Wednesday, September 26, 2007

A Little Sport

When I was growing up in the U.S., on Saturday afternoons I enjoyed watching "ABC's Wide World of Sports." This "anthology" showed sports not typically found on U.S. television, such as surfing, track and field, figure skating, etc. Well, following sport (note the singular spelling) in Australia is very much like this...and I've become quite fascinated with all the variations. Some examples:
  • Rugby League and Australian Rules Football. These are obviously types of football and the ones that most people associate with Australia. Rugby League (which is different from Rugby Union) is more popular in Queensland and New South Wales, whereas AFL (the name of the Aussie rules league) is popular in most of the rest of the country. Their seasons almost completely overlap, and they both have their Grand Finals this weekend in Sydney (the NRL) and Melbourne (the AFL). It's a little confusing following what's going on because of the strong regionalism of these two sports. Both have weekly television shows called "The Footy Show," which air at times most desirable for their respective regions. Both sports are called 'footy.' They both had fancy dinners recently in which the players received trophies and their wives/girlfriends paraded down the red carpet in fancy dresses. Years ago I went to see an AFL match at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) and loved it. I hope to see some more NRL and AFL in person during next year's season.
  • Motorcycle and Auto Racing. There are all sorts of distinctions to be made here--Indy, V8, Supercars, Formula, 5 cc, etc., but I'm afraid that I'll never master them. Sure, the U.S. has its NASCAR in the southeast, but I think it's safe to say that Australians are even crazier about their racing here. A big Indy race is coming to the Gold Coast in just a few weeks, but I think we will be staying at home.
  • Bowls. I had thought this was a quiet, genteel sport for the retired folks, as I often see elderly players clad in white when I drive by the local bowls club. But, it turns out that this is a competitive, lucrative, and popular sport all over the planet. I found myself mesmerized with a round of the World Cup of Bowls on the ABC recently. All the men were grossly out of shape, but they sure could bowl. It got particularly exciting when the jack rolled into the ditch, and Ireland ended up beating England. By the way, that "other" kind of bowling done indoors is known as "ten-pin bowling."
  • Netball. Although this is played by both sexes, I have only seen women playing on television. Netball is like basketball, just without the dribbling. And the Aussie women who play are gorgeous.
  • Swimming. Australians are much more obsessed with this sport than elsewhere--probably because they do so well at the Olympics in it. There are so many swimming celebrities around, they must have to fight for every PR event. For example, two of the ten celebrities on "Dancing With the Stars" this time around are Olympic swimmers (Elka Graham and Michael Klim).
  • Horse Racing. This is big, big, big. Right now there's a horse flu epidemic going around the country that is shutting down most of the major races. I think I heard that horse racing is one of the top ten industries in this country (it has to do with all the betting).
  • Marbles. Yes, that old school yard game is still popular here. A local watering hole is hosting some sort of Queensland state tournament that will be broadcast on television. I can't wait to see that one!
  • Cricket. This is a summer sport, so it hasn't started here yet. As you probably know, many view cricket as the most boring game ever invented (see Bill Bryson's descriptions of it in "Sunburnt Country"). But others find it absolutely riveting. There have been several attempts to make it more appealing, with the latest incarnation called Twenty-20 Cricket, which can be played in just a couple of hours. Australia was recently beat by Zimbabwe in the Twenty-20 World Cup, much to the chagrin of the morning sport commentators who ended up saying this wasn't 'real' cricket.
  • Hockey. That's field hockey for those of you in the icy climates. I haven't seen it being played, but I hear about it all the time. Perhaps it's more of a summer sport.
Other sports that are popular here: beach volleyball (UQ has a large playing area devoted to it), surfing (of course), tennis, basketball, soccer, rowing, and track & field. I'm hoping that someone will discover that blogging provides good cardiovascular fitness...

