Morocco/Spain diary: Day 2

11 October, 2014

Sunday, 14 September, 2014. 09:20

We are having a brief rest in our room before heading out for the day. Our tour meets up this evening, so we have the day to explore Casablanca a bit for ourselves. We are planning to go have a look at the cathedral of Sacre Coeur and then grab a taxi out to the Morocco Mall, the largest shopping mall in Africa. It will be a slightly relaxing day, no hectic sightseeing and rushing around.

We got to bed before 21:00 last night and slept through to about 04:00 before stirring a bit and then snoozing drowsily for a few more hours. We are feeling mostly refreshed his morning. We went down to breakfast just a few minutes after 07:00. It was a fairly standard hotel buffet, with cereal, scrambled eggs, chicken sausages, croissants and pastries, yoghurt, bread rolls, and fruit. The fruit included dates in bunches still on the stalks. These were a pale brown colour and firmer and slightly smaller than the medjool dates we get at home. They tasted a bit less sweet, but were very nice. As we were finishing up, the waiter brought out a dish of fried bread, which we had to try as it looked intriguing. It was light and airy in the middle, with a crisp oily crust and slightly salty, not sweet at all.

Good dates
Olives and dates for breakfast.

At breakfast we saw the woman from yesterday who was also doing a 13 day tour, except with Peregrine travel. She described a tour itinerary almost identical to ours, and we are wondering if she will actually end up on the same your with us, being run jointly for several companies.

Stuffed, we returned to our room to contemplate the day. We decided to check the hotel desk for any information about our tour and to call Intrepid if there wasn’t any. There was a new guy at the desk with very good English who told us the tours usually meet at 6pm, and that the leader would be in a bit before to post messages on the lift. So this gives us most of today free to do what we want.


We are sitting in Caffe Vergnano in the Morocco Mall, which is apparently the largest shopping mall in all of Africa. We’ve been here at the mall for a couple of hours, and are relaxing with an after lunch drink.

The first thing we did this morning was to walk out to the old Sacre Coeur cathedral. As soon as we left the hotel and crossed the road, a man came up to us and claimed to have seen us in the hotel because he worked there. He asked if we were from Australia, and said he had a cousin or something living in Melbourne. Then he started telling us about a special market event being held today, the one day of the year when lots of Berber traders come into town to show off and sell stuff. He said it was a hundred metres or so up the road and we should go have a look. Then he started to say “Come, I’ll show you where it is,” at which point we insisted we had other plans for the morning and started walking in another direction. He left us then, and when I asked Michelle if she had recognised him from the hotel she said that she hadn’t either. After we came back from the cathedral, we tried to find the place he was talking about, but we didn’t see anything like what he described. We figured he was probably telling us tales to get us to follow him to some friends’ shops where they would rip us off or something.

Anyway, we headed to the cathedral as planned, but got slightly turned around by taking the wrong street early on, and had to use the map on M.’s phone to reorient ourselves. Eventually we found the cathedral and I said there might be a service on since it’s Sunday. But as we approached we noticed a group of boys playing soccer in the open area between the cathedral front door and the gate to the street, which seemed weird. The cathedral door was open, and when we went inside we discovered that it was no longer a place of worship, but had been converted into a public exhibition space. The interior was very run down, but the stained glass windows were still there and gave the place an eerie feel. All the furniture and the altar had been removed, and in their place was an exhibition of paintings and sculptures. A man sitting at a table near the door waved us in, and said we could also climb the tower to get a great view of the city.

Casablanca cathedral
Casablanca cathedral.

We walked into the exhibition space first and looked briefly at the artwork, but also at the architecture of the ex-cathedral, which was pretty tall and impressive. It looked like the entire building had been made of concrete, and although there was plenty of stained glass it was all in small pieces in small holes in the concrete walls. After looking around the ground floor, we went to climb the tower, for which the man at the door charged us 20 dirhams each. Another couple had gone up just ahead of us, and we heard them making bird noises as they climbed the heavy concrete and brick steps. The tower was full of bird guano, and fluttering pigeons as we disturbed their rest. The smell as we entered was quite piercing, but we soon got used to it as we climbed about ten floors up to the top of the tower. There was a door out to the roof of the cathedral at one level, and we could have walked all over the roof, but we didn’t because it curved to a downward slope and then a long drop to the ground below. A little higher was a door to the walkway joining the two towers, and we spent some time here taking photos. The other couple were here as we arrived, and we got them to take a photo of us. They went up to the tower top and came down just as we went up. The view from the top was well worth the effort, with a 360° panorama of Casablanca below us, including the taller tower of the Mosque to the north.

