30 December 2007

31 December 2007 – Errol’s reflections blog

Errol has started a new blog in which he is going to put up his reflections. The first of these entries relate to his future and the confidence that he has despite now entering a period of unemployment. As he says employment isn’t everything. You can find this new blog at http://kiwi-et.blogspot.com/.

30 December 2007 – Celebrations

What do you do when you have a distributed family of six children and two parents who are turning 80 in different years and about eight months apart? The solution for Marilyn’s family was to hold a birthday / Christmas celebration. Marilyn’s youngest brother, Malcolm and his family came over from Melbourne and with our daughter, Amanda, here from England, only one grandchild, one spouse, and two great-grandchildren missed the event. With spouses, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, there were 39 people to celebrate Christmas lunch together and 80 years each for Marilyn’s parents.

Errol acted as photographer to record the event. This proved quite challenging as we tried to ensure that people didn’t go off and do other things. Some still managed to avoid the camera. The weather wasn’t particularly cooperative either so most of the formal photos were taken in the marquee. For the photographs, they wanted to restage two old photos; one of the immediate family taken 40 years ago, and another of when Malcolm turned 21 (22 years ago). How much does a family change in that time? There was a new spouse to add to the second photo.

Amanda came down on Christmas Eve, just missing the arrival of her husband, Phillip, in Auckland. He and the children celebrated Christmas with his parents and his brother, Mark’s family. It would have been nice to have had Phillip and the children down for the celebrations but for Phillip’s family, this was the first time that they had celebrated as a family together as well.

Midas wasn’t too keen on the trip to Foxton Beach but settled down well both there and on return. This was despite having to avoid five others in the house on our first night back.

22 December 2007

23 December 2007 – Home again

Hello, I’m Midas. Mum and dad are so busy that they’ve let me blog today.

I don’t like travelling much so I stayed under the bed on the first day so they couldn’t take me away again. However, it isn’t taking me long to get back to my old tricks. I make sure mum and dad are awake on time in the morning by going to their room and climbing into the bed with mum. If they aren’t awake, I meow to catch their attention.

So mum will remember me, I am making sure that she takes some of my fur to work and am leaving it on the chairs. Mum and dad both spend ages cleaning it off which seems a waste of time to me.

I have remembered how good the hall, lounge, dining room, kitchen is as a race track doing my usual sprints around the house and distributing the mats to the appropriate corners. Dad doesn’t seem too pleased with that as he keeps moving them back. He wasn’t very pleased with my attempts to drink from the filtered water tap. That isn’t very fair because the water tastes better straight from the tap.

I’ve managed to get outside for a couple of explorations. During the first one, I went under the deck and caused dad to have to hang around waiting for me. You would think that he doesn’t trust me. Yesterday, I went to visit one of the neighbour’s cats but it took off inside when I got to their back lawn. Mum came and collected me which wasn’t very fair. All I wanted to do was play.

Dad seems to be preoccupied with sitting at the computer writing and doesn’t seem to keen to come out and play. I sure wish that he wasn’t so busy. Mum being at work all day makes my life boring but I can have some fun looking out the windows and racing through the house.

18 December 2007

18 December 2007 – Alone again naturally

With Amanda and children departing for Auckland, we had an early celebration of Christmas. Matthew liked the Meccano set he received and Kathryn walked around like a little lady in her dress up shoes.

Their departure has left us alone again. Was it peace at last or simply quiet and emptiness? Something seems to be missing. It is six months since we left on our trip and we are now beginning to return to normal, well almost. We know that it will not be the same as Errol is working from home on his thesis.

Errol went to Auckland for a workshop for a research project that he is involved with. He stayed with Paul and Hayley and enjoyed the opportunity to celebrate Paul’s 30th birthday. He also included joining celebrations for 25 years of teaching at Unitec Institute of Technology and a visit to Amanda and children. Unitec is where Errol first entered the tertiary sector as a teacher in 1991.

As part of the trip, Errol collected Midas and brought him home so now we are all back together until the next adventure. Midas travelled back as checked luggage and has quickly resumed his place in the house. He played hide and seek with Errol on Monday but has been getting back into his old habits a bit too quickly. He seemed to enjoy his time in Auckland with the Reardons and seems that he became proficient at setting off their alarm system so he could get people around the house.

03 December 2007

3 December 2007 – Graduation

It is difficult to believe that we have been back in New Zealand for two weeks. Errol has been occupied with writing his thesis and doing things with Amanda and the grandchildren. His priority is writing but it is difficult to remain focussed knowing that Amanda and the children will be here for a very limited time. Marilyn’s work schedule means she is not getting quite as much time with Amanda and the children.