Monday, September 24, 2007

Spring Break

Although no one here appears to use the term, it is now "Spring Break" in Queensland and much of the rest of Australia. The university has the week off, but all the primary and secondary schools have two weeks holiday, which is dubbed "school holidays" (how clever!). From what I can tell, these school holidays are concurrent for EVERY school in Queensland, and perhaps those in other states as well. I noticed a big reduction in the traffic in Toowong this morning when I went to drop off Will at daycare. Many families leave town for various destinations (including Mooselet, who is on an amazing journey to the Queensland interior). Later this week we are flying to Sydney for a few days to see our friends, but we got things started this past weekend with two mini-breaks. The first was a one-hour drive to the Gold Coast, where we had breakfast at Surfers Paradise. The Gold Coast looks a bit like Miami Beach, with many, many skyscrapers, including the Q1. At 80 floors high, Q1 is the world's tallest all-residential building, when measured to the top of its spire (according to Wikipedia). Australians are fond of complaining of the glitz of the Gold Coast, but for a guy who grew up in the Midwest, it's quite exciting. On Sunday, we took our second mini-break to Noosa, which is about a 2-hour drive north of Brisbane. Noosa is considered one of the most beautiful places in Australia, which also makes it a major tourist destination. During the school holidays it's jammed with families from the southern cities. In fact, our friends the Clarks are spending the week there with some of their Melbourne friends. They took us out on the Noosa river on their boat, and then V., Will, and I walked along the main shopping boulevard in Noosa Heads, before spending a little while on the Noosa beach. Unfortunately, it was cloudy and a bit drizzly, so we didn't get to see the place at its best. But, it is clear that it's still quite beautiful, despite the creeping urbanism. You can check out more pictures from our weekend by clicking on the album on the right.

Friday, September 21, 2007

The Journey, Part II

(A few months back, I wrote a post about my first trip to Australia when I was 12. Here's the promised next installment).

In 1995 I became actively involved in a "social networking" community known as CU-SeeMe. Using Connectix webcams and, at first, Macs, several people could log into a virtual space called a "reflector" where we could see several black & white video feeds of people from around the globe. This was before high-speed internet was available in the home, so most of us engaged in CU-SeeMe while at work on our universities' high-speed connections. Because I lived in Los Angeles at the time, during a regular business day I had the temporal advantage of being able to talk to people in Europe who were finishing their day, Americans (and Canadians) who were still at work, and, finally, Australians and New Zealanders who were just getting to their jobs in the morning. Because the audio didn't work so well, we mostly sent text messages to one another through a central chat window. Two of the people I met on this system were Fiona and Kirsty, who worked at the Earth Sciences Department at Monash University in Melbourne. It's amazing to think about how many hours everyone spent "hanging out" with each other in this way. In December of that year, I organized a large meeting of CU-SeeMe participants at a cybercafe in Venice, CA. Many people flew in from all over the country, but it was Fiona, who was pregnant at the time, who came the farthest, flying all the way from Australia. The whole group of us spent a lot of time together sight-seeing and then going to the big party at the café. Seal (yes, the singer), who was a semi-regular in our chat sessions along with Timothy Leary, promised to show up that night, but never arrived. Still, we got some attention from some news outlets, had a chance to see what we were like in person (and in color!), and then we all headed back to our respective computers.

In 1996, Patty (my wife at the time) was starting up a major research project in Brisbane, Australia. I went with her for a month, thus marking my second visit to Oz. During that trip, Kirsty and her partner, Tony, spent a week with us in the Whitsundays on the Great Barrier Reef. Later I flew down to Melbourne to spend a few days with Fiona and her husband Ian, and their new baby, Ellen. I also drove to Canberra and Wagga Wagga to visit some old haunts. Over the next five years, I went to Australia two more times with Patty, and I stopped off each time to see Fi and Kirsty in Melbourne. And we always stayed in Toowong whenever we were in Brisbane.

You know what's cool? We (that's V., Will, and me!) now live in Toowong. And Fiona, Ian, Ellen (who is now 11), and Sally (who is 8) ended up moving to Brisbane last year, and live just a couple of kilometers away.

It really is a small world after all. (Look for Part III soon...)

Thursday, September 20, 2007


I came across this today, and it really made me smile. Perhaps because we have been worrying about our little one all week (he developed an ear infection a couple of days ago)...
TO ALL THE KIDS WHO SURVIVED the 1930s, '40s, '50s, '60s and '70s!!

