The Vandarian Incident

The Vandarian Incident, by Martin Godfrey

Since about 2010, I’ve been looking for the name of a book. Not all the time, obviously, but every now and again. Sometimes I’ll plug a few words into Google to see if, by chance, I’ll be able to stumble upon some crucial detail that will let me get one step closer to something more specific than “futuristic/sci-fi adventure book for young adults”. Other times, I’ll wander rows and rows of second-hand books, on the off-chance I’ll be able to recognise the front cover amongst a sea of other titles.

For years, despite being able to recall the majority of the plot, I was never able to remember anything specific enough that would let me get any closer to being able to Google the title, the author, or even the publisher. There were nights I’d dream about finding the book with some of my old things, or even dream about reading the book, but for whatever reason I was never able to read the title, and it remained elusively out of reach. I like to think I have a pretty good memory, so you might be able to understand my frustration at not being able to remember something as simple as the name of a book I read over a decade ago.

And honestly, it got to the stage where I didn’t care about the book itself. I’d long ago confined myself to never being able to read the book again, which was fine — I knew how the plot went, anyway, so being able to read the book again was inconsequential, in the grand scheme of things — but after all this time, it became less about finding the book and just being able to know the name of it so I could put the whole thing to bed, get some closure, and let something else occupy that particularly obsessive part of my mind.

In June 2013, I posted on my blog about it. Not that I expected anything to come of it, but more as a marker, something I could refer back to, and refine as I remembered more details. I knew that it was possible someone would read it, know the exact book I was looking for, and get in touch to tell me about it, but I wasn’t exactly holding my breath for that to happen. It was more for me than anyone else.

At the time, one of my Twitter friends told me to post to Reddit’s Tip of my Tongue subreddit to try my luck, but I off-handedly dismissed the suggestion, offering the (admittedly very weak) excuse that I didn’t have a Reddit account.

Fast-forward a couple years, and I’m still no closer to finding out any details about the book that I read as a teenager. I do remember wading through dozens of pages of youth sci-fi/adventure books on Amazon in the vain hope that I’d recognise the cover, even if I had no idea what the title was, but that, along with everything else that I’ve tried, was as unsuccessful as any of my earlier attempts.

It’s August 2018. I sign up for a Reddit account, furnish my plot description with a few more details, give it a little extra polish, and post to the Tip of my Tongue subreddit, all in the vain hope that some kind stranger will either know the name of the book that I’m talking about, or know where to start looking.

Long story short, some kind stranger posts the exact title of the book I’m looking for, sourced from an old scholastic book ordering catalogue, based off nothing more than my description of it and some other contextual information particularly regarding the time period I read the book in (even though that turned out to be off by about 10 years). A quick Google confirms that yes, The Vandarian Incident is the exact book that I’ve been looking for, for years now. Total turnaround time, around 9 hours.

Thanks to the internet, I now possess my very own copy of The Vandarian Incident by Martin Godfrey, which you see in the photo at the top of this post. It arrived last week, all the way from a bookshop in Evesham in the UK, a town with a population one-tenth that of my home town, Hobart. I told my colleagues that it had sentimental value, which it kind of does — even if it’s not the traditional kind of sentimental.

There’s another story there, but it’s not The Vandarian Incident — which is, by the way, every bit as excellent as I remembered it being.

And now I can finally put this one to rest. Finish this particular chapter, if you will.

There Are No Right Decisions

There’s a good Folklore story about intentionally making a mess in the video game Defender. Now, I’ve never played this game, but apparently it’s a side-scrolling shooter where you’re tasked to clear waves of enemies. The story tells us about members of the original Macintosh team who had a Defender arcade cabinet in the office and would play recreationally in-between working on the Mac, and about one guy in particular who had a, uh, slightly different approach to achieving a high score. I won’t spoil it for you, but the gist of it was about getting into precarious situations to gain experience.

I know what you’re thinking, that probably sounds like a pretty normal strategy. But remember, this was the early 80s. It was a time when video games were in their infancy, and where thinking outside the box to beat the game was practically unheard of. Intentionally getting into dire situations and intentionally putting yourself under that kind of pressure in “practice situations”, just so you could have some experience for when things went sideways for real was nothing short of creative, and maybe even more so because this was a video game. There’s some kind of take-home wisdom here, I’m sure.

