Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Taking Asia By Storm

A riddle, of sorts:

What's kind of on the biggish side, tends to leave a path of destruction in its wake and smashes into Thailand this weekend?

a) Tropical Storm Ketsan
b) Me (Kitty)
c) All of the above


The storm has already killed 300 people in Vietnam, Cambodia and The Philippines. 2.3 million people have had their homes flooded.

Here's my route above, on the left. On the right, the red areas are countries with Ketsan related deaths in the past few days, and the pink ones are just countries declared to be in a "state of calamity".

Our idea was that I have a great adventure and take a month or so off to go backpacking across southern Asia before I get really serious about starting a new career. Be careful what you wish for huh? I get uncomfortable and can't sleep if the pillows are arranged wrong on the bed, I'm allergic to spicy food and I'm afraid of bugs. What WERE we thinking?!

Last week:

Tom: "Did you buy trip insurance yet?"
Me: "No. I'm finding it unreasonable that I'm expected to read 29 pages of policy details. Who reads 29 pages of travel policy fine print?"
Tom: "People who need to file travel claims."

Regardless that some of the streets in Bangkok will be under 2 feet of mud, I'm going anyway. Maybe I can Sean Penn around in a boat and help. We talked about my going on a more altruistic "voluntour" and agreed that it would be better for all concerned if there were few-to-no expectations around my involvement in either roofing or digging. The price was right, so I signed up for this ultra-low-budget-college-kids-stay-in-youth-hostels-sleep-on-trains trip.

This whole natural disaster thing could really bite into handbag shopping.

Stay tuned.

Now Discover Your Strengths

You know, the old Robert Heinlein "don't teach a pig to sing" saying? (Don't do it...It wastes your time and annoys the pig.)

There's a book called "Now Discover Your Strengths" that I've used in management training before. Instead of focusing on your shortcomings, it has you take an online test that identifies what kinds of things you're naturally good at, then encourages you to work in a position that taps into those themes. Pretty smart stuff actually.

Tom's signature themes are: Analysis, Competition, Achievement, Context (learns from the past), and Ideation. Tom is a BANNER employee. His themes align perfectly with his job. He breathes his work. He's brilliant, rarely makes mistakes, incredibly productive and he always delivers more than you ask for. ALWAYS. He's the star show pony of young scientists. I'm biased, yes, but I've never heard anyone say anything but praise about Tom's work.

I'm adaptable, a good communicator, skilled at activating others to do things, competitive and very individualistic. I'm like the love child of a Jane Austen protagonist and Nicolas Cage's character, "Sailor" in Wild at Heart. Why I'm in charge of the family taxes, you got me. What I should really be is like Tom's agent. Well child actors have them...why not hydrologists?

For reasons that will soon be revealed, we've been watching a lot of Asian films lately. Battle Royal is about a class full of 9th graders who are captured by the Japanese government, put on a deserted island and instructed to fight each other till the death. Only the last one standing will be set free. Maybe it's crass....but doesn't it make you wonder what the signature themes of the winner were? Or is just someone with my themes who would wonder?

As for the book, after you take the online test (45 minutes or so), it will spit out a pamphlet for you on the "care and handling" of someone with your themes. It's a useful tool for understanding each other better, both at work and at home. And on fight-till-the-death islands, technically.

When Abbie took herself out to eat at Pok Pok

This is Abbie. She now lives with a fabulous retired couple and two other golden retrievers in Oregon. Giving her up when we immigrated was excruciating. We would have been happy (meh...okay fine) to pay the $6000.00+ in fees to bring her, but at her age, putting her in quarantine for several months and making her take a 20 hour flight, then making her live in a rented apartment didn't seem fair.

Sometimes we picture her talking to her new family. "What?! I get walked EVERY day?! You don't just put me in the car and drive me around like my old mom?"

One time I thought Tom fed her breakfast and he thought I did. Oopsie doodles. She was adorable, simple, loyal and we could never ask for a sweeter girl.

She loves to:
  • wear a jester collar
  • jump in mud
  • roll in bird poo
  • cuddle (never in that order)
  • give high fives
  • eat pot roast
  • escape the house and take herself to Pok Pok, the open air Thai restaurant a block from our old house

That last one was a nightmare. We were doing yard work and accidentally left the garage door open. Abbie was like "Do de do...oh look. An open door. I love the great outdoors! What's that smell? Roasting meats? The sound of chattering people who will no doubt find me irresistible to pet and tickle?! Let's do this thing. Ima bounce, baby.".

