Lockdown – Week 12?

So the lockdown here in Sydney continues. The numbers have started to drop again and vaccination rates are way higher than before. Small freedoms are starting to be handed down. The even tighter restrictions on where I live have been dropped, so now we are on the same as the rest of Sydney.

Work continues to provide an opportunity to get on my bike and get out of the house. The kids have been stuck in for two school holidays and a whole term now. My youngest had her most recent birthday stuck at home. We had our 17th Wedding Anniversary as well.

Anniversary lunch (a mini boodlefight and churros)

My wife and I are vaccinated. I’m having massive problems with my second dose as it isn’t showing up on my health register, so it’s almost impossible to prove that I’ve done it. This will cause issues soon as many of the “new freedoms” are for people who can provide proof of having both vaccinations. Been trying to sort it for 6 weeks now, gotta love bureaucracy! The girls have also had their first dose and should be protected by the time face to face school restarts in November.

November! That will be 4 months in total. Since it started back in June, the only time we have gone anywhere as a family is to go get COVID tests after I was a close contact at work.

And that meant I spent two weeks locked in the spare room at home, having my meals brought to me. I think having access to work from home was actually part of being able to keep busy that week. Or it was a bummer as I couldn’t just sleep and watch Netflix! Can’t decide which would have been better.

We did further expand our home gym with a half squat rack. It’s really good actually – it means I can do heavy lifts again. We’re just waiting for some additional dumbbells. Don’t see any need to go back to a gym after this.

(We already had the barbells)

A GIANT decision

Well, yesterday I took a huge step and submitted my resignation to my current employer of the past 27 years.

The main reason for the decision at this time is that they wanted us to move to Melbourne from next year. While we quite like Melbourne, we’re settled here. And have a life here etc.

So yesterday I submitted the paperwork and as of January 2022 I will be leaving. This gives me time to finish up my current position before I go.

And so from January 2022 I will be a full-time casual Primary Teacher. Hopefully I can get something steady, like a class contract for a term or year. And I will get good experience and look towards a permanent position.

Onwards to the new life….

Lockdown Week umm 8?

Sydney is in the throws of its biggest lockdown since COVID started. I live in one of the most affected suburbs, with extra strict rules about where we can go and what we can do. So what have I been doing. And what has been keeping me sane?

Well work carries on. I’ve even had a few teaching days. But the main thing is that I’ve been getting as much two wheels as I can…

On my bike to work…

Commuting doesn’t have to be rubbish…

On my commuter bike (to the shops and around the way)…

Round the neighbourhood

I even broke out the mountain bike. I took it to work one day and tried the trails around there. It was epically terrible, I have not ridden MTB on any trails for probably 6 years and it showed…. I will have to go back again.

No one to see my failures….

D&D has also helped, with all my regular games running and a new crawl filling in for a face to face that one of the other DMs has started.

Family wise, we’ve tried to have a cheat meal once a week of ordering something in. Mostly its been nice, but unsurprisingly, the times we’ve gone to “fast food chains” they’ve been rubbish.

And we’ve built up our home gym some as well.

New Bench.

I also slept in my tent in the backyard one night. With the most recent extension, I don’t expect to get out for a trip this year, maybe just before Christmas? It will likely just be in NSW too.

More sloped than it looks made for an uncomfortable night

I hope you are all staying safe as well.

2020 – From my perspective

Really, 2020 has been an unforgettable year. Tragedy for so many and upheaval around the globe. For Australia it started with the ongoing bushfires, and then just as things were getting back to normal, the COVID crisis hit, upending everything for pretty much everyone.

I am certain that I will cop some flak for this, but to be honest for me, and I mean just me, it was actually a good year.

Professionally I had two unexpected opportunities to demonstrate my abilities and I am satisfied that I did good work. Supporting the Bushfires response and then the COVID response I got great feedback. From the bushfires, one of the executives I was working for wrote an appreciative letter to my own exec. Big plus there, though it won’t mean a promotion or a raise though. It did feel good to be appreciated in that way.

