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Australië livejournal

Melbourne -> Utrecht

Plane from Melbourne to Adelaide, train from to Perth, then plane to Singapore, train to Kuala Lumpur...

All good things come to an end and worse still: you sometimes need to plan that end. I figured I might as well make that end as interesting as possible, so here we go!

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Australië livejournal

My winter in Melbourne

My new room and view
My new room and view

Some of you may wonder what I’ve been up to outside my Summer of Code project, so let me just write an update about the last couple of months.

As I wrote before, I arrived in Melbourne on May 12th, spent about a week here and then traveled onwards to Canberra and Brisbane. In early June I got myself an apartment in Preston and about a month later the Internet worked and my life could really start. I spent several 40+ hour work weeks in the public library before that, feeling really sorry for people who did not have a laptop: I called them The 15 Minute People.

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Sydney Skyline
Sydney Skyline

Less than a week after I moved into my new apartment, I traveled to Sydney. My official excuse was to visit the Google Developer Day, but I also did some sightseeing, got myself a free T-shirt at the opening of the new Apple Store and had a great chat with the folks from Lisasoft who work on all sorts of geo web and open source stuff. I stayed at the Chilly Blue Backpackers, where I met some really laid back people. It was a short trip and provided the right backpacking, sightseeing and techy mix for me.

Back in Melbourne I’ve been going to all sorts of interesting events, both for the sake of the events themselves and in order to meet the interesting folks that also visit them. Upcoming.org is very useful for this, as well as techevents.com.au. Of course, even in 2008 urban life is less organized than one would like, so I’ve also mastered the art of paying attention to people who mention other potentially interesting events and I’ve joined several mailinglists.

It seems that I now divide my “social time” over two more or less unrelated “subcultures”. These two subcultures were a lot more intertwined in San Francisco and Seattle by the way. I have a theory why this is the case, but I’ll leave that for the first person who buys me a drink and asks.

First of all there is Couchsurfing, a world wide hospitality network. Even though I have only “surfed” for one week in Melbourne, I just keep on meeting great people and having lots of fun through that network. There is a Melbourne Couchsurfing group and its members regularly organise drinks, excursions and other excuses to get together.

Jumping Crocodile
Jumping Crocodile

My three personal highlights: I spent the weekend with a group at someone’s house in the Mornington Peninsula. We went snowboarding at Mount Buller (all my muscles hurt for weeks, but it was worth it). And during the midwinter night we burned a couch.

It is really remarkable how much technology changes the rules of the “urban social game”. In an era where everyone seems to be afraid of everyone else  and nobody talks to strangers in public, there are these incredible exceptions. With couch surfing, you can take a plane to another continent and stay in the house of a total stranger and you both simply know it is completely safe. Same goes for inviting a bunch of strangers to your house warming party.

How can this be? One reason is probably because most people really aren’t as evil as we all seem to believe. But another reason is that people can leave each other references. So before you decide to stay with somebody, you can read what other people have said about them. And so a situation is created where everyone knows everyone else and everyone keeps an eye on everyone else. Just like in a village. Hence the term “global village” I guess.

The second subculture is a group of tech savvy people with social skills. There is this cultural phenomenon going on here in Melbourne – and in other places all around the world – where one person organizes a meeting around a theme and basically invites the whole world. In practice, only five to twenty like minded people, who may never have met each other before, show up. The result is a great evening and the event is repeated. After a while, a new group comes into being that is not formed through any one company, government or existing circle of friends (although these still play a role): it is self assembled out of the millions of people that live in this city, grouped around a common interest. Pretty cool huh?

Me as a mighty pirate; my sword is just outside the image in case you were wondering. Photo by Lauren.
Me as a mighty pirate; my sword is just outside the image in case you were wondering. Photo by Lauren.

My current favorites are Tequp – a biweekly meeting in a store about anything techy – and Jelly – a day of co-working in a restaurant or office for “freelancers”. I’ve met a lot of nice and interesting people there. Often, these concepts are copied to other cities, by people who may or may not have been to these events before. Maybe I’ll get a Tequp and Jelly up and running in Utrecht by when I get back.

Some other successful examples of that phenomenom are Barcamp (a spontanuous self organized free conference) and the Talk Like a Pirate Day parties all over the world.

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In other news, I just got myself a bicycle two weeks ago.  Australia is not really what you would call a cycle country, but the government seems quite eager to get people to use these wonderful devices. That’s probably because Australia recently passed the USA as the country with the highest obesity rate. Anyway, the result is that there are some wonderful bike lanes. My favorite one is even named after me: the St. George Road bike path is a long straight path, far from the road and lined with palm trees! I love palm trees.

