Saturday, August 15, 2009

Sydney - The Week in Pictures

Got a hotel in a very convenient location in Sydney, right next to the central railway station, bus station and Chinatown (yay for dim sum), 10 minutes' walk from Darling Harbor and Hyde Park.

8 nights in town, plenty enough to browse through the main tourist activities as well as leave some downtime to enjoy a good book. It's supposedly winter here now, but since the daytime temperatures are closer to 20 degrees than 10, it's just right for spending most of the days out and about.

Not really much to complain, so how about just some pictures?

Sydney skyline.

Sydney skyline during sunset.

Opera building and Harbor bridge.

Opera building from the bridge.

Night view from the other side.

The city monorail. Doesn't really go anywhere, just does a little circle around the downtown for tourists.


Interesting piece in the skeleton room of the Australian Museum.

Bats in the botanic gardens. Very. Loud. Little. Bastards.

Touristy beaches are not so touristy during stormy seas. Only some crazy surfers around.

Pretty cliffs. Also the number one suicide spot in Sydney, if not all of Australia.

Lounging kangaroos.

Kangaroo on my plate.

Koala, I think they call this one.

In Sydney Aquarium, this stingray just floated out over me all of sudden. It's 3-4 meters wide, I guess. 

Shark dude.

Om-nom-nom, I'm a dugong and I love my salad.

Colorful jellyfish.

Blue Mountains, 2 hours from Sydney central by train. Charles Darwin was impressed by this view, when he visited the place.

3 Sisters.

That green stuff is actually the treetops 300 meters below me.

Right, back to Finland tomorrow, 27-hour trip in total. Not sure if looking forward to.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Australian Outback

Darwin is not a huge place, so 4 nights there is plenty enough to get a pretty high resolution scan of it. All the eating, walking around and baking under the sun aside: this is Australia. It took me five minutes of looking off a pathway amid some mangrove-like bushes, before I found my first poisonous spider. The crocodiles eat a few people every year. On all the beaches I found warning signs encouraging people to stay the hell away from the water because of box jellyfish, which even when not lethal, can apparently offer you some of the nature's most extreme roller coaster rides of pain that last for several days.

Nice, long beaches, though, so I suppose it can be worth the risk for some.


Get off the track, get bitten by something nasty.

Something strange about this bird...

Sea level moves around several meters with the tides.

Beautiful sunset in Darwin.

It's not a bad place on any account, but while there, you don't really escape the feeling of the rest of the civilization being pretty damn far away, both Sydney and Jakarta being about 3000 kilometers away, and I've noticed that my perverse yearning for solitude requires me to stay in well-populated places, lest I start getting jittery.

So what do I do?

Why, jump on the Ghan and head out into the outback, of course!

The Ghan.

Darwin -> Alice Springs.

Alice Springs.
It's far away from everywhere else on the planet.
Termite mounds.

23 hours through an increasingly desert-like landscape, and I arrive to Alice Springs, a town in the very core of Australia. I guess it tells something about the locals that they aren't all sure about the population of the place, placing it somewhere between 25.000 and 30.000. A very independent lot, they are. I know some people in Finland, who'd feel right at home. (except for the climate, of course. Now is the winter season, so while the day-time temperatures climb to around 26 degrees and night-time temperatures drop to around 0, during the summer it can get as hot as 45 degrees.) You can buy some pretty reasonably-priced aboriginal stuff in Alice Springs, compared to the rest of the country, and even though most of the aboriginal souvenirs are pretty rubbish in my untrained eyes (they are a hunter-gatherer culture, after all), I did nab me a nice didgeridoo against my earlier lamenting on not being able to buy one. It should be on a boat heading to Finland, as I write this. :)

My somewhat suspicious motel in Alice Springs.

Speaking of aboriginals, there's really no nice way to put this in, so I'll just say: good lord their women must be the ugliest creatures on the planet! I mean, damn... Most of them at age 20 and up look like bloated corpses dragged out from a lake after having marinated there for a week or two. I'm sure there are exceptions, but I'm just commenting the ones I witnessed out there. :)

So, back to Alice Springs~

Most of it looks and feels like a little countryside town because that's exactly what it is. But it has recently gone through a bit of a change due to tourism, which now lubricates the area with a few hundred million dollars every year. Go there by train and experience the enormous scale of the outback firsthand, stay a couple of days and then fly back out - perfect. The aforementioned souvenirs are cheaper than in the big cities and eating is pretty good, too: the other day I actually managed to eat kangaroo, camel and crocodile, all during one single meal. :) The biggest attraction in the area is undoubtably Uluru(Ayers Rock), which pulls in almost quarter of a million tourists every year, proving once again that if there are gods, then we human beings are their idea of a joke. It took 4.5 hours by bus to reach Uluru from Alice Springs, stopping in between to laugh and clap hands at a piano-playing and ear-splittingly howling dingo.

