Guess what – I survived the flight from LA back to Australia, even though I got probably the worst "exit row" seat you can imagine… who would’ve thought that the escape slide housing on a 747 would take up so much leg room !!!
It was worth it though – definitely feels good to be back to the warm weather.
Now to start on the list of chores that have built up – doing some laundry, getting the truck fixed (low oil warning message for no real reason), getting the race car certified… same old same old.

All Theme Parked out…

Man, I’m ready to go home now…
Sunday I went to Universal Studio’s including the backlot tour. Very impressive – saw some interesting movie props (like the Mule from Serenity) and some AMAZING sets. The best would have to be the crash site from War of the Worlds – if you haven’t seen it, there’s a point where everyone is hiding in the basement when a 747 crashes into a normal neighbourhood. It looks impressive in the movie, and the main reason is that they got a REAL 747 that they transported into the site and then destroyed there. Think mashed up houses, overturned cars and stuff with every part of the plane strewn over the top of it, right down to passengers luggage and cargo.
The other interesting thing with the sets is how they have these precanned streets that they can dress to look like almost any city in the world – New York, Paris, London etc. – all just by changing the sign posting, the trees and the shooting angles.
Monday was Disneyland and Disney California Adventure – Disneyland is the one that everyone knows, while California Adventure is literally right beside it and is more of a normal theme park. Both very damn cool – and ppl say that Disney isn’t any fun for adults !!! OK, I admit I’m a big kid, but I had an absolute blast. The most impressive thing is how well they’ve done everything – even the waiting lines are made interesting with lots of animatronics and things to do and see. Disney really know how to do a theme park – can only imagin what Disney World in Florida is like !!!

Hello LA

Why is it that flying around inside the United States never goes smoothly ???
First from Kansas City to Dallas Fort Worth, the plane arrived late so we were 10 minutes late leaving. Then the pilot I think had the engines firewalled all the way, so we caught up the time and arrived 10 minutes early at DFW, only to sit on the taxiway waiting for a late plane to get out of our gate. So, 10 minutes late leaving, 10 minutes early on the ground, and then 15 minutes actually getting to the gate.
Then the leg from Dallas Fort Worth to LA the plane was about 20 minutes late leaving the gate, then 10 minutes waiting to take off, then some pretty rough turbulence coming into LA we get in total of about 40 minutes late plus another 50 minutes waiting for baggage. So, my 8:00 arriving flight I get out to the shuttle rank waiting for the rental car shuttle at 9:35 which was also running way late, so don’t finally get through all of that till close to 11:00.
Tack on a 2 hr time zone change (the bad way) and man was it a lot of time sp[ent travelling !!!
The one cool bit to come out of it though is that I have a big, black Cadillac SUV to drive around LA in, for the same price as the normal car I’d booked. I really wanted a Dodge Charger, but since they didn’t have any the the Caddy will have to do…

Steamboat Arabia and Goodbye Missouri

Wednesday was my last day in at the plant, followed by some free-time until I fly to LA on Friday afternoon. So, Wednesday afternoon was spent sorting all my stuff out and getting it back into my pack, followed by going and seeing a college basketball game. Luckily the local team – the Northwestern Missouri Bearcats – won the pretty tight game.
Thursday morning drove into Kansas City, and to kill some time went to the Steamboat Arabia museum that Juli had recommended to me. Pretty amazing stuff – the Arabia was a steamboat that hit a snag and sank in the Missour river in 1856, and because the river is so silty it actually sank right down into the mud. Over time (and with some help from the Army Corp of Engineers) the river has changed it’s course, and by the mid 1980’s the wreck was located something like 50 feet under a farmer’s paddock.
So, this local family heard about the wreck being there, and in 1988 started a dig as a form of treasure hunting. Instead of treasure though, they found that the ship was pretty well preserved and still had all of its cargo in the hold – around 200 ton of "frontier goods" – everything from tools, clothes, boots and food right out to two complete pre-built kit homes !!! The silt had covered everything in so thoroughly that no oxygen could get in, and a lot of the items look almost brand new !!! End result, the family has set up an awesome museum and is slowly going through preserving everything to put on display. They’ve been going 18 years so far, and less than a third of what they have is on display (the family runs a refrigeration business, so everything is in deep freeze while they work through the preservation process).
And to top it off, the family has gotten hooked on being museum owners, and is now in the process of locating and excavating another steamboat – hopefully complete !!!
Friday morning had a much needed sleep-in before making my way back to KCI airport to head over to LA.