Casablanca fisheye
View over Casablanca from the roof of the cathedral.

The weather had clouded over a bit with some grey cumulus blotting out the sun. It looked as though there might be rain later, but now the clouds have cleared and the day is hot and clear again like yesterday afternoon. After leaving the cathedral we walked back to the old medina to see if we could find the Berber market the man had told us about. We didn’t, but we did find a much more bustling section of the medina, with lots of food for sale including fruits, bread, fish, meat, spices, grains, and so on. This was much more interesting than yesterday. It was crowded and moist and smelly and the ground was a bit unpleasant to walk on, but it was an amazing experience.

Casablanca market
Market in the medina, Casablanca.

About 11:00 we hailed a taxi and had the driver take us out to the Morocco Mall, which is on the coast in the far western suburbs of the city. The drive itself was interesting, as we passed a lot of places along the coast and saw plenty of people down on the beach and swimming in the ocean. There was an ice cream stand at the street about every hundred metres along the beach, which stretched for kilometres. Back in the city we drove past a man who was holding up a puppy, apparently trying to sell it to a passing car.

Eventually the driver dropped us at the mall and we entered the the blissful shade and air conditioning. The sun was hot and it was good to get inside. We wandered around slowly until we felt like lunch, then checked the food court area on the third level. There was a lot to choose from, but even though it was after midday many of the stalls were closed or just preparing food to get ready for selling. We looked at a few places, including this Caffe Vergnano, but it turned out to be mostly drinks and a few cakes, not lunch food. Instead we found an Italian place called La Farfalla, which made freshly prepared pasta and pizza. The woman there spoke to us in French as we perused the menu, and offered us some bruschetta to try. I had a piece and it was very good. We ended up ordering a spaghetti puttanesca for me and penne arabbiata for M., plus a couple of bottles of water, all in French. I apologised for my poor French and said I spoke English, and the lady immediately switched to good English, saying she thought we only spoke French! The pasta would take ten minutes to cook, and we learnt that the chef was from Italy and made everything to order. A man brought the pasta to our table a few minutes later, with a generous amount of grated Reggiano Parmagiana cheese. We tasted the pasta and it was really good, perfectly cooked and very tasty. We thoroughly enjoyed our lunches, and let the woman at the shop know as we left. I was amazed that the chef would open a fast food place in a food court instead of a proper Italian restaurant.

Spaghetti puttanesca
Spaghetti puttanesca from La Farfalla. Morocco Mall, Casablanca.

After resting a few minutes to enjoy the view from our table over the Atlantic Ocean, we moved back to the Caffe Vergnano for M. to get a coffee. I decided to get a hot chocolate, which was the thick Italian style and yummy. And now we’re sitting here relaxing as I type this!


We are back at our hotel, waiting for the 18:00 tour group meeting. After having our restful and extended lunch at the mall we continued walking around to see it all. We found the small souk section, which was a circuit of narrow passages with small shops extending off it, like an old marketplace, but built new as part of the ultramodern shopping mall. The tiny shops in here had more traditional Moroccan arts and crafts, rather than the international fashion chains populating the rest of the mall, and were thus much more interesting. There was also a mosque secreted away amongst the souk area.

Morocco Mall souk
Shops in the souk section. Morocco Mall, Casablanca.

Just before leaving the mall we stopped in the Starbucks we saw near the entrance and bought a souvenir Morocco mug for Hailey’s collection. They had trouble finding a box for it until it looked like the woman in charge of the shop went out the back and emerged with a carton of four boxed mugs. All we have to do now is carry it safely for the rest of the trip!

We exited the mall to seek a taxi, and saw several hanging around. We intended to cross the road to get one going in the right direction, but before we could cross one driver urged us into his taxi. We pointed to indicate we were heading in the other direction. He indicated that was no problem, so we climbed in, and I checked to see the meter was on. Before he pulled away, another man got in the front seat to share the ride with us! The taxi backed into the roundabout behind it, then turned around to head back towards the centre of the city. The driver drove like a maniac, zooming between other cars, beeping, whizzing past pedestrians with barely a centimetre of clearance, and so on. We got close to our hotel and the meter was nearly 30 dirhams when it seemed to reset itself. The other man got out and paid his fare, speaking in Arabic. The driver then let us off near our hotel, after having to consult a business card we’d taken from the hotel to get the exact street. I proffered 30 dirhams, but he pressed a button and the meter suddenly displayed 46! I argued that that was too expensive, in halting French, and it should only be 30, but he said something about it being for two people. Rather than cause a scene over what amounted to barely $1.50, I handed over the 46 dirhams in exact change, not wanting to embellish it with any hint of a tip, and climbed out. He basically ripped us off, but at least it was only a trivial amount of money (for us).

