Monday, December 15, 2008

Moon and Water

Here's the Moon on the morning of 12th December, just as it was setting.


It's frigging cold today. Been hovering around 32-34F (0-2C) all day, after the temperature totally plummeted during the night. It dropped 30F in three hours here; some places in Texas dropped 60 degrees.

Meanwhile, the water company has declared a critical drought for only the second time in 20 years or so. Normal rainfall for the Austin area is 32-34 inches a year. So far we have had only 14.91 inches and the aquifer is running dry. So no more sprinklers or car washing; they want each house to use no more than 100 gallons per person, per day. That's 3000-odd gallons a month. Alan and I use about 2200 gallons a month in total, so I guess we're OK.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Warmer out than in

Never thought we would need this in Texas, but we lit our fire for the first time today!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Texas gets cold too

This is our roof this morning. We had freezing rain and hail last night. Snow is forecast today. And it was 25C 80F yesterday!

Thursday, December 04, 2008

A few bits

I finally managed to photograph a Roadrunner the other day. One has been taking the same route past our house on a few occasions, and this time Alan was about to keep an eye on it while I ran for the camera. They don't hang about, these birds, which is why I've never captured one before.



Meanwhile, we have been waging war on a squirrel, which found a tiny hole in our roof (where the roofline meets another part of the roof and a joist ends there). Hearing the pitter patter of a herd of elephants in your ceiling isn't the most joyous of things, so we had to evict him. I managed to encourage him to leave after a barrage of loud rock music and thumping the ceiling with a rolled-up car sunshade... I got the ladders out, jammed some junk into the hole and watched with delight when the squirrel came back and was most bemused. Chased him away again. Alan came home early that night; I'd gone out to get some wire mesh and a staple gun. These items have been duly employed to cover the hole, much to the squirrel's disgust. He hasn't come back in yet (touch wood!).

Mind you he has been prowling around the house this morning. Look what I snagged on my webcam, right at the window!:

And here he is perched on the end of the roof, near the hole:
Little git

Finally, I hope you all saw the fabulous conjunction of the Moon with Venus and Jupiter the other night.
Here's a couple of views:

Venus is the brighter planet on the left.

Monday, November 24, 2008


American trains are big, huge things that mostly carry cargo. Being from a land in which the majority of trains have between one and three cars and which carry passengers, these American behemoths are a sight to behold. I have counted at least one with 103 segments (what do you call a cargo carriage anyway?). Some have four or five engines. If you're watching a train and wave at it, the drivers often wave back, or honk their very loud horns :-) Try that with British Rail...

I just got caught at a level crossing, so I whipped out my phone and snagged the train for y'all. This one is a tiddler, only two engines and 91 carriages.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008


Last night a friend, Jim, took me flying! It was my first time aloft in ages, since Oshkosh in fact. (Flying buses don't count, it's gotta be small and interesting)

He roped in a friend to fly with us, so I got to do some air-to-air photgraphy. My favourite :-)

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Life on Mars

We watched the first episode of the American version of 'Life on Mars' last night. This is the TV show about cop who finds himself back in the year 1973 after being hit by a car. The original UK version of the show was on the BBC about two or three years ago; Alan and I watched it avidly before we left the UK. It was really great television, and we were interested to see how the US version would compare. I always wonder why they bother making US versions of perfectly good UK shows so this is a good chance to find out.

For anyone who hasn't seen the show, Here be spoilers!!

Well, the storyline of the episode was almost identical. Even some of the dialogue seemed very familiar. The locations, of course, are different - the UK one is set in Manchester and the US one is in New York. However, Sam wakes up in an industrial wasteland just as he did in the UK.

All the characters have exactly the same names and very similar looks, with the exception of Annie whose surname has changed. It was hard to watch without almost seeing the UK actors on the screen, they were that close. The cops all had the same styles and haircuts, albeit American-ised. As for the actors, the guy playing Sam (Jason O'Mara) doesn't have anything like the same charisma as John Simm. However Gene Hunt is played by Harvey Keitel which is cool.

A lot of the differences stemmed from cultural variations. Different people and places were referenced throughout the episode. Some different language constraints had to be worked around, for example when Sam first walks into his police station, in the UK he asks, "Where's my PC?" to which someone replies, "PC who?". The American Sam asks, "Where's my computer?" and get a reply about the film "2001, A Space Odyssey" instead.

The set dressing looked as elaborate as in the UK series. I was very young in the 1970s but grew up with 1970s British culture, so a lot of the set dressing in the UK series looks familiar. Objects and consumer product packaging, cars, clothing etc is all culturally relevant. I can only assume the US series looks the same to an American child of the 70s. The scene in which Sam goes outside from the record shop into the street and takes in 1973 in all its glory is beautifully realised in both versions. Sam gets a much bigger apartment in New York than in Manchester, though!

