Thursday, November 16, 2006

Across The Wide Pacific

Left: South Pacific sunrise, north of Nadi

Emergency procedures were explained, focusing a lot on water evacuation procedures. We were handed a free packet of conveniences that seemed to be quite odd: a pair of socks, what may have been a tampon, some kind of multi-strapped thang, out of which one might be able to fashion a really lame eyepatch - the sleeping mask said to be there wasn't - but I liked the carrying case, so I kept it.

I had determined beforehand not to eat onboard: no use challenging the digestive system trapped in an aluminum tube, but as soon as we were airbone, a delicious meal was served and my resolve collapsed:
  • Chicken with rice and peppers;
  • mixed salad with ranch dressing;
  • biscuit with butter;
  • maccaroon (which I skipped); and,
  • coffee and hot chocolate.

quickly followed up by a snack pack with:

  • chocolate chip cookies;
  • potato chips;
  • mints; and,
  • water.

I am loving this!

Interestingly, the serving crew is entirely male: the only females are serving business class passengers.

My plan to sleep across the Pacific was foiled when the fellow in the seat in front of me came into the aisle seat in my row, so as to allow his elderly mother to sleep. Tried to sleep but couldn't. Eventually, she awakened (mother & son were from South Carolina and were on Eastern time), so about 5 a.m. California time, her son took my hint and allowed me to lie down. I got about three hours of sleep. I dreamed about various anxieties - Sparky getting eaten by a dog, etc.

Some turbulence started when we made our closest approach to the Hawaiian Islands (about 700 miles??) Turbulence continued all across the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ). Mysterious plane movement: our elevation increased abruptly from 11,000 to 11,600 meters, and we jogged directly south about 100 miles, north of Nadi, about 1/3 the way to the equator. We passed directly over New Caledonia, north of Naamea. Temperatures dropped all during the flight, from -31 deg F near Hawaii to near -59 deg F near Australia, but after Walt's experience recently, I don't trust these measurements. Surprisingly little turbulence near Australia - maybe the high elevation was a good thing, preventing us from effects of the big cold front.

The in-flight entertainment center had many options - radio, movies, where we were on the globe, etc. Some options weren't that appetizing: a show explaining how to make cricket bats - what kind of wood to choose, how to cut it, etc. - struck me as too technical. They did have Kylie's last 'Showgirl' concerts before she took ill, and so I watched that avidly, looking for things of interest. I was struck by the fast pace (althought that may have been editing). They also had an in-flight duty-free shopping option for high-end goods.

Breakfast was an egg omelette-type thing, sausage, muffin, coffee, and orange slices.

I'm just loving this!


Frantic efforts to get ready undermined by work tasks. Spastic packing.

Took Sparky to Steve & Jan. Only quiet growling from Mrs. Lovett.

E. took me to airport Tuesday evening. At the airport, we practiced how to leave the airport, so as to minimize confusion after I left.

Flew Southwest 1645 to LAX. Sacramento, Modesto, and the cities of the Central were in a clear, warm, sodium glow. Strangely, and in contrast, LA was in a warm sodium haze. The Boeing 737 crossed the coast near Malibu, turned east, and passed over a very metallic, futuristic, science-fiction looking downtown LA, before making a U-turn and landing from the east at LAX.

Sixty or eighty polyglot airlines there - Air New Zealand, Thai Air, American, US Air, etc., and in the distance, a kangaroo on a 747's tail fin, signifying Qantas. Got off at Terminal 1.

Passenger pickup at LAX a frantic bowling lane full of limousines and buses and various vehicles. Crazy. Took Bus A to Terminal 4.

The World's Most Undisciplined Packer entered the bus. Two ginormous suitcases! Labels in bright orange said 'HEAVY.'

Qantas corner of terminal very quiet, behind ridiculously-packed San Salvador Airlines. The World's Most Undisciplined Packing Couple stood in line in front of me. Bright orange labels on their three ginormous suitcases instructed Qantas personnel to bend their knees before lifting the suitcases.

