Technomadics http://technomadics.net Vagabonding Europe Tue, 12 Feb 2013 03:36:26 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Thirteen Months of Audiobus http://technomadics.net/2012/12/09/thirteen-months-of-audiobus/ http://technomadics.net/2012/12/09/thirteen-months-of-audiobus/#comments Sun, 09 Dec 2012 17:31:49 +0000 http://technomadics.net/?p=6344 Continue reading]]> Tomorrow, Monday December 10, my friend and partner-in-crime Sebastian Dittmann and I are launching a project over twelve months in the making: Audiobus. We’re very proud of what we’ve managed to do, and we both firmly believe that Audiobus is going to fundamentally alter the way people create music on the iPad and iPhone.

You can find out more about Audiobus itself at audiob.us, but I wanted to take a moment to breathe, look back, and explain why the hell I’ve been so quiet over the last year.

The Tale of Audiobus

Thirteen months ago, while my partner Katherine and I were mid-roadtrip, Copenhagen to the South of France (now that’s a drive), I was working on an update to Loopy HD.

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For those not familiar with our somewhat unconventional lifestyle, my home and office is a 6 metre by 3 metre 1993 Hymer motorhome named Nettle (an unconventional name for a German gal like she is, but we liked it. We found her in the Cotswolds, after all.). In mid 2009, we left our lives and loved ones in Melbourne, Australia, and began taking a few years off from the Real World to live our dream, travelling Europe. Along the way, I’ve found my calling: developing creative apps.

So, I was updating Loopy HD, with the beautiful countryside of northern France out the window, red squirrels burying nuts in the leaf litter outside, tweaking Loopy’s MIDI support (me, not the squirrels).

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'MIDI is blasé'

For those not in the know, MIDI is a quite simple, very mature format — there are devices made in the 70′s which work just fine over MIDI with devices made today, even iPads — which lets music hardware interact. In Loopy’s case, MIDI is used to synchronise the tempo with other devices.

MIDI on the iPad and iPhone has quite a nice little feature called “Virtual MIDI”, which lets apps send MIDI messages to each other. Not techy? Trust me, it’s super-cool.

At the time, I was ruminating on the coolness, and had a thought. You see, the MIDI standard defines support for “System Exclusive” messages (SysEx), which lets devices send anything they want over the MIDI channel. Usually, it’s used for sending manufacturer-specific information like patch configurations or firmware updates.

But it occurred to me that a wide-open standard like this, essentially a “dumb pipe” — one of my favourite terms which means it doesn’t know or care about what you pump through it — a dumb pipe with the ability to communicate app-to-app has enormous potential.

Up until then, if you wanted to use more than one app as part of a music creation workflow, you had to use Audio Copy — just like copying and pasting text, but with chunks of audio. Audio Copy was huge, and meant that apps could be used together — recording here, manipulating there — but it works offline.

We’re talking editing, not performing.

Direct app-to-app communication…Well, that’s another ball game entirely. If you can do that, you can send data — that’s audio, or anything you like — live. It’s like suddenly discovering cables. Or discovering the telephone, after passing letters around.

I poked around on the Interwebs to see if anything like this had been done before, and I noticed a brief discussion on the Open Music App Collaboration (OMAC) mailing list — a group of talented iOS music developers who got together with the aim of working together to improve iOS music. The conversation hadn’t really gone anywhere, but I noticed one bright spark had said he’d been playing with the idea.

I emailed him.

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Name look familiar? I didn’t know him then, but that’s our friend Rolf Wöhrmann of Tempo Rubato — he makes NLog, one of the first apps to support Audiobus.

It turns out, no one had really made any progress on this so I, always easily-distracted, thrust aside Loopy HD with the intention of exploring this exciting new idea for a little while.

A month or two, tops.

Two weeks later — and only about 130km further into our road trip, I might add — I had a working prototype, “iOS Audio Pipeline”, finished up during the annual crane migration over the fields of southern Champagne. Every evening, the cranes would fly overhead in long meandering V’s, calling out to each other in lovely mournful-sounding cadences. I like cranes.

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But hey — the thing worked, guys. I was successfully sending realtime audio, app-to-app.

I excitedly updated the OMAC guys with my findings — the original email message is still there, warts and all.

The responses were enthusiastic, but the question of what Apple might feel about this sort of thing arose. I was pointed in the direction of a guy who has had a fair bit of experience being tossed around by App Review. I didn’t know him, but his name was Sebastian, and he chimed in on OMAC soon after.

Little did I know that I’d just met my future friend and business partner who would be instrumental in making the whole project come together.

Sebastian used his contacts at Apple to try to take their temperature, and received a pretty vague and noncommittal response, but, in Sebastian’s words — “It looks like this could actually work and be approved. No guarantee though but definitely not a clear NO.”.

In the meantime, Katherine and I had gradually migrated further south, through some truly beautiful French countryside, all tumbledown villages and autumn colours, cyan-coloured rivers flowing over light grey riverbeds.

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We eventually found ourselves in the Provençal seaside town of Istres. It wasn’t nearly as nice a spot to spend the winter as it sounds, and as we’d hoped — actually, it rather unpleasantly reminded us of our three months in Tunisia! — but we were paid up and committed for the month, and I had work to do.

iOS Audio Pipeline steadily evolved, the prototype thrown out and a more efficient version began to take shape, based on a lower-level technology than Virtual MIDI: Mach Ports, the tech Virtual MIDI is built upon, which I’d subsequently discovered that I could actually use directly.

As happens so frequently in those golden early days of a project, the code poured out of me. It always reminds me of that anecdote about Michelangelo, revealing the sculpture that’s already there within the marble block — all that’s to be done is to remove the superfluous material. Not that I’m so grandiose as to compare myself to Michelangelo, but I can kinda see what he meant, in the way the code just reveals itself, everything falling into place. It’s almost hypnotic.

Here’s an early mockup of the interface — it actually existed like this for a short time, but I don’t have any live screenshots. Originally, I’d envisioned it as a control panel that was built into each app, accessible via whatever means the developer saw fit:

Audiobus early mockup

It was somewhat modelled on the de facto standard method for making Virtual MIDI connections available, and was, to be honest, quite clunky.

Along the way, I had more and more conversations with Sebastian, and we fast became friends.

Then he dropped the bomb, with the idea that turned iOS Audio Pipeline from an interesting piece of technology into an actual concrete, viable product, and solidified our partnership.

In Part 2 of this article, I’ll write about how Sebastian and I took iOS Audio Pipeline, a slightly nerdy-but-cool audio transport protocol, and turned it into Audiobus, the frankly awesome product it is today. There’ll be half a year spent in a beautiful village in the foothills of the Pyrenees, and an encounter in Barcelona. There’ll be battles, victories, the odd crisis, and many, many hours of programming. But don’t worry. It has a happy ending.

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Detained, But Not Deported: The Long Road to England Part 2 http://technomadics.net/2012/07/27/detained-but-not-deported-the-long-road-to-england-part-2/ http://technomadics.net/2012/07/27/detained-but-not-deported-the-long-road-to-england-part-2/#comments Fri, 27 Jul 2012 19:11:53 +0000 http://technomadics.net/?p=6336 Continue reading]]> Detention

We’re stuck in a very ill Nettle right outside the border control booths of the ferry port. It’s not quite the worst-case scenario we’d envisioned for this crossing, but… Well, it’s bad enough.

I confirm the diagnosis by peeking at Nettle’s innards, and find myself at the frontier police office seeking assistance. In a way, it’s probably the best place this could have happened. All I need to do is explain the problem, and people jump into action, calling up a tow truck for us and all.

I’m expecting a truck to come to take us away to a mechanic in Calais, but a truck turns up soon after and tells us he’s going to take us right onto the ferry and, presumably, off again once we hit UK soil.

Neat!

He tows us up to the UK border control booth, and I thrust my carefully compiled stack of supporting documentation at the poor guy behind the glass. He takes one look, and points me over to the border control office on the other side of the entranceway.