We bought another couple of bottles of water at the general store near our hotel and then went in to our room. We saw the Intrepid tour meeting notice posted by the lift, which confirmed we would meet at 18:00. It also listed Peregrine, which is the company the other woman was with, so it looks like she will indeed be on the same tour with us.


The meeting of the tour group at 18:00 took about an hour and a half as our tour leader, a man named Lahcen, got our details and introduced us to various details about what would be happening and what we needed to do to stay safe. The meeting was on the upper floor of the hotel restaurant and the lighting was so dim that several of the people had trouble seeing the forms we needed to fill in, or reading the relevant information from their passports or insurance forms. It turned out that the tour was indeed a blend of tours operated by Peregrine and Intrepid, so the people in our group had variously booked through those two companies. Lahcen said we needed to be checked out and ready to leave at 08:00 tomorrow morning, for our first day’s activities. The plan for tomorrow is a visit to the Hassan II Mosque, then we leave by bus for Rabat, where we pick up a local guide who will take us on a walking tour of major sights. At the end of the day we drive on to Meknes where we spend tomorrow night.

After the meeting Lahcen suggested a restaurant called Les Fleurs for dinner, which turned out to be just across the main road from our hotel. It had a nice decor in traditional Moroccan style, and a mix of Moroccan and French food. I chose a seafood pastilla to try, while M. got the vegetable couscous. The pastilla was a crispy thin crust like a crepe around a filling consisting of spiced noodles and mixed seafood, flavoured with a lot of turmeric and some other spices. It was nice, but not spectacular. M.’s couscous was covered in huge chunks of several different vegetables and sultanas and was delicious, but enough for two people, so there was quite a lot left over by the time we were done. Over the meal we chatted with Ben and Terry, two of the guys on the tour, and a bit with Leanne (the woman we’d met yesterday who was on the suspiciously similar sounding Peregrine tour) and a second Michelle (from Brisbane). There’s a third Michelle too, but that was the European name of a Chinese woman who lives in San Francisco, who said maybe we should call her Zi instead. There are two women from New Zealand, and two from Canada (one Edmonton and the other from Victoria), and two retired men from Sydney – we didn’t catch their names and will have to learn them over the next few days.

Vegetable couscous
Vegetable couscous. Les Fleurs restaurant, Casablanca.

With the meal done, we begged off tired and gave Lahcen 220 dirhams to cover our share of the food and tip. We headed back to the hotel to shower and flop into bed to get a solid eight and a bit hours of sleep before breakfast tomorrow.

Morocco/Spain diary: Day 1

9 October, 2014

Saturday, 13 September, 2014. 04:20 Dubai time

We are about half an hour from landing in Dubai, after a 14 hour flight from Sydney, which departed just after 21:00 Sydney time last night. It’s been dark for the entire flight, and the sun will probably rise a bit after we land.

Check in, customs, and security clearance at Sydney was quick and easy, with the airport not very busy when we arrived. We wandered the shops a bit, then had dinner at the Chinese dumpling restaurant in the departure lounge area. We had steamed vegetable buns, vegetable spring rolls, prawn dumplings, and salt and pepper squid.

We boarded the plane well before departure, and found ourselves on the lower deck right near the front of the plane, only four rows back from the cockpit. All the first and business class is presumably upstairs, where from the bottom of the staircase near us we can see the liquor bar up there. The seats are wide and comfortable, with plenty of space for legroom, which is nice. And the entertainment system is amazing, with a thousand or so movies, TV shows, and music albums to choose from. And the touch screens actually work, unlike all the others I’ve seen on planes before.

We were served a dinner, for which M. got a vegan meal which had some sort of grainy potato cakes with vegetables. I chose the fish dinner which was chunks of battered and fried fish in a sweet and sour sauce with rice. With it I had some white wine, which was a Semillon-Sauvignon Blanc blend from Bordeaux. The food was quite good, and the bread roll was the best I’ve ever had on a flight.

After that it was the long haul of the mid-flight. We tried to sleep as much as we could, though first we watched a movie each. I chose The Muppets, which I hadn’t seen before and which was pretty good for any Muppets fan. In the middle of the night when most people were asleep with their screens turned off, M. went for a toilet break. She held on to seats along the way for balance and accidentally touched everyone’s screens as she went turning them on and leaving a trail of brightly lit screens behind her. Thankfully they didn’t seem to wake anyone up and I turned them off again.

