April, May, and June: Travelling Man!

You know what, I don’t travel nearly as much as my President & CEO-ish friend Jim Caldwell does, but I managed to rack up a few klicks this spring.

28 April to 03 May: Winnipeg, Manitoba

I zipped back to Winnipeg for a few days to be there for my mom’s 76th birthday.  James and his sons were there the week before, so I didn’t have to fight for a bed 🙂

Happy 76th, Mom – Flowers from Me & Eric, Orchids from James

I got a chance to visit with Eric and James Douglas, and a brief chat with Sandy.

It wasn’t all fun & games – mom had a serious medical scare while I was there, but it turned out to be a minor issue.  Still, it was good that I was there to oversee the excitement, direct traffic, and keep everyone up to date!

21 May to 04 June: Florianopolis Brazil

We have a sister GE/Alstom division Reason Technologia (RTB) in Florianopolis, Brazil – the south of Brazil – where it is winter right now.  They design and manufacture complementary equipment to ours here in Phoenix.  We are undertaking a joint effort… of course I can’t say much about the details!  But I needed to get to Florianopolis to get things kicked off.  In mid April, the call came to go visit.  Well what do you know, I need a travel visa.  Well the visa takes 2 to 4 weeks, and I already have a trip to Winnipeg scheduled for 06 to 18 June (Men’s Camp and other things), so time is tight.

I couldn’t give up my passport until returning from Winnipeg on 03 May, so was pretty tight for a trip.  With the passport out for Visa on 04 May, it came back 19 May (two weeks plus overnight transit), and I had planned on that, so was ready for travel to Brazil, plane ticket and all.  So… the odyssey begins!

21/22 May: Getting There

Ugh.  Well you know that I don’t sleep on planes, mostly because of my sleep apnea and the need for the CPAP machine.  Well plus, it’s not all that comfortable in cattle class anyway.  So with the 4 hour time difference, a layover in Atlanta and in Sao Paulo, I left Phoenix on Saturday morning and arrived in Florianopolis on Sunday morning.  Ugh.

So.  Do not assume that anybody in an international airport will speak English.  Really.  Yikes.  Sao Paulo was confusing & difficult.  I had a couple of hours, but it was crazy.  I think I missed the luggage re-check belt after customs or something.  Then I had to try to get my luggage onto the next flight, which, although booked through Delta and having a Delta code share, was actually a Brazilian airline, GOL… which is fine, except being fully Brazilian, very few people speak English.  Finally I found the domestic bag drop line and got to the front… and found a woman who spoke a bit of English… and she cleared the way for me to the bag check station and got the bag on its way.  Then, back to security, racing to the gate… just in time for the main call for the cabin… poor young ladies sitting beside me, I was sweating profusely from the stress and dashing through the terminal.  Oh well, we survived!

Celso, my host colleague at Reason, was leaving Sunday morning for a quick trip to Stafford, England, to meet with other colleagues about another aspect of the same project.  He was boarding his plane in Florianopolis while I was getting off of mine.  Fortunately, he left me in good hands – Leo, taxi driver who does most of the driving for Reason services, who speaks pretty good English.  Hotel.  Sleep.  Aaaah.

22 May: Where’s the Beef?  Everywhere!  (and Beer too)

In Celso’s absence, a couple of my other Reason colleagues picked me up later from the hotel and we went for burgers.  Bleh, you say – burgers.  No, no – these are serious burgers.  Amazing.  Well crafted, gourmet burgers, quite good.  Then you match them up with beer…

Where’s the beef?  Yup, here it is.  Beer, too!

23/24 May: Freezing? 

It turns out that I was not prepared for the weather.  It’s beautiful, because Florianopolis is an island “almost” attached to the mainland, and jutting into the ocean – but it’s humid, so when it’s +15C overnight, it feels quite chilly.   They don’t have heat in the hotel, because, well, if it never dips below +10C, why would you ever need heat?

The first day at the office, on Monday, I nearly froze my tail off.  On Tuesday, I wore my light jacket everywhere, but felt kind of silly.  So I had Leo take me to a large mall to buy a sweater.

They treated me very well at Reason.  And, kept me busy!  Between meeting people, learning about their roles, and seeing how their systems & processes work, I barely had time to worry about anything.

Leo drove me everywhere, but I wanted to wander around a bit too.

24 May: At the Mall!  Valentine’s Day coming in June?

Yes it was a beautiful evening, Leo took me to the Beira Mar shopping centre.  Something like eight stories!  But, only 4 levels of stores – the rest is access to parking on all sides.  What’s with all the hearts???   Valentine’s Day in June.  Well it’s not the same Valentine’s Day as in North America, subtly different, but it’s in June!

Top Level of Eight
Valentine’s Day coming up in June!?!
Nighttime view of road along waterfront, from top of Beira Mar shopping centre

The Credit Card Blues

So we found a sweater that fit me – well, actually two sweaters – and they were a good price – but my US credit card was declined!  Both of my US credit cards were declined!  Argh!  I had to put it on my company Amex.  Hope they don’t invoke the “zero tolerance for personal expenses” thing!

One of my US cards is a chip card but I have no PIN, so it was rejected flat out.  US banks, in all their wisdom, are using chip & signature instead of the chip & PIN like the rest of the world.  The other US card was rejected after a delay.  It turns out that they flagged it as a suspicious transaction, in spite of me having called them before going to Brazil.  Ugh.