Cycling also turns out to be much faster (and cheaper) than taking the tram – even without any real effort – so I am surprised there are so few people here that use them. But I can come up with a couple of reasons.

First of all, there is this law that people have to wear these ridiculous helmets. Even though people claim that they are used to it and it looks normal to them, I think deep inside people realize that wearing a helmet on a bike is like wearing shorts at a stock exchange. I also seriously doubt it really adds any significant amount of safety and even if it did, there are other measures that would make a much bigger difference, see below.

Kakadu National Park
Kakadu National Park.

The second problem is the lack of dedicated bike lanes. At some point in the past, the government had the brilliant idea to “draw” bike lanes on the road. However, either they were completely incompetent fror the beginning or they had to give in to car owner lobbyists: cars are allowed to park on these bike lines. The result is that you have to swing on and off the bike lane, which is inredibly dangerous as it means you are moving in and out of fast traffic all the time. Also, because cars are parked on the “bike paths” you are in constant danger of being slammed of your bike by an idiot that opens his or her car door at the wrong moment.

Dear government, the solution is dead simple: do not allow cars to park on the main traffic arteries. It is a waste of road space and extremely dangerous for cycles. It is just about as stupid as allowing people to have barbecues in the middle of the road. Anyone who complains that they can not walk an extra fifty meters around the corner should be marooned on a far away island. Oh wait…

But there are some good things too: you can take your bike on the trains (outside rush hours) and you can even get a free bike locker at some of the train stations. This makes allows me to bike down hill to the city and let the train take me back. And there are some truly beautiful bike trails in this green city!

Oh and of course I also took a little train trip from Melbourne to Adelaide and on to Alice Springs and Darwin; about 4000 km. From Darwin I joined a wild excursion to Kakadu National Parks with a company called Kakadu Dreams; they provide some really active tours! It was good to be offline and in the outback (the outback in my definition is anywhere where there is no cheap and abundant Internet access) to relax for a couple of weeks.

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Australië gsoc livejournal

The end of the Summer – let there be Summer!

Although there are still a couple of days left until the official Pencils Down date of the Summer of Code, I am now officially putting my pencil down because I need to catch a train to Adelaide tomorrow morning.

I guess this really marks the end of my student period; even though I graduated in June, this project allowed me to feel like a student just a little longer. Sniff, now I really have to enter the big scary adult world.

But first I will go on a trip for two weeks to see Adelaide, the Ghan train, Darwin and Kakadu National park. It will be a very culturally diverse trip; from what I have  heard, Adelaide and Darwin are pretty much as different as it gets here in Australia.

Route profile demo by Lambertus
Route profile demo by Lambertus

I am very happy to see that my application has found its way to an actual route planner website (see figure above)!

So what is next? Well, I will obviously have much less time to work on this project, so my highest priority will be to explain other people how to use and improve the application and how to install it on their own server. So don’t hesitate to mail me about that!

I have to keep this post short because I still have to pack some stuff and it is already late. But I do want  to thank some people of course. Thanks Google for sponsoring me (and for creating all sorts of cool and useful tools for my project). Thanks OpenStreetMap community for selecting my project, your confidence in me and your support. And of course, thanks Artem for mentoring me during the project and for being a great and interesting person to talk to in general!

These are just thankyou’s, not goodbyes. So see you soon!

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Australië gsoc livejournal

Internet Dependancy and the 15-Minute People

This is the second time that I am living in another country for a while and once again I have stumbled into a huge problem that I believe is massively under appreciated by many. I need the internet, but it’s not as ubiquitous as you’d think.

Has anyone seen the South Park episode about this? The entire United States flees to refugee camps on the west coast where there is still a bit of Internet. People wait in a cue all day for only 40 seconds of Internet. Does that sound a bit ridiculous? Well if you are a homeless person without a laptop (and except Japan probably, most homeless people do not have one) and want to use the Internet, you’ll have to cue up at the State Library in Melbourne for 15 minutes of Internet (it takes about 1 minute to load gmail, so do the math…). And that is the best deal in town as far as I know.

When I see these people (probably not all homeless) I get the same emotions that most people probably get when they see hungry people in Africa. Of course, that is not fair or rational, but it’s just easier to emphasize with for me. I completely depend on the Internet for almost everything I do and it allows me to live a fascinating life. But those 15-Minute People, as I call them, have to do everything the old fashioned way: more time consuming, more expensive., less opportunities. For example, they have to make a phone call to book a flight; that adds at least 15 dollars, plus you can’t easily compare fares. They have to find a place to live through newpaper adds; most rooms are shared online, so they miss those. And they don’t have access to all sorts of job search websites.