An attendant at the door greets us, asks a couple of questions (the responses to which I’ve prepared, and present the various pieces of paper as necessary). Then she tells us okay — they’ll need to ask a few more questions, if we could stick around.

Sounds okay; we grab a couple of seats in the lobby of the border control office. The minutes tick by. Twenty minutes to the ferry stops taking boarders. Fifteen. Ten…

Someone else comes out and our stomachs drop down though our seats when she hands us some very official-looking, very terrifying pieces of paper:

NOTICE TO DETAINEE: REASONS FOR DETENTION AND BAIL RIGHTS.

DETENTION? Holy shit, what have we gotten ourselves into?

The form has tick-boxes for the various reasons we are being held. There’s a tick beside “There is insufficient reliable information to decide on whether to grant you temporary admission or release” and “You have failed to give satisfactory or reliable answers to an Immigration Officer’s enquiries“. Bloody hell — well, at least it’s not “Your release is not considered conducive to the public good“, “Your unacceptable character, conduct or associations“, or, god forbid, “You are excluded from the UK at the personal direction of the Secretary of State“.

I’m trying to maintain a pleasant expression as disaster scenario after disaster scenario flash though my mind. Are we going to be just denied access to the UK? Are they going to send us back to Australia?? What will we do about Nettle?

Thirty minutes until the ferry departs. Fifteen. Ten. Five. It’s gone, and we’re still sitting on these uncomfortable plastic seats. The tow truck driver decides that’s that, then, and we watch through the window as he unhooks Nettle and drives off to other errands.

We’re sitting there for at least an hour, wondering what’s going to happen to us. Then a woman comes over — “Mr. Tyson, come with me please.” Is this where the waterboarding happens?

She leads me into an interrogation room, just like you see on TV. Cramped, dark, two seats opposite each other, a table and a conference-room phone. She pulls out a pen and an interrogation form, and starts writing: 1. What is your name? 2. Date of birth? 3. Nationality?. Okay so far.

She indicates the stack of printouts of my financials, showing the last six months’ activity. “There’s some pretty large amounts going in and out, here.” That one’s easy, too - I explain how my business works, and she seems happy with it.

I walk her though our travel history since we arrived from Australia. She observes that we’ve already had a 2-year UK visa. “Why are you coming back to the UK?” — because, you know, you should be able to visit each square centimetre of the UK at least twice in that time. I’d heard of this being asked before, and was ready: We’ve some friends we want to visit, plus there’s more we’d like to see.

A few more questions, none of them particularly difficult — and my interrogator says she’s heard enough, and will go and stamp our passports.

Oh, yeah!!

I give Katherine the thumbs-up through the window — in the meantime a second tow-truck has arrived and Katherine’s talking to the driver. A few minutes later, stamped passports in hand and enormous relief in our hearts, we’re watching Nettle being winched up onto the back of the truck — a disconcerting sight.

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We jump in beside the driver, feeling elated now, and he drives us and Nettle to the garage a few blocks over, and tells us to return at 2, when the garage opens after lunch. We have lunch at a nearby hotel restaurant, wait half an hour or so in the garage’s office, then Nettle’s driven out to us, good as new!

Second pass through border control goes absurdly more smoothly than the first, then we have to buy new ferry tickets, and we board the ferry at last.

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Sphincters tighten as we pass by the “CUSTOMS” sign (Nettle’s MOT certificate is now rather expired, and we’ve heard they have number plate recognition cameras that’ll inform the staff of that fact), but it’s totally unmanned, and we suddenly find ourselves leaving the ferry port. Just in time, Katherine reminds me we’re driving on the left side of the road.

One could probably have heard the whooping from Italy.

We stop in at Tesco, to pick up some long-missed items: Bagels, cheddar, baked beans and whatnot, then drive to our favourite CL site in the sleepy village-ette of Wootton.

Made it.

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The Long Road to England: Part 1 http://technomadics.net/2012/07/26/the-long-road-to-england-part-1/ http://technomadics.net/2012/07/26/the-long-road-to-england-part-1/#comments Thu, 26 Jul 2012 13:31:24 +0000 http://technomadics.net/?p=6324 Continue reading]]> After much daydreaming about fish and chips, bagels, ubiquitous 3G internet and speaking English again, the time has arrived to jump back on the autoroutes of France and drive back to the UK.

This wasn’t part of our original plans, but bureaucracy had its way with us, as it always does: It turns out, unlike the advice we were given years back, the only way to update a UK vehicle’s MOT certificate (basically an obligatory annual roadworthiness test) is to take it to a garage in the UK.

Our route takes us up into the scenic lower Alps of Haute-Provence. We stop for lunch by a chalky cyan-coloured stream, which I take a quick and extremely satisfying dip in. Katherine’s Nettle-bound as her bee-stung foot has gone alarmingly non-functional.

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We stop for the night beside a lake, and meander the following morning amongst bright yellow fields of sunflowers.

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The next night, now in Burgundy, we’re in a town surrounded by vineyards, stretching to the horizon.

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After that, well, nothing but monotony. Kilometre after kilometre of motorway passes beneath our wheels. On the fifth day, we arrive in Calais and spend our last couple of days in France at a little caravan park overlooking the white cliffs of the UK, almost within reach. With some dread about the actual border crossing — which is never fun — we discuss maybe just taking a good run up and jumping the channel in Nettle. How hard could it be?

As it turns out, that may have been the more enjoyable option, wet feet or not.

We arrive at the entrance to the ferry port boarding area, and inch forward with the other cars going through the border control gates. We’re a couple cars from the booth, moving to inch forward again, when there’s a clunk and — oh, fuck! — the gear stick is wobbling around impotently. Nettle’s busted.

It’s the same thing as last time, eleven months ago: The bolt holding the gear stick onto the gearbox has sheared off.

Lovely.

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Lavender Fields & Hot Air Balloons http://technomadics.net/2012/07/16/lavender-fields-hot-air-balloons/ http://technomadics.net/2012/07/16/lavender-fields-hot-air-balloons/#comments Mon, 16 Jul 2012 21:04:18 +0000 http://technomadics.net/?p=6311 Continue reading]]> I do realise that a good chunk of you are probably gagging on the glitterbomb of glory that has been my birthday proceedings so far, but I’m not quite done yet so I completley understand if you want to click away now.

To take my 30th birthday to epic levels we’re adding cycling through lavender fields and a hot air balloon ride over Provence. I did warn you.

Happily, there were bonus sunflowers.

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We wait until mid-afternoon to begin cycling because the thought of going out in this sun is pretty much giving us instant heat stroke. I’m a bit befuddled by the hills on the first part of our cycle from Valensole as I’m pretty sure this locale is called the “Plateau of Provence”. It’s not so hilly that I’m taking my bike for a walk but just hilly enough that I repeat my vow to buy a bike with more than three gears next time. When we spot some lavender we pretty much just trundle into the fields along the rocky dirt farm roads and feel like we’re just wandering into private property. I have no idea if we’re allowed to do this but I don’t really give it too much thought.

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It also happens to be nearing Mike’s grandmother’s 80th birthday so we spend some time holding imaginary balloons amongst the rows of lavender. The balloons are from a painting of mine.

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I have so much fun taking these photos. It’s silly and creative and makes the whole sight-seeing thing so much more interactive. Mike has a deep-seated distaste for posed photos so we’ve taken very few in our three years on the road, however I’m now a convert. As I kneel amongst the bees and the lavender Mike sets up the shot then hops over to join me. We do this a couple of dozen times with and without the imaginary balloons.

There’s really nowhere to sit for a picnic but we manage with a patch of earth that’s slightly more grass/hay than dirt. Lunch is, very appropriately, a delicious mediterranean salad.

We wanted to do something we wouldn’t otherwise have done for my birthday and as brilliant as everything has been so far they don’t actually meet that criteria, hence the hot air balloon ride.