Oh well, the sweaters are nice, and no, there never was a problem with the expense thing.  The card is in my name, and I just paid the US$40 myself.  I never had any intention of expenses hanky panky.

25 May: Checking out the Manufacturing Plant

Leo took me and two of my Reason colleagues to visit the Reason assembly plant, and their local PCB assembly contract manufacturer.  Very cool.  Who wouldn’t love those zoot suits?

Cute Disposable Clothes for Touring the Plant
Very Nice Factory Floor at Reason manufacturing plant
Electronics PCBA CM – Produza
Beautiful Produza Production Floor

25 May: Surprise, it’s Carlos!

Sandy had mentioned that their family had hosted a young man from Florianopolis some years ago, and asked that I let her know if I met him.  Ha ha ha, millions of people, what’s the likelihood of that?

It turns out, pretty likely.   His workstation was right behind me the whole time!  On our ride out to the manufacturing plant, he asked where I was from.  When I said “Winnipeg”, he said, “Oh, I spent a year near there – Carman – do you know where that is?”   AAAAAH!  Yes I know where that is!

I keep buying lottery tickets, but I can’t beat those odds.

OMG Not going to Starve in Florianopolis!

Yes there were fantastic meals.  Lots of meat!  When Lucas says meat, he means meat – beef – and lots of it!  Here a re a few selected meals – OK not all beef, but always plenty to eat.

26 May: Touring the Island with Lucas and Jamilly

Although I missed the Memorial Day holiday in the USA, the first Thursday in Florianopolis was the Corpus Christi holiday.  My colleague Lucas and his girlfriend Jamilly took me on a day-long tour of the north half of the island.  It is so beautiful!  Although, being winter in the southern hemisphere, it was a little chilly on the beach.  I’ve been advised that I have to return in January, when it’s summer, and then I can see how beautiful the women on the beaches – oops, how beautiful the beaches themselves – really are 🙂

28 May: Not-so-successful Cycling Trip (or, Carlos Tries to Kill Me)

Ha ha, after talking to Carlos about the wonders of cycling, he invited me to cycle with him and his friends, 30 km to the south of the island and back, on Saturday morning.  Well, it was threatening rain (hmm, it was always threatening rain while I was there) so he decided we’d take the shorter route to the north.  Hmm, I just went through there with Lucas and Jamilly yesterday – doesn’t that involve climbing up through a high mountain pass?  No worries, just take it easy!

I don’t look too bad – but looks can be deceiving!

Well, apparently I do not know how to take it easy.  I did not feel good by the time I reached the top.  I had to rest, then felt rotten, then worse, then finally improved.  It was too much – the heat, humidity, the climb – and not taking it easy.  So Carlos’s dad came, picked me up, and took me back to my hotel.  So sad.  I had a nap then walked a couple of km over to the shopping centre, where I bought some DP and some wine, yay 🙂

29 May: A Lovely Dinner with Celso at Sergio’s Home

 The engineering manager, Sergio, invited my colleague Celso and I to dinner with him and his wife.  We had a lovely time… what a meal!  And, what a house!  These photos do not do it justice.  Wine, food, yum!

31 May: I Play the Designated Drinker / Garage Band Groupie!

It turns out that Lucas and a few of the other staff at Reason set up their own rock band, and they practice most Tuesday evenings in the “Garage Band Room” in a condominium that one of their relatives lives in.  How cool!  Lucas claims they don’t play so well, but after a couple of beers, I cannot tell.  Still trying to get them on track with BTO’s “Takin’ Care of Business”.  They say they will play it next time I am there, ha ha!

The band member selection goes like this: there’s a guy who plays great keyboards, so they make him play the drums.  There’s a guy who plays guitar, so they make him play the keyboards.  And so it goes.  Doesn’t matter, these guys are just getting together and having great fun.

Business?  What Business?

Oh yes, and I did attend a few business meetings while I was there.

Anybody who complains about my antennas, I’ll show them this picture.

I happened to notice, out of the top floor conference room window, that Reason has a few antennas on their roof.  Something like my roof at home, ha ha. 

03/04 June: Travel Back

The return wasn’t quite as tense as the way out.  Just as few people spoke English at the Sao Paulo airport, and I almost lost my exit visa (dropped it on floor at bag check and someone handed it back to me) – that would have meant going to a police station and getting a new one!  But I didn’t lose it, got to the gate “just” in time but the crew was late because of Sao Paulo traffic in the rain 🙂

Once we landed in Atlanta, well, it all OK, I could understand the language.  Although, was a big delay in customs because I have to go in the “all others” line on account of my work visa – not the “US and Canadian Passports” line – made that mistake once – just once.  I was behind a lot of people who spoke only Portuguese.  They kept calling for Spanish interpreters at the wickets – joke’s on them, Spanish is not Portuguese.

Some poor folks didn’t understand the English directions, and forgot to dump their big items back onto the checked luggage conveyor – tried to get through the bag check line with big items – don’t know what happened, but staff tried to tell them again and again, didn’t seem to help.  Sigh.  I was tired but OK.

I got upgraded to first class on the last segment of the trip.  It was nice, because ugh was I tired.  That was a nice touch.

