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Category Archives: australia

Canyoning and the Blue Mountains

Canyoning-Snip-1So last weekend I went to Sydney to meet up with Amy, and we drove out to the Blue Mountains. For those unfamiliar, the Blue Mountains are a broken, primordial land of twisted Eucalyptus forests and kilometer after kilometer of sheer cliffs rising tens or hundreds of meters straight out of it. If there’s a more lost-worldy place on the planet, I don’t know what it is. It was practically a disappointment to not see flocks of Pteranodons soaring over the treetops on leathery wings.

So what did we do? We went canyoning! Well, Amy discovered it and organized it and booked it, which was a good thing, because once I found out it involved donning a wetsuit and helmet, strapping all your gear to your back and abseilling down a 33m cliff to the bottom of a 3m-wide canyon filled with snakes, lizards and icy canyon water, I was, let’s say… apprehensive. However, it it turned out to be fantastic fun. We were accompanied by our very Australian guide and a young Danish couple who, due to an accident of translation, thought they were going canoeing.

We swam on our backs, as instructed by our guide, and looked up at the tiny sliver of sky above. We saw ferns that were hundreds of years old, since bushfires never reach damp canyon depths. We saw lizards: water dragons and bluetongues, but if there were snakes, we never saw them. We jumped (without gear) off a cliff into a pool of deep, dark water. I woke up the next day still exhausted, and sore from head to foot. Amy wanted to do a four-hour cliff hike. We did not do that hike.

Anyway, pics will be up soon, but we used disposable waterproof cameras, so they need to get all developed and such.

I’m More Ready Than You Can Possibly Imagine

I'm more ready than you can imagine

I found this sign one one of many abandoned buildings in Canberra, which not only appeals to my affection for the walking (or writhing) undead, but is suspiciously apt. Not that the city is a burned-out husk or anything. In fact, it’s pathologically clean, neat and orderly. It just… has a certain feeling that it was made to hold far more people than live here, and something Stepfordish has happened to the rest, and the remaining Australians have abandoned their, um, more Australian characteristics to live out lives of urban planning and business casual and faux-Irish pubs in office blocks.

Still, the weather has been fantastic. High 20s every day and barely a cloud in the sky. I’m already sunburned.

The Machine Learning Summer School has been great. While not every session is applicable to me, I’ve gotten a lot out of hearing Bernhard Schölkopf talk about kernels and Satinder Singh talk about Reinforcement Learning. They’re the kind of people you want to hear at this kind of thing: experts who have the skills (mad skills, some would say) to present the information clearly, and with an infectious enthusiasm for the material.

Link to my Canberra pics.

A Blood-Red Bird

a blood red bird

I was not woken by the rooster
Nor by the crow’s tough song
But the midnight cry of a blood red bird
Brought this sleeplessness on

— (smog)

What Canberra lacks in humans, it more than makes up for in the quantity and variety of its bird life. This is one of many, many, many birds I’ve seen in Canberra, which I have nicknamed “Birdtown, Australia”. I must have seen a dozen different species while I was out jogging by Lake Burley Griffin this morning, including wild cockatoos. Many of them are remarkably colourful and just as remarkably noisy.

Link (from my flickr photostream).

I Have Arrived!

This is going to have to be quick, since my battery is low and I don’t have an adaptor yet, but… after four planes, three countries, thirty-odd hours of travel and, let’s say, fifty wailing airplane babies, I made it to Canberra, where I went out for a walk, discovered the city seems to have been completely abandoned, came back to my apartment and promptly collapsed on the couch, only to wake up in my bed fourteen hours later. Which is now. Hello, the present!

Canberra looks nice. A hot, dry government town with a big artificial lake and parks everywhere. Kinda like Regina. Except, as I said, it’s completely abandoned. I went for a walk through campus and the environs and saw maybe six people. And almost all the stores were closed. On a Saturday afternoon. Kind of eerie.

Okay, more later, if I manage to find an open store to sell me a power adaptor to I can plug in my laptop.

How I spent February 2 to February 4

How I spent February 2 to February 4

I can’t hook up my camera right now to upload my pics of Canberra, so instead, here’s a photoshopped map of my flight across the Pacific. It took me literally minutes to create.

The map, not the Pacific, smartass.