2012 – Day 0 (Sunday)

This week I’m at, the southern hemisphere’s premier open-source conference. This year it is being held in Ballarat, about an hour’s travel from Melbourne. I’ll be documenting the trip and conference as much as I can given the limits of my enthusiasm and awakeness.

Sunday 15th January:

Southern Cross Station
Yay! My favourite mode of transport!

Sunday was spent travelling. My flight from Hobart to Melbourne departed at 8:35am, and it was a perfect day for flying. Warm, clear skies and little wind. An almost perfect flight. I landed in Melbourne before schedule and caught the SkyBus into the city. I was there by 10am, and my train to Ballarat (which I was travelling with my friend Michael Wheeler on) left at 5:08pm, so I had quite a number of hours to spare. Needless to say, I did what any tourist would do, and set about travelling on as many forms of public transport as I could in one day.

St. Kilda Pier
The View From St. Kilda Pier

I caught a tram down to St. Kilda, the light rail (which was merely a glorified tram) back, a suburban train out into a random suburb and back, as well as the plane, car and bus I had already travelled on. I took a few pictures, mostly from St. Kilda pier. A poster detailing the risks of getting in the way of a tram also caught my eye.

Melbourne Trams Poster
A rhino on a skateboard? Sure...

After my random adventures in Melbourne’s transport system came to an end, I met Michael (fresh from his trip down from Rockhampton) and we proceeded to get on the VLine train to Ballarat. We fired up our laptops and were just getting comfortable in a game of OpenTTD, and then the train was off! But not for long. After about 200 metres of travel it was announced that the train was cancelled, and we would all be transported on coaches instead. We finally arrived in Ballarat two hours late, at about 9pm.

The Boxing Day Test 2010

I'm on my phone during a rain break.

This summer I managed to make it to the holy grail of cricket in Australia: Day 1 of the Boxing Day Test at the MCG in Melbourne.

Along with my good friend Chris Neugebauer, I sat through a morning of threatening weather and Australian wickets being taken. Not pleasant. In the afternoon (after lunch and a sizeable rain delay) the English continued to pummel the Australian team, this time with the bat.

Without a doubt the highlights of the day all involved the 84 000+ strong crowd in attendance that day. Cricket matches (and sporting events of all manner in Australia, really) are just an excuse to get drunk, and the crowd in Melbourne that day did not disappoint.

Although I didn’t drink, others did, and the resulting beer cup snakes were very impressive. One was sighted at 6 rows long, which some maths tells me must be at least 1200 cups, which represents around 500 litres of mid-strength beer. Which is a lot for the couple of hundred people who contributed to that particular snake.

Being at the MCG is an awe-inspiring thing. When you first enter the ground and are completely surrounded by the stands, which tower over you, I doubt it’s possible to say anything other than “wow”.

Being an avid enthusiast of public transport (read: train freak), I had a great day in Melbourne, which has a very impressive system, with trams, trains, and buses galore. Although I only caught a couple of buses, it’s great to see that a city can actually get public transport right!

All up, a fantastic day. Even if it did mean getting up at six o’clock in the morning.

The Beer Snake
The Beer Snake

The Hobart CBD’s Real Problems

At the moment there’s a bit of discussion floating around in the local papers and on the TV about the state of Hobart’s shopping precincts. In particular, a lot of focus has been on Hobart’s Elizabeth St. Mall, and the crime that happens there in broad daylight. Apparently this crime is killing off the CBD as shoppers are scared away. That’s only a small part of the problem. Here’s what’s really happening…

Firstly, the Internet. 10-15 years ago you needed to go into the CBD to do quite a few of the non-everyday purchases you made, such as stationery, clothing, books and jewellery. There were smaller shops in suburban shopping malls sure, but if you wanted something specific, into town it was. Now, these same purchases can be made online, saving the purchaser time and money. A few days ago I bought a new fountain pen online. I selected from an absolutely huge range (1000+ items), quite a few cheaper than retail price, and I didn’t have to leave home during the cold of winter. A few days later it arrived on my doorstep without any other effort on my part. Seeing as I would have had to do research online anyway, I saved quite a lot of time. There are maybe some things I wouldn’t buy online (such as formal clothing, which ideally would be tailored, and at the very least should be tried on before purchase), but for a lot of items, the Internet will do fine.

Secondly, getting into and out of the Hobart CBD is the pits. There are three main choices. First up is driving the car in. This is bad for the environment, for a start. More importantly however, in this case, parking is just annoying. There isn’t enough of it, most spots being taken by people who drive in for their nine to five jobs. Which leads me in to the second option: catching a bus. There are plenty of buses going along the main routes into the city, but relatively few anywhere else. From my house there are two buses heading into town, and both are before nine in the morning. Which makes shopping a bit inconvenient, seeing as the shops don’t open until nine. There aren’t any buses back again until after three in the afternoon. Metro Tasmania can’t really be blamed for this, as it’s a chicken and egg problem. They can’t put more buses on unless people are already using the ones they have. The only other option is riding a bike, which if you live on the Eastern Shore (as I do) is hampered by the Tasman Bridge, which was certainly not designed with cyclists in mind (I’ll admit I’m slightly uncoordinated, but coming away with flesh wounds is excessive). Hobart is also incredibly hilly. Basically, it’s easier to drive the car to somewhere where there’s lots of parking, which is where land is cheap, which is out near the airport. It’s not difficult logic.

Finally, as more shops keep closing, less people will want to come in to just browse. As there are less people browsing and buying, less shops will be able to sustain themselves. Evidence for this can be seen in the downturn in the CBD after half of the Myer building burnt down.

