Wednesday, November 30, 2005

What the...

OK, calling all Firefox users (and I know you're out there) Did my page template just go crazy and put my picture and links on the left instead of the right?

I don't seem to have that problem in IE, but Firefox makes it look kinda warped.

Time to upgrade I think.

Update: Upgraded to firefox 1.5 and everything's back to normal. Maybe it was just a fluke.

You know you're a nerd when...

I know there are only a few regular readers who might get this, but what the heck.

(In short, I'm home in Chicago)

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Big ol' jet airliner!

In my hands I hold the tickets to freedom.

AA 7214 and AA 154 which should put me into O'Hare at about 3:30 PM November 30.

It'll feel good to be on US soil again. Unfortunately it won't feel so good being in the US weather. I'm wearing shorts and t-shirts here, but I know in Chicago I would be freezing my butt off in these clothes.

Of course I'll most likely go into work on Thursday and Friday, but that won't be hard work compared to what I've been doing most of these last three weeks. Yes, I know I've been posting non-work related stuff, but really since I left Chicago there have only been about 3 days when I didn't go to work. I got out and enjoyed myself a little on those days. I actually planned to have some more non-work related days, and even went out on little sight-seeing trips only to get back and find out I had to go to work and work late that night.

But that's over for the moment. I'm back to working normal hours for a couple days and then I'll take a nice weekend (maybe a long one) to relax. After that, who knows. At least I've got plenty of days off around Christmas this year.

Back where I began

*Daybreak over the Pacific, taken on the way to Australia earlier this month.

Wrapping it all up

I've managed to do a little sight-seeing in Singapore between busy times at work, so as usual, here are a couple photos.

This is the symbol of Singapore: the lion headed fish. If memory serves, this goes back to the early British explorers who (mistakenly) thought they had seen a lion here. In fact, Singapore, when loosely translated, is called "lion's city." (again, all information is subject to the failure of the author's memory)

The Esplanade Theatre center on the waterfront is a lovely (though certainly not cuddly) looking building. There are frequent performances of various genre's held here. Sadly I couldn't get any tickets to interesting events on short notice.

I wanted to get a few shots that captured the grandeur of the Singapore skyline, but have encountered some difficulties. It's best to be at least 15 stories up (not a problem) have at least a 180 degree view facing towards the business district (not quite as easy) and have a REALLY WIDE ANGLE lens. I couldn't get the last bit of that. So I'm taking the cheater's way out and stealing a picture from elsewhere.

It's pretty incredible.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Straddling the Equator

As I write this, I'm sitting in an air conditioned room on the 16th floor (Privilege Club) of the Orchard Parade Hotel. Don't feel too envious though, I didn't choose to be here (local company rep. Did the booking) and aside from the free drinks in the evening (of which I do not partake) and the free breakfast in the morning (which isn't that great) there isn't that much of an advantage to being here. The private lounge on the top floor is rather nice though.

What really gets me is that I must pay extra for internet access, and it isn't even that fast either. That alone gives your average holiday inn a leg up in my book. I can't even say that I care much for all the ornamentation in the room either. When you're only staying in a place for a few days, it doesn't make a bit of difference if the desktop is real oak or just printed.

Things I have noticed about Singapore:

Every country has some kind of national pass-time. Here, it's shopping. My hotel is on Orchard Avenue which is absolutely lined with shops that are almost identical to any you will find in an upscale neighborhood in America. The prices are at least the same as what you might see in America, in many cases higher. That doesn't seem to stop people from shopping. The streets here are as crowded as Las Vegas here. Walking could be a real competitive sport here, because going "upstream" requires a lot of dodging and weaving or just pushing through people. I'm a pretty big (tall) guy here, and yet walking a straight line on any sidewalk requires bracing one's shoulder against the oncoming traffic.

You can shop for electronics here, but if you pay the sticker price you are getting ripped off. You pretty much have to ask what the price is, say "I'll take it for ___" and then walk away unless you get a counter-offer.

