January 29, 2009

The Driving Test

The Driving Test is perhaps one of the most important events in your life, alongside Marriage, mainly because it opens up opportunities for greater travel (at least in Australia).

In London, I was never really that interested in learning to drive because the transportation network was amazingly efficient. Not only did you have buses, ferries, 'tubes', trains and aeroplanes, you also had mini-cabs and taxi cabs. Add all these to walking and you have the ability to pretty much go anywhere.

In Perth, West Australia, you really do need to drive around, unfortunately, as the distance between landmarks and locations is so much greater. They do have a great metro transportation network but in terms of reaching the outskirts of the city where all the people live, a car just makes it easy by several magnitudes.

So, last year I decided to learn to drive. First off was the Theoretical Test, a set of 40 questions aimed at general rules of the road. Who has right of way when turning left onto a road, for example. Most of the questions are fairly self evident but some of them do get confusing.

Passing that earns you a Learner's Permit and you get to then spend your time driving around in a car with an L plate hanging off the back whilst either a professional instructor or a supervisor teach you how to drive. My first lesson was at 6pm and probably not the best time as the light was beginning to fade. Still, driving a half-tonne of metal on the backstreets around the house was amazingly fun but equally nerve-wracking. My hands were shaking when I finally got home.
Lesson after lesson constantly pushed the driving envelope until I was driving at 100kmh up the Freeway and learning about merging traffic.

Eventually though, given enough time and practice, you get to sit The Test. Here in Perth, you need to complete 3 exercises - Stopping For Shopping, Finding An Address and Retrieving Your Wallet - with the Examiner checking your surreptitiously checking your general driving skills.

Stopping for shopping is based around the notion that whilst driving you pass a shopping centre that you meant to have turned into. The exercise calls for you to turn the car around, drive back to the centre and find a spot to reverse park in; the other two exercises call for similar manoeuvers. Passing The Test requires that the manoeuvres are completed above a certain level and, unfortunately for you, that level is fairly high - at least 75%. Unlike normal tests, getting above the minimum mark does not guarantee a pass as the Examiner is likely to find that even though you have demonstrated that you can drive, your safety record is such that as a whole you are not safe to pass.

So I am pleased to say that the Wednesday before last, not only did I take the test (with much pressure from friends, family and co-workers) but that I passed with good marks. Of course, there were mistakes but these were of issues that I can but learn from and become a better driver. All I have to do now is log 25 hours of supervised driving and sit a Hazard Perception Test - a computer-based exam that tests my ability to recognise potential issues on the road and to adequately react to it.

I'm a bit surprised though by this final test. Why have this at the end? And why allow me to drive this half-tonne metal object around in broad daylight if my reactions are not adequate.

Still, I am glad to be past The Test and on my way to driving in West Australia.

January 06, 2009

A New Day, A New Year

Where to begin? 2008 is over and now we're prancing into 2009, a new year with new opportunities.

2008 was a great year for me. As I've previously blogged, Elsha and I got married, bought a house, and I began the long, slow path to getting a Driving License, something that will continue into 2009. New opportunities will include getting my Australian Citizenship sorted out so that I can come and go as I please.

I didn't post at Christmas primarily because I was having too much fun, so here's the present list:

- Nintendo DS Lite

This is a great present. I really like the idea of the DS Lite, that you use a stylus to interact with the game in some way. For years I had liked the idea of having a PDA but good games just aren't made for PDA's (or at least not the ones I've been looking at).

With the DS Lite came some games...

Transformers: Autobots should have been a great game. You get to run around shooting at things, scanning vehicles to add them to your repository of known forms, and then transforming into them and driving around. Except that age old problem of the boss. At the end of each section, there is a humongous fight where you have to smash your controller to death to get to kill the boss. In this case, I'm playing Bumblebee and I'm fighting Barricade (the police car in the movie), who just happens to have heatseeking missiles, whereas I get to have a pea shooter.

Star Trek Tactical Assault is a cool game. It mirrors Star Fleet Command for the PC, itself modelled on the Star Fleet Battles boardgame. You get to take command of a starship, and then you get to fight alien ships like the Romulans or the Klingons. Its great fun, especially when you realise that if you switch to Red Alert (to get your weapons charged up) the attitude of the enemy ships become aggresive. Stay at Yellow Alert and you run the risk of getting attacked versus calming the enemy down.

Sight Training is just that. Its a series of activities designed to increase your use of vision. Some of it is luck I find but its a good way of calming yourself down after frantically pressing buttons as Bumblebee.

The other two games I received were of the Final Fantasy variety, one a rpg and the other an rpg strategy game. I haven't really had the chance to get involved with those but give me time.

Dvd's next. I received a fair few and one set, arguably the best present of the evening, was especially well received:

I can't say much more about Blackadder Seasons 1-4 than what you probably already know. Its brilliant!

Next up was Season 4 Part 1 of Battlestar Galactica, the continuing re-imagined series I had watched with diligence so far. In the previous season, we had just discovered the 4 of the final cylon models, one is left to be revealed!

Another DVD I received was a Harry Palmer movie - Funeral In Berlin. I've been in love with the Harry Palmer movies ever since I was introduced to them by my eldest brother. He's so typically English and in sharp contrast to the Americanised James Bond. He even has to sign a form to get his "new" car. I love it!

In any collection, Transformers the Live Action Movie would be a gem even if it is overshadowed by my other DVDs. Its still a great romp though.

Other than the DVDs and the DS Lite, I also received some Dragon Car Covers for the seats of our new car and a car vacuum cleaner, which will come in handy seeing that some people never ever clean their cars.

I also received a World of Warcraft Calendar from a co-worker and it was a great present to get, and totally unexpected.

I'm sure I've forgotten something but hey, thats what the next blog post will probably be about.