Saturday, April 17, 2010

High Technology Tourist Attractions in Adelaide

Any suggestions for what the Net Traveller should see in Adelaide? I will be there Sunday 18th to Tuesday 20 April 2010. I have a meeting most of Sunday and Monday and will be giving a talk Monday 19 April on "Engaging the Defence Sector with Open Source". But I have Tuesday free.

On my last visit to Adelaide, as well as being trained in the Moodle and Mahara e-learning tools, I rode the Glenelg Tram from the beach to the city, then onto theAdelaide O-Bahn. The O-Bahn is the world's longest guided bus-way (until Cambridge England get theirs to work). The tram has been extended to the Entertainment Centre, which tourism boss, Ian Darbyshire seems very proud of, so I will take a ride on that.

Unfortunately I will be leaving just before Dr Bruce Northcote's talk on Defence Communications & Information Networking Tuesday 20th April 2010 at 6pm (RSVP). DSIC is a venture between the University of Adelaide and the University of South Australia for defence systems integration research with industry.

ps: This is the one time of the year that the people who teach the ACS Computer Professional Education Program get to see each other. The courses are run online, the tutors and mentors are scattered all around Australia (some in other countries). We have weekly online text based real time "staff meetings", but it is also good to get together in person occasionally. The operation is in transition from a small tutoring group which can be run mostly on personal contact to a virtual higher education institution which requires more formal procedures. It is interesting, if at at times a little frustrating, to be part of the transition.

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Wednesday, September 23, 2009

West Coast Wilderness Railway Tasmania

ABT steam engineThis month I achieved a long term ambition, by riding on the West Coast Wilderness Railway from Strahan to Queenstown, Tasmania. This is a narrow gauge line using the Swiss Abt system to get it up steep hills. If you are interested in historic steam railways, then you must visit Tasmania and travel this railway.

On my previous Trip to Tasmania for talks, I was jokingly asked if I would like to run the railway. I aimed to do a "live" web report from the train, but had to settle for taking some photos and posting them later.

ABT steam engine crossing roadAbt locomotive on turntableThe railway was built to carry material to and ore from the mines at Queenstown. It is now a tourist railway, restored using lavish federal and state funding. The railway has been controversial from the day it was opened, being the subject of company rivalry as well as a pawn in state and federal politics for more than one hundred years. This is touched on in the commentary on the train and covered in detail the excellent historical book available at the Strahan station: "The Abt Railway : Tasmania's West Coast Wilderness Railway" (by Lou Rae, latest edition 2008 ).
Strahan Railway StationThe Strahan station is the restored original (the other stations on the line are modern replicas). If you are a steam enthusiast, then check when you book that one of the original steam locomotives will be used (some trains are pulled by a historic diesel). If you are early you may see the locomotive come out of the shed, cross the road and be turned on the manual turntable (two staff pushing with their backs). I recorded low resolution video of the locomotive being turned and leaving the turntable (with the sound of the whistle) and approaching the station.

Name Plate Abt locomotiveCab of Abt locomotiveThe seam locomotive was built by DUBs & Co in Glasgow Locomotive Works 1898 (No 3730). This is a talk engine, as popularised by the books and TV show "Thomas The Tank Engine". Meticulously restored and carefully maintained the locomotive has gleaming brass and shining steam gauges. It is a bit uglier than a cartoon loco, due to the extra pipes needed to power the rack and pinion "ABT" equipment, needed to pull the train up steep hills.

Thomas the "Fat" Conductor on the ABT railwayThe train is fully crewed, this being a real train which has to meet the usual railway safety standards. Much like an airline flight, the conductor "Tom" (inevitably nicknamed "the fat conductor" despite his slimness) provided a safety briefing, as well as giving some history and selling travel guidebooks (the detailed railway history is a better buy for the enthusiast).

While the locomotives are genuine, the passenger carriages are locally built replicas (the original carriages being used on the "Puffing Billy Railway" Victoria). The carriages feature local Tasmanian timber and polished brass (with luggage racks from Queensland Rail). While I went to a lot of trouble to power a wireless modem from USB for the trip, I found there was a 240 Volt power point next to each seat.

River beside ABT RailwayLower Landing Station on ABT RailwayThe line first follows the curve of the harbour, then up a river valley. On one side of the line most of the time the line clings to the side of a steep river valley, covered in dense temperate vegetation, with the river visible below. There are several stops for the passengers to get out and take in the view. The stations and some track work are newly built in a sensitive way: not attempting an exact historical restoration.

Water tower made from bailey bridge at ABT Railway stationAs an example bailey bridge components have been used to build several bridges and the water towers for the stations. Clearly these are not from the 1890s, but are in the spirit of a non-nonsense line.

Train at station on ABT RailwayFor the rail enthusiast there is the delight of being able to walk across the tracks, examine the ABT "rack" close up and watch the locomotive being oiled and watered.

Fallen iron bridge on ABT RailwayRemains of the original engineering works are event at several points of the trip. The original iron bridge, washed away in a flood is visible in the river. At another point the original test track for the rack and pinion system can be seen from the 1800s.

At one station you can observe the train from an overhead bridge. In the photo you will notice that a cover (like a lid on a pot) has been placed over the funnel of the locomotive.

Locomotive turntable at station on ABT RailwayThere is also a second turntable, which can be seen close-up.

Pedestrian overpass made from bailey bridge on the ABT RailwayThe nearby pedestrian bridge is constructed from the same bailey bridge components as the rail bridge.

ABT Steam Locomotive from AboveThe water tanks which make this a "tank engine" can be best seen from the bridge. The small tanks also result in the train having to stop to take on water. While the line is short, the steep grade results in the engine having to expend considerable energy.

River foam from natural detergentsAt one station you can walk down to the river. What at first looks like snow on the water is foam from a natural detergent from the forest.

