Brownouts

Melbourne had some hot weather last week. If I had a dollar for every time a news report used the phrase “hot and bothered” I’d be richer than I am now.

Melbourne’s train system failed pretty severely – over 24% of trains were cancelled for the week – and electricity was disrupted as the state tried to use more electricity than was able to be supplied by the national grid. NEMCO told the electricity suppliers to “load-shed” supply, which basically meant cutting electricity to different areas of the city for 2 hour periods so everyone suffered together.

We tried to escape the heat by going to air-conditioned premises (movies, cafes, etc) that required a bit of a drive to get to and, late on Friday night, went up nearby Mount Dandenong where the elevation allowed a bit of coolness to wash over us.

I took some photos (cool night mode in our new camera) but you can’t see the CBD as there was a massive power outage at the time which blacked out skyscrapers and over 500 sets of traffic lights.

Cooler weather this week has been a nice treat but I don’t think we’ve heard the last of this heat, least of all in Parliament where the current Labour government is under the pump for a lack of infrastructure investment going back 10 years.

U turns allowed

Although states in Australia generally adhere to the “Australian Road Rules”, Priscilla and I have noticed a few differences in the way they are implemented in Victoria to what we are used to in NSW.

The most talked about is the Hook Turn. This is where you turn right from the left hand lane to keep the road clear for trams.

One that gets me the most, though, is you are allowed (even encouraged) to do U-turns from the right hand lane. At intersections, traffic lights, wherever. In NSW you get fined for doing a U-turn unless it is explicitly signposted – in Victoria the opposite applies.

Wikipedia: The Australian Road Rules forbid u-turns at signalised intersections except where explicitly permitted, Victoria retains the state’s earlier rule of permitting u-turns except where explicitly forbidden.

In NSW there is a great rule “Turn left on red allowed after stopping” which confuses people down here.

In general, though, the roads are a little better surfaced (except the Monash Freeway), the lanes are a little wider, and the police are less tolerant than in NSW. There are also some great driving roads around Melbourne and some lousy traffic near the CBD. So, a little different, but mostly the same.

Moving to Melbourne

Since getting back from our honeymoon, Priscilla and I have been consumed by the task of moving house to Melbourne for my new job. On our second weekend back we drove down and look around real estate rentals in the Eastern suburbs, applied for a property and signed the lease.

Unfortunately this meant we would be leaving Sydney sooner than originally planned, but my work is allowing me to do my old job from our Melbourne office so it hasn’t meant Priscilla and I have had to live in separate cities.

One of the most  challenging things to organise about the move was how to physically do it – would we move ourselves or get professionals in. In the end, we got removalists to do the job. I think the 2 hours of loading/unloading at each end plus not having to drive our own truck down the highway for 10 hours was work the $2000 it cost us.

Since we arrived we’ve been busy trying to turn the building we are living in into a home. Still boxes around the place, but at least we have furniture now. The Melbourne weather is cold – at least 6 ° colder than Sydney at any given time – but all the houses have central heating to compensate.

Back from Thailand

Priscilla and I got back from our honeymoon on Saturday – Sydney is cold! Actually, I’ve been here a couple of days now and it is okay now – it just felt cold after 3 weeks of 25° nights and 35° days.

Happy Honeymoon Cake

Priscilla has put some photos up on her Picasa site if you want to see some pictures. We firstly were at Koh Samui, then up to Chiang Mai for a trek through the jungle, then a few days in Bangkok to finish.

Weather watching

Sunny

I’ve been keeping an eye on the weather for a couple of reasons this week. Firstly because I am having an outdoors wedding this Saturday. The weather was originally supposed to be showers, then chance of showers, and now it’s meant to be fine and 19°C. Hopefully the wind will stay down and we will have a gorgeous day.

Thunderstorms

The other reason is trying to figure out what to pack. Priscilla and I are off to Thailand for our honeymoon. Over there the weather ranges between 22-25°C each day and is described as thundershowers. May is traditionally a pretty wet month over there but hopefully it will just be a short downpour each day and paradise the rest of the time.

Snow

Another place I’ve been keeping an eye on is Melbourne. Bleak city has been pretty chilly – as low as 3°C overnight – and it’s only mid-May. Yikes!

If you don’t hear from me for a few weeks, don’t despair, I’m just spending time with my new wife. I can’t think of much that is going to be a higher priority over the next few weeks than spending time with her and enjoying some time away.

Top Deck Lunch aboard the MV Sydney 2000

On March 15, Priscilla and I joined her aunt and uncle for lunch aboard the Captain Cook Cruises ship MV Sydney 2000. We got a good deal ($70 for 2 people for 3 course lunch) due to an offer through the NRMA.

