Hear Ye! Since 1998.

Archived Posts for December 2000

Please note: The posts on this page are at least 3 years old. Links may be broken, information may be out of date, and the views expressed in the posts may no longer be held.
Dec 00

Barcelona on a Budget

How to do Barcelona on 1200 pesetas a day… We made a mistake in our budget and underbudgeted by about $10, so we have to go around today on about $12, $2 of which is going to this internet access. The primary purpose of today’s net access was so we could pre-book hostels in Italy, instead of tramping around with backpacks doorknocking on hostels presenting a rather enticing target to be mugged. The remainder of the money’s going on food and the postcards I still have to buy and send out. Unfortunately, there will be no more easyEverything cafés until Rome, and then in Berlin and Munich – so, as Adrian pointed out, we will have a problem with lack of connectivity over the next week or so.

Dec 00


I grossly underestimated the number of computers in easyEverything last night. We asked the cashier and it turns out there are over 400 computer terminals housed in this building. That’s just crazy.

Today, we visited Montserrat: a mountain, monastery and general sacred place which resides about an hour out from central Barcelona by train. Montserrat the mountain, standing about a thousand metres above sea level, was formed as a result of tectonic activity eons ago. The ocean used to cover the surrounding land, but gradually the land was pushed upwards to form the mountainous region Montserrat was part of. Also, as a result of this, Montserrat was considered sacred, and some ambitious people decided to make the long trek up the mountain and stick a monastery up there in the early 11th Century.

These days, pilgrims to the monastery, which houses an icon called “Black Mary” (Mary is the patron saint of Montserrat) have it easy. You can trek up mountain trails, or take the funicular – otherwise known as a cable car (especially characterised by simulataneously ascending and descending cars which counterbalance each other). Although the journey up and back down is a rickety one, diagrams advertising the funicular’s six independent, fully working braking systems served to reassure nervous travellers. However, the chain smoking controller guy at the top of the mountain destroyed this impression when we saw him dispose of a cigarette by chucking it into the gearworks of the funicular’s machinery.

The mountains around the place have some strange rock formations comprising of smooth “bubbles” poking up to the sky. The most prominent of these formations, popularly found on many Montserrat postcards, is decidedly phallic. I guess that’s why it’s features so popularly. Montserrat was about 5 degrees colder than Barcelona, but the killer here was the wind which whipped around us ferociously at the mountain top – so much so we feared that Yvonne would be blown clean off the dirt paths. Another group of tourists asked me to take a photograph for them, and when I took my hands out of my pockets, my hands instantly froze.

The monastery/basilica itself is an ornate, ill-lit Catholic building. Not very austere these days, but it is not hard to imagine monks from ages past enduring the dark, the cold and the hardships of a life without pleasure in the same corridors we were walking. Above the main altar, in the centre in an alcove on the second level of the basilica, is an icon of the aforementioned “Black Mary”. A sinister looking statuette where an ebony Mary holds an orb, with a small child on her lap, him too holding a smaller orb. She is encased in a glass case, except for the orb she holds which protrudes. Catholics pilgramage here to touch and kiss the orb. This is followed by a brief prayer before they move on to a prayer area. Although Christian myself, I do not understand the stock they place in Mary. Given the central position she has in the basilica, you would almost think that they are placing her above Christ Himself.

There is also, of course, the customary giftshop where Black Mary has been replicated hundreds of times in minature form so that tourists can take her home with them. It was an interesting visit. There were very picturesque viewpoints upon the mountain which looked down onto the Catalonian plains, dotted by small villages and fields, surrounded by hills which poke above the low cloud level.

We have a reservation in an overnight train tomorrow which will pass through France and wind its way North-East to Switzerland. Ah, Switzerland, the land of fine chocolate, neutrality, a 400,000 men strong standing army and the place where I will be on lookout to buy a nice Tag Heuer watch. But more on that later.

