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April-May 2004: Conferences May 31, 2004

Posted by Rhonda in Air, AODC, Australia & Oceania, Canada, Conferences, New South Wales, North America, STC, Trains, Transport, USA, Vehicle.

2004 Conferences

It’s not often I’m able to get to two conferences in one year, let alone two conferences that are so close together in time that I have been able to do them in the one trip. The two conferences are AODC (Australian Online Documentation and Content Conference) in Sydney and only a week later, STC 51st Annual Conference in Baltimore (STC = Society for Technical Communication). I’m a participant only at AODC, and am participating and co-presenting (with Char JT) a session titled “AuthorIT Tips and Tricks” at STC as well as helping out on the AuthorIT stand at both conferences (in between sessions!).

So here are my ramblings from this trip…

April 26, 2004: They call it security (Perth to Sydney)

To get to Sydney from Perth you’ve got to take a 4 hour flight. Not a problem, but since the heightened security since Sept 11, 2001, I’m finding more and more anomalies in how security is dealt with at airports and on planes.

Since 9/11, air travellers leaving from Australian airports (no matter what their destination) have had to remove their laptop computers from their bags, AND remove the battery from the laptop and put them through the x-ray machine in separate trays. Then you have to make sure you grab the right one as it comes through the line (and particularly make sure that no-one grabs YOUR laptop), then re-stow the battery pack and repack the laptop bag (with associated mice, cables, cords, power packs etc.). Unpacking and repacking has to be done on a tiny table top that takes two people at most. And you have to do all this with a boarding pass hanging out of your mouth while you grab your other carry on luggage before someone else makes off with it.

I never understood why laptops had to be removed from the carry bag, nor why the battery pack had to be removed from the laptop – and no-one at the airport could explain it to me! Surely the thing is going through an x-ray machine – that’s an X-RAY MACHINE that can see through all other bags!!! So what’s with laptops? And why remove the battery? Well the good news is that since I flew to Darwin in September last year, someone has had the sense to realise that pulling a battery pack out of a laptop really wasn’t doing anything except making people angry and frustrated (would YOU know how to remove your battery pack from your laptop without reading the manual?), so when I flew today (April 26), the requirement to take out the battery had been scrubbed off the signs at Perth airport’s domestic terminal security check area. One small step towards common sense…

OK, so you’re through security and now you’re at the gate. Your ID was checked by the person at the check in counter, but as every man and his dog (well, not the dog, but you get the picture) can go through the security area and up to the gates to see off their friends, relatives, loved ones, you’d think there’d be another ID check at the gate. Wrong! Nothing is to stop you handing over your boarding pass to someone else and for them to board the plane in your place. Now I don’t want to be paranoid here (well, all right… just indulge me for a bit…) but what if you were coerced into handing over your boarding pass by a stranger? No-one would know it wasn’t you on the plane. And what if that stranger had nefarious intentions (I’ve always wanted to use that word!!)? If they are so concerned about security then either prevent all hangers-on going through the security area, or recheck IDs at the gate when you scan in your boarding pass. From memory you have to reshow your ID when you get your boarding pass scanned in US airports… And I don’t remember seeing the friends, relatives, etc. of travellers in the US hanging around waiting for the person to leave and doing their teary goodbyes at the gate. Any goodbyes are done well beforehand, either at home or when the person is dropped off. None of this parking and coming in and hovering around like flies around a corpse to see the traveller depart. Maybe this is a peculiarly Australian thing… Perhaps it’s because when granny comes out from the UK to visit for 3 months, you REALLY want to make sure that the old dear is DEFINITELY on that plane because as much as you love her dearly, 3 months is a very long time…

Now you’re on the plane and if you are fortunate enough to be in business class, the flight attendant comes around prior to take-off with a glass of water or juice for you. In a tall GLASS. Once the flight is on the way, your get served your meal – in business class you get two GLASSES, and wine comes in full-size BOTTLES, poured for you. You also get your meal on very nice CROCKERY – real stuff too, that can chip and break and shatter. And for CUTLERY you get a very nice set of stainless steel utensils (two 4-tined forks and a spoon) AND A PLASTIC KNIFE! Can anyone else see the stupidity of this or is it just me? Hello people – glasses, crockery, steel fork (with PRONGS!), wine bottles… Aren’t all these really dangerous objects in the wrong hands? At least as dangerous as a stainless steel dinner knife… (we’re not talking steak knives here – just ordinary dinner knives that have a real problem cutting anything other than pasta!). Which bureaucrat decided that metal knives were a no-no but that it was OK to continue serving drinks in glass? And don’t say that economy class has plastic glasses and plates etc. – I don’t think a real terrorist intent on doing something nasty on a plane would be immune from buying a ticket in business class where they had access to all this nasty stuff.

Now I come to the design of the plane and how easy it is to access critical areas. The flight I was on was in a new (?) A330 plane. Guess where the business class toilet is? RIGHT NEXT TO THE COCKPIT! And where’s the only entry onto the plane (and usually the only disembarking exit too) – RIGHT NEXT TO THE COCKPIT! I used the toilet twice and only once was someone in the galley opposite the entry door; the rest were all serving or clearing away. No-one questioned why I was there – the assumption was that I was going to the toilet. But what if I wasn’t? What if I had some nefarious (there’s that word again!) intention? I’m now at the cockpit door or in the toilet – immediately behind the cockpit wall. And I don’t care how well trained the flight attendants are (and they were all female on this flight) – it would’ve taken a lot for them to have come up the front from where they were and tried to stop me had I been determined to access the cockpit.

Aircraft designers are going to have to rethink how they configure a plane and the type of security required to access the area near the cockpit. Firstly, put the entry door at the end of business class, not at the front; remove the business class toilet from right next to the cockpit and put it at the back of business class. And make the galley adjacent to the cockpit only accessible by some sort of security code or pass, or use biometric IDs to gain access. And while I’m at it… Sky marshals on planes? Sure, but put them in a uniform – that should make us all feel safer. If you’re speeding do you slow down when you see an unmarked police car? No, because you don’t even know it’s a police car. But you sure slow down if you see a marked car! Joe Brancatelli (www.joesentme.com) wrote a great piece on this some months back.

Next, when is Qantas going to ‘get it’ that business people travel and many of them have laptops? A four hour flight is enough time to get some work done, but most laptop batteries last 2-3 hours at most. So why can’t the new planes used on domestic flights (especially long ones like Perth to Sydney) have in-seat power? Overseas flights have in-seat power in business class, but not domestic…

BTW, the new Qantas uniforms look good.

And finally, food. Qantas used to have a place on their Frequent Flyer section of the website where you could update your profile and preferences. From memory, that used to include dietary requirements. No more. I hunted the website, then had to call my travel agent to get her to let Qantas know I had a special meal requirement. This worked out OK, but Qantas only have a few ‘special’ meals available such as diabetic, gluten-free, vegetarian, etc. Obviously they haven’t heard of Atkins, so you can’t actually ask for a carb- and sugar-free meal. Gluten-free is the closest and then everything has rice with it instead of bread… (I’m not on Atkins, but it is the closest I would be able to get – if it was available).

April 27, 2004: Pre-Conference Workshops (Sydney)

What a day! My head is filled with all sorts of neat things you can do with JavaScript and cookies, and with just as neat things you can do using CSS and positioning in web pages.

