July 2014

I took about a week to get over my jetlag from the USA, but it was really rather mild. I would just get on with my day, only as soon as the sun set, the day would be over. The unpleasantness was mostly that this meant that for about a week, I worked and slept and did nothing else.

I met my mother, aunt and sister in Hornsby — where Andrew and I lived for 5 years and where V was born — the Friday afternoon after I got back, which was odd. Of course, most things are exactly the same, but there was also no point to it. We didn’t have friends up there even at the time and there was nowhere to go where people would remember me unless the food sellers in the (very very busy) local shopping centre remember a very tall past customer.

The playground where V played the most was exactly the same, but he’d forgotten it, and it was also verging on being a little young for him. Hornsby Shire Council is not the City of Sydney in terms of devotion to adventure playgrounds. I drove past the hospital to show V where he was born, and realised I’m not sure I’d remember which birth suite it was (even if they were inclined to allow random people to traipse through the delivery ward, which of course they would not be). Hornsby Hospital, which was a state-wide scandal in terms of maintainence, has had some money spent on it in the last few years. The building which I believe contained the old maternity ward my mother was born in has been knocked down and replaced with something in blocky primary colours, looking much like the new Royal North Shore hospital. It shouldn’t surprise me there are trends in hospital design, but it does.

V, of course, was politely puzzled by the idea that he had ever lived in this place or been in that hospital and so on. He also didn’t recognise his old daycare centre.

The block of flats we lived in — we still own the flat — looks exactly the same as when I last saw it more than two years ago, but there’s a speed bump in the street, and a new Thai restaurant where the sad failed grocer was. (Sad both in that any failed small business is sad, and also that they appeared to have sunk a lot of thought and effort into the fitout, trying to set up a slightly fancy deli that was patronised mostly by me and Andrew. They left on what would have been about the first annual review of their lease.) I entirely forgot to check if the Blockbuster franchise was still there; I would assume not.

I had intended to spend most of a day up there remembering things, in the end I drove around and left after 45 minutes.

It was probably that trip that inspired me into a very brief foray into the Sydney property market the following weekend, to wit, inspecting two properties. One we arrived at only to be told by a bored agent it had been bought before its first public inspection. “Yeah, sorry. That’s how it goes!” The other involved real estate agents cornering us to let us know how very motivated (very, very motivated) the seller was, and wanting to have a big discussion about what we were looking for in the market and what we thought about the market and why we thought that and whether they’d be of any help re-aligning our thoughts for us and what kind of finance we might have access to or could be assisted with, and etc, and were not easily put off by “we live just up the street and are having a sticky-beak, and also, this apartment is down two internal flights of stairs and we have a baby in a stroller, so no.” I suppose it could be worse, we could have actually bought the place. But it was surprisingly difficult to get away from them even as entirely unmotivated buyers.

And that was Andrew’s cue to nick off to the USA himself. It was a long and lonely trip at my end, probably much the same as mine for him. As our work trips become increasingly totalising — he was expected to have all three meals a day with work colleagues he needs to know better, I took a baby with me — we’ve dropped off our communications. I spoke to him a couple of times while I was away (and mostly in order to speak to a very bored and slightly bewildered V, at that), I think while he was away we had a couple of abortive attempts at video chat and that was about it. Not much fun having a chat that consists mostly of “… no, I still can’t hear you, oh, I just saw you wave, nope, now you’ve frozen, can you hear me? CAN YOU HEAR ME?” It got even worse when he got to London and didn’t have a local SIM and was impossible to reach at all.

Andrew works in an office, but I don’t, so when he travels I can go for days without having face-to-face interactions with other adults that aren’t transactional. (“Have I paid for V’s dance class this week? No? Here’s the fee!”) So I took V and A to my parents for three nights in the middle of Andrew’s trip. Packing alone for a trip is always really annoying and boring, but the drive that I was dreading (about 4 hours each way) ended up being surprisingly painless. V remains a good and surprisingly non-whingy car traveller and A sleeps even better in cars than he used to. The first morning we were there they had their snowfall of the year; unfortunately we hadn’t brought gloves with us but had a bit of fun anyway, with my parents hauling V around on a tarpaulin “sled”.

Once I was back, I warned Val that I was feeling slightly ill and was having an inexplicably grumpy and sad day. (The amount of emotional work and intimacy required in a small business can be high, but I do like being able to rearrange my day around being grumpy every so often.) It got much more explicable when I realised I was having cellulitis symptoms in my left ankle (an infection of soft tissue under the skin).