Observation car on ABT RailwayThe end carriage of the train has a delightfully ornate open observation platform. Several times the safety briefing emphasised the danger of opening the doors while the train was in motion, so it is not clear if the open platform is used.

Wooden trestle bridge on ABT RailwayNot all the bridges have been replaced with steel. One is a wooden trestle, which you can walk under.

Carrage couplings on ABT RailwayI have included some photos of the buffers and chain couplings, for those interested.

ABT Steam Locomotive on RackABT Steam locomotive The rack which is used on the steeper track is newly made, to the original design, but the rails are second hand, recovered from other Tasmanian rail lines.

Abt rack system.Close-up of the rack between the rails on the ABT railwayDriver checking the ABT LocomotiveDriver checking the oil in the ABT LocomotiveClose-up of ABT Locomotive

The rack and pinion is a complex mechanical device and must require considerable maintenance. Along with the staff needed to look after the passengers, it is not clear how the railway could be a paying proposition, even if full.

Tree fernApart from the railway and the river, there are the temperate plants to examine close up.

Bailey Bridge on ABT RailwayAs with most railway journeys it is rarely possible to observe the train itself, or where it is going, while on board. The commentary provided gave plenty of warning when there was a good view coming up and on which side. I was able to get a photo of the train crossing the bailey bridge.

King RiverAbt Steam locomotive However, the views of the river were frequent, as the train wound around the steep bank. It is difficult to imagine how the line was built with limited use of powered machinery.

Yellow tailings water mixing with black tannin water beside ABT railwayThe effects of mining can still be seen in the rivers, with the yellow water contaminated with mine tailings mixing with the black water naturally stained by the grass.

ABT Locomotive at Queenstown stationQueenstown station interiorPassengers at Queenstown stationQueenstown station

The journey ends at the reconstructed Queenstown station. There is an excellent gift store in the station as well as a coffee shop.

The rail fare includes a bus ride back to Strahan.

The trip is half a day, but seems much longer and I fell asleep on the bus ride back. There are shorter trips during the peak tourist season. For those wanting a more adventurous experience there is "Piners and Miners" tour in a stretched Land Rover converted to run on and off the rail line.

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Saturday, August 29, 2009

Booking Rental Cars in Tasmania via the Web

After my difficulties with booking accommodation online a short trip around Tasmania, car hire was very easy. Europcar offer a discount for YHA members, so I just had to click on the bottom of my room booking to go to the car rental site. This already recorded that I was a referred and gave me a discount. I still had to enter my name and address details, but this was reasonably easy. Selecting a car is complex and the small, enviornmentally friendly car I wanted was not avilable, so I had to settle for a larger less fuel efficient one.

What is still a problem with Tasmanian bookings is the YHA accommodation. While YHA offer a central online booking service, the smaller hostels do not appear to be covered. I emailed Strahan Backpackers YHA and Cradle Mountain Backpackers YHA getting very prompt, useful and friendly replies.

I wrote to YHA's travel service to ask if it was possible to book the smaller hostels online and was told: "I would suggest that if the web does not work, I would try to call them ...". YHA seem to have a problem with their web site and a more serious problem with their customer relations. This will be harming Australian tourism.

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Friday, August 21, 2009

West Coast Wilderness Railway

Abt locomotive on West Coast Wilderness RailwayOne step closer to a long term ambition, I have just booked a ride on the West Coast Wilderness Railway.This is a narrow gauge line using the Swiss Abt system to get it up steep hills. On my previous Trip to Tasmania for talks, I was jokingly asked if I would like to run the railway. This time I hope to do a "live" web report from the train.

After my difficulties with booking airline flights via airline web sites for Jetstar and Virgin Blue , there turned out to be an easy process for the admittedly less hectic steam railway. Pure Tasmania provides a service to let you book the railway, cruses and other tourist attractions. One thing to look out for is that the train only goes one way per day: hat is it travels the lenght of the line one day and returns the next day. The standard fare includes a return journey by coach.

At the same time I booked on the Gordon River Cruise, selecting the cheapest "atrium" seating. I assume this is an inside seat, not on the upper deck or near the windows. Often this can be a better place to sit. After sitting in the open or against a window you can start to feel a little too exposed on a long cruse. The cheap seats can also be more fun. On a trip up the Bosporus from Istanbul the locals got out their own food, musical instruments and started a party with belly dancing. I expect that Tasmania will be a little more restrained, but who knows? ;-)

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Thursday, August 20, 2009

Booking accommodation in Tasmania via the Web

After my difficulties with booking airline flights via airline web sites for Jetstar and Virgin Blue in the end I gave up using the airlines web sites and use and using the WebJet airline booking website. Now I have started booking accommodation online for the same short trip around Tasmania.

After a pleasant stay at the Newcastle Beach Youth Hostel I thought I would try Tasmanian hostels in the system. YHA have a very good online booking system. This worked well for the central Hobart based Montgomery's. One catch with the system is that YHA members get a discount when they book a room, even if it is a shared room with non-members. But you have to separately account for the members and non-members on the booking web page.

One point of confusion is the smaller hostels, such as Strahan Backpackers YHA. There does not seem to be any way to book this via the web site. The hostel has a "Rapid Room Number" (0245) which is supposed to be used to identify the hostels to the system. But this number doesn't seem to be listed in the system.

There are no YHAs in Launceston. The Arthouse
in Launceston taks a minimalist approach to booking, having an e-mail address to send a query. What they do have on their web site which is useful are google maps to places, such as the city Transit Centre. These links are more useful than the maps usually found on hotel web sites. You are able to customise the map, for example, to see how long it will take to walk, rather than drive.