Dave G (my margarita drinking buddy from San Diego) lead this morning’s half day workshop titled “Online Interactivity Techniques”. Those of us who had laptops followed along writing code (and hoping we actually understood some of it!). The concepts were easy enough to understand and the way that Dave explains things meant that the JS was easy to understand too – at the time. But not being a coder and not really wanting to pursue that side of things, my understanding is likely to fly out the window in a few days. But that doesn’t matter – I now know of some of the cool stuff that CAN be done, even if I don’t use it for a while at least. And that’s half the battle… knowing that something can be done means that when it comes time to implement something similar, I just have to go back over Dave’s excellent notes, code samples, and demos (he gave us a CD with it all on it so we can practice!). Interestingly I don’t think we had anyone in the workshop from NSW, the host state. Two were from WA, one from Qld, one from Victoria, and one from NZ. There was one other person but I’m not sure where she was from.

Char JT my friend, colleague, and fellow AuthorIT Certified Consultant from Massachusetts was up next for a 4 hour workshop titled “Separating Format from Content with CSS”. Now here was some stuff I could implement reasonably soon – given time to rework the websites I’m in charge of… The meat of her presentation was on how to use CSS to render formatting changes, and not use framesets, tables, and the like to control the layout. As a result of some of the things she showed us, I’ve set myself the task of working on updating the CyberText website over the next few months to be compliant with web and accessibility standards. You won’t see any changes for a while – I’ll work on them behind the scenes, then launch the revamped site later this year… (that’s the intention anyway!)

After Char’s session I met Renata J (NZ) for the first time although I feel I know her well from some of the lists we’re both on. She, Char, Char’s son Jesse, and I wandered around Manly and found a nice cafe (Marlo?) where we had dinner. The food was excellent and the company was fantastic. By the way, thanks to Tony and Penny for organising the conference and pre-conference workshops!

Brickbats and bouquets… to the Manly Pacific Hotel (the conference venue here in Sydney). Brickbats for my first night there – the air conditioning, radio, and alarm didn’t work and there were at least four long head hairs and one pubic hair in the bed I intended sleeping in! Gross out! Fortunately there was another bed and it seemed clean so I slept in that… I complained to the management by phone that night and in person the next morning. The beds all had fresh linen tonight and all the non-working appliances now work – so thank you. But these things shouldn’t have happened… It is not a good image for a 4 (??) star hotel that has pricey room rates.

April 28, 2004: AODC Day 1 (Sydney)

Tony S started off the day in his inimitable style, with a large dash of humour to set the tone. We popped party poppers to get the conference underway and I had my mobile phone stomped on by Dave G after it rang during his session. (Not quite true – it was a fake phone that was stomped on, but a helluva lot of people thought it was my real phone and that I should’ve walked out… It was just a joke folks, and I was in on it from the start. No real phones were harmed in the making of this picture…)

Dave G presented the first session (“Presenting ‘non-essential’ information”) showing us even more neat things you can do with JavaScript.

Char JT presented the second session (“Windows Longhorn Help Walk-Through”) which got us thinking about where things were going in the Windows world and some suggestions for preparing ourselves to embrace these changes.

After a great lunch in a superb setting overlooking Manly Beach, we filed back in to hear Gerry G talk about “Audience Analysis and Usability Testing”. Gerry gave us some good ideas to take away and lots of tips on what to do and what not to do.

The last session of the day was a presentation by Allan from Microsoft Australia who introduced a ground-breaking new authoring tool to us – Notepad XS PRO!!! What a performance! It was so like the real thing (fake computer glitches and failures and all) that he had us in fits of laughter. Allan used to be on “Fast Forward” so if you think his face was familiar, that’s where you know it from. BTW, I spoke to him afterwards and his material was real – he really did work with Tony as a documenter many years ago. His delivery was just right and his audience analysis was spot on!

Macromedia provided drinks and nibblies to us all at the end of the first day of sessions – thank you! Then people adjourned with new-found friends (and old acquaintances) to some of the many restaurants in the area.

April 29, 2004: AODC Day 2 (Sydney)

After an early morning walk around to Shelley Beach with Renata (NZ), Day Two started with a breakfast provided by Panviva, one of the conference sponsors. Then people milled around the exhibitors’ stands – AuthorIT got a lot of interest!

The first session was a vendor ‘grilling’ where conference participants could ask the vendors about their product. Attending were representatives from Alucida, AuthorIT, Macromedia, Objectify, Panviva, Virtual Media/Republicorp, and Web Organics.

The rest of the day was split into two presentations per session, so I can obviously only report on those I attended. First one for me was “The new localisation” presented by Paul of AuthorIT. Paul spoke about the issues involved in localisation of documentation, including all the traps, things you have to take into account, and the costs. A very informative session.

Next was “The Clinic” where participants asked questions of a panel of experts to see if they could solve their documentation problems. Almost all problems were solved or at least suggestions for resolutions were offered, except for the person using the .NET Nuke (?) and Dreamweaver combination – sorry no-one could help you!

Another great lunch overlooking Manly Beach, but this time inside; then more exhibitor time, then back into the afternoon sessions…

Sofia C spoke about the issues with creating accessible websites in her presentation “Accessibility in Practice”, and gave us much food for thought; then Dave G gave another enlightening presentation this time on “HTML Help Hints and Tips”.

After a welcome ice-cream break, Kylie W addressed the issue of “Writing for a Varied Audience”.

Many participants adjourned to the nearby ’41 The Steyne’ for an excellent bite to eat, and a few drinks, and then what we’d all been waiting for – Uncle Dave’s Trivia Night!!! Lots of laughs, really crappy prizes, and arbitrary points added or removed to totals depending on the whim of the marker, Tony S. Interestingly, the table with Penny B on it (Tony’s wife!!!) happened to win by half a point…. As Luke was heard to sneeze… “Nepotism”!!!Tomorrow is the last day – we have six plenary sessions, so plenty to keep the brain going…

April 30, 2004: AODC Day 3 (Sydney)

Another early morning walk with Renata (NZ), this time up past the Queenscliff SLSC. Day Three (Picnic Day!) started with an excellent plenary session on why we should use Web Standards by Char JT.

That was followed by Tony S’s presentation on “Information Architecture and Metadata” – so now we have a new name for what we do! We also have more stuff to put into our HTML pages – those metadata tags look pretty useful.

Jean HW spoke next on the reasons to use/create in-house style guides and what to put in them. She also told us what NOT to put in them that should go in other sorts of documents.

Lunch was in boxes that we took across the road to the beach. It was a gloriously warm and sunny day, and the braver ones sat in the sand to eat their lunch while others sat on the sea wall and those concerned about sun exposure sat on the lawns under the shade of the Norfolk pines. Following lunch we had a game of beach cricket much to the amusement (and some disdain…) of the locals. We even got a few spectators! Jesse, the conference mascot, excelled seeing as though he has never seen cricket played or played it before. Sadly, all too soon it was time to go back into the conference for the final sessions.

I had a meeting so missed Tom J’s session on the website case study, though I heard it was excellent.

