Archive for February 12th, 2014

A short (well, that was the plan anyway) version of a very long and good first day of my US trip

As I write this, it is late at night on Tuesday in Petaluma and I have comfortably settled in to the Quality Inn.

It started before this morning (Tuesday Australian time) in a way as my last decent sleep of any sort before I departed was on Monday.

On Tuesday morning I left for the airport. I have posted intermittent messages since then, but the day deserves a proper summation. Getting through Canberra Airport was fine and it was fairly quiet there as well given that it was early in the morning. Sydney Airport was also fairly easy to get through…it helped that I had already checked in my luggage in Canberra and thus did not have to see it again in Sydney. I had roughly four hours to spare in Sydney so I stopped for an early lunch at Pie Face, and then proceeded through the next round of security screenings to the international waiting area and bizarre sprawling duty free shopping area (which felt like a larger, less organised version of Myer if they were to hire a bunch of foreign actors to make the place look busy). I listened to some of Inga Barks filling in for Mark Levin via the stream of Inga’s station KNZR in Fresno) and occasionally listened to the somewhat amusing messages about certain people with very unpronounceable names needing to go to some gate immediately. It was particularly amusing when the person making the announcement could not work out the gender of one of the names and referred to them as “passenger [name]” rather than “Mr. [name]” or “Mrs. [name]”.

I think I came close to dozing off a couple times in the waiting area, but didn’t have that problem while standing around waiting at the gate where there was a catering delay.

Once the Sydney to L.A. flight got underway I decided to try and get some sleep with minimal success. I think I dozed off a couple times, but on most attempts I woke up just as I was starting to drift off to sleep either because my mind suddenly doubled the volume of the aeroplane noises, or because I was stupidly and unwittingly applying logic to the often nonsensical thoughts which occur in that state and catching myself not making sense.

I decided not to have lunch on the plane as I was not hungry. I did have a couple snacks though.

Annoyingly, at 3pm Canberra time, with direct sunlight still beaming through the windows, all the lights were dimmed and the cabin crew requested that the window shutters by closed “for sleep”. At the time, I was reading a very thought-provoking part of Mark Levin’s book “Liberty & Tyranny” which explains why direct election of federal US senators was not part of the original constitution and why Mark believes it should not be in there now…unfortunately the personal overhead light spills a bit too much light on others for me to be comfortable using it for an extended period of time, so I stopped reading. I instead, listened to Mark Levin’s podcast of his show from Friday and most of’s This Week In Tech podcast, plus a little bit of music at one stage. I also took the time to draft a letter which I have been meaning to write for a very long time, and attempted to get more sleep without success.

Thankfully the person next to me (I chose a seat on the A380 which is in a row of two seats rather than three) also did not sleep much during the flight, and thus didn’t mind my constant activity. By the end of the flight we had (perhaps unwittingly) gotten ourselves in to a habit of getting up and having a little wander if the other person had to get up for one reason or another.

The A380’s in-flight entertainment system (which kept the person in the seat next to me entertained for most of the trip) had a flight tracker which showed the plane’s current location and stats such as current speed and altitude, plus estimated arrival time and the current temperature outside the plane. It also had a view from a camera mounted on the plane’s tail. I had planned on taking a photo of the tracker and of a view from out the window just prior to the “please turn everything off” announcement so that I could use those in the blog post upon my arrival at Los Angeles Airport…but I made a little mistake. As the sun started to come up and the lights were returned to a useful level of brightness, I went to change the SIM card in my phone, forgetting that iPhones have to re-activate when they receive a new SIM card (which is usually a simple process as it is done via the new SIM card’s data connection). With AT&T’s network being out of reach (and proximity being irrelevant given the restrictions on the use of phones outside of “airplane mode”) I had effectively bricked my phone for the rest of the trip. Not a big deal, but an inconvenience. Once on the ground in LA, the phone was happy to activate itself and all started to work, and I was able to finalise my call diversions on my Australian numbers knowing that the US number was correct.

One thing which I had planned on mentioning prior to the flight was my plan for keeping my Telstra SIM card safe while I’m in the US as it is such a tiny thing and four weeks would give it plenty of options to get lost.

I have a bunch of SD cards for my camera, but until recently I did not have enough cases for each SD card and had left some of them in their original packaging, unopened and unused, instead. While ordering cases for those SD cards, I realised that such a case works well for a SIM card as well.

