Book Review: 20th Century Battlefields

This book has taken some time to actually start reading it as I believe it was a christmas gift a number of years ago (or maybe a birthday gift, not sure) can’t remember, but either way…

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The book is 20th Century Battlefields by Dan & Peter Snow. Two authors who have a background in Military history and put out by BBC Books. Gotta be half good right? Well it was pretty damn good. The book looks into a handful of the major conflicts of the 20th Century. Predominantly with a british focus (as you would expect, but not all that skewed really) it flows from WW1 all the way through to the Gulf War (the first one). But not the way your thinking.

This book is good in the way that it looks into just one battle of each of the conflicts. Such as Stalingrad, Battle of Midway, Amiens or even the Tet Offensive this is a general view of that specific battle. If it looked into each of the conflicts in depth it would be an encyclopedia. This little glimpse of the more unwritten about battles like Stalingrad, Amiens or one of the ones I had never even heard of being Imjin River in Korea just made me want to read up more on these individual conflicts.

I really enjoyed this book & for once I really and truly mean it. It gave me a brief glimpse into a few smaller different topics and ones that I now want to look into further. I really want to read more on the Falklands for instance on a battle that was fought on the opposite side of the world for the British at the end of their supply chain. Or Stalingrad which is a battle where millions of russians fought to push back the Wermacht in a battle that would essentially mean the death knoll for the Germans.

If you ever see this book or have any desire to read up about 20th century battles in general.. give it a go. You won’t be dissapointed.

LAX Spotting

So I finally managed to get all my LAX spotting photos finished and touched up. Took me almost 2 solid days plus a few days mid week to get them all done. I culled 1500 down to 165 so thats pretty good really, about a 10% hit rate (thank god I do not shoot film!). I was going to try something a little different but it failed to work.

So instead here is a selection of my photos from the trip.. including the most lucky of shots lately!

From LAX Spotting 2013
From LAX Spotting 2013
From LAX Spotting 2013
From LAX Spotting 2013
From LAX Spotting 2013
From LAX Spotting 2013

Celebrating Australia Day… in America

Well it was Australia Day on Saturday as just about all my aussie friends know. But I wanted to still celebrate Australia Day (or at least pretend to) and have a good time with my friends. But where should my friends take me on Australia Day:

Yeah that’s right. The Outback Steakhouse. Pretty much a themed restaurant (which is ever so popular over here) to be like eating the aussie way. Lots of “throw another shrimp on the barbie”, bad Aussie puns were to be expected.

Lets look at some of the examples of just how bad it gets:

Ummm a what now? Rather than an appetizer (or entree to you Aussies) it’s an “Aussie-tizer”

The number one cocktail in the whole place, is a butchered take on “I’ll be Darned” and it’s not even remotely Australian. A modified peach bellini (which is kind of italian i think) is far from an Australian drink. Speaking of drinks, Fosters is served…. *blergh*

It’s the “Bloomin Onion” the number one thing on the menu and pretty much what Outback Steakhouse is famous for. Its essentially a deep fried onion. While pretty tasty, far from Aussie.

And of course this is a play on that famous Aussie Strip Tease act… I give you “Chocolate Thunder from Down Under”. That was essentially a brownie with Ice Cream (note the little boomerangs on the plate).

Now the food wasn’t bad at all. Very American but still not bad at all, pretty reasonably priced and I came out for about $25 (even after the stuff ups by the staff). I had a good time with my friends, enjoyed the day and spent a heap of time just chatting and having fun. Would I go back again? Probably not!

Aviation Geek Fest 2013

Well it is time to get the Avgeek side of me in gear and tell the world about an event that is happening here in Seattle in just a few weeks time. Aviation Geek Fest is run by my friends David from Airlinereporter.com and Sandy from Future of Flight. Along with the folks at Boeing and heaps of other Avgeek peeps here in Seattle they are throwing what is essentially an all out weekend of awesomeness.

