The Sydney Project: SEA Life Sydney Aquarium

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 attraction that nearly killed off The Sydney Project.

One of V’s friends A (as opposed to his sister A) had an annual pass to the SEA Life aquarium, and we thought, “well, why not, we should get one too”. We ordered online, per the website we showed up at the aquarium to pick up our pass and… waited.

And waited. And waited.

Shark tunnel
Well, to be fair, it did serve to remind me how much I love scuba diving.

They manage the annual pass process by having someone in the gift shop put them through. The queue was close to an hour in length, especially since it’s possible to impulse purchase an annual pass, and the impulse purchasers are let into the gift shop through another door and served first. I guess those of us who’ve already paid are a secondary consideration. So are our children, twitching with impatience surrounded by millions of pretty trinkets they can’t touch. So are our friends, waiting outside the gift shop so we can finally go in.

Annual pass finally issued (I have a very unattractive and grumpy photo on mine), we went inside. V was extremely impatient and darted inside. I moved to go after him when someone stepped in my way holding up a camera for the nearly obligatory family photo that they try and sell to you at the exit. “Photo?” he suggested, physically trying to herd me to the right place.

“My four year old has just run off, and I can’t see him,” I replied.

His smile faltered a little, but he kept herding me and getting between me and the corridor that V had run into. People have pointed out to me already that no doubt he was on commission, but — no. When a preschool aged child is running off in your attraction, you don’t grab their mother for a photo of the moments afterwards. “Here’s a memento of you realising we don’t give a toss about your missing child.” No.

Proceeding through the aquarium: firstly, it’s full of narrow dark corridors. This is really incompatible with my child; it makes him behave like the attraction is a maze and there’s a prize for first to solve it. It was really lucky everyone involved had an annual pass, because two families had to race through the entire thing after him while he bellowed at the top of his lungs for A to come look at whatever shiny thing had briefly attracted his attention.

In addition, one of the two underwater viewing areas was closed, and the entire thing was packed with people from beginning to end.

Luckily the annual passes are for multiple attractions, so maybe I will get a review of Madame Tussauds or Sydney Tower Eye out of it.

Cost: $40 adults, $28 children, cheaper if you buy online for non-peak periods. Children three and under are free.

Recommended: not on weekends, no. It’s like a rave without any fun bits. I’ve been there before on weekdays and it’s slightly less crowded, but it still triggers some kind of maze-running instinct in my child.

More information: SEA Life Sydney Aquarium website.

The Sydney Project: Wet n Wild Sydney

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.

I’m posting out of order: the SEA Life Sydney Aquarium and Skyzone are waiting. But I thought I’d get Wet n Wild Sydney up while their season passes are still on sale (I believe sales end December 24).

Spoiler: we really liked it! Much more than most reviews of Wet n Wild would have you expect.

All that bad press

Let’s talk about the negatives you may already know about.

Entry is very expensive and pretty much everything else is extra. Lockers? $10. (Oh, but the enticing looking big ones conveniently near the entrance? Those ones are $12.) There are a couple of rides that cost extra. You can’t bring your own food in unless it’s for a baby or for someone with special dietary needs. Food can easily come to $20 a head between a meal and snacks. Parking is $8 (if you pay at the park exit) or $10 (if you pay at the carpark exit). Etc etc. Budget something like 25% of your already plenty pricey admission again, more if you’re going alone.

The food is atrocious. It’s all gluggy, floppy burgers and chips cooked to equal floppiness. This links nicely to this supposedly being a kid-centric review (although really we were there because I like waterslides), in that V is a very fussy eater. When people picture fussy eaters, they tend to picture Wet n Wild’s menu: burgers and chips and chicken pieces. Yeah no, not really. V is almost entirely vegetarian and his emergency go-to foods are mostly various types of bread and baked goods. He does, luckily, eat chips, but we run into a lot of trouble at almost every “lowest common demoninator, give the kids a little treat Mum” place because of the meat. (This isn’t a review of Daydream Island, which is lucky because then I’d have to tell you about V trying to live for a week on Wet n Wild’s food. It was bad enough for seven hours.)

