Tuesday 15 November 2022

2022 can bite my shiny metal ass

When I list out all the stuff that's happened to me in the last 6 months, it seems slightly unreal.

One of my colleagues called it "the crumblies" - you get to fifty and everything just starts to crumble.

Some of it I've written about previously.

But I haven't shared this fun news: the day I got out of the second eye surgery, I tested positive for Covid.

So I was struggling with respiratory symptoms while recovering from having my eye deflated.

They also put me on a potent cocktail of drugs, which was enough to make my head literally spin those first couple of nights.

And it doesn't end there! Oh no, my friends, fate had more in store for me.

One night I went to pee and it hurt like crazy. Once the pain settled down, I still felt like I needed to pee very badly. Ended up in Emergency yet again and it turns out I'd passed a kidney stone, which had scratched up my most sensitive tubes on the way out.

If that wasn't enough, I accidentally tipped a few litres of near-boiling water across my wrist, giving me a second degree burn about the size of my hand.

So that meant another night at Emergency and regular check-ups with the Burns Unit, who change your dressings and give you other treatments and exercises as required.

Here's what the burn looked like about two weeks after doing it.

(The pictures from before that are a bit too gruesome to share. I accidentally put one of those on Twitter and traumatised a bunch of people.)

I also had to come down from the drugs they'd given me. After the eye surgery, I was on a lot of steroids to keep the swelling under control. And you have to wean yourselves off them ever so slowly.

The last few steps in that weaning were pretty unpleasant. Each time I tapered down my dose, I'd get withdrawal symptoms - headache, nausea, weakness, head-spins. It has given me new respect for my medications.

But I'm now off all of those medications. The Ophthalmologist says the scans are good. The white area on the left scan is the toxo spreading across my retina. On the right you can see it's shrinking away again.

So I'm on my way out of the diseased doldrums. I started running again!

I take my little poodle to Cornelian Bay, which has a lead-free area, so we can do some laps of the track together. It's glorious!

I also returned to kung fu training and managed to kick my big toe during warm-up. It has gone green.

(Ignore the weird vertical lines on that toenail, that's from a very old injury.)

So I'm crumbling, but I'm not toast quite yet!

I'm working on a new book. I'm doing some great stuff at work - follow my Twitter account to get updates about that. And I'm planning a big lazy Christmas break.

On New Year's Eve, I'll punch 2022 in the kidney as it leaves.

Onward and upward.


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Saturday 15 October 2022

Whisky tasting: my old favourite

Once again our little club has gathered to taste malt.

Marty was our host. He loves Japanese whisky and was originally keen to set that as our theme.

But we soon realised that there are only a few Japanese whiskies available for our budget of $100, so it was quite limiting and we were likely to have double-ups.

Instead he set the theme of “my old favourite”, which lent itself to a wide variety of malts and story-telling.

Tim’s story: 

Tim was introduced to whisky with this scotch! He wanted to try one at a bar and this was what was chosen for him.

Tasting notes:

The first taste is peaty, but not so much that you feel like you’re chewing on it. Pleasantly smoky.

It also has that iodine taste of coastal waters, with a peppery bite.

Not sweet, not sour, but a little bitter. Marty in particular loved it.

Water made the flavour leap! It really deepens your appreciation.

Whisky: Talisker 10 (45.8% ABV)

Scores:  7 / 6 / 9 = 22/30

Joel’s story:

Early in my whisky education, I did a favour for a friend and he gifted me a bottle of this.

It was the first whisky that I enjoyed without reservation. It’s still my favoured style.

Tasting notes:

It has a sweet syrupy liqueur smell, like vanilla ice cream.

It’s very smooth and easy. Lots of top sweet notes, like caramel and cinnamon.

Not much of a finish, though. There’s a little coffee in the aftertaste, but it fades all too quickly.

Water makes it even easier. Too easy, in fact. It becomes a little weak.

Whisky: Aberlour 12 yo double cask (40% ABV)

Scores:  7 / 7 / 6 = 20/30

Marty’s story:

Marty lived in Scotland for a while as a young man and drank plenty of whisky, but never really knew what he was drinking.

Then he saw this being ordered in a movie and decided to give it a try.

He found it was well balanced. It had good flavour, but was smooth enough that he could drink it without much hassle. And it went well with beer, which was how the locals ordered their drinks - a shot of whisky with a beer chaser.

Tasting notes:

Stick your nose in the glass and it immediately announces itself as a scotch.

It’s a little bitey and has a tang to it too.