Cars are incredibly expensive here. Not because of the car itself, but because of the licensing. It costs some 60k per year to license a car. Naturally only the rich actually drive cars here, so lots of people are left to find other modes of transportation. The rail and bus systems are very good, and the taxi's are EVERYWHERE!!! At times, you can't wave at someone on the street without flagging one down.

This place is clean, almost unbelievably so. The only exception is Little India. Even that is not dirty so much as un-tidy.

The British split this place up into various communities during the colonial days. They seemed to think that people could not get along. The result is a Chinatown, Little India, and Malaysian region with very different cultural flavors. And of course, on top of it all is the very western looking capitalist segment which seems to control most of the island.

In any American factory, if you say "Finish this slogan '_______ first!'" then the answer would be "Safety." But I just walked into a factory here and one of the first things I saw was "Quality is our first priority." Not to say that there aren't safety measures, it's just clear, from the people and the mottos, that safety takes a back seat to quality and production.

There's a significant division in the labor force here. In the factory where I've been working you have the basic floor workers who are mostly foreign, don't speak much, if any, English and wear blue work shirts all day. The management employees are more likely to speak English, and are easily identified by their white shirts. (some of these have come from the ranks of the floor workers, and they can still hold their own, turning wrenches and running the machines) And then the office staff dresses as casually or formally as they like and sits in the air-con rooms most of the day.

I must admit, I'd prefer the rural atmosphere of Ballarat to this. It seems to be busy here at all hours where in Ballarat I could take a 10PM stroll and just see a few people still in the cafes and shops and some store-keepers locking up. It was quite pleasant really. This is just too busy for my tastes. Good news is, it looks like I'll be back in Ballarat sometime next year (early next year if my guess is right.)

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Almost there!

It looks as though this trip might be over soon. If I have time tonight I'll write an update, but otherwise I'll see everyone back in the states (maybe as early as the end of this week.)

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Parting shot

I'm off to Singapore tonight. I'm doing the same type of thing there as I was here, only I'll be working mostly with people who speak no English.

(Why the heck didn't I ever get Yi or Bo to teach me a little Chinese?)

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Random thoughts from Australia

I had always been told that toilets flush the opposite way once you cross the equator. I was looking forward to checking this, but the advent of low water consumption toilets has thus far thwarted any attempt. These toilets need significant water pressure to work, and therefore they use jets which happen to force the water in the same direction as you would see in the states. I have been observed water swirling down a drain, a counter clockwise rotation does appear to dominate. Guess I'll have to be content with that.

Australia has more of a European style cafe culture than I'm used to. While I'm out getting breakfast (at an terribly late hour) there are people sitting by themselves, quietly drinking coffee, reading the paper or watching traffic. There's certainly no "hurry up and order and pay your tab so you can get out of here" attitude that you see in most non-college towns in America.

Speaking of cafes, the food here is excellent. Everywhere I go the food is freshly prepared in the kitchen, by a real cook. It's a shame it's so hard to get real food made from scratch in the states, but I guess people are accustomed to frozen, mass produced food and there's little chance of going back.

There's virtually no tipping here. Usually food includes a service fee, and I'm told the minimum wage is typically considered to be adequate. Although it's nice to not bother figuring a tip, I have yet to see any waiters or waitresses really hustle to serve you, but that may just be the result of the more relaxed dining style here.

The hotel has only 5 channels on the TV. I mentioned this to some of the locals and their opinion is that the proliferation of channels in America has lead to hundreds more bad TV shows that get filtered out here since airtime is at a premium. Of course I think it's just nice to just click through 4 or 5 channels and then go outside because there's nothing good on.
Ford sells cars here that have a 4.0 liter STRAIGHT SIX under the hood! I want one of those engines in my car!!! I suppose the EPA might have something to say about me bringing one of them into the country. Darn.

When you're crossing the West Gate Bridge at night you realize, Melbourne is HUGE! The lights stretch on for as far as I can see.