At the start of the year, I picked up a couple of new t-shirts. Crazy, I know, but they were on sale, and I thought Make Mistakes was representative of a philosophy I believed in — enough to wear it printed on tri-blend heather on my chest, anyway. The idea was that if someone was to come up and ask about it, I’d tell them that I strongly believed in making mistakes. That’s not saying I believe in being incompetent on purpose, or going out of your way to screw up, but making genuine mistakes. The kind you accept, learn from, and move on. Some would call that character building, but I just call it making mistakes.

Which brings us back to making decisions. I’ve briefly touched on this before, but after thinking about it, I’ve started thinking: what if there are no right decisions?

I came across an interesting piece which cemented my thoughts on this. There is no right decision talks about how we all have to make choices, all of which have consequences, and then somehow, we get this idea that there’s always a “correct” decision. And you know what? Maybe there is. With one big caveat: I can absolutely see myself arriving at a particular decision based on all the information available to me at the time, optimising for a particular outcome. At that time, maybe I do tell myself I’ve made the right choice.

But choices and consequences aren’t paired off one-to-one, like doors in a game show bonus round, each hiding either a prize or a punishment. Every action sets off endlessly rippling consequences, a cascade of effects that are often both beneficial and detrimental, both short-term and long-term, both intended and unintended, both known and unknown.

Giving up on the idea of right decisions doesn’t mean giving up on using our best judgment. But it’s a tremendous relief to recognize that getting it right, in any meaningful sense, is an impossible goal.

Here’s the rub: none of us knows the future. Even if we think, today, that we’ve made the right call, maybe two weeks from now we’ll miss out on a fantastic opportunity because of it. You should absolutely read the whole thing, but the takeaway is that there are no right decisions. That’s not saying you can’t make good decisions, but getting it right every time is something that you can’t — shouldn’t — expect to do.

Which is a good thing, because sometimes things work out OK.

I think this is usually called “getting lucky”, but we’ve all been there. Maybe we missed out on getting a promotion that we really wanted, but a really great role came up in another team. Maybe we skipped meeting up with friends, but met someone new who would later become our closest confidant.

Sure, you’ll get unlucky as many times as you get lucky. You miss all the hooks you don’t throw, and all that. But just when we’re telling ourselves that we somehow attract failure, that we are somehow cursed with bad luck or something — what, you think you’re unique? — things work themselves out.

And if they don’t, well, you’d be surprised at what you can live with.

But that’s for another time.

You Think You’re Unique?

There’s a scene in The Unit — one of my favourite TV series of all time — where one of the unit members asks another: you think you’re unique?

In that scene, Jonas asks Bob about what’s been bothering him, after Bob makes a mistake that almost compromises a mission and forces them to take up alternate sniper positions. Bob replies that he’s been struggling with the difference between the pre-meditated killing as part of his role as a member of an elite special forces unit, and how that differs to murder carried out by an individual operating on his own.

There are differences, of course, as explained to Bob in an earlier scene where he visits a military chaplain and asks about the concept of “just war”. Bob questions when the taking of life is justified, or if it’s ever necessary, but the chaplain tells him that there are always justifications for taking a life. Bob claims there are some who say that the taking of life is never justified, and the chaplain’s response is that those people employ others to protect them so they will never have to face that choice.

As they discuss the issue, Jonas wonders how long Bob’s been thinking about it, then says Bob will just have to work it out, just like everybody else. Bob questions the “everybody else” part, to which Jonas replies: “you think you’re unique? Happens to everyone. What surprises me is what took you so long.”

You think you’re unique?

I think about that a lot.

I might not be in one of the world’s most elite military special forces, but I think about it a lot. Every time I have some reason to lament my own existence, whatever harrowing circumstance I find myself in, or question my recent decision making, I wonder how many other people have ever been in the same situation I am now.

I can’t be the only one, right?

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The Money, Dota 2, and Making Decisions Addendum

This is an addendum, of sorts, to Twenty Seven. While this will (hopefully) make plenty of sense without reading that first, I’d still recommend it.

Yours truly, back in February:

Or on a more personal note, maybe life’s too short not to travel the world. Too short to have to reconcile giving up what you enjoy doing for the faint promise of career progression. Too short to not go to The International every year, or not get to one esports event in a different country. Too short to not spend time with family and friends. Too short to not talk to that pretty girl you like. Suddenly, you’re not sure what you should be doing any more, and all because life’s too short.

