Sunday, June 24, 2012

Back from Oz

Got back yesterday from my\ trip to Australia. It was all very last-minute - little planning possible. But I did plan on staying an extra day in Sydney - one of my favorite cities in the world.

When I arrived in Sydney, I was surprised to find that United had canceled my flight home. There were no other flights out on my originally scheduled departure date, so I was "stuck" in Sydney an extra day.

What to do? What to do?

I did what I always do when I'm in Sydney. I love hopping on and off the ferries and walking the neighborhoods: Mosman, Balmain, Manly, Watson's Bay, etc.

For me it's the exercise plus the challenge of navigating from one ferry stop to the next plus the simple joy of being out on the ferries.

Speaking of things I love, here's a silly little video of an experience that never grows old for me.

I'm home again till Tuesday, then I'm back on the road - Virginia this time.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012


A 5.3-magnitude earthquake struck Australia last night. Just wanted to let the folks back home know that I'm okay.

As you can see from the photo below, the Aussies are in the process of recovery.

Monday, June 18, 2012

My Whirlwind Tour of Canberra

[ Click for more photos ]

[ Click to trace my route ]

After nearly twenty four hours of travel, I arrived in Canberra (that's the capital of Australia for my fellow geographically challenged Californians back home) on Sunday morning. I felt surprisingly rested even though I had managed very little sleep. Sunday was my only day for sightseeing in Canberra - I'm here for work - so I made the most of it.

This trip came together at the last moment. I bought my ticket on Thursday and I was on the plane Friday night. Consequently I hadn't had much time to plan or research what to see in Canberra. I knew that I was going to have to hit the ground running and make it up as I went along.

I hoped to get online at the hotel and do some very quick research, but when I discovered that my hotel wanted $24 AUD per day for Internet, I just couldn't bring myself to go down that path. Call me cheap if you want, but I just couldn't stomach paying that much for Internet access for a $400 AUD per night hotel. Work would have paid for it, but I just felt I couldn't do it on principle. The same goes for some Internet providers that I've encountered in Europe over the years. I'm talking to you, SwissCom!

Though I felt the pain that only a geek can feel being cut off from the 'Net, I decided to embrace the adventure that lay before me. I decided to hop in my rental and find out what I could discover just driving around aimlessly.

To be fair, I should point out that my excursion through Canberra really didn't do the city justice. I knew that I had limited daylight - it's winter here - so I was rushing around trying to see all I could in the limited light I had. Given more time, I could have spent time trying to understand the city better. I could have learned much more about its history, its people, and such, but that wasn't meant to be. Instead I approached the city as an opportunity to explore it with a photographer's eye, rather than someone trying to learn about the city.

I began by driving south on Commonwealth Avenue. I drove around the eastern half of the Vernon Circle roundabout, crossed the Commonwealth Avenue bridge, and drove up the hill to the Parliament House. Word has it that it's the politicians that periodically descend upon the city who cause the hotel rates to double and triple, so I decided I'd go hang out at there hang out. The Parliament House is unlike any building I've seen before in many ways. The flag pole upon which they raise the Australia flag is unlike the flag poles I've seen anywhere else. The water gently ripples down the fountain in a way that seems to defy gravity. The artwork inside is a departure from what I'm accustomed to seeing. So the whole experience - rushed though it was - was fascinating.

Though it wasn't necessarily meant to be a piece of art, I was drawn to this - for lack of better word - blueprint of the city.  It details the city's designer's vision of how Canberra was to be laid out. The city does, indeed, mirror the blueprint in many ways. And I would find out later on in the day on several occasions that from different viewpoints throughout the city, you really get a sense of what they were striving for. More on that in a bit. I loved this blueprint. There's something beautiful about it for me that I'm failing to put into words. Do yourself a favor and click on the photo and view it enlarged.

From the Parliament House, I drove northward intending to head to the peak of Black Mountain to see the Telstra tower. I figured that there was likely to be a good view from atop the peak. Turns out that the tower has an observation level, but I decided to pass on the $7.50 AUD entrance fee. Again, call me cheap again if you like, but I'm trying to conserve the little Australia cash that I picked up Sunday morning at Sydney International Airport. They slammed me for $20 USD in exchange rate conversion and fees on the $100 USD, so I was trying to conserve the ~$80 AUD that I had in my pocket. Ordinarily I like to exchange currencies at home with my bank because the exchange is soooooo much better than the friggin' cambios in the airports. But when you are flying overseas on a moments notice - I didn't even go home from Palo Alto before departing to Oz - you don't have the luxury of obtaining an optimal exchange. Sigh...

