Business trips

Well here I am sitting in a hotel room, in Adelaide...alone. Another business trip and another time away from the ones I love. You think business travel is glamourous? You think you want to travel around for your employer? Well here's my thoughts on business travel with the experience in doing it in two different industries. What is it about business travel that makes it so "ho hum". For me there are a number of things. First the fact you generally go places you may not really have a desire to be in. Adelaide is a nice place, don't get me wrong, but there's not a lot going for the place really. Last night I walked down "Rundle St Mall" (think "Queen St, Brisbane" or "Pitt St, Sydney")...I swear I could fire a battery of cannons and not hit a soul! However the latte/Chardonnay set were jumping. Every coffee shop was packed with over-dressed 20-somethings all trying to out do each other. Gah! Gimme a pub and schooner of something cold.

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Network connection upgraded! YAY!!

WOOT! After almost two months wait, the Internet connection is upgraded! The new link is supposed to be faster, more reliable and provides me with a MUCH higher data allowance. The delays weren't really the fault of the ISP; seems Australian Customs were being anal (now there's something new....not). The kit was delivered today and is now installed and running.

No big hassles other than having to flush a few arp tables and what- not. Everything so far has been great. I'm getting a sustained 3.5-4Mbps for both upload and download (it's a synchronous connection) which with some tweaking should go up to 7Mbps soon. By the end of the year I should be on 20Mbps. YAY!

This is the old antenna. It's a 2.4GHz, 15dB "dish" type thing. The old connection used almost standard IEEE802.11 (wifi) data connection. This was fine 18 months ago when I started with the ISP, but since then, the amount of "noise" in the 2.4GHz band in my area has gone from about -90dB to almost -70dB. That's a 20dB increase - anyone who understands the decibel scale will see that's a massive increase (decibel scale is logarithmic - 20dB increase is actually 100 fold increase!). It's courtesy of all the crappy consumer electronics in the 2.4GHz band (cordless phones, baby monitors, wireless's chock full!). So the ISP suggested I move to a totally new platform.

Enter the new gear. 5GHz microwave link. It doesn't use wifi, it doesn't use any off-the-shelf network signalling in fact. It's a dedicated 5GHz data link. It's also point-to-point and is an integrated antenna plus modem. Yes, the modem is actually inside that funky white box. The only thing running back to my firewall is a black cable that carries both data and the power feed for the modem.

This little box is the power injector. It sits between the modem/antenna and the firewall and sends the power feed to the antenna without sending it back to my firewall (which would be bad). The power input is at the bottom of the photo, with the firewall cable on the left (beige), the cable on the right (black) goes to the antenna, and the green wire at the top is a separate earth which I've connected to the case of the firewall. If these photo's are too small, then simply cruise over Computer Gallery to see larger formats :)

Ever wanted to see a parachute drop?

Got a last-minute call up this morning to take a load of parachutes up and kick 'em out. How could I refuse. It was on my lunch break anyway :P

So I get the call up and long story short: they need a pilot coz Emma (the other pilot) has to go to Bankstown (YSBK) to pick up one of the other planes. No biggie. Emma even fuelled and prepped the plane, put in the flight plan and organised a pilot's rig (parachute). Way to go - all I need to do was dip the tanks, kick the tyres and fly. Sweet!

So I decided to take the camera along with me and get a couple of happy-snaps. You can see the photos of today's flight here. I'm not entirely happy with the flight though. There's a couple of important radio calls I need to do BEFORE the punters jump out (in order);

  1. Clearance from Sydney Departure to drop and descend
  2. Broadcast on Sydney Radar (area) frequency notifying of drop
  3. Broadcast on Wollongong CTAF notifying of drop
  4. Call the drop zone and give them a 3-5 minute "heads-up" that the drop is about to happen

I forgot number 4! Dammit!! I call them up after I got into my descent which was FAR too late. I'm sure the guys got down just fine, but the ground crew (also jump masters) like to watch the canopies open in case there's problems.

I'll stick my hand up for this and admitted on the radio "my bad". But I was thinking on the drive home from the airport, why did I miss such an important call? Why wasn't I thinking straight? I think I've come up with the answer.