The taste is very oakey, maybe even a little over oaked? We suspect a bourbon cask finish.

Water takes out the bite, making it smoother.

Whisky: Glenmorangie 10 y/o (40% ABV)

Scores: 7 / 8 / 7 = 23

Here’s the movie scene where it’s ordered!

Simon’s story:

30 years ago he’d buy this label in cans, pre-mixed with coke.

This announcement makes us all a bit worried! But Simon assures the group that this bottle is a much nicer version of the stuff that once came in a six-pack.

Tasting notes:

It’s smooth and has almost has no taste. We see why he liked it as a teen - this is L plate whiskey.

It has a citrus nose and creates a noticeable warmth in the belly.

Not a lot of personality. If this was a person you took home from a nightclub last night, you would have already forgotten their name.

Water makes it watery. You can tell it would be very easy to have with Coke.

Theres nothing wrong with it, but nothing right with it either.

Whisky: Highland Park 10 (40% ABV)

Scores: 6 / 7 / 6 = 19/30 

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Thursday 1 September 2022

Surprisingly Super

Poppy Lu Book 2!

Poppy Lu the flying girl has one year left in school. It's the most important year of her life and her parents expect her to study non-stop.

But her best friend is launching stallites into space and needs a hand.

And she stumbles on a kidnapping, where a dozen powered kids like her are being held prisoner.

When the police won't investigate, Poppy and her friends take it on, leading to a path that's darker and deeper than anyone expects.

Surprisingly Super is an Australian superhero story, written for teens and for adults like me who still enjoy reading comics.

I'm a little excited about this because it's the first time I've written a second book in a series.

You'll find it excluively at the Kindle store.

And if you haven't read the first book, what are you waiting for! Grab a copy of Suddenly Super now.

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Saturday 16 July 2022

Suddenly Super

Poppy Lu's learning to fly her grandpa's plane when she discovers that she doesn't need a plane to fly.

Embracing her pilot power, Poppy becomes an intern at a corporate super hero team. But it's not all costumes and combat.

And when they accuse Poppy of murder, she goes on the run, with half a dozen super powered adults trying to bring her down.

Suddenly Super is part 1 in a YA adventure series! And it's exclusively available at the Amazon Kindle Store.

I'd appreciate it if you'd leave a review there, as it really helps people to find me in the future.

If you like the look of the cover, please hire my talented illustrator Karoline Kent.

And book 2 is also out now! Get Surprisingly Super at the Kindle Store too.

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Friday 15 July 2022

I've had a hell of a month

Close up of Joel's eyes, the left one is bloody, swollen and dilated. He has a dark bruise under it.

It started with a speck in my vision, which turned out to be a stroke. But not caused by your garden-variety clot! No, I have cat-shit in my eye.

Well, that's what everybody thinks when I say "toxoplasmosis". Which is the likely culprit.

As it turns out, you don't only get toxo from the cat's litter box, you can also catch it from swimming water, badly cooked meat, or even in utero - some folks are born with this parasite swimming in their bloodstream.

Who knows where I got it? My antibodies say I picked it up some time in the past.

The Opthalmologist wanted to be sure that's the cause of my eye problems, so he took a tiny sample of my eyeball fluid for testing. But the lab got no result.

So now it's time for more drastic measures.

This week I've had a vitrectomy. He basically sucked all the jelly out of my eyeball and reinflated it with new goo. It left me with a great shiner, more blood on the eyeball, and a very dilated pupil.

This surgery gives the lab a lot bigger sample to work with, so they can run more tests.  And the material is from right next to the infection, so there's a better chance of identifying it definitively.

It also cleared the cloudiness out of my eye. I've had a soup of crud in there and a million floaters, so it's a blessed relief to see more clearly.

I have finally started on the toxo medication, which is quite a complex cocktail - 17 pills a day!

It took the hospital pharmacy a while to find all the drugs I need. One of the components is an old fashioned sulphur based antibiotic which has been surpassed by modern medications... except in treating this one disease.

It's rarely used and out of copyright, so very few drug companies can be bothered making it. The hospital Pharmacist found some packets in Spain which were imported (and translated!) especially for me.

You start with a superdose, so last night I had to take this massive amount of medication with dinner and it left me wired. I didn't sleep for a second.

It's the first all-nighter I've pulled in years. I'm still wired as I write this the next morning.

So yeah, a hell of a month.

July was meant to be a glorius mid-winter holiday for me; fishing with my son, writing some new chapters, working on my fitness.

Instead my boy got Covid and I got the evil eye!

