Wednesday, August 17, 2011

5 tips for surviving long-haul flights

Having recently returned from a trip to UK and Europe (from Perth, Western Australia), I thought I would summarise some of my tips on how to survive long haul flights.

1. Be prepared!
Here are some supplies that I have found to be useful on board long haul flights:
1) A small (<100ml) bottle of hand sanitiser.
2) A few of those moist towelette things that you get from some takeaway stores.
3) Eye mask.
4) A neck pillow.
5) A pen.
6) A double-pronged airplane headphone adaptor.
7) A pashmina scarf/shawl.
8) A very small multi-purpose moisturiser - for dry lips, hands etc.
9) A small bag of hard candies and some chewing gum.
10) Lightweight entertainment! Suggestions: an mp3 player loaded with long and interesting pod-casts/music, a small games console, a paperback, book of puzzles etc.  

2. Noise reduction
A recent article on WAToday confronted the negativity that is often aimed at the parents of crying children on flights:

"Sure enough, at 35,000 feet, crying began in stereo, with two tots screaming. Dads passed babies to mums. Mums passed babies to dads. The crying continued - two minutes, three minutes, four minutes. One baby finally quieted but the other, a girl about 18 months old, kept up the wail, arching her back, screaming her misery. Passengers started staring at the mother. They ruffled their newspapers. Turned up their overhead fans. Blasted the volume on their headphones. Anything to make the noise go away."

On my recent flight (from London to Kuala Lumpur) I was seated right next to several families with young children (several of which were crying and screaming for long periods). Was I annoyed or irritated? No! The reason? I always bring two things on ANY flight: ear plugs, and "isolation" headphones (which I use simulaneously). The exact type of headphones that I used was: "Direct Impact, Extreme Isolation". Although the isolation headphones are rather bulky (and need careful storage during travel so as to avoid damage), they are just excellent for reducing noise during flights. Even without screaming babies or chatty teens, the sheer noise from the engines is enough to exert a stressful influence on the ears. Being able to block this can greatly improve your ability to survive any flight with minimal psychological and physiological impact. I have found that with the ear-plug, headphones combo, I don't even need to play music to block out most sounds. Whilst watching a movie or listening to music, the blocking-out effect is absolute,...what bliss!

3. Drugs
I don't want to give you the wrong impression here. I do not advocate prolonged or excessive use of any drug (legal or illegal) as I believe when it comes to drugs and the human body, less is best! Although I prefer not to overload my liver in the long-term, I can hardly ignore the beneficial and useful phsyiological effects of drugs in the short-term. Antihistamines, naprogesic, paracetamol,.. ahh blessed be those little magic little pills for the relief that you deliver! With a little bit of help, the right combination can turn the unbearable eternity of long-haul flights into a fleeting blur. In my cabin bag I take a small stash of: paracetamol, ginger capsules and sleeping pills (in my case, temazepam). The ginger capsules work like gold on motion sickness, settling the stomach and battling any pangs of nausea. And I can't speak highly enough of using sleeping pills to get through a night on a plane. They are only recommended when you have longer than 8 hours on board. Although I did not sleep continually for the whole 8 hours, time passed very quickly and I was continually shocked upon checking my watch to find that 2-3 hours had passed in what felt like a 30 minute nap. Sleeping pills are also good for reducing the physical discomfort of sitting in the same position for hours at a time. You do have to be disciplined with sleeping pills though, and make sure that you don't use them upon returning home as they can be addictive and highly disruptive to natural sleeping patterns.

4. Clothing and hygiene
Aeroplane cabins are notoriously chilly. Even if the weather is sunny and warm at your departure and destination,... you should always be prepared for <20 celsius temperatures on board. This may not be an issue for the more thick-skinned, but if you are in any way sensitive to the cold, be warned! On my recent flights I wore leggings and a long-sleeve cardigan under a winter jacket. At times the cabin warmed up and I could lose the jacket,... but I am very glad I had the leggings. One thing I always try to do for a flight, is to put on an absolutely fresh and clean set of clothes before leaving for the airport. This can be hard when you are travelling and laundry facilities are hard to come by, but wearing clean underwear, socks etc really helped me last the extra mile. In the past, when I did not do this, by the time I reached my destination I felt super gross, like I would on a Sunday morning after a big night out; hungover, nauseous, with that somewhat clammy feeling of being still dressed in the clothes from the night before. This is not a great feeling! I also recommend bringing a toothbrush and toothpaste and brushing your teeth at the airport before boarding, for similar reasons. I also believe that being clean also helps get through immigration and customs!? Apparently having a beard or looking stubbly can cause problems for male passengers passing as they disembark. Bizarre I know, but I have seriously been told this by several male friends.  

