On the way home…

OK – this is a little late since I’m now safely back in Australia, but it’s HARD to get net access in some airports…
Thursday morning (US time) jumped on the plan from Kansas City to LAX. I thought it was a direct flight, but apparently there’s almost no such thing and the one I was on just happened to be going via Denver with a 1.5 hr layover. Minor mix up with the planes there – apparently the ground controller directed the pilot into the wrong gate, so after everyone going on to LAX had gotten off leaving their bags behind (which the cabin crew said several times was fine) we all had to traipse back and colect them and then hoof over to the other end of the airport for the next leg.
The flight itself pretty uneventful, but had the same seat on both planes in the exit row next to an American girl (Jamey) who was returning home to LA. She was reading up on her new model Hasselblad – she’s a pro photographer – so a bit of a common interest there to keep the conversation ticking and got some info on things I could do in LA with my 10hr layover.
Got into LAX about 1pm and took a cab out to Santa Monica – first task was crepes for combination brekki and lunch to start getting the timezone adjustments underway. After that toured round the beach and promenade area, checking out the sights and even caught a movie (MI 3 since the usual suspects back in Brissie have all seen it by now).
Amazing how different the feel of LA is from both Pennsylvania and Missouri – hard to describe of course, but somehow LA is both more relaxed and more rushed all at once. Had an excellent time, so I definitely owe Jamey a beer for the great advice !!!
Friday completely vanished in a combination of watching movies, airline food, half-dozing-sitting-upright-hoping-I’m-not-snoring and about a zillion timezone changes. One of the movies was "Crash" that I hadn’t seen before and is set in LA, and I loved the fact that I recognized some of the streets in Santa Monica where I’d been that afternoon – made me feel very sophistimacated !!!
Saturday morning arrived in Sydney and unlike people had been trying to tell me, had no problems at all with customs – seems I am a good boy after all !!! My parents came and met me, and then was back to Rachel and Stephen’s (sis and brother-in-law) place for brekki. Then back to Gosford to rest up and try to get my body and watch to agree on what the time is.
Change of plans and I have 3 days training in Sydney now before I get back to Brissie – so not quite Home yet…

Quiet little Missouri towns…

Haven’t updated in a while – bit difficult to do mid week since am normally tied up with work. Maryville’s a pretty small place – basically a few farms, a college (University), and an Energizer and a Kawasaki manufacturing plant – and pretty quiet right now since college is out for Spring break.
Monday was my first day at the customer’s site – Energizer’s Maryville plant where they produce 4A, 3A, 2A and C size batteries and cells. "Cells" means batteries that are then used in the internals of other batteries – like 9V batteries are made up of 6 4A batteries, and lantern batteries are just 4 F size batteries (F’s are a slightly taller C battery).
Spent the day working with some of the key Energizer ppl both here and via phone at another site who are part of the roll-out project – meetings, question answering, a spot of training and so-on. Nothing hugely exciting, but was pretty interesting to see what information they’re taking out of the system and what it means to them. Also just the little snippets of something that I mention that the Energizer guys latch onto – they’re really eager to learn.
Lunch was Mexican – which is very popular here even though the second Mexican place was recently closed down after being caught with illegal workers. Dinner was at a place in St Joseph’s about 45 minutes up the road. Bryan wanted to catch a hockey game, but the hotel didn’t have cable so we went and saw it in a sports bar up there.
Tuesday was more of the same, but Pat (from Energizer corporate) gave me a tour round the plant. Amazing how automated and just plain the FAST the process of making batteries is. The plant floor is basically one giant machine shop, with what’s really only a handful of operators watching over the machines (think like 30 people all up for thousands of machines). Each line can punch out around 15,000 batteries per shift, for several million batteries per day.
The machines ar running so fast they’re like an engine, and you can feel any pause or slowdown they have before seeing the message on the panel. I know why now they’re trying to catch pauses that are only like a second long.
Mexcian again for lunch – I’m really starting to get a taste for it – and one of only two local steak houses for dinner. Pat’s got Maryville sussed – he commented that the Kawasaki guys must like the place, since everyone else in there didn’t look like farmers, didn’t work at Energizer and definitely weren’t in college !!!

Self Service Checkouts ROCK !!!