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Sunday, August 16, 2009

Functional Online Travel Booking System

Having given up trying to book airline flights with the Qantas, Jetstar and VirginBlue web sites, I was wondering what to do next. On my blog posting Google AdWords had placed a banner ad for WebJet. So I went to their web site (I didn't click on the ad, as that would violate the rules about clicking on your own ads). I found the WebJet web site allowed me to book multiple flights at once (which Virgin did not). It also allowed me to book one flight with Virgin Blue and another with JetStar (which neither airline's system would allow). I was able to register with the WebJet system after having selected the flights.

The system was still not completely trouble free. On Firefox for Linux the Web 2.0 interface tended to jump around. A screen refresh would result in blocks of content moving around the screen for a few seconds as content arrived. Also the left third of the screen was a plain block of colour most of the time.

Perhaps the company should introduce an accessible mobile version of their web site. That is one designed for a smart phone and for people with a disability. That would reduce the amount of stuff the web designer could clutter the screen with.

Just as I was about to confirm my booking I noticed an option for saving my travel search, I clicked this and found that rather than saving everything it erased the details and I had to start again. However, that was a minor glitch.

About the only other problem I found was that WebJet did not allow me to enter more than one frequent flier number when registering (but I was allowed to enter it later).

Overall the online travel website option was a much more pleasant experience than airline web sites. Perhaps this is deliberate, with airlines wanting to concentrate on providing flights and leaving the booking process to specialists.

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Non-functional Virgin Blue Online system

Having given up trying to book online with Jetstar, I decided to try VirginBlue to book some flights. As I am a member of the Virgin Velocity Rewards program, I tough this would be simple enough to do. First I had to recover my forgotten password, which was easy enough when I discovered Virgin had a completely separate web site for the rewards program. But then I found that while the password works fine on the rewards program web site, it doesn't work on the Virgin Blue web site.

You might ask why don't I book first and worry about rewards later, but there also appears to be no way to book multi-stop flights on the Virgin system (that is not just a simple return flight). So I would have to enter all my details twice (which I don't need to do if I use my rewards number).

An airline booking system is one of those classic computer applications which I assumed had been sorted out by now. Perhaps I should get the ICT students at the ANU onto fixing it.

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Saturday, August 15, 2009

Non-functional Jetstar Online system

In attempting to book a flight via the web with Jetstar, it appears there is no way for me to actually register in their system. As an existing Qantas frequent flyer customer, I am asked to enter my Qantas user id and password. For Qantas my user id is my frequent flyer number. But Jetstar's system then rejects that user id as it is not a valid email address. I attempted to contact Jetstar about this, but they do not appear to have any way to do so in writing, apart from sending them a paper letter through the mail. Jetstar do not appear to accept email or messages viw their web site. Perhaps it would be simpler to travel VirginBlue.

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Sunday, July 12, 2009

Sophistry and the New Acropolis Museum

Last year I visited the New Acropolis Museum in Athens and had some criticism of the design preferring the well proportioned Delphi Museum. However, this was mild compared to the attack mounted by Alexandra Stara in "The New Acropolis Museum: banal, sloppy, badly detailed sophistry" (The Architectural Review, June 2009).

There is something in Stara's comment the banality of the museums spaces. When I visited, the museum had not yet been op opened and so perhaps I forgave the large empty spaces. Staracriticises the building's use of low cost materials, whereas I liked the stripped classicism, including suggestions of Greek columns in modern material. The building is basically a rectangular box with a smaller glass box on top, rotated about 15 degrees to match The Parthenon.

The time it took to build the building was due to finding archaeological ruins underneath (but how could you dig a hold in Athens and not find ruins?) and planning issues with surrounding building, these are not the fault of the architect. Also the critic seems to confuse the architect's rhetoric about the building with the building itself. Many architects are inclined to use flowery language to describe all sort of theoretical concepts not evident in their buildings. Provided the building functions, doesn't fall down and the roof doesn't leak, the designers can be forgiven these literary indulgences.

Stara invokes the name of Plato, accusing the architect of sophistry. However, the word has two meanings, one an illogical argument for deception, the other, older meaning, is wisdom.

ps: See also Curating Architecture and the City by Sarah Chaplin and Alexandra Stara.

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Thursday, May 14, 2009

Melbourne to Ballarat by Train

Rail map of Central Victoria and Port Phillip BayAs I was going to Ballarat to talk at a Green ICT Conference, I thought I should take a green way to get there. So I took the V/Line train at 4:05pm from Melbourne, Southern Cross. At one hour and fourteen minutes, this is a very practical and comfortable way to travel. Southern Cross is a modern well equipped and dramatic departure point. The express buses from Melbourne airport pull in under the station, making for a convenient interchange without leaving the building.

On the way I made a side trip to swap notes on sustainable IT education with Frank Mentiplay at Box Hill Institute. This is an interesting institution, being a TAFE which offers vocational education at a level far beyond the usual trade certificate. Frank is working on a sustainable ICT education program. It was good to see that this was along the same lines as the course I designed for the ACS and the course for the ANU (COMP7310: Green ICT Strategies).

I was able to get a train from Southern Cross to Box Hill and back. The only complication was that the Box Hill station is located under a shopping centre not shown on the Google map. I expected to step off the train onto a street, but all the streets have been built over by the shopping arcades and it took me some time to find the way out. Once out on the correct side it was not far to the Box Hill campus.

The Melbourne to Ballarat trip is not that scenic. There are railway works and abandoned buildings along the city section. There are some curiosities, such as a giant gold statute of a Chinese Mandarin in the middle of an artificial lake.

Out of the city there are expanses flat featureless fields, until Ballarat. But there is plenty to see at Ballarat, starting with the Ballarat railway station. The new Wendouree station in the west Ballarat is opening shortly and there were upgrades to the line to Melbourne announced in the federal budget this week.

There is an excellent rail map of the route: Melbourne to Swan Hill, Ballarat and Ararat.

ps: Previously I have been Sydney to Melbourne by XPT, Brisbane to Sydney by XPT, as well as other train trips.