You — where I, of course, really mean I — could probably cross a few things off that list without worrying about what happens next. It’s (mostly) just money, after all, and you only live once.

Unfortunately, like most people I wasn’t born into wealth, and like most people will have to earn every cent I want to spend. Which probably means picking and choosing what I want to do, the places I want to go, and perhaps most importantly, the experiences I want to have. Provided I stay gainfully employed there’s probably nothing stopping me from doing an overseas trip every few years, or having an interstate jaunt a couple of times per year.

A little while back I read about spending money on experiences, not things, and it’s the same wisdom I’ve attempted to impart on others. Being a technology enthusiast is particularly terrible in this regard, because there’s always a cool new toy to buy, but lately I’ve been doing OK about justifying the things I purchase, carefully weighing up their value versus the use I’ll get out of them and a myriad of other factors, including how much I want other, perhaps more expensive, things.

My iPad Pro? Probably on the wrong side of that scale, but by the same token, my original generation iPad mini was no longer supported by the latest version of iOS, and was a little long in the tooth. My iPhone X? I think this was an OK purchase, but it’ll be better when I sell my old iPhone 7 that I had picked up the year before. (I know, I know. Don’t tell me about it.)

So yeah, life’s too short to worry about money. By the time you think you have enough of it to live comfortably, you’re wondering where the years went. Before you know it, you’re too old and frail to really enjoy the places that you probably should have been when you were still young. So you get to choose between travelling as a broke youth, travelling comfortably during your twilight years, or whatever happy medium you decide to settle for.

Which brings us to… Dota 2.

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Twenty Seven

If I had to use one word to describe how I feel right now, and how I’ve felt for a little while now, that word would be conflicted.

I’m 27 now, and decisions need to be made. Not just “what am I wearing today?” or “what am I eating tonight?”, but real, substantial decisions that will all have a major impact on my life, whether that’s for the next few months, the next few years, or even 5-10 years from now.

It seems no matter how old you are, there will always be someone to give you advice. Life advice, in particular. The kinds of things adults tell you when you’re young, but you don’t listen because, well, you’re young. When you’re young, people tell you to study hard. Get a good job. Earn real money. Buy a house. Settle down. Grow up1. And all before you’re ready for any of it, or really understand what it all means.

Now that I’m a little older, I get a slightly different set of advice. People tell me to spend my money on experiences, not things. They say everyone’s a little weird; nobody’s perfect. Everyone has flaws, but that doesn’t matter because everyone is capable of greatness anyway. People say it’s better to love and have lost than to have never loved at all. They tell you to aim high, shoot for the stars, chase your dreams, dance like no one’s watching, forge your own path, live your best life, love freely, and remember that anything is possible. Maybe not all in the same breath, but it’s all been said before. None of this is particularly new.

And now that I am a little older, there’s one piece of advice that I hear more often than any other: life’s too short.

I have a problem with “life’s too short”. Several problems, in fact, chief of which is it serves as a cop-out for the real problem: time is a cruel mistress. Youth is wasted on the young, and the advantages of being older don’t necessarily outweigh the negatives. Unless you’re born with a silver spoon in your mouth, you’ll have to work like the rest of us, and unless you get lucky, a lot of the time, your dreams will remain just that2.

It’s enough to make anyone depressed.

“Life’s too short” makes me angry, too. Life’s too short… to what? To catch public transport? To wash your dishes by hand? To spend your days at a unfulfilling desk job, eating the same thing you had for lunch yesterday, doing the same thing you were doing a week, a month, a year ago? Perhaps, even, life’s too short to study hard. Life’s too short to get a good job. Life’s too short to earn real money, buy a house, or settle down.

Or on a more personal note, maybe life’s too short not to travel the world. Too short to have to reconcile giving up what you enjoy doing for the faint promise of career progression. Too short to not go to The International every year, or not get to one esports event in a different country. Too short to not spend time with family and friends. Too short to not talk to that pretty girl you like. Suddenly, you’re not sure what you should be doing any more, and all because life’s too short.

Congratulations, you’re now as conflicted as I am.

