Frederation

A land where the trains always run on subjective time. Stories and reflections by Fred Warren.

Brisbane – First Look — July 22, 2015

Brisbane – First Look

botanic_gardens
Entrance to Brisbane’s Botanic Gardens

You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression, and my first impression of Brisbane was very good indeed. It may have helped that I was a little punchy after 15 hours in the air, plus a 3-hour layover in Los Angeles enroute to Australia. It might have been that second cup of coffee right before landing. It might even have been the adrenaline rush of finding myself in a place absolutely new to me. Whatever the extenuating circumstances, I liked it immediately.

Traffic was light riding in from the airport at about 8 a.m. Brisbane time, temperature was about 72 degrees F, with a light breeze and sunny skies. My employer mercifully granted us our first day in-country to re-synch our internal clocks and settle in, so I had time for a little exploring before my body remembered it had been mostly awake for over 24 hours and crashed me.

BrisbaneHaving done a bit of what the Army calls “route recon” before the trip, I knew my hotel adjoined Brisbane’s Riverwalk, which provided a nice straight-line path to the Botanic Gardens, about a 15-minute walk. Seemed as good a destination as any to begin with, so I tossed my bags in the hotel room, pausing a moment to gasp at the magnificent view of the river and downtown (see the previous post), and set off.

As you can see from the map here, central Brisbane is dominated by the Brisbane River. The city is in some ways defined by it. The s-shaped curve of the waterway sets limits on how traffic can move about the city and where things can be built. It favors vertical rather than horizontal expansion. A network of public ferries, including a fleet of sleek, modern catamarans, zigzag up and down the river, connecting the north and south banks. The Riverwalk hugs the river on both sides and is a magnet for pedestrians, joggers, bikers, and skateboarders.  Does everybody in Brisbane enjoy a vigorous daily workout? Probably not, but the steady stream of well-toned athletes who passed me on the Riverwalk offered convincing evidence that this wasn’t a city of couch potatoes.

story_bridgeStory Bridge is a major point of interest on the river, an impressive sight by day and lit by an array of lights at night that seem to vary in color depending upon which local sports team has a game on. The adventuresome tourist can even book a guided expedition along the bridge’s maintenance catwalks to the top of the span, but that particular attraction was beyond the limits of my time and budget for this trip. Perhaps next time. Or not.

As for the Botanic Gardens, a fixture in this town since its early history, it was every bit as expansive and beautiful as I’d hoped. Even in the Australian mid-winter, it was lush and green, dotted with tropical flowers, palm trees, ponds, and fountains.

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There were dark, thick, mysterious groves of bamboo and the occasional bit of sculpture hidden in a quiet refuge off the main pathways. Birds were abundant—rainbow-dipped lorikeets, ibises, ducks, ravens, and even the occasional brush turkey, a bit smaller and leaner than our American Thanksgiving fixture, but clearly part of the same family.

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My energy lasted longer than I expected, and I completed a loop of the central district, crossing a footbridge over the river and passing through the water park and museum campus arrayed along the south bank. I spent more time there on the last day of my visit, so I’ll talk about that in a later post.

Brisbane Calling — July 19, 2015

Brisbane Calling

BrisbaneMy work has taken me to Australia, of all places, for the past couple of weeks. As usual with these trips, I try not to talk much about where I’m going and what I’m doing, except to close friends and family, because there’s a certain amount of sensitivity and necessary security involved. It’s simply prudent to not go about broadcasting the fact that you’re working on a multinational military exercise in Country XYZ these days, at least not until it’s all over. As it turned out, this one was trumpeted across Australian mass media almost from the outset. So much for security. Ah, well…it’s the Information Age, after all.

Anyhow, this was my very first journey to The Land Down Under, so even staring down the barrel of 15 hours flight time across the Pacific, in coach, I was pumped about this trip, and Australia did not disappoint.