Wet n Wild’s food is actually not what I’d call expensive by Sydney eating-out standards: it’s about a $12 lunch. But it’s $12 that you have to spend on a burger and chips. Not impressed. Adult-wise, Andrew sized up the barista and decided that perhaps a mocha was best. She wasn’t wiping down the steam wand between uses.

Crowds are something that people complain about a lot. We went on a school term Friday rather than a weekend for that reason, and not an unseasonably warm day. Ride waits ranged from none to about 15 minutes, which is about the limit for a four year old. I think in future, we will probably plan to go on a weekday afternoon after school and take advantage of their cheaper post-3pm admission. (Even though there’s the new patrons coming in, the crowds were actually dropping way off from 2pm. We left at 5pm.)

I would be very very wary of ever going on a weekend, or in the school holidays. I’d also be wary of going on a day forecast to be hot: there’s some shade, but I think it wouldn’t be enough to beat off a Sydney scorcher. Weekdays. Afternoons. Mild weather.

Why it worked for us

Here’s one thing that gets negative reviews that I’m not complaining about for our family: the fact that they charge full admission for anyone who is 110cm tall or more, which includes a lot of four year olds. (V is about 115cm.) Don’t get me wrong, this would absolutely be annoying if you have any adult or tall child coming who can’t go on the rides or doesn’t want to, because they have no child carer or “limited rides” entry. You’re 110+cm? Full price for you. (I should note that the paths appeared wheel-accessible to me — we had a stroller with us but not an adult wheel user ­— and they do offer a discounted admission to people with disability cards and free carer admission in that case. Accessibility info here.)

But, for our family, they have us pegged, because here’s what I really liked about the park with a four year old: the rides don’t require that you can swim. I personally quite like being shot off the end of waterslides to sink or swim in a churning pool, but that’s because I can swim well. V cannot: he knows how to hold his breath when water hits his face and he can float and swim a few metres in a calm pool. I wouldn’t put him down a slide that ended in swimming in a churn pool yet if I wanted to see him again. So I had imagined that the day would involve a lot of staring longingly at the best slides while a parent went off to ride them.

But no. The Wet n Wild Sydney model is almost entirely that you go down the slides as a group on a huge raft. As long as you can hang on and follow instructions, you can ride. And the solo rides end in a very shallow long splash pool, so if you have the ability and reactions to lift your head up, you can breathe. So this made every ride for which V met the restrictions (some are minimum 120cm, and 360Rush is 120cm with a minimum weight of 35kg) accessible to him. A much better day than I had thought.

V is also a daring little kid, which is important, because after all, you are riding a raft on rapids. Carefully constructed rapids, yes, subjected to all kinds of safety modelling, under the eye of CCTV, but your kid’s hindbrain may not know that. I think it could easily be a tough day with a nervous kid.

As it was though, with a daring kid and stops for snacks and calming, we ended up spending seven hours there, much much longer than I’d planned, and when calculated at the hour level, the price comes down to similar to some of the other things I’ve reviewed.

Kid review

V’s favourite rides: “the racers!” The H2Go Racers were the second “grown-up” slides we took him on, which was a gamble because they’re solo, and in the second half of them, they’re also dark (Wet n Wild loves adding to the tension by having you ride in the dark). So some careful coaching went into what to expect, but it worked out well. Probably not a surprise for a child who can ski. The only issue with the Racers is that you win the race by, essentially, weight, and so Andrew and I worked out that we needed to wait for him to launch, then stand there and slowly count to ten before going ourselves, if he was to win. This wasn’t the staff’s favourite thing, they’re big on turnover.

That said, the staff were very comfortable with helping him. They launched him down the Racers because he’s a bit short to launch himself. They helped him out of the two person rafts and congratulated him. They’re very supportive of littler kids on the big rides.

He also enjoyed The Breakers (a two-person ride), where you go up a ramp with a water jet shooting you in the back before bumping down the slide, and volunteered himself and me for the Aqua Tube. I looked into it dubiously. “Buddy, you realise that this is entirely dark? And it’s going to be dark all the way to the end?” Sure, he said. And he seemed happy enough, but he didn’t volunteer to go on it again. Of the four-person rides, he enjoyed The Curler and Double BOWLSEye with Andrew but was too short for the rest.

