Friday, August 22, 2008

Home and Living

Value Place

Room 208

From another angle

View out Window

Cooking Dinner - note that spuds were done first, then corn in same pot.
Actually the handle on the lid is metal, and I have to use a towel to lift it and check on my work.

Ready to eat

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Knuckling Down

Our work has begun! Finally we are not just in Texas, but we are working too. I'm not really allowed to talk much about what we are working on, but I can say we are doing an audit.

With all the new systems I will soon be learning about there come also the manuals to use them properly. This is very important because we are operating and maintaining aircraft and if we don't follow the rules the plane could crash, and we all know crash=death. So we have lots of publications and manuals which we have to use whenever we operate or try to fix the equipment. Because the equipment and the systems are brand new, the publications are still being written.

So... here we are, making sure that what the contractors are writing is not just in line with the way the systems work, but also in line with the way we like our manuals to be written. Because some of the people working on the pubs are not engineers, but technical writers or editors this can be a very frustrating process. Fortunately for me I am coming into the end of it - after about two years the publications are over 70% complete, and all I have to do at this stage is make sure that requested changes have actually been incorporated.
Have I bored you all to death? Well the work I'm doing is even drier!!!

On the upside, they have allocated us two weeks to get the work done. We've been at it for two days and we reckon we'll be done by the end of tomorrow. That's the Maintenance Team anyway (my team). I'm not sure how the Operators are going.

After we finish auditing the publications we are going to audit the training package. This is the funny part, because after we audit the training package we will then go on the courses we have just audited! We will be checking everything about the training except for the tests. It doesn't stop there. Once we are on the course, we will then be doing more than an audit. We'll be doing full-on verification of both the pubs and the training. We'll be looking for mistakes, inconsistencies and discrepancies between the two, and from manual to manual.
Did I mention we have to pass the tests too? By the end of it each one of us will be the authority in our respective area. And that's a scary notion.

It's only been two days at work but I think I'm settling into a routine. There's little to do here and the books I ordered haven't turned up, so I enjoy cooking dinner (for once) because it actually gives me something to do. I have two hotplates, a microwave, one pot and a tiny fry pan. I don't have any microwave bowls but I have crockery. This has made cooking an interesting adventure as I have to think very carefully about what foods are going to go in which pot/pan and when. It's worked out so far, but the first night I cooked the spuds, then needed the same pot for the mince. Lucky you can eat potatoes cold eh?

Okay well I won't bore you anymore, I just wanted to brag about how fast we've been on this audit. No doubt I will have more to add at the end of the week about how wrong I was. Karma might yet be mentioned.

Till We Meet Again,

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Ju's Little Sister Has Been A Bit Naughty

Hmmm, yes - just a little bit naughty.

You see, in my last post I told you that our units weren't very well stocked when we arrived and so we all went shopping at the supermarket.
Then we went shopping somewhere else. We tried an electronics shop.
Special 'SDHC' card for storing photos from my camera and putting them onto my computer.

Special 'headset' for talking to people over the internet.Cable for connecting to the internet in our rooms.

We next day we went back to the supermarket. We went back to walmart.
Tracfone cellphone and airtime.

And for a long time (three days tops) this was enough to keep me happy.

On Friday we had our induction at the air base. We got to see the plane for the first time since she left New Zealand and all the cool new things on board. We had a look about the facility and located the cafeteria (very important) and our desks (slightly important). We met the other's who have been there for a few years now and we learnt what to expect and what would be expected of us. Suddenly twelve months of waiting for some surreal and unknown goal became quite real. This was the warm-up on the field, and Monday will be Game On, Kick-Off. First play. Just as well we already know where the cafe is.

Though the whole group were all going to go have a few drinks Friday after work I was toast. A week of headcold and no sleep was catching up with me and I went home to hit the sack. I was out for twelve hours, and dozed fairly deeply for another five or so.

Up and about today (Saturday) I realised I wouldn't be able to cope any longer (end of my three days) without music in my room. So I grabbed a couple of friends and we went to the largest electronics place I have ever been to - called Frys. We were in heaven. Really. We were. I wanted to buy the whole shop.

They had so much in the computer speaker range, and I really really really wanted the Bose Companion 5 system.
Bose Companion 5 - $360 (US)

Given this was well out of my price range, and having a perfectly decent and more expensive Hi Fi system at home this was not something I could justify. Boy did they sound Oh So Sweet though. !sigh!

