Monday, December 31, 2007

2007 highlights

Well 2007 is nearly over. According to the official judge (my wife Marie) it's been a good year. Here's the summary and highlights:


*I keep track of my flights at Flight Memory which has a neat feature to generate a map of all my flights for the year (below). Unfortunately it doesn't indicate how often I've flown a route, for example that I flew BNE-CBR about twenty times.


Cold, cold, cold

I went out today hoping to find some leftovers from yesterday's 12 inches of powder which I missed through sheer laziness.*

I had a few good runs, especially on the lower mountain, but generally the snow was quite wind blown and heavy and it was way too cold to stay out more than an hour and a half. So that's it for skiing in 2007.


* Yesterday wasn't a total waste since I watched Blade Runner, The Final Cut on DVD. The picture and sound on this remastered version are simply awesome.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Expectations exceeded

Today by the time I reached the top of the mountain I almost came straight back down again. It was cold (10F /-12C) and grey and the snow wasn't good enough to justify fighting the holiday crowds.

I'm glad I didn't though because it was quite a bit warmer at mid-mountain and I found some nice powder stashes. The trees to skiers' left of Sunnyside were especially good; good enough for a repeat performance. I also found some soft stuff off to the sides of Oops, Concentration and Ted's Ridge on the lower mountain.

All in all a day that promised little but delivered quite a bit. A day where you go out not expecting much and having a great time is almost as good as a day when you expect a lot and find it.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Leaving on a jet plane

The late, great John Denver wrote those lyrics back in 1967* but until now for a big part of the year in Steamboat the only way to come and go has been on a Dash-8 turboprop, a service I've previously criticised.

Finally we're moving to an all jet service year round come the end of this ski season! As a member of the Yampa Valley Airport Commission I've known about this for a few weeks (and I hate keeping secrets) but I'm still excited at the formal announcement.


* Just in case you've been living under a rock for the past forty years and haven't heard this wonderful song, here's a version performed by John Denver and Peter, Paul and Mary who made it a hit.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Day 10

It was a toasty 2F /-17C at 9am this morning so Marie decided it was too cold today to go snowshoeing as we originally planned, leaving me free to ski.

There was still plenty of leftovers from the foot or so that fell on Monday night especially in the trees where it was waist deep in places especially Twilight, Lights Out to skiers' left and the lower end of the Sundown liftline.

I skied the first hour by myself and then met up with a family I met last night at Christmas dinner, Roy and Ann from Oxford (England) and their son Luke who shares a birthday with my wife and turned 13 today.

After a slow start to the season we're now getting a constant powder pounding with more snow forecast over the next few days.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas Eve

The downside to Friday's awesome conditions was that I was way too sore to ski the past two days despite it continuing to snow all through the weekend.

So today I took it a little easier, not wanting to be unable to lift a cup of Christmas cheer tomorrow. I did ski some trees - Shadows and 3:30 - where there was still plenty of powder, although it was quite heavy going in places. I also managed some bumps, the best being on Vertigo, my favourite lower mountain run which I hadn't skied yet this season but which was every bit as good as I remembered it. For some reason it gets surprisingly few people, perhaps because you can only access it from Heavenly Daze.

I probably won't get back on the slopes until Thursday. Tomorrow we'll be busy opening gifts and then preparing our contribution to Christmas dinner with our friends Vesna and John. Then on Wednesday it's Marie's birthday so we're going snowshoeing.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Lucky eight

As I've mentioned previously, in Chinese culture the number eight is considered lucky. Well today was my eighth day for the season and it was lucky for me. It's been snowing hard in Steamboat for the past 24 hours so it was another epic powder day.

I was out early anticipating a crowd at the gondola and I was right so I jumped on the new Christie Express instead and across to the Thunderhead Express which worked like a dream.

It was deep powder everywhere but nowhere better than the trees of Twilight and Shadows. Even late in the morning there were still plenty of deep stashes. For example, I found some waist deep powder around 11:45 am to skier's left of One O'clock.

I skied the first hour and half by myself and then connected with an Aussie friend Nicole around 10:15 (that's how long it takes to get her five year old and three year old daughters ready and into the ski class!) She's a former competitive skier with an old knee injury that's now more of a psychological impediment than a physical one, so I made a point of pushing her. It seemed to work, but I'll know she's forgiven me when she asks to ski with me again.

It's still snowing hard so it looks like more of the same tomorrow.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Carving

It's a little too early to be carving turkey, but not too early to be carving turns, so that was the main course on today's Steamboat menu.

Only an inch or so of fresh snow overnight but Marie had an early appointment so I was also out early and at the gondola as it opened at 8:30 am. In addition to carving up the groomers all over the mountain I also ventured into the trees on Twilight and Triangle 3, where the snow was a few inches deep if a little heavy, and the bumps of Hurricane.

It's been snowing all day and forecast to continue tonight which means that chances are better than even for a powder day tomorrow. So I'll leave you now so I can get an early night!

Apres ski was drinks at the Ptarmigan Inn with a colleague from Australia who has a condo here in Steamboat.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Cruisy

Cruisy. That's the word to describe a day like today. It was cold and overcast early but by the time I went out at noon the sun was out and it was a very comfortable 25F/-3C. The snow was perfect - packed powder kept soft and dry by cool overnight temperatures - and even though it's less than two weeks to Christmas and the winter jet services into Steamboat have started there were surprisingly few people.

Best run of the day was Rolex. Big bumps but still soft and forgiving which I skied very well. It's no longer my technique holding me back on the bumps so much as a lack of fitness from a very lazy summer. I'm stopping now not because I've lost the line but because I've lost my breath!

Friday, December 14, 2007

Unreal stuff

If Wednesday was the real stuff, today was the unreal stuff. Six inches of new powder by 5 am and still snowing hard when the lifts opened on top of a soft base. Plus they opened the Sundown Express this morning providing access to the whole of Priest Creek.

