wonky bad week turns into good week – recap

It’s tough when it’s school vacation. This is not because there are more teenagers on the street or because the library isn’t open as much. It’s tough when it’s school vacation because the pool schedule gets erratic becaue most lifeguards are on vacation. When I’m having an otherwise good day that goes south, I can’t work it off in the pool. Or, I may show up all ful of piss and vinegar expecting to swim and then can’t. In this case only vegetable soup will save me, apparently. I’m up to 35 miles for the year.

In any case, these are the milestones from this week, both up and down.

  1. Ola is getting relocated to Botswana. I got a series of confusing emails from her where it looked like she was leaving Kiribati because of safety/transportation issues (not hers personally as I understand it, but the country’s generally) and might be back soon. I went through about 24 hours of “Oh my god, I just got this place working like a finely oiled machine” Then she emailed and said she’d be going to Botswana instead. She’s getting back to California on Monday and heading out to Africa in mid-April. I will likely not see her, but I’ll probably talk to her on the phone. She seems okay with the change, but she’ll have done more plane travel than me without all the fun vacation part of the trip. I’ll keep you posted on her whereabouts.
  2. I had a Kafkaesque run-in with the health insurance company. They bill on the 15th of the month. If you haven’t paid by the first day of the next month they cancel your health insurance, effective immediately. Now, I’ll jump through a lot of hoops for low cost health care, but I sent a check and… something happened to it. I was jetlagged, who knows where I sent it, or maybe it arrived and slipped through a crack. By the time I figured it all out, it was Tuesday and I spoke to many nice people who claimed that the ONLY way, the only way to pay my health insurance bill was via check, via the mail. No person could take my money, no phone representative would take my credit card, no state worker would confirm my check had been delivered, no one would take my eleven dollars. Their back up plan was to give me an address to Fedex a check to when I asked where I could drop one off. I was very nice and, in my most pleasant phone manner asked if they were really going to cancel my health insurance because their system was so antiquated they did not have a post-1950’s system for taking my money. Eventually I got through to someone whose job title included the word “grievance” and was given an address, in Waterbury, where just this once, I could drop a check off. It felt like a somewhat hollow victory but at least I don’t have to worry about getting his by a bus.
  3. I went to see a fancy ear doctor about the ringing in my ears that’s been going on for the past few months. She says my hearing is fine, but the ringing may not go away. It was nicer the way she said it than the “suck it up” way my doctor said it. I’m not being driven crazy by it, but that’s partly because I’ve been doing my best to ignore it — been working okay so far. Don’t expect to hear anything else from me on the subject, it’s one of those weird topics where endless talking about it actually makes it seem worse than it is.
  4. I got an article published in Library Media Connection magazine (yay!) and they screwed it up (boo!). One of the hardest things for me about writing is that I dislike being edited, a lot. I’ve found a few editors I work really well with, but maybe it’s the profession or maybe me being a perfectionist but I swear I’ve had more errors injected into my articles via editing than taken out of them. In this case a perfectly good screenshot that I’d supplied was replaced with a different screenshot, of a completely different part of the website, that didn’t illustrate what the caption said it did. My first inkling that this had happened was seeing it in print. I got a very nice apology from the editor but also a “gee I don’t do layout” admission so it’s still a mystery what exactly happened.

Good things that happened included my Excel class that has been going gangbusters and my hilarious (to me) sample spreadsheet that I whipped up for Seven Dwarves LLC for everyone to work on. I also got a copy of my friend Meredith’s book Social Software in Libraries in which I am one of the two back-cover blurbers. I went to Maine last weekend for a MetaFilter meetup and to see some friends and it was a great excuse for a day away. You can see some dorky pictures here. I also went to Small Dog and finally bought a dongle for my newish laptop so that I can use it with a video projector. I then came home and showed it off to Forrest and Kelly who already had one that they never used. It never occurred to me to ask “hey before I drive off the Burlington, do you guys have a spare dongle?” I made another little semi-boring movie. The house next door is for sale again if anyone would like to be my neighbor. The property value has been decreased by one birdhouse which I stole because squirrel piss destroyed one of mine. Won’t you be my neighbor?

Happy Birthday Kate

We touched it!

It’s my sister Kate’s birthday today. I was thinking yesterday “Oh I should invite her up sometime…” and I had completely forgotten that we had spent TWO WHOLE WEEKS together about two weeks ago. She’s a fun companion. She’s a loyal friend. She’s a snappy dresser. She has a great sense of humor. She’s the city mouse to my country mouse and it’s fun to have her around, or be around her generally. Happy birthday Kate, I hope it’s a good one!

Aussie details – nitty gritty boring to all but the most OCD

So, I’m getting to the point that I can reliably wake up before noon and this makes me happy. I wasn’t always able to do this before I left even, so there is improvement. I like to keep track of minute details of my trips. The good news is that Kate does too. This is just one more reason we are great travelling companions. We have a color-coded Excel spreadsheet of all of our trip expenses. I’d offer to email it to you, but I think Kate may not want people to know how much she spent on her Koala Glamour Shot.