My next choice was always going to be speakers by a brand called Creative. They really are a remarkable producer of impressive sound quality for a reasonable price. In fact their prices for mp3 players and other such equipment is competitive with the likes of such rip-offs as iPod and the 'getting-better' Sony, yet their performance blows both better known brands out of the water. They're nothing like the high-end Hi Fi such as Bose, B&W or the like, but in portable audio I believe they are almost unbeatable. So this was the collection I began to peruse (occasionally returning to Crampy who was standing in front of the Bose demo speakers attempting to temp me!)

The pair I picked were a little more than I intended to spend; they are Creative GigaWorks T20's and they are beautiful.
Creative GigaWorks T20 - $not-telling

While I wasn't drooling over them the way I was over the Bose set, they are a lovely set of speakers - well beyond what is really necessary for a computer - but simply wonderful all the same. Now I am going to finish my dinner then set up my laptop and new speakers in the common room so we can all have Saturday Night Movies.

Bye Then!

PS - Having run them for a day now there are no regrets, I love them!!!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

My 1st Couple of Days

To be honest folks, I haven't had a very pleasant couple of days. I do want to make it clear that this is not because I have discovered any great dislike for the people or places of Rockwall, TX. It is in fact because I have a horrid headcold. I have no idea how I would have coped with the jet lag, but my body is pretty worn out trying to cope with the loogey as well.

As I said the first night here we went to the next-door burger joint, and I see I got the spelling wrong - it's Whataburger. I ordered a #5 (bacon and cheese) and was served a #4 (chicken). I didn't complain as it seemed a combination of my kiwi accent and the poor guy's lack of understanding of the system. I guess he was new.

The next day we met at 11am to go to Walmart. There seems to have been a big deal made about this store in the past but I can't say I was particularly impressed. Perhaps our local Walmart is relatively small, but it just seemed like a large-scale 'The Warehouse.' Other Kiwis will understand what I mean I guess. We quickly scurried about buying fruit and veg, meat and salt, laundry powder and whatever else we could think of without first making a list. We gave ourselves half an hour before we had to meet up again, but (cats again) we left about 45-50 minutes later.

Our next stop was "Best Buys" and again for the Kiwi's this is like a Noel Leeming or Bond & Bond. And here might be a good place for a diverting little story.

Greg is one of our group who was actually born an Australian. We like to tease Greg and say he comes from Tasmania. It's kind of like teasing a South Islander that they come from Gore. No offence Gore ;-)
Greg's main priority as soon as he knew we were going shopping was to buy an electric jug for his instant coffee. In the appliance section of Walmart he was unable to find an electric jug. He found a perculator, but this wasn't good enough - he wanted boiling water for his instant coffee!!

After much discussion across accents and lingo, it was established by the lovely people at Walmart that what Greg wanted was a kettle! But alas, such a contraption as an electric kettle has never been heard of! He was to buy one which would go on the hot-plate of his stove, that was all he needed. Not good enough for our loveable Tasmanian, electric it must be!

Now we arrive at Best Buys and guess what? You know it! He went through the entire rigamarole again with the staff there. Again it was established that Greg must be out of his mind to want something which doesn't exist. Finally by the end of the day he caved in to the pressure and bought a stove-top kettle from Walmart when we went back for some cheap cell phones.

Right, now I've gone on about this in quite a drawn out fashion so I won't sport with you for much longer because the long and the short of it is - we went to another store today, and.... there were electric kettles for sale. But Greg's already made his purchase. Ha ha ha ha ah ha ha ha oh oh oh oh ho hoho. Bloody Tasmanians!

Right, sorry about that. I just wanted to share. Poor ol' Greg. He's a harmless soul and he just wanted his coffee.

Back to the post though. There's no point going over all our actions step by step because I imagine that's just boring so here are some impressions from my point of view.

I found I was intimidated by the idea of talking to Texans. We've been told so often that we speak too fast for them. I almost don't want to open my mouth and give it a go! I think I've done pretty well so far as I'm concious of speed and the fact that Kiwi's are very lazy speakers. (We tend to slur our words to get them out faster.)
For the most part the people here have been really friendly. I'm still undecided as to whether this is a superficial thing or genuine across the board.

We concentrate so hard when driving to keep right, and for the most part it works. I only drifted to the left after a 3-point turn on a deserted street and got distracted by conversation. However there are so many little things right/left that we don't think about.
In the supermarket car park we automatically walk down the left thinking it's out of the way but forcing oncoming traffic to drive around us. *IN* the supermarket we push our trolleys to the left to pass others instinctively - just as they go to their right which really doesn't work as we end up on the same side!!

We expect tax to be included in the price.

