Monthly Archives: March 2006

At Least Two Very Long Weeks

So something that I have wanted to do and be a part of for over a year has finally begun. There will be a ton of gray hear spouting, hand wringing and general ulcer producing over the next several weeks as I go through interviews and challenges from every angle.
I told myself that when this day came, I wouldn’t lose focus and keep plowing ahead with my usual work and not make any mistakes. One of my friends just recently fell just right as he was getting to the finishing line (a la Zola Budd from the 84 Olympics) and I am determined to cross all my t’s and dot all my i’s.
Questions from the soul that need to be answered:
Why do I want to do this?
Where will this take me in my career?
What do I do as a contingency plan if I don’t get what I truly want?
Let the sleepless nights and cold sweats begin!

The New Doctor Who

The Sci Fi channel recently picked up the BBC revival of Doctor Who which started to air in 2005 in the UK. I was interested in seeing it, but I had my reservations after suffering through the miserable Doctor Who movie on FOX back in 1996 (featuring the Eighth Doctor). The Doctor and I were friends back in the 80s on the local PBS station as I watched mostly Tom Baker as the Fourth Doctor get into shenanigans.
In college, I watched a bunch courtesy of my friend Scott who had a large collection of episodes. I really enjoyed Doctors 1(William Hartnell), 3 (Jon Pertwee), and 4 (Tom Baker) the best. #2 (Patrick Troughton) was OK as well, and I never cared for Doctors 5 and 6 (Peter Davison and Colin Baker – no offense, but there episodes never ‘clicked’ with me). I never really saw any Seventh Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) episodes, but I hear they were good. At any rate, I have always had this inkling to watch some of the classic ones, and when the new ones came out, I eagerly awaited seeing them since I had heard good things.
So the new series picks up with The Ninth Doctor (Christopher Eccleston) in London. I immediately liked the characterization of this Doctor and it led me to enjoy the show that much more. Three episodes in, and I can’t wait for more. I was surprised to hear that Eccleston opted out after this series and they have a new actor to play the Tenth Doctor for the series that begins next month. I think Number 9 was a good blend of Tom Baker and Jon Pertwee, and I hope the Tenth Doctor is just as good. My only disappointment is that so far the stories are earth-based (similar to the Third Doctor), and I hope as the series progresses they venture out more.
In other Sci-Fi news, I gave up on Battlestar Galactica. It was just too hard to get back into once I fell behind in recording the episodes. So now my TiVo (when it works – stupid cable box!) is down to the CSIs, Amazing Race, 24 (for Daniel, but now that he has a DirecTV DVR, this might go away), Survivor, Most Haunted, and South Park.

One Week Later

Well it has been a week since I have been back from Australia. It hardly seems like only a week, it feels like a month! Returning home to an empty house is never fun after spending 24-7 with travel companions. I jet lagged the first few days and was glad to get back to work – just so I could have something to do. I will admit to it being strange to be back at work as if nothing happened at all. I guess I always hope that something will have fundamentally changed since I have been gone, but in reality nothing does.
There are some changes while I was gone and not all of them good. Some of the problems I can’t go into details on such a public forum, but rest assured they don’t have to do with me. However, they are a bit of a downer to me, since I had gotten my hopes up that certain things would fall into place for people and they haven’t. Also at work, things are up in the air since they have not settled our union contract and we are working on a day-to-day basis with the old one. I guess no one in the union cares about us since there is no communications or updates that are easily accessible to the rank and file. Just a random flyer that says a federal mediator is involved. I don’t think we will go as far as a strike, and in reality it is just a bit of a pain for everyone involved.
One thing that has happened in Australia since I left is that Cyclone Larry hit 50km south of Cairns and basically leveled the place. I don’t think damage was extensive in Cairns, but I think of people like Hans-Jorg as well as the lady who sold us the Quicksilver tickets and all the rest of the residents we came in contact with and I hope they are all OK and managed to weather the storm just fine.
On the home front, I was glad to come home to a clean-for-me house, which I promptly messed up. I have had a lot of free time these days. Seems most of my friends have been busy or otherwise working opposite schedules so I have been being a bad boy staying up to all hours of the night. One of the bonuses of staying up is that I get to chat with Chris from Brisbane. He is usually coming home from work at the same time I come home when I close at Disneyland late. We usually chat online, and he’s actually called me as well with his phone card. I need to get a phone card to return the favor because lord knows how much it would cost if I called him direct. It sucks that we live so far apart – I think we would have a lot of fun if we got to hang out.
I think the important thing I need to do with my free time is to not waste it by just vegging out or sleeping in to all hours of the day (Ok, I am still working on the sleeping in thing haha). It is difficult because of the hours that I work. This time of the year I open early on the weekends and then close late on Monday thru Wednesday, which doesn’t leave much time to get projects done. It is almost like I should take an extra day off sometime and work around the house – assuming I don’t just sleep in and be lazy.
On the Club Josh front, I have found a new hosting service Text Drive. They have a package called Mixed Grill where you can get 2GB of hosting space plus a 9GB storage area, and a hosted application suite called Joynet. All for the low price of $499 lifetime! That means in two years or so it will have paid for itself – and it will allow me to move stuff like Charo and Doingworld to their own domains.