Shut up, dingo, you sing worse than I do!
Kangaroos couldn't care less about me.

To give you an idea on how arid the outback actually is: We passed through a couple of cattle ranches on the way. These pastures - let's just call them that - can be 1.5 million acres in size, and on a good year they can support up to 6000 heads of cattle. In most years it doesn't really rain, though, so the head count maxes out at around 600, leaving some 2500 acres per moo-moo to chew cud on. It would be too expensive to build fences around these vast grazing grounds, so what the good people making their living there do, is use water holes to control their beasts. Apparently a cow doesn't wander further than 16 kilometers away from the nearest water hole, so they just leave the animals be, and when they need to catch them, they simply build "water traps" around each water source that allow the animals to enter, but prevent them from leaving - like fish traps. After 24 hours they've usually managed to catch 99% of all animals in the whole area, including kangaroos and other wild beasties, making the technique a lot more cost-effective than chasing single animals around with 4WDs.

Another example would be the few rivers that criss-cross the plains: a lot of the time they are all turned inside-out, bottom at the top, water underneath. When you come across them, they look like dried up riverbeds, but if you dig a bit, you'll hit water eventually, sometimes several meters underground, sometimes only a foot or so. Finke river south from Alice Springs is one of these often inside out streams, heralded by geologists to be the oldest river in the world.

Me and Lasseter highway snaking through the endless outback.
Red sand.
Mt. Conner. It's almost as tall as Uluru, but was born in a completely different way, when softer rock eroded from around tougher rock.

From a great distance Uluru doesn't really look like that much, because it slopes just enough to make it look like a semi-normal hill from certain directions (like the Lassiter highway that takes you to it). It is, however, taller than Eiffel Tower and its circumference is almost 10 kilometers. It's a huge block of sandstone, littered with caves, old aboriginal paintings and funky natural shapes. The aboriginals own the place, but "allow" tourists in for the moneyz, asking them only (nicely) to respect the various sacred places around the rock by not taking photos of them, entering them, or in fact, climbing on the Uluru itself. Tourists, of course, do whatever they damn well please. Sometimes the aboriginals take a stricter stance, though. Some ways from Uluru stand the Olgas, a collection of fruitcake-textured (they really are, at up close you can clearly see the whole thing is a row of huge domes compressed from different types of rubble, as opposed to Uluru, which is just a sandstone layer cake, flipped partially on its side) mountains, the biggest of them at 500+ meters even taller than Uluru. A few years ago a single aboriginal teenager wanted to spend some quality time alone in the Olgas, and the entire collection of mountains was closed for 3 full days so that no one could bother the boy. Would have kinda sucked being a tourist visiting from 15.000 km away at that time.

Sunset there was pretty phenomenal, the blue sky slowly turning towards orange and purple, while Uluru found all new shades of red.

Uluru at daytime.
And Uluru at sunset.
The Olgas.
So there. :)
Nice little detour, all and all, but I'm happy to jump on a plane to Sydney, nonetheless. I've wanted to properly visit that city for quite a long time already.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Darwin, Australia

In an internet cafe, can't upload photos. Your loss, it's pretty here.

Darwin is a tropical little city roughly the size of Oulu in the northern coast of Australia, close to the equator, surrounded by beaches on three sides and by 6-meter crocodiles on all sides. Spent 1 day here now, walking around the downtown and the beaches, and have a rough idea about the place by now.

Mornings are excellent time for walkabouts, since the other tourists are still nurturing their poor little heads in their hostels (even the so called better hotels here give out a backbagger hostel vibe, if you ask me). It's also great time to prance about, since when the sun starts really climbing up into the sky, it gets a bit warm, fast. Day-time temps seem to be slightly above 30 degrees throughout the year. Similarly in the evening, when the sun goes down, the temperature crashes down to a pleasant 20 degrees in just a few minutes.

Bought me pair of shorts, a couple of new t-shirts and a bucket hat.

Still opting to stay in the shade and siesta during the hotter hours.

It's been a while since I saw this many bikini-clad chicks in one place at one time, that's a definite plus.

Watching angry, drunken aboriginals duking it out in the parks after nightfall is also good, honest fun.

I have quietly accepted that I cannot fit a didjeridoo into my luggage. :(

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Hanmer Springs

Hanmer Springs is a resort village with some geothermal pools and heaps of mountains about 2 hours' drive from Christchurch. One of the international interns at the lab had a bright idea to hint Katy, HITLab's own Wonder Woman, that he would like to see the place before leaving NZ, and five minutes later: house, you got rented. (a 4-bedroom house with a modern kitchen, separate fireplace room, pool table fitted garage and excellent view all around costs little more than 100 euros per day, everything included, and even less for longer-term lease.)

