I've been meaning to get around to writing an annual edition which summarises all of the events of the past 12 months on an annual basis. It's a good time to sit back, reflect, laugh and share photos of the year that was.
This post was inspired by a friend and work colleague of mine, Nico, and I think he does a really good job at it. Also, time is running out, since it's pretty much the end of the Christmas break so I don't have many days left to publish this entry, so I better get on with it.
Strangely, in putting this piece together I discovered a draft “2018 A Year in Review” which I never finished. Let's hope this year I can finally publish something finished!
A word of warning: this is going to be a mixed bag. There will be work talk, there will be gaming and there will definitely be procrastination of the highest order. I'll try adding links as I go, if they seem pertinent.
Enough intro, onwards!
After picking up a “watermelon raddish” for cheap from one of the local grocer's, I couldn't work out exactly what I should do with it. It was a curious little round raddish, with signature pale exterior combined with a very unsual pink centre, reminiscent of a small round watermelon. Cute. I found a random recipe online to make kimchi and thought “surely kimchi can be made out of raddish?!".
Turns out, it can and it turned out so nice that my wife has started eating it, too. The little crisp cubes of raddish are curiously pink in colour and very tasty with meat. So there you have it. Although I've lost exactly where I saw the recipe, I'm sure I could find it again with a bit of Google-fu.
Yummy! It wa s super crunchy and little bit spicy, so it was the perfect combination of heat and texture for a lot of meals.
Feburary, ah February, that weird short month. We've been using a hand-me-down round dinner table for some time now but we also have an old tabletop which was in desparate need of restoration (and some proper legs). So that was February's little mini project! I'm told the legs for the table have been in the family for many decades, yet not fixed onto the tabletop all that time. Why? Who knows! My grandfather had a habit of attaching loop-shaped metal legs to random timber things to make tables, so this table got the same treatment.
After many hours of sanding and some coats of hard-wearing varnish, the table was finally back together, legs and all. Strangely, my random orbital sander died exactly after the table was complete! Weird, it's not old. But at least the table was complete.
The rest of February was spent downloading fan translations of old RPG games for the Famicom, such as Lagrange Point, Esper Dream II and Madara. I can't really claim credit, but after following some guides online I managed to patch 3 games by burning the patched ROM and soldering the ERPOM into the original boards. They all worked perfectly, which I was quite suprised, given my average soldering skills and having never tried to flash an EPROM with a writer before.
Interesting fact: I bought a bundle of 1mbit, 2mbit and 4 mbit chips (cheaper in quantity, right?) and one wasn't blank. Thankfully, the EPROM writer software can check this for you, but I had no practical way to clear the data on the chip since I didn't have a UV eraser. No matter! I saw a YouTube video where they put the chip in a sunny place for a few weeks and the chip was cleared. I can confirm this works, if you're willing to wait 3-4 weeks!
In March we spent some time constructing a Street Library to place out the front. Never a month without a project, it seems. It was a simple enough task and meant we could recycle some old timber as well as some old books which were left cluttering the house.
(cat for size)
The Street Library looks great! But… it's still not out on the street just yet. Hopefully soon. I have plans on adding a solar panel and a small light from a garden light, so that the library is illuminated at night using solar energy. But I think the priority is to get it out on the front, of course!
This month we did some trainspotting and checked out the NSW Rail Museum in Thirlmere. Thankfully, not affected by this season's bushfires! Recommended for anyone who likes anything about trains or has a family with kids! Loads to look at, including a workshop where you can see the magic behind restoring and maintaining classic train gear. Their shed is huge too, so there is plenty of shade.
The trip on this old steam engine to Buxton was also very enjoyable - although I dare say there may not be so much of Buxton left these days due to this fire season :(
It's been a massive saga to add a carport to our house that I won't go into here (although I think the construction industry is stuffed, seriously). But I do have the NBN to thank for one thing and that's being able to get stormwater out of our property. Now I would've thought this was a pretty much given: people would be able to connect a pipe, to the street, to send away the stormwater that lands on your house roof.
(of course I would prefer this to go into a water tank, but that's a project for another day)
Anyways, the council was being super difficult about running the stormwater under the footpath - where it already went mind you - and out to the street. Something about having a problem with opening the footpath. I felt like calling up the council to ask where else the stormwater could go?
Anyways, thankfully our builder can be very convincing and while the NBN was busy replacing all of the concrete footpaths in the area (because they're allowed to touch the footpaths), he managed to run a new pipe out the front. So yay, our house won't flood when it rains. Bonus.