I got home and thought I would sleep for a week, but I didn’t – only for about 14 hours.  Then off to church, the next day at work, and after that, off to Winnipeg!

06 June to 18 June: Winnipeg Manitoba

Yes, it was time for my annual June trek back to Winnipeg for Men’s Camp and other fun things.

I had to renew my passport, and get a new 3 year TN work visa.

While getting back to the car from picking up my passport, I spotted this scene that felt like a throwback – hidden in downtown Winnipeg!

10 & 11 June: Men’s Camp 2016 – the Last One

Yes, attendance has been dwindling.  We’ve lost so many of our older attendees who pass on each year, more in ill health and can’t get away for the weekend, and others still who have such hectic lives that they can’t make it out.  So this year, we did it – we closed down Riding Mountain Conference of Churchmen.  Sigh.  51 years.  It was a good topic, very much enjoyed.  But that’s it.

Attendees at the 51st and Last Men’s Camp

James Douglas, in full flight!

Tim Olfrey sharing a devotion

Harvey Douglas, chair of last Men’s Camp

Speaker Presentation

Path to the Lakeshore… kind of like life… can’t see clear path, but that’s OK!

Clear Lake

09 June: Getting the Call to Go to France

I had a suspicion that I might have to go to France, or maybe do some tech support from Winnipeg, so as a minimum, I brought my office desktop computer.  Good thing.  Within a few days of arrival, I was asked to go to France immediately to work on RTE Poste Intelligent installation.

My passport was out for renewal, so I couldn’t go right away, at least until I got it back.  That would have been the 2nd Tuesday.  I had a lot of arrangements to make, that would have taken up my Wednesday.  I couldn’t fly until Thursday… that means I would arrive on Friday afternoon… just in time to take the weekend off (no working in France on Saturday).

I took no clothes with me to Winnipeg, as I keep clothes at my mother’s place.  I just had a little carry-on that I used to carry the computer, my CPAP machine, tablet and a few other things.  I had to go buy a suitcase in Winnipeg and take almost all of the clothes from my mother’s.  Hmm, the two pairs of pants that were there were rather ratty, so I bought two new pairs of pants too.

I also had to buy power adapters (just in case mine from Phoenix didn’t arrive – still need to run my CPAP), and snagged magnifying glasses and safety glasses…

So, I finished out my week, went through the Emerson/Pembina border crossing on Friday afternoon and got my TN visa, and stayed with Eric in Grand Forks overnight.  That let us go to the races!

17 June: World of Outlaws

I booked advance seats, so we got a prime spot, up high, down to the west end.  Not perfect, mind you – that would be further to the west, with the sun setting behind us – but they were pretty good.  Lots off thrills, spills, and yellow flags!  We had fun.

18 June: Flying Away

On Saturday, instead of driving further down the road to Fargo and flying back to Mesa, I left directly out of Grand Forks, through Minneapolis-St. Paul, and off to France.  Yikes.

19 June to 24 June: Rouen France

Taxi!  Taxi!

Mehamed told me that there was no way that I’d get a rented car in France, since the Euro Cup football (what we call soccer) tournament was on.  Not a single rented car in France, wow.  Not that I wanted to drive in France – I don’t know the region, don’t know French all that well (not well enough to make decisions at 110 km/hr), and the road signs are different – not a great recipe for success.  So, Mehamed arranged a taxi & driver for me.  But, he said to bring ca$h with me.  Yup, 1000 € in cash!  Ouch.

Money Changing and Stupid Credit Card Tricks!

So 1000 € is a lot of money – something like CA1500 or more.  Where am I going to get that?  Well, there’s a big money changing place in downtown Winnipeg, they can easily do it.  I went downtown, paid for parking, waltzed in, and asked for 1000 €.  No problem.   I have CA1500 in cash?  Heck no!  Well then, off to the airport with you.  Sigh.

At the airport, I tried to use my corporate American Express.  Nope.  My personal USA Visa.  Nope.  So I did a cash advance on my personal Canadian Visa.  Ouch.  Oh well, I’ll expense it later.

When I got to France, I found out that American credit cards just don’t work well there.  I learned my lesson last year in France, and recently in Brazil, and took my Canadian Visa with me, just in case.  I would guess that 3/4 of the time, the American Express card was flatly turned down.  The rest of the time, only say 1/10 of the time did either one of my USA Visa cards work.  Most of the time, I had to use cash, or put it on my Canadian Visa.  My Canadian debit card worked like a champ too, then again, I don’t have much in that account to draw on… so Visa it was!

A Personal Driver with Car

It turned out that Mehamed arranged for a private car with driver, for me personally.  He picked me up at the airport and drove me directly to Rouen, where I was staying, about a 2-3 hour drive west out of Paris.

Now, Hocine, the driver, spoke very little English.  Oy.  And my French isn’t very good.  I’ll tell you though, my French got better over the 5 days I was there!  Thank God for Google Translate, which I have on my phone.  When I was stuck, I’d get it to translate, either way.  It worked fairly well.  There were times though, when he spoke so quickly that I was completely lost.  It was a bit frustrating at times, but we got along OK.

It was quite convenient and efficient, but also expensive.  Total cost was just under 1500 €… in cash!  I had to use French bank machines three times to get further cash advances on my Canadian Visa.  Ouch!