Australia Day 15

The ides of March are upon us, and that means two things: the end of the trip as well as repeating the day twice. After a few precious hours of sleep (I planned it this way so I would be tired on the flight and be able to stay up when I get home and try and get back on a schedule) we were off to the airport. Before we left, I did a quick email check and discovered my friend was not able to get the time to pick me up at the airport. He told me he would ask his brother to do it, but considering that I arrive at 7am, I might be looking at a Super Shuttle ride home from the airport – ugh! As we left the hotel and were driving to the airport, I kept thinking that there was more to do in Brisbane, and that I definitely will be back soon.
Checking in at the Qantas counter, we discovered that we were stuck in the middle section. I was on the left aisle with an empty next to me and then Mom and Gary on the other side. I did not look forward to having to sit next to some smelly stranger for 12 hours. We had a lot of time to kill in the airport, and we all spent a good deal of time trying to track down those last few souvenirs. Lunch was at Moms new favorite restaurant – Red Rooster. There was a somber mood in the group as we boarded the plane. The end of the trip is always a bummer, but this trip was very rewarding on so many levels. I had a great time with Mom and Gary – we always travel well together, and I got to go out on my own and meet people in various cities around the country.
My fears proved unfounded as the flight had numerous empty seats so we got the luxury of having extra room in our row. With the exception of the lady in front of me who reclined fully into my lap and the elderly ladies behind me who shake my seat every time they get up to use the toilet or walk around, it was a pleasant flight. I managed to get some good sleep on the plane thanks to the eyeshades provided by Qantas. I had wanted to use them ever since I got a pair on Cathay Pacific to Hong Kong, and I lost mine coming over to Australia before I could use them. Mom thought it was so funny she took a photo.
Arriving at LAX, I felt glad to be home. We breezed through passport control, but got stuck at baggage claim for 45 minutes while we waited for our bags to come off the plane. We had checked in together but somehow all of our bags came out 10 minutes apart. By the time we went through customs, it was 8am and I started to get a bad feeling about my ride home. I thought maybe David got confused and left since it had been over an hour since we landed. I said my goodbyes to Mom and Gary as they headed over to the transfer desk, and I went to look for David. Sure enough he was not there. Mom and Gary came out and I used her cell phone to call Daniel, but he had already let for work. I finally was able to get David’s cell phone, but it was off so I knew he had gotten confused about when to pick me up so I opted to take the Super Shuttle home. Of course, the one that I got on also had to take 6 people to John Wayne Airport since they had missed their Continental flight to Houston from LAX. It was a bit cramped in the van and I was a bit miffed I had to go past my house to the airport, but I just snoozed in the van. Finally, 4 hours after landing, I was home.

