Christmas wrap-up

Christmas Day was largely spent with family, eating too much, playing with a giant cushion-like water balloon (which burst when, tragically, nobody was watching/filming) and swapping presents.

Our haul this time around included a Wii U, which should be fun, and for my own personal stash I got some great movies on Blu-ray (Help, and The World’s End), a rather nice framed original artwork, an excellent big book (The Beatles — All The Songs — great for dipping into and reading about the origins of their songs, something which has interested me greatly recently), and a voucher for MTC theatre tickets.

I was pondering if the video game console manufacturers beef up their online servers at Christmas to handle millions of consoles needing software updates, and lots of people signing up for the first time. Perhaps they don’t beef them up enough — Nintendo had problems over the Christmas period, and had to partially shut down their eShop service.

It wasn’t all good news in our house, either: our Christmas tree fell over on Christmas Day, and will need replacing. We already knew the lights were going to need replacing. Maybe they can be procured at a discount during the post-Christmas sales period?
Christmas tree fallen over

After Christmas festivities were over for the afternoon, I went on a PT joyride. Services were free, and unlike the UK where virtually the whole system shuts down, runs a normal Sunday timetable. There were quite a few people touching-on/off their Myki cards — hopefully they were charged nothing, as advertised… obviously not advertised widely enough. But wouldn’t it be good customer service to open all the fare gates? Most at Caulfield were closed.
Christmas Day at Caulfield station
(Of course, the biggest problem preventing more people using the system on Christmas Day is lack of services. Trains and trams were okay, but with most buses only hourly, it’s very self-limiting, even with free rides.)

On Boxing Day I went farming, where I helped to count sheep, and didn’t fall asleep once.
Sheep

I also learnt to speak sheep. “Baaaaaaaa!” (Thanks Kate for the photo.)
Daniel tries speaking sheep. "Baaaa!"

I also managed to bang one of my toes on a metal chair leg, leaving me with a big bruise and pain when I walked, until both thankfully faded away about a day later. Here’s the bruise in its small, early stages. Scary colour to see on one of your toes.
Toe bruise

In Euroa we spotted this Stump People Nativity scene — very rural!
Stump people nativity scene, Euroa

Saw the second Hobbit movie on Saturday. Very good. Watched it in Gold Class at Southland — parked by the non-existent railway station.
Parked at Southland, next to the railway station

Hope you all had a good Christmas.

#46664

The whole idea of state-sanctioned racism, treating non-whites as second-class citizens by law, seems ludicrous now, yet it lasted into the 1990s in South Africa.

It was always a ludicrous concept, of course. No wonder The Goodies parodied it as “Apart-Height” in one of their episodes.

As a kid growing up, there had often been news from South Africa, of violence in the townships.

Some of my (white) English relatives actually lived there for a time, and in 1984 my mother visited them. While it appeared my relatives treated people well, my mother came back with amazing photos of Whites Only signs in public places, and stories of the segregation of whites and others, entrenched by an inherently racist rule of law.

Nelson Mandela
(Pic from: South Africa The Good News, published on Flickr.)

I’ve had to look up the date — 11th February 1990 — but I remember it was a Sunday night in Australia. I was 19, and I stayed up watching television. On-screen for an awfully long time was a shot of a driveway outside the prison where Nelson Mandela was being held. Those present, and the many of us watching on television, were waiting for him to walk out to his freedom.

The ABC was taking a feed from the South African Broadcasting Corporation. When the SABC went to a commercial break, the camera man would take his camera off his shoulder and point it at the ground, or swing it around randomly. The commentators noted that he obviously hadn’t been told his shots were being relayed around the world.

Eventually, Nelson Mandela appeared, in a suit, walking out into the world, to the cheers of onlookers.

Over the years, as South Africa has transformed, I’ve often thought of that night in 1990, and I did so again on Friday when news of Mandela’s death came through. That night was just one remarkable moment in a wholly remarkable life.

And who remembers this song — the iconic Free Nelson Mandela by The Specials?

And this one, not nearly so iconic: Sun City by just about everyone (even Peter Garrett’s in there somewhere)…

VCE exams – good luck everybody

I was 25 when I first had kids. One outcome of this is that my eldest son’s education is running 25 years after mine.

The dates don’t match up completely — the main event, the English exam, for me was on 7th November 1988. For this year’s VCE, it’s today.

Daniel's VCE, 1988

Good luck Isaac, and all of the other 43,000 students sitting the VCE English exam today.

(Though if any of you are reading this before the exam, I’d question your priorities!)

The fuzz!!

