Category Archives: Personal

An assortment of personal opinions, random stories, and discussions on everyday things in life

German Intensive Course: Week 2

It’s been two weeks so far of intense early morning classes of German and I have to say I’m feeling pretty good. As daunting as it is to bring myself from a deep slumber at 6am every morning, the feeling I get walking around the city at 10am after class knowing I’ve already smashed out 2 hours of German study is pretty good. The weather in Vienna is getting very nice and sunny too which makes it all the more better ūüôā

So, how have the classes been?

Well, once again I’ve managed to be the only ‘native’ English speaker in the class. It’s not that uncommon, there’s normally a token American or Canadian around. But somehow it always ends up just being me. Not that it’s a bad thing. Pretty much everyone can speak English quite well anyway. But there’s some kind of awe about being a native speaker. You’re like sacred or something. My teacher finds this¬†fascinating¬†. We are all at the level where we don’t speak any¬†English¬†in class, but occasionally¬†we need to translate a word if no one has any idea, ¬†and the teacher always looks at me.

“How do you call this in English Jack?”

Most of the time I’m quick to answer. I nod along as she uses gestures and short stories to try and explain the word using the German¬†vocabulary that she know’s we all have, and I tend to pick up on what she’s referring to after a while. This time the German word was¬†r√ľcksichtslos. She had tried to tell a story of a guy in a car cutting you off, and then tried to explain the opposite being¬†r√ľcksichts¬†by talking about what a mother would say to her children if they are annoying their father after he had just come home from work. Looking back, these two stories don’t quite work as opposites, yet they did still make sense… Hmm thus is language studies.

So anyway I replied, “Disrespectful”.

Immediately she shook her head, “No.”

Damn, I was sure that was right, I thought. Well I was. Kind of. Funnily enough this wasn’t the first time I knew the direct translation yet¬†received¬†a ‘no’ from the teacher. I realized¬†that it wasn’t always my lack of German, but sometimes the teachers lack of English. Although¬†disrespectful¬†kind of works, a better translation for r√ľcksichtslos would¬†be¬†reckless¬†and the opposite, in the story of the father and child context, “considerate”. But when you think about it, disrespectful still works…

Anyway, then she said to me, “Isn’t it respectless not disrespectful?”

One would think right? Well sometimes its a good reality check that when I sit back and condemn German for all its annoying little tidbits, English is just as annoying at the same time.

And to tell you what, German isn’t all that bad. In fact I find it to be a very literal language. If you just describe something in literal detail, sometimes it just works out. Well that or just say an¬†English¬†word with a¬†German¬†accent. That sometimes works out too…

 

For some fun here are some very literal German words that I love:

Headphones: kopfhörer (literally head listener)

Wednesday: Mittwoch (literally middle week) [Why not right?]

Slug: Nacktschneke (literally naked snail)

Pubic Hair: schamhaar (literally shame hair) [We should all be ashamed]

Gloves: Handshuhe (literally hand shoes) [Classic!]

 

And my all time favorite:

Nipple: Brustwarze (Literally, yep you guessed it, breast wart)

 

There are plenty more, I even stumbled upon this little quiz you can take http://www.sporcle.com/games/nnneeennn/literal-german-translations. It’s¬†kind of fun, even if you don’t know German you can do it. It’s all about thinking laterally, thinking like the Germans…

See you next week for week three. Remember to hit subscribe on the right if you don’t want to miss out on the awesome antics of an Aussie, in Austria, learning German. Catch ya.

 

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BOOK REVIEW: Harlan Coben’s Latest Thriller Six Years

Six_Years

WARNING: MAY CONTAIN SOME SPOILERS

The first sentence says it all,

“I sat in the back pew and watched the only woman I would ever love marry another man.”