Matthew has continued to develop his photography skills at every opportunity including a visit to Stansborough Weavers open day and the Lower Hutt Christmas parade. Some turned out to be movie sequences as he turned the dial on the camera. The finger stays stuck on the shutter button at times as well.

Amanda graduated with her BInfSci in Mathematics. This proved to be a real family affair with four generations with Marilyn’s parents and Errol’s mother present. There were three generations on Phillips side with Amanda’s in-laws (the other grandparents) having come down to enjoy the occasion meaning the children were really spoilt for choice. Paul also came down from Auckland. This meant that we were able to get a big family photo taken.

The children enjoyed their first experience of a New Zealand beach and are keen to go again almost every day. Kite flying seems to have lost some of its appeal compared with playing in the sand and splashing in the sea.

22 November 2007

22 November 2007 – Back home again

Bob and Mary both came and said farewell to us at the hotel as with five of us and our luggage, it was easier to take the hotel shuttle to the airport. It was sad to leave but this was our last travel before reaching home.

At Portland Airport, we had to do some quick repacking to avoid paying excess baggage fees and then they couldn’t print Amanda and the children’s boarding passes for the San Francisco onward legs. They also managed to place one of the children on their own in the plane so we had to get that changed at the gate. Marilyn and I were a few rows behind them.

We did a quick dash through the airport in San Francisco to find the check in desk to get Amanda’s seats but they were on the opposite side of the plane to us so we got ours changed to seven rows in front on the same side of the aircraft. Matthew swapped places with Marilyn once airborne and stayed there until just before breakfast in the morning. Matthew insisted that Errol play some of the games with him until Errol insisted that it was time to sleep.

In Auckland, we meet with David and Val Holmes (Amanda’s in-laws) and Paul and Hayley before catching our flight to Wellington. At least on this flight we were in the row just behind although on the opposite side of the aircraft.

We arrived in Wellington to a beautiful sunny day and gearing up for the Santa parade but we were too tired to participate so it was straight home and into unpacking. A neighbour helped with jumper leads to get the car started and Marilyn and Amanda did a quick shopping expedition so we had some food in the house.

Monday saw Marilyn off to work and Errol delivered the car to obtain a warrant of fitness and checked in to work. This was really a day of catch up and attempting to re-establish the old routines. That has been the pattern for the week although Errol has more flexibility than Marilyn. As a consequence, he has had an opportunity to fly kites and go swimming with Amanda and the children.

We might be back home but we will keep the blog running as there are plenty more adventures in store. Amanda graduates on 30 November and Errol finishes as a staff member at Massey University on 31 December 2007. Of course there will be continuing photographic expeditions and other activities to report on.

16 November 2007

15 November 2007 – The last stop, Portland, Oregon

There were two reasons to come to Portland. Oregon. These were meeting up again with Errol’s seventh cousin once removed, Bob Clearwater and his wife, Mary, and meeting Amanda and the grandchildren so we could fly back together to New Zealand.

Our first day with Amanda and the grandchildren was spent at the Oregon Zoo. The grandchildren enjoyed watching the sea lions swimming around. The housing was impressive and allowed us to look at them through a large glass window and watch them swimming close by. Matthew wanted to take some photos so I gave him my small digital camera and he went taking photos of anything and filled the memory card quickly. He learned quickly how to turn the camera on and off, and how to aim it to take pictures that he was sort of wanting. The other highlight of the zoo was the parakeets. We were able to buy a cup of nectar and the birds would land on your arm and drink the nectar. The children enjoyed this opportunity.

On the second day, Bob and Errol volunteered to look after the children while Marilyn and Amanda went to the embroidery shops. Bob and Errol’s first activity with the children was flying Mathew’s Thomas kite. This was followed by taking the children on the tram way (cable car) up to the hospital, to the Children’s museum, and to the Bee movie. From the hospital, they had really good view over the city to Mount Hood and to Mount St Helens. Marilyn & Amanda had a great day and came back well supplied with goodies.

For our third day, we visited Powell’s bookshop where Errol purchased some of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series books. Powell’s is worth a visit simply because of the range of new and used books, and the size of the shop itself.

To finish the day, we visited Mary’s gallery and studio where we saw some of her art work.