I do rant on about the NBN quite a bit, it's such an embarrassment to be, what, 62nd in the world for internet speed after spending who knows how many tens of billions of dollars on ‘upgrading’ wha… ah I'm going to stop.
Cynthia and I took the longest break we've ever taken (about 4 weeks all up) and headed off for Europe. Selecting just a single photo from our trip has certainly proven to be a huge challenge: there are so many photo opportunities in Europe that I took literally thousands of photos. Oh, and it was our first time in Europe too.
A brief itinerary of our trip was:
- Fly to Taipei and spent 18 hours wandering around the vast city (and take advantage of their free tours - recommended!)
- Fly from Taipei to Amsterdam, continue touring around until we dropped dead at our Airbnb accomodation in Almere, which I learnt is 100% reclaimed land and is protected by the Afsluitdijk
- Tour around Amsterdam for a few days and consider how we could move here at a heartbeat, if only the cuisine was a bit more wham pow.
- Fly to Barcelona, on a (probably) over-priced economy flight because we booked a little late
- Join a cruise ship and tour around the western Mediterranean inlcuding Barcelona, Sete, Cannes, Corsica, Florence, Malta, Amalfi Coast and Rome. Probably the highlight was Malta, desite being a million bajillion degrees.
- Arrive in Rome and then self tour a few days
- Fly to Prague for a few days
- Train to Berlin whilst we watched Before Sunrise to get really into the “Europe Travelling Mood” - Berlin is like Melbourne decided to be superchargingly cool for a day, then just stick with it, although they really need aircon on the U-Bahn
- Train to Frankfurt - which is like Penrith in pretty much everyway you can imagine, so don't bother going
- Fly home, via Taipei again, although with a 90 minute transfer time, the airline managed to hold our bags for an extra day (but were delivered to our door the next day, which is pretty good service and beats lugging them home on public transport or otherwise)
Phew, it was a heatwave too, so much for travelling in “Spring” before the real weather sets in (it was basically like normal Australian Summer weather).
Some highlights! Pompei. Always wanted to go here, ever since spending 4 years of my life learning Latin in High School. Barcelona. Dirty streets but great food, great transport and many things to see, too much to pack intoa 3 night stay of course. Malta I've already mentioned. Prague! Such a pretty place. And things are so cheap. Beer is cheaper than water, so I was struggling. But you have to stay hydrated! German trains and the ticket system is super complicated. Ack. You'd think they would have that sorted. Japan's got it and they didn't win the war either.
Choosing just one photo from the entire trip is impossible but here's a nice panorama from Taormina, Sicily, up on the hill where the ancient theatre is:
By this stage, it was actually July already, so…
Back to the reality of work! Strangely, I was waking up early in the morning than normal (I'm definitely not a morning person), probably due to the jet laggedness of coming home by going East from Europe. Going West? Fine! East? Urgh. Anyways, this wore off after about a week and I was back to my usualy self struggling to get out of bed every morning.
As Winter was now in full swing, we did get a decent crop of vegies. They tend to sense the cold and finish up, which is convenient. Although I have to say that the weather patterns this year are … rather different than normal. Roses blooming in Winter and unusually warm months through the middle of the year. It's the sign of this, I am sure of. Off the back of a super-hot ‘Spring’ experience in Europe, I doubt it's limited to Australia.
You can see sweet potatoes (2 different colours: orange and purple), a couple of taro as well as Yacón aka earth apple, a Peruvian plant which produces sweet and crunchy tubers and is a member of the sunflower family. Worth a try, super easy to grow!
12 months since the “Restructure of Doom”. That's probably a little harsh, but it certainly affected many people at work and caused quite a lot of talent to be recycled. Somehow, I stuck it out. You can read a little more about what happened in my blog On being an Engineering Manager.
Also, bye bye ADSL! Hello NBN…
Finally, after a couple of non-starts… we get a proper service and ~95mbit/sec. Which is better than before, but certainly not what the internet should be.
This month we held an Amazon Web Services DeepRacer event at work, which was super fun. I haven't spent a lot of time in hands-on mode actually playing with machine learning tech, so it was great to have a go in an environment where it eases you into concepts like Hyper Parameters, Models and Reward Functions. The concept was simple: train a model to make a ‘remote control’ style car go around a real-world track. The challenge? We had to train it in an online virtual environment, which looked a littlebit like reality but not enough to really train the cars properly. Fast models in the virtual world were almost certainly terrible and slow in real life. They also got lost very easily.
