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2005/09/29 First (short) cross country
π 2005-09-29 22:41 by Merlin in Flying

Today, I was woken up a bit too early and showed up at the airport for my solo cross country flight, while being quite tired. I knew it was not going to be a piece of cake because I started by forgetting my plane headset and microphone at work, walked to the plane without the book and keys, and then proceeded to break the class bravo shelf by 200 feet before I realized that the plane was creeping up (i.e. close to 0 multitasking skills, and just a general hard time to think ahead and clearly). However, I managed to do the flight, talk to norcal air controllers along the route, do a perfect approach to modesto airport, and a very smooth landing, just like the one I did in palo alto on the way back, where I was totally hauling ass and cutting corners to get back as quickly as possible since I had left quite late and the plane was due back for another pilot).
I guess this served as a useful excercise to prove that I could fly reasonably well, even while fairly tired, and without having flown once for the 3 prior weeks. All in all, not too bad :)
Oh this makes me think that I totally forgot to log the flight in my logbook :)
2005/09/27 Malaysia Wrap Up
π 2005-09-27 10:16 by Merlin in Diving, Trips

Well, first of all, it was obviously great: I now know why the Islands off Sabah were ranked among the top 10 diving spots in the world. I did around 35 dives there, including night dives, something I had never done (then again, neither had I swam next to giant turtles, decently sized sharks, or huge schools of fish, like a Giant Swarm of Barracuda )

I could post more pictures, but some of the best examples are the few 30 sec videos I took. Everything is of course in the diving directory , but for highlights, you should look at the Best of Lankayan and Best of Sipadan-Kapalai

On my trip back, ended up buying a giant Sea Shell and Coral in the Malaysia airport, as well as a couple of things in Hong Kong. Funny thing is that in Hong Kong, security detained me apparently because of the Coral, as I think it was illegal to have/buy in Hong Kong (hard to tell, their English was so-so). In the end, they let me go because the person they were waiting for to verify/decide wasn't available, able to show up in time for me not to miss my flight. My credit card company they freaked out again and almost disabled my card again when I signed up for wireless internet in the airport (tss, losers...), and I got home eventually, in coach (argh, do the seats in cattle class suck on Cathay Pacific, and $3000 for a one way upgrade to business, no thank you, I'll just fly another airline next time).
All was well except for the taxi cab driver who partially broke my coral while getting my suitcase with the coral on top, but 1H and some glue later, it was almost like new...



Oh, and my cat apparently missed me, thanks Xav for taking care of him again :)

All right, and if you're pressed on time and would like a few hand picked video highlights, enjoy:




2005/09/27 Tawau
π 2005-09-27 10:15 by Merlin in Trips

After doing my last two dives at Kapalai/Sipadan (bringing my dive count to 54, which is more than triple what I had when I started, and on my last but one dive, I actually finally managed to lose my group without being able to find them again: it sounds silly, but there were other groups that passed us, and while turning back from taking a picture, with so-so water visibility, I ended up with another group for long enough to lose mine. When we surfaced, they were way far from me: I could have swam to the Island if it hadn't been for the fact that they would have been looking for me :) )

Anyway, Tawau, I only spent a few hours in the late afternoon/evening there, but I still used them to visit the city what I could, confirmed that Malaysian cities seem to have roaming dogs in search of trash to eat, found out where the smell came from (the sewer system doesn't seem to be underground everywhere, it's sometimes only in a 50cm deep hole that isn't always covered with concrete slabs, watch where you walk...)
Another interesting tidbit, is that taxis don't have meters, they just estimate a fare from what you asked them to drive. The cab I took in Tawau way overcharged me (25 ringits, or 7 dollars, for a quick local trip, but I didn't care, I can spare 7 bucks instead of 3 :) )

I used the rest of the time enjoying local massages since they cost less than the "deductible" I pay at work ($30/hour for a value of about $80/h) before getting up at the ass crack of down again (05:50) for my 3 planes back home

My very few pictures of Tawau are here (those from Sandakan were there )



2005/09/24 50th dive, deep dive, and winding down
π 2005-09-24 07:03 by Merlin in Diving

My trip is coming to an end. I did 5 dives today (all can be found in my new diving pictures directory , with a much updated best of section)

I think it's hard to explain the feeling to be surrounded by several hundred barracudas swarming around you, or the fairly big sharks, turtles everywhere, etc, etc... I also celebrated by 50th dive, and reached 41 metres for the first time.
I also got a DVD of my dives this morning, along with a best of, of what the cameramen have captured in the region