I had cellulitis in September 2012 with a slightly unusual and very aggressive presentation: I got a high fever first, about 24 hours before there was any redness or swelling and so on. By the time the redness was even really properly visible, I had been running a 40°C fever for several days, could barely walk due to the painful swelling of lymph nodes, was dehydrated, and was admitted to hospital for 6 days of IV antibiotics (and three days of rehydration, because I refused to take anything by mouth). When I was in there, the infectious diseases registrar asked if she should draw the boundaries of the redness on my leg to check if it was spreading, and the specialist said mildly “I don’t think there’s much point to that.” He was quite right: within a couple more days, the redness had spread all over my left thigh, and I ended up losing two layers of skin from most of my inner thigh, very much (as the specialist pointed out) as if I’d badly burned it. The day before I was discharged, he stopped by my bed alone and remarked that it was cases like this that “remind us that even in the age of antibiotics, these things can be very aggressive, and sometimes even fatal.”

… Thanks.

So, naturally, I panicked that I was having cellulitis symptoms again, only this time with two children in my care and Andrew in London (so, timezone-flipped) and close to unreachable other than by email. It wasn’t, in the end, justified: this time I got the redness and swelling but no fever or systemic illness, and a couple of courses of antibiotics cleared it up without me losing any skin, although I did walk with a cane for a couple of days due to lymph node pain. It was no worse than having twisted an ankle a bit in the end. It was tough on the extended family, as I set up Illness Level Red in case of needing to be hospitalised, unnecessarily in the event. (Andrew and I agreed that he’d arrange to leave London early as soon as I started running a fever, so he ended up leaving as planned.)

As a concrete thing, Andrew and I are going to have to work a bit more about communicating, and being accessible, while each of us travels. I used to talk about emotionally putting our marriage on ice for the duration — which is already much easier for the person who is travelling than the person left behind — but it’s not possibly for parenting, especially if the at-home parent gets taken out of action.

Once Andrew was back, all was well with the world. For the week and a half it took him to incubate the influenza he presumably picked up while travelling, anyway… stay tuned.

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USA, June 2014

Before I left for the US in June, Val asked me what other people were saying to me about my plan to go on an intercontinental business trip and bring a baby, and I said that I gathered that people thought both that it was a terrible idea and that it was fairly typical of me to attempt it.

It was touch and go committing to it. Just when I started to get excited about it, A went through a non-sleeping patch over Easter that nearly saw me walk away from the whole thing. So after that I mostly dealt with it by ignoring it as much as possible until the time was nearly upon me, much as I deal with the entire idea of long haul travel generally.

In fact the trip over started quite promisingly, sitting in Air New Zealand’s nearly deserted business lounge looking out onto the tarmac and feeling a kind of peace and happiness I very rarely feel. (So rarely that I can remember most other cases of it. The afternoon after I finished my final high school exams. Flying back from Honolulu last year finishing up my PhD revisions. I usually need to be alone, and finishing something very big, neither of which was true in this case.)

I like Air New Zealand’s schedule to the States compared to Qantas’s. To fly Qantas to the Bay Area, you fly to LA, which takes about 15 hours, and get off the plane at some point between midnight and about 3am Sydney time, ie, just when your body was finally about to fall asleep. Instead of sleeping, you must navigate LAX. I’ve had nightmares that are more fun than that, even though LAX has usually been rather kind to me if anything. However kind, last year I arrived in San Francisco without a moment of sleep (and pregnant, and ill). On Air NZ, the long flight is the second flight: Auckland to San Francisco, so it more nearly corresponds with my sleeping time.

The question was always whether the baby would sleep at all during the flight, and actually she did surprisingly well considering how ill-designed her location was. They had her staring straight up into a light! Nightie night! I did OK too, although the trip’s high point in the lounge was quickly followed by its low point when I subluxated my shoulder in the middle of the night shutting a window shade (yes really, I attempted it from a terrible angle, but yikes) while located something like 2000km from the nearest hospital (and 10km in the air). But I only had to spend a couple of moments imagining the horror of finding some doctor on the plane to attempt to reset it before it reset itself. The whole thing gave me a new appreciation of fear of flying, as the plane bumped along held up by thin, cold air with me stuck inside it with a busted shoulder. I don’t experience fear of flying, but I increasingly think I probably ought to.