Much has been written about DeepRacer and you can check out some of the videos on YouTube if you'd like to see more. Suffice to say, every team had a great time!
This month we also went to the Rydal Daffodil Festival.
(this photo was correctly identified by AWS's Rekognition service as “Daffodil”!)
The biggest event for us during this month was not PAX (for once) but instead a Spring snow trip down in Perisher Valley.
It was amazing to just sit around in the lodge by the fire, relaxing. Or go for a walk and cross the Snowy River in bare feet, only to get scratched on the bushes. Then fly my kite in the fresh breezes… such a great way to spend an extended weekend and well-worth the drive! Thanks to the host.
I found some time to build what I call a “Retro Gaming Tower” which consists of a 14” Sony PVM CRT TV, Super Nintendo, Super Famicom, Sharp Twin Famicom, Wii, Playstation, Playstation 2, Sega Saturn, Sega Dreamcast and a Mega Drive II. All kept neat inside some repurposed “IVAR” IKEA shelving solution on wheels.
We also put togther a new pond this month, since we picked up some water lillies on special last year. They've spent the last 12 months in a bucket in water and they weren't exactly happy, but at least now they can stretch out and as of writing this, all 3 are flowering in pink, cream and white colours respectively. It's a shame the bloom only lasts a couple of days (and closes up at night, cute), but they are very nice and do have muiltiple blooms in a season. I've tried to keep the mozzies from laying in the pond and squashed some of the pond snails (since they were eating the leaves of the water lillies) but it's fun to have a bit of life in the backyard. Speaking of which, there have been some impressively bright red dragonflies hovering around the pond, so it's good to see someone is a fan.
To listen to our suburban backyard at night, here's an audio clip:
Frogs at Home
Your browser does not support this audio format.
We don't tend to go to the movies very often (mostly because it's outrageously expensive, listen here Hoyts et al), but this month I decided we should go and see Weathering With You. It's a Japanese animated romantic fantasy film about a girl who can pray for sunshine and in return, gives up her place on this earth. It's always fascinating that Japanese movies cover such dark topics, despite the animated format.
For me, the movie was such a refreshing change to escape the ever increasingly arid conditions of Australia and reflect on what really matters in life. The soundtrack is also pretty cool. I know it's not a movie for everyone, but I really enjoyed the message of the film of unselfish personal sacrifice and I couldn't help but be blown away by the incredible visual quality and style of animation, I could watch that all day!
100% confirmed that I'm not longer in the “25-34” category any more. Filling out forms is suddenly far more depressing than before. It's just a number, right?
This month we went on a surprise trip to Taronga Zoo, although we didn't actually go to the zoo at all. Instead, we almost nearly went to the zoo and went to the Wild Ropes tree top challenge course. Recommended! After 2 courses there was much rope burn in the hands but it was definitely worth it. Will be doing this again, sometime.
TIL that you can completely butcher a camellia (by butcher, I mean prune it back really hard) and it will come back. We have a very ancient one outside our house which unfortunately got a very ‘Greek’ haircut to make way for our carport contruction, but we left the resulting stump in the ground “just in case” it grew back. Well, turns out it has and in full force, too. I did some research and it turns out you can prune them pretty heavily, so we needn't have worried so much about it! I'll be quite glad when it's back to it's regular size again, giving us some lovely green leafy privacy out the front.
Last year we declared that this year the family Christmas will be in New Zealand, mainly to escape the heat. That didn't happen, and instead, we were faced with a metric bajillion hectares of bush being burnt in what I think has been the worst bush fire season ever. It's no surprise that the Gospers Mountain fire caused increased traffic to Gospers Mountain on Hawkesbury.org.
It hasn't really felt like much of a break to be honest. Sure, we're not in the routine of going to work (and I've completely forgotten what day of the week it is), but with all of the news about the worst bush fire season ever, the Twitterstorm of #scottyfrommarketing #wherethebloodyhellareya #smoco and various other hashtag shenanigans, it seems we can't afford to relax any time soon. With family in Kurrajong and the Blue Mountains, fire season is always a nervous time, but this year seems super extreme.
We had plans on building a small deck for our BBQ out the back, but that will have to take more time than expected due to the fires and the heat!
My family Christmas party got surprisingly lean with half of attendees unable to make it with fears of bushfires. Christmas wasn't ruined per se, but it wasn't normal.
We've got a decent amount of records of rainfall at my parent's property, so I'm going to do some data entry and analysis on that, because I think it will make an interesting point at how rainfall has changed since 1996 in that area alone. Expect a new blog on that sometime in 2020!
