Sunday, September 26, 2010

Atlanta, USA - My First US Trip

This Blog was supposed to be everything non HT, however given the sole purpose of this trip was to go to CEDIA, talk of HT is kind inevitable.

At approx 5:30 on Sunday, September 19, 2010, Sammy and I boarded a plane for the US. Unlike my previous China trip, we actually had to take a domestic flight from Brisbane air port to connect with International in Sydney. Technically our flight was international, so we had to arrive at the Brisbane domestic airport with the same 3 hours arrival time before departure, however because this was domestic, there was no “duty free” until Sydney. And you got to love duty free shopping. Especially when you know what the RRP is in the store. My purchase was about 40% cheaper and Sammy’s was almost half price.

The connecting flight to the US was scheduled to take 12 hours, 50 minutes, and we arrived in LAX on Sunday the 19th at about the same time as we boarded in Australia. International flights are neat in that you get complementary alcohol with the main meal and a neat in-flight entertainment system loaded with all the latest films (on video) as well games and a decent selection of CDs.

LAX was different. Clearly since 911, security of airports have risen to levels that might be considered over the top and in the end of the day, if you haven’t got anything to hide, then this should not pose a problem. The purpose of our trip was to attend the US CEDIA (Custom Electronic Design Installation Association) and to use this as an opportunity to show off the MK4 lens. Now this lens is packed in a “storm case” which is basically an ABS, padded lockable case for the transportation of fragile equipment. And for some reason, airport X-Ray can’t see through this box, so it immediately causes concern by security personal. I have no problem opening and explaining what it is and once they see it, neither do they. However at LAX, as soon as it went through the X-Ray, a very large security officer called out (or is that shouted) “BRAVO” and everyone was instructed to freeze and step away from the counters and all bags.

I’m going to run with the story that we think this was a call for a possible “bomb threat” given that is small black box could not be seen through by X-Ray. The officer quickly called an “all clear” and thanked us for participating in the “drill”. Interesting to say the least. Of course the usual Lap Top clearance is required, and so are shoes and even the removal of electronic items like a Nintendo DS. Sammy even had to remove her belt.

So we had 4 hours to kill whilst awaiting to board out connecting flight to Atlanta…

After 4 hours, we were able to board the plane. I used this time (now being night time in the US) to sleep so as to adjust to the new time zone. Both Sammy and I arrived at just after 6 in the morning local time. We were on our way to take a shuttle bus when a limo driver said that he would take us to our hotel for $45.00 (cab rates) instead of limo rates. I had no idea how far the hotel was so took the chance that we were going to get a better deal (time wise anyway) than using a shuttle bus. Given the distance, it turned out to be a very good deal. If we had used the shuttle bus, we wouldn’t have arrived at the hotel for over an hour.

The hotel (Ritz-Carlton) is exceptional. To my surprise, the hotel let us into our room at arrival time instead of making us wait for the proper 2PM check in.

Given we had spent the last 30 hours traveling, an early check in and a nice hot shower was much appreciated.

We decided that since we did manage to sleep on the connecting flight, that we wouldn’t sleep that day. It payed off for us and although we were both very tired by that night, we actually got to do stuff in the day. As for ‘jet lag’, I’d say the weirdest part was not knowing what day it was. Monday was a long day. It was good and we used it to test the rail system and visited “The World Of Coca-Cola”.

Atlanta is the home of Coca-Cola and they have a display open that features memorabilia from all around the world, 3D IMAX and a mini plant that allows you see the product being bottled. At the end of the tour is a tasting room where you can experience about 60 different products.

On Tuesday, we decided to go exploring and make sure we knew where to go for CEDIA on Wednesday. We decided to take the CNN tour which whilst not everyone’s cup of tea, I found it quite interesting. We had lunch at a place called “Taco-Mac” and I do wonder why the name, as there was next to no Mexican food there. Affordable and tasty.

My friend Tim (lives in Charlot, about 4 hours drive away) was working in town and took Sammy and I out to dinner. It was good to see him again since his visit in Australia. We went to a place called The Fish Market which has fresh fresh caught daily and specialize in sea food dishes. My 'trout' was really tasty.

Wednesday was another trip into CEDIA so I could attend a course on “THX Baffle Walls”. I am glad that the research I did paid off and I actually got it right. What are the chances that the very first person I speak to (presenter of the course) over here comes from Sydney?

Thursday. CEDIA day one and a chance to meet the guys from AVS. We did what might be best called a “projector crawl” similar to a pub crawl except no beer. I got to meet HT design legend Dennis Erskrine, Scott (GetGray) Horton, and others that frequent the $20K+ section on AVS. I also introduced myself to the guys at THX and got to show off the Aussiemorphic Lens MK4.

Friday. CEDAI day 2 was more of the same and to my surprise, an invite to the THX reception.

It was here that I got to meet Laurie Fitcher (THX technical director) and all the guys including guys from Video and R&D that took great interest in the MK4. There was a pre-planned dinner at “Abattoirs” from 7PM, though we didn’t make it to 9PM which worked out really well as most of the others were going to the Digital Projection party at The Hard Rock CafĂ© until 9 anyway.

Saturday. CEDIA day 3 and after mid day, we met up with Tim and Artimis and went to visit the Atlanta Aquarium.

This is the largest salt water aquarium in the world and the main tank has four whale sharks. They also have Baluka whales. Impressive to say the least.

Sunday. CEDIA day 4 and the last chance to network. CEDIA finished early and we were planning on going to head to the Museum, but didn’t quite make it.

Monday. Given we had a day to ourselves, we decided to do another tourist thing and go to the Atlanta zoo. The ticket book we purchased said that we could do a train/bus link to the zoo. However when we got to the train station to take the bus, we discovered that the particular bus route had been canceled. just 2 days prior. Worse than that, we found we were in a pretty seedy part of town. There was even what appeared to be dried blood on the stainless steel travellator. We elected to back track back to down town and taxi it out to the zoo.

The zoo was quite impressive. Like Western Plains zoo in Dubbo, there are no 'cages' and the environments are designed to hopefully better replicate the animals native habitat. The best part was the panda exhibit. And to think, even though I went to China last year, this was going to be the place I got to see this amazing animals.

Tuesday. Heading home and we used a taxi to get to the airport. Once there, we were faced with a weight issue and had to remove items from our luggage because we were over 50 pounds. Luckily, the airline allowed 2 hand items as carry on.

Once in LA, we decided to do our duty free shopping and just as well. I don't mind a drop Bacardi Rum, and in Australia, the RRP of a litre bottle is about $45. Duty free in Australia was $28 and in the US, the same was $22USD [at the time, the Aussie dollar was high 90's] and for just 50 cents more, I could get a 1.75L bottle! We were allowed 2.5L each, so we got two 1.75L bottles for just over what a 1L bottle costs here. Gotta love duty free :)

Duty free is sealed in the US which worked out good for us as it allowed us to carry it on instead of having to check in. Customs asked us what we had and had no problem with the fact that we had this plus two open bottles in our checked luggage.

So overall, I highly recommend a trip to Atlanta. I had fun , the locals were friendly and got to experience many new things and hope to visit the US again soon.


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