Two Canberra Museums in Half a Day

August 31, 2011 in Canberra, Travel by pacejmiller

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The Australian War Memorial

Canberra has some great free museums, and two of the best are the Australian War Memorial and the National Museum of Australia.  After spending the morning at my personal favourite, the science museum Questacon (which imposes an entry fee), we decided to blitz through both the War Memorial and National Museum in the next four hours.

It had been more than a decade since I last visited the War Memorial, considered one of the great war museums in the world.  Everything from the design to the layout to the collections are all top notch and you don’t have to be a war or history buff to enjoy looking through the massive collection of Australian war memorabilia throughout the ages, from the colonial period all the way to present day.  And it’s not just photos, videos, medals, letters, clothes and weapons.  The museum is huge enough to house planes, tanks, submarines.  The incredibly detailed dioramas with all those little toy soldiers were my favourite.

The view from the front of the memorial

On the outside, you can get a fantastic view of Parliament House from the front entrance, and apart from the museum there’s also the marvellous Commemorative Area, which includes the Hall of Memory and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

The Commemorative Area

It’s the type of place that can take you a whole day or more if you want to look at everything slowly and take it all in (as you would), but given the time constraints we did the ‘short tour’ that barely traversed all the highlights.  It was good enough.

After the War Memorial we drove down to the other side of town, where the National Museum of Australia is situated.  I attended a conference there a few years back (lamest thing ever — a bunch of young lawyers pretending they knew something about the law) but didn’t get the opportunity to look through the the exhibits.

The kind of weird stuff you'll see outside the National Museum of Australia

The National Museum definitely has one of the more unique designs of any museum I’ve been to, though the inside is more standard.  We sat through a rotating theatre and checked out the numerous exhibits through a strangely confusing circular path.  It’s not as exciting as say the British Museum or the Louvre, but considering the short history of colonised Australia (there is of course a section on indigenous history), the National Museum actually has a lot of stuff to offer (including a pretty cool gift shop).

Like the War Memorial, you’d probably need close to a full day to enjoy all the exhibits at the National Museum, so again we did the speedy tour and skipped a few sections.

Both museums are fantastic because they are well maintained and have a wealth of information.  Perfect for children and those who would like to learn a little more about Australia.

Check out the websites (click on the links above) for more information.

800th post snapshot!

August 30, 2011 in Best Of, Blogging, Book Reviews, Misc, Movie Reviews, On Writing, Reviews, Travel by pacejmiller

A charm celebrating the 800th anniversary of the University of Cambridge (2009) -- which just happens to be the year I studied there and started this blog! (I got one of these when I graduated)

Congratulations to me!

This is the 800th post on this blog.  I thought long and hard about what to write about for this monumental occasion, but I had my usual brain freeze…so instead I decided to write about the fact that I am writing a post about my 800th post.

Today is the 30th of August, 2011.  I started this blog on the 11th of January, 2009.  By my calculations that’s 962 days.  That’s a lot of writing!

On average, that’s 1 post every 1.2025 days, 5.821 posts per week and almost 25 posts a month.  As at the time of writing I have 833,486 blog hits, which translates into an average of 1041.8575 hits per blog post and 866.409 hits per day.

When I started this blog I was happy to get around 10-20 hits a day, and certainly for the first month or two that was the norm.  Now the blog hovers around 1,000 hits a day, with occasion dips and spikes (like the current one courtesy of StumbleUpon, which is giving me around 2,500 a day).

I currently have 2,601 comments, which equals roughly 2.7 comments per day.  I’ve also been bombarded by 26,754 spam comments (I believe more as some slipped through the keeper), or a whopping 27.81 per day!  I find Akismet has been doing a much better job as of late, meaning less penile enlargement advertisements.

My top post remains My European Adventure Round-Up, which has amassed 66,273 hits, though it is almost certain to be overtaken shortly (in the next couple of days) by The 20 Most Rewatchable Movies of All-Time.