Suddenly a steely-eyed man in full dress uniform cut in front of me. Omigod! The Pilot! I caught his eye: he hesitated. "G'day, mate," he said, in an accent as broad and flat as Australia's Outback. Later, he and the co-pilot and the navigator formed a trio as they approached the gate, chins up, stride purposeful and confident. There are times when these little displays of determination can be overdone, but under the circumstances, about to undertake a journey across the vast Pacific, it was immensely-comforting. These appeared to be exactly the right kind of people you wanted in charge if trouble developed.

Baffled by the security ropes - I was reprimanded for trying to duck under a barrier. At the gate, the 747's nose stuck in the window like 'Silver Streak.'

Aisle seat 61-C was near the 747's galley. Aussie in the window seat, said "Tuesday night flight half-empty." Continuing, he said the regulars had their eyes open waiting for opportunities. Lifting an armrest, and pointing to the empty seats in front of me, he said, with raised eyebrows, "best way is to put your bag on the seat in front of you." I got it! Instead of sleeping in a sitting position, and even though I'm flying economy-class, I can lay down and sleep across the Pacific on this overnight flight! The joy!

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Australian Hiatus

Characteristic hand gesture suggests Kylie's singing "It's In Your Eyes", from the European 'Showgirl' tour.

Off to the Antipodes! I will endeavor to blog, but there are no guarantees - it may be sporadic. Pictures will likely have to wait until I return.

This time of year, I believe Queensland is 18 hours ahead of Sacramento (which sometimes works out as 6 hours behind and 1 day ahead). So, if it's 8 p.m. Sunday in Sacramento, it's 2 p.m. Monday in Brisbane. Note that Brisbane and Sydney are one hour apart (Queensland doesn't go on daylight savings time, unlike Victoria and New South Wales). Since I'm such a night owl here in California, in Queensland, I'll be an early bird! Coming back, I'm sure I'll be seriously screwed up with jet lag, but that's the price to pay! This world clock is helpful.

The time zone change is weird - like the twilight zone. Formally, it takes about 41 hours to fly there, and two hours to get back. I'll be taking three flights in quick succession to get there (SMF to LAX: LAX to SYD: SYD to BNE), and two back (BNE to LAX: LAX to SMF). The actual trans-Pacific flighttime is about 14 1/2 hours. The weather forecast looks great almost all the way across, but with the chance of some of the normal storminess to be expected in the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ; 10 degrees north of the equator), and also there will be a cold front just east of Australia that may provide some significant bumpiness as we fly in.

Monday, November 13, 2006


I'm paging through the book "Cook - The Extraordinary Voyages of Captain James Cook", by Nicholas Thomas (Walker & Co., New York, 2003), checking on how the Australian Aborigines welcomed the 'discoverer' of Australia, Captain James Cook:
Cook and his men had experienced a variety of tense and pleasurable encounters in Tahiti and around New Zealand and were ready to resisted or greeted, but not all prepared to be ignored. They were bewildered by the indifference of people who ought to have been awed and astonished by the unprecedented spectacle of a British ship.

... Cook saw another indigenous group, who fled. He landed at places people had just left. He, Solander, and Tupaia tried to follow others, but they kept walking away. Still others were sighted 'who made off as soon as they saw us'. One officer met with a couple of old people and two children. He tried to give them a bird that he had shot, which they refused. On returning to the shelters that they had first visited, the mariners found, moreover, that the ribbons and trinkets left on or by the bark hut had not been touched.
Cantankerous Boomer

Getting tired of the pretenses and the posers:
I'm supposed to be inspired by the free spirits of women my age who are joyfully running their first marathons, getting Ph.D.s in Klingon studies, starting wineries in the Loire Valley or rebelliously letting their hair go gray. But if they were really like me, they still wouldn't know what to do with their hair, whatever its color, or even have a favorite brand of pantyhose yet. It's doubtful, too, that like me they're still getting most of their sustenance in the candy aisle at CVS.
The. Worst. Political. Analogy. Ever.

Between Pop Singer Kylie Minogue and Australian Prime Minister John Howard:
In a column in today's Australian newspaper, Mr Howard was said to be trying to emulate the pop diva's music in his leadership by being "safe and predictable".

... "If the Australian people believe that the Government I lead has given them a sense of safety and predictability, well I'm not ashamed of that," Mr Howard told ABC radio in Sydney.

... While Mark Juddery's column drew some uncomplimentary parallels between Mr Howard and Minogue - including their shared lack of innovation - the Prime Minister was far from offended by the comparison.

