Come fly with me

Quite a whirlwind week last week. More flying in one week than I've done in quite a while.I had my birthday on Friday, July 27th and early the next morning we flew down to Phoenix for a couple of days to decompress. We flew down on Ted who were tolerable, Channel 9 makes the time go by. SFOPHX.gif
We flew back on Monday night, again on Ted. Phoenix was in the middle of monsoon season and we got to dodge some wicked thunderstorms on the way out. Lots of red blotches on the weather radar. We picked our way through the build ups and actually had a smooth ride home. PHXSFO.gif The very next morning, I had the privilege and honor of flying to LAX for the day on a beautiful Virgin America airplane. Won't go into details, suffice to say it was absolutely fantastic and there were only about 15 of us on the plane. We were just down there for the day but it was a great experience and wonderful to finally ride one of our beautiful birds. Then on Friday I had a meeting in Las Vegas and couldn't spare much more than a few hours, so I flew to Vegas...for a few hours. Six hours to be precise. I flew down again on Ted, who again were tolerable. The flight was very full (Friday to Vegas, of course) and they were asking for volunteers to go on a later flight. No chance, bucko. There were also people were already in a "festive spirit" 10am. Nice. When I got on the plane I asked the flight attendant if Channel 9 was going to be available and he stuck is head inside the flight deck and relayed my question to the Captain who replied with "Awww sure, why the hell not......but I'll be speaking in tongues!" The flight was smooth and quick, only and hour and ten minutes. Of course it was bumpy from about 20,000 down to the ground at LAS always is. I say that, but actually this was my first flight into LAS - I've driven there before, never flown. SFOLAS.gif
A short visit later (I didn't even get to leave the airport) I was back at the gate, getting back on Ted to SFO. This flight was a little more interesting. We boarded, I sat in my usual seat, 1A and we taxi'd and took off. I'm listening to Channel 9 the whole time and at about 20,000 feet I hear our Captain radio LA Center asking if we could slow down because we needed to lower the landing gear.....WTF? Almost after we got permission, the Captain came on the PA and announced that our brakes were still really hot and we were going to slow down and drop the gear for a few minutes so it can cool down. Makes sense, I suppose. The controller didn't even question it so I'm guessing this happens quite often out of LAS. Anyway, we dropped the gear which at that speed was pretty loud, and the plane lurched a bit as the drag was introduced. 5 minutes later, up came the gear and on we went. Nice easy flight back to SFO via the MOD VOR. LASSFO.gif So yes, lots of flying which I'm loving. And even more to come...stay tuned.

Where should I go?

Here's a quandary for you:I have a ticket on United Airlines worth approximately $258 I have to travel before August 3rd or I lose the ticket. I can only take one day off, so it would have to be over a three day weekend. I'm willing to add a maximum of $100 to the ticket value, bringing the total possible flight cost to $358 Where do I go?

12 Things I learned on vacation

Since Deanne is doing a day by day account of our recent trip, I thought I'd keep my commentaries a little more soundbite-ish. So, without further ado, I present:12 Things I Learned on Vacation - by Alex Hunter 1. In both Spain and Morocco, traffic lights are merely a suggestion to stop, not a rule. 2. The Lonely Planet books, while a valuable resource, should not be taken as gospel. 3. The literal translation for "You're welcome" in Spanish (at least when said to Americans) is "whatever, douchebag". 4. Just because you buy a ticket on one ferry line doesn't mean you'll be travelling on that ferry line. 5. When God was handing out beautiful women to the European countries, Spain was first in line. 6. When God was handing out attitude problems to European countries, Spain was first in line. 7. No matter how far you travel, you'll always meet people from Pleasanton. 8. Unlike larger airplanes, the emergency exit row is NOT recommended on an A320. (Despite what the check-in agent says. Asshole.) 9. There really are sterotypical retired Jewish ladies from New York who go to Florida every year on their vacation.......I met one. 10. The only thing more amusing than a group of retired travelling Americans is a group of retired travelling Canadians. 11. Al-Jazeera isn't nearly as exciting as the American media makes it out to be. 12. Seeing "Full House" dubbed in German is a genuinely disturbing experience. "Joey, h