After a phone call to the hot air balloon company the day before, I’m convinced that we won’t be going up as it has been super windy. We cycle to the meeting point at 5:30am and arrive to see everyone looking up to the sky — they’re watching a helium balloon to assess the wind situation. When the English speaking South African pilot joins the group we learn that we’re waiting for the sun to rise. The wind will pick up when the sun rises but there is a chance that it will settle down at some magical point immediately after. I’m sure there are good sciencey wiency explanations for all this. We’re both stunned when, sure enough, wind materialises as if it’s being carried to us on sun-beams. Convinced as I am that this is going to be a bust, I’m not even feeling any anticipation or excitement. When we’re told the outcome of the latest weather balloon (in French) and see the happy French faces surrounding us I’m so stunned it doesn’t quite register immediately.

We’re all driven to an empty field and the staff get down to setting up the basket and balloon. Having never seen a hot air balloon up close, it’s all very interesting. As soon as the balloon is inflated enough to bring the basket upright the passengers need to get in as soon as possible to stabilise it.

When the pilot “steps on the gas”, so to speak, in order to get us off the ground, the heat from the open flame is intense. I’m pretty sure if I lifted my eyes up to take a look they would be cooked. We start wobbling, then one of the staff unties the ropes tethering the basket to one of the trucks as we leave terra firma. The ground begins to get further away. It’s a bizarre sensation to feel no motion of any kind yet have our eyes tell us that we are moving. It makes me laugh. This is the first time I’ve floated, I say to Mike, completely bafflingly. It might even be the first time I’ve heard silence too.

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160712MAX We drift ever upwards, with the sporadic hot roar of the burners above us. When our pilot Max releases the valve, the following silence is immense. Only the odd morning noises drift up to us — the odd rooster crowing or dog barking, far beneath our feet.

The gentle breeze pushes us westward over the labyrinthine streets of Forcalquier and beyond. We start drifting downwards, sometimes at an alarming pace, before Max hits the gas and we go soaring back upwards for a time.

Then we’re falling again for the final time. Max directs us to be seated for the landing, but the wind has different plans and we’re whisked onwards away from the target field. We drift low over a wheat field and the roof of a farmhouse, before making a second attempt.

The landing is astonishingly smooth. I’ve always wondered what that bit’s like. We’re all recruited in helping pack up the balloon. It reminds me of playing group games in primary school. We’re rewarded with a glass of bubbly for our efforts. Once we’re home I find that I’m also rewarded with a foot swollen to the size of a hot air balloon. Apparently cycling and packing up a hot air balloon on a foot that was stung by a bee the day before makes said foot angry.

All in all, a pretty magical birthday month! Big smooshy thanks to my man for making it all possible, for being silly and cute enough to pose with imaginary balloons with me, and for pulling out bee’s stingers.

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Birthday Calanquing http://technomadics.net/2012/07/04/birthday-calanquing/ http://technomadics.net/2012/07/04/birthday-calanquing/#comments Wed, 04 Jul 2012 16:58:23 +0000 http://technomadics.net/?p=6289 Continue reading]]> IMG 5571

For Katherine’s big three-zero birthday, our plan was to hire us some kayaks and paddle around some sea cliffs and tranquil cyan water.

Unfortunately, it didn’t quite turn out that way on the day – first, we were too late and all the kayaks were gone. Then, we caught sight of the water – it was white-capped and very, very choppy. Not so tranquil.

So, leaving those poor suckers that beat us to the kayaks to their fate, we head to the beach instead. The near-flat, crystal-clear blue water has been replaced by murky waves which make a startling rattling as they pummel the pebbles that make up the beach. We find a vacant square centimetre or two, between people in various highly advanced states of undress, ditch our stuff, and stumble and lurch our way into the warm waves.

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We get hungry (visions of crispy fish and chips flitter across our imaginations), and wander up and down the restaurant strip, searching for something appetising-looking. Not a damn thing — it’s all boring-looking crepes, salad, and ubiquitous mussels and chips. Eventually, stomachs growling and feet aching, we collapse at a table, and order some soggy crepes and decidedly unpleasant mussels and chips, the mussels drizzled in a slightly salty yellow sauce and all dangling mystery appendages and surprise crunchy parts. Gyyahhhh! Cassis: Not the place for food.

A bit underwhelmed and in miserable-tourist mode (lucky this is Katherine’s birthday month, not birthday day, so the pressure isn’t quite as great to have a great time!), we limp our way back to the main beach, where everything is made better by floating around in the water, catching waves, people-watching and soaking in the late-afternoon sunlight.

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A couple windy days go by — we even get a thunderstorm, with torrential rain and lightning! — and then we have a beautiful, still day, perfect for kayaking.

So we make our way back to the kayak rental place, climb into a double kayak, and paddle our way out of the boat-lined inlet.

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The water’s so clear, the depths a deep, transparent blue, like a precious stone. We paddle alongside the limestone walls, turning into the odd wave caused by one of the many tour boats that cruise by. We shoot through a turbulent gap between a rocky outcrop and a little rocky island, and we can see right down the Calanque d’en Vau, to the cyan water and pebbly beach at the very end.

We amble our way down, occasionally swerving to the side to avoid incoming boats, and the water steadily lightens until we’re floating over luminescent turquoise. I dangle my feet over the side; the water’s deliciously cool.

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We paddle up to the shallows and I jump out and tie up, so we can munch sandwiches on the beach. Katherine’s picked up a perfect apple/pear hybrid at the supermarket (a papple!), which is totally like science in my mouth.

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The water’s cold, cold, cold still, and we inch into the water, up to that critical crotch level, and Katherine splashes in a good minute or two before I get the nerve. It’s an effort of will, but worth it, floating around and surrounded by little silver fish.

Soon it’s time to paddle back, grab some ice cream and a bottle of red, and trudge back up our hill to Nettle (looking slightly pitying at the tents around us, and feeling grateful we have our own couch to collapse upon!).

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Hiking the Calanques on the French Riviera http://technomadics.net/2012/06/27/hiking-the-calanques-on-the-french-riviera/ http://technomadics.net/2012/06/27/hiking-the-calanques-on-the-french-riviera/#comments Wed, 27 Jun 2012 18:27:52 +0000 http://technomadics.net/?p=6264 Continue reading]]> When we saw photos of the French Riviera’s calanques — fjord-like inlets carved into the white limestone — the problem of where we were going to spend my 30th birthday was immediately solved. Originally, we were planning on flying to Iceland, but the prospect of booking flights, accommodation, rental car, etc etc, quickly made it feel like work. A couple of weeks on beaches of azure water sounded like just the ticket for an indulgent, milestone birthday!

The calanques are inaccessible by road so we’d planned on kayaking to them after having eliminated boat — too restrictive — and hiking — too hard (although Mike was well up for it). That is, until we met Peter. Peter is a fellow Australian and after sweeping us up for a couple of beers in the pub, we all agree that getting up at first light the next morning and hiking to the calanques is a smashing idea.

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We’ve done a couple of hikes on which I thought the views gained didn’t warrant the exertion, but this isn’t one of them! It’s only mid-morning by the time we get to En Vau — the third Calanque from Cassis. We wonder at the people standing in the shallows of the azure water but not swimming, until we feel it; it is icy!

After taking a couple of dips, eating lunch, and meeting a nice American staying at the same caravan park as us, by the name of David, we’re ready to head back. This is where the hard work really begins. Those cliffs we just descended to get to the calanque below — the highest sea cliffs in France — now loom above us during the hottest part of the day.

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Worth it.

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Port Miou Calanques

We grab some well-earned icy beers at the first bar we come to in Cassis. Peter very kindly donates to the cause of buying me a pair of thongs (flip-flops, you dirty Americans!) as I can’t bare to put my heavy hiking boots back on my sunburnt feet!

Back at the caravan park we somehow manage to drag ourselves to the showers to wash an enormous amount of salt off ourselves — no wonder the water’s so buoyant. David, who we met at En Vau earlier in the day, pops over to Nettle and joins us for dinner. We have an absolute blast — he’s hilarious and we all click instantly. I don’t know where we get the energy from to have a guest over for dinner, but I feel like we’ve known David for ever and he just fits like a comfy pair of tracksuit pants… not that we tried him on.