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Monday, May 04, 2009

Online Travel Planning

Since a trip to Europe in 1994 I have been planning my trips using the Internet. This has involved a lot of email messages and manual preparation of schedules as web pages. But recently I noticed "TripIt" pop up as a plug in on LinkedIn. One of my colleagues happened to be coming to Canberra and LinkedIn got their schedule out of TripIt and told me about it (on the assumption that as I am in Canberra, this would be of interest). This has a slightly worrying aspect to it, but I am trying it out for my trip to Melbourne. I had laboriously prepared my own custom schedule web pages, but thought I would try TripIt's automatic one.

The service claims you just need to forward your itinerary by email and their system sorts it out. My first attempt using the booking form for the hotel did not work: TripIt could not understand the format. But the second attempt using the form from the travel agent worked. It was able to work out my flights and advise who was nearby in Melbourne.

Apart from the privacy issues with this, performance seems to be a problem. LinkedIn is now reporting "momentary" problems and the TripIT plug-in is not responding (direct access via the TripIt web site seems to be okay).

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Monday, April 27, 2009

Chastwood to Epping Rail Line in Sydney

Macquarie University StationGreetings from the Chastwood to Epping Rail Line in Sydney. This line opened a few months ago, eighty years after planning began. The Chatswood station seems surprisingly unprepared for this, with just a paper sign stuck up to show which platform to use for the service. The Sydney 131500 Transport Information Service has the service listed. The train stops at Macquaire university, which is much easier a trip than last time when I went to talk about energy saving nearby by bus. I was able to post this from the underground train using Optus/Virgin's 3G wireless data service switching between HSDPA and UTMS. The train ride was a very smooth and quiet ride with new carriages.

ps: Of interest at Macquarie University is the co-generation plant next to the library, the Macquarie University E-Learning Centre Of Excellence (MELCOE) and the falafels.

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Sunday, April 26, 2009

Cambridgeshire Guided Busway

The Cambridgeshire Guided Busway (UK), when completed in late 2009, will be the longest guided bus system in the world. It will use similar technology to the Adelaide O-Bahn Busway, which is currently the world's longest. The guided busways combines the features of a bus and tram. A concrete track is being laid, mostly along the right of way of the disused Cambridge and Huntingdon railway. Small wheels on new buses will allow them to be guided on the track, but also run on ordinary roads between sections of track. This has advantages over a tram, which can only run on track, not ordinary roads. The use of the guideway allows for two tracks (one in each direction) to be laid in a smaller space than a roaidway. However, the system has disadvantages: busses have internal combustion engines (not electrically powered as with most trams) and so create local pollution and then have a lower carrying capacity than multi unit trams.

I have attempted to map the route of the bussway. Note that the route is only approximate and the timings are incorrect (these are based on Google maps estimate of walking speed). Also I attempted to use Googles "my maps" feature, but could not work out how to import the directions.:

View Larger Map

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Saturday, April 25, 2009

What to see in Cambridge

The University of Cambridge (England) has invited graduates of the Australian National Unviersity to visit Cambridge in July to help celebrate the 800th Anniversary of the university. There is a week's program of talks and events organised at Madingley Hall, home of the Institute of Continuing Education, which has a garden by 'Capability' Brown), but I thought I would suggest a few of my own, based on a couple of visits to the Unviersity and its environs.

The first tip is to take with you, borrow or hire a bicycle (the basement of Kings College has some bicycles which look like they were forgotten a hundred years ago). I took my own folding bicycle on one visit and found it a very practical way to get around the city centre. There are bicycle paths by the river and some of the one way streets have a bicycle lane in the reverse direction.

There is an excellent double-decker tour which covers the inner city and also gets out to the countryside around Cambridge. The locals frown on this sort of tourism, so best to quietly go off and do it by yourself. One place the tour stops is the Cambridge American Cemetery and Memorial at Madingley.

A walk along the banks of the River Cam at dusk is a must. Time it right and you can see the choir crossing the bridge to King's College Chapel for evensong at dusk (also worth attending). A punt on the river is entertaining, but the river gets crowded with tourists, so if possible get an invitation to use a college punt from their own private lawns instead of the tourist punts.

The Cambridge University Press Bookshop is worth an half hour browse. There are numerous research organisations and companies clustered around the university facilitates. Do some research before you go and get an invitation to visit. Microsoft's research institute was interesting, but you need and invitation.

Lunch or dinner at "high table" is entertaining (skip breakfast it is not very good in the average college). The high table is where the college elite and guests sit, a few cm above everyone else. Just be careful to sit where you are told and be ready to explain what you do and be able to drop some names. Trinity College puts on a good lunch and King's College was good for dinner.

The Cambridgeshire Guided Busway has not yet opened (so Adelaide's O-Bahn Busway is still the world's longest) but you can take a ride on the test buses.

By the way if you aren't an ANU alumni, but have some academic connections, you may be able to talk your way into the colleges. Just look for someone you know, who knows someone at Cambridge. I found that with a Linked in search there were 111 people I was connected with, who were Cambridge graduates, 12 of whom live within 40 km of the university and 3 who work or research at it. Also keep in mind that the university is just a loose consortium of colleges, who are always looking for guest speakers from faraway places. Even if one will not let you in the door, another may well. Once I had one introduction, I found that opened other doors.

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Sunday, March 29, 2009

Two poles for lightweight tent

In its review of one person tents, Backpacker Magazine (April 2009) commented that the catch with the Contrail Tarptent (and similar tarp tents) was that the trecking pole used as a support blocks the middle of the entrance. But the entrance is 42" wide at the base and 45" high, so by my reconing the side wall of the entrance is about 50" (1270mm). Treking poles extend to about 55"(1400mm), so if you had two, you could put one on each side of the entrance in a ^ shape, leaving the center clear.

