Sitting in the Auckland airport lounge, the power went out. The two ladies next to me immediately blamed the outage on computers and spent the next ten minutes yammering on about how computers had ruined everything and had given rise to a younger generation devoid of any useful skills.
“They can’t even add without a calculator,” one sighed. I restrained myself from commenting that she probably couldn’t program a bubble sort to save her life. The large umbrella she kept in readiness at her side contributed to my reticence.
Arriving in Melbourne amidst a spate of “g’days,” I presented my gift salamis at customs for inspection. Despite my pleas, the sausages were impounded and destroyed, leaving me without a food offering for my upcoming visit to Bangkok. Without a food offering, I had no bribe to motivate my friend the restaurant critic and I had visions of him exacting his revenge by taking me out for Swiss steak and succotash.
I deposited my bags at my hotel and set off to try and read my e-mail. I took a tram towards the city, crossed over the Yarra River and Batman Avenue and headed up the hill to the University of Melbourne. There, I found the location of the Information Technology Center on the map and sat myself down in a large room filled with PCs and Macs. I picked a likely looking 386 and typed “telnet,” and sure enough, a few seconds later I was happily deleting messages.
Since I wasn’t expected until the next day, I walked back down the hill to find the world famous Royal Botanical Gardens. Both a formal garden and an arboretum, this is the kind of place you find written up in coffee table books and issues of the National Geographic.
The gardens certainly deserve their reputation. I walked past a cluster of Hoop pines, past a huge Monterey cypress planted by Prince Leopold in 1910, and through a grove of small but pungent Bhutan cypress. Next to all these evergreens was the Canary Island Bed, with a rare arrow-wood tree surrounded by cactus-like succulents and asteraceae.
Further down the path was a row of aloe plants ranging from a few inches tall to huge bushes. Spiny agave and Mexican Yucca were mixed in, giving the desert-like setting a sharp contrast to the California air of the evergreens.
Below the beds was an intricate ornamental lake filled with ducks and black swans, edged with English Elms, Irish Strawberry trees, and groves of bamboo and Brazilian Pampas grass. To my disappointment, that evening’s showing of A Midsummer Night’s Dream was sold out, so I set out to find some dinner.
The closest I could find to local food was an Aussie Burger, a nice hamburger topped with the traditional bacon, egg, and beets. I headed instead up to Toorak Road for some Italian food.
Most of the restaurants were BYOs, so I went into the bottle shop and picked up a half bottle of local Cabernet Sauvignon, then went into Molina’s Bistro, truly a fortuitous find. The appetizer was a Cervello alla Grenoblaise, lamb brains coated in beer batter and served with a delicate sauce of chives, capers, and lemon wedges, garnished with sprigs of fresh basil and fennel. It was accompanied by fresh, warm bread, dusted with basil and oregano from the herb garden out back.
My main dish was Saltimbocca a la Romano, baby veal in a sauce of sage and white wine, and served with a timbale of potato, onions, mushrooms, and cheese. Dessert was a home-made liqueur ice cream. Stuffed, I walked back to the hotel to get ready for my meetings the next day.
Tuesday morning, I went back up the hill to find Chris Chaundy, Networks Manager for the University of Melbourne. The university network connected 74 buildings with a mix of fiber, unshielded twisted pair, microwave, and leased lines. Originally a massively bridged network, the university was rapidly completing the transition to a network based on routers.
The university is split into Mac and PC camps. The Macs used AppleTalk and 53 Banyan Vines servers take care of the PCs. The backbone network is mainly TCP/IP, although large DECnet and CDCNET applications are still running.
AppleTalk clients access the TCP/IP world using a Webster multiport gateway, a device similar to the Kinetics Fastpath. The multiport gateway was developed on campus before being commercialized by Webster.
All told, the network is your basic professionally-run, production environment. Large machines such as a Cyber 990, an IBM 3090, and a Maspar are all on the net. The library card catalogue, WAIS, X.500, and all the modern information services you would expect are all available.
This is one of those operations that has everything you would want. The information technology center has a regular, frequent schedule of training classes, extensive documentation, a custom programming group, a proactive help desk, spacious labs, and a trouble ticket system.
This is great for the university community, but certainly posed a challenge for the digital tourist. After all, what can you say about a place that does everything right?
After my briefing with Chris, I went across the street to meet the elusive Robert Elz, a long-time inhabitant of the Internet. Robert rarely works, or, for that matter even wakes, during the day, but I was in luck. Cricket matches were on this week and Robert had inverted his chronology to watch the games and post the results into netnews.
Robert’s desk was stacked a few feet deep with paper, leaving only enough room for a keyboard and a half-dozen empty Coke cans. Robert had just returned from giving seminars in Thailand and the top of his stack included Thai-language keyboard templates. His wall had a map of all undersea cables in the Pacific region.
After some chitchat with Robert about mutual friends in Bangkok, I had worked a full two hours and then it was tea time. Back at the hotel, sitting in the lobby, I listened to the drivel of a lounge lizard playing a baby grand piano.
After the second drink, I realized that the piano was unmanned. The thing had broken into a jaunty Elton John tune, so I walked over to investigate. Under the piano was a Yamaha Disklavier, a digital version of the old player piano, hooked up with solenoids to activate the keys and provide a very exact replica of the original performance. The Elton John tune was from the album “Don’t Shoot Me, I’m Only the Piano [Player].”