We stayed in Brisbane, a less-than-familiar town to your average Ugly American, who probably knows something about Sydney, what with its iconic Opera House and the 2000 Summer Olympics, and  The Rescuers Down Under; might possibly recognize Melbourne, owing to another Olympic Games held there once upon a time; but Brisbane? Brisbane lands in the bucket with that other city whose name nobody can remember because they think Sydney is the capital. To the under-informed foreign tourist (and perhaps more than a few Australians, judging from the newspapers), Brisbane is Sydney’s country-bumpkin adopted sister, never quite able to escape the glare of her step-sibling’s incandescent glory.

My mind kept returning to that egregious exchange in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, where King Caspian, chatting with Lucy Pevensie, tersely dismisses the Narnian market in royal consorts—and one candidate in particular:

“Squints, and has freckles.”

“Oh, poor girl,” Lucy replies in nonjudgmental empathy, rather than dealing Caspian a sharp rap to the nose for being a shallow twit.

Caspian eventually meets and weds Sydney the incandescent daughter of a living star. Go figure.

south_beach_brisbaneBut I found Brisbane instantly charming—a vibrant, bustling community that needs apologize for nothing. Even the downtown precincts are clean and sparkly. Citizens are friendly, courteous, optimistic, and unabashedly sports-crazy. Brisbane’s big enough to have all the attractions and conveniences of a world city but hasn’t lost the common touch.

If Brisbane squints, it’s because she’s embracing her history while steadfastly focusing her vision on the horizon. If she has freckles, it’s because her people spend so much time enjoying the southern sun’s toasty radiance. Brisbane is comfortable in her own skin, and that’s a quality surpassing any superficial measure of refinement or star-quality. I like focus and freckles.

As usual, my work schedule didn’t allow much time for touristing, but I managed to see quite a lot, I think, in what time I did have. It helped that Brisbane is very pedestrian-friendly and has an excellent public transportation network of buses, trains, and ferries. Brisbane is a river city, and the ability to travel both along and across the river, in particular, can turn a long, circuitous plod into a quick jaunt.

There’s much more to say about Brisbane, and I’ll be posting it in installments rather than one enormous bite. Most good things are best enjoyed that way.

scone
Like this delicious blueberry scone.

 

 

 

These Are a Few of My Favorite Apps — February 27, 2014

These Are a Few of My Favorite Apps

apps

I’m old enough to remember when staying in touch while traveling demanded fervent prayer for a working pay phone at some filling station or greasy-spoon restaurant between here and there. Now I can carry enough communications and computer processing power to run a space shuttle (if we still had one of those) from the palm of my hand.

Awesome.

I’ve collected what I think is a pretty decent set of useful apps over a few years of trial and error and a whole lot of time on the road. They don’t offer raindrops on roses or whiskers on kittens, but these smartphone and tablet apps help me manage my travel, reading, and devotions, provide some extra security when I’m away from my home network, and sprinkle in a little fun along the way—things I’ve added beyond the standard browsers, e-mail, and social-networking. I’m always looking for another gem in the Google Play sluice-box (yes, I’m an Android guy), so if you’ve got one that floats your boat, I’d love to hear about it.

These are a few of my favorite apps:

Travel

  • Currency Converter: User-friendly app that tracks exchange rates and allows me to easily compute how far my dollars will go in Europe, Korea, Japan, or anywhere else my company sends me.
  • Fly Delta: My company uses Delta for most of our air travel. The app helps me monitor my reservations and flight status (including weather delays, gate changes, and schedule updates), tracks my baggage, and prompts me for online check-ins.
  • Google Maps: Mobile-tailored interface for my favorite navigation and mapping service.
  • Google Hangouts: International phone charges are totally insane, and I’m not. To stay in touch with my family, I’ve used both Skype and Hangouts when traveling overseas, but Hangouts seems to provide the most reliable and stable connection, with minimal lag. Running Hotspot Shield VPN (see below) also helps circumvent most stability or connection issues that occur on foreign servers. Video, voice, or messaging, one conversation or a conference call, all free. You just need a WiFi connection.

