2017 – The Roller Coaster Year

2017 has been a roller coaster of a year, there have been some big highs but also some huge lows. At the start of this year I set myself some goals which I mostly achieved:

  • Continue to build savings through regular contributions
    • This I achieved, and then spent on a laptop and a holiday. Unfortunately Sydney house prices continued to increase by far more than I can possibly ever save.
  • Halve the amount remaining on my student loan
    • I paid off 47% of the loan, before interest was applied and 45% if you include the interest accumulated across the year.
  • Read 18 books
    • I read 14 books, which is fewer, much fewer than previous years.
  • Travel to the USA/Canada or Europe or Both
    • I went to the USA twice (once leisure, once business), Canada, Singapore, and New Zealand

In short 2017 has been a year where I found love, lost love, lost loved ones, got glasses, wrote, had papers rejected, hiked, travelled, saved, spent, read, and watched. I’m still a bit behind in writing blog posts on some of these events but they will come over the next few weeks.

Overall, this year has had some very rough low patches and was a roller coaster of emotion. Rather than doing a month by month highlights, I’m happy to say that at the end of this year I’m happy, I have some new things happening in my life and further new things to come in early 2018.

Western USA and Canada Adventures – Part Eight: Lake Superior’s North Shore

While visiting my friends in Minneapolis I took a day trip to Lake Superior’s North Shore.

My friends and I built up a big appetite after spending the morning driving north from Minneapolis so we stopped for lunch at the New Scenic Cafe which is a few kilometers north of Duluth. The food here was excellent, especially the Salmon Burger.

Salmon Burger at New Scenic Cafe

With full stomachs, we then continued further north to the Gooseberry Falls State Park.

Continue reading “Western USA and Canada Adventures – Part Eight: Lake Superior’s North Shore”

Western USA and Canada Adventures – Part Seven: Minneapolis

After a week in California, I flew across the country to Minneapolis. On arrival in Minneapolis I checked into my hotel and then headed straight to the Mall of America. A few hours later I left with a few new pieces of clothes that I had picked up for some really good prices.

The following morning I headed into downtown Minneapolis which unfortunately was filled with construction around the main shopping area and much of the shops were closed. As I had the entire day to myself I decided to walk across from the downtown area to the Walker Art Museum.

After a few hours I then headed back across the city to the Store Arch Bridge which crosses the Mississippi River. Continue reading “Western USA and Canada Adventures – Part Seven: Minneapolis”

Western USA and Canada Adventures – Part Six: Six Flags Discovery Kingdom and a Californian Sunset

My final day in California was spent visiting the NASA Ames Research Centre, the Six Flags Discovery Kingdom and then watching the sunset over San Francisco and the Pacific Ocean.

The NASA Ames Visitors Centre was a disappointment, it looked like it was either temporary or extremely rundown.

In contrast after driving through most of Silicon Valley, we arrived at the Six Flags Discovery Kingdom which was a lot of fun.

Continue reading “Western USA and Canada Adventures – Part Six: Six Flags Discovery Kingdom and a Californian Sunset”

Western USA and Canada Adventures – Part Five: USS Hornet Museum and UC Berkeley

My best mate took some time off work to show me around the Bay Area during my visit to California. On one of the days we didn’t really have much of a plan other than that we may go visit the area around UC Berkeley. After playing around on Google, I stumbled onto the website for the USS Hornet Museum. Not really knowing what to expect, other than some fun exploring an old aircraft carrier, we set the car’s GPS navigation and drove across the bay to Alameda.

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Western USA and Canada Adventures – Part Four: Alcatraz

Visiting Alcatraz was one of the highlights of my trip. My friend and I were fortunate to get some last minute tickets as I was not aware of just how popular it is and how far in advance it sells out.

Once we arrived at Alcatraz we wandered up the hill to the main prison cellblock. Inside we picked up audio guides and began the self guided tour. Although the tour at times got you slightly lost and was a little boring it did a good job at explaining the key events and history of the Alcatraz Prison.

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Western USA and Canada Adventures – Part Three: NorCal and Point Reyes Road Trip

After a few days in San Francisco I arranged with some of my friends to do a day road trip. Through my travel guide book and messing around with Google Maps I discovered Point Reyes which is around an hour and a half north of San Francisco (or a little more in traffic).

Being a nerd, the main attraction of Point Reyes is that forms a peninsula situated on the Pacific Plate and is visibly separated from from the North American Plate by the San Andreas Fault which runs directly under Tomales Bay.

San Andreas Fault running directly under Tomales Bay
Continue reading “Western USA and Canada Adventures – Part Three: NorCal and Point Reyes Road Trip”

Western USA and Canada Adventures – Part Two: San Francisco Dreaming

I spent three days with friends in San Francisco during my stay in California.

On the first of these three days I met up with two friends of mine who work for technology companies. After a tour around a company making autonomous cars we had lunch in at “The Market” which is directly below the Twitter head office. Following this my best mate and I began to walk around the Market Street and city hall area of San Francisco.

Continue reading “Western USA and Canada Adventures – Part Two: San Francisco Dreaming”

The boringness of the 2017 New Zealand General Election

The longer that I’ve lived away from New Zealand the less that I’ve cared about following the news and blog coverage of the day to day political dramas. However, with the 2017 New Zealand General Election less than two months away I would have expected the competition between the two main parties to have become much closer than it is.

A little over six months ago John Key stepped down as Prime Minister and Bill English, who previously lead the National Party to their biggest defeat became Prime Minister. Since then there has been a few scandals within the National Party, namely, the Todd Barclay secret recordings affair. However, despite these upheavals within the incumbent party there has been very little change in their poll numbers with a current average of around 46% primary support.

In contrast, earlier today, Andrew Little’s leadership of the Labour party came to an end as their average poll numbers dropped to 25% and lower. If the new leader Jacinda Ardern can attract voters back to the party their numbers may improve slightly, but I cannot see Labour doubling their primary vote or taking a huge amount of support away from the National Party.

The reality of the New Zealand political landscape is that it is really boring. Although the National Party has been in power for nine years over three terms they have done extremely well in not giving many concessions to their more conservative and extreme right supporters and coalition partners. As a government they have been well disciplined and as a whole the country has grown economically.

While this stability is a blessing that other countries, including Australia, can only dream about (in the same time Australia has had four Prime Ministers and many more leadership spills) it also means that the opposition party has had very few big issues to create as a point of difference from the National Party. Furthermore, when the Labour Party does try and propose something different they often go too far. For example, they currently have a policy which proposes cutting immigration to New Zealand by up to 30,000 people.

Policies which harm the economic growth or unsettle a population which is entirely built on migration are unlikely to win many new supporters. Rednecks and other anti-immigration supporters have their fringe parties to support and Labour really needs to focus on the important day to day issues which will gain them supporters from the centre and centre-right. Policies such as committing to improved rail links in the major cities or changing the taxation system such that low income earners are better off without adversely increasing the tax on higher income earners are ideas that often get broad support. In particular with taxation you could introduce a tax-free threshold, increase taxes slightly at the higher income bands to offset the tax loss without affecting the overall tax payments on a median income earner, and still introduce a small capital gains tax. Policies which are well explained and are positive for the country are likely to gain supporters from the centre of the political spectrum.

Unfortunately, it appears New Zealand is on track for yet another National Party dominated government. Once again, I wish that more young people would vote as many of the parties and policies which are best geared towards them come from parties on the left. Without a strong opposition it enables the ruling party to easily push through laws and policies which are damaging to large minority groups without consequence.