Sunday, April 29, 2012

Sex and Money

Randy said that we hear "most divorces are due to sex or money" but in fact, those are just the two venues in which the real, underlying problems are played out.

Two thousand years later

"The budget should be balanced, the treasury should be refilled, public debt should be reduced, the arrogance of officialdom should be tempered and controlled, and the assistance to foreign lands should be curtailed lest Rome become bankrupt. People must again learn to work, instead of living on public assistance."
--Cicero, 55BC

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Jet lag

It appears I'm pretty much back to my normal schedule. Note that this is ten days after getting back from Australia...

Thursday, April 19, 2012


Got the Battletech 25th anniversary boxed set. That means I now have a game in which 30ft tall robots sprint (or plod) across the landscape, blazing away at each other with incredible weapons from ridiculously short ranges and still missing. This is implausible but still curiously satisfying...

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Melbourne: Tuesday

Also Los Angeles, Charlotte NC, and Norfolk VA. It was a long Tuesday. Got up at 5:45am Melbourne time, got home at 11:00pm US East Coast time, with a sixteen hour time zone difference.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Melbourne: Monday

Last day in Melbourne. Josh and Gwen came over around lunch time; Josh and I played MegaMek, Diana and Gwen talked about Secret Girl Stuff. We went to a Lebanese place for dinner, where I had felafel and kebey, neither of which I've had before, plus hummus with ground beef and pine nuts.
Getting everything packed now for the flight home tomorrow.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Melbourne: Sunday

Drove back from Phillip Island with Gwen and Josh, with a discussion about the wool industry and how the wool is graded, sorted, tested, and made into cloth. There are a lot more factors in grading wool than I'd realized: thickness of the fibers, their tensile strength, whether they break at the tip or in the middle, how curly it is, and on and on.
In Melbourne there's a place called the Convent, which had a craft show and a display for Adult Fans of Legos. Around the back of the convent there's a petting zoo / kids' farm, including sheep. Gwen and Diana elected not to make the long walk to the sheep paddock but Josh and I made the trek, and bravely faced down the woolly beasts. Having survived that experience, we had a picnic on the grass and headed for the Exhibition Hall, next to the museum; Diana and Gwen toured the Australian/Asian Quilting Exhibition while Josh and I stayed on the grass with our laptops and he blew up my mechs.
Dinner was Thai at Lemongrass Cafe; we had "tears of the tiger" which was a spicy, seared medium rare beef; chicken with lemongrass; coconut rice; pad thai; and something with duck. First time I've ever had duck; it was okay although the beef was a lot better. Down the street to an Italian gelato place, and then home.

Phillip Island: Saturday

After a leisurely start, we went to a Koala Conservation Park, which had a couple of acres of trees and about twenty koalas. Koalas are cute and fuzzy but not terribly exciting, at least not during the day; the height of frenzied activity for a koala was "turning his head". We also saw a wallaby, which is like a 30% size kangaroo; Josh managed to sneak up and pet it before it hopped away.
Went into the town, which is Cowes ("moo!"), got pizza and went to the beach. I'm told this is a typical Aussie beach, with a sloping lawn down to a fairly narrow strip of sand. There were a few families (including us) on the lawn, half a dozen people in the water, no girls in bikinis, no guys without shirts. Very sedate.
Josh, Gwen, Chris and I headed back to the cottage, where we did some MegaMek, played Ticket to Ride: Europe, and Skipbo, with a side game of Bananagrams. For my first game of Ticket to Ride, I had a firm hold on last place; I'd nearly completed my main goal but connected my track to Madrid and Lisbon instead of Barcelona, which is what it should have been. Oops! for my second game, I went from Palermo through Turkey to Mosow and across to Riga, completing several missions and avoiding the entanglements of Central Europe, and eeked out a win.

