Monday, December 27, 2010
The weather wasn't too hot; it never reached 30 degrees like the forecasts said. The only thing consistent about Melbourne weather is that the forecasts will be wrong.
Some things to look forward to: 5 job interviews lined up for Feb, and simplified taxes. Since I didn't make any money in Australia this tax year, it will be easy to file my US taxes. See - I can look at the bright side of anything!
Oddly, people work on Christmas Eve here. They take Xmas day and the day after (boxing day) off. Apparently they used to get more time off, but that was before things were Jeffed. (Jeff Kennett pulled a Reagan back in 90's and canceled a bunch of state holidays.) More and and more I am seeing the cracks in my Socialist Paradise - it's more like America than it is like Sweden or Germany. Australians are alternately pleased and annoyed to be compared to America, usually at the same time.
Edit: I almost forgot the best part - I've lost 4 kilos since I got here. And no, I'm not looking to get them back.
Friday, December 24, 2010
Thursday, December 23, 2010
Thursday, December 16, 2010
Their website contains several amusements. No sample reviews, but the testimonials include broken English, and one fellow reporting how happy he is that he could get reviews he didn't agree with changed.
On their contact page they only list their email address, but they also helpfully provide office hours. And a map. Yes, a mapquest link to their office. Which appears to be a real office building, although their company doesn't seem to occupy it.
Their order form asks you to send the first few chapters of your book, and click a box promising to pay. They won't bill you until you've gotten all your reviews. See? It must be on the level!
And perhaps it is. Perhaps they have assembled a cabal of friends who have agreed to read a few chapters of stuff for fifty cents or so. I assume that they didn't, that they just dash off comments with random names attached, but perhaps the scammers are not only scamming idiot authors but also their putative friends. Only a idiot would buy this service, and only a bigger idiot would agree to read the ravings of idiots for 50 cents a chapter.
Tuesday, December 14, 2010
Sunday, December 12, 2010
Wednesday, December 8, 2010
Don't ask me how I pulled this off; I haven't a clue. Sara told me to write a story where everything was blowing up on the first page. Apparently she was on the right track. Also, my agent deserves massive credits for doing that agenty magic stuff they do.
Now I can use the advance money to fix the ceiling that tried to eat my baby.
Tuesday, December 7, 2010
(for pics of the damage see Sara's blog)
Fortunately I had picked her up five minutes earlier because she was complaining. Lest you think she was prescient, she is always complaining if no one is picking her up.
This is what comes of living in an environment where water falls out of the sky. Things get water-logged and fall apart. I can't understand why the Socialist Paradise government here doesn't do something about the miserable climate.
Sunday, December 5, 2010
Saturday, December 4, 2010
That's all. Really.
The War on Terror
Monday, November 29, 2010
Eventually I found the "Frozen Desserts" section, but to no avail. Sara made an apple pie instead. Later, though, we got a pecan pie from a farmer's market, so the technology has crossed the border.
Over the weekend we cleaned out the garage. Our ship has come in, and we're not ready. We'll be staying with mum and dad until I get a job, which means our stuff will be staying with them too. Since they already have their own stuff, this is a bit of a problem. I tried to convince them to sell all their furniture and just use ours, but oddly, they weren't interested.
Saturday, November 20, 2010
Had to call in the expert in-laws to deal with the monster. They swear it's not poisonous, just hideous. Apparently people often adopt spiders as house-pets, making a virtue of their constant presence (because repeatedly throwing them outside is too much work, and squashing them is too messy).
Friday, November 19, 2010
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It's surely as moving and coherent as anything I've done. Watching her bang away at the keyboard just like Mommy and Daddy is wonderful.
Now we just need to get her an agent.
Saturday, November 13, 2010
Friday, November 12, 2010
Last night, in the middle of the night, I was sweltering so bad I was ready to go out and buy an air conditioner, if only there were 24-hour air conditioner stores.
Today, at noon, I had to put a jacket on to go outside.
When I point out the absurdity of this, the locals just shrug and say, "It's Melbourne, where you get seven seasons in one day."