10 November 2007

10 November 2007 – Exploring Vancouver

Saturday was our time for exploring Vancouver. We planned to visit four locations but didn’t really allow for the time that we would need for each location. Our first intended destination was Capolina suspension bridge but this was closed for maintenance so we stayed on the bus as it was going to Grouse Mountain. We had no idea what this was but decided to explore anyway. It turned out to be a cable car to the top of a mountain where there was a ski field, grizzly bears, ice rink, restaurants, and large wooden sculptures. The views across Vancouver were also worthwhile. We found it amazing that such a mountain site was right on the doorstep of a big city.

After spending the morning there, we headed via the Capolina Mall to Stanley Park. We arrived there mid afternoon with some clear photographic objectives. We achieved these as well as getting another opportunity to photograph black and grey squirrels.

By the time that we reached a skytrain station, it was getting dusk so we decided to take the millennium loop and stopped off at the Metropolis Mall primarily to have an evening meal. This turned into an interesting exploration of a very large three storey mall. This mall didn’t have the amusement areas that the West Edmonton Mall had but in our view it seemed to have a better range of shops.

There was much more that we could have done in Vancouver but we had limited time.

09 November 2007

9 November 2007 – To Vancouver

We only have one more place after Vancouver to go before arriving back in New Zealand. However, getting here proved a long process. The train arrived in Jasper late meaning that we left there as dusk fell instead of giving us a couple of hours of daylight as we headed for Yellowhead Pass. This meant that we missed seeing some great scenery as we rolled out of Jasper. Over night we landed up stopped in a siding for an hour waiting for a freight train to have a knuckle between two carriages repaired. We did pass through the Fraser River Canyon in the morning light although the heavy rain lowered the light levels so we were unable to take any photos. At least that is what we were told in the morning. The result was reaching Vancouver two hours late.

Our only plan for Friday was to meet up with an electronic friend from the late 1980s when we used to run a Fidonet based bulletin board. Our designated meeting place was the Eighties Restaurant in North Vancouver. His Science Fiction group hold a weekly gathering there so we joined them. This proved to be a relaxing evening and a positive way to end an otherwise frustrating day. It is good to meet people face-to-face after having only corresponded with them using electronic means.

07 November 2007

7 November 2007 – Falls!!!

Today, we headed down the Icefields Parkway toward Banff. We didn’t fancy doing a four hour drive so we focussed on the things that we could get to and back during daylight. This included the Athabasca Falls and the Sunwapta Falls. Both squeezed their way through narrow channels in the rock and had spectacular ice formations hanging from the rocks. We could see how an ice bridge could easily form at both of these places.

We also experienced the difficulty of walking on icy paths caused by the compression of snow by numerous visitors. The steep paths without steps also made negotiation difficult especially when we only had walking shoes with limited tread.

Snow began falling while we were at Sunwapta Falls so we headed back to Jasper to explore the tramway that goes up the Whistlers. It wasn’t in operation which was disappointing but we could see the chalet at the top of the mountain. The guides say that there is a restaurant at the top and we suspect that it has magnificent views over Jasper and the surrounding area.

On return to the town, we again saw the elk wandering through the rail yard and on returning from having a pizza, we had a close encounter with four elk does in the park by the town’s information centre. The elks were really out on the town. It was quite funny as we were joking about not having seen any bears attempting to get food from the rubbish bins. Marilyn made a comment about not seeing bears in the dark and we suddenly realised that we were about 10 metres away from an elk grazing on the lawn of the information centre. While we attempted to get a photo, three more crossed the main road from the rail yard. Drivers slowed down to give them time to cross safely. Unfortunately our photos are too dark to really prove our story.

06 November 2007

6 November 2007 – Maligne valley

We awoke in the morning to see the elk roaming the rail yard just across from the hotel. It was quite a reasonable sized herd which included a ten point stag. A worker was endeavouring to move them on before another large freight train (100+ wagons) rolled into the yard.

After learning the cost of a wild life tour, we decided to hire a car for the time that we are here and explore some of the areas around the area. Many of the tourist attractions are closed as we are between the busy summer and winter seasons. This also means that there is less traffic on the road.

For today’s exploration, we went the full length of the Maligne valley road. This included exploring the Maligne canyon, Medicine Lake, and Maligne Lake. The travel guide said it would take one hour to get to Maligne Lake but we took three hours and of course lots of photos. Medicine Lake was interesting because at this time of year, its waters have drained into underground chasms and it appeared to be a snow, ice, and stream covered valley.

The beauty of the scenery with plenty of snow around encouraged frequent stops. One of these included a stop for a close encounter with an elk doe as she crossed the road in front of us and then waited to watch us attempt to take photos. Sadly there wasn’t much other wildlife that we could see.