The border official at San Francisco looked a bit skeptical that I was bringing the baby on a business trip, but duly admitted me for business and her as a tourist. And then it was déjà vu all the way out thought the ceiling height metal arrival doors and into and through the waiting groups. I’ve flown into San Francisco internationally only once in the past — my first big overseas trip in 2004 — and so I quite vividly remembered the entire experience. Luckily this time I didn’t have to head out to BART and try and work out SF’s bus system without any sleep (in 2004 I had never been in the northern hemisphere before and didn’t know that I would constantly confuse north and south, thus catching a bus for half an hour in the wrong direction). This time, too, I had a baby with me. Quite a change. I went outside and Suki met me with her car and we loaded A into the car seat and we were away.

It’s always summer in SF when I go there, and for once it really felt like it. Our first night, I went to a long dinner at Amelia’s house. Everyone was pleasingly impressed with my ability to stay awake, but I was playing on easy mode: it was only about 2pm in Sydney. The next day I had lunch at Sanraku at the Metreon because somehow my SF experiences seem to always involve the Metreon, visited Double Union, had coffee with K nearby and dinner with James at Mission Beach Cafe. All with A strapped to my front. (Actually, not strictly true, I put her on the floor at Double Union!) Too many appointments; I should never visit SF just for two nights, it needs to be a week or not at all.

The idea of getting back on a plane the next day was abhorrent, but I just gritted my teeth and did it. In any case, it was only to Portland. I am too used to thinking of Australia as a uniquely large country and therefore had been surprised that we weren’t driving to Portland. Aren’t all foreign cities an hour’s drive apart at most? No. Portland is about 9 hours, it seems, from SF, so much like Sydney and Melbourne or Brisbane. I was also disappointed that it was still about another 5 hours north to Canada, or I would have gone for a day trip.

I was in Portland for eight nights. It was good to settle into a routine there. A adapted really well to the new time and slept much better than she had been doing in Sydney, or has done since. I think it was due to the solstice, which occurred while we were there. Sleeping through the night is much more likely when someone lops four or more hours off the night for you. She sleeps from 6pm here, but in Portland she was staying up past 9.

I hadn’t remembered about Powell’s until Chally reminded me before I left, and in any event I didn’t really appreciate what Powell’s is. It’s a bookstore. A bookstore that occupies a couple of city blocks. It is a good thing that my 16 year old self never got anywhere near it or I might still be living in there. Sadly, it is not quite as magical with a grumpy 8kg human heater strapped to my chest, so I only mounted a couple of special purpose expeditions in, after books I’d been meaning to get for a while. A shame, considering I was only staying a couple of blocks away.

The trip was mostly work. I hope some time I can justify spending some time in the USA that isn’t work-related. (Right now, because V hates it when I travel, I don’t really feel good about travelling for leisure without him.) We arrived Portland on Thursday, had the AdaCamp reception Friday, the Camp itself Saturday and Sunday, Open Source Bridge Tuesday to Thursday, and then I left Portland Friday for Sydney.

I decided to keep things simple while I was there by not having A eating any food, or taking any bottles or pumping supplies, which did mean I was at her beck and call during AdaCamp (which she spent with a child carer) and otherwise I always had her with me. But she was in an exceptionally good mood for essentially the entire trip. Val pointed out that she has a particular trick for interacting with people, which is that she blankly stares at people before smiling at them, giving the impression that she chose to smile especially for them. She made lots and lots of friends. She seems quite outgoing, like her brother. I was sad she couldn’t stay at Open Source Bridge forever, but she couldn’t, what with it only going for a week. (And honestly, I had trouble with just that. I was very tired by that point.)

I liked Portland, but I didn’t feel I got to grips with it. Perhaps the closest was the bus ride out to Selena’s place and back in, looking at the big wooden houses and the massive bright green leafy trees. It’s not a very large city: suburbs full of detached houses can be found within 15 minutes bus ride of downtown. I’m sure they were all ludicrously expensive, but all the same, it had something of a distinct feel to it, so I felt I knew the city a little bit. Another moment of note was that on the bus back, which was exceptionally crowded, the bus driver insisted that someone give me a seat (because A was strapped to me) and didn’t move the bus until they did so. It didn’t at all remind me of SF’s Muni, nor Sydney Buses for that matter.

Val told me that this is the deceptive time of year in Portland, the time when it seems very very liveable. I can believe it, on the 45th parallel. Summertime is long dusks and companionship. Winter is… I’m not sure. I’ve never lived that far from the equator.

