30 November 2009


"What the HELL are you doing?!"

A startled scramble for the remote control and the TV blinks off, hissing with guilt...


"You're busted!  You were watching cricket."

"I was NOT watching The Cricket."

"You even said THE Cricket.  You were SO watching cricket."

"No, I wasn't."

"Well, then what was that on the screen?"


"So, you were watching cricket."

"No, I wasn't watching cricket.  I was watching Chris Gayle."

"OH MY GOD - You even know their names!"

" Do you even know who Chris Gayle is?"

"No.  And I don't care."

"Well, then go back to bed and leave me alone."

"Wait a minute...are you watching The Cricket without any pants on...?"


28 November 2009

Let the Mo Grow

November is one of the best times of year here. Not only does my birthday land at the height of the Jacaranda Bloom – like the whole city is painted purple and green – but November is when the men of Sydney grow facial hair to raise awareness (and funds) for men’s health and depression. How nice that city should dedicate an entire month to my favorite sexual fetish!

The mustache is in short supply in Sydney for most of the year, as facial hair in general is not at all popular here, which makes participation Movember particularly noticeable. And the turnout rate this year was excellent.

While I do not have the official numbers, I predict a participation of about 20%, based on the average number of “pervs per minute” (or PPM) during my morning and evening commutes. PPM is calculated as the average number of eyebrow inflections expressed as a function of the number of passengers in a given train carriage, corrected for the number of involuntary frowns, and divided by 60 minutes, and mulitpied by 100 because it makes the number sound more important.

During a typical commute, I experience approximately 4-5 ppms, depending on the destination of my train, with the number of mullet-induced frowns reducing the apparent PPM on west-bound trains. During Movember, ppms increased to 6-7 pervs per minute, but overall rates only reflected a 20% increase due to the implementation of the new City Rail timetable, which significantly increased travel times.

Since Kevin usually sports a moustache, he did his part by letting his beard grow in. There is a lot more white in it than last time. Even the big face at the entrance to Luna Park did his bit this year.

25 November 2009

Peer Pressure

Aside from the occasional whinge about the facilities and the students, I don't share much about my professional life in the laboratory in this blog, mostly because I am not especially interested in it.  Mind you, I love my job and the people I work with, I just don't want to bore the rest of you with details about the contributions to substrate specificity of extracellular loops of glycine transporters.  I do however, like to comment on the bigger picture of what it is like to work in the world of research, particularly in the arena of academia, where the credo "Publish or Perish" weighs heavily on everyone.

But if a picture is worth a thousand words, this video says just about everything there is to say about the realities of peer-reviewed publication.  I swear, we JUST had this exact same conversation in our lab this week...except my boss doesn't have a mustache...

22 November 2009

Happy Birthday to Me!

It’s not every day I get to sit on the toilet, look out the window and watch zebras and giraffes stroll by within smelling distance…And not only because I live on the 18th floor of my building and my toilet doesn’t actually face the window, but because I live in Australia, where strolling zebras and giraffes are generally in short supply.

A wonderful aspect of life in Australia is that one is expected to be the driving force behind one’s own birthday celebrations, and this year I chose to spend the 42 anniversary of my passage into the world at the Zoofari Lodge of the Taronga Western Plains Zoo in Dubbo, a sprawling sanctuary situated a mere seven hour train ride west of Sydney.  I also opted to take the train, believeing that would be part of the fun - that is until we were seated in front of a fine example of bad parenting.  Fortunately, Kevin didn't believe the conductor when he told us the train was fully booked, and we were able to move into a tranquil carriage where we were free to contemplate the gradual expansion of the landscape in relative serenity.  (When we returned home, Kevin could not resist confirming that a one hour flight would have been well worth the extra Benjamin!)  But still, train travel has a certain soothing romance that most certainly does not originate in the buffet car.  Fortunately, I packed a lunch.

Later that night, as we boarded an air-conditioned safari bus, I pondered whether cheap Hollywood thrillers are based on experiences like this or if this experience was based on a cheap Hollywood thriller – The cast of characters was perfectly updated for the times:  There were two fresh-faced German backpackers, a young slap-happy lesbian couple, a 70-something man with his 40-something wife and 10-something daughter, a high-strung too-black-haired insurance salesman from Brisbane and his fidgety animal-print clad too-blond wife, a young family dressed in natural fibers requiring gluten-free, non-dairy, bio-organic meals for their 8-year old son who frequently and flawlessly quoted David Attenborough yet stuck his fingers in his ears and screeched each time our guide started the bus, and of course there was the obnoxious American couple in loud shorts who will surely be the first to be eaten by any escaped carnivores…
…except THIS American couple wrote today's screenplay and know that the Sumatran tiger is going to devour the other bus filled with over-heated, over-fed, over-extended toddlers!

