I’m not sure where to start this story. I could tell you how I’ve been flying around the world on a business trip, or I could tell you what I think about Swiss Air business class. Instead I’m left thinking I should mention carbon. You see, I was sitting in first class on a Swiss Air flight to New York City yesterday, and I was surrounded by tree. Big centimeter thick panels of it are all over the place. When other airlines are doing things like using lighter foam for seat cushions or asking passengers to go potty before boarding to reduce the weight of their aircraft (and therefore carbon emissions), Swiss has chosen to find a forest and cut it down to put in their brand new plane. This forest will be flying around for a couple of decades I would think.

Sure, its only in first class (business class gets veneer), and I’m a bastard for being in first class at all. There’s a story to that too though. I booked an ultra cheap around the world business ticket through Swiss Air. It was in fact cheaper than the same flights in economy with Qantas. This is despite the fact that two of the business class segments are in fact on Qantas. That’s how I ended up in first class — I was going between London Heathrow and San Francisco, but Swiss had oversold the Zurich to LA flight. So, I’m bumped to first class via NYC, which added about six hours to my total travel time yesterday.

Being bumped wasn’t all bad. I’ve never been in first class before, and it was very nice. I might have chocolate poisoning of some form. I also got to “experience” American Airlines business class from New York to LA, in a plane which is possibly older than me. In fact, its entirely possible this plane predates flight. The seat pitch was nice, except that my chair kept involuntarily reclining. I didn’t mind too much, as I hadn’t slept in about 24 hours at that point, so I nodded off. Before I nodded off, I was also forced to decide that it was in fact the chick from Gilmore Girls (the one who plays Lorelai) two rows in front of me. She dropped her bag at one point in the airport, and I am excited to report that she watched a DVD during the flight. Citizen journalism at its finest.

I wouldn’t normally mention the actress in the front of the plane, especially after TechCrunch taught me that no one gives a crap about what’s happening to me (or in fact you) in real time. However, this being a stream of consciousness blog post written at 8am in LA airport while killing time for yet another flight, I think I am justified. Oh, and I also don’t care if you give a crap.

I have more to complain about. Take for example the Swiss Air business class flight that I’ve just taken from Narita near Tokyo to Heathrow, via Zurich. Its clear why the ticket was cheap. Swiss business class simply isn’t up to the standard of Qantas’. The seats don’t lie flat (when you try to sleep you slide down to the end of the footrest in a little mound), the on demand entertainment system works, but appears to have some sort of image resizing error (everything is pixelated), and the cabin service is terribly slow. Lunch has just taken about two hours to serve. It took two hours in first class as well, but that’s because they were trying to shove five courses into me.

The cabin fit out on that business class flight was the same standard as Qantas had before they went to their new lie flat configuration. To put that in perspective, that conversion was done at least ten years ago. I think the standard of the equipment being used might also explain why only half of the seats are taken in business class, where Qantas would be running at capacity. This was clearly one of the older Swiss aircraft, but even the brand new one with the forest in it had a business class which wasn’t up to the same standard as Qantas.

I can’t complain too much though — it still beats the pants of Qantas economy, and the flight did give me a chance to discover what I believe might be the most boring television program ever made. Its called “Swiss Railway Journeys”, and I heartily don’t recommend it. Unless you deeply care about the age of each wheel on the train.

One last thing. While the Swiss Air staff were all much older than I am used to on other airlines, I think that’s because of the vagaries of the youth of today. Each of these staff could speak four languages fluently, and would begin the conversation when you first boarded with a little protocol handshake where they said hello in all four languages and waited to see which one you replied in. Once they had you figured out, they would use the correct language from then on. Modern youth are too busy twittering to learn one language, let alone every language ever used. Oh, and if you know four words of German, don’t use them at the start of a Swiss flight. You’ll be stuck for the rest of the journey conveying your desires through interpretive dance.


Don’t use Jetbus Sydney if you want to catch your flight


I had to take a flight a few weeks ago, and I thought I’d do the financially (and environmentally) sensible thing and use an airport shuttle service. Especially because the airport train in Sydney is so expensive and slow. I found Jetbus online, and paid with PayPal. The first time I used them they were just fine, but the second time was extremely frustrating. So frustrating that I wont be using their service again, as I value actually getting on my plane.

Interestingly, Jetbus’ Sydney office is across the road from my pickup location, so how badly can it go?

I had a 4pm booking. I arrived at the pickup location 15 minutes early. The bus drove past me at the speed limit approximately on time. It did not slow down or stop. I rang the dispatch number to inform them of the error. The bus drove past about 10 minutes later, again without slowing down or stopping. I rang again. The bus didn’t reappear. In total, I rang dispatch 5 times in an attempt to be collected. After the bus was 45 minutes late, I took a taxi to the airport instead, which cost $47, and arrived with only 15 minutes to spare.

The only part of this whole thing which makes me happy? This is the first time I have had to use PayPal’s dispute resolution system as I am not a big PayPal user. It was pain free, and gave me the outcome I wanted. That’s interesting given that I hear so many bad things from other PayPal users.