In case we hadn’t already had enough of him, Dave G had another HTML Help session, but this time WITHOUT A LINE OF CODE!!! His breakdown of various topic styles was enlightening for those of us who have never studied tech writing theory.

Finally we had a “Tips Showdown” where various participants offered up some tips and tricks for everyone. And with that it was all over. Thanks to Tony and Penny for a great conference. The location was superb, the presenters were enlightening and very free with their time and knowledge, and some of the prizes were really crappy – what more could you ask of a conference? The social activities were great and an opportunity to get to know people who may have only been email signatures until now. And as with such events, new friendships were made and existing ones were strengthened.

Thanks again.

May 1, 2004: Travelling (Sydney to Boston)
38 hours with no sleep is no fun! The time I spent in the air (some 20 hours) is included in that figure, but some of the worst time isn’t actually sitting in the plane but getting through customs, immigration, security at all ends coming and going, and hanging around in airports waiting for flights. So from 6:00am on May 1 in Sydney when I got up until 11:00pm on May 1 in Boston when I went to bed, some 38 hours went past (yes, you gain a “day” flying in an eastward direction over the Pacfic).

I was on a Qantas flight that had the Skybeds in business class. What a feat of design and engineering they are! They allow you to lie flat, but that still didn’t mean I slept… just catnapped on the 14 hour flight to LA, so I think it’s sleeping drugs for me next time. I watched two movies – both must have been eminently forgettable as they are already out of the memory banks – and did a little bit of work. These Skybeds have real power outlets so you don’t need an Em-Power adapter such as the Targus one I bought last year. Looks like it’s destined for eBay…

Our arrival at LAX was eventful as one of the economy passengers was ill during the flight and we were told on arrival that they had considered diverting us to Honolulu. So we had to wait about 30 minutes for the paramedics to remove her from the plane and for the quarantine people to check her out to make sure what she had hadn’t infected the entire plane.

The upside of the extended wait was two-fold – there was no-one else in the queues for immigration and customs (a first for me!), and our baggage was already on the carousel as we came through immigration (another first). After a couple more security checks, I checked my bags through to the American Airlines flight to Boston and went upstairs in Terminal 4 to the American Airlines lounge.

What an improvement on the last visit I made to an American Airlines lounge! Much more spacious and better facilities – including SHOWERS! I’ll take back all the nasty things I’ve said about LAX’s lack of shower facilities. However, this was in a lounge and I don’t know whether the general population can access showers in the main halls. The only disappointment was that the food offerings were minimal at best; for anything more substantial than mini pretzels you had to pay. Not like Qantas where the lounge has snacks all day. And they are obviously cutting costs – I got three free drink vouchers (not that I used them all), whereas Qantas has unlimited access to liquid refreshments.

After a 3 hour wait, the 6 hour flight to Boston took off on time and arrived about 20 minutes early. Jim (Char’s husband) found me in at the baggage carousel, then we drove to another terminal to pick her and Jesse up – they arrived about 5 minutes after me, despite leaving Sydney 5 hours earlier than me. I had direct flights, whereas they had stops in Auckland, LA, and Minneapolis.

20 minutes later we were at Char and Jim’s house and a real bed beckoned…

May 2-6, 2004: Work with a little down time (Boston)
Most of my days at Char’s were spent working both with her and separately – either on our joint presentation for the STC conference, my website, or on testing the new features in the next AuthorIT beta release. And talking work talk! I think we’re ready…

On Wednesday Char and I had the afternoon off work and drove up to Kittery in Maine where there are a slew of Outlet Malls. Mmmmm…. shopping…. I’m limited in the goodies I can buy as I have to carry them home with me! We had a great lunch at Bob’s Clam Hut – Char had the deep fried clams and I had the clam chowder. And I tried the new Lime Diet Coke – nice; better than the lemon one.

On Wednesday night we went to the North Shore Music Theatre in Beverly (north of Salem) and saw a stunning performance of “Kiss Me Kate”. It’s not a musical I’m familiar with, but that didn’t matter. In addition to some great acting, the costumes were spectacular. Char found a review in the Boston Globe that said that the costumes had won a Tony Award – I can see why.

May 3, 2004: US cell phones (Boston)

One of my first tasks was to purchase a cheap cell phone that works in the US and that operates on a pre-paid card or similar. I used to have one (from Verizon) but when a friend tried to activate it in the US a month or two ago she was told they couldn’t as there was an ‘security issue’ with the frequency of that style of phone… Seems that existing users who haven’t let their contract lapse can still use these phones, but those whose phone has been inactive for some time, can’t. So the Verizon phone became a useless brick. That left me with the task of finding a phone under $100.

First stop this morning was a Verizon Wireless store. The cheapest phone was $114 US + $30 activation charge, less a $50 rebate pre-paid card, so a total of $94. And when I come back next year I have to pay the $30 reactivation fee again. I figured there had to be a cheaper phone around – and there was. At BestBuy I was able to purchase (with my VISA card) a $70 phone that had an immediate $20 rebate applied to the purchase price and with no reactivation fee at a later date. With tax, I paid $52 US for the phone, and when I activated it with a $40 pre-paid I was going to be ready to roll.

Not so fast… First, I get the phone home and read the manuals (yes, Virginia, someone DOES read manuals! Hey, I write them – the most courteous thing to do is read someone else’s work!). And find that I have to call a 1800 number to get AT&T to activate the phone using my VISA card. So far, so good.

After waiting about 20 mins on hold for a customer rep (fortunately this was a free call from Char’s phone), I get the runaround from hell. Guess what? AT&T’s computer system WON’T ACCEPT A NON-US VISA CARD as payment for the activation. Now AT&T are no fly-by-night organisation – they are one of the three biggest telecommunications companies in the entire WORLD – and they can’t accept my VISA card. After speaking to the rep, and getting my call escalated, it seems that short of returning the phone to BestBuy and getting a refund and starting the runaround again, I had no option than to go to an AT&T store and pay the $40 pre-paid plan in cash. So these guys are happy to SELL me a phone (on my Aussie VISA card) that is designed for travellers who can’t use their Australian or European phone, yet CAN’T accept my VISA card because they “can’t confirm the address against the card number Ma’am.” ABSOLUTE BOLLOCKS!!! Char and Jim (a two person business) take VISA and can confirm an international address against an international VISA in less than 1 minute. So why can’t one of the world’s biggest companies?

Yes, I could’ve used Char’s VISA, but that’s not the point. AT&T promote these as “GoPhones” and when you read the blurb you see that they are ideal for travellers to the US and Canada, even as a throwaway phone. Nowhere in the manuals did I read anything about a US VISA only. So much for encouraging tourists to visit America! I did ask the AT&T people I spoke to to escalate this issue as there must be plenty of other travellers affected by it.

Bloody crazy!

May 7, 2004: Train travel on Amtrak (Boston to Connecticut)

It’s my niece’s 21 st birthday today – happy birthday, Shannon. Sorry I won’t be there.

The Regional train was scheduled to leave Boston at 9:35am – and it was right on time! I’m due to arrive in New Haven, Connecticut just after noon – so far, so good…

Char drove me to Boston’s South Station, leaving Lynn at 7:15am because we didn’t know how bad the peak hour traffic might be. Well, with the “Big Dig” tunnels (which is still not finished – lots of construction still happening), the trip was surprisingly fast. We had enough time to drive through some more of the “Big Dig” project and get to South Station just after 8:00am, well in time for the train. I’ll be seeing Char again on Sunday in Baltimore.