I was particularly lucky to arrive at the lower half of Three O'clock just as the rope was dropping (that's the second time this season!) That meant waist deep untracked powder over a flat base! The trees of Shadows and Twilight also revealed some deep stashes, especially on the lower half of Twilight.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The real stuff

The 5 am report said only five inches of new snow overnight, but what a five inches it was. Champagne Powder. Super light, dry and fluffy just how we like it here in Steamboat. The real stuff.

And since tourist season hasn't really started yet, there wasn't a whole lot of people competing to enjoy it - I arrived at the gondola around 8:15 and was only about 20th in line!

On the more heavily skied runs five inches is "dust on crust" but in the trees where the previous falls had stayed soft it was a full on powder experience. I found some especially nice stashes down Kuus's Cruise and Three O'clock (almost worth the traverse back to Rainbow Saddle) as well as in the trees of Triangle 3 and between Buddy's and Cyclone. My best skiing performance for the day though was the mid-section of Hurricane.

This is as good as it gets. No it isn't. It will soon be even better!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Lucky guy

Does it count if you ski a foot of fresh powder and no one's there to see you?

Of course. In fact it counts double!

I got a late start and there's been no significant new snow for three days, so how did I do it? I got lucky. Really lucky. I managed to get off the gondola just as they were dropping the rope on Valley View for the first time this season.

Now it's snowing, so it may be a powder day tomorrow. And my wife and I celebrated our 19th anniversary yesterday.

How lucky can one guy get?

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Second day

Your legs always feel it the most on the second day. So today I just took a quick trip to the top of the mountain (Storm Peak Express opened yesterday). So in a way I'm glad the forecast storm didn't come through last night. I don't think my legs are really ready yet for a powder day!

Friday, December 07, 2007

My opening day

Today was day one of my 2007-08 ski season. I'm not too disappointed to have missed the first two weeks of the season whilst we were away in England, since the first week was cancelled due to lack of snow anyway.

In fact my timing was almost perfect - it only really started snowing properly in the last few days and today the snow was soft and dry just the way we like it here! I didn't ski a whole lot, having failed once again to keep my promise to myself to stay fit over summer, but the little I did was enough to remind me just how much I love this sport.

A couple of very good bump runs on my first day also confirmed that my progress last season was not imagined. Right now I could hardly be happier, unless of course it keeps snowing for the next two days, which is exactly what is forecast!

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Back home

We've just arrived home after my five day trip to England turned into five weeks.

We flew as far as Denver last night and today took the shuttle van to Steamboat. Amazingly there was a family on board from the small town in Australia where I was born and went to high school!

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Beirut churches

This morning my wife went to Mass in her old village. Despite the fact than most of the former Christian population have now moved elsewhere many still return every Sunday to the church which has been restored after being badly damaged during the 1975-90 civil war.


Actually there's three churches in the village of which one other has also been restored. The largest church is still a work in progress. Look closely at the column on the left. Yes, those are bullet holes.


And the local Muslim population quite happily send their kids to the local convent school. My wife thinks these are signs of hope. I see them as evidence that people of different races and faiths can live together only until cynical and evil leaders exploit these differences for their own ends - which unfortunately happens all too easily.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Beirut

Last night we flew from London to Beirut where we're visiting Marie's relatives.

The drive from the airport to my father-in-law's house provided a personal snapshot of Lebanon's troubled history since it passes through the 'village' (suburb) of Mreijeh in west Beirut where my wife lived as a child.

During the 1975-90 civil war west Beirut became the Muslim sector and Christian families like my wife's were almost entirely driven out in fear of their lives. To make sure they didn't come back the houses were usually destroyed. This is what happened to my wife's home which had been moved by my wife's grandfather stone by stone from its original site a few kilometres away when Beirut airport was built in the 1950's. I saw the ruins of the house on my first trip to Beirut in 1993. My father-in-law still owns the land but it's now a petrol station.


So I really hope that there's a special place in hell for people responsible for ethnic cleansing.

My father-in-law was elected mayor of the village in 1967 and remained so by default until 1998 (since the Lebanese were too busy killing each other to hold elections). Interestingly he was re-elected in 1998 by a population which by then was overwhelmingly Shiite! He retired in 2005 only to be replaced by his former deputy who of course is also Christian. Who said Lebanese politics is confusing?

After a quick nap this morning (the flight last night was too short to get much sleep) my wife's youngest sister showed us her new apartment which at the moment is a construction site, but it should be fantastic once it's finished. As you can see from the photos, it's in one of the older neighbourhoods of Beirut.



In the afternoon we visited one of Lebanon's most famous Christian shrines at Harissa (Our Lady of Lebanon). I was surprised to discover a significant number of Muslim visitors. I discovered that they were there because Mary is also venerated in Islam which I didn't know.

The shrine is located at the top of a steep hillside overlooking Jounieh bay north of Beirut. This area became a stronghold of Lebanon’s Christian community during the civil war as they were driven out of mixed communities like the one my wife grew up in.

As this shot shows, the mountains rise quite steeply from the sea which is a key part of Lebanon’s natural beauty.


Beirut like most cities in developing countries is not so nice (lots of traffic, smog and general grime), but the suburbs and villages in the mountains are quite lovely.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

English weather

Today was spent driving from Cornwall back to London. For those accustomed as I am to the distances and wide open spaces of Australia and the US, driving from one side of the country to the other in a few hours is an interesting experience. Not much to see today apart from lots of typical English weather – overcast and damp! I shouldn't complain since we were blessed with beautiful weather the past two days.

Monday, October 15, 2007

King Arthur was here...

...or so legend says. Here being Tintagel in Cornwall, legendary birthplace of King Arthur.




More likely it was the stronghold of a Cornish king who came to be celebrated by the Celts for holding out against the Anglo-Saxons.

Tonight we’re at Land's End, the most westerly point in England. We're staying at the historic hotel.



Dinner and breakfast are included with the room and the food and service are great and the hotel has lots of charm, but it's a little tired and ready for someone to do a major renovation and turn it into something really special.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Oh, to be in England*

Today we arrived in England. The 8 hour 30 minute flight between Denver and London with British Airways seemed quite easy compared with regular 14 hour flights to Australia.