From my sister’s “Best of British” birthday party in October. I used to love The Bill (before it went all soapie), so I thought I’d go for it. I didn’t know until we were had all arrived that my cousin Justin and his girlfriend Valerie had the same idea.

Officers Daniel and Justin

We’ve had the toy helmet sitting around for years. The top was a $7 safety vest I decorated with a home-made stencil and spray paint. The truncheon (actually a bubble blower) and handcuffs were Valerie’s!

RIP Michael

Marita’s dad Michael was the nicest bloke you could meet.

Tragically he died in a farming accident on Wednesday afternoon.

Michael

RIP Michael 1941-2012

The train network from a new user’s perspective

My cousin Justin’s move to Melbourne gives me an opportunity to see the public transport network from the perspective of a brand new user. He’s pretty well travelled, having spent extensive time in Europe recently, mostly based in London, but with plenty of travel to other cities. So he’s used PT systems in many other cities.

Welcome to Myki

On my prompting Justin got a Myki card, topped it up fine, but had problems touching-on the first time. Why? For a start the Metcard readers had sensors that looked like they should accept Myki, but don’t. (They’re the original Metcard X-Press touch-card sensors, rarely used. As an aside, this is why the old Metcard gates know to say “CSC PASS” when a Myki is presented — CSC stands for Contactless SmartCard.)

Secondly, at Moorabbin, where he was boarding, for some reason the Metcard validators are at the top of the ramp, but the Myki readers are at the bottom.

Elsternwick station - validated ticket area starts at top of the ramp, but Myki readers at the bottom

I noticed this is also the case at Elsternwick, where there are signs declaring the ramp to be within the paid ticket area: “Penalties apply for entering beyond this point without a valid ticket.” So are Myki users fare-evading for entering the ramp area, unable to touch-on until reaching the bottom?

Eventually, with the help of a staff member, Justin sorted out where to touch-on.

He reckons Myki is slower at touching than Oyster in London (which he used recently; he didn’t offer an opinion on Perth’s Smartrider.) I’m not surprised to hear that, given I thought Brisbane’s Go Card (which uses the same technology as Oyster) also seemed faster than Myki.

Other than that, and some confusion over whether he needs to touch-off on trams, and precisely how the fares work, it seems to have been pretty smooth sailing.

Connections

He’s working across town and was initially staying with my sister, and needed to change from the Frankston line to the Sydenham line. The question arose as to where he should change.

In the mornings coming in on the Frankston line, he might end up on a Loop train, or a direct train. The conclusion was if a Loop train, change at Southern Cross, since in the morning Sydenham trains run via there. If a direct train into Flinders Street, he could change there. Okay.

In the evenings, it’s a LOT more difficult. Thanks to the super-confusing Frankston timetable that operates on weekdays between 4 and 5pm, and also between 6 and 7pm, at times it’s best to go to Flinders Street, but sometimes it’s better to go to Southern Cross.

It’s all got a lot easier now he’s moved onto the Epping South Morang/Hurstbridge lines. In the mornings, since those trains run clockwise via the Loop all day on weekdays, it’ll be easiest to change at Flinders Street. In the evenings it’ll be quickest to change at Southern Cross.

Being on two lines (eg south of Clifton Hill) also means there’s little need for a timetable, since trains are pretty frequent all day everyday (though due to express running, there are some significant gaps around 7pm on weekdays outbound). He’s also close to a tram and the Hoddle Street Smartbuses.

Information

Justin’s noted that it can be quite confusing at times because some trains on the Frankston line don’t go all the way to Frankston. They are listed on the screens as trains to Mordialloc or Carrum, for instance. This is a serious issue, particularly at stations which don’t have screens listing all the stations served.

In many cities the lines have a name that is independent from the terminii (think of London’s Piccadilly line, which terminates at Heathrow or Uxbridge in the west, and Cockfosters in the north/east, or the numbered lines used in cities such as Rome or Paris) — this is both a good and a bad thing. It relates to the readability of the rail map. Perhaps at the very least, the screens need to identify the Frankston line name even if the train doesn’t go all the way there. At least the screens on central station concourses do so.

Reliability

Overall he said it was all going well until last Friday, when his morning commute was interrupted by a disruption at Sunshine. He said there was no information provided to passengers on the outbound train. He only knew something was up when a lot of people boarded, apparently believing the train had been diverted to run back into the city.

Eventually he discovered everybody was being kicked off the train, and he managed to find a bus that would take him the rest of the way to work.

Conclusion: much of the time, if you can navigate the train network, it runs pretty well. But there are pitfalls for new users, and it can fall apart pretty rapidly when there’s a major disruption.