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2011/01/30 Diving from Heron Island, South Great Barrier Reef
π 2011-01-30 00:00 in Australia, Diving, Trips
Since Jennifer and I were in Brisbane for linux.conf.au 2011, I figured it would be a good idea to go to Heron Island on our way back and do some diving there.

To get to Heron Island, you fly to Gladstone, and either pay a lot for helicopter ride which isn't very useful for saving time since it can only carry 15kg of luggage, which is useless for a diver (the rest goes by boat, so you have to wait for it either way). The cat does go at 30kts, so it flies. It's however very pricey ($240 return per person) and the ride is difficult when the sea is rough (we had stuff flying off tables and people throwing up left and right).

Gladstone has a single runway for the daily quantas turboprops
Gladstone has a single runway for the daily quantas turboprops

Qantas Bombardier Dash 8
Qantas Bombardier Dash 8

The high speed cat takes people back and forth to Heron Island
The high speed cat takes people back and forth to Heron Island

Those who can't deal with the sea, can get a shorter scenic flight
Those who can't deal with the sea, can get a shorter scenic flight

Heron Island

In a nutshell, Heron Island is a small island (2.3km around, I jogged it in 13mn in the sand), it is is situated 2H by fast boat from Gladstone, south of Cairns and north of Brisbane. It is a bit expensive to say the least, the basic rooms with food for two go for $400 a night, and go up from there. Diving is extra at first $65/dive down to $45 a dive after a few dives (gear costs extra). That said, if you add it all up, prices are comparable to being on a liveaboard for a week, except that you get 3 dives per day instead of 5 dives per day. On the flipside, you get to stay on land, although if you factor in the mosquitoes, lack of AC in hot damp weather, and stupid very loud mating birds that made a lot of noise all night every night, it may or may not be a win :)

However, I felt that seeing nesting turtles come at night, and baby turtles hatch at night and go to the sea, would be cool (it was). While I don't overly mind being on a boat for a week, it's also nice to be on non moving land and still go diving easily every day :).
My quick review of Heron Island is that the staff was fantastic, the island was fun to walk around, and accomodations were not bad, but it was hot and humid at night without AC and having windows opened meant more noise from the birds :-/ (while basic accomodations are already expensive to start with, there are even more expensive ones with windows and AC). Since we had the more basic accomodations (reef room), I was woken up every night by stupid birds with loud mating calls all night (this was because it was mating season). The upside is that it was also trail of turtle nesting season and the start of baby turtle hatching season.

A few pictures from Heron Island:

an old boat that got beached on the reef
an old boat that got beached on the reef


our first reef room wasn't bad, just a bit far from the dive shop, so we moved to a closer one.
our first reef room wasn't bad, just a bit far from the dive shop, so we moved to a closer one.





yummy :)
yummy :)

we had many good meals :)
we had many good meals :)

The information center was quite good
The information center was quite good



going out of turtles at sunset, got us a few sunsets :)
going out of turtles at sunset, got us a few sunsets :)

Heron Island Birds

those sea birds evolved to trees and make crappy nests out of dry leaves and poo, their efforts were cute :)
those sea birds evolved to trees and make crappy nests out of dry leaves and poo, their efforts were cute :)


Egrets (another name for Herons), which Heron Island comes from
Egrets (another name for Herons), which Heron Island comes from

The shearwaters which only come at night, sleep on the ground, and keep everyone awake with loud mating calls
The shearwaters which only come at night, sleep on the ground, and keep everyone awake with loud mating calls

The seagulls were very defensive of their eggs (and see the newboarn baby)
The seagulls were very defensive of their eggs (and see the newboarn baby)

Turtle Nesting

Each night, big green turtles came out of the sea to crawl up the beach to a spot they chose to dig a nest for their eggs. The entire process can take around 5 hours, and one has to be careful at not shining light at turtles when they come up, or they dig as it will spook them out and they'll go back to sea without laying their eggs, which is bad.
We saw a video of the whole process at the nature centre, and that waa very informative on what to do and not to do, but it's also a lot easier to see highlights of the entire process already filmed, than to spend literally all night to watch it yourself (turtles aren't known for being fast :) ).

