The Expanse (or “How Youtube Actually Worked For Me!” :) )

So, I was watching a video on You Tube when its “Suggested Next Videos” list included one called “Greatest space battle of all time!”

Intrigued, I checked it out and was hooked. It had suspense, believable zero-gee physics and some great combat. Did I mention I was hooked?

Checking the detail text I found that it was a scene from The Expanse, a SyFy series that was just wrapping up Season 2.

Based on the series of novels of the same name, this show takes the best of Babylon 5, Firefly and the reboot of Battlestar Galactica then merges it all into a fantastic show with political intrigue, mystery, space, believable physics, character development and combat (oh yeah, plus a few naughty bits here and there :) ).

It’s set about 200 years in the future when mankind has colonised the solar system, with three major political alliances being Earth, Mars and “The Belters” (the people living on asteroids). It’s a gritty and very believable scenario that’s well portrayed and draws you into the stories of the various characters, all of which wind up intertwining as the series progresses.

Kitt and I are loving the show and are very happy to hear that it’s been approved for Season 3. Shame we have to wait until 2018 to watch it though.

If you’ve not seen it yet, get out there and watch it. Find it online, borrow it off a friend, even watch it if it shows up on TV somewhere (it’s that good! :) ).

Who rents movies these days?

Do any of my friends actually rent DVDs anymore? Why would you bother if there’s so many online options?

So, who actually goes to a store these days to rent movies & shows on DVD? We used to do it all the time with VCR tapes and then DVDs but I’ve not been in such a place for years! I think the last couple of times I went in was to look for ex-rentals to purchase for a “cheap n trashy” night hanging out at home.

Sure, you’ve got Blockbuster, Video Ezy, Network’s chain and a few independents but are they anything like they were in the past? There used to be lots of places to rent and people would even pre-register their interest in getting the latest movies as soon as they were out to rent.

Now with torrents, ripped copies of screeners (no one seriously goes for Telecines, let alone handycam rip-offs anymore) and legal sites like NetFlix & QuickFlix, why bother going to rent a DVD when the odds are you’ve probably already watched the movie at home before it’s even officially available for rent. Of course, NetFlix isn’t available in Australia (and Quickflix would like to keep it that way) but that’s not a major issue if you have some geek skills and can follow instructions.

So, who’s still renting DVDs? Are any of the people I know doing it?

Checking facts while writing articles – slows ya down but it’s worth it :)

So here I am in the middle of writing an article (well, a commentary) on an issue that’s important to me and I’m doing some research. I’m digging into the main topic a bit more and finding all sorts of tangents & issues related to it that I’m reading into. Suddenly, my “quick post with a bit of a rant” has me heading off into forums, project blogs and other areas to learn more about the topic.

Seems my first concepts were mostly right but a few spots could do with some shoring up to help them survive scrutiny. Hmmmm, good thing I did some more digging, right?

Yeah, it’s a good thing, but sadly, it means I’m going to take all evening to write this damned commentary piece rather than a quick 1/2 hour bit of work. Not a bad thing when you have some spare time but rather annoying when you’ve got stacks of work you need to be doing.

In this case, though, I’m not going to let it get to me and stop me from finishing the piece I’m working on. That’s happened all too often in the past year or two, which is why I’ve had a massive lack of posts on the various websites I usually appear on. My online commentary has been cut back to a few quick posts or replies on Facebook, tweets and one or two forum posts here and there. Most annoying.

Time to push through & complete these various articles, commentaries & posts. I need to make time for them and squeeze them in between the day job, the aviation show and a few beers.

Hmmm – this could be tricky :)

Public Transport in Melbourne makes me love my car!

While public transport has its place in a modern city, it seems that unless you live & work extremely close to train stations on the same line, in many cases it’s far better to take a car.

Our car is currently off the road so we’ve been relying on public transport here in Melbourne and it’s a bloody pain in the neck! We live in McKinnon which is in the sorta-inner south east not too far from Moorabbin Airport so we’re not way out in the boonies but were also not in the inner-city as we once were.

So, here’s a list of issues so far:

  1. From the front door of my house to the front door of my office in West Richmond, it’s faster for me to drive than take public transport, even if I use the bus from home to the railways station instead of walking. At 7:30am I drive to the office by 8am and that’s even after dropping Kitt at Richmond station to get into the CBD. Via Public Transport it’s a bus (or walk) to the station, then a train to Richmond & walk up to West Richmond or a train to the city & then another to West Richmond. Not all trains that go through West Richmond stop there and buses at home are infrequent enough to make walking almost but not quite more effective.
  2. Now that holidays are over, the trains are starting to fill up, occasionally being standing-room only even from McKinnon around 7:50-8am (especially if they’ve cancelled a prior service or it’s running late). Certainly the roads are getting more crowded but I’m still faster in the car.
  3. On weekends when we go shopping, the bus service through Carnegie and/or to Chadstone drops to one per hour from about 3 or 4pm onwards – bad luck if you just miss one!
  4. Later in the evening or on a Sunday, frequency drops right off and you’re screwed if you want to stop off for a late dinner on the way home from watching a movie in the city.
  5. Carrying anything more than a couple of bags of shopping per person becomes a joke! If you’re lucky there’s space but you’re still hauling them all with you instead of chucking them in the back of the car.
  6. Even if I’m in slow moving traffic, I have heating/cooling, my music and space. Woe unto the commuters packed into a bus/tram/train with crappy temperature controls, packed up against others who usually hate moving into the middle of the carriage.
  7. Lets not even talk about going from down here up to Kew or Greensborough where you need to go into the city then back out again on not-so-frequent services (if you’re doing it on a weekend/evening/holiday) and walk a few kilometres if your friends aren’t living near a service.

Yes, public transport is an essential item but we really need to improve the offerings here in Melbourne if more people are to start using it. How about more frequency on routes & not dropping down to “non-existant” on Saturday arvos, Sunday’s or Public Holidays? Just that would help immensely let alone putting in some more routes for those of us not conveniently near a train station or tram stop.

Blog Comment Spam – A New Wave

Despite not a single spam comment showing up on any of the blogs I run, the stupid spammers keep trying. I wind up with mountains of the stuff that has been automatically tagged & put in the “spam” folder by Akismet. These days, I don’t even both to check, I just go in and wipe the lot.

Occasionally some spam gets past Akismet as it uses different phrasing and thus winds up in the pending folder for me to review. Usually these are few & far between but this morning I had waves of new ones getting past on all the blog sites. It wasn’t long before these were all tagged as spam by myself and many other people out there using Akismet so very quickly the wave stopped and new ones were being dealt with properly.

How much longer will it be before the ROI for these retards pumping out comment spam gets so low that it’s no longer worth doing? What will they replace it with?

Who knows. Meanwhile, I just live in hope of one day actually getting my hands on one of these frakkers so I can return the care & kindness they’ve shown us :)

Been doing a spot of reading :)

I don’t usually get a lot of time to read novels due to juggling lots of work, family & a stack of aviation magazines. That said, I still love reading Sci Fi & Fantasy as well as aviation related books. I’ve also recently signed up with LibraryThing as an “early reviewer” to get access to new books (typically in eBook format) so I can find new authors & works to follow when we’re buying books.

You can follow my book reading via my LibraryThing account which should give you an idea of the eclectic nature of my readings lately :) Two books I’ve recently received & finished thanks to LibraryThing’s “Early Reviewers” and “Member Giveaways” include:

San Joaquin Siren A great (auto)biography of Bill Behrns who flew P38s in the China/Burma/India theatre during WWII. For more detail on this one, check out the review I’ve posted on my flying blog.

Book cover imageBroods of Fenrir by Coral Moore. An enjoyable read that had me hooked from start to finish, travelling through the various plots that were unfolding, running together & merging towards the conclusion. With an interesting approach to the roles & rules of wolf packs and overtones of vampirism in their use of blood to bond & play, the book presents a new look at lycans that’s well worth considering.

There are others that I’ve got to read and another that I’ve read & reviewed but am waiting on Nykolai to read & comment on. Turns out it was a Young Adult novella which could explain why I found it an OK & easy read but a little light in some areas. If Nykolai thinks it’s good then I’ll update the review with an increased rating :) :)

So much to read, so little time. Oh well, at least I can have a beer or two while relaxing with a book :)

Bunnings – it’s all about the sausages, really

Last year Kitt and I took yet another step down the dark path of domesticity: we started going to Bunnings, the hardware/home improvement/garden/DIY/whatever place that has warehouse sized stores all around the country. It all began when we moved into a house that had a garden so we went there & picked up some gardening gear.

Then we figured it would be better to mow the lawns ourselves so back we went for a lawn mower. Of course any house has some maintenance required, even if you’re renting, so soon enough it was back for a few tools. Then Kitt decided to rennovate a table so it was multiple trips to buy a couple of sanders (be aware that the idea of power tools in my hands is a terrifying thing), more trips for sand paper and then brushes & stains.

Like an addict starting from “just a small taste”, our first little step had become a slippery slope and now we’re going there about once a month for plants, pots, pH kits (the new place has a fish pond), CAT5 networking cable, lighting, pegs, wood & nails for Nykolai’s latest school project (don’t ask :) and even seeds on a recent trip. Fortunately we’re not as bad as those who cannot leave Bunnings without spending lots more than they anticipated and mostly we leave with only the items we had intended to buy. Mostly.