Dec 00

La Rambla

Finally, affordable net access in Spain. I’m currently typing this up in a huge Net Café called EasyEverything. It’s actually a large chain of Net Cafés found all over Europe and they are incredibly massive. The one I’m sitting in currently has over 150 terminals – each equipped with a flatscreen LCD screen with everything hooked through a fat fibre optic connection. The capital outlay to start up these chain of stores must have been massive. Their billing model is slightly different as well – the cost of access is a flat 200 pesetas (AU$2), but the amount of time that buys you varies with the current number of computer terminals in use. I’d say 80% of computers are in use right now, in the evening and my 200pts gets me 45 minutes. In the morning, it would buy me 3 hours.

We have bunked in “Hostal Paris”, a clean hostel with daily room service and a TV(!) and the best bathroom we’ve had out of all our accommodation so far (even the 3-star hotel we stayed in in London!). The hostel is located in one of the narrow pedestrian-ways just off La Rambla, the main street in this part of Barcelona, the “old town”. The local language is actually not Spanish, but a dialect of sorts called Catalan. Not that it makes much of a difference, but our knowledge of this has got a few reactions from people – Kev requested the bill in Catalan (courtesy of the Lonely Planet traveller’s phrasebook). The waiter’s eyes lit up and he exclaimed, “you speak Catalan! Not Spanish!”

La Rambla runs the length of a couple kilometers and its two narrow one-way, one-lane roads are split in the middle by a wide pedestrian strip upon which most people walk. Spain is my type of city – it’s a night city. In the morning, the weather is a mild cold and La Rambla is not heavily trafficked. The trees that line the side of the pedestrian strip have not lost their leaves like the other deciduous trees that appear throughout Europe. Old men silently sit in chairs that line the road, apparently in trances of sorts. People walk their dogs, and a few shops start to open. The sounds of birds fill the air as bird shops on the pedestrian strip sell their wares which include parrots, budgies, and even roosters and pigeons!

By night, La Rambla has changed altogether. The road comes alive as people line the streets. Buskers set up their activities comprising of an array of human statues, puppeteers, magicians and even a Jazz pianist who somehow wheeled in a piano. Newsagencies, shut during the afternoon re-open. Every 50 metres, there will be either a “Lecturas” or “Clara” stand. They are not your everyday newagencies, for they have an impressive collection of porn magazines and porn “literature” – all on open display, none of this shrink-wrapped 18+ packaging. In fact, it even seems that the Spanish are a more passionate people than the French. Based on empirical observation, couples walk slower, kissing and cuddling is more common, and Spanish is a sexy language as much as French is a seductive one. Then again, it could just be because France currently is freezing its ass off while Spain is enjoying a somewhat balmy Winter and couples prefer to have a snuggle inside where it’s warm.

There are plenty of scams along La Rambla as well. I’ve seen the infamous “Where’s the Ball?” game, where a dealer shuffles a ball between 3 boxes and you have to pick which box it is under. An unwinnable game. I also encountered another group of “rose ladies” today which I deftly sidestepped. Next time I’ll be a little more verbose with my reaction…

All in all, Spain is a place I’d like to revisit… along with France and the UK! There’s much I haven’t mentioned – the food, the markets and the other attractions, but that will have to wait until I have more time to write about it.

Dec 00

Once Biten…

As I was saying in the SMS Log, I think I got lifted of $250. We were tramping all over the town with our backpacks, feeling pretty worn out. We were in a pedestrian-way resting and, as Kev put it, “the sharks smelt the blood in the water”. The sharks came in the guise of a group of 4 or 5 women brandishing roses. I have no grasp of Spanish whatsoever so I just looked on blankly while they inserted a rose into the top of my jacket. In hindsight I really screwed up. We should´ve all just shooed them away, but given our tired mental states, didn´t. They wanted 1 peseta for the rose (the equivalent of one cent). This already should´ve sent alarm bells ringing in my head and I pulled my wallet out. Mistake. Although my wallet never left my hands, Within the next 20 seconds, they had somehow managed to slip out the 22000 pesetas I had recently withdrawn for the three day stay and the 50 marks I had leftover from Germany. The rose must´ve been the distraction because I remember her reinserting the rose into my jacket and for those brief moments I gazed away from the wallet. Impressive sleight of hand. Either that or I dropped the money somehow. Either way, I´m now in a near-paranoid state of mind.