I think we missed the mid-flight snack. Breakfast was served about three hours before landing. I had a frittata which came with mushrooms and baked beans.

06:34 Dubai Airport

We are waiting for our connecting flight to Casablanca, which leaves in another hour. Our flight landed here just before 05:00, when the outside temperature was a very warm 29°C. We went through the transfer security check and ended up in terminal A, which is where our next flight leaves from, so we didn’t have to travel to one of the other terminals by the shuttle train. We walked around, looking at the various airport shops for a bit, before sitting to rest and wait. We saw some camel milk chocolate, which I might buy some of on our way back through coming home. I tried to get onto the free airport WiFi, but it doesn’t want to connect for some reason.

M. got a milky mocha drink from a Starbucks, and we each ate one of the chocolate chip oat bars we brought from home for travel snacks. The sun has just come up outside and our next flight is during daylight.

09:17 Casablanca time.

We are a bit over halfway through the second flight, high over the Mediterranean, just south of the Ionian Sea between Greece and Italy. Our trajectory took us over northern Egypt, and a direct route would have taken us over Libya, but the flight map shows an obvious curving detour to the north to avoid flying over that country.

We were given a continental breakfast of croissants and fruit after take off, with a sweet orange muffin for me and a bread roll for M. We’ll get a lunch before landing. The menu says it is chickpea and sweet corn salad with iceberg lettuce and chicken pastrami, followed by a choice between chicken machbous, marinated in distinctive aromatic spices and slow cooked with rice, garnished with roasted pine nuts, or lamb apricot tajine served with red and yellow couscous. I think I will try the lamb. Oh and a chocolate walnut brownie for dessert.

Our estimated arrival time in Casablanca is 12:24. We expect to be met by a representative of Intrepid Travel, who will take us to our hotel and let us know the details for the beginning of our tour. Then we just need to stay awake for the rest of the day before having a good long sleep later.

17:49. Hotel Les Saisons, Casablanca.

We are resting before an early dinner tonight, followed by an early night to catch up on sleep and hopefully kill any jetlag. Our flight landed just after 12:30 and we got off quickly because we were again near the front of the plane, this time just behind business class on the 777. The queues at customs were short and we were through fairly quickly. My bag was already on the carousel waiting to be claimed, but M.’s took a few minutes to arrive. From there we took our bags towards the exit, only to have an official wave us towards an x-ray machine, which scanned our bags before we could exit the terminal.

We emerged from a door marked Terminal 2, and looked in vain for the person from Intrepid who was supposed to meet us. I noticed a display board outside directed greeters that our flight would be emerging from Terminal 1. So we walked down fifty metres or so where Terminal 1 was marked and there was another exit from the baggage collection hall there. After a couple of minutes of searching, M. spotted a guy holding a sign with a very modestly sized Intrepid logo on it, along with the logos of two other tour companies. We introduced ourselves and he had our details on a sheet of paper, but then he said he was waiting for six people, so we had to wait a little for the others to arrive.

An older lady spotted the same fellow, and then another lady also travelling alone, bringing us up to four. The other two ladies were from Melbourne and Sydney. The four of us waited for the two stragglers, but after half an hour or so they never showed up. I used the time to withdraw some Moroccan dirhams from an ATM, and one lady tried to get a local SIM card for her phone from a kiosk in the terminal. The same lady also discovered her luggage had been searched – the contents rifled through and disordered. Eventually the guy got on his phone and arranged for another person to come to the airport and wait for the final pair, while he took us to our hotel.

The temperature outside was hot, with the sun beating down out of a cloudless sky. The driver led us to a black van, roasting in the sun, and loaded our bags for us. We got in and turned the air conditioning up to high to cool ourselves down as we drove along a toll motorway to the city. The landscape around Casablanca looks very brown and dry, with lots of date palms and some other scraggly looking brownish trees scattered around.

We arrived at the Hotel Les Saisons after about a half hour drive, and checked in. There was no information on our tour at the desk, so we still have no idea what time we are meeting up tomorrow. The hotel seems a bit run down, but reasonably well kept and clean. Our room is huge, with a large entry area and closet, and a huge bedroom, though the bathroom is a little small. The view from the window is nothing to write about, just a dusty side street and run down building opposite.

View from Hotel Les Saisons, Casablanca
View out the window of our room at Hotel Les Saisons.

After washing our faces, we set out to have a quick look at the old medina, which is across a main road from our hotel. We entered the nearest gate and found ourselves in a maze of narrow sinuous alleyways, full of shops and cafes and the odd hotel or two. There were fruit vendors selling from carts piled high with bananas and apples and dates and prickly pears. After a while these petered out and the medina turned into a residential area, full of kids playing in the streets. The narrowness of the alleys didn’t stop motorbikes from roaring down them faster than was really advisable given the density of pedestrians. There were also bicycles, guys pulling trolleys, then tuk-tuks, and eventually in the more residential areas small cars squeezing between the tightly packed buildings.