5. Manners and courtesy
I know this sounds obvious to many, but some passengers do not seem to realise that by they can actually improve their own flight experience by extending good manners to those around them. Aeroplane flights are like a macrocosm of karmic retribution. Smile and thank all air attendants as they check your boarding pass and direct you to your seat. Pay attention to the lifejacket demonstration even if you have seen it a million times before. You cannot anticipate what needs you may have during the flight,... what if you become sick, what if you need to make a special request? If you have been polite and courteous to the cabin crew, then it will be much easier to call on their assistance if required. Courtesy to the other passengers around you will also go far. Make sure that none of your belongings intrude on their space. Keep your elbows from overhanging over the arm rest. Don't make too many unnecessary noises (eating very crunchy food for long periods, rustling through loud crackly plastic bags for belongings, talking or laughing at an excessive volume, using game consoles etc with the volume on). If you are waiting for another passenger to move for some reason, be patient. If they have wriggling children, try and be empathetic. By extending human decency to the people around you, you will have a much more pleasant experience. Other passengers will be more obliging and less annoyed if you need to climb over them to go to the toilet. Also, if there is ever some sort of emergency, you never know whose hands your life might be in!

Do you have any tips for surviving long distance flights?

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The best albums of 2011 (so far)

Here are some of my favourite albums of 2011 so far (in loose order). Yes I DO like subpop!

1. Low - C'mon

A track from the album:

2. Braids - Native Speaker

A track from the album:

3. The Antlers - Burst Apart

A track from the album:

4. Starfucker - Reptilians

A track from the album:

5. Julianna Barwick - The Magic Place

A track from the album:

6. My Morning Jacket - Circuital

A track from the album:

7. Washed Out - Within and Without

A track from the album:

8. Cape Dory - Tennis

A track from the album:

9. Papercuts - Fading Parade

A track from the album:

10. Cults - Cults

A track from the album:

Monday, June 6, 2011

Meal made from leftovers

I only had a few random vegetables in the fridge so I made a few different salads and combined them altogether to make a passable meal.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Books I've read recently

The Door Into Summer by Robert A. Heinlein

An intriguing story of suspended animation and time travel written in a wonderfully curious and sardonic tone. Recommended, 7/10.

The Man From Beyond and other stories by John Wyndham

Stories of aliens ship-wrecked on earth, space travel, alternate history, time-travelling tourists, insidious planet-threatening red goo, alien/human misunderstanding, occult horror and musings on the whereabouts of the souls of those cryogenically frozen. I LOVE John Wyndham! Some stories are stronger than others but as a whole, this is a solid compilation. Recommended, 7/10.
The Woman in the Dunes by Kobo Abe

A simple yet bizarre story of a man trapped at the bottom of a sandpit with it's female resident. A genuinely chilling and perfectly constructed existential horror. Recommended, 9/10.
Tomorrow by Philip Wylie.

A story describing the response of two small American cities to the threat and eventuality of nuclear attack. Major flaws in character development and overall tone. Not recommended 4/10.

Friday, March 25, 2011


Limitless. So this is not normally a film that I would rush out and see. But, a few friends wanted to see a movie, any movie!, preferably an ACTION movie. So, Limitless it was!

So the basic story-line is, a struggling writer gets a hold of a new, not-yet-approved super drug that him super intelligent for 8 hours or so. He finishes his book in four days, and then tackles the stock market in order to achieve supreme wealth in a matter of weeks. 

With films, I have a basic test: watchable or unwatchable? I think that the line of watchable or unwatchable hovers around 2.5 out of 5 stars. Are all of the film elements of a passable level in their own right?... and do all of those film elements mesh together imperceptably to create a believable scenario that draws you in to the point where you forget about your own life, your own body sitting their in the chair, the un-eaten jar of nuts in your bag?... On this point, Limitless passes the test! I give this film a 3.5 out of 5. It's definitely above a pass, with seamlessly arty special effects, an apt sound-track, believable casting and acting.

There is also something to be said about films that are based on books. Limitless is based on a novel of the same name by British author Alan Glynn. Contrasted with other action films (that often have only limited dialogue peppered throughout expansive visual action scenes), Limitless has an intelligent and thoughtful narrative flowing throughout the entire film, adding a layer of interest for the cognitive senses.