You might notice that my previous post on 30 September was titled "Back home" so, yes, we only spent two weeks at home before heading overseas again. It's not all work this time though. I’m attending a conference in London later in the week so we decided to spend the next two days visiting Cornwall and next week I'll be taking some vacation and we'll be heading to Beirut to visit Marie's dad and sister (and a whole bunch of aunts, uncles and cousins).

Since we only arrived earlier this afternoon we travelled only as far as Dorset today. We’re spending the night in Charmouth, a lovely little seaside village filled with old buildings, narrow streets and cosy pubs including The George where we had a delicious treacle pudding for dinner (we don't usually eat just desert for dinner, but with the time zone changes your eating patterns get all messed up - that's my excuse anyway!)


* Home Thoughts, From Abroad (Robert Browning)

Oh, to be in England
Now that April's there,
And whoever wakes in England
Sees, some morning, unaware,
That the lowest boughs and the brushwood sheaf
Round the elm-tree bole are in tiny leaf,
While the chaffinch sings on the orchard bough
In England—now!

And after April, when May follows,
And the whitethroat builds, and all the swallows!
Hark, where my blossomed pear-tree in the hedge
Leans to the field and scatters on the clover
Blossoms and dewdrops—at the bent spray's edge—
That's the wise thrush; he sings each song twice over,
Lest you should think he never could recapture
The first fine careless rapture!
And though the fields look rough with hoary dew,
All will be gay when noontide wakes anew
The buttercups, the little children's dower
—Far brighter than this gaudy melon-flower!

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Back home

We arrived home last night from seven weeks in Australia and New Zealand.

As if to welcome us home and turn our focus to the fast approaching ski season we awoke to a lovely dusting of snow on the mountain.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Kids rockclimbing

It's school holidays in Brisbane this week and a climbing wall has been set up in the park behind my friend Raj's house. The kids loved it, especially our nephew Ramzi (seven) here on one of his multiple ascents.



My wife's godson Rohan (ten) made it to the top as well.



But the girls weren't intimidated. Here's my goddaughter Priyanka (eight).


And finally our friend Luisa's daughter Jai (nine).


Apologies to our newphew Alex (eleven) who was too quick on his way to the top for my wife to get his photo!

Friday, September 14, 2007

A niece at last

Until now, my wife and I have only had nephews (three on her side, two on mine). So we were really pleased when my brother and his wife recently delivered a girl called Luca. We had the chance this past weekend to visit them in Tasmania and see her.


She looks a lot like my brother did when he was born (I was ten at the time, so old enough to remember it).

Friday, August 31, 2007

Bloggus interruptus

To my regular readers I must apologise for the lack of posts in the past two weeks. I've been busy preparing a major demonstration of a proposed system to a customer.

In the area I work in, the systems we implement are highly modified for each customer, so the demonstrations are not exactly out of the box and require extensive preparation. So I've been busy co-ordinating teams in Australia, US, India and France to ensure the technology works while at the same time preparing and polishing the delivery approach and my own presentation.

The demo was yesterday and I am pleased to say it went extremely well, including the part where the customer brought in identical twins in an attempt to foil our facial recognition software which easily told them apart!

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Premium airline review

In the past two months I've had the opportunity to sample business class on Cathay Pacific (LA to Hong Kong), Qantas(Brisbane to LA) and Air New Zealand (LA to Brisbane via Auckland, and (international) first class on United (Beijing to San Francisco).

I'd rank them as follows:

1. Air New Zealand business (brand new, and flat beds with very pleasant and attentive staff)

2. United first (old and shabby with ancient staff, but flat beds)

3. Qantas business (reasonably new, but angled flat beds and indifferent staff)

4. Cathay Pacific business (old, non-flat beds, but very nice staff)

United have just announced that they are about to begin a major upgrade of their premium cabins, finally introducing flat beds which will give me a decent business class alternative to Qantas between LA and Sydney.

Cathay have also begun an upgrade and are going to a similar style seat to the Air New Zealand which is great.

Hidden in a recent Qantas announcement about the fitout of their A380s due to be delivered next year is also the news that that are making some adjustments to their business class seat to deliver a truly flat bed (it looks like the same product spaced a few inches further apart and adjusted to remove the annoying angle).

I also discovered today that my new Qantas Platinum (Oneworld Emerald) status entitles me to use Qantas First Class lounges. So I'm sitting here in the Qantas international first class lounge at Sydney airport on my way to Wellington New Zealand and I can tell you it's really nice. Check out this entrance with a living wall of plants.


And I just had a lovely sit down meal complete with espresso coffee and this fantastic desert, all complementary of course.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

New York Times on Steamboat

An interesting article in the New York Times this week on growth in Steamboat and similar places being driven by "location neutral" workers like me.

If we needed more evidence than the boom in property prices in the last two years that Steamboat has been discovered, I think this is it!

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Steamboat rugby!

Australia may have lost the Bledisloe Cup and Tri-Nations to New Zealand, and will be lucky to make it to the semi-finals of this year's Rugby World Cup, but at least Steamboat are the Ski Town rugby champs!

The Steamboat team is having a great season. They are 14-0 after yesterday defeating Vail in the final. Their next game is against Aspen who are traditionally one of the strongest teams in the region. Beating Vail and Aspen back to back would be like beating South Africa and New Zealand in successive games.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Egg on Howard's face

Not surprisingly the incredibly flimsy case against Dr Haneef has completely fallen apart with the Director of Public Prosecutions dropping all charges.

Only ten days ago this man was so dangerous that the Government felt the need to revoke his visa and detain him under the immigration laws after a magistrate refused to play the Government's game and granted him bail. Now he's free in the community, the Immigration Minister having sought to save face by placing him on "residential detention" which seems to be something like house arrest but without the arrest part. All that remains is for his visa to be restored after a face saving consultation with the Solicitor-General.

John Howard would have you believe that all this has nothing to do with him or his Government. Let's look at the evidence.

You've got the Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews, a political light weight who was surely acting as the Prime Minister's puppet, cancelling Dr Haneef's visa in order to frustrate the decision of a court to grant bail.