Wednesday, November 10, 2010
Personal property is the effect of society; and it is as impossible for an individual to acquire personal property without the aid of society, as it is for him to make land originally.
Separate an individual from society, and give him an island or a continent to possess, and he cannot acquire personal property. He cannot be rich. So inseparably are the means connected with the end, in all cases, that where the former do not exist the latter cannot be obtained. All accumulation, therefore, of personal property, beyond what a man's own hands produce, is derived to him by living in society; and he owes on every principle of justice, of gratitude, and of civilization, a part of that accumulation back again to society from whence the whole came.
Guess who said that?
- Karl Marx, evil overlord (and amateur philosopher) of the Socialist Conspiracy
- Joe Stalin, the poster child for sociopaths (remember, Hitler lost)
- Thomas Paine, American propagandist and step-father of the Revolution
And the answer is... oh, I'm not even going to say. You already know.
The Rich are different
Update: HuffPo has an update that puts a different spin on it. HuffPo Update (scroll down to the Update section.)
It's a fairly compelling argument by the prosecutor, but then, his job is to come up with compelling arguments. I'm still not sure, except to say if felonies are less record-damaging than misdemeanors, then that seems a problem in and of itself.
Maybe the real point is that he was offered a deal where the felony would be cleared after a few more years of (not getting caught) breaking the law. How many poor people are offered auto-clearing felonies?
Monday, November 8, 2010
I cashed a check off of my American account, and got less Australian dollars. Considering that two years ago I would have gotten 30% more AUS, this really hurts.
On the other hand, the Australian government is making random deposits to my bank account now. Yes, to, not from. Very strange, I agree.
Thursday, November 4, 2010
My prediction is that the Republicans will stay true to form. They talk a lot about fiscal restraint but they always spend money like there's no tomorrow. So the economy should actually get a little better as government spending goes up. However, I expect that to lead to higher interest rates and inflation.
On the other hand, I could be wrong. The Repubs could actually shut down the government and block any spending. This would lead to an even worse economy and the dreaded deflation. In that case holding cash (instead of assets) would be better - but since the US will be in so much trouble, the exchange rate will probably get worse despite the deflation.
I don't know; I can't predict the future (I can't even predict my future six months ahead, as should be obvious by now), but I think it's going to be a tough two years.
Thursday, October 28, 2010
I haven't seen any other embedded jobs in the last two weeks. I assume it's just a lull and they'll be some more soon, but right now its mopey time in the Planck household.
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
Central heating is quite rare for rentals, and central air conditioning is unheard of. Even most new houses apparently don't have central air. I guess it's not quite the necessity here that it is in Tucson.
There are some other things to get used to. In America, almost every house is either N-S or E-W facing. Here, it seems like every 4th house is laid down at an angle, anywhere from 15 to 60 degrees. Usually the houses at intersections face the the middle of the intersection, but plenty of houses on the street just face random directions.
The streets are usually 1-2 km long, and then they stop. This means most houses are numbered with 2 digits. It seems very quaint to me, since I've lived the last 10 years in the 4000 block. I also can't imagine coming up with unique names for every kilometer of road in a city the size of Melbourne. On the other hand, some of the names are pretty absurd, so they weren't trying that hard - for instance, Coolaroo, Coolart, and Coolar are all allegedly legitimate addresses.
Tomorrow we are looking at a house just down the street. It's a bit more than I wanted to pay, but by being so close to Grandma we'll save the difference in gas. And even more so in petrol (which costs twice as much).
You pay by the week here, and the market is tight, so good properties go fast. Most places don't allow pets, which isn't a problem yet - we'll probably wait until the baby is a bit older before we look for a dog. The yards are all small, but that's a good thing - this place is infested with greenery. I'm going to have to buy a lawn-mower.
Tuesday, October 26, 2010
Unfortunately, I was their second choice. (What, did the other guy manage to slip in a reference to the Poincare Conjecture?) And as we all know, second place counts for squat.