With 24 bestselling novels under his belt, there’s no doubt Coben knows the¬†formula¬†to bring you into ¬†a thriller from the outset and have you begging for more. As delicately crafted as his first sentence, the blurb is just as tantalizing,

“Six years have passed since Jake Fisher watched Natalie, the love of his life, marry another man. ¬†But six years haven‚Äôt come close to extinguishing his feelings, and when Jake comes across Todd‚Äôs obituary, he can‚Äôt keep himself away from the funeral. There he gets the glimpse of Todd‚Äôs wife he‚Äôs hoping for . . . but she is not Natalie.”

So I paid the $11.99 on Amazon to download the e-book addition and spent the next 3 days racing through it. It was indeed what the critiques call a page turner – though that phrase seems to lose its value somewhat in the e-book world – his thrilling prose and slow drip of facts had my heart racing right through the first half of the book.

It was about this time however that I recognized the author’s style. For a second I thought I had actually read the book before, but then I¬†realized¬†it was another book. Funnily enough, it was actually Coben’s first ever book, Play Dead, which is about as literal as it suggests, which I had previously read on a trip through Europe. I had just finished the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series and was drooling for some more crime/thriller excitement. For me ‘Play Dead’ was the¬†epitome¬†of a thriller gone cheesy. As much as it had me on the edge of my seat, the missing person story was all too cliche, and the culminating sibling complex climaxing at the end was all too predictable.

It just shows you not much changes in a 20 year career as Six Years wasn’t much different. Although the book did have me spilling my coffee as my gaze seldom drifted from the pages screen, the random pack of; mafia, witness protection, missing persons, string of murders etc. all culminated in another fairly predictable ending.¬†

Coben also seems to have a love affair with Latin as the novel is filled with short terms and phrases in the language which either shows his pretentiousness, or perhaps just my lack of basic Latin. I’d rather go with the former. It’s not like I plan on following his style with my future novel by throwing in random German phrases. At least I don’t think so…

But aside from this I give the book 3.5 stars. There is a reason he is a best selling international authors and it isn’t so much his prose or his plot ideas. Rather it’s his ability to sell, and he is damn good at it. I bought the novel didn’t I? But hey, we force ourselves through pathetic reality TV shows, and dribbling American Sitcoms, so there is¬†definitely¬†time for a bit of a thrill in the air. And even if you find yourself predicting the ending, just enjoy the¬†journey¬†along the way and you should be somewhat satisfied.

But don’t take my word for it. Watch the book trailer below.

(A book trailer? Really? That exists? I told you this guy could sell!)

German Intensive Course: Week 1

When ever someone asks me how my German is I never really know how to respond. I am¬†definitely¬†not fluent, though friends keep wondering why I’m not. For anyone who’s actually learnt a language before they know, it takes a while! So here I am, two and a half years of learning German, and mind you I have spent most of that time in a German speaking country, yet if a German asks me whether I speak it or not, my reply is still ‘ein bisschen’¬†(a little).

Though I was saying ‘ein bisschen’¬†when the extent of my German was ‘zwei Bier, bitte’, ‘dankesch√∂n’ and ‘ich bin schwanger’ (you can¬†Google¬†that if you want. Don’t ask me why I knew that back then…)

I’d like to think I know a little more than ‘ein bisschen’ ¬†right now. But perhaps out of all the new words I’ve learnt I just haven’t quite learnt those few words to describe the extent of my German. Do I know a little, a little more than a little, am I pretty good, am I¬†OK¬† am I not bad… even in English nothing sounds very good. I mean I’ve met¬†travelers¬†who say they, ‘only speak a little¬†English’, then end up reciting¬†Ulysses¬†before my very eyes. I think it’s just a confidence thing. From the moment you start learning a language, until you can fool a native speaker to thinking you’re native, you’re probably just going to say ‘a little’.

Well the one good thing about doing a course is Europe has a nice little list of letters and numbers to help¬†describe¬†where you’re at. To people who don’t know the CEFR system, it doesn’t mean much, but to the rest, its a¬†beautiful¬†way of classifying us. I am currently B1/1 and will over the next 8 weeks be studying 10 hours a week to hopefully boost myself two levels to B1/2 then B2.