Rouen – A Magnificent City with History

The hotel that I stayed at was literally 1/2 block away from the Rouen Cathedral.  What a magnificent building!  Unfortunately, I didn’t get inside – I slept a bit on Sunday afternoon after getting to Rouen, and by the time I was up & around again, it was closed for the day.

Hocine is from just outside Rouen, and is quite proud of the area.  He picked me up later in the afternoon and gave me a brief tour of the city, including a lookout where I could look down on all of Rouen.

Dieppe – A Beautiful Coastal City

On Monday evening, Hocine insisted that I had to see more of France.  We did a small detour to Dieppe.  It was unseasonably cold, but still quite nice.  Again, so much history.  

Apparently, this is a very romantic town – the place for lovers to go.  Hmmm 🙂

Work on Remote Site

The actual work site is well north of Rouen, actually closer to Amiens.  It’s about a 45 to 55 minute drive each way, right near Restaurant le Coq Gaulois at Gauville.

Briefly in Paris


24 April: It gets hot in April! Too much exertion?

Ted Raguso has been on my case for a while, to go for lap swim after church.  I did a few times last year, and it was great… but then again at that time I was driving to church.  These days, I tend to cycle – but I took my swimming suit this morning, and figured I’d drop by the pool after service.

It’s a bit of a trek – something like 35 km (21.8 mi) according to the Google!

Right from the get-go, I felt tired this morning, not sure why.  But I got onto the bike and got rolling in decent time.  The service was fine, although, yikes, that last hymn – the Americans went and changed the tune for a familiar hymn, we sounded rather thin!

After he service, I cycled over to the aquatic centre and had a nice swim in the pool – outdoor lap swim pool – I need to get some polarized swimming goggles or something!  I was only able to do 1/2 of my regular 60 lengths / 1500 metre swim – 30 lengths / 750 metre total.  I was tired when I got into the pool. and you know that I was even more tired when I got out.

I left my swimming trunks on, put on my shoes and my cycling shirt, and headed for home.  Oof, I could not believe that I had no reserve, couldn’t kick it up when coming up on traffic lights….   and that hill at 13th Street, about 4 km (2.5 mi) from home, which is always a tough slug on the way home, was almost impossible!  I had to stop at the top for a minute, down a bunch of water, breathe deeply and let my heart rate recover 🙂  But, I made it!

It took 1/2 hour at home before I could get up to shower.  I was going to jump in the pool, but it’s still a bit chilly – 24.2 C – I really want 25 C before I even think of going in.  After my shower, I was so whipped that I slept on & off for another hour.  Zounds, that’s not like me, to sleep in the afternoon.  Oh well.

According to my weather station, the temperature peaked at about 35 C around the time that I got home (2 PM).  No wonder I was a little zoofed after the ride 🙂

I’m still fighting to avoid turning on the air conditioning, save energy, save money, and all that stuff.  I bought a couple of box fans on Thursday, and put them in the windows all night, blasting away.  At the peak of the heat outside, it was 25 C inside, which is OK if you aren’t exerting yourself – with little to no humidity, 25C feels just nice.

SRP Perkins Substation Installation

This was interesting.  A 500 kV substation.  Everything overhead is humming and buzzing, 24 hours a day.  Only our little section of the substation is powered off, the rest is still working.  We installed some equipment in an outdoor cabinet, and also in a rack indoors.  We’re doing a bit of a joint demonstration of digital substation technology.

One of the challenging things about this kind of work is that the guys start soooo early.  They generally arrive at 5:30 AM.  We’d show up 6:30 or 7 AM, just as the sun was coming up.  I understand why they do it, of course – there’s no shade out there, and the sun is unrelenting & hot!  Hard to believe it until you feel it!

01-03 April: Trip to New Mexico

I’ve been repeatedly invited to Albuquerque by Don Bartrip, president of Winmer Technology Innovators, a former customer of ours when Jason & I were at Norscan Instruments.  The Trinity Site, where the world’s first nuclear bomb was tested, in the middle of White Sands Missile Range, is only open two Saturdays a year – once in April, and once in October..  and the NRAO Very Large Array radio-telescope site has guided tours on certain Saturdays.  They coincided (probably not a coincidence), so I went for a drive to visit Don and see them both.

I took Friday off, so I could have lunch with Norbert Wegner of ERLPhase (visiting family here from back home), then make a leisurely drive up to Albuquerque, but alas, it was not to be.  We were in the middle of an installation at SRP’s Perkins Substation, and my part wasn’t functional yet – so I had to drive up and do a couple of hours’ work on my day off.  I had to make a 70 minute drive in about 45 minutes, and still ended up being 15 minutes late.  Sorry, Norbert!  We had a good chat anyway.

Then, off through Peyson, onto Interstate 40, and going east.  And east.  And east.  Just as I crested the plateau northeast of Peyson, my car threw a “service engine soon” indication.  ARGH!  If you know me, you know that I can’t stand a SES light on my dashboard. 

The next chance I got, which was Holbrook just before going onto I-40, I whipped out my handy OBD-II bluetooth adapter, plugged it in, fired up my tablet, and got the code out – it appeared to be a temporary “engine too lean” indication, probably due to the change in altitude together with the push of passing on a hill, so I cleared the code and moved on.  Yay!