All Tom and I knew was that she was just GONE. I was hysterical. We got on our bikes, split up going different directions and started riding around the neighborhood calling for her. Tears and snot are streaming down my face. I just knew she was going to be mowed down by a speeding car.

Tom's cell phone rings and it's Pok Pok, the Thai restaurant down the street. One of those places that's so good they have a line on Tuesdays at 5 pm. They had outdoor seating in the could sit and bask in the smoky bbq chicken essence all afternoon. His phone number was on her tag. They tell him she's in their courtyard, happily mingling with their customers. Well of course that's where she'd go. If we weren't doing yard work, we might have gone there too.

As he approaches, he sees that she's already attained outdoor restaurant superhero status. All the diners have learned her name (from her tag) and there's a flurry of competition to get her to come to each table and get petted. "Abbie!"... "Here Abbie!"... "HI ABBIE!" ... "AbbieAbbieAbbieAbbie"... Her tail (that we used to have styled to make her look like either a donkey or a lion) is on full tilt wag action.

I don't know if anyone has ever been through this, where your pet (or worse, child?) has wandered off, but what a roller coaster of emotions when you find them. Tom does this great reenactment of how he felt when he finally got her back, where he raises his fist and (angry voice) says, "Why could just..... (happy voice) HUG YOU."

And that, Tom says, that is the exact feeling of what it's like to be married to me.


Tuesday, September 29, 2009


Keeping in the theme of wild animals in the office, I got this email from the site coordinator for where I work:

"Notice to all staff, near the ramp at the west end that provides access to Bld. 31 a butcher bird has set up residence and is swooping any one brave enough to enter the area. When entering the area keep your eyes open, it makes a lot of noise and can be a bit threatening in it's actions so please be careful."


Friday, September 25, 2009

More dust

Here's another image of the dust storm earlier this week...

Also there's a nasa story with images

A "dust watch" group reported "75,000 tonnes of dust per hour off the NSW coast north of Sydney September 32rd. Dust is from drought-affected areas in Western NSW and the eastern Lake Eyre Basin."

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Sheik Sheik Djibouti - (Almost) Wins

Our pub quiz team is regularly humbled, or depending how seriously a team member takes it, humiliated. Technically, our name is Sheik Sheik Djibouti (that's a small country in Africa, by the way, and I don't mention it to be patronizing, truly). I think it evolved since we took on the name, however, and I've noticed "Shake Shake Da Bootie" scrawled on our answer sheets. That works too.

About every other Wednesday, we compete at a downtown tavern against rival teams, such as Trivia Newton John and The Redundancy Department of Redundancy. Until last night, we nearly always placed in the lower third of about ten teams. Often we're tied for last. We've been known to be last. Hate being last. One time we were last and they gave us a prize anyway, "dinner for six". It was a bag of potato chips. I was actually thrilled and Tom enjoyed eating them.

Tom and I maintain that we aren't into sports and we can't be expected to know Australian history / popular culture / politics / geography. This does little to justify why we don't know that the black box on airplanes is actually orange or the five largest cities in the United States by population. My areas of expertise are dogs, Elton John song lyrics, mental illness, truck manufacturing and shoe designers. There are surprisingly few questions in these areas so I generally wait for another person to suggest an answer to the hard ones and then weigh in on whether I think they're right or not. I have a not-too-shabby 50/50 hit ratio with this technique. If nothing else, I help dilute any unintentional team blame when we we're just dead wrong. I contribute. I do.

Anyway, last night we recruited a new team member, an Australian, who knows sports (or "sport" as they call it here). (Yet when you add or subtract, it's "maths". Go figure.) Franco's contribution, paired with our already keenly sharp group, held us in the lead for most of the first five rounds and ultimately tied for third, after a somewhat rocky final round with a music theme. Damn (music trivia savant) Tom's job for sending him to a conference in Canberra. This could have been our night! I had all but spent the first place pub gift certificate in my mind .... mmmm ... lots and lots of fries with fancy sauce. That's when I mix mayo with ketchup. I think it kind of grosses the rest of the team out. At least I don't sort through the communal fries, picking each one up, examining it, then compartmentalizing them by crispness. You'd think we were raised by wolves.