A’s one bad time of the trip was on the flight from Portland to SF. She screamed continuously for much of the flight. The man across the aisle from me stuffed his fingers in his ears. I think they may have even messed with the oxygen levels, because everyone around me went to sleep and I had tears pouring down my face from yawning. A did sleep, but it took a while. The wait in SF airport was also no fun — other than a very interesting exhibit of lace in the museum area — most things were closed, and I stabbed my finger hard on a safety pin (not safe enough, it seems). But A was a perfect angel from SF to Auckland; the crew came by to coo over the soundless baby several times. And at Sydney V was very excited to see us and begin the whole fortnight he was to have… before Andrew’s work trip to the US.

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Opt-in Creative Commons licencing plugin for WordPress?

Does anyone have a recommendation for an opt-in Creative Commons licencing plugin for WordPress. That is, one where the default state is not to CC licence something, but when some action is taken, an individual post or page can be so licenced.

As background: I have no desire to write, maintain, or even debug a WordPress plugin. I want to know if there is something for this use case that Just Works.

I want opt-in, because it is too hard to remember, or to train others, to find an opt-out box when posting, and thus end up CC licensing things that weren’t intended to be, or can’t be, released under such a licence.

Some options I’ve already looked into:

WP License reloaded: was pretty much exactly what I wanted but doesn’t seem to be actively maintained and is now failing (possibly because the site in question is now hosted on SSL, I’m not sure, see above about not being interested in debugging).

Creative Commons Configurator: seems to be the most actively maintained CC plugin, but seems to be opt-out, and even that was only introduced recently.

Creative Commons Generator: opt-out.

Easy CC License: perhaps what I want, although I’d rather do this with an options dialogue of some kind than a shortcode.

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The Sydney Project: Luna Park

This year is my son’s last year before he begins full time schooling in 2015. Welcome to our year of child-focussed activities in Sydney.

Luna Park entrance

by Jan Smith, CC BY

Luna Park is, honestly, essentially cheating on this project. Do children like amusement parks? Yes. They do. There you go.

In addition, I think four years old is basically about the right age for them. It’s old enough that children are aware that a giant painted face, tinkly music, and carousels aren’t a completely normal day in the world, young enough that the carousel is still just as magical as the dodgem cars. And too young to have horror-film associations with amusement parks, I think that helps too.

Luna Park ferris wheel

by Kevin Gibbons, CC BY

It’s also more accessible to a four year old than some more thrill-oriented parks. V isn’t scared of heights or speed, so he loves the Coney Island slides, and was annoyed to find out that he was too short for the Ranger (the ship you sit in that gets spun upside down about ten stories in the air) and the free-fall ride. He is, however, apparently afraid of centrifugal force parallel to the ground, and refused to go on any “octopus” rides.

Even the four year old who wants to go on the free-fall ride is still young enough for, well, frankly dinky rides like the train that goes around about five times in a circle while you pretend to drive it, and the space shuttles that turn in gentle circles and which slowly go up and down when you press a button. His big draw is the ferris wheel, which I found fairly horrifying this time as I read the signs about keeping limbs inside to him and then had to answer a lot of questions about “why? why do I have to keep my limbs inside?” while giant pieces of metal calmly whirled past us with their comparatively infinite strength. In a similar vein, V also enjoys the roller coaster past all reason and sense, whereas Andrew and I react with “this seems… flimsy…” (I love coasters, but I like them to look overengineered).

Luna Park, where there's still a space shuttle

The only things V really didn’t like were the organised dancing groups who were encouraging children to learn their (cute!) 1930s-ish moves, and the process of choosing a child from a hat to press the lever to light up the park at night (he refused to let his name be entered), because there’s some specific types of performative attention that he really loathes. But there’s plenty of children gagging to dance along and to light up the park that an objector goes unnoticed. It’s not coercive fun.

Cost: entry is free. Rides aren’t, an unlimited rides pass for the day starts at $29.95 for a young child and goes to $49.95 for a tall child or an adult. There are discounts for buying online. (The entry is free thing sounds really useless, but it’s actually good if you have several adults, not all of whom are interested in the rides and/or are looking after babies.)

Recommended: indeed. We’ve considered getting an annual pass, in fact.

More information: Luna Park Sydney website.

Disclosure: because of a prior complaint to Luna Park about opening hours (we showed up several months ago at 2:15pm to find that an advertised 4pm closure had been moved to 3pm), we were admitted free this time. No reviews were requested or promised in return for our admission.

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The Sydney Project: Tyrannosaurs Big and Small at the Australian Museum

This year is my son’s last year before he begins full time schooling in 2015. Welcome to our year of child-focussed activities in Sydney.

The Australian Museum has two programs for kids: Tiny Tots and Mini Explorers, which are patterned something like Art Safari, with the children doing an activity themed to match a current exhibit.

