Thursday, December 24, 2009


Sooner or later, my luck is going to run out.

Last Friday, I flew into DC at night to see Shannon, who landed from Melbourne. You've got to be nuts to fly into a blizzard. Obviously, I knew it was going to be bad, but it was worth the risk.

Sunday morning rolls around, and naturally, DC airports are in chaos. No standing by for me. Amtrak has booked solid overnight. So, I go looking for airfares.

I've worked in the airline business for almost four years (wow), but clearly, I still don't understand revenue management, or customer service. Essentially, all flights were canceled on Saturday, yet Sunday morning, I was still able to buy a one way ticket from DCA-RDU for $160. Why hadn't the systems automatically rebooked all available seats? This does not make sense to me.

So, I go to the airport, print my boarding pass, feel some pity for the hordes of people trying to manage luggage, and go to the gate. I see a flight to Raleigh that's delayed, but showing departure before my scheduled flight. Then my flight goes on a 1 hr delay, so I ask to fly on the earlier flight. They let me, since I have no luggage.

When I land in Raleigh, I get an email that my scheduled flight has been canceled.

How many more bullets can I dodge?

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Tour de Alpine

The weekend before I left for the States, Shannon and I took the truck up to the Alpine region to do a bit of touring. We had no plan, just a few maps and the camping gear in the truck. After a relatively early roll out on Friday, and heinous traffic, we made our way onto the Great Alpine Road.

Being that it was late by now, and we had no plan, we pulled into an info station (read: small shelter, picnic table, and sign) and threw up the tent. The center was off the main road across a bridge, and, as suspected, nobody bothered us for the night. It was perfectly clear with a nearly full moon, so we skipped the fly, and got to see the stars from bed. Pretty sweet deal.

We rolled out a little way to make sure that we wouldn't get busted for camping illegally, and wound up cooking breakfast at Conners Hill, which provided a pretty nice view.

Onward to Omeo, the last place for fuel for a while, and a place that seems to like to charge tourist prices for average coffee. Here we turned off the Great Alpine Road and up a road that connects to the Falls Creek ski area. It's about 75k between them, starting on a windy cliff side, then turning up the hill for a 35k climb to the resort.

Mountain Ash

About two thirds of the way up, we stopped to let the truck take in the view. We also went for a little 2k hike to the top of a hill, which had a nice view off the back. It was significantly cooler up there, and jackets were required in the wind, no matter how sunny it was.

Up at the base of the ski area, we stopped for lunch, at what was a rather lovely spot. We even managed to stay out of the wind behind a hill and the truck.

There are a few dirt roads that go to a high peak above the ski area. It's not lift serviced, but I suspect it's in bounds. The view from the top was great, and allowed us to see a dirt road heading down the other side that we had missed on the map. So, naturally, we took it.

It later rejoins the main road to Falls Creek and winds up in the town of Mt. Beauty, but not before stopping by Fainter Falls.

We had a stop in Mt. Beauty to get some supplies for the evening and were shortly on our way. We opted to take the cross country route, since we were in the truck. It was about 15k to get where we wanted to be, and it was a very pretty drive, despite the lack of animals. Very dense vegetation, and everything looked quite lush.

We wound up in a National Park campsite that wasn't signed from the road, and we were the only people there. We got to enjoy the babbling brook all night. At least until it started raining, and we went to bed.

Sunday. The only thing standing between us and the town of Bright is a ridge of mountains. Or some road. You know what comes next. We had some issues with signage at the beginning, but once we got going, it was a pretty nice set of track. It led up to the top of a ridge, where it then followed the ridge top for 10k or so, before dropping back down into a valley. We even contemplated cooking at the top of the ridge, but there was weather in the area, and it seemed like a good way to get wetter.

So down we went, into the valley near Bright. I'm pretty glad we did, since we managed to chase some kangaroos for a while, before settling down into a spot where hang gliders land (at least when there is good weather).

After stopping in Bright for some information, we decided to roll on because the local microbrewery wasn't yet opened. We decided to take a quick trip back off road. This turned in to a big ass trip.

I think it's now fair to say that we have tested the truck in a number of challenging conditions. We've done sand. We've done mud. We've done rock. And now we've done water, as well as rocky mud. I truly don't think that anything we did was beyond the capabilities of the truck (I mean, we're all still here) but it was probably less than smart to be solo doing it.

We wound up on a route (that we kept modifying) that circled the southern end of Mt. Buffalo. It started off fairly tame, but about 15k into it, we were frequently hitting 30 degrees on the inclinometer, up and down. This was the first time that we legitimately had to use 4low.

After about 25k, we came to a decision point. We could either take a 6k "rough track" (listed as being overgrown or difficult to follow) or about 30k more going up and down. Frankly, we were getting a little nervous about how much more difficult it could get, so after studying the topography and having a look down the rough track, we went for it. It looked great. In fact, the first 5.9k were great. Pretty easy, compared to what we had been working on. We can see the road on the other side. We're home free.

Son of a bitch.

