From Atlanta to New York, via Washington DC

I’ve not been very good at keeping this up to date.

Trouble is, I’m just totally in holiday mode. Living ‘in the moment’ and not thinking about keeping people updated with my travels. Sorry ‘bowt that, Chief!

So Dragon*Con in Atlanta was a blast. Lots of really interesting talks and panels on everything from science fiction (Mythology, Philosophy and Truth in Star Wars), science fact (DNA Sequencing and You!), space (The 100 Year Spaceship – NASA & DARPA working on manned intersteller flight) and skepticism (Everything Evolves – Including Creationism). And of course the parade was SO MUCH FUN! Just great to see so many people having a good time and being crazy!

I stuffed up my planning, though, and booked my hotel in Atlanta (and therefore my flight to Washington and check-in in DC) for the last day of the convention, so I missed a few panels and talks. Oh well!

Washington was great. It’s definitely a beautiful city. I went to the International Spy Museum which, as you might expect, is all about spycraft. With all the gadgets and things associated with espionage: cypher wheels from the American Civil War, bugs, micro-dot cameras and poison-dart umbrella-guns from the Cold War, footage from the McCarthy era, models of the Vietnamese tunnels etc right up to cyber-warfare and modern day espionage. A really interesting museum! They even had an Astin Martin DB5 like in James Bond: Goldfinger! 🙂

I also went to the National Air & Space Museum, where I saw the actual command modules from the early manned space flights and Apollo missions – tiny! Like tin cans!

The Museum of Natural History is also fantastic. Really well laid out and lots of interesting fossils and demonstrations.

I did a night-tour of the city, which included stops at all the usual landmarks – Capitol; Lincoln, Roosevelet and Martin Luther King memorials; Washington Monument etc. Only due to security restrictions we weren’t able to see the Whitehouse. Fortunately, I have watched all seven seasons of The West Wing so I’ve a pretty good idea what it looks like.

One of the newest and more interesting museums I went to was the Newseum. Originally at Arlington, Virginia since 1997 it moved to a huge building on Pennsylvania Ave in 2008. It takes a really in-depth look at journalism – from the invention of the Gutenburg press in 1455 right up to the modern internet age. And by doing so, it highlights many of the defining moments of history, particularly in the last hundred years. Lots of original newspapers and footage, and lots of commentary both on the events and the way the events were covered. There are a few special exhibits – a September 11 room with a piece of the WTC TV aerial, and covering the walls are front pages from newspapers all around the world. There’s also an exhibit about Hurricane Katrina, detailling how long it took the government to react and commemorating Pulitzer-prize winning newspapers like the Times-Picayune, a New Orleans paper that kept printing every day (sometimes two or three times a day) with updates and news. It also posed ‘ethical’ questions that confront journalists in such situations – at what stage do you stop ‘reporting’ and actually get involved with saving people etc.

Anyway, a fantastic building and excellent museum – sorry, Newseum. Well worth checking out.

I also took a long journey – train, bus and taxi – out to NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. This is where many of the unmanned NASA missions are controlled. Unfortunately, though, the Visitor Center was much smaller and more boring than I’d expected. I possibly spoiled it by doing the Air and Space Museum the day before, but Goddard turned out to be a few models of the Space Station, the Shuttle and a bunch of “press this button to see how gravity works” type displays. Sure, would probably be great for young kids, but it was nothing new, interesting or exciting for me.

And yesterday I jumped on an Amtrak train and made my way to New York. Wow. Especially going from Atlanta and then Washington, once you get to New York it’s a huge culture shock! No longer can Sydney or Melbourne be called ‘cities’ – they’re barely even large towns compared to NY! I can’t believe how huge and more importantly how BUSY it is. Particularly Times Square, of course. Once I got settled I went for a walk to Broadway which is just phenomenal. Apparently Broadway now rivals Las Vegas’ strip in terms of ‘illuminated signs’.

Of course, 9/11 is on everyone’s minds, today being September 11. There are police on every street, and it was quite confronting when I got off the train and saw armed soldiers. And yet, they aren’t threatening and I feel oddly very safe and grateful for them. Although I know there’s not a lot they can do and if someone really wanted to do something it wouldn’t be too hard, it’s still strangely reassuring. It definitely doesn’t have a ‘police state’ feel to it.

I don’t know what my chances of getting to the WTC site are today – I’ve heard it’ll be survivors and families only. But I’ll wander over and see what’s happening. I can always go tomorrow, or later in the week. Also planning on a visit to the American Museum of Natural History and the Hayden Planetarium which are supposed to be excellent. Apparently you can get good views of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island from the Staten Island ferry, and I might go for a walk on the Brooklyn Bridge. I’m very close to the New York Times building, which has a 9/11 memorial exhibit so I might look at that too. And then there’s the Empire State Building – I might do that in the evening to avoid crowds of tourists – and I’ve got tickets to a comedy show sometime this week.

So much to do, so little time!


This was originally going to be a reply to Dave’s comment on my last post, but it got so big it became worthy of a new post.

Food in Atlanta: my hotel is right across the road from Peactree Plaza, which has a huge food court. Lots of burger joints, but also Chinese, Mexican and pizza shops as well. The big thing I’ve noticed is that some burger joints don’t give you a choice of size – it’s large or nothing. Ones that do have small/medium/large etc everything is up one on the scale. So small is what we consider medium, medium is what we call large and large is enough to feed a family of 12.