Some highways here have variable speed limits depending upon the traffic (and presumably the conditions) They're marked with LED signs that flash various speeds. People really obey these too, in fact almost nobody speeds here.

I'd like to know how in the heck a pub in Brisbane managed to get ahold of a keg of "Old Speckled Hen" because, I've been told that this (typically unpasturized) beer is only available in a small section of England, and there's no way that an unpasturized beer would be shipped (quite literally) to the other side of the globe and still taste good.

Check that off the list

This trip has been incredibly busy, but it's not all work and no play. On Sunday I did have a chance to drive down to the coast. Aside from a thrilling (and somewhat scary) drive, I managed to check "visit the Southern Ocean" off of my list.

It was a really pretty drive there and back. When you're close to the coast the landscape is rather lush (it gets all the moisture and leaves none for the inland regions) making it look almost tropical. It doesn't look that different than driving down highway 1 in California. The really striking difference is the smell. The ocean smell isn't that strong, but along most of the Great Ocean Road you can roll down the windows and get a lovely dose of eucalyptus scent from all the gum trees. What a marvelous time.

Of course as soon as I was back at the hotel I found out I had to go back to the plant and work for an extra 5 or 6 hours solving problems that cropped up in my absence. Such is life.


I forgot to post the last couple of pictures from sovereign Hill (the living history village in Ballarat.)

Here's one from the machine shop where it looks as though they are restoring (among other things) an old slide valve steam engine.

There were several operational steam engines. This one was running the equipment in the wheel-wright's shop. Unfortunately it wasn't under it's own power (it was probably for maintenance reasons) but was being turned by an electric motor hidden away from the public. Still, it looked nice enough, and if I hadn't noticed the electrical humming and lack of exhaust steam, I might not have cared.

Another update

I'm in Brisbane right now. That wasn't part of the original plan for this trip, but as they say "No plan survives first contact."

This isn't a bad place, but it's not quite as nice as Ballarat or Melbourne. This has more of a big city feel (less green space) than the other places I have been. It's quite pretty crossing the river at night, but it has almost a Star-Wars feel to it because you're surrounded by such massive amounts of construction (in numbers and size)

More posts this afternoon if I have more time to get to the computer.

Monday, November 21, 2005

No worries, mate!

It was not originally a scheduled part of this trip, but by the time most of you read this I will be on a plane going to Queensland (as opposed to Victoria where I am now) It's always a risk when traveling on business that you will discover you need to do but didn't plan on. That's what's happened here.

Of course there's another sort of risk that comes mostly from other people, it's the "while you're in the neighborhood" effect, or in this case the "while you're in that hemisphere" effect. There's talk of a meeting in Tokyo. If that's combined with the delays I'm expecting in the Singapore segment of the trip, it could be a while before I come back. No worries though! I figure all I have waiting for me in Chicago right now is an empty apartment, and I can't say that I'm too eager to leave. I have yet to meet an ugly woman in Ballarat, so I'd have to be nuts to really want to leave.

Before the trip to Queensland though, maybe I should say another word or three about my time in Ballarat. It's a pleasant place with plenty to do (when you have the time) To get an idea, go to and look at all of the attractions, and activities. I've barely scratched the surface of that list and already I'm sold on this town.

Of course one of the big attractions for me was the history of the town. This was originally a boom town of the gold mining era (mid 1800s) and was the center of a significant, albeit brief, revolt against British authority.

To keep this bit of history alive, they've created a living history village (which is quite large) with all sorts of shops, machinery, artifacts from the gold rush era.

This was only one of roughly three main thoroughfares through the living history village. Every building had something and someone on the inside. There were even functional steam engines running shops full of machines using old belt and lineshaft power supplies.

Really quite incredible if you ask me.

Quote of the unspecified temporal interval

I prefer tongue-tied knowledge to ignorant loquacity.

- Cicero

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Experiencing the wild life

I cannot escape the fact that this is definitely a business related trip. There's been a considerable amount of work (much of it stressful) and I've had to do hours upon hours of troubleshooting for a very finicky piece of machinery. Still I've been enjoying myself; and not just because I've done some of my best troubleshooting to date.

