So, after the Sydney portion of the trip, my friend and I decided to take a detour to New Zealand to the South Island (less urban than the North Island, incredibly beautiful). Our flight from Sydney to Christchurch was a simple affair - a 2.5 hour flight that removed an additional 2 hours from our watches (turns out that they are two time zones away from Australia).
Landing in the airport brought me back to my childhood when I used to visit the Ft. Lauderdale/Hollywood airport when I was a kid. The airport is small and quaint, with the rental cars sitting in the airport lot right outside the arrival baggage gates. Literally three minutes later, you find yourself in a residential neighborhood, and then five minutes after that - you are in the center of Christchurch.
Our stay was at the Crown Plaza, a four-star (which might be less or more) but it was enough of a point to start from. Big warning on the hotel - they have very "relaxed" service offerings, just be prepared for not the high-end style you'd expect at a US four-star. The highlight IMHO was the Japanese restaurant in the hotel (Yagawama) where they did their own version of Benihana - complete with the flying food (as they make the fried rice, they shuck the egg into a barrier of rice which is only inches away from your plate and face).
The majority of our trip was exploring various aspects of Christchurch and the South Island - we hit the wineries (my favorite was Winmara Point with great food and incredible primo Reisling) and the Spa at Hamner Springs (ehhh...reminded me of being on a cruise ship with the spa treatments) and the Hamner Springs themselves (I enjoyed the White Sulfur Springs Spa in Napa which was smaller, but similar).
For the most part, I caught up with an old post-graduate friend of mine (post graduate means grad school for those of us in the States), Professor Geoff Chase. Geoff is a full professor at the University of Canterbury and back when he and I were grad students at Stanford, we used to hang about and get into all sorts of mischief including swimming from Alcatraz on a cold Fall day.
Geoff (with his lovely wife MJ and two beautiful kids) have made an incredible life in NZ, and with his cadre of graduate students, have pushed the envelop on what is termed "model-based therapy" in healthcare. The concept is the use of dynamic models and concepts from system identification to determine the human responses to various variables and building an effective model whilst tuning the parameters that represent the process. For example, he is now able to effective measure the insulin response of a Type 1 and Type 2 diabetic (as well as normal people) with close to 95% accuracy using a relatively simple dynamic model to help in the management of glucose and insulin levels. His students have taken his work into areas of neo-natal care and other areas that show incredible promise.
Funny thing - Geoff has taken the concepts of control theory and applied them in ways that most medical science would not think of - relying on a simplification theory that actually works. More to come as I learn more from him about it.
Today - we ended up discovering that Jetstar requires you to be checked in 60 minutes before departure (whoops!) and then, when you check in, the airport taxes that you normally pay via your ticket - you have to pay directly at the airport at a separate window (nice thinking Quantas!).
We are off to Sydney in 90 minutes and will have photos of the trip up at http://www.flickr.com/photos/sdickert soon enough.