Under the Sea

The sea, the great unifier, is man’s only hope. Now, as never before, the old phrase has a literal meaning: we are all in the same boat.
~ Jacques Yves Cousteau

Having spent 9 days in the big city of Sydney, we were ready to move on. A quick ride on the Airport Link had us back at Kingsford Smith International (Sydney) airport on our way to North Queensland, the second largest state in Australia. With a plane filled with folks on holiday (and one very rowdy footy team) we touched down in the tropical resort town of Cairns.

Having been to Miami and several beach/resort towns in Mexico, this one certainly held it’s own. While not nearly as big as some of the more popular US and Mexican destinations, it was easy to see that this area is a sought-after destination for a splash about in the Coral Sea and the Great Barrier Reef. We’ve scubaed and snorkeled off the coast of Mexico, Belize and Curaçao so the idea of experiencing the largest reef in the world was an absolute must-do and our sole purpose for our trip north.

I spent hours scouring the Tripadvisor reviews, but eventually we settled on a cruise with the Ocean Freedom for our Great Barrier Reef excursion. A 9 hour adventure including morning and afternoon tea, lunch, glass-bottom boat and snorkeling on 2 separate reefs had us bounding 90 minuets from shore chatting with folks from all over the globe and enjoying the antics of the crew. Although the crew seemed way to young (yes, we’re getting old) they were professional, courteous, helpful and fun!

I have to say that while rw2 was in awe of our under water surroundings, I was not blown away. Perhaps we could not fully enjoy them as divers do but I truly felt that we’ve experienced much better coral reefs elsewhere. It was awesome, but I did feel it a rather anticlimactic experience. I do not wish to down-play the glory of the Great Barrier Reef and will always encourage people to visit for I am thrilled to have seen it up-close and in person.

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Plan B

On Saturday 6 October, we awoke to cloudy skies, misting rain and whipping winds in Sydney. Turns out Chicago isn’t the only ‘windy city’ in the world as we found ourselves doing respectable mime imitations through much of the city as we rounded corners into the teeth of the wind. We’ve had much warmer temperatures since we arrived (90F/30C) and although the temps were around 60F (20C) we weren’t going to be thwarted in enjoying the city. Today would be museum day.

A short walk from our apartment through the Domain had us at the doorstep of the Art Gallery of NSW. It’s certainly hard not to compare it with the very spacious Art Institute in Chicago but we felt it held it’s own with a lovely collection of contemporary and classic art. There seemed to be a great number of people enjoying the museum as well as students and families and we greatly enjoyed all it had to offer.

We wandered through the city to Chinatown for the afternoon and the Powerhouse Museum in the Darling Harbour area. Having been constructed in 1902, the building housed the original power station for Sydney’s tramway system. Many renovations and years later, it houses a wonderful hands-on museum encompassing everything from space and technology to decorative and domestic arts with an emphasis on Australian achievements in all categories. The main spectacle is Locomotive No.1, the first train in Sydney. A beautiful restoration has left the train in pristine condition and the narratives had us picturing what a rather lengthy trip might be like from Sydney to Parramatta in 1863.

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P. Sherman, 42 Wallaby Way, Sydney – Dory in Finding Nemo

Having been home from Peru for only two weeks, we again packed our bags for another adventure. We soon found ourselves on a United flight from ORD->SFO->SYD. Yes, we were going to Australia! We’ve had friends and family warn us of the terribly long flight but we found that it wasn’t nearly as bad as we thought. We’ve made the non-stop trip from Chicago to Tokyo and seeing as that was around 14 hours, the flight from San Fransico to Sydney didn’t seem as daunting. Given that the trip was broken up with a stop in San Fran made it seem ‘doable’ to us but with that said, an in-flight total of 18 hours is still a…really…long…time.

There are always quirks and interesting tidbits while traveling and the flight to ‘down under’ isn’t without one. Traveling after midnight and over the international dateline had us skipping an entire day. Tuesday 2 October, 2012 didn’t exist for us. Much like the opposite of adding a day every four years in February, we had one deleted from our calendar. As if having to deal with the time change between here and home, we now had to ignore an entire day. Weird.

We ambled off the plane to an early morning arrival (6:30am) in the bustling town of Sydney. A quick train ride from the airport to the city center put us on the busy CBD (or Central Business district) streets of Elizabeth and Liverpool at Hyde Park. We had also been warned that Sydney was an extremely expensive city and It was quickly apparent when I was looking for accommodations while trip-planning. Hotels were either ungodly expensive or received terrible reviews and as we’d be in Sydney for 9 days, we went for plan B: Homeaway.com. A self-contained studio apartment has fit the bill perfectly with a convenient location.