Trinity Test Site

This site is deep in the middle of the White Sands Missile Range.  You turn off the main two lane highway, go down another paved 2 lane road for a couple of kilometres, until you come to a fence and gate, guarded by armed MPs.  They look at your passport and wave you through.  From there, you pass a group of buildings, and head out across the desert.  All side roads have pylons to show they are closed.  There’s the odd vehicle with armed MPs, watching.  You go about 8 km and turn off onto a sand road, and after another couple of km, it opens into a huge parking lot.  There were probably about 1,000 vehicles there.  You walk about 2 km to the actual site, which is about 1/2 km in diameter, well fenced off.  In the centre is a cairn with a plaque, which is apparently at ground zero – where the tower sat on that fateful day in July 1945, that they set off the world’s first nuclear bomb.  They apparently didn’t know how well it would work – or even if it would work – but it put out something like three times the expected energy, and vapourized some recording equipment that they weren’t planning to vapourize.  Great planning went into the work – multiple sets of monitoring & recording equipment at various distances from the blast.  The light from the blast was like a second sunrise when seen from a great distance.  People demanded to know what it was, but the government at the time (and for long time later) just waved their hands and said, “nothing to see here, move along” 🙂  As well they should have, I suppose!

About 4 km away from the Trinity Site is the McDonald ranch house.  All this land was expropriated from ranchers during the war, and this house and its outbuildings were left behind.  The military used the house as an office, a lab, and assembly building.  There are artifacts and displays inside.  Outside, the other outbuildings are gone, just remnants remain. 

They have nasty fine sand here.  I dropped my camera, and it started misbehaving.  You will see later pictures where the lens didn’t fully open.  So sad.  I had to spend the rest of the day checking each time I opened the lens, to ensure that I could get an unimpeded picture!

NRAO Very Large Array

Next, we dashed to the other side of Interstate 25, and onto Highway 60 headed west (yes, the same highway 60 that goes through Mesa and Phoenix, and continues up to Kingman).  From a ways off, you can see the little dots in formation – wow, that’s a big arrangement of satellite dishes!

It turns out that there are 27 dishes, each about 25 metres across and each mounted on a large heavy tripod arrangement and having bearing & azimuth drive.   There are railroad tracks going out in a “Y” formation some 34 km in each direction from the centre.  At various intervals, there are small (10 m?) spurs off the track, and a site pad where a dish can sit on three foundation pads.  They have a special carrier vehicle that goes down the railroad track, puts down its feet, turns 90 degrees to get onto the spur, then goes out under the telescope.  They support the telescope then unbolt it from the foundation pads, pick it up, and (slowly) move back onto the railway track and down to where it needs to be.  Wow.

There are four formations, “A”, “B”, “C” and “D” (how imaginative), where the 9 dishes in each arm are spaced at different distances from each other.  They change the formation nominally every 4 months, and, depending on the distance of the change, it can take up to 2 weeks to change over!

They have a supercomputer (built by the NRC in Ottawa?) inside, that takes the signals from the 27 dishes, correlates them, removes noise, integrates over time, etc., and they come out with images that rival the best visual images from Hubble!  Wow.

The radios used in these radiotelescope dishes are all built & maintained on-site.  They are unique in the world.  Cryogenically cooled, they are low noise and very sensitive.   The signals are brought back to the central computer by low loss cable, which they know the exact characteristics of, and the exact length, so they can compensate for everything when they do their calculations.  Cool.

They do observations 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  In pre-Internet days, researchers lived on-site during their observation period.  Now there’s just the bare minimum crew out there, keeping the system going.

Time slots for observations are assigned on a merit basis.  You don’t have to be some high end scientist to get time on the system.  They schedule the observation, and then queue them up on the computer.  Often they are 1 or 2 hours each, but can be more or less.  The on-site supervisor makes the final call, perhaps adjusting due to weather or other circumstances.

At the end of the tour, we went out and stood under the closest dish.  It was huuuuge!  As we stood under it, an observation changeover occurred.  It was wild, seeing these huge dishes moving (almost) silently, all perfectly choreographed.  These dishes are no slouches – I would estimate that it takes 60 to 90 seconds for them to go 180 degrees rotation, or from full low azimuth to pointing straight up.  Pretty impressive.

Visiting Winmer

On Sunday morning, Don and I did lunch at Hello Deli, a one-of-a-kind nice little breakfast & lunch spot.  Then we dropped by his office, Winmer, which brought back memories of the last time I was here, I think it was 2009.

The Drive Home

I stopped a few times 🙂

Airway Beacon

Don told me about the airway beacon system from the 1920s, and that there was one at the air museum at Grants Airport.  So, I stopped by!  Cool.  The museum was closed (Sunday afternoon, after all – and actually it’s open once a week), but I wandered around and stood at the base of the replica tower.