I was pretty bummed about it, which accounts for the silence of the blog.
But tomorrow I have another interview, with an actual company instead of a recruiter. It's a good solid company, a little larger and more established. I expect the interview to go well. The job is it's right up my alley, and the company is just down the street, so that would work out great.
Thursday, October 14, 2010
She sent me to get a new glucose monitor that measures in Aussie numbers. I was worried that the screen would be upside-down but it turns out its exactly like my American one, only more expensive (cost me $10 after rebate instead of free, like in America). On the other hand, the test strips are also half the price. Go government subsidies!
She had to call a government hot-line and ask permission for a prescription. She apologized for this, explaining that some meds were expensive enough that government had an extra layer of controls on them. I told her I understood, and that in America she would be calling an insurance company, not the government.
The doctor also told me to eat less fruit and more chocolate. Is this a great country or what?
Friday, October 8, 2010
This is the article that prompted my outraged screed: I was raised from the dead, woman tells
And this is the screed itself: A terrible fate awaits (scroll down a bit)
One of my mother-in-law's friends alerted us to the fact that it had been posted, after having read it and either recognized my name or my scintillating wit. (I'm postive it was one of the two.)
Newspapers printing articles that are critical of their handling of religion? Must be a feature of the socialist nanny state.
The one interview I had lined up didn't pan out; I never got to speak to the company. The recruiter warned me that we were a little late to the table. Also, they went with a guy who had worked with them before, which is hard to beat.
I had another interview the same day with a different recruiter, who told me his contact was out for a week, so I should be patient. Then, next week I had an interview with a recruiter for a contract job - not really what I want, but the work sounded interesting and the money was good.
Finally, today I scheduled an interview with an actual company (not through a recruiter). So that's 4 interviews in 4 weeks. I think that's good.
On the other hand every week I see at least one job opening that's perfect for me. So it's just a matter of time. Sara and I are going to start looking at rentals this weekend. But we'll stay with the in-laws until my ship comes in. Meaning the ship with all my crap on it, not my allegorical fortune.
Tuesday, October 5, 2010
One got in to the house today. I chased it around the kitchen with a towel. I didn't manage to kill it, but I did stun it long enough to throw it outside.
You think I'm joking (how could he fail to kill a fly?). But I'm not.
My brother-in-law's car, like a surprising number of cars here, has a dual fuel system. Natural gas is half the price of petrol, and he swears it's only 10% less mileage per liter. Some pundits have claimed this is the future: a mix of various energy technologies, all in play at the same time, instead of a single monolithic system. But I don't see how diversity can compete with the economies of scale.
On the plus side, there's no "mid-grade" here, just economy and premium petrol. The middle grade doesn't make any engineering sense at all; it's purely a marketing artifact. At least real energy diversity will drive out the fake diversity that the oil companies invented to nickel-and-dime us to death.
In other news, they don't have nickels or dimes here, just 5 and 10 cent pieces. The quarter is replace by a 20 cent piece. None of them have names. Heck, we even gave the rarely used 50 cent piece a name: half-dollar. They call pennies "cents." What kind of culture doesn't make up pet names for its currency? It's so un-American...
Thursday, September 30, 2010
And I remembered why I'm here.
Wednesday, September 29, 2010
While I was shopping a clerk came up to me and said she remembered me asking for American stuff a few days ago. So she told me about the USA Foods store (where my brother-in-law got me the A1 sauce).
When we went to the bank to cash an American check, the teller closed her station just so she could walk us to the front desk and hand us over to our account rep, who opened a new (interest bearing) account to hold the funds. The account rep asked about the baby, even though we'd left her at home with Grandma.
All of this incredibly personal customer service strikes me as so... inefficient. American business practices have been pared to the rational minimum, and trained me to expect it, to the point where it's weird for clerks to remember my name. It feels, and this won't be the last time I say this, like the 80s.
At least there's no disco, though.
Tuesday, September 28, 2010
Seriously, they will drive around an entire city block, making left hand turns the whole way, so that they can park facing the right direction on the street.