"I'm certainly not offended, I'm flattered," he said.

"She's a very popular, talented entertainer and I'm a - I hope - safe, predictable, serious, committed prime minister."

The analogy ended when program host Virginia Trioli promised not to make any gags about Minogue's signature gold hot pants.

"I think that's wise," Mr Howard said.
Making Sense Of The Election

Politics always generates mixed metaphors and strange analogies:
Republicans must resolve their own questions: Can they reconstitute conservatism to make it attractive once again beyond the party's base? GOP strategist Mary Matalin said the Reaganite model of low taxes, smaller government and strong defense can again serve the party well, if it is updated. "It needs to put some Britney Spears clothes on it," she said.
Like, a bare midriff with a cute belly-button ring? Won't necessarily appeal to the Christina Aguileras of the world. Does it matter that it would be the same old message - "Baby, One More Time" - rather than something distinctly new? Keep that rumored sex tape far, far away! And who takes the place of K-Fed?
Mexican Cuisine, And The Law

What some people ask judges to decide .... Equivocal progress on the frontier of American jursiprudence:
Is a burrito a sandwich?

The Panera Bread Co. bakery-and-cafe chain says yes. But a judge said no, ruling against Panera in its bid to prevent a Mexican restaurant from moving into the same shopping mall.

Panera has a clause in its lease that prevents the White City Shopping Center in Shrewsbury from renting to another sandwich shop. Panera tried to invoke that clause to stop the opening of an Qdoba Mexican Grill.

... The difference, the judge ruled, comes down to two slices of bread versus one tortilla.

... Qdoba, owned by San Diego-based Jack in the Box Inc., called food experts to testify on its behalf.

Among them was Cambridge chef Chris Schlesinger, who said in an affidavit: "I know of no chef or culinary historian who would call a burrito a sandwich. Indeed, the notion would be absurd to any credible chef or culinary historian."
Food safety regulation is also an untapped vein for humor. There was story several years ago in the press regarding the bureaucrats at the European Union in Brussels worried about plastic bananas, and whether they could be confused for the real things by infants. What they failed to understand was the plastic bananas in question were seven feet long. Even the most addled infants wouldn't confuse these fakes for the real things, but the distinction seemed to be eluding the bureaucrats.
Frat House Pledge Week?

Or a musical gone awry?:
Campus police and administrators are investigating possible hazing at the frat house on Oct. 26. According to police, a caller heard profane screaming, sobbing and moaning coming from the house. Police said they found pledges crawling on their hands and knees and wearing pink fairy wings, a rainbow-colored wing and a diaper, a striped prison uniform, a pink tank top, women's underwear and a blonde wig.

My trip starts tomorrow, but I have still to pack. I had hoped to buy some new clothes, shoes, and what-not, but I can see I'll run out of time, so I'll just keep on keepin' on. Still some straggling home repair going on. Probably have to suspend that till December. Still have to wash the rabbit and the dog. Steve and Jan have offered to take Sparky for the interim, and I'll likely take them up on that (provided it's OK with Mrs. Lovett). The workplace stuff is still a pile of craziness, and Wei will have to deal with that. I'll be a sleepless shambles, but at least trapped in an airline seat, suspended 7 miles above the middle of the Pacific Ocean, expectations are low.
Brilliant Pigeons

Pigeons are team-players:
In two recent studies, scientists discovered the common pigeon is astonishingly sophisticated, having an amazing long-term memory and the ability to make group decisions based on different sets of conditions.

... In the same study, detailed today in the journal Current Biology, the scientists showed that birds flying in pairs took more efficient routes home than those flying alone, suggesting that traveling in numbers brings navigational benefits to individual group members.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Shakespeare On The Potomac

Columnist Andrew Sullivan mixes Shakespeare and Freud to conjure the most interesting analysis of the recent election to date:
Last week the American people forced the family intervention. They knew what they were doing. If you combine W’s shrewdness with Poppy’s wisdom you might have the beginning of a new day in world politics. This Shakespearean drama is not over. We have merely finished Act IV. W has two more years. The Democrats will force him to move domestically to the centre, and Daddy’s team will not abandon the son in his hour of need. Their price was Rumsfeld’s head, and they now have it on a platter.