I know that a lot of people dont go to Australia because it’s spendy and time-consuming to even get there, but I figured I’d toss out some numbers about our trip in case they help anyone think that a trip like this would be within their reach. Really, you should do it. Some things were expensive, relatively speaking, in Australia: internet, fancy coffee, soda; many other things weren’t: lodging, library cards and food.

I booked the whole trip via Kayak.com. It turned out to be cheaper for the sort of trip we were taking [flying into one Australian city and flying out of another] to fly out of Boston and back into Manchester New Hampshire. The tickets were $1800 each. Not chump change, but in a dollars-per-mile, not crazy either. We flew the overseas part of the trip via Qantas who is really the only airline I would consider making that trip with, though I have heard that Air New Zealand is also sort of great. They gave us socks, toothbrushes, late-night cocoa, early morning apples, popsicles and just generally didn’t act like they were going broke just ferrying us around which is how I feel when I usually fly US airlines. You can’t pick your seats beforehand though, which is nervewracking. However, I mentioned that I have tinnitus and really wanted to be far from the engine noise and both times we wound up seated together someplace nice.

My inside-the-country tickets were purchased online direct from Virgin Blue while they were having a sale. We got from Perth to Adelaide and then from Melbourne to Sydney for something like $500 US for both of us. This includes the fact that I mistakenly booked one of the flights a month early and had to change my reservations (which I could do online, simply and easily). All of my travel was reimbursed by the people I was working for which was nice. However, they paid me via wire transfers which all wound up $25 under due to fees (I realized this once I got home) leaving me $50 under for the trip. Annoying, but how do you fix that? The exchange rate is about 80 cents US to $1 AUS.

We stayed various ways and places. One of the groups put us up in the Hilton early on, then we stayed with a friend, then we stayed in caravan parks and hotels on the road trip, then we stayed at a YWCA Hotel in Sydney. Quality and prices varied a lot, but we found that we could find a nice place that slept three for between $90-120 US. Of course internet would cost anywhere from $30AUS/day to $10AUS/hour to not being available at all. New amazing discovery was wotif.com which is a powerful search engine for finding last minute deals. When we were in a jam we actually used it to make Sunday night reservations at 9:30 pm on that same night and it worked great.

My biggest non-usual expense was postcard and stamps and internet. Kate paid more for birthday presents for our Mom and the aforementioned Koala shot, but all told, I think I spent less than $50/day, total and Kate spent even less. We got some holiday money from our folks which allayed some of that, and stayed with friends and travelled cheaply, but we didn’t share rooms with backpackers we didn’t know, and didn’t eat rice and beans for any meals.

The bigger expense is really the time. It was 30+ hours from door to door both ways. On the way there it was more like 38 for me because I took a bus to get to the airport. I’m never one of those people who says “well my time is valuable!” when people want help or when meeting runs long. On the other hand, you really have to be ready to hunker down and wait for a trip like this. The major part too is the week after wuzzy-headedness that is just now starting to really go away for me. I’m going to sleep before sunrise now but it took a while for that to really work. Here are a few other notes and numbers from the trip.

Number of new library cards: 2
Number of credit cards blocked because I used them in Australia: 2 (aka all of them)
Number of bags I brought: 2 (same as in November)
Boxes of chocolate I was given: 2
Number of MetaFilter meetups I went to: 2
Number of librarian get-togethers I went to: 3
Number of libraries I went to: 8-10 (do rest stop libraries count?)
Tins of syrup I brought with me: 3
Number that were tasted by the customs guy: 1

li’l movies

If last year was any indication, it will take another week until I feel that my entire brain is back from Australia but I’ve done better at waking up before noon lately, though the obscene phone call (I think it was obscene, I couldn’t really make out what the kid was saying) at 1 am didn’t help. I’ve decided to learn a new skill: making little movies. I spent part of our road trip hanging out the window taking little videos of the Great Ocean Road and side of the road sights. When I got back I tried to put them together into something that wasn’t just clip-clip-clip-end. Then I tried it again with some different scenery yesterday. Neither of them are high art filmmaking but they have some neat things to look at and some okay music. Every year when I go to the VT Film Festival I say “I should make a little movie” and now I think I may know how to go do that. Also, thanks to YouTube, you can see them.

  1. Great Ocean Road video
  2. Exit Four is Vermont’s Best Exit

welcome to jetlag, population: you.

A quick note to say my sleep is still a little messed up but I have finally uploaded all the photos (or all the decent photos) from my Australia trip. Kate and I may combine our sets of pictures into one huge group at some point, but for now, mine are here and you can see them even if you don’t have a Flickr account: My Australia 2007 photoset.

touchdown in US, wrote this from the airplane

I don’t have much else to say about the Internet situation in Australia except that it surprised me. Maybe if I had been with more net-native locals I would not have found the quest for Internet so taxing, but as it was, I felt a little hunter-gather-y trying to figure out what part of my day I had to dedicate to finding access so I could check email and upload a few pictures. Serious props for the local public library systems of Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney — and the coffee shops of Perth — for having almost the only decent (and affordable) wifi in the whole country.

