Saturday, March 29, 2014

Unexpected Detour from 35,000 Feet to Paradise

Several hours after departing Sydney, flight AC34 began to bank and the captain's voice came on the tinny intercom, usually not a good sign so deep into a transoceanic flight. Passengers and crew had discovered an acrid, burning smell coming from one of the business class washrooms. Now that they mentioned it, I noticed the sharp, electrical odor. Our next stop was clearly not going to be Vancouver. The captain continued to say the closest airport that could handle a Boeing 777-233(LR) was Fiji, about an hour back along our route. As a frequent business traveller, I'm not typically fond of deviations from plan, but this had the element of novelty.

The detour to Fiji seemed interminable. I wasn't overly concerned in terms of safety, but when your ride is smoldering at 35,000 feet you don't have the consolation of terra firma. However, we landed at Nadi International Airport without further incident at 5:49 pm local time on June 16th, 2013.

A couple screen captures of AC34 landing in Nadi from Youtube. A short video can be found here, posted by BonnieBula. Don't expect any fireworks.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Picture of the Moment - Water Lilies in Bali

If you look through the artificial veil of an All Inclusive resort, you can still find moments of sublimity.

Club Med, Nusa Dua, Bali. April 2009.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

This Apple Will Keep the Doctor Away for a Lifetime

There's another Big Apple. It's located in Ontario...and it really is a big apple! The Big Apple in Colborne is a highway landmark east of Toronto and the biggest "red delicious" in the world. It's one of those curious, over-sized monuments to a local specialty that are particular to North America and Australia. After two decades of regularly driving past this landmark on the way to Kingston and the 1000 Islands (and my parent's home in upstate New York) and back, we finally stopped today to try one of the apple pies.

Along with a country-style cafeteria and gift shop, the enclosed bakery floor has large windows that allow visitors to watch the pie assembly. While my wife looked through an assortment of pies, the kids and I wandered the country store and and looked at displays of antiques.

Outdoor activities were obviously curtailed during our early-spring visit, while we were still under the thumb of the polar vortex. However, the website lists complimentary outdoor attractions including 18 holes of mini golf, shuffleboard, bocce, ping-pong and a kid's train ride. There is also a picnic area and a petting zoo featuring an assortment of farm animals. There are public restrooms, including a family washroom, inside the main building.

The Big Apple in Colborne, Ontario. I photographed from the back to capture the way it used to look. Now there's a big smile on the front side.

Open all year from 8:00 a.m, - 6:00 p.m., the Big Apple is located about an hour east of Toronto on Highway 401, just off the freeway and exit 497. It would certainly be a good rest stop heading eastbound after a hectic drive through the greater Toronto area. We enjoyed the apple pie!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Pictures of the Moment - New Zealand Traffic Jam

A typical daily commute in the Toronto metro area includes stretches on Highway 401--the busiest in North America, and one of the busiest and widest in the world. People are in a hurry, and no one appreciates the view.

In New Zealand, where sheep outnumber people approximately 7:1, the countryside commute is a little less hectic. But there can still be traffic jams. You decide which environment is more pleasant.

Some of these commuters are going against the flow of left-hand traffic. Somehow, they don't provoke road rage, and waiting is an enjoyable part of the experience. This picture was taken on the south island in September 2008, near Castle Hill and close to State Highway 73 between Darfield and Arthur's Pass.
These locals live dangerously on the road shoulder without any bike helmets. Five years and change later- have I worn any socks from this flock? Have I seen any in the deli? Sheep numbers in New Zealand have dropped steadily since the early 1980s peak, strongly suggesting option "b."

Saturday, March 15, 2014

How to Sell Your House When Moving to Australia

On a business trip to Michigan's Upper Peninsula during the summer of 2007, I was approached in the parlor of the company cottage after hours by our then Executive VP - Technical. "Mike," he said between sips of beer, "tell me what makes an exploration geologist tick." Though I was squarely involved in establishing our mine operation's reconciliation and resource technology standards at the time, I recall conveying the philosophy of searching for subtle patterns where none was previously recognized, whether it be in volumes of data or rocks, and methodically assessing the potential for value. Most of all I remember stressing a passion for discovery that I still applied to my distinctly different job.

