Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Here we go again.

That certainly didn't last long.

I'm away from home again. It seems I have become somewhat of a firefighter. I go wherever a problem flares up and try to beat back the flames. I'm in Ohio right now. It took almost as long to get here by plane as it does to drive (security headaches caused quite a delay) but since I'm traveling alone, everyone at work encouraged me to fly. Apparently everone's concerned about me falling asleep at the wheel right now.

This could call for some late nights, or it could be a really easy fix that only takes a day or two. Of course the chances of this being easy are just about as good as my chances of winning the lottery (and I don't buy lottery tickets!!)

Wish me luck!

Monday, January 30, 2006

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Odds and ends

I don't have much material stored up in my files right now, so here's a quick rundown of some unusual items I've come across lately.

Apparently there are plenty of places that have a problem with overzealous government spending. Malaysia is now launching an official search for. . . guess who:


Moving right along...
Harry Potter here we come! A Russian scientist is now laying claim to a method of optically consealing static objects. It's not the first time people have tried to do this, but all of the other guys who worked on projects like this just seemed to fade away.

Money troubles may take on a new meaning soon. Apparently Kazakhstan has some particularly unusual problems.

Radioactive Dollars!
On the bright side, you couldn't easily misplace your wallet if it was glowing.

More news if I find anything interesting.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Small wonders

Amazingly enough, nobody was in my favorite parking space when I got back.

Home again

I've had a surprisingly uneventful trip and I'm now home.

The only weird thing is how, by crossing the international dateline, I've seen the day of January 27th dawn twice. I've also seen the sunset on the 26th twice, only I saw it the second time after the first sunrise of the 27th. Anyone care to figure that one out?

I'll get back to posting after I've recovered.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Quote of the unspecified temporal interval

Engineering is the art of modelling materials we do not wholly understand, into shapes we cannot precisely analyse so as to withstand forces we cannot properly assess, in such a way that the public has no reason to suspect the extent of our ignorance.

- Dr AR Dykes

Wheels are made for rolin' . . . mules are made to pack

I'm scheduled to fly out of Melbourne in about 14 hours, which should put me into Chicago at around 4PM Friday (assuming Quantas 3163 lands on time)

So before I leave I should say a few words about the wonderful place I've been staying, on and off, for the last two weeks.

I believe I've mentioned before that Ballarat, like many old Australian cities, is an old mining town. What I haven't emphasized is that it still has many older buildings. In fact, until the last 25 or so years the climate was considered too uncomfortable for most people, so there was never a big move to develop the area. Now it's a fairly popular spot and the old buildings are thought to add a bit of charm to the place.

This is just one of many streets that's lined with older buildings. Of course most of this was made possible due to the gold boom.

For many years after gold was discovered in the area (mid 1800s) the lure of easy riches drew people to the area. This influx created quite a demand for lodging, so the town is still dotted with old hotels. Some of which are still active, and some of which have been converted to other purposes.

And how did people get to Ballarat? Early settlers came on foot, but by the 1860s, anyone with money took the train to the Ballarat station (you know a train nut like me would get to this eventually.)

This station still stands today and is still active (something which cannot be said about most American railway stations of this age)

What's even more fascinating to me (you non-train nuts can stop reading here if you like) is that the signal tower, old semaphor signals, and gates, are intact. The gates are still operational and, in fact, were automated LESS than 10 years ago!

I'm not absolutely certain, but I believe the black markers nailed to the semaphores indicate that they are no longer to be obeyed, as they currently have electric signals on this stretch of track. It was a nice touch of them not to remove the old tower.

That's all for now folks, with any luck I'll be back in the states soon. See you soon!

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Last engineer standing

Did I say I would have a relaxing week? I was either being hopefull of foolish.

I am still alive (barely) and back in my glorious hotel room in Ballarat. Life is good once more!

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Adventures in Australia

I arrived in Melbourne, Australia last week to begin the second leg of this overseas tour. One of my hosts met me at the airport where we later joined up with another engineer from Chicago.

