Christmas time down under

We had a load of visitors throughout January, and I have a raft of half-written posts to catch up on. This will be the first of six catch-up posts that I hope to get out in February.

We’re used to being far away during the holidays. Ever since we first got married we’ve been on a three year rotating cycle: one year away, one year home with my mom, and one year with Sarah’s folks. This is the third winter now that we’ve spent away, and by far the warmest (metaphorically and physically speaking) to date.

Our first year away from home was also our first Christmas together as a married couple. We spent it living in the basement of a friend’s Dad’s house half way across the country in Waterloo. We weren’t alone – our friends family went out of their way to make us feel welcome during the holidays, but we were certainly lonely. It was the first time that either of us had been away for the holidays, and home sickness was a big factor. It was also exceptionally cold — more cold than I ever remember being. We spent a lot of our evenings huddled up on the bathroom floor (heated tiles) with a blanket, a cat, and a laptop.

The following foreign cycle we spent in Paris. We’d arrived in France a month earlier, and had just moved into our new apartment on rue de Marignan, just off the Champs Elysees. That year, in addition to being cold (our apartment was very poorly insulated), and even further away from family, we were also sufferingly poor. I’d missed three pay periods as part of the transfer fiasco, and we spent what amounted to our life savings on the move-in costs for the new place. The gifts we exchanged that year included such items as chocolate bars bought from a vending machine, wrapped in an envelope with hand drawn decorations. Christmas dinner was a peanut butter sandwich. On the up side though, we did attend the best Christmas service ever, and met several people on Christmas eve who would become lifelong friends.

This year we were in Australia, and things were completely different.

The most obvious change was in the temperature. Christmas time in Australia is synonymous with summer. As the local carol, ‘Christmas where the Gumtrees grow’ notes:

Christmas Where the Gumtrees Grow,
there is no frost and there is no snow,
Christmas in Australia’s hot,
cold and frosty’s what it’s not,
when the bloom of the jacaranda tree is here,
Christmas time is near.

It’s so very, very weird to be driving around listening to Christmas carols in the heat of summer. But, it’s the sort of weird you can get used to. 🙂

The other amazing difference was that we had the good fortune to be invited into a super tight familial circle just prior to the holidays. It may actually have been Xavier who introduced us by making friends with the couple’s three year old boy, but the entire group — all of whom are employed as bakers, chefs, cooks, and so on — really welcomed us into their lives for the holidays. We were invited to share in their Christmas day celebrations which included telling jokes, playing board games, opening presents, eating proper Turkey dinner (not the traditional Aussie dinner of prawns and cold ham), and watching National Lampoons Christmas vacation.

And finally, this year, instead of feeling removed from family, we were able to connect via technology. We actually opened our gifts with our family via Facetime this Christmas. It’s not quite the  same as being there, but so much better than making a rushed four minute long distance call from a stolen internet connection as we’ve done in years past. There’s been a lot of resistance in Australia to a government program to bring faster, and more reliable internet into Australian homes. This kind of thing – being able to spend Christmas in three different cities at once – is all the justification I need.

It’s been a lovely holiday season down under – as good as we could hope for and much better than we’d expected. But, still, we are definitely looking forward to a more traditional Christmas with family in 2013.

MasterChef Cookalong

This past Thursday, Sarah took cooking class to learn how to make deep fried wonton.

The really cool thing is that she didn’t even have to leave the apartment — it was a virtual class, hosted by semi-celebrity chef Mindy Woods via Google+.

Non-Australian viewers may not know that name: Mindy was a Top-5 Finalist on this years MasterChef Australia. I understand that MasterChef runs in other countries, but it might be a bit different here. This show is huge, capturing about 10% of  australian television viewers, six nights a week for two months.

And so, through the magic of the internets, Mindy came into three kitchens around Australia and offered direct guidance (I want to say hands on, but it wasn’t really) to some amateur cooks. We also had family and friends in at least four different North American cities following along live.

We did have to make a few modifications to our kitchen:

You can see some of the finished product there on the left. It was deep fried wonton with prawn and rougette (I don’t know the English name for that fish). Sarah also learned to make a sweet chili sauce, which you can see in the ramekin.

In case you missed it, and want to watch Sarah’s online cooking debut, it was recorded for YouTube.


There’s an excellent post over on the CBC that talks about the practice of Geoblocking, what it is, and why broadcasters insist on doing it. For those that don’t know, Geoblocking is a way for a company to limit access to particular parts of their website based upon the physical location of the person coming to the site. For example, I can’t watch re-runs of Star Trek on the CBS site because I’m not in the USA (which is annoying; but understandable), and Sarah can’t look at Jeans on the Canadian guess website (which is just dumb), presumably because they charge more if you live in Europe.

Without a doubt, my favourite part of the article was this gem from the comments section.