This was the only the third jump operation I've done in about 3 months, and the first one I've done in almost 4 weeks. The stick-and- rudder flying I can do in my sleep (you get like that after a few thousand hours) but procedurally I was so far behind the 8-ball it wasn't funny. I missed a call and didn't pick it up until it was too late. I'm not claiming this lack of recency as an excuse, but as an oversight. A link in the chain that led to me ultimately forgetting the radio call.

When I flew solo freight runs for a living, you get good at being strict on yourself to maintain standards. You're constantly reminding yourself that 5KIAS over speed on the approach is NOT acceptable, that "almost within tolerances" for the practise ILS (in VMC) is NOT acceptable, that missing a item on a check list is NOT acceptable. You have to be hard on yourself or you get sloppy. I knew that, and I practised it.

Since I've got back into flying, specifically as a jump pilot, I think I've become sloppy. I'm not being hard on myself, I'm not approaching the flying with the right attitude. I seem to adopting the attitude that this jump flying is pretty simple, I've done HEAPS more complicated things in the past and have stopped paying attention. I'm not unsafe (yet) but if I allowed this to continue, the next "oops" could be fatal.

Today was a wake-up call! No more "she'll be right", no more "I don't need to be attentive". I'm getting back into a professional mind-set where near-enough is NEVER good enough. It's on the numbers, by the book, per the checklist or not at all!

Shiny new toys :)

Due to some changes in our domestic situation, Natalie had to move her computer into my office (sorry, our office now) and space soon became an issue. More correctly, the lack of space! Time to break out the credit card - it IS Christmas after all! Long story short; the room that Nat was using as a study and doubled as a guest room when people stayed overnight, had to be handed over to Emily. This served two purposes:

  1. Made it possible for us to clean out the nursery in preparation for number two who is due in late-April/early-May
  2. By getting Emily settled in her own room sooner rather than later, means the changes to her life when her brother/sister arrives will be minimised (we live in hope!)

So I up-root Nat's machine and move it into my study. Now I'd done a HEAP of work cleaning the mess up and freed up a lot of space, but still with 5 PC's and 3 large CRT monitors in the one room, there was barely enough space for a pen! Gah. Time to bite the bullet, lash out and buy some shiny new LCD's :)

I did some shopping around and found a good deal at Domayne (believe it or not). The monitors are a Hanns-G brand, 19" 1280x1024 pixel, 8ms (125Hz) with built-in speakers and 3yrs manufacturer's warranty (the model is TA191A).

Hanns-G are assembled in China from parts manufactured in Taiwan and from what I've seen are actually (probably?) Samsung internals with a different (Hanns-G) shell. The 19" model retails for about $550 but I managed to talk them down to $500 on 12 months interest free. The sales guy said there was a few more %-points left in the deal if I was paying cash.

Having played with them over the weekend the displays are crisp with good contrast and colour saturation. I'd never recommend an LCD to do serious photo or video editing but these monitors are perfectly acceptable for play-back and home video/photo use. The 8ms response time means in fast action movies/games with elements moving rapidly across the screen, they don't leave a "ghost" behind them.

So there you have it. Essentially a 19" Samsung-equivalent LCD for around $500. The next step up, in price, was an equivalent Samsung (913BF IIRC - but no built-in speakers) for about $699RRP or a Phillips 19" but 16ms response for $749RRP.

In terms of value for money with above average performance - these Hanns-G LCD's are really hard to pass up!

What is wrong with the world??

Whilst cruising through my Google News RSS feed I ran into this story about a guy protesting up a tree. As in he is sitting in a tree - literally. Why? Because Qantas and Air New Zealand have introduced a policy to ban men from sitting next to unaccompanied children. ( Queue stunned bunny look) I sat there and could not think of one logical reason for this. The real world is not "Flight Plan" - people really don't go missing on aircraft in flight and there is basically nowhere the travelling public could go to get the level of privacy/concealment required to molest/abuse a child.