It’s many years since I sat in a train station, let alone at commuter rush hour in a city the size of Boston. Some observations:

  • Lots of white and black faces (mostly white), with very few Asian or Hispanic faces.
  • Mostly commuting workers with some backpackers and well-dressed retirees going on a longer train journey of some sort. Clothing worn by most was casual/comfortable, with very few suits. Despite it being a beautiful sunny day, not many were wearing spring colours – lots of black, grey, beige, blue, with an occasional yellow sweater.
  • Shoes were nearly all work shoes or sneakers, with a few sandals. I think I was the only one in boots! I’m sure Dallas would have different…

Train security was interesting – and non-existent. Despite the bombings in Madrid a few weeks back and the news reports of how security has tightened up at US train stations, not a bit of security was in evidence at Boston South Station or on the train itself. No checks of anything except tickets. No screening of luggage either. And this is a train that goes through to New York and Washington…

The train is very fast – which makes it hard to take photos out of the window. Business Class has power for latops etc. – in fact I am writing this on the train having just pulled out of the station at Providence, Rhode Island.

The tagging and graffiti is interesting near railway tracks – it is everywhere. On every man-made surface, under bridges, on the sides of train carriages, and containers. Very sad.

To counter the ugliness of the graffiti is the bright sunshine and the new green leaves on the trees as they start to put on their full summer foliage.

May 8, 2004: Driving to Baltimore (Connecticut to Maryland)
Today was mostly spent driving to Baltimore with Whitney. After doing a few last minute errands we got on the road around 10:00am, finding our way to the I-95 and heading south. Mostly it was a pretty drive, except for the section around New York City where we went through parts of the Bronx and Queens. Some of the project housing we saw from the road was very depressing and ugly. The road wasn’t too good either – there’s no room for expansion and the limited number of lanes meant that traffic congestion is a way of life.

After getting over the George Washington Bridge (which crosses the Hudson River in New York) the road improved dramatically as did the traffic congestion and the scenery, and the rest of the drive through New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland was uneventful.

Interestingly, there were no billboards on this section of the interstate, which made the drive that much more pleasant and picturesque.

Some 5 hours later (we stopped for lunch) we arrived in Baltimore and navigated our way around some rough inner city streets to the hotel – the Tremont Plaza Suites on St Paul St. To get our bearings for the conference we walked down to the Inner Harbor and got a sense of how far it was to the Convention Center (about 5 blocks).

The day was fine and sunny and people were out in droves at the Inner Harbor. Pretty neat place, with lots going on and lots of places to eat. We ended up having dinner at J.Paul’s which was delicious and inexpensive. The waiter was very cute too!

May 9, 2004: Conference Registration and Exhibition (Baltimore)

After Whitney left I went over the presentation I’m giving on Tuesday (ya gotta practice sometime!), then walked down to the Convention Center around 2:00pm.

Char had just arrived at the AuthorIT booth, then the guys turned up and set up shop ready for the enquiries from conference attendees. I saw lots of people I had met from previous conferences and it was good to catch up – there’s a nice sense of community with people you know through email and then get to meet at conferences such as this.

After standing and gabbing the rest of the afternoon, Char and I went back to the hotel to dump gear and freshen up, then met the AuthorIT guys and resellers for dinner at J.Paul’s at the Inner Harbor. Everyone seemed pleased with their meals, so I was glad I recommended it. Lots of laughs and jokes – Paul is such a kid!

Back to the room and to bed by 11:30pm – Day 1 of the conference proper starts tomorrow at 8:00am.

May 10, 2004: STC 51st Annual Conference – Day 1 (Baltimore)

The opening session featured Ben Schneiderman, the author of “Leondardo’s Laptop: Human Needs and the New Computing Technologies”. Unlike previous keynote speakers at other STC Conferences, I was disappointed in this session as it was very much a PowerPoint presentation similar to any standard technical session. And to me, it seemed to be a promotion for his own book. Unlike the keynotes by the National Geographic photographer (whose name escapes me at the moment) in 2001 and David Macauley in 2002, this speech didn’t inspire or provoke me at all.

The three technical sessions I attended on Monday were:

  • The Tech Writer’s Essential Toolkit: An overview of a whole slew of tools, websites, and book resources all under $100 or free. Some neat suggestions among these that I’ll investigate once the list of links is available from the conference website.
  • Advanced Marketing for Technical Communicators: Three speakers gave us some good ideas on marketing, such as focusing on customer benefits not on what we do, and ‘information foraging’.
  • Guerilla Usability for Tech Writers: Now here was a session I wanted to attend as Steve Krug (the author of “Don’t make me think!” was the presenter. It was humorous with some sensible ideas on usability testing, and it was nice to hear that Krug was a tech writer before getting into usability and writing his now famous book.

Lunch today was a Networking lunch and I sat on the Consulting table, meeting and talking with some fellow tech writer business owners, Natalie Roelant and Kathy Schuster. Some good ideas were shared.

And at the end of the sessions, we had the Regional Receptions. There were quite a few at the Region 8 reception where Bonnie Graham handed over the Director Sponsor position she has held for 3 years to Beau Cain. Beau mentioned that the 2006 or 2007 Regional Conference may be hosted by the Australia Chapter, perhaps in combination with Region 7 (thus including South East Asia).

Oh, and in between the sessions and at the lunch break Char and I helped out on the AuthorIT booth, answering the questions that we could.

This evening Char and I decided to eat in the room and have an early night as we have our joint presentation tomorrow, followed by another presentation by Char. Despite our good intentions, it was still well after 11:00pm before we turned the light out.

May 11, 2004: STC 51st Annual Conference – Day 2 (Baltimore)

Char and I got to the Convention Center nice and early to make sure that the computer setup we had asked for was as we requested – it was. The switchbox worked, the laptops worked, and the data projector worked, so we were in business! Our session (“AuthorIT Tips and Tricks”) went for 90 minutes, and was attended by about 40 people. We kicked a few out at the beginning as we were focusing on existing AIT users or those actively evaluating the product, and suggested the others attend Paul Trotter’s vendor demo session at 9:00am (and thanks STC for scheduling TWO AIT presentations at the same time!) We think our session went well – nothing failed (including us!), but we won’t know how people really felt about the information we demonstrated until we get copies of the evaulation forms in a few months. Those who approached us after the session were pleased with the information we gave them.

The other sessions I attended on Tuesday were:

  • Developing a Corporate Style Guide: A good session on what sort of things should be included in a corporate style guide – and what shouldn’t.
  • Marketing Yourself: This was the most disappointing session of the conference that I attended – so much so that by the time the third speaker (of five) started, I walked out. The reason: this session was written up in the program as “Intermediate Level” and described as “Learn inventive approaches to self-marketing”, yet the first speaker talked about a support program for the unemployed run in a specific geographic area, while the next two focused on new graduates – hardly intermediate level and “Resumes for Newbies” is hardly ‘inventive approaches’.
  • Connecting the Dots: Using Your Indexing Skills to Develop Effective Metadata: An excellent session on metadata and the skills we already have that can be applied to metadata and information architecture. Seth Maislin’s section was especially inspirational.