All the details are here:

http://www.airlinereporter.com/2013/01/all-the-juicy-details-for-aviation-geek-fest-2013/

But the basic gist of the weekend is this:

Saturday Afternoon – Boeing Renton Factory Tour
Sunday – Dreamliner Gallery Tour, Boeing Everett VIP Factory Floor Tour, Geekfest Party at Future of Flight

Boeing Everett Factory Floor tour? Sign me up! I missed out during the Qatar 787 festivities as I was on my way back from Vegas. So I am so doing this! Then add on the fact that the Renton factory is ONLY open for invitation only and hardly ever sees the public inside. Even more win! I haven’t been to the Dreamliner Gallery so it’s a weekend that I just want to do so badly, yet I have to wait :(

Now yes it does come with a price but that price is very little $20 for each day at the Boeing Tours plus $5 for the Dreamliner Gallery. But that is really nothing considering a standard factory tour at Everett is $20 and you don’t get being treated like a VIP! Either way this should be an awesome fun filled weekend. For part of the morning on Saturday, I am volunteering my services at the Museum of Flight (possibly might even be volunteering at Future of Flight in the not to distant future) but I am still going and I don’t mind that i have to pay $45 for a weekend full of fun avgeek stuff.

What is even more fantastic in my opinion is the fact I get to see a lot of my good friends. So far one is flying up from LAX, another might be coming down from Vancouver, I don’t know who else might show up from out of town but I am looking forward to it. My living room floor might get severely crowded at this rate!

Tickets go on sale at 11am tomorrow (Saturday 26th). I will have to take a few minutes away from my Australia Day celebrations and grab my tickets (yes even I have to pay) but so looking forward to it :D

Trip Report: Escaping South for the Winter – Los Angeles to Seattle

Sunday 20th January 2013

After spending what little remaining time in the LA Sunshine spotting and going backwards and forwards along Aviation Blvd between the Proud Bird and 93rd Ave to get shots as flights approached the north or south runways it was time to reverse my process from Saturday morning. I filled the car up (20c off a gallon in LA at Shell thanks to Fred Meyer even though back home in Seattle it’s not more than 10c off a gallon) and dropped the car back at National & within moments I was on a shuttle back to T3. This time the shuttle was absolutely crammed full of people, but it wasn’t long before we got to T3. As we rolled past T2 I saw something that would be awesome if I could get a clear shot of it, but that’s a little secret for now.

Showed up at T3 and came into the terminal and it was packed solid. Which was to be expected considering Virgin Australia had landed a number of flights on the ground about an hour or so ago and there would be people connecting on to destinations unknown. I had priority check in, though there was nothing priority about it. I spent longer in this queue without even being recognized at one point than people were going through the normal or self-serve queues. I guess that serves me right. But this was the start of all my problems. About the only thing going for it at this point was the fact that I wasn’t charged for a bag, which was pretty cool.

When I finally got my boarding pass it had a B seat on it, which had me in the middle, no priority markings or anything on it so this was not going to go well. I queried about why my seat allocation had changed and was told “can’t fix it, needs to be done upstairs”, I checked about the priority security which I should get as well, was told “it will be fine”. So I head off to security and being told that I can’t use it because it’s not on my boarding pass (hell I actually had to ask where priority security was because it wasn’t even marked). After fighting with the lady for a minute or so she finally let me through so after that point, security didn’t take too long. I just wanted to get through it all quickly and without a fuss, so I submitted to the nude o scope. Once through, I repacked my trash and headed for the customer service desks to fix my seat. Sadly though they told me they couldn’t fix my seat till 30 mins prior to departure AKA when boarding began and that they can’t guarantee a single thing. So much for being a Gold Member on this partner!

I decided to just give up and hit up the Virgin America Lounge which I had access to, but wasn’t sure if I was going to have to fight my way in. I was doing a review for AirlineReporter on the lounge anyway but I had given them pre warning on that but there was no sponsorship to get into the lounge, that was down to the access from Virgin Australia. It was painless and not much had changed since I was there last time when I went down for the day and David and I talked our way in. The changes that had happened was mainly the food etc. was a bit more plentiful compared to last time and also the signage had changed from Virgin Australia to Virgin America. I managed to while away my short time in the lounge (about 45 minutes) taking photos, gorging on the most yummy cookies I have had in a while, and spotting out the big picture windows.

