Ok, so this is a strange thing to blog about. But I have been thinking about it a lot over the past few weeks.
I lost my mother to cancer. She lost her sister to cancer. I know, as I’m sure you will know, someone who is currently managing cancer in their lives. In fact I’m sure everyone knows someone who has been affected by cancer. It is, in some respects a modern condition. It strikes indiscriminately.
At the moment , we are all shocked and horrified at the huge loss of life in Japan after the earthquake and Tsunami. They estimate that 50,000 people may have perished.
In 2008, 12.7 million people were diagnosed with Cancer worldwide of which 7.6 million died. In many ways , lifestyle choices can reduce your risk of Cancer, and your risk of getting increases with age. According to cancer researcher Robert A. Weinberg, “If we lived long enough, sooner or later we all would get cancer.”

A lot of work is going on to try to understand Cancer, and find new ways to treat it. And we should always remember that these treatments might one day help you.

My reason for talking about this is I try to do regular fund raising for Cancer research. This year’s Relay for Life is one such undertaking, and I’m going to ask you for a little support.

On Friday 18th March, I will start a 24 hour DJ session from within Second Life. There will be donation boxes nearby for any Second Lifers who are there. If you are not in Second Life, you can still listen in by selecting the URL below on your browser  If you do listen in, you can drop me a request or even just say hello using facebook chat. You can also find your local national Cancer charity, and maybe drop them a few Dollars, pounds, shekels or whatever you have in your wallet. Remember, someday you might be grateful that they have found a way to deal with this epidemic illness.Music URL

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How time flies!

Just over a year ago, I had the privelage of flying the UK Fire Service rescue team to Haiti, after the Earthquake tragedy. I spent a few weeks waiting down in the Dominican Republic, and we operated a couple of flights into Port Au Prince. We had then waited long enough to be asked to fly the UKFS team home again, and on the way back I did a few short interviews with them, that ended up on youtube

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Banthoy L’boeun in Phnom Penh

Phnom Penh

Phnom Penh has been my “home” now for almost 4 weeks. The humid rainy season has come to
an end and the ” Dry” season is upon us. This means the heavy torrential downpours have
gone from a daily occurence to an occasional weekly event.

TonleSap Airlines Offices - where I am working

The city is like any other in East, busy, bustling, noisy and with unbelievable traffic.
There are no taxi’s here. Public transport consists of Tuk Tuks Tuk Tuk's which are licensed, and
Motorbikes..which are not. The Motor bike is the favoured means of transport, and
it is not unusual to see whole families driving around on a Motorbike, with only the Father
wearing a crash helmet ( to comply with the law). Women passengers ride side saddle,
a concept that looks singularly unsafe to me as they weave their way through the traffic.
Motorbikes appear to have no rules at all. They drive the wrong way up one way streets,
ignore traffic lights, take to the footpath when the roads are busy, and make car journeys
a truly terrifying experience.

I was lucky enough to be invited to a wedding last week. Weddings are a REALLY big deal
down here. They are an all day afffair, starting with the bridegroom arriving at the Bride’s
house along with his entourage. At some stage a Buddhist Monk shows up to bless the marriage
, and the celebrations begin. Ultimately the wedding party arrive at a large hall.
Depending on weather , guests can number up to 1000, as EVERYONE gets invited.

Ultimately, the plan is to make a” wedding dowry” out of the event. Everyone invited is given
an envelope to put in a ” gift” for the new couple. The more people they invite, the bigger
the ” surplus ” after the costs of the dinner and party. Usually ( if the weather is kind enough
to encourage people to attend) the couple can end up with around $4000 to $5000 profit,
which, if you bear in mind that a reasonable monthly salary here is $400 a month, is a nice start
to happily wedded bliss.

Restaurants here are plentiful and hugely varied. Some of the best eating is in small, family
run restaurants, who serve delicious local dishes. Fish is popular here, as the city sits on the
confluence of the Mekong and TonleSap rivers. There are some of the usual ” Western” fast food places…and quite a number of restaurants set up by ex-pats. Steve’s Steakhouse is just
around the corner from my apartment and today had a special evening , celebrating Steve’s
Dad’s 90th Birthday! I stopped by to join in the festivities and enjoy a great Argentinian steak.

While Tourism is a big part of the economy here, Phnom Penh doesn’t get a lot. Most visitors
to Cambodia either go to the beaches or head for Siem Reep to see the ancient temples
of Ankor Wat. However, this weekend the city is full of visitors for the Annual Water festival
which lasts three days. My local hosts have advised me that during this festival, walking is
MANDATORY as all the roads close to the river are full of people and no cars ,Tuk Tuks or
even motorbikes can use the roads because of all the people. Upwards of 2 MILLION people
are expected to come into the city from outlying areas for the festival.

The festival itself is celebrating the time of year when the TonleSap river reverses course.
The river is fed from a huge lake by the same name. As the Dry Season develops, the lake
shrinks, causing water that previously flowed out of the lake, to , instead, flow back into
the lake. On the river, in Phnom Penh, there are huge illuminated floats, Dragon Boat races,
Live Music and all sorts of entertainment.

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You’re going WHERE?