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Now With No Comments

I’ve now disabled comments here. I probably should have done this a long time ago, but every time I went to do it, a little voice in my head said that I should keep them around as they weren’t costing me anything. While that’s probably true, they weren’t really adding anything, either.

So I’ve disabled Disqus and turned comments off. The comments themselves are still kept in the database, if I want to re-enable them at some point in the future, but otherwise you know how to reach me if you want to comment on something I’ve posted.

The Support Call

This was perhaps the only time I ever saw all six lines tied up with calls.
Two or three wasn’t uncommon, on busy days, but six was unheard of.

At its peak, Next Byte boasted upwards of 20 stores all around the country, and I spent the tail end of my high school and all of my uni-going years at just one: Next Byte Hobart.

Today, the Apple landscape in Australia is a lot different to what it was a decade ago. We now have more Apple retail stores than we ever had Next Byte stores. In a world of slim profits on Apple hardware and an unparalleled customer experience from the Apple owned and operated retail locations that’s nigh impossible for any reseller to match, any third-party Apple presence is either small enough to fly under the radar, or niche enough to carve out a market of their own. For the rest of us, Apple retail stores in every capital city besides Melbourne, Darwin, and Hobart means our in-person sales and service needs are fulfilled, with any gaps covered by Apple’s online presence.

I have plenty of stories from my time at Next Byte. Maybe one day I’ll even write about a few of them, once I’m a little more comfortable the statute of limitations has passed. The one I want to tell today is about this one time I answered the phone. I thought it was going to be like any other support call. It wasn’t.

It’s a regular day in 2014. Or close enough, anyway, for the purposes of this story. I don’t know the exact date.

The phone rings. I answer it, give the usual greeting, and find myself talking to a distraught girl. I brace myself for what I think is going to be a pretty standard support call. You know the type — “my iPhone won’t turn on”, or “I accidentally deleted all my photos from my computer”, or even “I’m 83, just bought my very first computer from you, and can’t remember how you told me to access my email”.

Now at the time, we weren’t, strictly speaking, supposed to provide technical support over the phone. Management frowned upon employees spending lengthy amounts of time on the phone, and you could see where they were coming from; we were employed to sell Apple products, not do Apple Support’s job for them. But being the local Apple brick-and-mortar, we’d often get calls for completely mundane things. In the interests of helping the customer out (and, ideally, an improved chance of their business at a later date), we were unofficially allowed to help out where we could, or where we didn’t think solving the customer’s problem would take very long. If it did, well, there was always Apple Australia’s support number, even though palming the customer off to them felt like a cop out, at times.

Anyway, at first I think it’s a regular support call, and even though we’re not supposed to provide technical support over the phone, I figure I’ll at least hear her out, and see if it’s something I can provide advice on, or point her in the right direction, if not.

But as she starts explaining the issue, I come to the realisation that the issue she’s describing isn’t, strictly speaking, a technical one. She says she accidentally swiped left on someone, and was wondering if there was any way to go back so she could swipe right instead.

Having come across pretty much every problem in the book, at the time I prided myself on my extensive technical knowledge of Apple products and services. Which is why I was unusually confused about this particular issue, and had no idea what this girl was talking about, at least initially. Her refusal to give any further details, or to even name the app in question, only added to my confusion. Eventually something clicked, and I realised that she must have been talking about Tinder, the dating/hook-up app that had come out a few years ago and had only just become popular on our remote, faraway island.

Not being a Tinder user myself and not knowing how the app worked, I remember providing some generic advice along the lines of deleting and reinstalling the app. The idea was to do a kind of reset, even though I had my doubts about whether it would have worked. In the back of my mind, I was thinking about how successful a reinstall would be probably depended on if Tinder stored its matches server-side and remembered who you had previously “liked” or “disliked”. I figured a reinstall was at least worth trying, especially if we were talking about this poor girl meeting the guy of her dreams.

She seemed genuinely upset by her accidental swipe left, and listening to her talk about it, it was almost as if the person she had swiped left on was her ideal type. Even after I told her I wasn’t sure how the app worked and couldn’t guarantee anything would work, she kept asking me if that was the only thing I could think of to try. Recalling something I had heard about the app, I even suggested making another Facebook account1, but she just really, really, wanted to go back in time and re-match with this person.

A few of my Tinder-using male colleagues had a good laugh over that one later, but sometimes I wonder what happened. Did the girl ever find the guy? Are they now living happily after after? Or was he just looking for something different?