When it was about 35 mins prior to departure I headed back to the customer service desk to get my seat fixed up but was told I had to wait till exactly 30 minutes prior, and wait I did. I stood there and at exactly 1205 I handed back my boarding pass and said “its 30 minutes prior now) and at that exact second they called for boarding. She reissued my boarding pass and weirdly rather than destroy the old one, she stapled the two together.

Virgin America VX783
Los Angeles to Seattle Tacoma
1235-1515
Airbus A320 (N846VA)
Main Cabin – Seat 16A

Boarding: 1204 (Gate 36)
Push Back: 1234
Take Off Roll: 1244 (Runway 24L)
Top of Descent: 1438
Touch Down: 1500 (Runway 16R)
Shut Down: 1505 (Gate A4)

By the time I managed to get to the gate, they had just called Main Cabin Select passengers and since I was apparently going to be Boarding group D since again Virgin America had failed to deliver what they should have, it could have been a long wait. When they called boarding group B and all Elevate Gold and Silver members I figured I would give it a go and see what happened. She didn’t even look at my pass just scanned it and on I went, not so much as a comment. I wouldn’t normally have done that but was pretty unimpressed with VX up to this point today.
I took my seat, stowed my stuff and settled in. The plan for this flight was different to the last. Whereas the flight down I was working online, this was going to be an offline flight, focusing on watching the game to see who made the Superbowl and writing the lounge review. The flight was 100% full and the couple sitting next to me never said a word.

We took off out over the beach and when we turned back around and headed north, I waved goodbye to the sunshine and warmth, as we were headed north to the cold and more than likely rain. The flight itself was pretty boring really. I worked; I snacked on a banana and some almonds for “lunch” (since I had eaten like a dozen cookies in the lounge I wasn’t all that hungry and frankly a little bit ashamed of my gorging). We passed direct over Portland just as the game was finishing up and we began to descend. A high majority of people on the flight were doing the same thing).

We came in over Gig Harbor, Tacoma and then a right turn over the University district before lining up for the 16s. Up till this point it had been nice and sunny (but obviously cold) but as we neared SeaTac we descended into the fog bank and I farewelled Mt Rainer again. We hit 16R fairly smoothly and had a quick taxi (or at least as quick as can be expected from that side of the airport) over to another new gate for me in the A terminal. I had to wait a little while to get off being up the back but I wasn’t in too much of a rush.

Once off and into the terminal I think I walked the wrong way to the baggage hall and when I eventually found the right carousel my bag was already going around. I dressed back into my Seattle attire (aka layered back up) and headed for the shuttle to reverse the process. Within an hour of touching down I was taking the off ramp from I405,heading to the grocery store for the weeks shopping and planning how to do that as quickly as possible to avoid a) freezing to death in almost freezing temps and b) missing as little as possible of the New England game.

Trip Report – Escaping South for the Winter – Hyatt Place LAX/El Segundo

After dropping off the Car I headed to the store to get some supplies and then off to the hotel to check in and drop my stuff (and leave my hat in my bag at this point because I am an idiot). After looking around and finding a half decent rate at this new hotel, I figured I would give it a try. A few months ago the Hyatt Place LAX/El Segundo opened just off Imperial Highway in El Segundo. To be honest its barely off the Airport grounds, it is just outside the little cluster that all the other airport hotels are located, but still close to everything so it’s not a 10-20 minute drive away.

Location wise it is pretty convenient. 2 blocks away from a full on supermarket, about a block away from a Metro Railway Station (the Green Line) and being that it is new build, it is in a quiet street located away from all the traffic on Imperial Highway/Sepulveda Blvd. The hotel is of that usual modernist design that makes it look like an office block from the outside which is kind of weird but hey, I don’t mind as it’s what is on the inside that counts right?

I rolled up and parked outside and as soon as I walked in I was greeted. The lobby looked pretty good and within moments I was checked in and explained breakfast times etc. I headed on up to my room on the 5th floor (the top floor) and I didn’t even bother asking about a runway view, considering the buildings around it would have blocked it and it would probably be dark by the time I got back, who cares.

