Archive for March, 2007

The Great Pocket Knife Exchange

Posted by Arlo on Mar 12, 2007 under Here's an Idea

Wengers The Giant, a $1200 pocket knife.Here’s an Idea:

I used to carry around a Victorinox Swiss Army knife.  The first one I owned was a present for my 16th birthday.  Thinking back, I must have had that red-and-white knife in my pocket most every day for 13 years or so.  I took it to work with me every day and it was an essential tool to take on vacations to foreign countries.  Then, of course, September 11th, 2001.  Being a big fan of traveling without checked luggage, I was forever forced to leave my knife at home.  Sadly, after a month-long vacation at the end of 2001, I got used to an empty pocket.

I still have a Swiss Army penknife on my keychain; however, I only ever seem to use it for cutting through packaging tape.  I miss the utility of a bigger knife, but I’m not sure I’ll ever go back to carrying one.  The spot I reserved for it, my right front pants pocket — keys on the left, wallet back right, loose change goes uncomfortably in the back left, otherwise it scratches up my phone or flies every which direction when I extract my keys — is now occupied by a cell phone.

I’ll wager the biggest hazard to Swiss Army knives and Leathermans (Leathermen?) is the TSA.  We’ve all heard stories of the stressed-out passengers who, after hours spent zigzagging through airport security lines, are forced to give up their expensive Swiss Army Knife, Leatherman, Zippo lighter, or any number of other “terrorist” items like, you know, a bottle of Diet Coke.  Rather than allowing the TSA to auction off our personal items on eBay, there’s got to be a business model here.

Set up kiosks in each airport, ideally in close proximity to the TSA screening areas.  When items are inevitably confiscated, passengers would be given the opportunity to trade them in for a ticket.  The ticket will record what item was left behind, and will be redeemable for an equivalent item, at a similar kiosk, in the airport of their destination.

I’m thinking this would work a lot like the DVD rental stores that have been popping up in airports.  Rent a portable DVD player and a couple movies in Sea-Tac, return them to a different store on the way to the baggage claim at LAX.

Unfortunately, there would be no guarantee that the kiosk at your destination would have the same model of pocket knife for exchange.  In that case, the enterprising business could opt to let you select an item of equivalent value, or let you keep your ticket until you return home.  If all the kiosks’ inventory were tracked by computer, it should be easy enough to notify the “home airport” to hang on to the passenger’s original item until their return.  In fact, that could be another whole aspect to the business.  Instead of an exchange (which would only really be advantageous to the passenger that simply must have a pocket knife or lighter while traveling), the kiosk could simply be a storage area for those passengers that forgot to leave behind or check their “dangerous” items.  It could operate like a pawn shop, holding the item for a set amount of time before ultimately gaining the right to sell unclaimed items for a profit.

An idea like this would initially only work in the major airports, but over time, if inventory is collected and redistributed intelligently, I could see it expanding to out-of-the-way places like Juneau International.  Of course, to make it profitable, the business would probably have to charge for the service, but I’d much rather pay a small fee than surrender a 13-year-old birthday present to the TSA simply because I was running late for my flight.

Kalahaku Overlook

Posted by Arlo on Mar 9, 2007 under Photography, Postcard Valet

Haleakala Crater from Kalahaku Overlook

I have a new theory.  The time I spend playing with a picture in Photoshop is inversely proportional to the quality of the original image.  On the face of it, that seems obvious, right?  If the photo sucks, you’re really going to have to work it over in the digital darkroom.  But then, if the picture is good, Photoshop work is more like play, and I can spend hours playing…  Okay, so maybe my new theory doesn’t have a proof.

This is a stitched panorama of the immense Haleakala Crater on Maui Island, Hawaii.  I believe it’s taken from the Kalahaku Overlook, but because Oksana and I stumbled upon this scenic view, I could be mistaken.  I wrote a bit about that day.

The view is awesome, of course, in the true sense of the word.  We spent at least 45 minutes hanging out at the railing, took countless pictures and even a time-lapse video of the clouds boiling below.  And though I like the panoramic photo you see here, I don’t think it’s one of my better pictures.  I wish I could put my thumb on why.

Is there too much sky?  Maybe, but if I crop it out the panorama becomes too thin.  Is it that the depth of the valley doesn’t translate?  We were practically standing on a vertical cliff, but here it looks like you could almost along the dip in the middle until you reached the crater floor below.

I tried a dozen variations of cropping, trying to make things right.  I lightened up some of the foreground elements, trying to create a sense of depth.  I even spent some time cloning out a huge foreground handrail in the lower right corner.  I know the scene is good; I just can’t seem to make the photo do it justice. 

But that doesn’t mean I can’t post it on my blog, now, does it?

It’s hard to see in the small version of this panorama, but the black lava flows and red cinder cones make for some attractive (also in the true sense of the word!) scenery.  I wish we had planned an excursion down into that crater.  As it was, we were only on Haleakala for the sunrise — we didn’t think to bring the hiking gear, extra water, maps, and cabin reservations that would have made a hike down Sliding Sands Trail really worthwhile.  Maybe next time.