Apart from this unfortunate incident, Spain is also looking appealing. Kev has been raving on about Paella for the last few weeks, so we are all hyped up about it somewhat…

Anyway, there´s one more post I have to make about Paris, and that´s about our visit to the Louvre. The Louvre houses one of the most famous paintings in the world: Da Vinci´s portrait of Mona Lisa. It is encased in climate controlled glass box with dessicant scattered all over its floor. It is subjected to the flashes of thousands of cameras a day as people mill about snapping and videotaping the painting, which measures about 70cm by 100cm. However, we couldn´t work out one thing. Why was the Mona Lisa so famous? We couldn´t think of anything satisfactory, so Kev and I decided to do a bit of asking around.

1. Man at the Gift Shop: “I work here everyday, for so long, and I still do not know!”
2. Security Guard: “(Us) Parlez-vous Anglais?” “(Him) A leetle…” He had no idea. We did not see his nametag which read “surveillance” so he looked like a curator.
3. Information Desk: Basically the woman there told us that the Mona Lisa´s origin was controversial – it may have been a self-portrait of the gay Leonardo, or not been painted by Leonardo at all (but by one of his students). The smile of the Mona Lisa is also questionable – is it a smile, or a look of annoyance?
4. Cute Gift Shop Girl: “(Us) Parlez-vous Anglais?” “(Her) Ohhhh… a leetle…” She mumbled after much stuttering something about Leonardo painting it for his friends. She also attempted to get another museum visitor to translate for her, but she had asked an American who had no idea.
5. Curator: “(Us) Parlez-vous Anglais?” “(Her) A leetle…” She repeated information that was similar to that of the information desk, adding the fact that the style of colouration of the painting was unique, and that the Mona Lisa may have been a man in drag (“man in woman” was the exact phrase she used). Finally, she noted that the Mona Lisa´s eyes follow you from whatever angle you viewed the painting – however, from my readings, this is true of any painting in which the subject is looking at the viewer.
6. Gift Shop Woman: “(Us) Parlez-vous Anglais?”
“(Her) A leetle…”
“(Us) Do you know why the Mona Lisa is so famous?”
“(Her) You go through that door and go to the second corridor on the left…”

Dec 00

Internet access is expensive in Paris. 1 French Franc a minute. Anyhow, today is our final day in the Hollywood-portrayed “City of Romance”. It’s drizzling, grey and the streets are deserted on Christmas day, but this city has been fun. I will keep this update short – I’ve only 4 minutes left, but there are three things I will mention about Paris. Parisiens really have good taste gastronomically speaking. We’ve been eating really well here spending about 100FF on dinner each night. The patisseries are also a treasure you won’t find in Australia. The metro system (subway) here is also the best I’ve seen yet – puts all the other systems we’ve experienced to shame. Finally, Paris looks magical at night. One evening up the Eiffel Tower, overlooking the River Seine, Paris is no longer the drab grey of the Winter day but a colourful sparkling, energetic city. We leave on an overnight train for Spain in a few hours where the weather should be warmer, the food cheaper, and the local language completely incomprehensible. A bientot! (This is an English keyboard and I can’t find the circumflex key.)

Dec 00

Farewell England

Finally, on the last day, I have found affordable net access at “only” £1.00 an hour, on a quick broadband connection (and a flatpanel monitor!). Today we escaped the smoggy air of London and made our way to Warwick, home of Warwick Castle which dates back to 1068 when it was commissioned by William the Conqueror. After one train decided to die on us while chugging out of Marylebone Station (pronounced with a silent “y”), we switched platforms to another train and were on our way.

The English countryside is very picturesque. In typical English weather, misty with light drizzle, the lush fields and gently rolling hills are quite an eye-pleasing sight. Warwick is a small British town. We arrived there looking for lunch, and, because most of the other shops and restaurants were shut (at noon on a Tuesday!), we stumbled into a pub, soaked by rain and ate there.