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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Sydney to Melbourne by Train

Rail map of Eastern Victoria and Southern New South Wales.
As I was going to Melbourne to talk at a Green ICT Conference, I thought I should take the low carbon approach. So I booked on the Countrylink XPT train, travelling on the daylight service 24 November 2008. At just under twelve hours this is not viable for business travel, but it is a worthwhile holiday trip for those not in a hurry.

The first few hours of the trip are interesting, through the suburbs of Sydney and the countryside. After Goulburn it gets a bit dull, looking like the same countryside is repeated for the next six hours or so. The last couple of hours coming into Melbourne become interesting again. This trip is worth doing once for those who want to see some of Australia.

There is an excellent rail map of the route: Central (Sydney), Strathfield, Campbelltown, Moss Vale, Goulburn, Gunning, Yass Junction, Harden, Cootamundra, Junee, Wagga Wagga, The Rock, Henty, Culcairn, Albury, Wangaratta, Benalla, Southern Cross Station (Melbourne). The route follows the Main South line Sydney to Albury, then the North East line to Southern Cross Station, Melbourne.

The XPT trains have been refurbished and are very clean, tidy and comfortable. The refurbishment doesn't appear to have changed the interior decor and the train has a retro sixties look about it. The train has a muted blue/grey colour scheme which should wear well (but some of the shades of blue used do not seem to match).

The suspension on the XPT is excellent and it appears to float over the bumps in the suburban track. Between the outskirts of Sydney and Goulburn much of the track has had the wooden sleepers replaced with concrete ones and the ride is so smooth as to be surreal, as a result. The train feels as if it could go 50 km/h faster.

The economy class seats on the XPT are of a generous size, but I thought the padding a little hard. The new cloth seat covers do not appear to have been well fitted and there is already some fraying of the material around the edges and this is likely to need to be redone within a couple of years. One of the seat-back trays flipped down and an angle so contents tended to slide into my lap. The reading lights worked and the gold reflective coating on the windows was very good at keeping the harsh sun out.

The toilets are clean and well designed. The new stick on labels are starting to peel and need to be replaced with more robust ones. The labels on the luggage racks also seemed to be wearing off.

The service on the train is good, with clear announcements and helpful staff. Service at the buffet car is good. There was a special with "real" coffee in coffee bags (like tea bags). This was not up to the standard of the filter drip on the French TGV, but acceptable and much better than instant coffee. The staff went to a lot of trouble to have passengers reuse the cardboard trays the food was supplied on. The result was one tray would last a passenger the whole trip instead of one for each meal, saving a lot of cardboard and garbage disposal.

One of the delights of the trip is leaving from the interstate hall of Sydney Central Station. Melbourne Southern Cross also has a dramatic sense of arrival. There are brief stops at well maintained little old stations in between. The train was only about one quarter full at the start, but a surprising number of people got on and off at the intermediate stations. The train provides a useful transport service for rural NSW.

There was track work being carried out all along the route to replace the sleepers. This slowed the train down, but should greatly improve the ride, and perhaps speed up the trip, when finished. In the November issue of Railway Digest, Phillip Laird proposed removing some of the tight curves in the track between Sydney and Goulburn. He claimed this would save 1340 litres of fuel for the average freight train and reduce the trip time by 105 minutes. All of the upgrades would cost $1,827M, would appear to be a good public investment. This would also improve the XPT trip. While the Sydney - Melbourne trip would still be too long for business purposes, this and some minor improvements on the Goulburn - Canberra track would make the Sydney - Canberra trip under three hours and competitive with airlines.

Previously I have been Brisbane to Sydney by XPT, as well as other train trips.

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Monday, October 06, 2008

Knossos Palace

Deciding it was time to sort through the papers on my desk from a trip Malaysia, Turkey and Greece in May/June, I thought I would mention highlights. The first is Palace of Knossos (Κνωσός) in Crete. There is not arduous journey involved, as it is a suburban bus trip from the centre of Heraklion, the capital of Crete. As with many Greek arecological site, first impressions are not good, with the bus stopping at a collection of roadside (actually on the road) souvenir stands. This is a very busy tourist attraction so it is best to arrive at opening time.

Just inside the gate there is a tasteful new museum shop and restaurant (which didn't seem to be open). The site is controversial with reconstruction by Sir Arthur Evans, not in keeping with modern archaeological practice. But it gives a good idea what the buildings may have looked like. Near the entrance there are a series of circular holes cut into the rock several metres across, which look to me like a three stage water treatment system. I couldn't find any explanation of the structures, but Crete is a very dry place and so water management was a big thing at the palace. Several sections have been rebuilt in concrete and painted. Much of the contents found are at the Heraklion Archaeological Museum in the city. If you are short of time, visit the museum and skip the palace.

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New Acropolis Museum

This week ABC TV is featuring the New Acropolis Museum (Greece - Losing their Marbles , Foreign Correspondent, Reporter: Helen Vatsikopoulos, 07/10/2008). Earlier in the year I visited the museum , when only the foyer was open and the exhibits were stacked in crates. The building reminded me of Parliament House Canberra. There is a risk the scale of the building will overwhelm the exhibits.

The building is conveniently located near a metro station at the base of the Acropolis. It is built on concrete columns over an archaeological site, discovered during construction. Glass panels in the floor outside and in the foyer of the building allow the site to be viewed beneath your feet. This can be a little disconcerting. More seriously, the steel mesh in the floor at the front door is open to the site below, so that dirt and debris will fall down and contaminate the site.

The building foyer has good circulation space, but the lack of facilities such as toilets may be a problem. The grandeur of the entrance is spoilt somewhat by a row of ticket turnstiles, making it look like a metro station. In fact some of Athens metro stations look more like museums than the museum does, with materials discovered during metro construction on display.

