I Will Never Fly On Southwest Airlines Because Of This

Airline travel has not been a pleasant experience for many people for a very long time now. I am astounded that the boards of directors for these companies have trouble grasping why customers dislike them so.

Then there are announcements like this one from Southwest Airlines.

Are they freaking kidding? Sadly, no. I immediately swore an oath to never use their airline.

Mechanical problems are completely within the realm of human control. Calling this hideous change "more consistent with the industry standard" was particularly offensive to me. Which other carriers consider mechanical problems to be Acts Of God? I’ll boycott them too.

Back To Blogging

While using the WordPress Admin page last week, it requested that I upgrade automatically to the newest version. That seemed like a reasonable ask; so I clicked the button that would perform the upgrade for me.

The operation timed-out. Afterward, both the blog and the Admin page began reporting script errors in the same PHP file on the server.

Two different online chat sessions with my hosting provider support did not help. Eventually, a support ticket was created and the necessary repair work completed.

I’m back!

Australia Vacation: A Winter Cold In Summer & Coming Home

I spent two days in Belmont (not far from Newcastle, New South Wales) visiting with my aunt and uncle. Vince drove me around part of the wine district. I would have bought a bottle or four but I wasn’t sure that they would survive the trip home.

I still have to post the last set of pictures to Flickr. My apologies for delaying but I have a good excuse. I managed to acquire my aunt’s winter cold. Although it didn’t manifest until I was back home in Dallas; it did take the wind out of my sails. The worst of it is over now – but I am still fighting off part of it.

I’ll update Flickr this weekend – I promise!

Props must go out to my uncle Mark in Vancouver. I’m sure the trip home would have killed me otherwise. My layover in YVR was about 15 hours long. Brutal! Fortunately, Mark and Maddona-Megera were able to take me back to their place (with a little sight-seeing through Stanley Park on the way). Being able to sleep in a bed for a few hours and have a shower before continuing to Toronto doubtlessly saved me. Thanks!

All in all, a great trip. I’m very glad that I got to meet up with friends and family again. I can hardly wait for my next jaunt Down Under.

Australia Vacation: Last Day In Yangebup

It was great to see dad and Delys again. Alas, all good things must come to an end. Late tonight, I am flying over Newcastle, New South Wales. I will be visiting my aunt’s family for two days before beginning the long trek back to Dallas.

I have a few more photos to upload to my Flickr set. I will wait until I get home though as the “broadband” here isn’t broad enough for me.

I cannot recommend an Australian visit to people highly enough. The weather is almost always beautiful; even the winter cold at the moment is tolerable to me. Whether you visit Sydney, Brisbane or Perth, there is plenty to see and do. My next trip will have to include Melbourne and Adelaide.

This has been a wonderful trip and I’m really glad to have come back for a little while. I will miss it here.

Australia Vacation: Margaret River, caves & Cape Leeuwin

Yesterday, I got back from a trip to the Margaret River region. What a place! No wonder it is such an expensive place to live… Wine, coffee, cattle, sheep, surfing and caves.

In the morning, my dad and I climbed through Mammoth Cave. In spite of the name, it is not the largest cave in area. This was a self-guided tour and we were given a device that could describe certain areas of the cave and provided some background geological information. The cave exit is through a doline – a sinkhole. I took a longer walk back to our car on the Marri Trail so I could appreciate more of the Australian flora in the region.

I followed Mammoth Cave with a climb into Lake Cave. Dad did not come along on this on account of all the stairs down into another doline; his legs were not up to it. This was a guided tour and a much smaller cave. The “lake” inside it is actually the stream that carved the cave out of the limestone, it is probably about 3 feet at its deepest. The suspended table formation was quite interesting.

It consists of two columns of calcite that are now supporting a flat “tabletop” above the surface of the water. Of course, this tabletop used to be on the floor of the cave, but the water has eroded that away over time. It is estimated to weigh about 6 tons.

4750722135_52a35f0451_b[1] Lake Cave also reveals the damage that humans can do to a cave system. Policy now commands no touching of any kind. In the picture to the left, you can see stalagmites that have become a dirty brown colour. New calcite deposits from dripping water have formed a clean white “frosting” over the top.

The brown discolouration comes from the oils and acids present in human skin. The part of Lake Cave where this was taken used to be beyond the tour catwalk; so people had to grab on to the rock to get further inside. Today, the catwalk has been extended all the way in to the deepest end – about sixty feet further than the suspended table.

The biggest cave in the Margaret River region is Jewel Cave. However, we did not explore this. Instead, we drove down to Augusta and Cape Leeuwin to tour the lighthouse there. I’m very glad to have seen this lighthouse! The calcified waterwheel is close to the lighthouse (it pumped water to the construction site for mixing with mortar) and is quite an interesting thing to see.