Thematically, the film (and novel) are apt and timely; at present, smart drugs are actually starting to become available through both legal and illegal means. This film will therefore be of use to various high-school and university teachers wanting to engage students in discussion regarding the ethical complications that these sorts of drugs will have as they permeate society.

A few of the major thinking points that this film raised for me are:

1. Currently, Olympic athletes must pass drug tests in order to compete. What sort of status would smart drugs have in society in terms of regulation and control? Would aspiring students need to pass drug tests in order to entire prestigious colleges or companies? Or would these colleges and companies tolerate the use of such drugs in respect to the intellectual advantages and productive benefits that may result from usage by students or employees?

2. What kind of impact would these drugs have on society if they are only available to those who can afford/obtain the drug? How would you feel if you were applying for a job in competition with a person using a "smart drug"? Would it become necessary for you to also take the drug in order to retain competitiveness?

3. The drug portrayed in this film is an "intelligence" drug, which enables the user to fully draw on his own memory and neural pathways, recognise patterns and make accurate predictions. In my experience, however, intelligence is separate from motivation and action. It's one thing to be a high level thinker, but another to be motivated enough to do something with your intelligence. This relates to the legitimacy (or lack thereof) of judging individuals on IQ. Provided that the IQ is high enough (ie, 100), individuals have been known to achieve great things in life due to motivation and sheer tenacity. Having a genius IQ does not mean you will create genius work,...  making a mark on the world usually entails a great deal of perserverance, effort and productive activity. People may take a smart drug expecting that they will suddenly shoot to the top of the ladder, but I think a lot of people make it in this world by actually putting in the hours (whether that be through research, repetition, vast productivity, or networking with the right people and entering the circle of cronyism at the top of many organisations).

At the end of the day, Limitless is very watchable; exploring interesting issues regarding the human use of performance enhancing substances; which is certainly a phenomenon that is not going away any time soon.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

127 Hours - human survival at it's most extreme

Last night I went to a preview screening of 127 hours at the outdoor cinema at Burswood. As I expected from reading some reviews prior, the film was excellent. All of the film elements: script, casting, acting, set, sound, music, cinematography, editing/pacing, effects etc were singularly exceptional and also perfectly gelled together.

The dynamic soundscape, bright colours, slightly raw but crisp and powerful camera-work made for a strong impact on the senses. The representation of Aron: as reckless, bold and adventurous; spontaneous, creative and unhinged; a loving son; a young man reflecting on the failures in his life; and finally, the mix of a primal, wild super-human mad-courage and a serious, calculated and desperation-driven rationality that enabled him to cut his own arm off.

The story is inspiring because many of us would not be able to do the same. Many of us would perish, pinned by the rock. It reveals the human survival instinct at its most extreme, and it serves as a reminder for all the softies out there (myself included) to toughen the $%#* up!.

I thought I'd now dedicate the rest of this blog entry to some other brave self-amputees (being, as they are, so few in numbers - at least according to Wikipedia). On the"Self-surgery: Amputation of Trapped Limbs" page of Wikipedia, there are only four other individuals mentioned other than Aron Ralston. The following text has been copied and pasted from this page (and the cited pages). Warning: not for the squeamish!

On July 20, 1993, Donald Wyman was clearing land in a remote section of Pennsylvania, as part of his work for a mining company. In the process, a tree rolled over his shin, severely breaking the leg, and pinning Wyman to the ground. He yelled for help for one whole hour, but no one came. He concluded that the only way to save his life would be to cut off his leg. So he made a tourniquet out of his shoe string and tightened it with a wrench. Then he took his pocket knife and cut through the skin, the muscle and bone just above the knee and freed himself. He crawled thirty yards to a bulldozer, drove a quarter-mile to his truck, then maneuvered the standard transmission with his good leg and a hand until he reached a farm house one-and-a-half miles away, with his leg bleeding profusely. The farmer at the house helped him get to a hospital where his life was spared.
In 1993 Bill Jeracki was fishing near St. Mary's Glacier in Colorado, when a boulder pinned his left leg. Snow was forecast and without a jacket or pack, Jeracki didn't believe he would survive the night. Fashioning a tourniquet out of his flannel shirt and using his bait knife, he cut his leg off [3] at the knee joint, using hemostats from his fishing kit to clamp the bleeding arteries.