This being the first episode, the story deals a lot with setting up the premise for the whole series. The only major plot deviation so far is that Sam actually talks with the very young Colin Raimes at the end of the episode, whereas in the UK he only observes him from a distance.

Looking at the Wikipedia entries for the US and UK series, it implies the plot is going to deviate a little more through the series. It will be interesting to see what happens.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

The almighty dollar

And you thought this was going to be a moan about the economic climate, didn't you?


It turns out the USA has had dollar coins kicking around for ages. They pop up every few years and fade away again as far as I can tell.

One recent attempt is the Susan B Anthony coin which was produced in 1979 and 1980, but they were not popular as they looked too much like a quarter. I have one of these coins. It's cool because it has a reference to the Moon landing on the obverse.

Then came the Sacagawea dollar which is golden in colour and features the Shoshone woman who helped Lewis and Clarke on their journey across America. It was issued in 2000 and 2001; although no more have been released for use, they are still around. We have found one from each year.

However, it seems the US Mint wants to save money on replacing all the scrappy dollar bills that leave circulation each year, so it's trying again. This is a new dollar coin:

image courtesy United States Mint

As you can see it is gold in colour and it is a bit larger than a quarter. We encountered some for the first time in Dallas last month as change out of bus ticket machines, and they seem to be in general use in San Francisco.

The one place we have never seen them is here in Austin. So imagine our surprise when, while watching TV, we start to see adverts which show the coin and basically say 'Yes! This is real money, honest!"

So apparently, Austin is one of four cities that have been chosen to pilot a drive to get people to use the coins. You can read about it here or watch a news item here.

The kick this time is that the US Mint are doing a series of dollar coins featuring the US Presidents. They are issuing four designs per year. It's the same thing as they did with the very cool 50 State Quarters programme (which I am collecting) so they are hoping to repeat that popularity and get people collecting and using the shiny new dollars.

I'm just mentioning all this because we were so tickled to see everyone being told that it is a real coin! And I just like coins.

We have been through this once before of course, when the UK switched from paper pound notes to pound coins. There was a suitable amount of outcry at that time; it will be interesting to see if it is repeated here.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008


A quicky post, while I think about it.

I've noticed in the USA that when you get a bill for something, they love to tell you about all the little fees and extra charges that get tacked on for whatever reasons. In the UK, you just get a bill and it will probably have 'service charges' on which no doubt contains the same kind of stuff, they just don't tell you what it is.

Here, they spell it out.


Car registration. This is somewhat anagalous to road tax in the UK. You pay some money each year for a sticker for your windscreen/shield.
Aside from the cost of the sticker itself, fees include:
Reg fee-DPS
Reflectorization fee
County road bridge add-on fee
Automation fee (large county)
Mail in fee
Service fee

Cable TV/internet service:
County 911 surcharge
FCC Regulatory Fee - Cable
FCC Regulatory Fee - Voice
Federal Universal Service Fund
Public Utility Assessment
Regulatory Recovery Fee
State 911 Equalization Surcharge

Cellphone service:
Regulatory cost recovery charge
Federal Universal Service Charge
Texas Infrastructure Fund Reimbursement
Texas Universal Service
9-1-1 Service Fee
City Special Purpose District Tax

Most of these range in value from $0.02 to $2 so they're not individually expensive but they can add up! Aren't you glad to know where your money goes?

Sunday, September 21, 2008

San Francisco

So, a week in San Francisco! Alan loves the place and has raved on about it for years. I'd never been to California, even.


We flew on Southwest Airlines; bounced off San Diego and up to Oakland. Caught a BART train around the bay which deposited us in San Francisco itself. The city lies on the northern end of a peninsula and is hemmed in on three sides by the sea. You have SF Bay to the east and the Pacific to the west. The Bay Bridge connects roads east to Alameda and Oakland, while the Golden Gate connects to the mainland further north. Drive far enough south down the peninsula and you end up in San Jose.

However we didn't have a car for this trip so all our sightseeing was to be done in the city. Once off the BART train, we found ourselves at the south-eastern end of the city, and not knowing how the public transport worked, we went by Shank's Pony to our motel. Which was about two miles away, up and down San Francisco's steep hills... We walked up Lombard Street. The one in the film Bullitt, with the car chase. That really steep one. I was a little rosy by the time we reached the motel as I was also hauling the rucksack full of our gear...

