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Jul. 22nd, 2008

Aerial Rave

(no subject)

Compy's broken and I'm out in the middle of nowhere!
So it's time for a tech hiatus.

Off to dreamtime for a bit.


Jun. 26th, 2008

Aerial Rave

(no subject)

So one of the weekend skydivers forgot his fire staff at the dropzone a few days ago. Despite a pretty impressive array of farm equipment, typically there is very little that can fill in as a decent staff around here. The "Gungnir" brand concrete spike is good to play with, but doesn't spin terribly easily due to its mass of just over twelve kilos. Now given the means and opportunity to swing something of appropriate size, I'm all over it.

So a little earlier this evening I turned on the old digicam and filmed some quick training to make tribute to the StarWars kid.

Is... is this how you embed a youtube video?

Jun. 24th, 2008

Aerial Rave

(no subject)

So, generally when you hear the terms 'high speed' and 'aerial spin' put in the same sentence as 'uncontrolled', you can reasonably assume that the situation is going downhill in a hurry. That's what I always assumed anyway. It seems like such a safe bet. I figured that being out of control high in the sky while careening towards the ground would be the sort of terrifying event that would leave a man forever changed, now having looking his mortality in the face and acknowledged the superiority of natural forces and the relative insignificance of all his efforts before their awesome power...

But in reality it wasn't that bad. The exit was awesome; I was there hanging off the wing and humming 'The Final Countdown' like normal, spread my arms and flew down into a nice stable arch. It wasn't until after I'd checked the altimeter at 5000' feet and rechecked my heading that I realized that the mountains I'd been facing had been a dark blur on the blue and white horizon for quite some time. I was actually spinning for a second or two before it hit me that I should be panicking. Even then it didn't seem to bad. The first thing I did was check the altimeter again, because as long as you've got altitude you've got some time before you have to worry. As soon as I focused on the Alti that was spinning along with me, everything else just seemed like it was on the outside. Like there was a glass sphere separating me from all the harsh winds and blurred out horizon. The whole thing was pretty calm and surreal.

Even when I'd definitively realized that I should be freaking out and panicking, the terror just wasn't there. My arch is naturally pretty stable because of all the backbends that come from years of Capoeira, so I was really only spinning on one axis and was otherwise pretty solid. It was more a moment of "Oh... I'm spinning, I know three ways of correcting this, although I've never actually tried any of them." than anything else. For now I can't really comment on the other two, but hand steering feels more like swimming than I was expecting. Seriously, you grab big handfulls of -nothing- and push off with tangible results.

So the spin worked itself out pretty nicely over the next thousand feet and I pulled stable just below 4000. By the time I'd unstowed the brakes and realized that the instructor's spotting job was terribly off, I was too busy air guitaring the Final Countdown solo and laughing to really care. Turns out the weather had changed while we were climbing to altitude and we'd left the aircraft way downwind of the landing zone. So in my softest landing of my skydiving career to date, I touched down in some farmer's freshly plowed field, grabbed my canopy, and ran like hell before his dog realized that I was there.

Jun. 17th, 2008

Aerial Rave


You'd barely be able to tell it from this journal, but I've been flying around the top end rather extensively over the past few months. I've been to Darwin three times and never managed to stay for more than a few days. See, Darwin is the very definition of tropical paradise. The weather remains at a stable 35+/- degrees, palm trees sway gently in ocean breezes all over the place, the hostels would be called 'hotels' in other cities, and the nightlife party areas are constantly flooded with happy vacationing travelers year round. It's an easy place to lose yourself, and many of the people you find working here "Just stopped by for a week... that was 12 years ago".

But when I look back, I notice that I don't actually have any stories from Darwin.

The bars get to be like Groundhog Day, with the same music and shenanigans happening every night. It's a fantastic experience, it's just so generically perfect that I get this weird feeling of stagnation, typically within a week of arriving. It's a great place to work or study, and even moreso it's a great place to 'be'. It just lacks a sense of 'going somewhere'. With only a few exceptions, you go to Darwin to stay.

The reason this has such a profound effect on me is that I'm constantly pushed by this irresistible drive to move forward. Which brings us to now.

So here I am, living at this neat little airfield out somewhere in the outback. I think we're technically in Queensland. At this point I'm taking the cash I earned sailing and throwing it all towards skydiving instructor certification. Every day is jump after jump of craziness, and every night is studying and chillaxing with the crew around the dropzone. I'll quickly be poor, but, goddamn, this is -living-.

