Tuesday, 1 December 2009

thoughts on ETS

Since I'm not getting any work done, perhaps I'll jot down some thoughts on the current turmoil in Australian politics.

The Liberals (foreign readers should note that this is a liberal party in name only - they are the conservative side of Australian politics) changed leaders today, from Malcolm Turnbull to Tony Abbott. This all happened because the conservative side of the party couldn't stomach the negotiation on the Emissions Trading System, and behind Abbott and Nick Minchin, they organised a leadership spill. Abbott ran against Turnbull and Joe Hockey (who had been seen as the compromise candidate, each running different lines on the ETS senate vote - Abbott saying vote against, Turnbull saying vote for, Hockey saying vote conscience. After Hockey was knocked out in the first round, Abbott beat Turnbull by a single vote. Its made more controversial by one of the votes being informal, one of the Turnbull supporters being unable to attend due to illness (and unable to lodge a proxy since the Libs don't support such things), and the prospect that after this weekend's bi-elections, there will be two new Libs in the party room, both of whom project as Turnbull backers.

Anyway, Malcolm has gone to the backbench, and the Libs are once again led by a conservative (in fact, more socially conservative than any leader they've had in a long time). Its sad, because Turnbull offered much promise, based on his past and to a certain extent his stated intentions during his short-lived tenure as leader, of a transition for the party towards somewhat more progressive, small-"l" liberal politics. Feeling towards him was good amongst the Labor voters that the Libs hope to poach at the next election, but as was pointed out on Insiders this weekend, whether this would transition to votes remained to be seen, and he was understandably a bit on the nose for the conservative side of the party.

What does this mean for the unwitting cause of the drama, the ETS bill? Well, I think its stuffed. The Libs will, after a secret party-room ballot, try to send the bill to committee or, failing that, oppose it. They don't hold a majority, but nor does the government, so the likelihood is that (a) it won't go to committee (there have already been numerous senate committees on this topic, so I don't see how they could justify another), and (b) the ETS won't pass, barring at least a handful of Liberal senators crossing the floor. That's not as impossible as it sounds, but its a lot less likely now than it would have been 2 weeks ago - after all the division in their party, the last thing they want is more. The alternative negotiation position for the government, with the Greens, is even less viable. Winning the Greens over by strengthening the bill might be possible, but doing so definitely rules out getting Fielding (who is unlikely to support the bill anyway), and probably any rebel Libs who would already have crossed the floor in the above scenario. So my feeling is that the bill will go down, and Rudd/Wong will go to Copenhagen without any legislation. Rudd in particularly will be disappointed not to have his trophy, but by way of compensation, the government will get a trigger for a double dissolution.

They may take it. It has political advantages in terms of giving them a shot at Abbott before he either builds himself a more credible public image (the prevailing wisdom is that he is presently unelectable, due to past indiscretions and a huge image problem with women in particular), or they see sense and replace him, although having shot down Turnbull and forsaken Hockey, its hard to see to whom they might turn. Having failed to get the ETS before Copenhagen, I don't think it matters much (politically) one way or another whether the government gets it after an election in February/March, or the scheduled one at the end of next year.

So my feeling is that the bill gets tabled, at least until March, and possibly until 2011.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

by way of comparison

I sat down to write this post about the satisfaction I'm drawing from volleyball as opposed to tennis, under the mistaken belief that I'd recently written about how bad my tennis is. Reading the blog, though, would suggest that perhaps I covered this a couple of weeks ago.

Anyway, to recap, last week I finished up a season of tennis fixtures that from a team perspective was very disappointing (we only won one night, and finished last), and from a personal perspective was extremely frustrating. I didn't win a game of singles, but it wasn't so much the losing that annoyed me as the poor quality of my play, and the way I could collapse and lose streaks of 4-6 games straight. Anyway, I have resolved to not play bad tennis any more. In the short term this means having a break from the game. In the medium term it may mean getting some coaching as well as just playing fixtures.

Meanwhile, I'm still really enjoying volleyball. On Monday night I played maybe my best game yet. I didn't get any blocks, but I got some good retrievals, had some good hits, and served well in the second half. My setting (the worst part of my game) wasn't great, but I did get a few good ones, and didn't turn too many over. After the game I got compliments from both my teammates and from the umpire, which was really gratifying.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

my life as a cyber stalker

Its so ridiculously easy to cyber stalk people these days. Recent example of my cyber stalking exploits include:
  • following my sister's football games through the ACT women's Australian football site
  • following my dad's golf scores through the AGU golflink handicapping site
  • following my friends' progress in an online game through the game's site
  • diverse facebook activities
These are all done (I think) with the knowledge of the people I'm "following", so I don't feel guilty about it. It does make for strange conversations later on though:
I had a good day in football/golf/gaming this week. I know - you scored X.

the race that stops the ... zzzzzzz

I would be willing to bet that, by way of distinguishing today's "sporting" event from most others:
  • the winner of today's race will have almost no idea what it's doing and why it's running around
  • the winner, and every other participant, will be whipped
  • most people watching the event will have little interest in the athletic endeavour or achievement involved, or at least will be more interested in the result of their bet than the result of the race
Of all the great sports that we play in Australia, there is only one event during which it is taboo to schedule meetings, and for which we can legitimately drink at work and wear silly hats. Why, in god's name, is that event in such a mindlessly boring "sport" as horseracing?

For me, the whole "racing season" is just a wasted month in the Australian sporting calendar lost in between the winter (football) and summer (cricket, tennis, golf) seasons, that would be better spent on something, anything, else.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

yelling and screaming

I see myself as a pretty reserved person. It may that others disagree (and they're welcome to comment to that effect), but I see myself as someone who keeps my emotions to myself most of the time.

The two biggest exceptions to that are watching football, and playing tennis. In the last couple of weeks, there have been two classic examples.