Once refreshed, we wandered into town. Found ourselves in the main business district and walked along the seafront. It was a little grey. Wandering on to Pier 39, we encountered the sea lion population who set up home there years ago. Now they are a tourist attraction. There's loads of them.

Sea Lions

We were tired though, having got up early for our flight, so went back to our micro-ranch and crashed out for a while. Later on, we took a walk down Union Street to find some food. Found a half decent pub although it was full of noisy students, and then found a pizza shop opposite which had some unusual options on the menu, but the pizza was good.


Saturday morning came and we walked down the hill to the park next to shore. Nearby is one of the cable car terminus/turntable areas. They drive down, rotate 180 degrees on the turntable and drive back again. It cost $5 for a single journey or $11 for the day, so we bought day tickets. These are great as they are valid on any of the public transport types around town, and there's a lot of different things to ride. Our first ride on a cable car brought us not only the fun of riding it, but a chance to see how they change the cable clutch too, since the current one had worn out. We stopped in the middle of town while men changed it over, which was very interesting to see.

A cable car leaving its turntable (this is actually another line but it looks much the same)

We caught breakfast in Starbucks before walking through some gardens which are normally public space, but this week it had been taken over by Oracle corp who were holding a msssive conference/shindig. The map said the Old Mint was behind the gardens and we thought there might be a museum, but the building was all closed up and didn't look like it had seen any life in a long time.

So we carried on towards the sea, took a slow amble along the promenade and got lunch in Gordon Biersch Brewery. San Francisco is full of breweries :-) The Asian Arts Museum took some of our afternoon; they had an exhibition of Ming Dynasty arts and objects which was interesting. Travelling a few blocks over took us to an area of interesting shops including Timbuk2, makers of cool messenger bags. We sat in a small park for a while nearby before going back to the motel for a breather. On the corner of the street by the motel was the Black Magic Voodoo Lounge which sold nice enough beer.


Breakfast was found a block down the hill in Cafe Le, a small place but very friendly and serving delicious bagels with sausage and egg in. By the time we had eaten and walked halfway across town, the cable car museum was open so we went in. This was fab. The cable cars run on cables set under the street; there are channels in the road between the rails where the car's clutch grabs on to the cable and is hauled around at a steady 9 mph. The cables radiate out from the central building. Although there are three car lines, there are four cable loops. One loop is shared between two lines. So we got to see all the mechanisms working.

The four cable loops running over their wheels; kept turning by the engines underneath

Heading on into town, we found a shop in Union Square which sold transport passports. It was still very economical for us to get a week's pass for $25 or so. We made use of it immediately by riding trains and buses to the 21st Amendment Brewery (named after the amendment to the Constitution that repealed Prohibition). Here, we found the best beer of the holiday. They had plenty of choices and each one we tried was really great. They are housed in a wonderful big open, airy building and serve good food too. Lunch was very nice.

We emerged from the brewery with big merry smiles on our faces and got on a train to take us back towards town. Swapping the train for a streetcar halfway along, we ended up by the tourist boat piers.

One of the many colourful streetcars that ply the rails alongside the water.

We got on a tour boat for a 90-minute cruise around the north end of the Bay. This was great. They took us out past all the waterfront areas of interest and headed west towards the Golden Gate Bridge. The boat became surrounded by kite-surfers, windsurfers and sailing boats as we progressed, the surfers wanting to use our boat's wake to jump from. They took us right underneath the bridge and a little further out the other side (sadly not quite far enough for me to get a sunlit shot of the whole bridge, even in my widest lens!) but it was cool to see it up close. Next they took us around Alcatraz Island; we didn't land but went completely around it. It was a good cruise.

Sailing boats below the Golden Gate Bridge

Back on shore, we took a bus (route 30, which we would come to know very well) up to San Francisco Brewing which we'd walked past on our first day. Their beers were OK but very ordinary. Perhaps we'd been spoilt by our fabulous lunch, but they left us a little disappointed. So we left there and got another bus back down the hill to a curry house that we had seen an advert for. This turned out to be a slightly strange place; a combination Irish pub and Indian restaurant. They were sorely understaffed and it took ages to get served, although the food when it came was good.


This is getting ridiculous, I could be here all week writing the rest of this so you're just going to have to put up with me in speed-writing mode now.

Splendid breakfast in Cafe Golo, long bus ride to end of Golden Gate Park, paddling on the beach, walk through park by model boat lake. Boats being chased by ducks. Bus to other end of park, walked the length of Haight into town through hippy area filled with dodgy characters. Caught some tasty Nutella crepes for lunch, bus back to motel. Rested, visited Russian Hill bookshop as we'd run out of reading matter. Walked down the hill, frustrating evening trying to find non-touristy/expensive food. Don't bother looking in the Fisherman's Wharf area for good food...