The outside of of the aircraft is quickly becoming less an impassable territory, and more a place to chill out at very high altitude and do as many chin ups as I can in the 100 Km/h winds before falling off. At this point I'm more falling off because the instructors are yelling "Hey Jerkoff! You're messing with the pilot's heading!" than because my arms are giving out. But man, once I'm jumping solo it's on. A few days ago the Brisbane Demo team was jumping with us, and two of the guys pretended to jump, but in reality were hiding on the bottom of the plane by clinging to the landing gear, just so that they could pull up to the pilot side window after the final jumpers had left and the pilot figured he was alone until landing. Pilots are known for being reckless, jumpers even moreso.

I absolutely Love the atmosphere of this club. It's the only group of people I've found who when I ask a stupid question (Like, "What would you guys do if I just climbed onto the wing and held down one of the flaps until the plane goes into a spin?"), actually think about it and don't immediately respond with something about policy (Incidentally, the answer was "Depends on how much we like the pilot. He'll just shake you off if he has to.") Most of them even think my plan of aerial fencing is a pretty sweet idea, and are helping me to work around the potential hassles. Apparently we're going to have to attach a pilot chute to anything solid that we jump with, although they think we can just build one into the hilt.

Life is just getting crazier right now.

Jun. 16th, 2008

Aerial Rave

Newb on the loose

To then stand as neverending light!Collapse )

Jun. 7th, 2008

Aerial Rave

East Timor?!

So, I never knew the true face of darkness until tonight, and she's truly as beautiful as she is terrifying.

Whereas on the previous boat we lacked a full compliment of crew and the intense demivampire skipper didn't think twice about leaving random crew members at the wheel, The Doc is a little more guarded. On this voyage, nobody besides him and the ship's mate were able to go near the helm for the first half of the voyage. On perhaps the sixth day at sea, he pulled me aside and asked if I was able to keep a secret. When I shrugged and told him to try his luck he told me that his birthday was quickly approaching, but that he didn't want the crew to make a big deal about it. I figured it was either reverse psychology or some sort of test, because the idea of telling the crew your secret doesn't strike me as the best way to keep it under wraps. So I carried on as normal and waited to see what was going to happen.

Two days later, I'm presuming after he saw that nobody passed along birthday tidings, he pulled me up into the bridge to fill me in on the actual trouble. See, the Doc has spent more than thirty years at sea, most of which in this area, but he's old and slow to change and doesn't understand technology. The mate is, to put it delicately, a useless drunk the likes of which makes me a competitive candidate for promotion just by virtue of the fact that I'm often -conscious- for much of the day. In short, nobody onboard has any idea how computers work. The Doc was ridiculously impressed when I showed him how to underline text using a keyboard shortcut. Yeah... I'm a regular Shadowrunner now.

So he'd been keeping it under wraps from the crew, but the Doc had managed to break the navigational computers two days prior, and had been guessing our way around and frantically trying to chart our location using paper and calipers. So when he called me up, in was in pure desperation, as I had become our last, best hope of getting home. Being that the extent of my computer knowledge comes from being friends with some software engineers. Although to be fair, this is only slightly less valid than my knowledge of acrobatics and gymnastics due to the fact that I wasn't *sleeping with* the software eng crew. Luckily, the computer troubles aren't terribly severe.

The first thing was that the Doc had somehow knocked the licensing dongle out of the back of the computer. I just happened to read about dongles and their use about a month ago in a book called "Steal this internet book" (Which, Ironically, I stole from a warehouse because of its catchy title) which gave me enough of an idea about what we were working with to try putting the dongle back in and restarting the computer. (Also, I really just wanted to see how many times I could use the word "Dongle" in normal conversation.) (Dongle dongle dongle.) The next problem was that once the program was running, we now had our GPS coordinates tracking, but had no map superimpose it on. The Doc figured that someone had deleted the navigation data, but luckily it turned out to have just been cut and pasted onto the desktop.

So once I put together our coordinates and the supplementary navigational data, it occured to me:

"Doc? What the fuck are we doing along the coast of East Timor?!"
The facts I know about the Timor region are as follows: It's name is the root of the latin word for "Fear", and it's considered one of three remaining pirate havens in the world (The other two being around Venezuela, and around the red sea) In fact, a quick googling once I got back to land gives tells us that:

"Southeast Asia, and Indonesia in particular, continues to be a haven for pirates. Of the 374 reported cases of piracy across the world last year, 103 were in Indonesian waters."