Today I demonstrated my advanced technique involving the Reverse gear and a convenient driveway. My sister-in-law dismissed it as "American."
Monday, September 27, 2010
The game is, as all British sports are, largely incomprehensible. It is also incredibly undignified. It's played with a football, and you can tackle people; but you can't run more than 10 meters with the ball. Instead, you move it down field by kicking it.
Soccer has a certain elegance, with its graceful trajectories and immense control over the very predictable ball. You can run the length of a soccer field, chasing the ball with kicks, while dodging enemy players and seeking a shooting position.
Needless to say, you can't do this with a football. As soon as it touches the ground it caroms off in a completely random direction. It does this every time it touches the ground.
So footy starts out looking like football: the ball flies through the air from player to player (though kicked instead of passed), but as soon as a catch is missed, it degenerates into the spectacle of a thirty-odd grown men scrambling around like lunatics. They're large and scary men, so I wouldn't say that part out loud, but it's true.
The teams were St. Kilda's Saints and Collingwood's Magpies. Collingwood occupies the same social rung as the Dallas Cowboys: the team everyone loves to hate. They got an early lead and held it until the very end, when the Saints kicked 3 goals in a row and caught up.
Then the impossible happened: in the last two minutes, the score became tied. The teams fought hard but no more points appeared before the final whistle. I turned to my brother-in-law and asked how long the over-time play would be.
The answer was, a whole new game. That's right, next week the teams have to come back and play a whole new game. Apparently ties don't happen enough for anyone to have figured out how to fix it (r decide that it needed fixing). So the Aussie version of the Superbowl has to be redone.
Sometimes it feels like the whole country is run by amateurs.
But of course, that feels right at home for me. The frontier spirit, which actually lasted only twenty years but defined how Americans wanted to think of themselves, still smells fresh in Australia. No wonder so many Yanks idolize the place.
Sunday, September 26, 2010
There's a store down by his house that sells imported American goods. It is a measure of my desperation that I think $13 for a medium bottle is a fair deal. The next day I rushed down there and picked up some non-essentials like a can of enchilada sauce and a jar of kosher dills.
The place is just a tiny store-front attached to a warehouse, but it was packed with 20 or 30 younger people. Oddly, I was the only American there. I can't imagine what possesses Aussies to pay those prices for common foodstuffs.
Well, except for the A1. I can totally understand that; the local equivalent, HP Sauce, is just dreadful.
Friday, September 24, 2010
I can now tell you first-hand some of the effects of that wretched affliction. I took a niece and a nephew to the corner store for chocolate bars. Total bill, for 3 candy bars and one super-size candy bar: $16.95.
Then Sara and I took them to the movies. The tickets alone, for 2 adults and 2 children, were $61.00.
Yes, folks, everything costs twice as much here. I honestly haven't figured out how people survive on salaries that are basically the same as in the USA (except that the minimum wage here is $12 an hour). Yet everybody has plenty of stuff and they do plenty of things.
On the other hand, health care is not only subsidized, but cheaper. Even if you didn't apply to the government for reimbursement, you would still spend a lot less on health care here than in the USA. And the quality of care is about the same.
What that tells me is that Americans are getting really shafted by the health care industry - the same folks who raised insurance premiums %8 in a deflationary economy.
Thursday, September 23, 2010
Sara had the same problem in Arizona, but I just assumed it was because she never went outside. Now I think it must have something to do with the switch in hemispheres.
We're also struggling to bring our money over. The government doesn't want you bringing sacks of cash, and the banks don't want you doing it electronically. At least getting shafted by the banks and tripped up by the government makes me feel right at home.
Tuesday, September 21, 2010
So I Googled it. I found two recipes. One was insanely complex with 30 ingredients, including some I'd never heard of, and the other was pretty simple. Obviously I tried the simple one, and obviously it didn't work at all.
What I wound up with was a brown sauce that tasted like oranges. I honestly have no idea why I thought it would produce anything vaguely like the real thing, but it was a cheap and easy hope for a while. I guess we can all fool ourselves when something important is on the line.