You've got the Attorney-General Philip Ruddock, one of Howard's closest allies, complaining that the "presumption against bail" didn't work, meaning that the Government lied when the legislation was being debated in Parliament and they made all sorts of reassurances about checks and balances, because what they really meant was "no bail".

And you've got the PM bleating about needing to toughen the terrorism laws which was clearly intended to inflame the situation.

No, if he sounds like a fear mongering little bastard, and acts like a fear mongering little bastard, you can be pretty sure that he is a fear mongering little bastard.

There is a silver lining in this cloud because there are several players who come out of this smelling quite good especially the magistrate who called the Government right up front on the flimsiness of their case and granted bail to Dr Haneef, and his lawyers and the legal fraternity in general who were fearless in confronting the Government.

As for the DPP Damian Bugg QC, I have mixed feelings. I'm surprised that in such a high profile case he wasn't personally involved earlier, but once he did get involved and saw that there was no evidence he immediately did the right thing. I ought to point out for my US readers that the DPP is a career civil servant, not a political appointee or elected office holder. If this had been a US prosecutor pursuing a partisan political agenda I have no doubt that Dr Haneef would have spent months or years waiting to be exonerated.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Ski with me?

I bought my 2007-08 season pass yesterday (the price goes up significantly on August 15, I'll be out of town and I really didn't want to forget) which has got me thinking about the ski season already.

One of the things I'd like to do this year is to spend more time skiing with other people. Unfortunately most of my Steamboat friends have regular 9 to 5, Monday to Friday jobs (yuk!) and whilst most of them have "powder clauses" everyone knows "there are no friends on powder days."

So if you are planning to ski in Steamboat this year, you're a solid intermediate or advanced skier and you'd like a local to show you the secrets of our mountain, send me an email!

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Haneef case unravelling

Looks like the Australian Government's case against Dr Haneef is already beginning to unravel and the Immigration Minister's decision to cancel his visa is becoming even less defensible than the case of guilt by association I discussed yesterday. Even if that were a crime (and it still isn't in anything resembling a liberal democracy, at least for now), the alleged associations aren't even standing up to scrutiny.

According to a report in The Australian newspaper, Australia's leading national daily, under the heading Haneef dossier 'flawed', key pieces of evidence used to justify the visa cancellation and presented to the courts are completely inconsistent with the statements given by Dr Haneef to police.

In particular the claim in the affidavit that Dr Haneef told police that he lived in Britain with the two terrorism suspects, his second cousins is completely inconsistent with the record of interview in which Dr Haneef tells police that he lived at 13 Bentley Road, Liverpool, with several doctors, whom he names. None are the two suspects. Dr Haneef tells police he visited Cambridge on two occasions in 2004 and stayed for up to six days with Kafeel Ahmed and that he had moved out of 13 Bentley Road when Dr Sabeel Ahmed subsequently stayed there.

Similarly "While the police affidavit stated Dr Haneef had no explanation about his one-way ticket, the record of interview shows that he gave a detailed explanation to police while answering questions. Dr Haneef told police that as he did not have funds in his Australian bank account his father-in-law had booked and paid for the one-way ticket with an understanding that when I go there we can arrange for the coming back ticket." I'm actually guessing that wasn't the real reason, that he did panic and flee in fear - fear of being found guilty by association when he heard that his cousins had been arrested. Now why would he think that?

Wikipedia

I believe one of the most remarkable things to emerge from the Internet in recent years, amongst many amazing things, is the online encyclopedia, Wikipedia.

What's so amazing about it? Well it overturns centuries of thought about how knowledge is disseminated, that's what. In the past knowledge was the preserve of a small elite. Until a little over a century ago most of the world was illiterate and even with mass literacy in the 20th century 99.999% of people consumed knowledge but didn't generate it. Whereas Wikipedia is not only available to everyone but it's created by everyone.

So consistent with that theme, yesterday I made my first edit. You can see it here. The sentence on amending the Australian Constitution is my work.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Guilt by association

Recent developments have supported the conclusions I reached about the case of Dr Haneef, the doctor detained in Brisbane in connection with the UK car bombing attempts.

A number of documents pertinent to the case have since been leaked including the transcript of the police interview with the suspect (warning the file is 22Mb) and the documents used by the Minister for Immigration to cancel his visa and lock him up in an immigration detention centre, presumably until such time as the case comes to trial which could easily be as long as two years.

What these documents show is how incredibly flimsy the case is against Dr Haneef. Here's what the reasons used by the Minister for Immigration (marked as "Highly Protected", presumably to save the Government embarrassment) say:


Note that "Suspect 2" and "Suspect 5" are Dr Haneef's second cousins. Completely missing is any evidence or even allegation that Dr Haneef knew or should have known that his cousins were involved in terrorism. The Government isn't even alleging that the mobile phone and SIM card that he gave to his cousin was used in any way in terrorist activity. And read carefully the mention of a 300 pound loan to sit a medical exam. Dr Haneef is receiving the loan not giving it!

So what does this boil down to? Guilt by association pure and simple. A guy is being locked up because he stayed with his cousins when living in a foreign country and left them some things he didn't need when he left.

The positive side to this story is that the Australian legal community is as outraged by this case as I am. When the judge hearing the application for appeal against the visa cancellation tells the Immigration Minister "I'd fail the character test that you have applied" there is a small glimmer of hope. Not surprisingly the judged granted leave to appeal and it is scheduled to be heard on August 8 at which time one can only hope that the courts give the Immigration Minister an almighty kick in the pants.

I have absolutely no doubt that if this ever goes to trial Haneef will be acquitted. But if John Howard has his way, only after Dr Haneef spends a year or two in detention. And then what, they'll deport him for a crime he hasn't committed? Rule of law? Natural justice? What a joke.

As for Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd, he wins the gutless wonder of the year award for supporting the Government's action. From what I know of him I'm sure he is only doing this out of fear that he will be somehow painted as 'soft on terrorism' during the upcoming election campaign. Which somehow makes it even worse.