I got a chance to visit a wildlife park (really almost a petting zoo) and while this may seem like an activity for little kids, it was actually a nice chance to become acquainted with Australian wildlife without threat to one's well being.

Ballarat's wildlife park is fairly large with a nice assortment of animals. They have several Koalas which you can pet and cuddle under supervision (they're usually very calm but can hurt you if they're feeling threatened.) They're incredibly soft, giving them the look and feel of some kind of stuffed toy.
Cute eh?

From cute to almost repulsive...The tazmanian devil (largest surviving marsupial) looks to me like some kind of 'possum on steroids. I tried to get a good picture of it, but it wouldn't hold still. It just kept running around looking for food, gobbling, and then retreating to the darkness of it's den. No table manners and certainly not soft and cuddly.

Moving right along, I got a glimpse of some of the longest living creatures on the planet. No petting here, but somehow I'm not too disappointed.

And what else would you see in Australia, but Kangaroos!! They were quite friendly (they should be, they've been fattened up on food from all of the tourists) and they essentially roamed the grounds getting petted and fed by one person after another.

They mostly acted rather lazy, but the ones who were hungry would walk right up to anyone and let you pet them and feed them (mostly grains) without any hesitation.

Pretty fun, and there's more to come!

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Australia part 1

Greetings folks! I mentioned earlier some troubles getting to Australia. Really, all of the problems stemmed from delays getting out of O’Hare (American Airlines, if you must know) Thanks to that delay I couldn’t make my connection to Melbourne at LA. Fortunately, Qantas has some really helpful people who got me onto the proper continent and then flew me over to Melbourne. Of course the sudden change made it impossible for my luggage to follow. But, true to their word, my luggage arrived just one day later and was delivered to my hotel room with no hassles.

Now for the things I hadn’t mentioned earlier. My host, (very nice fellow) took us around Melbourne for a bit before heading on to Ballarat. It was cloudy out, but the tour of the city was still quite pleasant. There’s a large park region in the middle of the city that’s kept to give people some “green space” amid the urban landscape. Of course the city skyline is actually quite pretty by itself.

Before we left, we took a tour of the Melbourne Cricket Grounds. I felt like a bit of a rube as I know practically nothing about playing cricket, but it was fascinating just seeing MCG.

I didn’t get to see it in all of it’s green glory (they were laying a rubber track for games later on) but they will actually be laying grass all the way to the edge of the stadium (even over the track) for certain events.

Then it was off to the hotel for a shower and some dinner.

Boy was I glad to see that bed!
More photos and stories when I get the chance. (and I’ve got some good ones too)

Saturday, November 12, 2005


I am in Australia now, Ballarat to be more specific.

The trip has gone well except for a delayed flight, a missed connection, an extra connection, and a lost bag (with my clothes). Actually the hotel is quite nice and our host has been very gracious. I've got some photos, but it's almost bedtime here and I MUST get my body adjusted to this time zone.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Lest we forget...

IN FLANDERS FIELDS the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

A Warning

I know I won't be around to watch the place, but I ought to post a warning anyway.

Oh, someone will be checking on the place while I'm gone, and she claims to be a good shot. Somehow that makes me feel better.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005


Here's one for the man who has everything.

Now THAT's more like it!

I just got the information on the hotel where I'm staying for the week or two. Let's just say I'm going to enjoy this! Feel free to check it out yourself!


Mind trip

Maybe it's cruel, but I'd like to insert this in a booklet of assembly instructions just to see what happens.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Fall in Urbana

As promised, here are a few pictures from this weekend. (Click for larger views of course)

First up, Grainger library where I spent way too much time studying.

Talbot lab, where I took some of my TAM classes.

The Mechanical Engineering Labs where I spent many a happy (and a few unhappy) hours working on projects.

I rather like this shot of the Illini Union. It's always had a rather nice look, and the fall colors really add to it.

The bell tower of Altgelt Hall.