Australia Day 14

We had to be up early for to get some shopping done and to take advantage of our Free Continental Breakfast. We have been so bad on this trip about not taking advantage of either complimentary meals or discount voucher, but then again, I suspect that the hotels and travel agencies expect it. To be honest, some of the hotels have bizarre rules and times for the free breakfast and in some instances it is better just to grab a baguette or something on the way out rather than deal with it.
The continental brekkie at the Pacific International was equally disappointing, but I have liked here and at some of the other places we have stayed at the selection of rolls and bread to make toast. I can always count on shoveling a few rolls down to fill me up and get me going in the morning. After breakfast, we headed out shopping. The only store I wanted to get something in was the Dome store located next to the hotel. They had this cute little outfit I wanted to get Sarah for her kid due in March. While I was there, I snapped up a nice polo shirt for myself and a T-shirt for another friend. Mom and Gary continued shopping, and I just went back to the room to chill until checkout time. The two of them made it back to the room right at check out time – it seems they were chatting up a storm with one of the shopkeepers in this shopping area that we had not hit together. We sat in the lobby for about 45 minutes until the shuttle arrived to take us to Cairns Airport.
For our flight to Brisbane, we flew on one of Australia’s discount airlines, Jet Star. It is like Southwest or Jet Blue back in the US. It is very no frills, and they have a severe weight limit on carry-ons as well as checked baggage. Thankfully, we were on an International Itinerary so they waved the overages we had. We booked the flight as a Qantas flight, so hopefully we will be able to get some frequent flyer miles. On board the aircraft, there was nothing complimentary. Everything from candy to sodas to wine and beer were for a nominal fee. One thing that was cool was that you could rent a portable media device that could play audio or video programs on demand. It was fairly inexpensive (AUS$7), but I had my iPod and as it has become custom, I chose to snooze on the plane.
We arrived and caught our bus into the CBD of Brisbane. Just from the impression of a drive through a city can give, I rather liked the city – certainly as much as Melbourne. It is weird because I had not done any research on what actually to do in Brisbane, so all of my judgments were based on feelings alone. Once we checked into the hotel and read the activities map, we were all disappointed we hadn’t spent more time in the city. When we opened to the door to our hotel room, it just made matters worse. Instead of the cramped quarters of the last 5 days, we got a one-bedroom suite. I still was on the sofa bed, but we had a kitchenette, washer/dryer, and Mom and Gary got some insulation from my snoring. We chilled for a bit and then headed out to eat. We kept seeing these ads for Sizzler’s newly staffed and security monitored salad bar, which cracked us up. Why did they monitor the salad bar? Were people stealing from it? Were all the ads tongue in cheek? We didn’t know. So we went to the Sizzler down the road – mainly so we could tell people that we went to a Sizzler in Australia, but also to check it out. I can tell you that the food was not that good, and I can’t recommend it. When we got back to the room, I did some research on the net and found that some psycho lady put rat poison in the Salad Bar at two Sizzlers – including the one we ate at! We laughed pretty hard over it.
I decided to head out one last time in Australia and ended up chilling with a Brisbane native named Chris for most of the night. I think we both made each other laugh making fun of each other’s accent. He kept asking me to say random phrases and I obliged. He did tell me that he was going to call his friend up and have me say something to her, but we never got around to it. One thing that did crack me up was we were in the middle of chatting and all of a sudden he said, “Right that’s very nice. Its unusual.” He was so puzzled when I burst out laughing. I explained to him that he sounded just like the characters on Kath and Kim. He seemed to be a bit puzzled that I had actually seen it. I had a great time, and by the time I had to catch a taxi back to the hotel, I think we both felt that we had made a new friend. Meeting locals like Chris is something I love to do in foreign countries. It helps drive home the fact that despite our sometimes-amusing differences, we have a lot of similarities. We are all facing the same demons and challenges in life and I think we are both a bit happier knowing that there are others in the world just like us.