First, we survived being born to mothers who smoked and/or drank while they were pregnant.

They took aspirin, ate blue cheese dressing, and tuna from a can.

Then, after that trauma, we were put to sleep on our tummies in baby cribs covered with brightly-colored lead-based paints.

We had no childproof lids on medicine bottles, doors or cabinets, and when we rode bikes, we had no helmets, not to mention the risks we took hitchhiking .

As infants and children, we would ride in cars with no car seats, booster seats, seat belts or air bags. Riding in the back of a pick up on a warm day was always a special treat.

We drank water from the garden hose and NOT from a bottle. We shared one soft drink with four friends, from one bottle and NO ONE actually died from this.

We ate cupcakes, white bread and real butter and drank koolade made with sugar, but we weren't overweight because...


We would leave home in the morning and play all day, as long as we were back when the streetlights came on.

No one was able to reach us all day.

And we were O.K.

We would spend hours building our go-carts out of scraps and then ride down the hill, only to find out we forgot the brakes. After running into the bushes a few times, we learned to solve the problem!

We did not have Playstations, Nintendo's, X-boxes, no video games at all, no 150 channels on cable, no video movies or DVDs, no surround-sound, CDs or iPods, no cell phones, no personal computers, no Internet or chat rooms... WE HAD FRIENDS and we went outside and found them!

We fell out of trees, got cut, broke bones and teeth and there were no lawsuits from these accidents.

We ate worms and mud pies made from dirt, and the worms did not live in us forever.

We were given BB guns for our 10th birthdays, made up games with sticks and tennis balls and, although we were told it would happen, we did not put out very many eyes.

We rode bikes or walked to a friend's house and knocked on the door or rang the bell, or just walked in and talked to them!

Little League had tryouts and not everyone made the team. Those who didn't had to learn to deal with disappointment. Imagine that!!

The idea of a parent bailing us out if we broke the law was unheard of. They actually sided with the law!

These generations have produced some of the best risk-takers, problem solvers and inventors ever! The past 50 years have been an explosion of innovation and new ideas.

We had freedom, failure, success and responsibility, and we learned HOW TO DEAL WITH IT ALL!

If YOU are one of them . . CONGRATULATIONS!

Kind of makes you want to run through the house with scissors, doesn't it?!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

An Aussie Politician

From the main website of The Australian today:The caption: "John Howard adjusts his glasses during question time in parliament."

I'm not even sure that the middle finger means the same thing here, but it's still a hoot!

Monday, September 17, 2007


Will woke up this morning nearly back to his old self. On the way to work (just five minutes away) I dropped him off at his family daycare and he started to whimper. When we returned to pick him up at 5:00, he was all smiles. He even had a few new tricks for us at dinnertime.

Most of our boxes are now unpacked, but we have a smaller shipment of nine boxes to pick up this week once they have been inspected by AQIS--the quarantine people. As V. said, "it's the beginning of the end of the whole moving process."

Now, if we could just sell that house back in Atlanta...

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Coffee Break

It's Day 8, and we are still struggling to recover from our cold/flu/lurgy. V. and I were able to go out last night for a dinner and a movie ("No Reservations," a pleasant but forgettable film that wasn't as good as the original, "Mostly Martha") in Southbank. However, after we went to bed Will woke up a few times during the night from congestion and coughing. So far today he's managed no more than 30 minutes of sleep in a row. V. has dosed him up with Dimetapp, so I hope he gets some relief now.