We had expected to spend most of the visit in Wet n Wild Jr/Nickelodeon Beach, which is the children’s area with shallow slides and a little current they can float around in. As you can tell, we didn’t spend much time there, but V is still young enough to think that it was also pretty great. I think he would have been happy there if he was too short for the rest of the park, but probably this is the last year that would be true. (He’s 5 in January, so by the next season, he’ll be nearly 6.)

A (who is 11 months old and doesn’t walk yet) loves pools with Mama, but it turns out she doesn’t much like being sat in water without an adult to hold. Her favourite activity was thus pulling up to stand against a fence. If she was writing this review she would say: six hours of boredom ONE HOUR OF THE BEST FENCE OF BESTNESS. She squeezed in a whole day’s worth of cooing and squealing during her fence time.

Safety-wise, we did manage to get a “tour” of their first aid facilities, courtesy of V taking a nasty fall climbing up the stairs to some slides, and grazing the skin along four of his ribs. It started off badly, when we asked that tower’s “Aquatic Safety” staffer for directions to First Aid and she sounded puzzled and didn’t know. She suggested we go ask Guest Services at the other end of the park. However, 50 metres into the walk, a different staff member stared at us lugging a crying kid and came over to ask us what was up. He was appropriately horrified that we had not got good directions or an escort, and he pulled out a whistle, blew on it, and flagged another staff member over to show us to First Aid. I had half expected them to have a bored GP on staff for the look of the thing, but it was a paramedic and a nurse, which is fine (and for emergencies and first aid probably more appropriate). They have a nice big space with a few beds, basically a doctor’s office. They bandaided V up and gave him stickers and no doubt watched him for all the danger signs that I don’t even know about for shock or concussion.

For an hour or so, he didn’t want to slide any more, and we worried that he’d cracked a rib perhaps, but then suddenly he was watching Andrew on the Racers and then he announced “I want to slide again!”

Adult review

I can’t resist a quick adult review, and in any case, I’m recommending this as a family outing. Which may include adult slide lovers.

First, as above, a disappointment: the group-oriented model means that there aren’t a lot of solo rides and they aren’t the most fun ones either. I think you can go up the towers with four-person rafts and get grouped at the top (rides on those towers are The Curler, Riptide, Double Bowlseye, Tantrum, T5 and Bombora) but you’re supposed to pair yourself up for the two-person raft slides (Half-pipe, The Breakers, Typhoon and Aqua Tube). The two solo rides are H2Go Racers and 360Rush.

For adults, I’d say it isn’t the best solo day out, but I’d go there with friends.

We only went on one ride that was pretty much tweens/teens/adults only (due to the minimum weight): 360Rush. They position 360Rush as the most extreme water ride (“leave your loose jewellery with your friends who are too chicken to ride!”) because it’s the (near) free-fall one: you fall about 15 metres or so and then go around a 360° loop feet first. Andrew and I both did a 360Rush ride, and here’s our collective review: it’s over pretty damned quickly! Andrew’s report was pretty much: aaaaah, oh, now it’s over. Having heard that, I tried to pay attention, and so I got aaaah, huh I’m slowing, so that means this is the bit where I’m upside down, only I have no sense of direction, how strange, oh, now it’s over.

But that’s not to say it isn’t potentially scary. You wear a backboard (I guess to stop you flinging your head back and banging it), you get shut in a small capsule (I guess to position you safely, but also because they can find out if you’re too claustrophobic while it’s reversible), a voice counts down, and a trapdoor opens under your feet to drop you down. It’s all in the build-up. You need to be willing to trust in the machines. I’ve never dropped so fast, so I realised afterwards that I had a little bit of cartoon physics in my head, where I’d hover above the open trapdoor thinking “NOOOOOO”. But real physics doesn’t work like that. By the time you know the trapdoor is open, you’re about 5 metres below it.

It’s actually not a super-fun ride, because it’s so fast and there’s not a lot of sensory experience with it. The rush is good afterwards though. Assuming you’re OK with the fall and the confined space (and note: I am not normally especially thrilled about heights), it’s worth doing once so that you can downplay the experience to all your friends.

