Thursday, July 26, 2007

Scent of the Past

I had an unexpected pleasure this morning as I walked to catch a ferry to work. I was making my way down a rather unremarkable street, when, all of a sudden, I smelled some flower or bush. I don't really know what it was (perhaps it was a wattle), but right then an image from 32 years ago came to mind. I had not experienced that scent since I walked along the Wollundry lagoon in Wagga Wagga to school. The connections between memory and smell are absolutely wonderful.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Rats Laugh When You Tickle Them

I'm going to show this video at lecture in a couple of weeks. I find it mesmerizing.


UPDATE: I found a link to the original research article describing this study, and there's also an interesting NY Times article on laughter.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

I did it (twice)

I am no longer a virgin Aussie lecturer. Today, in fact, I did it twice--once at 10 am in front of 250 students, and the second time at noon in front of another 90. And, surprise, surprise…it felt just like giving a lecture back in the States. The students laughed when I made stupid jokes, looked bored when I expected them to be, asked questions and responded to mine, and even started packing up their belongings at the same precise moment (just before the last three words of my lecture). Interestingly, the first student to introduce himself to me was an American undergrad from my old alma mater, USC (the one in Los Angeles), who is doing an honors thesis with a prof I knew well back in my grad school days. By the way, that class with 90+ students is titled Behavioural Neuroscience (like that spelling, my American readers?!). When I asked how many students were taking it because they were interested in neuroscience, nearly everyone raised their hands. Incredible!

At home we are now the proud owners of a Toyota Yaris. Thanks to a comment to this blog by Eric H., I thought we should give Toyota a try before I bought a Honda. And I liked what I saw! Our little car is a brilliant cherry red. Other “middle-aged” men buy a fancy sports car during their mid-life crises, but I decided to go with a nice starter car usually marketed to university students. A couple of cool things about buying a car in Australia--the financing included the option of buying comprehensive insurance from two different independent vendors. The insurance itself was about half the price of what I paid in the U.S. for the same thing, and includes a $400 deductible. In addition, the dealership took care of the registration with the state government (something that doesn’t happen in Georgia, for example). There was no pressure to buy an extended warranty or add options that I wasn’t interested in. And, I got a loan with no problem--me, with absolutely no credit history in Australia.

A few other observations about our new life here: (1) The major television networks spend most of their prime time hours broadcasting U.S. television shows, particularly those involving crime, such as “NCIS,” all three “CIS” shows, “SUV”, “Numbers,” etc. It’s no wonder that many Australians are scared of visiting the U.S., thinking they will be violently attacked as soon as they leave the airport. (2) Batteries are expensive. I bought two packs of two “D” batteries for Will’s music machine, and they were nearly $10 each. (3) The newspapers and television news are terribly sensationalist and biased, except for the ABC (the BBC of Australia), even compared with U.S. media. It doesn’t help that several major news outlets are part of Murdoch’s empire. (4) Some Australians really do say, “G’day, Mate!” It’s happened to me about every other day, and I nearly cracked up each time. (5) Most of the wines we have bought, including the mid-priced ones, have screw-tops instead of corks. And they’re good! (6) Both the private and public school kids wear uniforms, and some look like they’re from a 19th Century costume drama. One high school girl I saw the other day looked like an extra from “A Room With a View.” (7) Paper towels are about half the width of the ones in the U.S. (8) Three-wheeled “prams” (strollers) are all the rage here. We got one ourselves last weekend. (9) The weather forecast is usually focused on the next 24 hours, and maybe not even tomorrow. It’s rare to see anyone talk about the next 5-7 days. Thus, I was surprised to see that it was raining this morning because I hadn’t checked the weather yesterday. (10) And even though I lectured for about 3 hours today in front of a total of 340 students, not one mobile phone went off the entire time. How cool is that?