Standin’ on a Corner in Winslow Arizona…

Yes, it is interesting how a pop song, itself a product of culture, can influence culture in a feedback loop… oh wait, that’s the engineer in me prattling on again 🙂

There were people showing up constantly to take pictures and get their picture taken.  A beautiful blonde lass with an Aussie accent agreed to take my picture.  We chatted briefly, she was finishing up a bit of a road trip with her (much older) lady friend, going back to Denver and from there back to Australia…  Hmm, too bad that I was going west instead of east.  Oh well, I’ve got other issues to deal with 🙂

Winslow Crater

Yes, there’s a meteor crater not far west of Winslow.  I knew that it had closed at 5 PM, but I figured that I’d stop by and see it anyway.  Nope.  I went about 8 km sound on a narrow 2 lane paved road through a cow pasture (yes had Texas gate to enter).  Had to stop to let some cattle cross the road.  Then I crested a hill…  and saw the crater’s rim standing tall in the desert.  It was obvious that it was laid out in such a way that I wouldn’t see anything without being there when it was open.  Unfortunately, I didn’t take a picture of the crater rim from the outside – should have 🙂

And then home…

Then headed west toward Flagstaff, and south to home.

27 March: Visit to the Commemorative Air Force Museum in Mesa

Right after church, Ted Raguso asked if I wanted to go to an air museum.  Now, I don’t know much about planes, but you know little boys always like planes, trains and cars.  So we went.  It was pretty interesting.

It turns out that they used to call themselves the Confederate Air Force, but here in the USA, the word “Confederate” has some meanings that many do not like – too many people lost in the war, still fresh in their minds, even though it was long ago.  So, they changed their name.

They were having a military flea market inside the hangar, and a military vehicle show outside that day.  The vehicle show was interesting too.  One was a perfectly restored WW II jeep – a real jeep, not an imitation or postwar commercial one.  I didn’t realize that Kaizer was made to share the prints with Ford, who made identical machines.  But, Henry Ford being the guy he was (or was it his son?  no matter), they put a little “F” on all the parts.  So, restoring a Ford WW II Jeep is more challenging, because you have to track down all the parts with “F” on them.  Heh, heh, maybe that’s why they did it – to make their vehicles more collectible????

I spotted a vehicle with a Canadian military insignia, flying the New Brunswick provincial flag, and numbered with a “CZ” on the side.  What gives?  It was an all-purpose military truck, and yes it’s originally from Canada.  Ha ha, can’t get away from those Canadians, can you?

One of the tracked vehicles was some kind of gun carrier – eek, the armament on that thing!  Kind of a propos in gun-happy Arizona, let me tell you… but that’s a story for another time.

March & April: Backyard Flaura & Fauna!


In early March, I had the first orange blossoms on my little orange tree 🙂 Other folks’ trees have been blooming for several weeks, such a sweet smell… and now my tree smells nice too. Maybe this year I’ll get more than one orange from it 🙂




Like last year, and the year before, there were so many blossoms on the tree, but last year I got only one orange, and the year before, only three.  After the blossom petals fall, you can see tiny fruit where the flower was – but they all disappeared, so sad.

So… just before he left, Eric helped me put a screen cover over my orange tree.  The idea is, if it’s birds (and we do have a lot of birds clattering around here in the spring), then it will stop them from accosting the tree ’til the fruit gets larger, when it seems they might be safe.

It’s a clunky contraption, but I hope it works.


It turns out that I have two rosebushes in the backyard, along the fence.  Had I known that, I’d likely have put the shed somewhere else!  Oh well.  The one on the south wall, is beautiful pink, smells lovely, came out with at least half a dozen blossoms.  The one on the east wall, is beautiful orange, came out with only three or four,   Both were lovely while they lasted!

The red rosebush appears to have been attacked by caterpillars or bugs.  I’ve sprayed to prevent further damage.


Here’s an update from early April.  Again, still lovely 🙂  I will have to spray them earlier next year.


And here’s from a week or so later.  They just kept coming 🙂

And a few days later.

Creeping Vines

Those who’ve been here know that I have a patio area covered in vines.  These vines appear to originate from my neighbours’ house – their whole south side, and half the west side, is covered with them!  I shudder to think of the damage that they’ve done to their house’s structure.  Oh well.

Anyway, these vines periodically get these big, beautiful, yellow blossoms on them, so beautiful.  Also, good hummingbird attraction as well – I’ve seen them a few times, but never fast enough on shutter to catch a picture.

Here’s what it looked like this year.


One Saturday in March, my neighbour told me by text, that the bee’s nest on his house would be taken down Tuesday night/Wednesday morning, in the middle of the night.  What bee’s nest?  Oh the big one facing my kitchen window.  Hmm, never saw it.


I don’t know how I missed it!  It was over a metre across, it was crazy!  Constant activity around that hive.  I was wondering how I always had bees around my outside lights at night, and I’m sure that’s why.

Before relocation – about a metre (3 ft) across!

Apparently, they were honeybees and not nasty bees, so they were going to a farm – being relocated.

The guys didn’t show up on the appointed night, but about a week later, while falling to sleep, I heard something and looked out front.  Sure enough, a couple of white vans marked with the name of the bee keeper’s farm, and saying “Bee Relocation Service”, and they were readying their suits & ladders.  Now the eaves are empty.

There are still a few forlorn honeybees flying about.

After relocation – just a few forlorn honeybees buzzing about


10 to 22 March – Eric visits Phoenix

Eric came to visit for almost two weeks this year.  He made it a sports extravaganza, taking in a NASCAR race, 4 baseball games, and an evening of dirt track racing.  We did Sedona & the Grand Canyon on a road trip.

Let’s Go Racing!

13 March: Eric and Dean go to NASCAR

It was loud!  It was fast!  It was thrilling!  Lots of fender benders, of course – what would NASCAR be without a few crashes????