Cape Leeuwin - Where Two Oceans Meet

One aspect of this vacation that I never suspected would be seeing the Southern Ocean and the most southwestern portion of Australia. That is exactly what Cape Leeuwin is.

The international community commonly states that the Southern Ocean begins at 60 degrees latitude. This has yet to be ratified, so Australia puts forward the claim that the ocean is immediately south of the continent. As such, Cape Leeuwin is where the Indian Ocean and the Southern Ocean meet.

And the wind here! Unbelievable! Gale forces are common. Despite the stones of the lighthouse being 2 meters thick at the base and 1 meter thick at the top, the structure can still sway 1 centimeter.

After spending the night in Margaret River, we stopped in Bunbury. We visited Bunbury five years ago when I was last in West Australia. I took more photos this time, including some excellent shots of waves crashing on some basalt rocks. I also have pictures that will form a panorama from the top of Bunbury Tower; however, it will need to wait until I get home to process and upload it.

Australia Vacation: Week Two

I arrived in Perth, West Australia in the early afternoon of June 22nd. While here, I am staying at my father’s place in Yangebup (yan-je-bup) which is a short distance south of Perth itself.

For the first few days we puttered around town and got caught up on some errands that needed running. This downtime was helpful as the five hour flight from Brisbane was decidedly cramped and uncomfortable – though, once again, my Zune helped preserve my sanity.

We had a wonderful afternoon and evening with Mark and Narelle. I suppose you could say that Mark is my step-brother; using Aussie ocker, I prefer to call him “me mate.” Narelle and their two daughters participate in horse riding and they have dedicated a large part of their beautiful house to pastures and training areas.

The internet access speeds in Australia continue to be a major disappointment. The government recently inked a multi-billion dollar deal with the national monopoly Telstra. I hope this improves access for everyone across the country. This is one factor that would seriously give me pause about ever moving here permanently – I am used to throughput speeds probably 10 to 15 times faster.

Kalgoorlie And The Superpit

In the early morning of June 25th, Dad and I caught the Transwa Prospector train out to gold-mining town of Kalgoorlie. I have high praise for the train and the trip. You could hardly tell that you were on a train, the rails were really that smooth. It was only the last quarter or so as we approached Kalgoorlie that the familiar clickity-clack sound and motion of a train ride was noticable.

4740896951_4c3aaba723_b[1]The key draw here is the KCGM Superpit Tour. Gold was discovered here in 18xx and the region is still one of the biggest gold producing mines today.

The superpit simply must be seen in order to fully appreciate its immensity; even then, it takes several seconds for the size to sink in. It is 3 kilometers long, 1.5 kilometers wide and about 500 meters deep. That means it is deeper than the Empire State Building is tall and if the price of gold remains high there are plans to go at least another 100 meters deeper still.

4740929483_2ce38f75b4_b[1] Of course, the big trucks used to haul ore out of the pit are every bit as impressive as the hole itself. Interestingly, upwards of 41% of the truck drivers are women. In typical Aussie style, the sexist joke is that the women keep the trucks cleaner than the men and get hear when something is going wrong sooner.

Generally, only one truck out of seven loads is taking gold-bearing ore out for processing. The rest is waste. That one truck will carry about 260 tons of rock and will produce enough gold to create a nugget about the size of a golf ball.

The big trucks only move about 10 KPH coming out of the pit. In one 10-hour shift a driver will make about 30 trips.

West Australia Museum

4741047483_bb9bf6fc8f_b[1] For history buffs, the West Australia Museum is worth seeing too. You gain a deeper appreciation for the various forces that shaped this region. The entrance is dominated by an old mineshaft head that used to stand where the superpit is now being dug.

It was interesting to learn here that Australia helped shape Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection. Though not as significantly as the Galapagos Islands, the Beagle did sail to various Aussie ports as it made its way back to England. Darwin collected several plant and animal samples for the Royal Society from Australia.

Kalgoorlie wasn’t as lawless and the famed American West, but the huge influx of miners and incredible flow of riches did bring vice. Kalgoorlie still has three active brothels and these offer tours as part of their other services. Time constraints prevented me from taking the brothel tour (I swear, just the tour!) though.

Tomorrow we head south toward Bunbury. Much of the south-west coast of Australia is made up of coastal limestone; which has allowed some spectacular caves to form here. I am looking forward to this new adventure!

Australia Vacation: Week One

The first several days of my vacation in Australia were spent in my “home town” of Brisbane. Although I was born here, I honestly consider myself to be Canadian and Hamilton, Ontario to be my home town. That said, I did have a wonderful time with my younger sister and good friend Sebastian.

I stayed at the Ibis Hotel in the central business district. This was within walking distance to the Brisbane Botanical Gardens and the Queen Street Mall. My only complaint was the difficult and unbelievably expensive internet access at the hotel – I ended up using an internet cafe in the Mall to stay in touch with people. That stopped me from blog and Flickr updates until I reached my dad’s place in Perth.

