At Texas Formula 1

We drove down to Austin Texas whilst we were temporarily in Fort Worth Texas and went to the Formula 1 Grand Prix.

As an Aussie, I was rooting for Mark Webber and managed to capture a shot of him before his retirement from the race. Not an easy task to get a good photo as he was going past at about 180MPH through the esses…

USA GP 2012

Mark Webber Austin Texas 2012

 

The new track was very good for drivers, but crowd facilities were a little lacking and under-designed for the crowd of 120,000 on race day.

To cross the track via the overhead walkways was a nightmare on both practice days and race day. Bridges were about 16ft wide and expected to cope with 100,000 people.

The shuttle bus system was well planned and executed apart from the 1+ mile hike through the woods to get from their drop-off point to the track main entrance. Lucky it was not raining.

Overall, a great weekend in Austin.

 

My Thoughts on VoIP

Recently I have dived into VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) which can use a simple analogue phone to make phone calls using broadband in lieu of a PSTN account.

VoIP has been around for several years, but I had always been a bit dubious of the claims made by providers (MagicJack and others).

I went the way of buying an ATA (Analogue Telephone Adapter) which connects your analogue handset to your network router.  I actually bought two ATA devices so I could run various tests. They were both Obihai devices, one an OBI100 ($40)  and the other an OBI110 ($50)  and both bought from Amazon.com. See www.obihai.com for more on these devices.

Free Calls:

I was not planning on using a free call VoIP provider, but ended up trying the Google Voice as a SIP connection. This will give free calls to USA/Canadian numbers until at least December 31 2012. Google may decide to extend that date or otherwise may start charging a per minute rate.  The setting up of the ATA and Phone to use Google voice account was a multistep process and will be discussed further below.

 

Paid For Calls:

There are many options for adding  paid for calls, from monthly subscriptions that will give you x minutes of free included calls each month, to some that simply charge you for the calls made. For my second OBI device, I chose a mix of the two. I subscribed to a DID (Direct Inward Dialing)  phone number at a cost of $0.99c per month, and calls that will cost between $0.01 and $0.02 per minute. For this, I chose to use VOIP.ms

 

Call Quality:

Testing incoming and outgoing calls with both connections (VoIP.ms and GoogleVoice) has been very good. In one test using the GV line, a call between USA and Australia was better than an expensive $2.00 per minute PSTN call I have made. This one cost just $0.02 per minute.

Setting Up Google Voice Line:

There are some requirements here. First you need a Gmail account and then sign up for a Google Voice account.

You also need a broadband internet connection and a free account with Obitalk.com which you use to do some connection configuration. Be prepared to enter your gmail account and gmail password for this to work. If you are a little apprehensive to do this, set up a separate Gmail account and GVoice using that separate gmail account.
Rather than me explain all the processes, have a look at the guides provided over at the ObiTalk web site.

You will be up and running in minutes once you have your Obi device.

Setting Up VoIP.ms Line:

To use the VoIP.ms system for only outward calls, you do not need the DID (Direct Inward Dialing) number. The process of getting the Phone and Obi ATA device connected was simple and is explained in detail at the Voip.ms  wiki webpages.

Other Devices:

I read a recent review where there was some praise for the latest version of “MagicJack Plus”. This is basically another ATA device but it is locked to the MagicJack SIP provider. There is an annual fee to join MagicJack and it can be economical if you make lots of calls. I have not tested with MJ so leave that up to you to play with if you feel it would suit your situation.

Overall, I am impressed with the latest VoIP devices and SIP providers. If you get the urge, give it a try out.

John

Missouri Mile Markers

I recently drove up Interstate 44 on my way from Texas to Illinois and was intrigued by the fact that along I44 in Mo the mile markers were placed every two tenths of a mile. Seems crazy. Who need that level of accuracy when driving at 70 Mph. The signs flip by every couple of seconds. Well, that is how it seemed.

My guess is that they have a lot of sign writer inmates in their prisons and to keep them busy, they place the signs in such close proximity.

Hey, Mo. Politicians, you could sure save your taxpayers some money by ceasing this ridiculous practice. Oh, but I forgot, it is not your money you are spending. I wonder why the signs are not every one/tenth mile?

Oh, and if you ever get convinced that you should visit Branson, Mo, because friends told you about it, DON’T! They are not really friends if they recommend Branson. It’s a terrible tourist trap with second rate entertainers, second rate restaurants, second rate service and second rate accommodation.

JohnG

In Chicago

We are presently visiting in Chicago for several weeks and staying in an apartment on the 44th floor of a tall building. There are about 15 floors above us. I do not like heights and was apprehensive when we were placed on level 44. But all is going OK thus far.

Here is a night view from our balcony.

ChicagoFromApt44

The tallest nearby building, shown at left, is the Trump Tower. It is 92 floors high.

A Visit to Washington DC

In August, Nan and PJ took Ella on a trip to Washington DC. It was her first visit there and she really enjoyed the City, Smithsonian and a side trip down to Williamsburg, VA.

Every day we came home to our hotel very tired and with sore feet, but were able to recover and head on out the next day for more exploration. Ella became quite proficient with finding the subway stations and getting to and from the correct platforms.

At the Wax Museum, Ella met with George W Bush, EllaGDub

 

and with Barrack and Michelle OBama.EllaObama

I am sure they were equally pleased to meet her.

On our second day, we were able to do a self guided tour of the White House. This was a highlight and Ella was intrigued by the featured rooms we were able to visit. There was a lot of history in each room.