On Saturday night, Brisbane played Carlton in an elimination final at the Gabba. Being members, our posse of Gav, Doug, Andy (claiming the floating ticket) and I went along to cheer along our respective teams. Brisbane started poorly (or Carlton well), and the Blues fans in front of us were in strong voice, jumping out of their seats to cheer Carlton goals. Brisbane came back, and I felt obliged (and moved) to respond in kind, leaping to my feet and letting forth an appropriately guttural roar. Come the fourth quarter, Brisbane were 5 goals down, and up against the wall. They came, though, with a furious rush that put joy in the heart of any non-Carlton-supporting fan (Carlton are not a well-loved club in recent times). It was a famous victory, that will live long in the memory, and left my vocal cords in tatters for Sunday and Monday.

Although this was one of the more notable (and justified) examples of me having a good yell at the football, it is far from the only one. Its not always in triumph - the umpires bear a heavy load, and I do not shirk from making suggestions to or critiques of Brisbane players. In general, though, its an environment where I feel comfortable letting myself go and just yelling at the top of my lungs.

The other, less fortunate scenario in which I find myself yelling, is while playing tennis. I like to think, and it may not be true, but I like to think that at some point between 5 and 10 years ago, I was a handy tennis player. I have never been blessed with consistency; when I play, I live and die by the sword, and many of my matches are decided by whether the ambitious groundstrokes I attempt come off or not. More often that not, they don't, particularly at times like now when I haven't been playing regularly. Other than this Achillean, live-well-and-die-young approach, the other notable characteristic of my tennis game is that I play stupid. I try shots that aren't on, repeat the same mistakes over and over again, and generally make dumb decisions.

Anyway, these unfortunate aspects of my tennis game, combined with the impression (or delusion) that I was once capable of making the shots I try, mean that I get very frustrated. And I yell. I yell at myself for being stupid, I call myself a moron, and I swear (in French, now, as is my wont). I'm not proud of it, but its something that I seem to do. Last week was pretty bad. I played very poorly (despite doing some things very well - I probably hit a dozen aces), and yelled at myself quite a lot. Last night wasn't so bad. I hit the ball a bit better, and was able to be slightly more circumspect when I didn't, although I still let fly with a few gros mots.

So, two places where I yell. One I like, and feel like its a place where having a shout is fair play. The other, I don't like, and over time hopefully I can quieten down there.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

sportfolio management

The variety of sports that I play regularly (weekly, fortnightly, as opposed to the occasional outing on a weekend) has generally hovered around 2. Tennis has been the most common of them, but at various there has been basketball, golf, indoor soccer, cycling, and most recently beach and indoor volleyball. When I got back from New Zealand, I was invited to play tennis with Gav's team, meaning that my Monday (indoor volleyball), Tuesday (beach volleyball) and Wednesday (tennis) nights are all given over to sports (in the case of Monday and Wednesday, supplanting AoC).

When I was asked to play tennis regularly, something inside told me that either the number (3 nights a week) or the density (3 nights in a row) would probably be slightly too high for me, and that's proving to be true. I like my nights at home to myself, so long as they aren't too numerous (as they were for much of my time France, for example), and I'm finding that I miss that at the start of the week.

Something has to give. It won't be indoor volleyball at this point (much as having Monday nights free would suit my gaming). I'm enjoying the challenge of learning to play, and the guys I'm playing with (Chad, Brett, occasionally Lach) are great, because they are better than me, and play the "right way", which makes it easier to learn and improve. I also feel like I need to give tennis a proper go. Its without doubt the sport I'm best at (at this point; one day I'll be a better golfer than tennis player, but that day has not yet come). I haven't been playing well, and have been getting frustrated, but I feel like I need to give it some time so I can find some form, and work on being smarter and calmer (being smarter would help me not get frustrated, and I suspect not getting frustrated would help me play smarter) on court, in order to play better and enjoy it more.

The likely casualty is beach volleyball. I have enjoyed playing, and we've improved as a team, but I can't help but feel that I've stopped improving personally. We play an unstructured game, and I'm probably one of our better players, neither of which help me to learn and improve. Learning and improving are really important parts of the enjoyment I gain from playing a sport, so losing that really doesn't bode well for beach volleyball's spot in my weekly routine.

The spectre on the horizon is that I've become intrigued by the idea of playing rec footy, and the season for that starts on Tuesday. Which night depends on where I play. I had pegged Kedron, based partly on the idea of signing up friends (notably my Lions season ticket mates) to play with, although some of those are falling away, which could see me opt for the geographically more convenient alternative of Morningside. The likelihood is that I don't have a body which could withstand the rigors of "actual" football (assuming that training could overcome my lack of fitness), and rec footy would represent a nice surrogate.

Monday, 31 August 2009

Bridge to Brisbane

The 2009 Bridge to Brisbane was a mixed experience for me. To be honest, I probably enjoy having done more than I enjoyed doing it. Nonetheless, I couldn't class it as anything but well worthwhile.

The day started early, with a 4:30am wakeup. After a quick breakfast, I grabbed a backpack and walked off to Bowen Hills Station (about 2km). There I caught the 5:13am train (the first of many, I suspect) to Murrarie, near the start of the run. The place was awash with people, and it was very hard to work out where we were supposed to be. I found myself at the back of the "green" (50-60min expected time) starting zone, but was unsure, as I was surrounded by people with yellow numbers. This was indeed a bad thing. I waited for what must have been at least an hour between arriving (6-ish, I guess) and actually getting to the start line, which did nothing for my wellbeing or my patience. Also, having left my iPod at home having read the requirement to do so in the race guide, I was disappointed to see every second runner with headphones in.

Once I started, it was a matter of picking my way through the people already walking, pushing prams, and chatting on their way over and down the bridge. This continued for almost the entire 10km, despite my having started in the "green" zone. The system of starting people separately is fine, and should work, but the poor signage and almost complete lack of any marshals, meant that people essentially started whenever they could, irrespective of the guidelines.

After 3km I took on water, probably too much, and I started to slow a little. By 5km I was counting the kilometres, telling myself "one more km before I stop to walk" - wussy, but it was a hot day, and I really hadn't trained properly (at all). I managed until the 7km mark without stopping, then broke and walked for two or three hundred meters. Over the final 3km I had another 2 breaks, for a total of perhaps 800m or so of walking, before finishing strongly over the last 200m (for the cameras, you know).