turtle watching: you're doing it wrong
turtle watching: you're doing it wrong

tracks from the nesting turtles
tracks from the nesting turtles

they come after sunset close to high tide
they come after sunset close to high tide

and spend hours to make big holes
and spend hours to make big holes

Lost Nesting Turtles

Unfortunately, from time to time the village we were in tended to confuse the turtles as they were trying to get back to the ocean. One got stuck in the garden behind our condo, and one got stuck in the smiming pool, which is easier to get in than to get out for a turtle.



trying to get back to the ocean (we helped it)
trying to get back to the ocean (we helped it)

this one was more stuck
this one was more stuck

took a few people to get it out :)
took a few people to get it out :)

and back to the beach
and back to the beach

Baby Turtle Hatchling

Of course, the best part was the hatchlings. You had to be by the beach by sunset and be lucky: typically if you were at the right place at the right time, you may be lucky and see them come down the beach to the ocean but you had to be fast since it typically only took 2mn or so (it's easy to miss). In our case, we improved the odds a little bit by looking for holes that they were likely to come out of. Twice, we found an early hatchling that made it out outside but that looked stunned or not quite awake yet. From there, we were able to wait and see hatchlings come out of that hole.
Normally, they make their way to sea without help, but we helped them by protecting them from seagulls, and used our own lights to steer them to the ocean

this is what the eggs look like
this is what the eggs look like


aren't those things cute? :)
aren't those things cute? :)

to the ocean
to the ocean


you can use a flashlight to help the hatchlings to the sea
you can use a flashlight to help the hatchlings to the sea

another nest I found
another nest I found

once the top ones got out, it was a swarm
once the top ones got out, it was a swarm

watch the video to see how fast they go
watch the video to see how fast they go

watch the one on the left that flips over itself :) (light is in front of them so that they go for it)
watch the one on the left that flips over itself :) (light is in front of them so that they go for it)

by then, we found some lost turtles that were lured by the jetty light, we had to hand carry about 30 of them back to the beach where they could go to the water on their own. They weren't big, but they were squirly, it was hard to carry just 3 or 4 at a time since they tried to get out of your hands to fall back on the sand and run in the wrong direction :)

hand rescuing turtles from the jetty lights
hand rescuing turtles from the jetty lights

yes, it's tempting to take them home :)
yes, it's tempting to take them home :)

Jennifer even managed to rescue one of them from an evil seagull, although we did see 3 more seagulls with hatchlings in their beak that we were not able to save :( (the sad truth is that their survival rate is actually one to one thousand from egg to not having been eaten by fish or sharks in the sea).

Diving

As much fun the Island was, we were of course there for diving.

The diving, well, was ok but not great. We did get to see critters that we haven't seen elsewhere (including my 14 days diving the great barrier reef higher north), but there were a few issues:

  • 3 dives instead of 5 per day is probably not a huge deal to most, but still to note for the hard core divers who do 5 dives a day on liveaboards
  • they offered night dives every other day, but they were priced at $90 per dive, or double a regular dive, even when the night dive ended up being from the jetty because we couldn't use the boat the one night they did have a night dive with enough signups. Honestly, I think it's unreasonable and likely a reason why they didn't get many night divers the week we were there.
  • The diving visibility was poor more than 50% of the time, due to runoff from the island. It's apparently not always as bad for that season (which isn't the best one for vis), but for our week it was not great, and I heard the previous weeks were not much better. Some dive sites like Pam's point were quite good though, when you could actually see something.
  • The dive staff was a bit 'tense'. It's probably because they have to enforce what likely are the strictess diving rules in the world (courtesy of the state of Queensland which has become a bit of a nany state unfortunately). You're supposed to be back on the boat with 50 bars, and I've been sent back up with as many as 80 bars left :-/ (not that it takes 20 or even 30 bars to get back to the surface from 18 meters in good sea conditions). I'll put aside how they were so worried that I wouldn't be able to get to the 10 to 18 meter bottom without holding a line down in light current and even insisted once that I really had to take the rope down (it was totally unnecessary). If you add the fact that you had to follow the divemaster everywhere under water, it was a bit annoying compared to a liveaboard where you're trusted dive on your own with a buddy, and somehow find your way back up to the surface and the boat, even in current (!).
  • So, diving was a bit annoying at times with the extra rules and restrictions, and the vis being ok or good less than half the time, wasn't ideal. Yet, we still saw some nice critters as I said above, so it wasn't all for naught, pictures below should show that. Diving came up to about $1000 per person for 16 dives, and BCD/reg rental (on top of the $340/day to stay at Heron Island on a 'special' they were running).