Since it was the weekend and there was no need to rush to work, our host was nice enough to take us out for a little drive before we went to the hotel. Last time I was in Australia, there wasn't much of a chance to see the area immediately around Melbourne so this was an interesting trip.

Geography lesson:

One of the big reasons Melbourne exists is that it's in the middle of a very large, well protected bay. So big, in fact, that you can't see the open ocean from Melbourne (you can't even see the end of the two peninsulas that form the boundaries of the bay.) So to get a better look at things (and for the sake of burning a little time over the weekend) we drove down the Morninton peninsula.

It's a nice little area, dominated by retirees and vacation homes with plenty of beach-houses and shanties for the beachgoers. Out near the end of the Peninsula there's a ferry that can take you across the bay to the Bellaraine peninsular.

The ferry (actually 2 of them) sails frequently and can shuttle cars and people, with considerable comfort, from one side of the bay opening to the other.

On the other side of the bay we stopped for a quick meal then drove over to the Bellaraine peninsular Railway station. This railway is run by a group of enthusiasts who restore and operate old steam locomotives and other railway equipment.

The locomotives were very European in appearance, which can be said about many things in Australia thanks to it's British colonial days. This 0-4-2 makes a great example. The portal windows, buffers, and odd wheel arrangement would fit perfectly in an old British railyard, whereas in America it would have been labeled a 'critter' (small, unusual piece of rail equipment) rather than a locomotive.

This locomotive looks much less European than the other one. Aside from the buffer plates on the front, it could easily pass for an American docksider. Of course it's pulling larger coaches than you would normally see behind an 0-6-0, but that's probably because the larger locomotives on the BPR would cost much more to operate on a regular basis.

From there it was on To Ballarat, but that's a post for another day.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Quote of the unspecified temporal interval

Your problem is another person's solution; your solution will be their problem.

-Engineer's adage

Friday, January 20, 2006

Still kicking

You would hardly know it from the posting, but I am alive and well in Melbourne. Looks like I'll have to work part of the weekend, but at least I should have a relaxing week after this (back in Ballarat of course) I should have a halfway decent update sometime in the next week, so check back later!

Parlez-vous 'math?'

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Monday, January 16, 2006

Tokyo in 90 minutes or less

When I was in Japan last week I was running on a tighter than expected schedule, so unfortunately I missed my chance to meet Mike in Tokyo (he's stationed near there) but on my way to the airport Friday I did have about an hour and a half to explore the city. Since this was just enough time for me to get disoriented (and potentially miss my flight) I opted for the true tourist's solution; a bus tour.

It wasn't much but it was the only thing I could do for 90 minutes without having to put my luggage into storage and navigate through a strange city.

Although I'm usually not one for citiscapes, there were a few particularly impressive buildings along the bus route. Of course they were almost a bit daunting because you are quite closed in wherever you go. It seems the city has built up so quickly, or at least so thoroughly, that new construction projects are just squeezed anywhere there is air. Things like this elevated highway, which is run over a canal, a large street, and a business district are so cramped that there's hardly any room for street lamps.

There are apparently a few traces of old Tokyo, but you have to look hard for them. This is the Kaminarimon, or "Thunder Gate" to the Sensoji (Asakusa Temple) which was said to have been completed in 645.

There is supposedly an attempt to have parks and "green space" in the city, but the only park I saw was more mineral than vegetable. I'm sure it would have been a different story if I had visited the palace gardens (that's on my list for next time.)

There is a very nice, large train station (with a hotel) in Tokyo, which I got to experience first hand because I had to ride one of the shinkansen trains to get to where I was doing business.

This was actually one of the slowest classes of shinkansen, yet traveled up to 150 mph. Even at relatively high speed is was incredibly smooth, in fact a couple of times I didn't even realize the train had started moving it was so gentle.