Fishing boats in the morning light


Breakfast in Starbucks for their nice yogurt/granola pots. Walked along to the pier with historic boats on; namely S.S. Jeremiah O'Brien the Liberty Ship which was very good (and seaworthy), then the submarine moored next door. Musee Mechanique; full of ancient and modern coin-operated amusements; very cool. Lunch in the sourdough shop. Various transit to the Y-Que t-shirt shop (closed again) so went to Toronado pub on the next block. Got chatting to a local chap who was most amusing and filled with local knowledge and details, made the whole place seem more alive. Great pub; loads of good beers on tap, obviously a popular spot. Transit via post office to Coit Tower where we took in views over the city, before retreating to the Rogue pub. Bus to Thirsty Bear brewery for dinner (yum). Cable car up to Ghirardelli for their ice cream (yum).

View from Coit Tower


Breakfast in Cafe Le again. Walked down to pier and watched fog rolling in and around the bridge. Lots of pelicans, and swimmers. Wandered along to get the cable car up to the California line, changed cars, rode to the end. Walked up to Japantown where there were many cool shops. Ate good lunch in Japanese place. Alan wasn't feeling so good so we got a bus back up Van Ness and spent a quiet couple of hours. The bus contained a man with his pet Green Iguana, Vernon. I always take my lizard for a ride on the bus, doesn't everyone? Wandered down the hill again; Wandered up to Hyde Pier to look at the historic boats. Tried a couple of pints in The Cannery and ate dinner in the Irish pub on the corner - fish and chips! Walked up Lombard for one last look at the city and back to bed.

Sailing boat going for a jaunt around the bay


Up at sparrowfart, caught bus to Market street, BART to Oakland and the link bus to the airport. Flight delayed. Got on eventually, flew to Las Vegas, spent ages waiting in a queue of about 20 planes to leave, flew over Grand Canyon and Hoover Dam and back to Austin. Delays and time difference meant it was 19:00 by the time we got home. Alan cooked grilled chicken and we drank some beer.

Golden Gate Bridge on Friday morning, with traditional San Francisco mist rolling in

Thursday, September 18, 2008

House of Blues

So, we hie ourselves over to the House of Blues as previously indicated, to experience the joys of Getting Into a Gig In Dallas.

1) Join line.

2) Collect wristband for being over 21, so we can purchase alcoholic drinks. (given the average age of the crowd was about 14 this might actually be a good idea)

3) Get searched airline-style; empty pockets, Security Bloke waves magic wand over you. Alan empties his pockets which are filled, as usual, with keys,change,knife,wallet,more keys,bits of the Berlin Wall etc. Knife ends up in bin, to much aghastness; naturally they can't hold it for us until after the gig, that would be far too convenient.

4) Security Bloke has to search bags too of course. I asked him what he's looking for. Professional cameras and pens. Pens?! Yup, in case you draw all over the artwork inside the venue. Right...

5) Show tickets. (and we don't do this first because...?)

6) Get beer.

7) (optional, but the just rewards of getting there so damn early) Get seat! Woo! We don't have to stand about for five hours!

Then of course we sit through two support bands before the act we have come to see arrives on stage. The first lot were meant to be the Black Dahlia Murder although Alan wasn't convinced they were the same chaps as he'd seen online. They were a bit ropey but the second lot - Between the Buried and Me - were OK. Children of Bodom were very good, their set was a bit short but the musicianship was good. I have no notion of what they were singing about, this is a Death Metal band after all and intelligibility comes second to raw sound. Of which there was lots.

Top marks to House of Blues here, for their PA system was actually very well set up and was a pleasure to listen to. Please take note, La Zona Rosa in Austin; when we saw Squeeze and Fastball there the other week, an otherwise good concert was destroyed by the appallingness of the PA!!

Minus a point or two for the freezing cold air conditioning, even Alan got cold and that is saying something! Alan ignored the cold by ogling the extremely fancy Soundcraft mixing desk, lit up in bright colours and with LCD screens instead of endless rows of knobs, very swish if you like that sort of thing.

Children of Bodom brought their own lighting too, lots of forward facing extremely bright strobes which started making me want to sneeze. I had a stonking cold this last couple of days, and I also have photic sneeze reflex (don't laugh, you might well have it too) so these bloody lights were having an effect and I'm probably the saddest git in the building watching the gig with sunshades on. I don't care, they worked!