V did Tyrannosaurs Big and Small, which went with the Tyrannosaurs: Meet the Family exhibit. The Tyrannosaurs Big and Small activities ended in June, although the Tyrannosaurs exhibit is continuing through to July 27.

Paleontology

This activity benefited compared to Art Safari in the amount of time available to the children. They started off in an education room with several activities. They first had a short talk about dinosaurs, specifically, working out how big dinosaurs are based on one or two bones. Honestly, this seemed to thoroughly lose most of the children, V included. Most of the remainder revolved around a very shallow imitation of archaeology: finding plastic dinosaurs hidden in sand, or in jars filled with dried lentils. V has not yet absorbed any awe of archeology and regarded this as an exercise in playing with sand rather than a moment of entering into the noblest profession a child can conceive of. The other activity was taking dinosaur shapes cut out of paper (necks, legs and such) and gluing them together into one’s very own dinosaur, which V got quite into.

So no great educational inroads were made, but fun was had. And it didn’t manage to trigger V’s perfectionist tendencies and cause a lot of flouncing and dramatic self-recriminations.

Dino art

All the children were then given a dinosaur tail to wear — I appreciated the staff saying that wearing one was entirely up to the child, although V was perfectly willing — and a giant mass of children and parents headed down to the main exhibit. In theory we were supposed to be measuring the various tyrannosaurs and otherwise filling out an activity sheet, in practice we were mostly keeping tabs on our children and keeping the fossils safe from them. Or I was, anyway.

The exhibit itself is great, I’m intending to go back by myself before it’s up to properly appreciate it. The main attraction is Scotty. Andrew was very impressed by the faked shadow they’ve put behind Scotty, which moves and roars periodically. They’ve also done an amusing video which is mock security footage of the museum being invaded by dinosaurs, including live footage of the viewers themselves, surrounded by invading dinos. This took up a lot of V’s time. Less good for children — and what I’m going back for — is the bits about how, for example, the coloration of dinosaurs is being determined.

The sad thing about taking a young child to this sort of thing is that you cannot impress on them how unusual it is. Australian museums are not full of world-class T. rex skeletons! You won’t get to see this very often! Appreciate it while it… oh never mind.

The only downside was that the ticketing was rather poorly integrated into the massive assembly line that is admittance to the main exhibit. Andrew arrived late and without a phone, and they had to page me down to the information desk to explain that he had a ticket to this workshop, not one of the timed tickets to Tyrannosaurs. We also didn’t know for sure if we were even going to see the main Tyrannosaurs exhibit and nearly bought separate tickets to it. Whoops.

Cost: $12 children and $24 adults, which was reduced a lot for museum members. The year-round equivalent is Mini-Explorers, which is $10 children and $15 adults.

The exhibit alone is $13 children and $22 adults. Odd.

Recommended (kids’ activity): cautiously. They’re well designed programs with a fair amount of thought put into them, but they are, basically, a craft activity and an “opportunity” to chase your child through a museum exhibit. It might be best saved for an exhibit that your child is likely to be unusually interested in.

Recommended (Tyrannosaurs exhibit): hell yes, circle July 27 on your calendar with danger signs and scary notation.

More information: Mini-Explorers and Tyrannosaurs: Meet the Family websites.

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Your crontab file should start with “crontab -l”!

I’ve never personally had this problem, but a number of people have told me that they’ve, often repeatedly, accidentally deleted their crontab by typing crontab -r (which silently removes a crontab) rather than crontab -l (which shows you what is in it) or crontab -e (which lets you edit it). It doesn’t help that “e” and “r” are next to each other on QWERTY keyboards.

Create a single backup of your crontab contents

Since I realised this was an issue, I’ve made the first line in my crontabs the following:

@daily crontab -l > ~/crontab.backup

If you ever accidentally use crontab -r, you can use crontab ~/crontab.backup to reinstall your crontab!

Adjust @daily to a time at which your computer is likely to be on, if it’s not always on, eg 0 10 * * * for 10am daily.

For bonus points, writing this entry reminded me that I hadn’t reinstalled my laptop’s crontab on my new machine, and meant it was easy for me to find and install!