Around the world in 66 hours

globalflyer.jpgThe Virgin Global Flyer is well on its way as of this morning. If you haven't heard about this endeavor, Steve Fossett, a Burt Rutan plane and Richard Branson's wallet are attempting to complete the first non-stop solo round the world flight.Fossett is known for his adventuring, having already broken several aviation records including the first solo balloon trip around the world. Burt Rutan is obviously famous for his pioneering aircraft design. And Richard Branson is famous for, well, being Richard Branson. Anyway, the unusual looking Virgin Global Flyer left Salina, Kansas yesterday and as of this writing, is at 45,000ft over Algeria. The flight is scheduled to take 66 hours at a crusing speed of about 300 knots. So Steve Fossett essentially has to stay awake for almost three days. He's going to subsist on Diet Milkshakes. You can follow the progress of the GlobalFlyer at - they've got some neat interactive tools and live video. This could well be one of the last classic aviation records to be broken.

"I don't think you'll be making it to Marrakesh"

Animation3.gif We've finally solidified our travel plans. Sort of. We know what countries we're going to. That's pretty good for us. Unlike most people (and very out of character for me) Deanne and I don't mind having a loose schedule when it comes to travelling. As long as I know flight details, the rest can be as flexible and unstructured as it wants to be. Obviously we do our research beforehand and compile a list of places, things, etc that we want to see and do, but we don't really mind WHEN we do it. I think if you have a rigorous timetable set up, where every day and hour is planned for, you defeat the purpose of a vacation. My father has a policy of absolutely not wearing his watch when he's on vacation, "I eat when I'm hungry and sleep when I'm tired," he says.So where are we going? Well our long terms plans for Hong Kong were scuppered by outrageous hotel costs in Hong Kong (almost US$200 a night) so we had to look elsewhere. The only stipulation we had was that we couldn't go somewhere either of us had been before. Initially we thought the Carribean might be a good spot, but Deanne's not one for lounging around on the beach as much as I am. So we nixed that idea. We looked at Croatia, Greece, Cyprus, Portugal, and Turkey but couldn't settle on any of them. Just as we were beginning to get frustrated, Deanne suggested Spain. Neither of us had been there, the weather should be good, sounded like a plan. Initially, we were only going to head to Spain but we happened to be watching Michael Palin's excellent series "Sahara" when we saw him take the ferry from Spain to Morocco. How cool, taking a ferry between continents. The seed had been planted. Our plans quickly changed in favor of more time in Morocco, less time in Spain. We leave San Francisco on March 16th and arrive in London the next day where we jump on another plane to Malaga in southern Spain. We spend the night in Malaga and then go wherever the wind takes us. We have a tentative plan to head north to Seville (Sevilla) and then to Gibraltar. To get into Gibraltar you have to walk across the main runway of the airport. Then from Gibraltar, it's onto Tangier and Morocco. We haven't decided where in Morocco to go but I'm told that Marrakesh must not be missed. I'm really looking forward to it as, to my great shame, it will be the first new country I've been to in almost eight years. Ugh, and I call myself a world traveller. I'm hoping 2005 will be a year of travel. We're already thinking about where to go in Aug/Sept, our next travel window. It looks like it will either be Japan or Australia. But that's another post altogether... Anyway, I'm told that Morocco is surprisingly wired so expect one or two blog posts while we're there. Of course I'll be taking more than enough photos as well.