Anyway, two more dives tomorrow morning, and I'm on the boat back to Tawau where I'll be catching a plane early monday morning back to California








2005/09/21 One Week diving around Sipadan at Sipadan-Kapalai
π 2005-09-21 01:01 in Diving
After spending a week on the small Island of Lankayan at the northeast tip of Malaysia, I moved to the half island of Kapalai close to Sipadan. It's a city on stilts that's on a sand bank under water half the day.


working hard on my laptop :)
working hard on my laptop :)

Sadly, the island is under water more than half the time due to damage made by fishermen that were doing dynamite fishing before it was both forbidden and strictly enforced (hence the small contingent of army in that village too), in turn causing reduction of fish, sand, and erosion.

There is the small price to pay of getting up at 04:50 for the 05:30 boat departure to the Island of Sipadan and its reefs, but the diving is spectacular: I get 3 dives by noon, and another one or two in the afternoon. Choice picture are below:

beautiful cleaning shrimps on that moray eel
beautiful cleaning shrimps on that moray eel

Every just after sunrise, we were treated with a load of giant humphead parrotfish
Every just after sunrise, we were treated with a load of giant humphead parrotfish


chomp :)
chomp :)

lots of big turtles
lots of big turtles

zzz, zzz... :)
zzz, zzz... :)

crocodile fish
crocodile fish

to fish fighting
to fish fighting




Barracuda Point had loads of barracudas in the morning
Barracuda Point had loads of barracudas in the morning

money shot, too bad it was with an old camera :)
money shot, too bad it was with an old camera :)

big turtles :)
big turtles :)




Sipadan was awesome, I barely had 50 dives by the time I was there, and it sure set a high bar for places I went to after that :)


2005/09/18 Sandakan, Sepilok, Seafood King
π 2005-09-18 03:11 by Merlin in Trips

Current Music: Astral Projection (in the boat, on the way to dive sites)
Current Mood: Pretty good :)

After leaving Lakayan Island, I spent a day in the city of Sandakan, where I got to visit a bit, see a local market, and have a bunch of kids run at me and shake my hand after saying Hello and Good-bye, the English they had learned :)

The afternoon, I went back to Sepilok to see the Orang Outang reserve. That was definitely entertaining, check out the pictures and videos , they're quite entertaining.

The evening, I met the local folks (actually a Philipinian too), and had dinner at a local restaurant: Seafood King . That was an interesting place: I asked for a menu, and they said they had none and asked me what I wanted. In the end, they brought me to the back, where they had all the live fish in big buckets and made me choose what I wanted. 30 minutes later, I had a fried giant shrimp (whatever that was), and some baby ones.
I quite obviously got the tourist price and did not get access to all the food that the locals seemed to be eating around me, but no matter, that what I get for being the fscking tourist :)





















2005/09/15 Sepilok Nature Park Resort
π 2005-09-15 15:58 by Merlin in Trips

Sepilok Nature Park Resort
This is where I spent my first "recover from 25H trip, jetlag and less than 5 hours of sleep" day and night. I ventured in the forest trail a bit, which I knew wasn't extremely smart, especially with shorts, but with tropical humid weather, I was tired of my long pants. After managing not to get lost (my biggest concern), I came back with a few nice insect bites despite the deet insect repellant on my body, and some kind of leech on my leg (no idea how it got there, but the sucker was indeed well attached. Ah, I learned later than the little suckers actually hang from under leaves and wait for unsuspecting warm blodded mamals to walk by so that they can let themselves drop on you. Lovely...)
There was some nice flaura to be seen though, and they have both some big ass ants, and very overgrown fat but somehow flying bees that go between flowers. They also have mighty impressive ants :)
The pictures I took are here

I'll be back there for another day and some tours. I was initially only there for my first night since I had gotten to Sandakan too late for the daily speed boat to Lankayan Island Dive Resort , but not to worry, I got there the next day

2005/09/15 Lankayan Island Dive Resort
π 2005-09-15 01:01 in Diving
Lankayan was my first destination part of my Diving Trip to Malaysia.

It's an interesting little Island: you can walk around it in about 10 minutes, everything, including fresh water is brought it by boat, and they have a diesel generator to provide power for the few people who live here, the Army, and us. The army? you say: yes, it's a very protected area for wildlife, and they protect both the Island and 10 nautical miles from Philipino fishing boats, as any kind of fishing here is strictly prohibited.