I love Hobart’s CBD, don’t get me wrong. But unless the Hobart City Council changes policies (which they are starting to wake up to) then there is nowhere to go but out… to the airport.

Eight Things I Hate About Living In Hobart

You might also want to read my follow up to this post, Eight Things I Hate About Living In Hobart – Six Years On

Following on from my post about things I love about living in Hobart, here are eight things I hate:

  1. The public transport system. It sucks badly. If you want to go anywhere by bus after 6pm or on a weekend, forget it.
  2. People complaining about the public transport system. People love complaining about Metro (I’m one of them). It smells. It’s always late. It goes nowhere near where you want to go. All this complaining is really bad; what we need to do is all get on the busses and give them the money they need to fix it. At the moment I can (and regularly do) catch a bus and be the only person on it.
  3. Bogans. Individually Bogans are fine. I know quite a few, and they’re lovely people (mostly). It’s just when they get into groups; you start to get the feeling deep inside you that it’s no longer safe and you should leave. It’s not a good thing that The Powers That Be decided to build entire suburbs of public housing, which have now become ghettos.
  4. There’s not very much to do. Assuming you don’t drink alcohol (which I don’t), there’s very few things of great excitement in Hobart (if you have ideas, leave comments please!).
  5. Rubbish TV stations. People on the mainland get Channel 7, Channel 9 and Channel 10, as well as digital radio. We get Southern Cross, WIN TV, and TDT, which are bad impersonations of the mainland stations. I know Tasmania is a small market, but wouldn’t it be cheaper then to copy the stations over exactly as they are on the mainland and just change the evening news bulletin?
  6. Badly surfaced roads. I know this is a complaint pretty much everywhere in the world, but in Hobart’s suburbs it’s getting pretty ridiculous. Neither of the two electorates that Hobart covers (Denison and Franklin) are marginal seats (in fact pretty solidly Labor) so there’s not a lot of money spent pork-barrelling here.
  7. Slow Internet. We’re at the end of the world and there’s only a few Internet cables coming into the state. Add to that the high prices charged by ISPs in Australia generally, and it’s a pretty bad situation. The National Broadband Network (NBN) promises to fix the speeds, but at what cost?
  8. The jokes about two-headed Tasmanians when you travel to the mainland. It’s getting old guys, seriously.

Trip to Berlin: Part Four

This is part four of my trip to Berlin. For part three, click here. This is the wrap-up of the trip.

Firstly though, the trip home. It was a bog standard 40 hour plane trip, with the only two things of note the really nice girl I met in Singapore airport, and the delay on the last leg. Just after landing into Singapore airport for refuelling and so on, a girl (well, woman, about 25 or so) came up to me and asked if she could follow me because she didn’t understand what she was supposed to be doing (and I must admit, it was confusing). I said yes, and so together we trundled off the plane, looked lost in the middle of a big hall full of shops and no chairs, and then back into the gate through security. We talked, mostly about the country we were from (in my case, Australia, in hers, Serbia). She was travelling to Melbourne to meet her aunts and the rest of her extended family.

The Qantas flight from Melbourne to Hobart was delayed by the fact that the controls for the air conditioning in the cockpit weren’t working. As the pilot said, “we don’t care, but it’s not legal to fly”. The flight time from Melbourne to Hobart is 65 minutes, and we spent almost that much time in the plane on the ground. Apart from those things, and the crappy reruns on the in-flight “entertainment”, it was all fairly normal.

There are a lot of differences between Tasmania and Berlin that I’ve noticed. The first difference was in the public transport system. In Berlin, it’s functional. The trains and buses run perfectly on time at predictable intervals (3 minutes past the hour, 23 minutes past the hour, 43 minutes past the hour and so on for all of them), and are clean and always large enough. They only service the areas where it is profitable to run (not having bus stops and routes in the middle of nowhere). Compare that to Tasmania, where buses come at random times, don’t run near enough in peak hour times, and services areas where there is obviously no profit, which doesn’t help the bottom line, degrading central city performance.

The other huge difference was when talking about buildings. The whole of Australia has had an architectural history of just over 200 years. In Berlin, a house can be “only” 100 years old. In Australia, a 100 year old house is covered in protection acts. They also have a lot of efficient heating, solar panels on a significant portion of rooftops, and double glazing is everywhere (even on some of the trains, as far as my bad eyesight could tell). In addition, recycling was a lot better organised than in Tasmania: bins in the street were organised into 4 sections for rubbish, glass, packaging and paper. A big difference from a single bin for “rubbish”, into which is thrown everything under the sun.

I’ve tried a few new foods too. Sauerkraut was one that when placed in front of me I was a bit skeptical of, though is actually rather nice (it basically tastes like less-harsh vinegar). I’ve tried cherry-banana flavoured yoghurt and cherry-banana yoghurt soft drink, neither of which were very nice. For breakfast, new items included chocolate-covered muesli and scrambled egg spread (bought in jars from the supermarket). Last item of note was the large pretzel, which tastes exactly the same as the small pretzel I am used to. Meal structure was different too. Although occasionally using the large evening meal structure, most of the time it was a smaller evening meal and a larger lunchtime meal (which I quite enjoyed).

Overall, my trip to Berlin was brilliant. Since July last year I’ve been talking to Stephanie online through IRC, MSN, and eventually Skype, and the chance to meet her in real life was awesome (so much so, I can’t even think of decent words). As soon as I can afford to do so I’m going back there for another trip. I’ll make an effort to try and see a bit more of Germany, perhaps staying a bit longer to do so. I’ve convinced Stephanie to visit Tasmania in July, so that should be interesting too.