Monday, August 31, 2015

First day of spring

I learned on the news yesterday that tomorrow, the first of September, is the first day of spring.

I didn't know they could just declare spring like that. I thought everyone had to wait for the equinox to change the season. And the equinox isn't for another three weeks.

But I guess the world is kind of springy here. Fruit trees are budding and flowering. The wattle trees are in bloom. So nature believes it is spring, even in advance of the equinox.

So in any case, happy spring, world!

For a day.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

On papers, skates, and cars

August was going to be awesome. I had a whole large empty month, and only three papers to write. And now, I have one week left in August, several meetings, two papers to review, some calculations to work through, a student thesis to read, one final report and one preliminary report to write, as well as those original three papers, still unfinished, unwritten.

What happened?


I went ice skating with Jonathan on Saturday for the first time since July. There are only two ice rinks in Melbourne. Jonathan has been to both, and he prefers the small one. He and I went to the small one on Saturday. Their rental skates are hard blue plastic, really difficult to skate in. I'm going to have to buy my own skates if I want to keep up this ice skating hobby. (Do I want to keep it up? It's a lot more expensive here.) (But it gives me something fun I can do with Jonathan.) (So yes, I guess I'll keep it up. But I need to buy my own skates.)


Tim thinks we should not buy a car, even when we move permanently. If we want to get out of the city, we can rent a car. And meanwhile, around town, we bike or take public transit. It's a win. We get more exercise walking and biking. We pollute less. We save money on car maintenance costs and parking in the city.

On the other hand, there are a few things that become much more annoying without a car, such as shopping. Since you drag all your goods home in a cart or on your back, you become less inclined to stock up on sales. You have to go shopping more frequently. And sometimes, the shopping walk is just really painful.

Sunday morning I woke up with a bad migraine and a head cold. Without a car, it would have been a 15 minute walk to the chemist shop to buy medicine, then a 15 minute walk back. In the end, Tim walked there for me, and bought the medicine, and I am grateful to him. It would have been five minutes with a car.

So buy a car? Or buy the cold medicine while you are still healthy so you can stay in bed when the cold hits you.

I guess Tim is convincing me -- I'm leaning towards going without the car. But that means it is going to be a crazy life here, my friends.


And now back to writing those papers....

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

We have a school!

Jonathan has been accepted into the French bi-national program that he was interested in attending! So next January, he will be starting school here:

It's a little further out from the city center than our last school in Melbourne. This is what the city looks like from the street the school is on:

You can see the city skyline off in the distance between the telephone poles.

We took a school tour today and met the principal. The teachers, principal, assistant principal, have all been very helpful and very accommodating. They threw in some placement tests for Jonathan today to help him find the right level of maths and English when he arrives. While Jonathan took the tests, they answered all our questions and directed us to further information on the Australian school system. It sounds like Jonathan will have a lot of great options.

The French bi-national program runs through year 9 (9th grade). After that, he works on his VCE: Victorian Certificate of Education. He has to choose some number of subjects to master, I think between four and six? After two or so years of study, he takes a test on the subject -- it sounds like an AP test in the US. His scores help to determine university placement, etc.

I'll write more when I understand the system a little better -- maybe in three years? In any case, before, I was a little worried that Jonathan might not be able to take the mathematics he would have taken on his honors track in the US (calculus in high school). But it looks like he will still have the option to take as much math as would make me happy -- calculus and more -- even here in Australia, and even while learning half of his subjects (including math) in French for the next three years.

I think he's going to have a very nice education. And even better, I think he is going to really enjoy it. He chose the French program on his own. Proud of him.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Our potential lives

We only have two more weeks in Australia before we move to exotic New Jersey for four months. While we are here in the greater Melbourne area, we are trying to find a good school for Jonathan to attend. There is a 2-year-old school that has a French binational program, and an accelerated learning program, both of which he might do well in. I found out a week ago that a colleague of mine had a brother with two sons enrolled in that school. We met with them yesterday afternoon to discuss. And it sounds like a great school, actually. Or at least it sounds like it has the potential to be great. Or definitely not terribly horrible. And that's kind of what we're going for.