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Three Years On The Road: The Story So Far http://technomadics.net/2012/06/25/three-years-on-the-road-the-story-so-far/ http://technomadics.net/2012/06/25/three-years-on-the-road-the-story-so-far/#comments Mon, 25 Jun 2012 16:08:25 +0000 http://technomadics.net/?p=6246 Continue reading]]> We reached a milestone this week: Three years since we left Australia to come and travel around Europe.

Three years ago, we packed up/sold our stuff, said farewell to family and friends, got on a plane, and arrived in London. We discovered our new home-on-wheels, Nettle, after just two weeks of looking, thanks to my first cousin once removed, Trevor and his wife Jane, motorhomers themselves.

Nettle was perfect, everything we were looking for, despite the odds.

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We took her to Ireland, an achingly beautiful place of unbelievable luminescent green.

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We made our way to northern France, a place of rolling fields and lovely little villages.

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We hung out with friends in Paris; Tiff, and Tim, Jen and Annie, then performed an enormous sprint down to Italy to join them there, on white beaches and in warm turquoise waters.

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We played in Tuscany, Rome, Pompeii and Sorrento.

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Then we said a sad goodbye to our friends and struck out on our own — through grotty Southern Italy to stunning Sicily.

We wild-camped on a cliff overlooking the sea on a wild, stormy night that took many lives in landslides; we visited charming seaside towns, and horrendously grotty cities. We spent some time living among olive trees and overlooking the turquoise Tyrrhenian Sea while working on art and software (most of which may never see the light of day — there was also plenty to learn about wise use of time!).

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Also, growing hair, apparently

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We watched endless electrical storms out over the sea, as the lights of the nearest town, reflected in the water, flickered on and off. We explored national parks, and old hilltop villages.

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We explored ancient Greek ruins, and climbed an active volcano, where we experienced the most intensely cold wind, the most lunar-like terrain, and the most beautiful autumn colours.

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We slept on the side of Mount Etna — as it turned out, during a minor eruption, which we totally missed — and met some lovely new local friends — Nuccio and Carmelo — who swept us up and treated us just like close family.

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We ran out of visa time, and submitted ourselves to a gruelling but highly educational three months in North Africa, getting into a number of close scrapes in the meantime and speaking a lot of French.

We wandered around a colosseum, drove through litter-strewn towns, wandered through crowded old markets, met some new friends.

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We hit the desert. Baked dirt, blown sand, blue sky. We even chatted with a guy who supported the Taliban, which was weird.

Also: Tataouine, totally a real place.

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We drove across a blinding white salt lake, and wandered through amazingly well-preserved Roman towns.

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Finally, an exodus back to Italy — Aahhhhhh.

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We drove the winding, narrow gauntlet of the Amalfi Coast. Beautiful, and terrifying.

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We also discovered HDR photography in the process, and applied it…enthusiastically, shall we say.

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In quick succession — or rather, slow succession, with plenty of long, project-work-filled stops — we cruised through Rome, Abruzzo, Umbria, Tuscany…Assisi, Arezzo, Sienna, Padua, Venice. We wandered through the hills around ancient hilltop towns, peered inside astonishing cathedrals.

We met quite a few people on the way, some by chance (the Aussie/Italian couple Ray and Sam in Poggibonsi — no, I didn’t just make up that name), and some by design, the lovely Italian couple Bruno and Elena in the little country town of Preggio who invited us into their home, and the young couple Andrea and Silvia who we met up with in Padua, and with whom we rapidly became quite dear friends and wandered Venice with — their college town.

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We made a beeline back to the UK, over the Alps and through Germany, and rapidly changed our plans from an actively-travelling summer, to one spent in Cornwall, happily working away and riding our newfound bikes around the country lanes.

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We made a little trip up to Bath and the Cotswolds to spend some time with some friends from Australia, Sarah, Carmen and Di.

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Other friends from Australia, Daniel and Shakti, joined us for a little while, and summer drifted by, changed to autumn.

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We found ourselves a house-sit in a beautiful stone farm cottage in Wales belonging to a lovely couple Anne and Mike, right through the magical, magical winter.

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We both worked hard through the winter — me, programming, and Katherine befriending the travel community with the intent to recruit assistance in promotion — and when spring came around again, we released our first major product: The Cartographer, a travel app. Some nervous moments in the first few weeks with low sales, then jackpot: Nine consecutive weeks of featuring by Apple.

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Screens

We said farewell to our winter home in Wales, and headed north, dropping in on family Keith and Olga and Pauline and Bill in the midlands, then up through the Peak and Lake Districts, where we did some rather substantial walks. Then, to Scotland where we met up with a friend from Belgium, Kris; my great-uncle/aunt Dennis and Janet; and some new travel-blogger friends on the stunning Isle of Skye, Keith and Sarah, who we clicked with straight away.

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Then our time in the UK was up: Our two year visas were almost done, so we drove to Hull via — yep — Swansea, for a hospital checkup for lumpy Katherine (all clear), then York, where we met up with another travel-blogger friend, highly entertaining and likeable Mike, and caught a ferry over to Belgium.

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A romp across industrial-y Belgium, a month’s unexpected stay in somewhat icky Genk for some dental work, then France, oh, France!

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In the meantime, I’ve reinvented, built and launched my new app, Loopy, a live-looper musical instrument app. It’s a wild, insane success, sales boom, and suddenly our financial goals are well and truly surpassed. We start talking about buying a house back in Australia when all this is over, up front, no mortgage. It’s unbelievable.

Loopy

A brief birthday interlude with some more new friends, Kent and Heather, on their boat in middle France, then some visa issues sent us scurrying to Denmark!

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We met a friend of Andrea and Silvia (our Padua friends), Emanuele, who had kindly agreed to be our “residential address” in Denmark. We hung out for a bit, and then made a beeline back to the south of France.

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Down to the south of France for another winter — a month in a yucky little town near Marseilles (Istres), then across into a beautiful little village in the foothills of the Pyrenees — Alet-les-Bains, where we stayed right through ’till spring.

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Then a brief voyage to Barcelona, and…

Here we are, spending a night on the site of an ancient Gaul village (I grew up with Asterix, so this is super cool). On the road still, still having a tremendous time after three years, although with the occasional pining for friends and family (and fixed plumbing!).

The adventure has morphed since we started, shifted to a hybrid — part discovery of this amazing part of the world, and part pursuing of our other dreams: My now successful software business, and Katherine’s fledgling artistic career.

The work success is one of the most exciting things I’ve ever experienced: Being able to have a successful business doing what I love, developing indie software — creative, intellectually challenging, varied, highly satisfying — is beyond my wildest dreams. Together with the rest — total freedom to roam around some of the most beautiful and interesting places in the world, and a loving, funny, creative, beautiful partner to share it all with; well, I feel pretty blessed.

Now — we are headed for Provence to see some turquoise water and high grey cliffs, then onwards, ever onwards, into year four, and into our thirties.

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1 Month in Barcelona http://technomadics.net/barcelona/ http://technomadics.net/barcelona/#comments Sat, 23 Jun 2012 14:11:10 +0000 http://technomadics.net/?p=6040 Continue reading]]> Most of our days in Barcelona, as has become our habit, are spent quietly working away in Nettle. We often joke that we live a normal life, like anybody else, except the view out our window changes. Currently, my studio window overlooks a little bit of Australia, planted and thriving in Barcelona:

Eucalyptus Tree-Barcelona

Barcelona Day Trip #1

When we do venture forth, it looks like we could be anywhere on the Mediterranean. Has everyone living on the Mediterranean, despite cultural differences, decided to all build to a tightly regulated and pedantically defined aesthetic? It has the very pleasant side-effect that Barcelona actually feels rather familiar, and all of our misanthropic concerns about the criminally-inclined flotsam haunting Barcelona’s shamble streets melts away.

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Barcelona

We catch up with Hayden, a university friend of Mike’s who’s been living in Barcelona for the past 5 years or so. We also meet his lovely Spanish girlfriend Andrea and discuss the inevitable topics of inter-cultural conversations — politics and language. Hayden and Andrea leave me feeling like I definitely need more piercings and tattoos.