Brief trip down to Walmart to pick some things up – and try to get Stephen’s calculator (failed sorry mate) – and encountered my first Self Service Checkout. I’ve heard them talking about introducing them in Australia, but haven’t seen any yet.
Pretty cool stuff really – and pretty simple to use…you scan things just like at a normal checkout, and then put them in the bags on the right which sit on top of a scale. The weight of what’s in the bags is then checked against what you’ve scanned to make sure everything matches up. Then to pay you can either use cash like at a train ticketing machine, or a credit card by signing onto the little tablet screen (that’s Bryan btw paying for the stuff). Making sure that you scan everything in your bag/trolley works on a combination of the honesty system and I guess video surveillance somewhere or other.
Whole thing saves a lot of time (and I guess money for the store) since there’s about 6 self checkouts compared to only 2 or 3 normal checkouts.
Other unusual things that I’ve now found Walmart sells:
  • tyres – for both cars and 4×4’s
  • spare auto parts – they have a service counter and a large stock of stuff out the back (including Autolite spark plugs)
  • Rifle’s, ammunition and other hunting and fishing gear
  • Hard drives – both internal and external – PC printers, networking gear and even iPod’s (no decent headphone/earbuds though)

Cardinals 4 : Royals 2

Sat morning checked out of the hotel and caught the town car into Philly to hop a plane to Chicago and then on to Kansas City – it’s the closest airport to Maryville, Missouri and the customer site that I’m going to visit.
At Kansas City was met by one of the guys from the Citect US office – Bryan Hoey – and turns out I have pretty good timing, and Sat night just happened to be a big baseball game on between the Kansas City Royals and the St Louis Cardinals, and Bryan’s just hoping I’m up to going… Hell Yeah  !!! 
In American baseball because of the number of teams they’ve split the league into two conferences with adjacent teams in the different conferences, and until recently teams from difference conferences would only meet if they got as far as the playoff’s. That’s changed now so adjacent teams can now play each other, which made the Cardinals Royals game a pretty big thing since it’s only happend a couple of times before. So, the game was a sell out, but we managed to pick up some tickets in the carpark for face value (the game had started about 10 minutes before we got there).
Although I know the rules of baseball, I had no idea on the subtleties. The Cardinals went 1 nil up in the 4th, and then in the 7th the leading hitter Pujoles (pronounced poo-oh) put the ball over the back fence with two guys on bases to get the Cardinals up to 4. How cool is that – I get to see what is probably going to be one of the best hits of the season !!!
Even though the home team went down, everyone seemed pretty happy though – I guess because it was such a special game in the first place. It was all pretty amazing to me though – talking with some KC locals in the crowd, heaps of photos so on and generally having a blast. Thanks Bryan !!!

Friendly Pennsylvanians…

Training finished up today around noon, so some more time for sight-seeing.
Raghu (one of the guys on the course) has been driving me around a bit, along with Kenn and Daniel (two guys here on training from Denmark) over the last few days – the odd bit of sight-seeing etc. Since we all had some time to kill before flights home and so-on, we all went for a drive around Philly.
For once though I got to be the tourguide though – since I already knew how to get to the NFL and Baseball stadiums from the airport, which Kenn was just dying to get photo’s of. Friendly Pennsylvanian number 1 was the guy on the parking lot gate at Wauchovia Center, who let us in and out for free for our sight-seeing.
Then there was a run through downtown Philly and around the fringes of the Historic District, and surprise surprise, stuck in a traffic jam. Bit more driving around – spotting buildings, naval ships etc. and then time to head to the airport for everyone except me to take their flights back out.
I then jumped back on a SEPTA train to get back to Exton, but things went haywire when first I got on the train heading the wrong direction. Change at Market Street for the right train, and all seemd good until the guard came through about 2 stops before Exton asking why I and the woman sitting two seats in were still on the train since the last stop was about 5 minutes back – we’d both been absorbed in our iPods and hadn’t noticed everyone else get out. Oooops !!!!
Friendly Pennsylvanian number 2 was the guard who let us off the train without any hassles, and made sure that the next train along would stop for us.
Friendly Pennsylvanian number 3 was Brenda who I ended up passing time talking with while waiting for the next train. Turns out she and her husband are planning a trip to Australia, so she gave me a lift for the 5 miles from the train station to the hotel while I gave some recommendations of places to see in Sydney, Brisbane etc.
So how’s that – not bad for an unplanned afternoon touring around !!!

V for Victory

Still on training, so not much happening through the day. Thursday nite though is "Happy Hour" where the SAP guys take everyone here on training out for drinks.
Last week was the Brickside which was just a pretty normal bar, but this week was the Victory Brewery which was VERY cool.
Turns out the place is an old Nabisco plant that was closed down and has been turned into different things – they’ve kept the buildings and just reworked the intereriors. Anyway, Victory Brewery is a local boutique brewery about 5 miles out of Exton, and they make some pretty nice beers. Their newest one – the Sunrise Witbier – is almost indistinguishable from a Hoegaarden, so I was set. The decor inside went with the Victory theme, and was sort of a cross between modern and an old 40’s style diner during WWII with all the allied propagand posters around – You Deserve Victory, Fight for Victory, V for Victory etc.
The food there was pretty good too – Victory Burger with bacon, mushrooms and cheese (like on everything here in Philadelphia), all niced down with a few almost Hoegaarden’s. Definitely a shame I had to go back home to the hotel !!!
Friday training will finish about  12pm, so then I think I’ll head into Philly for the afternoon to keep myself amused…