Take me to your SIM card overlords.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Fear mongering

Over the past two weeks I've followed with interest the case of a doctor in Brisbane detained in connection with the attempted terrorist attack on Glasgow airport.

I had hoped for an approach that strikes a better balance between the rule of law and security than we've seen in the United States' "war on terror."

No such luck. Not only was Dr Haneef detained for twelve days without charge, he was finally charged with 'providing aid to terrorists' because he gave his mobile phone SIM card to his cousin when he left England to move to Australia (presumably because it was no longer of any use to him).

Unless there is some other compelling piece of evidence against this guy that isn't being reported (and I'm pretty sure if there was the Australian Government would be shouting it from the rooftops), then we are living in a world, at least in the US and Australia, where the most innocent act can land you in jail for 'aiding terrorism'.

That's one of the basic aspects of a totalitarian state - that no behaviour is beyond the reach or the arbitrary sanction of the state, which keeps the populace in a state of perpetual fear and compliance.

Notwithstanding that, the Prime Minister is making veiled suggestions that Australia's terrorism laws need to be strengthened. Perhaps he wants to take a leaf out of his mate George W's book and set up a gulag on some remote island beyond the reach of troublesome courts. More likely he's just talking tough as part of his re-election strategy. After all it worked for him last time with the Tampa incident.

What a fear mongering little bastard our Prime Minister is.

Update (midnight): I thought for a moment that my worst fears where unfounded when a magistrate granted Haneef bail on a $10,000 surety. But only until the Federal Government promptly cancelled his visa so that they could detain him under the Migration Act.

This is a breathtaking abuse of power designed purely to invalidate the ruling of a court.

Firstly, immigration detention is designed for people who are in breach of their immigration status and are a risk of failing to appear for immigration proceedings.

Secondly, if he's in breach of his immigration status that's only because the government just cancelled his visa!

Thirdly, there are no immigration proceedings since the Government has no intention of deporting him before he stands trial.

Finally, he's now the most watched man in Australia so the chances of him absconding are about zero as the magistrate rightly observed.

All consistent with my original conclusion that this is nothing more than a cynical ploy by the Prime Minister and his henchmen( Attorney-General Philip Ruddock and Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews) to whip up hysteria so they can frighten the public into voting for them again.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Ban politicians banning stuff

There's a report in today's Pilot on a proposal to ban plastic shopping bags. This is not news in the sense that several major cities have already done this, but it is news in the sense that this will affect me directly.

Whenever you get a proposal like this the proponents will always trot out any number of often valid reasons that the item to be banned is bad, bad, bad. But there's never any real analysis of whether those costs outweigh the benefits or whether there are alternative measures available to address the problems.

In a supposedly free society banning things - having the government tell you as a citizen that you can't buy something that you've decided would be beneficial to you - ought to be the absolute last resort.

In this case there's a simple solution that addresses the stated problems without the 'nanny state' knee jerk response. Estimate the costs that plastic bags impose on society, costs such as removing them from rivers and waterways, and levy a tax on plastic bags that covers those costs (and actually use the money raised to address the problem). If people then decide that the benefits of plastic bags still outweigh the costs, let them actually exercise their rights as adults and citizens and make that decision for themselves.

So the only ban I'm supporting is a ban on politicians banning stuff!

Take me to your plastic shopping bag overlords.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Frontier to serve Steamboat

Today's Steamboat Pilot reports that Frontier Airlines is close to announcing a new year round service to Steamboat's Yampa Valley Regional Airport.

The proposed aircraft - the Bombardier Q400 - is just a newer, bigger Dash 8. Qantas fly them extensively on regional routes, which in their monopolistic minds includes services between Sydney, Australia's largest city, and Canberra, the national capital. One of the five daily services between Canberra and Brisbane is also on the Q400 (the other four are on 737's). I usually avoid that flight like the plague but I was forced to take it once back in June. I'd love to get my hands on the bright spark who decided it would be a good idea to use a turboprop on a 2.5 hour trip.

Nevertheless, the nice thing about this announcement is that it is going to be a year round service meaning there will finally be an off-season alternative to United. As if to remind me why this would be a good thing, United managed to mess up my trip home last week. Due to mechanical trouble out of San Francisco I missed my connection in Denver, only by a few minutes but that meant waiting six hours for the next flight (assuming I could even get a seat). I chose to take the Alpine Taxi service instead since that got me home several hours earlier. Here's an earlier post on United's Express service to Steamboat.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Balloon Rodeo

This weekend is Steamboat's annual balloon rodeo where we get a mass launch of hot air balloons on both Saturday and Sunday mornings. I was too tired yesterday to get up early (you need to be a morning person to a balloonist!) but I did manage to get up in time today.

This year the balloon's have moved to a new site due to the development of the old site. It's a comfortable 30 minute walk from home so we also got our day's exercise in the process.

One of the big differences from the old site is you can get up close while the balloons are being inflated.


It's also next to a small lake, so one of the 'challenges' for the balloonists is to skim the water with the basket.

But the real attraction is to see the sky filled with balloons.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Back in Beijing

I'm back in Beijing for the second time this year (and the third time in the past 12 months). If anything the smog is even worse than last time (and the heat makes it seem worse still). I read in the local paper this morning that the government is planning a trial run next month of the "ban all cars" solution to cleaning up the air for the Olympics.

I'm only here for one day and then I'm heading home tomorrow. I've got a direct flight from Beijing to San Francisco on United Airlines flight 888 (given that "8" is a lucky number to the Chinese do you think there's any chance that this flight number is a co-incidence?) then I connect via Denver back to Steamboat (Hayden). I leave Beijing at noon on Friday and arrive home at 4.30 pm. Unfortunately that's a trick of the international date line. It's not a 4.5 hour trip. More like 24 hours of travelling.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Scooter scoots

So President Bush has commuted 'Scooter' Libby's jail sentence.

Of the thousands of people who get a raw deal from the US justice system every year are we supposed to believe that Scooter is the most deserving of mercy? After all, we all know that the system discriminates against rich white men.