Damn, life is tough there, you have no idea...
3-4 dives a day, including a night dive on my first day which was my first (quite interesting actually, as long as you do brought a flashlight ;) )[bt]

On my first day, I also got there on time to see a batch of baby turtles being released, that was so cool:



Baby sharks were also swimming by the beach:


The water has some nice tropical fish (obviously, since I am only a few degrees off the equator), temperature is typically above 30 degres C, which is quite bearable :) and the diving really ain't that bad :)





Diving was very nice compared to what I was used to, although nothing compared to what I was going to see in Sipadan-Kapalai. The only downside was the mild DCS I got (bubbles in one of my arms/hand which started during the night). Thankfully I was fine the next day, and had enough time on the ground before my next flight. And putting the diving aside, the Island was great:

partying like a rockstar ;)
partying like a rockstar ;)

working hard :)
working hard :)

See more images for Lankayan Island Dive Resort
2005/09/14 Trip to Malaysia
π 2005-09-14 06:18 by Merlin in Diving, Trips

25H of travelling is probably a personal record. I'm currently in my second plane, from Hong Kong to Malaysia, and I'm hoping that I'll be able to get some connectivity there since I just realized while dozing off that I entirelyforgot to make my mandatory estimated tax payment (some big sum of money) to both CA and the feds. It is going to be fun to arrange remotely, without my
files and my papers access codes and so forth (I was able to find a lot of information I needed in my local mail spool, and I'm looking in my browser history for .gov URLs right now to see if I have the CA web site for online payments). Doh, doh, doh!
Anyway, Hong Kong was a nice a clean airport, as expected. I didn't get to see a whole lot since I landed at 05:35 local time, but it was still nice to have gone through it. In the funny notes, it was cool to see that there were no less than 8 GSM networks my phone could chose from, and that I was able to use my nokia communicator to send Email ssh to my machine and look at my new messages with mutt while I was in line. That said, I was able to get a good WIFI connection some time later while waiting for my second flight, and I used the time appropriately (although I wish I had realized that little banking problem before then since I could have solved it from the airport and now it's going to be much harder)
The first flight on Cathay Pacific was so-so: I tried fruitlessly to upgrade to business, but I found out that on their planes the business section is much smaller than United's so it was overbooked. The other fun part is that a cash upgrade was $1200 one way, for just 1 out of the 3 planes. The full business fare return for just the first plane was $8000!!! In the meantime, their seating in coach sucked ass, and even my butt hurts from the bad seats. Oh well, bigger problems in life I guess...
Two quick notes after landing in Malaysia and waiting for my 3rd flight: I hadn't done homework and realized that Malaysia was actually a Muslim country, which kind of explained the Jelabas (sp?) I saw as soon as I got off the plane, and the muslim prayer room inside the airport, and the crescent on the national flag :) In other news, they have an interesting way to deal with with whatever is defined as illegal drugs here: trafficking is simply punishable by death.
Apart from that, weather looks lovely, and I have already picked up a bunch of pamphlets about all the great diving spots they have. I can't wait :)
Oh, and the international airport had what looked like a voluntary immigration counter (i.e. you walked by it, but didn't have to go through it physically). That looked weird... :)
In the end, I did arrive to the Island of Sabah at the Sandakan airport (that was kind of funny, the 737 landed on the runway, went to the end, and then turned around on the same runway to reach the terminal since there was no taxiway. I guess that explains why there weren't any international flights going there directly :) )
It's pretty to have houses on the water like this, but I guess you don't wonder why there are so many problems when a tsumani shows up, or even global warming over the next 50-100 years :-/

You can find more pictures from the air here , and pictures from my trip as they get posted and I get the chance to upload them (satellite connection on a pretty island in the middle of nowhere right now), there .
Oh did I just mention that the Island I'm on when sending this is so big that it takes 7 minutes to jog around it? :) and just because I'm lucky they got their satellite internet connection yesterday :)
Comments:
Là tu es bien dans 100 % d'exotisme...
Et tu n'as pas encore plongé ni goûté la nourriture.
Ce serait rigolo si tu rencontrais quelqu'un parlant néerlandais, car Bornéo c'est une ancienne colonie.
Que puis-je te souhaiter d'autre qu'ENJOY ENJOY ENJOY!!!
Bisous de ta maman.
posted by : 15 September, 2005 01:40

