Thursday, 25 August 2016

One present to rule them all ...

So I did in fact get one more present for my birthday.

It was my best present this birthday ... if not my best present ever.

Like ... ever, ever.

Even better than that BMX I got when I was what 6? 8?

It was, in a Lord of the Rings analogy, the one present to rule them all, the one present to bind them ...

And, no, it wasn't a new bike.

It was ....

A soda stream.

That's right, what I wanted above anything else this year was a soda stream, and I was so excited to get it.

Now to understand this desire, you have to understand that I owned one of the very first soda streams that ever came out.  Do you know the one's?  They 'farted' every time they gassed the water (it was so cool) and the reinforced glass bottles used to explode with alarming regularity ...

I loved it.

I've pined for one ever since I smashed my last bottle, and de-fizzed my last gas bottle all those years ago.

More recently, Kim and I did "Dry July" (well Dry most of July anyway), and in lieu of a glass of wine after work, we found ourselves buying those super cheap 75 cent bottles of Select Range soda waters from Woolworths.

They were in fact so cheap, and so nice, that we were going through up to 2 bottles a day ... and that was creating an awful lot of plastic waste in the recycling bin.

It just seemed ... wrong.

I thought there must be a better way, and that's when it hit me: We needed a soda stream.

But Kim wasn't so sure.

So I begged, and I pleaded, and I begged again ... and then on my birthday ... there it was my very own soda stream.


Now I can drink fizzy water to my hearts content, and even the kids love it.

There are some catches: I've of course had to go out and buy a spare gas canister ($49), and two extra bottles ($15) and although we don't usually flavour the water, we've bought a few flavours ($6-$8 each) ... just to try, so you can be enticed in by the entry price and then find yourself paying a lot more, but, I'm told that a refill gas cylinder costs $22 and makes about 60 litres of water, so that's about 37 cents per litre ... almost half the cost of what we were buying from Woolworths and more importantly we can say good bye to all that plastic waste ...

One soda stream to rule them all I say ...

I just wished they still farted.

Awesome birthday.

Thanks Kimmy

It's my (almost perfect) birthday ...

I had an almost perfect birthday today.

I went to work (I did say almost perfect) and I got to spend the morning doing a bit of work on the west coast mountain bike project, which for me is as good as my work can get (being paid to think about mountain biking trails).

Then, just as that was finishing, I got a call from my doctor saying that my tests had come back and I did have the Flu.  He also saif that it should only take four to six weeks to get over, and that I should go home ... so I did (but not for four to six weeks - again almost perfect).

I dropped by Kim's office on the way to my desk to tell her I had the Flu and was going home when she told me (blubbering in tears she was so distraught) that she'd had a disaster ... she'd been out and bought me a lovely pair of running shoes for my birthday ...

But unfortunately she then realised when she got back to work that they were a bit too small for me which was tragic as they were really, really good shoes ...

Then, just as tears started coming to my eyes as well, she went to put them on to show me just how small they were and we discovered that they actually fit her feet perfectly ... I mean how lucky was that!!!!

Almost perfect.

I would of been devastated if we'd had to return them and get another pair instead.

Then we got to my serious presents, first there was the chook ... 

Which was just what we needed to put over the grave of our dead chook ... how perfect is that!

Kim also got me another solar powered pot plant for my desk (because she knows how much I love plastic moving pot plants).  This was another particularly thoughtful present as the previous three pot plants she'd bought me had all got accidentally pushed off my desk and broken.

Unfortunately, and tragically, I must report that before I could even get this pot plant into work, Boo (our cat) knocked it off the table and broke it.

I feel so devastated - I must have left it too close to the edge of the table.

It would have been perfect.

I did get some other crappy presents - the birthday present equivalent  of stocking fillers - an airshot tubeless inflation system which I guess I might be able to find a use for ...

And an Exposure Diablo light ...

Which I have proudly attached to my Dahon folding bike thereby almost doubling its value ...

I also opted for a night in with the kids and pups (and my favourite Indian) which all in all (especially with the Flu and how I was feeling) made for an almost perfect birthday.

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Hotham and the flu ...

So, we'd had this trip to Mt Hotham booked for months, and we weren't going to let a little thing like me potentially having the Flu get in the way of our holiday (see previous post).

Yep, it didn't matter how bad I felt, we rationalised that as we didn't have the test results back from the doctor, it wasn't definitive that I had the flu and I might in fact recover after a day or two ... so we were going to Hotham.