I can probably find the best price and book a flight in under 15 minutes, but most people can’t; there are many important tasks for people need to sit down and focus a lot longer. 15-Minute People have a serious disadvantage here. How about adding two hours of Internet per day, for everyone, to the list of government responsibilities? Or shall we just wait and see what happens if we don’t?

Anyway, I’ve been one those 15-Minute People a couple of times during my travels. I take the Internet for granted, but I have been without it quite a couple of times at great costs to productivity. It is even worse if the situation is unpredictable; if you do know for how long you will be connected, or how long it will take before you are connected again. This makes it impossible to plan anything.

I spent six months in Slovakia and I would have some weeks with and some weeks without the Internet. At the office! And with no way of predicting what would happen next. Not very practical if your work is Internet based. But I guess people kind of expect that sort of thing in Slovakia (although I think it does not have to be that way).

The biggest surprise in this respect is Australia. I was completely taken by surprise at the terrible state of the Internet over here. I was expecting more or less 99% household penetration of Internet, free wifi at hostels, the usual, but I found the opposite. Hostels will gladly charge you 4 dollars an hour and it won’t be wireless either. Many homes, even with young people, do not have an Internet connection. And in general the Internet is very slow, has download limits(!) and is expensive.

Just a comparison: at home in The Netherlands I pay 30 dollars a month for my Internet connection, plus about 15 for the phone line that you need to have with it. For that money, I can download at 20 Mbit and there is no limit to how much I download. The best deal I could find here, is 50 dollars for the Internet plus 20 for the phone. That gets me 0.5 Mbit download and a 25 GB limit per month. So that is 40 times slower for almost twice the price and you get a download limit as a bonus.

So what is causing this? Well, let’s just say Telstra (the former state company) blames crushing government regulations and most others blame Telstra for acting like a monopolist. I leave the choice to you.

The good news is that people are not happy with that and there is a lot of work going on to upgrade Australia’s physical, and equally important, organizational Internet infrastructure. The other good news is that Australia has a pretty cool system that you can use to quickly switch between providers and that the business of connecting and disconnecting people seems to be a *lot* faster than at home (it took only 3 hours to disconnect from our old provider; these things take weeks in The Netherlands, months in Slovakia).

I hope I will have a working 24/7 Internet connection at home by the time I get back from the Google Developers day, my Sydney excursion and the Burning Couch festival next week. That would great for productivity and peace of mind!

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Australië livejournal

Apartment

Its been a while since my last travel related post. To make a long story short: I spent a week in lovely Canberra and another week in warm Brisbane. I then discovered that the combination of programming and traveling was a bit too much of good thing, so I decided to fly back to Melbourne and settle down for a while.

Canberra, for those who do not know, is Australia’s capital city. It has a lot in common with Washington. It is one of the more successful examples of a Garden City, which contrary to Overvecht, it is not about to be bulldozed.

Home in PrestonI managed to find an appartment in Melbourne in less than a week (and four attempts) through Gumtree advertisements. As you can see in the picture on the left, it is a converted warehouse. Nice old (for Australia) look on the outside, all modern stuff on the inside. I will take pictures of the interior later, but if this is what it looks like when new. Its only $470.000 (€300.000) to buy, or if you’re like me, you rent it with two other people and a cat.

The Melbourne Couch Surfing Group is awesome! It has 917 members and organizes lots of activities. This Queens Birthday weekend me and about 25 others stayed at Lena‘s parents vacation house in the Mornington peninsula. The most amazing thing is that many of them, including me, had never met her before. It was a lot of fun and I’ll post some pictures later.

My plan for the next couple of weeks is to work hard on my project, so I have plenty of free time during my three day (carbon compensated) visit to Sydney next week. I will also find some nice second hand furniture for my room and ‘work’ on my social life.

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Australië livejournal

Bangkok and Melbourne

Bangkok SukhumvitG’Day mates,

Ik schrijf mijn berichten voorlopig in het Engels, zodat mijn eventuele nieuwe vrienden in Australië ook kunnen meegenieten. Rechtsboven deze pagina bevindt zich de knop “Google Translate”. Daarmee kan je deze pagina automatisch vertalen naar het Nederlands, hoewel de kwaliteit van de vertaling nog wat te wensen overlaat.

I made it to Australia! But first I spent a week in Bangkok, which I think is really a cool city. I saw a real Thai movie, or actually four scary short movies (4 Praeng) to be precise. Interesting detail is that before the movie starts, the audience stands up and the national anthem is played, complete with pictures of the king. Rita Verdonk would probably love it.

By the way, all English movies are subtitled in Thai and (!) all Thai movies are subtitled in English. If you bump into someone he will instantly say “sorry” and not “khor thot”. So Bangkok is pretty foreigner friendly. The only annoying thing is The Great Tuk-Tuk Scam.