It's a great reminder on this 4th of July of why the Founding Fathers fought a war of independence. That was to preserve a system of privilege where there's one law for the rich and powerful and well connected and another law for the rest of us, right?

Monday, July 02, 2007

Hong Kong after ten years

I arrived in Hong Kong last night just in time to catch the very large and impressive fireworks display on Victoria Harbour celebrating the tenth anniversary of the transfer of Hong Kong from British rule back to China.

Whilst there have been occasional concerns about China respecting the agreement to preserve Hong Kong's system of government for 50 years, things have generally worked out much better than most people expected. I know quite a few Hong Kongers who moved to Australia and Canada in the mid-90's in case things went bad, but have all subsequently moved back. As an outsider, albeit one who has spent a lot of time here over the past seven years, Hong Kong is still a fundamentally different place to mainland China.

It's a holiday today in Hong Kong but I'm in the office with my colleagues preparing for a presentation to a potential customer tomorrow. Here's the view from the office. If you look carefully you can see the remnants of the old airport in the middle right.


Fortunately I managed to find a flight to Hong Kong which arrived in the evening, which meant I could go straight to bed after arriving. I find that much less tiring than overnight flights which arrive early in the morning, which is unfortunately the case with all the flights between the US and Australia. So I'm feeling quite rested this morning despite having a 4 am start on Saturday and spending about 28 hours getting here.

I managed to download some good content for my Zune to listen to on the trip, including some podcasts and also video (in a compatible format) of The Chaser's War on Everything (which will be familiar to my Australia readers). I also watched a couple of movies including Bridge to Terabithia which turned out to be a very warm, charming and moving film.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Virgin (im)Mobile

I'm in the process of trying to migrate my mobile phone number from Verizon (who only have expensive plans with lots of monthly minutes that I never use) to Virgin Mobile (who have much more reasonable plans for my usage pattern).

The FCC has mandated that carriers must provide portability and has set a target time for the transfer process of 2.5 hours. So I submitted the request to Virgin Mobile on Wednesday and Verizon deactivated my service with them sometime yesterday. Yet there's still no sign of Virgin activating my new service and they're telling me that it could be another 2-3 business days meaning Tuesday or Wednesday before I have cell phone service again.

Fortunately I can fall back to roaming on my Australian GSM phone, which I'll need to do next week in HK and China anyway since US phones don't work anywhere else.

Don't you love an industry where 2.5 hours means 5 days! Maybe I should try that when my bill comes due - pay for one month and get four years service!

The carriers will all tell you that they can't provide any service guarantees for number portability because they are at the mercy of your old carrier. To some extent that's true. But Virgin Mobile are their own worst enemy. What they ought to do is allocate you a temporary number so you're not without service and if they don't care about that, so you can start making calls and spending money with them!

They can't do that because their software systems are crap. What I've deduced is that their system isn't built around an account number to which you can associate a handset and phone number, but rather the phone number is the account number. That means you can't change the phone number without closing the old account and opening a new one with all the problems that creates around balances and billing and customer information that is typically associated with an "account".

So I haven't even made a phone call yet with my new carrier and I hate them nearly as much as my old one.

Modelling these sorts of relationships - between things like customers and accounts and phone numbers and so on - is a critical part of what I do as a software architect. Getting it right means the difference between your systems letting you deliver responsive and flexible service to your customers or the lousy experience I'm having right now with Virgin Mobile.

My guess is that Virgin Mobile don't even know it's a problem, and if someone like me tried to point it out at time they were implementing the system they could only see the additional cost and not the value. And yet they probably wonder why even with their really competitive pricing it's so hard to win customers from existing carriers whilst their crap systems make the process something akin to torture (or whatever the Bush administration is calling it these days).

This is actually my second attempt to change carriers. To their credit, despite the annoyances described above, Virgin Mobile at least now have me as a customer, which is something t-mobile couldn't manage.


Update: (7 pm) Finally my phone is activated. That's about 50 hours. Compared to the FCC target of 2.5 hours that's 25 times as long as it should take.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Queuing theory

A short but interesting post over at Jane Galt on one of my pet hates - separate queues for multiple service points.

There ought to be a name for this kind of phenomenon - where anyone who has studied the issue knows the answer is A, but 95% of the world persists with B. Free trade is another example. Every economist in the world knows that free trade is good, but the great majority of people persist in thinking it's a bad thing.

I remember being stuck once in an immigration queue at Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv for 30 minutes behind a lady from Mongolia. I suspect the Israeli immigration agent didn't even know where Mongolia was, let alone get his head around a Mongolian wanting to visit Israel (perhaps she was a member of one of those long lost Jewish tribes?) And there was absolutely no way they'd let me move to another line!

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Talkback

I called talk back radio today for the first time in my life. What makes this interesting is that I'm at home in Colorado and I called ABC Coast FM, a radio station in Australia that I regularly listen to online. It also helps that I have a phone service which includes unlimited calling to Australia.

And the issue that fired me up? Daylight Savings Time. Unlike most of Australia, Queensland doesn't have it even though a majority of the population are in favour. The reason is that people in rural areas who have disproportionate influence in Queensland's political system don't like it. Supposedly it upsets the cows or something (as someone who grew up on a farm I can tell you that the cows seem to cope pretty well, but maybe their owners are not as bright).

Finally the Queensland Government has proposed the obvious solution - have daylight saving only in the urban areas in the south east of the state that want it. As I mentioned when I called, there are states in the US that have different parts in different time zones and they seem to cope just fine.

Update: (1 July) Just got an email from my sister telling me that my nephew who lives on the Gold Coast heard me on the radio!

Balloon tragedy

Last week I posted pictures of our local hot air balloon making a close pass over our condo.

Unfortunately yesterday the balloon was associated with a tragedy - one of the passengers fell from the balloon to his death. The police are not confirming whether it was an accident or suicide, but the comments from the pilot indicate that the guy jumped.

