home in front of our TV. Also, it was as much a cultural event as a typical night at the movies.)

On Tuesday, we played Scrabble, which Heather always beats me at. No different Tuesday: she won 2-0. But what are you supposed to do when you have FOUR 'O's?!?

Wednesday was ANZAC Day, so Heather and I were both off. We planned to go to a 4:15 sunrise memorial service and even went to bed early, but when the alarm went off and it was raining outside, we didn't get up. However, I did go to a 12:30 service at the ANZAC Memorial near our home. I have video from that that I will be piecing together soon to share, so check back for that. Other than that, Heather got some quilting done and I read a lot.

On Thursday, I conducted our satire workshop. We read Swift's 'A Modest Proposal' then we read some samples that I found on The Onion last weekend. Highlights were 'Bill of Rights Pared Down to a Manageable Six' and 'Millions Participate in Cuban Version of Survivor'. We talked about target, audience and satire technique, analyzed the purpose of each one, and talked about how we would have approached the same topics as a satire.

By the way, The Onion has gone video now. Here are two good ones.


Breaking News: Something Happening In Haiti


Immigration: The Human Cost

After that, we played Scrabble again, but this time I stole a game. I think she let me win.

Friday we saw Hot Fuzz, a British comedy. Not a drama with funny/amusing/cute parts. A real, over-the-top, satirical/parodic (I looked that up) comedy.

Saturday we did some quilt fabric shopping and I finished Don Quixote. Three stars.

Sunday we read about South America and did some general planning for our trip later this year. At the moment, Mexico City, Cusco/Macchu Picchu, Peru and Rio, Brazil are looking good.

So what will I take from this? I'm not going to sell my TV and XBox and cut off the internet now, but taking a break for a week has been nice. It helps you realise that you don't need to be constantly wired in, that there are other things to do with your time. I'll be more careful not to automatically turn on the TV when I get home and end up sitting in front of it all evening. I'll still watch what I like, but when it's over, I can turn it off and do something else, rather than flip channels all night looking for something mildly entertaining. The official TV Turnoff Week is over, but I recommend you give it a try, even if it is just for one day. Find something else to do, preferably something with other people that sparks conversation. I just don't recommend playing Scrabble with Heather—she's a killer.

22 April 2007

TV Turnoff Week 2007

Heather and I will be participating in TV Turnoff Week 2007 this week. That means no TV, DVDs, internet or Xbox. In a matter of minutes, the plug is pulled.

So what will we do instead? Well, tomorrow evening we will be watching A Friend of Mine, a German comedy. I have seen two German films and both were depressing (I'll tell that story sometime next week), so our friend Klaus is determined to show us that Germans can make funny movies, too. This is part of a German film festival going on in Sydney at the moment. We will probably see another German comedy that Klaus has recommended next Friday or Saturday as well.

Heather is also going to participate in a satire writing workshop, led by me. I gathered some materials this weekend, and we will spend an evening reading and discussing satire, and hopefully writing some of our own.

Heather will get some work done on various quilts she is in the middle of. I will do some reading—I'm in the middle of Don Quixote at the moment. We will go for walks. We'll try a new restaurant. Maybe we'll play Scrabble or some other game. Mostly we'll just see what happens when the TV or computer isn't on all the time.

So we're going off the grid—if you need us, I hope you have our phone number. And I encourage you to give TV Turnoff Week a try, too.

Talk to you in one week.

Weekend entertainment

Friday night, Heather and I went to the movies. Dendy is an excellent theatre here that always shows a variety of independent and foreign films. Since we are trying to stay away from the typical Hollywood movies, we saw a French film called Priceless that was pretty funny. On the way home we talked about who would play in it if Hollywood remade it but couldn't really agree. I say Owen Wilson would be a good lead, but Heather thinks he isn't likeable enough. The movie was good, so if you have an independent or foreign film theatre nearby, look for it. Two thumbs up.

On Saturday, we saw Wilco, one of my favourite bands at the moment, at Enmore Theatre. They played over two hours and it was a great show. Here's the setlist if you're a fan:

You Are My Face
I Am Trying to Break Your Heart
Muzzle Of Bees
Handshake Drugs
A Shot in the Arm
At Least That's What You Said
One By One
Impossible Germany
Jesus, etc.
War on War
Via Chicago
Walken
Theologians
I'm The Man Who Loves You
Hummingbird
-----
Hate It Here
The Late Greats
Kingpin
I'm A Wheel
-----
Misunderstood
California Stars
Airline to Heaven
Poor Places
Spiders (Kidsmoke)

I would like to put together an iMix, but I need to wait until their new CD comes out next month. Be on the lookout for that.