Lunch was the SIG (Special Interest Group) lunch, and again the STC organisers got the Lone Writer numbers wrong – we only had 2 tables and could easily have filled 3 or more. This same thing happened last year. It was good catching up with a whole lot of familiar faces, and some familiar names whose faces I didn’t know.

Because the “Marketing” session was so bad I went back to the hotel during it, showered and changed ready for the Lone Writers dinner at Crabby Dick’s restaurant in historic Fells Point. A heap of us met at the Wyndham Hotel and some of us went in Al Hood’s rental car to the Inner Harbor and then took the Water Taxi to Fells Point – the rest walked as their cab didn’t turn up. It was a gorgeous balmy evening and being on the water was really nice.

Crabby Dick’s was a fun place, very much like Dick’s Last Resort in Dallas last year. Lots of laughs and silly hats – and what was Dana Utz thinking when he bought the tank top that said “Oh Boy! What a Dick!” on it… Many of us (there were 24 of us who turned up) caught the Water Taxi back to the Inner Harbor.

May 12, 2004: STC 51st Annual Conference – Day 3 (Baltimore)

Already the last day of the conference – it just goes by so quickly. The walk to the Convention Center this morning was a lot lighter with no laptops for Char and I to carry, and no AIT uniform to wear.

The sessions I attended on Wednesday were:

  • Planning for Content Management: An excellent session on how Coca Cola Enterprises in Atlanta implemented AuthorIT for their SAP documentation (online help and role-based training materials). Some great ideas and suggestions, and some terrific strategies for anyone attempting to do the same.
  • Entrepreneurial Lessons Not Found in the Classroom: This was an inspirational session done by human dynamo Marissa Levin. Some very sensible messages and some great anecdotes – her website will be a must.
  • Bringing Brand Alive for Software and Web Sites: I found this session disappointing as it did not live up to my expectations based on the title and the description.

Lunch was based on Regions today, and I sat at one of the four Region 8 tables. With the exception of me and John from Las Vegas everyone else seemed to be from the San Francisco area.

Finally, the closing session was here. After the accolades for the organising committee, Thom Haller made us laugh, reminisce and think about why we do what we do. Thanks Thom – you more than made up for the disappointing opening session.

And with that it was all over… I was originally signed up to do a full day workshop on Indexing but it was cancelled while I was in Sydney and it was too late to change all my travel bookings (train, plane, hotel, car rental and ferry!), so I have to decide what I’ll do tomorrow. Staying in Baltimore is not an option that is appealing, so I’ll either take the train to Washington DC or rent a car and go down to Chesapeake Bay.

May 13, 2004: Shopping, rental cars, and other bits and pieces (Baltimore)

So much for renting a car and going to Chesapeake Bay… The Preakness (like the Melbourne Cup) is being run in Baltimore on Saturday and not a rental car was to be found. I seem destined not to ever see Chesapeake! I had planned to visit there when I went to Washington DC in 1986, but a pea-souper (fog) blanketed the whole north-east and I went to the Shenandoah Valley instead. I even thought of catching a train to DC today and doing some of the museums, Smithsonian buildings etc., but the train fare was $78 USD return – for a 30 min trip each way! I’d’ve thought there was a commuter train for about $5-10 each way, but NOT nearly $80! So I checked out some of the brochures in the hotel and found that there was an Arundel Mills outlet mall nearby – with a shuttle service. So I did that instead.

Not being a shopping person, I surprised even myself that I could spend 7 hours in a shopping mall! I took it slowly and looked in most stores, buying a few bits of clothing for myself and my baby nephew, and some shoes. And had a salad lunch from Subway in the food court. Now to fit it all into the luggage tomorrow!

Final thoughts on staying in hotels… This time the Tremont Plaza Suite in St Paul St, Baltimore.

  • When you request a non-smoking room, you don’t expect to be confronted with a room that absolutely reeks of smoke. And no offer of shifting rooms as the hotel is “fully booked”. But some magic mandarin-scented spray from housekeeping got rid of the smell for a while…
  • Dial-up internet access is horrible! I think the slowest speed we got was 28.8kbps, and the fastest was about 52. You really think twice about supporting sites that are graphics- and JavaScript-heavy. And what’s with the hotel promoting “2 data ports” in each room? There are two physical data ports, for sure, but only ONE line – there is no physical way that two people can independently connect to the internet at the same time.
  • Room cleaning. Above the desk on the wall (near the ceiling) was a dark mark. It was there on Saturday when I arrived. On closer inspection, we determined that it was a dead cockroach… And by Friday when I checked out, it was still there!
  • Plumbing. Right from day one a room above us had some serious water hammer, and over time so did ours. Being woken at 11:30pm or 2:30am (seriously!) with the sound of something loud and banging coming into the room is no fun. I complained about this water hammer nearly every day, but NOTHING was done.
  • Car service. The hotel has a great private car service with prices comparable to local taxis. However, it is not advertised in the hotel folder in the rooms, or by the desk. It was only because I asked for a taxi on Tuesday that I found out that it existed. I’ll be using it to go to the Amtrak station tomorrow, but the hotel really should promote this service to its guests.
  • Deli. The Tremont Plaza is a Suite hotel meaning that it has a mini-kitchen. But the best was that there was a deli attached to the hotel, with reasonable prices and excellent fresh and prepared food – meats, chicken, salads, breakfast makings, snacks, drinks, etc. We made a lot of use of it! It was much cheaper than eating out.
  • Windows. Even though we were on the 19th floor, we had windows that OPENED! So we were able to get some fresh air which was essential when we were trying to remove the smoke smell from the room. And yes, the room still had air conditioning which was necessary when the temperature got over 90 degress as it did on about three days.

May 14, 2004: Trains, planes, and waiting… (Baltimore to New York)

Woke early, read the newspaper, then sorted out the packing. Thank goodness I purchased some vacuum packers yesterday at the Samsonite store – they were a god-send when I needed to fit everything in! They’re pretty nifty in how they squeeze all the air out, allowing the garments to be very flat in the bag and thus allowing even more in the suitcase than normal. Which was just as well – both the suitcase and the black bag were well and truly full! I can’t buy a THING in Canada as there will be no more room… Luckily most of what I’ll be taking in Canada is photos.

The hotel driver took me to the Amtrak station just after midday and someone took my bags to put them on an earlier train so that they’d be waiting for me in New York. Then the information desk suggested that I catch the earlier Acela Express train – the one that left Baltimore at 12:30 instead of the 1:30 train. So I did. The train ride was very pleasant, but it wasn’t until almost the end that I found the power point, so I could have been working for most of the 3 hour trip.

The scenery was good in patches, mostly the top end of Chesapeake Bay and the green trees etc., but most of the areas through settlements were of sad and rundown industrial buildings. Of course, I don’t know any country whose railway lines run through the nice parts of town, so I guess that was to be expected.