There’s a simple way to get around any geoblocking fence. It’s called reverse urling. if you are being denied access to a site, just type the url backwards, character for character, eventually ending with :ptth.

What this does is tell the server to come to you rather than you go to it. The only danger is if the website is huge, by inviting it into your computer you stand a chance of overloading your machine, and, under rare circumstances, this can cause the cpu the short out and catch fire.

The best thing to do, should that happen, is to quickly type the url again but forwards. The sudden reversal in direction in the flow of electrons from your computer to the server should bring things back into equilibrium.

Should you find it impossible to type due to electric shocks from the keyboard, very common in pre 2004 keyboards which are not properly grounded against reverse urling, you should try to cut power to the computer. Electrical problems from the short have been known to spread within a house, or sometimes even to a whole neighbourhood., depending on whether the houses are connected serially or not in the powergrid (I never remember which one is bad).

Note to readers, I’m pretty sure this won’t work, although I’m not will to test on my laptop for fear of damage to my pants (and the contents thereof).

Gigantic Turkey Roast in Abbotsford.

CBC is reporting that the cull of 60,000 turkeys at B.C. farm may begin Monday.

So what do you do with 60,000 Turkeys?
The answer’s obvious: Turn that old barn you weren’t using into a giant crockpot.

CFIA officials were preparing to euthanize the birds by sealing the barns and flooding them with carbon dioxide. Workers will then mix the carcasses with organic material in the barn to raise the temperature as high as 50 C during decomposition.

It’s a good thing they are near Cranberry country. Just sayin’.

PingMag Goes Dark

Ping Mag, one of the blogs that I read regularly, has gone dead for 2009. The blog was an interview-style, journalistic site that focused on people that ‘make stuff’ in Japan, with a pretty big focus on small manufacturing businesses.

The blog was especially interesting because of the attitudes of the people that were being interviewed. These were people that had dedicated their lives, oftentimes going back several generations, to things that I never really think much about, such as making soap, rice boxes, or sandals.

Another common thread in their articles was that even though you might want to be a businessman, electrical engineer, or graphic designer, your true calling might really be making kites. This thread was brought up many times, and usually came up when exploring how people ended up in the job they had. Some people followed their hearts into a new career, some changed jobs to follow where their talents were, still others took over the family business and used new skills and education to shape their grandfather’s or father’s company into something of their own.

Reading about people that take tremendous pride in their work, while also being very humble, was really refreshing when compared to many of the other business and marketing sites that I follow. The articles always made for an interesting read, and a nice change from the business culture that I’m familiar with it.

We have internet!!

Christmas is saved! We have internet!!
Today the UPS guy appeared with our internet/phone/cable/tivo box, and this afternoon it started the blink of joy.
In theory, we have another phone number. However, I don’t really know what it is. We are on skype though, and will be using it to call home on Christmas day.

We’ve already been using it to keep in touch with Nick while he’s in NV. When we were at the hotel we gave it a shot, but it came out looking like this:

Notice the new toque
The new connection is at least one order of magnitude faster than the old connection, and Nick now looks like a person. He has eyes, and a nose and everything.

Facebook Video, and User Access Rights

I just discovered facebook video earlier this week. It’s pretty cool. I actually think it’s better quality than the YouTube stuff, but I suspect that’s because they’ve had longer to work on it, and they get way less traffic. (The video’s, not the site.)

The only problem with it is that it’s really private (I suppose that this is also a benefit). I’ve twice seen a cool video on facebook that I’ve wanted to share — but how can I share the link love if Person X and Person A are not already friends?

I don’t actually think that it’s possible.

Basically, I can watch whatever Person A links, because they are my friend. And I can share that link with our mutual friends. But, I cannot share the link with a friend of mine (X) that is not also a friend of A.

This means that the viewing rights are restricted to the complete list of A’s friends, and whoever happens to watch over my shoulder.

Right now, it’s almost painful how awful this is.

My Cousin, who works in Korea, just posted a bunch of photos and Videos from Korean Field Day. When I had field day, I wore a coloured ribbon to denote which ‘team’ I was on. At this school, they dress up. So, you have the Batman team vs the Superman team vs the Rag Doll team vs the Christmas Elf team vs the Pyjama team. Somehow they incorporate games where the sole purpose seems to be to yell at each other really loudly (picture Batman getting into a yelling match with an Elf); a fashion show; a talent and singing competition; and the most awesome relay race I’ve ever seen.

The relay race involved 20 Batmen lining up, and then another guy getting on top of one of them and running on the shoulders of the others. As the Top stepped got off the Bottoms, the Bottom would run from the back of the line to the front of the line so that he could be stepped on again. The line went like this in a race from one side of a field to another, and back again.

*sigh* Internet videos like this should be viral; like food poisoning at a family reunion.