SoCal Sojourn

As you may have noticed from some of my previous posts, when I have some time off, I'm usually pretty good about cramming as much as possible into the time I have available. The last few days were no exception.The original itinerary called for me to travel down to LA, meet my Dad, go to Mojave and then on to Bakersfield for a Moody Blues concert. Unfortunately, for reasons beyond his control, my Dad was unable to make the trip out to the West Coast. So, some swift schedule changes were required. I called Mike and asked him if he would be interested in a front row ticket to the Moody Blues concert. He gladly accepted after I explained the situation to him. I tossed in a trip to Mojave and he was sold. drive.jpgBut of course, it wasn't that simple. See Mike had been told by his employers that he needed to go to London soon...they just didn't know when. Almost the same hour that I mentioned the concert, they told him it looked like he would be leaving on Tuesday.....the day of the concert. Oh Murphy, your law is deserving of its reputation. But at the last minute, a reprieve! Mike's trip was delayed until further notice (more on that later.) So with that part of the trip solidifed, I prepared for my journey south. I left on Sunday, around noon, and pointed my golden stallion south. Five uneventful and dull hours later, I was in Buena Park at the Radisson, my home for the next two nights. The hotel was right next to Knott's Berry Farm, and I could hear the rollercoasters. Coincidentally, it was right down the street from Medieval Times, where Deanne, Mike, Quinn and I had spent an evening almost 5 years ago on our roadtrip. I had a great steak dinner at the hotel restaurant and hit the hay. I spent Monday morning visiting with Tricia and then went on to my favorite destination in LA: the In 'n' Out Burger at LAX. plane.jpg I'm sure many of you have seen the photos I've taken there before, but everytime I'm anywhere near LA, I make it a point to visit. I find it very relaxing, and believe me, I need to relax after battling the 405 to get there and then back to my hotel. While I was there I was emailing back and forth with Mike to establish a meeting point for tomorrow. I mentioned that I was at the end of the runway, and he replied with "Dick." I think he was jealous. Tricia stopped by that evening and we had a drink in the hotel bar. The next morning I woke early, checked out, and hit the road. I had to meet Mike at the I5-Hwy58 junction at noon, and I had no idea what traffic would be like. Well it sucked. Forunately, I gave myself way more time than I actually needed (as always) and my trip over the Grapevine was uneventful. We met at the Starbucks, with Mike arriving exactly at noon. We made a quick stop at Starbucks before beginning the next leg of the journey. Destination: Mojave Our route took us through the lovely and picturesque town of Bakersfield. If your sarcasm detector is off, let me calibrate it for you: Bakersfield is a f**king shithole. More on that later. We drove along 58 which parallels several major rail junctions. Mike, of course, was in his element, giving me detailed explanations of how they configure the engines and cars for maximum efficiency. It was cool mainly to the fact that around each corner we were given a practical demonstration of what he was talking about. We arrived in Mojave around an hour later and made our way straight to the Voyager Restaurant. As I've mentioned before, the restaurant overlooks the flightline at Mojave and each table has an ATC radio reciever.mojave.jpg I think it was at this point Mike fell under Mojave's spell and he said "Dude, if I had a plane, I'd be flying down here every weekend for lunch." So would I, Mike, so would I. We had a quick lunch before heading out to the ramp to take a look at a Southwest 737 that was slowly being dismantled. We decided it would be neat to take the tour that the airport operates so we headed to the administration office where we were told that we would have to wait forty minutes. So we began walking around the field to kill time. We stumbled across what we think was a DC-10 engine up on a FedEx palette. Strange. We drove around a bit before heading back to the office. The tour is done by fuelers and we were greeted by an 18 year veteran of the Mojave Airport. The three of us piled into a van and headed out to the field. We weren't entirely sure if we would be allowed to take photos or not, but it soon became clear that it would be ok. We went out along the ramp and right into the storage areas. Incredible. It was fascinating to be so close to all these aircraft that I have only previously seen from afar. We also had the chance to go by the far storage area which I have never been anywhere near. Corrosion Corner, as it's known, contains aircraft that have been in storage for more than 30 years. The tour lasted about 30 minuted and was absolutely rivetting. We took over 100 photos between us. After buying some schwag, we headed over to the northwest side of the field where you can get close to some of the other stored a/c. We messed around on the traintracks for a bit, with Mike taking some neat shots down by placing the camera on the rail. After gassing up, we hit the road, back towards Bakersfield. Moody Blues We made the hour long drive back to Bakersfield, during which Mike took one of his patented power naps. Now as I mentioned before, Bakersfield is the biggest dump. The concert was due to be held at the Fox Theater in downtown Bakersfield. The city itself seems to be stuck in 1972; it's dingy and unpleasant. We managed to find a parking spot and went off in search of dinner. moodyblues.jpgHA! Yeah, right, try finding anywhere to eat in downtown Bakersfield that's not a