When we were close to New York’s Penn Station I asked the attendant where to go to claim my baggage and to get the connection to JFK. The chap she was talking to offered to show me – and I found that he was an Amtrak supervisor when we got off the train. He led me up to the Customer Service area, who then let me know when the other train arrived (it got in later than I did), and directed me to the Baggage Claim area. Well, directed is perhaps the wrong word… After the great experience with the Amtrak supervisor, the Customer Service people were less than helpful. And when I enquired as to how to get to JFK, I got varying responses such as “catch a cab”, “walk three blocks and catch a shuttle bus”, and “catch the xxx train, then get off at yyy, then catch the zzz train”. According to the Amtak website there IS a connection from Penn Station to JFK – but not according to the people who worked there. And with the amount of luggage I had, there was no way I was going to try and manoeuvre it along the streets of New York City, or onto commuter trains at peak hour. So a cab it was…

Baggage Claim was an interesting exercise. After waiting for ages (at least 30 mins), they opened baggage claim. Everybody streams in to the area where the bags are laid out on the ground, and has to fight for their own bag. A cursory glance is given to the baggage claim tickets by the men who work there, so pretty much anybody could make off with anybody else’s luggage. Then getting a porter was even more interesting. Eventually one turned up after being paged. While I was waiting for my bags I spoke to a lady who said that a cab was really my only choice – especially after she saw the bags I had! So the porter took me up to the taxi stand and I then had the experience of a $55 USD cab ride (including tip, but not including the tip to the porter) to JFK. The cabbie was from Romania and was very vehement in his opposition to the American presence in Iraq – as were MANY Americans I spoke to. He talked the whole way to the airport…

I got to JFK around 5:00pm – yep, it took almost as long to get from Baltimore to New York as it did to collect my bags, get a cab, and get to JFK! And the traffic was good with no traffic jams or gridlocks that NYC is famous for. When I got there, I was told that the Cathay Pacific check-in wasn’t opening until 7:00pm and no, they couldn’t take my bags, and yes, I’d have to keep them with me, even if I went to the bathroom! Great…

So I sat in the area near the check-in counter for the two hours, making a few phone calls to friends and relatives to catch up and/or say goodbye. What an enormous waste of time. There really is no facility in airports for early check-in for people with long wait times for a connection.

Once I checked in and went through the “remove your laptop from the bag, ma’am” and “remove your boots ma’am” (actually, I’m not even sure I got the “ma’am” bit!), I went to the British Airways lounge (which is a code share with Qantas and Cathay Pacific and possibly others). The BA Terraces Lounge was very pleasant, with some decent (and free) snacks and drinks. But I had trouble connecting to the internet from the data port. After a couple of service people helped me, I still couldn’t get through. I asked the last person I spoke to if there was a desk where I could do some work – connection wasn’t vital though that would be nice, but I had close to 4 hours to kill and may as well be doing some work (and write this blog entry, of course!). The business area in the lounge was very full. The lady quietly said she’d take me through to the First Class lounge – which she did, via the kitchen and food preparation area. There I got a desk, power and a data connection – but I still couldn’t connect to the internet. Once a couple of toffy Brits who were sitting at the only computer in First Class left, I jumped on that one to check my email only to find that they block some sites, such as links to webmail facilities. Nice one! So back to work I went… Still another 2+ hours to my late night flight to Vancouver (it leaves after 11:00pm).

May 15, 2004: Vancouver Island

The Cathay Pacific flight from New York to Vancouver didn’t leave until midnight on May 14, arriving in Vancouver at 2:00am Vancouver time (5:00am New York time). One allergy tablet helped me catnap a bit more than usual, in addition to the fact that it was late and that the Cathay flight had skybeds! Our arrival in Vancouver was uneventful – not many left the flight (most were continuing on to Hong Kong), and ours was the only flight in, so immigration and customs and baggage collection was super quick. Vancouver Airport is such a neat place to walk through with lots of First Nations carvings and artwork. Unfortunately there’s not a lot of time to appreciate them before you’re into the immigration line. The hotel shuttle picked me up and I was in bed by 3:00am.

And awake by 7:00am! After the free full breakfast I caught the shuttle back to the airport to pick up my rental car from Hertz. I got a trainee, and despite asking for a vehicle with a trunk (so that my baggage wasn’t on display while on the road), he gave me a small sedan with no ‘privacy’ shelf. So I went back and got given a Ford Crown luxury car for the same price! A 4.6L V8 monster – with a big trunk! It’s going to be hell on the fuel costs – Canadian fuel prices are similar to Australia, hovering around 95c to 1.00 per litre. For the first time ever, I took the ‘fuel purchase option’ from Hertz as their price was 92c/litre and I’d seen on the internet that morning that the Aussie prices were likely to hit $1.07/litre in the next week – no doubt Canadian prices were going to rise similiarly as the crude oil price had risen dramatically.

The drive from Vancouver Airport to the Tsawassen ferry terminal was uneventful and I didn’t get lost – British Columbia is very big on signage for their ferries! The ferry trip to Duke Point, Nanaimo took about 2 hours. Weather was overcast but not cold, and no rain. The drive to Qualicum Beach took another 30 minutes or so, and I arrived at Jill and Brian’s house mid-afternoon. Jill was still at her conference in Ottawa and Brian and I caught up on our respective news, then went shopping for tonight’s dinner of Spring Salmom!!! Bliss!!! Brian BBQed the salmon and veges, and it was absolutely delicious! Pacific Northwest salmon is just THE BEST in the world, and BBQed on the deck of a magnificent house overlooking the Strait of Georgia on a warm spring afternoon just can’t be beat.

May 16, 2004: Vancouver Island

A MAGNIFICENT day – not a cloud in the sky, and the water in the Strait of Georgia was like a millpond. Brian and I drove down to Nanaimo Airport to pick up Jill, then spent the warm afternoon just lazing around, taking Jazz (their dog) for a walk on the beach, and getting dinner ready for us and Jill’s Mum and her English cousin. Drinks on the deck, and a fabulous meal capped off a perfect Sunday.

May 17, 2004: Vancouver Island

Another MAGNIFICENT day – if tomorrow is like this when I’m on the Inside Passage ferry, I’ll be very lucky indeed… and the Weather Channel indicates that it will be. After Jill left for school, I finished packing and loaded up the car and said goodbye to Brian. The drive from Qualicum Beach to Port Hardy took me about 5-6 hours (should be about 3.5 hours) as I went on the Oceanside Drive not the main highway, and stopped quite a bit to take photos and enjoy the scenery, and to have lunch in Campbell River.

It was a much more beautiful drive than I remember from 1986 (when I last did it), but there seemed to be less bald eagles flying around near the ocean. I got in to Port Hardy around 3:00pm and found the Glen Lyon Inn without any trouble. My room overlooks the bay and the fishing marina, and there are LOTS of bald eagles flying around in front of my room. Neat! I even saw a hummingbird hover near the window just before sunset (which is around 9:30pm!).

Port Hardy is a pretty small town, but has all sorts of facilities. I was able to find a bank to get some Canadian cash, and found some mini-binoculars in the hardware store – who knows what wildlife I might see tomorrow? Had dinner in the restaurant of the Glen Lyon – grilled Halibut; nice but not spectacular (I got spoilt with the salmon the other night!).