Medina of Casablanca
Medina of Casablanca.

The residential areas got a bit labyrinthine and we almost got lost, but kept on heading roughly northwards, guided by the sun. Eventually we resorted to checking the map and GPS on M.’s phone, only to discover we were only halfway through the medina, when we thought we must nearly be at the northern end of it. Helped by this, and checking once or twice more for bearings, we eventually emerged right next to Rick’s Cafe, our goal.

Cool down
Boys cooling down at a fountain.

The cafe was closed, and a sign stated it opened for dinner at 18:30. It was only 16:30 now, and we were pretty exhausted, rather than explore for another two hours, we headed straight back to our hotel to rest, stopping briefly to look at Cafe Maure and Casablanca Jose as candidates for dinner, and then to look at the bazaar stalls outside the southern wall of the medina near our hotel. We also stopped in at a convenience store right around the corner to buy two bottles of water, which cost a mere 12 dirhams for the two.

We’ve since decided to head out to Rick’s for dinner, catching a taxi there at 18:30. I asked the hotel reception guy to make a booking for us, but he said we didn’t need one – nobody in Casablanca takes bookings, he said, it’s too much work.


We have just returned from Rick’s and M. is having a shower before I also have one and we drop into bed for some well-earned sleep. The hotel receptionist told us a taxi to Rick’s should cost only 30 to 35 dirhams. We hailed one on the street outside and I didn’t think to ask him to turn the meter on, but it turned out he had done so. The price on it was 5.80 when we got to a Ricks, which confused me and I handed the driver a 50 dirham note, which he waved away, asking if I had any small change. I gave him some of the coins which I had received in change for the water, and that satisfied him, taking about 8 dirhams worth. So the fare must have been just 5 dirhams and 80 of whatever the smaller unit is.

Rick's Cafe, Casablanca
Rick’s Cafe, Casablanca.

At Rick’s we asked for a table, only to be told that we could eat at the bar if we wanted, because all the tables had been booked! Counting ourselves lucky, we agreed to eat at the bar. I ordered the sea bass with rice, while M. got a stuffed capsicum. We also ordered some roast potatoes to go with it, and a starter dish of goat’s cheese fritters with honey and nuts. We were given some delicious warm bread rolls to start with, half of which had olives in them. Everything else arrived at once, and it also included a dish of mixed vegetables (carrot, zucchini, and cauliflower with herbs) and a dish of ratatouille. For drinks we had gin and tonics. Everything was pretty good, without being outstanding. The atmosphere was nice too, and as we ate several other people arrived and also were seated at the bar for dinner, despite not a single one of the “reserved” tables being filled by the time we paid our bill and left.

Fried goat's cheese balls
Goat’s cheese fritters. Rick’s Cafe, Casablanca.

We hopped in another taxi for the short ride back to the hotel. I think this one neglected to turn on the meter, and when I handed him the smallest change I had left, a 20 dirham note, he merely thanked me and got back into the taxi. I think he was keeping an eye out for if I demanded some change, but when I didn’t, mostly because I had no idea how to do it sensibly in French, he slowly drove off. Oh well, that’s still insanely cheap for a taxi fare back home.

We still don’t know what time the tour leaves tomorrow. I figure we’ll have breakfast and if nothing eventuates by 09:00, we’ll call Intrepid and see what they say.

Personality pigeonholes

8 August, 2014
Myers-Briggs types
Image CC-BY-SA by Jake Beech.

Over the years I’ve seen many people refer to the Myers-Briggs personality types, often giving a four-letter code to describe themselves or other people.

I’ve never liked this sort of pigeonholing of people and have long resisted looking up much about the Myers-Briggs classification. I’ve specifically avoided any sort of test which might purport to tell me what my “personality type” is. I don’t want to be known by a shorthand label which will almost certainly misrepresent critical aspects of who I am.

But I had my curiosity piqued yesterday and actually found myself looking at the Wikipedia page for the Myers-Briggs stuff. And I saw the image shown here. Zooming in to read the text, I found it gave a short list of tendencies designed to determine which side of the four different personality dichotomies you belong to. Unable to avoid the temptation now, I read some of them, and immediately found a problem.