While large, the building is not overly lavish. There is good use of modern materials in a stripped classicism style, including suggestions of Greek columns in modern material. The building is basically a rectangular box with a smaller glass box on top, rotated about 15 degrees.

When filled with antiquities, the space should work well. But I would have preferred something less grand, such as the more modest, but well proportioned Delphi Museum. Rather than one big building, the resources could have been spent in improving archaeological exhibits accross Greece and in particular on the Acropolis itself. What is needed is better interpretation of the material, particularly using computer based displays.

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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

What to see from a Sydney to Melbourne Train Window

Rail map of Eastern Victoria and Southern New South Wales.As I am going to Melbourne to talk at a Green ICT Conference I thought I should take the low carbon approach and booked on the Countrylink XPT train. Any suggestions as to what to see out the window would be welcome. Previously I have been Brisbane to Sydney by XPT, as well as other train trips.

There is an excellent rail map of the route: Central (Sydney), Strathfield, Campbelltown, Moss Vale, Goulburn, Gunning, Yass Junction, Harden, Cootamundra, Junee, Wagga Wagga, The Rock, Henty, Culcairn, Albury, Wangaratta, Benalla, Southern Cross Station (Melbourne). The route follows the Main South line Sydney to Albury, then the North East line to Southern Cross Station, Melbourne.

Sydney to Melbourne direct

Sydney to
Melbourne XPT

Sydney to
Melbourne XPT

(Sydney) dep

Moss Vale
Yass Junction
Wagga Wagga
02:49Connections to
, Griffith
The Rocka14:18a03:11
to Echuca
Southern Cross
(Melbourne) arr


From: Sydney to Melbourne direct Daily, CountryLink, 2008

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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Flying e-learning in Qantas's A380 Airliners

According to the Australian Newspaper (" Business school in all A380 classes" by Fran Foo, September 16, 2008), Qantas A380 Airbus airliners will be equipped will e-learning from the Melbourne Business School, Harvard and Stanford Universities for the seat back screens. It is not clear if the Quantas system will be as spohistaced as Singapore airlines A380 system which has's office software, a USB port and a mini-QWERTY keyboard for each seat. But is likely to be better than the disappointing Malayisioan airlines e-learning system.

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Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Camping in the Middle of Sydney Harbour

Ferry RADARThe worlds greatest tourist bargain is available until early September in Sydney. The Biennale of Sydney is an art festival held at venues around the city. One venue is Cockatoo Island, in Sydney harbour.

The vintage ferry "RADAR" (which looks like something out of "Thomas The Tank Engine") takes you on a free harbour cruse past the Sydney Opera House, to the island for the free art display. The art is in the historic former convict settlement and Australian Navy shipyards. There are also camping facilities on the island, with views of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. The art on display is not that good, overwhelmed by the craft art of the buildings and their machinery. However, the site is worth a visit if only to see the harbour from a new vantage point.
Cockatoo Island
For the first time, this year the Biennale takes over Cockatoo Island – the largest island in Sydney Harbour and Australia’s most unusual urban park. A former prison and shipyard, Cockatoo retains many remnants of its past. Its prison buildings have been nominated for World Heritage listing, along with other convict sites around Australia. For this year’s Biennale, 35 artists are utilising buildings and sites across the island. Spend a few hours exploring the exhibition at this wonderful location. A free ferry service leaves hourly every day between 9.45 am and 4.45 pm from the Commissioners Steps outside the Museum of Contemporary Art and from Pier 2/3, Walsh Bay. This shuttle service will also return from the island. Last departure 5.15 pm. ...

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Thursday, July 31, 2008

A380 Airliner One Tonne Lighter with E-documents

According to Flight magazine ("Weight Loss Plan Shapes up", Flight, 29 July 208) the publications provided to passengers on an A380 airliner weigh 2 Kilograms per seat. Emirates Airline are therefore planning to replace the usual magazines with an "online channel" on the seat back entertainment screen. This will save 1,000 kg (1 Tonne) per aircraft.

The entertainment systems on the A380 are new and so are sophisticated enough for such information displays. The problem will then be if compatibility has to be maintained with the systems on older aircraft.

Some A380 aircraft have a Linux computer with Open Office for each seat.

Qantas has also been reported as reducing in-flight magazines to save fuel.

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Thursday, July 17, 2008

Malaysia, Turkey and Greece - Technology and Travel

From mid May to June 2008 I traveled to Malaysia, Turkey and Greece. Highlights were a nighttime train from Greece to Turkey, ferries to the Greek Islands, opera at the Athens Acropolis, attending a Greek wedding and visiting the new Istanbul Museum of The History of Science and Technology in Islam. This was mostly for a holiday, but along the way I attended a corporate governance conference in Malaysia, presented at the World Congress on Information Technology, looked at ICT Education in Malaysia and gave a seminar on how to set up the Tsunami warning system for the Eastern Mediterranean.

Other travelogues:


Asia and Pacific

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Monday, July 14, 2008

World Youth Day comes to Sydney

World Youth Day 2008 (La Giornata Mondiale della Gioventù) is on across Sydney. I assumed it would only be in the center of the city, but stepping out the front door in the inner western suburbs I came across pilgrims visiting a local church and billeted at the local school. While the organizers claim this is a bigger event than the 2000 Sydney Olympics, there did not appear to be he crowds of people I saw downtown during the Olympics. There were groups with national flags out and about, the French were most noticeable, waving Tricolour and singing La Marseillaise (it is Bastille Day).
World Youth Day (WYD) is the largest youth event in the world and will be held in Sydney from Tuesday 15 to Sunday 20 July 2008.

WYD is a week-long series of events attended by the Pope and hundreds of thousands of young people from all over the globe. It has become the largest single mobilisation of young people in the world.

The week culminates in a Final Mass celebrated by the Pope on the last day (the actual World Youth Day). Typically, it is the largest event of the week and, overseas, has drawn millions of people.