I might not lose my Kiwi accent as fast as I thought I would, as we are very much a group of Kiwis. I'll keep you posted on that one.

Okay I can't think of much more to tell you for the moment. I passed the theory for my drivers licence but I'm not ready to sit the practical, a few of us are doing that tomorrow. Please feel free to ask me lots of questions - I'm not too sure what to write about just now. I have some photos of the little unit I'm living in - perhaps I'll post them up next.

Love, JLS.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

JLS lands in Texas

It took us a little over 24 hours of flying and waiting in airports, but finally I am in another country!

There were about ten of us checking in at the QANTAS terminal at Auckland International Airport. We were too independent to bother with a group booking (honestly it was like trying to organise cats) and by the time we looked at our seats three of us decided to go back and have our seats changed so we were sitting next to each other. This proved to be a fatal mistake, as I was in the middle and I kept needing to get my bag down for my passport, or my books; or I needed to use the toilet or just go for a walk. Tools (who was in the isle) was not impressed.
Though I had blocked ears and a headache my sore throat had gone and I had some good books to read courtesy of my friend Blair. When my eyes were too sore to take any more in they turned out the lights and I managed to slip into a fitful doze.

Waiting at Auckland International for flight QF25 to Los Angeles

Disembarking at LAX was quicker than I thought - we were off the plane rather promptly and because we were there through work our visa's had a (low) diplomatic level. This meant we popped through border control without too much hassle. Luggage went through customs without our presence and were transferred onto our next flight for us. We'd been told there is only a 50-50 chance your bags will turn up with you so everyone was talking about what 'line' they dropped their luggage off at and wondered which group would receive their bags at the other end and which group would be without. Thinking about it now we should have laid bets on the outcome. If my friend Kolky had been there he would have organised a "two bucks in."

After a fascinating security screening experience (my attention was captured by the colour x-ray of my bag) we made through to the domestic terminals at LAX. Here we had four hours to learn that tax isn't included in the sticker price on goods, a dime is 10c, a nickel is 5c and burger king tastes the same in LA as Auckland. We also learned that Americans can be amusing if you're a foreigner but foreigners aren't so amusing if you're American.

The passengers to DFW were called to board in the groups indicated on their boarding passes. But our passes were issued in Auckland and didn't have a group on them! OH NO!! We decided we were all going to board anyway (cats again) until the man announced passes issued elsewhere were going to be in group 5. So 'till group five we waited.
Finally after an hours delay we were on the plane. And after THAT my little group of independents looked like well behaved robots in formation compared to the pear-shaped cluster that made up the other passengers on board our 737.

People decided to swap sweats left right and, well everywhere. The air hostess just called out orders from the back of the plane. There was an extra passenger who had to leave. Then the weight and balance had to be recalculated, but instead of the pilot reading it off a graph (X-many passengers = W&B of Y) the maintainers on the ground had to work it out and run it out to the plane.
So another hour after boarding we were in position to take off.

It was a pretty boring flight. About 3 hours long, but with my ears it wasn't very pleasant. After landing I was in a bit of pain and being tired and grumpy I wasn't the best of company - just ask Kiwi Mother what I'm like to deal with when I'm like that!
Fortunately we all picked up our luggage, every article came through so congratulations American Airlines!

We were met by personnel who are already in the states on this project. They took us the 40 or so minutes to our accommodation and helped us check in. Then we went for food at the nearby 'Wattaburger' which is open 24 hours. Yay.

I've got to go out for dinner with the team now - so more on my initial experiences next blog.

Love JLS.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

JLS says 'Bon Voyage'

Monday 11 August I'll be on a plane to LAX, then changing planes to arrive in Fort Worth Airport, Dallas, Texas.
I'll be in Dallas for about three months and am posted there to take some courses on Communications and Radio-Navigation Systems. These systems (and many more) are being upgraded on many of our aircraft and the courses I am on are specific to the upgrade of our Maritime Surveillance planes.

I'll try to make regular posts as to what I've been up to in our spare time - my first long weekend in the states may well be spent in New Orleans and any suggestions of what to get up to while over there are encouraged!

My weeks will be long and dry as far as the workload is concerned, so I'm not sure what I'll have the energy to get up to on the weekends, but when I have something interesting I'll be sure to share it with you all.

Once my training is over my friend Geoff and I are planning to take three weeks to travel round the 'states, San Diego, San Fran, Seattle, Penn/Niagra Falls, Washington DC, NY, and back to Dallas for our flight home. Again - if anyone has any suggestions, or Must Sees, please let me know!

In the meantime, stay cool!