Australia Day 13

Travel Photos available on Flickr
Today was reef recovery day. It was another good sleep and be lazy in the morning day – surprisingly the weather was good too! By the time we headed out of the hotel, the free continental brekkie was over. We headed over to the Reef Hotel and Casino (convieniently located across the street from our hotel) to get some food and check it out. One of the things that drew us inside was the Rainforest Dome at the top. It turned out to be a zoological garden with all sorts of Australian animals. Since we had seen most of them in the bush, we decided to not pay the AUS$22. After a quite good steak sandwich in the lounge, we headed into the Casino to check it out. Most of the slot machines were bizarre in that there were no normal 3 line slots, instead all of them could play up to 20 different lines. I decided to try my hand at one of my favorite machines – Wheel of Fortune. A quick AUS$20 later and my streak of no luck in Vegas continues down under.
We went back to the hotel and decided since the weather was holding out – actual sunshine today – that we would try the Skyrail up to the village of Kuranda and to get a fly over the rainforest. The Skyrail as well as the Kuranda Scenic railway is one of the tourist trips that everyone does in Cairns (other than the Great Barrier Reef). Unfortunately due to our laziness, we were stuck only doing the Skyrail roundtrip since the train departure did not leave any time to get off at the Skyrail stations along the route and see the waterfalls and the rainforest or even see the town of Karunda. We timed it just right so that we only had to wait 30 minutes for the bus to collect us and head out. Gary was a bit nervous especially due to the gusts of wind that were still blowing, but the ride actually turned out to be a pretty good one. The cable car system must be well manufactured because even in 25-30km/hr gusts there was not much movement. The scenery was spectacular looking out into the Coral Sea as well as looking down into the rain forest and out at Barron Falls.
Kuranda was just another typical tourist town up in the rain forest. I had imagined that it would look like it was a bit more isolated, but it just looked like a random town with a bunch of souvenir shops. I am glad we didn’t have to spend too much time there before it was time to head back down the mountain. Coming back, we stopped at the overlook to the Barron Falls instead of just looking at it from the tramway. Thanks to the abundance of rain yesterday – 230cm in 24 hours, the falls were at full flood stage and made a deafening roar. It was difficult to get a good shot of the falls since there were some Chinese and Italian groups pushing everyone else out of the way, but I managed to get a good shot. The other stop at the rainforest boardwalk was a bit disappointing. I thought the rainforest walk in Sydney was more entertaining, more informative, and most importantly longer. The rest of the trip was uneventful, but the whole experience was certainly worthwhile. We talked with people who had did the train portion and they thought that it completed the experience and made it better so I would certainly recommend if you are in Cairns, you should do both.
Back in town, we vegged out a bit in the hotel room and then headed out to dinner. We found an outback style restaurant and each had more steak to eat. I had a fillet, which was quite good, and my first Aussie baked potato. If I closed my eyes, I would be back at the Outback Steakhouse back home. We then did some souvenir shopping on the way back to the hotel. I picked up a good chunk of what I needed to get. I only have a few more people to buy for and I think I can get it wrapped up tomorrow before our flight to Brisbane.
I am staring out the window of the lobby of our hotel and I am reflecting on what an incredible experience the whole trip has been. I am a bit weary after all the traveling, but I do feel like I have a bit of inner peace being away from the stresses of my life back home and that is what vacations are all about. I am very happy with this vacation – it certainly has been one of the best I have ever had. Hopefully I can squeeze in some more memories in the last day.