So we escaped unscathed after a mostly enjoyable evening. Round 1 complete!

~~~~ Happy interlude ~~~~~

Friday was mostly spent at the zoo! We took a tram (Dallas has trams!) a few stops down the line to Dallas Zoo which is supposedly the biggest zoological experience in Texas, and it was very good indeed. Lots of really very large enclosures for the animals, and a good variety of those. And even a monorail ride to keep Alan happy!

We repaired back to the hotel and eventually ended up in the West End Pub again (top marks to them for remembering what we were drinking from the night before) and enjoyed our beers, before trying the barbeque place round the corner.

~~~~ Round 2 ~~~~

And so we find ourselves approaching the House of Blues again for the second night. Proceedings went in a similar vein to the night before. Security Bloke seemed surprised we had come back but was pleased we had done so. The bar staff had changed around so the girl waiting tables recognised us from the bar the previous night. Dang!

We kicked off with The Willowz, who were from California and a little, well, young; really. They were OK-ish but had some work to do.

Next up were the Eagles of Death Metal which a lot of people seemed to recognise. This lot were a bit of an experience. The singer looked like he was straight out of a 70's porn movie, complete with dodgy moustache. He totally hammed it up all night which was most amusing. They didn't play any death metal; it was pretty straight rock and not bad either. I'd see them again.

And finally, the one we were waiting for: The Hives! Out they bounced, all dressed in matching black-and-white blazers and suits, and proceeded to pound us all night with the coolest, rock-solidest beats; this is punk you can dance to. Maybe you know their tune 'Tick Tick Boom'. They hammered down the tunes and were really tight as a band. Very cool stuff. I am noticing on the Wikipedia entry it says they are known for their "hilarious self-glorification"; yup, I'd go with that, the singer was laying it on thick all evening to a most amusing degree!

Alan and I always say the bands we enjoy most are the ones who look like they are having a good time on stage (Rush; Shiny Toy Guns are other examples) - I'd say The Hives belong there, they were well worth the trip.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Dallas World Aquarium

Here is a Leafy Sea Dragon in this outstanding tropical habitat and aquarium in downtown Dallas. Top place. We are now in the West End Pub next door, enjoying a fine beer. Going to see Children of Bodom later tonight at House of Blues round the corner.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Wahey, it's creature time!

It's way past due for another creature round-up, so here's a few recent sightings.

First up, a black-and-yellow Agiope. Now, we last saw one of these a few months ago, sitting in it's web outside our bedroom window. Here it is:

Since then, it's been eating lots of pies! Here it is now - at least I assume it's the same spider. It's in exactly the same place although the colouring has changed a bit. My hand is about an inch in front of the web for scale:

See what I mean about those pies?:

Avert your gaze, delicate children, for here are two crickets doing things you shouldn't be seeing:

Finally, here's a little tiny baby Green Anole. He seems to have taken up residence in the bush nearest my outdoor chair; he's been there a couple of days now. He is only about three inches long and is very cute:

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Vacuuming is such fun, I could watch it all day

We have a new addition to the household. A robot!

It's a Roomba vacuum cleaner... we've been eyeing these things up for ages and finally took the plunge at the weekend (Costco have a very good price right now). It is so cool; you literally just hit the 'clean' button and it goes and cleans.

It is covered in sensors and knows when it is going to run into something (walls etc) - it slows down before it makes contact. It finds its way around the room, sticks its little brush into corners, navigates around table legs, scoots under chairs, and knows about not falling down the stairs (as you can see in the video above)!

When either the room is clean, or it's about to run out of juice, it will return to its docking station and chow down on some nice tasty electricity. This happens automatically if you leave it alone but you can ask him to go back to base, like this:

So what this all means is that we now spend all our time watching the robot clean, instead of doing it ourselves - hours of entertainment! ;-) Alan, of course, is biding his time, waiting to hack it...

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Drag Boats

We were in Marble Falls this morning for the Lakefest Drag Boat races. Always entertaining. There are several classes of boat; the biggest is the Top Fuel Dragster which is wonderfully loud and noisy, and will do a quarter-mile in 4 or 5 seconds!

Here's a couple of regular boats running the quarter mile:

Here's a Top-fuel drag boat doing the same distance in substantially less time!

Here's a closer look at one:

And a couple of the smaller boats:

Boy, it is hot today, though. We bailed out just after lunch having been there since 8AM, so we'd at least seen everything run at least once. Mmm, air conditioned cars...

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Patricia Vonne live at Antones

Always good :-)

Monday, August 04, 2008

Oshkosh Recap

I figured I'd post this to fill in the gaps about Oshkosh that my photos would not have conveyed, and to tell the whole story. First let me say, just in case you hadn't figured this out: Oshkosh is awesome!