19 March: Eric & Dean attend evening of Dirt Track Racing at Arizona Speedway

It is way, way, way out east & south… an hours’ drive, even with little traffic!  Had stock cars, modifieds, and sprint cars.

The funny thing is, with Phoenix being as big a centre as it is…  Grand Forks track is way, way nicer!  Stands, concessions, and all.  Oh well, in spite of that, we had a good time.  And some beer.  Beer helps too.  [ it looked like beer helped a lot of people that evening 🙂 ]

Other Car Stuff

Gotta check this museum out next time: Arizona Museum of Open Wheel Racing

We drove by, after the baseball game in Tempe, but they were closed 🙁

The Martin Auto Museum

We visited the Martin Museum, a little gem of a private auto museum tucked away on the east side of I-17 just south of the 101 loop.  It is a small, unassuming building (although it does have a cool sign), but inside it has a fantastic array of race cars, performance cars, sports cars, and memorabilia.  Very cool.  Check it out if you’re ever in town: http://www.martinautomuseum.com.

Play Ball!

14 March: Eric & Dean attend California Angels vs Cincinati Reds in Tempe Diablo Stadium

18 March: Eric & Dean attend Kansas City Royals versus California Angels in Surprise Stadium

16 March: Get Out of Town!

Eric & Dean take road trip to the Grand Canyon

I did not realize that Eric had never been to the Grand Canyon.  He expressed interest, and when I realized that he had never been, we just had to go!

On the way, I insisted on a side trip through Sedona, taking an extra maybe 3/4 hour, mostly to see the view from Oak Creek Vista.  Oops, forgot that it was spring break, ugh!  Took over an hour just to get to Sedona.  Mostly 2 lane, and a lot of traffic circles… had a chance to practice my circle etiquette.  Let’s just say that Eric found my etiquette a bit lacking a couple of times.  I needed the practice, I guess!

By the time we got to Sedona, we were starved, so we stopped for lunch.  Ugh, parking, finding the restaurant, then getting out of town…  I guess I could have planned it better.  Oh well, more dad & son time 🙂

Oak Creek Vista

One of the most interesting things about here is that you can look back into the canyon that you just wound your way up out of – and see the teensy weensy cars winding their way up the road you just came on!

Grand Canyon

Well, of course, it was…  Grand!   Heh heh.  Eric and I stayed a respectful distance from the edge.  Yikes, there were others who were way out on ledges, even a couple who sat with their legs dangling over a long long drop… he was reading her poetry.  How romantic… but not so much if they get startled and fall to their deaths…  oh well, that would never happen, right?  Actually, it happens all the time!  Ya can’t legislate intelligence.  Hmmm, more about the Arizona school system another time.

Eric hopped the low barrier and went out on a plateau, right as soon as we got there.  Thereafter, he stayed well back.  We overheard a guide saying that you should stay your own height’s distance from an open edge – so if you fall, you are ensured that you can grab something, even if it’s a trip-launch.  Good advice, I figure.

…and then Eric went Home…


23 April: Has it really been over a year?

Apparently, it has.  Sorry about that!  I’m getting busier, here in the land of scorpions & rattlesnakes.  I’ve posted a few things on FaceBook, mostly because it’s easy from my phone.  So, you know what?  I think I’ll snag the FaceBook stuff and re-post it here, since it’s my life! 🙂  Then maybe I’ll try to get started here again.

14 April: Europe liked me so much that they didn’t want me to leave!

After a whirlwind five days (or so… hey I’m still jet lagged) in Lyon, France, it was time to come back to Phoenix.  I got sent a “time to check-in” message 24 hours before flight, but that was 12 noon, and I was at the HVSE lab at Alstom Villeurbanne… and they don’t have WiFi for my phone 🙁  They do have wired Internet… if you have an Alstom computer… which I did, but it was late afternoon when I tried it. 

Because the first leg of the journey was Air France, you go to their web site to check in – fine.  It was confusing (even in English) but I got to a part where it wanted not only my passport information (the passport itself was safely locked in the hotel safe but I have all details in my LastPass Vault for just such occasions) but also my Visa or Permanent Residency Permit detail…  Curses, I don’t have my TN visa information on my Alstom computer, so that will have to wait.

We worked til 7 PM when our time ran out, security was locking the place down, and we had to leave.  This time, the taxi back to the hotel was a van – nice and spacious for once – and I asked the fellow to come back at 09h30 the next morning to take us to the airport.  He agreed.

When I got back the hotel, I went straight to the computer and checked in.  Or, rather, I tried to check in.  Again it wanted the Visa or Permanent Residency Permit… and this is a TN Work Visa under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA, remember that?  Brian was good for something!) – I am most certainly not cleared for permanent residency!  [I get reminded of this from time to time when I get denied bank credit because of this]   So, it says “See an Air France Agent at the airport”.  Well, you know me, I get stressed about such things… so I grumbled and sighed, and kind of said, “oh well”.

The morning of our departure, I zipped around, mailed some postcards (that’s another blog post altogether!) and was ready to leave at 09h30.  The van didn’t show up, it was a small car again 🙁  apparently the other driver’s brother.  Sigh.