It all came down to Peta (one of our brilliant babes) making a fearless attempt to chug a jug (drink a huge beer) faster than a bloke from the other tied-for-third place team. Chug, and then turn the glass upside down on her head to be exact. It was an impressive effort, and though we eventually landed at fourth, a banner night for the Booties. Peta's hair should be bouncin' and behavin', what with the moisturizing sudsy treatment she got. I learned that a llama is in the camel family, that both Abba and their song "SOS" are palindromes, and that the Hindenburg was en route from the US to Germany when it exploded. Oh the humanity.

It felt good to almost win. Love winning. Go Booties!!!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Red skies

Yesterday I was in Canberra at a meeting and outside the sky was a dark amber color all day. Apparently we're having the biggest dust storm in 70 years, and its since blown over to Sydney, causing all their flights to be cancelled. Just google Sydney dust storm and you'll find heaps, it's the lead story right now. Everyone at the meeting was hacking, I've just about lost my voice.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Kilogram heavy.

We've been doing a lot of cooking lately. This weekend we used the the carrot pulp that we strained away from the carrot soup and made veggie fritters and carrot cakes. Nothing like adding some sugar and frying to make a healthy thing tasty. We picked up a last minute ingredient, oats, on the way home from meeting some friends downtown for dinner on Friday.

Me, sitting on the tram, not much else to talk about: "Oh, it's a kilogram. If feels heavy."
Tom: (Lisa Simpson-type voice that is apparently me when I say something dense) "'Kilo heavy!' That's going on the blog."

Well it's true. We are still pretty vague on metric and other conversions...and they warned us this was coming all the way back in 3rd grade, that we'd need to learn metric. But we just aren't thinking that way yet. Still.

And as for money, well we just used to think of the Australian dollar as funny money. No point in trying to transpose everything...if you need something, you buy it, there's not much you can do about the price, and it was hard to do in our heads anyway. As it stands now, 1 Australian dollar is worth $.87 in US currency. That's darn near the same. Let's not get into that silly old Australian dollar which we could have bought for $.63 on the day we decided to move here last October. It's going to bounce back. But for now, we more just think of everything as "kind of expensive".

Anyway, for the record...

1 mile = 1.6 kilometers - speed limits for "built up" areas (in town) is 50 kph, or about 30 mph. I am certain we could walk that fast. And I am beyond certain that it's easy to get a ticket here.

1 pound = .45 kilograms - we prefer to be weighed in kilos, the number means little to us and sounds comparatively low.

1 gallon = 3.76 liters - gas is currently $1.19/liter, so that's about $4.50 a gallon, yikes.

It still gives us shuddering chills to think we considered doing all this in Spanish.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


A while back we had a problem with a possum living in our office. Minutes ago, the public announcement system broadcast a message that a swarm of bees has been spotted in the stairwell of building 33 and that employees are advised to avoid the stairwell of building 33 "until further notice". Almost on cue, moments later, a bee flew in my window and buzzed around my desk. Eventually we shooed it back out the window, but I think we're likely going to stay inside for a while the swarm blows over. Tom

Monday, September 14, 2009

Baby picture

My mom found this old picture of me from when I was six months or younger I'm guessing. Seems that even back then my hairline was receding.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Anniversary Weekend of Fun

Tom and I met on September 11, 2006. To keep things simple (and perhaps generate some more positive associations for poor "9/11"), we got married on September 11, 2007, though, like many of our friends, we aren't too hung up on the whole married label. I think it actually kind of makes us throw up a little in the back of our throats, our blatant failure to subvert the dominant paradigm. It did make immigrating easier. And I like knowing that my wishes will be carried out exactly should someone need to decide when to pull my plug. No heroics; anything worse than a hangnail, I'm not to be made to suffer.

Technically, we were married in Colorado, a rogue land where bride and groom can legally act as their own officiants. All you got to do is sign a form and mail it in. Nice. It was a busy time in our lives; corners were cut. Only Tom and I know if we were actually in Colorado when said form was signed and what day we signed it. According to our shared Google calendar, he was at a science convention in Hawaii and I was 5000 miles away, working (mmmnnn, er, sailing?) in Florida. That calendar must have gotten goofed up when we moved here and reset the time and date functions in our computers or something.

Point being: we celebrated our 3 year anniversary on Friday. And I do celebrate having met him, absolutely. Celebrating the date we got "married" seems a little, I don't know, random, you know like bins or public schools.