The first few days have been filled with many activities. We’ve utilized the free tourist bus as well as already walked what seems like 100 miles in the city center. Our first excursion had us on the Circular Quay gaping at the two most iconic symbols of Sydney and Australia itself: the Sydney Harbor Bridge and the Sydney Opera House. The two are, without a doubt, significant structures that embody the heart and soul of the city for locals and visitors alike. In two days, we’ve seen them twice and it is clear that at any angle or any time of day or night, they present an original view for the spectator to enjoy. I have to say that no matter where I travel, I am still in awe of famous places. I have seen numerous notable world landmarks and each and every time I am exposed to a new one, I simply can’t get enough.

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Australia Bound

Monday, travel day.

We’ve done this before, but this will be the longest we’ve gone in a single day. We start in Chicago at 19:15 on Monday and land in Sydney at 6:30 on Wed. They say life is short, well it just got a day shorter. We’re completely skipping Tuesday this week.

Our first flight, from Chicago to San Francisco is mostly uneventful, though I’m disappointed to find that the ATC channel is almost unlistenable due to low volume and high static. I follow along on my iPad and keep track of the flight that way. Even though we’re flying the friendly skies for 18 hours starting at dinnertime, because this leg is a domestic one there is no food on board. Just four and a half hours of A320 action with a tiny video screen showing movies we aren’t interested in.

Luckily, with the help of some friends, I loaded up my kindle before the flight and spent some time on the tail end of Tell To Win (a very good book about business presentations) and Trainspotting. I now own the entire Trainspotting trilogy, having bought it before we left, and am very disappointed. The whole thing is written with a scottish brogue, making the reading laborious.

“The only thing ah kin move for is smack. One wee dig tae unravel those twisted limbs and send us oaf tae sleep. Then ah say goodbye tae it. Swanney’s vanished, Seeker’s in the nick. That leaves Raymie. Ah go tae bell the cunt far the pay phone in the hall.”

I suppose I’ll give it an honest try and hope that enough of the accent becomes readable thanks to repetition and I can make better progress. At this point I’m reading so slowly and thinking about the words that I lose the story. If I want to be baffled and confused I’ll read a primer on trickle down, er, supply side, er, Reaganomics, er, the Romney stimulus. Surely if one reads enough it will finally become clear how, after 35 years it will finally actually work. Nah, I’d rather read about heroin addicts in a language that’s painful to digest.

I’m going to make sure to post this to the blog immediately upon landing, before I end up dead, as the woman one row back and across the aisle has a cough like one you would use in a movie to setup the lead actor getting a horrible disease at the beginning of an epidemic except that the audience might find it implausibly over-acted. So I sit, hungry, listening to typhoid mary and trying to read a book in scottish while I count the hours to the guaranteed best part of the flight. Landing in San Francisco.

As a flying geek, San Francisco is one of my favorite airports. I’ve flown here 10-12 times over the years and always landed on 28L or 28R. After a long approach with several turns that allow for great views of the bay area, the final approach is over water until about 50 feet about sea level. In a flash you transition from being over water to a runway and a few moments later touch down. In the case of todays flight, you touch down extremely smoothly. Rock star picking up a super model at a club smoothly.

Which brings my tally for good landings to three for four in the past week.

A week ago today Beth and I flew our friends Chris and Emily up to Wisconsin for dinner at Grand Geneva. We had excellent flight conditions and landed up north as the sun was setting over the beautiful wooded hills surrounding the airport.

The landing was a little challenging due to obstacles (trees that should be cut down) at the approach end of the runway. I carried a little extra altitude and landed a little longer to compensate and my passengers were impressed by what I thought was a good, but not great, landing.

We had tasty steak and shrimp dinners along with cocktails and wine for the non-aviators, the pilot was sipping club soda, and soon headed back into the skies.

Due to the same obstacle issues, I opted to do a short field take-off. 10 degrees of flaps, taxi all the way to the very end of the runway, apply the brakes, full power, release brakes and get off the ground. Wheels up, climb at Vx until above the tree line, level off to gain some speed and take out the flaps. Climb at Vy until at cruise altitude.

The funny part about aviating is that the stuff that the non-pilots miss is the most important and most fun for those of us behind the yoke. That sort of a take-off at night, with unlit trees and a short-ish runway surrounded by hills is where training really pays off. I was beginning to feel like a rock star myself.

In the air, we turned east toward the lake and proceeded down the lake shore for a city light tour of Chicago. If you like big cities at night, there is no substitute for these kinds of flights. We generally fly at an altitude just below the highest buildings downtown and enjoy 10-15 minutes of scenery as we glide by.