But I won't let this crappy month be a complete loss. Today I'm publishing my new book. I've been sitting on it for weeks but I realised that there's absolutely no reason to wait.

Front cover of "Suddenly Super" by Joel Rheinberger. Illustration of an Asian teen wearing a jumpsuit, she is flying, surrounded by the outline of a fighter jet.

Please allow me to introduce Suddenly Super, a teen super hero adventure set in Australia. It's a really fun read and particularly suitable for the young adult in your house.

It's available now at the Kindle Store!

UPDATE 30/7/2022:

My opthalmologist has confirmed my diagnosis with the lab and the latest scans of my retina show the disease is retreating. So the medication is working and my eye is getting better! I may even get a little of my lost vision back again.
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Friday 8 July 2022

I spy with my crimson eye

You know when people sarcastically say "I'd rather get a needle in my eye"? Well that's how I started my holidays. Now look at me...

Last time I wrote, I was getting hyperbaric treatments after a clot caused a stroke in my retina.

But when I went back to my opthalmologist for a check-up, the blight on my retina was spreading. And there was some cloudiness in my vision too.

That's a clear sign of an infection. So in all likelihood I never had a clot, instead I have some sort of disease in my eye which caused the stroke and is now spreading.

But the specialist has never seen anything like it. There are a few bugs that attack the retina, but they don't present like this. He's sent my scans out to his experts and they all say the same thing: it's a medical mystery.

So they arranged a biopsy. Which means they gave me happy-juice and stuck a needle in my eye, extracting some fluid for testing. A great way to start my time off work!

All the blood around my eye in that picture is just eyeball bruising from a needle poke. It doesn't hurt at all and should fade in the next three weeks.

Earlier this week we were waiting for the lab results to come back, so we could target the infection with the right drugs.

But then my blind spot grew bigger. It's a bit frightening, to be frank. It's not in my central vision yet, but it's getting close.

I told my opthalmologist and we re-did my peripheral vision test, which uses this thing.

You stick your eye on the little circle in the middle. The panel at the back flashes these tiny individual lights and you press a button each time you see one. At the end you get a map of your visual field.

My map is like the start of book two in a fantasy trilogy, where the blackness spreads across the land.

So we can't wait to treat this.

They've put me on the strongest antibiotics they can get, while they try to import the super-strong stuff into the state. My opthalmologist almost never needs to prescribe it, so he's put me into the care of an infectious diseases expert, who uses this sort of medication much more often and can help me manage the potential side effects.

But right now I wait.

For better medication. For an expert to look at the MRI scan I just had. And for those bloody lab results from my biopsy!

Here's the kicker: if those lab results aren't conclusive, they have to do a much more intrusive biopsy, all the way to the retina.

And I'd rather not get another needle in my eye.
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Monday 4 July 2022

Wedding Themed Whisky

Five men holding whisky bottles in a kitchen.

The theme for our latest whisky club tasting was “something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue”.

We gathered at Michael’s house under the usual rules: each taster brings a 700ml bottle he bought for under $100, they are wrapped in brown paper for a blind tasting, we score them before revealing their identity.

Here’s what we drank, in the random order in which we drank it. Scores are out of 40.

Five bottles of whisky on a bench.

Paul John Peated (55.5%)

Michael said this fit the theme by being a new distillery he'd never heard of.

It starts with sweet peat and a little bite, before the oak makes its presence known. It’s a very well rounded drink with a lingering aftertaste of caramelised citrus.

There’s lots to appreciate here. You want to drink it slowly and spend an hour with a glass!

Water improves it, releasing hints of liquorice and stone fruit


Paul John Christmas Edition (46%)

Tim says this is also a new release and relatively young.

The first thing we noticed was the intense colour, almost like coffee.

It has much less attitude than the peated whisky, softer and easier. We suspect a sherry cask was involved in the making.

There’s plum on the nose, cocoa notes, and raisin after-taste.

It doesn’t need water, but adding it makes the whisky incredibly smooth.


(This is the first time we’ve had two whiskies from the same distillery at a tasting! They were quite different and both good.)

Penderyn Myth (41%)

Simon says the name of the whisky suggested something old.

It has a sweet nose and a sweeter opening taste, with vanilla notes and lots of spices. It makes you want to bake some pies.

This is a breakfast whisky, soft like a cloud and way too easy to drink. You could make Bircher muesli with it.

Water opened it up nicely, releasing even more flavours.

The scores were split, two people gave it high marks and two people gave it low marks. So not for everyone.


