Our Trip To America

Recently I had cause to visit the United States for a friend’s wedding, which was being held in San Francisco. Since the USA is so far from Australia, my partner and I figured we may as well do a bit extra in case we’re not back for a while.

In the end, we settled on starting in San Francisco, visiting Yosemite National Park, catching the California Zephyr (a train) to Chicago, the Lake Shore Limited (another train) to New York, and then fly home from there. Anybody familiar with my love of trains will know that this trip made me very happy!

While I won’t speak much about the wedding publicly, I will just say this: it’s one of the most amazing weddings I’ve been to. I was also asked to give a bit of speech at the reception, and I may have got a bit soppy. Oops.

Exploring San Francisco was cool, but the city has some incredible social inequality issues that it really needs to work through. We saw so many homeless people, as a proportion of their population it must be an incredible percentage. We did see a few of the sights, notably the Golden Gate Bridge, as well as doing a trip to Yosemite National Park.

Yosemite was quite possibly the most beautiful place I’ve ever been, outside Tasmania. It was pouring down with rain half the day, and there were a few thunderstorms as well, but that just made it even more incredible. Despite all the people, there were plenty of animals, so we got a few bird pictures and I saw a SQUIRREL!

The next part of our trip was the trains from San Francisco to New York, right across the full breadth of the USA.

We saw so much of America, from mountains to canyons to plains to farms to suburbs, and met a heap of people along the way. I would totally recommend the California Zephyr from San Francisco to Chicago to literally anybody and everybody. Worth every cent.

We spent six hours in Chicago waiting to change trains, and in that time we managed to have some amazing deep pan pizza. It’s entirely different to normal pizza, and it’s fantastic. Can’t wait to cook it myself at home. Chicago was a really cool city, we both wish we’d spent more time there, maybe a day or two. When doing research for the trip we couldn’t think of anything touristy to do there, but while there we were just struck by how nice the city is and how nice living there would be. Even the suburbs the train went through looked pretty nice.

The train was reasonably comfortable, but the cabin was very small, all of our luggage caused issues trying to keep track of everything and still have room to sit down. The meals were excellent, especially considering it was a) on a train and b) in the USA. The two-deck cars used west of Chicago were nicer than the single-level cars used further east.

I have literally a thousand photos from these few days, but here is a quick selection:

Finally, we spent a couple of days in New York City. We both loved our time there, it really is unlike anywhere else I’ve ever been. It’s intense, with so many people packed into such a small space, but at the same time there was a good amount of culture packed in as well.

We stayed in a lovely AirBNB in Brooklyn, in an area called Prospect Park. Whilst the place we stayed was nice, what really struck us was the neighbourhood around it. Easily walkable, with excellent public transport, a variety of different socio-economic groups living there, all things that most Hobart suburbs… lack.

Manhattan, of course, was amazing. We went to Central Park (big and green, and I saw ANOTHER SQUIRREL), Times Square (busy and horribly touristy), the 9/11 Memorial (incredibly moving), the Statue of Liberty, and so much more I can’t even think of it all. We packed a lot into the couple of days we were there.

We also ate a lot of excellent food – pizza, bagels, cheeseburgers, cheesecake, as well as a curry (of course).

Overall, we both loved our trip to the USA. I would totally visit again, however I’m not looking forward to the flights – the fifteen hours from LAX to MEL is a killer, even on a Boeing 787 (which, by the way, is a very lovely aircraft).

If you’d like to see the full album of photos, send me an email and I’ll share them with you!

Why Thomas The Tank Engine Is Okay

I was recently linked to a story in the NZ Herald entitled “Why Thomas The Tank Engine Is Not Okay“. There were so many factual errors in the article, as well as a general lack of understanding that the fact that Thomas the Tank Engine is a commentary on British Railways’ policies in the 1940s and 1950s, that I could not let it stand.

Trains are sent to the scrapyard if they’re not useful. And we all know what that means – it means they’re executed.
[…]
There are no unions in Sodor, that’s for sure.

First of all, the human equivalent would be firing them (“making them redundant” in the capitalist jargon), not executing them. Secondly, unions don’t exist to prevent useless employees from being fired (except when unions have too much power), they are to prevent good employees from being taken advantage of.

The women trains are actually girl carriages.

Daisy (mentioned in the article) isn’t a carriage, she’s a diesel multiple unit (DMU). There’s a very important difference. In Britain in the 1950’s, DMUs were the future. Daisy is leading the way.

In addition, from a very quick look through the Wikipedia article, there are at least five female locomotives: Molly, Rosie, Belle, Mavis, and Flora. It’s definitely not a 50/50 mix gender-wise, and all of the original “Steam Team” are male, but it’s not zero. It’s just a basic lack of fact checking. Note that I’m not saying there shouldn’t be more female characters – I think there should be – but the article is just plain incorrect.

Either they have no personality (Daisy)…

This was the entire point of Daisy’s character. The Rev. Awdry (I believe) wanted to show diesel railcars as being unimaginative and dull compared to steam engines. This was a direct commentary on British Railways’ campaign to phase out steam engines on British main line railways in favour of diesel and electric propulsion. Steam then, as now, was seen as romantic and full of character compared to diesel. The character ‘Diesel’, the first diesel engine seen in the books, was rude and brash and nobody liked him – again, steam was better than diesel.

Every single character has a flaw in their personality. It’s part of the anthropomorphosis of the trains into people. Henry got bricked into a tunnel because he was too vain. James is rude and arrogant. They are all flawed, just like us.

wnlzm

Videos from linux.conf.au 2015

The penguin dinner (the “formal” conference dinner) for linux.conf.au 2015 was held at the Museum of Transport and Technology in Auckland. This was pretty cool epic and amazing. Here are the videos I managed to capture of some of the machinery at work:

Unfortunately, I took an amazing 5-minute video of a triple-expansion steam engine being started up, but I’ve lost the footage – I think my phone might not have saved it. 🙁

On the Saturday after the conference, I went on The Northern Explorer, a train trip from Auckland to Wellington with a few friends. Again, I took a number of videos (as well as literally hundreds of photos):

This is actually the first time I’ve bothered capturing videos as well as photos on a trip. My phone (a Google Nexus 5) has proved that it can do 95% of the job of my dSLR in capturing the essence of a scene, and that’s good enough for me. It helps that I carry my phone everywhere, too. I will definitely be considering buying some sort of small tripod device though; as it turns out my hands are very shaky.