The room was all the way at the end of the hallway away from the lifts (so at least they do pay attention to Gold Passport requests) and I wasn’t sure if I got this room thanks to the Platinum upgrade or not as it was a corner room and felt big, but then I haven’t experienced a room at a Hyatt Place before so couldn’t say. But it felt like it was a better room to me. Inside the room was nice, and modern. Spacious, yet not overly so.

The bathroom though was pretty good with a big shower and sliding door rather than curtain or moving door so it didn’t impede on anything. My biggest complaint about the bathroom though, was the soaps etc. were on the outside of the shower area more in the main room so if you forgot them when you went for a shower (as I did) you are going to have to traipse all the way back out (and drip water everywhere probably).

Plenty of towels and so many power outlets it wasn’t funny. 4 in total by the side of the bed alone! (Two on either side). A mini bar fridge, but no mini bar inside, is perfect for putting in my water and stuff. Connectivity on the TV including a USB plug and a HDMI port, though when I plugged in my usb, nothing worked (sigh). Free Wi-Fi onsite and it was password protected which was a bit unusual considering it’s offered free for everyone.

An outdoor pool area at the hotel and a 24 hour basic cardio gym were pretty common and a full on guest self-serve laundry rounded out the facilities. The lobby has the breakfast area but during the day this becomes more of a common area and there is a small café/bar area that is served by the check in staff.

The biggest win for me about this hotel was the breakfast the next morning. I grabbed breakfast just before heading off for more spotting so had dropped everything in the car and would then have breakfast, check out and hit the road all within minutes. Breakfast is free at all Hyatt Places and they call it the “a.m. Kitchen Skillet” breakfast. It is kind of a mix of an easy take away breakfast so you can package it up and take it back to your room if you want, or eat it down in the common areas. Starbucks coffee (though not the usual blend) was on offer and plenty of food. The usual continental offerings (Toast, fruit, cereal etc.) and the hot wasn’t bad.

Hot food was a choice of 4 items. French toast, Steel Cut Oatmeal or 2 different kinds of Muffin Cheese & Egg or Bacon and Egg (with cheese as well). This is not your usual 5 star hotel breakfasts but it was good, filling and simple and the oatmeal was freaking awesome! The thing for me that kicked off the experience at breakfast was Kim who was the staff member looking after it all. Nothing was too much trouble for her at all and she was always there helping to get more coffee or fruit or pastries or anything really. Plus being a communal area they had a few big screen TVs with the morning news going on as it was inauguration day in DC and I had a few comments about that game playing that day.

Check out was simple and done quickly. I was soon on the road for more spotting. Pretty simple!

Trip Report – Escaping South for Winter – Seattle to Los Angeles

Saturday 19th January 2013

My first trip for 2013 and no need to be up at OMG o Clock. Just about 30 minutes earlier than my standard wake up, but as I drove out of Bothell heading towards SeaTac it still felt like OMG o clock as it was still pitch black. Ahh the joys of winter in the northern hemisphere.

Managed good time on the freeway as I trucked it south, parked the truck and within 45 minutes of leaving the apartment I was pretty much on a shuttle almost to the door of the terminal. Todays flight meant a drop off at Island 3, up the escalators and over the Skybridge and into the Southern end of the terminal. I found the Virgin America check in (which had moved north a bit compared to where they previously were) was empty, so I walked straight on up to the premium line, but was actually helped by a general agent. Didn’t really worry me all that much, checked in, bag tagged (though no priority baggage with Virgin America) and I was off to security.

Security was a mess. I tried to skip the main checkpoint behind check in (Checkpoint 2 at the A/S Gate Connector) however my dodge was closed so it was all through the one checkpoint unfortunately. Even with jumping the queue it still meant a good 15 minutes, thankfully I had planned ahead of time for this.