The finish line was almost as chaotic as the start. Big queues for water, for fruit, and especially to reclaim bags left at the start. I somehow also came away with a bag of goodies from the Heart Foundation, having raised more than $50 for them. (Fortunately, I'm 90% sure the goodies were donated, not bought), in addition to my "I finished!" shirt. I thought about wearing it to work today, but its quite offensively white, and there are 46,000 other people with one, so I'm even less inclined to brag about it.

Having started so long after the official start time, I have no idea what time I ran. With my breaks, I'm sure I was well outside my ideal time of 50minutes, and possibly outside my more realistic aim of 60min. I suspect the official times won't be posted until the major sponsor (The Sunday Mail) prints them next weekend (at which time hopefully they can be read online - I refuse to buy that rag). The day proved frustrating, but talking about it with other runners today has been really good, and it has motivated me to improve my running and fitness so that I can complete 10km "properly" (i.e. without walking, and under 50min) in future.

EDIT: According to the race website, I ran 56:44, which was good enough for 6056th place (not that I care about the place). I'm reasonably happy with that time, given the conditions, the weaving through people, and that I walked for a bit of it. My target for my next 10km run remains 50 minutes, though.

My fundraising page is still up over here. The Heart Foundation do good work fighting the effects of heart disease, so if you're inclined to give them a hand to do it, then I'd encourage you to do so. If you donate through my donation page, then it'll make me feel good about myself, and lend creedence to the Bridge to Brisbane as a useful fundraising activity, which can only be a good thing.

holiday schnee

Schnee. Not knee.

So a couple of weeks ago, my sister and I headed over to New Zillund for a ski holiday. It started badly. I got up at 4am and caught a taxi to the airport. I was ready for my flight to Sydney to meet Lee and head across the ditch. The aeroplane was not, at least not until an hour and a half after it was supposed to leave. So, when I got to Sydney, Lee had organised for us to fly out the next day (which was great). We had a nice day in Sydney, visiting galleries and the gardens during the day, then going to the opera house for the Sydney Symphony in the evening, before a late but excellent dinner with Andrew & Steven, who put us up for the night.

The next day, we put into play the plans we had made for the day before. We flew in Christchurch, picked up a rental car, and drove down to Lake Tekapo to stay at the YHA for the night. Then, on Saturday, we drove down to Cardrona, and after some initial problems with directions, found our way up the mountain to Snow Park. There we met up with Di and Mike, and our hosts John & Mary.

We spent 6 out of our 8 days on the cross-country trails at Snow Farm, with conditions that went from very good to a bit slushy, although the groomer denied the warm wet weather to ensure that the trails were always accomodating. When we weren't on the snow, we hung out with Di & Mike, John & Mary, and a few other acquaintances who cycled through the Snow Park. All were accomodating, charming, and great company, especially those named. It was great to spend some time with Mike, who I'd previously only met for a day and whose company I really came to appreciate, and Diana in an environment I'd long known as one of her "natural habitats". Hanging out with John & Mary gave a really great insight to the park, with their stories about the history and operation of the Park/Farm adding real depth to the visit.

As for the skiing, I think both Lee and I really benefited from the lesson we got on the first day, which confirmed a lot of things I think we consciously or unconsciously worked out in Norway so many years ago, at the same time as giving us things to fix and concentrate on. I know that we both got a lot better during the week, especially at the things that had given us troubles, Lee on the up-hills, and me on the down. On the last day, we were still being breezed past by the Olympians (Canadian, Korean, American and Kiwi, all there for training and the Winter Games), but we felt less likely to fall over when it happened :)

A good holiday, despite a false start.

EDIT: Lee's photos from NZ are up here. I'll look at putting mine (unfortunately not many) up soon.

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

charity run

I enjoyed my charity rides last year, and I do regret skipping the first two this year.

By way of penance, I've signed up for the Bridge to Brisbane charity running event, entailing a 10km run from the Gateway bridge to the Ekka grounds (which is fortunately near my place). I've never really been a very devoted runner, but I'm not too terrible at it, and will have my friend Andy to keep me company (at least until my fitness gives way and he leaves me behind). My aim is to finish somewhere around the 50 minute mark, which should be do-able if I can get my cardio endurance built up over the next few weeks.

Much like the bike rides last year, the Bridge to Brisbane is linked to a charity, in this case the Heart Foundation. I have set up a web page for people to sponsor me, with their donations going to the Heart Foundation. If you feel the urge to give, please do so here. Alternatively, there's a little box on the right-hand side of this blog with a nice easy link to Donate. I'll endeavour to do my part by getting to the finish line without falling over (I'll also be donating, of course).

off to the snow, bro

Tomorrow I fly out (bright and early) to New Zealand for a holiday in the snow with my sister Lee, aunt Diana, and her partner Mike. Lee is fit courtesy of her football and other activities, Diana is a long-time die-hard x-country skier, and Mike is a park ranger, so I anticipate being challenged keeping up with them on the trails.

I'm really looking forward to it :)

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Still at 232/250, and more 2008 films

In the last week or so I've watched 3 more films from 2008, 2 of which were also in the top 250. This has gotten me back to 232 out of 250 seen, at which I've been basically stable for the last year or two.

The first I watched was the Curious Case of Benjamin Button. The story, of a man aging backwards through the changing times of the twentieth century, has a strong influence on the style of the film, part yarn, part strange romance, and part historical retrospective. There are a lot of elements in common with Forrest Gump, although its less overtly comic. Its well made, and well told, and has moments of real compassion.

The next I watched was the one not currently in the top 250 (and probably not likely to appear there, albeit not for lack of merit. Lars and the Real Girl is a strange film about a man who develops a delusionary relationship with a doll, and the reaction of the community in which he lives. This is a great example of a very simple film done very, very well. The performances are note-perfect, and the story arcs naturally and interestingly.

The third film I watched was The Wrestler. I had looked forward to this film based on the acclaim given to the performance of Mickey Rourke, its lead. It is a good performance, too; it really rings true with the strength and love that the character has for his sport/profession, and the way he reacts to crowds, and his striving and failing despite himself as a person, particularly in his relationship with his daughter. The ending is really tragic, but very true, which is something I've always loved in a film. I'm a sucker for tragedy.