Returning to Jasper, we took a side trip to the Jasper Lodge. This is almost a small town in its own right. Built on the side of a small lake and looking out toward the mountains behind Jasper, this would make an excellent retreat or conference venue in any season.

05 November 2007

5 November 2007 – Jasper

No, this isn’t Jasper, the friendly ghost. This is Jasper in the Canadian Rockies. There are friendly ghosts in the form of Elks on the town but that story can wait until later.

The train journey up to Jasper took us across the last of the prairies and into the Rockies. The recent snowfall was evident every where and increasingly so as we climbed higher into the Rockies. The Athabasca River and the rising peaks were steadily replacing snow covered fields and hay bales. Also as we got closer to Jasper, there were increased sightings of mountain sheep and elk. From the train it was difficult to photograph these but we did see them including a stag and a doe right next to the railway line. The train was also throwing up snow flurries coating the windows with slush.

Walking down the street in Jasper to our hotel, there was plenty of evidence that the elk are frequent visitors to town. Their calling cards were along the footpaths. After checking in to the hotel, we did a quick explore of the town before dusk and taking an early night.

04 November 2007

4 November 2007 – Edmonton

Our time in Edmonton was spent with Errol’s friend and assistant supervisor for his PhD, Kinshuk and his family. Also visiting was Michael Verhaart from EIT. Kinshuk is Michael’s primary supervisor. Errol did some work toward the completion of his thesis and he discussed his progress and his analysis with Kinshuk. This was a reasonably positive time.

We visited Athabasca University where Kinshuk is now the director of a department. Flurries of snow there meant that we didn’t really explore the area. Athabasca is a very small town with a population of about 3,000 people, about 150 km north of Edmonton.

On another day, we visited the West Edmonton Mall, the world’s largest mall. It has an imitation beach complete with a wave pool, an amusement park, two hotels, an ice rink, and a sea world complete with performing seal and flamingos. Yes, it does have a large number of shops and we visited a few but brought very little.

We also experienced our first real snow fall while in Edmonton. We woke this morning to discover that it had snowed over night but it had been a fine day yesterday and again today. We had actually gone for a walk last night to a local lake last night and Errol went back this morning to take some photos of the snow. The temperatures have certainly dropped.

30 October 2007

31 October 2007 – The Canadian

We had booked ourselves onto this cross Canada train when we picked up our rail passes in Montreal but we were told that there were no sleeping berths available. As we walked through the Toronto station, we decided to check and discovered that we could get a sleeping compartment and for less than it would have cost us in Montreal (no Quebec tax added). This was worth doing as it meant that we got meals provided, access to showers, etc.

The compartments are quite small but with the dome cars and the dining cars there is plenty of space in other areas. On the train, we have about two coaches (seating only), nine sleeping cars, four dome cars, and two dining cars. Those in the coaches have to buy their food and drink. We have our own toilet and wash basin but we do have to share the shower with others on our coach. Without the upgrade, we would have been seated in a coach car.

The changing scenery has been quite interesting as we have travelled round the great lakes, through the mineral rich mining district, and across the prairies. Meals on the train have all been three course and with limited amount of space for serious exercise, we are feeling rather too well fed.

28 October 2007

29 October 2007 – Niagara and Toronto

For our first full day in Toronto, we took a day trip to Niagara Falls. Our tour guide certainly knew the history and kept us well informed of the things to look out for. He also knew some of the alternative routes as he demonstrated when we came up on a traffic jam caused by road works and he also knew how to maximise our time at the falls especially when the roads were choked by the running of the Niagara Falls marathon.

Our first stop was at the anticlockwise whirlpool down river from the falls. This was a very slow whirl and the in flow which was much stronger clearly crossed over the outflow. With limited time on this stop, we didn’t explore as much of this area as we might have down.

It was then upstream to the falls themselves. In some ways we were fortunate that the marathon was being run as it meant that we stopped downstream of the falls and then walked upstream in order to go the “Journey Behind the Falls”. This gave us a number of photo opportunities that we would have missed otherwise. The portals behind the falls helped emphasise the volume of water coming over the falls but it was going to the lookout at the same height as the portals was the better experience even if the spray left us a little damp.

Lunch at the “Windows on the Falls” restaurant gave us another wonderful view of the falls before heading downstream to “Niagara-on-the-Lake” historic township. This area is full of the history of the battles between the US, French, British, and native Indians for control of Canada. We could easily have used more time both at the falls and township.