I got all the way to the front of the queue and still had a good 45 minutes before my flight was due to board and I didn’t feel like going through the Nude O Scope so I did something I had never done before. I opted out. I got the dirtiest look from the TSA agent on duty and she started yelling “MALE ASSIST I NEED A MALE ASSIST”. Part of me wanted to make a few dirty jokes to her but I kept my mouth shut & waited. To which I was then escorted around and got my first TSA Grope of 2013 (and probably not my last). The TSA agent who did my “Enhanced Pat Down” was pretty nice about it and explained it all calmly and was gentle about it all. Even commented on my watch saying he liked the look of it and asked where I got it. All in all a “pleasant” security experience.

After getting myself redressed I turned around to where Starbucks was located and the line for a coffee was as long as security! So gave up on that idea straight away. Decided to just slowly make my way out to the end of the A pier. But along the way I managed to pass Coffee Bean and there was no one waiting, so I still got my coffee. Took my time getting out to the gate and waiting in front of me was my ride to LAX (albeit surrounded by fog). Lined up next to it was 2 flights to Hawaii leaving around the same time so I was super jealous, but 3 flights to the sunshine in a row, what are the odds.

Virgin America VX780
Seattle-Tacoma to Los Angeles
0900-1135
Airbus A320 (N635VA)
Main Cabin Select – Seat 10A

Boarding: 0824 (Gate A13)
Push Back: 0911
Take Off Roll: 0930 (Runway 16L)
Top of Descent: 1115
Touch Down: 1138 (Runway 24R)
Shut Down: 1145 (Gate 31A)

Boarding was called for First Class guests and people with special needs (I am special does that count?) and then it was Main Cabin Select (MCS) guests, so I was quickly up and headed through the gate down to the flight. Little bit of a back up at the door with all the first class guests ahead of me, but I didn’t mind waiting ;)

I settled into my exit row seat and and got my stuff together, I was hoping the seat next to me would go out empty. Nothing better than an exit row window with a spare seat next to you in economy. Since I was in MCS entertainment was free, food was free and I had the half decent seats as well. Since it was breakfast I tried to tie up my order now, but the system wasn’t yet active. I had to wait :(

But as the aircraft slowly filled and we got a brief by the very cute sounding pilot up front (2nd female captain on a VX flight for me!). She said something that most people would dread but I was kind of excited about. We were going to get deiced. I had never been in an aircraft that gets deiced and they did ours at the gate once we closed the door and they took away the jet bridge. It was kind of cool as they sprayed around the orange goopy looking substance all over the wings and body of the aircraft. Once that was done, we pushed back and headed north to the 16 thresholds.

We didn’t wait all that long in line and as soon as we hit the active, the pilots gave it gas and off we went. When we got up above the extremely solid cloud deck it was amazing to see sky. Beautiful blue sky!! Something I had not seen in almost a week. As we climbed out I was just plodding away taking photos out the window (once the crap had cleared off my window) and browsing what was on tv (though I wasn’t all that interested). As soon as we got to the right height, I heard the usual chimes and saw the Electronic Devices light go off, and out came my new Chromebook.

My plan for this flight was simple. Coffee, Breakfast and Internet. I had 12 passes on Gogo thanks to the Chromebook and another one up my sleeve, so figured it was time to get some work done. So I logged in and within minutes I was tweeting away! Awesome++ Eventually my coffee showed up and so did my breakfast of Granola & Yoghurt (though it was a pitiful amount of it! Even United gave a better similar breakfast option) but the water I did order never showed and when asked again, I was ignored. It took another 45 minutes and 2 more orders using the system to get that small lowly bottle of water.

I managed to do quite a bit of work and after being fed, watered and grabbing a packet of nuts for the road (thanks to all food being free) we were soon descending into LAX. I hadn’t even really noticed what was going on, the flight just kind of disappeared. Pretty soon we were descending in from the north doing a long loop around for a line up onto 24R. Past the Hollywood sign in the distance, the blue sky looked so good and the temp at around 75 sounded like heaven.

We touched down on 24R and taxied all the way back to T3 past the Pacific Ramp (where all the Qantas, Virgin Aus & Air NZ park during the day) and the SQ A380 at TBIT. We pulled into our gate and eventually I made it off the aircraft after letting everyone else past me. It wasn’t too bad at all. I went downstairs to grab my bag into what feels like the most ghetto terminal ever and once my bag finally showed up (I swear it was one of the last ones off, thanks VX) I headed out and had to run for the National Rental Car Shuttle.