Phillip Island: Friday

Gwen Josh Marguerite Chris (Gwen's brother) Diana and I went to Phillip Island for the weekend. Stopped on the way for fish and chips--the fish was barramundi, which is white and flaky and doesn't have a pronounced taste.
Checked in at the Surf and Circuit resort, which is a collection of two bedroom cottages. No view, but there's a pool (which I didn't use) and a shelter with a grill (which we did use, both nights). Once we stowed our stuff, we went to Kitty Miller Bay, a broad horseshoe shaped bay, a few hundred yards wide. You go down a set of stairs to get to the beach, which has sand and a lot of seaweed; the sides of the bay are mostly rocks. Josh, Gwen and Chris donned wetsuits and went snorkeling. If you go across the eastern headland, as I did, you can get to the remains of the merchant vessel Speke, which wrecked in 1904. There's not much left, just an iron bulkhead and some minor bits, but it's so close to the beach that you could walk to it at low tide.
At around 6pm we headed to the Parade of the Penguins. There's a section of shore where a lot of Little Penguins have made their burrows, and just after sunset they leave the water, waddle across the beach and up the slope to home. They're not especially concerned about humans; there were several of them who stood right next to the boardwalks we were using. The rangers said that each penguin has his own burrow but quite a few penguins seemed to have trouble remembering exactly where they lived. They'd stand in one spot for a while, then waddle a few feet one way, then head off in another direction, then come back.
Back to the cottage, where Josh grilled while I stood around and handed him plates and tongs and such.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Melbourne: Thursday

Met Gwen, Josh and Gwen's dad at the Melbourne Central station, then traipsed through the Victoria Market for a couple of hours. One section is food shops--bakeries, cheese shops, butchers, whatever. The other section is mostly souvenirs and clothes, everything from Ugg boots to bikinis to biker leather, toy kangaroos to gemstones to digeridoos. Have to keep in mind that we can't take a lot of stuff back through Customs, so we keep looking at things like sheepskins or food items and saying "Oh wait, can't take that."
From there we went to Southgate neighborhood and had lunch at the Blue Train Cafe, named for the blue trains that go through Flinders Station across the river. In the same area as the Blue Train is an ice cave restaurant; apparently they provide parkas and gloves for the patrons.
Took a riverboat tour up the Yarra River as far as Herring Island and back, looking at the bridges and the stadiums along the northwest bank. Then we went shopping, bought Josh a winter coat which is less bulky than his duster, and picked up some kangaroo meat for dinner. "Australia is the only country that eats its national animal." Kangaroo is somewhat like beef, although tougher; it needs to be marinated and cooked more. I can't say much about the taste, because this particular example had a spicy/sweet marinade.
We took the train back but missed the last bus to Marguerite's place. Found a cab, although the driver was off duty, picking up a friend from the shopping center. Two nice Sikh guys, and they gave us a ride.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Melbourne: Wednesday

Busy day with Josh. Melbourne museum (River Woman aboriginal art exhibit, History of Melbourne) and the gardens around the exhibition hall. Lunch with Gwen. Tram to Docklands and the Roman Technology exhibit. Around the harbor to the berth for the schooner Enterprize. Back to Josh and Gwen's place, then out for Mexican, then a train ride out of the city to "home"

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Melbourne: Tuesday

Diana, Gwen and Marguerite went off to Bendigo for the Grace Kelly exhibition and a garden tour. Along the way, they saw a mob of about 50 kangaroos.
Josh and I stayed home and played MegaMek (online version of BattleTech). We took a lunch break and went to the grocery store for dinner fixings, with me sucessfully navigating the left side of the road, roundabouts, and other hazards of the Australian road.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Melbourne: Monday

Off to a slow start, as Diana had a cold and didn't sleep well. We headed to the Dandenong Range to visit Gwen's uncle Geoff and aunt Nola. A future post will include the recipe for Nola's Hummingbird Cake, which does not contain hummingbirds. We then headed further up the mountain in hopes of seeing a view of Melbourne, but were thwarted by rain and mist. Stopped in at a tourist trap village, Olinda, and picked up a few things.
One shop of vintage items had a telescope cane. The head of the cane could be unscrewed, pulled out and pivoted to reveal a small brass telescope; it would make a good steampunk walking stick.
Josh and Gwen have a favorite French restaurant, although their favorite dish is the Monday night special, porterhouse steak with mashed potatoes and a salad with mustard vinaigrette dressing. Finish with creme brulee.

Melbourne: Easter Sunday

Caught a train into town and met Josh and Gwen, who took us to their church for Easter Sunday service. Friendly people, and several of them knew of Wave Church, which is in Virginia Beach just a couple of miles from our house and has an Australian pastor.
After church we got lunch and headed back to Marguerite's house. Diana joined Gwen's brother Chris and several members of Marguerite's congregation on a prayer walk around a neighborhood, while Josh introduced me to MegaMek (a program for playing BattleTech against an opponent online) and Gwen took a nap; after that we had Easter dinner together.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Melbourne: Saturday