Callington Mill Emulsion (46%)

This was my pick. It’s something of a cheat, because I got a discount voucher at a tasting event and that brought the price under $100. It’s a brand new offering from a brand new distillery.

This is literally like nectar, with a rich blend of dried fruits on the tongue. There are raisins, sultanas, and dried apple. It reminds us of Christmas cake - fruity, spicey, and a little sour.

The flavour is almost overwhelming. Water helps too cut the sweetness, for those who don’t appreciate such bounty.

We think this is a gateway whisky, the sort of thing you give to someone who’s never had it before.

Once again, this had a mix bag of opinions, with a couple of very high scores and the single lowest score of the night.


Kilchoman single malt (46%)

Tim chose this because it’s a relatively new Scottish distillery.

The first thing that hits you is the scent of peat! But when you drink it, it’s almost clear, a cleansing smoke.

The flavour has a rosewater sweetness with a hint of marmalade. It’s very polite on the palate compared to the aroma. Like someone with a face tattoo complimenting your shoes.

This is vastly improved with water, taking away the bite, making it easier.

We all thought this whisky was missing something. The flavour doesn’t linger at all - it hits your palate with a bang and then it’s gone. There’s not enough substance and the score shows we all agreed.


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Tuesday 21 June 2022

My Blind Spot

It started on a Friday morning, when I had a lingering afterimage in my left eye. Like I'd looked at a camera flash the night before and it hung around to annoy me the next day.

So I took myself to an Optometrist to get checked out. He did this to me.

With my pupil the size of a saucepan lid, he could see a problem with my retina and recommended an Opthalmologist. The Opthalmologist said I had a blood vessel blockage in my retina and sent me straight to the Royal Hobart Hospital, as this sort of thing is sometimes caused by potentially fatal issues in your carotid artery.

After a CT scan, I'm told my arteries are fine, so I'm left with the original problem.

It turns out that your retina is actually a part of your brain. So I have had a stroke. In my eye. Weird but true. This is what it looks like in there.

Close up photo of Joel's retina

The yellow part is where the blood supply has been cut off. It may recover, partially or wholly, but probably not.

So I have a literal blind spot now. I can hold my hand there and it's like someone photoshopped it out of my vision. There's still a fuzzy background, as my brain stitches together the image around the problem area, but I can't actually see anything positioned there.

To give me the best chance of recovery, I'm doing hyperbaric treatments.

Joel wearing pyjamas and a special helmet in the hyperbaric chamber

A hyperbaric chamber is airtight and can be pressurised by pumping more air into it. It's like going 18 metres under the water, so for the first ten minutes you have to hold your nose and blow to equalise the pressure in your ears.

Once you're down to pressure, they put a 1950s style space helmet on you and pipe pure oxygen into it.

The idea is that they are hyper-saturating you with oxygen, which assists in healing for all sorts of injuries. In my case it is literally feeding oxygen in through the front of my eye, giving those retinal tissues the best chance of survival and regrowth.

It's been a pretty stressful weekend, as you might imagine. Losing some of your visual field isn't great. But I keep coming back to feeling grateful.

If this blockage had been 5mm to the right, I would be effectively blind in my left eye. If it had been a centimetre or two back, it might have killed me outright. It could have been so much worse.

And here I am living in Australia, where a dozen medical specialists have worked on my case and most of it hasn't cost me a cent.

And by the way, the most likely culprit for causing this mess is cholesterol. So please, ask your GP to check on yours!

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Sunday 17 April 2022

And now we wait...


I have just sent copies of my new sci-fi novel to a dozen publishers.

Fly, my pretties! Fly!

I don't want to give away the title, because I think it's pretty clever and I don't want anyone else to steal it before I can use it myself.

But here's my pitch for the story:

"After the eco-crash, the banking cartels built their own country, an impregnable island of high-tech luxury. A handful of thieves from the scorched remains of Australia aim to infiltrate and rob it, risking televised torture for the biggest score of their lives."

It's a futuristic crime thriller with a cli-fi setting and a wicked cast of characters - a ruthless planner, a father-son safe cracking team, a homicidal AI drone, and a wall-crawling doctor with illegal reptile DNA implants.

The future world is as accurate as I can make it, following current scientific predictions to their natural end. The dead oceans crawl up the coastline, our landscapes are ravaged by cycles of storm and drought, and oxygen levels are so low that humans and rats are the only vertebrates left. But people adapt to carrying oxygen cans and eating insect protein, so life (and crime) go on.