Australia Day 12

Trip Photos available on Flickr (back up to date!)
It was an early rise again today as we headed out on our Quicksilver Outer Great Barrier Reef Tour. The weather was still tropical and full of heavy rain bands, but we still held out hope that we would get a break out on the reef. Our driver informed us that there was a high wind advisory and that would translate into heavy surf. We picked up the rest of the busload of people and headed up to Port Douglas to catch our catamaran. Our driver informed us that there were 277 people on the boat out of a possible 450. We arrived at the pier and I was amazed at how crowded the boat was considering that it was not even at full capacity.
We set off onto the approx 1.5-hour voyage to the edge of the barrier reef. There had been lots of warnings from the crew before we left about the big swells on the Coral Sea, but no one changed their mind. Once past the protection, the boat began to roll. I decided that instead of sitting in the sure-to-be-vomit scented air of the interior, I would try and tough it out up on the top deck. It was not bad at first, but I ended up getting pretty wet. I could not figure out why my eyes kept burning. I thought maybe my Target brand sunscreen was getting into my eyes, but then I figured out that it was salt water..Duh. I took the cameras downstairs to where Mom and Gary were holed up, and then rode the rest of the way up there – save for a couple of heavy downpours which forced me to the back patio of the ship. I liked being up there by myself (there was another couple, but they were sitting out of sight on the ground out of the elements, so I pretended to be there on my own) it gave me a chance to just clear my mind and enjoy where I was without any worries of reality.
The Quicksilver VIII arrived at the moored pontoon on the Great Barrier Reef in thankfully calm conditions. All around us you could see massive storms dumping rain, but I was determined not to let it spoil my time. Mom was a little woozy from the journey, so I was on my own in the Semi-Submersible. This reminded me of the Subs at Disneyland so much! I took some photos to bring back to show people at work. Due to the fact it was cloudy, there was not that much color on the reef. To me, it added to the sense of this looks like a Disney re-creation of the GBR and not the real thing. I think some people were certainly disappointed, but I loved every minute of it. After my 20-minute ride, it was time for lunch. They had a huge buffet set up for everyone. Basically, the pontoon is rigged to the bottom of the ocean and is two stories tall and features showers, a changing area, gift shop, buffet line and ample seating. It also had all the boats attached to it, a room to walk down and look at the reef fish as well as places to get snorkels or SCUBA gear – depending on what your fancy was.
I ate my lunch and then climbed into the tightest lycra outfit imaginable. This suit only looked good on about 3 people on the entire pontoon and everyone else looked like some sort of freakish blue seal. I popped on my flippers, mask, and snorkel and headed out onto the reef. It was a bit scary at first, but once I relaxed I was OK. I even managed to get some shots of the Gorn in the water. I had an underwater camera, so I hope these pics come out and not get destroyed like the Tahiti ones. I really had a great time. I do wish the weather was postcard perfect so I could see all the colors of the reef, but at the same time how could I not enjoy the fact I was snorkeling in one of the greatest places on the planet?
After a good hour in the water I was pooped. The weather started dumping rain again and the current was getting too strong to maintain a good position in. Before I got out, I had Gary go get the camera and snap a good photo with the digital camera of me in the water with the Gorn. I then lumbered into the pontoon and dried off. Mom had secured a better spot on the lower deck for the long slog back to the marina. I knew it was going to be a tougher trip back because the weather had gotten nastier. Sure enough, once we were off the reef we were rocking and rolling big time. About an hour into the return trip, crewmembers were running around frantically with motion sickness medicines and first aid to one person who twisted their ankle. Then it happened. I don’t know who started it, bit someone got sick on the lower level and it just cascaded through the entire ship. I noticed a few full bags starting to be carried through the ship and then I saw the nice Irish ladies who were sitting at the table ask for sick bags. I then decided to make a break for the upper deck and some fresh air, lest I get caught up in the whole moment. I made my way up the first flight of stairs and then the boat took a HUGE lurch to Port side sending me off balance into a Japanese family. The dad tried to push me away as I was being slammed into his table knocking his food off the plate all over the floor. Then like some bad Star Trek episode, we lurched starboard and I went flying back the other way. This nice English gentleman grabbed me and told me to sit down before I got hurt. I was determined to get outside to avoid the sick bag, but the boat would not let me. I took a seat next to him and held on for dear life.
It turned out to be the best thing that happened to me. I started talking to the man. He and his wife were on holiday from the UK and were heading out to Uluru on Wednesday so I told him my thoughts on the whole area. He and his wife were a delight and it kept me focused and not inclined to toss my cookies. Thankfully the torment came to an end as we pulled into the harbor and marina in Port Douglas. It was a trip to remember for sure! I went back downstairs and discovered that the two Irish ladies as well as my mom all tossed their cookies in the onslaught. I am sure glad I bailed before I got it too. Our bus ride back to Cairns was nice and uneventful and gave us all a chance to get our land legs back. We decided to lay low tonight and got some fast food and Baskin Robbins to make us all feel better. I finally got the net to work on my laptop, but only in the lobby of the hotel. So as I type this update, there is the ever present MUSAK that churns out the latest from the 70s, 80s, and today as well as some German Soprano who is belting out tunes from “The King and I” as well as some random German songs. I honestly do not know which is worse.
I think tomorrow we are playing it by ear. There is some desire to do the skyrail/train trip up to the rainforest, but we are all getting a bit money weary with all the extra trips we have decided to do while we are here. I really want to rent a car and drive again, so we will see how it goes.
Oh and a big shout out to Hans-Jorg who I met and chatted with last night and found the site.

