Dining Al Fresco

Last night I was feeling like crap, so Lotte decided to cook up a really nice summer meal while I slept, and when I awoke she’d set up a table outside for us to enjoy our meal in the fading sunshine.
Our poor little courtyard is looking a little worse for wear at the moment, but it was very pleasant just to eat in the open air. The house was way too hot. After we’d stared at the overgrown weeds taking over the carefully planted herbs and natives, Lotte decided we really needed to attack them right then and there. We’ve probably got a good day’s work to get the rest done but we did make a start.

Halogen globes are dangerous

Okay, this is beyond a joke. For the THIRD time one of our halogen globes has just burst for no reason, and this time it really hurt. I had just entered the smallest room in the house and about 10 seconds into a leak heard a loud *pop* and felt a sharp pain in the back of my neck. A split second later a shower of hot glass hit the ground all around me. One of the pieces had lodged itself into my neck and I could smell my hair burning. Not happy. I’m going to figure out who makes these globes and write them a letter. Something ain’t right.

Beaming Up

Since getting over the initial shock of our impending trans-hemispheric move, we’ve started to notice our perspective shift. Before we were here in Melbourne and thinking about what it would be like to be overseas, and all the implications for family, friends, and work. Now, even though we’re here in Melbourne in a physical sense, our minds are already on the way to England.

Not only are we dealing with the issues of setting up bank accounts, arranging visas, accommodation, and travel — we’re also slowly beginning to consider all the human connections that are important, both with people in Europe and people here. We’re conscious of spending time with family and friends while we’re still here. And we’re in daily contact with friends and family in England and Holland respectively, talking about everything from airport pick-ups to who has some tea-towels and crockery we can “borrow”.

All of this gives us this strange sensation of seeing our lives here as though we’ve suddenly jumped outside the goldfish bowl. We keep noting how cheap groceries are here (like it didn’t occur to us before) and spending time in the sunshine like it’s our last chance. Stupid, really, but we just can’t escape the feeling that our cognitive epicentre has already started teleporting to the other side of the planet.

The Whole Story

Back in June & July when we visited Europe, Lotte and I started talking seriously about the idea of spending an extended stay there. We’d actually been talking about it since our previous trip when we visited Zurich and thought how fantastic it would be to live there. But this time we were talking about the practicalities rather than the dreams — if we wanted to make this happen, how would we do it exactly?

We figured out pretty quickly that the biggest hurdle would be for me to get a visa and a job. Lotte has excellent English and holds an EU passport, which makes everything pretty simple for her in many countries in Europe. It turns out that Switzerland is one of the most difficult places to move to in the world, and not even EU people can live and work there easily.

It didn’t take long for us to start thinking about the UK. It’s close to France, Holland and Sweden, and it has the distinct advantage of being a good place for an Australian to find work. It also happens to have a lot of universities.

When we got home, Lotte just asked me one day about where exactly I would like to live and work if I had my choice. The answer was obvious but I hadn’t really given it much thought until then. Cambridge. It’s about a year ago now that my supervisor was over in the UK and visited the Centre for Applied Research in Educational Technologies (CARET) at Cambridge. He came back with a lot of good things to say about it. The interesting thing is that they were clearly interested in what we are doing at Melbourne as well, because in some ways our work is complementary as well as overlapping. The background of CARET is as a research unit, whereas CDS (where I work now) is made up mostly of people involved in the production of multimedia.

More recently, apparently, CARET has started to turn its attention more to projects involving the development and delivery of materials for courses — the sort of thing we do here all the time. At the same time we are attempting to bring more of an applied research model to what we are doing here.

In one of those really fortuitous turns of events I just decided to do a search of jobs in the higher education and see what turned up. The second job ad I looked at was actually from CARET and the Faculty of Education at Cambridge. It was quite bizarre — these jobs don’t come up very often. The job description was a very close match to my background.

I applied in late August, and didn’t hear anything for about a month. I actually only found out that I was shortlisted last Monday, and the interview was on Wednesday night. Despite some technical problems (the videoconference didn’t go according to plan) I thought it went pretty well. I answered all the questions and seemed to get along well with the interviewers.

After the interview I had a strange deflated feeling — perhaps because I had hardly slept the night before with nervousness, but also because there was really nothing I could do after that point. I mentally prepared myself for the possibility that I might get the job, but I had also didn’t expect too much because I knew the other candidates would be strong.

On Friday night we got home late and got the news by email. It said that they had given the job I applied for to another candidate. Again I had that sinking feeling in my stomach, along with the sort of immediate acceptance that I had tried my best. But then I kept reading.

The next sentence said that they had been impressed with my interview and my background, and wanted to offer me a different, even better, position. I was absolutely stunned. Not only was I going to Cambridge, they were offering me a new position that they were creating just for me, and it would be 100% within CARET, which is exactly where I wanted to work. I had got even more than I’d asked for!