18 April 2007

Surfing is hard

While on holiday at the Gold Coast, I finally tried something I have waited a long time for: surfing. Here is a video collection of some of my surfing exploits. In the first scene, I'm the guy who almost gets to his feet before splashing down. The second scene is Heather's favourite. In the third shot, I get to my feet for almost a full second!

These clips were all taken on the first of three days I took lessons. I would love to say I did better each day, but I'm not sure that would be the case. It is true that I learned more, but it didn't show because we attempted bigger and more challenging waves each day. I did catch a nice wave and ride it all the way in at the end of day two, though. But here is my attempt at a cartoon to show you what else happened on the second day.
Like a hammer to a nail. Let's just say I'm glad it was a soft board. That was bad enough.

The third day was really tough because we were paddling out to the biggest waves, and by the time we got out there, I was zapped. I didn't have the strength to push off the board to stand. I rode one wave in sitting side-saddle on the board because that was as far as I could lift myself.

It was hard, and I'm certainly no pro, but I did earn this fine certificate for my efforts, and I'm looking forward to my next opportunity to catch a wave.

17 April 2007

It is time

I was saddened to see the news about the shootings at Virginia Tech yesterday. Saddened, but not surprised. It has happened too many times in recent years to still be a surprise.

It's time for gun control in the US. That is the only sane response I can think of, but unfortunately, I am already hearing the twisted call for more guns in the name of self defense. I can't tell you how many times today I have heard people quoting the Charlton Heston line: guns don't kill people, people kill people. Try telling that to 33 families this morning, Charlton.

After the Port Arthur Massacre in Tasmania in which 35 were killed, the Australian government passed gun reform laws. Port Arthur was the thirteenth mass shooting in eighteen years. There have been no mass shootings in the eleven years since.

The United States has refused to implement gun control, and has in fact allowed the Assault Weapons Ban to lapse. And these tragedies keep occurring.

And another thing, America: the rest of the world is shaking their head sadly. Australia's Prime Minister John Howard, a Bush yes man, even spoke up, saying that the negative gun culture in America would never become a negative in Australia.

My prayers go out to the families and friends of the dead and injured. My letter goes to my congressmen.

11 April 2007

The Gold Coast


Heather and I just got back from what is becoming an annual event: autumn in Queensland. Last year was our cruise to the Reef, this year was the Gold Coast. We spent five days at Surfers Paradise, doing nothing except relaxing on the beach. It was nice to spend a few more days in the sun with the season winding to a close.

And that's was about it: sun, sand and surf. I've got something I'm working on as a presentation for part of the trip, but that will have to wait for now. Just know that we got back to Sydney a little bit more tan than when we left.

As for Surfers Paradise, you could easily convince yourself you were at Myrtle Beach, Padre Island, Panama City Beach or any other typical American beach strip. All the regular players were to be found: Hard Rock Cafe, Hooters, extreme thrill rides, tattoo parlors, and high rise hotels as far as you can see. About the only thing missing was an airbrush t-shirt stand. Surfers Paradise separates itself from these American beaches when you actually get to the beach: blue water, nice waves, powder sand and no tar balls. And since the beach was the only thing we were concerned with on this trip, we had a great time.

01 April 2007

Earth Hour

Last night, from 7:30 to 8:30, Sydney observed Earth Hour, in which people were encouraged to turn out the lights to show their commitment to reducing global warming. Road and safety lighting were left on, but as you can see in these pictures, many businesses and individuals did their part to support the cause. This was the first event of its kind in a major city in the world. The organisers are hoping to repeat the event annually and to hold similar events in other cities around the world.

We were at the Sydney Swans v West Coast Eagles game (more on that later), where they announced that, because of safety, Telstra Stadium would be unable to fully participate in Earth Hour, but they supported the event and would be switching off the large Telstra sign for the hour. Every little bit helps.

See the Sydney Morning Herald's coverage of the event here.






27 March 2007

Baseball v Cricket

I love this time of year and what it brings to the senses: the crack of the bat, sunlight in your eyes, the smell of the grass.

Baseball? No, cricket. Opening day is almost here, but down in the Caribbean, sixteen countries are vying for the Cricket World Cup. These two games share a common origin, but each have developed a following in different parts of the world. Typically, baseball fans know little of cricket and think their game is superior, and vice versa. You can read Wikipedia's comparison between cricket and baseball for all the details, but we are here today to decide once and for all which game is better. There are ten categories worth ten points each, plus a bonus category worth up to five points. Play ball.

