Tuesday, May 25, 2010


I'm taking an observational writing continuing education course just for the sport of it with a friend, Peta. The teacher John Elder is a crack up, a journalist at The Age newspaper. Tonight was our first night and there were 11 people in the class, a very broad range of ages and interests. Our first exercise was to go down to the street and observe someone and write down what you see. Peta and I watched two people next to eachother (a guy and a girl). Here was what I saw:

A 45 year old man started on the stoop of the Night Cat City, a closed bar whose portico looked like a church. He pulled a large forest green wheeled suitcase that looked surprisingly new and clean, considering that his hair was a mess, he was tanned and weathered and had many small scabs on his cheeks.

We walked easily to the corner convenience store and back, returning with a glass bottle of beer in a brown paper bag. He went through a familiar ritual of preparing the beer, rolling down the edges of the bag and crossed the street to throw the cap in a bin. On his way back he looked up and down a young fashionable girl sitting on the stoop. She was well dressed in black and gray but with a red and orange matching wool scarf and hat. [Peta remarked that she was 18 but chain smoked patiently and knowingly like an 80 year old].

He took his place on the top stair of the stoop, up and behind her. He stood so he could watch her without seeming like he was staring. He stood in away from the rain but close enough to protect his luggage if it came to that. He meditated on his cigarette, spent a fair bit of time slowly rubbing his face and hair. When he was done, he flicked his cigarette in a long arc across the sidewalk into the gutter.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

A visit to mt olympus

John Jr. playing under John F. Kennedy's Oval Office Desk, 1963

Today I was invited to the Bureau of Meteorology headquarters to give a talk to the management committee of the research program I'm involved with. Someone described this as a "visit to mt olympus" where the titans of water and weather in Australia reside. The lineage is that I was talking to my boss's boss's boss's boss's boss. I had about 15 minutes of their time to do something a bit like an elevator pitch on what I'm doing and why our work is important.

The most surreal part of it was that the meeting was in the executive boardroom, in a posh and locked off part of the Bureau headquarters. I sat next to the person at the very tip top of the org chart for the Bureau and was video conferenced in to Canberra where there was another inner circle of Bureau and CSIRO heavyweights. The talk went well, they were very gracious and friendly.

I was surprised at how similar going to the executive offices was like it is in the movies, going into the inner sanctum, the Holy of Holies, Art-Deco-Empire (except a bit more Ikea). I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a bit star struck. The best part? I stumbled into the executive washroom (which, yes, had a lock on the door but was ajar). I didn't steal any embroidered linens, but it was a heady day in all.

Back when I was a wee grad student, I had the honor of getting seated at a banquet next to Joe Friday, the former executive of the US National Weather Service, the equivalent of who I met today. Of all the directors, he was especially revered by the people under him. As usual, no real clue who I was sitting next to at the time...

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Cats vs. Dogs

As you may know, Tom is more of a cat person, I'm more dog.

As the time we move to a potentially pet-friendly home grows nearer, the dialog is starting to heat up. Tom found this on the internet this morning. Can't see why he'd want a cat when he already has me?

Excerpts from the Dog's Diary ......

8:00 am - Dog food! My favorite thing!
9:30 am - A car ride! My favorite thing!
9:40 am - A walk in the park! My favorite thing!
10:30 am - Got rubbed and petted! My favorite thing!
12:00 PM - Lunch! My favorite thing!
1:00 PM - Played in the yard! My favorite thing!
3:00 PM - Wagged my tail! My favorite thing!
5:00 PM - Milk bones! My favorite thing!
6:00 PM - Oooh, Bath . Bummer.
7:00 PM - Got to play ball! My favorite thing!
8:00 PM - Wow! Watched TV with the people! My favorite thing!
11:00 PM - Sleeping on the bed! My favorite thing!

Excerpts from the Cat's Diary....

Day 983 of my captivity.

My captors continue to taunt me with bizarre little dangling objects.

They dine lavishly on fresh meat, while the other inmates and I are fed hash or some sort of dry nuggets. Although I make my contempt for the rations perfectly clear, I nevertheless must eat something in order to keep up my strength.

The only thing that keeps me going is my dream of escape. In an attempt to disgust them, I once again vomit on the carpet.