SIM Card, paperclip, and SD card in cases

On the left, the SIM card in a case. It doesn’t lock in to a position in the case like the SD card does, but it has limited scope for movement so as long as it is not placed in checked luggage it should be fine (the AT&T SIM card was fine). The next case has a paperclip, which is needed to eject the SIM card tray on an iPhone, and the third one has an SD card.

After the SIM card was changed in my phone, breakfast was served on the plane. Sausages, scrambled eggs, spinach, a hash brown blob, and some as-yet unidentified substance smothered in tomato sauce. It was actually quite nice, although opening the packet was an art in which I am not trained and so I just cut the packaging to pieces until I could rip it open.

The early morning arrival in Los Angeles meant it wasn’t too busy and was relatively quick to get through Customs. Customs processes happened in the opposite order to what I was expecting…first up was the “who are you, what are you doing here, how will you react if I bluntly ask you a couple seemingly random personal questions in an accusatory tone” interview. I thought I was going to get dragged in to an office for a moment there when I was asked if I have any family in the US and I said “no”…a few moments passed and then just as he was about to say something I jumped in with “actually…ummm…I think I have some relatives on Mum’s side of the family somewhere in California, but I’m not sure who they are or where they are”…but he just went on and stamped my passport and away I went.

After that I collected my luggage so that it could go through Customs inspection…or in this case a quick look at the declaration form I had filled out on the plane and one very quick question about it. My baggage may have been scanned before I picked it up, but it certainly wasn’t check at all as I went through Customs. My detailed list of the values of all of the gifts (including the multiple different prices of Tim Tams from the various purchases I made in the weeks prior to the trip) and to whom I had allocated the gifts seemed like a waste of time and effort…but I’m glad I did it anyway as it was a useful document for my own reference.

I had expected that I would pick up my luggage and then go through Customs where both I and my luggage would be examined…I probably looked a little lost and confused as a result.

After this it was off to another terminal to check in my luggage again and wait a few hours for my flight to San Francisco. For this, I made my first ever purchase with physical US currency: a cup of coffee, and put the batteries back in my radio (I had removed them prior to the first flight and stored them in a separate compartment of my carry-on backpack so as to prevent accidental switching-on of the radio) where I tuned in to KEIB 1150 AM “The Patriot” (an almost new station in Los Angeles in that the same people who run KFI run it, and recently flipped it from progressive to conservative talk, allowing them to clear shows in LA which were dropped by Cumulus and a few other shows too, and allow them to expand the local content on KFI). I listened to most of the last hour of Glenn Beck’s show and roughly the first half-hour of Rush Limbaugh’s show, but I was quite tired by this stage so I decided to walk around for a bit instead which helped a bit.

WF-F57 Walkman
Samuel’s Blog file photo: Samuel’s WM-F57 walkman

The flight from LA to San Francisco was delayed for an unspecified reason, and was then further delayed on the tarmac for another unspecified reason. Neither occasion was too long, adding up to about 45 minutes in total. I got quite a bit of sleep on this flight. During the delay on the tarmac I dozed off…I don’t remember dozing off, but I do remember the 20 minute delay feeling like it took about three minutes, and I remember the Captain’s message at the start and end of the delay where he noted the same amount of delay in both. The plane then taxied around LAX for what seemed like an eternity of maze-like craziness, and I dozed off during this as well as at one stage we were taxiing and the next thing I knew was that my seventh sense woke me up to obtain a cup of coffee which was about to be offered to me by the cabin crew.

San Francisco airport was, for me, an interesting series of escalators and automated trains to get from the plane to the rental car facility via Baggage Claim. My original plan had been to drive straight to Petaluma and then make the necessary phone calls to home to advise of my arrival, however the scheduled time for this call was “somewhere between 10am and 11am Canberra time”. It was close enough to 1:30pm in San Francisco and 9:30am in Canberra, and knowing the approximate morning schedules of the people I had to call and knowing that I might not get to Petaluma by 3pm, I decided to call from the rental car prior to driving off, which worked out well.

After this, the fantastic website came in very handy as auto-tuning was not very effective from within the carpark and I wanted to find the frequency of Sean Hannity’s affiliate in the area KSTE 650 AM and avoid the pseudo-conservative Michael Savage who occupies that timeslot on KSFO these days.