That's all for now, I'll try to send out some updates on the Australian portions of this trip later (there's not been much time for sight-seeing here.)

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Changes in latitude, changes in attitude

Just a quick update to let everyone know, I have now landed safely in Australia.

I already have some pictures to share, but that had better wait for when I settle in and get time (and internet access) to put together some good posts.

Enjoy that weather back in the northern hemisphere folks!

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Japanese manufacturing

What I have seen of manufacturing here in Japan has been quite impressive. It's not perfect, but there is considerable attention to detail. Enough, perhaps, to warrant the spread of this story as an urban legend if nothing else (I suppose it's theoreticaly possible for this to be a true story, but I find it highly unlikely unless there was a translation error)

They're still laughing about this at IBM. Apparently the computer giant decided to have some parts manufactured in Japan as a trial project. In the specifications, they set out that they will accept three defective parts per 10,000 .

When the delivery came in there was an accompanying letter. " We, Japanese people , had a hard time understanding North American business practices . But the three defective parts per 10,000 have been separately manufactured and have been included in the consignment. Hope this pleases you . "

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Excuse me, but...

I was going to go get some money changed at this place, but I rather suspect there's some money laundering going on in there.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Quote of the unspecified temporal interval

Normally I don't like to post the quotes so close together, but in this case I'll make an exception.

Missing someone gets easier everyday because even though you are one day further from the last time you saw them, you are one day closer to the next time you will."


I'm off on another trip now. I've got a few posts to be published later, but otherwise I'm only posting when I have extra time (and internet access.)

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Quote of the unspecified temporal interval

Advice is like snow; the softer it falls, the longer it dwells upon, and the deeper it sinks into the mind.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Bad feeling

Do you ever get the feeling that you've forgotten to check on something, or worse yet, left something behind?

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Getting cultured

Having never been to Japan before I figured I should check up on the cultural aspects of the visit before I started. I've found several very useful websites and some not so useful.

This one isn't good for much, but it is good for a laugh.

I really can't explain how or why some of these products came about, but I can't blame the inventors for trying.

The "face slimmer"

Aside from the fact that this has pretty much no chance of achieving it's intended purpose, it might be useful in one respect; it would be pretty good as a prop in a horror movie.

The "nap helmet"

I understand the purpose for this one, but I'd like to know, what keeps the user from collapsing the moment one falls asleep?

The "noodle cooler"

For people who are too impatient to wait for their noodles to cool. If your noodles are really too hot to eat, I doubt a fan will cool them on the way to your mouth. I would imagine that the inventor was making some kind of personal cooling device, but couldn't get the fan to do any more than hang from the subject's arm. Just a guess.

Pass me a cold one!

I wish I knew the back story on this one, but it's pretty neat without that. Too bad they didn't label the can for better beer though.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

In other news...

A few weird (older) news items for your viewing enjoyment.

Don't worry about that fly on the wall, the bumblebee may be the insect to really worry about.

Plumbing may be more hazardous than you think. This year some folks at roto-rooter discovered an unexploded shell from the Civil War. Luckily this isn't an every day occurrence, but apparently old munitions are still uncovered occasionally in the southern states.

Here's one less worry for me. Though I'm sorry for the bowler, I now feel much better about my low bowing scores. In fact, I might roll a few more gutterballs just to be safe. Well, maybe not, I might die of embarrassment.

Feelin' the breeze, passin' the cars

It's off I go again early next week. Back to Australia, but not until I've stopped off in Japan for a few days (on business of course)

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

End of an era

You know that a technology has been accepted when it becomes a part of a cultural icon.

Today's example: the New Year's ball. It's now being changed from incandescent bulbs to solid state lighting, and is scheduled to eventually be converted entirely to LED lights.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Hell on wheels

For today's post I thought I'd put up an offbeat story. I thought it was a joke at first, but apparently some people are now riding "mountain unicycles"

Quote of the unspecified temporal interval

Don't wish it were easier, wish you were better.

Jim Rohn