The weekend's festivities:
  • Rented a car. Tom did most of the driving this weekend. He also made me an anniversary mix music CD that I've been listening to while I drive around, still getting lost. I like this one, "Lua", by Bright Eyes. It's about heroin junkies apparently. (?!)
  • Went to Costco. Madhouse. I bought a metric ton of onions and pallet of kiwi fruits. Lately I've been grilling vegetables and then juicing them to make soups, like carrot/ginger or cauliflower/leek. The soups turn out so well that I keep threatening to "quit my job and just make soup all day". Tom just looks at me stoically when I say that; he laughs on the inside.
  • Had fab dinner here:

  • Went to a German Board Games Convention. It's rare for us to not feel like the very geekiest people in the room so this was a treat. We've been really getting into strategy board games lately. This was a group of about 50 other uber dorks and a few of our close friends, who got together for a weekend-long gaming marathon. Tom somehow got paired up with an irksome little 10 year old kid for a few hours too long, learning Race for The Galaxy, and Arkham Horror. I discovered all kinds of new passions, like a quick and easy dice game called Risk Express, TransEuropa and Honeybears. My friend Roger, the "Honey Bear King", said he'd never in all his life seen someone score quite so badly as I did. Yikes.
  • Played in a lawn bowls tournament. I'd never played lawn bowls before (or even heard of it). They paired us up alphabetically and my partner, Neil from Adelaide, was a compassionate coach. Would you believe Neil and I made the finals and were only one bowl short of winning the championship? Take that Honey Bears King! It's actually a fun sport for the summer and we hear there is a cool club in our neighborhood that we may look into joining this summer. Getting Tom to wear all white, though, I don't now.
  • Ordered a new sorbet/gelato/ice cream maker. Makes me want to quit my job and just make sorbet/gelato/ice cream all day. We swore we wouldn't let kitchen appliances take over our lives again yet still they creep on in.
  • Watched a kids' documentary about a walrus and a polar bear. I liked that the movie talks about how the artic ice is melting and how hard that is on the animals, then, at the end, they recommend ways you can help: wash your clothes in cold water, take shorter showers, eat fresh food instead of frozen. I hope it works. Anthropomorphizing cute baby animals is a genius angle.
  • Bought job interview clothes. My goal look is to be indistinguishable from Lucy Liu (you know, 1/2 Taiwanese, 5'2", 100 pounds). Tom was really sweet when I told him the fiscal damage. Never let it be said that I let thrift or the impossible stand in my way.
What I mostly did was think about where we've been and where we're going, what's working and not...kind of a velocity + position assessment.

What were you doing three years ago, today? Did you think everything would be what it is, now?

Saturday, September 5, 2009

20 cent pieces

It's fairly rare to find commemorative 20 cent coins in Australia, so imagine my delight when I came across this number:

Right, Queen Elizabeth II on everything as usual, no surprises there.

And then on the flip side there's a kiwi bird and a silver fern.

Hey, wait a minute... those are endemic to New Zealand! Sure enough, it's a NZ 20 cent piece (worth 16 australia cents). They look the same, are the same weight (11.3 grams), diameter (28.5 mm) etc.- way to differentiate yourself island nation number 2!

Indeed, the 5, 10 and 20 cent coins of New Zealand were practically identical to Australia until 2006 when New Zealand redesigned, in particular making them smaller. Aus still has the biggest coin, the 50 cent piece, in the world: a stack of 30 of them would weigh a pound (note to self in case I'm ever in a prison riot). Yet for all that effort, NZ still kept the queen on every coin.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

A short history of nearly everything

A friend lent me Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything. It's a real page turner... here's a passage.

"Swine flu (viral infection) arose as a normal, non-lethal flu in the spring of 1918, but somehow, over the following months, it mutated into something more severe. In an attempt to devise a vaccine, medical authorities conducted experiments on volunteers at a military prison on Deer Island in Boston Harbour. The prisoners were promised pardon if they survived a battery of tests. These tests were rigorous to say the least. First, the subjects were injected with infected lung tissue taken from the dead and then sprayed in the eyes, nose and mouth with infectious aerosols. If they still failed to succumb, they had their throats swabbed with discharges taken straight from the sick and dying. If all else failed, they were required to sit open-mouthed while a gravely ill victim was sat up slightly and made to cough into their faces.

Out of- somewhat amazingly- three hundred men who volunteered, the doctors chose sixty-two for the tests. None contracted the flu, not one. The only person who did grow ill was the ward doctor, who swiftly died."