Europe 2013 – 3

Geneva

We made it to Geneva in one piece, despite driving through thick fog at speeds we can’t (legally) drive in Australia. We got to our house in Le Grand-Saconnex, an old converted farmhouse situated on one of the few functional farms inside of the city proper. It’s beside the airport, but parallel to the flight path unlike my own home in Sydney where you can enjoy the pleasant sounds of 400 tons of metal roaring about your head from 6am to 11pm.

I spent the first few day there walking around the neighbourhood. It was freezing cold, and a thick mist made the exploration more fun. I found some beautiful little villages along the way, and I’m pretty sure that I walked onto private properly on more than one occasion, but it was nice to spend more time to walk around and think to myself.

At night, I got to meet some of the neighbours. The last time I was at this house was a year ago, when I was helping my mum move in. At that time, we only had a couple of mattresses on the floor, along with a crappy table and folding chairs. The place looks much nicer now, but the rest of the apartments are also occupied. I got to meet the American couple downstairs and their young boys. I also met the young couple above us whose children we can hear running around because the roof acts like a large speaker. The children had just left, so instead of running that ended at a reasonable hour, we got fucking that was both much louder, and much later at night.

Vallandry / Les Arcs

We were not spending long in Geneva, because we headed off to the town of Vallandry for a week of skiing & snowboarding, so we piled into the van again and set off towards the Alps. I had been hearing reports that the snow was not very good this year, and as we got closer I could see why. I had taken this same trip to the alps last year on the way to Chamonix, but that time, the hills had been completely snow-covered even half an hour away. This time, we could only see snow capping tops of the tallest peaks around us. I realised that we were actually at Vallandry when I saw the cable car that goes across the valley from the village. I knew that Vallandry marked the start of the slopes, but there was barely any snow on the ground below the village. I was worried that the lower slopes may be closed entirely meaning that we wouldn’t be able to ski at all until more snow came. Thankfully, the slopes were all open, and actually looked a lot better that I had expected.

We checked into our apartment next to the slopes before heading down to hire ski gear. Since we had arrived in the afternoon, we would be hiring gear for the next day so that we could hit the slopes as soon as possible. We hired gear, and I bought myself a helmet and goggles (best thing I’ve bought), before heading back. On the way back we ran into the Groves family – friends of ours from Paris who were the ones that had suggested we join them in Les Arcs in the first place. They had just arrived, so we caught up quickly with Raf & Paul, and their young daughters Lilly & Juliette. Raf is a French flight attendant, very strong willed and very sharp and funny, and Paul is British designer in his early 40s, but comes off as much younger physically and mentally. He would be the only other person snowboarding (surf, en français) along with me, and is also a lot of fun to be with.

I was up bright and early the next morning, grabbed my gear and got to the bottom of the pistes just as the chairlift started up. As I was taken higher up the slopes, a better view of the rest of the valley opened up. The south-facing opposite side looked practically bare of snow apart from the capped peaks, but I could see that the piste below me was going to be workable. For now off-piste boarding, my favourite, would be out of the question until we had more fresh snow.

There’s nothing quite like starting the day early and going snowboarding. The cold air wakes you up, and the fresh groomers are so inviting before they get hacked up by the morning crowd. It usually takes me some time to get back into the rhythm, but this season I found that I could pick confidence back up more quickly than usual. I like to try and make myself fall a few times to start off so that I can learn to fall in a good way and won’t end up breaking a wrist when I fall at high speed. Falling turned out to be pretty damn painful because of how icy the slopes had become without consistent snowfall, but I ended up pretty confident as a result. I spent the entire day’s sunlight on the slopes before finishing down at the bar at the base of the mountain, a ritual we did each day.

After a full day’s skiing on the first day, my bad knee started hurting. It’s been a problem for me for the last 2.5 years after I hurt it doing sqatz in the gym. I bought myself a leg brace from the pharmacy that helped a lot, but I really do need to got to an orthopedician and get that sorted out properly. I got to surfing with the Groves that day and had a great time.