From: About WYD08, 2008

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Sunday, July 06, 2008

High-tech access for heritage sites

While in Greece I noticed that some cultural sites and museums were not opened at the advertised times. According to a recent media report, this is an embarrassment to the Greek government ("Run-down heritage sites embarrass the Greeks", Helena Smith, The Guardian, June 23, 2008). The solution given in the article was longer opening hours and more staff, but I am not sure that is the correct approach.

The sites tend to open early in the morning and close in the afternoon (8am to 3pm). The media article claimed this was due to public servant working hours. But in the hotter months, it makes sense to be outdoors during the cooler early parts of the day. If the outdoor sites were open in the hottest parts of the afternoon, many tourists, particularly those getting off air conditioned cruise ships, would suffer in the heat.

One tip I do have for tourists to Delphi, and similar places in the hotter months, is to tour the outdoor sites as soon as they open in the morning. You usually have an hour of the monuments to yourself between 8 and 9 am, before the tour buses arrive. Then when it starts to get hot, go indoors to the air conditioned museums.

Don't be put off by the gates being closed. At a few sites the staff did not get around to opening until they saw they had some customers. In one case the gates were firmly locked and no staff were about. But after a five minute visit to the adjacent souvenir store, the site was then open (with some of the people who were sitting in the store now on site).

At the excellent Folklife and Ethnological Museum of Macedonia at Thrace, there was a sign on the side gate pointing to the front door, and a sign on the front door which said it was closed. Going back to the side door, there appeared to be people in there and having gone in I found the museum open with several staff waiting to assist. One staff member then went around turning on video introductions and interactive displays. On exiting I noticed the sign on the side gate had been changed to say to enter there.

More use could be made of computers and technology at major Greek cultural sites. In particular the Athens Acropolis needs something to stop it crumbling under the feet of thousands of tourists and to give them better access. Even the path marked for disabled users is made of slippery and uneven marble, polished smooth by many feet.

People Movers for the Acropolis

One solution for the Acropolis would be to install small automatic people movers. These would be a high tech version of the tourist trains commonly used to ferry tourists around the streets. In place of the noisy diesel engine they would have electric power. The units could run on a safe low voltage electric track, or be battery powered on rubber tires, or a combination of both.

This would require minimal alteration to the site and cause far less damage than have tourists wandering everywhere. Staff costs would be reduced and the individual cars could be equipped with commentary in different languages. Using computer control each car could be individually controlled, so that tourists would not have to wait for a whole train to be full.

Web Displays for Greek Museums

Another useful feature would be to provide more computer based displays for the museums. This would allow for more languages to be provided. The Folklife and Ethnological Museum of Macedonia had an excellent display of the history of the pot in greece, but all of the captions were only in Greek. The information could also be placed on the web for information. The Hellenic Ministry of Culture has attempted to provide details of museums on their web site. But this is a very large task. Being able to use the same information in the museum and on the web would make the task much easier. The Wikipedia has also attempted to catalog Greek museums, and it might make sense to combine the two efforts.

Online information for museums could be downloaded into the visitor's mobile phone. Existing web based services could translate the captions into any of dozens of languages and the result could even be turned into an audio commentary automatically. These are all features which major museums already have, but are prohibitively expensive to develop for every display in minor museums. However, free web based services can now be used to provide it if the museum information is on the web.

Cafes at Museums

One surprising lack in most Greek museums and monumental sites site is a cafe. Apart from the
National Archaeological Museum of Athens
which has a cafe with a courtyard which is a work of art in itself and the Delphi Archaeological Museum with an outdoor cafe, most Greek museums do not have cafes. The traditional approach seems to be to have the cafes outside the gate. However, better integration might help keep the sites open longer and cover the costs.

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Nyonya Food

Precious Old China restaurant & bar is located upstairs in the Kuala Lumpur’s Central Market (to the left, just inside the front door). The restaurant is located inside a Chinese antiques store and the effect is like dining in a museum. On the night I was there, there were only about a dozen patrons. The food featured is "Nyonya", which is Chinese with Malaysian spices. One aspect of the restaurant which spoils the old world feel is the wireless device on each table, with buttons for ordering more food, water or the bill. But I guess when the place is crowded this saves time.

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Thursday, July 03, 2008

Windowless hotel rooms?

After suffering poor quality hotels in Turkey and Greece and the relative comfort of the overnight train between the two, it makes me wonder why there are not budget hotels, even more basic than the Hotel Formule 1. Comfortable rooms could be provided at a low cost by replacing the windows with flat screen TVs.

In Melbourne, Accor have their excellent Hotel Formule 1 Melbourne CBD. This is in the center of the city at the end of the mall. On a business trip the usual hotels were full and I was put up in the F1 and found it very comfortable. From the street just a small door is visible (locked after hours and opened with the room card). The reception is upstairs and is tiny. The rooms are similarly small, but are clean. The rooms dispense with items the traveler will not need, such as a fridge and telephone.

The rooms are very quiet with double glazed windows which look thick enough to be bullet proof. Unlike fancy hotels where there always seems to be a staff member coming in to check the bar fridge, or put a mint on your pillow, here they you leave you alone. If you pay for the room when you arrive, you need not see, or talk to a staff member again. There is a DIY breakfast room, also equipped with a vending machine with toothpaste and the like.

It is surprising that more hotel chains or individual proprietors have not adopted this style of hotel. It could also be given an environmental angle for marketing. Most of the carpets could be dispensed with in the name of reducing material and cleaning chemical use (also to save the cost of cleaning the carpet). In countries where smoking is still permitted in hotels, it could be banned for the good of the customers (and to save cleaning costs). Similarly bar fridges could be dispensed with.