I wonder how much of the behind the scenes tours, the delicious candle-lit three course dinner, or the luxurious en-suite tent lodges will be stored in the memory banks of a 2 year old - and I suspect the stand out memory for their parents will be how their children screamed and crabbed and puked their way through a 43 degree day (and the better part of a 30 degree night).

Although I didn’t get to hear any koalas fucking during the night, I did get to see a two day old baby giraffe…

...and feed carrots to a grown up giraffe...

…and feed gum branches to an endangered Black Rhino…

…and watch a couple of 1400 KG hippos tip-toe out of the water for a feed…

…and get slobbered on by a timid African Bongo…

…and see a pack of wild African dogs rip apart some kangaroo breasts…

But my favorite part was listening to two Siamang Apes defend their territory with cacophonous, yet melodious and perfectly synchronized enthusiasm…

...kind of like KevinAndAudra on any given Saturday Night.

19 November 2009


The majority, if not all, of American visitors to Australia generally make the same sets of observations regarding differences of cultural quirks, social etiquette, and the subtleties of economic scale, the latter frequently taking the form of the exclamatory question “Eighteen fucking dollars for a six pack of beer!?!?” The former may include comments about the sorrowful status of indigenous peoples, the domination of television programming by exotic and unfamiliar sports such as cricket, netball, and underwater men's doubles ping-pong, whether driving on the left side of the road is practical or suspect, and the unexpected British-ness of Australia in general. Indeed, this blog is largely dedicated to the dissection of such observations.

Yesterday, the third and final round of this year's international visitors departed after a 5 week whirlwind visit, and they of course made note of all of the above – with particular emphasis on the cost of goods and services. During their frequent and somewhat emotional rants about the price of mangoes or the wretched value-for-dollar ratio of accommodations, a strange thing happened to me. I found myself becoming increasingly defensive.

And when I observed that in myself, I heard and felt a distinct 'click' from deep within my chest, an irreversible and unexpected ratcheting sound, which both thrilled and frightened me at once.

16 November 2009

The D-Bomb

The names in this post have been changed to protect the innocent...or maybe to protect the guilty...I really don't know, and that's not meant to be the point of this essay anyway...

I found out to today that a couple I know have just split up. Although this event does not really impact me personally in any way – they don't even live on the same continent as me – I was surprised at how very deeply I felt the impact of this bombshell, and I spent the day in confounded contemplation of human circumstance, social institutions, and the practicality of making promises. I can't say I have come to any profound conclusions, but sometimes I feel the need to use my blog to satisfy my own selfish explorations, not just to entertain you all.

My musings have lead me to the following questions:

Does divorce really impact those on the periphery of the drama? And if so, Why and How?

Is it merely a matter of empathy, of being capable of imagining the turbulent emotions of despair, anxiety, and uncertainty – more than imagining them, but actually feeling them in the process of imagination? Is there truly any evolutionary advantage to experiencing the pain of this form of empathy?

Is it a matter of being then forced to examine one's own relationships, to question whether the certainty you believed existed elsewhere truly exists at all? It forces one to ponder the definition, permanence, and importance of love.

There is a popular notion that when a couple divorces, friends are ultimately forced to declare their loyalty to one 'side' or the 'other'. I am not sure I subscribe to this notion, but even the best attempts at neutrality will be undone by declaring approval or disappointment at any given set of behaviors exhibited by either party.

Of course, if children are involved, there must be discussions as to the definition of the phrase “best interests” - a useless conversation really, since, at some stage in their lives, your kids will blame you for the outcome of their childhood regardless of the decisions you made. This could just as easily take the form of the accusation “Well, if you had stayed together, I wouldn't have become a needy co-dependent!” as “Well, if you had gotten a divorce, I wouldn't be such a needy co-dependent!” In other words, your kids are already fucked up – but they will get over it, one way or another, so they probably shouldn't factor in to your decision making process. Ever. Except, perhaps, in the decision to have them at all...

My mind finally wound down to one simple conclusion that brought me a bit of peace and resolution, although it didn't exactly make me feel any better. Couples, and by extension families, are something much larger than their parts – they become an entity of their own. Where as there is “Kevin” and there is “Audra”, there is also “Kevin-and-Audra” and “Kevin-and-Audra” has its own quirky personality and storyline, its own charms, idiosyncrasies, and annoying habits .