I guess we’ll never know.

  1. As an aside, using Tinder (or any other dating app or website) opens up some interesting questions for people looking for love. Sure, the world’s a little different now, and there are more ways than ever to meet new people. But would you want to entrust your future to an algorithm? Then again, maybe using a dating app or website is only half the battle, and it’s all just a numbers game after all, in which case an algorithm becomes your best friend. But that’s a post for another time. 

PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds and the Price of Early Adoption

Yo, am I supposed to be able to see through these rocks, or what?

The end of the year is upon us once again. Wherever you look, there’s one game that’s making every game of the year list. I’m talking about PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, of course, and no matter how many GOTY lists I read, it’s always PUBG this, PUBG that. Always in the top 5, if not at number one.

Don’t get me wrong, PUBG is a fantastically good game, and it absolutely deserves all the praise it gets. It’s been the only game I’ve really played this year besides DOTA and a minor fling with CS:GO that only lasted a few weeks. There’s just something about the battle royale gameplay of PUBG that makes it appealing to everyone, whether you’re a lone ranger slowly working your way towards a solo chicken dinner, buddied up with a friend trying to win as a pair, or working tactically as a squad, against a whole bunch of other squads.

You loot your way across the map. Hopefully the play area shrinks in your favour, lest you spend the entire round “circle-chasing”, constantly riding the outside edge, one bad encounter away from death. Occasionally, when you decide that you like the look of a set of buildings and decide to make camp, some unlucky squad will drive up, only to be gunned down by your squad’s perfectly orchestrated burst of assault rifle fire from multiple angles. Sometimes, you’ll be that unlucky squad, and other times, you’ll will that encounter, only to die to a unfortunate circle shrink mere minutes later, pinned down by two other squads.

Maybe you’ll be involved in an epic car chase. Be half-a-second late to save a mate. Jump out of a window to get into a better position. Crawl prone through some nice wheat as the battle erupts around you. Spray and pray with the micro-uzi. Get a lucky headshot to kill the last man in the squad. Notice someone out the corner of your eye. Revive someone, only to have them be immediately downed again. Or, if you’re really unlucky, get your entire squad wiped out by a single mortar round.

Has anyone seen my guns? I knew I left them around here somewhere…

PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds is a lot of fun. It’s all the more impressive that this game reached 1.0 just a few short weeks ago.

That’s not to say PUBG has been without its fair share of bugs. Everyone who has played before 1.0 experienced some kind of wonkiness. Nothing particularly game-breaking, just frustrating inconsistencies between patches that make you want to quit playing the game forever. I’m not talking about the patch-to-patch balance issues — we have to be a little lenient, given that it was listed as early access for the vast majority of 2017 —
stuff that was “working” in one patch is now completely broken in the next.

All of this might sound like PUBG is a broken mess of a game, but honestly, PUBG has been pretty good in that department. There aren’t many bugs that I can remember, and while the game will likely have “balance” issues due to what seems like an inconsistent ballistics model, those are unrelated to any technical aspects of the game. It’s by no means bug free, but animation bugs are about as worse as it gets.

But isn’t that the price you pay for being an early adopter? Isn’t the trade off of a few bugs — many of which you might never run into, most of which have workarounds, and none of which break the game completely — worth being able to play one of the undisputed standout titles of the year?

None of this is particularly new, of course. Even for games that aren’t listed as early access on Steam, games from developers and publishers bigger than PUBG have always had more issues on release than they do months after their initial release. Not because they couldn’t live up to their astronomical-levels of hype, but due to technical issues plagued them from the outset.

Prey is one such game. I’ve been playing Prey in the last week of the year. I remember the demo coming out a few months ago. At the time, I was quick to dismiss it after an hour of uninspiring gameplay. Truth be told, Prey didn’t even make it onto my radar of games this year. Seeing it on as many GOTY lists as PUBG changed that, and I thought I should give it another go.

I’m glad I did, because Prey is great, exactly the kind of action-RPG that I am into. In more ways than one, I’m glad I didn’t play it when it was first launched, because it apparently had save-corruption issues when it first came out. Save corruption bugs are the worst of all, because they’re lost progress, putting them squarely in the game-breaking bucket.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time Arkane/Bethesda has had launch issues with one of their triple-A titles. Dishonored 2 suffered at the PC performance altar when it first launched late last year, and it took a bunch of patches until it were finally fixed1. Even after six months, I still ran into one performance issue with one specific part of Prey, even though the game ran perfectly otherwise.