Barcelona Day Trip #2

We got it into our heads that clothes shopping in Barcelona would reward us with unique and quirky, yet wearable items. We head to the trendy Eixample region first, unsure if anything will be open in the middle of the afternoon, and sure enough nothing is. I end up taking photos of the Art Nouveau architecture with the iPhone (hence the crappy), instead and am just generally chuffed to wander the streets.

Barcelona Apartments Mosaic

Katherine Herriman-Barcelona

We grab some lunch to kill the time whilst waiting for the shops to open for the evening. Cue “Els 4 Gats” (4 cats): emporium of darkling hollows and uncanny witchery.

4 Gats Mosaic

Ahem… it’s actually rather cozy on the inside and our waiter didn’t even look a little bit like Edward Scissor Hands (more’s the shame):

Food Mosaic

Anything with goat’s cheese has become our obligatory dish whilst in Barcelona and once again, it doesn’t disappoint. Unfortunately, the main dishes live well up to Sebastian’s dire warnings of bland Spanish food. However, the all-male wait staff combined with the pure novelty of the place succeed in making it an experience.

Back to shopping and we decide to hit the Born-Ribera area. It’s promised to be “rich in small-crafts shops, young designers, and an endless potpourri of artisans and merchants operating in restored medieval spaces that are often as dazzling as the wares on sale.” I’m ready to fall in love with this place but instead of artisan wares, a sea of generic, mass-produced street-wear is replicated on every street we venture down. We’re about to give up when we spot a promising looking men’s wear store and manage to get Mike some much needed gear.

We’ve said it before, but the staggering consistency of this phenomenon warrants repetition. The gaping chasm between the description of a place and our lived experience boggles the mind. Has Barcelona been over-run by chain stores since that quote was written or were we just in the wrong place?

Barcelona Day Trip #3

Today is Sagrada Familia day. We’ve become amazingly spartan in our sightseeing endeavours so this is the only attraction we’re going out of our way to see. We had planned on going up the top as well but upon arrival neither of us feel particularly moved to do so.

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Sagrada Familia Barcelona

Horribly uncultured plebs that we are, the highlight of our day is the smashing Irish pub meal we have at Michael Collins just across from the Sagrada Familia. The interior is gloomy and decorated with creepy old domestic flotsam – think dusty doilies and Catholic themed cross-stitch. We feel like we could be in a pub in Dingle and it’s fantastic.

Barcelona Day Trip #4

Not so much a day trip this one, as it’s just the beach across the way. Barcelona’s beaches are dotted with bare breasts (amongst other bits) so I decide to try out topless swimming for funzies. On a side note, being exposed to all these bare mammaries grants me the insight that shape is much more important than size. Honestly, it’s a revelation.

Aloe Vera Barcelona

Beach Barcelona

Cactus Barcelona

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Camp Audiobus http://technomadics.net/2012/05/31/camp-audiobus/ http://technomadics.net/2012/05/31/camp-audiobus/#comments Thu, 31 May 2012 15:53:31 +0000 http://technomadics.net/?p=6001 Continue reading]]> Roca Grossa beach, Barcelona

After arriving in Barcelona, we spend a few days just hanging around, doing a few bits and pieces on Audiobus, wandering around the town of Calella nearby. It’s all slightly eerily quiet, but quiet is just fine with us.

Calella beachSant Pol de MarRoca Grossa terraces

On day three, my friend and partner in Audiobus Sebastian arrives from Germany to spend a week with us. He’s booked a bungalow thing conveniently right beside us, and we welcome him with a couple of beers. It doesn’t really feel like meeting someone for the first time, as we’ve spent so much time talking and video-conferencing as we’ve worked on Audiobus together — and Sebastian warned us in advance that he is 15 feet tall, so we were ready, there.

We settle comfortably into one of our discussions about economy and politics, which Sebastian so enjoys Dropping The Knowledge about — Sebastian, the world-filter, who absorbs all this stuff so effortlessly and hands out the neatly-packaged results to those of us who don’t have the natural tendency to pay attention to that sort of thing. Quite convenient, really (although that boy does so love the doom and gloom!).

Katherine whips up a delicious meal of leftover quinoa patties I’d made the night before, as baguette-burgers with salad and homemade chips, thereby beginning a week of culinary bliss that Sebastian proceeds to take to great heights.

The following day we walk down into Calella along the foreshore in the intense Mediterranean sun, seeking out a local pescadería (fish shop), with barbecue plans courtesy of Sebastian. We pass a couple of nudists letting it all hang out on the beach, and laugh at the contrast between Sebastian and my quick eye-aversion, and Katherine’s rapt, direct-staring, glasses-donning attention (with effects varying, of course, from “ooh!” to “eeeew“, to “oh god, my eyes, my eyes“).

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Yeah. I saw you squinting at this photo. You pervert. No nudists here.

The shop’s closed — we’ll never get the hang of European closing times — so we decide to hang out in Calella until opening time. With fond memories of granitas in Italy, we grab a couple from a local gelateria which turn out to be disappointingly chemical-tasting (which was nothing compared to the fluorescent industrial sludge Sebastian managed to pick), and make our way to a beach-kiosk café for a while.

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Some time later (and with a false start when I, quite typically, misremembered the opening time and guided us back to the shop an hour early — cue absent-minded-professor jokes), I’m haphazardly reciting a memorised Spanish phrase asking for some fish that would be good for grilling/barbecuing (“podemos tener un poco de pescado para asar?”). We’re presented with a few sleek bodies which are gutted for us as we wait (thank god, we say). Sebastian, unused to such a huge array of fresh seafood in central Germany, feels sad in this “hall of death” (laughter).

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A few “gracias”‘s later and rather a long trudge home on sore feet, Sebastian lights the barbecue and we watch him wrap the fish in foil after rubbing it with salt inside and out, to place atop the grill. (Sebastian: You’re big hypocrite wusses! At the market: “Haha, dead fish! *laugh at the scaredy German guy*” Pre-Barbeque: “Eww, dead fish, I’m not gonna touch that with a six foot pole. Let the Germany guy prepare it!” Post-Barbeque: “Mmmm, dead fish, feels so good in my mouth”)

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Quite a long time later we flop down, exhausted, at the table and peel open the aluminium foil packages. The fish is perfectly cooked, and — take a bite — unbelievably sweet and tasty. It’s the best fish both Katherine and I have ever tasted (Sebastian looks smug — he was right about fish in Spain).

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The following days are spent sitting around and talking, usually with a laptop and a couple of iPads in front of us, discussing and playing around with various aspects of Audiobus, while Katherine sets up her art supplies at the table on the verandah.

I tweak a few features while Sebastian runs through a bunch of tests for Loopy, which need to be run through before I can release the update, after which we can submit Audiobus to Apple for review — the harrowing moment of truth, where we discover whether Apple are going to approve the last six months’ work, or (scary, but much less likely) put it to death.

There are another couple of barbecues, with sausages, mince and bacon discovered in the supermarket (“supermercat“) below — these are all delicious and deeply satisfying, and enjoyed with quite a lot of cold beer.

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For our final night, we take the train into the city, and walk through the maze of Barcelona’s Barri Gotic and El Born areas — a labyrinth of narrow canyons, surprise little squares with cafés and restaurants — guided by (of course) The Cartographer to a tapas bar my Barcelona-dwelling friend from Uni, Hayden, recommended to us: Bastaix.

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Bastaix is a funky-feeling little place with tables set up in the cellar downstairs, all rock walls, soft warm lighting and quiet jazz. We ask the friendly waitress to bring out enough for the three of us — whatever she recommended — and she proceeds to produce some of the tastiest food we’ve ever encountered; a serious contender for the top culinary experience so far for me, I think.