In 2002 Doug Goodale cut off his own arm [4] at the elbow in order to survive an accident at sea. He had become caught in a winch hauling lobster pots up from the sea floor, and could not free himself. The power of the winch left him hanging over the side of the boat, unable to either free himself or clamber back aboard. Somehow he managed to haul himself back onto the deck, dislocating his shoulder in the process. However, he was still trapped in the winch, bleeding heavily, and with no way of getting free, his only option was to pick up a knife and cut through his right arm. He then managed to pilot his boat back into harbour to get medical help.

In 2003 an Australian coal miner trapped three kilometres underground by an overturned tractor cut off his own arm[5] with a box-cutting knife. The 44-year-old man, who was not identified by police, was working late at the Hunter Valley mine when the tractor tipped over, crushing his arm and trapping him.

Monday, February 7, 2011

You can't ignore MONEY

If you had of asked me 7 years ago what I thought about the topics of "money", "investment", "economics" etc I probably would have said: "BORING!". I grew up in a middle-class household where money wasn't a big issue (or one that was even spoken about),... and I also found the subject slightly distasteful. I did poorly at Economics in Grade 10, I think because at the time I found it to be abstract and had no experience in its practical application.

Today I am hardly a bastion of knowledge when it comes to the subject of money/finance. Don't ask me any questions about Keynesian economics (ask Ai-Ling!). I have very little in savings, zero investments and no assets. But a few things have changed since then.

Probably the biggest thing that has changed is: I have recently noticed that, uh, the whole world is currently in a tremendously momentous period of change due to developments in global and regional management of MONEY. If you are interested in the past, present and particularly the future path of human-kind, therefore, there is absolutely no way you can ignore this subject.

A problem that I have with the subject of money, is how enormous, expansive and complex the world economy is. There is no way that I will ever understand either its entirety or all of the tiny cogs and micro-machinations that it is composed of. I am not an economist, I do not work in finance and I never plan to. So it can be hard to come to any sort of understanding, when you only dedicating perhaps 1% of your time towards it.

One video that I found really helpful was Money as Debt by Paul Grignon. The most useful part of this video, I thought, was a very simple and visual explanation of how finance came to exist. So at first people were trading gold. Carrying gold around all the time was not very practical, so people started storing their gold with other people who offered the service. These first "bankers" then issued pieces of paper stating the amount of gold that each person had deposited, which people then used as currency. Then the bankers realised that they could easily issue MORE PIECES OF PAPER than ingots of gold... because people hardly ever came and retrieved the physical gold. I learnt that in these early times, rules were developed about the ratio of "paper money" to physical gold that the bankers were allowed to "create" ie, the birth of fractional reserve banking. But of course lots of people didn't abide by these rules. I don't know the figures,... but say,... at first the ration was 4 paper units:1 gold ingot,... this later became 10000 paper units:gold ingot... something like that. Of course this is all simplified but it really helped me to understand how the world of finance was born.

I was also pretty interested to find out, that when you take out a loan, the bank
WRITES THAT MONEY INTO EXISTENCE. Ie, you ask for $400K for a home loan. The bank says: "sure thing!" and then writes $400,000 on its balance sheet. Even though the $400 is in the negative, that debt can then be "re-packaged" into some-one else's investment. So when you see those clips on the news of money being printed... and you think that's how most money comes into existence,.. it's not really true. Money is virtual!

One thing that I find really bizarre and a bit scary, is that the world of finance/the amount of "virtual" money that is created and traded in the stock-market etc is way bigger than the actual world economy. The amounts of debt just kept increasing, puffing up like a massive balloon... and now, in most places in the world this has popped/or is rapidly deflating,... taking down with it the ACTUAL economy. The balance sheets of ACTUAL companies involved in real physical products and services.

So everyone is panicking, selling their "virtual" monies and buying physical gold again,... but unfortunately that is removing a lot of the actual finance and liquidity that was required by actual businesses to go on operating.

It's a little surreal, living in Australia where large effects from the global financial crisis have yet to hit home. I look at the rest of the world and feel sad for the low-middle classes of very normal people around the world who have now had the brunt of the crash forced upon them as austerity measures such as reduction/elimination of social services, pensions, welfare, public health, education etc. I think only time will tell if Australia will suffer a similar fate...

Anyway, to sum this post up,... we are now living in a time where MONEY is the biggest player of our times. It will be extremely interesting to see how things go from here,.. we can only hope that more people will try to understand it and hopefully be able to curtail its worst abuses.