Summary

Cost: $79.99 for people 110cm+, $59.99 for people shorter than 110cm, age three and under is free. All 3yo+ admission is $49.99 after 3pm. Season passes from $119.99, so if you’re going more than once, you should probably buy one.

Recommended: yes, much more so than I’d dared to hope, but with the proviso that it’s even more expensive than the sticker price, and that you should pick a day that’s not going to be hot or crowded.

More information: Wet n Wild Sydney website.

Call for Submissions: Seventy-Ninth Edition @ Hoyden About Town

I’m the next host of the Down Under Feminists’ Carnival! Here’s the call for submissions:

The next edition of the Down Under Feminists Carnival is planned for 5 December, 2014 and will be hosted by Mary at Hoyden About Town or perhaps puzzling.org, as circumstances permit. Submissions to mary-carnival [at] puzzling [dot] org.

Submissions must be of posts of feminist interest by writers from Australia and New Zealand that were published in November. Submissions are due on 2 December at the latest, but it’ll be easier on Mary if you submit sooner rather than later. So submit early and often, please, and spread the word!

Submit away, please!

The right to forget, or, that one terrible road stop

I predict that soon the conversation will turn from the right to be forgotten to the right to forget.

Why so? Well, now Google Maps now tries to remember places I’ve been and include them in the maps it shows me. The trouble with this (ignoring any petty privacy, commercialisation, misc concerns you may be about to mention to me) is that there are some places that should be forgotten. In particular, all of Western Sydney’s commerce is now represented to me by one service station that we stopped at on a family trip because someone needed to use the loo, but couldn’t, because its loo was splattered with largely unspecified bodily fluids.

Get it together Google! This is even worse than the way my Youtube suggestions are now and forever filled with Thomas the Tank Engine videos because of an unfortunate and lengthy phase my son went through. I insist on not navigating Sydney in future primarily in terms of which horrible public toilet I am nearest.

 

Friday 14 November 2014

Today’s life lesson: where there’s smoke, there’s fire. Useful, yes?

This year, my mother, Steph, and I are all working part-time, and so we have met in the Blue Mountains once a month or so, give or take, for a picnic.

Today was looking dicey as it was, with forecast temperatures of 35°C or so. That’s high for the mountains, where I’d normally think one would escape Sydney’s heat, but this is the new, improved Australian climate where the heatwaves come out from the desert, and those heatwaves do not play by any former rules about which are the cooler bits of the near-coast inhabited land and which are the warmer bits. To the desert heatwaves, everywhere is an opportunity for a blast furnace.

I felt super-organised and accomplished, remembering to bring hats for both children, food for both children, sunscreen, and a picnic blanket. Did you pick what I missed? No? I forgot a bib for A, so she ended up evenly smeared with yoghurt. It may be good for her skin? Steph didn’t come today so I can’t do any comparative parenting skills today. Actually, yes I can: my mother bought me a new dress, so she wins.

There was a decent breeze, which is great news for the picnickers sweltering away, but otherwise terrible, because wind and dry heat means fire.

This even occurred to me at the time. What didn’t occur to me was to change my plans for the return journey.

My mother had to leave at 2, but we had all day and I thought V might be interested in seeing Wentworth Falls. We unloaded in the carpark in one of the narrowest parks I’ve ever had the misfortune of finding (naturally, the car next to me was both fancy-looking, and metallic orange). Lucky I’m not pregnant or I would have been trapped in the car. We trudged along the flat ground to the upper lookouts, and V was already dawdling and whining. So, we had to be done right? No. He perked right up when he saw the dusty steps descending into the bush.

The Prince’s Rock Lookout advertises itself as a 20 minute return trip, and I’d say that’s an overestimate even for someone carrying a baby and accompanied by a four year old. It’s basically a few hundred steps with the odd turn. But nevertheless, going down there when it’s 35°C with a kid and a baby without any water was not the smartest thing I’ve ever done. However, that’s not today’s cautionary tale. It was actually quite fun, because V was enchanted with the rainbow in the falls. And he’d promised me faithfully at the top that if I let him walk down, he wouldn’t complain when we had to climb all those steps coming back up in the heat. And he didn’t, although he twice took up my offer of a rest whenever he wanted one. I do admire his stoicism when he’s determined (and he’s been a good walker for a while, we did Daydream Island’s short walk end-to-end several times a year ago). I nursed A at the bottom, and at the top I got them back to the car reasonably quickly so that we could hang out somewhere with ambient temperature below our body temperature and V and I had a drink there.

