This is an ongoing tale of Alan and Jo's exploits in Austin, TX. Alan hopes there will be plenty of tasty beer involved, while Jo hopes to find lots of interesting aircraft.

Saturday, September 19, 2009


Made it to Colorado on holiday! Look at the colossal size of this Yukon we have as a rental car. It is mad. Now to park it up and find some brewpubs.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, April 14, 2009


Here's a few things I have observed lately.

First up, here's a picture I have been wanting to take for a long time, ever since I first saw this. I was stopped in traffic on I-35 so grabbed the opportunity. They transport new trucks by piling them on top of each other and driving the bottom one. I looked as I went past afterwards, they're attached by wooden blocks, bolted on to the truck frame underneath. There's four trucks next to me here, and there's three more in a separate batch up ahead.

Meanwhile, due to a slight mix-up in Cabelas the other week, I walked out of there with a box of shotgun shells that was a little more perky than the ones we usually use. They'd wrongly marked the shells with a sale price - or put them in the wrong place - I don't really know, but they ended up having to give me a $140 box of shells for $59! Now, our usual shells have 1 and 1/8 oz of shot pellets inside and a certain amount of powder. These expensive chaps (on the left) had 1 and 1/4 oz and some kind of souped up powder in there, and look at the amount of brass they need to contain all this extra energy! The normal shell on the right is a lot lighter. And yes, you can really feel the difference when you let one of these off. Packs a lot of punch. We actually ended up trading most of the ones we had left with Neil for some normal rounds as we like our shoulders without gunstock-shaped holes in.

Lastly, how about these Creme Eggs! I saw some in the garage over Easter and grabbed a couple after making sure they were actually imported from Cadbury UK and not some nasty Hershey's knockoff. (Big difference, you know.) I looked at them and thought they had got smaller since I last saw them.

Then on Easter Sunday, it was Alex's birthday and Tamzin and Allan had invited us to his party, so we were over there for the afternoon. Cara was just back from the UK where she had been doing a supply run and amongst lots of other UK foods, had brought us back an Easter egg! Thanks, Cara! And it happened to be a Creme Egg one... which contained normal UK eggs.

They don't look a lot different here I know, but the UK egg on the left feels noticeably bigger and heavier in your hand than the import egg on the right. (The battery is a AA for size comparison, no, we don't eat those). I am a sad git and weighed them, the UK egg is 42g and the import is 36g. So obviously Cadburys are keeping back as much of the good chocolate as they can, or trying to save on shipping costs, or both.

So if you see green on the foil, it's an import, and I guess you can feel good about eating so much less chocolate, in fact it must be good for you ;-)

Labels: , , ,

Monday, November 24, 2008


American trains are big, huge things that mostly carry cargo. Being from a land in which the majority of trains have between one and three cars and which carry passengers, these American behemoths are a sight to behold. I have counted at least one with 103 segments (what do you call a cargo carriage anyway?). Some have four or five engines. If you're watching a train and wave at it, the drivers often wave back, or honk their very loud horns :-) Try that with British Rail...

I just got caught at a level crossing, so I whipped out my phone and snagged the train for y'all. This one is a tiddler, only two engines and 91 carriages.


Labels: ,

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Dallas World Aquarium

Here is a Leafy Sea Dragon in this outstanding tropical habitat and aquarium in downtown Dallas. Top place. We are now in the West End Pub next door, enjoying a fine beer. Going to see Children of Bodom later tonight at House of Blues round the corner.

Labels: , ,

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Drag Boats

We were in Marble Falls this morning for the Lakefest Drag Boat races. Always entertaining. There are several classes of boat; the biggest is the Top Fuel Dragster which is wonderfully loud and noisy, and will do a quarter-mile in 4 or 5 seconds!

Here's a couple of regular boats running the quarter mile:

Here's a Top-fuel drag boat doing the same distance in substantially less time!

Here's a closer look at one:

And a couple of the smaller boats:

Boy, it is hot today, though. We bailed out just after lunch having been there since 8AM, so we'd at least seen everything run at least once. Mmm, air conditioned cars...


Friday, August 01, 2008

Is this a plane show or a car show?

HondaJet looks very glitzy in the bright lights

Labels: ,

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Of Wheels and Targets

Here's a gratuitous Jeep shot, just because it's been a while and I like this one. Took it on the highest level of the parking garage at the apartment, before we left.

So, Alan and I have been going shooting recently. Some guys from his work, Larry and Neil, go regularly and have been getting us to go too. We have mostly been going to an indoor target range on the southern edge of town which is pretty cool. The guys have been very generous in letting us use their equipment and we have been able to sample a good variety of things. Here's the results of a typical session:

The last couple of weekends, we have gone to try some clay pigeon shooting at a different place across the other side of town. This clay centre is great, they have plenty of space. And it's right next to a model aircraft field, so there's the occasional extra target ;-)
(We are told it has happened, too!)