Having not been to a German class since last year, after going to my first few classes I¬†realized¬†that although my grasp of the language is pretty good, I make a hell of a lot of mistakes. I haven’t been using my reflexive pronouns very well, naughty, naughty e.g. ‘I myself am interested’ would be the correct phrase, not ‘I am interested’. Though¬†obviously¬†they both work in English. Typical. And secondly, my¬†articles¬†are down the toilet, just another awesome thing about the German language. What the hell is wrong with just ‘THE!’

I will hopefully keep you updated on the awesome new things I learn through the weeks.¬†Click the button on the right toolbar to follow me ūüôā

Table for One: The Hills of Liechtenstein

Many people claim  traveling alone can be an arduous task. Who do you dine with? Who do you talk to on those long train rides? Who watches your bags when nature calls? And if you get lost, who do you blame but yourself? Aside from this, there are many upsides to traveling alone which helps bridge your confidence, turning you from shy into a social butterfly as well as the little self-wins along the way which makes doing it solo all the more fun. Munich locker

In my latest Eurotrip last year, I found myself with a few days of solo traveling. Although a little anxious at first, having relied so heavily on the company of many others throughout my trip, it took an adrenalin fueled event to get the heart fluctuating and ready to embark on a solo journey.

I had just waved my girlfriend Simone off and left myself all but 15 minutes to grab my bag from the locker storage at M√ľnchen Hauptbahnhof and venture onto the EuroStar train towards¬†Liechtenstein. Somewhere between grabbing some bratwurst for the train ride and walking toward the locker area, I¬†realized¬†that ¬†Simone had taken the key to the locker with her… No time to waste.

I ran towards the locker office, rambled out some broken German until I could convince the man to open my locker. 9 minutes..

Then I had to prove that it was actually my bag. No tags. Stupid. Oh wait there was a tag there from my flight from New York, it read, ‘Josh Thompson’ (a friend I had¬†traveled¬†with). Shit, this doesn’t look good. 7 minutes..

What to do…I noticed my combination lock was still on the bag ¬†so I unlocked it. That convinced him, phew! Back to the office, passport out, filling in paper work, pay fine (25 euro – eh!). Get out. 2 minutes.

Side steps and a few scraped shoulders later – don’t people understand that these German trains are never late – and then I remembered this particular train was Swiss. Even more punctual! Luckily, I already knew the platform. The whistle was blowing just as I threw my bags in and the train departed.

And so it was my first win traveling solo. The heart was racing, the anxiety was over. I could do this.

One thing I should mention about the tardiness of Swiss trains, is you have to be Usain Bolt during the connections. Many Swiss people will daily make connections of trains 2 minutes apart – a far cry from the 30+ minute connections in Sydney –¬†so you better know which platform you’re going to.

After a 4 hour journey, I got off the train at Buchs in Switzerland, just a few kilometers west of Liechtenstein, and searched for the bus to take me into Schaan where my hostel was (the only hostel in Liechtenstein). Once I found the bus stop I went to the ATM to withdraw some Swiss Francs – the true monopoly money. It’s the most¬†colorful¬†money I’ve every seen, and the Swiss seem to love it so much, the ATM only gave me 100’s! So after getting some change from the nearby store I got the bus, paying with a 5 Franc coin (really, a CHF5 coin!) into Schaan.

IMG_2209Liechtenstein

One would think from here it would be simple with only one hostel in the whole country (OK¬†I know it’s a pretty small country but still). ¬†Thus began another venture, with a photo of the map at my side, as I had no internet connection, I began walking left and right, around in circles, following street signs, until I ended up in a field of crops and what appeared to be some kind of bike track. It was getting dark and I had to check-in in the next 10 minutes or no one would be waiting for me… So, thinking I had gone the wrong way, I ran through the crops, jumped over a small creek, rolled under a fence and found myself back on the main road.

Then, I just asked someone. First in German, then in English. She responded in English pointing about 50m north. Sure enough there it was, just north of the field that I had ran through. Although I had to ask for directions, I made it. Unscathed, well other than a small scrape from the fence. Again the solo traveler prevailed! 