One additional way to make the hotels more environmental (and save costs) would be to eliminate windows from some, or all, the rooms. In many budget hotels the windows have poor views of dirty light wells, back alleys or into the rooms of the hotel opposite. Where the windows can be opened, they let in dust, smoke and traffic noise. It would make more sense to provide good quality mechanical ventilation and a large wide screen TV, in place of the window. This would allow rooms to be built up against the blank wall of the next building, or for the whole hotel to be built inside another building. This would greatly lower the cost of the hotel land and allow hotels to take up otherwise unusable locations. As a gimmick, when the hotel door was opened, the TV could be switched on to a CCTV picture from the roof, providing a virtual window on the view.

As well as making room placement more flexible, eliminating the window would make en suite rooms easier to design and make for a more efficient room layout. The most common hotel room design has the bathroom next to the door of the room. This is done so the opposite end of the room can have a window with a view. But the result is that a considerable part of the floor space is wasted with a corridor next to the bathroom to provide room access.

Without a window, the door and bathroom could be placed anywhere in the hotel room. A typical layout might be to have the door on one side at the foot of the bed and the bathroom in the end wall. This would eliminate the internal corridor and save several square meters of floor space. The one piece of floor space would be used for access to the room, access to the bathroom and circulation.

Assuming the room has a European Queen size bed (1.6 × 2 m), with 750mm clear space from bed to wall on each side and 900 mm (the width of a door) at the foot of the bed, making a room 3.1 x 2.9 m. The bathroom would be 1100 mm deep along the end of the room, making for a total of 3.1 x 4 m. A single room (900 × 2000 mm bed), with 900 mm access on only one side of the bed and the bathroom opposite, could be 2.9 x 2 m.

The hotel could also provide some very small budget rooms, like a compartment in a sleeper train. These would have only enough room to stand up next to the bed, plus luggage racks. To save more space the underside of the bed and the ceiling over it could be lowered to provide the space for the plumbing and air conditioning of adjacent rooms. Careful design could provide a better experience here than the average larger, but clumsy hotel room. It need not go to the extreme of the Japanese capsule hotel (カプセルホテル), but could have rooms similar to the Hotel, Yotel the Pod Hotel, or citizenM. But rather than have a whole hotel of these, they could be placed to use otherwise unusable corners of the conventional hotel.

In addition temporary hotels could be quickly erected on spare building sites using Flat Packed Housing and modular building technology. When the land was needed for other purposes, the buildings would be shipped back to the factory for refurbishment and then re-erected elsewhere.

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Friday, June 27, 2008

Palaios Panteleimonas Pierias Greece

Palaios Panteleimon (Παλαιός Παντελεήμονας) ,"Old" Panteleimon" is a village in Central Macedonia, Northern Greece, near Mouth Olympus. The village is now a popular tourist spot, with guesthouses such as Nefelh (English Translation).

I attended a wedding at the Greek orthodox church and then dined with the wedding party and what appeared to be most of the village, and the guests left over from a previous wedding, at a tavern in the square next to the village. The party went on until about 2am, with much Ouzo and even a rendition of the theme from Zorba the Greek, to keep the overseas guests happy.

The nearby New village, was the scene of the film O Megalexandros by Theo Angelopoulos.

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Hotel Rex Thessaloníki

The Hotel Rex, Thessaloníki, Greece might be a good place to stay after the current renovations are finished. But as of a week ago it was like staying in a building site. A new lift is being installed, but in the interim you have to walk up four flights of stairs to your room. New soundproof double glazed windows are being installed, but while that is happening you have to step over builders tools, and listen to hammer drills.

Rooms have air conditioning, but I found the filter in mine was blocked with several millimeters of dust and carpet fluff. There seemed to be more pile in the filter than on the grimy unclean carpet on the floor. I would guess the management have decided not to clean the carpets until the building work is finished, even if the cleaner could be made to carry their equipment up the stairs.

The hotel did have some good points: most notably, very helpful staff. It is very close to the railway station (perhaps a bit too close). It had a very good free cyber cafe, apart from the air conditioner set to 29 degrees and the flat batteries in the cordless keyboard and mouse. Who in their right mind installs a cordless keyboard and mouse in a cyber cafe?

The hotel will be even better placed when Thessaloníki finishes the Thessaloníki Metro, running past the door. But that could be decades away.

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Ancient forum of Thessaloníki

The Roman Forum is an archaeological site in the center of the modern Greek city of ral Thessaloniki. The site is free to visit, with useful signs in English and staff to ask questions of (and almost deserted when I visited). There is a Stoa (covered walkway) which was the site of ancient trade (the modern covered marketplace is a few streets down the hill and operated mugh the same way as this one did 2,000 years ago).

The roman forum itself is at one end of the Stoa and has been restored for performances. The remains of the original floor have been preserved in glass under the modern stage. Unfortunately several of the glass panels have shattered, hopefully a fate not shared by the New Acropolis Museum of Athens, which has an extensive glass floor.

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The Bridge: A Journey Between Orient and Occident

Cover of The Bridge: A Journey Between Orient and Occident by Geert MakGeert Mak has written the book "The Bridge: A Journey Between Orient and Occident" about the Galata Bridge in Instanbul. I crossed the bridge a few weeks ago. It is not a great bridge, in terms of engineering or architecture. What Mak concentrates on is the culture of the parts of the city connected. One aspect of the bridge is that it is lined with food stores underneath and people catching fish on top. The new Istanbul tram crosses the bridge and ferries to Asia cross underneath.

The book was featured on the ABC Radio:

A bridge between orient and occident - Geert Mak

Dutch writer, journalist and historian Geert Mak has written several books exploring particular places, including Amsterdam and Jorwerd: The death of The Village in Late Twentieth Century Europe. His latest book is called The Bridge and in it he focuses on one bridge in the city of Istanbul and the people who cross it, who work on it and who are drawn to it.

From: The Books Show, Radio National ABC, 26 June 2008

See also: Travel books about Istanbul.

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