We had never done clay shooting before so Larry explained it all to us thus:

Skeet shooting is where you have a tower on the left and the right, out of which come two clays, one from each side. These are called high house and low house. The trajectory of the clays is always the same. You stand somewhere on a semicircle in front of this. If you're in the middle then you're shooting 90 degrees onto the clay trajectory. If you stand elsewhere then you get more edge-on to it so you can vary how you shoot them.

Trap shooting is where the clay is released away from you so it starts in the same place but can vary the angle it is flying at, so you stand in the same place but are aiming in different directions to follow it. (I think this is meant to be like pheasants)

Sporting clays is where you wander around a course of shooting positions, each of which contains two clays and they are set up in all sorts of ways. They change them each week too so you get different things each time you go. It's a bit like golf with shotguns, only you get to play different courses in the same place.

So we ended up doing sporting clays last week, which is the hardest discipline but the skeet ranges were taken already. Alan was really very good at it. I was less good but I did hit a few; one exploded in a big starburst which was most satisfying :-)

This week there was a competition on the sporting clays circuit so we did some skeet instead. Larry was very kind and spent the whole time instructing Alan and me. He'd also brought his 28 gauge as well as his 12 gauge so I used the 28 which is smaller and lighter but also shoots the shot in a smaller pattern, so it's harder to hit things than with the 12 gauge.

Alan was very good (again) and I remained less good... Did manage to hit a few things. I seem to have trouble getting ahead of the target and I'm often a bit low too. I wonder if years of tracking a target with a camera is putting me off. Although I am OK at moving the shotgun, whereas Alan seems to find that harder; he often stops midway. I guess we all have our pitfalls.

Note to those who might be wondering: This is target shooting we're doing, both indoors and out. We have no desire to be shooting live things. There, it's said.

Anyway, we both enjoy the shotguns for sure, and we will be doing more of it, I have no doubt.

And finally, I have a new toy:

This is a Trikke. And actually, it's not a toy; no child's plaything, this, no sir. This thing is actually pretty big, those wheels are eight inches in diameter and it's built for adults. (You can get smaller ones for kids too.) You ride this with a foot on each plate. All three wheels remain on the ground so it's as stable as it gets.

The propulsion comes from turning it. You have to kind of tip it into a turn and then it's like skiing; you slalom left and right to make it go. It's the falling into each turn that gives it forward motion. It does need to be on the flat or downhill; hills are Bloody Hard Work verging on Almost Impossible, although this will be improved with time, practise and strength.

It's a workout machine on wheels. I rode it for an hour yesterday and had rubber legs at the end of it. Luckily, the roads around the house are very flat with only a slight hilliness, which is great for riding this thing. If we didn't live with such roads nearby I probably wouldn't have bought the machine. It does fold up so it will go in a car if needs be, too.

It's good fun. Although I think I've had my monthly quota of funny looks in the space of two days! This is not a machine for the shy ;-)

Labels: ,

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Drivin' Cars, Part 2

Wednesday continued in a splendid fashion. We went via a boat shop to buy some buoyancy jackets - just in case Dave asks us wakeboarding again, and anyway we intend to go and rent a kayak now and again for a laugh.

Then it was on up to Georgetown, where a shiny thing awaited me. We didn't know if we'd be able to collect the shiny thing as we still had to sort out finance etc.

The answer turned out to be a resounding yes!

Without further ado:
Introducing..... Jo's Extra Shiny Most Excellent New Jeep Wrangler!

Four litres, six cylinders of finest American horsepower! Isn't she lovely? As you can see, she has a hard top - makes it nice and civilised inside, quiet too. There's a curious mix of basic and refinement inside - no electric windows or central locking (they ony add weight, don't want that!), but we have air conditioning and a seven-speaker stereo with subwoofer (yeah!), as well as an uprated rear axle, cruise control and a leather steering wheel.

The fact we have this vehicle in our possession already is amazing. We turned up at the garage; they'd got the vehicle all nicely prepared for us. We have not yet paid for it and they let us take it anyway! We have to go back as soon as we get our social security numbers; then they will arrange finance for us. So we have it as a 'borrowed vehicle' until then. We must look trustworthy or something!


So, I drove it back home last night, followed by Alan in the rental wagon. The journey was a little stressful - a brand new car, manual transmission, wrong side of the road (and more to the point, the gearstick on the wrong side), the fact I'd been concentrating all morning on driving an automatic perfectly, and my internal map of Austin is pretty tarnished through disuse.... so yes, I took the wrong turn off the Interstate and stalled it once or twice, but we got home in one piece and all was well :-)


I've been out driving this afternoon :-) I had to wait in all morning though for our air freight to be delivered - it was (we now have an iron! No more creased clothes!) and also for a chap to come and fix things in the apartment. He arrived at lunchtime so I was free after that.

Meanwhile, an email came in telling me I'd won a Bob Seger CD from KLBJ, the local rock radio station. Woo-hoo! So, marvellous excuse to drive my new vehicle. Up the road I went, picked up the CD, put it in the CD player and roared off up the Interstate, rocking out to some fine new tunes :-)

She's much easier to drive today. I'm getting used to the long-throw clutch and lazy action between gearshifts. This isn't a racing machine, after all. We went over to 360 bridge and up to Emma Long Park, where these pictures were taken. With the proper camera, this time ;-) I am now looking forward to plenty more driving!