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Campus Tour

Inspired by Lori's request, here are a few pictures that I snapped this morning while I made my way to the office. It turned out to be a graduation day for some parts of the university, so there were many people walking around in caps and gowns. You should be able to click any picture to enlarge it.

This first just shows some of the interesting trees that grow here. Someday soon I hope to be able to identify them.

The building below is the Social Sciences Library, which houses the psychology collection and is just across the street from my building. It's also a good example of the sandstone exterior that is found on several UQ buildings.

This is the Student Union. It includes a pharmacy, a hair salon, a (meat) pie shop, a refectory, a pre-school/nursery, a convenience store (called a lolly shop here), a school supply shop, a noodle stand, a sushi restaurant, and so much more:

There's a series of ponds or lakes behind the Student Union. It's a great place to eat lunch:

This is one of many caf├ęs on campus. That's the co-op bookstore next to it.
Here's a little news shop, selling all sorts of salacious mags to the students (and staff).

Here's a shot of the Great Court. It's home to a Great coffee shop.
Keep in mind that this is winter and SE Queensland is experiencing its worst drought on record. Imagine how much nicer it would look if a little rain were to fall...

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Middle-Aged Man

Yay! We have internet at home! It took several phone calls and a lot of patience, but Telstra finally got our ADSL working this afternoon. I promptly connected our Airport wireless network and Vonage, and both are working fine. That means our U.S. friends can start expecting phone calls very soon, and you can even call us at our old Atlanta number.

Since my last post, we moved into our new home and then headed off to a four-night stay at the Hyatt Regency Coolum at the Sunshine Coast, where I attended a research conference on emotions. This Hyatt is a world-class resort, and it will even be the meeting place for the APEC conference next month (Bush is attending, I think). The beach was fantastic. Kangaroos were jumping around as we walked to breakfast. I saw my first possum. V. had a wonderful one-hour massage. Will spent three hours at Camp Hyatt, and appeared to have lots of fun. Since then, however, our darling boy has not been so happy. He typically wakes up screaming 2-3 times in the middle of the night, and his parents are tired of it. It got so bad at the Hyatt that I had to drive V. and Will home for the final night. It's probably teething problems exacerbated by a cold. We gave him drugs when he went to sleep tonight, so maybe we'll see some improvement.

There's so much more to write about, but finally having home access to the internet means I can resume regular blogging (and read my favorite blogs too), so expect more details very soon. Tonight let me just mention my problems with our rental car. We have had this Mazda sedan for nearly three weeks and it is a great car. I have had no real problems driving on the left side of the road. The problem is with parking. For some reason, Australian parking spaces are narrower than in the U.S., and the rows separating the cars are much, much shorter. This means that parking has become a major headache. I now have several scrapes and a tiny dent in the front and rear bumpers, the result of navigating into spaces next to walls and poles. The rental agency is going to have a major fit when they see it. I need a smaller car! Alas, we plan to buy one later this week. When I went to the Honda dealership today to look at the Jazz (called the Fit in the U.S.), I inquired about whether I would be eligible for any financing (I have no credit history in this country, of course). The salesman used his mobile to call a woman in the business office. He began the call by saying, "I have this middle-aged man who recently moved from the States here..."

I guess I am getting old. But on the inside, I'm still about 24. Really.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Toowong: Home Sweet Home

Yes, we have a new home! Yesterday we received word that our application for a townhouse in Toowong was approved by the owner. We move in next Tuesday. Although the Queenslander in Paddington would have been nice, the location of this townhouse couldn’t be beat. We’ll be just two blocks from Toowong Village Shopping Center, which has a train stop and a CityCat landing nearby (the picture above was taken roughly a block from our new place). What’s more, my drive to work will be 5-10 minutes long. Our plan is to have Will go to a daycare facility two buildings away from where I work, and V. will take either the train or CityCat to work in the City a couple of days a week.