Warwick Castle was wonderful. It was a medieval castle, straight from the fantasy novels and computer RPG games that had captured my imagination over 10 years ago. Now, I was walking the grounds. A brief desription doesn’t do it justice, but nonetheless, a brief one is all I have time for. The dungeon was everything you’d expect it to be – dark and dank, only, it wasn’t a twisting labyrinth. Contained within was a “dungeon within a dungeon” – the oubliette. It was a small pit into which particularly disliked criminals would be shoved into (crouching room only), locked into and then forgotten (as the name implies, from the French, oublier, to forget). The opportunity to climb the battlements and parapets was also worthwhile. After climbing and descending 530 steep steps (most of them spiral) we gazed through the out from the crenellations on the castlewall over the misty countryside. We gazed down the murderholes to the ditch surrounding the castle, some 100 feet below. We walked the grand dining rooms, bedrooms and dining rooms. The armoury, a display entitled “Death of Glory” contained an “interactive” display of arms and armour. I felt how heavy a 7lb one-handed Great Sword was, and how taut a long bow’s bowstring was (up to 50 kilos of force needed to draw the largest bows! And archers could fire as many as 15 arrows a minute.)

Tomorrow we leave for Frankfurt, staying there very briefly before taking a train to Paris, France. Although the other have had negative impressions of England (or London, specifically), it is everything that I had expected. I have definitely enjoyed the heritage the place has offered.

Dec 00


I was neither maimed nor killed in New York. In fact, I did enjoy the visit to it more than the one I made about 5 years ago. It was an interesting experience, although my opinion of New York as a city still is quite negative. Cold, busy, dense and, with the short cloudy Winter days, dark and gloomy. It’s a tough city, and one where the homeless have it very much tougher than Sydney homeless. The subway system, for instance. Dirty, busy, pushy but quick and efficient. Suburban trains don’t accelerate much faster than that. The Layout of Manhattan is clinical – horizontal West-East streets, and vertical one-way only avenues. Very easy to navigate, but hard to remember (was that the corner of 20th and 7th or 30th and 2nd?). As a quick run down, we visited The Met (which I Rogue Speared through :) featuring a very impressive collection of artworks, window shopped through 5th Avenue, Macy*s and Bloomingdales (who allows dogs to browse through the wares alongside their owners), took the Staten Island Ferry, visited Rockefellar Plaza, Wall Street and the NYSE, ate at Chinatown and a diner at Times Square, and a variety of other typical touristy events.

In contrast, London is similar to Sydney. A posher, larger version of the place, perhaps, but one better than New York. And today, the Sun shone and the sky was clear (it’s around 5-10 Celsius, equivalent to a cold Winter day in Sydney). Quite an anomaly I’ve been told. We’ve been to Trafalgar Square (and kicked the pigeons there), the National Gallery, Buckingham Palace (waiting for Clinton, but due to some misinformation, it appeared that he had escaped us a few moments before we arrived, and we ended up seeing the changing of the guard), Westminster Abbey (very impressive, and it’s easy to see from its architecture where RPG designers have gotten their inspiration and ideas from – medieval Europe) and so on. Unfortunately these entries take a long time to write. I have been writing a diary, and my intention is that when I come back to Australia, I will flesh out and insert entries that are more than brief observations, and more my thoughts and feelings.

Dec 00

We Are Here

Made it to NY after a 12 hour flight to San Fran followed by a 4 hour one to the Big Apple! Noticed that they’ve installed free net terminals in Sydney Airport (as opposed to the sparse access they provided last year when I went to Hong Kong), but there wasn’t enough time for me to make a post there – coincidentally bumped into a friend there – she was taking a flight that left 20 minutes later from an adjacent gate. So, NY… It’s currently snowing lightly and is cold at about zero degrees Celsius (although I have sufficient clothing luckily!), but this city really is incredible. Fast paced, busy, and with horns perpetually blaring in the streets (just like the movies). The people are very direct, not that friendly a lot, but then again I think that Aussies would be friendlier people as far as tourism goes. It goes with the lifestyle – a more laidback attitude to life means they are less “efficient”, but they are a warmer bunch than Americans. This net station is time limited so I will cut this off now – I think there is, however, net access back at the Hostel (which also happens to be ‘roach infested). We’ll be looking at travelling 5th avenue later today after taking the subway from W 20th to Times Square. Yes, it is all wonderful. (Someone please shut Kevin up because he can’t stop imitating the Yank accent.)