There are spicy olives and crisp toasted baguette slices with garlic to rub on each slice, cubed and spiced potatoes with creamy aioli; an assortment of chorizo and salami slices; a very tasty salad of rocket with well-aged balsamic vinegar, pine nuts, raisins, apples and parmesan slices; a soft, melty cheese with sun dried tomato; little spicy red chorizo sausages brought to the table flaming; pink, marinated sausages served with onions, and our favourite, an absolutely spectacular flavour sensation: caramelised goat cheese (crispy on the outside, smooth and runny on the inside, deliciously tasty and salty), served on a bed of grilled, marinated red pepper, and grilled with honey. We laugh incredulously (then order another serving).

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It goes down with a wonderfully crisp white that our waitress produced (a 2011 Blanco Hacienda del Carche, for future reference), and we top it off with another flavour sensation that the waitress produced from off-menu: Little pieces of toast with dollops of dark chocolate ganache, topped with salt crystals and olive oil. Holy crap.

After we recover from that experience, we head back out into the night and walk back past tapas bar after street side restaurant after wine bar, full of pretty young things (and the obligatory guys playing dejectedly with crappy toys and sidling up to passers-by trying to sell them).

We bid farewell to Sebastian as he hops in a cab to take him to a hotel close to the airport for an early-morning flight, and we begin the long train-ride-then-walk home.

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Over the Mountains: The Road to Barcelona http://technomadics.net/2012/05/22/over-the-mountains-the-road-to-barcelona/ http://technomadics.net/2012/05/22/over-the-mountains-the-road-to-barcelona/#comments Tue, 22 May 2012 13:38:27 +0000 http://technomadics.net/?p=5980 Continue reading]]> Pyrenees, Spain

We are going to Barcelona!

We have a friend, Hayden, who lives there — we went to uni together, and he’s since moved over here to do a maths PhD (for some ungodly reason) — and we’re also meeting up with Sebastian, the friend with whom I’m doing Audiobus, who’s flying over for the week and staying with us.

We do a bit of reading up on Barcelona in advance, the city building in our minds into some wild lawless bandit territory, with pickpockets, muggers and corrupt cops on every street corner, and bandits patrolling the roads, preying upon visitors. Thanks for that, The Interwebs, we feel much better now. We decide to skip the AP-7, the main motorway leading into Barcelona and apparently notorious for gangs who hurl stuff at the backs of vehicles and then feign helpfulness, indicating something “fell off” the back, then robbing at knife-point those who pull over to check. It’s probably not that bad but, eh, better safe than sorry.

That gives us the idea of driving directly south, right over the Pyrenees, and we immediately love the idea. It’s a fair bit longer, but it’ll be lovely to drive through the mountains.

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So that’s what we do, following little windy roads through one lovely little village after the next, climbing up into the mist. It’s kinda like Ireland meets the Austrian Alps. It’s high-concentration driving and slow going, but the rewards are great. The mountains around us grow, and become covered with truly dense bright green feathery woods. We’ve never seen so many trees, all packed in. It’s incredible.

Every now and then the road runs along the top of a mountain and we have stunning views over the surrounding mountains and crags, sometimes overlooking towns and villages nestled in hollows. I wanna stop often to gape, but the road doesn’t have anywhere to pull over, so onwards we go.

We enter the cloud layer and visibility falls right off — we’re winding through little tunnels of greenery, the rest of the world just a white blur. Re-emerging later, we find ourselves in a canyon following a turquoise-coloured river that tumbles along over a rocky bed.

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Then, we find ourselves in alpine territory, low scraggly shrubs and grass, steep hillsides, scarred with rockslides that threaten the few trees that cling on. There’s pockets of snow up above, and — we look closer — it’s actually sleeting, ice crystals melting on the windscreen as soon as they land. Now we’re really put in mind of the Austrian Alps — there are even the same little rivulets that cross the landscape. We’re switchbacking up the side of a mountain, following signs to Andorra (although that’s not our destination), the roadside lined with tall white posts like a slalom course.

Portè-Puymorens

Then, we’re winding back down again, approaching a little village from above, and after spotting a large expanse of gravel by the side of the road on the edge of the village, decide to call it a day. Katherine makes us soup — it’s been a while, but it feels right in this wintery atmosphere! — and we watch as it starts to actually snow for real. We find this exceedingly weird, and brilliant — the hillsides around us start to whiten, along with the roofs of the houses. It feels a bit like we’ve travelled back in time, to when it was snowing in Alet!

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We climb up into bed and huddle, cosy, under the blankets as the snow falls silently around us, watching the fantastic and poignant film “Dancer in the Dark” on my laptop (now, Katherine wants to find everything Björk’s ever done).

It’s still snowing when we wake up and we both peer out the window, slightly anxiously, but relax when we see that the road is still completely clear. We hold the curtain up for a while and watch perfectly-shaped snowflakes hit the windscreen.

It’s a struggle to leave the warm, but we eventually manage it and put on the heater as we gingerly don chilled clothing. Then, weighed down by bellies full of porridge, we’re off again. Before I know it, both my sat nav system and Katherine simultaneously cry “Spain!”, and we’re in a whole new country.

I fill up with diesel in the town of Puigcerdà (“Ola!“), before we find ourselves driving along a flat expanse of green fields with yellow patches (canola?), and surrounded by distant blue, white-capped mountains. Our route takes us up the side of a mountain again, and we’re on another little winding road — the N-152 — that clings to the mountain, a steep drop off into a distant valley on one side.

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N-152

We climb again, bit by bit, altitude signs marking 1500m, then 1600m, and suddenly we’re at the snow level again, driving through a Narnia-esque landscape — ranks upon ranks of dark pine trees accented with blinding white snow, tumbling off branches in flurries every now and then. It’s just stunningly beautiful.

Gradually, the pines give way to feathery green, and we descend once more, passing through a few towns, then finding ourselves on a four-lane road. The mountains become craggy hills, which grow ever-smaller, and then we’re amongst suburbs and factories.

An hour or so of motorway-hopping and roundabouts, and we’re driving along the coast to the north of Barcelona, all depressing and obnoxiously-designed high-rises (“Who goes “Yep, that apartment block mockup with the bright red and blue trim looks good. Send the designers home — lets build it”?”), but are a bit relieved when the high-rises recede somewhat as we arrive at the campsite we had chosen.

It’s built around a steep hill, so there are lots of terraced spots, each with a view out over the sea, and we’re surrounded by beautiful colourful eucalyptus trees that smell like Australia to me, when it rains.

So, here we are.

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Leaving Alet http://technomadics.net/2012/05/19/leaving-alet/ http://technomadics.net/2012/05/19/leaving-alet/#comments Sat, 19 May 2012 16:45:15 +0000 http://technomadics.net/?p=5950 Continue reading]]> Vineyards, Limoux/Alet-les-Bains

I know.

We’ve been conspicuously silent.

So silent, in fact, that a few kind souls have actually written to us to make sure we’re still, you know, alive (thank you, souls!).

We have good reason though – we’ve been having a truly splendid creative time working on projects. Katherine’s been busily creating a set of paintings for her Etsy-store-to-be, and I’ve been going full-tilt on my own new project, Audiobus.

Mike’s Stuff

This is most certainly the most exciting point in my career so far — I’ve invented and am currently building a system that will allow music app developers on iOS — iPad and iPhone — to let their apps send audio to each other, live. Basically, it’s like virtual cables that let users connect apps together like they were modules in a studio, and start to create whole new creative setups that are greater than the sum of their parts. Musicians are going to be able to take their favourite music instrument apps, and combine them with audio effects processing engines, and sequencers or loopers, effectively creating a virtual studio setup. Even cooler, this stuff is working over the network, between multiple devices, so one can be playing an iPad, and manipulating the audio on a second iPad, over the air. This is something that’s never been done before, and it’s going to open up the iOS world to a lot more serious music stuff. We’ve got a lot of interest, and the world is watching closely — exciting stuff.

Along the way, since I put together the first experimental prototype back in November, I’ve become good friends and now business partners with another iOS music developer from Germany, Sebastian, who’s got a fantastic grasp of workflow/user interaction design and has been instrumental in taking the basic concept and turning it into something that’s really going to be very good. We’re now in the initial stages of creating a new company together, and are about to meet up face-to-face in Barcelona.

Okay, okay. I know. No more geek talk.

