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Farewell A380, we hardly knew you

I’ve flown across the Atlantic for decades in a variety of 747s, and occasionally a 777 or two, but mainly 747s. Thinking that they’d be retired sometime in the not too distant future, we’ve been looking for chances to ride upstairs whenever we could, while we still could.

On our most recent return trip from LHR to ORD we had our first chance to sample to A380, the Airbus Industries answer to the 747. We flew on the upper deck partly because the slightly lower seating density made me think it might be a little quieter.

The overall feel is of a 777 or similar, with no sense at all that’s there’s what amounts to another plane load of people underneath you. The fuselage is pudgy, bulging, and a little bloated looking, but inside it’s all very familiar. The first clue that things were different came on takeoff, which was as quiet, or quieter, as any commercial aircraft I can think of. There’s very little wind noise, and almost no engine noise, it’s almost eerie. Looking out the window across the wing, I suspect that the composite manufacture is responsible for some of this – there are no seams or rivets, gaps, or openings. I have the feeling that A.I. also invested heavily in sound insulation behind the trim panels, but however they achieved it, the level of quiet is impressive.

Our flight was uneventful, and our descent into O’Hare felt steep and fast – perhaps it was? Landing was buttery smooth, with none of the bone jarring drama that I’ve experienced more than once on a 747, including one occasion where the luggage bins flew open and oxygen masks fell from their cubby holes, so great was the impact.

The 747 will always be a more iconic aircraft, in part because it was so bold when introduced over 50 years ago, but as a passenger I’m inclined to take the A380 given the choice.

Ratatouille – not just a movie

So here’s my approach to Ratatouille : it works for me!Starts by chopping onion:

Slice off the top and bottom of the onion, the bottom (root side) has the two circular shapes.


Slice across the side of the onion, and peel away the skin


Now stand on end and slice in half (this is the root end, or bottom of the onion)


Now stand with the root end down on the cutting board; the tight knots on the root end will hold the onion together for the next steps. Starting at the cut side slice most of the way into the onion


Don’t cut all the way through!


and keep going until almost the outer edge


Lay it flat on the cut side, and slice in towards the root base, at right angles to the slices you just made


Keep going at 1/4″ intervals


Rotate and slice across the end, it should fall apart into neat chunks. Tuck your finger tips under (away from the knife edge) and slide the knife blade up and down against your knuckles (safer)


Keep going until you get to the root, which I discard


and repeat for the other half


Into the pan with a little olive oil


once it’s sweated a bit I add the garlic. Meanwhile, chop the red pepper


once the onions are cooked to the point of translucency, tip them in a bowl. If you cook them too long they’ll brown and become sweet, and that’s a different flavor profile


Peppers in the pan, now on a fairly high heat. You’ll need to shake the pan and toss the peppers as they cook.


meanwhile back to the cutting board and start on prep of the zucchini. Slice off the top and bottom


cut in half lengthwise


and again


now cut across the strips to make chunks


Go check the pepper to see how it’s coming along. You’re looking for some coloring to the skin, but the texture should still be firm. Add to the bowl with onion when done:


now for the back to the zucchini and into the pan!


turn the heat down a little, perhaps to 3/4 setting. While that cooks, get started on eggplant by slicing top and bottom off:


and then into slices of about 1/2″


Slice across each and then again at 90 degrees to create chunks


check the zucchini, you’re looking for a bit of color to indicate it’s done.


empty the zucchini into the bowl with pepper and onion, and put the eggplant in the pan


this will shrink and color as it cooks


once it reaches this stage empty it too into the bowl. Open the can of tomato and dump that into the pan


cook over quite high heat and it will bubble vigorously


cook until its thickened and the water reduced


test for seasoning – salt and pepper will be added now. Dump everything in and turn down the heat all the way


heat through so everything’s warm


And that’s pretty much it!



When travel loses its glamour

I’ve been traveling quite a bit this week, from Seattle to LA to Heathrow to Bradford, most recently flying from Bradford to Amsterdam.

As a kid flying was always at least a bit glamorous, but that’s vanished in many places – certainly absent from Leeds/Bradford airport. I have been in bus stations with better decor than than this airport which caters primarily to package tours, as evidenced by the fact that there’s nowhere to sit other than bars once you get air-side. What an armpit of an airport!

A fitting launch pad then for Jet2 flight, with its plastic bucket seats and filthy floors.

Traveling with gear

We travel internationally every year, and have done so for the last 15 years or more. I’ve always taken my photographic gear with me.

Checking baggage
I’ve checked video and film equipment into the hold as luggage with only minor incident. I use Pelican cases because they are rigid and have good foam protection for the contents. Here are a few tips based on my own experiences:

  • When traveling from, or within, the USA you should expect your luggage to be opened and searched. Secure checked baggage with plastic zip ties that can be easily cut for security inspection, and include a couple of spares inside the case on top of everything – I usually leave a note asking that the case be secured again and have never been disappointed.
  • If your case has a very good seal, as the Pelican cases do, it will often have a pressure relief valve to admit/exhaust air. Leave this open why checking the bags as otherwise air will escape past the seals, but not leak back in again. You’ll land with “sucked in” cases as a result of the lower pressure at altitude.

Carry on luggage
Make a point of reading your airlines restrictions carefully before traveling; learning something for the first time at check-in doesn’t give you many options. It’s not the gate agents fault that you didn’t read their rules regarding carry on luggage.

I’ve been caught out by weight restrictions once on BA. On a flight from the US to the UK there was no mention of a weight restriction for carry on, but the leg from the UK to the US they weighed my carry ons. At that time the limit was around 6kg or 13 lbs per bag.

Things I pack
I use a camera back-pack as my carry on, a Canon 200EG. It’s cheap, provides good protection, and the one I have at the moment has been going strong for over 5 years. In it I have:

  • Camera body, lenses, battery charger, spare battery
  • GPS data logger
  • Kindle; much less weight and space than a bunch of books to pass the time
  • Tom Tom GPS/SatNav preloaded with maps for where ever I’m going. Also packed is the windshield mount and in car power cord. Getting where you’re going from the rental counter is never difficult again
  • iGo charger. This one charger covers our phones, kindle, the GPS data logger and other sundry devices
  • Travel papers/documents

Upon arrival I usually take out the chargers and stuff I don’t need for daily outings to make a lighter pack.