Meanwhile, it's back to convincing myself to spring for that $30 bottle from the USA store.
Monday, September 20, 2010
This is the part I like best: Medicare has a little office in the mall, between a department store and a chemist (i.e. pharmacy). People come in, hand over their medical receipts, and the government hands them fistfuls of cash. I like to tell this story to conservatives and watch their heads explode. To be clear, that's the part I like best.
We signed Baby and me up (Sara narrowly dodged the expiration date by a few months), and then we had to sit in the corner while a social worker lectured us. On all the different ways the government was about to give us money. Seriously, when she started talking about immunization payments, I was thinking, why do I have to pay the government extra when Baby gets her shots... and then I realized they were paying me.
The good news is that we still qualified for the baby bonus. So it turns out Baby isn't just beautiful, but bountiful as well. $5,000 AUS! I immediately spent part of it on a new pair of shoes. Hmm... maybe the conservatives have a point?
Sunday, September 19, 2010
We spent most of the day at our friends', who happen to both be nurses. Between their expertise and Google, we determined I wasn't currently dying, although the possibility that I might start that process was not out of consideration. However, the possibility that I would wind up in the ER that night or the next day seemed likely.
This would have several consequences. First, obviously, we would miss our flight. As bad as that is, it was worse because Sara would have no place to go - our entire household had just been packed into a shipping container. It would mean I would miss my job interview the following week in Australia. And best of all, it would mean a trip to the hospital without medical insurance. My insurance had expired at the end of August, and I had decided not to file a bunch of forms and pay a thousand dollars for 2 weeks of protection.
The professional diagnoses were either the beginnings of diabetic ketoacidosis or food poisoning. Neither was a good fit, since I only had some of the symptoms of the former and Sara had eaten all the same foods the day before.
My highly subjective opinion was that it was emotional stress, my body's last desperate act of sabotage. Who would have guessed I had Al Queda in my guts? But by the morning I was fine, and the worst pain I suffered since then was 15 hours of airline seat padding. Reason prevailed, and my carefully considered will was carried out despite the howling of the partisan mob.
But to all of you left at home, you should know just how painful it was to leave you behind. Seriously painful. As in, where was my percocet?
Tuesday, September 14, 2010
Monday, September 13, 2010
What I liked best about the party were the new connections that were made. Dad spent a lot of time talking to Sara's critique-group partner's husband about their common history on several continents. My co-worker's son discussed magic with some of my college buddies.
What I didn't like is that these new connections will be lost, now that I am leaving. Pool parties at my house were a tradition we had just invented, and now it's over. It joins the other traditions we are leaving behind: young people who realized that we had never missed a single one of their birthday parties. Thanksgiving with a friend in Phoenix for 20 years, where sometimes the members of my family outnumbered his. All of these traditions will be lost, like "tears in the rain."
Afterward, I wanted to stay.
But it's not canceling the plane tickets or finding a new job that carries me forward on this seaward current. It is Sophie, and the decisions we hope will lead to the best future for her. This is the first time I've given up what I want for her best interests, but it won't be the last.
So I keep packing, knowing that there are lots of people in Australia who are eager to recreate their traditions with Sara and create new ones with me. I know that man is the creature that adapts; wherever we find ourselves, we make the best life we can. It's just that the transitions are so hard.
Saturday, September 4, 2010
I tried googling to see how out of control the dagger-murder epidemic was, but the FBI only classifies murders by "edged or stabbing weapons." No differentiation between hunting knives, meat cleavers, swords, and the dreaded dagger.
I can't take my nunchuks, either, but that's no surprise since even Arizona classifies them as illegal (even for martial arts instructors like me!).
Yes, that's right: in Arizona you are allowed to carry a concealed semi-automatic pistol with enough firepower to crack an engine block, but if the cops catch you with two pieces of wood attached by a cord you are going down!