shitty bar. We eventually found a disgusting little chinese restaurant that we agreed upon with great reluctance. Once we sat down, Mike suddenly realized they might not take credit cards. We asked the owner, and they didn't! Oh hallelujah, our get out of jail free card. We bolted "in search of an ATM" and agreed never to set foot inside that mysteriously sticky restaurant again. In our search for an ATM we happened to spot a restaurant called Gumbeaux's - we took a look at the specials board outside and it looked promising. But with our previous experience, we were cautious. We poked our head inside and were greeted by the music of the Moody Blues and a chick with blue hair, neither of which I've ever seen in a restaurant. We enjoyed a nice dinner at this New Orleans style restaurant, and the blue haired waitress explained that whenever there's a concert in town, they always play a CD or DVD of the featured band. Nice touch. As the night went on, the place begin to fill with middle-aged concertgoers. It became clear we were all in Bakersfield for one reason...and it wasn't for the scenery. Mike and I went back to the car briefly to check in with wives and drop off cameras, cellphones, PDAs and the like. We got in line outside the theater about 10 minutes before the doors opened. The theater itself was gorgeous. There's been a massive restoration program in place for the last several years and it certainly shows. The interior of the theater was spacious and impressive. One might even say "grand." As we took our seats, my first impression was "Holy Crap we're close to the stage."moodiesonstage.jpg Front row seats will do that to you. We settled in and waited for the show to begin. Now we assumed that photography and the like would not be allowed and would result in ejection from the concert. But there seemed to be an awful lot of people with cameras sitting around us. Actually, the people sitting around us put my Moody Blues fandom to shame. These people were HARDCORE. Most of them were going to every single show on the tour. One lady even offered us $50 each to switch seats with us so she could have the aisle. I said she had to add an extra zero before I would move anywhere. The band came out a little after 8pm and the first half was fantastic. It was weird to be so close. Yes, weird. You see all the little nuances and subtleties that you don't notice in normal seats. Like how John Lodge sweats profusely and is getting fat. Or how Justin Hayward completely spaces out (or concentrates intensely) when he's not singing. He also makes faces when he sings, but I noticed that from some of the DVDs I've seen. Their new flautist continues to be a dynamic presence, she really kicks the show up a notch. A kilt-wearing fan was handing out blue glowsticks to everyone for "The Other Side of Life" which always goes down well. It's been said recently that the first half of Moody Blues concerts can sometimes be a little flat. This concert was no exception. The songs were great and the performances were great, but the bandmembers didn't seem to really get into it. I was prepared for that though, so it didn't really faze me. At the interval Mike and I were determined to join all the people who were blatantly taking photos. I ran to my car and got Mike's camera, PDA and cellphone. He calibrated all three during the intermission and when the band came back on for the second set, we were ready to go. The second half was fantastic, much more energetic, much more lively and the guys were clearly enjoying it. You can't beat hearing "Story in Your Eyes" or "Higher and Higher" live - the latter is even better as Graeme Edge goes completely berserk during the chorus. As the concert drew to a close, the legions of hardcore fans surged towards the stage for "Question." It was really neat to hear the entire place singing along. They came back on for the encore which, without fail, is "Ride My Seesaw." We gathered up our schwag and headed for the door with the sea of inebriated middle-aged fans. Mike had managed to capture some fantastic photos AND video clips on his array of devices. Back in the car, we made the short trip back to the I5-Hwy58 junction where Mike had left his truck. Of course the Starbucks was closed, so it was gas station coffee that was to be our company on our respective rides home. We said our farewells and Mike headed North, I headed South, to my hotel room at LAX. Two and a half exhausting hours later I arrived at LAX. Caltrans had decided to shut the ENTIRE freeway down at Santa Clarita, so we all had to get off the freeway and take a detour through downtown Santa Clarita. lax.jpg I arrived at my hotel absolutely exhausted and asked for a room overlooking the airport. I went up to my room, opened the curtains, went "whatever" and then fell asleep. My room DID look over the airport, but the windows were so filthy that it wasn't really worth it. I had breakfast the next morning at the hotel restaurant, which was swarming with flight deck and cabin crew from various airlines. Of course I couldn't possibly be this close to LAX and not spend an hour or two at the In 'n' Out which was less than a mile down the streeet. So I checked out of my room, piled into my car and made my last call at the end of the runway. After an hour or two I decided to hit the road for my the final jaunt over the grapevine on this trip. After five dull, uninteresting hours, I arrived home, very glad to see Deanne and the cats. I like Southern California a lot....but next time, I'm going to fly. Oh and Mike's trip to England? The day after he got back, he received a call from a co-worker at about 11pm at night saying they were leaving for England the following day. He's there right now. Photos can be found here