The weather tomorrow is expected to be fantastic, so I’m really looking forward to the 16 hour ferry trip to Prince Rupert. When I did this trip in 1986 it was June or July and even though it was summer, the weather was overcast, cool and rainy and misty, so it didn’t display the beauty of the area as it could have. Maybe this time…

May 18, 2004: Inside Passage Ferry: Port Hardy to Prince Rupert

The forecast is for sunshine the next 4 days – but what a MISERABLE day it’s turned out to be this morning! It dawned with low cloud, no sun, and light misty drizzle -and very strong winds. A great day to be on the ocean… NOT!

After the 5:30am wake-up call, a quick shower and repack, I was off to the ferry terminal at 6:10am. There was already a long line of vehicles there, so I just bided my time in the queue for 40 or so minutes before being directed on board. My reserve seat in the North Star Lounge was a window seat which was really lucky as the seats are 6 across with an aisle between and only one is a window seat. Those on the other side of the aisle see very little unless they go out on deck (not an option at the moment as it is too cold and inclement) or shift somewhere else outside the lounge. However, there WAS NO VIEW except grey on grey – grey sky, darker grey water. Oh, and white – white caps on the water.

The ferry (“Queen of the North”) left on time about 7:30am with its load of some 200+ vehicles and passengers, and by 9:00am we were in the open waters of Queen Charlotte Sound. Whie we were still in clam waters I had my breakfast of papaya and yoghurt that I bought yesterday in Qualicum, had a cuppa, and wandered about the decks getting my bearings and getting a GOOD dose of VERY fresh air!

Open waters = swell = some people were very seasick. The swell was running at 1-2 metres I’d guess, and it made moving around very difficult. At one stage the captain advised us all to stay in our seats and there were regular calls for “a cleaner to go to the purser’s office” – no doubt to clean up after another seasick passenger. I was fine, and happily stayed in my seat reading my book. I couldn’t use my laptop as there was no power outlets except in one place, and the purser said that it was iffy power and could blow a laptop… And no internet connection, though there was a video games room for kids. So I couldn’t read some of the stuff from the conference on my laptop – and I didn’t have it with me anyway – it was in the boot of the car, and we were only allowed down to the car deck at four designated times during the voyage. Maybe later…

So far the journey is very disappointing as the weather is just awful. Maybe it’ll be better once we’re in calmer waters and much further north…

2:30pm: Well, the awful weather lasted until noon when suddenly it all lifted and we had PERFECT blue skies and the calmer seas of the Inside Passage itself. Almost everyone ended up on the decks enjoying the sunshine, the glorious scenery, and the freshest air you could imagine. The wind was cold but my Xanadu polar fleece and the Freo Dockers scarf were put to good use for the first time this trip. It was just MAGIC and I hope the photos do it some justice.

By about 2:00pm we were in relatively open water again, in Milbanke Sound (oh, yeah, we stopped off for 15-30 mins in Bella Bella to drop some people off). The wind was very cold and there wasn’t much to see, so many people came back inside. I’ll go back up on deck later when we get close to land again. Meantime, back to my book (Bill Bryson’s “The mother tongue: English and how it got that way”).

4:30pm: It’s now warm enough on the top deck (the most open deck) to be down to a T-shirt! It is still a glorious day. Have seen a couple of seals/sea lions(?) and a couple of orcas (though they may have been false killer whales as the main orca pods are not due back until mid-June). However, the girls in the tourist kiosk said they could be ‘transient’ orcas as versus ‘resident’ ones. Transients tend to be younger and hunt in twos and threes, and they hunt all sorts of fishy stuff – seals, fish, etc. Whereas residents are in large pods (20 to 30) and follow the salmon as their main source of food. Some Germans said they saw a bear and 2 cubs near a waterfall. I haven’t seen a bald eagle this time, which is surprising as they were the main wildlife I saw back in July 1986. Could be the wrong time of the year for them, or maybe they follow the salmon too.

6:00pm: The light is still fantastic for photos – it seems like it’s about 3:00pm. But the wind has picked back up. By 7:00pm the wind on the top deck was ferocious both in intensity and its chill factor. Of course, jeans, T-shirt, light denim jacket and polar fleece with no bum or elastic band in the base didn’t help. I had to wrap my Dockers scarf around my head and ears to protect them! The lower decks are better, but still very windy so I’ve come inside for the moment. I’ll go out again when the sun starts to go down. Should be a speccy sunset as the weather has been so gorgeous since lunchtime. This is a MOST BEAUTIFUL place, with spectacular scenery, pristine air, and sheer beauty. Highly recommended for doing your soul a lot of good and for making your spirit soar. If you get a day like I’ve had, you’ll also get sun and wind burnt – there’s a lot of red faces around!

9:30pm: The sun just went down behind a hill and a few minutes beforehand a whale blew – I saw the rush of water and air and its fin in the distance but didn’t see it again. What a way to end a fabulous day of fresh air, photos, sunshine and being at awe with nature!

We’re due into Prince Rupert at 10:30pm, so not much of this trip will be spent in darkness. This was the first sailing of the Summer season, so I’d imagine that in June/July, there’d be little or no darkness at all. One of the ladies sitting near me is from Kitimat and she said that in June the sun doesn’t go down until 11pm.

We arrived in Prince Rupert on time, but it took quite a while to clear the car decks. I got to the Howard Johnson hotel at 11:30pm.

May 19, 2004: Elusive Moose… Prince Rupert to Prince George

This is a very rambling blog as I jotted down notes and thoughts as I drove the 720kms from Prince Rupert to Prince George… Here are those jottings:

  • Mosquitoes as big as helicopters!
  • Lime flavoured diet Coke – when will we get it in Australia? It’s great!
  • Almost no traffic.
  • Followed the Skeena River to Terrace – very pretty and scenic; at least as beautiful as Yosemite. The Skeena is extremely fast flowing at the moment as it is full of snow melt. Lots of little waterfalls gushing down the rock faces.
  • Hot day – 27C outside; shorts and t-shirt weather.
  • Listening to Canadian radio (where I could pick it up) and hearing quite a bit of Australia – Natalie Imbruglia, INXS, Midnight Oil, Keith Urban, AC/DC…
  • Some CRAZY cyclists! Bicycles, not motor bikes. These are mountains!
  • No wildlife so far (10:00am) – only a few birds such as robins. Very glad I bought binoculars for the Ferry trip – hopefully will get some use from them in next few days too.
  • Have been told that I should see moose, bear, elk, mountain sheep, deer etc. So far, nothing… No roadkill, no live animals… And no litter ($2000 fine!)
  • HUGE bumblebees that leave a mess on the windscreen when they hit…
  • Lots of road signs for moose… lots of neat moose habitat… but no moose…
  • Saw one bald eagle when leaving Terrace after having lunch.
  • Food – absolutely EVERYBODY seems to be doing lo-carb meals – very different from previous years…
  • Mountains are awesome; weather is awesome.
  • Lots of logging but also lots of regrowth and renewal of the forests.
  • Petrol prices have varied a lot – from 99.5 in Vancouver to 85.9 in Burns Lake.
  • Wildflowers – mostly dandelions, very little else. Maybe it’s too early?
  • The drive is prtty flat, even through the mountains as it follows the rivers (Skeena, Bulkley). Good roads for driving.
  • Saw a dead fox near Hazelton.
  • Visited Ksan First Nations village near Hazelton – very interesting.
  • Clouds coming in this afternoon but still sunny and hot (25C+).
  • Road construction…
  • After Hazelton, scenery is very rural – cattle, sheep, horses, farms, rolling pasture, mountains as a backdrop.
  • Saw a coyote???
  • Full service gas stations still around – and still check oil and water and wash your windscreen! All for no extra cost (as in the US).
  • 7:30pm just outside Prince George and it is still 21C.
  • Never did see a moose… or a deer, or an elk, or mountain sheep, or bears…