The very first choice at upper left, trying to decide if you are extroverted or introverted, asks if you could be described as (a) talkative, outgoing, or (b) reserved, private? Well, I think I could easily be described as both (a) and (b). The next question asks if you (a) like to be in a fast-paced environment [yes! I do!], or (b) prefer a slower pace with time for contemplation [yes! I like that too!]. I really like fast-paced stuff and I really like slow-paced stuff with time for contemplation! Okay, moving on to question three: do I (a) tend to work out ideas with others, think aloud [yes, I do this all the time], or (b) tend to think things through inside your head [yes, I do this all the time as well]. You can see where this is going. The final question for the extrovert/introvert “dichotomy” asks if I (a) enjoy being the centre of attention [why yes, I do], or (b) would rather observe than be the centre of attention [and yes, I often feel like this too].

Moving on to the sensing/intuition axis, the first question asks do you (a) focus on the reality of how things are [yes, I do, very much so; I’m very pragmatic and realistic about things] or (b) imagine the possibilities of how things could be [yes, I do, very much so; I love fantasising and dreaming of various possibilities]. Second question: do I (a) pay attention to facts and details [yes!! extremely so, I am very detail-oriented], or (b) notice the big picture, see how everything connects [yes! very much so! I am very good at this – people at work have commented how good I am at this sort of thing]. Third question: Do you (a) prefer ideas that have practical applications [yes, I love ideas with practical applications], or (b) enjoy ideas and concepts for their own sake [yes! I love ideas with no practical application]. Fourth question: Do you (a) like to describe things in a specific, literal way [yes! I do this all the time; I really enjoy technical writing for work purposes, describing in detail some highly technical algorithm], or (b) like to describe things in a figurative, poetic way [yes! I love doing this sort of thing; I really enjoy writing poetic descriptions and embellishing things I write with metaphors and literary asides and so on].

Okay, let’s try the third axis: thinking/feeling. Even just the title of the two “sides” has me sure I’ll fit into both. Question one: Do you make decisions (a) in an impersonal way, using logical reasoning [of course I do, it’s only sensible to use logic and be detached for many important decisions], or (b) based on personal values and how your actions affect others [of course I do! What kind of monster would I be if I didn’t base my decisions on my personal values and take into account how they would affect others??]. Second question: Do I value (a) justice and fairness [yes! of course I do!], or (b) harmony and forgiveness [yes! of course I do!]. Third question: Do I (a) enjoy finding the flaws in an argument [well… sort of, here’s one I need to qualify; I get the subdued satisfaction of a job well done, but not hedonistic-style enjoyment out of this – oooh… have we finally found a distinguisher?], or (b) like to please others and point out the best in people [well… sort of; I mean, I like to make people happy, but I’m not above criticising them if I think they deserve it; I’m definitely not a sycophantic yes-man]. I’m not sure how to call this one, other than another tie. Fourth question: Could I be described as (a) reasonable, level-headed [I like to think so, and I honestly believe I come across that way to others], or (b) warm, empathetic [I like to think so, and I honestly believe I come across that way to others].

The fourth and final axis: judging/perceiving. Do I prefer to (a) have matters settled, or (b) leave your options open? Well, I like both. I love being meticulously organised, and I also love flying by the seat of my pants. Question two: Do I (a) think rules and deadlines should be respected, or (b) see rules and deadlines as flexible? You know… I like to strike a sensible balance. Rules and deadlines should definitely be respected, but that doesn’t mean they can’t also be flexible if needed. Question three: Do I (a) prefer to have detailed step-by-step instructions, or (b) like to improvise and make things up as I go? I love both! It’s great to have step-by-step instructions, if I want to go that way and do a thing exactly as other people have done it, but I also love modifying and improvising to come up with something unique. (Examples: in cooking, sometimes I follow a recipe to the letter, sometimes I throw caution to the wind and modify like crazy. Playing music: sometimes I want to reproduce the exact sound of a recorded song using a detailed score, sometimes I want to let loose and do whatever I want.) Fourth and final question: Do I (a) make plans, want to know what I’m getting into [yes, very much so!], or (b) am I spontaneous and enjoy surprises and new situations [I love surprises and dealing with unexpected situations spontaneously].

Well. Maybe this says something about me and my personality, or maybe it doesn’t. All I know is that the Myers-Briggs types are ridiculously narrowly specified and don’t seem to apply to me, not even in the slightest. Every single “dichotomous” question they ask, I have pretty much an equal reaction to both sides. I like all sorts of stuff. I like being quiet and contemplative, I like being brash and outgoing, I like to plan and think things through in detail, I like to just go and spontaneously decide what to do on the spur of the moment, I like to be literal and meticulous and logical, I like to be carefree and expressive and poetic.