I would have put all of these films as more meritorious than Slumdog Millionaire for Best Film of 2008. Rourke's performance was really good, but I think I'd still put Ledger's in The Dark Knight, and Langella's in Frost/Nixon, as my favourites for 2008. Brad Pitt got a nomination for Benjamin Button, but I don't see it. Outside of 12 Monkeys, Fight Club and Snatch, he generally plays too close to type for my tastes.

Thursday, 25 June 2009

back to "A to B to A to bed" *

A couple of weeks ago, Lee visited Queensland for a week or so, splitting time between relatives in Brisbane, Mullumbimby and Toowoomba. When she went back to Canberra, I went with her, taking a week or so off work to recover some energy and see how Lee lives in the day-to-day.

It was a great holiday. I caught up with Greg at ANU (Greg visited our team in Rennes for a few months), I saw a crappy hollywood movie matinee, I checked out the national gallery and new portrait gallery. I went to question time, saw an MP cry, and heard Tanner tell People Skills to "stay in the car and bark at strangers". I ate really well - Lee had her cooking chops on full exhibit, despite not cooking chops. I managed to go to two of her footy games and two training sessions, including helping out with goal umpiring, training drills, being a runner and even calling some substitutions at one point. I also, importantly, got to catch up with lots of family - Liz, Mike, Dave, Marg, Toby, Tom, Joe, Leonie, Daisy and Tess (in rough order of age).

Its almost a shame to be back, but it had to end.

* "A to B to A to bed" is a lyric from The Idea, a song on the latest Guild League album Speak Up, which has some great stuff in it. I love how evocative such a rhythmic phrase is off the workaday grind; its yet another reason to deeply mourn the passing of Tali White from songwriter to schoolteacher).

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

A year in the life

It has now been a year and two weeks since I started playing Age of Conan. I don't think I've mentioned it here before. Although I have put a lot of time into the game, I suspect its not something most of my readers would care about.

I started playing with Paul and Julie - the choice to play on a PvP (player versus player) server - Bloodspire - rather than a PvE (player versus environment) server was theirs. Left to my own devices, I likely would have chosen PvE, although I don't really regret the decision much. Ali joined us for a very short while, but she found the personalities of PvP a little hard to bear - understandable, there were then, and there remain, a lot of players who are immature in their communications and in the way they play the game.

My main toon (and still my only toon to reach the level cap) is Danlara, a Cimmerian guardian. I chose to play a tank because my previous MMO experience (in WoW) had been as a healer, so I thought I would try the other essential (in my opinion) group PvE role. My only other toon is a (as of last night) level 79 barbarian named Rokito.

The thing I have enjoyed most about the game has been the people I have played with. We started with our own guild, Hashhashin (or something like that), which was fine while we were levelling up our toons to the level cap (80). When we approached the cap, we merged into a guild called Wake of Fury, with a bunch of other (mainly) Australians. WoF dipped their toes into raiding in late October, and despite not really having the numbers, it went well.

I had a break over Christmas, and when I came back near the end of January, I found that Wake of Fury was doing weekend raids with a US guild called Immortal. I enjoyed these, and started having a significant role in the raids as one of the main tanks. Near the end of February, guilds started abandoning the server we were on because of falling population, in favour of the more populated Tyrrany and Cimmeria servers. Immortal was one of the last to leave, and Wake of Fury decided to follow them to Cimmeria, rather than be left as the only guild on Bloodspire.

When we arrived on Cimmeria, we merged with Immortal to briefly form Immortal Fury, which quickly reverted to the name Immortal. I became their main tank (with first dibs on guardian gear), and we were raiding tier 1 fairly comfortably. One weekend, though, Immortal quite suddenly fell apart, and the oceanic members (including those of us that had come from WoF) all moved across to the main Oceanic guild on Cimmeria, Primal Fury.

Primal Fury had recently absorbed the Acadians guild, and we fairly quickly moved up to easily completing the tier 1 raids and attempting the tier 2 raids. After 6 weeks or so (in April) we had 3 tier 2 bosses on farm, and had downed 3 more tier 2 bosses (leaving just 3 to go). However, a bunch of the most experience players, including the guild officers and raid leaders, moved to other guilds, or tired of the game and returned to playing other games. There were a couple of weeks where numbers were well down, and it looked like the guild might fold. A couple of weeks ago, I and another ex-WoF guy stepped up to lead some tier 1 raids with the remaining members and a few new raiders. The raids went well, and with the new members (and a few returning members), in the last week we have downed all but one of the bosses we had previously. I now find myself an officer in the guild, and frequently involved in forming and leading raids, and it is gratifying to be able to help new people come to grips with raiding.

I am really happy with the guild I'm in. Wake of Fury had great people, but was too small. Immortal had the size, but raided at inconvenient times for me, and had some members who were sometimes a bit too precious. Primal Fury, though, has mature people whose (virtual) company I enjoy, and in numbers that make all of the (PvE) endgame content available to us.

The server, too, is a step-up from Bloodspire. Being a PVP-RP server, and because the game has been around a while, there are a lot fewer adolescent ("zOmg, I wtfpwned you, n00b!") morons running around. Being a non-Oceanic server, we aren't able to participate much in mass-PvP sieges (the siege windows are during Australian workdays), and the combination of latency and battlekeep buffs (and IMHO some exploiting) prevents us from competing with the top guilds in PvP. I'm not really a PvP fan though, so I don't feel like I'm missing much.

I will now return you to regularly scheduled programming talking about sport and my other, less geeky, day-to-day banalities.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

no voice

Today, as Sunday and yesterday, I am hoarse.

The damage was done on Friday night at the Brisbane-Carlton game at the Gabba, taken by Carlton by 6 points despite a 4th quarter comback by the Lions. It was the worst-umpired game of football I can recall seeing. I harbour no conspiracy theories. The umpires had the worst game I can recall seeing, generally allowing far too many free kicks to go uncalled, and making those that they did call inconsistent and alarming to supporters. I am biased, but the opinion of neutrals that I've read echoes my opinion that Brisbane (with 8 free kicks against 16 for Carlton) had much the worse of the inconsistency.

