A Walk in the Woods

I found this tale of Bill Bryson walking the Appalachian Trail (rather incompetently I must say) immensely entertaining. Well written, interesting, generally exaggerated, and leaving me with a desire to get out somewhere and walk some more. I’d strongly recommend this book to people who already care about bush walking, but have found other pursuits to occupy most of their spare time.

A Walk in the Woods Book Cover A Walk in the Woods
Bill Bryson
Sports & Recreation

Traces the author's adventurous trek along the Appalachian Trail past its natural pleasures, human eccentrics, and offbeat comforts.

In A Sunburned Country

This is the first Bill Bryson book I’ve read, and I have to say I enjoyed it. Bill is hilarious and infuriating at the same time, which surprisingly to me makes for a very entertaining combination. I’m sure he’s not telling the full story in this book — its just not possible for someone so ill prepared to not just die in the outback somewhere. Take his visit to Canberra for example — he drives down from Sydney, hits the first hotel he finds and then spends three days there. No wonder he’s bored. Eventually he bothers to drive for another five minutes and finds there is more to the city than one hotel. On the other hand, he maligns my home town in such a hilarious manner I just can’t be angry at him.

I loved this book, highly recommended.

In a Sunburned Country Book Cover In a Sunburned Country
Bill Bryson

The author takes readers on a tour of the land Down Under that goes far beyond packaged-tour routes.

The Long Earth

Lana put me onto this book while on a trip to Texas, and I have to say I like it. This is very unlike the other Terry Pratchett books I’ve read, in that whilst it is occasionally amusing, it isn’t really an attempt at humor. It is instead a relatively methodical examination of the impact of discovering a series of inhabitable earths a trivial amount of distance away from our own. I also have to say I like the ending, not in the sense of liking what happens, but in the sense that it wasn’t a twee or overly convenient way to stop the book. A good read.

The Long Earth Book Cover The Long Earth
Terry Pratchett, Stephen Baxter,
June 25, 2013

The possibilities are endless. (Just be careful what you wish for. . . .) 1916: The Western Front. Private Percy Blakeney wakes up. He is lying on fresh spring grass. He can hear birdsong and the wind in the leaves. Where have the mud, blood, and blasted landscape of no-man's-land gone? For that matter, where has Percy gone? 2015: Madison, Wisconsin. Police officer Monica Jansson is exploring the burned-out home of a reclusive—some say mad, others allege dangerous—scientist who seems to have vanished. Sifting through the wreckage, Jansson finds a curious gadget: a box containing some rudimentary wiring, a three-way switch, and . . . a potato. It is the prototype of an invention that will change the way humankind views the world forever. The first novel in an exciting new collaboration between Discworld® creator Terry Pratchett and the acclaimed SF writer Stephen Baxter, The Long Earth transports readers to an infinity of new worlds. All it takes is a single step. . . .


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.

Essex secret bunker

Note to self: if I ever find myself in Essex, I should go along and see the Essex secret bunker, which was a nuclear disaster emergency control center. I discovered it watching the history channel this morning, and it looks quite interesting.

But wait… The plot thickens…

There seems to be a web site for another such bunker at Kelvedon Hatch, but the site for the one at Essex seems to be defunct, which is a shame. Apparently there are no plans to reopen it at this time.

And then there is the bunker in Scotland. And one at a place called Hack Green.

I am so going next time I am in the UK…