We caught the train into the city and met Josh and Gwen at Flinders Street station, had a bite at the Crown Center (which is a casino complex although that wasn't obvious from the cafe area--Gwen said "Yes, your coffee is funding gambling") then went to the sailing ship Polly Woodside for a tour. Then we went to St Kilda's Beach, out on the pier and onto the walkway alongside the breakwater in hopes of seeing some fairy penguins. We located three of them nesting in the breakwater rocks. On the walk back down the pier, we saw two people skydiving over the harbor, gliding down to land at the shore.
Dinner at a restaurant called Elbow Room with Gwen and Josh, her brother Chris, dad Greg, and dad's girlfriend Julie. We all adjourned to another neighborhood for dessert before Diana and I headed home on the train, surrounded by a mix of athletics fans (one set wearing black and white, the other set in yellow and black), girls in club dresses, a couple of drunk college students, whoever else happened to be coming back from the city at 11pm.

Melbourne: Friday

Starting off the day with a typical vacation activity: pouring concrete. You see, Marguerite has some artificial trees, and there needs to be some weight in the pots to keep them from blowing we put a layer of concrete in the bottom, then a thick layer of styrofoam so it wouldn't be ridiculously heavy, then a finishing layer of concrete, then some cedar mulch.

After stopping in a cathedral for part of a Good Friday service, we went to Josh and Gwen's place for Game Night. We were joined by Gwen's brother Chris (who lives there), James and Kylie, Tim and Monica, and Russell.
We had a round of Munchkin to get started with--first game of Munchkin I've ever played. I got up to level 9 but got hit by a wandering monster which dropped me back to level1, thanks to that conniving fiend Chris. It looked like he was going to win but a couple of us conspired to throw the game to Kylie instead.

We split into two groups for Dominion, with one group playing a cutthroat version and
my group playing a more production-oriented game. I've played Dominion before, but it was a couple of years ago. For the Prosperity version we played, it seems to be important to have a sense of tempo, so you know when to switch from "building up your resources" to "buying your victory points". I delayed a little too long, and Gwen didn't, so she won that game by quite a margin.
After that we had "barbie", which means Josh grilled beef, sausages, and satay chicken, plus salad and potato wedges.
For the third round, my group went back to Munchkin. I got up to level 5 and stuck there. Josh got up to level 3, fell back to level 1, but then used his items to have James win instead of Kylie, "If I help you win, will you mock her unmercifully for three days? No? How about three hours? Okay, done. Unmercifully. You can't go back on your broath."
Had a lot of fun and Josh and Gwen's friends all seemed like good people.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Melbourne: Thursday

Gwen was in Canberra doing a presentation for her work, so Marguerite took Josh and Diana and I on a drive through the country to see Gwen's high school Braemar, and then to a park for our first barbie. Josh built the fire and did the grilling: lambchops, chili lime chicken kabobs, and Italian sausages in lieu of hot dogs. After that the ladies went to a garden while Josh and I did a little hiking and father-and-son bonding, i.e. talking about BattleTech. Met the ladies again and went to the Cross Memorial; if the weather is clear you can see Melbourne and the bay from there, but it was too hazy while we were there. We got Devonshire cream and scones, plus iced coffee for the ladies and "strawberry milkshakes" for the guys. Australian milkshakes are a lot thinner than American style; "strawberry milk" might be more apt. Gwen returned from Canberra and we all had dinner together, green curry and hoi sin pork.

Melbourne: Wednesday

Marguerite drove us to the metro station about 1.5km away, and a very motherly station worker named Karen showed us tourists how to put credit onto the MYKI pass cards and then get on the train. We got onto the platform, with a brief detour where six or seven cops where standing around one gypsy-looking guy sitting on the curb with cuffs on.
Melbourne has a hub and spoke system; if you're in the suburbs, you're going to go to the central city loop, and then you change to another train if you need to go back out to a different spoke. We got on at Broadmeadow station and headed for Flinders Street. Spent part of the time talking about family history, part talking to a lovely oriental girl who had just gotten out of her college class in Tourism. We met Josh and Gwen under the clocks at Flinders Street and had lunch at a cafe, after which we split up; Diana and Gwen looked at galleries, Josh and I went (by my request) to Mind Games,

a wargames shop, and also to a shop which was allegedly to have steampunk stuff but didn't. Turns out that one of the guys at Mind Games--the owner, perhaps?--had worked at Iron Crown Enterprises in Charlottesville in the late 80s; I'd worked for them one summer while in college, around 1982.