Within 5 minutes I was at the National lot, up the escalators where it is always a tough decision picking out my car, and eventually I decided on what looked like an ok choice but was in fact… a piece of crap. But that’s the luck of the draw and I only have myself to blame. I knew I should of grabbed the Ford Escape :/

Sunshine & Happiness

So I just spent the weekend in LA. I needed to get out of the cold here in Seattle, to keep my sanity. I had a blast and spent pretty much the entire time soaking in the sunshine, avoiding getting burnt and having a good time!

A full trip report will be coming and there is some good stuff in there including a new hotel in LAX, a visit to the new Virgin America Lounge and also lots and lots of plane spotting pictures of course.

But in the mean time… photos in general ;)

Winter LAX Trip

A clear photo queue

Gotta love being able to clear out my photo queue just days before I fill it again. I managed to touch up all my photos from 3 days of spotting with my friend Kinny who was over from Australia visiting. We managed to get in plenty of spotting not only at SeaTac but also at Paine Field. Paine Field was interesting Monday as we spotting in the snow!

But here are some photos for your entertainment:

From Seattle Spotting 2013

I kind of got a photo of Salmon Thirty Salmon.. damn pole

From Seattle Spotting 2013
From Seattle Spotting 2013

A couple of 787s

From Seattle Spotting 2013

A Freighter on its delivery flight to Indianapolis

From Seattle Spotting 2013

A Pre New Livery Factory Fresh American Airlines 737

From Seattle Spotting 2013

A Malaysian 737 doing touch and go’s in the snow

From Seattle Spotting 2013

A Skymark Airlines 737 doing a missed approach

But my two favourite hauls from the weekend include:

From Seattle Spotting 2013

The Honeywell Testbed Aircraft

From Seattle Spotting 2013

My 2 Cents

So the 787 had made all the press lately with diversions, emergency landings and grounding of aircraft it us hard to escape it right now. Everywhere i turn it seems to be Boeing bashing left, right & center.  I think I should put out what I think on a personal level and this in no way is the opinion of any company, group, website or anything that I work for. So here goes.

First up some background for those non avgeeks amongst my readers. To put it simply the 787 is a breakthrough in aviation technology and is essentially an aircraft with cutting edge materials, systems and processes that when put together make an aircraft that can offer things others can’t. I am not going to explain it all if you really want to know what makes it awesome, ask me and I will explain in terms that will probably bore you but entertain me.

Like any new aircraft (or technology for that matter) and there will be teething Zwolle problems, little things that will show their head during the first few years. Only 50 aircraft have been delivered and it has taken till the last 6 weeks or so for some of these issues to show their head.

At the moment no one else is hurt and to me that’s the main thing. Issues happen, all new aircraft go through phases like this. They have all had issues of some kind that ha en caused as much media drama if not more. This is nothing out of the ordinary and nothing to worry about in the long run. Yes I am sure the one 787 in Japan that had the emergency landing would of been a little scary for those onboard but then it is ok to fly still. A friend of mine flew on one yesterday while all the drama was underway with the ANA & JAL groundings and he safely made it to his destination (hell they even made up a bit of time). The groundings and investigations are a good thing (sort of). The airlines and boeing and the government can get in there and work out what is causing the problem and get it fixed. The sooner this happens the better! I am sure that Boeing engineers are working at the moment to get this all worked out. The sooner they can get the issue resolved, the sooner the aircraft get back in the air. Back to what they should be doing… flying.

There is no need to call the aircraft unsafe or anything like that, it is not as if the planes fell out of the sky or anything. I think that we all need to take a deep breath, step back, think for a minute, be thankful no one was killed or injured and let the people in white coats and glasses (I am sure they don’t wear them really but you know what I mean) figure out what is going on and get it resolved, quickly, promptly and without all that much hassle…. hopefully

If that doesn’t calm you down, the least you can do is take the Boeing bashing and keep it away from me, cause frankly, your boring me :P