This fire broke out very close to home.

For my new profession, teaching, I graduated at the start of the year with my paperwork finally arriving in March. My accreditation with NSW was also completed and I started actually working, as a casual, one day per week for Term 4. It was great to start, and I have a lot to learn, but I also discovered that there is work there, and I am in demand. That’s again a positive for the future. Oh, and I confirmed that I enjoy it and would love to have my own classroom.

Effect of COVID

Look, my family was kind of insulated from the upheavals. My wife’s profession and mine were both required to work throughout and there was never any threat to our employment. My daughters’ schools did close for a term, but we managed their online access. Being tech savvy and having several computers and iPads, but most importantly a reliable internet connection, meant that schooling online wasn’t an issue. After being released from the COVID taskforce after a couple of months, I did do some random periods of working from home as well, and I love it. From that perspective it proved to my entire organisation that working from home, or remotely are viable depending upon your particular role.

COVID initially made the traffic very light when commuting.

None of our extended families have so far caught COVID, and most live in small rural areas, so not high risk anyway. And work wise, many of them are retired, or in school or continued to work pretty much as normal. Again, this has lessened the impact on us. I don’t know anyone personally who has had COVID.

I am very thankful for the particular circumstances that my extended family found itself in during COVID.

We did cancel a planned holiday to Hawaii. I didn’t mind. I wasn’t really wanting to go at that particular time and it was going to be a hassle with eldest’s school too. We got about 95% of our money back as well, which helped. And our planned Christmas in Philippines was not even considered. We did take a few days down the far south NSW coast, consciously staying within the state, just in case.

Bikes

Well, the first comment is not really me, but the MotoGP has been a stellar year with all sorts of things happening. Jack Miller (#43) kept me on the edge of my seat in several races. To finish with a second place in the last race and hand Ducati the constructor title was an awesome way to step across to the factory team. Outside of Jack, there was some amazing racing and epic moments.

I was a little sad when the Australian round was cancelled. I had not planned to attend this year and if it hadn’t been cancelled back in Feb (I think) it certainly would have later. However, my Mrs is happy for me to attend next year. And I have a bike that I will enjoy even more riding down there and back. I have been busy looking at different routes there and back.

And they call it a “work trip”…..

Bike wise, I got several “work trips” in and some other minor rides about the place to break up the commute. Even the commute was broken up with a total of about 4 months of commuting to the city. I do enjoy filtering past all those cars…

Filtering…. see ya suckers 🙂

The bike is running well and I have done little things to fix it up. Replacing the broken fairing piece and sorting out the OEM tail to properly mount the Givi rack were little niggles of mine. I’d still love another 50-100km from the tank, but that’s not too much drama. I don’t really have any other “jobs” left to do on it now. It’s now in better shape than when I got it, 30,000km ago.

Of course, I did miss out on getting a new one. It’s still a goal of mine, but I think it might be 2022 perhaps.

Bytes

Not a lot happened in this arena. I picked up a Surface Pro, to use for teaching of course. First laptop in a long time and first new Windows hardware in 10 years! It worked out well for a couple of teaching days already.

No, this isn’t moving away from the Apple ecosystem, but until they make a MacBook with a touch screen/pen input, I don’t see the point. Admittedly the changes they have made to iPadOS have made it significantly more useable for a work/study environment.

Sure, part of the decision to get a Surface Pro is the “new toy” in lieu of the new bike 🙂

Dungeons and Dragons went from strength to strength this year. I DM’d a regular group online and they worked they way through the Icespire Peak/Leilon modules. A (mostly) regular Friday evening group stood up as well, with different people running it and different adventures. I’ve ended up DM’ing some of those Fridays as well, kicking off an adventure based around Saltmarsh which is proving entertaining. All online through Roll20.

That has been a lot of fun, made some new friends and got back into one of my hobbies. It even saw me complete a heap of painting of miniatures too. This young green dragon came out well (mini is about 12cm wingtip-wingtip).