Speaking of V., she met with her new boss at the Mater Children’s Hospital yesterday. She loved the place! She already has her own office, although it will be several weeks before she will be able to work due to licensure issues. V. got a very good feeling about how psychiatry is practised here, and she is really quite happy about the arrangements for her job in particular. She’ll be working about 20 hours/week, and she’ll even be able to see private practice patients sometime in the future. She is really happy about the job.

In the meantime, we are enjoying the company of the Clarks. Ellen, the eldest girl, played in a tennis tournament this week at UQ, so I was able to watch a few of her matches. This afternoon V. is watching Ellen play doubles while I stay at home with a napping Will. This morning we had a long walk along the river from Southbank, across the Goodwill bridge (see picture above), through the Botanic Gardens, and finishing up at Queen Street Mall. We have probably walked more just in the past week than we did in the entire previous six months. And that’s a good thing.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Happy 4th of July!

It's Independence Day back home. We're celebrating in Brisbane tonight with some Apple streudel for dessert (we couldn't find apple pie).

Still no permanent home yet. Landlords here like to have several applications to chose from, so we're waiting a few more days to hear the outcomes of two. We're hoping for a new townhouse in Toowong, or a classic Queenslander in Paddington, the latter being just a two blocks from our friends who are hosting us. We bought Will a new high chair today. The choices at the Baby Galore! store were a bit disappointing, and we had to shell out nearly $200 for one that was far inferior to our old one in the U.S. that we got for $60. We still have so much to buy, including a car, a TV, a DVD player, and some furniture.

For those of you in the States, I hope you enjoy the fireworks and the day off! And, just so it's clear, that's NOT the Australian flag pictured here...just a little political humor (or is it humour?).

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

First Impressions

As you know, I have been to Australia several times, but here are a few impressions from the perspective of a new resident…
  • People are incredibly polite here. Whether it’s a clerk at the shop selling me a cheap pair of sunglasses or the guy taking tickets for the Citycat, people are generally friendlier than I am accustomed to, even compared with those doling out the Southern hospitality in Atlanta.
  • The birds provide a completely different soundtrack to your life here, as none seems to have a call that sounds like one back in the U.S.
  • Roundabouts really are great for traffic flow, but the double-lane ones that include the ending of a freeway are just downright scary!
  • Good ideas about how to do things differently and better are plentiful here. I can’t see why more of them haven’t made their way to the U.S.
  • My new workplace is wonderful. My office is huge, my furniture is attractive and ergonomic, and the staff have been amazingly effective in getting me set up. I have never experienced anything like it before.
  • Meatpies are a yummy, quick lunch and come in many varieties--including vegetarian!
  • Paris Hilton appears on as many magazines here as she does in the U.S. What is it about her that I seem to be overlooking?
  • This country is obsessed with sports...and not just as spectators.
  • Coffee shops are at every turn. I can’t believe that Starbucks thinks it has a chance in this country (I saw one down at Surfer’s the other day). Of course, it is difficult trying to find a simple cup of coffee that doesn’t come from an espresso roast bean. But on the positive side, the baristas here are great artists. The patterns that they can make with the foam are stunning.
  • The time difference between here and the U.S. makes everyone back there seem especially far away. Well, I guess they are.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Breakfast in Paradise

For the last three mornings, Will has woken up between 2 and 4 am. Somehow, our hosts, the Clarks, haven't been too bothered by this, but yesterday we decided to leave the house at 5:30 and drive an hour south to Surfer's Paradise to give them some peace and quiet. We arrived just after sunrise. At first it seemed like we had the place to ourselves, but it turned out that the Gold Coast marathon had just begun. Hundreds of racers ran by while we had breakfast. Will had his second baby "chino," which is an espresso cup filled with a milky froth. We also had omelettes and pancakes. A nice treat here is that pancakes are always served with real maple syrup and ice cream! Then we had a short stroll on the beach before driving back to Brisbane.

Thanks for all the comments and emails. I am hoping that I'll finally get a chance to catch up with my correspondence later today (after I go to work for the first time).