But my navigational skills were lacking when I tried to head to Black Mountain. Seems kind of lame to get lost on the way towards a mountain that you can see from pretty much anywhere in town, but that's what I did. In my defense, what they call a "mountain" 'round these parts isn't exactly what we'd call a mountain back home. But still the fact remains that I got lost on the way to the mountain.

But that, it would turn out, was for my good fortune. The wrong turn(s) I made led me to something that I'd seen from the distance when I was at the Parliament House. I'd seen an unusual loopty-loop architectural thingy in the distance from the Parliament House. But now I was right the under the thingy. I suppose "architectural art installation" would be a more apt description, but I'm going to stick with "thingy" for now. By the way, I know that the proper terminology is "thingamajig", but I'm going to stick with "thingy".

I don't remember the name of the video game I played as a kid, but there was this game I used to play in the video arcade in which you drove a car - I think it was a Ferrari - on a virtual race track. But being virtual, this race track allowed you to do things that you can't do in the real world. For instance, this video game had a thingy just like the one I found in Canberra. You would floor it - mind you this is an ancient video game and by no means would a kid today feel like the video game let you do anything remotely akin to "flooring it" - and if you had the car on the right trajectory and at a sufficient speed, you could ride a 360 through the thingy. It took all my years of acquired maturity - you're dubious about that I know - to keep from hopping back into my rental and trying out a 360.

As I continued to explore the area, I came to realize that I was at the National Museum of Australia. I didn't see any of the exhibits - no time remember? - but I toured and was fascinated by the buildings. I'll let the photos speak for themselves.

After exploring the museum, I head towards and - believe it or not - found my way to the peak of Black Mountain. I saw the tower, took in the semi-panoramic view (pay the $7.50 if you want the full pano), and headed back down the hill ... err I mean mountain. On the way down I saw - as I've seen previously in other parts of Australia such as Sydney - one of those clumpy mud mounds (see photo). They always seem to be at the base of a tree, and I suspect they're created by some sort of insect. But I'll be darned if I've ever seen anything to indicate what creates these mounds. Anyone know what these mounds are? They get quite large. The one in the photo was just shy of three feet tall. What creates these?

From Black Mountain I headed eastward across the center of town to the War Memorial. It was there that I began to really get a sense of the city's designer's vision.

I'd seen something - turns out it was the War Memorial - off in the distance when I was at the Parliament House. I didn't know what I was looking at, however. Now that I was at the War Memorial, I could see and identify that I was looking at the Parliament House. Even though the two locations are separated by Lake Burley Griffin, you feel like they are connected as you look down ANZAC Parade, a long boulevard lined with memorials.

Hopefully this non-stellar photograph (by the way I was only using my iPhone, so please forgive the occasional lame photo) will give you a sense of what I'm talking about. I've zoomed way in, so you don't get the full grasp of the view, but zooming in allows me to show you the Parade, then off in the distance the white building you see is the National Library (I think), and in the distance behind that is the Parliament House. What you can't see in this photo is the lake which lies between the library and the Parliament House. Use your imagination.

Growing up in the US, you don't spend a lot of time studying the armed conflicts other countries engage in. So it can be surprising to discover just how many battles a country has been in even though it so far removed from the rest of the world - separated by a giant ocean.

The red poppies that were so prolific in the War Memorial reminded me of the war memorial in Stanley. The wall of poppies is beautiful at first glance, but then you take a look at the seemingly endless roster of names of those who sacrificed their lives for their country. It's a somber moment.