Why pigeonhole yourself into some “personality type”? You’re missing half the fun of being alive!


8 July, 2014

A friend suggested typing “List of A” into Wikipedia’s search box and seeing what it suggested, as a follow up to my previous auto-complete post. So without further ado, here are the top auto-complete suggestions for each letter:

Return to Legends

29 June, 2014

Return to LegendsMy friends and I occasionally make our own custom Magic: the Gathering sets. We design the cards, print them out (using a custom card image generating script one of my friends coded up), and then play a draft tournament using the invented cards we have come up with. A couple of sets have been designed jointly, but most of the ones we have done have had a single designer. Several of us have taken on the task of designing an entire set of cards for everyone to play with, often keeping the details secret until it is all unveiled at the draft.

We played my latest set last Friday. Usually we invent sets out of whole cloth, but this time I had a different idea. I took the old expansion Legends, and redesigned it from the ground up, using modern card design principles and power levels, including Mark Rosewater’s design skeleton.

I left the card names unchanged and used the same artwork, but updated the card frames to the modern version. Depending on the card, I modified the casting cost, rules text, power/toughness, and in a few cases the card type or the colour. For example, Great Defender, originally a white instant, I turned into a blue Merfolk creature, based on the artwork. I improved the Kobold lords to make kobolds a draftable deck archetype. I made most of the legendary creatures highly playable (most of them were underpowered or overcosted in the original set). And I turned Wood Elemental, often nominated for worst card of all time, into a very powerful card.

I took out a lot of the walls and wall-affecting stuff, and ramped up rules text referring to legends. I gave the snakes generated by Serpent Generator the Infect ability (and made the artefact cost 3 to cast, and 3 to use the ability, rather than 6 and 4). I gave a bunch of green and black creatures Infect as well, to make a poison deck draftable and playable.

The other guys were delighted when I unveiled the concept. I’d made faux-booster wrappers and collated the cards into “boosters” for drafting (pictured). Ripping them open to see Legends cards – and not merely Legends cards, but Legends cards updated and made so that they conform to modern power levels – was really exciting. We all had a lot of fun drafting and playing the games. Legend was never designed for the draft format, and would be miserable unmodified. But revamped and updated in design, it was a lot of fun!

And as is traditional when one of us designs a set for us to draft, I came dead last in the tournament. (Seriously, this has happened more often than not when one of us designs a set.) But still had fun!

Ranking: Australian states

21 June, 2014

Australian states and contiguous territories ranked:

By increasing area: Australian Capital Territory, Tasmania, Victoria, New South Wales, South Australia, Northern Territory, Queensland, Western Australia.

By increasing population: Northern Territory, Australian Capital Territory, Tasmania, South Australia, Western Australia, Queensland, Victoria, New South Wales.

By increasing number of wineries: Northern Territory, Australian Capital Territory, Queensland, Tasmania, Western Australia, New South Wales, South Australia, Victoria. (Source:

By increasing number of times I have visited them: Tasmania, South Australia, Western Australia, Northern Territory (all 1 each), Queensland (about 5 times), Victoria (about 10 times), Australian Capital Territory (about 20 times), New South Wales (I live here).

Ranking: Ball sports

18 June, 2014

(Selected sports)

By increasing ball size: squash, golf, snooker, tennis, cricket, hockey, baseball, softball, lawn bowls, American football (shortest dimension), Australian rules football (shortest dimension), rugby league and rugby union (shortest dimension), volleyball, bowling, football (soccer), basketball.

By increasing number of pro games I have watched live at the venue: basketball (1), baseball (2), cricket (dozens), rugby league (approx. 100). Others zero.

By increasing number of pro games I have watched live on TV: hockey (1 or 2), basketball (a few), football (soccer) (a dozen or so), rugby union (a dozen or so), lawn bowls (approx. 20), American football (tens), baseball (dozens), snooker (scores), rugby league (approx. 100), cricket (hundreds). Others zero.

By increasing number of games I have played: volleyball (a few), softball (a dozen or so), squash (tens), tennis (dozens), snooker (scores).

I’ve played a bunch of informal touch rugby and lots of informal cricket, which were not organised games with formalised score-keeping.

Ranking: Nuts

16 June, 2014

In a new, perhaps to be semi-regular, feature on this blog, I shall post my rankings of various things in two or more categories! To start with, nuts!

In increasing order of crunchiness: Chestnuts, cashews, walnuts, pecans, pistachios, coconuts, peanuts, macadamias, brazil nuts, almonds, hazelnuts.