There are socially accepted mechanisms and rituals for acknowledging and mourning the loss of individuals, but it is much harder to express one's sorrow at the loss of the super-being that is created by a shared trajectory, a simple ceremony, and a piece of paper filed at the Nevada State Registrar's office.

Hey....maybe I should start a memorial park called Splitsville, where people could go when they are feeling lonely and place flowers (or bodily fluids, depending on the circumstances of the final court decisions) on little tombstones of sorts. I would charge a modest annual maintenance fee to have the benches painted once a year and to pay for advertising in the back of Women's Weekly. It would be a great place for teetotalling divorcees to trawl for dates...meanwhile, Kevin-and-Audra will be heading off to wine country to celebrate 20 years of idiot-syncrasy.

08 November 2009

The Dark Trunk

In the earliest stages of our research involving relocation to Australia, I was warned of rampant and pervasive sexism, evidenced by an anecdote in which the narrator's wife was treated poorly by a mechanic who condescendingly insisted on speaking with her husband regarding all matters automotive. I have encountered occasional comments about feminine frailty, mostly from crusty old bartenders or tradesmen and usually suggesting that I have an inherent inability to manage my own finances due to a weakness for shopping. These are easily dismissed with a wink and a confession regarding the performance of my stock portfolio.

However, for the most part, I find that Australian men are fiercely proud of successful, strong willed women and quite supportive of their accomplishments, particularly in the sporting arena, but also in science and politics. Not that I care much for the opinions of think tanks, but the World Economic Forum recently ranked Australia 20th in gender equality (with Iceland in the number one spot, prompting one to seriously ponder the phrase “relative to opportunity”.)

Despite the global ranking, I count myself very fortunate to have found an excellent auto mechanic. He is not condescending in the least, and seems to value my assessment of what might be wrong when I bring my little beater in for diagnosis of her frequent and mysterious ailments. Yesterday, he let me help him track down an electrical malfunction, called me savvy, and gave me a detailed explanation on the subtleties of proper alternator function. I actually had quite a bit of fun, playing with the circuit tester and locating various fuses and switches throughout the car.

Then he charged me $88 to remove the light bulb from my boot.

03 November 2009

The Audra-city of Hope

I always imagined that hope would sound like an angel choir or an orchestra of strings lead by a single flute or perhaps like an enthusiastic song bird on a fence post chirping across a meadow blanketed with thick snow...but it doesn't hope makes the sound:

“Hisssssssssss. Ka-chunk! Whirrr.”

Hope is a cruel mistress who seduces you into dangerous situations even though your clumsy conscience is silently screaming “She is lying! Take the bus!”

“Attention passengers on the North Shore train on Platform 16. Sorry for the delay. The signal failures in North Sydney have been resolved. We should have you home shortly.”

Twenty minutes later, the train has crawled through the city stations emerging into the sweltering evening sun light on the Harbour Bridge where a slight breeze seeps through the sliver-thin slices of space that pass for windows. The carriages are stuffed with moist and cranky passengers, fervently fanning themselves with complimentary newspapers – perhaps the most value they have ever gotten from the M X. I have sacrificed my seat to a grateful old woman with puffy arms and swollen ankles. I stretch my arm between passengers to grasp a section of the hot metal pole, steeling myself against a faint. At least I am not wearing a suit and tie.

Then the train stops. It just stops.

There is nowhere to put your eyes on a crowded train, and everyone glances around nervously, constantly shifting their focus. No one wants to be caught staring, but everyone needs to witness the agony of our shared suffering. It is too hot to chat and break the tension of our collective annoyance. Mobile phones chime incessantly with fervent messages to loved ones waiting at stations down the line. Bet their cars are nice and cool.

2 minutes. Beads of moisture trickle down my rib cage. 5 minutes. My skirt is sticking to my thighs. 10 minutes. My hair is drenched. 20 minutes. I contemplate removing my under-garments. 30 minutes. My teeth are sweating.

“Hisssssssssss. Ka-chunk! Whirrr.”

Suddenly, every face brightens at the sound of the brakes releasing their death grip on the stalled train. The glorious sound of acceleration lurches us forward bringing a small rush of fresh air down the vents. Then...

“Grrrrr, Squeeeeeeeeeeeeel. Ka-Thunk!”

The brakes lock into place and the once ebullient train slams to a stifling halt.

Despair sounds exactly like I had always imagined.