Today I decapitated a mouse and dropped its headless body at their feet. I had hoped this would strike fear into their hearts, since it clearly demonstrates what I am capable of. However, they merely made condescending comments about what a "good little hunter" I am. Bastards.

There was some sort of assembly of their accomplices tonight. I was placed in solitary confinement for the duration of the event. However, I could hear the noises and smell the food. I overheard that my confinement was due to the power of "allergies." I must learn what this means and how to use it to my advantage.

Today I was almost successful in an attempt to assassinate one of my tormentors by weaving around his feet as he was walking. I must try this again tomorrow -- but at the top of the stairs.

I am convinced that the other prisoners here are flunkies and snitches. The dog receives special privileges. He is regularly released - and seems to be more than willing to return. He is obviously retarded.

The bird has got to be an informant. I observe him communicating with the guards regularly. I am certain that he reports my every move. My captors have arranged protective custody for him in an elevated cell, so he is safe. For now................

Million Paws Walk

Back: Pocket, Kitty, Tom, Nesstastic, Maddie, Glen
Front: Daisy, Angel, Freddie
Photo by: Olivia (Pocket and Freddie's mom) - at Albert Park Lake

Today we went on the SPCA's fundraiser 5 kilometer dog walk, the Million Paws. I don't know that there was actually a million paws there, but Tom said it was like Dog Woodstock at least. At the starting line, we didn't dare push our way into the booth area where they were selling cupcakes, pizza, latte's and BBQ. Tom said it was as though they knew I was coming and planned the menu around me.

This proud Pomeranian-dad special ordered his custom "Outward Hound" doggie sling. Tom wondered how the plaster casting process went. Badly, I'd imagine.

There were many cute hairstyles. I cut myself off from using the word "cute" five minutes into the walk, by the way. It was becoming both redundant and repetitive.

Old English Sheepdog with a pony tail.

Little girl and poodle with matching pink bows. Awwww.

It was a beautiful morning. Lots of friendly people and gorgeous, pampered pooches. Australians are big into cross-breeding...they'll pretty much pair anything up with a poodle. One of the neatest dogs of the day was a "Roodle" (Rottweiler/Poodle mix). Something like this:

A Roodle.

The irony of all this deliberately-accomplished adorableness was that we were there to support the SPCA, you know, the place where unwanted dogs go? 200,000 dogs are "euthanized" in Australia each year. I'm not sure that's the right word though.

Tom and I loves us a Golden Retriever. Apparently they are now being selectively bred to have a white coloration. In fact, celebrity dog owner of the year, 1996, Oprah Winfrey has a few. It will be interesting to see how dogs' health issues and temperances evolve as this trend progresses.

I thought Oprah was in to cocker spaniels? When did she cross over?

Puzzle and Kitty with Star Wars characters. Rather random.

Nothing says "help nervous over-excited dogs feel safer" better than sci-fi costumes. I was not scared at all. Pocket, my loaner dog, mmnnn....?

Notice the Storm Trooper and Tusken Raider each have tiny doubles.

I pride myself on being able to identify all the dog breeds. Clearly, this is a Lhasa Apso, Pomeranian, Maltese mix. Though I think it may have actually been an Ewok that defected from the Star Wars mob...

see the resemblance?

I made a new friend.

Tom made a new friend.

He knows how much I appreciate a (1500 calorie) bottle of Ice Break Iced Coffee so I think he thought a peace offering to one of Albert Park's aggressive black swan's was a good place to start. A good time was had by all. We had to put our 'trainers' (walking shoes) on the patio to air out a bit when we got home.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Great Scuba/Modeling/Spa/Cheesecake Eating Trip in Cape Schnack 2010

Tom attended a modeling conference at the coast this week (statistics and forecasting numbers type stuff, not the strike-a-pose kind, though, agreed, he does have many talents).

Our good friends, Emma and Tony built a beautiful new house in Berwick, a suburb about half way between here and the Mornington Peninsula, so we stopped over for a festive visit of cheesecake munching, card games and a peaceful rest on Saturday night. Though they put in all top-of-the-line fixtures and decked the place out perfectly only 6 months ago, they're already restless for another big project, so this gorgeous new property is now on the market...let us know if you're interested!
I like to joke that they had to build a giant, open-aesthetic mansion (and bought a manly, mammoth truck) just for their great dane puppy, Huck. He seems to have finally hit his full height and appears to just be filling out around the jowl and lip area these days. Here he is, tucked in on his own sofa, for a cool autumn sleep. Ridiculous cuteness, this one.