My top movie review?  Shock horror, it’s Ninja Assassin (with 12,825 hits), probably because no one else has seen it — or maybe it’s that topless shot of a ripped Rain that has web surfers flocking to it.  My top book review and writing-related post is the same one — Stephen King’s brilliant On Writing (with 12,766 hits).

Moving forward, I’m not sure if I can keep up with the same pace (pun intended).  I love to write, and that’s why I continue to write on this blog without compensation (apart from the occasional free movie, DVD or book).  Even though at some point I’ll likely be swallowed by the demands of work and other responsibilities I hope this blog can remain my sanctuary, a place I can come back to to express and rant and be creative.

Movie Review: Cowboys and Aliens (2011)

August 27, 2011 in Movie Reviews, Reviews by pacejmiller

James Bond (Daniel Craig) and Han Solo/Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) in a western fused with nasty aliens, directed by John Favreau (Iron Man), with producers Ron Howard and Brian Grazer and executive producer Steven Spielberg.  In terms of expectations, they don’t get much higher than Cowboys and Aliens (adapted from the graphic novel of the same name), which could explain the lukewarm reception the film has received thus far.

But was it really that bad?  No.  I actually thought it was okay.  Big stars, freaky monsters, large-scale battle scenes and some well-executed action sequences.  But given what this film could have been, Cowboys and Aliens was ultimately somewhat of a disappointment.

The story is relatively simple — Daniel Craig wakes up in the middle of the desert with an alien bracelet on his wrist and no recollection of who he is or where he has been.  Stuff happens, and along with Ford, Olivia Wilde, Sam Rockwell and Clancy Brown (everybody’s favourite prison guard from Shawshank), he goes on a mission to rescue some humans while trying to piece together his shattered memory.

All the requisite elements for an engaging motion picture are there.  Craig is excellent as the kick-ass, “don’t mess with me” protagonist, while the supporting roles are adequately filled by legend Ford and rising star Wilde.  The film has that dusty, gritty western feel, along with old fashioned bravado and gun fights — plus the strangeness and unknown feel you get from alien invasion films.  The special affects are fine by current standards.  The story is formulaic enough for a typical summer blockbuster but not to the extent that it becomes a distraction.  The character development and subplot boxes are also ticked.

And yet Cowboys and Aliens feels like an empty blockbuster — all style, (to be fair) a little substance, but no soul.  If I had to pinpoint what went wrong, I would probably say that the biggest problem lies with the aliens, who are menacing but that’s about it.  They’re just there to kill and be killed, monsters with no personality whatsoever, and as a result don’t invoke genuine suspense.

Another problem is that everybody in the film seems to play their roles too straight — there are some elements of humour but for the most part it’s all about being cool.  There’s nothing wrong with that per se, though I feel with such a potentially fun premise they should have had more fun with it than they did.

(And I’m not sure if it was just the cinema I attended, but many of the night scenes in the film came across as incredibly dark, to the point where it became irritating.)

Having said all that, Cowboys and Aliens is better than a lot of the criticism suggests.  I was never disengaged during the 118-minute running time, and I almost wished they could have dedicated more time to certain plot points (especially those involving Ford).  As far as action blockbusters go, it’s certainly a lot better than say Transformers 3, but given the crew involved I should never have even considered comparing the two films.

3.25 stars out of 5

What kind of fantasy novel are you writing?

August 26, 2011 in Fantasy, Novel, On Writing by pacejmiller

Source: readingbookinfo.com

It’s been an exciting few weeks around here for an assortment of reasons I won’t go into, which means my catatonic fantasy novel is being pushed even further back in my list of ‘things I must work on soon’.

I started this novel about 10 years ago as a bored student who had read little fantasy and had zero idea what made a good fantasy novel and even less of an idea on how to write one.  And yet I wrote slabs here and there, developed character biographies, planned, planned and planned some more.  Most of the writing took place over the space of two years, but it’s been one of those projects that can get neglected for years at a time — and it has been.  I guess I am one of those millions of people out there who would love to reach their goal but haven’t yet been willing to (or developed the discipline to) put in the hard work necessary to get there.