That the Lions lost by only one straight kick makes it more vexing. I'm not sure whether the Lions deserved to win - they played a poor first half characterised by hesitancy coming out of defence (where they were missing their 3 tallest and best defenders), and did not kick especially straight when it counted. However, in my opinion the result was, in no small measure, decided by the umpires' decisions, more than by the endeavours of either team.

I shouted at the men in green all night, but to no end other than the altered tone of my voice this week.

Monday, 1 June 2009

Now is the autumn of our discount tent

Autumn at middle ridge, originally uploaded by jsteel.

I really needed a weekend away. On Friday I penned a draft blog entry bemoaning my work situation (which may yet see the light of day depending on how this week goes). I left work a little early and jumped on a bus to Toowoomba. The service was poor, departing a half hour late and arriving more than an hour late, leaving me hungry and tired. Fortunately, the weekend that followed was idea for taking my mind of things.

On Saturday morning Dad and I had 18 holes at Borneo Barracks. The scores were tied after 18 holes, courtesy of an 18th on which both Dad and I hit great approaches to manage matching pars and post twin 94s. In the afternoon we went down to Dad's new local course (he joined last week) to squeeze in 11 holes before the light and fatigue beat us. I hit the ball better in the afternoon, and managed +9 through 9 holes, meeting my aim of bogey golf.

Sunday was bushwalking. Mum and Dad's club had a navigation day, so we convoyed to the mystery location south of Toowoomba. There we were given a map and a set of coordinates/instructions/requirements. We walked a loop of the property through fairly untamed grazing land, stopping at each of the checkpoints. We were accompanied by Naomi and Claude, who were along for the first time (as was I, I guess), having recently arrived to work on a defence-type project at Oakey. The company was good, the weather was good, and the lantana, although present in abundance, did not cut deep.

We left slightly early, in order to get me to my bus, which delivered me back to Brisbane, leaving on time and arriving early. I felt much refreshed for the sojourn.

Thursday, 28 May 2009

return of serve

It's been the worst part of a year
Since you turned a cartwheel in here

It had just ticked over 6 months, I reckon, since I had played tennis. That reckoning is based on a small sticker left in my tennis bag from a restring I had last year, deposited in May and picked up six months later in November.

Anyway, I got the call to fill in with Gav & Dave's fixtures team, so I wandered along to see if I still knew how to hit a forehand. I didn't, and sprayed them all over, but I will never forget how to serve, and that alone earnt me a couple of games in an otherwise undignified but I suppose not disgraceful 6-2 singles defeat. I found a little more touch in the doubles, and we scraped home 6-5, salvaging a little bit of my pride, albeit not enough to get the team a win on the night.

I do miss tennis - its something at which I have the potential to be quite good, and the improvements that suggest themselves are not physical, but mental (much like golf). I play stupid, and playing smarter is something not hindered by the progression of time, which is reassuring.

Wednesday, 27 May 2009


Yesterday afternoon, on a bus-stop bench across the road from the dentist, I finished reading my third novel of the year: Cloudstreet, by Tim Winton. It was comfortably the best of the three.

Set in Australia during the 1950s, Cloudstreet revolves around two starkly different families that share a house in suburban western Australia, and the evolution of the families as their children grow to adulthood. The story ambles along and I guess explores the influences that different family members have on each other - mother on daughter, wife on husband, husband on wife, brother on brother - and the influence that each family has on the other. At the same time, though, it is an exploration of the times, and the changing of the times, I suppose, which is carried as much by the general flow of the storytelling as in the story itself. The writing is a strange mix of Steinbeck's gentle imitation of working class accents and lifestyles (although without the former's depth of feeling or insight), and something more lyrical, at times toeing the line of pretentiousness but without, in my opinion, crossing it. The rhythm of the story is at times uneven - the ending, or perhaps dénouément, feels somewhat peremptory and even unnecessary in my view - but in many ways it is the rhythm of the writing that wis more important, and this is generally strong and even throughout the book.

Having finished Cloudstreet, I'm now returning to FreeDarko Presents The Macrophenomenal Pro Basketball Almanac, which I began after buying it for myself at Christmas, but which lends itself well to sporadic reading. Also, from today, I resume with the knowledge that it will at some point be followed by a sequel (or perhaps more accurately a prequel).

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

The Greatest Band I Ever Knew

Music won't be the same for me. From their world-famous website, their mailing list, and in the gaunt undertones of the curlew's plaintive wail, comes news of the Lucksmiths:
There's no easy way to put this, so please accept our apologies for the seemingly abrupt nature of this post. We are saddened to announce that after sixteen years as The Lucksmiths, the band has decided to break up.
Their music was so full of melancholy nostagia for loves lost, but looking through them for something to quote on their own demise would be just too bittersweet.

Their last Brisbane concert is in August.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

reading to achieve

I finished a novel last week, and it was kind of special. For the first time, I managed to get through a complete novel in french, after having tried and failed a couple of times previously (Le Comte de Monte Cristo, and Le Peuple Turquoise).

The book was Le Lion, by Joseph Kessel. The story, narrated by a frenchman visiting a wildlife park in east Africa, deals with a young girl and her relationships with her father, mother and a lion that they adopted as a cub. At times I felt like it got a bit pretentious in its descriptions of things, and I really didn't like the mother character, although whether that was intended or not I cannot say. The plot, though, was interesting, and the ending was handled fairly well, albeit perhaps a little brusquely.

I read the book somewhat assiduously, taking a lot of time to read every word and spending a lot of time looking up words in the dictionary. The vocabulary was unfamiliar - I had very little occasion to discuss lions' manes or overalls or watering holes with my friends in Rennes. Also, books in french are written in the simple past tense (passé simple), which I have never studied. I was easily able to pick the roots of verbs, so the passé simple wasn't really a problem, but the vocabulary made the going very slow, and the anticipation of that slowness made it difficult to pick the book up, the main cause of the many months it took me to finish.

In hindsight, I'm very proud that I got through the book, and I did enjoy reading it, but I probably take more pleasure from the sense of achievement than I did from the reading. I certainly didn't enjoy it as much as I enjoy reading in English, where I read considerably faster and better appreciate the art of the wordsmithing. I will go back and read french again, but not for a little while.