THE NEXT DAY I woke and hired a bike, challenging myself to ride through 3 whole countries in one  day! One thing I love about Switzerland and Liechtenstein is the cities are built for bikes. There seems to be more signage for bikes then there does for cars. In fact, they even have signs and different routes for rollerbladers, and Nordic walkers.

In such a tiny country there are lots of open fields for farming, bike tracks and not much else. The mountains are pretty beautiful though and I did manage to snap a picture of the main castle, though I was too lazy to go to the top.

IMG_2181I then proceeded to complete my challenge by riding to Feldkirch, Austria, back through Liechtenstein then into Switzerland. There was a really beautiful river running between the latter two countries which I crossed back and forth several times. I don’t know what it is, but being an Australian I think we have a¬†fascination¬†at the ease of moving between countries in Europe.

In all honesty, had I been with a group of mates, we probably would have cycled for an hour, then spent the rest of the day at the pub. I love travelling alone as it forces me to be active.

IMG_2199

I spent the whole day cycling, taking in the fresh air, seeing the changing gradients of the mountains, and generally just enjoying the different cultures of people I witnessed throughout the day. Liechtenstein is a country you really can see in a day.

Travelling alone is not for everyone, I don’t like it all the time, but it’s¬†definitely¬†worth trying. It makes you do things you’d never normally do.

I didn’t meet anyone on this particular trip, the hostel was fairly empty and the town quiet. But these days with technology, there’s always something to keep you interested. In the end, my iPod was my music to talk to and my iPad was my companion for lunch. And with that, Liechtenstein was just another country ticked off my list.

IMG_2207

Being First in the Digital Age

Having recently reincarnated my voice in the twitter sphere, one of the biggest things I have noticed of late is that the race to post first is outweighing the race to post quality. This is true not only for twitter but also online newspapers which are increasingly dominating the market. I love reading the ‘Sydney Morning Herald’ digital newspaper on my iPad, but one of my secret loves is downloading the newest addition as soon as it comes out and then refreshing it to notice half an hour later they have posted a correction to the article and an apology at the bottom. Why couldn’t they have waited another half hour to spell and fact check it? Why did it have to be first? I can‚Äôt help but reflect on the youthful advice my old school teacher once bequeathed to me.

‚ÄúBooks are much better sources than the internet, therefore your essay requires a minimum of ‘x’ physical sources to pass the assignment”

Print media is better than online?

But this was almost 10 years ago and the internet has changed a lot since then. These days Google Books and open source journals have completely changed the way we research and reference with most essays nowadays being dominated by online sources with few if any physically printed sources. Let’s face it, why would you physically search for a book when you can just type and get the online form in Google?

Plus¬†books take forever to get published, and by the time there is a physical source, no one cares anymore. It’s old news! Right?

But this is indeed the problem. We become so addicted to¬†immediate¬†news that we are clouded by the weasel words such as ‘allegedly”, “possibly”, “unconfirmed reports” etc. in breaking news stories, that we forget that facts take a lot longer to emerge than just seconds after the event. We saw this no clearer than in the Sandy Hook Elementary Massacre.

Another thing I’ve noticed comes from the expansion of the amount of people I follow on twitter. I have many different sources to break to me cricket news so when someone gets out, I¬†immediately¬†check twitter to see who won, as in which account was first to post the dismissal. If I check twitter half an hour later, I feel stupid about commenting about it. It’s over. It’s old news. Who cares anymore?

And that is indeed the problem with the digital age. We all love information. We love it coming in fast, and there seems to be a lack of quality surrounding such immediacy.

Perhaps my teacher was right. Physical sources have the advantage of the whole story as it is seen over a long period of time. Edits can be made, facts can be checked, quality can be assured.

However, facts change. Stories change. Physical sources will never be the same again thanks to social media, blogs and digital newspapers.Therefore one must learn to judge¬†immediate¬†facts with caution. We live in a world of constant changes and updates. Therefore if you want the best, most qualitative and immediate source…

Use Wikipedia. Just don’t quote it.