South of the airspace owned by O’Hare and Midway, we turn west again and head back home. Upon arrival I do a much better than average landing. Night landings are much harder to get smooth than ones during the day. You simply have fewer visual clues and the added stress that accompanies that lack of information. On top of it, I was flying a plane that I’ve just never gotten the feel for. Don’t get me wrong, I pilot it perfectly safely, but my landings are… well… noticeable. But I nailed this one and act as if every landing is that good.

A couple days later, I get a chance to do my second city lights tour of the week. I take my buddy Stu and his 76 year old father Alton up for the evening. Alton had a pilot license back in the day so we’re not going to do a dinner flight, just fly around the city and talk about airplanes. On the way north-east I give him a flight lesson involving essentially every instrument in the airplane. At the end of the lesson we’re crossing the lakeshore and head south again. This time with Stu snapping his camera furiously in the back seat. When we get back home I request a right hand pattern for runway 10, which brings my passengers directly over the airport for a neat view from 1,000 feet. I turn base, then final and we’re right on the money for our approach. Altitude and speed are pegged and I can explain runway lighting systems as we approach instead of having to make corrections all the way down. At ten feet above the runway the winds go completely calm and I have the good sense to just let the plane settle on its own for one of the best landings I’ve ever done. Rock star status achieved.

So that’s three excellent landings in a week. We’ll see how the landing in Oz goes. Which brings us back to the current flight.

San Francisco to Sydney is 14 hours 2 minutes. A long, long time. We’re very disappointed to find that the plane doesn’t have an entertainment system at each seat. Just a couple screens (of acceptable quality) showing the same video to everyone in the plane. I try some more Trainspotting for a while and then supper is served. It’s pretty terrible, even for airplane food. A few pieces of chopped rubbery chicken with some rice and a salad that’s inedible. The brownie (approximately the size of a pat of butter) was delicious though. On the whole, I think the chef’s at United misunderstood the axiom “always leave them wanting more”. The point isn’t to have bad quality, it’s to be fantastic, but then stop before you’ve worn out your welcome.

Oh well, breakfast is about to be served, maybe that will turn the tide. And we’re going to be landing in another couple of hours, so the boys up front have a shot at another greaser. We’ll see!

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Surprise! You’re In A Rail Yard Space Shuttle Book!

Dreams are funny things. They reveal a side of the mind that can be very different from ‘normal’ thought. Heck even the notion of normal is a bit of an odd designation given that we spend something like a third of our lives dreaming. And what about surprises in dreams. You are walking down the street in your dream and are stunned to suddenly be hit by a bus. How can you possibly be surprised when your mind is also responsible for creating the bus that hits you.

In any case, I had a fun dream last night.

As many of you know, I wrote a book last decade about grid computing. A boring book with a limited audience (interestingly we sold about a third of our total volume in India), it served it’s purpose even while the world of computing moved on from grid computing to the cloud.

In my dream it was present time (2012) and my publisher called to convince me that I needed to talk with all my friends and get them to write reviews of the book on amazon to increase sales. I was flattered, of course, to hear that they thought a seven year old book about an unpopular and misunderstood technology was still worth reading, but they made a strong case that most of what we talked about was, in fact, central to the notion of cloud computing and we should be recognized as pioneers and not the authors of a book best used as a sleep aid.

Deciding that they were right I hit the phones and started calling people. Of course, in real life not only wouldn’t I be so easily convinced but I would have a very difficult time calling my friends as I only have numbers for perhaps 10% of them. I started wandering around the office while talking on my headset and noticed a freight train climbing into the beautiful clear blue sky.

Well, that’s weird. It seems my office is in a railroad switching yard.

As I wander around convincing my friends to write amazon reviews I’m fascinated by the complexity of getting freight loads positioned on the right trains, but I keep coming back to the loaded trains that are climbing into the sky.

On further inspection I notice that our yard is in a river valley and the trains aren’t flying at a 45 degree angle, but are actually on rails that have been painted the same color blue as the sky. (My ‘normal’ mind knows fully well that 2% is a steep grade for a train and tracks are generally more like .5%. Who knows where that knowledge went during the dream.) The steep tracks raise the trains up to the level of the surrounding terrain and off they go to their destinations.

My phone rings and I get called by a customer who wants to know if I can see the space shuttle from where I am. They are in Texas and I’m, it’s revealed at this moment, in the Mississippi river valley near St. Louis. But I look up and sure enough there is a giant delta wing aircraft with the space shuttle attached to the top of the left wing. It’s doing a series of low passes so everyone on the ground can get a good look at it. As you might imagine (certainly I did), it’s majestic. The delta wing is larger than any ever constructed (in order to carry the space shuttle, of course) and the shuttle looks like a trophy in a display case mounted, as it is, in a completely unflyable location on the left wing.

Everyone is excited that I get to see it and, as my customer and I begin a conversation about the future of cloud computing, I wake up.