    They had several weird sharks and rays we hadn't seen before, like the Wobbegong Shark, or the Shovelnose Ray, not counting some pretty huge (man size) cownose and cowtail rays.



    plenty of green turtles
    plenty of green turtles


    very nice big rays
    very nice big rays

    they were not scared
    they were not scared

    this one was 'not quite right' :)
    this one was 'not quite right' :)


    lunch was right there :)
    lunch was right there :)

    not too sure what those were
    not too sure what those were



    wobbegon shark
    wobbegon shark








    teamwork
    teamwork






    huge ray
    huge ray




    huge loggerhead turtle
    huge loggerhead turtle

    We also did some diving by the Jetty and found a few rays and sharks that like to hang out there:



    2011/01/24 LCA 2011
    π 2011-01-24 00:00 in Linux
    Another year, another LCA :)
    This time, it was in Brisbane that had just gotten badly flooded the week prior to the conference, so the organizers had to pull a major one from their hat to make the conf still happen, and they did.



    Paulway and Angus Lees
    Paulway and Angus Lees

    For the first time, I went to the arduino miniconf on monday, since I had been meaning to learn more about arduino, and that was a good excuse to do so. So, I built a mobsendat arduino board with accelerometer, GPS, temp sensor, pressure sensor, and more:

    Arduino build miniconf
    Arduino build miniconf

    The kit
    The kit

    My kit, all built
    My kit, all built

    Most people built the kit for rockets they built
    Most people built the kit for rockets they built

    Here are a few slides from keynotes and talks I went to:


    IPv6 keynote. Newsflash: we're screwed...
    IPv6 keynote. Newsflash: we're screwed...

    Tux sent to space on a weather balloon
    Tux sent to space on a weather balloon

    Eric Allman talk
    Eric Allman talk



    Jon had a very fun talk about using the Kinect to control a self levelling quad-copter
    Jon had a very fun talk about using the Kinect to control a self levelling quad-copter




    Paul's talk on the wakelock discussions on lkml
    Paul's talk on the wakelock discussions on lkml

    The enjoyable, if not controversial keynote on personal data and cloud services
    The enjoyable, if not controversial keynote on personal data and cloud services

    My talk on misterhouse and home automation
    My talk on misterhouse and home automation



    And of course, LCA is also fun for various socializing and daily dinners, starting with the speaker Dinner:




    Professional Delegates Dinner:



    Penguin Dinner:


    All in all, a fun year was had again, a big thanks go to the organizers for pulling it out.

    See more images for LCA 2011
    2011/01/21 Brisbane, Australia
    π 2011-01-21 00:00 in Australia, Trips
    Jennifer and I went to Brisbane since I was going there for linux.conf.au.
    Unfortunately Brisbane had just gone through the biggest flooding they had seen in about 100 years, so there was a fair amount of damage and cleanup they were still working on when we showed up 11 days later. Yet, we were there for the conference that was able to proceed despite the recent issues, so we went around the city.


    waterfront restaurants didn't do well
    waterfront restaurants didn't do well







    Shitty Wok, may I help you? :)
    Shitty Wok, may I help you? :)


    A few night pictures:




    On monday evening, we went to the top of Mt Cooh Tah for a nice view, but a somewhat poor dinner for the price paid (tourist trap):



    not so good overpriced dinner, but good company
    not so good overpriced dinner, but good company

    view was decent at least
    view was decent at least

    I took tuesday off from the conference, and we went to the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, which was fairly fun:




    Sheep dog at work
    Sheep dog at work



    chicken tried to make a run for it
    chicken tried to make a run for it




    not quite a lorikeet
    not quite a lorikeet







    eating a mouse
    eating a mouse






    and we spent the rest of the day at the Botanical Gardens:



    On saturday, after the conference, we went to Mt Tamborine and had fun with a rope/exercise course in the middle of a forest. It was actually both challenging and fun. Even if you're supposed to be attached at all times (although you are responsible for that), I think stupid lawyers in the US would never allow that.