Yesterday I attended an interesting talk by one of my new colleagues at UQ, Blake McKimmie. Blake is a social psychologist interested in the impact of psychological factors on the legal system. I learned a bit about the Australian legal system. It appears to be more similar to the one in the U.K. than the one in the States. And only the State of Queensland requires unanimous jury decisions. In the other states, a simple majority is required for most kinds of cases. I was also surprised to learn more about the infamous McDonald's coffee case. You know the story: in 1994 an old lady was burned by a cup of coffee she bought in the drive-thru. The U.S. jury in that case awarded her $2.9 million, although that was reduced to $640,000 by the trial judge, and even settled for less than that in the end. It is often brought up as a horrendous example of frivolous litigation, and did a lot to damage the reputation of the legal system. But here are some additional facts that Blake mentioned in his talk:
  • All McDonald's coffee at the time of that incident was served at about 190 degrees F (88 degrees C), whereas most other restaurants never served coffee hotter than 160.
  • The woman spent 8 days in the hospital and required skin grafts for the 3rd-degree burns she received covering 6% of her body, including her legs and groin region.
  • McDonald's had received over 700 complaints about its hot coffee and resulting burns BEFORE this case, but had always settled such complaints out-of-court without adjusting the temperature of the coffee.
  • The reason given by the jury members for awarding the large amount was that $2.9 million was equivalent to two days' worth of coffee sales for McDonald's in the U.S., and such an amount would send a message to McDonald's that it needed to deal with the problem once and for all.
  • After this case, McDonald's indeed lowered the temperature of its coffee to no more than 160 degrees F, and added warnings to the cups.
For more information, there's a great Wikipedia entry about the case.

I don't remember hearing any of this back in the day. Isn't it interesting how what we do hear (via the news) can affect our attitudes about things for such a long time, even if they are based on incomplete information? Or should I say, isn't it scary?

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Wednesday Night Television

In Brisbane, we receive six "free-to-air" HD channels on our new Sony HDTV-- Seven, Nine, and Ten, which are all commercial networks (and they're actually known by those numbers), and ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation), ABC2, and SBS, which are government owned, although SBS shows commercials. We really haven't felt the need to pay for cable or satellite, as there is plenty for us to view for free. For example, I can watch the nightly news broadcasts from several countries, including the U.S., on SBS. I'm also so impressed with the picture quality of these HD channels--something we didn't have back in our house in Atlanta.

Wednesday is my favourite TV night, mainly because everything we see on this night is produced in Australia (and doesn't involve cops and murders). Here's a rundown of what we watch (after Will has his bath and goes to bed, and provided V. hasn't fallen asleep yet!).

7-7:30. Home and Away. Seven. This is a long-running soap that takes place in a fictional bay town north of Sydney. It's on every week night. The cast is generally young and good-looking, the outdoor locations beautiful, and the melodrama is cranked way up. This show is also very popular in the U.K. It's fine to play in the background because I don't feel like I've missed anything if we happen to be putting Will to bed or cleaning the kitchen after dinner.

7:30-8:30. Thank God You're Here. Ten. This "live" comedy show involves putting some celebrity performer into the middle of a sketch, complete with a high-quality set and props. He or she then improvises lines with other actors who create the situation and sort of control where the sketch is going. I don't think I have recognised one of these celebrities yet--they are mostly Aussie comedians, radio DJs, and sitcom players. Still, most of the sketches end up being quite hilarious. Interestingly, a U.S. version of this show was piloted this past spring while I was still in Atlanta, and it wasn't nearly as funny.

8:30-9:00. Spicks and Specks. ABC. This is my favourite Aussie show. It's basically a music trivia game, in which two teams of celebrities compete for a few points. The two team captains (Myf and Alan) are the same each week (Myf is a morning DJ for Triple J, a fantastic alternative public radio station), with other guests typically being Aussie comedians or musicians whom I usually have never heard of (although a member of Squeeze was on a few weeks ago!). The questions are really tough, and there are plenty of interesting challenges for the players, such as having to identify a rock song from listening to a team player sing the tune while reading from a dishwasher manual, or figuring out what's missing from an old record album cover. I am in total awe of the players' knowledge of music trivia that can extend from knowing the name of the first Pixies album to being able to finish the lyrics to an Everly Brothers' song.