Now I wait in hope for the next few months. It takes a long time for most publishers to get back to you and many of them never reply at all. I understand that, as they're overwhelmed with submissions, but it's maddening to be on tenterhooks!

I find the best way to handle the wait time is to start on the next book. If you're busy writing, you're not fretting, so I'm getting stuck into a teen superhero series.
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Saturday 26 March 2022

American Whisky Tasting


We've decided to call our little whisky club the Organoleptic Whisky Challenge, mainly because Michael's a chef and he knew the exact fancy word we needed for tasting stuff without reading the label.

organoleptic: (adjective) acting on, or involving the use of, the sense organs

Today's tasting theme was American. And every bottle was made from a different grain blend! We had wheat, rye, corn, and a rye/corn mix.

Let's get to the blind tasting notes.

Balcones Baby Blue (46%) Texas whiskey made from blue corn spirit.

Rounded and quite complex. A little bitey at the back of the palate, a little sour aftertaste. There was a definite air of sweets around it too - the smell of chocolate, a hint of praline. Adding water definitely brought out more flavour.

Marks: 8 + 8 + 7 = 23/30

Basil Hayden’s Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey (40%) Mix of rye and corn

A very approachable drop. Tangy but well rounded, the aftertaste lingers and you're glad of it. There's a definite orange/citrus note at first taste and a touch of iodine as an afternote. It also has a pleasant quality that we've decided (in our ignorance) to call mouth fizz. This just gets easier and easier to drink as you go. 

Marks: 7 + 8 + 8 = 23/30

Catoctin Creek Rye Whisky (46%) organic rye from Virginia

This is bright yellow and tastes the same - tangy and a bit bitey. We all thought it was bourbon, but we were wrong! There's a vanilla overtone and you can definitely taste the oak. After adding water it became more mellow and improved quite a bit. The first sip was good and the last sip was excellent.

Marks: 8 + 7 + 8 = 23/30

Dry Fly Washington Wheat Whiskey (40%)

Another one that fizzes in the mouth! Very clean taste, little evidence of the barrel. Smooth and easy with honey tones. Most of us weren't tempted to use water and the one person who did said he wished he hadn't. This is delightful. There's a floral nectar flavour, a little light caramel, with a hint of biscuit. It was the clear winner from the four whiskies on offer.

Marks: 8 + 9 + 9 = 26/30

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Saturday 5 February 2022

Whisky Tasting at Mine

I've started a little whisky tasting club with some friends.

It works like this: 

  • Each person buys a 700ml bottle for under $100.
  • It is presented to the group in a brown paper bag with all identifying marks on the neck covered or removed.
  • We taste each one without knowing what it is. As we taste, we discuss it and finally give it a score out of 10. (The score is entirely subjective, it's just about how much you like it.)
  • After each bottle is scored, it is finally revealed! What have we been drinking? Did anyone identify it correctly?
  • The winner gets the kudos of having the best taste in the group that night.

Despite the varying tastes of the group, tonight it was virtually all Scotch! And pretty similar flavour profiles too.

There was nothing bad in the bunch, which made for a very pleasant evening.

Here are the night's bottles and tasting notes, from highest score to lowest.

The Gospel Straight Rye (32/40)

Intense, syrupy, and complex.

A spicy taste, almost Christmas cakey. Is that from sherry casks?

It has an oily mouth-feel. Unlike many of the other whiskies we tasted tonight, it's better without water added to it.

"Quite boozy, it feels strong but pleasantly so."

Jura 10 (31/40)

It's rich with a slight sourness. But it's quite well rounded so that doesn't spoil it.

Good at first sip, even better with water added.

"There's a lot going on with every mouthful."

The Glenlivet Illicit Still (29/40)

This is a well respected but sometimes boring Scotch brand trying to make something a bit more intense.

Floral, balanced, easy on the tongue. Very very drinkable.

"A quality drop but innoffensive."

Highland Park Viking Honour 12 Year Old (28/40)

Smooth and easy with a hint of toffee.

A refined flavour, with no bad notes.

"Makes me reflect fondly on the life choices that led me here."

anCnoc 12 Year Old (28/40)

A very light colour, but the taste is soft, sweet, and oaky.

The back-taste reminds us pleasantly of hibiscus tea.

"Fizzy in the mouth."

This was our second get-together. And for the second time it was revealed that someone had spent over the limit!

In fact the winning bottle was $115, so it was well past the post.

We all enjoyed drinking it, so nobody objected too strongly. But it has been decided that if you win with a bottle that cost you more than $100, you forfeit the bottle at the end of the night and the host gets to keep it.


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