Sensible precautions were however put in place to ensure that any potential illness I might have was not spread to the rest of 'us' ... namely I was allowed to be part of the trip, but only from a safe distance ...

That newspaper headline is unrelated ..
I was also relegated to sleep by myself in the 'kids' room on our first night away, and although I don't have any photos to prove it, Kim actually bought surgical face masks for her and the kids to wear in the car.

The other interesting thing about this holiday is that we almost had to bribe the kids to come.

What is wrong with kids nowadays?  Back in my days if my parents suggested we should take three days off school and go to the ski fields, I would have been sitting in the car saying "let's go" before they'd gotten to the end of the sentence, but not this generation ...

We couldn't leave Hobart until around 1.30pm, because there was no way that they could skip their Saturday soccer, and even then we had to bribe them with extra activities to entice them that this was going to be fun ..

For Marcus this was a visit to the Essendon DFO (what can I say, the boy likes to shop) and a skate park ...

For Zara it was a side trip to Airborn Trampoline world ...

Although for some reason I only seem to have photos of Marcus.

And, finally, for Kim it was a promise that she could cross dog sledding off her bucket list ...

But these little side trips got us to where I (I mean 'we') wanted to be ... Mt Hotham.

But once we got there the experience was pretty mixed ...

Zara took to skiing like a duck to water ...

Marcus also took to snowboarding like a duck to water (well maybe a slightly bruised and occasionally cranky duck) ...

And Kim ...



What should I say about Kim?!?

Let me back track a bit ...

Have you ever been in the situation where you're booking a family holiday having been enticed in by one of those "and the whole family can ski for as little as $999*" deals, but then as you've booked the flights, and the accommodation, and the hire car and then bought and hired all the ski gear required and lift passes, you realised that the Asterix next to the $999 means "if you come in summer and sleep in your car"?

That's what happened to us as we found the cost creep over $1,000, then over $2,000, and then before you know it, the cost is north of $5,000 and still climbing.

So, with all these costs skyrocketing out of control, I came to the point where I was booking our ski hire and lessons and although I didn't blink twice at the extra cost of sending Zara and Marcus off on ski lessons (they obviously would need it) I figured "I can teach Kim how to ski and we'll save ourselves $140". Woo hoo, she'll thank me for that.

And so I didn't book Kim any lessons.

I think that's what every logical, caring, compassionate boyfriend would do, right?  I mean it was a chance for us to spend some quality time together and save money.

It was a disaster.

I'm not a good teacher.

I'm a particularly bad teacher when I am sick with the flu, I have a raspy, sore voice, and I really, really want to go skiing.

But in my defense, Kim isn't a good student, what with all her "I'm not going to throw myself down some slope until you show me how I can slow myself down" nonsense.

So our skiing101 classes were a miserable failure, and  Kim switched to snowboarding for the afternoon ... wherein she carried her board up the hill a bit, fell over soon after standing up (as you do) almost wrenching her knee and that was pretty close to the end of Kim's time on the snow as she became concerned about destroying her knee in the run up to the Auckland Marathon later this year.

I, meanwhile, was out carving up the snow in my early 1990's (bright red) one piece ski suit like Austin Powers ...

Those green slops didn't know what hit them!

Truth is, while I got out and did some blue runs on the second morning by myself, I soon found that the combination of exertion and cold wind threw me into coughing fits, so I basically spent the time following the kids down the green slopes filming them on my iPhone ... which was actually really fun.

Despite my flu (I was finally diagnosed with the flu two days after we got back and then I was sent home by my doctor to rest.  I also lost my voice for  an entire week after the trip) and the fact that Kim didn't get much on-snow time, it was still a brilliant trip.

There's even been conversations of going skiing again next year ...

But this time we'll I'll pay for Kim to have lessons, and we'll go to Mt Buller ... I hear they have a deal on for families for just $899!!!

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Public Transport Planning

I don't talk about work much in this blog, partly because people fall asleep when I talk about what I do (my dreams of starting a podcast will remain just that - a dream) and partly because there's this State Service Code of Conduct which requires goodly public servants like myself to maintain 'appropriate confidentiality' about my work dealings.

Whatever that means.

It also doesn't help that I struggle to describe what I do ...the best description I've come up with is that I'm a jack of all trades who's good at solving problems and that I like projects that everyone else runs away from.

