Airlie Beach

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Good morning from Airlie Beach! Home of the Whitsundays, backpackers and not much else. The Whitsundays are a group of about 75 small tropical islands in northern Queensland. It’s a very popular destination for sailing (sail, drop anchor, bar-b-q, repeat) in Northern Queensland.

Sarah and Xavier had planned a sailing trip to a nearby island resort, and I was off to swim with the fishes in the Great Barrier Reef.

Unfortunately Sarah’s sailing trip was cancelled at the last minute due to boat failure. :( Instead, She and X went to check out the town, and the local swimming hole.

The thing with beaches in Northern Queensland is that while they are beautiful, you can’t actually swim there at this time of year. Summer is “stinger” season, and at times you can see hundreds of very nasty jellyfish floating around in port. So, local councils create elaborate swimming pools for people to go to instead. Sounds like it was fun, but without a sun shade, too sunny for sonny. He was flush by the end of day and needed a break from the heat.

One thing they did find that was super cool was a beach caravan if camels passing through a playground.

Meanwhile, I hopped on a catamaran and darted off towards the Great Barrier Reef, a big item in my bucket list. The small cat ran for two and a half ours straight out into the ocean. Somehow, here was a floating platform there with change rooms, picnic tables and a waterslide.

I paid a bit extra and took an entry level scuba diving tour through the reef. It was breathtaking. The coral wasn’t as colourful as I expected but the fish more than made up for it. At the end the guide offered to take us for another twenty minutes (or until our air ran out, whichever came sooner) but I had to pass. Scuba is fun, but I was concentrating so hard on not concentrating on my breathing (apparently thinking about it is more likely to cause panic) if actually developed a cramp. In my face. Of all the stupid things…

So, back on the luxury barge for a dip, a visit to the water slide, some food and a few snaps from inside of the underwater observatory.

What you can see is the huge number of fish that were out at the reef. I had no idea. What you can’t see is the school of silverbacked baitfish – each fish is the size I my pinkie, but the school was bigger than a city bus. Or the giant, overly friendly, ugly-fish (that’s my name, I don’t know what it was actually called) that would swim up to you if you waved at it.

This was my top pick for the trip and I wasn’t let down.

Tomorrow, we will be heading up to Cairns (rhymes with cans) to explore the Daintree rainforest.

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Sailing sailing…

We are currently departing Sydney Harbour aboard the celebrity century. We
We’re lucky enough to snag a deal trough Nick, Sarah’s brother, on one of the ships leaving Sydney harbour this summer. The Century is the oldest of the three ships in our area but it had an amazing itinerary that ticks a lot of tourist boxes.

In a few days we will be pulling into Airlie Beach in the Whitsundays, where Sarah and X will spend the day sailing and swimming and I’ll take a shore excursion out to the Great Barrier Reef.

Then, off to Cairns to visit the Daintree rain forest and hang out with some tropical butterflies (I wonder if butterflies and bug spray get along).

After a few days at sea, we have a few stops in the South Pacific. I’m hoping for more snorkelling on this bit. Xavier has recently been practicing the deadmans float in swim class, so a snorkel and a mask should be a natural fit for him.

So the reef, the Whitsundays, far North Queensland, the Daintree and some South Pacific isles. All in all it should be good fun.

Learning to Drive (again)

I’ve got my license when I was seventeen. But my car died the same year, an after that I moved to the “big city” where I didn’t really need a private vehicle, so in actual fact, I haven’t really been behind the wheel that much. Actually, thinking about it, the time between when I stopped driving and now is about as long as the time between when I got my license and when I learned to walk.

I’m old.

Also, I’m really not a qualified driver.

So, I’m taking lessons again. I’m on my way to my second lesson now. My first lesson was super nerve wracking, and not at all helped by the fact I’m learning on the other side of the road. Considering how little time I’ve actually spent driving, it was absolutely shocking to me how badly I wanted to drive on the right side of the road. If I turned onto a road with other cars, it was ok. I could just follow the leader. Onto an empty road though and it was right lane ahead!

The other annoying thing is that my wipers kept coming on every time I signalled left or right. I made a mental note to ask the instructor if his car needed servicing when I see him next.

If I had the know-how, this is what I’d build.

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If I had the know-how, this is what I’d build.

I’d build a filter for the internet that counted the number of horrible things that people try to show me, and brought it down to a manageable number.

I don’t need to see every story about every grieving widow, child or parent to know that there is sadness in the world. I don’t need to see ten stories in the same paper on the same day about the same event to be informed about the news. When it’s overwhelming, it makes people sad and complacent, not informed.