The Doc quickly motioned to talk more quietly, and explained that the rest of the crew really didn't need to know about all this. As crazy as the situation was, I realized that there was very little that could be done. He's the one who knows the area, so we're just going to have to hold on and ride it out. From that day, we started pulling in tons and tons of catch. No other fighting boats were out in this area, so we had a virtual monopoly on anything we couldn't grab from the sea floor.

Two days later things got a little nuts.

It was the middle of the night when we got the order to pull the nets out of the water. Fast. We didn't think anything of it, because we routinely haul in the nets when we're traveling around so not to waste fuel with needless drag. But typically we get the nets all the way into the boat before the we open up the engines. As soon as the chains were out of the water, the Doc turns the boat around and we're absolutely flying at top speed. We keep trying to raise the nets, but now the heavy chains are building a lot of momentum from the wind and are swinging wicked violently. Suddenly we get the order to cut the engines. Not just the props, everything.

I didn't quite understand what was going on at the time, so I was still working on getting the nets out. At the time, the cut ends had just been emptied and we'd dumped out a load of small sharks, maybe three to four feet long at largest, and stingrays into the hopper, and I was working above it holding onto one of the hanging ropes. Suddenly everything goes dark. The moving cables all stop, but the chains haven't got the memo and continue swaying and jingling softly though the night.

Now I'm hanging from a rope, surrounded by heavy chains, sharp edges, and over top of a tank full of sharks who I know aren't bothered by the pitch black conditions.

"Uh guys?" I ventured as I hung in the air trying to stay as perfectly still as I could.

Everything is silent except for the faint ringing of the chains. ts the night of the new moon, and a heavy curtain of clouds is obscuring all the stars except from the two brightest in the Southern Cross which only faintly penetrate the mist. The ship has officially gone dark.

Not wanting to hang around on the rope until my grip gives out, and definitely not planning to go back down the way I came willingly, I started climbing the rope until I hit the big pulley at the top of the mast, and swung around to meet the central ladder. From there I took my familiar chillout spot at the absolute highest point on the boat. I looked around, trying without success to see my hands by waving them within inches of my face. The only light were the two dim pinpricks from the brightest stars, and the little streaks in the water of the tiny phosphorescent organisms that are normally far too dim to see.

Then, far off to the starboard I see a light in the distance. Way far out on the horizon, another boat is sweeping around with a floodlight. Luckily, due to the curvature of the earth, I was the only one who could see them because I was so high above sea level. And by the same token, the top of the mast would only be poking a little bit above the horizon from their perspective.

So we waited. I've never really appreciated the streetlights quite so much before. Even when you're outside of a major city, there's still light going up and diffusing off the clouds a relatively short distance away. Not here, not out on the ocean. Now the chains have stopped and there's a deathly silence as we wait, floating on this giant dead hulk of metal, twenty two tons of free drifting steel in the middle of nowhere. Eventually the lights from the other boat subside. By firelight from lighters and matches we disconnect all the outboard lights on the ship before restarting the generator. As soon as the engines are online, the Doc kicks it up to full throttle and we head south as fast as we can. I wish I could say we went as far as I'd like, but less than an hour later the Doc ran over a huge mark of premium sea life just waiting to be caught. So in a show of pure balls and reckless abandon, we stop, put the nets back in the water, and take in another five tons before stopping to admire the newly revealed starlight, breathing a sigh of relief and escaping south into international waters.

May. 26th, 2008

Aerial Rave

(no subject)

So I took my first real hit the aggressive marine life this morning. I've managed to dodge everything sharp thus far, but this thing snuck up on me.
I was thinking that I'd let the other guys sleep for a bit and took a double watch this evening, and by the end was crazy tired. We've been doing try shots reliably every fifteen minutes since we set sail (meaning by my count only about one thousand more of them before the season ends...) and I'm totally running on autopilot. So on a routine spill I grab the bag to bring it onboard and before I even know what's happening I feel this hot surge of pain as something clamps onto the back of my left hand.

My first thought is that I hope it's not a snake. We're closer to Indonesia than we are to Aus right now, so if I get envenomed I'll have some pretty shady medical care to look foreword to. Instantly sizing up the situation as best as I'm able and carefully weighting the odds of snake vs. not snake (eel perhaps, small shark, maybe some kind of lobster) my mind started to carefully formulate a plan to get loose without making things worse. Instinct, on the other hand, came up with its own reflexive solution of punching the crap out of whatever it was with my free right hand. Two or three heavy shots later, thankfully being absorbed by something broad and substantial rather than long and poisonous, the thing lets go and starts making the weirdest sound I've ever heard a fish make. It was almost like a yappy dog's bark combined with that obscure scream that hollywood squid and dinosaurs would make if they were being punched by a formerly-sleepy-turned-rather-angry guy in a bathrobe. So, with blood everywhere making the ropes even more awkward to handle than normal and my left hand numb and starting to swell, I fumbled around with the knot to pour the aquatic jerk out into open to see if I was dying.