The morning of our second day was spent at the hotel on work or domestic related tasks. Errol had the symptoms of a cold so wasn’t really enthused about doing too much in the afternoon but we did explore one of the shopping complexes and the related underground connections. In many respects, we were disappointed in Toronto. It didn’t have the grandeur of Ottawa.

27 October 2007 – Ottawa

On Friday, we made the train journey to Ottawa arriving there about midday. We explored parliament hill in the afternoon. We also visited the market area. With Halloween approaching pumpkins were quite dominant. The festival seems to have a harvest emphasis in Canada. The city has a lot of character.

In the evening we met up with one of Errol’s original computer science lecturers and his wife for a meal. This was a valuable and enjoyable catch up time.

We could easily have used more time in Ottawa but with it raining this morning, we could only get in a brief walk to the Notre Dame Cathedral before catching our next train through to Toronto.

25 October 2007

25 October 2007 – Last of Montreal

Errol’s second day at the conference was attending the Educator’s symposium. This year, these sessions were designed to be more participatory and Errol found them quite enjoyable. Errol didn’t find the sessions on Tuesday particularly helpful but he did gain some ideas from the sessions on Wednesday when he was doing his student volunteer duties. Overall, the conference has been of value.

On Thursday, we climbed the hill to the south of the Downtown area and obtained magnificent views over the city. We made our way back to the conference venue by one of the underground shopping malls.

21 October 2007

21 October 2007 – Montreal

We spent a day in airports and planes and finally arrived in Montreal where we were greeted with heavy rain. But it has been fine since then and today we have glorious blue skies, warmer temperatures than we were expecting and wonderful autumn colours everywhere.

On Saturday morning we found the central railway station and collected our rail passes for our time beyond Montreal. We both spent most of the rest of the day helping with preparations for the OOPSLA conference, filling the conference bags for each delegate. Errol is a student volunteer so has some assigned tasks during the week. Marilyn has spent the first morning of the conference walking around the streets and admiring autumn colours, squirrels, and wonderful buildings, while Errol was helping on the registration desk. Errol received an ice hockey team shirt which he has to wear while being a volunteer. We are not sure that he will wear it away from the conference. The building where the conference is being held is a very modern one with lots of coloured glass and big open spaces.

Late afternoon and into the evening, we explored part of Old Montreal. This took us down to the St Lawrence River. As the sunset and the lights took over, there were some interesting lighting effects to attempt to photograph. It was quite a warm and pleasant evening.

We have read that there are 30km of underground walkways and shopping malls and metro stations, but are leaving checking these out until the next rainy day.

18 October 2007

18 October 2007 – Göteborg

With nearly three full days in Göteborg, we have had a good chance to explore. When we booked our hotel, we also got a Göteborg pass. This allowed us to use the trams, busses and ferries. We used those to good effect.

The pass also gave us access to the many museums scattered around the city. We visited the Göteborg museum on the first day and the design museum, and art museum on the second day. Then a maritime museum on the third day. We became a little museum’d out and would have been disappointed in some if we had had to pay entry. The Göteborg museum had a lot of history about the city. Much of the old city has been pulled down and modern buildings stand in their place. What is left of old Göteborg still has reasonably wide streets and lacks the character of old town Stockholm. A big disappointment was the photographic exhibit in the Hasselblad centre at the art museum. No doubt the Hollywood style staged photographs have their appeal but we would have preferred more natural styles. To compensate for this disappointing exhibition, there was a great quilting exhibition at the maritime museum which was well worth seeing.

In searching for old town Göteborg, Errol climbed a hill over some rock to discover the Skansen Crown at the top and reasonable views over the city. He then found the stairs to return to where he started and to discover the edge of old town. In old town, the find of the day, at least for Errol, was the oldest bike shop in Göteborg and it also included some of the oldest bikes. These would easily have found places in any museum collection. Errol went in and had a chat with the owner.

A stop at the Pedagogic buildings of the university gave Errol an opportunity to talk by phone with one of the professors who helped develop the methodology that he is using for his research. Unfortunately, the professor was busy and unable to meet us while we are here. He is interested enough in Errol’s work to want to see some of the analysis.

Our best views of the city were obtained from the only tower building in the city. The 22nd floor is a lookout platform that gives views across the city. However, the highlight of the sightseeing was going by ferry around the southern archipelago. This collection of islands is fairly barren but has a number of small townships which require regular ferries. Our second ferry trip took us to the most southerly of the islands.