28 February 2007


A week and a half ago, Heather and I went to Tropfest with her coworker Klaus. Tropfest, "The World's Largest Short Film Festival" (please note 'world', as opposed to 'in the Southern Hemisphere'), is an annual event in Australia. There are three rules for Tropfest entries:
  1. The film must be no longer than seven minutes.
  2. The film must debut at Tropfest.
  3. The film must include the Tropfest Signature Item (TSI). This year's TSI was 'sneeze'.
At the festival, the sixteen finalists were screened. Some were pretty good, some were not. Most were live action, a few were animated, and all sorts of genres were present. Thousands of people were there to watch the films, and there were simultaneous screenings in five other cities as well.
The winner was 'An Imaginary Life', an animated piece. It is the story of an imaginary friend whose real friend has grown up and no longer believes in him. It has been scrutinized since winning, however. According to this article, it bears a striking resemblance to the American Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends. Haven't seen this myself. Anyone know anything about it?
My favourite film was 'Between the Flags', a comedy based on the Cronulla Riots from December 2005. The premise is two guys unknowingly show up for the riots at the wrong beach. While waiting for their friends to show, the would be rioters strike up a friendship.
The reason I waited until now to post this was I was hoping some of the films would show up on YouTube. The Sydney Morning Herald this past Saturday included a DVD of the sixteen finalists, but none of the finalists from this year have shown up on YouTube yet. However, I have for you here the 2006 winner, 'CARMICHAEL and shane'. The TSI for 2006 was 'bubble'.

The TSI for 2008 will be the number 'seven'. Let the filming begin.

20 February 2007

Things to do in Hobart

Other than the things already mentioned, I wanted to finish up the Tasmania information with a few more things to do in Hobart.

Visit the harbour.
It's very nice--lots of old boats and great views. We even had 'HarbourCam' on the TV in our room. That was useful--Heather would ask what the weather was like, and I would flip over to HarbourCam to check it out.
Eat at Fishy Business. Or any of the other fish-n-chips spots on the harbour, but my choice was Fishy Business. You can get a lot of good seafood for ten dollars. There is a row of four or five fish-n-chips shops that are actually boats floating on the water. You walk up on the dock to the window and place your order. Just don't drop your money.

Scale Mount Wellington. Or if you prefer, drive. And bring some warm clothing--even in the summer, it's cold up there. And don't look down on the drive up, especially if you are the one driving. Hobart has a population of 200 000, but it doesn't look like much from the peak.
Pet a small horse. Or if one isn't around, just find a giant dog.
See an albatross on Seven Mile Beach. Impressive even though it is actually only five and a half. It's right by the airport, so if you have a couple of hours to kill before your flight like we did, talk a walk on the beach. Lots of scallop shells.

16 February 2007

How iTunes is killing music

Before a trip involving driving, we usually burn a CD or two of music to listen to from iTunes. However, before our trip to Tasmania, we couldn't find the CD case and didn't have time to make a new one, so we ended up grabbing a few regular CDs and hitting the road.
I wasn't particularly happy about this--I couldn't remember the last time I had listened to a real CD. Because of iTunes, I am used to being able to Shuffle my music or immediately access any one of my 4300 tracks in seconds. I like creating playlists and hearing what I want to hear, when I want to hear it.
But as we were driving across Tasmania listening to the White Stripes, it suddenly hit me that I was missing out on something. When I shuffled my music or created a playlist, I was neglecting the wholeness of the craft of the artist. I rediscovered that there is much to be said for listening to an entire CD from beginning to end. 'The Same Boy You've Always Known' is a great song, but it is greater sandwiched in between 'The Union Forever' and 'We're Going to be Friends' and within the context of White Blood Cells. Artists have a particular purpose and vision when they put together a recording, and I have a newfound appreciation for that.
Having said all that, here is my 'Melbourne' iMix, a little heavy on the Australian stuff.