Katherine’s Stuff

work in progress art-1

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Travel Stuff

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So, suffice to say, there’s not been a great deal of travel stuff to write about in the last five months. All the same, we’ve loved living in Alet, our little village in the Pyrenees in the south of France, and watching the seasons change around us. We’ve never been in one place this long (our previous record was three months or so in Wales), so it was quite novel seeing the countryside undergo such a shift.

Not so long ago, we were surrounded by shades of olive and brown — lovely, but arid:

Alet-Les-Bains, Winter

Now, almost overnight it seems, we’re surrounded by bright green:

Alet-Les-Bains, Spring

The trees around us have all flowered too, in shades of vivid purple and white, and we’re surrounded by drifts of fallen petals.

In the last weeks, a nightingale has taken up residence, and sings every night, all night, and then all though the next day. We, who have never heard nightingales before, are thrilled.

Le Val d'Aleth, Alet Les Bains

There’re a few now-familiar faces; the long-termers. There’s Nicky, the friendly thick-accented Brit who’s lived here for 9 years now, along with the horde of cats that follow her around — she has a bewildering tendency to start stories in the middle, leaving us a little lost, but is a perpetually cheery (and cackling!) presence. Until recently her tent was bedecked with colourful fairy lights which she’d turn on every night (you’ll just have to use your imaginations).

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Wendy and Phil are a British couple who were long-termers and had planned to create a new life here. Very sadly, their house back in the UK just wasn’t selling, so they were eventually forced to give it up for now and head back to the UK. Mick and Gene are an elderly British couple who we exchange friendly greetings with when we see them about, and Jacques and Claudine are a French couple with whom we have a silly “Bonjour! Ça va?” greeting routine — we don’t really speak enough French to actually converse, so we’re limited to the trivialities. There’re a couple of other French residents we don’t really know, including a younger guy who lives in a little caravan a couple of emplacements over, who brings out a didgeridoo every now and then and toots away, to our surprise.

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In the last couple weeks a young couple have been staying beside us, French Alexi and Colombian Alejandra, who’d been travelling around France for the last year in their motorhome. They flip actively between speaking Spanish and French with each other, bring out assorted musical instruments periodically — like bongos and a mouth harp — and are really enthusiastic about this thing called Chromatherapy, which is all about using colours to diagnose and treat ailments. They gave us a demo, having us select four colours from each of 8 vertically-stacked rows of 8 random colours each, and subsequently diagnosing (low incidence of blue) my difficulty switching off and sleeping at night (actually, not far off the mark), and (low green) Katherine’s need to move on and have a change of scene.

We get fresh baguettes from Josie at the local épicerie, and ride our bikes into Limoux to visit the supermarket when we need more stuff — the ride is a lovely 8km journey through the mountains alongside the Aude river (but can get a little onerous on the way back, with 30kg of groceries!).

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But…our time here has come to an end. The season has changed, and there’s a world out there waiting for us to visit it (has it missed us?). I feel agoraphobic and very sad about leaving this beautiful place which has become our home and heading out into the unknown again, but it’s for the best. There are other beautiful places and, besides, our home travels with us.

So, we’re off!

Au revoir et merci, Alet.

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Cold snap, Part 2 (now with extra snap) http://technomadics.net/2012/02/05/cold-snap-part-2-now-with-extra-snap/ http://technomadics.net/2012/02/05/cold-snap-part-2-now-with-extra-snap/#comments Sun, 05 Feb 2012 17:03:54 +0000 http://technomadics.net/?p=5937 Continue reading]]> Alet-les-Bains in the snowWe were prepared for the snow to be over, with forecast temperatures climbing back into the single positive digits (balmy!), but we are in for a surprise! We get up in the morning to see some fairly serious snow falling from the sky, although the ground is relatively bare. Over the next few hours, it keeps falling steadily, and we watch as the ground becomes increasingly white, then buried! There is a pair of fluffed-up little red-breasted robins chasing each other around outside — it’s a bit like a Christmas card out there.

By early afternoon, there’s about six inches of snow on the ground, and it’s still bucketing down. This is very rare for the area, so we feel pretty fortunate that we get to witness it — we’re in a mediaeval French village, and it’s covered with snow!

We rug up and head out into the transformed world outside…

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There’re a bunch of people sledding down a big hill which looks pretty fun…

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The village looks like something out of a fairy-tale.

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We spend an embarrassingly long time staring at our sleeves, watching snowflakes land. Not having realised that you can actually see snowflakes with the naked eye, we’re captivated by the fleeting geometrical shapes, pointing out particularly impressive specimens to each other.

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We head back down the hill and into the twisting alleys of the village — but not before being offered a go on one of the sleds. Katherine’s much too dignified, but me, well, wheee!

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More fairy-tale-ness in the village. Everything has little white hats.

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Chilly Jesus is chilly

We’re pretty stoked to have found ourselves in this magical place!

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Cold snap! http://technomadics.net/2012/02/04/cold-snap/ http://technomadics.net/2012/02/04/cold-snap/#comments Sat, 04 Feb 2012 18:03:36 +0000 http://technomadics.net/?p=5912 Continue reading]]> Nettle in the snow

Well we weren’t expecting this! Open the blinds in the morning, and the world’s gone white! Europe’s cold snap has reached us despite our little microclimate, but we’re not complaining — we get to have our winter-in-the-south-of-France cake and eat…snow…too…

MG 3802 Alet-les-Bains in the snowAlet-les-Bains in the snowMG 3812

It gives us fond memories of our previous winter, spent in a farm house in Wales.

It is pretty cold, though — we’ve got two heaters chugging away, and things keep freezing solid!

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Our mediaeval village home in the Pyrenees http://technomadics.net/2012/02/01/our-mediaeval-village-home-in-the-pyrenees/ http://technomadics.net/2012/02/01/our-mediaeval-village-home-in-the-pyrenees/#comments Wed, 01 Feb 2012 16:37:00 +0000 http://technomadics.net/?p=5901 Continue reading]]> Alet-les-Bains

We have taken up residence in a little village situated on the side of the river Aude, in a pretty little valley in the foothills of the Pyrenees. The lay of the land is such that the village is in a warm microclimate — most days are almost spring-like and sunny. The little family-run camping area where we’re staying is right on the side of the river, and just beneath the walls of a 12th century abbey, which is quietly crumbling away above us.

We arrived a month ago, and I was startled to find out the family that run the site are English! In fact, the whole place seems to be a bit of a British enclave — many of our neighbours have been here a while (including one lady who’s lived here — with her four cats — for nine years). It’s a quite pleasant oddity to be able to converse with our neighbours and many shorter-term visitors, who are predominantly also English!

There’s a very convenient little shop just around the corner, where we get fresh baguettes every day, and campsite owner Christine even sells local wine cheaply. Could it get any better than that?

The village is a charming walled affair with narrow labyrinthine alleys, all interestingly askew and weathered buildings, randomly overhanging the alleys. It’s a joy just to wander around in.

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The old abbey is a huge mass of crumbling stone walls, now home to flocks of pigeons.

Alet-les-Bains abbeyAlet-les-Bains abbeyAlet-les-bains churchyard and abbey

Right next door to the abbey is the village church, with a large graveyard, and a bell-tower that chimes out the hours (and goes nuts every morning at 7am, something we’ve learned to ignore!).

Alet-les-bains churchyard

The mountains surrounding the village are pretty too — there’re plenty of walks around. There’s a path that follows the river northwards to the nearest large town, Limoux, which is quite pretty — although a bit of a challenge on an old road bike, as I discovered when attempting the route on a supermarket run.

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We tend to follow the main road to reach the supermarket in Limoux — the ride is a lovely 7km up the valley, with the turquoise Aude beside us (although the ride back with 30kg of groceries strapped to my back can be a little daunting!).

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Anyway, suffice to say we’re rather well chuffed with our new home, and are beginning to worry that we’ll never be able to tear ourselves away!