If Jonathan enrols in that school (notice how I only spelled enrol with one L -- that's how it's spelled here -- and I know it looks really awkward, but it's still how it's spelled)...

If Jonathan enrols in that school, and we live right across the street from that school, then Google tells me it will take me 56 minutes to ride my bike to work every day. That's a lot of time on my bike. Maybe a little too much time on my bike, both ways. But if Jonathan and I split the difference, and we live another train station or two away, and it takes me 40 minutes to bike in to work, then for me 80 minutes each day is just good exercise! And it appears that there's a nice bike road near a creek that would take me most of the way there. Or alternately, the bike road runs the other direction all the way into the city along the river, avoiding roads with cars. That seems like a pretty nice path to live nearby! We have been looking at a lot of maps of neighborhoods around that creek.

But of course, it's all completely theoretical at this point. We haven't officially been invited to enrol at the school. We haven't found a house to rent yet, and we really can't even look until January, since we have no intention of paying four months rent on a place we aren't living in.

People have also asked whether we intend to rent or buy. For now, we intend to rent. That's because the median house price is about $1.2 million Australian dollars, for just a small three bedroom house. That means we'd be paying off the mortgage at $4000 per month, every month, for 30 years. But it seems we can rent a nice three bedroom house for only $2000 per month! Even if rent costs $3000 per month, because we're right on that bike road, it's still a win. Plus, we just sold our house in the western US for a loss. After all that yard work. We're not ready to go back to yard work.

Except then while walking around neighborhoods, I pass houses with lemon trees and clementine trees in their yards. And I think about how much I would love to grow a lemon tree or clementine tree. Maybe it's worth a couple thousand dollars extra per month to finally grow my own lemon tree?

Or maybe I can just spend a couple of bucks on lemons each week at the market instead. Practicality takes all the fun out of envisioning potential lives....

Monday, August 10, 2015

New job

If I walk 15 minutes to the south and east, I can catch bus 630, which runs straight to campus every 12 minutes. My 15 minute walk is through a pleasant suburban area, with homes smaller and more densely packed than those we left behind, but worth about four times as much money. The neighborhoods seem nice here.  And the bus has always been about 90% full.

Campus is lovely. Before, I was bothered a little by the fact that the buildings are mostly blocks, with a few modern steel-and-glass buildings thrown into the mix. But this time I am impressed by the number of trees. I walk from the bus stop through a dense garden of trees, which open out into a community garden, and a grassy area. There, where the eucalypts are larger and more open, lives a family of rainbow lorikeets. They're too high to see clearly, but each morning and afternoon I hear them screaming at each other in pure joy. How can you not be happy with lorikeets?

I have a large empty office all my own, with my name on the door. Eventually I'll fill it up with books, but right now the books are all on a boat somewhere on their way to China (literally!). The office has large windows facing north. My view is mostly a roof and then, beyond, a car park. But it's nice to have a big window rather than a tiny slit in the corner as in my office at Good Old Dudes U. I think the size of my office is about the same, and here that isn't special.

I've filled out a lot of forms. Forms and compliance training and forms and forms. It took a few tries to get access to the web server, so I can build a new professional webpage, but that's now ready to go. My first paycheck has already been issued. It ended up in limbo in an office on the opposite corner of campus. It turns out it takes about 30 minutes to walk to the very far corner of campus. I hope I don't need to walk there very frequently.

I attended a couple of undergraduate classes today, hoping to learn something about the culture of undergraduate classes. How do they compare with those in the US? Do the students ask questions? Or sit silently? Does the professor lecture only? Or throw in a mix of activities? The classes seemed very similar to what I know. Very similar. So with relief I can report that the adjustment to teaching, when I have to make that adjustment next February or March, won't be a huge adjustment after all. That is another good thing in a list of good things.

On Friday, I caught the train up to the city center, to attend a seminar at Melbourne Uni and speak with a couple of colleagues there. While sitting in the seminar room, with about 20 other people, learning about quantum invariants, looking out at a winter gray sky, I felt a very strong feeling of contentment. What could be better than August in Melbourne in a knot theory seminar?