V pointed out politely how much fun this would be in winter, which, he observed, is colder than summer.

However, the closest we came to grief all day was driving east along the Great Western Highway. A siren sounded as a fire service SUV flew along the highway while I was re-fuelling the car. I saw a few isolated plumes of smoke ahead and rang Andrew. Ahahaha, so self-deprecating, they really look like small fires but I’m just being cautious (half an hour too late, see hot walk without water), and emergency services are out and about, so, just in case, what does the Rural Fire Service say? He said he’d call back if there was an issue and to take silence as a good sign. On we drove, until traffic slowed around the area the smoke was (stickybeaking, I think) and we saw a number of fire trucks (V says nine, I think he’s guessing but that would be about right) and the police poking about. I still didn’t think it was terribly serious, until I saw that they had helicopters up, Elvis the massive one among them, within sight of the road.

On we drove. I explained to V I didn’t want to stop for food nearby since it was a good idea to get well clear of a fire if one could. Five minutes later, Andrew rang, saying that the Google feature formerly known as Latitude (and, in our household, Stalkitude) was showing me at Warrimoo, where an emergency alert had just been issued. Nope, I reported, I was 10 minutes drive further towards the city. Good news!

On we drove. At the M4 service centre, I had two messages, one from Steph hoping that I wasn’t stuck in the mountains. The other the Rural Fire Service outreach message, which must be an all-cell broadcast around Blaxland and Warrimoo, telling me that if I didn’t have a fire plan in place, that an emergency was in progress, and now was the time to leave my property.

It would still have been OK. I don’t live there, so I have no property to defend. The fire was possibly dangerous, but small. At worst, if I’d been still up there when the road closed, I could have stayed somewhere up there for the night. (It opened again around about the time the kids went to bed.) But next time I’m up in the mountains in summer and the breeze is up, I’ll look at the fire reports, and the next time I see smoke in the Greater Sydney area, I’m not going to bother with the cutesy “I’m sure it’s nothing” business.

Saturday 8 November 2014

The fortnight of our discontent is over. I’ve been waiting to say this for two months, ever since it appeared in our calendars in the first place.

Actually, it was a week and a half of our discontent, and that made it even worse.

I had been planning to go to Skudcamp in Ballarat last weekend for a few months. So far so good. I’d even planned it to be a family holiday in which Andrew and the kids would come down and he’d look after them during the day in a chill way (very chill, actually, since maximums there were around 16° last weekend, but never mind) while I was at Skud’s place, and it would otherwise be reminiscent of some of our better working-mother setups. Perhaps time has softened the memories, but I enjoyed linux.conf.au in Brisbane in 2011, with Andrew missing the conference to wander around parks with toddler V while I attended the conf and launched a business. Annabel Crabb is not wrong about the wife (duty) drought.

But I have no wife in that sense (or others), as we discovered when Andrew received the dates for a training he wanted to go to, in fact a training he’d already missed when it was held last year and I was heavily pregnant. The location of the training? Tokyo. The time of the training? The weekdays before Skudcamp.

It got even worse, because the week after Skudcamp was his internal work conference in Sydney, generally expected to be a 9am to 9pm affair.

So it went like this: on Tuesday, Andrew left at 7am to fly to Tokyo. On Wednesday and Thursday he went to his training, finishing too late (and too far to the west) to make it to Narita for the evening flights back to Sydney. So I was still alone with the kids on Friday.

But Skudcamp was to begin at 9am Saturday morning. Working backwards, this means being on the 6:50am bus to Ballarat from Melbourne airport. Which would mean an arrival in Melbourne by plane no later than 6am Saturday. There are no flights from Sydney that arrive earlier than 7:30am, so clearly I had to travel down on Friday instead.