9:00-9:30. The Chaser's War on Everything. ABC. It's hard to describe the Chaser, which, as implied by the title, satirises everything. It's part "The Daily Show" and part "Borat," but its style is mostly original. This week's episode was significant because it aired a stunt that recently attracted worldwide attention (including CNN). The Chaser boys hired a few limos, attached Canadian flags, and were then allowed to pass through two security checkpoints at the APEC meeting in Sydney last week. It's clear from last night's footage that the Chaser team really didn't think they would get that far, and even started to turn around when they got to Bush's hotel. It was only when one cast member dressed like bin Laden got out of his car that the police even noticed the prank. Eleven people from the show were arrested over the incident and face charges next month. Last night's episode also included stinging pieces about George Bush (who referred to APEC as "OPEC" and "IPEC" during the meeting, and talked about John Howard's visit to the "Austrian" troops in Iraq), John Howard, Steve and Bindi Irwin ("help save the Irwins, who are dying off at the rate of one a year"), and Kevin Rudd, the opposition leader. And this is all on a public television station!

That's the Wednesday line-up in our household. Of course, this will all change in a couple of weeks. Australian TV series, just like in the UK, typically have only 6-8 episodes in a season. I'm sure they will find another 22-episode American police drama or two to fill the void.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Resignation and Change

The Premier of Queensland (the equivalent of a state governor in the U.S.), Peter Beattie, announced his resignation yesterday. For my American ears, it was refreshing to hear a politician resigning after nine years of service--and well before his current term was to end--for fairly simple reasons, such as wanting to spend more time with his family and desiring a healthier lifestyle. Although there could be an ulterior motive to his actions, he is leaving a booming, economically healthy state to his successor, Anna Bligh, who will be the first woman to hold this office in Queensland. Pretty cool.

Six years ago today (on a Tuesday as well) I went to work without having watched the morning news. I therefore ended up not hearing about the World Trade Center towers until after they had collapsed. At around 11 that morning I made a quick trip to the CNN center in the hope that I might learn more about was going on, but it had been immediately evacuated in case of another terrorist attack. I then went home and watched the news for the rest of the day, as life in the U.S. came to a sudden standstill. That was a horrible, scary, and sad day. And the week got only worse for me, with an unexpected change in my personal life happening a few days later. That was an important week in my life because it led to many huge changes. Thinking back to that day six years ago, it seems incredible where I have ended up today, happily typing this entry from my new home in Brisbane, Australia, with a completely different life from the one I had back then.

I heard that Michael Jackson turned 49 recently. Harrison Ford, at 65, is filming the next "Indiana Jones" movie. And an older, plumper, loonier Britney could hardly move around the stage this week at the MTV video awards. Time flies when you're having fun.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Getting Better All the Time

Thanks to those of you who left get well messages for us. We seem to be improving. After spending nearly two days comatose in bed, V. was up and about today with a smile on her face. Will was doing better this morning, but started to decline late in the day. I may have to stay at home tomorrow if he's not well enough to attend daycare. I am limping along with a sore throat, but seem to have missed the worst part of this cold/flu that was experienced by the rest of my little family.

An American colleague here in Brisbane sent me the following link--it's an American imported food store in Melbourne that sells all sorts of goodies via the internet to us Yanks far from home. For those of you reading this back in the States, look at the site and check out the prices. Even with the exchange rate, I don't think you will look at your cheap jar of Jif extra crunchy peanut butter the same way again (and there really is no Aussie substitute for it). For those of you considering a move to the land of the vegemite sandwich, there's a much more complete website that offers all sorts of support for American Ex-pats in Oz...check out TerritorianTori's Yanks Down Under.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

The Sick and the Moaning

Well, I knew it would happen eventually. After several weeks of watching my colleagues fall to The Plague one by one, the flu/cold/lurgy has come to our home too. Yesterday we all woke up feeling crappy. Will was irritable and had a runny nose. V. was feverish, chilly, and just sick. I had a cough and a sore throat. I ended up staying at home, but took Will to Gymboree (the only one in Australia, according to the website). Other than that, we all took turns napping and whining about how we felt. Today we are each a bit better, but it looks like we'll just hang out at home today as well. I hope you are well and enjoy the weekend.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Weather Man