It's pretty clear that this was on the map, in hindsight. We missed it. We saw the other one, and were worried about it. Naturally, it had a bridge. This little guy seemed to be higher and faster than typical with snow melt. It came up a little over my knee, but was moving at a pretty good clip.

This is the shot taken after we crossed. We came along parallel with the log on the far side, then turned left and stirred up the mud storm you see. There was a raised section of rock crossing the width of the creek.

Obviously, the truck could take it, but clearly, it wasn't our finest choice. But frankly, I wasn't feeling 35k (don't forget the backtrack) of punishing track. I had walked it twice. We nosed into it, to see if it felt stable, and then, just went for it.

And then, as you can see, while consulting the map, I had a drink. And didn't drive for a while.

We went fairly well out of our way to Beechworth to visit the brewery there, had a good (but not outstanding) beer, made some lunch, and headed home on the highway.

I guess we had enough adventure for the weekend.

Cultural Differences

One thing that I have gotten used to in Melbourne is the cafe culture. You can always find a little spot to have coffee and some breakfast.

This has proven slightly more difficult in DC. I would have assumed that there would be many places to sit and eat on the main drag in Georgetown. This is not the case. I found one eventually, but it was much harder than I've gotten used to. This is also considering that I wasn't all that interested in Starbucks...

Wednesday, December 2, 2009


I'm in San Francisco for the week to attend meetings for work. Last night, I got to have Anchor Christmas beer on tap and eat Mexican food in the Mission. Now, I'm watching the sun come up over the bay, turning the east bay hills a firey pink.

I miss this place. It feels like home.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Track World Cup #2

Last weekend, the second round of the UCI track world cup came to Melbourne. As events go, it's a fairly cheap way to be entertained. Also, elite level cycling!

Some shots from qualifying:

Points Race

Scratch Race

Sprints - Individual and Team


Random warm up shots

And some shots from finals:





Thursday, November 26, 2009

Gig Review - Pearl Jam, Etihad Stadium, Melbourne

Last Friday night, Pearl Jam was in town. This was easily the most that I'd ever paid to see them, but as we know, everything is more expensive here. Etihad is the biggest venue I've been to in probably 8 years. I haven't been doing the arena shows lately. It was big.

We had standing room tickets on the floor, which was split into the cheap floor seats and the close floor seats. We were in the cheaps, but right at the barrier, so we (or at least those of us that are tall) could see reasonably well. I'd probably only put the stadium at 65-70% full. Must be the economy.

Liam Finn was the first opening act. He was basically horrible. He tried to use an electro-theremin but he isn't the Beach Boys and shouldn't. Not impressed.

Ben Harper and the Relentless 7 were next. Quite good. Harper is a really talented guy, and this variant of his band is too. Eddie Vedder came out and did a cover of Under Pressure with him. Solid.

Next, the main event. Sound quality was good, with the vocals mixed too low (as most live shows are). Stage setup was simple, but it worked pretty well. Set list was solid (see below). Pretty heavy on the play from Ten, which isn't a bad thing. It didn't seem like the crowd was responding very well to much after Yield, so this may have been intentional. Maybe they knew that stuff is a little behind here!

While I didn't get to see Smile (which I have seen live) or Hail, Hail (which I haven't... grr) I was pretty pleased to see Brother, and the Who cover, which were both new to me. Vedder did a good job with the Neil Young cover (and that happens to be my favorite NY song).

Of note that isn't indicated in the setlist: Daughter morphed into Another Brick in the Wall. Mike McCready was sporting a Bon Scott t shirt for a while, and just before the end of YLB broke into a few sharp riffs of Whole Lotta Rosie, which I think shows that they know the audience. The last two songs were played with the house lights on, indicating that the venue had enough. The set went for just under 2.5 hours. Throughout the night, the band asked the crowd to keep an eye on each other, and had made a point to have crew bringing water around to people on the floor. I thought that was a great way to keep people sane and civil. Well done.

Also, Stone Gossard needs to cut his hair. He just looked shaggy. And Matt Cameron is my favorite drummer in the Pearl Jam drummer collection.

Monday, November 23, 2009


This weekend, there was a Hispanic festival up the street from us. There was music and food and such, like you'd expect.

It's still a little strange to have to go to a festival for what would otherwise be called "Wednesday" in SF.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Photo of the Day

I think this speaks for itself.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Singapore Trip Report, Part Three

Already better than working. Today's breakfast treat was mashed potatoes with sausage and veggies and who knows what spices. We presume it's somewhat Singaporean. We followed it up with Indian food for breakfast. Roti, curry, kopi. Yum.

After breakfast, we went to the National Botanical Gardens, but not before misreading the map, and having a longer walk to get there than we had planned on. But it was sort of cool, because in addition to passing a few embassies (Russia's looks like it's straight out of the cold war, Saudi Arabia's looks like it's straight out of a Florida trailer park - I was surprised) we saw easily the biggest residences we saw in the country. I assume this is where Big Important People live, but we're talking compounds, estates. Massive mansions.

Anyway, flowers. There were some great ones, and inside the gardens is the National Orchid Garden, which was also spectacular.

