Sunday, September 14, 2008

New website address

Hello all.

My blog has migrated to a new address which is more image friendly.

You will find it at:

See you there!


Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Viva Italia!

It's Wednesday night as I type this and I'm having the rest of the week as well as today off.
I've just come back from the cinema in Geneva where I saw Batman. Today was just bumming around the house doing odd jobs but Thursday morning I'm heading down to Milano!
A day there walking around the massive newly cleaned cathedral and the wonderful Arcade shopping galleria, then an hour drive to Lago Maggiore (Lake Major) in the Italian Alps. It used to be frequented by the aristocracy in the 18th century and consequently has lots of lovely villas, beautiful charming streets and of course a huge lake ringed by mountains.
I'm just gonna kick back and relax. Saturday is my birthday so something special will be on the cards for that day I think. Other than that, soak up the sunshine and fresh air, read, walk, admire lovely Italian girls....Ah, it's gonna be tough!
The weather is still sunny and warm and the bulk of the tourists have left as the Swiss summer school holidays finished last week and French /other European countries holidays generally finish this week. Everyone either has or is heading back to buy books, pens, pencils and calculators and send the little devils, oops, angels back to classes...

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Qantas - not my airline

There was a time when every Australian was immensely proud of our national flag carrier Qantas.

It was at the forefront of airline innovations throughout the last 75 years with the early adoption and introduction of leading-edge aircraft of their time such as the Super-Constellation, the all-jet 707 and then in the 1960's the massive 747 jumbo.

But most of all, it was the airlines reputation as the safest carrier in the WORLD, that made us proud. For a nation who new that our country of only 20 million people would never have the economic, political or military bulk to play anything other than supporting roles, being the best to so many travellers throughout the world was a source of national pride.

During WW2, American fighter and bomber squadrons based in the Pacific would routinely send engine parts; magnetos, carburettors etc back to Qantas in Australia for major service or overhaul – something that was often not possible on sparsely equipped jungle bases. They would be returned with the customary manila-beige ticket attached by copper wire stating 'Serviced by Qantas'. Regulations at the time stated that all parts had to be inspected by Air-force personnel upon return, but such was the reputation for quality and accuracy in those days that a part returned with that ticket and those magic words meant it was good to go!

But over recent years there has been an increasingly steady drip of 'minor mishaps'. Not just the recent 747's oxygen canisters blowing holes in the wing root last month, but others such as the jumbo overshooting the runway in Thailand, undercarriage doors not closing after take-off, hydraulic fluid leaking in the air, faulty engines being shut down halfway through the flight. The list goes on.

Management downplays it and calls them ‘mishaps’, ‘technical malfunctions’ or other euphemisms to try to convince us that somehow this stuff ‘doesn’t really count’ in safety or accident statistics. But to those who’ve known the airline for a long time one thing is sure – this stuff never happened before.

Qantas is becoming just another airline run by bean-counters instead of its people. It started when the government privatised ‘just a small percentage’ of the airline – ‘nothing to worry about’, which was then followed by another ‘small’ sell-off. It used to be ‘our’ airline - now it is majority owned by foreigners. As one local recently wrote ‘would someone please remove the Kangaroo off the tail of the aircraft and stop calling it ‘Australia’s’ national carrier’.

Since then, part of the servicing has been off-shored to countries with cheaper labour costs (but not necessarily similar safety standards) and those domestic engineers with years or decades of experience not laid off had some of their work replaced by local sub-contracted firms who now compete at the lowest price.

The engineers used to be able to go home at the end of every day confidant that each aircraft was fully safe to fly. Now they are having their hours cut, their workloads increased, they are not getting the right tools and management is making them responsible for the work of service technicians in the second and third world. They are not given the time to fully inspect others work yet are being politically cornered into signing the plane as airworthy. Now that is not to say they are knowingly putting un-airworthy planes in the air – but these dedicated mechanics know that there’s a difference between crossing a line at 55% and getting well past it at 85% or more.,23599,23026208-2,00.html

The engineers at Qantas have known for a long time that management is indulging in their salami-slicing tactics - taking a millimetre off here and a millimetre off there. But now even the non-technical flight-attendants can smell something’ fishy and wanting more than being fobbed off with the usual glib assurances from those in charge. After all, they are the ones being asked to go up each and every day.