So I do extend my sympathies to those who have lost family or friends or who’ve had work upheavals, lost home or businesses. That’s why its with some awkwardness, I have to say that for me, 2020 was actually a good year.

Let’s hope 2021 is better for all!

Road Trip

COVID cancelled all of our travel plans this year. We were planning a Hawaii and a Philippines trip, but both of those were cancelled. Instead we ended up taking a nearly last minute road trip down the far south NSW coast. Not really an area I’ve been to before.

The first day was to Durras, just next to Bateman’s Bay. We headed down the Hume to start with, turning at Bowral and eventually down Kangaroo Valley. Some of this road was familiar after a couple of rides to Mac Pass, but I’ve not been down/up Kangaroo Valley so it was great to see these roads. The Princes Highway was a pleasant drive down the coast.

Our night at a caravan park (in a cabin, thank you) was pleasant with a quiet beach simply across the road. The next day we were on the road to Marulan.

Murramarang Beach

This was just a few hours further down the Princes Highway. It’s a nice road, with plenty of turns to keep you awake. I would like to ride down that way sometime.

The car, we were in, the GLC, handled it very well and even with some spirited overtakes, fuel use was low. I was quickly banned by the right seat driver from more of those overtakes though. She’s not used to country roads. And to be honest, there were quite a few passing lanes so it wasn’t required often.

Marulan was much smaller than Bateman’s Bay but we had a pleasant few days in that caravan park. I spent the whole time trying to figure out where the dock was that the Navy evacuated the town back from the bushfires without any luck. That’s because that was in Mallacoota in VIC, not Marulan in NSW. /faceplam.

After a few nights here, exploring the beach and the town, we headed back. First was up through the mountains to Cooma. Again, this was some nice country roads and up a nice pass following the Snowy Mountains Hwy. A good drive again, would be nice on the bike. Of course, once through Cooma it’s a snore fest, so head somewhere else instead if you can.

I have no idea what it is supposed to represent….

Canberra one night, then up the interstate to home. A pleasant trip. A nice break away from the routine. Safely at home before the weather turned bad and the COVID outbreak started again. The GLC went well and we all fit in nicely.

And scoped out some roads that will be nice on the bike, and perhaps an alternative way to the MotoGP for example (down the coast perhaps).

Would we have stayed?

New Years Eve turned out a little more stressful than expected. We hadn’t planned a trip into the city to watch the fireworks, rather a peaceful yummy dinner at home and staying to watch the TV coverage. You only miss out on the physical part of the fireworks – the thumps and thuds of the explosions.

About 6pm I was attracted to some sirens that sounded like they were getting close. We have a main road nearby and often emergency vehicles do use it and it can sound quite close. This sounded closer so I glanced out the window to see a fire truck come up the street, heading to the bush about 15 houses down.

With the current climate, it was with some dread that I looked down the road. About 40 mins ago, the wind had changed from a light NE breeze (that was really hot) to a strong southerly (but still, really a breeze) that had already dropped us from the 40ish to low 30s. There was a strong line of smoke from the bush to the south east of our house, perhaps a km away.

This is the view from my front door. The fire is just the other side of the trees in the far background, and burning fiercely, though we didn’t know that.

From our place it was hard to see exactly how big or where the fire was. And for about the next hour it stayed pretty much as seen above. In the meantime, several fire trucks came and went and many police cars. As well as many spectators. We also got a Fire Dept warning on our mobiles to seek shelter. It sounded pretty bad.

We made some plans to leave. I started to organise some belongings while Mrs Mab called a friend to see if they could put us up. I had no plans to fight any fire, we would leave. In this densely packed suburb, there is a lot to burn, houses go up really fast (and burn well with lots of terrible smoke) and there would be no real way out. Staying would be stupid if it came to that.

After about an hour the fire was marked down to Yellow alert, so we prepared dinner. By after dinner it had become Blue, the lowest threat. Still kept an eye on it, but the wind had pushed it away. It wasn’t until we saw some news coverage of the blaze, just over the hill, that we saw what we had narrowly avoided.