Winter..a season of cold, wet , short least in Iceland. With our flying program dropping off, I knew I’d be sent off somewhere in the world to fly. The past two years involved a couple of Months in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, flying Hajj Pilgrims, so I was pretty sure this year would be the same.

Then I got the phone call! “ Cambodia?? You want me to go to Cambodia?? “  “ Yes,” my boss replied, “a couple of months, setting up a new operation. “

Why is it that some places immediately conjure up images of horror, terror and deprivation? I should have reacted better, seeing as I spent years meeting people from around the world who thought of Ireland as a place full of terrorists. So I did my research ( the dry season starts in November), packed my bags ( average temperature 28C) and set off to the far east.

A couple of days spent at our offices near Gatwick airport in the UK ( cold and wet) and I head off to Heathrow to catch my EVA airways flight to Bangkok, with onward connection to Phnom Penh. I haven’t been to the Far East much, so once I got past images of Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge and the Killing fields, I started to look forward to the trip

A Busy terminal 3 at heathrow 

Heathrow terminal 3  was as busy as always. Its the main Intercontinental terminal so lots of people who’s first language is NOT English wander around aimlessly until gathered up by airline staff and pointed in the general direction of their flight. I was lucky wnough to get access to the business lounge giving me a chance to catch up on telling my friends and family I was going to be away for a while, in a place where I had no idea what level of Communication I might have with the rest of the world!

EVA airlines Business Lounge

Finally headed towards the gate, to meet my fellow passengers, most of whom were going on vacation to Bangkok. Approaching the departure gate, I was asked to put my hand baggage on the floor so it could be checked by a sniffer dog. At first I thought he ( the cute spaniel) was checking for drugs, but then I realised no-one would be taking drugs TO Bangkok! It turns out the dog was checking for cash, as the guy ahead of me found the dog getting VERY excited about his rucksack. Bizarrely, when asked by the Dog Handler if he had cash in the bag, he admitted to having over £5000 in cash, to which the Dog handler just said “ Fine, thank you, sorry for bothering you”!!!!!!  I can only imagine what he needed that much cash for on a trip to Thailand.

Business class on EVA Boeing 777

Seat 9F was my “ Home “ for the next 10 hours. Caught up on my movies, including watching Inception again. Weird but entertaining movie . Dinner, a good sleep and a couple of glasses of wine later, I land in Bangkok International Airport for a three hour wait until my flight to Phnom Penh.

Struggling to stay awake, I boarded my Bangkok Airlines to Phnom Penh

Boarding gate

and having been met by the very helpful Sopheap, made my way wearily to my hotel.

I have since moved into a serviced apartment on the 11th floor, with wonderful views over the cityView from my baclony and even better at night

PP 0311 023

More to come, as I explore this amazing city!

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Linden Lab – what now?

The devastation of the staff numbers in Linden Lab, owner of Second Life, has caused great concern amongst the customers. The layoffs seem to have centred around all the customer support areas, with a number of regional offices closing completely.
On the one hand , this sort of drastic “surgery” can often be seen as necessary to save a sick patient. On the other hand, it can be seen as the last drastic action to cut overheads to ensure survival. Either way, we now need a dramatic and POSITIVE message from Linden Labs to reassure the customers.
Part of the announcement included the statement that LL were actively working on an application for the iPad and iPhone. This COULD be the solution to taking Second Life into mainstream. Let’s hope its not too late!

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Volcanic Ash – where next?

It’s hard to miss the talk about where the Volcanic Ash from Iceland will be next, disrupting travel for all concerned. This is a new concept for us in Northern Europe, although we have other Volcanoes , especially in Italy. In the US and Asia, however, they have been dealing with this for many years.
I managed to avoid flying in Europe since the erutpions started, until last week, that is. I was operating a flight on behalf of BMI from London Heathrow to Freetown . Amongst our passengers was the President of Sierra Leone, on his way back from China.
To avoid Spain and Morocco ( who’s airspace was closed due to the ash) we had to head east, and stop for fuel in Naples.
When we got there, and had refuelled for the 6 hour trip to Freetown, we were told that we could not transit through Algeria because we didn’t have an overflight permit!
And this is where the job gets challenging. The entorurage of the Sierra Leone President start making calls to Foreign Ministers offices, High Commissions, and soon everyone on the aircraft is aware that some political power is coming into play. Our Operations department start working on rerouting us back through Spain as the airspace was starting to open again, and (just to add another twist) a Polish passenger became alarmed that we were going to head off into Africa under pressure from the President, thereby putting ourselves and the passengers in danger ! Plainly, recent events were on her mind.
So it took some amazing diplomatic work by my colleagues who were flying the plane, to calm everyone down, and get on our way.
Needless to say we never saw or encountered any Volcanic ash.
But I suspect we’ll see more disruption over the weeks and months ahead.

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Metameets 2010

Over in Dublin for Metameets 2010, a virtual worlds conference. Had a great night out in Gogarty’s in Temple Bar, a pub close to my heart for a number of reasons. We were treated to a some free Beers by the owner of the Bar, a generous offer that was well received.    Dublin080510 008 Dublin080510 003

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