Lotte and I have been so excited since getting the news we have hardly had time to think about anything else. The position is for 12 months in the first instance. We’ll move to Cambridge in January. So if anyone knows of some good accommodation in or around Cambridge, let me know!

Poor neglected blog

Okay, okay, so I haven’t been updating much lately. Well, at all. It’s just that I don’t have a lot to talk about. Well, there’s news, but for various reasons I’m not able to talk about it here yet. Maybe more soon.

I can say that I’ve been very busy lately. At the start of October I took over the coordinator role for my group and it’s meant quite a bit of extra work behind the scenes, on top of my normal project load. Some of it is boring, but some of it is quite interesting as well.

It’s hard to believe that we’re almost in November already and that MLX is only just around the corner. It’s a strange feeling not to have to worry about how the registrations are going, or to attend volunteer meetings at every spare moment.

The labyrinthitis continues, unfortunately, and on Monday I went in for an MRI, which was actually a much more greuling experience than I had imagined. Nothing at all like a CT Scan, which was pretty easy. The main difference is that the whole machine shudders and makes a huge racket, which makes you feel like you have your head inside a jet engine while it’s starting up. It’s very offputting.

I also wasn’t prepared for the strange feeling of the magnet sort of scanning around… it’s a very odd sensation and sort of made me think of weird science fiction brain probing experiments. The strangest feeling was my eyeballs sort of jiggling around as though they were being buffeted by an invisible force (which they probably were). I thought magnets only had an effect on metal! Perhaps it was just the vibrations of the machinery as it clunks around.

Whatever it was, I finished up with a king sized headache and my eyes were watering from movement. The funniest thing was they ask you to bring along a CD of your favourite music, which I did, but you can’t hear a bloody thing. First they shove huge earplugs in your ears, and then they turn up the volume so you can just hear it. But as soon as the scanning starts, you can’t hear anything else at all. I got up to find the medicos talking about what great dance music I’d chosen and smiling broadly, so at least someone was happy.

New MLX Chapter

Well, I haven’t been able to post about it until now but it’s finally public. We’re not going to be coordinating MLX this year. It was a tough decision to make, but we’re both relieved too. I think it’s going to be really different for both of us to be there as attendees and just enjoy the vibe, and the new team is going to be great. I’m not quite sure if they know what they’ve gotten themselves into, but that’s probably a good thing. Here’s our announcement, made yesterday night.

Blogsick

Today I have been thinking about why I haven’t been blogging much lately. It’s simple really. I’m sick of hearing myself whine about being sick. It seems to be the main topic of conversation everywhere and with everyone, and it seems to affect just about every aspect of life. So I can’t be bothered writing about it here any more. I want to be over it. I want to just put it behind me like it was last week’s news. So I think I will.

The 3 Worst Things About Day Surgery

You might think that going into hospital at 6.45am for a ‘day procedure’ requiring general anaesthetic and swallowing a camera so someone can snip some bits of your stomach and oesophagous out for tests would be bad enough. Indeed you might be right. However I’ve discovered that the three worst things about day surgery aren’t really directly to do with surgery at all.

1. Trying to sleep the night before. For someone who has never been under a general in his life I think I was pretty cool calm and collected about the whole thing. But it was just like going on a big trip — you just don’t want to miss that plane. So even though I got to sleep by about 10.30pm I kept waking up… 4am, 4.30am, 5.00am, 5.15am, 5.35am… etc. etc. The most annoying thing? We got to the hospital ahead of time and were directed by a security guy up to the doctor’s suite where we waited for 30 mins. When nobody arrived we finally found out we had been told the wrong thing and had to go to Admissions, one level down. Thanks, security guy.

2. Getting your car towed. Yes, I was sleepy and distracted, and it was dark when we arrived. However, it was still pretty stupid to misread the sign on Victoria Parade. I think I only read the part where it said we could park for 2 hours from 9.30am. Not the part that said TOW AWAY ZONE 7am-9.30am. Our brand new car is now sitting in a pound somewhere in the city.

3. Daytime TV sucks. Man, I always forget just how much. When Oprah Winfrey and Judge Judy are the highlights of the day’s viewing, “you got problems”. Talk to the hand because the face ain’t listening.

Anyway the doc says everything looks normal in my gullet, so that’s a positive.

Back home

Well, we arrived home to a cold and rainy Melbourne yesterday evening and it’s been a lazy Sunday doing very little but recovering from the journey home. I’ll keep posting pictures from the rest of the trip in the next few days.

Unfortunately I have a lot to do. Last week the server hosting all my sites and my email was hacked badly. Slydog is moving everything over to a new host and hopefully we will have things back up and running soon, but in the meantime SwingTalk is down along with the MLX site and all the others. My email is only accessible through a web client right now and I’m not actually sure if all my mail will be there when it’s back up. Slightly scary.