I lucked out big time for the show. Took a commercial flight to
Milwaukee and then a Greyhound bus through the very pretty Wisconsin
countryside to Oshkosh. The bus drops you right at the main terminal
so all I had to do was get a shuttle bus round to the main site, and a
second one down to the camping registration.

There, I signed in, paid my money etc and asked where I should camp.
Of course I only needed about 4x6 feet to camp in due to my tiny tent.
The lady fetched her husband and because I was a first timer and on my
own, asked him to find me somewhere good to camp. He put me with some
people he knew to be OK, who were camped right near the front entrance
gate. This was a blessing because it meant I didn't need to get
shuttle buses to the nether regions of the huge camping ground/city.

A secondary blessing occurred when the people who I was camping next
to noticed me. These folks turned out to be Mr Bill Rose and his friends, who invited me - actually I didn't have a choice! -
to join them for dinner every night and breakfast in the morning. They
had a circle of wagons (OK, RVs) and one of them contained two cooks,
who worked overtime preparing mountains of food. So I ate well during
the week! Thanks, Bill!

I arrived around 3pm on the Monday, just in time to get my tent set up
and wander into the showground to find my bearings. I got to the
flightline in time to see the DreamLifter arrive. Now that's a big
boy! Very impressive. They towed it onto Aeroshell Square where many
other aircraft were parked, including a Spitfire, P-38, KC-135 and the
SB2-C Helldiver. There was a stand set up next to the Helldiver and I
recognised the nametag on one of the gents manning it - Mark Novak,
who flew me in his T-6 about five years ago. We had a chat for a few
minutes which was cool.

Most of Tuesday was spent around the centre of the showground, slowly
spiralling out as I found my way around. I headed over to the Pioneer
airport and got myself a ride in one of the Bell 47s that were buzzing
the site all day long. This was fab as you got to see the expanse of
Oshkosh all laid out before you. I confess I was a bit daunted at the
size of it and started wondering how I was ever going to see all of
it! Great flight though, I like flying in helicopters.

On Wednesday morning I got the first bus over to the seaplane base
which is about 5 or 6 miles away to the east (I think). This proved to
be a good move as the place was lovely first thing in the morning. Not
too many people about at first but it soon got busy. Luckily I'd got
my name down early, to ride in the Cessna 185 on floats that was
giving flights around the lake. $50 well spent for the joy of flying
in a floatplane for the first time! The sensation of being on water is
quite different. The transition between water and air happens quicker
than I imagined; with a skoosh of spray from the floats, you're off
and flying up over the lake with a gin-clear view of the surrounding
countryside. You can see Oshkosh laid out to one side and a whole
forest of wind turbines on the opposite shore of the lake. Seabirds
fly below over the shallow water and small islands. A long slow turn
back towards the shore and a pass over the top of the seaplane base
(camera working overtime here) before lining up into the wind and a
gentle landing back on the water. Stick the camera out of the door to
catch the spray. Watch other aircraft water-taxi around. Back to the
jetty with the silly grin plastered firmly to the fizzog.

I headed back to the main site slowly, via the rotorcraft/ultralight
area and the Vintage aircraft parking (filled with lots of very shiny,
lovely things including that Boeing 40 mail carrier) and to the media
building, where I hung around waiting for familiar faces to show up.
Sure enough, they did. I belong to the International Society for
Aviation Photography as does a good percentage of the folks with media
passes. So I met up with several friends from previous ISAP
conventions there, many of whom berated me for not having told them I
was coming! (I was most pleasantly
surprised by this!) I ended up shooting the afternoon airshow with
Larry and Brian which was a lot of fun.

On Thursday I went back to the Pioneer airport to have a close up look
at the Goodyear Blimp which was parked there. Then I did the EAA
Museum which is well worth a look at any time of year. Some very cool
stuff in there - I loved the Bugatti Racer. Lots of lovely jet noise
announced the arrival of the F-22 Raptor. The afternoon's show
featured both the Raptor and the V-22 Osprey, neither of which I had
seen fly before. Both were deeply impressive in their own unique ways.
Unfortunately we didn't get to see the full Raptor display due to
airspace/display box restrictions but the thing can turn on a sixpence
and it just generally rocks. They say it can do a slow speed/high
alpha pass down to 35 mph! Although if the engine quits it will fall
out of the sky, so we got a pass at 85 mph instead, which still looks
impossibly slow.