This was just over the hill out of sight.
It’s amazing that this massive smoke looked so small and of little concern from our view.

The next morning the mini Mabs and I headed down the cycle path to see what we could after the fire.

What we certainly didn’t expect was for the fire to still be going and have actually come closer to our house, now perhaps 500m.

What we found the next day. The firies are just out of shot on the left.

But instead of tree height flames, these were a much less threatening hip height or less. The firies seemed to be monitoring rather than actually fighting it. However there were several spots, including at the end of a cross street only perhaps 10-15 houses away. Again, these were well attended.

So as we go into New Years Day afternoon, the fires are still burning. We have some things gathered in case we need to leave, but mostly its a watch and wait. If the wind picks up and especially if it turns more westerly, I think we might just leave.

Update: (Saturday 4th Jan). The fires continued to abate and it seems the danger has passed. Though there are still fires burning in the forest nearby, these seem to be smouldering trees that aren’t of much concern. We will see what happens today (strong winds and very high temps predicted). Monday it’s supposed to actually rain.

So what happened this year – 2019

About Bikes

Really happy with my decision to change over.

Well the Ninja has been out and about. I’ve put almost 16,000km on her this year and sees me in to the 3rd service since I picked her up, only about this time last year. I really enjoy the bike, and have been slowly tinkering to clean her up and set her up for me (like the awesome top box). I have been to Canberra twice and Newcastle once, but apart from work or commutes, there has been little in the way of fun only rides. Still she suits me well, is much better for what I do than the Daytona.

The Daytona is missed, but would likely have seen a fraction of the kms this year. I hear that almost without being ridden the new owner has sold it to a person down in Melbourne. Hopefully they will use her more.

I also rode a VFR during the year and was totally disappointed. I guess I’m now a 100kW or more rider.

I found this a disappointing ride

I would certainly love a 2020 Kawasaki Ninja 1000 to replace this one, but I’m happy for now.

About Babes

Well I have one in High School now. A few hiccups at first, learning lessons about being responsible and planning your assignments but she seems to have settled in well, making good friends and doing well. The other is in Year 5 in 2020, which means High School too in 2022!

About Bytes

Well of course, there is the recently posted completion of BattleTech. Yay. I did enjoy that.

Lady Arano gets her throne back.

My degree is finished. I am waiting for the official results from the school, but to the best of my information, I’ve passed. I am now a fully qualified but not completely registered Primary School Teacher. Huh. That’s a bit different. (and the lack of study in no small way has contributed to the completion of Battletech!)

Just waiting for the official results

About Other Stuff

Dungeons and Dragons flashed back into my life. After a 30 year hiatus, suddenly I find myself Dungeon Master once a fortnight and ad hoc DM’ing for my daughter through an adventure. I am enjoying the distraction and my players seem to be enjoying my management. The accessibility and the ease of the current rules do help that.

And I think that’s a good summary of my year.

I am not sure where 2020 and especially 2021 will take me. I intend to slowly transition from my current employment into teaching through part time (at work) mixed with casual (at teaching) to ease into it. With the plan to switch completely in 2022. Let’s see what happens.

2018 in Review

I haven’t written last years review yet, so here goes.

About Bikes

Well a good year for the bikes, finishing on a dramatic change. Most of the year was commuting to work, with the odd day ride squeezed in occasionally. I managed to get my little ones out for a ride and they both enjoyed it.

Of course, there was the big adventure to the MotoGP, only 11 years since the last time. I found some fun roads, I had some great weather, I enjoyed the challenge and the solitude. The Daytona performed excellently for a bike being asked to do something the designers NEVER intended. However well it went though, it wasn’t as easy as it would have been on the VFR so I finally made the decision that was 4 years in the making.

And seemingly fate gave me the chance to swap the bike for the Ninja which I did. Though by the by the end of 2018, I was very uncertain if I had done the right thing. The Daytona was gone and the Ninja sat unridden in the garage, looking dirty and tired.