But at the other end, Andrew wasn’t back in Sydney until Saturday morning, and I didn’t want to haul both children to Ballarat, so we asked Julia and Barry to have V on Friday night instead, while I took A for the weekend. And this meant constraints on the Friday end: they couldn’t get home until after 6:30pm, which meant I couldn’t get to Melbourne before about 9pm, much too close for the final 9:15pm bus to Ballarat.

So on Friday I packed my big bags — I had had a totally unrealistic dream that I might be able to avoid checking luggage, note to future self, not when you’re taking a baby — and took V and A on the bus to Central. We then walked across Central because that’s just what that connection requires, caught a train to Julia and Barry, walked all my bags and V’s bag to their place, and I left him there for a fun Halloween mini-party. To his credit, he was really good about the walking. Perhaps better than I was. Especially good of him when it was over 30°.

I then walked back to the train station, caught the train to the airport, checked in, and had an unusually good airport security experience. Airport security with a baby goes one of two ways: either extra irritating because it’s the normal experience only with added baby (especially in Australia, where they do not allow baby carriers to go through the metal detector, so you must always haul the baby out of the carrier, walk through with the baby in your arms, and then put the baby back in the carrier), or they’re horrified at the very idea of you travelling alone with a baby and eager to assist in all ways.

Friday at Sydney was the latter. They bought me a chair so I could take my (metal-containing) shoes off. They took all my gear to the X-Ray machine. On the other side, they showed me to a table, brought over a change pad for A to lie on safely while I reassembled everything, and schlepped all my bags over to me. Amazing.

Because I was arriving in Melbourne too late for the bus to Ballarat, I had booked into the ibis budget hotel there, which meant a ten minute walk in the dark in order to collapse into bed.

Meanwhile, Andrew was on an overnight back from Tokyo to pick V up from Julia’s and spend the weekend with him.

In the morning I woke up at terrible o’clock for the 6:50 bus to Ballarat. Nice to see Molly and meet baby Spud though and probably our lengthy birth and parenting nerdery was memorable for the rest of the bus.

Once we got to Ballarat, we were to get a taxi, which had shown up without the baby car seats I’d ordered in advance and also without room for two adults’ luggage. Apparently “everyone knows” you’re supposed to specify that you’re bringing luggage when you book a taxi. Well, now I know I guess. It emerged that, unlike in NSW, in Victoria baby seats are not absolutely required in taxis even for young infants and so “everyone knows” that they’re never used. (I didn’t catch a taxi for the foot journey from hell through sweltering Sydney on the Friday for that reason: baby seats are required by law, and apparently it’s most common to book one and be stranded for hours until someone can be bothered.)

And so I was there.

The weekend was gentle and relaxing, mostly. The goal was to build something of the communities Skud and I have access to in the US, only not in the US because we don’t live there. I think when that’s so, what happened right there is less interesting than what comes after and I don’t yet know what comes after.

My trip back on Monday was much more straightforward. Melbourne airport was on “ignore the person struggling with bags and a baby” mode. They’re in the middle of reconstruction and don’t even have chairs or tables where you can reassemble the disarray of your belongings really. I ended up padding halfway to my gate in sock feet before I found a chair. But otherwise all was smooth and the entire trip was only five and a half hours door-to-door. We caught a bus to Melbourne airport and then a plane to Sydney and Andrew and V met us at the airport with a car.

Then there was the long work week for Andrew. He actually came home on Tuesday to have dinner with two visiting friends of mine, so really it was just a few days of barely seeing him. But on top of two trips it wasn’t fun.

For once though, it seems like the end of the year won’t be a huge crunch. (2009: I was heavily pregnant. 2010: a friend died and my grandmother had a stroke. 2011: we were about to move house. 2012: we were both coming out of surgery and illness. 2013: I was heavily pregnant.) I have a one week trip (with A in tow again) to Wellington for Kiwicon. Otherwise, for the first time in six years, maybe I can think about solstice and Christmas more than a couple of days in advance. That doesn’t mean I have plans. But I could!

Terms not to use when negotiating meeting times, an incomplete list

Also of use to conference organisers setting submission deadlines.