Create timestamped backups of your crontab contents

The above is simple and suffices for me, but if you don’t have a backup routine that will grab ~/crontab.backup regularly enough for your needs, you could do something like this instead:

@daily mkdir -p ~/crontab-backups; crontab -l > ~/crontab-backups/crontab-`date +%Y%m%d-%H%M%S`; find ~/crontab-backups -type f -ctime +7 -delete

Explanation:

  1. mkdir -p ~/crontab-backups makes a directory crontab-backups in your home directory if it doesn’t already exist (and doesn’t complain if it does exist).
  2. crontab -l > ~/crontab-backups/crontab-`date +%Y%m%d-%H%M%S` puts your current crontab into a file named with a datestamp (eg crontab-20140711-124450 so that you can easily have more than one
  3. find ~/crontab-backups -type f -ctime +7 -delete finds all files (-type f) in ~/crontab-backups that were created more than 7 days ago (-ctime +7) and deletes them (-delete)

Warning: you don’t want to put anything else in ~/crontab-backups, because it too will be deleted after seven days.

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Use python-flickrapi 1.2 even after the Flickr SSL transition

On June 27 2014, Flickr changed their API to be SSL-only. The Python flickrapi library was one of many pieces of software that used HTTP to connect to Flickr’s API, and that therefore broke for some users on June 27.

flickrapi supports HTTPS connections as of version 1.4.4, released on June 18 2014. If you are able to upgrade to a new version of flickrapi, you can get the latest flickrapi version from PyPI and ignore the rest of this post.

However, as of mid-2014, many Linux distros, including Ubuntu 14.04 (supported until 2019), still package flickrapi version 1.2, which cannot connect to Flickr’s API over HTTPS and is therefore now non-functional. Since developers may for various reasons choose to use their distro’s version of python-flickrapi, I’ve written a very very small Python class that overrides flickrapi’s FlickrAPI class to connect to Flickr over HTTPS rather than HTTP, and allows continued use of the Flickr API.

You can download my Python module that allows this: flickrapissl. See the README for usage.

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The Sydney Project: Art Safari at the Museum of Contemporary Art

This year is my son’s last year before he begins full time schooling in 2015. Welcome to our year of child-focussed activities in Sydney.

Pipe cleaners at the MCA

Art Safari is one of the Museum of Contemporary Art’s kids’ activities: a program where pre-school children look at a few pieces of art in the galleries and do some related art of their own. I enjoyed the Art Baby tour a lot and was keen for V to have a go at Art Safari. We were joined by another four year old, A—, and her family.

MCA milkshake

Starting in the cafe with an enormous chocolate milkshake was a non-core part of the experience but got things off to a good start, except that the cafe was a bit of a horror show of mothers’ groups and Mountain Buggy strollers (guilty as charged on the stroller) and my memory of it is of a fair bit of flurrying and crowdedness. We had some trouble getting V and A— to say goodbye to their milkshake remnants and to go to the classroom for their exercise.

They started off with some circle time talking about colours and what things they could think of that had each colour. Which led me to discover that I have the shouty kid who wants to give every answer, specifically, who wants to bellow periodically every time a new colour word comes to mind. At this age, it’s a bit awkward to figure out the division of discipline: am I supposed to step in and tell him to quit it with the bellowing, or is that all under control? (I see this play out each week at swimming lessons too, with parents evenly divided between those hissing warnings to their children to pay attention and work hard, and those with their nose in a book.)

Art adventures

I think there’s a lot of scope for kids to interact with some contemporary art, and the art chosen for this was a good example: a whole coloured floor to pace and march around and to match their coloured pipe cleaners with. Good choice.

A less good choice was the security guard who came over and told me that there is a “no backpacks, no exceptions” rule. I assume this is because backpacks are so liable to knock over art works which… obviously is a problem, but it would have been really annoying if I’d had my baby in a front pack and then needed to, I guess, carry the backpack around in my hands, since I can’t dangle it off the baby. It’s just generally not the greatest thing in the world, to have no socially acceptable way to lump around the giant haul of nappies and wipes and changes of clothes and such that a young baby requires. I think I’m supposed to leave most of it in the car I don’t own. (Tangent: I wasn’t babywearing that day, but I often do, and it is quite common in babywearing discussions around this issue for it to emerge that many babywearers either are never far from their cars, or never far from their adult partners.) Probably the best way for the MCA to deal with this would have been for the instructor to mention it before we all left the classroom, so I could have left the bag there.

V found the first activity — making interlocking circles out of pipe cleaners — a bit frustrating (he couldn’t figure out how to twist the pipe cleaner around itself to close the circles), and I was disappointed that the session doesn’t allow enough time for the instructor to notice and help floundering children. That said, each child did have a parent with them, so of course I was able to help him out myself just before he vanished into a big pile of “I can’t, I can’t, it’s so haaaard, I can’t!”

