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The Family Bandwagon

Our family is spread out across the country and across the world, and what better way to keep in touch than a collaborative digital journal?

Saturday, 30 May 2009

Ken's birthday pub hike

Last weekend was a long weekend, and also friend's birthday, so on Monday we high-tailed it onto the tube and down towards Hampstead Heath. His name is Ken, and (strangely!) he went to primary school with Dee. Now, I hope at this point you're thinking something like, "Wow, they stayed in touch for that long!", but the truth is much more serendipitous ( may have already told this story) -- Ken was a student at Swinburne when Mark, a Uni buddy of mine, was tutoring. Mark recently moved to London and "dossed" at Ken's for a while. So at Glenda's birthday -- Mark's girl -- both Ken and Dee knew fewer people than everyone, so started chatting. So. Very. Bizzare!

p1000608.jpgAnyhoo, it was his birthday last weekend so we headed out of our precious safety-zone ("the city") to a suburb. Turns out they've got sun, people,  cafes, greenery! So we arrived at the beer garden and met some of Ken's friends, then I supped a wee dram of uisge whilst Dee enjoyed the red wine. We chatted, ate little nibbly things (calamari, salmon fish-fingers, lamb koftas) and generally enjoyed the sun -- although as the afternoon wore on it threatened rain.

After lunch (and a delicious chocolate cake courtesy of Glenda --  thanks!) we all decided to walk off the meal in Hampstead Green, a nearby park -- although it's bigger than any park I've seen in Aus, just like Hyde Park in London central. We wandered across field and dell and came across a fair! Ferris-wheels, skill games, spinny-aroundy and upside-downy rides! Dee, Ken and I all tried the archery. None of us won a prize, but Dee did have the dubious achievement of almost hitting a "carny" (i.e. fair worker) with an arrow! Remember kids: wine and bow & arrows don't mix. (I kid, I kid, we wouldn't want to get rolling drunk on a school/work day/night -- really, the carny almost got himself shot by ducking out in front of us to retrieve some arrows from the targets. I mean, come on! He was asking for one in the behind!)

It was weird being in the middle of a green space and looking back towards the "urban jungle". It was also getting muggy -- the rain was on its way but taking its sweet time about it. We got to the edge of the park, grabbed some drinks from the supermarket and had an impromptu picnic in a field, while around us people threw frisbees and kicked soccer balls. Decided we'd come back another weekend and play tennis and/or lawn bowls! How sophisticated!

When the rain started, we bid adieu to Ken and company, boarded a bus and headed back home. As always, more photos here. (And I'm not if you need to be on Facebook, but Glenda put some photos up too.)

Friday, 29 May 2009

round 4

Hi all. Dad has now finished round 4 of the chemo. He's been feeling strange so they checked his blood pressure, which was a bit low and decided to skip the metawhatever that was meant to stimulate his appetite but which had wiped out what little appetite he had. Now we wait and see for the next week. It would be good if he didn't get diahorrea, an elevated temp and become dehydrated. I guess we're more ready to treat the symptoms if they happen than we were the first round. Only one more round to go and that's not for three weeks. Don't think we'll manage Adelaide this school holidays since that final round is the last week of term and I don't want to travel if Dad is feeling unwell. We'll see how he goes. He's started grumbling about my driving again so I think he'll be back behind the wheel by next week. If only he'd start eating more. He still has at least two cans of 2cal a day to keep up his nutrition.
Dayna looking forward to hearing about your holiday in France.
Glenn and D, thank you for the photos you left on our computer. We had a voucher for 25 prints in May and we haven't taken any since the last batch of developing. I used some of yours and some of Dayna's. I'll pick them up when I get to town next.
Thinking of you all.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

We're going to the zoo zoo zoo...

And stretch.. It was a vaguely sunny Sunday, the middle of a long weekend - no better time to take a trip to the Zoo. Vicki, Steven, Bruce and I all jumped into Bruce's (mostly) shiny new car and off we went. About an hour later, we arrived and parked on the grass (?!) as directed.

SwimmingIt was fairly cold and windy for the first part of the day - but that didn't stop us enjoying watching the elephants! They were so funny! Initially they were messing about in a little pool. It had a small waterpipe and they were stepping on it to make the water spray everywhere (clever things). Next thing, two of the elephants ran into the pool by the waterfall. One moment they were there, the next they disappeared - they didn't teleport somewhere, it was just the pool was a LOT deeper than it looked! It was fantastic to watch them playing.