It's a pretty place for sure.

Me, Greg and a brisk walk up a hill to see some views.

Even cheap beer tastes nice outside.

Stayed there for one night, spent the evening soaking ourselves in 40-degree pools that smelled of rotten eggs. Couldn't bring my camera into all that steam, but this should give an idea of what the place is like (okay, so sans the snow other than on the mountain tops). All and all, I quite liked the village and things it offered. The place is like Queenstown without the brutally numerous tourists, and even though they offer plenty to do to the adrenaline junkies, it's quite possible to enjoy a few days' of calm, as well. Plus it's not quite as ridiculously expensive a place.

It's Monday. On Saturday I'll fly over to Australia. My time here is really getting short...

However, movies:

Went to see the new Harry Potter last week. Still not interested in the series. The whole movie was like a 2.5-hour collection of fan service (not that kind of fan service), the characters doing this and that, but the story not really going anywhere. If your dreams at night frequently involve any of the HP characters, you'll probably like it. Otherwise, very meh. (**)

Tonight I'll go see Drag Me to Hell, as it finally came to theaters over here. This is probably the first movie after Watchmen this year that I have any kind of expectations for, since people are calling it Sam Raimi's return to form after all those crappy Spiderman flicks. Lessee.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Home, Sweet and Sour Home

It's a good thing that I have a comfortable sofa, because I've been spending a lot of time on it.

Right now I still have 19 days left in New Zealand, and I'm trying to make most of it -- work-wise. For a week now I've been playing home office, partly because I can save more than 2 hours per day by not commuting between this place and my office, partly because I can, and partly because of the swine flu.

Because I can: Little by little my day rhythm has migrated so that today I went to sleep around 9 o'clock in the morning and got up around 4 o'clock in the afternoon. Someone might ask, why am I doing this, why am I denying myself the sunlight? Got bitten by a bloodsucker? It's for two reasons, really. 

For one, I'm tired of having to listen to music quite so loud on my headphones to block away the background noise in the office. Some of the international crowd I'm holed up with just loves engaging in such sports as frequent hour-long skype/phone calls at their desks, or if that fails, listening to crappy music and singing along with it. I'm too much of a wuss to tell them to shut the fuck up, so I'll just stay home.

For two, this way I can stay in touch with the people I know online, as they tend to be awake, when the sun is radiating their side of the planet. From my point of view Finland and rest of Europe are up from 6pm to 9am the next morning, and America comes along a few hours after the sunset here. I sit on my sofa programming and chatting all night. That is what I do these da^H^Hnights. Through my internet connection I breath. Not a terribly social way of living, I realize, but chatting people up in a bar over a drink after another gets old quickly, and the girls don't look nearly as pretty as I thought they did, come the next morning.

Because of swine flu: It's making its rounds here and the number of infected people is approaching the figures required for truly exponential infection rates. Not terribly worried about it -- it's just a damn influenza -- but if I catch it, it'll make my life a bit difficult, as I'm supposed to spend a couple of weeks in Australia starting the beginning of August, and going there with any sort of flu would land me in an instant quarantine. Especially troublesome, since my flight to Finland leaves from Sydney on 16th of August.

One of my colleagues actually told me that his entire family got the flu, and he was the only healthy one *cough*, and how *sneeze* he had to be careful around the house *cough* those days to not to get it himself. Don't you just hate those martyr types, who come to work no matter how sick they are?

So, home office it is.

It'll be nice to move on soon, though. Next time I move to work abroad like this, I hope it'll be with someone, not alone. Gets boring.

Next up, Australia - plans, experiences, pictures!

Saturday, June 6, 2009


Went to see the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra perform Jean Sibelius' Finlandia and some other chosen pieces today. Very lovely, even though my leather jacket clad persona tends to receive some suspicious looks from all the elderly frequenting those social events.

Two things.

After Finlandia they played a Violin Concerto by Sibelius, and for it, a Bulgarian violinist, Bella Hristova, joined the kru. She was really quite incredible, and after the show, during the booming applause, she received a huge bouquet of flowers. Yay for that. The Finnish conductor, Jari Hämäläinen, however, instead of flowers got a large bottle of "something". They really know how to make their Finnish guests happy, it seems. :)

After the violin concerto, there was another interesting thing. A group of 10 or so 75+ years old grannies apparently figured that normal applause weren't enough. Instead they started banging the floor with their feet, making the entire floor shake, and shouted in unison: "UH-UH-UH-UH!" My guess is that they (or everyone around them for the past 50+ years) were rugby fans.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Youtube debut

Well, sorta.

This is the new introduction movie for HIT Lab NZ, the augmented reality research institute I am currently working in. I make brief 1 second cameos in it, yay..