Went to the Victoria State Library, and then to a vintage clothing shop on the way to the train stationPause at a 7 Eleven with the intent of getting a drink, but a Coke which would be $1.19 at home was $4.20 here. I held off.

We visited Josh and Gwen's place and met Gwen's brother Chris and cousin Duncan, and thenwent back out to Chinatown for dinner. There's a little upstairs place called the Supper Inn off an alley. Maybe 50 seats, and it was full. I had dim sim and Chinese donuts stuffed with prawn paste and sesame seeds; we also got chili ribs, sweet and sour chicken, and beef with black bean curd. For a complete change of culture, we then went to an Italian place where Josh and I got gelato while Gwen and Diana got cups of Italian chocolate. Quite a full day, but a lot of fun.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Tuesday: Melbourne

It's about an 18 hour flight from Los Angeles to Melbourne. The plane lifted off so smoothly that I didn't realize we were airborne for a couple of minutes. I might have been a bit distracted by the fellow in the next seat, who was intent on telling about the "guys party" he and a couple of his mates had been on. They were from Perth and had gone to Las Vegas to do some drinking ($3000 bar bill one night), gambling, and so forth. Perth to Vegas seems like an awfully long trip to do that kind of thing, although they did take a copter tour of the Grand Canyon.
Qantas starts off by feeding you dinner, then you can pick from about a hundred movies (I watched Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows and part of LOTR) or try to sleep. Breakfast at 5am Melbourne time. We were in the center of the plane so didn't have much of a view, but at one point

The flight landed about 35 minutes early although waiting for the baggage made up for that; we were starting to get worried that two of our suitcases might still be in LA.
just before dawn we could see the sky layered in the spectrum, with indigo at the horizon and going up though the rest of the colors to red.
Through Immigration and Customs and a search dog sniffing at our baggage, and then Josh and Gwen were waiting for us. They took us to the home of Gwen's mom, Marguerite, where we recuperated from the flight for a bit. Gum trees along the fence, bamboo and other tropical plants in front, roses and a lemon tree in back. Australian homes are much like ours but with little differences. Each power socket has an on/off switch next to it. The roofs are mostly metal or tile due to risk of brushfires. The doors are a little wider, the doorknobs higher. Big black and white magpies.

We packed a picnic and headed to Woodlands Historic Park, then walked around a bit. We saw lorikeets, and a sapling gum tree with a cloud of orange butterflies feeding on the sap. and even spotted a couple of kangaroos. We speculated on their origin. Fourteen hundred years ago, no doubt they were hopping along the Volga with round shields and horned helms; then they were overrun by the Mongols, and now we have the Khan-ga-Rus.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Sunday: Los Angeles

LAX is more multicultural than DFW, both in the mix of people you see and in the languages of the public announcements.
DFW is cleaner.
DFW has free wifi available; in LAX you have to buy it or, as I did, do without.
The people in general seemed friendlier in Dallas, although the TSA people in both places were fine, and of course the Qantas people in LAX were friendly as they always are.

Sunday: Dallas

We got to DFW airport on Sunday in order to catch the flight to LAX and on to Australia, and asked where in the airport to have lunch; several people recommended Cantina Laredo. We had enchiladas veracruz, with chicken, spinach, jack cheese, tomatillo, sauce and marinated veggies including jicama, which I'd never had before. Jicama reminds me of Asian pear in texture.
Dessert was "Mexican apple pie". Take an iron serving platter, put the pie on that, then cinnamon ice cream, then pour brandy butter and let it sizzle.

Day 1: Dallas

In theory we should be over the Pacific now. Dallas is not in the Pacific, but we are in Dallas. The flight from Norfolk should have left at 6:15 but was delayed for mechanical reasons. AA knew about this around 1pm but didn't notify us; if they had, we could have rerouted. So we show up the airport around 4pm and find out about the delay. No other routes will enable us to get to Qantas at this point; we decide to go for Dallas anyway. Maybe the delay won't be as much as predicted and we can make our flight, and if not, at least we'll be partway there. So our flight arrives…and sits 50 yards away from the gate for an hour, as American tries aand fumbles at getting a Miami flight off and out of the way. Our 6:15 flight, which was supposedly delayed until 7:35, left around 8:15. We missed our Qantas flight by 32 minutes.
At least the airline put us up in a pleasant hotel, beautiful view of a parking lot and power substation, nice breakfast buffet, nice airy atrium.
The flight itself was fine. We skirted a line of thunderstorms and I got one or two pics looking into the lightning from 34,000 feet.

Sent from my Verizon Wireless Phone