And in Australia I can import swords. Nice, authentic katanas sharp enough to behead a man in a single swing. Or bayonets - it's OK to have a double-edged stabbing weapon if it can also be attached to a rifle.
I can see that my inability to hold simultaneous and contradictory ideas is a bar to serving in government. Sucks to be me.
Wednesday, September 1, 2010
"Would you like priority boarding?"
The machine offered me a chance to board early, and listed "first access to the overhead bins" as a benefit.
For only $19.00.
Here I am, trying to check in, and if I slip and hit "Yes" instead of "No" I get charged an extra $19. I don't know about you, but when I am trying to convince a machine to let me on the plane at 6:00 AM, I tend to just hit the "Yes OK whatever just let me on the plane" button.
But it gets better. The flight contained a total of 10 passengers. Nobody needs priority boarding on a flight so empty the attendants had to ask us to move to balance the weight load.
And the cursed machine knew that. It knew exactly how many people were on that flight, and it still offered me its rip-off faux priority.
This is worse than those gas pumps that ask you if you want a car wash. At least those I can avoid; I'll just drive an extra block to a gas station that doesn't view every interaction with me as a chance to pick my pockets if I don't pay close enough attention.
But I can't do that with the airlines. I can't just change my mind at the last minute and go to the next one.
On the other hand, what I can do is leave this @#$%^&* country. Maybe Australian corporations haven't devolved to a business strategy that consists of rifling through my wallet when I'm not looking. Australia is generally 20 years behind the times, but in the case of airlines that's a good thing (remember what flying was like 20 years ago? Ya, it's like that right now on Qantas).
Sucks for the rest of you, though. Sorry.
Sunday, August 29, 2010
A phone research company called me up. They wanted to ask how I felt about Bank of America. Fair enough, I guess.
But then the first thing the caller says is this:
"Any ideas for customer service that come out of this conversation will belong to Bank of America, with no monetary award to you."
I kid you not.
I started laughing. I told the caller, "Hey... mad props for honesty. After having screwed the economy to death, they're out of ideas on how to steal even more money. So they call me up and ask me for ideas. For free."
She was not amused. I don't know why. At least I was laughing. I imagine most of the people she calls are simply going to be screaming invective.
Friday, August 27, 2010
Both times, of course, it was for optics-related programming, which my resume is chock-full-of. The first job was with a small company doing medical instruments and sounded really great.
This time it was for a VP position in a small but rapidly expanding company.
I had to tell the recruiter, "It sounds fantastic, but you have the wrong accent."
Like all Americans, she was thrilled and envious that I was emigrating to Oz. Meanwhile I'm potentially giving up what could have been my dream job - running the software department for an instrument company.
Dang it, Sophie better like her cousins. A lot.
Where were these people six months ago? I only got all these job leads after we'd already decided to leave. I can't decide if is a sign that the economy is turning around, or just the usual face-full of irony the universe dishes out to me at every opportunity.
Thursday, August 26, 2010
So now I've scheduled my first job interview, three days after I land. Getting a job early would be good, so we can rent a house for all our stuff that will be following us by boat.
Sara says that the estate agents (that's what they call real estate agents) only open the rental properties for inspection twenty minutes a week. That's what comes of a tight real-estate market, where houses cost too much and rentals are too scarce.
As a renter in USA, I kept a copy of the Arizona Residential Landlord and Tenant Act handy. It's not a particularly long document, yet it was amazing to me how many landlords I had to educate on the particulars of the matter. Now I have to start over. I have no idea what rights and duties renters in Aus have. Probably something about kangaroos.
So... I downloaded the Residential Tenancies Act of 1997. Right off the bat, I am pretty sure there is nothing in the Arizona statues about "binding the Crown." But it's nice to know that Queen Elizabeth can't kick me out of my apartment without due process of law.
Also, the rental agreement has to be in "standard" form. Help! Help! I'm being oppressed!
Other than that, it looks pretty much the same. Although Sara says rent is paid weekly instead of monthly (actually, that's a reasonable idea).
Anyway, the point is: how did anybody do all of this before the internet?