I thought nothing if it at the time, but I must have made an impression. A couple weeks later I called home from my office in Cleveland, Ohio. "Are you sitting down?" I asked my wife. "What do you think about spending three years in Perth, Western Australia?" The company needed someone to bring its brand and some additional experience to the exploration team of a recent acquisition.

An expatriate assignment includes all manner of preparations, and we only had a few months to wrap up affairs on the domestic end, including the sale of our house on the west side of Cleveland, in Avon Lake. Soon our home was listed by the same Realtor who had helped us find the house only a year before.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Apple Pi

The circumference of the earth is approximately 24,901 miles (40,075 km). Its radius is about 3,959 miles (6,371 km). The former divided by twice the latter is roughly a magic number, at least to two decimal places. That's a lot of frequent flier miles and proof our blue planet isn't a perfect sphere.

Happy π Day

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Picture of the Moment - Breaking Surf at Yallingup, Western Australia

The surf breaks at Yallingup, Western Australia make for one of the premier surfing destinations in the world. I don't surf, but when we visited here in July, 2008 I built up a healthy respect for the people who ride these house-high monsters.

Surf Breaks at Yallingup, Western Australia. July 2008.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Picture of the Moment - Coolest Memory Stick Ever

Sure it's only a loosely travel-related post. But boats are a medium of travel, and this is the neatest memory stick I've ever come across. I picked it up at a recent mining convention in Toronto. The real Willem van Oranje is a dredger operated by Boskalis. She was named after the House of Oranje Nassau and launched by the Queen of the Netherlands in 2010.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

The "Right Stuff" in America - Best of the Kennedy Space Center

After five days at Disney World at the beginning of February, we capped our Florida family vacation with a visit to the Kennedy Space Center (KSC). We spent a day; enthusiasts could spend weeks. Normally I write on the universally amusing aspects of areas we visit. I can't focus on absurdity at such a place as the KSC. What's been done there is too profound.

The first thing you notice beyond the ticket counter is the rocket garden, an outdoor display of historic rockets used in the early US space program. Most are standing vertically (a Saturn IB is not) and are in their original state or cobbled from disparate original parts. There are mock-ups of capsules you can get into, and a gantry-style walkway that once extended from the fixed launch tower of LC-39A, and its attached "white room" that moon-bound Apollo astronauts used to make final preparations before accessing their capsule.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Picture of the Moment -- There's Gold in Them Hills, but Not in This Pan

Just moments before a flash of temper, a gold prospector realizes he's been skunked. But everyone is guaranteed to find a little color at Big Thunder Gold Mine in Keystone, South Dakota, even if Dad has to give a little help.

Seconds later this little prospector tossed his gold pan in frustration. Stubbornness is a virtue among gold panners, and prospecting is not the profession of the impatient. But few people got rich during the great gold rushes of the 19th century and early 20th century. The real money was made by the people that supplied food, equipment and the staples--blue jeans, bullets, booze and burlesque. The demotivational poster was created using a tool on

The 1892-vintage Big Thunder mine is a great place to try your hand at panning on the front porch or in nearby Battle Creek, and if you don't strike it rich there's always the ice cream. And you won't strike it rich, even with gold at $1300/oz.

The site includes a mining museum, gift shops and option of a tour of the underground workings, where all mine visitors get a free sample of gold ore. We visited the beautiful Black Hills a couple times (2004, 2006) for a western-themed family camping, and gold panning at a variety of locations was a highlight for the kids. These tourist sites are "seeded," as it is very rare to find any color in the played-out surroundings (and still productive sites are probably over private claims), but the process is much the same as in the 1870s.

The nearby Homestake Gold Mine in Lead was the deepest gold mine in North America when it closed in 2002 after producing approximately 40 million ounces of gold over 126 years, one of the continent's biggest single lodes.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Awash in Travel Amenities

A scalding-hot shower is a treasured part of my morning routine, but I haven't bought soap in years. My wife can still stand to be around me though. Perks of frequent business trips include the travel-sized, hair cleaning products, soap and body wash that come with a hotel stay. Some people collect stamps in good condition. I collect soap, which is most valuable when used.

It's a special bonus when housekeeping puts out both a facial bar and bath soap--with careful hoarding it's an opportunity to build an inventory when missing toiletries are replaced daily during a long stay. That stash carries me through extended periods at home. Personal hygiene products would be one of the biggest added financial burdens brought on by unemployment, after exhaustion of the soap severance package.