13 February 2007

Coin issues

Yahoo! ran this article about the newest attempt to introduce the dollar coin into circulation in the U.S. Much of the article discusses the resistance to this and other attempts in the past. They cite a poll which revealed that three-fourths of those polled are against replacing the dollar bill.
In other words, three-fourths of those polled are crazy. In Australia, we have not only a dollar coin, but also a two dollar coin, and it is fantastic (see all the coins at the mint's website). You know how when you reach in your pocket and if you're lucky, you have about $1.62? I've got eight or nine dollars. Change is actually worth something. And you know how you pull out your thick wallet only to find it is stuffed with singles? Australia's smallest note is the five.
Even though the dollar coin has failed before, there is hope that it will catch on this time. This optimism is based on the fact that the new coin will pay tribute to each of the presidents, in a series similar to the 50 State Quarters. I hope they are correct, but I fear it is more likely that they may find their way into collections, but not into circulation.
The other coin news being kicked around is getting rid of the penny. Again, Australia is one step ahead of you: if you looked at the mint's website, you may have noticed there is no penny. All cash transactions are rounded to the nearest five cents, and yes, they round down if that is the nearest five. In the long run, it all breaks even. On the Wikipedia page I linked to, an economics professor is cited who says that according to his simulations, eliminating the penny would cost Americans a $600 million 'rounding tax'. However, this breaks down to two dollars per person. If this is the worst case scenario, I consider it well worth two dollars a year to not carry around a pocket full of pennies every day. By the way, another study based on real transactions showed no so-called 'rounding tax'.
If personal comfort is not enough to convince you, how about this: the penny may actually cost you more in taxes. It actually costs more than a penny to make a penny: 1.4 cents. Some estimates increase this figure to over three cents if you include distribution. If the government loses money each time it mints a penny, three guesses who eventually absorbs that loss. Nickels aren't worth their cost, either, which is currently at 5.5 cents.
It's gotten so bad that the U.S. Mint has actually had to warn against melting down pennies and nickels. If we have gotten to the point that it is more economically viable to melt your spare change down than keep it in your piggy bank, then it's time to let it go.

12 February 2007

Bruny Island

While in Tasmania, we booked a trip with Bruny Island Charters, a company that conducts tours around Bruny Island, just down the coast from Hobart. We looked at all the options, but Heather finally decided on this one because it offered the best of everything. Cruisers allow time to see things but don't cover much area, while the jet boats cover a lot, but you don't really see any of it. Bruny Island Charter's boats get you from one location to another quickly, but take some time at each one to enjoy it. One of the first things we did was shoot this gap--it felt like there was only a couple of feet to spare on each side.
The next highlight was Breathing Rock. Basically, it is a cave in the rock right at water level. As the waves crash in and out, the cave sucks the water in, then expels it in a huge white mist. We caught this sight on the way back in, too. Enjoy the video.

When we visited Seal Rock at Phillip Island, we didn't see any actual seals. Fortunately, Bruny Island Charters delivered, a couple hundred in fact. Unfortunately, they also delivered the smell. That I could have done without. But it was nice to finally see them and watch them play in the water. Five or six were in the water greeting us tourists. Or cooling themselves. Whatever.
I had a better video, but it has somehow disappeared. This one is kind of shaky, but you get the idea.

The cruise was three hours, and by the end of the trip, we were both pretty tired. Thankfully, a bus drove us back to Hobart rather than having to drive ourselves.
Next time you're in Tasmania, give Bruny Island Charters a call. Two koala thumbs up.