Best current player
You could easily substitute one of a handful of other players here, but Albert Pujols serves as a good representative. He has a career .332 batting average and has 250 home runs in six seasons. In his career, he has been named Rookie of the Year and MVP, and last year won the World Series with the St Louis Cardinals.
Ricky Ponting is currently the number one ranked batsman in the world, so this choice is a little easier to make. He has a 59.29 batting average (his average runs scored per batting appearance) and 58.95 strike rate (runs per 100 balls). If you look at just the past five years, his batting average jumps to 74. Putting it bluntly: he already ranks as the number three batsman of all time.

Best historical player
Most of Babe Ruth's records have fallen to various players over time, but none of them had the complete package the Babe did. He is known for his batting, but remember, he was a pretty good pitcher in his time with the Red Sox as well.
99.94. Any cricket fan in the world recognizes that number as Don Bradman's career batting average. Second place is a full twenty runs less; the rest of the pack tops out at 61. And these aren't just the Australians—we're talking worldwide, all-time players. Statistical analysis by Charles Davis in The Best of the Best reveals Bradman as the most dominant player in any major sport. He says by comparison, a baseball player would need a career .392 average to equal Sir Don's dominance.

Best rivalry
Yankees/Red Sox: Love 'em or hate 'em, this is the best rivalry in the game. This intense rivalry stems from proximity, civic pride, divisional competition and the Curse of the Bambino. Fairly lopsided in the Yankees favor, but intense nonetheless, and more competitive of late.
Australia/England: This rivalry dates to 1882, when Australia beat England on an English pitch for the first time, shocking the hosts and creating the legend of the ashes. It wouldn't be the last time. This rivalry is also rather lopsided, but both sides, and much of the cricket world, closely follow the Ashes Series.

Best venue
This is another one that is up for debate, but I'll go with Wrigley Field. It's got ivy, day games and tons of history.

Lords is considered the home of cricket. Many of cricket's greatest moments, particularly in the Ashes Series, took place here. It might be iconic, but I don't care for the look of the Media Centre.

Game length
Three hours is a fairly standard time for the completion of a game in most major sports, and baseball fits the bill.

There are variations of the game, but the most popular is test cricket, which lasts for five days. Even one day cricket lasts (surprise!) a day, or about six hours of playing time, plus lunch and tea breaks. Only the new (and often maligned) Twenty20 fits within the three hour window.

Outcomes
You win. Or you lose. Short of a rainout, that's it.


You win. Or you lose. Or, if you score the same number of runs, you could tie, although this is very unlikely. Or you could draw (which is different than a tie) if the game is not complete after the alloted time has expired. Yes, it is possible to play a game for five days and basically get no result.

Popularity
Despite last year's World Baseball Classic, baseball is primarily limited to the US, the Caribbean, and parts of East Asia. And the WBC had to get a little creative to find sixteen teams—even Australia qualified.

Cricket's strongest players are mostly within England and the Commonwealth. According to the International Cricket Council, there are ten full members, 32 associate members (cricket firmly established) and 55 affiliate members (cricket is played). By the way, the US is an associate member, but did not qualify for the Cricket World Cup.

Sportsmanship
Baseball is notorious for the phrase 'if you aren't cheating, you aren't trying'. Corked bats, pine tar and of course steroids are all issues in the game today. Players and managers arguing with umps is also common, and a player would never correct a call to his own detriment. The redeeming factor is the unwritten code of respect that requires teams to stop stealing bases with a big lead or not show up a pitcher after a home run.
Cricket players often police themselves during a game and arguing calls is rare. About the worst you get is sledging, the cricket equivalent of 'we need a pitcher, not a belly itcher'.

Trophy
World Series Trophy—My little league trophies were cooler than this.


The AshesNow this little urn tells a story, and you can read a little about it here.


Uniforms
Personally, I like the simplicity of the home whites/road grays. But I hate the softball team look of the alternate colored jerseys.

Test cricket looks great with the whites. One Day and Twenty20 looks ridiculous with the pajamas.


Bonus: Kooky Traditions
More than a few baseball players don't step on lines, always step on bases or some variation when running onto the field.

Cricket has the Nelson, representing a run score of 111. Named for Lord Horatio Nelson, supposedly for a missing eye, arm and leg, the score is thought to be unlucky. Umpires are often seen standing on one leg while a batter is on this score.

Well, the numbers don't lie: Cricket wins 83-78. Neither game is flawless, but you can't go wrong with either one. The good news is this: you don't have to choose. So enjoy the start of the baseball season, but make an effort to catch some of the Cricket World Cup action over the next few weeks, even if they are playing in their pajamas.