The next day, I decided to take half of one of my tabs of acid (50 μg) and go snowboarding. This was the first time I had tried this, but I was confident that I’d be able to function well enough to board properly. It turned out that I was fully capable of snowboarding on it. Not only that, but I had a wonderful time too. It made me more adventurous and I was generally relaxed and at ease on the slopes. I had a couple of beers with Mum & Rainer when they came up the chairlift which made me a little bit reckless afterwards, but I really enjoyed myself.

The weather that day was good, but I knew that a storm was approaching. I had seen on the news the previous night that a huge storm front was moving across Europe and had wreaked havoc along the coastline. I thought that today may be the last day of good weather, and decided to head up the Aiguille Rouge – the highest peak of Les Arcs before the weather closed the lifts. Going up was amazing. I almost felt vertigo because of simply how hight I was up. On the way I met and talked to a man from Scotland who was over with his family. Small doses of LSD always make me feel chatty, and I get to meet a bunch of people I usually wouldn’t talk to.

I got to the tip top of the mountain and got some amazing pictures that really don’t do the view from up there justice. I could see all the way to both Switzerland and Italy from the peak in France, and I could also see the storm front in the distance slowly closing in. I knew that being at over 3,200 m during a storm would not be a good position to be in, so I quickly made my way down the mountain. Since I was feeling so adventurous, I decided to go off-piste from a closed black diamond that went straight down from the peak. It was exhilaratingly steep, but since there was not too much snow I knew that it was not an avalanche prone area. Avalanches are absolutely fucking terrifying, and you need to know when to not board off-piste. Getting caught in one basically leaves you with no possible way to get out without someone coming to rescue you, and you’re going to freeze to death after 20 minutes if you don’t suffocate before that. I managed to get down in one piece and outrun the incoming storm to get to the bar for our après-ski.

That night, being Christmas Eve, we went out for dinner at a local restaurant in the next village. We ate something like a European version of Korean BBQ, with meats like duck, as well as fresh vegetables form the local area. It started snowing on the way back, so we knew we would be lucky enough to have a white Christmas, as well as some much needed snow for the slopes.

The next day, we woke up to piles of snow on top of the cars, with more still falling. The snow machines were also working at full blast, as today was the first time it’s been cold enough to use them during the day. I was eager to get out on the slopes, but we stayed in for a bit longer to give out presents, which is even better ;). I got some more ski day passes to Chamonix, an excellent cooking book filled with 4-ingredient recipes that use only one pot, and a bunch more from the family. I gave my sister a necklace that I thought was tasteful, and luckily she did too, along with quality shaving kit for Rainer and a momento of out times in Paris for my mum.

Going out on the slopes covered in fresh snow was such a change from the previous days. It was a lot easier to turn with less icy slopes and more snow to get purchase on. Also, I could finally board off-piste comfortably, the absolute best thing to do on a snowboard. The snow made visibility low, but having goggles helped immensely, especially when passing under the snow machines. That night, we had raclette with the Groves – an annual Christmas tradition for their family. Raclette is a traditional Swiss dish of belted cheese you cook yourself with vegetables, mustards and condiments. With all of the amazing cheese we can buy over here, it’s amazing. We drank a lot and had a great celebration. We could even see some fireworks being let off over the other side of the valley. On the note of cheese, the very next night we had fondue. Some people would think that two nights in a row of cheese dishes is too much, but IDGAF when it tastes this good.

You can cheek out photos from Les Arcs Here and here

Back Home

Our last day on the slopes was the day after Boxing Day, and it was also the best day for skiing. The sun finally came out and there was still lots of fresh snow on the slopes. By this point, I had been boarding for a week straight and was dead tired, but it was a great end to the week.

We drove off on Saturday back to Geneva so we could celebrate my mum’s birthday on the 29th, and then I got ready to head off to Amsterdam to celebrate New Year’s there.