09 February 2007

Cadbury Factory

While in Hobart, we visited the Cadbury Factory, which Heather had looked forward to for months. She was imagining something along the lines of Willy Wonka, and although we didn't see any Oompa Loompas or chocolate rivers, she enjoyed the tour nonetheless. She was disappointed that health codes now prevent tour participants from sampling off of the line, though.
One of her proudest moments on the tour was noticing an unfamiliar candy, pointing it out to me and telling me it was new. Just a few moments later, our tour guide confirmed this, revealing it was a new offering called Cherry Bliss. You should have seen Heather's look of satisfaction.
Another highlight of the tour was the factory shop at the end. You might not be able to sample off of the assembly line, but you can buy seconds there, $5 for 600 grams. The seconds have been rejected because they are a little too heavy or too light, are stuck together, or some other minor cosmetic defect. No contamination or anything--we learned that those candies go to local farms and into pig and cattle feed. Not sure what I think about that. Anyway, we stocked up on Heather's favourite, Cherry Ripe, to the point of the cashier commenting, 'Wow, you must really like Cherry Ripe.' We are just now nearing the end of our stash, and I think we are both getting a little sick of it. Too much of a good thing.
The final highlight of the tour is the lovely hairnets we had to wear on tour, and I'm sure I don't have to point out my beardnet, too. Eat Cadbury chocolate without fear, folks: they take their stray hairs very seriously.

07 February 2007

Port Arthur Massacre

I've been debating on posting about this since we visited the Port Arthur Historic Site because it is a very sensitive issue in Port Arthur. They even request that you not ask questions about it to the staff, but instead refer to a pamphlet they make available. I finally decided to post it to provide for you the information I had access to at the historic site.
This page is an online version of the pamphlet. I will let you read it for yourself. Instead, I want to take this in a slightly different direction. Rather than the past, let's look at the future: this event directly resulted in some of the world's strictest gun control laws, as well as a 'buy back' period for guns currently owned by citizens.
The Second Amendment is passionately defended by many Americans, and honestly, I am not prepared to argue against it. After ten years however, on September 13, 2004, the Federal Assault Weapons Ban was allowed to expire without renewal, and I can think of no justification for this inaction.

03 February 2007

Port Arthur

While in Tasmania we visited the Port Arthur Historic Site, one of the largest prison settlements in Australia. It was a very busy day due to the size of the site. We started the day with a brief walking tour to get the basics then went on a brief harbour cruise. During the cruise, we stopped at the Isle of the Dead, a small island where over 1100 convicts are buried, the majority in unmarked graves. Families were usually back in England or Ireland, and either unwilling to send money for a marker or too late. Besides, there was no guarantee of quality since the stones were made by typically uneducated convicts. If you click on the picture below, you may notice there is a full stop (period) after every word--the convict who made it wasn't sure about the rules and decided to play it safe.
The site consists of over thirty buildings in various states of ruin. There are several different schools of thought regarding how to treat an historic site like this. Port Arthur has decided to preserve the buildings as they are rather than attempt to reconstruct them. The theory is that if you rebuild and attempt to add period furnishings, you are forcing your own interpretation onto the site. For example, all that is left of the church is a four wall shell. Even though there is no roof and the floor is grass, it is still clearly a church. Basically, the site is treated more like an archaeology site than a museum. This picture of the port shows the penitentiary on the right and the remains of the hospital on the top of the hill. Behind the trees on the left is the military barracks.
To the right of the hospital and down the hill is the Separate Prison. This is where the behavior problems were sent. While those in the main quarters were able to interact with others for most of the day, the Separate Prison was a study in isolation. Inmates were not allowed to talk, even to a guard. Guards did not speak, either. Inmates spent their time alone in their cell, studying a bible. When they were removed from their cell, they wore a hood, isolating them visually from others. They were required to keep distance between themselves while walking to worship or exercise. The picture below is the chapel in the Separate Prison with me in the middle. Inmates walked into their cubicle, closing the doors between themselves and their neighbors. The only person they could see in the room was the minister.
There was also an isolation chamber for those who couldn't behave in the Separate Prison. An inmate would be locked in a small chamber in darkness with two foot walls that no sound would penetrate. They would be fed irregularly, quickly losing all sense of time. After a while, the prison was forced to add an asylum for all of the convicts who were driven mad.
The main building includes a hands on exhibit about the site. One of the treats they had were some leg irons you could put on. Very heavy!