Not too many clouds today, so it's getting pretty hot pretty quickly. When we finish, we headed back to Orchard Rd. for lunch. This road is basically one ridiculous shopping mall with a smattering of high end hotels. Luckily, you can find food with aircon. So we had Korean (what the hell?)

We also popped into the Trek Store so that we could say we had been in the Trek Store Singapore (also, they have aircon).

After somewhat dodging the heat of the day, we went to Sentosa Island, which is a tremendous tourist trap/resort, but does have some WWII significance, including Fort Siloso, where the the Brits surrendered to the Japanese, and where the Japanese surrendered to the Allies. It was a little bit on the cheesy side, in terms of restoration, but had some fairly interesting facilities and museums. And that lack of clouds? The heavens opened up, and we (somewhat) shortened our trip and went back to the "mainland."

View from a gun placement

A beach at a "resort." It sounds like people with money go to Indonesia to get a view.

One thing that we had missed was the widely recognized merlion down near the Fullerton Hotel. So, after Sentosa, we went back towards town, and went to find it. It was a bit of an adventure (I was having the damnest time with my sense of direction the whole trip), but we got there eventually. We stuck around a while, and watched people, and the changing light as it got darker (and cooler).

And yes, a merlion is half mermaid, half lion.

Dinner was at a hawker stand near our hotel, where we had cheap and excellent spring rolls and Thai green curry. And big, cold beers. And a whole coconut.

Melbourne Cup Day. Somebody won, I suppose.

We had a bit of an awkward amount of time today due to our flight and never knowing standby procedures at international stations. We opted to take one of the train lines to the end and went to Pasir Ris Park. It was a pretty nice park, and rather large. You could even see Malaysia. (I can see Russia from my house?)

It was just a nice place to chill out and take in the quiet. It was a good reminder that there is more on the island than just a busy city. After taking in the sights and failing to crack into a coconut because I'm a wimp, we took the train back towards town, and started making a list of things that we wanted to do in our remaining hours.

So we went to Geylang St to try to find lunch. It was supposed to be an excellent place to eat, and it was. We had prawn mee, which was great, but I was bummed a little bit, because we still had not had a crab, and it was here that we learned that they are basically for dinner only. Not having a crab is probably my only regret from the trip. There was some cool old architecture here.

The other places we wanted to check out were the Bugis St. Market and Arab St. Upon arrival at Bugis St, we realized that we had been there before without realizing it, but before it was open. We also learned that any connection to its food roots was long gone, and now it's just a place to sell cheap crap to tourists. So, two S$1 ice cream sandwiches later, and we were gone.

But, Arab St. (and a lot of the surrounding streets) were extremely cool. I sort of wish that we had found it sooner. Tons of middle eastern vendors selling all kinds of handmade rugs and garments. Cool architecture, and a big mosque. Very interesting area.

So, at this point, it was time to head to the airport. No issues getting there, aside from ruining my shower within sixty seconds of departing. We were far too early, as it turned out, as Qantas didn't even have the counters open yet.

So we had some time to check out the airport. It's supposed to be the best in the world, so I had high expectations. I don't know if it was because so much of the terminal was under construction, or we were not in the "good" terminal, but I was a little bit underwhelmed. We had assumed that we could find a trinket for our shelf of collectables at the airport. You can almost universally bank on that. No dice in Singapore. I thought the pre security food selection was week (and I'll be damned if I'm paying S$14 for a Tiger). I thought it was lame that I had to register my passport with an information kiosk to get on the Internet. We got to figure all this out after we were pushed away from the desk because they weren't sure if they could get us on. No problem with that.

Luckily, they were able to get us on. Based on how the plane looked in flight, it was fairly close. Since we had to go quickly through security and passport control, we split up. I went looking for trinkets and Shannon went for duty free. Duty free booze in Singapore is amazingly cheap! Too bad this airport cuts you off 1 hour before your flight and delivers it to the gate. So, no cheap duty free for us. Only sort of reasonable Aussie duty free on the other end.

I've got no idea what else was behind security. Maybe it was awesome, but we were at a run. Generally though, kinda disappointed with the world's best airport.

Uneventful Qantas flight, except that we couldn't sit together. Good service, acceptable food, ice cream, and hot chocolate. No complaints.

Good trip all around. Very few regrets. I'd recommend it.

White Trash

Yesterday, I had a near brush with "greatness." I was walking back from the CBD, minding my own business, when I hear squeals of delight coming from the plaza across the street from the Park Hyatt. I see a handful of tv cameras, and photographers with 600mm lenses. This screams of trash.

How right I was. These folks were waiting for the emergence of one Brittany Spears. There were a few obsessed fans. From grade six. You can see them all in their little yellow uniforms.

This guy wanted her to sign his leg. I heard him tell the tv reporter. Like she was going to touch you.

This girl needs to check her priorities if her shirt is true.

After about six minutes of Ms. Spears NOT coming out of the hotel, I decided that I was more interested in a sandwich than seeing her emerge from her cave.

So there you have it. The time I very nearly saw a famous person in Melbourne. Oh, did you hear? Australia just figured out that the illustrious Ms. Spears might have some assistance at her concerts.