Yay – it’s snowing !!!

Well, only 6 days too late for me to have had a white christmas, it’s started snowing.
Basically the big snow storm that’s been hanging over Colorado has moved East, and the snow front hit Maryville a few hours ago. This morning it was just rainy, and when I came out of the plan around lunch time there was just a few flakes around, but now it’s definitely snowing. When I came out of the plant had to spend about 10 minutes scraping the ice and crud off the car before I could drive – lucky I had my big jacket and gloves in the car !!!
I’d say there’s probably about 2 inches fallen so far – enough to turn everything white and make the roads icy, but don’t know how long it’s going to hang around. Will make getting around for New Years a bit interesting, and that idea of driving across to Colorado through the week just a little bit harder.
And to think that people didn’t beleive me that it was cold here !!!

Christmas and the week after

OK – I admit it – I’ve been a bit slack updating my blog – oh well – sue me !!!
Christmas I spent with Juli and her family at Big Lake, which is about a 45 minute drive from Maryville. Pretty relaxing day really – pretty much what most Christmas days are – sitting around talking, eating and drinking. The biggest difference (other than a different family obviously) is that in America they haven’t even HEARD of Christmas pudding – so they don’t even know what they’re missing out on !!!
Unfortunately though, although it got pretty cold there was no snow, so I still haven’t had a white Christmas. Overnight the lake did start to freeze over though, which was pretty unusual to look at Boxing Day morning. The lake (and ice) were still very much brown, but almost dead smooth and with no reflection, so it looked sort of like painted ply wood. Nowhere near thick enough to walk on, but it made a really unusual almost tinny sort of echo when you bounced rocks off it. Unfortunately didn’t think to take any photo’s till it’d all melted.
During the day headed over to Squaw Creek which is a wildlife reserve not far from the lake. Really just some big marshlands – lots of beaver mounds out in the marshes, and a few geese stopping over on their way South. By a few I mean A LOT – must have been at least a couple hundred thosand of them, and where they landed and grouped on the water it was like a solid carpet for several hundred yards. Pretty impressive, particularly the sheer noise of their wings when they all began to take off and form up to keep flying.
Also saw a Bald Eagle on the way driving out. Now stoopid me, I thought a Bald Eagle didn’t have any hair on it’s head, but it actually does – just that it’s White and contrasts with the rest of the Eagle, so he LOOKS bald is all.
The rest of the week I spent at the site, so nothing exciting happening there – just tryin to figure out a few things.

Christmas Eve in Kansas City

Finished up at SAP on Friday, so now heading back to Maryville, MO to spend christmas as well as a little more time on site.
Denver airport (one of the main hubs for domestic flights in the US) had a pretty big snow storm a few days back – about 3 feet of snow that basically shut the place down complete for 48 hours. As a result flights within the US have been totally stuffed up, and they’ve been doing the "get to the airport as early as you can" sort of thing.
Well… it seems that they’re not quite setup for it – I got to Philly airport 4 hrs 20 min ahead of my flight, and I couldn’t check my bag in more than 4 hrs ahead of the flight. So, first christmas travelling hiccup is having to hang around and just wait the 20 minutes. Then the flight out of Philly to Nashville (gets used as a hub when Denver is stuffed up) was about 15 minutes late – no big deal since the Nashville – Kansas City flight is already 15 minutes late.
Second hiccup is the flight from Nashville to Kansas-City ends up being more like an hour late leaving – they were actually updating those of us waiting when the plane left Birmingham on it’s way to Nashville – so don’t get into Kansas City till 10:15 instead of 9:20.
Third hiccup is just the number of people in Kansas City airport – I’ve never seen the place so packed – not with people travelling, just that there was like 4 or more people meeting almost everyone that came off the plane. And of course they all had to wait for baggage with whover had just arrived – total mayhem !!! 25 minutes to get my bags…
Hiccup number 4 is that it’s now 10:40 pm when I start waiting for the Budget Rent-a-car shuttle, and I KNOW they close at 11:00pm. The shuttle is meant to come past every 10 minutes, but after about 30 minutes of waiting with a few other Budget customers – and having watched every other rental company’s shuttle go past about 4 times – I get sick of waiting and switch to National/Alamo since their bus-driver assures they have cars left still.
Man – I can see why people say not to fly near Christmas !!!
Now – just for something different – getting the car from National/Alamo went smooth as – they matched budget’s price AND gave me a better car. End result is I have a near new Pontiac Grand-Prix GT to drive round in, complete with heated leather seats, sports suspension and a 190kW Supercharged 3.8 V6 !!! Definitely more like my sort of car – not quite a HSV of course, but it’ll do at a pinch…