4726819699_88f709c279_b[1] I have a Flickr set for this vacation. This set includes many pictures from my wandering around the Botanical Gardens, pictures from the Boeing 777 window as dawn broke and even a video of the banking over the Tasman Sea to line up with Sydney’s Kingsford Smith airport. I! would like to add the video of the Sydney airport landing, but its current form is too large for Flickr; I’ll try to find an editor that I can use once I get back to Texas.

Although I was too young to remember it – only a year and a half – the Gardens include a flood marker to commemorate the 1974 deluge.4726856263_db18532621_b[1] Three cyclones had dumped a huge amount of rain, leaving the ground thoroughly soaked and unable to absorb water. As the third downpour began, the tide came in…

Our family had just moved to the district of Enoggera. This was elevated, so we were unaffected.

Sebastian also works for Microsoft and he has planted the seed in my mind about moving here permanently. I have much to consider before committing to such a life-changing step. We’ll see!

Tomorrow morning, my dad and I are taking the train into the West Australia interior to visit the town of Kalgoorlie. There is a gold mine “super-pit” there that should be an incredible site. I’m really looking forward to this.

Airport Hopping

Day 1 of my vacation and I am still on the North American continent.

I woke up at 3am Central time to fly from Dallas to Toronto. From there, I flew to Edmonton and from Edmonton to Vancouver. It is now 10pm Central time and the biggest hop of my trip is still ahead of me.

It will be about 2am Central time when I board the Air Canada Boeing 777 for Sydney, Australia.

With luck, I can get some interesting photos from the plane windows over the Pacific ocean. I recall the incredibly display of stars at 33,000 feets in the middle of nowhere. I would love to have a permanent memory of that this time.

Vacation!

Woot! It is finally here!

Tomorrow morning, I begin a moderately epic journey for a month-long vacation in Australia. I am not looking forward to the 40-odd hours of travel time; but it will be worth it. If all goes to plan, I will be in Brisbane on June 17.

This means that I can take my sister out for her birthday. Meet-up with my chummer Sebastian (who now lives in Brisbane and works with Microsoft as a System Center Premier Field Engineer). Time should allow for visiting the Castlemaine Perkins brewery – the source of the wonderful XXXX beer – and taking the alehouse tour.

Most of the vacation will be spent in West Australia with my dad and his wife.SW_Australia We have plans to visit the gold mine at Kalgoorlie and hopefully head down to Albany to check out the tree top walk. I’m going to hang with my step-brother Mark and go fishing with him out in the Indian Ocean.

This little excursion comes at a price. I only get three-weeks of vacation at Microsoft. So I was working on Sundays and coming in on other days off to make up the difference. Totally worth it!

Naturally, I will keep my Flickr account and this blog up-to-date as often as possible.

Best of all, this will be a rather inexpensive trip. I cashed in on my Aeroplan points with Air Canada. So I am making skips from Dallas, to Toronto, to Edmonton, to Vancouver and finally to Sydney. From Sydney, I’m grabbing a Virgin Blue flight up to Brisbane.

I am so glad that I am loading up my Zune with ripped movies and great songs!

Treadmill Tunes

For the past two years, I have been working out with an awesome personal trainer – I’d give you a link but Patrick won’t take my advice and create a personal website. The results have been worth every penny.

Although I often have my Zune playing when I am on the treadmill or elliptical machine, it is only recently that I put together a playlist of songs that I really want to listen to during a cardiovascular workout. I want music with a good beat and that can be turned-up loud enough to drown out the gym’s radio.

Here is a sampling of the 232 songs that make up my Treadmill Tunes:

Faith No More – We Care A Lot

REM – What’s The Frequency, Kenneth?

Shock Of Pleasure – Xenophobia

Sarah McLachlan – Vox

AC/DC – Thunderstruck

Teenage Head – Tornado

Blur – Song 2

Diesel – Sausalito Summer Nights

Smashing Pumpkins – Bullet With Butterfly Wings

Trooper – Raise A Little Hell

Garbage – Only Happy When It Rains

The Tragically Hip – My Music At Work

The Butthole Surfers – Pepper

Eels – Mr. E’s Beautiful Blues

Rob Zombie – More Human Than Human

Rollins Band – Illumination

Lily Allen – Fuck You

The Grateful Dead – The Golden Road (To Unlimited Devotion)

Midnight Oil – Beds Are Burning

Faith No More – A Small Victory

Transvision Vamp – Evolution Evie

Phish – Bouncing Around The Room

Mikey’s Got A Gun

Alright, not really. Yet, I could not resist the word play on the Aerosmith tune.