Still, it’s good to be home. I didn’t actually miss much in Australia while I was away because I was having too much fun, but I did miss my cat, Mr Squiggle. He didn’t miss me at all, I’m sure. As long as he’s fed, he’s happy.

Finding Your Passion

I seem to be waning on the blog entry side of things. No excuses! Instead I’ll give a quick update on as many things as possible. First, the building work on our house continues apace. I can hardly believe that I have failed to document the entire process with pictures, but I’ll try to get some tonight. Of course, pretty much all there is to see now is a bunch of freshly painted walls looking extremely nice, but anyone who visited our place prior to the repairs should see the improvement. We’re both delighted with the quality of the work. They are clearly using very good quality materials and doing the hard stuff like the details as well as the more obvious stuff. They’re even repainting walls that didn’t need to be repaired at all so that everything matches exactly.

The weekend was quite relaxing. Lotte has been doing quite a few sleepover shifts lately while we save up for our trip, so Squigs and I had a couple of nights to ourselves towards the end of the week. I decided I needed to get a new game for the Xbox to while away those nights and went with a pre-loved copy of Medal of Honour: The Front Line on the recommendation of Thomas from Holland. Not a bad pick up for only $25 I thought, but I haven’t really had a chance to play for long yet. I’d like to try it in multiplayer mode but I doubt it would compare to BF 1942 (which rocks on the new iMac G5, by the way).

We went to lunch at Mum and Dad’s on Sunday. It was really great to see the famdamly and as a bonus Gran and Uncle Dave were there. Uncle Dave is the funniest uncle ever, I think, and he never fails to crack me up. It’s always fun to see Lotte’s reactions to his jokes because I know she’s thinking about the our particular family’s brand of humour. Anyway Lotte had to go to another sleepover shift and I had some time to kill before going to see the Cairo Club at Mayfields, so I went and saw an early evening showing of Star Wars III. The reviews are right. It sucks slightly less than the other two prequals. That’s about all I can say about it though. The lego version of the Star Wars characters are more human than these cardboard cut outs if you ask me. It’s just so disappointing. I’d vote for Ron Moore to remake the entire series if I could.

Speaking of which, I am really starting to miss Battlestar Galactica. I’ve tried to keep myself occupied by reading the Battlestar Blog (minus the spoilers) and watching the series again as it went to air. I even read Philip K. Dick’s The Simulacra, which I expected to be a good sci fi novel about human identity. It was not. It was a load of complete and utter drivel that I cannot believe is written by the same guy who came up with Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, which of course was adapted to become Blade Runner. I’ve read a few works now by Philip K. Dick, and some of them weren’t great, but none were as impressively ridiculous as this one. Does anyone out there have recommendations for better stuff by him? I’ll be interested to see the film version of A Skanner Darkly. It’s a pretty short story so I’m wondering how they’ll get a full feature movie out of it actually.

The plot summary of A Scanner Darkly says “Caustically funny, eerily accurate in its depiction of junkies, scam artists, and the walking brain-dead, Philip K. Dick’s industrial-grade stress test of identity is as unnerving as it is enthralling.” Yeah, maybe it’s eerily accurate because apparently one of my favourite sci fi authors was not unknown to illegal substances himself. That helps to explain why an awful lot of the character development in The Simulacra is along those lines. It’s not that it’s not accurately written, it’s just that it doesn’t seem to add much to the story. And there are so many little ideas that just don’t get followed up in the plot that it feels like a lot of things are happening but there just aren’t any real consequences. Even by the end I couldn’t really figure out who the main protagonists were let alone start feeling any kind of empathy for them. I’ve never gotten to the end of a novel before with the feeling like I hadn’t gotten to the main story yet. Maybe I’m just missing something. I’m sure I’ve just offended a lot of hard core sci fi fans, but maybe someone will explain why I’m wrong.

One thing that I must start writing more about here is the theme that seems to link a lot of my interests together: identity. I’ve noticed that this is the real area that interests me about my thesis, and the related themes about performance, constructing the self, subjectivity, and ontology are really just ways of investigating “the big issue” for me. Gameplay and educational issues like authenticity are definitely of less importance in terms of my interest. That’s weird I think because I’m an educational designer who loves games. I’ve mentioned that Blade Runner (whose main theme is human identity) is my favourite movie, and that BSG gets me for exactly the same reason. The same thing with Total Recall (another Philip K Dick remake as it happens). Clearly I’m not alone in finding this theme of identity compelling, but I do find it interesting to notice that my academic interests have come around to it as well. One of the things that Paul Gruba (co-author of Writing A Better Thesis) says is that you really need to take notice of where your passion lies. Well, I can’t write my thesis about Lindy Hop or cricket, so I guess this will have to do.