Next on my reading list is Cloudstreet, by Tim Winton, and also some more from FreeDarko presents the Macrophenomenal Pro Basketball Almanac.

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

hesitation move

Being as my last post was about cooking, here is another.

Over the course of last week I rather recklessly bought up quite a lot of ingredients for cooking. I had grand plans - another kangaroo roast, another quiche-cum-tarte-thing, galettes, a chicken & leek pie, brie pizza, etc. Unfortunately, the nature of fresh ingredients meant that I had to get cracking.

With that in mind, last night I started on a quiche-cum-tarte thing, using a bunch of things in my fridge that needed using - some crème fraiche, a pack of smoked salmon, a bunch of celery, some leek, onion. I have a couple of new tricks with quiches, courtesy of Emily. First, I am separating the eggs and beating the whites to get a fluffier texture. I still don't have a beater, electric or hand, but I have been getting reasonable results just going to town with a fork. Secondly, I have been trying to blind-bake the shortcrust pastry in order to have it crispier in the final product.

That last step brought me undone last night. Monday night is not a great night for cooking. I generally get home between 5:30 and 6, and I have trivia at 7:30, which doesn't leave a lot of time for preparation. I managed to get things underway with (I thought) enough time to at least get the pie cooked and out of the oven before leaving. In my rush, though, I forgot to put down a sheet of oven paper between the pastry and the rice weighing it down, which was, to paraphrase Ron Burgundy and his wise words on dairy products, a bad choice.

Anyway, I had to put aside my ingredients and run off to trivia (reasonably succesful - 83 points, good for 5th place on the night). This morning I baked a new pastry and got the pie cooked and out just before heading off to work. It will be waiting for me when I get home, to fill my belly and reinvigorate me for beach volleyball.

Thursday, 16 April 2009

By way of rejoinder

I would have to say that, on the whole, the quality of my culinary preparations has probably gone slightly down since returning from France. This is attributable to any number of factors: the unavailability of ingredients to which I had become accustomed, the increased distance to the shops, and perhaps the general laziness associated with getting older :)

However, one of the great blessings I've had is introducing myself to kangaroo meat. I've had a number of kangaroo steaks, fillets and roasts since getting back, and I have found them thoroughly palatable, both from a pure taste point of view, and from the point of view of eating a lower-fat, lower-carbon-footprint, lower-water-footprint form of meat.

" * * * "

What's that, skip? You say you'd taste lovely with some roast potato, sweet potato and garlic? Ok!

Monday, 16 March 2009


Last year I bought the graphic novel Watchmen on a whim, and quite enjoyed reading it. The specific whim upon which I bought it was that it was mentioned on a webcomic I read, in the context of its then-upcoming movie adaptation.

A week or two ago, I saw said adaptation.

A group of us went along, roughly corresponding to our pub trivia team, all bar one of whom had read the book. That's an important fact, because this is a film that is, more than most, coloured by what you have or haven't experienced from the book. I can only speculate - and I will - what the film might be like for those who haven't read the book.

First of all, it has to be said, the movie is generally very faithful to the book. There are some sections cut out (the thread with the kid reading the comic and the newstand owner, and the stuff about the comic book writer, are omitted, and the ending is changed), but most of the style and plot are intact. This might be a problem if you haven't read the book - the consequence is that the film is quite long, and quite broad.

The film is also quite violent. I guess this is to be expected from the director of 300, and when I think back, the book was also probably quite violent, but I still found it confronting at first experience. The performances are generally sound - performances aren't what you generally look for in a superhero movie - but Rorschach and Dreiburg deserve mention for being better than the others. The romance scenes are handled with remarkable success - eliciting the same humour and feeling that the book had.

Without giving things away, I had no problem with the changes they made to the ending. I don't quite understand why they made them, but it wasn't my favourite part of the book, and the movie ending might actually have more relevance to the rest of the movie, in terms of character arcs.

Anyway, enough rambling. Go see it - its colourful.

Gran Torino

Gran Torino, the Clint Eastwood movie, was another in the list of top movies from 2008 that I didn't see in 2008. It didn't get nominated for any Oscars, but it did get bandied around a few of the awards lists, mostly for acting (Eastwood).

Eastwood doesn't act as much as he used to, although he has done some good stuff (Million Dollar Baby). As a director, he's done some very, very good films (MDB, Mystic River, Unforgiven, Iwo Jima). I would argue, in fact, that he's turned into a more skilled director than actor, notwithstanding my view that some of the films he acted in - the Leone films, Dirty Harry - might be better than those he's directed.

Anyhoo, I'm spending a lot of time talking about Eastwood's past, and not a lot about this film. That's probably because I found this a bit underwhelming, and I prefer to remember him for his other stuff. The plot is ambitious in a way, I guess, dealing with the changing of generations as Eastwood gets old, and the intermixing of race (Hmong/White) and lifestyle (families/gangs) in suburbia. Perhaps this is the problem with Eastwood as the lead. I felt he was a little bit one-dimensional as the grizzly old man. Maybe this is his baggage as an actor - he felt like a retired Harry Callahan - or maybe its a lack of range - he was never the most chameleon of performers. Anyway, the upshot is that I didn't quite buy the performances, either Eastwood's or the others, and that hurt the film for me.

I read that back, and it sounds like I'm panning this film. I suppose its important to say that I didn't mind this film. It bounces along, and the ending is slightly surprising, but does make sense in the context of the film. It arcs nicely enough, and it has something worthwhile to say. Its a pleasant watch.

It isn't, though, a great film - it didn't make me feel anything very strong, one way or another, and for me that's the mark of a great film, it sucks you into its world, and makes you feel something.

Monday, 9 March 2009


I enjoyed writing my little review of Slumdog, so I'm going to do it again.

Last week I saw another film that was nominated for best film at this year's Oscars: Frost/Nixon. It was also nominated for director, editor, adapted screenplay and best actor, although it won none of them. Of the films I've seen, it would win a couple of those, but as I mentioned in my Slumdog post, I still haven't seen a lot of the films discussed for those awards.

Frost/Nixon is a very different beast to Slumdog Millionaire. This is a film built upon performances and characters, not on story, or place. Elements like the direction, editing, pacing, setting and cinematography are well executed here, but for me they weren't notable, nor especially important.