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A month in Istres (Don’t think of Tunisia, don’t think of Tunisia) http://technomadics.net/2012/01/04/a-month-in-istres-dont-think-of-tunisia-dont-think-of-tunisia/ http://technomadics.net/2012/01/04/a-month-in-istres-dont-think-of-tunisia-dont-think-of-tunisia/#comments Wed, 04 Jan 2012 17:26:52 +0000 http://technomadics.net/?p=5872 Continue reading]]> After our month-and-a-bit-long journey from central France to southern France, with a minor detour via Copenhagen, we’re ready to be static for a while. I’ve spent many long hours trawling through databases of French campsites, trying to find one in Provence that’s (a) not obscenely expensive, and (b) open. There aren’t very many that fall under those categories at this time of year — in fact, my research turned up two. So, we’ve arrived at the most promising-looking one, just outside the town of Istres, relatively close to the port city of Marseille.

The drive in is quite nice, meandering through fields of grass and finally winding along the rocky and pine-treed edge of a lagoon, with views over to towns on the other side, all gleaming white and orange.

The caravan park itself is ‘okay’, festooned with mobile homes, but grassy at the back, which is where we set up. I’m caught a little off-guard when asked to pay a month in advance, but given that that was our plan anyway, I pay up, and we settle in.

Pretty quickly, we start to realise it’s not quite the idyllic wintering spot we’d dreamed of — while the caravan park’s not too bad, the town itself is a bit underwhelming. It’s okay, I guess, but not the kind of spot we’d normally spend a great deal of time. What’s worse — and I’ve got no one and nothing to blame but myself — something about the mediterranean-ness and the slight ‘ick-factor’ of the town starts making me think of our relatively unpleasant three months in Tunisia! I try to keep it to myself, but can’t keep it in any longer and mention it to Katherine, who’s been getting the same impression as well. Oh, dear!

Anyway, we don’t feel particularly inspired to go out and explore (you can tell by our complete lack of photography!), and we keep our grocery-supplies trips to a minimum, so we spend pretty much the whole time working away in Nettle. I’m working on an exciting new project for iOS and I’m in laser-like-focus mode, so it’s fine.

Katherine’s Australian driving license is expiring, and she needs to renew the photo, which requires an official somebody to witness it, basically. A signature on the back of the photo, and one on the official form. A member of the local police force is sufficient, so armed with a hard-won printout of the form, plus a Google-translated copy, we march into the local police station and explain our situation to the woman in reception (in French, of course). Expecting a fairly straightforward in-and-out procedure, we’re surprised when the inevitable complications arise, and we’re informed…Well, we don’t really know, but it’s something complicated, and she has “no” face, which is really all the information we need to know it’s going to get ugly. Anyway, a ridiculously long and boring story follows of the typical trying-to-get-anything-bureaucratic-done-in-a-foreign-country   ilk, but it ended up being quite a lovely experience, when the woman at reception ended up sweeping us up under her wing, escorting us to the local municipal office thingy, and helping to explain our situation, then escorting us over to the national guard building. It was all to no effect — apparently this was all a little too unusual for the local powers that be, a fact that our benefactor acknowledged with a wry grin — but she was just lovely, so we didn’t really mind, in the end. We found ourselves — as usual — wishing our French was better so that we could actually interact more meaningfully.

We have a pleasant surprise when some new friends from the UK, Dave and Mel, get in touch with us and come to stay beside us in their motorhome for a few days. Dave’s a software developer, and Mel’s a sculptor, so we have a lot in common, and it’s fantastic to have some other people to socialise with — even more so than we’d expected, after being in a country with only the bare essentials of the language! We get on really well, and spend a fair amount of time hanging out and talking. I find myself quite jealous of what sounds like a really lovely village life that Dave and Mel have back in Exmoor, where everybody seems to know everybody else!

Mel’s involved with a local exhibition back home in Exmoor, and invites Katherine to come along and be involved in 2013 — it’s an exciting prospect to get some exhibition experience, so we resolve to be in the area then!

We find ourselves quite sad to see them go, when it’s time for them to move on to more Spanish lands just before Christmas!

In what’s becoming a rather unfortunate pattern for us, we have yet another little health scare, when Katherine develops something that Dr. Internet thinks is a kidney infection, which can become quite serious if not treated properly. We ask the site owner if he knows of any doctors nearby who speak English, but he has no idea, and instead directs us to the hospital emergency department, where he’s pretty sure someone will speak English.

We drive Nettle there, find the tiny little waiting room that is the emergency department, and join a host of other locals sitting on the uncomfortable plastic seats, watching a French-dubbed version of the ubiquitous earthquake-disaster-telemovie “10.5″ and wondering what we’re supposed to do next, as there’s no-one at reception. Neither of us have had the misfortune of visiting an emergency room before (even in Australia), so we’re not really familiar with the procedures, which makes things even more interesting in a foreign language we don’t really speak. We decide we’ll give it 30 minutes or so before giving up and forming a Plan B.

20 minutes later, there’s movement at reception, and a helpful fellow emergency room-ee indicates that we should go and register. I’m pretty sure that, as foreigners, a passport or something might be a good thing to have, but Katherine’s left hers back at Nettle, and heads off to pick it up while I stand around waiting for reception.

Finally, I’m invited into the separate reception area, and prepare to offer Katherine’s name and details for the waiting list, but — uh-oh — no one speaks English. I’m not at all prepared to handle this in French, and stutter my way though an ‘unbuffered’ explanation that my wife has a kidney infection and is just grabbing her passport, aided somewhat eventually by a doctor who appears and speaks a couple of words in English. God knows how much of the original meaning was actually received at the other end, but they indicate that we should come back when she’s returned.

Anyway, eventually, we manage to get in, and Katherine’s questioned by the nurse — again, no one speaks any English, and we’re not at all familiar with all the new words being thrown at us. I’m there for the whole exercise in the hopes that with two of us there, at least one will catch enough meaning to be able to fill in the blanks for the other, but we both struggle. With much miming, and an awful lot of straining to pick up meaning, some of which is successful, some not, we have a confirmed diagnosis, and we stumble out, steam escaping out our ears from our overloaded language-centres, clutching a prescription for antibiotics and a firm advisement to drink a whole lot of water.

Christmas and the New Year come and go — we’ve decided to move on in early January once our month is up, and Katherine’s found some Christmassy stuff that goes well into January, which we decide to see then on our way out. Finally, it’s time to move on — I’ve found a ridiculously-promising looking alternative spot to the west, in the foothills of the Pyrenees, and we’re excited to go see some new territory.

We head east first, across dry scrubland dotted with olive groves, bare vineyards and limestone crags, to Aix en Provence, where Katherine’s found a (post-) Christmas market which sounds appealing. To our dismay, our Lonely Planet guide is totally wrong, and the market finished at the end of December. Even the lights, which apparently transform the town into a fairytale-esque wonderland at night, have been switched off. We spend a disappointing evening wandering around the now relatively ordinary-looking town, and spend a night in a car park outside the centre.

We have more success the next day, when we decide to go have some croissants and coffee at a café in town, and have another wander around. Of course, they’ve run out of croissants, but our post-breakfast amble around town is rather pleasant, and we discover a pretty little food market in one of the town squares, where we stock up on some supplies.

Aix en Provence market

Aix en Provence market

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We start our journey westwards, fighting the whole way on the first day against the Mistral wind, howling across the planes from the north and buffeting us relentlessly. The countryside becomes ever-prettier, the villages lovelier. We spend a windy night parked on startlingly red soil beside a lake east of Montpellier, after nearly bottoming out Nettle over a ditch on the way in.

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Finally, we pass by the immense mass of the Château Comtal in Carcassone (we’ll be back for you, later!), and drive south into the foothills of the Pyrenees. It’s simply beautiful, and we exclaim in delight as we realise we’re in our new neighbourhood — pretty, towering mountains, a river valley with the lovely turquoise Aude river, tumbling in picturesque rapids over numerous rocky sections, and finally, our new village home, Alet-les-Bains, an achingly beautiful mediaeval affair, all half-timber houses, narrow winding streets of cobbles, and sycamore trees, with the towering crumbling remains of a 12th century abbey.

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