I also managed to get out of the city for a day, to see the Death Railway, ride an elephant and sit on a boat.

Melbourne - Yarra river and downtownCompared to Bangkok, Melbourne looked like a charming little country side village at first. A very nice one though!

I am surfing the couch of some really nice folks in Richmond, a suburb very close to downtown. I split my time between exploring the city, working on my Summer of Code project and eating.

The number of places to eat in this city is insane. You can get out of a tram at a random stop, think about what you want to eat; then just walk in any direction and you will find it within five minutes. Most people put on a lot of weight in Australia; I wonder why…

In conclusion: I am having a great time, so until the next post: hooroo!

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Australië livejournal reizen

Australië

MelbourneIk vond het weer eens tijd voor een nieuw plan, dus maandag 5 mei pak ik het vliegtuig richting Australië! Ik ga daar tijdelijk werk zoeken om de reis, verblijf en wat excursies van te betalen. Tijdens mijn reis door Mexico wees iemand me op het Working Holiday visum. Daarmee kan ik maximaal twaalf maanden in Australië verblijven en mag ik ook werk zoeken. De enige restricties zijn dat ik niet meer dan 6 maanden per werkgever mag werken en dat ik meer belasting betaal.

Het visum heb ik via Internet aangevraagd en is geheel zonder tussenkomst van stempels binnen een etmaal goedgekeurd. Daar kan de IND nog een puntje aan zuigen. Ik heb een bankrekening geopend (bijna helemaal via Internet) en online een verzekering geregeld (mijn Nederlandse verzekering kan ik met terugwerkende kracht opzeggen als ik minimaal 3 maanden werk). Eenmaal in Australië moet ik via Internet een sofinummer aanvragen en fysiek een SIM-kaart voor mijn telefoon kopen.

BangkokOmdat ik niet hou van jetlags, het niks extra kost, ik er nog niet geweest ben en het erg de moeite waard schijnt te zijn, ga ik eerst vijf dagen naar Bangkok. Om precies te zijn, ga ik eerst met de ICE (geboekt bij het nieuwe NS Hispeed) naar Düsseldorf, dan met een overstap in München naar Bangkok en een paar dagen later van Bangkok naar Melbourne.

Nu moet ik nog de belastingtelefoon bellen om te kijken of ik goed begrepen heb hoe de loonbelasting, premies volksverzekeringen en huur-toeslag precies op mij van toepassing gaan zijn. En zeker niet onbelangrijk is dat ik nog het fijne moet leren over het graven van AOW gaten; met andere woorden onder welke omstandigheden ik genoeg binding met Nederland op sociaal, economisch en juridisch gebied heb.

Ook interessant is artikel 86 lid 1 van de Wet Gemeentelijke Basisadministratie, dat stelt dat als ik “naar redelijke verwachting gedurende een jaar ten minste twee derden van de tijd buiten Nederland zal verblijven“, ik me bij de gemeente moet uitschrijven. Dit kan ik echter niet van tevoren weten en navraag bij de gemeente Utrecht leerde mij dat als er een moment komt dat ik het wel zeker weet, het niet meer relevant is omdat het artikel niet met terugwerkende kracht geld. Altijd als ik dit soort schitterende staaltjes wetgeving tegenkom, overweeg ik weer even om rechten te gaan studeren.

Melbourne tramOm me goed voor te kunnen bereiden op de komende job-hunt en om een al te zware cultuurshock te voorkomen, heb ik het boek Living and Working in Australia van David Hampshire besteld en een workshop bijgewoond over solliciteren en werken in het buitenland. Sowieso kan het geen kwaad om het boek Allemaal Andersdenkenden van Geert Hofstede in het achterhoofd te houden.

Qua onderdak ga ik voor mix van hostels en Couch Surfing. Dit laatste houdt in dat mensen hun bank beschikbaar stellen voor reizigers. Dit is goedkoper en vooral buitengewoon veel interessanter dan in hostels verblijven omdat je op die manier de lokale bevolking in hun meest dagelijkse omgeving aantreft.

Melbourne public transportMelbourne heeft een zeer uitgebreid openbaar vervoer systeem, met vooral veel trams. Ook kennen ze het fenomeen maandkaart. Tot slot heb ik in Seattle een echte LifeBook (Fujitsu laptop) gekocht aangezien een PC toch echt te groot en zwaar is om mee te nemen. Ik heb zelfs braaf BTW betaald op Schiphol.

Wanneer ik weer terug kom in Nederland hangt af van hoe leuk werk ik kan vinden en hoeveel zin en tijd ik daarna heb om rond te reizen. Ik hou jullie op de hoogte!