I once read on an Aussie's blog about his trip to the U.S. that "Americans are obsessed with weather." Well, after reading some of my fellow ex-pats' recent blog entries (look here, for example), maybe the bloke had a point. I try to bite my tongue about all this, as I am a confessed Weather Channel addict (going through major withdrawal), but I can no longer hold back. For those of you who still live in a place with great weather maps, let me show you an example of a typical forecast map in Australia:
It's called a synoptic chart, and you do sometimes see these on American forecasts. But, notice that it's quite difficult for the average person to interpret how these lines are going to affect things. In my prior visits to Oz, I have learned that a cluster of pressure gradients close to one another means that it will be windy, and a Low is usually a sign of rain. But troughs (the dashed lines) are a new concept for me, and I don't really see how this is going to give me a reliable view of future weather. For comparison's sake, look at these Weather Channel maps:

Here, in fact, is the forecast for the rest of the week in Brisbane from my Weather Channel substitute, the WeatherZone. Note the distinctions between "Rain periods," "Rain at times," and "Showers about." I have also seen "Rain easing.."
  • Wednesday. Rain at times. Moderate to fresh S to SE winds
  • Thursday. Rain periods
  • Friday. Rain periods
  • Saturday. Showers about
  • Sunday. Fine
Maybe I could start a new business here involving nicely coloured weather maps with more detailed information. Hmm...

Monday, September 3, 2007

Seasons in the Sun

My friends in the U.S. might be surprised to learn that September 1 is considered the first day of Spring in Australia. The fact that it’s the “opposite” season from autumn in the northern hemisphere isn't a surprise, of course, but from an American perspective, seasons don’t change until the 22nd. Sometime during elementary school (in Illinois) I had learned the seasons changed during the March equinox, June solstice, September equinox, and December solstice, each around the 21st or 22nd of their respective months. I liked the certainty of those dates, but I really didn’t question whether it made sense to do it this way. In fact, here’s a link to a site where the author examines the logic, but is also apparently unaware that some countries do not observe the beginning of the seasons on these dates because their citizens rely on meteorological, rather than astronomical, reckoning to determine them. Quoting from Wikipedia: “Meteorological seasons are reckoned by temperature, with summer being the hottest quarter of the year, and winter the coldest quarter of the year.

Using this reckoning, the Ancient Roman calendar began the year and the spring season on the first of March, with each season occupying three months. This reckoning is also used in Denmark, the former USSR, and Australia. In modern United Kingdom and Ireland there are no hard and fast rules about seasons, and informally many people use this reckoning. So, in meteorology for the Northern hemisphere:

* spring begins on March 1,
* summer on June 1,
* autumn on September 1, and
* winter on December 1.

Conversely, for the Southern hemisphere:

* summer begins on December 1,
* autumn on March 1,
* winter on June 1, and
* spring on September 1.”

I think this meteorological reckoning actually makes sense, even for the United States. When I lived in the Midwest, it always seemed somewhat stupid to hear on December 22 that it was “the first day of winter,” as I trudged out to the driveway to shovel the snow for the third time since Thanksgiving. Similarly, June 22 is well into summer, especially when you think of Memorial Day and Labor Day in the U.S. as the real bookends to the season.

A final note: I hope that those of you back in the good old USA are having a relaxing Labor Day weekend.

Saturday, September 1, 2007


Riverfire Brisbane-03+
Originally uploaded by cindytoo
We just got back from a fantastic evening along the Brisbane river with our friends the Clarks (Ellen, Sally, Fi, & Ian). Tonight was the annual QBE Riverfire, which is certainly the most spectacular fireworks display I have ever seen. Fireworks were set off at many locations in the city, some a few kilometers from each other, and all were synchronised with music that played on the ABC. Everyone seemed to be enjoying the evening--some on blankets along the river, others on large party boats, and many standing on verandas of high-rise apartments. The whole show was framed by the passing of F-111 jets that did a "dump and burn" (i.e., flames shot out the tail on a low altitude pass over the city). Transport was easy, despite the crowds. We caught an express bus into the city, ate kebabs for dinner, and sat along the river in the Botanic Gardens. The ride home on the CityCat took 15 minutes. What a great city this is!

By the way, click on this photo to look at plenty more on Flickr posted by "cindytoo," who is one of my local favourites.