My dreams of becoming a fantasy novelist are still very much alive, but the expectations are no longer the same.  Having now read more fantasy and with a better understanding of what makes a good book and how to produce one, it has actually gotten much harder to write.  I also know now what a difficult industry it is, how poorly the industry is performing right now, and how bleak the future is looking for the majority of aspiring novelists.   Not to say it can’t be done, but hard work alone won’t be enough.

Simply being a good writer and writing a great book isn’t going to cut it.  These days, it’s all about the market — and the marketing.  You really have to identify your target market and write specifically for that market.  Sometimes you get lucky and the book has cross-market potential (say Harry Potter), but if you don’t have a clear target market you’ll find it difficult to find a publisher willing to take you on (especially if you are not an established writer).

I find it’s a catch-22 situation: you want to write something that is different to what is already out there at the moment to distinguish yourself from the pack, but publishers are seldom willing to take on books that they can’t comfortably squeeze into a particular genre.

And that’s just to get published.  What about sales?  Of course, paranormal romance has been big since Twilight, and I suppose that’s not really fantasy any more because it kind of become a standalone genre.  It seems every second book on the shelf involves vampires, werewolves or other mythological creatures these days.

More recently, thanks to the HBO series Game of Thrones, epic fantasy is starting to really pick up again, especially those with dark plots that feature demented themes and characters.

When I was in writing workshops, the general consensus was that if you want to sell these days, you ought to target the ‘young adult’ market.  According to Wikipedia, that’s roughly the ages of 14 to 21.  But apart from the Harry Potter clones (ie teenagers playing around with magic and magical worlds) and Twilight clones (ie teenagers falling in love with magical creatures), I can’t really think of any young adult fantasy sub-genres that have been hugely successful in recent years.

Every week I am coming across more and more people who are writing fantasy novels, and the majority of them either doing something generic or one of the above.  And that got me wondering — where the heck does my fantasy novel fit into all of this, and should I be doing anything to change it?

Back before I knew anything about anything, my intention was just to write a good fantasy yarn.  I thought I had a good story, a few interesting characters, and didn’t think about much else.  I suppose if I had a particular slant, it was to make the novel less like the sprawling fantasy epics that give me headaches just trying to decipher the blurb on the back cover.  I wanted to write something lighter, more straightforward and action-packed, like a thriller with a fantasy setting.  I wanted to appeal to the RPG geeks who like the idea the these fantasy worlds but are either too lazy or find it too tedious to read 1000+ pages for a good story.

I still want to keep that idea in tact, but I’m wondering whether I need to rewrite the damn thing so that it fits more into a particular category.  Because right now, it’s not really anything.  On the one hand, I could go ‘George RR Martin’ and make it a more ‘adult’ fantasy with more violence, gore, treachery and sex (and let’s face it, the geeks love that kind of stuff).  On the other hand, I could go the ‘young adult’ path and make my protagonists younger, make the story slightly more sanitised, and maybe even throw in a little more romance.

They would make completely different books, but I can’t figure out which one would be more appealing to the wider market.

Anyway, that’s my aimless rant for the day.  If you too are writing a fantasy novel, what kind of fantasy is it?  Does it follow the trodden path of those before you, or is it something drastically different?  Are you writing with a specific target market in mind or do you not care?  And what makes you think your novel is special enough to be published or potentially become a bestseller?

Brodburger: Freaking Delicious Burgers!

August 24, 2011 in Best Of, Canberra, Food, Reviews, Travel by pacejmiller

The Brodburger food caravan

I like my burgers, and few places make burgers like Brodburger in Canberra.  I was sceptical at first, considering that Brodburger is served out of a dodgy looking ‘food caravan’ in the parking lot of Bowen Park.

But we were on a high after Questacon and in need of a good feed, so we drove down by Bowen Park in search of the conspicuous red caravan.  And there it was, right at the edge of the parking lot, a perfect spot for nearby workers who want to enjoy a burger down on the grass overlooking Lake Burley Griffin.