About babes

The kids… well one finished primary and is off to high school this year! They had a great year, probably they would both count the Japan trip as the highlight, I would put it a tight second after the MotoGP trip. They both enjoyed their ride around the block on the bike too.

About bytes

Well the computers this year have been almost exclusively workhorses, with my study and my girls work as well. I did tuck in to BattleTech and love that. Oh, now that study is on hold….

Oh, I did get the new iMac didn’t I – it seems like so long ago. That was like changing to a new car without even realising. It just doesn’t break down all the time like the old one, but otherwise everything looks the same. And to be honest, I don’t really notice the faster start up etc, because everything is usually open.

The Playstation got retired (faulty wireless board, still works with USB), the Wii got passed to a relative and the kids picked up a Switch. Cool little device that.

About Study

I would love to be saying I’m done, but I have one prac unit left before I graduate. And no certainty of when I will get to do it. Hopefully when I write the 2019 review I will be able say done.

BUT the main thing is that I LOVE IT. I’m not sure I would have enjoyed it had it been my thing straight out of Uni, but I think that time in between and the life and experience in that time will set me on a good path to this new career, whenever it is that I actually get started.

Japan Tips and Tricks

Phone & Internet

With Japanese rules about prepaid SIM cards and phone numbers meaning that only Japanese residents can get one, the main way to get internet on your phone when out and about seems to be the Mobile Internet Wifi Hotspot type device. This is a small phone sized gadget that has a SIM card inside and you and your travel buddies all connect their phones to. This is the basic default method for tourists and can be organised prior or once you’re there quite easily.

Of course, I couldn’t see this working for us. The main reason – Mrs Mab and I often move about on holidays separately. Usually, it is her off in one part of the shop (or a different shop) and me in another. So using a wifi gadget would never work.

I eventually decided upon two data only SIMs from Roaming Abroad. This would mean we could message each other, but also FaceTime or Messenger video (or Skype etc) each other, even when far apart. Even though these guys were a bit more expensive, they offered two things I liked. Unlimited data (and it seemed pretty much unlimited) and delivery to our home in Australia before we left.

Service was quick. And upon arrival the SIMs were swapped over. And this is where I should have read the instructions before I left. While it tells you quite clearly not to insert the SIM, I do suggest that you at least head to the website listed in the instructions to get the SIM profile required.

And this is probably the other area of caution. I’m not 100% comfortable with this profile as it seems to be a copy, not provided by the Japanese telephone company and there are several warnings that come up when accessing it. You need to install this profile, then reboot the phone. On your return you need to delete the profile so you go back to your normal provider and reboot your phone again.

However it did work fine. And so far there is no evidence of anything dodgy.

Japan Rail Pass

This caused us a fair bit of should we / shouldn’t we. It’s quite expensive and comes in fixed lengths. After about 2 Shinkansen rides, it’s paid for itself and we had 3 planned. But it came in 7 or 14 day lengths. Our trips were 8 days apart and the whole holiday was 16 days. So didn’t quite fit. That is something to keep in mind in your own planning. In the end we decided upon the standard 14 day pass. Yes it expired before we departed, but by that time we had returned to Tokyo and could use other means to get around.

It would have been better if we had planned around those times, as most SIM cards seemed to come in about the same length

Baggage on the Shinkansen

Another area that I did a lot of research to try to understand was baggage on the Shinkansen. I knew that no matter how much I cajoled and argued, my dream of the four of us using small carry on sized bags only was never going to happen. On the last trip we had 4 medium/large suitcases.

The Shinkansen doesn’t have a luggage area. The main place to store bags is in some spare space at the back of each carriage. First come, first served and fits about 6-8 bags with the rest of the passengers having to keep them with them or on the overhead racks.

Other than that these were an AWESOME way to travel and our main regret is that we always expected them to take longer!

Oh and the seats have power too.

Suico Card

There are some other IC cards that can be purchased as well. These are the ones we had after a friend let me borrow theirs. Basically (for Sydney folks, Opal Cards) are swipe cards that can be used on all public transport, as well as many shops and vending machines (this was neat at the airport as I tried to use them up).