It turned out to be a rather substantial fish, maybe two feet long from jaw to tail. Aside from one little detail it looked just like a bigger version of all the thousands of other nondescript fish we catch daily. Except the gigantic maw full of teeth anyway. Upon seeing that it wasn't a snake I breathed an audible sigh of relief and started to drag the angry (and surprisingly energetic) fish first towards the processing belts to get a better look, and subsequently to the deep freeze where he'll be waiting until the cook wakes up.

Overall the damage isn't too bad. There are puncture wounds on the top of my little finger's knuckle, and then more from its bottom teeth down by my index; it's mouth was pretty much all the way around my hand. There was a lot of bleeding and it managed to dig in pretty deep, but its teeth were needle sharp and pulled out straight when I started hitting it. So even though it definitely sunk down into some muscle and the hand is tingling, I don't think it managed to actually sever anything. For now I'm coating my hand in Dettol and relishing the anticipation of tomorrow's sweet breakfast.

May. 25th, 2008

Aerial Rave

(no subject)

So, I wrestled with a five foot Leopard Ray this afternoon after it got caught in our nets and ended up in the catch tank. It didn't seem to realize that I was trying to help it back into the water, because every time I'd get close to it's tail, it would start thrashing it's spike wildly. Before today I couldn't understand exactly how rays attack, but when they start deploying that spike you catch on pretty quickly.
In the end I managed to get around behind it and catch its tail below the barbs, but it fought like hell and thrashed harder every time I started to get enough momentum to swing it over the side. Thing must have weighed over a hundred pounds easy, much heavier than the heavybag I used to carry around for training and slippery as hell to boot. Eventually I managed to get it sliding across the slick metal surface and after 270 degrees of swing, managed to just barely throw it clear of the railings.

This thing was pretty huge, but damn, I know that the biggest Manta Rays can get to almost four times its size. I'd Love to see one of those, and really hope we never run over one with our nets.

May. 21st, 2008

Aerial Rave

(no subject)

So not two days after I arrived in Darwin, I got another call from the fleet saying that they were in a bind and needed someone who knew what he was doing for another run onboard the Northern Pearl. I told them I hardly qualify as 'someone who knows what's what', but they seemed to think this was a good idea. I had called up the plantations I'm looking to burn stuff for on the first day I'd arrived in Darwin, only to find that they'd filled up all the positions they were hiring while I was at sea last time. And now after getting my name on their files, I found myself just waiting for someone to quit or be bitten by something big or poison to open up a space. Even so, I was about to tell the fleet that I wasn't interested, but then they told me that the contact's name was Peter Parker and I figured I might as well at least meet up with the guy.

"Wait, like, charming and strangely flexible reporter for the Daily Bugle and brilliant scientist Peter Parker?" I asked.

"What?" They replied.

So I sauntered down to the wharfs for a sunrise run the following morning. It didn't look like much else was doing on in Darwin for the moment, so I gave it a solid "What the hell?" and jumped onboard.
Skipper this time is an old dude who bears more than a passing resemblance to Christopher Lloyd. Maybe not so much Lloyd himself as much as his character from Back to the Future. This guy is the Doc. The first mate is drunk already, the other deckhand is a little pudgy cook from Karumba... the only people on board who have any idea how to run a seaworthy vessel are the two Indonesian guys who speak only a little more english than engineer Yang did. It's gonna be a weird trip.

May. 19th, 2008

Aerial Rave

I'm intimidating to males!

So I'm chillin in Brisbane airport on a two hour stop over before heading back to Darwin. I've been in Cairns for the last few days running through the rainforest with Megan, a neat pseudocanadian girl who recently arrived in Cairns after spending the better part of a year tending Joeys out near Uluru.