Add another two to the pile

Two more of my photos were accepted to, thus dashing my original theory that Jesus himself had to be flying the plane for them to accept the photo.So I'm up to 4 photos now. I think I've submitted 30. That still keeps me above their average acceptance rate. Anway, here are the ones that were accepted. Funnily enough, after they'd accepted the photo they tried to add the photo three times but it kept rejecting it. Damn database software thinks it's better than me.

You like me, you really like me!

I have finally been accepted. After several attempts, I now have photos on Now to the untrained eye, that might not look like much of an accomplishment, but let me tell you, it is no easy feat to get past the incredibly picky screeners that has employed to separate the wheat from the chaff, if you will. They reject 70% of the photos they receive and the ones they do accept are either taken by a professional photographer (or a rich amateur) with a really good camera, or the subject matter is very unique and "once in a lifetime."I uploaded some photos in the past only to be flatly rejected because my incredibly sharp photo was "blurry" or my bright and colorful image was "too dark." But this time...I knew I had them beaten. I had a rather good shot of Livermore Airport....from the front seat of a biplane. I knew that one was material so I uploaded it. I also played around with some photos I'd taken while we were in Phoenix. One or two of them were rather good so I ran them through some software I got with my printer to correct the contrast and brightness, and then submitted them. Two weeks later I get an email saying they have accepted two of my photos and rejected three of them. The two ones they accepted are below: Of the one's they rejected, I was most pissed off about this one:

They rejected it because that tiiiiiiiny part of the tail was missing from the photo.........I appealed that one. Anyway you can find any photos I ever have accepted at Airliners by clicking on this link:


altriagiv.jpgOn Friday Deanne and I were on our way back from Pleasanton when she suggested that we stop by the Livermore Airport just to see if there was anything interesting there. There's always the odd assortment of private planes and business jets, and the occassional "rare" visitor. So we were rather surprised to see not one but TWO Gulfstreams sitting on the transient jet ramp. Gulfstreams are very big airplanes and quite rare at Livermore. It was great to see them. Of particular interest was the larger of the two, which had it's APU running and the door open. Deanne and I were debating as to what model of Gulfstream it was, so I asked the friendly flight attendant who told me it was a G-IV 300 series, only 8 months old. I was completely wrong, I thought it was an older model. Deanne was always. We sat and waited for a while so we could watch it depart. Seeing a plane that size depart from a small-ish airport like Livermore is quite spectacular. After all the well dressed passengers arrived and the doors were closed, the plane leapt effortlessly into the sky. Amazing. And so quiet. I had noted down the tail number of the plane N607PM, as I was curious to see who owned this magnificent bird. We stopped by Ken's shop to say hi and I punched the tail number into - it was owned by Altria. I paused for a moment.....Altria.....Altria.........ALTRIA! aka Philip Morris.....DING! the tail number = 607 Philip Morris - ugh. A little more research yielded the fact that they have a small fleet of these intercontinental business jets, as well as helicopters, and, incredibly, a Dornier 328 jet! Interesting fleet for a questionable organization.