I've been in that balloon and I can tell you that Ian the pilot is very focused on safety and that the basket is deep enough that you couldn't fall out accidentally unless you were doing something really stupid so it's pretty clear to me that this wasn't an accident.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Why it snows (so much) in Steamboat

Here's a great clip from the Weather Channel explaining why we get so much of our famous Champagne powder in Steamboat. Watch it and then book your ski trip for next year. After all it's only 152 days to go. Never too early for a little Steamboat dreaming...

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Balloon alarm

I awoke this morning to a strange sound outside my bedroom window - the gas burner on a hot air balloon.


By the time I found my camera he'd managed to gain some altitude but when I first looked out the window it looked like he was going to land in our hot tub!


Not quite as dramatic as this previous encounter, but still a colourful start to the morning!

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Zuned out

Last week I used some of my credit card miles (which build up pretty quickly when you buy spend thousands of dollars a month on plane tickets and hotels) to order myself Microsoft's answer to the iPod - the Zune.

It arrived today. My first impression was that it's quite a bit bigger than the video iPod, although I'll be using it with my Bose noise cancelling headphones so that doesn't really matter.

My second impression was that it's not quite as user friendly as the iPod, but the navigation is still pretty easy.

On the upside, it's a 30Gb device so it can comfortably hold my entire music library which is great because when you're away for weeks at a time it's impossible to predict what you're going to want to listen to. The sound quality is great and the graphics are awesome.

Two things annoy me. The first and more minor issue is that you can't sych it with Windows Media Player but instead need to install a separate program which looks almost exactly like - (drum roll please) - Windows Media Player.

The second and far more annoying problem is that my Windows Media Center PC records video files in a totally incompatible format. Yes that's right, Microsoft's supposed centre for the digital home doesn't work with Microsoft's portable player.

This was going to be my main source of video to watch on this device - I had visions of catching up on all my favourite shows as I wing my way back and forth across the Pacific - so I'm more than a little annoyed. But even more than that, I just don't understand how Microsoft could be so dumb. Synergy with their desktop products, where they own the market, is their best chance of catching Apple in the MP3 player game. So what on earth were these guys thinking?

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Back home

If you're one of my two or three avid and loyal readers you may have noticed that my posts for the last seven weeks have been coming from elsewhere. I've been on a extended business trip (fortunately accompanied by the Steamboat Lioness for most of it) taking in New Zealand (Wellington), Australia (Brisbane, the Gold Coast, Sydney and Canberra) and China (Beijing).

We arrived home yesterday to find only a few tiny patches of snow remaining on the highest parts of the mountain and the valley as green and lush as you can imagine and Steamboat's construction boom well underway.

We flew as far as Denver where we took an overnight stop - it helps to space out the process of recovering from the jet lag and adjusting to the altitude. Avis upgraded me from the compact car I'd reserved to a Chrysler 300. It's a big, powerful, luxurious car. And I hated it. It has tiny windows so it feels really claustrophobic and corners like a bus. Hard work driving it in the Colorado mountains. Another fine piece of American engineering. And Detroit wonders why most of the cars built in America are Toyotas and Nissans and Subarus!

Monday, June 04, 2007

Lake Burley Griffin

I took a walk after work today (I'm trying hard to lose some weight) around Lake Burley Griffen in Canberra. Since they're heading in to winter here the days are getting quite short so it wasn't all that late but already the sun was setting. It's a lovely time of the year to be here.

The lake is named after Walter Burley Griffen, the American architect who won the competition to design Canberra in 1912 and was part of his original design, although the river wasn't dammed to make the lake until 1963 (so it's as old as I am.)

The photos are not the best quality, but my camera phone isn't really equal to the task of landscape shots at sunset.




Friday, May 25, 2007

Gold Coast sunrise

We stayed last night with our friend Hal and his partner Andrea who live at Tallai behind the Gold Coast. They have a fantastic view and I was up this morning early enough to catch the sunrise.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Harbour Bridge

I had a couple of hours spare this afternoon in Sydney so I took a walk across the harbour bridge.


As I reached the pylon I discovered that there is actually a lookout in the top. At $9.00 it's a fraction of the price of the bridgeclimb at $169 and the view is nearly as good as you can see from these shots I took from the top.




I then walked all the way across to North Sydney before turning around and heading back. On the way, I got a shot of P&O's Pacific Sun sailing out past the Opera House.


I also got a good view of the pink rays of the setting sun on the Opera House, as well as a good view of the city skyline.



Definitely a much more pleasant form of exercise than the hotel gym!

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Bird life

We visited my sister on the Gold Coast today. Her pet birds (Wally and Girlie Bird) were glad to see me. All I needed was an eye patch!


My sister's garden was also full of colourful bird life.


For those who are interested (probably just my Mum!) here's me on the left, my sister Joanne, by brother-in-law Greg and my nephew Julian.


Julian and I also went to the footy in Brisbane later that night. The Lions played like a rabble so the less said about that the better.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Beijing Olympic preparations

I spent a couple of days back in Beijing this week on business. The focus is now very much on the preparation for the 2008 Olympics with campaigns to get the locals to stop spitting, designating the 11th of each month queueing day in an attempt to encourage the locals to line up in an orderly fashion, and various plans to curb the city's pretty awful smog including banning cars for two or three weeks before and during the Olympics. This would have the added benefit of saving the lives of hundreds of tourists who might otherwise be run down at traffic signals in the mistaken belief that Chinese drivers will actually stop at red lights!

According to my local contacts the smog is actually much better than it was a few years ago, mostly because factories have been moved out of the city and from my own observation the spitting problem is largely under control. But as for the queuing, something that looks remotely like a line rather than entirely like a rugby scrum seems the best that can be hoped for!

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

What's Chinese for stupid?


News flash for the web site designer who decided that http://www.priorityclub.com should bring up the Chinese version of the site because it's detected that you're in China (presumably from the IP address): because you're in China doesn't mean you can read Chinese!

Like so many examples of bad design, this is basically a case of a good idea badly executed that could easily and inexpensively be fixed (in this case the solution is as simple as adding a "click here for English" hyperlink).

By the way my colleagues here in the Beijing office tell me the answer is "ben" (pronounced more like "bn" as best I can tell).