I tagged along for the conference to give full due diligence in exploring the many spas of Australia. The Peninsula Hot Springs was recently remodeled, and I may have finally met my match with "The Orchid" spring...at 40-42 degree Celsius (104 -108 degrees Fahrenheit). Here's a photo of it from a random stranger's blog...does he look Norwegian? Tom is always shocked how hot of a tub I can normally tolerate. Imagine how defeated I felt, merely able to but dip a toe in this nearly boiling mess! Spa fail!!! Oh, the shame of it all.
We were a bit leery of what a Royal Auto Club of Victoria resort (in Cape Schnack) might look like; it seemed odd for an insurance company, really, to run a resort, but it was gorgeous and the staff was delightful. I tried to go incognito as a true conference attendee around dinnertime and got my fill of fresh oysters, right off the boat in the bay.

Here I am in the "Prada-Gonia" (Prada style / Patagonia label) jacket that Tom got me at REI back in Portland and some cargo pants. Oh, how I miss wearing outdoorsie-wear everyday like we did in America. Women actually dress up here and I tend to look a little rough when I default to the earth toned, cotton, velcro covered wardrobe pieces I shipped over. I've gained 10 pounds since I got back from backpacking around SE Asia...good that I didn't donate those fat-pants prematurely, hmmm? No worries...I'm starting a healthy eating and exercise plan tomorrow (I am, no really, I mean it, no, really).

Some scenic photos of the property I pinched off the internet:

We had a wonderful time visiting with his colleagues from the Bureau of Meteorology in Sydney. Though everyone is Melbourne has a tough time finding affordable housing, we have to be glad we aren't looking to buy in Sydney, where it is an even tougher challenge.

The trip was rounded out by a day of deep water scuba diving, where, after getting down to 30 meters, I managed to earn by Advanced Diver stripes. NOW we can consider going to Vanuatu to dive the very deeply sunk SS Coolidge wreck, though I'm hard pressed to ever want to go anywhere but the Great Barrier Reef again after our amazing time with Tom's mom there in July last year. Emma packed us two pieces of cheesecake in our Esky (Igloo cooler) "for people who pass their scuba test OR NOT...EITHER WAY" (see, that's a good friend!). Tom assumed they were both for me (and I let him), once again confirming that I married completely out of my league.

At least this dive, I didn't start hyperventilating from swimming in the cold, heavy current, flail my arms hysterically for the captain to come fish me out and then refuse to get off the boat, then, once back on shore, fall over in the surf and lay there moaning, helplessly weighted down by my gear as a crowd gathered like last time we took the course (and Tom passed with flying colors). Tick that box. Hooray. :)

Friday, May 7, 2010

celebrity thursday

Yesterday was kind of a big day, celebrity-wise for me.

We went to a lecture from Naomi Wolfe

she was on tour for the 20th anniversary of her feminist book "The Beauty Myth". We got front row center seats. We were so close that if we were to get up and walk about 30 feet, we could practically reach out and touch her. Her premise is basically that standards for female beauty are unrealistic and unattainable, but they keep women on a treadmill of buying cosmetics and going on fad diets and so on.

Earlier in the day I met two famous people from the history of forecast evaluation (how good forecasts are). Robert Winkler was visiting from overseas and we got to go to lunch
He was co-author on many papers with the most famous person in forecast evaluation, Alan Murphy (now deceased). When I was a wee young grad student, I had a grainy 4th generation xerox copy of a collection of Murphy's works and they had a big impact on my forecasting and forecast evaluation philosophy. Winkler also wrote papers with a guy named Clemen, who was one of the most famous researchers in how you combine different forecasts together, e.g. the average of 100 peoples guesses of how many jelly beans are in the jar is going to be a better guess than the best single guesser.