DragonCon started today! The day after I got here was registration – so waiting in a queue for an hour or so to get my badge and program. Wasn’t too bad though. I spent the rest of the day walking around and exploring. Learning where the hotels are, and planning which panels and events I’m going to.
And today was Day 1 of DC. I went to a lecture on genetics and obesity which sounded really interesting but was actually boring and technical. And focused on rare genetic disorders rather than the common obesity problem. I also went to the Solar Obervation area, where a few solar telescopes were set up that you could look through and see what the sun’s doing. Was pretty cool.
I spent the rest of the morning taking photos of people in crazy awesome costumes. I’ll upload what I can soon!
Later today I’ll be checking out some astronomy talks, some robotics panels and hopefully get a few photos of the Klingon Karaoke.

Yes, Klingon Karaoke.
With actual Klingons.

This evening there will be telescopes set up to view the stars etc (although the light polution here will be pretty bad I think) and there’s an “all things Monty Python” event which I’ll try and get to.

Tomorrow: There’s three or four talks I want to see, but they’re all on at the same time as the DragonCon Parade – where all the costumed people parade down the main street. I’ve GOTTA go to that!
There’s also some skeptics and science talks on afterwards.

Having a blast!

The Adventure Begins

Greetings from Atlanta!

After a long day and a bit of travelling, I’ve finally checked into my hotel here in Atlanta.

The first delay was because of the death on the Freeway (a suicide, apparently?) which caused the catering truck to be late. So instead of leaving at 9:35am we left at about 10:05.

The flight was relatively uneventful. You get absolutely no personal space, even on the A380. You get a headrest, which is good – but meant I didn’t really need my neck pillow. And the screen on the chair in front of you is pretty good – a good selection of movies, tv shows, documentaries both recent and ‘classic’. I didn’t use it much though, as you need to use their headphones. I have active noise-cancelling headphones, which are AMAZING on a plane. Active noise cancelling is where the headphones have a microphone on the outside detecting the ambiant noise level, and it plays the ‘opposite’ of that to you, cancelling it out. Really was worth the $100 or so they cost me. So I was watching movies etc on my tablet. It helped pass the time, and it wasn’t too arduous a journey – but I was still glad when it was over!

That gladness was shortlived, however, as I had arrived at LAX. This was horrible. Three or four other planes landed at the same time as us, and we walked down a very long halway until all passengers converge in this huge customs check area. The ‘helpful’ staff are all directing people to go queue up here, or there, or somewhere else. I remarked to the Australian couple I had sat next to on the flight that you knew we were in America because we were already being shouted at.

Anyway, we’re herded into these lines and literally queue for two hours. I hadn’t been too worried at first, as I had 3 hours until my connecting flight to Atlanta. But the longer I queued the more anxious I got (which doesn’t look good at customs, and the officer gave me some funny looks when I finally did get to her).

Once out of the initial customs check I collected my luggage and headed over to… ANOTHER customs check! This was a lot faster though, and I was out in about 15 minutes. This is leaving me with around 40-45 minutes until my flight left! After a minute or so of confused wanderings, a helpful staff member showed me where to go to put my luggage on the right conveyor belt so it would go with me to Atlanta. And then I had to ask another staff member where *I* was supposed to go! “No problem,” she tells me, “out that door, turn right and walk for about five minutes to Terminal 5!” When you’ve been flying and queuing for 16 hours – and awake 19 – five minutes walk is more like ten!

I finally get to terminal five, muddle my way through the self-checkin process, and slowly progess through the security checks – shoes off, belt off, everything out of pockets, jacket off, laptop out of the bag, stand here for the nudey-scan, shoes back on, belt on, jacket on laptop back in bag.

I get to my gate ten minutes before take off, weary, hungry, thirsty but relieved. Everything is back on track.

Or so I thought.

Five and a half hour flight on a 757 – if anything, slightly more personal space than the A380 -and I arrive in Atlanta. Hurrah! The end of my journey is nigh! Although I’m still tired, hungry and thirsty – the airline food, while surprisingly quite nice, has been in small and infrequent quantities – but I’m nearly at the end!

Atlanta airport is huge. I took the train from my arrival gate to the baggage claim area. Which is where I waited.

And waited.

I waited some more.

An hour after landing, with my luggage nowhere to be found, I eventually notice two small computer terminals with signs saying “Can’t find your luggage?” I scan my boarding pass and it politely informs me that my luggage is on ANOTHER FLIGHT which will be arriving in half an hour. Nobody had thought it relevant to tell me that was happening!! So I stick around for another hour or so until it finally… FINALLY!! shows up.

Everything from then on was simple – taxi to the hotel, check in and then go check out my room. It’s a NICE room! I’m on the 49th floor, with somewhat disconcerting floor-to-ceiling windows and just a low safety rail.

I’ve ordered some room service – stone-grilled pizza – for dinner and then I’m going to crash. It’s 9:30 in the evening here. Which means I’ve been awake – I think – for forty hours.

I apologise for any typos, errors in grammar or anything that’s wrong or doesn’t make sense in this post. I’m quite certain my brain’s struggling a bit.

When I can, I’ll be posting selected pics to Picasa, here.