Udvar-Hazy Center

After a bit of a sleep-in, Sunday I headed out about 30 miles from DC to Chantilly, Virginia where the Udvar-Hazy Center of the NASM is (pronounced Oood-far Harr-zeee). This is where the Smithsonian displays some of their really big planes and things – there’s hundreds of planes there, but apparently it’s still only a small amount compared to what the Smithsonian actually owns. Something that really surprised me is that they own every NASA space module except 1. The one they don’t own is the Liberty Bell which sank just after splash down, almost taking Gus Grissom with it – apparently the salvage company that raised it was granted rights.
Highlights of the Udvar-Hazy Center:
 – an original condition P-38J lightning – my absolute favorite plane
 – the Enola-Gay in completely restored condition – both the most advanced prop driven bomber ever built and the plan that dropped the first atomic bomb.
 – an Air-France concorde
 – The Boeing Dash-80 – the prototype for the 707 that was put through a barrel roll during a demo to ariline execs (there’s videos of it around on the web)
 – the very first Space Shuttle, ‘Enterprise’ whose name was changed from the planned one of Constitution purely by public demand (NASA freely admits it was following petition from all the Trekkies)
 – the mother-ship from Close Encounters of the Third Kind – all the model makers in-jokes of a Tie-Fighter, Float Plane, R2D2 and a VW Bus clearly visible
 – THE only surviving ‘Seiran’ Japanese submarine launched fighter-bomber
Then after spending the whole day staring at planes and orbiter modules there was the 3.5 hr drive back home to Exton and an early nite before Week 2 at SAP.

DC at Night

Around 8:30 I went out to do a bit more sight seeing. Two main challenges – first TomTom had the locations of some thing such as The White House and Lincoln Memorial all stuffed up, and second I didn’t have a tripod with me to steady the camera. The photo’s are a bit grainy as a result of having to run at a higher ISO setting, but should clean up OK.
Was midnight by the time I got back, and although it isn’t really even winter weather yet (low 40’s) man was it cold !!!

National Air and Space Museum

First stop in DC is the National Air and Space Museum. Everyone knows I love anything with an engine, but even more so things with really big engines, or that fly, or that go into orbit.
The NASM is probably the best known Smithsonian Museum, and has some pretty cool stuff – the original Wrigth Brothers’ Kittyhawk (tho not on display at the moment), the Bell X-1 that Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier in, the actual Apollo-11 Command Module and the very recent Spaceship One just in the entrance lobby !!!
 – the Air and Sea Operations exhibit that is decked out to feel like an aircraft carrier, complete with an F6 Hellcat and an SBD-6 Dauntless from WWII, and a Vietnam era A4 Skyraider jet.
 – IMAX move theater with 3D footage from the moonwalks
 – The Evolution of Space Suits exhibit with actual Gemini and Apollo flight suits, Apollo 15 lunar suit (with moon-dust still on it !!!)
 – A real Apollo lander on display (tho not one that’s been to the moon)
 – The backup Engineering Workshop from skylab that you get to walk through, and includes the exercise section with the famous running track ring.
That tied up all of the day – and used up most of the camera batteries – so then went and checked into the hotel, blogged and charged batteries before going out to see The Hill, Lincoln Memorial and The White House.