Which brings me back to my opening statement that I don't talk about what I do much because people fall asleep.

Part of being a jack of all trades means that I often need to do a bit of a crash course in whatever it is I'm getting involved in (and the associated jargon) to build up my subject matter knowledge ... at least to the extent that people don't sit around wondering why this moron who doesn't even know the relationship between headway and service frequency (that's a pubic transport reference) is suddenly involved in their project.

And that's why I've just spent four days (well three - but we'll come to that later) up in Melbourne doing a Monash short course in Planning Public Transport Services.
You see, I've been involved in a project that is re-procuring the public transport services (called Project 2018) for a while now, and although I've been blessed with being able to draw on the knowledge of the experts on this stuff within the Department, and a lot of other experts in this field, I thought it would be good to actually carve out a few days to run through the theory of this stuff by some of the gurus of public transport planning in the Country ... and so that's how I ended up in Melbourne.

I started to suspect I was in trouble with this course when the introductions were being done and practically every person in the room either identifeid themselves as a PhD candidate studying some peculiar aspect of public transport: "My name is francois, and I'm studying how the colour of bus stops affects use of public transport" or they were a public transport expert already and were trying to be modest abut it: "My name is Oliver, and I'm new to the industry, having only worked in it for 23 years..."

Then there was me: "Hi, I'm John  - Um - I know a lot about ... ah ... trees and mountain biking ... and I did catch a plane here, except that's not really public transport - or is it?  I did catch the skybus, but then I walked the last 3kms to my hotel because the connecting hotel service was going to take 40 minutes to get me to my hotel and it was quicker to walk.  And I'm scared of trams.  I'll shut up now".

Yea, you can imagine the respect I got about that.

Then the course started and, true to form, I was disagreeing with the lecturer in the first five minutes.
It was only when I was having dinner (by myself) later that night that it occurred to me that I was back in a University environment and that maybe telling my 'professor' that I thought his opening statement that no one would own cars in 20 years time was stupid and didn't reflect an understanding of human nature, probably wasn't in line with the expected norms of the professor - student University relationship.


Anyway, it all went downhill from there as we started dealing with all sorts of stuff which went straight over my head ...

... actually, I shouldn't put myself down so much.  I did 'get' most of it, but as I said to the lecturer at morning tea, I didn't get where it fits into what I need to know or how Id use it.  For example,  I knew how to use the four different methods for determining the required frequency for bus services ... but I had no idea why I needed to know that and why I'd use the different methods.  I didn't have the context.

The first two days passed in a blur of increasing frustration at some of the stuff being taught ("Was this really the peak of thinking in public transport planning in Australia?") and a growing understanding that the paradigm of public transport planning being taught at this course was focused on what is needed in Sydney and Melbourne where the density of living and costs of moving around create a model of public transport that is completely different to what might be needed in low-density, cheap parking Tassie where public transport is still far more of a choice, than a necessity.

Then I woke up on day three.

Specifically I woke up coughing and feeling a bit congested.

"Damn hotel air conditioning" - I thought - "I need some fresh air."

But, even after going for a walk outside, I still felt terrible, in fact I started feeling worse.  I bought some painkillers and decongestants at morning tea, but it was a losing battle and I just remember spending the afternoon session wanting and wishing the time to pass by as I felt worse and worse and worse.

I hoped a good nights sleep might fix how I felt, but instead I had one of the worst nights of my life as I got stuck in this recurring feverish dream where I was sure that I was immortal, but that the security detail for the President were determined to kill me ... and every time they killed me - I woke up.

Then I'd go back to sleep and it would all happen again.  This happened all night (I reckon I had the dream about 30 times) and I was so feverish that it was only around 6am that it dawned on me that I wasn't in fact immortal and that I was in fact having some really weird dreams (it all seemed so real up to that point).

It was at this point that I decided that I was seriously sick and needed to get home.

The thing about our wonderful (non-public) transport system is that just six hours after making this decision (including a 30 minute walk, a skybus trip, a plane trip and a taxi trip) I was back in my own house in Tassie playing hookie from my course.

Later that afternoon I got in to see my doctor who took some samples and told me to go home and rest for the rest of the week as he thought I might have some new influenza strain which is going around.

Which is just the news you want 48 hours before heading off on a planned week-long family holiday ...

And that's where I'll finish this post.