And isn’t that the ideal scenario? Wouldn’t you rather wait a few months to play a game you’re really looking forward to, just to make sure that all the bugs are ironed out of the 1.0 release, so you can have the best possible experience of the game?

In a perfect world, games would be released with zero issues. In reality, games are often broken on launch because programming is hard and because people aren’t perfect, so we end up with these bugs and issues. In the world of pre-order bonuses and where games spend years in development, it’s hard to not want to play a game as soon as it comes out, even if that means using a VPN to get a few extra hours playtime because the game has already been released in a different region. All I’m saying is, sometimes waiting can pay off.

But bugs can be fun too.

I call this one “the level 3 helmet squad”.

  1. Although, to be fair, I don’t remember any of these performance problems a year after the fact. Probably because the game is so good, any negative experiences early on were minor in comparison. 

The Liked List

I’m trying out a new thing this year. It’s called the Liked List, and it’s a bunch of links to stuff I liked in Instapaper from the last year.

Back in 2011, I wrote a piece saying that I do most of my reading in Instapaper. Not that I don’t do any reading on my computer — I read stuff there all the time — but as a rule of thumb, anything that needs more than a couple of minutes to read goes to Instapaper. Putting longer reads into Instapaper means I can get through it in a distraction-free interface in as many bite-sized chunks of my day as I want, or read all the way through something before I turn in for the night. Sometimes, when I can’t sleep, I open up something I’ve been putting off reading. Sometimes I get all the way through something, and other times, I get tired and fall asleep pretty quickly after that.

A few years ago, Instapaper introduced a feature where you could follow other Instapaper users to see articles they liked within the app. That’s pretty much the only way to see what someone else is liking within Instapaper, unless they’ve specifically set up their Instapaper likes to go to some other service via Instapaper’s built-in sharing options, or via something like IFTTT.

Instapaper also has public profiles of someone’s liked items (here’s mine), but it’s a feature pretty much no one knows about. Sharing likes between users seems like one of those features that never really took off. Which is a shame, given that it would probably be one of the best ways to discover great reads, whether they be your garden variety hot takes, internet think-pieces, or stuff you would’ve missed otherwise, either because you’re not subscribed to that particular RSS feed, or didn’t see it retweeted on Twitter1.

That leads me to the other thing I don’t like about just following people on Instapaper to see what they like; there’s no context. Why was this particular article interesting to you, and why am I going to find it interesting? I mean, time is precious. If something is going to talk half an hour to read, I’m not going to read half a dozen things on the off chance I’ll like them too2.

Anyway, enough about niche features, you’re here for the list. The Liked List for 2017. In somewhat reverse chronological order of when I liked it, and excluding extremely popular stuff you’ve probably seen elsewhere, or stuff that I don’t think is noteworthy enough to write about…

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The Agony and Ecstasy of Personal Transport

I don’t drive. Crazy, I know. Even coming from Hobart, living 20 minutes by car from the CBD, or 40 minutes by bus, I’ve never really found the need. And if I didn’t need to drive in Hobart, where everywhere is at least a good twenty minutes away by car, then I probably wasn’t going to need to drive when I moved to Brisbane, a city with vastly better public transport infrastructure than Hobart.

But for a little while now, I’ve wanted to explore Brisbane. I’ve visited all the big shopping centres, walked through all the Westfields, and now feel as though it’s time to branch out. As much as I like walking, walking has two major downsides. For starters, it takes a long time if you want to go anywhere, and walking outside in Brisbane heat might as well be classified as self-harm.

So for the past couple of months, I’ve been asking myself: how do I get around Brisbane that isn’t walking or driving?

Biking is the most obvious answer. You could probably pick up a semi-decent bike for under $1000, and would easily satisfy any kind of personal transport you had. While I’ve always been impartial to biking, I’ve never owned a nice bike, so now is probably not the time to start. Besides, the thought of having to ride on the road, alongside cars, is kinda scary. Yes, I know bike paths exist, and Brisbane has some very nice bike paths that look increasingly tempting and very rideable, but there are a few things that keep me from going all-out and buying a nice bike.