Drivin' Cars, Part 1

It's been an eventful week so far. Monday night we were out with some of Alan's colleagues; we met at the Ginger Man for a few beers, then on to (I think it's called) Mike and Angie's Pizza for some, well, pizza. A very fine evening.

On Tuesday, our old friends Preston and Mary-Jane Clark arrived to take us out for a meal. They drove us to a place not too far away called Frisco, which MJ used to work in whilst in college. She opened the restaurant in 1953! It serves comfort food - steaks, fries, chili, onion rings etc. Very good they are too. It was lovely to see Preston and MJ again and we caught up splendidly throughout the evening.

Wednesday was our big day, however. We had scheduled to meet with Michele and go and attempt our driving tests.

The driving test centre is just up the road from here. We met there at 07:50 to be ready for opening at eight. We went in and presented ourselves along with our passports and UK driving licences. They looked at the passports and ignored the driving licences. This was a relief as we'd been told they might try to confiscate our UK licences - they will confiscate an out-of-state license if it's a US one as you're only meant to have one at a time.

Because we didn't have social security numbers yet, we had to fill in an extra bit of paper with our name and address, in addition to the usual application form. The driving test costs $24. We had to first do a vision test. They have a machine on the desk which you rest your forehead on, and look into. There's a chart inside similar to one an optician might have, with letters in different sizes on top and some circles in different colours underneath to test for colour blindness.

Next came the general knowlege test which is done on a computer. The lady asked me to sit at terminal 8 - the computer terminals are placed around the edge of the room, it's not like a classroom. I sat down and the computer started doing its thing. It's a multiple choice test in which you must pick an answer from three or four possible choices. They don't make it entirely clear that the first questions are practise ones to get you used to the question-answer system, however, so when the first two asked me to choose my date of birth and then my name, I was sitting there thinking, "You have got to be kidding!" There's meant to be 30 questions and you must get 21 correct to pass. I only got asked 24 as I'd answered enough correctly. There were questions about road signs, what to do if other drivers do X, Y or Z; how far to park away from certain items etc. Some are a little ambiguous but most are OK; a lot are just common sense.

Alan, however, had the misfortune to have about five questions on minors (under-21), drinking offences and the fines issued to minors. He also got given a question that asked what the thinking distance is when stopping from 20 mph. It's 44 feet, according to the driving manual, so that's what he answered. The computer said it was 22 feet. Also, we both had a question asking how far you should park from a fire plug. Not knowing what a fire plug was, but presuming it was the same as a fire hydrant, we both answered 30 feet. The computer said 15 feet.

Alan queried this with the examiner lady, and said the computer was wrong, and asked her to compare with the book. She did so, agreed, and told him to carry on anyway... Michele later queried it with the lady on the main desk. She admitted there were actually 3 or 4 wrong answers in their computer, but every time the corrected it, the computer overwrote them with the wrong answers again!

Anyway, we both passed our computer tests so it was off to do our practical tests. We had to drive the car around and join a queue as there are only two or three driving examiners. We thought it was a closed course driving test but it turns out they take you onto the road after all.

The test starts with the examiner first checking you have the right to drive your car - they check your insurance and title, if you own it, or in our case they checked our rental agreement. Next they check your horn, indicators and brake lights are working. They don't check your headlights though for some reason.

Then they ask you to pull away and drive towards a long thin bit of road, still inside the test centre. Cue much checking of mirrors first ;-) Once on this bit of road, they ask you to stop, then do a parallel park into the space between two poles set up for the purpose. These poles are very bent, suggesting some people aren't too good at this. I slotted the car in - it was wierd though, poles are harder to see than cars - and he bade me drive out again, up to a line further down. He had me stop and reverse in a straight line for a while. Then it was out onto the open road.

The road part was surprisingly short. We turnned right, then left, then left, then right, and right, maybe one more right, then left back into the test centre. The route encompassed a few stop signs and in my case, some pedestrian hazards (duly slowed down for) but that's about it. The examiner askes you to park up in a particular set of parking bays and that's it! He told me I'd passed, then Alan got in the car and it was his turn.

Meanwhile, I took my paperwork back into the test centre building where they took my photo, congratulated me for passing, and issued me with a paper temporary licence. We should get our photocards in a couple of weeks, in the mail.

So Alan and I are both now licenced Texas drivers!

Alan and Michele said that while I was out driving, they saw one poor girl go out and the instructor drove back.... I guess some people didn't get so lucky that day...

Our next stop was the Social Security office. We have applied for our numbers. Unfortunately, despite waiting for the requisite 10 days since entering the country, our I-94 forms have not yet crept through the system. So they have to make an extra check on our application. Hopefully we should get our numbers in 2-3 weeks, but we will see.

After this, we said farewell to Michele and continued with the rest of our day.