One evening we took a night tour on the bus of the city sights. Sadly, we chose the wrong night as we ended up soaking wet form a heavy rainstorm and stranded because the bus broke down. A replacement bus finally collected us from the Lincoln Memorial, and given our drenched state, the obliging bus driver willingly dropped us off at the front door of our hotel instead of back at Union Station, which was about a half mile walk from our hotel.

Then on to historic Williamsburg, VA. The drive down Interstate 95 was very slow. Traffic was just too much for the highway. Something needs to be done to prevent the congestion on that highway.

We visited the yard where they make the bricks at Williamsburg. Ella and PJ helped by treading some of the raw clay with our bare feet. It was awsome.

EllaAndPJinMud

Can I show the video of this mud-walk?

[vimeo clip_id=”57263084″]

SQL is Faster

SQL is Faster: Recently I have been optimising some reports by using dummy temporary tables from within my programs.

About 14 years ago, I converted a large business system that was using ISAM based tables, to SQL. One report they were running daily from 30 minutes to less than 10 seconds to produce the needed data. Happy customers. They thought I was magic, but it was all due to the switch to using SQL as the database engine.

If you are still programming and using ISAM files for data tables, consider switching to SQL. I use Microsoft SQLServer. It just works so well.

John

Back from Hawaii

Well, we had a great vacation in Hawaii and had lots of adventures.

We stayed near [skhighlight color=”blue”] Kapaa [/skhighlight] on the East coast of Kauai for most of our three weeks in Hawaii. We rented a condo at the Waipouli Beach Resort and it was perfect. Lots of activities/sightseeing on the North shore and on the South shore. So, here you are about half way between the two. Plus all the sights up the East coast.

  • Zip lining
  • Quad bike riding
  • Downhill cycle ride
  • Rain forest hiking

We did all that, plus the relaxing in the pools at the resort.

There was a family group of 6.

[toggle state=”closed” title=”Would We Like to go back?”]Not surprisingly, we would all love to go back ASAP. [/toggle]

 

After the Kauai stay, we headed back to Waikiki Beach for three nights. That area of Honolulu is over-run by tourists, but is worth experiencing for a few days. 4 days/3 nights was plenty on Oahu.

Next we flew over to the “Big island”, Hawaii Island and had three nights there. The aim was to see the volcano erupting and the recent lava flows. The lava was not flowing the days we were there, but had been just a few days earlier. We took a Helicopter flight over the coastal lava flows and could see lots of steam/sulphur fumes emanating from the recent lava. Also there was lots of trees that had been singed by the heat and were dying.

At night we visited the volcano itself and witnessed the firey red glow coming from the crater. Lots of steam, ash and red glow from the molten lava in the volcano tube.

When done there, we headed West on the island to the Kona region. There we relaxed a few days and then headed back to Australia. Thanks again Qantas for some great flights. We managed to use a whole bunch of our Frequent Flyer points for the trip

John

Off To Hawaii for a Break

Aloha. We are heading to Hawaii next week and will be there into the new year.

This will be my second trip to “Sandwich Islands” having previously been to Oahu and Maui about 15 years ago for a few days.

This will be a family gathering on Kauai. Hoping to do some zip lines, bike rides and ATV ride. Plus sit back and relax a little, or a LOT!

 

Mount Rainier

Ella

Today we travelled up to Paradise on Mt Rainier, Washington. It is only about 1.5 hours drive from Seattle, where we are spending the Northern summer.

I was apprehensive about travelling there, as it is listed as a DANGEROUS volcano. see the wikipedia link. But we did survive the day.

It is a magnificent location. A National park and there are some great scenic views. I did drive there about two years ago, but at that time I did not know it was rated as such a dangerous volcano.

I am assured it is closely monitored and any preliminary signs of the next eruption will be broadcast well in advance so people can flee. If it blew its top with the same force as the nearby Mt St Helens did in 1980, then the local landscapes will change significantly. It was only driving away from the park that I noticed the warning signs showing “Volcano- Evacuation Route”.

But all in all, a great days outing. And I will go again.

John

Inaugural Qantas Sydney to Dallas Non-Stop Flight

This week we travelled on the inaugural Qantas flight 7 from Sydney, Australia to Dallas, Texas.

The flight time was about 15.5 hours.

Luckily we managed to get an upgrade to business class using frequent flyer points so the trip was not too bad.

There were some TV crews on-board to record the event and they just happened to interview the flight Captain right alongside Candace’s seat. After interviewing the Captain (About 2 hours into the flight), they then filmed the Captain walking up the aisle and stopping and welcoming Candace on the flight.

Next, the camera crew (Rob Penfold) interviewed Candace about how she felt about the new non-stop service to Texas. Being a Texan, she was naturally very positive that it was a good thing and that we could now by-pass the congested Los Angeles airport.

The interviews were shown live on Aussie national channel 9 on Tuesday evening and friends said she did great.

Upon landing at Dallas, (yes, the 747 made it) as we were taxiing to the gate, we were sprayed with water cannon by the fire service there as a welcoming gesture. Lots of photographers and waves all round.

Then, as we de-boarded and entered the terminal, there was another welcoming party headed up by none other than John Travolta. We both shook hands with him as we passed by. He was dressed in his usual Qantas Captains outfit. He bought one of the original Qantas Boeing 707s and still flies it himself.

All in all, a fun trip with lots of surprisingly good on-board food and drink!

In a few months we will be on a return flight, Dallas to Brisbane, Australia and this reportedly takes about 17 hours due to the prevailing westerly headwinds.

John