If I’m going to get a nice bike, I’m probably going to want some kind of return on investment. It seems crazy to have a really nice bike only to ride it on the weekends, which means I’m probably going to want to ride to work. But what kind of person voluntarily does hard physical exercise for 20-30 minutes, twice per day, in anywhere between 25º and 35º heat? Even if my workplace has great after-trip facilities, there’s no getting around the fact that I’m going to arrive at work as a gross, sweaty mess every single morning. Nobody wants that.

Besides, some quick maths says that a nice $2000 bike, at current public transport prices, is going to take over a year of riding to work before it pays itself off. And if I’m being honest, “biking culture”, if we’re calling it that, is a little too serious for me. Strike bikes off the list, at least for now.

What about an electric skateboards? They’re all the rage these days. Even if they seem a little “how do you do, fellow kids”, they’re actually super cool. The two most popular names, Boosted Boards or Queensland’s own Evolve, are definitely not for the faint hearted. A guy I know has the Evolve Carbon GT, and it’s basically the Ferrari of electric skateboards, with carbon fibre construction and an insane 1500W behind each rear wheel. Unfortunately, the Evolve Carbon GT, being the Ferrari of electric skateboards (after seeing it you’d want nothing else), comes with a price tag to match; the all-terrain model comes in at a touch under $2000, and for that money you could get a very sweet bike indeed. So cross electric skateboards off the list, too.

Which is where the Xiaomi M365 comes into play.

The M365 was perfect. Not overly flashy, but capable enough of getting me from A to B. It was the cheap and cheerful alternative to whatever else I was thinking of buying, and for a while there, was the thing for personal transport. I can only begin to describe what it felt like, scooting around the local neighbourhood, on my way to the shops to pick a few things up, or feeling the wind in my face after a long day at work. When it was good, it was great. That’s “ecstasy”, or at least was.

Unfortunately, long-term reliability issues made the M365 less appealing than what I originally thought it was going to be. I ended up clocking less than 200KMs on that thing, which seems like a terrible shame for how much I spent on it. While it’s entirely possible that later revisions have fixed the problems I (and many others across the world) have experienced, that’s kind of the price you pay for being an early adopter of a new and groundbreaking method of personal transport from a company with no proven track record in the field.

What about a regular skateboard? Too pedestrian.

A longboard? Too impractical.

A Segway? Too nerdy, even for me.

An electric bike? Too expensive.

A Vespa? Good heavens, no.

In light of any real options, it looks like the jury’s still out on what the most suitable of personal transport is.

In terms of daily commutes, I’m pretty lucky. It’s a short 2.5 KM walk between home and work. If I don’t feel like walking (which is, if I’m honest, all the time, even when it’s not 30ºC before 9am), work is just one train stop away, and living closer to the CBD than my work is means that I’ve never had to deal with the hell that is a packed train during peak, as fun as my colleagues tell me that sweat-pit sardine experience is.

All of this will change next year when I move. My daily commute via public transport will go from 15 minutes to somewhere in the 40 minute range, and to make matters worse, I’ll have to switch transport methods along the way; either taking a bus then a train, or a train then a bus, or two busses. This particular public transport debacle probably could have avoided if I chose a better location to buy my own place, but eh, that’s just how it goes. It’ll have to do.

I figure if I’m going to invest in some kind of personal transport to make my daily commute a little easier, I might as well do it now while I have an easy commute. Unfortunately, even though my commute will take longer, I shouldn’t be paying any more for it after I move, so I might as well get something now so it can start paying for itself while I have an easy commute, instead of next year when I have a terrible commute.

My head says I should get a bike. It’s the practical, sensible option. I’ve got most of the bits I need for practical commuting and some I don’t, including clip-in pedals and shoes, and would really only need a rack to store a change of clothes in two and from work.

On the other hand, my heart wants an electric skateboard. It’s the cool, fun option. There’s no risk of suffering from heat-related injuries during my everyday commute, I don’t have to worry about bike maintenance or the potential of a flat when I’m halfway into my ride, and if I buy an Evolve, at least I’ll have some kind of local warranty if things go wrong.

All I know is, I’ve been thinking about this on and off for the past few months, ever since my electric scooter died, and I’m still no closer to a decision. That’s agony.