In increasing order of yumminess: Brazil nuts, coconuts, hazelnuts, pistachios, walnuts, almonds, pecans, chestnuts, peanuts, macadamias, cashews.

In increasing order of how often I cook/prepare food with them in: Brazil nuts, chestnuts, macadamias, pistachios, pecans, hazelnuts, coconuts (cakes), peanuts (curries, satay), cashews (stir fries, curries), walnuts (cakes, and pizza toppings), almonds (I mix some in my home-made muesli every week).

One letter searches

21 May, 2014

Just noodling around, I started typing something into Wikipedia’s search box, and before I thought of a second letter to type, it popped up a list of suggested auto-completions. I was slightly amused at the top hit, so decided to try every letter in the alphabet to see what I’d get. Here then is the list:

  • Animal
  • Bakhsh
  • Canada
  • Departments of France
  • England
  • France
  • Germany
  • Hispanic (U.S. Census)
  • Iran standard time
  • Japan
  • Keyboard instrument
  • List of sovereign states
  • Mollusca
  • New York City
  • Ontario
  • Poland
  • Quebec
  • Race and ethnicity in the United States Census
  • Spain
  • The New York Times
  • United States
  • Village
  • World War II
  • X
  • YouTube
  • ZIP code

This is a very interesting list. Presumably it is decided by some sort of algorithm running on Wikipedia’s servers that analyses the most popular search terms. Some of the entries are perfectly plausible on this assumption: England, France, Germany, United States, World War II. I can easily imagine they might well be the most popular Wikipedia search terms starting with those letters.

Others are more odd. Mollusca stands out a bit. Okay, I can see a lot of people might search for information on Animals in general, but molluscs? And by their technical name rather than common name? Iran standard time? Who on earth is searching specifically for information about the time zone of Iran? The two US Census entries are also intriguing… is there some reason for lots of people to look for information about race or ethnicity with regards to US Census taking?

The strangest one to me is Bakhsh. Until I tried this experiment, I’d never even heard the term. It’s an extremely specialised subject and the Wikipedia entry is quite short. Why is this showing up as the number one suggested search auto-complete beginning with B? I have no clue.

Trying the experiment further afield, here are the top auto-complete suggestions for typing one letter into Google’s search box (with explanations, since many of them are Australian companies – Google is clearly using my IP address to localise my results):

  • ANZ (ANZ Bank)
  • BoM (Australian Bureau of Meteorology)
  • Centrelink (Australian Government Department of Human Services)
  • dictionary
  • eBay
  • Facebook
  • Google
  • Hotmail
  • Instagram
  • JetStar (Australian airline)
  • Kmart
  • LinkedIn
  • maps
  • Netbank (e-banking service of the Commonwealth Bank of Australia)
  • Optus
  • PayPal
  • Qantas
  • real estate
  • SMH (The Sydney Morning Herald newspaper)
  • TV guide
  • UTS (University of Technology, Sydney)
  • Virgin
  • Westpac (another bank)
  • XBox
  • YouTube
  • Zara

Urban exploration

4 May, 2014

I went for a walk with my wife today. From our front door, it took us about an hour and 15 minutes to return. This was enough to let us explore parts of a neighbouring suburb where we have only walked a handful of times before.

We walked down to Greenwich Point. At one place along the main street, a sign points between two adjacent blocks of flats, indicating “Path to Reserve”. (A reserve being in this context a park.) I knew there was a park further along the road, and thought this path would lead through the bushland along the waterfront behind the houses, emerging at the park. So we ventured down the steps into the bush. The path led a hundred metres or so, then descended a steep set of rough sandstone steps to a tiny beach, on which were beached a couple of rowboats. I could see steps leading up from the far side of the beach, so we crossed the sand and climbed up again.

On this side, however, the steps led nowhere except up the slope to the rear side of a couple of houses. There was no path to follow – the only exit was directly into the back yards of the two houses. We’d stumbled on a semi-private path meant to be accessed only by the residents of these houses. We didn’t fancy going all the way back to where we’d started, and we could see a woman on the back porch of one of the houses. So I called out and said we’d gotten lost in the bush, and could we walk through her yard to the street. She said we could, so we walked through her property to the front gate and back out on to the street.

From there it was still another hundred metres or more to the park. I’m not sure what that sign back at the beginning had been meant to indicate, but there was clearly no path to this park from that sign. Anyway, once at the park there was a proper, well-maintained path along the foreshore bushland, behind the houses, all the way around the point to the ferry wharf. This was a much nicer walk, giving us good views of the harbour, the boats, and the surrounding headlands.

It’s nice to be able to take scenic walks – and get lost on them – within about half an hour’s walk from home!