A view of the colors on the quad. The campus sure is sleepy on a Sunday morning.

Looks like the camera works pretty well eh?

Weekend wrap-up

The trip to Urbana went quite nicely. I got to see plenty of folks and had a great time. The camera worked nicely too, so I'll have some pictures of the fall colors on the UIUC campus.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

C U in C-U

I'm out for now so here are a few posts wrapped up into one.

I knew it would happen eventually. They'll put anything into a Swiss Army knife. Now it's an MP3 player!! One of these days they'll probably find a way to fit one of these in there too.

Swissbit shows off its latest creation, the s. beat. Which is basically an army knife with integrated mp3 player. Even though the knife part is a bit lacking with just a blade, scissors, and nail file/screwdriver, you get an mp3 player too so who can complain. The s. beat will come in 1/2/4 GB models and supports MP3/WMA/OGG files. It also features a built-in FM Tuner and high contrast LCD Display.

Moving right along

Carnival of cordite #37 is up and looks really good this week. I'm practically drooling over the Ruger pictures.

I just got this ebay link, and although I don't really care for the car (I like my Rosie too much) It might get a doubletake. Not because it looks nice or practical or any of the reasons I usually like a car, but because it is so unusual.

Here's one that's (mostly) for the guys. If reading about gadgets, cars, knives, and guns doesn't give you a rush then maybe you should check out this hillarious little piece of advertising. I don't put much stock in online quizzes, but my score on this one was about what I expected.

In other news I'm trying out the Canon Powershot A520 right now to see how I like it. It looks good so far and it's cheap enough I won't mind carrying it around overseas. If things work out well there will be photos from this weekend.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Out on the open road

Looks like I'll be in Champaign this weekend. Prob driving down Sat morning. Call the cell for details.

Quote of the unspecified temporal interval

If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.

J. R. R. Tolkien

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Roll film food

This is brilliant!

The affordability of hard drive based TV recorders combined with the fact that there's really not much on the TV worth watching makes it rather silly to have a VCR.

Until now!

James Larsson has an ingenous way of putting that old VCR to a good use. Most pet owners have to take time every day to set out some food, but suppose you could harness the power of the VCR's programming feature schedule your pet's feeding time.

Just remove one of the motors and hook it to the device of your choice and imagine what you could do!! It would be possible to handle lots of different tasks of different lengths. It's only limited by the number of events you can program in and your imagination

Of course if you figure in how hard it is to program the time into a vcr and how cheap an LM555 timer is, it's probably simpler to just build a system like this from scratch, but still, it's pretty neat.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Getting off of my soapbox

Personally, I think an event known as the "illegal soapbox derby" sounds like a bad idea. But the pictures are pretty neat.

"A proud Bernal Heights neighborhood tradition, the Illegal Soapbox Derby Society enforces only one rule: Every car must have a beer holder."

Like I said, not a good idea, but cool pictures.

Home inventor's special!

The folks over at Make:blog really do a great job of finding interesting material. Today's best link is for a service I'd love to try. While many machine shops aren't usually too thrilled to work on piecemeal jobs for individuals, these guys specialize in online orders from individuals. Just download their software, design what you need, submit it, and arrives on your doorstep.

I've got to check out their prices, but this looks like a really great way to get custom made parts for my own use.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Circle the wagons!

Over the weekend Jessica inquired about any availible versions of Oregon Trail. By now she should have finished her writing and exams, so I thought I would look into it.

I know where to find a couple of copies, but you would need to use some old apple IIe's to play it, so here's the next best thing.

Go to this site and have a blast. (Internet Explorer required)

Not again...

Well folks, Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (R)(TM)(C)(etc) is coming out on DVD.

I can save you a lot of money and just show you the script right here.
Oh no, I'm being shot by fewer weapons than at the end of
Attack of the Clones! Somehow, this overpowers me!

You won't be missing a thing ;-)

Quote of the unspecified temporal interval

All you need for a movie is a girl and a gun.

- Jean-Luc Godard