Life is good, reader. In spite of the fact that payroll is a 30 minute walk from my building. Life is very good.

Monday, August 3, 2015

House tour!

People have asked about where we're staying, so I'm posting a few pictures. We're out in the suburbs this time, like my new university. It took me about 20 minutes to get from home to the university this morning on a bus. (First day of new job! That needs its own post!) We found the house through airbnb. And it was a great find. The house is just lovely.

There is a large (for here) kitchen, with dishwasher. Dishwasher is a very nice feature. Also, the cupboards are stocked with lots of useful dishes and appliances. The place we stayed a year ago in Melbourne also had stocked cupboards, but not with very useful stuff. No need to buy our own frying pan this time, for example. 

Living room looking into the dining room.

Third bedroom. This will be Tim's office. Since Tim is still working with people in California (remotely), his workday will start at 3:00 in the morning. Poor Tim. He headed to bed just after 7pm tonight so he could make it to that first 3am meeting.

Laundry room. Only a washing machine this time, no dryer. The dryer is that rack against the door. Although we will miss having a machine dryer, it will be nice to have laundry in its own room rather than sharing a single bathroom with the rest of us.

First bathroom, for Jonathan.

Second bathroom, adjacent to the master bedroom. When we were trying to sell our house in the mountain west of the US, the feedback we got in the land of massive homes was that our master bathroom was too small. When we arrived here, the master bathroom was just as small, but our reaction was pure joy. We don't have to share one bathroom with three people!

Jonathan's bedroom. Somebody didn't make his bed this morning.

Master bedroom.

That's all. It's very tastefully decorated and well equipped. We will be very happy here for the month.

My only complaint is clothing storage. There are no dressers in any of the rooms. All we get are the hangers in the closet, and the small drawers you see next to the beds. That's a little uncomfortable for a whole month. But we've improvised. Summer clothes are staying in the suitcases, because it's cold and winter here. Jonathan is using a rolling cart from the kitchen in his closet to form a couple of shelves. Tim and I are stacking clothes on a shoe rack in our closet. It will work.

We are very happy to be here. 

Sunday, August 2, 2015


We had eight large suitcases and three backpacks between us. The thing that worried me most was how we were going to get all eight suitcases from the airport to the house we would be renting in the suburbs. A taxi wouldn't fit all eight of them along with three bodies and a driver. It would be easy to pull them onto the airport bus, then directly onto a train. But there was still a 15 minute walk from the train station to the house. We would have to drag them all?

In any case, our initial flight to LAX was delayed. And then delayed again. When it was clear we wouldn't catch our flight to Melbourne that night, we talked about rebooking the trip for the next day and started looking at hotels. But the only plane that would take the three of us to LAX the following day left at 7am in the morning, and the Melbourne flight wasn't until 11pm. We decided to take our chances with the delayed flight, and see what happened in LAX.

In LAX, our arrival was indeed too late to catch the Melbourne flight. But Qantas Airlines put us on a shuttle around the back of the airport, so we wouldn't have to go through security again, and we were rebooked onto a flight departing for Brisbane only a little later that night. By the time we reached the gate, it was almost time to board. We found our seats -- three adjacent seats at the very very back of the huge plane. There was no one behind us to kick us. And extra space under my seat for my backpack. They were actually nice seats, for a twelve hour flight.

Jonathan probably slept the most, with his head on his pillow on his tray table. Tim and I watched five movies between us, one the same, four of exactly opposite genres.
 We arrived in Brisbane around 6:30 in the morning, cleared passport control, and went to collect our luggage for customs. But our luggage didn't arrive. After standing in a long line, we found that our luggage was still in LAX, waiting to fly directly to Melbourne the following day. We hurried through the airport to catch a connecting flight.

Everything was easy in Melbourne. At the luggage desk, we filed a report for the bags. Then we caught the bus to the train, and easily carried our backpacks and one carry on bag the short walk from the train to our rental house in the suburbs.

And best of all? The airline delivered six massive suitcases directly to our door the following day.

Now the only thing to worry about is how we'll get them back to the airport in a month. Can't wait.