Canon Digital Rebet XT
Date: 12 August 2005
Focal Length: 18mm
Shutter: 1/1000 second
Aperture: F/5
ISO: 100
Photoshop: Stitched with Autostitch, cropped, cloned extra rock on right, dodged foreground rocks, auto color adjustment

Continue reading to see the actual detail in the final panorama…

Read the rest of this entry »

Snow Day

Posted by Arlo on Mar 7, 2007 under Life of Arlo

Snow piled high on the Raven sculpture at UASGlobal warming, huh? A couple summers ago, I thought that might be the case, but Juneau has been cold this winter. And piled high with snow.

For the second time this season, my Jeep is buried beyond the point of easy extraction. When the weather gets like this, it’s just easier to dig out and scrape one car; Oksana drops me off at work in the morning now.

Last month, our local ski resort, Eaglecrest, recorded the world’s highest snow-pack at 180 inches. And that was well before last week’s blizzard. Up until then, we’d had our fair share of “Winter Storm Warnings.” Those aren’t too bad. Snow comes down, the roads get slick, maybe the schools shut down for the day. Unfortunately, besides having evening classes cancelled, the university plugged right along. I expect more from my blizzards!

10 to 17 inches of snow was called for, but it was the wind that had people worried. It was a dry snow and 65mpg gusts were kicking it all back up in the air, reducing visibility. When the actual blizzard warning hit on Thursday — “A BLIZZARD WARNING MEANS A SERIOUS THREAT TO LIFE AND PROPERTY IS ALREADY OCCURRING OR IMMINENT. TRAVEL IS DISCOURAGED UNLESS IT IS AN ABSOLUTE EMERGENCY.” — I expected that, on Friday, the university would finally have a snow day. Nope.

Let me tell you, it’s quite disappointing to go to work when you were fully expecting to climb back into bed after a quick radio check. It’s inversely proportional to joy you feel the following Monday when you discover that even more snow piled up the night before and you’re going to get a three-day weekend after all!

Yeah, Juneau was essentially shut down on Monday. All federal employees and school workers (including the university, yay!) exchanged slippery roads with sightline-blocking snow banks for warm comforters and bad daytime television shows. If not for the World of Warcraft, I probably wouldn’t even have realized it until I got to work. The possibility of a snow day hadn’t occurred to me; the TV and radio aren’t usually on in the mornings at Casa Midgett. But when I logged on to WoW (“checkin ‘ my auctions,” you know), two friends immediately sent me the same message: “SNOW DAY!” It was a wonderful surprise… even if I did have to shovel and scrape Oksana’s car for her. She still had to go to work.

Now, a couple days later, the temperature is finally climbing above freezing for the first time in weeks. The snow on the ground has turned from fine and powdery to clumpy and wet. Most of downtown is situated at the bottom of steep mountain slopes and is under threat of high avalanche warnings. It’s not over yet… We may get more snow before the rain really comes, but tons of miserable slush is definitely in our future. I’m not looking forward to the spring thaws — can’t the snow just sublimate? — I’m ready to feel the sun’s warmth again.

Парк Победы (Park Pobedy)

Posted by Arlo on Mar 2, 2007 under Photography, Postcard Valet

Park Pobedy

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I could spend an entire vacation exploring Moscow’s Metro system.  Seriously.

While we were in Russia last summer, Oksana’s brother encouraged us to the use the metro as our primary means of travel around the city.  Whenever he was with us, which was more often than not, he’d steer us toward roundabout routes just so we could catch a glimpse of a new station.  Each station is designed with a different style.  Some are covered in ornate scrollwork, some in mosaic tiles, others have murals between every arch.  Some, like Victory Park Station, almost qualify as science fiction.

I think it was after the first long day of touring the city that I took this picture.  We were on our way back to the apartment, it was late, but Andrey decided that we need to take a look at Victory Park.  Парк Победы, as it’s known in Russian, commemorates Russian’s victory in World War II.  There’s an impressive museum on the grounds and all sorts of WWII relics both inside and out.  We returned to see all that later.  The first night was just to see the station.

Amazingly, the throng of humanity in most of the metro (even at that time of the night) was absent.  Between trains, Victory Park station almost emptied out entirely.  As we walked down the length of the corridor to get a better view of the murl, we passed only a couple communters and one lone janitor buffing the highly-polished floor tiles.  After taking pictures of the mural and getting an Oksana-sponsored translation of the plaque, I turned around to see the entire station, empty.  I took a couple pictures of the impressive marble and reflections — portrait, landscape, next to the wall, out in the open — before I had the idea to just set my camera on the floor.  The first snap, on auto, fired the flash and created an arching shadow where the lens blocked the light.  I could hear another train pulling into the station, so I rushed to manually turn off the flash and snapped one more photo.  Shortly after this picture was taken, the station was full of people again.

Canon Digital Rebel XT
Date: 7 August 2006
Focal Length: 18mm
Shutter: 1/8 second
Aperture: F/3.5
ISO: 100
Photoshop: Auto Levels only