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Europe 2013 – 2

I love holidays away from home. Whenever I have holidays in Sydney I always feel like I need to be doing something or seeing someone. I only truly get to relax when I am far away from distractions, which is whenever I travel.

There is something about being in a foreign country where you don’t speak the language that lets you totally remove yourself from other people. I spent the entirety of my second day in France walking around Forêt Domaniane de Marly with nothing but a book, a pen and paper, and the thoughts in my head.

I am writing this post in a packed van on the way to Geneva, watching one of the most incredible sunsets of my life. Recently I have gained a new lease on my appreciation of nature, and I often find myself shocked at the beauty of nature around me. I have walked through La Forêt many times previously, but this time I really saw it with new eyes. I was never one to understand people who would cry over nature (à la double rainbow), but now I find myself perhaps more understanding of their point of view

Walking around is my personal mediation. I don’t try to clear my mind, but instead just let the thoughts all of the thoughts I have bounce around my head and let my imagination run itself out. I need time to do this; to unplug and reflect on what has been happening with my life. I like to play out conflicts in my head and work out what may have been motivating other people to have different viewpoints to my own. I usually only get to do this in the shower, but it’s great to have some time to really get into it.

I think I am the happiest when I get to have time like this, alone with my thoughts. I never quite agreed with the quote “Hell is other people”, but now I find that I can agree with it under a more positive spin of “Solitude is bliss”. That’s not to say that I can live as a hermit. I’ve always been introverted, but I need a social life – I just need small doses of it bundled with lots of time to reflect. I feel happy when I can think things through properly. If I don’t do this, my brain will end up playing me a non-stop feature reel of every social mistake I’ve ever made, so visceral that I usually end up saying “oh God” loudly to myself in the middle of a quiet library.

So basically I spend the entirety of my second day walking for hours and hours around the forest philosophising and finding a sunlit spot to read my book. Honestly, I spent most of the time imagining that I found A$AP Rocky and his crew tripping on acid and decided to show them around the forest while he taught me how to rap. Imagination is a funny thing.

Thanks to my book, I am become more able to put words to the concepts I have about rap and understand not only it better, but why I like it better too. I think that rap is a really important art form of our generation, and it is nice to be able to explain why to people who only associate it with ‘niggaz bitches money’ (or why it doesn’t matter that a song is about those things).

Anyway, that night my mum and step-dad Rainer arrived from Geneva, followed by my step-sister Sophia and her boyfriend Boby the next day from Madagascar. My sister Jen, two years younger than me, arrived from England that night to make for a truly international meeting. We ate well, oh so well. I often forget about just how amazing the food is over here. Not only that, but I get all of this bought and prepared by my dear mum who is an excellent cook.

I finally got to see our new house in Bougival. I had seen it when it was first bought, but this was the first time I had seen it after the extensive renovations that had been done. The house itself is beautiful. A three story south-facing building barley reaching four metres wide, and has been standing about twice as long as the nation of Australia. It was quite run down when we first bought it, but the renovations have made it very comfortable to live in.

We celebrated that night with lots of local Bougival beer, wine and food. Sophia had been living in Madagascar for the last 9 months and had some amazing stories to tell. We had a little pre-Christmas gift exchange while we were all together. I was given a cycling jacket, some British cheeses and a small leather bag from Madagascar. We put the fire on at the house for the first time, making for a very Christmasy feel.

My time in Paris was short, but I’m sure that I will be back there some time this holiday. How could I possible say no to a free house? I know some friends travelling around Europe at the same time I am here, so spending some time together there sounds like a lot of fun.

Right now, however, Geneva awaits. Through the darkness outside my window I can see snow covering the hillside, and I can’t help feel the anticipation of getting to hit the Swiss slopes for some good snowboarding. The resorts opened early this year, so fingers crossed for some deep fresh snow to shred, maybe even some pow pow.