PonderingWe didn't follow any particular plan - we just wandered around the zoo, watched random animals and took lots of photos. Well, I took photos until my batteries went flat. :-( My photoset is here. And since Vicki's batteries didn't go flat, her photoset is here. Sometimes it's sad to see animals in cages but it's obvious that Chester Zoo looks after the welfare of the animals - they have inside and outside spaces, there are toys to play with (even HUGE toys for the elephants) and at least some of the habitats are designed for the animals. It's been ages since I'd been to the zoo - think I might not wait so long until the next visit (probably to another zoo). :-)

We're going to the zoo zoo zoo
You can come too too too...

Monday, 18 May 2009

Leamington Spa at Easter time

Oops, forgot I hadn't linked to this -- our Easter weekend away in Leamington!

Update: Some photos from "Lem".

We also popped over to Coventry, since Dee's Dad was originally from there.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Samsung netbook is teh awesomeness

Samsung N110 with Ubuntu Netbook Remix (Gimped)I am very impressed with Dee's new netbook (the Samsung N110) and Ubuntu 9.04 "Netbook Remix"! And for an old GNU/Linux otaku like me, it takes a lot to impress.

The netbook comes with Windows XP by default, and Dee played with it for a little while before installing the Ubuntu remix (UNR they call it) -- confusing, as XP can be, because each of the various hardware drivers seem to install their own versions of XP's built in functions: so there is the sound applet in XP, and an "Enhanced Audio" panel; XP's "normal" graphics settings and the "Intel Advanced Graphics" settings; built-in wifi and another whole menu of wifi tools.

She'd already decided to install Ubuntu, and I hardly twisted her arm! (Okay, I probably told her about all the good things that GNU/Linux can do these days ... and maybe cried a little.) Ostensibly, it was so she could a) have a terminal she understands (she's a UNIX-head) and b) install Apache Web-Server and do some web development for tracking our trip. So I think we were both happy when everything else -- graphics, camera, sound, wifi -- "just worked".

Installing was pretty easy: I downloaded an image and "burnt" it to a little USB key-drive thingy, then Dee set her BIOS to boot from it. A few screens of questions, mostly about where in the world you are and what time it is, then some waiting as it formatted the drive ('bye XP! 'bye Porpoise Spit!) and installed UNR. At the end, it asks you to remove the USB drive and reboot -- and when it reloads you have a nice shiny Ubuntu system!

Strangely for an operating system that is developed in a distributed way by people all over the world, Ubuntu feels much more integrated than XP did. Wifi connections are in the same place as wired ones, which is also where the "Mobile Broadband" connections are (which automatically popped up when we plugged in my mobile phone). The sound settings are in one place, although they're a little confusing with multiple "devices" (ALSA, OSS -- two competing sound architectures on Linux, which are both handled by the "umbrella" system called PulseAudio). The launch screen in place of a desktop is a bit weird but brilliant when you get used to it, and maximised apps share the little launch bar at the top of the screen for maximum screen "real estate".

(There are a few apps/screens which don't maximise and are too big for the 1024x600 pixel screen. That's annoying -- you have to ALT-click the window and drag it up to see the rest, including (usually) the "Close" button. Hope they fix that in an update soon!)

We also had to mess about with the wifi a little, as occasionally it wouldn't reconnect after closing the lid and "suspending" the netbook (i.e. going into low power mode). Turns out that removing and re-adding the kernel module fixes it, so Dee wrote two tiny shell scripts to do exactly that and dropped them into the suspend.d and resume.d directories ... UNIX/Linux is so ... logical! Sensible! Rational!

This morning she installed Skype, signed up for an account, and called Dayna and her brother with it. There was a little bit of messing about with the sound settings (to get the speakers to play, the microphone to work, and to limit any feedback) but the video camera just worked too. (Even our desktop computer required a bit of messin' to get the video to work and not crash Skype.)

The speakers and microphone on the netbook are good enough that we can Skype people without headphones, with clear sound and without any feedback. Skype were even nice enough to give her some free credit to call a "normal" telephone number (for a decent rate). We have our international calling solution!

So, now she is uploading photos to a new Flickr account to try that out. It's slow, but that's probably Flickr rather than the netbook itself. (I'll go back and add photos into our "speedboat down the Thames" post once it's done.)

The only way I'd be more impressed is if Samsung had shipped with the Ubuntu Netbook remix by default.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

VISAs and netbooks

So my VISA extension application was sent off a week or so ago; yesterday I made the appointment for a biometric ID card which -- now -- all "foreign nationals" will be required to have (and carry? I might start carrying my passport -- once I get it back -- and ID card together in some kind of RFID-blocking wallet thing). It's pretty bad, really -- £465 for a 12 month extension, then when I rang up to book the appointment (which MUST be within 15 days) the only available slot was ... 15 days later! Talk about making things difficult! But I'll take the day off work and travel down south on the 'tube to wherever the Border Agency is.