They’re also easy to load, at machines around the stations as well as in Convenience Stores. So highly recommended. There is another card Pasco, I think, which is the same, just a different company (Suico I think is JR).

Child is, I think, below 12 years old and you can only get these in the same JR Pass Offices where you get your Japan Rail Pass (I am not 100% sure about the Office at Haneda though). This is worthwhile as child is 50% of the travel of an adult.

Train Stations

Are the most confusing things in Japan. They are spread out, across several hundred metres, with platforms up to 800m apart even. The platforms are not all nicely grouped together that you might see in Sydney or Melbourne, and I think this is related to them all being different companies.

Tip 1 – Google will sometime tell you the platform. This is usually correct, but occasionally there are more than one train route stopping on a particular platform.

Tip 2 – Many stations have large yellow signs on the platforms, this list common destinations from that station and tells you the exit number you need to get out. THIS WILL HELP A LOT!

Tip 3 – Ask the staff, their English is usually okay and they will likely know some of the common tourist destinations anyway.

Take your time in the station and you should be okay. Worst case, hit the nearest exit and let Google GPS you on your way.

 

I will try to add some more as I think of them.

Japan Days 13-16

There was one main goal for the return to Tokyo. To get safely on the plane without any hassle…..

No, it was to get back to Disneyland!

And this time it wasn’t the school holidays, spring vacation finished. We were really hoping that it would be pretty empty.

IMG_3982And we were not disappointed. At least compared to the first visit. There were actually a lot of people, but many were lining up to get in the front for the parade. It was 10am and the parade was at 3pm. AND THEY WERE ALREADY LINING UP! But at least if they’re waiting for the parade they aren’t on the rides.

IMG_4076I had also worked out how Fastpass works in Disney. A good system I think. You swipe your ticket at a booth near the ride and it gives you a hour window during the day to return and get your ride. You can’t swipe your ticket again until this one has expired but you can do it as many times as you like, on the same or another ride.

IMG_7886The girls were again tall enough to ride on everything, alone if they had wanted. So we hit up the rides – “Big Thunder Mountain”, “Space Mountain”, “Star Tours” and over the day we hit up about 15 rides. A lot more than the 2-3 we managed at the other park visits.  Mrs Mab got her dream ride… about 3 rides on “It’s a small world”, and they were with her as the only rider!

The next day we headed to Odiba, which is a fairly newish development area, I think reclaimed from the bay. They have two tallish things. The Statue of Liberty.

IMG_8070

And a life-size Gundam.

IMG_8096

It was a bit strange as we got off the tram and ended up in a new, but mostly empty shopping centre. After wandering along the beach for a bit, we stopped someone to ask directions. He said “Oh are you looking for the Gundam?” We were like “No, but what?” And we headed that way.

It was located outside the foodcourt of another mall (basically across the road from the other mall) and this one was packed. So we discovered where all the people were!

After this it was back to the hotel.

The following day was the trip home. With all of our baggage, we ended up taking a large taxi to the airport and arrived really, really early, so we were stuck with our bags for a couple of hours. On the plus side, we were first in line for the check in!

IMG_8122

The return home was uneventful, arriving home on Thursday at about 10am. I hated the flight home, and was over the flight by about 3 hours in. There wasn’t anything wrong, the seat etc was fine. I was probably just exhausted, but I’ve flown a lot in my life and never felt as uncomfortable and impatient to get off the plane. I spent most of the flight wishing I was sitting in these seats (which I have also spent many hours in) which shows just how annoyed I was. I still don’t know why.

bucketseat.jpg

We bought a few souvenirs and a pile of different snacks, but that was about it. I didn’t look at electronics, clothes seemed the same price (and I couldn’t find anything my size) as here, so our usual purchases didn’t happen (and the bags didn’t grow too much!).

Overall, it was a FANTASTIC trip that I would recommend heartily to anyone. Japan is a fascinating, safe, enjoyable place to visit.