Find my friends: Stalkerish or a damn useful app?

“Find my friend, more like the Husband Tracker”
“That’s so weird. Why would you ever get that app. It puts a new meaning on stalker”
 

Comments from the uninformed!

APPLE’S recent Find my friends app, relseased along with its new operating system iOS 5, has been the cause for much debate across mobile users on where we are moving in terms of privacy. With this app, we can now know exactly (the accuracy is pretty damn good) where our friends, family members, and yes partners are at any time of the day.

STALKER!…. Not quite.

What a lot of people look past is the systems simple privacy options to be able to block anyone being able to see where you are at any time. By doing this, people then look past the amazing abilities this app can then make for their lives.

The TEMPORARY EVENTS function is¬†definitely¬†a keeper, and that seems to have silenced a few critics. In the temporary event, you set up an event and time period for how long you can see you and your friends before you¬†disappear¬†on the map. So festivals, days at the beach, and most importantly, DRUNKEN NIGHTS IN THE CITY, will allow you to never get lost! AND you can even stalk your friends to see whose house they went home to until the event is over ūüėČ

LET’S FACE IT. WE LOVE TO STALK.

Facebook has check-in options already and facebook as a whole is pretty much just a massive stalking website. People are getting more and more use to it. But if privacy is a concern, just remember that you choose who follows you. If you’re good enough friends with someone to allow them to follow you, then you won’t really care about them knowing where you are, in fact in can make things quite useful whenever needing to meet up in unknown locations, or to see how far someone is away when they’re running late.

Sure cheating partners can get caught out with this app. But hey, you shouldn’t be cheating in the first place.

Happy stalking.

Books vs eBooks

So the other day my manager from work had a spiel to me about how he had downloaded up to ONE GIGABYTE worth of eBooks for his Ipad.

“Ohh it’s awesome I’ve got like the whole series of Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, the complete works of Dan Brown, Robert Ludlum…” etc. etc. Blah blah blah.

As cool as I thought it was, as a ‘writer’ myself, I couldn’t help but think of how technology has got to a stage whereby eons of collective literature, stories which took years to come up with and write, were able to be freely downloaded with a quick and easy click of the mouse. But is it the same? Will you even read these eBooks, or will they just sit on a hard drive?

Are eBooks taking over?

As technology has been exponentially increasing since the start of the 21st century, it seems that kindles and tablet devices will only continually get more advanced and further lure the users into throwing out their books and giving in to the eBook fantasy land. But how realistic is this idea? Let’s put them to the test:

       Books                                                                  eBooks

  1. A personal touch                                             1. An entire library in your hand
  2. The smell, the taste, the love                        2. Search for quotes in an instant
  3. Easier to read                                                  3. Never loose your spot
  4. Looks good in a library                                   4. Interactivity a possibility
Both have their strengths, so what we’re really arguing for is the traditional reading experience vs the new-age interactive experience. This is a debate at a glance, and i will provide a more detailed discussion in a later post. Currently Books rule over eBooks in how much is read, but for how long?¬†

Will all books, old and new, become eBooks?

Will printed books slowly move into death?

The AB Hotel Glebe

A relatively thriving local pub in the heart of Glebe, brings variety and coziness to an otherwise bleak evening

                                               

Location: Corner of Bridge Rd. and Glebe Pt Rd.