It was 11:45am and Brodburger doesn’t open until 12 noon, but there was already a line of about 10 to 15 people, some regulars, others tourists, and all with a ravenous hunger plastered on their faces.  The clock ticked over to 12, and the line increased to about two dozen, and yet the owner of the van was nowhere to be seen.  At around 12:10, stomachs started grumbling and patient customers were wondering whether the delicious burger would elude them on this sunny day.

If you want to eat a Brodburger you have to get there early!

At 12:15, some rumblings could be heard behind the van, but less astute customers hadn’t noticed.  Fortunately for us, a group of about five decided it wasn’t worth the wait and departed, moving us up the queue just in time for the van to open up.

On this day, Brodburger was run by two friendly, carefree dudes — one serves and the other cooks.  Their menu is displayed outside on a wooden board, and contains an assortment of burgers, including beef, chicken, fish and vegetarian, as well as fries.  The prices are reasonable and bottles of water are given for free (if you ask nicely).

Finally! Open for business!

After a short wait we reached the front of the queue and went with the classic Brodburger (according to the website: A grade gourmet beef patty, flame grilled. Fresh lettuce, tomatoes, and Spanish onions. Includes homemade aioli and tomato relish) and a BrodChicken Burger (Succulent chicken breast in a secret marinate, flame grilled. Topped with bacon, avocado, fresh lettuce, tomatoes and Spanish onions. Includes homemade chilli aioli).  A lot of people went with the Brodburger Deluxe (which contains an extra patty, egg and bacon), but it looked like a coronary waiting to happen, so we passed.

The great thing about Brodburger is that their burgers are made fresh to order, but because of a shortage of facilities and staff, you almost certainly have to endure an agonising wait before you can devour your burger.  There weren’t that many people before us, but some of them ordered entire boxes of burgers and fries to take back to the office, and consequently we ended up waiting a further 30 minutes or so before our two burgers were ready.  And trust me, when you’re already starving, waiting for 30 minutes while surrounded by tempting burger fumes borders on torture.

Eventually, the burgers were ready, nice and hot in our little hands, and we took them down like prized jewels to a cozy spot by the lake.  A few birds looked like they were eager to be friends, but I barked at them for the safety of the burgers.

You know, photos rarely ever do burgers justice. This is the BrodChicken.

The Brodburger

So how was it?  You know I don’t like to exaggerate, but the burgers at Brodburger must be amongst the best I have ever tasted.  The buns are so soft and fluffy, and the meat is fresh, juicy and full of flavour.  The lettuce and tomato balance out the saltiness perfectly, but it is the generous amounts of the insanely delicious, tangy tomato relish and home-made aioli that elevated the burgers to a whole new level.  The Brodburger featured the green chive aioli and the BrodChicken featured the pink chilli aioli — both were to die for.

The half-eaten burger usually isn't a good look, but I simply couldn't resist

Bloody hell, just writing this post is making me super hungry.  I’m going to get some food.

10 out of 10!

Brodburger
Address:
 Bowen Park Carpark, Bowen Drive/Wentworth Av, Barton ACT
Opening Hours:
Tuesday: Dinner: 5:30 pm – 10:00 pm
Wednesday: Lunch: 12:00 pm – 2:00 pm; Dinner: 5:30 pm – 10:00 pm
Thursday: Lunch: 12:00 pm – 2:00 pm; Dinner: 5:30 pm – 12:00 am
Friday: Lunch: 12:00 pm – 2:00 pm; Dinner: 5:30 pm – 12:00 am
Saturday: Lunch: 12:00 pm – 2:00 pm; Dinner: 5:30 pm – 12:00 am
Sunday: Lunch: 12:00 pm – 3:00 pm
Website: http://www.brodburger.com.au/

PS: Apparently the Brodburger van is not situated in a legally approved location and the council has been trying to get them to move, but petitions from customers have managed to keep them there, for now.