2005/09/14 Burning Man report, the making of
π 2005-09-14 06:14 by Merlin in Bm

So, yes, I did go as written in the few quick notes I wrote from the airport and sent via GPRS before boarding the plane. I'm not quite sure how I managed to write a blog last year while I was there, this year I barely got the opportunity to sort half the pictures I took before getting home (I had a little time before the Man and Temple burns, where I showed up more than 1H early to get a good spot).
I guess the good news is that I most likely spent more time outside and less time on my laptop :) but on the other hand, I ended up taking 2700 pictures, which is totally insane. The only thing I have in my defense is that it's damn hard to get good pictures at night, and more than half the cool stuff happens at night (it has to do with the general difficulties of taking moving objects at night with no lighting, compounded with the fact that you pretty much can't use your flash since there are so many playa dust particles in the air, that you get horrible flash bounce). Long story short, it was not uncommon for me to take 2 to 4 night pictures of something to keep one, which is after why a lot of sorting, I got the pictures down to slightly below 1400.
Then, the "fun" started: sorting and gathering all the pictures in respective directories, which took another 3 days. Little did I know that I wasn't out of the woods yet: actually picking which pictures to showcase and write about. After painful decision making, I still ended up with 119 pictures, which accounts for the fair size of the resulting report , but it felt like the best compromise. Now, I'm left to wonder what percentage of the page visitors will actually read the text I took a while to write, inside of just looking at the pretty pictures, but whatever
:-)

Now, in theory, I should post a picture of two on my blog, but considering how hard it was for me to get down to 119, never mind 2 or 3 :) but let's give it a shot anyway. All right, screw it, here are 9, and trust me, you're getting off easy :)



















2005/09/12 Burning Man, and another week went woosh
π 2005-09-12 00:46 by Merlin in Bm

Yes, I was at burning man, yes it was fun, yes I took lots of pictures.
So many pictures for that matter, that it took me the entire week (about 30 hours) to work on all of them and write this report .
Check it out, it's nice :)

Apart from that, I actually fell sick on thursday night, spent friday at home, and actually spent most of friday and saturday on the said report, when I wasn't in bed.
Now, it's sunday night, I barely got my stuff together (including retrieving my gear from burning man that came back by truck while I was flying a plane back from Nevada to Palo Alto), I also barely got the chance to say farewell to an acquaintance I had now grown fond of (but boy was the time well spent), and I'm now in SFO at 00:47 (monday), about to board a plane to be in Malaysia in 25H for 2 weeks of diving there.

I might be able to post pictures and news from there, we'll see.
2005/09/03 DJ Tiësto at Opulent Temple / Black Rock City (Burning Man)
π 2005-09-03 01:01 by Merlin in Clubbing
As with the Oakey set, burners got a treat with two of the greatest Trance DJs two days in a row. It's funny because I had no idea I'd get to see Tiësto before being at Burning Man, and I had just seen him two weeks prior at his Tiësto in Concert in LA.

Anyway, this is the kind of set that you have to experience to believe it. The music was of course great, but half the experience was being at Burning Man with people dancing around fires, art cars, people with costumes, or without :-), and having the mix be a fter the Man Burn until sunrise.
It was just awesome (see this page for details on Burning Man 2005)

The pictures and videos are here











2005/09/02 Paul Oakenfold at Opulent Temple / Black Rock City (Burning Man)
π 2005-09-02 01:01 by Merlin in Clubbing
I went to Burning Man like the last 3 years, except that we really got a treat: Oakey and Tiësto played there. You can read my Burning Man 2005 report for lots of pictures and details on the event.
But in a nutshell, it was payday for Trance Lovers, as Armin would say: Oakey and Tiësto's appearances were not really widely announced, which is good as it kept the attendance to Burning Man attendees, as opposed to people who might have attended Burning Man mostly unprepared and as tourists, just to see those two start DJs.
Anyway, Oakey did a very enjoyable set, especially for his fans like me who recognized all the tracks he played from his 1996 debut with Dragonfly, a Voyage into Trance. All I can say is thank you so much Oakey.

The pictures and videos are here
(note that most are dark and coarse grained because you mostly can't take flash pictures at Burning Man due to the dust that is flying everywhere in the air. Also, Oakey was smiling and having a great time, I just got unlucky on most of the pictures I took)










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