Update: There actually is a drop down box for language selection. Of course if you don't read Chinese how would you know that this is it:

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Macquarie Pass

I'm flying out of Sydney to Beijing tomorrow so today we drove from Canberra to Sydney a distance of about 300 km or 160 miles, which is similar to the distance from Steamboat to Denver, but a lot flatter!

We took the scenic route through Macquarie Pass. It's quite a bit slower but well worth the extra time if you can spare it. Stop at the cafe in Robertson at the top of the pass located in the old cheese factory. The Devonshire Tea (scones with jam and cream) is fantastic. You can get scones in the US, but they're scones in the same way that American Football and Aussie Rules are the same thing.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Wellington sunrise


Taken from the window of my room at the Intercontinental Hotel around 7 am. The ship coming in to dock is one of the ferries that carriers passengers and vehicles across Cook Strait between New Zealand's North Island and South Island.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Wellington (again)

I arrived in Wellington (NZ) today via Denver, Los Angeles and Auckland. This is my third visit in the last 12 months. One of the wins I had last year was a contract with a government agency here and we are actively chasing another one, so it won't be my last visit either. Fortunately, I like Wellington. It's like a bigger version of Hobart (Tasmania) where my parents lived for many years.

I managed to sleep for most of the flight between LA and Auckland mostly thanks to flying business class for a change. Surprisingly (or maybe not), it's much easier to sleep in a seat that goes completely flat than sitting nearly upright!

So I only watched one movie, The Holiday starring Jude Law (great performance), Cameron Diaz, Jack Black and Kate Winslet. I thoroughly enjoyed it, but I'm a sucker for romantic comedies so you should discount my opinion accordingly. Unless you also recognise that the romantic comedy is Hollywood's crowning achievement, in which case see this as soon as you can!

P.S. If you read this hot off the press in the US where it is still April 21, and you are wondering why the post is dated April 22, I've adopted the practice of applying the local time (being the local time wherever I am posting from) to my posts.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

It's supposed to be a free country

Of course our political masters are more than happy to forget that when it comes to their obsession with drugs. It recently took me 15 minutes to buy a packet of Sinutabs - what is from a drug safety perspective an over-the-counter medicine - because they contain psuedoephedrine which can be used to make meth. Too bad this measure has been totally ineffective since meth is now mostly smuggled in bulk from labs in Mexico. To make it worse, it was my Mum that needed the Sinutabs, but she couldn't buy them at all since she doesn't have a US issued ID.

So following on from that smashing success, some bright spark of a Congressman from Missouri wants to ban baking soda - yes, you read that correctly: baking freaking soda - because it can be used to make crack cocaine. Well even if that's correct (and I don't know anything about making crack) I would have thought that it's the cocaine in crack cocaine that's the problem.

Take me to your baking soda overlords.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Final day?

Today was my final day for the 2006-07 season unless the weather intervenes and we get some significant snowfall between now and the 15th.

I went out today mostly because I like the idea of skiing on my birthday*. My expectations were low based on the reports from friends who skied over the last few days, but all in all it was better than I expected.

Yes it was quite slushy in places and bare in quite a few spots and worst of all there were several places where the snow was very sticky, which is really hard work. But the very top of the mountain, maybe the top 500 vertical ft, was great due to one or two inches of new snow overnight and enough cloud cover to stop it melting.

Bumps are really fun when it's like this. The soft sticky snow means you don't have to worry about going fast and can instead concentrate on the huge number of things you need to be able to do simultaneously and instantaneously if you are going to ski bumps well, including:

Picking the right line. You need to choose a path between the bumps which involves enough turning to slow you down without turning so far that you end up bouncing off the top of the next bump.
Not over-edging. Everything you learn about edging on groomed terrain you need to unlearn to ski bumps. If you over-edge your skis shoot our from underneath you and you lose control. Over-edging also means turning too far which we've just talked about. Instead you have to concentrate on flattening the skis.
Skiing not in the valley between the bumps but down and around the side of the bump while allowing your (un-edged) skis to slip down the side to bleed off speed (see the previous point on flattening the skis).
Allowing your legs to compress as you come over the top of the bump and then extend as you head down the other side, smoothing out the ride.
Making an early and aggressive pole plant on the top of the next bump, which commits you to the line, prevents you from over-rotating and over-edging, and keeps your body forward which naturally helps you avoid all the other potential problems.
Got all that?

So I really enjoyed the bumps on Rolex, BC Lift Line, Surprise and the bottom section of Whiteout. The 3.30 and 2.30 trees were also nice, but my best run of the day was definitely Big Meadow where a fresh dusting of snow and very little traffic (there were about 15 people on the mountain today, or at least that's how it seemed) meant I could make beautiful tracks, and the sun peeped out from behind the clouds in the middle of the run to give it a totally surreal feeling.

So here's what is likely the final map for the season. Today's total of 10,802 vertical ft brings my season total to 519,001 vertical ft.



* Not only is today my birthday but it's also the third anniversary of my arrival in the US as a permanent resident, which means I'm now eligible to apply for citizenship (normally you have to be resident for five years, but it's three if you're married to a US citizen as I am).

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Almost done

The 2006-07 season has ten days left to run (the counter at the bottom of the page says nine days because the ski company just recently extended the closing day from Saturday 14th to Sunday 15th), but I think I'm close to being finished. It's not that I mind spring skiing, but it just serves to remind me how much more I love the real thing - skiing waist deep powder!

However next Monday is my (44th) birthday, and I do like the idea of skiing on my birthday so I may head out again then. Or I may go snowshoeing with my wife instead.

Anyway, here's the map of today's runs for a total of 15,856 vertical ft and a season total of 508,199 vertical ft. I didn't get close to my million vertical feet goal but at least I made half a million.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

April skiing

Today was a mix of typical spring skiing - warm and slushy - with patches of cooler, overcast weather thrown in and stashes of surprisingly good snow hiding amongst the trees.

Here's the map of today's runs for a total of 15,932 vertical ft and a season total of 492,343 vertical ft.