Our taxi made a quick stop at the security gate at Alstom Villeurbanne, so my colleague Sam could get the power adapter plug that she’d left at the office the night before, and away we went to Lyon-Saint Exupéry Airport (LYS).  We had made sure that our taxi would take a credit card, because our cash was running low.

At the airport, we did the usual “American fool in Europe” credit card dance.  Wave the corporate American Express card, nope they don’t take that.  Give them a personal Visa card.  Didn’t work.  Try a different personal Visa card.  Oh, wait a second, he’s putting the card end into the machine – and US credit cards have no chip!  Ugh.  I tried to tell him in my broken French that there was no chip, he’d have to swipe (we’ve had that happen before) but soon it became obvious that this credit card machine didn’t have a swipe slot – it was chip or nothing.  What a time to leave my Canadian credit cards at home!  I’ll take them next time.

The driver’s brother showed up – the one from the night before.  He couldn’t help.  (his machine had a swipe slot, but maybe there’s something that prevents them from cross charging?)

So we start scrounging the money.  57€, I had 40€ in notes and Sam had a 5€ and a ton of change.  She started counting the change.  When we got to 50€, the driver said, “Enough, that’s OK!” but we kept counting.  [At that point, he unlocked the doors – I had not even realized they were locked!]       We got to 55€ and then it was just small coins.  He was happy to see us go, I think 🙂

At the airport, the agent was polite, seemed to struggle a bit with my check-in, but gave me my boarding pass for all three flights – Lyon to Amsterdam, Amsterdam to Minneapolis, Minneapolis to Phoenix.  I checked my one bag and saw it go down the belt.  It wasn’t until the middle of the first flight, that I realized that the agent had not given me my bag tag.  Curses, sure hope it shows up, because now I don’t have a claim check 🙁

We had a tight connection in Amsterdam, although you wouldn’t know it from the schedule – we had to walk for miles, pass through (another) security check, even though we had not gone out of the security zone, up, down, across, ugh… and once we got to the gate, they were already calling zones!

There apparently is another level of security check before you can get on a trans-Atlantic flight.

First up, an agent takes you aside and asks about your checked luggage.  She wanted to see my bag tag, and was aggravated when I said that I didn’t have it.  She insisted that I look in my pockets, on my passport, on my boarding pass… then went to speak to the supervisor… then came back and gave me the 3rd degree about, you know, “Did you pack your own luggage?  Did anyone else give you anything to carry?  Were they ever out of your possession or control at any time?”  Then fine, continue on.  Whew!

Not so fast.

There is a second waiting area for boarding.  In order to get into that boarding area, they take your passport & boarding pass, then scan your boarding pass on some kind of a laser scanner (like a supermarket bar code reader).  Everyone else’s said “OK to Board”, so then they went into that second waiting area.  Mine said “Denied Boarding”.  For this station, there’s only one line, so folks are backed up behind me.

They tried and tried, went over to the computer and typed and typed.  Asked me my address, checked my birthdate, etc.

I stepped aside as best I could (with my UGH carry on with two laptops and various other junk in it!  And of course the CPAP machine) and they continued.  The supervisor came over and they tried and tried.

It took about 15 to 20 minutes to straighten things out.  It seems as though, for the purpose of international immigration, the TN Visa is actually classified as a permanent residency permit.  Ha ha, joke is on me. 

Now you go through another security bag check and body scanner.   At least now I’m in the real boarding area.

After a loooooooong flight across the Atlantic, we finally arrive in Minneapolis, where we have to go through US Customs & Immigration.  There are two lines – one that clearly says “U.S. and Canadian Passport Holders” and one for everyone else.  Where do you think I went?   Cool machine, you put in your passport, it asks a bunch of questions and takes a photo of you from above, then prints out a slip that you take with you up to the booth.

The guy asks, “So you are going home to Canada today?”  
Of course, I answer “No, home to Phoenix.”  
His eyes narrow, “Where do you live?”  
I give my address in Phoenix. 
“How do you do that, do you have a visa?” 
“Yes, you just flipped past it, there it is.” 
“You have a TN Visa?  You are supposed to be in that line over there.”
I roll my eyes (oops).  “Well it said U.S. & Canadian Passport Holders.”
“Not if you are here on a TN Visa.”

He gave me a bit more of the gears, then  finally sighed and just let me through.

A few minutes later, miracle of miracles, there’s my suitcase!  As I strut toward the exit, another agent steps out from the side, and asks me to submit to secondary screening.  Now, you don’t say no to a customs & immigration agent, especially in this country.  So, I said, “sure”, with a smile.

That turned out to be a non-event.  He asked a few questions, put my bags through yet another scanner – although thankfully I didn’t have to take the laptops out this time, nor have to half undress or empty my pockets.  Then I was off to drop my bag on the belt for the next flight.

Wait a second – I don’t have a bag tag for it.  I asked the attendant at the belt if they would re-tag my bag… or else I could photograph the tag and its bar code, I suppose…   she reached down, pulled the tag off (it was still on the strip) and put it on my boarding pass!  Yikes 🙂

The rest was largely uneventful.  We had to go through full security screening again (I moaned and was told it was because we had had access to our bags which might have items that are not allowed on the plane), then went to the gate, where I had a drink!  Oh yes, and now that I’m back in the USA, my CDMA phone starts to work again – so I got a ton of E-mails and messages.  Ah, the connected world we live in!