I have a sinking feeling that it is just a matter of time now before a serious accident happens. Maybe at that point the management will decide that they have finally shaved off enough…

Monday, June 30, 2008

In the heat of the night/Summer in Geneva

Anyone who has watched a movie or read a book about 'the South' - be it Sidney Poitier starring in 'In the heat of the night' or Tom Cruise as the southern lawyer in 'The Firm', will instinctively know how sweltering and sticky summer can be.

It is finally summer here in Geneva. After several false starts and rain that seemed to last for biblical periods, the sun has come to stay for the next three months.

Long-legged girls wearing bikinis sunbathe and swim in the lake whilst their tanned boyfriends hang awkwardly around their cars or horseplay a little too self-consciously with buddies.

The businessmen in town are hurrying to meetings in short-sleeved shirts, and ladies of leisure go shopping at a cool pace in bare shouldered dresses and open top sandals that show freshly tanned legs and pedicured feet.

Sunsets bring welcome relief from the intensity of the days heat and the first whispers of a cool evening breeze satisfy almost as much as that first icy cold drink.

The nights can be too warm though and sleeping in the humidity is a restless and unsatisfying affair - I always awaken feeling somehow short-changed and hoping for a cooler night to catch up on that lost sleep the next night.
But summer is full of energy and promise and I look forward to all the wonderful things it brings. Evening concerts in the open-air, sunset walks along the lakefront, the extra-long days where the sun doesn't set until ten, and hikes in the fresher altitudes of the mountains which are bursting with life.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The American Election

Good Lord, is this still going on? Does it ever end?

The highly superficial yet wall to wall coverage of every unimportant move, gesture, cough and wardrobe choices continues. Ad nausea…

Thousands of trees were sacrificed one month so that every newspaper from coast to coast could dissect and trisect the word ‘bitter’ sixteen ways from Sunday…

An informed critique of foreign and economic policy was foregone in lieu of an extended navel gazing exercise as to ‘why doesn’t Obama wear a flag lapel pin’. Erm, I didn’t know it was mandatory to wear one? And is the not so hidden insinuation supposed to be that people who don’t wear one are somehow not as ‘patriotic’ as those who do?

Hillary promises to drop atomic bombs on Iran and commit genocide on an entire people just to score political points with ‘national security’ Republicans. Did this strike anyone else apart from me as reckless / insane / war-mongering / pointless sabre-rattling etc.?

We all know that regardless of whom gets in nothing will change...Neither Republicans nor Democrats are going to leave Iraq. Even Obama has conveniently left a back door to duck out by saying ‘That’s my standpoint, but of course I’ll leave it up to the Generals…’. Once elected, whoever's in will be quietly persuaded by the various security, foreign policy, strategy types why the status quo should well, remain the status quo.

National Health care will be strangled at birth by the giant medical industry leaving the U.S. the only industrialised country in the world still without full coverage for all its citizens. Lots of fear talk about 'socialism' and untrue anecdotes about 'long waiting lists'. Not so much talk though about the lower cancer survical rates, higher child mortality rates and ruinous costs compared to those 'awful' Europeans and their 'government' medicine...

Billions of taxpayers’ dollars will continue to be spent on boondoggle science fiction weapons programs/missile shields that don’t work instead of roads, bridges, schools etc., even though the U.S has a defence budget and more tanks, ships, bombs and planes than the rest of the world combined. And the White House will chastise other nations for ‘worrying’ arms build-ups yet meanwhile continue to weaponise space themselves much to everyone else's concern. It 's a bit like the Elephant saying he's 'really worried' about a little mouse...

The President will continue to bemoan rising petrol prices and oil dependency but do nothing to curb America’s outrageously excessive consumption by increasing gas taxes on fuels, implementing incremental carbon taxes on vehciles according to size (especially on monster SUV’s), or offering rebates on smaller economic cars and funding public transport infrastructure.

