Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Games to fifteen again!

Kate and I at the Mermaid Tavern on the Gold Coast last weekend celebrating a very unique 'Movember' day on the beach.
My PHD supervisor from Western encouraged me with a recent email saying: ‘work hard and play hard’. Honest advice from someone who has done his share of both. He also managed to accurately sum up the mentality here lately. This post and pictures definitely concern ‘playing hard’ but the chemistry work is also moving along. I am now proud mentor of ‘Emma’ an undergraduate summer student who I have been asked to try and mold into a competent lab monkey in the next three months. And thanks to the much appreciated assistance of a talented colleague back at UWO named Cheryl Carson a project that I was forced to ‘finish without quite finishing’ in August is now actually completed. For your benefit I will avoid specifics and just say that Cheryl’s hard work revealed a result that was very much a best case scenario for both of us. Thanks again Carson.

Now to the ‘playing hard’: A few years ago a local Gold Coast volleyballer named Shannon Zunker decided that he would organize a unique tournament as a tribute to the way the original beach game was played in California in the 70’s and 80’s. ‘Olskool’ rules would be enforced: side out scoring (only the serving team can earn a point), the original volleyballs, no antennas, VERY tight hand setting requirements, and no referees (disputes to be settled by honesty or dance-off), and the old 9x9 metre court (8x8 is the standard today). In addition, players would be encouraged to wear old-school uniforms.

On the weekend, Kate and I played in the fourth repeat of Zunker’s annual tournament. I am not surprised that the event continues to grow each year because the old rules make for an awesome game that is all but forgotten. Big court and side-out scoring both ensure that closely matched high caliber teams are usually forced to play very long and entertaining games. If you find yourself a player in one of these games you develop a surprising feeling of patience rather than urgency. It is nothing like what modern beach volleyball has become. For reasons I don’t feel like explaining the old rules also mean much more aggressive jump serving, and consequently less blocking and far more hitting. All of which are pro-spectator. On top of that, there are many more come from behind wins and MANY more exciting match point situations. It was an experience that brought back some good memories, and I loved every minute of it.

The tournament also offered some other unique aspects: big trophies (where the heck have those gone lately), including big golden volleyballs for the winners of the highly contested charity ‘hardest serve competition’ complete with policeman and radar gun. Also spectators of the final games were entertained by an Olympic caliber commentator and, of course, there was quite the Saturday night party involved. Very well done Zunks! I will tell every beach player I know about it.

Here are some pics:

First, below is the man with the plan: Shannon Zunker. And above, his shiny trophies. Man did I ever want that golden ball, but it was not to be.
And here are some ridiculous costumes. Starting with Adam and Rob.

Horse and I did our part.
Below are Dan Carey (Maverick) and his little brother Jimmy. Both are outstanding young local players from the Gold Coast. Dan won the tournament and the serving competition with an 84 km/h missle.
And if it has looked so far like just a sausage party. The girls also get dressed up. These are our friends Ghyda and Cassie.
And below is the team of Kate and Lib. Or Cadets 'Hot Dog' and 'Bacon' of police academy. Also proud winners of the overall costume contest.
In this picture 'Hot Dog' and 'Bacon' are actually playing in their 'uniforms'. Well done ladies.
I'll finish with some more game shots. First, this is 'Elevation' Elliot Weston, another skilled Brisbane volleyballer. I borrowed a lot of these pictures from El's facebook site.

That's about it. The last one is Dan Carey with that 'golden ball trophey' winning serving style.

I hope you have had your fill of volleyball on this blog because I'm done posting about it for a while. No more volleyball discussion until April! There is a tournament at the end of March that will probably warrant another picture or two.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

guns and beaches

Despite her deep hatred of the NRA and Mr. Heston my ‘little rain cloud’ was kind enough to agree to pose like this and model the ‘Amazing Flygun’ for you:

Kate generally adopts a buddhist-esque refusal to hurt (or even inconvenience) anything that is innocent or oblivious; except for me. But she is close to making a second exception for Australian flies. The ‘gun’ is manufactured by ‘Wonderfully Weird’ of Cape Town Africa where, I gather, flies must be a very big problem to inspire such creativity. This is the only product this company sells.