If I had to, say, pick one non-obvious piece of philosophy out of the air from Murphy and Winkler, it might be that one measure of "goodness" of a forecast is how well it aligns with the forecasters personal belief. A forecaster should never be in a situation where he has incentive to say the forecast should be, for example, 60% chance of flood, when in his heart of hearts he believes there's only a 10% chance. Think of it another way, a doctor should never say you have 6 months to live when he believes you really have 3... or 12.

Lastly I also finally met and had lunch with Frank Woodcock

He works for the Bureau of Meteorology. In 1976 (when I was 2 years old) he wrote a forecast evaluation paper that lead to what's called "The Woodcock Score", which, again, I read about in my early days at grad school. He was a real friendly guy and quick with a laugh. I imagine that over the years, he's seen it all.

Monday, May 3, 2010


Melbourne temperature is getting down there. This morning it was 9 C (48 F), which apparently is the normal low for this time of year (the dashed lines above). My office itself was 16 C (60 F), which is a wee bit chilly.

Personally, I like the cold. The first year I lived in Portland, OR, I was in an old house that had a giant dirty oil furnace. We turned it on once and soot and dirt blew everywhere and it sounded like a jet engine. Instead, we would drive down to the warehouse district and round up some scrap lumber for the fireplace. It's a wonder the pipes didn't freeze.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Spa Country Getaway

Last weekend, Tom, our Kiwi-expat friend, Laura, the newish-and-yet-to-be-named-Barcelona-red-Prius and I went up to Hepburn Springs and Daylesford, about 90 minutes north of here. You may recall we visited the same area last January.

Of course, we got in on the full floaty-pool spa package and ate at the Perfect Drop again. We were excited because it was "no menus" day...you just free associate your food dreams, allergies and phobias to the proprietor, let them know how much you want to spend and they deliver a series of mind-blowing beverages and tapas, like cheesy fritters and sauce-dripping meatballs. We played Mama Mia (a pizza making card game), nestled up in giant leather chairs by the fire all afternoon. I was in charge of log stoking, which made me feel a great sense of both responsibility and purpose that friends and family are starting to question as being missing in my life.

Daylesford town center was shut down in the morning for the memorial events. Everyone was gathered around the cenotaph for speeches, military band music and so on for an hour or two. Australians take this stuff seriously- This year over 40,000 people showed up to the Melbourne Shrine of Remembrance... at sunrise!

Since it was Anzac Biscuit Weekend, we were fortunate to find a room at all...Tom got the very last one (for all three of us to share) in a small town a half hour east, called Trentham. "Hotel" often means, simply, "bar, or pub", here. Sometimes it's a place of lodging. This one, was, oh happy day, both. However, they were quite strict about where you could go with your alcahol and liqour (sic).

We blew up an air mattress and settled into our new home. The room was about 15% bigger than the bed itself. Someone would have to get on the bed if you wanted to make space to open the door. A little red wine in a teacup was good to get the night started.

It was a little intimidating to venture out to the bar / restaurant area, where many of the locals had been drinking since their Anzac Day Pancake Breakfast that morning. Below in the upper left is Bazza; after he sat with us, the bartender's wife told us to look at the picture on the wall above us. Sure enough, it was Bazza on a motorbike, driving through a giant fireball. Turns out he was a daredevil stuntman (that specific event was a fundraiser for the local fire brigade).

Laura is very social and was quickly welcomed back-stage to tend bar. Part way through the night, the drinks became free because the cash register got stuck. I tried to resist the urge to pinch (that means pillage, plunder, pilfer, you get the idea) a place mat.

We all felt very welcomed by the community and bartender/owner insisted on shots all around, wherein we were introduced to something called Grayva, a Scotch Whiskey Liquor.

The next day, we reckoned we understood a little bit of how Wake In Fright's John Grant felt, Outback in the town of Yabba after his warm welcome by the locals. This is one of the original Ozploitation movies from the 70's. It captures (and stereotypes?) what goes down in rural Australian bars.

Trailer for those of you not receiving this by email, here's the video trailer:

We got the car packed up and made our way to some hiking and wilderness areas. This year, we actually saw a waterfall! The drought has pretty much dried up all the smaller waterways around Victoria. And how could we not be thrilled to see a life sized resin elephant strapped to a trailer on the way home? It was an unprecedented weekend.