MV Sydney 2000

The MV Sydney 2000 is a very impressive boat. Effectively a floating restaurant, it glides around the harbour as you eat your meal. There isn’t much sense of being on a boat at all, there is almost no noticeable movement and most other ships get out of your way as you approach – size has it’s merits.

We enjoyed the “Top Deck Lunch” and were seated in the “Sirius Saloon” on the “Sky Deck”. It was a lovely meal – although you should be aware that you have to pay for drinks in addition to the meal that you get with your ticket.

It took approximately 2.5 hours to circle the harbour, a leisurely ride with some lovely food. It really felt like the world was travelling slower as we meandered around the harbour.

While it was nice, I think I would have enjoyed a smaller, less opulent ship to cruise around in. We felt too detached from the world around us, “in the world, but not of the world” sort of thing. A smaller ship where you can feel the waves and smell the salt air would make me feel more alive and like more of an event.

It was a great day, but make sure you get a good deal as the high price (normally $74 per person) and lack of sensation make for an imperfect day, but certainly an experience like no other.

Cocktails at sunset on the MV Sydney 2000

No news is good news

Sorry this site has been a bit slow recently, I’ve had my mind on other things. Priscilla and I are getting married at the end of May so that has engulfed my life. To keep up with the latest wedding related news, please check out wedding.fragar.homeip.net.

My current “to do” list:

  • suits
  • honeymoon

Other than that, I spent Saturday down at Wedderburn Airstrip with some guys from church watching other people go up for joyrides in small aircraft like my friend Bret’s Piper PA38-112 Tomahawk VH-KAJ.

VH-KAJ parked at Wedderburn Airstrip

Another average year for the Penrith Panthers, looks like 8th place on the ladder might look like an achievement by the end of the year. I guess if you consider that we did get the wooden spoon last year, that would actually be the case.

MythTV on Ubuntu

A few months ago I rebuilt my development box to be a PVR using Ubuntu Linux and MythTV. I originally planned to use Mythbuntu but had a lot of issues installing it, let alone getting it to work the way I wanted it to.

Firstly I did a standard Ubuntu 7.04 desktop install – Gnome desktop, LAN connectivity – and hooked it up to my Dad’s Panasonic widescreen projector via VGA cable. This was a little problematic as both Ubuntu and the Projector were trying to adapt to each others settings rather that just going for WXGA like they ought to have. Eventually I got a nice 1366×768 picture going and set about installing MythTV.

MythTV screenshot

MythTV is a PVR software project that is roughly comparable to Windows Media Centre. There is even a theme that will ape WMC if you like, but at it’s heart it is a TV recording and playback system, but you can make it do almost anything using the various plugins. In my case I was using an old Twinhan Digital TV tuner card, outputting to the projector and the stereo amplifier in the lounge room.

Installing MythTV isn’t painful at all using Ubuntu’s software repository: $sudo apt-get install mythtv

Configuring it on the other hand was very complex. If you are very lucky your system will detect your video card — my tip is to get it working beforehand – if /dev/dvb0 exists configuring MythTV is much simpler.

Once you have MythTV talking to your TV card you can scan for channels and watch and record TV, if you like. MythTV is setup as a frontend/backend arrangement (or client/server, if you prefer). The MythTV backend needs to be constantly running so it gets schedule updates and can start and stop recording when unattended. The frontend does not have to be on the same computer and is the part where you get to interact with the program and videos.

One cool thing I got working after a bit of effort was the Electronic Program Guide (EPG). Until this was working the box was really a learning experience rather than something useful. Using the community provided guide over at Oztivo and some clever scripting to get the EPG periodically, suddenly MythTV was alive and autonomous. Tell it you want to record Formula 1, or the Rugby World Cup, or The Unit or Heroes or Doctor Who and it schedules it as soon as the program appears in the guide data. You can pay for the IceTV guide if you like, but I found the XMLTV format provided at OzTivo to be both accurate and accessible.

Playing back recorded videos has a few cool features. Using simple keyboard commands or your remote control (once setup) you can easily skip advertisements or jump forwards or backwards through the video. Even better, you can get MythTV to scan the program for Commercial breaks (blank screen, lack of station logo etc) and it will automatically mark or even skip these breaks for you. This was great and makes TV much more watchable.

The recorded programs are stored in MPEG2 format and are simple to edit and store for future reference or archive (to DVD or as XVID).