Turntable art

Afterwards we went back to the classroom for an activity he found much more intuitive and fun, holding a texta against a piece of paper as it spun on an record player, so as to draw circles and spirals. I think the instructor tried to briefly mention that this was an older way of playing music, but V in particular, and I think children of this age generally, don’t really grasp that the past was noticeably different from the present and have no interest in cooing over more cumbersome ways of playing music that predate their parents’ era as well. (Although, that must have been fun, back when people got to play music with TEXTA MACHINES!)

Noise and colour

Almost as an aside, the instructor pointed the children at lights that changed colour when you clapped near them, which is nearly as much fun as textas. This was a good microcosm of the whole experience; just slightly rushed. I feel like if each part of it had 10–15 more minutes, V would have had more fun. That said, he was very proud of the art he’d made.

Cost: concession is $16.85, general admission is $21.95. I’m honestly not sure if both parents and children are supposed to buy a ticket. I bought one for me and one for him.

Recommended: not for the price. It’s a fine activity, it was however slightly rushed throughout.

More information: Museum of Contemporary Art’s kids’ activities website.

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Australian passport lifehacks, the unpaid version

If Alex Kidman can get a Lifehacker article out of a last minute passport application, I can get a blog entry.

I’ve had cause to apply for too many Australian passports in the last couple of years (mine and both of my children), and lo, I come to share my wisdom.

The online form

The passport office has an online version of the application form you can fill in. My advice: unless you are eligible for an renewal, do not bother with the online passport form.

All the online form does is generate a document you need to print out and take to a post office and it’s almost impossible to get the printer settings right to the point where I’m yet to meet anyone who actually has done so (apparently the passport office is very picky about it being printed in exactly the right size, in a way that printer drivers just don’t support). Plus, as Ruth Ellison noted in 2008 (and it looks like the website has not been redone since), the user experience is dreadful. Instead, go to the post office, pick up a paper application form, take it away and fill it out. And this is coming from someone who hand-writes so seldom she can’t reliably replicate her own signature any more, so you know I’m serious.

Actually, grab two forms, because they’re also fussy about any mistakes you make on it and it might be better to just complete a second form if you make one. (When I say “they”, it’s actually not clear if the passport office is incredibly fussy or if the post offices are overcautious on their behalf. But it doesn’t matter to you, normally. Someone is fussy.)

If you are renewing, it generates a single page form for you to sign. This is more reasonable to print. Make sure when you print it that no part of the form has been cut off at the edges of the paper and this seems to suffice. The alternative is calling the passport office and they will print this form for you and mail it to you.

Passport timelines

The Australian Passport Office is pretty good about its timelines (10 working days for a normal application, 2 if you pay an additional priority fee of roughly 50% of the cost of a normal application), but the trick is they do not include Australia Post’s part of the process. That is, they do not include the time taken for the application to be transported to them, nor the time Australia Post takes to deliver it back to you. The delivery is especially tricky because they mail it to you registered post at your residential address. Registered post is delivered to people, not mailboxes, so unless you tend to be home all day, you will miss the delivery and need to pick up from a post office, probably the next day.

So, you can read their processing time something like this:

Normal application They say 10 working days or less. However, apply at least three weeks and ideally more before you need the document if you want to receive it in the post. If it’s a near thing, pay the priority fee or, if you live near a passport office, ask the post office to mark it as for collection at the passport office, and they ring you and you go and pick it up there the day it is ready rather than having it take multiple days in the post. (Source: my husband did a normal application with passport office pickup in March 2013.)

Priority application They say 2 days. But the post office’s part takes at least that long again. I can tell you from hard-won personal experience this week that the post office did not consider 5 business days enough time for me to get one through applying through them, and that’s in Sydney where it’s only one day to deliver it to the passport office. So this is really more “dammit, just missed the 10 days cutoff” option than the “I’m travelling within the week!” option.

“But I am travelling within the week!” You need to book a passport interview at a capital city passport office, where they will take your documents and start your 2 working day countdown that second. Ring the passport office, eventually if you are patient with their phone tree you get through to an operator who will make you an appointment. You will get a passport 2 working days after that appointment. (The Passport Office is quite strict with themselves about working days. I did a passport interview Thursday, I have a receipt saying my passport is due for completion at 11:44am Monday!) I was told if your appointment is within those 2 working days to spare you may get promised one faster at the discretion of the passport officer who interviews you, but no promises at the time of booking.

However, again from hard-won personal experience, they could have a two or three day wait for an appointment, which puts you pretty much back at the post office’s timeline. Call them back daily to see if a slot has opened up: I originally had an appointment on Friday afternoon having been assured that Wednesday and Thursday were booked solid, but when I rang on Thursday morning they had an appointment available within two hours.