Music added to the family this year (in summary)
Some vinyl, and a new comer: CDs. I've started to collect CDs, because they're getting unusual these days. When was the last time you sat down and put a CD on? Do you even have a CD player anymore?
Some cars don't come with CD players, people don't seem to buy CDs, so will they go the way of vinyl? Maybe!
- Yellow Magic Orchestra because Ryuichi Sakamoto
- Naoya Matusoka
- Pleasure - one of the best funk outfits, plus the bass player is seriously badass
- Random 90's rock CDs including a pile of You Am I (so sue me)
- and… 2 copies of Yello's 1980 - 1985 The New Mix In One Go … oops. There's that moment when you realise you really need to add something to your collection only to find you already have a copy. Gah!
Top 3 Famicom Games
Since Christmas I decided to pretend it was 1992 and the Super Nintendo was Santa's gift… but I still have a soft spot for some 8-bit gaming legends. Here's a few that I think about when I'm not playing the Super Nintendo:
- Akumajou Densetsu aka Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse - special mention for the VRC6 sound chip which makes the soundtrack bloody good, only found in the Famicom version because Nintendo American video game crash VCR design NES whatever whatever.
- Super Mario Bros. 3 - needs no introduction, you know it already (or here's the history), add a save feature and it would be full fisted
- The Legend of Zelda - again, no introduction required, although special mention for the unique soundtrack on the Famicom Disk System version! Oh, and that trick where you could blow on the microphone to kill Pols Voice the easy way and yet be totally confused by this hint in the Western version
The second half of this year I think I worked on and launched too many websites. Or that's the way I felt anyway. Some were easier than others, but it was still very time consuming to be coming home from my real job and then spend more time at night working away and stoking the fire that is the open web. Normally I'd only launch a couple in a year, but I managed to hit almost 8 in 6 months, which is just crazy for me.
- Mary St Dental Health
- Blacktown Specialist Dental Centre
- Carine Dental Surgery
- Gladesville Periodontics
- MyDental Rossmoyne
- Mascot Dental Clinic
- plus 2 more, one which is only a placeholder at the moment, the other is waiting for content.
(notice a pattern yet?)
It helped that most were just clones of each other, a few tweaks, and there you go. But still, I should do a better job at recording the real time I spend on each. Even just answering questions by email takes time! I think for 2020, I'm going to try and keep the base of clients I have and try and not expand too much. It's supposed to be a hobby, after all. More commentary on this in my article Thoughts on working the side hustle.
Blogs from 2019
Just kidding, I'm not going to list them here. But you can look at the archive.
Speaking of food, I've had many amazing meals this year, but I think the one standout meal is hotpot. I just can't get enough of it! At home is best of course, grazing away for hours whilst chatting to friends and family around a hot pot full of stock and many different things to cook. I'm not a fan of the ball-type, so I stick to ‘real’ ingredients like mushrooms, vegies, noodles and meat. Here's a photo of a recent outing with people from work, where I discovered that so many people on my floor are obsessed with kimchi… what are the odds?
The Call Out
I couldn't go past mentioning 2019 was yet another year of the boardgame! Even NYE got the boardgame treatment, with the fireworks taking second place. We played at work, took board games to family Christmas and basically introduced everyone we could to Codenames and Rhino Hero. 2019 was also another year of Secret Hitler which continues to get a run at most events.
I haven't complained about WestConnex, a massive infrastructure project in Sydney to connect lots of roads together yet. So here's a photo:
Yerg, that's ugly.
All I'm going to say on this one is why can't we spend the same money on something a bit more worthwhile, like public transport? Come on, Barcelona has had their metro since 1924… And making more roads just makes more room for more cars and doesn't really solve any problems. In fact, I'm sure it only creates more problems. But anyways…
Some people have New Year's Resolutions but instead I'm going to list games I've started and I'd like to spend time finishing (in no particular order):
- Super Mario World - I'm up to the Chocolate Island with a few of the secret areas done, so I'm not too far off
- Lagrange Point - I'm super confused about where I am up to, so I'll have to re-read one of the guides…
- The Binding of Isaac - Barely started this
- Return to Zork - Wandering around the New West Shanbar is OK, but I need to get on with the program
- Rakuen - this is a cute retro-styled RPG
Oh I guess I do have one thing, I'd like to play and write music more. I've spent a long time procrastinating about it and I need to just allocate an hour a day I think. Starting tomorrow?
See you on the other side.