Europe 2013 – 1

This is the first, and hopefully not the last post that I will be writing detailing my travels this year through Europe. I make this trip every year to spend Christmas with the half of the family who now live over there. For some quick background, my mum and step-dad live in Geneva. They also own a house in Paris where they used to live with my sister, who now lives in Durham, England, where she studies some sort of biology that I can never remember the name of (sorry). The plan was to meet everyone in Paris, including my step-sister and her long term boyfriend Boby, whose real name is not Boby, but something more boring and less fitting of his character. Truly an international meeting.

My roommate Felipe woke me up at 9:00, as I asked him, on the day I was due to depart. It was about 10:00 when I gained some semblance of consciousness, and 10:30 when I realised how much I had to get done, and how little time I had before my flight left. I always try to do right by my future self, but the night before I had decided that there was a lot of beer that needed to be drunk, and hey, it wouldn’t take long to pack my bags tomorrow. I had neglected to think about having to pick up my mum’s christmas present, other assorted items exclusive to Australia, all the christmas present that needed posting. I ran to Newtown, and then to Marrickville. I stood in the post office packaging and addressing envelopes while pouring sweat, then ran back home with the fear that can only be put in you by large predators and the prospect of missing an international flight with a connection.

I starting throwing clothes at my suitcase, then called a cab and took another shower, as there was going to be someone sitting extremely next to me for 9 hours of their lives. I ended up catching a cab to the airport because it is basically the same price as the goddamn train, and made it there two and a half hours before my flight. This also turns out to be an hour earlier than what I could have scraped by on, but it is definitely worth having some leeway. I managed to have most of the things I needed with me, but lost a swiss army knife I had left in my bag ;_;.

Flight

Managed to snag a window seat at the last minute for the first leg of my journey – Sydney to Hong Kong. I sat next to a nice Chinese Aussie who I chatted to about travel (mandatory flight topic) and the future of drones. For entertainment I had brought along The Book of Rhymes – The Poetics of Hip Hop by Adam Bradley, an insightful look into the world of hip hop, and what makes it so lyrically brilliant. I also had my laptop with me so that I wouldn’t have to deal with the awful displays on the back of the seats. They honestly have so many design flaws that I could write an entire post on them, and probably won’t, because I don’t want to think about them. I ended up catching up on a fair bit of anime, although one episode of Kill la Kill was perhaps a bit too risqué for my comfort levels. My laptop died before we reached HK, and there was nowhere to charge it in the terminal. I was faced with another 14 hour leg to CDG (Paris – Charles de Gaulle) with only a book and my own thoughts.

I’m pretty sure that the internet has given me some sort of temporary ADHD, because while I was once an avid reader, I couldn’t read a whole page without my mind wandering, daydreaming for a few minutes, then forgetting where I was up to. I feel like my mind is a flywheel that gets spun up from the constant stimulus of the internet, and I need to take ~3 hours of zero stimuli before it has settled enough to focus properly. I am resolving this trip to spend more time switched off so that I can focus better on doing something productive in my life for once. Maybe I can get back into reading so that whatever I write becomes less like garbage.

Paris!

After 24 hours of transit, I arrived at CDG on time, and with all of my luggage arriving at the same time and location that I did! I considered this to be a good start compared to my last trips. As I was leaving, I got an unusually early taste of Paris scammers as unlicensed taxi drivers offered to take me to the B&B I was staying at for only double the cost of what other drivers would charge. I should have ignored them, but my I was interested in one of them offering a motorbike taxi ride (yes, it’s a thing). This was ridiculous not only because I can count the number of times I’ve ridden on a bike on one hand, but also because it was about negative five degrees outside. I managed to ditch by sending the scammer off to get his friends to prove to me that his fare was reasonable while I flagged down a passing cab.