That evening, Larry, DK and DK's son and I drove back out to the
seaplane base to catch the evening sun. We got there only just in time
but got some great photo opportunities in the golden light, helped
enormously by the fact we got a water tour in the aircraft tender
boats which sit very low in the water. (I'd ridden one of the pontoon
boats the day before too). Yellow Cubs look great in this kind of
light. So did the Beaver painted with the American flag on one side
and the Canadian flag on the other. Pizza and beer after this (thanks
DK), followed by a bit of night shooting in Aeroshell Square.

By Friday I was feeling the week's exertions (hauling heavy camera
gear around such a large site takes its toll on one's back and feet)
and took a slow wander through the Warbird park, down to the other
runway, where I watched the comings and goings of the GA traffic. Wow,
I can see why this place is so busy. I looked across at the North 40
parking area and all I could see was aircraft that seemed to go on for
ever. Coloured spots on the runway indicate where touchdowns should
take place; multiple aircraft landing at once. Once down, clear off
immediately to the side to allow the next one in. Quickly please,
before the T-33 on your tail runs you down in your Citabria! Hordes of
Yak 52s and Nanchang CJ6s taxi out, reappearing twenty minutes later
at the head of the queue for takeoff, doing so in mass formations.
Business jets interspersed with Piper Cubs; Cessna 172s mixed up with
unusual designs I'd never seen before.

Back to the media building to meet up with Larry again. We shot the afternoon airshow together along with some other ISAP members. The airshow in question features lots of warbirds in addition to the
world-class aerobatics we had been treated to all week. We'd already
seen a formation of fifty Nanchang CJ-6 (in the shape of '50')
celebrating their anniversary. Today we got I don't know how many T-6s
and T-28s in a huge metal cloud of aeroplanes. P-51s featured, of
course, alongside a circling mass off Cubs, Cessnas, Stearmans,
Chipmunk and L-birds of varying natures, showing off the training and
liaison roles. Finish it off with a pair of B-25s and an A-26. On the
second pass, let off a monster wall of flame from which you could
really feel the heat. Toast, anyone?

After the show it was back to the media centre again for an ISAP
gathering featuring pizza, chicken wings, fruits and beer. I sat with
Richard, Dave and Jim. We finished eating and slipped away to
Aeroshell Square to catch that lovely golden light again, of which
there had been so much this week. Richard dropped me back to my
campsite where I shared a couple of drinks with Abel the cook.

Up at the crack of sparrowfart, strike camp, onto the bus and head home after a
bloody brilliant week.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Cool tunnel!

This walkway connects the terminals underneath Detroit airport.

Detroit airport

The terminal building here is very large and very posh, full of interesting shops and this mirror fountain - looks cool but attracts small children and gets them wet!

General Mitchell international airport

Fittingly, there is a Mitchell B-25 acting as a gate guard here in Milwaukee. Readers wanting to know more about these should go and look up the Doolittle raid.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Final day of the show for me

Sitting outside the media centre waiting for some ISAP guys to show up. Maybe we will shoot the afternoon airshow together. Been around the warbird area this morning which is full of shiny things, which we will probably see a lot more of later on. Also spent some time warching arrivals and departures on the other runway which really gives one an appreciation for just how busy this place is. This week has been very hot and sunny, snd my feet are tired. Even if you use the many buses around the site, this place is truly enormous and it does take it out of you. So, this afternoon should be good and there is an ISAP gathering this evening. Tomorrow morning I strike camp and head for home. I may post again before then but let me just say this week has been a blast!

Is this a plane show or a car show?

HondaJet looks very glitzy in the bright lights

Thursday, July 31, 2008

John Travolta is (probably) here

This is his very shiny Boeing 707 in original Qantas livery.

New Cirrus jet

Flew in yesterday and looks very sweet

Honorary 30,000th homebuilt

This Vans RV9 was chosen from the thousands of aircraft here

Another beautiful morning

The sun is shining on my third morning at Oshkosh. Here is my wee tent! Now I am off to find some planes :-)

Wednesday, July 30, 2008


I just flew in this Cessna 185 on floats and it was totally excellent!


At the seaplane base where things are more tranquil

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Monster sized plane

This is the Boeing Dreamlifter, their new big transport

Grumman goose

Just one of many beautiful things here

Monday, July 28, 2008

I made it to Oshkosh!!

Someone please pass me a shovel to pick my jaw off the floor! This place is HUGE!

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Greetings from Lockhart

We came to Lockhart to visit Smitty's Barbeque and it was delicious! The picture shows the courthouse nearby.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Britain, family and friends

One of the things people asked us most whilst in the UK was, "What's it like being back?". For me, it was my first time in the UK in nearly two years. Alan's had a couple of business trips during that time.

I made some notes in an attempt to answer this question while sitting eating breakfast at a London cafe last Friday morning. So here's a few observations, peppered with some photos of people and places...