See, after the last post I hitched a ride on a bus heading into Cairns and after twelve hilarious hours of an old Aboriginal named Eddie telling me outback stories and pointing out geographical oddities, I was released into a new city in the middle of the night with no plans whatsoever. I saw a couple planes pass low overhead and remembered that Cairns airport had a wicked sweet wireless field last time I was here. Worst came to worst I could crash there for the night, then find a hostel at about ten the following morning and sleep the rest of the day knowing that I'd found a place for that night. I got to the airport, and ended up setting up and kicking back with a random New Zealand surfer for a few hours. Now reconected to the matrix, I book a flight to Darwin for the afternoon a couple days later, and hit up couchsurfing while not expecting much being that it was past midnight.

I ended up sending a message to a couple people, including one to a chick from Edmonton that read "Hey! You're like a flashback to Whyte Ave. I'm in the airport now and my flight doesn't leave for 36 hours, take me somewhere awesome! -LL" Again, as is the precedent, none of the guys I sent messages to responded, but this girl wrote me back that she had been drinking heavily and that I should come over when she's coherent enough to give directions to her place, possibly when she wakes up. I thanked her for the offer, told her to get some sleep and we exchanged numbers.

I wake up just before noon on in a now busy airline terminal with my cell vibrating like the time in first year when we broke into the dorm next door for a surprise pantyraid and found more than we bargained for. Upon checking the phone I find a bunch of text messages saying "Hey, come over!" and a message from the good people at Vodafone saying "Ha! All your credit expired while you were out at sea, just try to contact this chick now!" A couple messages later I was stumbling off through the terminal.

Now, this is me we're talking about, so as luck would have it she lived like a two minute drive from the airport. It took a little longer on foot, especially considering the road to the airport was havily forested, not really made for pedestrians, and lined with informative "If you so much as touch the water, crocodiles will eat everyone you've ever Loved" signs. They didn't, and a few minutes later I hear a voice behind me shouting "Lysander! Lysander!" over the sound of the theme from "Baywatch" playing over my headphones.. After tossing my bags down at her place we headed off across town to hit up a wicked sweet farmer's fruit market, which looked absolutely heavenly since we had run out of fresh fruit less than two weeks into the ocean voyage. We got back to her place and started thinking about food.

"You know what would be fantastic? Let's make pancakes! Right now!"
Van Halen has become a centerpiece in my mental landscape.

Now, Meg's relatively new to Australia too and has been living around Uluru since she got here from Canada last year, so neither of us had ever seen, heard of, or could pronounce half of this fruit. So we went from stand to stand picking up a couple of anything we couldn't identify. It was nuts, as I think we picked up like 7 pounds crazyfruit for a combined total of $4. We walked around looking for a solid contact acrylic that I haven't been able to locate anywhere (and suspect don't exist in Darwin), and hung out with the sunbathers around the harbour Lagoon. It wasn't until way later that night when he were heading off alone into the rainforest so she could show me a lot of shadowy forms that she assured me were colourful and exotic plants and wildlife that I had to take a step back and ask "Wait a sec... didn't your mother ever tell you not to go off into dark woods alone at night with strange guys that you met off the internet?" She just kinda shrugged and we went in. The rainforest path was absolutely awesome with us walking on a little raised walkway a few feet above a croc filled swamp with cool spiders everywhere. There wasn't much to be seen in the absence of the sun, but walking through the misty forest and seeing only by occasional shimmerings of the moon on the water was absolutely incredible. To top the whole thing off, we headed back to her place where her boyfriend cooked us some steak kababs for late dinner.

Jer the boyfriend is a pretty cool guy himself so I made a point of not running any destroyer material and we chilled for a bit until he crashed early. Meg and I stayed up for a while longer so I could show her a picture or two, and we ended up going through everything on my computer (well, almost everything...). At one point I look up after being so wrapped up in the stories and notice the tv... "Uh, Meg? When did we start watching this really weird artsy porn? What the hell?!". She pointed out that it was better than the football game that Jer had left on earlier, and we just pushed ahread with stories. Tried to anyway, but this movie was like a slow motion trainwreck that caused a lot of lingering sentences and dangling participals. You just couldn't bring yourself to tear your eyes away from the images.

"Why are they hitting each other? What the hell, okay now there's boobs. Wait, why's she doing that guy now?"
By the time we got out some sheets and crashed headfirst into sleep rational thought had all but ceased and Jer was getting up for work. We went hiking again through another one of Cairns' mountain trails so we could scope out the airfield from above and see if we could find the little passenger planes that signified the location of Cairns skydiving. When I've got everything in place to start jumping, I'm considering coming back here. The area is pretty sweet, residential neighbourhoods are right near the dropzone, it's surrounded by mountains and rainforest, and there's a sweet beach to land on before running from crocs. We'll see what the diving culture is like next time I pass through the area.

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