    We then had a little time left over to head out to their sister location, the Currumbinm Wildlife Sanctuary (after a drive through the mountain), and had about 90mn to go through the park before it closed (turned out to be just enough).







    tasmanian devils remind me of puppy dogs on occasion.
    tasmanian devils remind me of puppy dogs on occasion.

    those guys were roaming around everywhere
    those guys were roaming around everywhere



    feet are sticking out :)
    feet are sticking out :)



    yummy insect you're eating there :)
    yummy insect you're eating there :)

    We used the rest of the day to have a look at the Gold Coast:








    And that was it for Brisbane and surroundings. In hindsight we should have spent a 2nd day visiting the gold coast since Brisbane itself didn't have that much to see.

    See more images for Brisbane, Australia
    2011/01/20 Mobsendat Arduino board from Arduino Miniconf 2011
    π 2011-01-20 00:00 in Arduino
    After the last linux.conf.au, and my going to the arduino miniconf, I got (voluntarily I guess :) conned into learning about a new field: arduino. The learning curve was a bit steep since I started with the second miniconf which featured a pretty sweet board, the mobsendat one of the volunteers had just designed.
    Mobsendat (mobile sensor data) offers pretty good IO that's useful to log to its built in sdcard: a DS18B20 1-wire temp sensor, a barometer (with 2nd temperature reading), a 3 axis accelerometer, and connectivity for a GPS, a 433Mhz radio chip, and a Zigbee chip, all this for barely over $100. It was designed to be put in rocket bodies to record the flights, but I figured I'd find other uses for it :)

    I got to solder the whole thing during the miniconf:


    all done
    all done

    Putting aside some problems due to a short in my board that came from a pre-soldered chip (not my fault :) ), it worked great. I was even able to hack in a dirty mod to let me unplug the GPS when I don't need it


    Programming with arduino was reasonably easy. I haven't done much work on that specific board yet, but I have on the other one (next post).

    2011/01/19 Pebble Shield from Arduino Miniconf 2010
    π 2011-01-19 00:00 in Arduino
    I missed the arduino miniconf in 2010, but I was able to buy the pebble shield from a former participant, along with an arduino mega board. This board was a bit better for me to first learn on than the mobsendat because it had more interactive I/O to play with (potentiometer, LDR, LEDs, LCD display, and more).

    This gave me a chance to learn the Aiko framework from Andy Gelme, which allows for registering event handlers that get called at a specified interval. I ended up writing some handlers that were missing, like a button handler that calculates which combination of buttons is pressed from the combined resistance generated by the 3 buttons. I used this to tell the board at what frequency to flash an led based on potentiometer or LDR light input.


    slightly improved version with LEDs connected to the relays
    slightly improved version with LEDs connected to the relays

    I have a video showing this live:

    This was a good way to learn how to play with arduino and learn programming, as well as being a test platform for the Zigbee chips I bought. I'll get a chance to do some more serious work on my mobsendat after that.

    2011/01/08 Yearly Dutch Family Reunion
    π 2011-01-08 00:00 in Family
    We had our usual nice family reunion



    working on some angry birds there :)
    working on some angry birds there :)




    That night, we stayed at at a local B&B farm.



    the thick farm chats were still here :)
    the thick farm chats were still here :)


    and after a nice breakfast at the farm, and went back on our way, for me to pack and catch a plane home the next morning.

    2011/01/05 Working from the Google Paris Office
    π 2011-01-05 00:00 in Google
    It had been 6 years since I went to the Google Paris office, which in the meantime moved from the Arc de Triomphe to Opéra and grew a fair amount. Since I had a week to burn before our dutch family gathering, I went to work in our new office for the week.

    It's quite a nice office with view on the Opera:



    Office views:


    not a bad view :)
    not a bad view :)

    Opéra
    Opéra

    The microkitchens are smaller, but have nice French tasty treats :)



    The building is a nice older building:



    floors are a little too open to my taste
    floors are a little too open to my taste

    Misc:


    Laurent came to see David and I for lunch:


    TGIF/Massage/Foosball/Launge Room



    2011/01/02 Dinner with Patrick and Diane
    π 2011-01-02 00:00 in Family
    Patrick and Diane invited us for dinner a few days later, and we tried some farmed caviar. Good dinner with chocolate fondue:





    2011/01/01 New Years Dinner With Francois and Martine
    π 2011-01-01 00:00 in Family
    François and Martine had us for New Year's Eve Lunch.






    yum!
    yum!


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