The Wild Palms Hotel


When leaving the US, I stayed in the Wild Palms Hotel. I selected it for three reasons: I’d stayed there before; it is part of the Joie De Vivre chain which I have had good experiences with before; and it was very cheap on Expedia ($77 compared to an average rate in the area of about $150). I learnt some interesting things I thought I’d share:

  • The hotel is ok, just make sure you get an upstairs room. I was woken by mating elephants at 5am two days running because the floors are so thin. Be the mating elephant, not the victim of it! Once I moved to an upstairs room this probably went away.
  • The executive rooms aren’t worth it. I got moved into one of these because of the noise problems. Its advantages was it was away form the road, had a bathrobe (really), and a LCD TV. I don’t watch TV much, so the extra cost if I was paying isn’t worth it.
  • The cleaning service kept “short sheeting” the bed. By short sheeting I mean pulled the sheets up to make the top of the bed look impressive, but leaving the bottom couple of inches of the mattress uncovered. Lots of hotels do this, and I find it crazily annoying.
  • The air conditioner was insanely loud. It was 38 when I was staying there, and every time the air conditioner kicked in I would be woken up by it.
  • Its a lot further south than I realized. It took about 20 minutes to get to work if you took El Camino. Depending on traffic its probably much faster to go all the way to the 101 and then take that. The Lawrence Expressway looks like the best way to get to the 101 from the hotel.

So, overall this hotel was “ok”, apart from some minor annoyances. I’ll keep staying there so long as they’re cheap. If they’re not running a special, then you’re much better off staying further north.


Hotel Max


When I was looking for a hotel to stay at for SIGCOMM 2008, I had trouble finding one in downtown Seattle which wasn’t insanely expensive. In the end I picked Hotel Max because it was only moderately expensive, instead of insane like the Grant Hyatt. The hotel is interesting because apparently it was quite run down until a few years ago when it was done up. Now every room has its own unique art, and the halls and lobby are filled with different bits of art as well. Very hip.

The room itself is quite small by American standards, which means its about the same size as the room that I stayed in while staying in London a few years ago. The shower and bathroom are literally cupboards off a corridor, but the bed is a full size queen. I’m not surprised about that given the reviews.

Given all I do in hotels is sleep and work on my laptop, I like this place. If I had the kids with me I would go insane however. Also be careful to get a room that faces Stewart Street. Mine faces an alley and I can hear the binging noise from the streetcar until about 10pm, and the air conditioning plant from the building next door for a while after that. I still slept ok though, so I guess people turned all that stuff off at some point during the night.

Update: I was wrong. The binging isn’t the street car, its instead the beeping thingie that all underground carparks seem to have here to warn pedestrians that there is a car about to enter the sidewalk. Its very annoying.


Shibuya, Tokyo


Panos (a dude I work with) and I got to Tokyo ok last night. The flight left SFO at about 1pm and got into Narita airport at about 4pm. By the time we’d done immigration and collected our bags we only had about a ten minute wait for the limousine bus to the hotel.

We’re staying in Shibuya, which seems to be a bit of a shopping district. We managed to do the pointing a menu food ordering thing for dinner last night, and then I went to bed.

Initial impressions of Tokyo:

  • Its very clean and amazingly well organised. People naturally line up, and customer service is much better than it is in the US.
  • Its not as crowded as I expected.
  • English is very common, but don’t expect people on the streets to actually speak it.

Tokyo tomorrow


Tomorrow I’m jumping on a JAL flight to Tokyo. I will be in Tokyo for a week, mostly for work meetings. I’m hoping to fit some sightseeing in on the weekend. Let me know if you have any recommendations.


More nuclear bunkers


Its clear from my past posts that I am interested in cold war bunkers.

I just watched “Lost Worlds: US Nuclear Bunkers”. That’s re-ignited my interest in US nuclear bunkers (as well as cold war history in general). I like the idea of the Lorton Bunker (under a correctional facility 20 miles form Washington DC, and abandoned in only 2001), and I’ve talked about the Greenbrier bunker before.

It’s a pity its four hours drive from Arlington, VA:

View Larger Map

The Greenbrier was secret for 30 years, and kept constantly stocked will all the supplies needed for three weeks of sealed living for 1,100 people. Finally it was leaked by one article in the Washington Post. After the article, the site had to be decommissioned.

Next, they talked about the Palm Beach Florida bunker built for JFK. Tours of that bunker are cheap too — only $10 each. This bunker is only a decontamination shower, and a single room, but I guess you wouldn’t complain if you’d just been nuked.

Finally, there is Cheyenne Mountainwhich used to offer tours, but apparently doesn’t any more.


Mental note: don’t become a US permanent resident just in case


To quote from this blog post (its a bit odd that its a PDF, but whatever):

… the new expatriate regime (Exit Tax
Provision) requires expatriates to recognise gain on their assets, and imposes a
new tax on gifts and bequests by expatriates to Americans, This new provision
(styled Section 877A) is an addition to (and not a replacement of) the current
expatriation tax rules of Section 877. Under the Exit Tax Provision, certain
individuals who renounce their U.S. citizenship or U.S. long-term residents
who relinquish their U.S. residence status (collectively covered expatriates)
must recognise gain, or otherwise be taxed, on all their assets on the date they
expatriate. In addition, gifts or bequests they make to U.S. citizens or residents
after expatriation will be subject to tax at onerous estate/gift tax rates.

In other words, if you’re a US resident and you leave the US permanently, then they deem all of your world wide assets sold, and then tax you on the gain. This includes retirement funds, as well as savings. Congress is proposing this as a way of funding tax relief for serving members of the US military.

Its not law yet, but still something I should pay attention to.