I am a parent. I have a beautiful daughter. Would I be concerned about her travelling unaccompanied because she was sitting next to a man? Hell no! You have to look at these things as a "degree" of risk. Playing Russian roulette with a loaded gun is risky, crossing the road is risky, having your child molested/abused on an airline flight is NOT a significant risk. You've got more chance of the plane crashing than of a child being abused!

It's this kind of mindless knee-jerking that really irritates me. It's up there with plastic knives on flights, and other pointless "security" measures. It really achieves nothing, except making the uninformed and timid feel better. The focus is in the wrong place. Rather than prevent "dangerous" objects from getting into the hands of people with violent intent (or putting children next to potential child molesters), they should be keeping those people OFF the flight in the first place!

I flew to the USA in November 2001; merely weeks after the attacks in New York and Washington. I had to declare to the check-in staff that I was a fully qualified airline transport pilot. Why? So they could assess whether or not I should be allowed to board! Fair enough. After the cockpits were reinforced to prevent forced entry, the requirement for me to inform check-in staff stopped. My point is that they were attempting to keep the threat OFF the plane, rather than prevent the threat from being able to carry out any malicious activity.

If Qantas and Air New Zealand are REALLY serious about protecting my unaccompanied daughter, why not screen passengers and don't let those with convictions for child sex offences board! Then the rest of the travelling public can allowed to travel without discrimination or bias.

OK, what about the dirty perverts who haven't been caught/convicted you say? Well, that's an inherent risk everywhere. If you worry that much about risks you cant control or foresee, then lock your children up; the world is far too dangerous. Manage the risks you know of in proportion the likelihood of the risk becoming a reality. You don't let your kids play with knives in the toaster, but I'm sure you let them run around the back yard. Ever sat down and THOUGHT about how many dangerous situations can develop in your own back yard?! Poisonous animals, falls, cuts, drowning in a bucket, the list goes on.

I'm all for protecting our children, but lets get real about it and stop discriminating against the white, heterosexual male majority!

WTF went wrong with my diary?!

This time last year we'd been skiing for almost two months (every weekend) and life was good. Time was plentiful; even with a 4 month old hanging around. This year, it's 3 weekends from Christmas, and we've been skiing ONCE! WTF went wrong?!

Seems our diaries are filling up every weekend with "stuff". What stuff? Oh, I don't know - but looking back on it, there's been visitors drop in, people needing transport to/from the airport in Sydney, cars blowing up, boats being recalcitrant, and illness.

The worst bit is that every weekend that is fine, warm and sunny with light winds are the weekends we've been sick/busy/away! The weekends we ARE at home and wanting (desperately) to go skiing, like this last weekend, it pours rain, blows a gale and the temperature barely nudges more than 18°C! It's almost as if there are forces at work that do not want me skiing.

Sure, my left arm is still weak and numb most of the time, and skiing usually causes me to put my common-sense on hold (the two combined might be a bad mix), but still - I WANT TO GO SKIING!!

Unscheduled down-time

Dagnabbit! Just when you sit back and get a contented smile growing on your face at how well your network is going.... ** BANG!!! ** The stinking web server throws a hard drive. Stupid bloody computers! Thank goodness for backups though. After the last lot of down-time I made sure my backup regime was a little more robust and thankfully it's come up trumps and no data was lost :) Yay for me.

The "ye-olde" hard drive in arachnid (the server that drives Gray Online) which was a venerable 6GB Western Digital had survived almost 7 years of service, the last 2 being on basically 24x7! Well it's now dead. Totally.

Thankfully a friend of mine had a brand new 40GB Western Digital sitting in his office still in its sealed static bag. Coz he owed me a little cash for a recent favour, we cancelled the debt and I got a new hard drive for next to nothing - thanks Rocci!!

Long story short, the new hard drive was installed, the old data restored, the boot loader configured and voila! We're back online!! The new drive has a bigger cache (2MB - the old one had 512kB) so the performance might be fractionally better now too.


Announcing the pending arrival of our second child!!

Natalie is now 16 weeks into the development of "number 2". So far so good. Nat's feeling well and the bub is developing normally so far. At this stage, the baby is due on May 6th. So we're eagerly counting down the days :)