I’m writing this from the plane. We left at 11 am Sydney time and will arrive in LAX about five hours before we left, timewise. Add to this the daylight savings change of a few days ago and I expect to be thoroughly confused by the time I get home. There’s a real-time map of our journey on the little teevees in front of us so I know, to the minute, when we should be touching down.

A lot has happened, nearly all of it good. We finished our Great Ocean Road drive and I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves. What a totally beautiful unforgettable trip. We got to Melbourne in decent time for a fun lunch with some local librarians. One of them told me that she had the keys to the Melbourne Atheneum and Kate and I and Tim got an impromptu tour. I went to two MetaFilter meetups in 24 hours, one in Melbourne (Japanese food, fun techie folks, ice cream, rooftop bar!) and one in Sydney the next afternoon (harbor walk, emu pizza, silly photos, lots of Americans!). I’ve always enjoyed meeting MetaFilter people and it was fun to have Kate along for these.

The early downside to Sydney, soon rectified, was our hotel room. I booked us a room where I had stayed last time, at the downtown YWCA Hotel. This time it was a more touristy season and so our room — the last in the place, they told us — was small, had a single giant bed (I have now learned the difference between “twin” and “double” in Australian), no windows that opened, and poozly AC that didn’t really work. In short it was a sauna, and we were exhausted and sunburned and in need of rest. Kate and I turned on all of our “How can we make this right?” customer service charm, but the folks at the desk couldn’t fix the problem. I wound up renting a computer at Kinko’s, logging in to wotif.com, booking us a room slightly south of the cental business district, asking for and requesting a full refund at place #1 and walking us a mile with our gear to the new place, all after about 9:30 pm on a Sunday. Yay for us!

The new place was amazing and friendly with ice cold air conditioning and a fun quickie mart around the corner connected to a Malaysian restaurant where all the cab drivers hung out. That restaurant was the source of one of the best meals I’ve ever had — tasty, but also in a “Wow this day has been one huge tiring hectic hassle and now I’m going to get into bed in my PJs and eat honey chicken and fried rice and isn’t life grand?” way.

We had a day in Sydney to wander around, spend our extra Australian money, and be sad that we couldn’t stay longer which I think is always the best way to leave a vacation. Kate and I got along great, just really great. I have to remember that even though I’m sort of used to having a sister who is fun to hang out with, game for almost everything, and has complementary sensibilities to mine about travel, money, other people and how late to sleep in the morning, that most people don’t and I should count my blessings about this from time to time.

backwards australia post

[note: this is from two days ago, but I didn’t have any Internet until today. more recent update in a bit.]

So, hey, it’s been a while. I’m in Robe, South Australia at a camper park of some sort. Kate and Tim and I are spending the night in some tricked out cabin type thing which has three bedrooms. I got the bunk bed room [no one else wanted it, I could not believe it!] and so decided to spend some time in the top bunk catching up a little here. We are across the road from the Southern Ocean and are on our drive from Adelaide in South Australia to Melbourne in Victoria. We’ll spend the day in Melbourne and then fly up to Sydney, spend a day and a half there and then head home.

It’s hard to believe that the trip is half over, or that we’ve already been to two State Libraries in two Australian states. It’s harder still for me to believe that I’ve given three talks to a total of almost 300 people. And, lastly, it’s almost impossible for me to believe how hard it’s been to find Internet access that didn’t either a) cost an arm and a leg (i.e. $30/day hotel prices) or b) have absurd downloading restrictions (Intermod’s 100kB at a time policy). Thank jehu for the public library, really the only reliable source I’ve found on this trip so far.

So, what have we been up to? Well, in short, there was the long (36-38 hour) trip which was actually mostly fine. There was the hanging out with the librarians in Perth, the fancy accomodations at the Parmelia Hilton, the LocLib conference, and going out for drinks with Mom and Pat’s friend Ian. Kate got a sunburn. I slept remarkably well. We found some great coffee shops and rode the bus around a lot, ate kabobs. My talks went well and I met a ton of interesting people who I was sad to not get to spend more time with. We went to King’s Park and took a bunch of pictures only a few of which have made it online at this point.

Then we flew to Adelaide. My friend Tim met us there and we went to the fun animal park that I’d gone to in December 2004. Kate got to hug a koala. I gave a talk which was really more fun than it should have been and great that Kate got to sit in. We ate schnitzel and I got to drink some great beer. We looked around for non-library Internet access (wireless anyone?) and came up short. I took some night photos. Kate and I got to share a bed for the first time since…. since I can remember, maybe since we went to Cape Cod when I was eleven?

Today we got in the car and drove South to the coast and we’re heading east towards Melbourne. At some point tomorrow or the next day we’ll hit the Great Ocean Road which is the highway one of Australia. Nice and scenic and full of strange pull-offs and quirky little towns. Today we already got to see a wild emu, a kangaroo carcass on the beach, a weird lizard and a whole lot of beach/ocean/shells/surf. Even though I loved giving talks and meeting librarians, today I really feel like I’m on vacation, wearing my flip-flops and not worrying about what my email says.