Scammers and con artists are a staple of Paris. I have come across dozens of different scams, especially in the city itself. Three card monte is a favourite in the flea markets. Gypsies asking you to sign a piece of paper then coercing money out of you, making bracelets on your arm (so you can’t escape) and then asking for money for it; the list goes on. After seeing a few of these scams, it is easy enough to avoid getting scammed yourself.

I managed to arrive at the bed and breakfast in Bougival after a close call in almost losing the address, thanks to the woes of two-factor authentication security in a foreign country. I had breakfast (all French food is soo good) then went to La Défence (Paris’ CBD) to buy a European sim card and a universal adapter to charge my laptop. When I came back, my room was ready and I was finally able to have a shower that was honestly amazing.

It was a beautiful, perfect day in Paris. The temperature was ~5 degrees, much warmer than last year. Since the sun was out, I decided to make the most of it and stay outside to help me adjust to the new time zone. I took a walk to the huge forest near Bougival, and discovered a clearing where I could read in the sunlight. I planned out this post, as well as some other goals for what I would like to get done while on holidays.

Goals

I would like to do some preparation for my subject next year. I found the power of YouTube lectures during my finals study for the previous semester. It is often the case that these are presented much, much better than how they are at UTS, so I will try to get a head start on my subject for next semester.

I would also like to finish learning kana. I feel like I have an obligation to the JASS beginners class to finish what they started to teach me, before I got distracted by exams. Currently, I can read hiragana OK, but I still need to learn to read katakana, then learn to write both.

I will also start a which list (Ala Rubenérd’s) so that my family can stop asking what I want for Christmas and I can stop telling them that I don’t really want anything.

There are some other issues that I was planning to write about, but they are quite personal, and probably each deserve a post of their own.

Compiling mpv on OS X

Original guide written by me. Improved by ChrisK at CoalGirls.

He also maintains ready-to-use builds here.


Introduction

Here is a simple guide to compiling mpv, a fork of the MPlayer family and the current recommended media player on *nix.

mplayer2 is another such fork being developed, but right now, the mpv fork is the best choice. The mpv fork has a bit more active development, and some features like a nicer CLI output and a high quality opengl output.

This will ensure you are using the latest, most up-to-date high quality playback that you can get for OS X.

You’ll need at least OS X 10.7.

Installation

  1. Install Xcode from App Store
  2. Install Command Line Tools from Xcode -> Preferences -> Downloads
  3. Install Homebrew by pasting the following into Terminal: ruby -e "$(curl -fsSL https://raw.github.com/mxcl/homebrew/go)"
  4. Install some other needed stuff: sudo easy_install docutils
  5. Install pigoz’s homebrew mpv. The commands you’ll need to put into Terminal are: brew tap mpv-player/mpv & brew install --HEAD mpv
  6. If you want to have an .app-bundle in ~/Applications: brew linkapps mpv

To set mpv as the default program to open .filetypes, get Finder-info on the filetype you want to associate, select mpv.app under Open with: and click the “Change All…” button. You can view options and keybinds here or by typing man mpv into Terminal. You can quit this dialogue any time by pressing q. mpv can also be launched by typing mpv into Terminal, dragging the file into the terminal window and hitting enter.

Configuration

Here is pigoz’s personal configuration. To edit the configuration file, type open ~/.mpv/config into Terminal, and paste the configuration into there.

The opengl-hq video output can be used to attach your own Colour Profile with :icc-profile=. You can find your own profile in Finder with ⌘+⇧+G, then entering /Library/ColorSync/Profiles/Displays.

Please note that opengl-hq is rather resource-heavy and needs a somewhat decent GPU (Intel HD4000 or better).

Notes

Remember to keep everything up-to-date using brew update. Since mpv is on –HEAD, brew update won’t work for it. You need to uninstall and reinstall (brew rm mpv && brew install --HEAD mpv), as it’s a HEAD only formula homebrew is not smart enough to figure out the version it built.

Having MacPorts or Fink installed may break brew. See brew doctor if you run into problems.