From there, the interesting fun of getting used to driving on the wrong side of the road and the wrong side of the car. This was a little harrowing when it wasn’t possible to get in to the correct lane for an exit and I had to drive through some busy roads in San Francisco for about twenty minutes, which well-and-truly fixed any confidence issues I had, corrected the instinctive “move the car a bit to the right so the lane markers look like they’re in the right place for where I’m sitting” thing, gave me plenty of pre-freeway time to re-learn mirror positions, and mostly get rid of the instinctive “when turning left, aim for the left of the road” habit. Evetually I got on to the freeway and drove over the Golden Gate Bridge and all the way to my hotel in Petaluma, the Quality Inn. On my way I passed an electronic message board advising people to save water due to the drought, and as I got closer to the hotel and it passed 3pm and the end of Sean Hannity’s show, I tuned in to KSFO 560 AM for Mark Levin’s show, which was interrupted by an amber alert (I’ve heard the automated alert system used for weather warnings, but not an amber alert before…it caught me by surprise).

My Mustang parked at the Quality Inn, Petaluma
My Mustang (well, it’s mine for ten days) parked at the Quality Inn, Petaluma

My room at the Quality Inn, Petaluma
My room at the Quality Inn, Petaluma

The Quality Inn has some really lovely staff and the rooms are very nice. The free wifi is a useful added bonus and I’m particularly impressed by the semi-automatic lighting in the bathroom which turns on when you walk in and turns off a little while after you leave if you don’t override it…and the lighting in the main living area is functional, effective, and can be controlled on a light-by-light basis, which means I don’t have the problem I have in many hotels where the lighting has two options: two bright and too dim. The tap system used on the bath and shower which controls whether water flows to the bath or shower via a pin and water pressure system of some sort is quite interesting and effective too. I’m also a fan of the coffee-bag based coffee machine in the room. I also quite like the interesting layout of the hotel which makes it look and feel like a mini town of a bunch of little cottages…it looks and feels both pretty and relaxing.

One thing to note is that the hotel has a breakfast service, but not a lunch or dinner service, not that it matters as there are plenty of great food options nearby. I took the five minute (or thereabouts) drive to a Mexican restaurant (Don Pancho‘s) and had a fantastic dinner…and it gave me the excuse to get in a bit of night-driving.

Prior to dinner, I relaxed for a little while in the hotel room and flicked through the local TV stations. (Alas their DirectTV lacks Fox News Channel…oh well, it is California). I turned on the TV and was greeted by the local Fox station running Dr. Oz…apparently I can’t escape from him. Some of the stations were running continuous coverage of the amber alert while others were running updates on it, as well as a traffic snarl caused by a police officer getting injured after stopping to assist a broken-down motorist.

I was flicking through the stations so I forget who said what, but I noted two stations, at roughly the same time, informing their viewers that they knew about the amber alert before everyone else because they were under a police helicopter when an announcement was made from the helicopter about it…they both showed roughly the same footage of it. One of the stations even had a story about that electronic message board sign about using less water (yes, I did mention it earlier for a reason) which unfortunately ran in to a few minor issues…the first of which was the amber alert which took over all of the electronic signs and ruined the live cross to the reporter standing in front of the message…the reporter’s package about using less water had an unfortunate but predictable shot of the reporter talking directly to camera about practical ways to use less water such as having shorter showers, illustrated by having him present this piece in front of a running shower which was running for very long time before he stopped talking about it.

While I have been writing this, I have had the radio tuned to yet another station. KKSF 910 AM for George Noory’s Coast To Coast AM. The relevance? Two reasons, my blog post upon reaching LA mentioned George Noory, and more importantly KKSF is Leo Laporte’s “The Tech Guy” San Francisco affiliate…today (I started writing this when it was still Tuesday, but it’s now early in the morning on Wednesday) I’m visiting Leo’s studios, so I should probably go to bed now and stop making a supposedly short blog post even longer.


February 12th, 2014 at 08:42pm

LA International Airport…where the big jet engines roar

As I enjoy my coffee and the foggy view while I wait for my next flight which is about two hours away, I’m listening to Glenn Beck on KEIB 1150 AM The Patriot…and at the top of the hour Rush Limbaugh begins.


Life is good.

Now to hit “submit” before the phone battery dies.


February 12th, 2014 at 03:23am


SGS News Alert: Samuel has landed in Los Angeles. At this time he has not been through Customs.

To borrow some lines from Coast To Coast AM’s George Noory “From the city of angels…good morning or good evening wherever you may be”.

Thick fog in LA this morning. Thank the Lord for ILS!


February 12th, 2014 at 01:41am


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