Triple Seven, seven seven seven, seven seventy seven

cxmodel.jpg My cube finally has a touch of aviation to it. That is a model of a Cathay Pacific Boeing 777-200.The 777 is probably my favorite airplane of all time. It's not the most exciting or spectacular but it really is an impressive piece of machinery. It has engines that are the same diameter as the fuselage of a 737-300, it can take off with a full load using just one of those engines, it was the first airliner designed completely on computer, and the ER version has flown for over 6 hours on one engine. Amazing. In fact, Mike and I have actually flown AND landed one of these amazing machines. Well not the real thing but in 1998 we were able to fly the actual simulators used to train pilots. These are full motion, highly immersive simulation environments that are 100% accurate in both look and feel. Mike and I both managed to land them at the legendary Kai Tak approach. So why the model? Well my dad got me one for my birthday when I was working in Hong Kong and it followed me around the world, no matter where I went but in a recent move it disappeared and I was pissed. So I hunted online and eventually managed to find one. It arrived on Tuesday and now has pride of place in my cube.

The Lion sleeps tonight

rhino.jpg I've uploaded the game drive photos. They're pretty sweet though the video that Deanne took is MUCH better, gives you a really good idea of how the animals looked, acted and sounded. But I got some good shots here and there. Almost all of the shots were in low-light situations, and with a zoom lens, it's rather hard. I still have to learn the best way to do that. Anyway, check them out...

The Eagle has landed

Back home. Actually been back since Thursday evening but we had to dive right into some events on our arrival and now I'm back at the office I have some time to post finally.Well, 5 flights, 54 hours of flying covering a total of 22,000 miles. Yes, it's tiring. Our longest flight was 14hrs 19mins from San Francisco to Hong Kong (which btw was only 11hrs 8mins on the way back because of the 140 knot jetstream we were in.) Our shortest flight was 1hr 35mins from Cape Town to Johannesburg. We saw some amazing sites, met some amazing people, ate some amazing food and forged some amazing memories. Though after three weeks away, it was rather nice to touch down at SFO the other day. We received some difficult news while we were in South Africa and in a way, we were a little anxious to return home to family and friends. It was wonderful to see my parents. I hadn't seen my mom since our wedding so it was almost a year to the day that we saw her again. I have been trying to upload all the photos (I took nearly 700) and get them organized, discarding all the crappy ones. I only have a few left to do including the game drive ones which are arguably the most interesting. I also have over three hours of video to edit into something a little more watchable than it currently is. The photos are separated into albums so take a peek around in there, let me know what you think! Deanne is working on finishing off her journal of the trip today and over the rest of the week. So, it's back to ordinary life after three weeks of extraordinary life. Oh yeah, and I can't hear out of my left ear.


Wow, the interweb is slow in South Africa. Not THAT slow, but slow enough to piss me off. Anyway, it would take me forever and a day to upload the pics from our travels so far but I know Mike is foaming at the mouth for some pics of the train we went on for 2 days - so without further ado....
Observation Car
Our Room

Day 1

Well we're here! We've been here for about a day now and boy has it been non-stop ever since. Deanne has already posted a very detailed account of our adventures so far so I won't go into details of exactly what we've done since we've been here.I have to say it's weird being in Hong Kong again. Sometimes I feel like I'd never left, other times I really feel like a tourist. A lot has changed, somethings for the bad, but mostly for the good. Prices are still good, the people are still great, and the overall atmosphere is fantastic. I was so excited just to be back and able to share with Deanne all the great places that I was able to see during the 10 years (on and off) that I lived here. Unfortunately, I've had a bastard of a cold ever since we've been here which is making me feel pretty rundown most of the time. I ache and we've been doing a lot of walking which is tiring but I think adrenaline is counteracting some of the discomfort. Well I'm off to seek some herbal remedies, I'll post more later. I've posted the first round of photos at