  • “midnight Tuesday”. Ambiguous between the midnight at the beginning of Tuesday and the one at the end of Tuesday. In casual usage, this usually turns out to mean the midnight at the end of Tuesday, but why be ambiguous? (And if you’re wondering why anyone is organising anything for midnight precisely, time zones. Or deadlines, “midnight Tuesday” usually means you can spend Tuesday evening on the task.)
  • “this Tuesday”. Almost always means the Tuesday immediately following, but that can be ambiguous in the case of time zones (if one of your attendees is already in the Tuesday in question) and in the case of someone reading their email belatedly.
  • “next Tuesday”, even worse, because some people mean the Tuesday immediately following, but most people (I think) mean the Tuesday a week after that, and then add in the same problem that it may already be Tuesday somewhere, and people may read their email belatedly.

I like to avoid midnight entirely, especially if you’re intending the “you have Tuesday evening to get this done” meaning. Use “11:30pm Tuesday” or “1am Wednesday”. Problem solved. If you really need it to be terribly terribly close to midnight, you can use “11:59pm Tuesday” quite often or at worst you can just spell it out “midnight at the end of Tuesday”).

For upcoming weekdays, just state the date. “Tuesday 21st”, “Tuesday 28th”. Avoid anything that requires people to know the time you wrote at.

And while we’re here, a free reminder that dates of the form 10/06/2014 are ambiguous between the 10th June 2014 (Australia, much of the rest of the world) and the 6th October 2014 (the USA). 2014-06-10 is less ambiguous and often comes with free sorting by date, but when doing meeting negotiation just write “June” and “October” and be done. You’re welcome.

It’s password management turtles all the way down

Since I mentioned password management in passing yesterday I recall a question I haven’t seen answered yet: how do you manage your password management passwords?

My setup is this: as advocated by, eg Bruce Schneier and Troy Hunt (but not, apparently, by Florêncio et al 2014, although I’ve only read the abstract and some of the press) I use a password manager, which stores huge long random passwords for all the sites I use and is in turn password protected.

While I’ve been doing this for several years, a few flaws have emerged:

  1. Google passwords. You have no idea how often you need to enter a Google password on an Android phone until… you do. And you’ll be reminded for every new device and then every password change, even if you’re a Heartbleed-level-or-greater password changer. It’s very very difficult to survive setting your Google password to F]U8NScS+RP7eL5)v=gj7f*/bX~$&` or even F]U8NScS+R frankly as an Android user. (Especially since if you have two factor turned on, the way you authenticate to an Android phone involves entering your password twice.)
  2. shared passwords, often required in business in particular but also in (cough) personal households, and not handled by most password managers in a model other “a password database for you” and “a password database for you and your boss” and so on for potentially combinatorial values of “you and [colleague]”

There are some services that attempt to solve that second point within an organisation, eg, Lastpass Enterprise but even allowing for that, let us enumerate the password manager passwords that a hypothetical individual called Mary currently has:

  1. personal password manager password
  2. work password manager password
  3. household password manager password
  4. volunteer organisation password manager password

And at the point where this hypothetical individual is remembering four separate extremely complex and secure passwords it’s beginning to look like the promised land of “the last password you’ll ever need” is, well, turtles all the way down.

It’s 2014 and the Internet is still atomising my household

Here’s some electronic things my household owns collectively:

  • our main camera
  • our television
  • our games consoles
  • our Kindle and Nexus tablet

Here’s the services I use almost daily that do not have any notion of collectively owned content or multiple publishers wanting to manage a single account:

  • Flickr
  • Google Play, or any other Google service
  • Xbox Live (to the extent I’ve explored it)

And this is epically frustrating, because here’s some use cases that these websites don’t handle well.

  • we share parenting of our children. We would like to be able to play one or both of them Frozen or Cars or whatever without both owning a copy from a streamable service or someone needing to leave a logged in Android device with a known password in the house at all times.
  • we both take photographs on our main camera. We sometimes can’t remember who took which one and in any case, it’s always me who post-processes them. We would like to be able to publish them on a photo sharing website and maybe sometimes attribute authorship (if one of us is especially proud of a shot and actually remembers taking it) and sometimes not!
  • we read the same books because I read them first and Andrew reads some subset of them on my recommendation, and we’d like to do that without both buying a copy.
  • we listen to the same music because Andrew listens to it first and I listen to some subset of it on his recommendation, and we’d like to do that without both buying a copy.