People in suits were such an odd sight. Particularly in London as there were so many of them. You almost never see a business suit in Austin. Formal work attire means long trousers instead of shorts, but there's still a good chance of a Hawaiian shirt.

Jill and Steve

One thing the Americans just don't seem to have got quite right is bacon. Good, honest, tasty bacon. Alan and I availed ourselves of plenty of cooked English breakfasts whilst home to make up for lost time ;-)

Bury St Edmunds from the air

There's about a million Czech and Polish people around these days. In London it's actually very hard to hear an English accent, especially if the person is behind a shop counter or bar. Local corner shops advertise Polski food alongside English and Asian foods.

In fact, there is even more ethnic diversity in general than I remember there being. Again it was most obvious in London, but in other towns - Ipswich for example - there's people from everywhere in abundance.

Jane and Chris of the Mason's Arms in Bury; a proper British Pub

That breakfast cafe had one example of the many unfamiliar signs in shop windows. Some new review website network that we'd never heard of. New tehnologies, new websites, communication systems etc. The world moves on and we have missed the last two years of European tech development.

Peter, Alan, Kate, Sarah and Paul

They say there's a recession on, and it is evidenced by the many shops closed and/or gone. Places we once knew in Bury, Sudbury and Ipswich are boarded up or replaced with other things. RIP Kings Deli in Sudbury; a sad loss.

Tracy and Paul about ten minutes after we met them in Ipswich

Sadly, it is my duty to report that the British fashion sense has not improved any since we've been gone. There were staggering numbers of really quite unfortunate examples of how not to dress, in all parts of the country. Granted, neither Alan and I are ever going to be catwalk kings or queens but there are certain lines that should not be crossed. Shell suits is one of them. Tight hotpants on large ladies is another, and let us not forget the cropped shiny leather jacket and unfeasibly short skirts (Aeroplane skirts, a friend of mine used to say. So short, you can see the cockpit!).

Nairn, Paul, Tracy, Elizabeth

Alan and I made a discovery which may shock some people. It seems that in general, we now prefer US beer. Maybe it was Alan's cold (which lasted the whole trip) hampering his taste buds, but a lot of London beers we tried were pretty flat and just not as good as we remembered them. That said, we did find some outstanding pubs.
The Cittie of Yorke at 22 High Holborn has to be visited, if you're in the area. It's a Sam Smiths pub which is always a good thing, and the building is truly fabulous.

A ferry leaving Harwich, probably heading for Hook of Holland

I love the brilliant green English countryside. In summer it is a delight to behold. So lush and verdant. It was my privilege and pleasure to go flying with Nic, where we could see plenty of it from the air. Likewise, a summer evening's walk with Sarah through the pathways and water meadows in Bury St Edmunds was delightful. Early morning on the common lands of Sudbury, next to my hotel, was so refreshing. I do miss common lands and footpaths. Texas is all private land and has not had the weight of years in which to build these networks. Britain should cherish them.

I'm not so impressed with the Carbuncle in Bury, however. Otherwise known as the new shopping centre. They have built a rounded-corner monstrosity which is going to be a Debenham's store. It is actually a lovely bit of architecture; it just shouldn't be within a hundred miles of Bury. It doesn't suit the town At All.

Delightful cool British weather is the source of much moaning by Brits but much relief from the likes of us. Two weeks of not sweltering all the time was a luxury. It is a British sport to complain about the rain (and yes, we got our fair share during the trip) but being on a 5-day watering schedule during an alarm stage drought makes you appreciate it, for sure. Remember how I like the green countryside? It's very brown in Texas.

London has always been busy but seemed extra-busy this trip, and nowhere more so than in the British Museum. We went in there as it was so close to the hotel but didn't stay very long as you could hardly move for all the visitors. That said, here's some views of it.

British Museum new section

I was amazed at how many examples of Egyptian relics they had. There is a vast number of excellent things in here.

Egyptian heiroglyphics on a tomb

Egyptian gate guards

I'd love to go back when we had more time and it was less crowded. Granted, mid-July probably is not the best time of year to visit anywhere but you takes your chances when you can. Oh, and I was so delighted to learn that the Romans played marbles! They had five lovely, shiny, big round colourful marbles on display. Something so old, yet so ordinary. I just thought it was cool.

Near the hotel there were two Pavilions, built by architectural students. I like them. I like the big London terraces behind them, too.

This one is made of thin concrete sheets

This one is made of wood

So, a big shout out to everyone who looked after us in the UK. It was brilliant to see you all.

Next Monday, I'm off to Oshkosh. I intend to provide daily blogs from my phone, so watch this space!