Atmosphere: With rain pounding down the window panes, a level of coziness was produced within the establishment through a warm timber aesthetic, and old fashioned beer taps. Being a rainy Tuesday evening, the pub managed to contain a nice variety of patrons; families, friends, couples, but with old regulars seemingly dominating the entirety of the place. There was a well set sports bar area, which would thrive during a State of Origin, or Rugby league final. The general feeling of the place however was lost on the lack of coasters, forcing my beer to sit and form a dirty wet oval on the otherwise beautiful teak table. 7/10

Beers on tap:¬†Variety. Lot’s of¬†variety. There were the old favourites; Toohey’s New, Carlton Draught, XXX Gold, Toohey’s Extra Dry, Hahn Super Dry, Coopers Pale, Boags Draught, but no VB to my delight :). Then there were some premium stuff; Heineken, James Squire¬†Golden¬†Chancer Ale, Little Creatures Pale Ale, a Bulmers Pear cider, a couple other international beers I did not¬†recognize, their house brew the AB lager, as well as a confusing “Facebook” beer, which I had to be a member to ‘know about’. I myself enjoyed a Chancer Ale, which confused the bartender until I reminded him of the James Squire name change. I wasn’t trying to be a¬†douche, the tap actually said Chancer. The name has changed. People should get used to it. 9/10

Prices: The bartender seemed a little unsure of the¬†pricing, being confused as to whether it was happy hour or not. I payed $9.80 for a couple of Chancer’s, though he had originally said it was $9. Either way I gave him a 10er. I do recall the AB lager (the house brew) costing $2.80 a couple years ago when I had been before. Without enough research though, I’d have to say the current prices are a little cheaper than the average local depending on what beer you get.¬†8/10

Food: I didn’t have food, but I did give the menu a little browse. Nothing jumped out at me, NO $10 steak specials or anything. Overall the menu looked expensive and uninteresting, though perhaps the food was good. Either way, I’m no Food Critic.¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬†¬†(no rating)

Weekly What’s On: This was absent from as far as I could tell, whereas most pubs love to throw it in your face and give you a reason to come back every day for a different deal. All I could see was the there was a Ping Pong tournament every Sunday and that there was a chocolate fondue menu on offer every Friday and Saturday during July. Once again, nothing to entice me to come in mid-week during winter, but perhaps their regulars as well as functions make them enough money without needing the cheap deals to get you in. That and probably the pokies. 5/10

Pokies:¬†Casino Style pokies room, large, open, 20-25 machines; Queen and King of the Nile, Where’s the Gold, good ole popular 5 Dragons, a few others I’d never seen before, and the hungriest machines of them all – Big Red. There were 4 or 5 relatively tame punters sitting back with the minumum all lines bet until the big man walked in holding a stack of $5o’s. The system they used was the cancel credit with the¬†attendant¬†coming out to pay you out. In terms of customer service it is good as you don’t have to leave your machine, however I feel it’s a little to manual for modern day pokies technology to be used anymore. 7/10

Service: Overall the service was good. A bartender greeted me without delay, well groomed and dressed with a nice smile. He made good conversation as he was pouring my beer and went on to tell me about some offers they had. It was good information but at the same time, he wasn’t too pushy which made it good.¬†The beer went down well, however I was a little¬†disappointed¬†he did not offer me a chance at the “James Squire Chancer wheel” to spin and win a prize. 7.5/10

Overall: 7/10

Early for work

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Sometimes being early for work ain’t too bad when it’s a nice warm winters day.

Fear the Magpie

I was walking to work yesterday and I happened to notice a small magpie blocking my way. Perhaps the average person would have walked past and not noticed a thing. But not me, no.

I had a history with magpies.

Alarm bells were ringing as my mind started echoing childhood memories. I had always feared the magpie. I wore a helmet as a child riding through the park and always felt the imminent attack coming.Now, even in my 20’s, I realised that fear is still alive.

The bird stood gracefully in black darkness, with a hidden white stripe reflecting its cunning agility. I had heard stories as a child that the magpie would swoop down on me and begin to peck away. Peck. PECK. PECK! It’s overarching, mouthing beaming blade of glory hammering into my scull. I began to also recall notes from my father telling me to never urinate by a tree, as the magpie was always watching, ready to “bite my willy off” as if it were a worm.

But I walked on, stride by stride towads the beast. I finally reached it and it didn’t look at me. As I passed I didn’t look back. But I still had the feeling in the pit of my stomach, that it was watching me. Ready to strike at any time…

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