Dear God just let it finish soon…

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Film vs. Digital...

I'm an amateur photographer and have I must admit, three cameras and more lenses, filters and accessories than you can poke a stick at. They all even have a special home - a photographers backpack (Expedition 5) made by a company called Tamrac in California. I tell ya - these backpacks are the dogs b*llocks as they would say in the U.K! Waterproof zips, pockets everywhere and super well made.

Anyway, I changed systems from Pentax to Canon when I was in Iraq as the lens and flash back-up was just light years ahead with the latter brand, and remember the day that I got my Canon EOS 1V 35mm film camera delivered to Taji APO (digital was only just starting to be taken seriously on the SLR scene).

To feel the heft and shape of that beautiful beast... This was the camera the pro's used and boy it felt like it. All the National Geographics I had read usually had a small note on the last page about the photographer and his/her work and all those spectactular pics - they were made on either a Canon or a Nikon.

Later that same year I splurged out on a Canon EOS 20D digital SLR and man that was one smick picture making machine too. I've since sold that and upgraded to a Canon EOS5D full-frame (equivalent 35mm) so all my lenses will work on both the flm and digital cameras with no lens effect.

As a learning tool it is wonderful and I love being able to try techniques and get instant feedback - things like slow shutter speeds, fill-in flash, panning, shallow depth-of-field etc.,etc.

The only gripe I have with digital is well, the fact that it's digital. When I take a roll of Kodak Elitechrome (I love this film - so punchy yet still colour faithful) and get it developed, that's it. Finished. I look at those images on my slide projector and see those saturated colours and whoa.....
But with digital, if you really want Elitechrome/Fujichrome results and not some washed out Jpeg image, you have to shoot in R.A.W. and then post-process the file. So you end up spending hours on the computer manipulating the image in Photoshop to get something like what Kodak/Fuji gives you straight out the box. Hmmm....

Now although I'll usually wait until the hullaballoo has settled on new technology (I.E. the VHS vs. Beta or Blu-Ray vs. HD-DVD debates) I'm not a luddite and just lurv my EOS5D, but at some point I want pictures that I can show people. With digital you just seem to end up with a computer full of picfiles of various formats...

I don't get to spend nearly as much time as I would really like picure taking but that's another matter. I just had a five day break over Easter in Provence putting several rolls through the EOS 1V and enjoyed every minute.
I'm torn. It's like being married to a hot babe but having a love affair with a flashy newcomer. Like choosing between the elegant seduction of Sharon Stone or the raw energy of a ripped Natalie Portman.

Somebody help me!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Driving with George Costanza and Crazy Joe Davola

The popular 90's sitcom Seinfeld had a couple of great characters and I swear their spiritual descendants are alive and well here on French and Swiss roads!

I've just come back from five days driving in the South of France and was reminded of a couple of amusing and not so outlandish stereotypes as I shared the highways and byways with the neighbours and the locals.

French drivers are like George Costanza. Apparently normal people most of the time but when they get behind the wheel, boy they're on a mission! Driving like men and women possessed, happily ignoring world class scenery that other people in the world save years to see as they zoom on their way to 'get somewhere'. Charging hard and hanging on your bumper even while climbing up the steepest of mountains, it's like having an Me-109 you can't shake sitting right on your six!

Meanwhile, drivers from the nearby Swiss Canton of Vaud remind me of the 'Crazy Joe Davola's' of this world. These folks just east of Geneva are from the money belt and between you and me I'm not sure they're entirely stable! Maybe that's what comes from being rich and Swiss and getting your way a little too much eh? These folks are just a wee bit too aggressive and should be taking their medication.. Elaine?!
So whilst your average red-blooded Frenchman or woman is like a tenacious fighter pilot bobbing around in your rear view mirror, anyone sporting license plates with those fateful initials VD (Vaud), always gives me the impression that any minute now they're gonna tie on that rising-sun headband and yell Banzai as their propellor chews off my tail!