All in all this was the most powerful PVR I have come across, but was a definite challenge to get going. If you want a HTPC, I’d recommend almost everyone to use Windows Media Centre as it is much simpler to setup. If you want a PVR, buy one from a shop – they are getting quite affordable, are much quieter than a PC and are simple to use. At Strathfield Car Radios they even have a SD Set Top Box for $79 that you can put your own Hard Disk Drive into for an incredible bargain PVR.

The advantages of MythTV over those kind of setups are mainly in the EPG, the Commercial skip/delete facility and the built in Networking. Plus the fact it is completely free – both free as in beer and free as in speech.

MythTV screenshot 2

Jenolan Caves

Just got back from a bit of a holiday, the first stop of which was to Jenolan Caves. There is lots of good information online about the Jenolan Caves (some of best at wikipedia) so I won’t rewrite it here.

My Jenolan experience started with the windy road to get there. Priscilla was driving so I was able to enjoy the view, but a tight twisty road on a damp day was a little nerve wracking. Then suddenly you come around a corner, see the gorgeous blue lake on your left and start looking for a parking spot. But there is none – at least on the northern side. You need to drive through the Grand Arch to get to the tourist area – historic Caves House, the information centre and the car parks a little up the hill.

Daniel in front of Grand Arch

Once you have parked you have a bit of a bushwalk back down to get your tickets for a guided tour – I had a gift voucher but for regular folk it is $23 for an adult. We did the Lucas Cave, named after the local federal MP for the area back in the 1860s as it has a good variety of formations as well as the biggest caverns.

The caves were very busy the day we were there – tours usually run every half hour but today they were going every 15 minutes. This meant that we had to keep moving but at least the group size was smaller than it could have been. We met our guide (Ted) and the other 30 or so people in our group and started walking up the stairs to get to our cave.

Priscilla struggling through tight passageways

The passageways were a lot lower and narrower than I was expecting. I have been 400m underground in a copper/gold mine, all by myself in some pretty tight places, but at least you had freedom to move in most directions and stretch out. I admit to feeling a little claustrophobic inside some of those passageways. It was okay while we were moving, but occasionally a slow person would get in front of you and the queue would stop while they struggled up the stairs. At these times the heat, humidity and stuffiness started to encroach on your comfort and I was happy to get moving again. The other good thing about being in a mine (other than the 4m wide, 5m high smooth tunnels and the tunnel ventilation) was I had a map and could figure out where I was and where I was going – I was unfamiliar with the cave I was in and wasn’t that comfortable with the idea.

The first stop in the anteroom, but it is really just to catch your breath and have some of the basics of limestone caves explained to us tourists. Then it is off to the Cathedral – 51m high with about 10 or more different formations such as the pipe organ, the pulpit, the stained glass windows – which is experienced via a light and sound show that highlights each zone in turn. Apparently each month there are concerts within this cavern, a unique experience I’m sure but I’m not convinced you need to trick up a cave that is quite an effort to get to with such frippery.

Daniel in anteroom

From there you descend to the very wide exhibition chamber which has more features that I can recount. Lace curtains, broken column, the unicorn, wedding cake – beautiful white limestone which has trickled into formations that you wouldn’t choose to create but which nature has managed to render using water and limestone.

We took a diversion to the Mafeking Chamber as we were too close to the group in front. This is arguably the prettiest section of this whole cave and most tour groups miss out on it as it requires a backtrack.

Mafeking Chamber

You finish the tour walking on a bridge over the underground river (the Styx, though no ferryman in sight) and in the Bone Cave, which despite it’s ghoulish name only included one wombat skeleton and some coloured lights. Then your tour ends, about 90-100 minutes after you began it.

Jenolan Caves also give you entry to a self-guided tour of the Nettle Cave with your purchased tour, but Priscilla and I were in a bit of a hurry so we didn’t do that one. Also we were a little worn from all the steps and glad to see the sky again.

Priscilla looking over Blue Lake

Cruise ship season

Work has been pretty busy recently – we’ve been down on people in my team for the last 8 weeks due to people taking leave and getting sick – so it’s been hard to find time to enjoy life recently. But one thing that has perked me up (other than moving to a new house) is the return of cruise ships out my window at work.

Seven Seas Mariner - currently docked at Circular Quay

The Sydney cruise ship season seems to kick off in October and go through to March or April. After that only the Pacific Sun was in this year, all the others were off cruising Alaska and other locations during their summer.

So far this year we have seen the new Pacific Dawn, the Sun Princess, the Sapphire Princess, Pacific Princess and the old Pacific Sun on her last Sydney based voyage. Other ships such as Statendam and the Seven Seas Mariner have stopped over at Circular Quay, but I don’t have a view of there.

A couple of good sites for info on upcoming ship movements are: Sydney Harbour Cruise Ship Schedule Sydney Ports Shipping Movements