For me, this film lives and dies by the performances of its two leads: Michael Sheen as Frost, and most importantly Frank Langella as Nixon. The former is solid - he displays the TV smile but also the ingenuity and at times insecurities behind Frost. More importantly, though, he does enough to keep up with Langella, who has the "juicy" role. Langella is really excellent. Playing Nixon is fraught with the danger of slipping into parody. His manner and mannerisms are so distinctive, and have been so often lampooned over the years, and Langella does an outstanding job of avoiding the temptation of shallow imitation, and instead crafts a nuanced and balanced portrayal. He looks a bit like Nixon, but not exactly like him, but most importantly he makes sure that what the viewer takes away isn't the physical attributes of the performance, but the behavioural: Nixon's frustration at his own actions and its impact on his legacy, his failings (greed), and his love of the intellectual combat in the interview.

I was thoroughly impressed by this film. It might not do as many things well as a film like Slumdog, and it might not be as accessible to some, but the things it does well, it does with more ambition and yet with great success.

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Slumdog meh

Either in response to its Oscar win, or simply because its on my IMDB 250 quest list, on Sunday I watched Slumdog Millionaire. Although I did enjoy it, I have to say I was underwhelmed.

I admit that I had strong expectations for the film. Danny Boyle has a good history as a director (I enjoyed Trainspotting and loved 28 Days Later, although A Life Less Ordinary was mediocre), and it has won just about every award under the sun. I can't really see why though. Its a good film; don't get me wrong. The 2 plot threads (the game show, and the vignettes of his life that lead him there) are woven together nicely. Its very colourful and nicely shot, with great images of Mumbai. The acting never stands out as bad, but nor does it stand out as good. The story bounces along nicely, and doesn't get boring, but on the whole, there isn't anything great about the film. The film is currently at #41 in the Top 250, one place ahead of Vertigo(!), and it just doesn't belong in that company. It felt to me like a solid "nice" film, and if that sounds like damnation with faint praise then it is in reaction to and slight bewilderment at the lavish praise that it seems to have garnered in the wider community and media.

I didn't see many great films in 2008 (or at least, not many great 2008 films), a fact I hope to remedy in the coming months; The Wrestler, Benjamin Button, Frost/Nixon and Gran Torino are all on my list. Of those I did see, The Dark Knight is the one I would most definitely class as superior to Slumdog. The story and cinematography were at least on a par, the characterisations were deeper and more complex, and the performances - Ledger's, Eckhart's and even Bale's - were more noteworthy, in a genre that has often been thin on character and always on acting. Although The Dark Knight is undeserving of its #6 position on the IMDB list (which I think will soften over time), it seems like an oversight on the part of the Oscars to have omitted it from the best film nominations, if Slumdog Millionaire is the measure.

Ed: A shout-out to Pete, whose readership I never would have anticipated, and who reminded me that I haven't been posting much recently.

Win some, lose some

We had been going well at pub trivia on Monday nights. After a couple of inauspicious nights in the mid-80s to start the season, we'd settled into a groove at or around 90 (out of 100). That sort of scoring doesn't win much cash, but is a pace guaranteed to grant access to the $1000 round at the end of the season. This Monday past, it went horribly wrong, and we came away with 78. It was the music round that did most of the damage, but the night for me was marred by a question in the bonus round (each question worth 5 points).

What is the formal Italian word for goodbye? And I don't mean "see you later" or something. Goodbye.
Now there is no correct answer to the question. The two obvious candidates are Ciao and Arrivederci. Ciao is wrong because it is not formal. Arrivederci was given as the correct answer, which got me very annoyed. Arrivederci comes from the verb rivedere, meaning to see again - the term literally means see you later, which was explicitly ruled out in the question. I was very angry.

By Tuesday, I had almost recovered. We have made the finals in each of the three seasons I've played beach volleyball, with previous efforts being a loss in the grand final (in C Grade Mixed) and a loss in the semifinals (in B Grade Mixed). Last night, we took all before us (B Grade Mixed), scraping through a semifinal 42-39) (in extra time, after being 39-39 after regulation), before going ahead early and staying ahead in the final to win 40-26. I felt like we played pretty well, in the final particularly, and thoroughly deserved the engraved tumblers we won as a result. Next season will be tougher; due to a contraction from 3 grades to 2, we will be playing in A Grade Mixed.

Friday, 6 February 2009

couple of flics

For some reason i watched a couple of films over the past 24 hours. During the opening credits of the first, I was thinking to myself, "Arnold Schwartzenegger and Wilt Chamberlain co-starring, what could possibly go wrong?". 90 minutes later that question was answered with a resounding "plenty". The previous conan film, Barbarian, was good naive fun, and essentially worked despite generally poor acting and a fairly thin premise. The same cannot be said for the second, Destroyer - the acting is much, much worse (Wilt Chamberlain is the least of the problems, despite probably being the only member who at the time had a credible other career), the premise is thinner, the pacing is terrible, and it all just doesn't work at all.

Then, this morning, on a whim, before going to work I put on "How To Lose Friends and Alienate Poeple", with Simon Pegg and some other people. I suppose it was written as a comedy, and it kind of has some grin moments, but very few laugh-out-loud ones, so I guess it doesn't really work as a comedy. It kind of works as a movie, though - the little plot tumbles along nicely, and Pegg and co-stars (Kirsten Dunst) are amiable, so it makes for a distracting flick, and I left for work feeling good about the day.

I don't know what it is that makes films work or not. What made Conan the Barbarian work for me, and Destroyer feel like rubbish? What makes HTLFaAP work for me, even when its raison d'être isn't really satisfactorily met?

Monday, 2 February 2009

active passivism

A wise man probably once said "if you have nothing interesting to say, don't say anything at all". He would be right. I choose to flagrantly disregard this wise advice.

I have recently been doing precisely nothing of interest.

Work has been frustrating. I have a paper upon which I am able to make good progress, but it is third on my priority list between a report and a grant application, neither of which I seem to be improving through my staring at them. I expect that to continue.