We're still hoping to get it back before our next holiday, because I'd like to visit Marrakech. If we don't, it will be a week in Wales instead!

In the meantime we're keeping out of trouble. Last weekend we got up earlier than usual to bus down to the London Eye for a speed-boat tour out to the Thames Barriers.  Dee has always wanted to see them, and it was either than or a lunch tour -- and we both decided we always do foodie (or drinkie) things. Besides, "a lunch cruise on the Thames" sounds a little more ... mature ... than either of us are willing to act!  So it was a speed-boat, travelling up to 45 knots (which I think is around 40mph) in the cold morning weather. They gave us warm rain-jackets along with the life-jackets, and we were glad they did! Frozen fingers from holding on (you have to -- we jumped over a few small waves and rounded corners dramatically) but at least nobody fell in.

After the cruise we had breakfast nearby, then went looking in electronics shops -- Dee wants a netbook like Dayna's!

After a few hours walking around and bussing between shopping areas (like Oxford Street) we still hadn't found the "new" netbook, a Samsung NC110. It's the next version of the NC10, which was very popular (and therefore out of stock all over the place). I think the difference is the battery -- the NC110 is meant to get 9 hours battery life on a single charge, which is pretty amazing. But it's not in the shops anywhere (and Dee's been waiting for ages) so this week she ordered it online.

(It is meant to arrive today! She's very excited.)

After that we headed home for a nap. No kidding! We were on the speedboat at 9am, and had a long evening planned, so it was really just being practical. A couple of friends who have moved to London showed up at about 5pm (Martin -- he was in Jack The Ripper The Musical! with me; and Helen, his girl), so we headed in to China Town and had a delicious meal.  (I tried "crispy shredded beef", and it just tasted like batter and sauce ... some of the more interesting items on the the menu included squid, braised eel and (I was so tempted) pigeon. The only thing that stopped me is the state of pigeons in London!)

With dinner settling we took our leave of Martin and Helen and wandered towards Leicester Square and the Empire Cinema -- we had tickets for the new Star Trek movie!  Empire Cinema is great -- it's where they had the London premiere, apparently, with a bunch of famous actors and whatnot -- with extra comfy chairs and an incredible sound system. The Enterprise flew past and we rocked in our cushioned places; photon torpedoes exploded on the hull and we shuddered with the screeching metal. Very much fun!

I should probably upload some photos from the speedboat, huh?

Sunday, 3 May 2009

Blue-eyed future Sword Saint ;)

Just a quick update from us.

Oscar has calmed down a lot - he's on Losec for his reflux - the Mylanta we had him on previously wasn't doing the trick. It does help, although sometimes it can still be difficult getting him to sleep.. but he's not awake every 45 minutes all day and night now, so it's a big plus. We're hoping once he reaches that 6 month point we wont need to give him the medication.. often that's when it settles down anyway.

Cheryl had her shopping day in Melbourne on Saturday (for our anniversary I got her a return ticket).. she spent most of her time (and money) at the DFO at Southern Cross Station, definitely worth a look if you're ever visiting the rainy city. I looked after Oscar for the day.. from 5am when Cheryl left until 9pm when she returned. Thankfully now he's got his medication he was much more relaxed and actually managed a few hours of sleep in there.

The other thing that helped keep me sane over the day was my new iPhone - Cheryl's anniversary present to me.. well, a combination of Cheryl and Kevin Rudd really. I was able to hold Oscar and still surf the net or play games I had downloaded. It was much better than my previous method of passing the time - staring into space :)

This morning we all headed to Goodwood for Iaido, because we had the Grading Certificate Presentations. I am now officially Ni-Dan, which makes me a sensei and also meant I got an art name - a name specific to the style to represent me. My name is "Go Seki".. the "Go" part is from Shihan's art name (Go Ho) and indicates that we have come from the Australian school.. and the "Seki" part means "stone" or "rock".. which was Shihan's (and the Grandmaster's) opinion of me I guess. I hope it's solid as a rock, and not rock-headed ;)

Oh, and finally there's a few more photos of Oscar up - http://www.flickr.com/photos/damienmason/3495448177/in/set-72157613379231082/ Cheryl took some fantastic shots, and I think it's pretty safe to say Oscar's eyes will be staying blue now :)