I would love to take all of the terrible, awful, no good and generally depressing link-bait that are used to generate ad revenue and run it through a single channel, and then turn down the volume so low that maybe the little bits of happiness that make it into the daily news would actually get some eyeballs.

With enough views, it might just encourage the major news companies to start baiting me with happiness, and inspiration, and pictures of new life instead of the grotesque horror show that passes for popular news. And maybe, if enough people saw as much good about the world as we see bad today, that would be enough to make things just a little bit better for all of us.

So, that’s what I’d build, if I had the know how.

Game of Thrones pose

Xavier and Sarah were downtown the other day and Xavier insisted on getting his photo taken with the Game of Thrones throne. He also insisted on making that terrible face. Maybe this is his tough-guy look?

When should I book a flight?

A few weeks back we had a guest lecturer come round the office who specializes in travel hacking. Over the years our family has had a running discussion around when, exactly, is the best time to purchase a plane ticket (Sarah and I figured, not too early, and not too late was best) so I thought I’d ask and get the right answer.

The short version:
If you are paying cash, book the ticket as far ahead as you can.

Longer version:
When you go to book a ticket, you normally only consider which kind of fare it is: economy, premium economy, business, first, etc. However, within each fare type, there are several different fare classes. For example, on a particular airline, there might be 6 different economy tickets, each with different prices and restrictions. The most expensive, known as full-fare economy (the Latitude fare on Air Canada) is often more expensive than the cheapest business class, but it comes with features like return, exchange and upgradability.

Anyhow, these different fare classes are always available on a flight, but they have two restrictions. First, only so many tickets of each class is made available for each flight (so, maybe there are only 4 tickets available for the cheapest economy fare). Second, each fare class has an expiry date that kicks in a few days before the flight takes off. The magic cut off days are 50, 21, 7 and 3 days. So, until 50 days before a flight you can book all classes, and 49 days before some kinds of tickets become unavailable.

This means that booking a ticket way in advance should prevent any issues with the fare cut offs, and is likely to make it easier to get one of the limited availability cheap seats.

There are only two possible downsides to booking a ticket as far in advance as possible.

First, it’s possible that by waiting you might find a seat sale that’s made available at a later date. This is a bit of a gamble though.

Second, if you are booking on points, seats are all in the same category – and actually some seats will open up the closer you get to the flight date. In particular, he said if you want business class seats, they tend to open within 3 days of flying (that’s too close for me though).

Aerial Assist

I spent part of Friday and all of Saturday refereeing a robotics competition. It was amazing!

The game is called Aerial Assist, and it’s sponsored by the First Robotics Competition – an organisation that organises robotics education and games for kids and uni students.

Each team consisted of four players and a rather sizeable robot. Teams rotated trough different combinations of red vs blue, with three teams aside. The fact that your opponent in one round may be your team mate in a later match helped to keep things sporting. During game play, the two teams fought for control of one of two balls on the field, and we’re awarded points for scoring in a high or low net, passing between robots, and pitching the ball over a crossbeam mid field. You could also be awarded points if the other team commits a foul – most of which were safety related.

There’s a good video explaining the match rules here. Or, a video of a real match.

I know a lot of folks who would have a great deal of fun at these things. The kids involved work closely with mentors who teach them mostly about construction (wiring, welding, metal work, mechanics, drive trains, etc) and a little about programming. In addition to the physical robot, you also have to wire up control systems so that you can drive your robot using a joystick or similar. Additionally each round begins with an automated component during which the robots are given ten seconds to try and score a goal on their own. Bonus points are awarded if you score I a net that is specially marked at the beginning if the round, so it pays to teach your robot to “see” which is the correct net.

Aside from all the engineering work, which happens pre match, there’s also the strategy in the competition, and some skill in driving your creation. As the day went on you could see strategies emerging, similar to a simple soccer match. Teams would choose one robot to run defence and block opponent goals, another to score (usually a robot who could score in the top net for more points) and a “centre” to run the ball between your defence and offence, which helps to rack up assists.

There was something for just about everyone, and pretty good stadium seating for spectators who cheered or danced to keep things lively during the day.

I did check to see if this exists in Canada – most of the folks I know who would be keen live in BC or the east coast. There are some teams, but not in these places. It does t take long to do well, this year a rookie team made it to the semifinals, and another finished in the winners group of three. I see that Alberta got involved last year, and they already have a load of teams, so it could happen. It just needs some interested coaches and mentors.

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