This afternoon was a first for me. I shot my first guns. As a teenager, I briefly owned a pellet gun. Mom didn’t want me to buy it, but I did anyway…so it did not last. In my 20s I fired off about four paint gun rounds – a rather underwhelming 5 seconds of my life.

060910163209 My good friend Mark suggested that after work today, we would head over to Bass Pro Shops and use their shooting range. I shot Mark’s .22 target pistol (a Ruger MK III) and a .22 holdout pistol (a Beretta 21 Bobcat). I also fired a few rounds from his 9mm (a Bersa Thunder 9 Ultra Compact) but did not like the accuracy loss that comes with that extra kick.

Target #1 was the .22s from a distance of 10 feet.

Target #2 was the .22 target pistol and one clip from the 9mm; also from 10 feet.

Target #3 was the .22 target pistol from 21 and 32 feet.

060910164522 From my first week in Texas, many Canadian friends have been asking, "So have you bought a gun yet?" All kidding aside, the answer remains an emphatic, "No." I just do not see myself succumbing to this crazy notion about gun ownership as a right (besides, I am not a US citizen so my rights here are curtailed).

To me, gun ownership is a privilege not a right. Privileges can be taken away if necessary.

However, I do see myself target practicing again some time.

It Is About Time!

I have been waiting for President Obama to ask, "Whose ass do I kick?" for weeks now!

Until now, just about every news report that I have read regarding the Deepwater Horizon disaster features a penitent president accepting responsibility for this catastrophe. I don’t get it. This is not his fault. This is entirely the fault of BP and their vendors.

The government should be there with resources to help affected states clean-up. But the true culprits should be ultimately footing 100% of the costs.

Columnist Mark Morford phrased it the best way:

Truly, BP is behaving no better or worse than any other corporate spawn of Satan would in a similar situation. What’s more, if you don’t think every oil company on earth is right now kneeling before Beelzebub in gratitude that it wasn’t one of their own wells that exploded, you haven’t been paying attention.

Morford rightly continues, stating that this is not Obama’s Katrina (frankly, the comparisons made between the two events sicken me). Rather, it is Big Oil’s Chernobyl.

I hope that something good can come from this mess…

A Week Without Facebook

I quit Facebook over privacy concerns.

My email inbox in considerably quieter, I like that. There were some people I was keeping in touch with only through Facebook, I do miss that.

Overall, this has been a good decision I think. Even setting aside the privacy issues, Facebook was becoming a noisy, spamming headache that demanded constant attention. This was even not playing all the insipid games that tried to further encroach on your personal data!

I hope that the people who really want to stay in touch with me will do so through this blog.

Bicycling Around The World – Part 3

Yesterday marked two months of using my bicycle computer to track the total distance that I bike ride.

th_bikeDistance_All_Week_8 In eight weeks I have covered just over 585 kilometres (363.5 miles for my American friends). This means that from my house in Irving, Texas I have now:

  • crossed into the state of Mississippi to the east
  • passed Wichita, Kansas to the north
  • am just inside the New Mexico border to the west
  • am in Mexico to the south-west

I figure that in a month or so my two radii will intersect. Well, not quite, because I am taking a month-long vacation to Australia next week (keep reading this blog for updates).

From my old apartment in Etobicoke, Ontario; I have travelled past Montreal, Quebec, Washington D.C. and Timmins, Ontario. I am approaching Cincinnati, Ohio and Chicago, Illinois.

Windows Live Writer

This is my first post on this new blog with Windows Live Writer. It is a great tool for blogging and is much faster than the web-based interface. This should help me blog more prolifically.

I had hoped that I could use Live Writer to include images in my posts. However, there seems to be a problem with that – both the web-based WordPress editor and Live Writer have problems creating posts with images in them. Very strange.

The best clue that I have is that Live Writer reported an HTTP 500 error. This suggests that the problem is server-side (although it is generic). I’ll check with my provider; hopefully they can search the server logs and help me pinpoint where the problem is.

Cycling Setback

Last Sunday, I noticed that my bike computer was no longer working. It had been fine on Saturday when I rode home from work; but the next day it no longer showed my speed or accumulated my distance.

The last reading I had on the odometer was 465.9 kilometers. I tried replacing the battery (though it obviously was not a power problem). No joy. I haven’t had a chance to take the bike in for repairs either. Maybe on Tuesday.

I hope that I don’t have to give up the “Cycling Around The World” project. It has been rather fun watching my radii grow each week.

Update: June 1, 2010

I took the bike into Bicycles Plus – anybody living in Irving or Coppell should go here for all their cycling needs! They replaced the bike computer under warranty.

Since the bike is my primary method of transportation, it is basically going to work, to the gym or to Wal-Mart for groceries; the weekly distances I had been tracking in an Excel spreadsheet were very linear. Adding a trendline to the chart shows that it is reasonable mark 552.4 kilometers today.

I’ll update the Streets & Trips data when I get to work tomorrow morning.