Maybe it’s ‘cos the main thing I find of interest at a Bunnings Warehouse is the sausage sizzle going on outside the front doors every Saturday & Sunday. There’s always a school, sporting or charity group there running a BBQ cooking up sausages & onions to have in a slice of bread. For a few bucks you can get a quick bite, a drink and get a happy glow from the thought of helping a (hopefully :) good cause.

It certainly means that a mid-week visit to Bunnings just isn’t the same and, in fact, is something to be avoided. What’s the point of exposing yourself to terrors of a home improvements, handy man, DIY, gardening super store if you’re not even able to get a bit of BBQ?

Hmmm – I wonder if we’d ever go to IKEA if they had cheap BBQ food available out front? Nope – doubt it. Nothing can make going to IKEA bearable…

Spring in Melbourne

It must be spring in Melbourne: Spring Carnival horse racing has started and there are ladies to be seen in town wearing light & often skimpy spring fashions on their way to & from the races. We’ve just had a week or so of clear blue skies and relative warmth (20-25 degrees Celsius) to get everyone feeling like Spring has sprung and it’s safe to shed a few layers of clothing.

So what does Melbourne’s weather decide to do? Why, flip to cold and start the rain bucketing down, what else? We’re back to 12-16 degrees, it’s raining, there’s storms (with hail, no less) and lots of wind. The Bureau are predicting coldish temperatures into next week and there are currently warnings for flooding in the catchment areas, severe winds across the bay & district (gale force & damaging) and potential for flash flooding.

Great time for my parents to come down from their place in tropical Thailand to visit us, no? :)

NOTE: Actually, the flooding in the catchment areas is not all bad – we need the rain to help refill our water supplies as the 10 year drought we’ve been in had them getting worryingly low.

Banks making it hard to take our money? Go figure!

We were setting up a business bank account today for our new online media venture and while we managed to make it happen today, it wasn’t without a bit of effort and some crazy uphill battles.

First up we figured we’d try ANZ as they’re promoting themselves for small businesses and have recently received an award for being best small business bank. They also have a reasonably good online banking system with mobile support, so we figured they were worth a go.

Sadly, they didn’t come through for us.

We weren’t getting great vibes in the branch as they guy setting us up wasn’t really engaging with us and didn’t really seem to have his act together as he worked through various notes & guide sheets. We managed to keep it flowing along and things seemed to be on track for getting us signed up when he dropped the clanger:

We needed to open the account with $500 in cash that had to stay in the account over night (but could be withdrawn the next day).

Excuse me? Where was that in the documentation? What are they on about wanting $500 to start and just for one night?

We’re a small, start-up biz with a very basic & primarily online operation. Neither of us had the liquid assets to be able to give ANZ $500 on the spot, even for just one night.

I tell the guy that this is a show stopper and we’re leaving. He takes copies of our paperwork in case we can come back and create the account with $500. He’s also going to check with his manager whether he can get the $500 requirement dropped for us. Unfortunately, he can’t get this answer in five minutes as he needs to email the request in (yes, emails, not a phone call). He’s got my mobile and will give me a call when he hears more.

Yeah, right – whatever. See ya.

So, we go over the road to our second choice bank – Bendigo Bank.

They weren’t first on the list as I’d been told their online system wasn’t as smooth & easy as the ANZ system (important to us as we do everything online & need freedom to work from where-ever we are). They also have a strange way of dealing with bank fees that wasn’t 100% clear through their paperwork. But, they’re still supposed to be as good as most banks so they were a very close second.

We were introduced to the manager and she worked us through what was required. The branch was in much better condition than ANZ, the feel was good and the interaction was more real – not a bureaucratic process with some lumps of meat as it felt like at ANZ.

We had all our paperwork but there was a linkage that wasn’t documented between our legal entity and the trading name. This was a blocker for Bendigo that needed to get resolved to proceed. DOH! Fortunately our accountant was pretty much next door so we were able to get sufficient information from them to tip things across the line and all was done.

So, we now have a business banking account and I think that, so far, we’re probably better off with Bendigo than ANZ. Certainly we have a couple more steps to meet for their online system (eg: use of physical security tokens/fobs) but we’re ahead on monthly fees and the interaction has so far been leaps ahead.

Bendigo certainly seemed more interested in getting our business than ANZ. I’m still surprised about the $500 initial deposit requirement – that was definitely out of left field and not what I expected from a bank that’s marketing itself as a “small business friendly” organisation.

Costochondritis, or “How I wound up grounded!”

About a month ago I had a slight twinge in my shoulder one Saturday evening. I’d been doing my usual crewing of hot air balloons during the week and while some of it was a little more strenuous than normal, there hadn’t been any moments of pain or recognisable “oh shit” moments. Not until I was sitting at the computer, chatting on Skype with Steve, my co-host in the Plane Crazy Down Under podcast. I reached back to get my beer off a table beside & behind me but, becau&se I was chatting into the microphone in front of me, I didn’t turn my upper body.