Dec 00

Communal Crier

Obviously, I’ll not be doing this anymore. Please don’t send requests to be added, btw, there will be a minimum 2 month processing delay :).

• Gearfactory

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Last Post

That’s it, I’m closing off Hear Ye! posts for a few months. Everything’ll be on UODU. Have an absolutely wonderful holiday season everyone, and I’ll see y’all back here in late February 2001. Cheers.

Dec 00

Nokia 6210

Finally!! They arrived in at the Vodafone store and I bought one today… This thing is the goods… HSCSD, WAP (though it’s such a useless service), larger screen than most Nokias, inbuilt modem (used it with my Palm to run a query on Google), thinner profile than the 6150, larger sms inbox memory and address book etc. Only thing it’s missing is a ringtone editor.

Dec 00

Communal Crier

• Eskimo Tank (formerly Pointless Things)
• Positive Current (after making a nice profit off the sale of his domain name)

• Dennis is back already… sounds like he’s getting his sewage damaged basement back in order :)

• Click here – a mate of mine has just started designing web pages, and like everyone, gets quite a buzz watching his hit counter rise. Do him a favour and just hit his site. Oh, and feel free to leave lewd comments in his guestbook :)

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Weird News

A blind woman can now see again. That’s after she bumped her head into a table after leaning down to pat her guide dog. Doctors are mystified.

Kids Selling Porn in Playgrounds

Uh huh :)


Cityrail has stats on the percentage of trains that run on time during peak hour, along with the reasons they run late.

Explanation of DDR Ram

Technical explanation of where DDR SDRAM fits into the whole scheme of memory architecture. An interesting read, also explains the speed & latency differences between RDRAM and SDRAM.


Comprehensive listing of yo-yo tricks. I never learnt how to work the damn things myself (apart from the basic down and up motion).

Hardware Tweak

How-to guide on turning your Promise ATA66 controller into a RAID controller.

Paying Out the Asians (… wait a sec… hey!)

Engrish.com… thanks Gavern.

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Went out and bought Krondor: Tear of the gods today. I resisted reading it on the train (too buggered, luckily)… gotta hold out a few more days… will make good plane reading.

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D&D: The Movie

Dungeons and Dragon Movie.

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1 MNS MNS (1)&O: David Dunn, (1)&O: Mr Glass ….. 10.50

If you understand that notation, chances are, you will definately enjoy Unbreakable. Simply put, it is the equivalent of a comic book superhero “origin” story – how a superhero arises. I liked it, although many haven’t. Interesting filming angles, Shyamalan (who cameos as the drug dealer at the stadium) isn’t afraid to move the camera around. Probably not a movie for everyone, but keep in mind that there probably will be a sequel made.

[BTW, the notation above is that found in Wizard’s comics price guide. 1 refers to it being the first issue. MNS/MNS usually refers to the comic’s writer and artist (in this case, writer and director), (1) specifies “first appearance” and O stands for “origin”. $10.50 is the movie ticket price :) I used to collect comics a few years back in high school, but that stopped when I ran out of money…]

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It’s Summer

Yes it is. There was a lightning storm again today. If I had money, I’d be thinking about investing in an APC UPS. But I don’t, so I’m not (or trying not to, at least). Finished 3 exams (Bus. Data Networks, System Analysis & Design and IT Law), 2 to go (Data Org, and the killer, stats). I’m so screwed for stats… Anyhow, only 6 more days till I’m off overseas! Vaguely excited. I’m sure that excitement will grow exponentially once I finish the final exam. By the sounds of it, virtually everyone is off overseas these hols.

Anyhow, I may make one more update to this page sometime in the next few days before I go off to Yankland.

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