I was committed to the $10 purchase the minute I read the packaging. Here it is:

“The most effective shooting position is directly above the fly at a distance of 30 – 60 cms. Don't make sudden movements and the fly won't see you as a threat. Now gently squeeze the trigger … goodbye fly!! Shooting flies at an angle is a bit harder and needs practise. If you fancy yourself as a real Amazing Flygun expert then you can try knocking out a fly in mid-flight. It's not easy but it can be done. Happy hunting!"

Also, here is some powerful red-army-style anti-fly propaganda from their website:

-Flies can carry typhoid, cholera, diarrhoea, amoebic dysentery, T.B, anthrax, gangrene, bubonic plague, leprosy, scarlet fever and yellow fever.
-Flies vomit on food before eating it
-Flies defecate every 4-5 minutes
-Flies don't bite or sting … they stab
-Despite years of trying, no researcher has ever been able to teach flies anything… cockroaches learn, even worms learn … but never

Outside of fly hunting, we have been playing some volleyball lately. Last weekend at Burleigh beach Kate and I found ourselves playing on adjacent courts. How's this for a photo? Thanks Rob.

I continue to be impressed by my wife’s rapid rate of improvement. It reminds me of our friend Jocelyn back home who spent a few years watching Gareth and then just showed up one season without much warning and was suddenly very good. Here is Kate is posing with her recent partner Nicky and below playing with last weekend's partner Lib. Also, like the most veteran beach players, Kate is already showing an aptitude for bouncing between partners :)

I’ve decided to show you this next picture because it is so full of information. First this is Glen Horner (‘Horse’) my teammate with his girlfriend Nicky, Kate’s teammate. I am aware of the level cheese inherent in that last statement.

Glen and Nicky are very likeable people but there's some more to this picture. In the background beside Glen's head is Rob in very typical form talking up some brunette. The young man is always hard at work. Also, right above Nicky there is a child walking through with a little surfboard. There are many many children here that can barely walk but can surf very well. By our common standards of ‘safety’ these kids would never be allowed near the raging ocean but apparently in Australia they are safe in the waves for hours. It doesn’t make sense. Also unintentionally captured, on the left, there is a random bum. This is appropriate because, as I have said before, there are a lot of those everywhere too.

The other unique thing about the Queensland tour is that each year it moves to a new set of locations. There is so much sand here you can set up a tournament in a hundred different places. I am still in awe of the scenery at these tournaments.

If you look closely at that last one you will find a lonely surfer. This kid had a lot open water to himself. Middle of the day and no other surfers for hundreds of meters on either side. The waves were pretty small but it was still awesome to see him out there all alone like he owned the place.

Let me finish by admitting that although we are truly enjoying living here we're also lately going through a phase of feeling somewhat home sick. Both Kate and I are feeling it but not quite to the same degree. Kate has been very regular about calling home. She definitely misses mom and dad and Canada. She has even gone so far as to start making very advanced plans by looking at real estate in Montreal. I also miss family and friends and want to go back home, but not quite yet. We just got here. Canada is not going anywhere. Plus if I called home too often my parents would probably assume something was wrong. No news is good news for us. Even from Australia. I suppose that in some ways Kate and I are pretty different. It makes sense to me: I immigrated and moved around as a kid and have always been adjusting to change whereas Kate was very happily grounded living her entire childhood in the same house that Ken and Sandy still own. Hey, it's one theory anyway. Here’s a picture of your daughter talking to you Sandy. Check out the smile.

(no flies were harmed in the making of this blog post)

Monday, November 12, 2007

Sharks, snakes, spiders, scorpions, and other scary s#!&.