Techie

  • Open Signal: Need a WiFi connection, you say? Open Signal finds nearby hotspots and navigates you there. It also links to a database of previously-identified hotspots, so you can plan ahead.
  • Hotspot Shield VPN: Routes your internet traffic through a secure server via an encrypted data channel, a good idea when you connect to an unsecured public network, like airport, hotel, or Starbuck’s WiFi. Also bypasses geographic media play restrictions when using services like Netflix or YouTube, because they see only the location of my secure server. I might be in Korea, but Netflix thinks I’m in Los Angeles, so I’m still able to watch all my subscribed content. There’s a nominal fee for the ad-free version, but it’s worth it.
  • Google Authenticator: Provides two-factor authentication for my blog and e-mail accounts. To log in from any device I haven’t designated requires a randomly-generated, time-limited numerical code from my Google Authenticator cell phone app. It’s an extra layer of security that isn’t cumbersome or intrusive.
  • AVG Antivirus: Everybody should have one, and this app works unobtrusively and efficiently for me. Scans software and memory automatically and on-demand, looks for other vulnerabilities in your device settings.

Devotional

  • Olive Tree: The most user-friendly, resource-rich, and easily-tailorable Bible study app I’ve found.
  • Ancient Faith Radio: Streaming music and podcasts from the Orthodox Christian community. Good stuff.
  • Pocket Common Prayer: Daily Scripture readings, devotions, and prayers following the liturgical calendar from the Book of Common Prayer. Provides scheduled reminders for prayer time.

Games

  • Chess.com: Nice interface for online chess that accesses a huge community of players and lots of chess news, events, and instruction. Friendly to the casual player, but Grandmasters hang out here too.
  • Quell: Moderately-addictive maze puzzle game with pretty graphics and soft music. I think it actually lowers my blood pressure when I play it.
  • Elder Sign – Omens: Guide an intrepid team of paranormal adventurers into combat against Lovecraftian abominations that threaten to destroy the world! An electronic version of the tabletop dice/card game, and a great solo game. Beware Things Man Was Not Meant to Know, or you might Become That Which You Fear Most…
  • Words With Friends: My brother-in-law and I have had six simultaneous games going on this Scrabble-clone app for about a year now. Enough said.
  • Ingress: Pursue exotic matter, decode hidden messages, locate portals to another dimension, and link everything together in a quest to determine the future of humanity. Google has poured tons of money and manpower into this detailed meta-game that turns your neighborhood into an invisible battlefield for enigmatic alien forces, a shadowy human resistance, and a host of agents and multinational corporations vying for control of Earth. There’s an extensive backstory, live events in cities around the world, and the haunting sense that this might all be something more than a game. Along the way, you get a lot of exercise and find all sorts of cool landmarks you never knew existed.

Entertainment

  • Netflix, Crunchyroll, and Crackle: I’m never lacking for movies or TV shows to watch during layovers with these three apps. Netflix provides a wide-ranging assortment of movies and shows, Crunchyroll focuses on anime and Asian TV, and Crackle is my go-to when I’m hankering for an oddball movie that’s not popular enough to make it onto Netflix. Netflix is a subscription service, but if you already have a home subscription, there’s no extra charge for using the app, and it lets you interact with your home account. Crunchyroll is free with the option to subscribe for faster access to new shows, and Crackle is free.
  • Pandora: There are plenty of good music apps out there, but I like this one, which is reliable, easy to navigate, and does a decent job of monitoring my favorites and tailoring the stream so I get the sort of music I enjoy.
  • Bluefire Reader: This app provides a nice platform for reading e-books in a variety of formats, links seamlessly to my county’s and state’s electronic libraries, and negotiates Adobe file protection protocols, which seem to be the currently preferred method for library management of e-book borrowing. It works especially well handling graphic novels on my Samsung tablet.
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