May 20-22, 2004: Prince George to Vancouver

This is a very rambling blog as I jotted down notes and thoughts over two days while driving from Prince George to Vancouver… Here are those jottings:

  • Saw one bison ranch – advertising bison meat for sale…
  • Lots of moose signs – but no moose to be seen – still…
  • South of Prince George: very rural landscape; lots of newly ploughed brown soil.
  • Weather (20 May): cloudy, sunshine, rain last night as car was very wet this morning, cooler temperatures today.
  • Something bit me a few days back – I have two funny little blood spots and raised welts near my waist. No idea what it was. But very itchy.
  • Quesnel is pronounced “quenelle” – yeah, like you’d pick that from looking at it!
  • Saw beaver dams and lodges and the effects of beaver dams on reclaiming land. Clever little critters.
  • Went to Barkerville Historical Village – 80kms inland off Highway 97. But it was worth it – neat little place; another town founded on gold, though you’d have to wonder about the people that made it this far inland and through some very inhospitable country and weather.
  • Yay! saw three (mule?) deer on way to Barkerville. First REAL wildlife! No photos as too dangerous to stop.
  • There’s still some gold mining and panning operations up near Barkerville, so not all the gold is mined out.
  • Highway 97 is a great road and today I have good driving conditions. Light to medium traffic; fairly flat. Followed Fraser River valley for much of the way down form Prince George – very rural and pretty.
  • By 3pm on 20 May, it was 24C outside (between Quesnel and Williams Lake). Radio reception is very iffy – often CBC is all you can get out here, and the massive power lines really affect reception in places.
  • There are some really crappy and cheap looking motels around that could do with pulling down and starting again. In Williams Lake even the Super8 looked good compared to the others.
  • Saw some more birdlife – Canada Geese, Redwing Blackbirds, Yellow-breasted Blackbirds – and crows!
  • Stayed overnight at 108 Mile (yes, that’s the name of the town!), and the 108 Resort – very nice location overlooking a golf course and two lakes (Sepa and yes, 108 Lake!). Had a lovely wild salmon meal in the 108 Restaurant. I went for a walk around the smaller lake after I got there, but it rained and I got a bit wet!
  • Lots of the blokes around these parts have beards and some look like the Grizzly Adams character – goes with the territory?
  • Weather (21 May): very cloudy and rain and thunderstorms expected, so I think I’ll just go straight through to Vancouver and not stay overnight at Squamish as I’d sort of planned. It’s 465km from 108 Mile to Vancouver, so it should take about 5 hours, depending on the weather and the terrain, and how often I stop. Well, the terrain means I won’t do it in 5 hours – these are mountains and Highway 99 from the turn off through to Pemberton is very narrow, winding, rough, and hilly! The sides drop off to who knows where, and the grades are very steep (steepest I saw was 15% for 3kms – and two cyclists with full panniers were JUST starting up the hill…). Many parts you can only do 20kph. Hairpin bends in parts, and rock falls and slides. But despite this, it is VERY SCENIC and I’m glad I came this way.
  • I SAW A BEAR! Between Lillooet and Whistler; a black bear. It was only on the side of the road for a minute then scampered off into the bush, but I was able to get three photos as proof!
  • In the middle of NOWHERE I was able to get gas for 81.9c/litre!
  • Pavilion Lake – the most beautiful clear aqua at the lake’s edge.
  • Seton Lake near Lillooet – massive rock falls, lovely colour, but would’ve been stunning if the sun was shining.
  • Bucketed down with rain near Pemberton and continued raining very heavily almost until Whistler. Lightning as well – just as the road follows massive high voltage electrical power lines! Scary.
  • Whistler is SO up itself that there aren’t any signs for food outlets, gas stations etc. I needed to find a toilet – ha! No way! Everything I saw as I drove through Whistler Village looks VERY EXPENSIVE, so I didn’t stop. Besides it was raining. And the cars in Whistler and heading to it were the most I’d seen of the Mercedes, BMW, Saab, Audi, Lexus, Porsche ilk.
  • Traffic heading to Whistler is very heavy – it’s a long weekend in Canada (Victoria Day) and some people have obviously taken Friday (or at least Friday afternoon) off work and are heading up here.
  • Toilets – when you’re on the road driving for 6 hours and have consumed well over a litre of water, you need a loo – badly. But none are to be found! All signs for Provincial parks don’t include symbols for toilets, so you don’t know if there are any there or not. And public toilets are nearly impossible to find. On Highway 99 there are no rest stops (with loos) as there are on Highway 97. So as I couldn’t even see a fast food place in Whistler I had to wait until Squamish, where the Wendy’s/Tim Horton’s had some nice clean loos. Wendy’s had the best value chicken salad meal too!
  • Is Jim’s Mowing everywhere? There’s a franchise in Squamish…
  • Highways are well labelled, EXCEPT for the exit you have to take to follow 99 South! So I went further than I should, and had to exit at Lonsdale St and double back in nasty suburban traffic to the Lion’s Gate Bridge, where 4 lanes of traffic have to merge into 1 in about 10m!! And what’s with routing a major highway through the centre of Vancouver? To get to the airport on 99 South you HAVE to go through the Vancouver CBD – not a pleasant experience after 4pm on the Friday of a long weekend…
  • Stayed overnight at the Quality Inn in Richmond, and had a wonderful last wild salmon meal at Milestone’s Bar and Grill up the road.
  • Return the rental car to the airport this morning – I did more than 2300kms and paid $141 for fuel (plus what I’ll pay at Hertz to fill the tank).
  • Flight leaves for Hong Kong at 3pm…

May 22-23, 2004: Vancouver to Perth

Flight from Vancouver to Hong Kong was uneventful, but the drugs didn’t work. Again, I no more than catnapped for the 14 hour flight, and ended up watching three movies as I thought I’d packed my power adapter for the laptop into my checked in luggage – then found it when I had a shower at HK airport! The movies were a better lot than coming over – this time I saw “Calendar Girls”, “The Station Agent”, and “Cold Mountain”. Both “Calendar Girls” and “The Station Agent” were feel-good movies, whereas “Cold Mountain” was darker and more brooding – and quite violent, but then, it was about war. All were good movies in their own way.

I have a 3+ hour layover in Hong Kong airport, before the last leg – the 8 hour flight to Perth. At least I’m back in the West Aussie time zone (or very close to it if it’s not exact). Maybe I’ll sleep on this last leg? Ha! I think that the next time I do this, I’ll have to go to the Dr and get some decent sleeping drugs. This is havoc on my body…

And I just found out that the Dockers won yesterday and that Paul kicked 9 goals! Woohoo! They beat Brisbane too, which was always going to be a tough game – even at home. Last year the weekend I was coming home, Paul kicked his best haul for the season too – 7 goals. So I’ve missed both those games where he was the star of the show.


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