This post has been a while in the making. We also have killer ants, bees, jellyfish, octopi, crocodiles (obviously) and even the worlds most dangerous bird

First, thank you for the feedback. I think I would keep this blog going (as a record of sunny-A for Kate and I) even if few people had interest in it but I’m happy that some of you do. Since you are reading these posts, I will try real hard not to waste your time with redundancy or babble and limit myself to only things that I think are funny or worth reading. And I will try to be concise and infrequent about it.
To the point. Aussie Land is home to the world's eleven most venomous snakes and twenty of the top twenty-five. The North American rattler is number twenty-three on
that list. We also have spiders that will kill you instantly or can cause the affected limb to fall off by ulceration and necrotic lesions. Plus, the Australian Government covers up hundreds of shark, crocodile and snake attacks each year to promote tourism.
And if you don’t die when something here bites you, you will wish you had. For example:
“For a shy little animal, the platypus (Ornithorhynchus anatinus) can cause a lot of grief. Tucked away on the back legs of mature males are a pair of short spurs each hooked-up to a venom gland that makes a viciously painful toxin. Platypus spurrings of people are rare, but the select group who have survived the trauma (often fishermen trying to free irate monotremes from their nets) report pain strong enough to induce vomiting which can persist for days, weeks or even months. The pain is resistant to morphine and other pain-killing drugs and anaesthesia of the main nerve from the spur site is often the only way to relieve the patient's suffering.” (somewhere online)
And if you’re thinking: come on, a platypus? Yes, a Platypus!
In Ontario, you can technically lay down and have a nap anywhere you want with zero chance of death by venom. Sure, as my new friends point out, bears are capable of eating Canadians and sometimes do but I can SEE a bear. A bear will not slither under my car seat and hide or crawl around in my hanging laundry.
Okay, okay enough. I'm sorry. I hope most of you are much smarter and braver than I was two months ago and don’t actually believe anything I have just written. It is half-true at most. Kidding, kidding. I am just having some fun with you (sorry Sandy). Some bites here are painful but none are deadly! NONE! I really mean that. There is no government cover up and I made up that deadly spider-limb thing. The platypus quote is true, so is the poisonous snake list but the bottom line is that people here simply do not die from spider or snake bites or shark attacks, period.

If you have any a faith in statistics (as I do and we all really should) there seems not to be much reason even to be careful (and Aussies are not). And the longer I spend here without seeing anyone die of venom or poison the more believable the truth becomes. The numbers are on my side big time. People here camp and hike and sleep outside. Many of the homes don’t even have windows that close. Here are the actual numbers: of the 20 million inhabitants of Australia about 120 000 will wave the big farewell each year to make room for the 'youngins'. Most of them will leave us because they have finished serving their time here and heart disease or something equaly tragic has held off as long as it can. More alarmingly, 3000 of us will die prematurely in an automobile accident this year (1 in 7000). Much fewer, only 300 of us, will drown (8 as a result of scuba diving accidents). Sadly, many of those 300 will be tourists new to the ocean and lacking in respect for it (Kate and I will not fall into that category, promise.). And what about death by shark or snake or spider? On average 1.0 person of the 20 000 000.0 here will die from shark each year, 1.6 from snake and NONE from spider. Also 0.7 people will be killed by crocodile each year and 1.8 people will die from a bee sting. So yes, I humbly admit that one or two people will earn the tragic title of ‘the statistic’ this year. And if it’s my time I suppose it's time but one in twenty million is good enough for me. And if you fear death by spider or snake then you should be equally afraid of death by falling coconut (which does happen).
But how and why are the numbers so low? Here it is. Snakes can kill but they don’t. It's that simple. Unless you’re a mouse, then you should leave Australia immediately. Snakes run and hide from people. And if I am enough of an idiot to somehow corner a deadly snake and receive a bite it will most likely not puncture deeply and inject enough venom to do any harm. If it does I usually have days and occasionally hours to get to the hospital for a dose of high quality Aussie brand anti-venom and I'm smiling again. As for sharks, to them we are food but thankfully we taste terrible. Brussel sprouts and liver, not poutine and rocky road. They ignore us. Even when we’re dressed like little black seals on our surfboards and they are feeding in swarms nearby. They still ignore us. The fact that you or I find that hard to believe makes it no less true. I will admit to hearing that they occasionally try and have a taste. (I suppose tasting bad is a rather late-stage defense mechanism to rely on.) And finally spiders. Many of the spiders here look ridiculously dangerous. I have shared a bathroom stall with some already. They are harmless. Unless you’re an insect, then you should leave Australia immediately. The Funnel-web and Redback are the only two that offer bites that can be very painful and theoretically lethal to humans. But since the introduction of anti-venom, 50 years ago, NOBODY in Australia has died of a spider bite. You have days and days to get to the hospital.
In the past months my co-workers have slowly laughed my fear of death by venom away. But even Aussies will admit that there are lots of little things here that hand out bites and stings that hurt like heck for quite a while. Ants in particular, we have many many ants. They are everywhere, and they are bastards. Also the flies here are quite ill tempered. Kate and I can’t figure out what they want from us they they clearly want something.