Outside of work, I have been doing nothing. Well, that's not quite true. By virtue of waiting a few weeks since my last post, I can cobble together a couple of things. I played a round of golf at Victoria Park and shot 81, which at 16 over par was probably my best statistical round ever, even if it didn't feel like it. I went to a movie night that did nothing to improve either my or the other attendees' understanding of the human condition. We won a few more games of beach volleyball. And I've spent an inordinate amount of time arsing about in AOC (the MMO game I've been playing for ages but out of shame have not mentioned).

In my opinion, it is presently the case that things could become interesting at any moment. I expect that circumstance to continue.

Monday, 12 January 2009

Stepanek vs Verdasco

Stepanek vs Verdasco, originally uploaded by jsteel.

Tennis is back in Brisbane! Probably 20 years after top-level tennis was last seen at Milton, Brisbane has a top-class tennis venue and tournament again, in the Queensland Tennis Centre and the Brisbane International.

I wanted to go to more of this tournament, but work and other commitments limited me to the men's singles and doubles finals yesterday, with Matt, Steve, Emm and Craig. The venue is great - the house was full and despite most of the crowd not being emotionally behind either player, the atmosphere was pretty good (a better test will be a Davis or Fed Cup tie).

The tennis was pretty good, too. Verdasco got an early break, but was a bit off his game, especially on his backhand. He held on to win the first set, but from late in the first set, Stepanek lifted and from that point it always felt that he had the running in the match. Stepanek is a strange player - flat groundstrokes, and lots of changeups - and probably well-matched against Verdasco, who didn't cope well with the varied pace and depth of Stepanek, whose dropshots to Verdasco's backhand were particularly successful. Our most fervent interest, though, was reserved for the celebration antics of both players, mainly in the third set. Stepanek worked hard to get the crowd into the match, and Verdasco had some sort of bull-fighter-cum-horseriding movement that he used over and over, often multiple times for one shot, and at one point he collapsed backwards pumping his fists ... on a 15-all point.

The doubles final was between Verdasco (again) and a german bloke named Mischa Zverev, and the french pair of Tsonga and Gicquel. Tsonga was clearly the most imposing player on the court, in terms of serves, groundstrokes and athleticism, but Zverev probably impressed me most in terms of doubles acumen. He was let down, though, by Verdasco, who was either exhausted from the 3-set singles final, or having a bad day, or both. The frenchmen won comfortably.

I'm looking forward to my next trip back the tennis centre being as a player, in obedience of Geoff Pollard's plea at the singles presentation to spend the next 12 months playing rather than just waiting.


Last year I set myself a new year's resolution of getting back into physical activity, and for the sake of measurement put 3 metrics down: 1000km of cycling, 12 games of tennis and 12 games of golf. As I've blogged before, I met those pretty comfortably; the final numbers were 2162km of cycling, 12 games of tennis, and 18 games of golf (the latter two numbers might be a little fuzzy). In addition, I played beach volleyball every week (probably 40-odd times, I guess), which gave me an opportunity to play a new sport and to dive around a bit once a week.

I was at a bit of a loss for resolutions this year. Having played two bad games of golf in the week before new year's eve, I set myself a goal of playing a game of bogey +18) golf, but I met that on January 2, so perhaps it was conservative. As my parents will insist, one of my concrete aims will be to get my driver's license, but to be quite frank, that isn't something I anticipate offering any great succour to my soul.

I have a bunch of things I want to do, but I'm loathe to put them down as resolutions, because I can't see myself getting all of them done, and a lot of them might be pie in the sky:
  • read more, including more in french. I reckon I read 8 books last year, mostly in the second half of the year, and that's down on what I'd like to be getting through. I've started a french novel (Le Lion, by Joseph Kessel), but its very slow going, and I'm having trouble finding time to devote to reading
  • write something. I've always thought, and some people have occasionally told me, that I have the facility of words to be able to write something decent, and I'd love to find something to write - perhaps a short story or something. All I need is a story to tell, and time to devote to writing it.
  • holiday more. I am grossly overdue for holidays, and I have a lot of vague plans: getting down to Canberra to see family, getting back to Europe to see friends (as they have scattered across a half dozen countries, this will require at least 3 weeks, I think), getting over to Vancouver to see Liz, cross-country skiing in New Zealand with Diana, snowboarding somewhere with Jez & Mick, a golfing holiday somewhere, perhaps the Murray river or Victoria somewhere.
  • get back into music somehow, either resuming trumpet or learning guitar
  • meet new people. My current peer groups are fantastic, but haven't changed much in quite a long time. It would be nice to broaden my horizons.
  • continue my physical activities. As much as I'd like to commit to trying one of the sports I'd like to play - football and cricket - I'm physically ill-suited to the former (with my history of breaking bones and my lack of bulk to protect them), and I don't know a way into the latter.
As you can see, these are all very vague, and I'm not sure to what extent they are realistic - it would be quite a miraculous year if I were to get to all of them - so I don't want to put them down as resolutions so much as aspirations.

I'll continue to jot down whatever I feel are significant achievements in my sidebar, including last year's criteria, and any emergent ones that I feel are significant.

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

holiday break

I was due a break, and I enjoyed it.

I had a nice couple of days in Brisbane before heading up to Toowoomba (with Lee), getting some things done that had been overdue. In Toowoomba, I had a nice relaxing time, eating and drinking very well. We had a couple of nice day trips, one down to Mullum to see Granny and Andrew, and another down to Oumbabell to see Don, Marian and Daisy (who we hadn't seen for 17 years). Also, on Sunday we had a party for Mum's birthday with a lavish table set for 19 with innumerable dishes cooked by all 4 of us.

In between, I managed 72 holes of golf, with varying results. I played Keperra with Neil and shot a satisfying 91, the best I'd managed for quite a while. Then Dad and I played a couple of disappointing rounds at Borneo and City, where I shot 101 and 100 respectively. Then, having set myself a new year's resolution of playing a round at or below +18, I achieved it on January 2 by shooting 89 at Middle Ridge, which was very pleasing, and quite probably the best round I've played.

I also managed a little bit of driving practice. Renewing my learner's permit was one of the tasks I'd gotten around to in Brisbane before leaving, and I managed a handful of hours driving to and from golf courses, and 100km or so driving down from Toowoomba yesterday.