From the War Memorial I headed towards Mt. Ainslie. I saw that it was another "mountain" with a peak, and I figured the peak would afford me a nice view of the city. The journey to the peak was well worth it. For $0 AUD (as opposed to $7.50 AUD at the tower) I found grand sweeping panoramic views of the city. Well worth the trek up the hill... err I mean mountain. Alas, my iPhone couldn't do the view justice, but I will share this one photo. Look closely and you'll see the War Memorial, then Lake Burley Griffin, the National Library, and the Parliament House. If you're paying really close attention, you just noticed (as I just did) that I was wrong earlier when I said that the lake lay between the National Library and the Parliament House. Whoops, I stand corrected.

But that blunder aside, take a look at the photo and once again you can see the city's designer's vision coming to fruition. They clearly had a vision that would connect together the different landmarks in the city.

On the drive up to the peak, I saw a sign that we don't see often (make that ever) back home. I'm always amused to see the kangaroo crossing signs when I'm in Australia. This one, like so many others before, got my hopes up. Please let me see some kangaroos, please let me see some kangaroos, please let me see some kangaroos...

I was disappointed on the drive up to and down from the peak that I saw zero kangaroos. Bummer.

From the peak, I headed eastward once again, this time towards the airport. I intended to drive wide arcing loop on Majura Road, onto Federal Highway, and back onto Northbourne Avenue to return to my hotel. But on the way, what did I see? Off to the side of the highway I saw more kangaroos than I've ever seen in one location. I don't think I've ever seen that many even in a zoo. And here they were just hanging out in the wild in a great big field. In full blown tourist mode, I did a U-turn, returned to the kangaroo spot, pulled off to the side of the road, got out, and headed towards the roos. The barbed wire fence provided a healthy reminder to keep my distance, but I took the opportunity to enjoy the show. The mostly just stood around, but occasionally they would hop around and do kangaroo things like that. They managed, however, to avoid hopping when ever I was videoing them. Sneaky hoppers those roos.

I'm sure that the drivers flying past thought - correctly - that here was one of those silly tourists. But I thought to myself, they might be just as touristy if they were in my neck of the woods and saw a banana slug. I suspect they would have about as much trouble videoing banana slugs jumping around as I had in my attempts to video the roos.

When I returned to the hotel, I dropped off the car and walked to dinner. On the way, I stumbled upon the ActewAGL building. Walking past it was impossible to fail to notice the art installation on the ground floor.
So that's my quick recap of what I saw in Canberra. You can see more photos in this youtube video and in my picasa album if you'd like.

One last thing about Canberra. I love all the roundabouts. Why oh why are there so few roundabouts in the US? They seem to be catching on in small pockets of the US (and they've existed on the east coast), but they are still so darn rare in the US. Such a shame.

But what's even more shameful is the sorry excuse for roundabouts in Santa Cruz. Someone in Santa Cruz decide that roundabouts were a great big speed bump intended to slow down drivers. That's not what a roundabout should be.

Speaking of roundabouts... I recently wrote of my plans to visit the Magic Roundabout in Swindon. I didn't go there on my recent trip to the UK, but I did something even better. Instead of going to the five-ring Magic Roundabout, I went to the six - yes you heard right - ring roundabout at Hemel Hampstead. :-)

Two more days here in Canberra, then I head to Sydney.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Mechanical issues

Mechanical issues with flight UA 863.

Don't know if you'll be able to see this in the video, but that's jet fuel leaking out of our plane bound for Sydney. How very reassuring.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Back to Oz

It's been a busy week. Make that a busy month! England, Scotland, Philly, Palo Alto, and last night I found out I'm going to Canberra. Seems like I was just in Australia. Oh wait, I was.

So here I am sitting in the Red Carpet club (or whatever United wants to call it now that the merger has commenced) at SFO. That's UA 863, my flight to Sydney, there in the photo. That's it, the 747.

Still waiting to hear from United whether I'm getting upgraded. If not, it's going to be a long night. Cross your fingers!

I'm flying to Canberra to help mentor a co-worker. Oh darn, fly me to Australia for work. :-)

This crazy fly-out-on-a-moment's-notice gig is coming right on the heels of a brief trip to Palo Alto to film some more online instructional videos. Thought a picture of the recording studio would be interesting to see for those who have seen the one of the final results.

Got to run now. Boardings about to begin. So it's time, once again, to wrap up all my power cords and hop on yet another plane.

Perhaps I'll dream of something handy tonight over the Pacific. I know I'm wanting one at the moment.