I'll finish with pics. First, here is John together with some local kid showing off their snake handling skills with this monster that we stumbled on about a month ago.
And don't worry about John, he really wanted this picture and he was 99.9% sure it was a python. Pythons don't kiss, they hug. And this one was cold and slow. Still, Kate and I still stayed pretty far away. I have been told that some people here find big pythons in their attics and just leave them there to kill mice.
And on a different note, here is a picture of the little cutie that was hanging out with his mom in the trees right beside the lab last week.

Not at all poisenous!! And seeing a wild one is rare, I got very lucky.

Monday, November 5, 2007

costumes and sailboats

Aussies don't generally celebrate Halloween but everyone knows 'of it' and lets face it, everyone loves a costume. It was not hard to persuade some of our new friends to give it a go. We got a small group together and gave'er on Friday night. To put it simply: we had an awesome time! An awesome time! Here are a few pics of the costumes and the house party and the bar afterwards (which stayed open until four):

After receiving a very thoughtful going away present from our friend 'the Duke' in London, Kate and I are now huge fans of 'My Name is Earl'. The show really grows on you. It wasn't a very intricate costume effort but we were happy to find that everyone here knows the show and a lot of random people were VERY happy to see Earl at the bar. (Also some were glad to see Borat and others thought I had cheated and started 'Movember' way too early.)

The pirate is our friend Rob, the warewolf is his little brother Josh (who paid all of our cover just by doing a dance for the girl with the cash box at the door after being way too happy about not being carded) and the police woman is our newest friend (and Rob's date) Erica. The 80's punk rocker is my rookie co-worker Sean and the comfortable looking folk in front of the pumpkin are Natasha (boss's partner), Mark (boss) and Kylee (fellow research fellow). In the red devil mask is Greg, a surf loving lawyer that works with Kate. The group of us were the only ones dressed up at the bar that night. Here's one more picture for good measure (check out the awesome Joy-like expression on wife):

Now a sharp topic change: I have a bad case of sailing fever. Strange because I don't know much about sailing. I learned the basics briefly back in the 'Polish Scouts' summer camps when I was twelve'ish and I spent an couple hours Captain Carson's fine vessel in Halifax a few years ago but that's about it. And I have never lived anywhere near any shore. Nonetheless, I love everything about sailing. I am dead set on learning and learning well, and getting as much experience as I can while I'm here.

True story: About thirty years ago when Isaac (Rob, the pirate's, dad) was in his late twenties he and his wife decided to BUILD a forty-five foot boat and sail it around the world. At that time, he had no sailing or boat building experience. He was a teacher. It took them three years to build a yacht (with a hull made of concrete, yes concrete) and three more years to get around the globe in it. Rob was born half way round in Florida. After the trip, the family (two more younger brothers) lived aboard the yacht for most of the next sixteen years and pretty much just sailed around the south Pacific. Rob was schooled by correspondence. He has childhood stories like I have never imagined. He's now also a beach volleyballer, and he's planning to spend June/July 08 in Toronto playing in the OVA tournies. (small world, again) Rob's dad Isaak, now a guidance councelor, is once again living full time aboard his second home-made yacht while he does a one year sabbatical. He is currently harbored in Brisbane for a few weeks having stopped here to visit his sons on his way from Papua New Guinea through to New Zealand. He let us aboard for one afternoon on Saturday. Thank you Isaak.
This was my favorite day in Australia so far (despite the Halloween hang over).

These pictures sum it up as well any amateur photo can. Kate posted everything we took on facebook here if you want to see more. We had an outstanding afternoon (some of it in fairly rough water) sailing out to Bribie island for a quick anchor and swim and then a 'downhill' ride back to Brizzy!