I mean, it’s disgusting really. One day we could even do the ultimate in simple gross violation of normal and healthy relationship boundaries some day and want to play each other’s saved games.

Right now we do pretty much what everyone does to some degree, as far as I can tell, which is to have a shared Amazon account and a shared Flickr account and still buy movies on optical discs for now even though five minutes of unskippable sections at the start are annoying and put our music on a fileserver and awkwardly manage our photos on a USB hard drive that can get plugged into different laptops and really not stream much stuff at all. Maybe one day we’ll have some kind of dedicated device that is logged into someone’s Google account and streams movies that are always bought through that account, or something like that.

Now traditionally when I make this point, someone will show up and say “yes, my dear, but something extremely complicated is going on here, much too complex and subtle for your delicate sensibilities, called making money through an advertising revenue model requiring demographic information and the entire world will go bankrupt if we allowed multiple people to share accounts even for content they produced in any recognised way, so don’t worry your pretty little head about it and let your husband buy the clicky button things from now on.”

To which I answer: this blog is (to the best of my knowledge) not owned by any of Yahoo!, Google or Microsoft and does not especially care about their revenue models. Moreover, if your comment boils down to “please try and see this from the side of the websites” I will replace your comment with the one from the previous paragraph, sexist content and all. (Also don’t explain to me that one can share passwords in various ways. I know. I do those things.)

I will concede one point: households don’t have continuity in the way that individuals do. My household will split into at least three and perhaps four someday. This is pretty much impossible to model in the present intellectual property+licencing rights model as far as I can tell.

And all the same, I’m annoyed that the software world is really hostile to the (very normal) way I live my life and is (surprise!) set up for a world in which each of the four people in my house sits in their own room with their own TV + gaming system + speakers + phone/tablet + ereader interacting with content they purchased entirely separately, and in many cases, in duplicate (possibly) maximising your revenue since whichever unfortunate day someone came up with the idea of an “account” on a computer system.

First ecosystem to fix this gets to sell me Frozen or something.

Late September

I can never remember weather emotionally once it’s passed. What’s summer like? I’m only remembering now that we’ve had a few days above 30°C. And memories of August, which was very wet, have all faded like dust. I guess we got rained on? I can’t access the feeling.

Two weekends ago was my niece C’s first birthday party, involving picnic rugs on the sunny grass at Jubilee Park with the harbour glinting at us. Steph had made jars of chocolate crackles, biscuits and rocky road, decorated with ribbons. It’s taken me three decades but I finally appreciate an understated consistent aesthetic approach to things. Unfortunately, that’s about a decade after my house filled up with whatever. C had a platonic kid birthday party, involving one crying jag (when the cake came out and she wasn’t allowed to eat it) and one messy face (covered in cake). V has his own social life now: Andrew took him to a friend’s fifth birthday party.

During the following week I had a couple of lunches, going to uni on the Monday and with Chally on Tuesday. I try and go to uni once a month or so now, although I am not sure how much longer anyone there will eat together once Jette’s postdoc winds up and Yasaman submits her PhD. It was a long run of having a social research group there but it may be in terminal decline now.

Last weekend was one of the weekends we mark in our calendar as “Free weekend”, but that really means “Don’t leave the suburb.” And we didn’t. On the Saturday evening, V had a farewell party with his daycare friend J, who is going to stay with family while her mother is travelling for a while. It was the perfect evening party with children: a warm spring evening at a park with — even before the daylight savings transition yesterday — long evening light. And sparkling wine too. On Sunday we met V’s friend M at the park for them to play, which wasn’t as magical because it didn’t involve heaps of other adults and sparkling wine, but the two kids had a fair amount of fun.

This weekend though, is a long weekend, and the daylight savings transition, so magical in that now we are entering the long generous daytime of the continual holiday. Friends who have emigrated to the northern hemisphere tell me that the winter holidays (Christmas and so on) make all kinds of emotional sense there: if there has to be a winter solstice, it might as well involve a celebration. Here, we just have to grit our teeth through winter, and then summer is both long bright days and many days off and then at the end of April, prepare ourselves to face the darkness once more.