That, I think, was when I felt the slight strain, almost like stretching a muscle after exercise. Gentle, no twinge, just a bit of resistance.

By a few hours later, it was rather sore and by Sunday morning it was all locked up & painful. On Sunday arvo I was applying heat creams and a friend of ours who does sports massage came over and worked up my shoulder. I could barely get on the massage table let alone turn myself over.

We figured I’d over-exerted myself and my muscles & tendons were registering their protest. I was only getting a few hours of sleep at a time on Sunday night and the pain was as bad (if not worse) on Monday morning, so I started taking some Ibuprofen & pain killers to see if that would make things bearable while my arm sorted itself out.

On Tuesday, I made an appointment with the doc as things just weren’t getting better. The lady I saw thought it was my tendons, put me on Voltaren and sent me for ultrasounds. She wanted to check that there weren’t any tears. The ultrasound revealed bursistis in the shoulder area (inflammation) and fluid in the sheathes around the tendons. Yup, nasty, but not a surgical situation. Whew!

A few days later I called the doc as the images & report should have been in. Reception told me she’d read them and marked my case as closed ‘cos it’d be fine within a few days. Erm, no, pain persisting and in some areas getting worse. I came back and wound up seeing a different doctor who examined me and asked “What’s this lump here?” pointing at the spot where my clavicle meets my sternum.

It takes me a few days to get scheduled (maybe I was kidding myself it would settle down of its own accord? :) but then I’m back for more ultrasounds & x-rays of that spot. This time the radiologist said “Don’t wait a few days for the results to go by courier, take them now and go see your doc again ASAP.” She said she thought I might have popped my clavicle out of its joint with the sternum. Yup, that makes you feel a LOT better, doesn’t it? :)

The next day the doc took a look at the results and immediately sent me off for a CT Scan. Later that afternoon I was having my first ever CT Scan and got to see seven sheets of little images that all said I had a real issue, apparently :)

Back with my doc and the assessment is that while I’ve not dislocated or fractured anything in there, the left sterno-clavicular joint has expanded and the surrounding tissues are swollen. She finds a good orthopaedic surgeon who specialises in shoulders and writes me a referral. I call the clinic and am told they’re booked out until September but can take urgent cases by the end of August (I was calling in early August). The lady gets me to work through what happened, where I’m at and what movement/pain I’m experiencing. On hearing the news, she double books me for the next week and tells me to come with lots of reading material as I may be waiting a while.

The day comes and I’m in reasonably quickly. The surgeon checks it all out, runs me through the what/how/etc and sends me for blood tests. We meet again two days later and he confirms the likely diagnosis:

Costochondritis / Tietze Syndrome

Costo-what???? :)

Costchondritis is where the rib/sternum joints get inflamed and swell, causing localised sore spots and some pain. The Tietze Syndrome is associated with it and leads to referred pain through the nerves, typically around the chest wall and into the arm. This can often lead to reports of pain similar to angina/heart attack. Charming.

In my case the costochondritis is in the clavicle joint and top one or two ribs. It was probably brought on through a series of micro-traumas built up over time (eg: from crewing/flying hot air balloons (packing away especially), lifting stuff and generally over doing it a few times). As a result of this I’m getting pain under my shoulder blade, in the front of my chest, up into my neck, across the top of my shoulder and down my arm – all on the left side.

Coughing, sneezing and yawning can lead to rather intense pain in those areas while moving the arm feels similar to when your muscles are protesting after a hard workout. If I try to do anything against resistance (eg: lift the shopping, pull/push a door, change gears in the car, etc) then pain can be experienced too, often associated with a “nerve tingle” and/or numbness immediately afterwards.

Not pleasant at all :(

The only real solution is rest and not aggravating things by doing any lifting. As such, I’m grounded from any form of ballooning for three months or so. Not happy about that at all! :(

We’re trialling some new anti-inflammatories and I’m off the pain killers as we see where things are at. So far, not good. The pills are helping a bit but not doing a lot for removing the pain when I move my arm, etc. Will have to check with the surgeon re: taking other pills as well (would prefer not to), using a sling, etc.

This sort of thing is all very new for me as I’m normally a pretty active person and enjoy running around being involved in lots of things, doing IT work and being outside working with aviation. I’m now coming to grips with the fact that even just sitting at the computer all day is painful, let alone travelling into the city to an office. As to flying, the surgeon’s asked me to wait a while before I try going off flying fixed wing with friends (let alone aerobatics) and I shouldn’t contemplate setting up or packing up a balloon until this has all cleared up.

Bugger :(

Watch this space for more news as things develop.