Training, Malls and Philly Cheesesteaks

Not much to blog about the last few days – Sunday I had a quiet day around the hotel, did some laundry etc. and since then I’ve been busy on my training course. (I am here for work after all !!!)
Have had a couple of trips to "the mall" though – trying to do some odd bits of shopping for friends and family. No luck as far as buying things, but some of the shops are worth mentioning
  • Walmart – they sell almost anything you can think of from groceries to clothing (think BigW or Target) to prescription eye-glasses and ammunition… AND they all have a McDonalds eat-in restaurant inside.
  • Neiman Marcus – an upmarket dept store that has valet parking and where each employee working behind a counter wears a white lab style coat over the top of their uniform
  • Nordstrom’s – a VERY upmarket dept store that instead of having mood music piped through the place have a pianist playing classical music on each floor

In other news I had my first Cheesesteak for lunch yesterday – consists of a 12" long hot-dog style role, filled with sliced steak, melted cheese and fried onions. Apparently its one of the things that Philly is famous for, and although it tasted great it was way bigger, richer and greaiser than what I’m used to eating.


Mmmm… I can almost feel my arteries hardening still…

New York

Yesterday (Saturday) I did the big thing of venturing into New York, SEPTA regional train from Exton into Philly and then an Amtrak into New York.
New York is… well… WOW is about the only thing that summs it up. It’s everything in the movies, but better… AND bigger !!!
Amtraks come in at Penn Station, and not even having a map the first thing I did was walk out of the front of the station and ltry to figure out where to start. And there, about half a dozen blocks East is the Empire State Building pointing way up into the sky. So that solved the question of where first !!!
ESB is huge, and hugely popular withi the queue to get in running half way round the block. I got a combo ticket that included a bus tour around the city, spent my time queueing and in I went. The express elevators are… well… express. I’ve never had my ears pop in an elevator before, but going up 80 floors (roughly 900 ft) in 45 seconds tends to do that. Then some more time queuing to get the local elevator up the last few floors, and I was there, and YIKES is it high !!! Also very windy – something I never knew is that the big spiky thing on top was intended to be a mooring point for dirigibles/airships/blimps… but it’s so damned windy up there that it was never able to be used. From the top of the ESB you can see… well… everything, and there’s a lot of everything. They quote 20,000 buildings just on the island alone !!!
Back down from the ESB it was hop on the open top double decker bus for the "Downtown Tour". Greenwich Village, SOHO, Chinatown and Little Italy – amazing how each area has a completely different feel that changes as quickly as crossing one intersection.
Jumped off the bus in the Financial District and went down to where the Twin Towers once stood – the locals call it Ground Zero – and just felt chilled. New York is a very noisy place, but down there – and despite the number of people around – it’s comparatively silent. You can see all the photo’s and video footage of the place that you like, and still just not get how big the impact of 911 has been on both the place and the people until you’ve been there.
After a quick walk down to Battery park, it was back on the bus to finish the tour – back through Chinatown again, the East Village, the UN, the Waldorf Astoria, Rockefeller Center and of course Central Park finishing up in Times Square.
After reversing the trip home – Amtrak, SEPTA and then a 5 mile walk home (stuff up with the town car) I finally got in about 2am. Completely worn out and wrecked, but worth it for just a taste of what NY is like – I reckon I could spend a month walking around and not get tired of the place !!!

Happy Friday to me !!!

Yesterday (Friday) training finished just after noon, so I got to do some touristy stuff for the afternoon.
Started off getting a lift into the Airport (about 25 miles) with one of the guys from the training course – Torrey had a 6pm flight out, so he also showed me around the football and baseball stadium area. You guessed it – very damn big – each seating about 50,000.
Then I had my first US train trip, catching a SEPTA airport train into the city, and then a subway down to 2nd street and the historic district. Lots of walking, lots of looking at old houses, cobble stown roads etc. Took some photos, but wasn’t very good conditions since the sun was definitely going down at that point – I’ll upload them later. Then it was trains back home – subway to 15th street, and a regional train back to Exton.
Trains are very different from home – first is the tickets – you buy a ticket for a certain amount of money, rather than a destination. Then along the trip the conductor/guard travels along the train and punches holes in your ticket until it runs out. So, when you sit down there’s these little pouches in the seat in front where you stick your ticket for the guard to grab and punch when he comes through. Second is the doors and steps – the left side of the train the door is designed for platform, while the right side there are steps build in to get you down to ground level for the outlying stations with no platforms. Very cool !!!
Today I’m doing the train thing again and heading into New York to see what I can see…

Yay – the sun is out !!!

Today, the sun came out, and doesn’t that make a difference to things.
The small piece of woods that I walk past now has birds singing in it, I don’t need to wear a jacket all the time, and there are convertibles being driven around with the roof down…
…which leads me to a cool car that I saw today that they DON’T export from the US at all, but should…
…a 2 door, 2.4 liter Turbo version of the Chrysler PT Cruiser.