“But I’m travelling within the day!” Read Alex Kidman’s article. It sounds like the process is to turn up sans appointment and have at least one of a very pressing need or a very apologetic approach to them, and they may give you a slot freed by a no-show and can produce a passport within the day in some cases. Whirlpool, which you can usually rely upon to contain a gloomy bunch of know-it-alls looking forward to explaining how you’ve stuffed it all up, also has largely positive stories.

Proving citizenship

There are no hacks, this is a total pain in the butt and seems capable of holding up passport applications for years or forever.

I luckily have the most clear-cut claim: I was born in Australia before 20 August 1986, I have citizenship by right of birth alone. But even one of my children, who has the super-normal case of citizenship by right of Australian birth combined with two citizen parents at the time of his birth, had one set of documents rejected (incorrectly, in my opinion, but I don’t award passports). Ruth Ellison, a naturalised citizen, writes that she needed to add time to get documentation that was in her parents’ possession. Chally Kacelnik, after digging up evidence of her mother’s permanent residency at the time of her birth, still faced pushback as to its status. A Whirlpool poster, estranged from their parents and therefore unable to get them to provide documents proving their citizenship, seemed unable to prove citizenship by descent as of the end of their thread despite living in Australia their whole life.

I have the very limited consolation of a slight acquaintance with other country’s processes fairly recently and can report that they are often just as reliant on hoping that someone in the family is the type of person who flees countries with a complete set of personal identity documents and someone else who keeps a stash of passports belonging to people who’ve since died, and so on. That is, no consolation.

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Saturday 9 June 2014

1) everything that’s already in the world when you’re born is just normal;

2) anything that gets invented between then and before you turn thirty is incredibly exciting and creative and with any luck you can make a career out of it;

3) anything that gets invented after you’re thirty is against the natural order of things and the beginning of the end of civilisation as we know it until it’s been around for about ten years when it gradually turns out to be alright really.

— Douglas Adams

I’ve decided the same applies more generally to life experiences. Anything that happens before you are 10 (20?) is the natural order of things and you should take it as read that it will probably happen practically every day.

Thus it was with today’s visit to the Australian Museum’s Tyrannosaurus exhibition. This isn’t New York; I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a more-or-less complete fossilised skeleton of a dinosaur before. (I was living in Orange when most of the Canowindra fish fossils were found, but… fish. I feel a bit bad for Canowindra: your teeny town gets a world-leading fossil discovery, except, it’s fish. Sure, now I’m interested. But now I’m not a kid.) But V is four, and so I guess he presumes he’s going to see a T. rex most months of his life from now on. It’s a good exhibit, I feel like Andrew and I should take a day off work and go and see it by ourselves, without a world-weary four year old in attendance.

The weather of the last few days has been very un-Sydney-like. Sydney weather likes to set in. It’s not just “mostly sunny”, it’s unrelenting non-stop ultraviolet being shot into your brain. It’s not just “showers”, it’s flash floods. But these last few days have been truly showers; about every thirty minutes a sudden dump of rain gets spat in from the ocean. Difficult to plan around.

We’ve continued with the trend of V’s social life eclipsing ours. This weekend we went to the pool in order to try and teach him to jump in the big pool (no), Tumbalong Park where he ran in the fountains despite it being the first weekend that feels like winter and it being just as cold as the big pool, Georgie’s second birthday party, the dinosaur exhibit and the bike playground.

This feels like, and is, way too much stuff, but V continues in his pattern of some years now of being very difficult to entertain when we’re inside our house. There’s a wide world out there, and he’d camp in it if he could. Hrm, now I have a horrible feeling camping is in our future. So a never ending series of expeditions is currently the lesser of two evils.

Meanwhile, in the future looms The Great and Terrible Business Trip of 2014, namely, me taking A to the US for business for a fortnight, leaving a week from tomorrow. Every time I think about it I realise there’s a new complication. I need to take 100% nursing compatible clothes (which overlap not at all with my preferred conference wear). I will need to be back in my hotel room every evening at 6pm-ish when she turns into a pumpkin, which will be a significant dent in conference socialising. I can’t use taxis for airport transfers because she would need a US-approved rear facing car seat for every one. I am not taking a stroller either, so I’ll be babywearing her non-stop.

Val asked me whether people had been giving me negative feedback about this trip; I replied that they have, but in a resigned “well, this is exactly the kind of thing we expect of you, Mary” way.

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