Australia Day 11

Happy Birthday Kris!!
Just a pause in the trip diary to give a shout out to one of my favorite people on the planet. He is 34 today and despite the fact I am on the opposite side of the planet, he is in my thoughts.
The Yulara/Ayers Rock Resort has a super early check out time of 10am to accommodate all of the travelers arriving on various planes from around Australia. A quick check and it looks like Alice Springs, Sydney, and Cairns are the big transfer points to Ayers Rock Airport, with occasional flights from other cities like Melbourne, Perth, Adelaide, etc. Unfortunately for us, it meant that we had 3 hours to kill in the resort sans hotel room. I think we lucked out a bit since it was raining the flies were kept at bay. Over at the Resort Center, we sent some last minute post cards and then settled on the Gecko Restaurant for lunch. I had the spaghetti which had the “boiled in rainwater that might not have been filtered” aftertaste. Mom and Gary were smarter and ordered the pizza which according to them was very good. The slow pace of service and our general blase attitude about venturing out and waiting for the bus allowed us to kill all but 30 minutes before the bus came for the airport.
We made a quick dash for the observational lookout point near where the cell and radio towers were located and then headed to the hotel lobby. By this point the rain had stopped, the clouds were clearing and it was quite beautiful. Of course no rain meant the return of the flies and they almost consumed us alive as we dashed for the hotel. Unless you have the experience at Uluru with the fly swarms, you really cannot appreciate it. I think I did fairly well considering I am not a big fan of bugs swarming the eyes, nose, mouth, and ears. The bus finally picked us up and we made it to the cozy and quaint airport. My backpack was overweight for a carry-on, but I was allowed to take my little Flight 001 Travel bag (the best purchase ever!) out and carry it on separately. It made no sense, but when I am at the airport, I follow the rules. At the X-Ray machine, I took the lap top out but forgot to ask about my disposable cameras. I am worried that the underwater disposable might have been compromised by the X-Ray machine, but I remember in Sydney they said that it was ok up to 1400.
Gary got caught at the security checkpoint with a pocket knife that somehow managed to elude the carry-on screeners at LAX, Sydney, and Melbourne. After a bit of stress, he finally was able to check his bag and proceed to the waiting area. When it was time to board we had another scare as Mom’s boarding pass came up invalid. More hilarity ensued as all the passengers were now waiting on the tarmac to go up the stairs or were on the plane by the time they cleared her. They gave her another seat, but she was able to sit with us. The flight to Cairns was nice and smooth. Ayers has that weird 1.5 hour time difference from Melbourne and Cairns, so we lost that time when we got into the airport.
Cairns, being the tropical paradise, was in the middle of a warm downpour of rain. We checked into the hotel with minimal fuss (we had to ask for brekkie vouchers, that’s it). I knew the hotel had wireless internet, but sadly it is not functioning correctly. The front desk assured us it would be back to normal by tomorrow. We headed out to the Night Market to do a bit of shopping. It was nothing too special, but we managed to find a super-friendly tour information lady who sweet talked us into the expensive Quicksilver tour to the outer barrier reef for tomorrow. I am a bit worried about the weather, but she assured us that since we went so far out on the reef, the weather should be better. She also told us that in case it was still rainy, they had a platform that was secured to the ocean floor that didn’t move and provided shelter in between dives or glass bottom boat rides or semi-submersible rides. I can’t wait! She also recommended a good place for dinner just around the corner. After dinner, I went to the Internet cafe so I could post the diary updates. I hope that they get the wireless working in the hotel again so I can post some of the amazing photos from the last few days.
Photo note: I am a bit behind on Flickr due to the Internet outage, hopefully I will get caught up soon!