Archive for April, 2010

Space Shuttle Exhaust

Posted by Arlo on Apr 30, 2010 under Photography, Postcard Valet

Sunlight on the Space Shuttle Discoverys exhaust plume

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In keeping with this week’s theme…

When the Space Shuttle Discovery launched at 6:21am on the morning of April 5th, the sun had not yet risen.  However, as the Shuttle itself disappeared into the distance, the horizon was beginning to brighten.  It was still pre-dawn when helpful voice over the loudspeakers urged everyone to get back in the busses before the cloud of toxic exhaust fumes had a chance to drift over the Causeway.

Our group piled back into our Grey Line and commenced with the waiting; it would be almost an hour before we moved and another hour or two on the road back to Orlando.  Despite everyone being exhausted (we’d been up all night) the excitement level was high.  Everywhere I looked, people were using the backs of their cameras to show off their photos and video.

While I was sitting there, I happened to glance out the window.  The sun was still below the horizon, but it had started to illuminate just a bit of the Shuttle’s wind-swept contrail.  I remembered something I’d read from Stan Jirman’s (excellent, excellent, excellent!) Shuttle Launch Photography web page:

With a day launch, some of the best pictures are taken after the shuttle is gone. The exhaust fumes often create spectacular cloud formations which are more impressive than a shuttle lifting off (admit it, you have seen pics of a shuttle launch before, but not necessarily one of a cloud like below). [photo link]

I knew we weren’t supposed to be outside, but I decided that asking the bus driver was worth a shot (so to speak!)  I removed my camera’s 400mm equivalent, snapped on a shorter lens, then walked up the aisle to ask if he wouldn’t mind opening up the door for me.  “Of course!  No problem!”

I took maybe three steps from the bus, lifted up my camera, and fired off two, three-shot bursts.  Both bracketed by 1 stop, but otherwise just using the automatic settings. I was back in my seat thirty seconds later.  I checked them out on the camera’s LCD screen and decided my favorite was one of the darker (-1 stop) exposures.

Now tell me that doesn’t look just like a Chinese Dragon!

Canon 5D Mark II
Date: 6:55am, 5 April 2010
Focal Length: 24mm
Shutter: 1/20 second
Aperture: F/5.6
ISO: 100
Photoshop: Slight color correction.

STS-132 Tweetup

Posted by Arlo on Apr 28, 2010 under Life of Arlo, Postcard Valet, Travel

Arlo setting up camera at STS-131, Photo by Joseph Sears

When I first went to Machu Picchu, I tried to absorb as much of it as I could.  I figured it was going to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.  Same thing with the Galapagos; while I was there, I slept as little as possible so that I wouldn’t miss a thing.  Funny thing is, I actually went back to the Galapagos a second time and (I still can’t get over this!) I’ve been to Machu Picchu three times now.

So when I planned to attend the Space Shuttle Discovery launch last month, even though they’re retiring the Shuttle program, and even though arranging a viewing six miles away is still crazy expensive, and even though I live almost 3,300 miles away in Alaska, I guess I really shouldn’t have counted on it being another once-in-a-lifetime thing.  Because you never know.

When I got back to Juneau after the STS-131 launch, my friend, Joe, ReTweeted a message from NASA on Twitter:

Chance to see launch! RT @NASA: registration for STS-132 launch will open Apr 19-20. You don’t have to be 1st!

I followed the link, read that registration for a NASA-sponsored “tweetup” would open at 6am Alaska time the following Monday, and set an appointment for it in my calendar.  When that morning rolled around, I filled out the sparse information they asked for and promptly forgot about the whole thing.

What was the harm?  I figured tons of people would be signing up, and if by some miracle I was selected, I’d figure it all out later.  Well, guess what.  A few days later I got the email; I’m in!
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Sydney Opera House Fireworks

Posted by Arlo on Apr 23, 2010 under Photography, Postcard Valet

Sydeny Opera House, Australian Idol finale with fireworks

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To celebrate the finale of Australian Idol in 2007, Sydney hosted a fireworks display over the Sydney Opera House.  Much of the story of how we came to see it is presented in Postcard Valet episode 8, but we never mentioned there how we took our photographs in it.

Oksana and I sort of knew there was going to be a fireworks display (even if we didn’t let on in the podcast), so we made sure to get set up beforehand.  What we didn’t know, was when the fireworks were going to go off.  The results were being broadcast live on TV, but it wasn’t as if anyone at Circular Quay had a television…

So we set up two cameras – one for video, one for stills.  The video camera was perched on a tiny tripod atop a piling.  The best we could do with our DSLR was to balance it a little lower down on a railing.  Unfortunately, there was a short stairway down to the water in front of us and other bystanders kept standing right in front of it.

We had the Opera House framed pretty well, but we had no idea how high up the fireworks would be so we just waited. And waited.

You can see in the podcast that when the fireworks finally went off, they were higher than we thought they’d be.  The camera was already set on manual with long exposures, so while I recomposed the shot with the video camera, Oksana simply tilted our still camera back and began taking successive 8 second exposures.  We had 10 files on the flash card by the end of the show, so I guess that means it was somewhere around 90 seconds long.  Seemed longer.

Some of those photos are overexposed, especially toward the end when they wrapped up the pyrotechnics display with a huge finale.  Others have too much smoke hanging in the air.  While this one might not be the very best of the bunch, it’s my favorite.

Canon Digital Rebel XT
Date: 25 November 2007; 9:03pm
Focal Length: 28mm
Shutter: 8 seconds
Aperture: F/10
ISO: 200
Photoshop: Cropped and slightly rotated.


Posted by Arlo on Apr 21, 2010 under Postcard Valet, Travel

Getting vaccinated

The first time I ever fainted, it was immediately after getting a yellow fever vaccination.

This was in 1998.  Our university nurse had offered, for the cost of the shot, to inoculate any student going on the Ecuador trip.  Practically the whole class showed up at the same time and, because yellow fever is a vaccine, she thawed out just four at a time.  I was second in line.

After I got my shot, I stood up and walked out into the waiting room.  There was a girl in our class that had a terrible fear of needles and, on my way out, I slowed down to reassure her.  I remember saying, “It’s really not bad at all, just a pinch.  I am feeling a little dizzy, however…”  Then, as I understand it, my eyes rolled up and I crumpled to the floor.

Always felt bad about that.

I came to just a few seconds later, but it felt like I was waking up from a long afternoon nap.  It took me a while to understand that there were voices around me and another moment or two to understand what they were saying.  The first sentence I could make out was, “Here, break this and put it under his nose!”  Suddenly, I knew where I was and what had happened.

I didn’t want to smell the smelling salt!  My eyes popped open and I exclaimed, “That’s okay!  I’m all right!”  But our school nurse was insistent and she persuaded me to take a little sniff.

I tried to get up after that, but she put her hand on my shoulder and gently, but firmly, forced me back down.  “You’re white as a ghost and profusely sweating.  You’re not going anywhere.”  And then, because the live vaccines had to be used before they thawed completely, she went back to work.  The next few students in line literally had to step over me because I had fainted in the doorway; she wouldn’t even let me roll off to the side.

I’d be much more embarrassed about what happened that day if two other students hadn’t also fainted.  One made it back to the waiting area and sat down at the table where we were supposed to be watching each other for signs of lightheadedness.  Unfortunately, they didn’t catch her in time and she fell forward and smacked her forehead on the table before sliding out of her chair.  On the way down to the floor, she scratched her cheek pretty badly along the corner of a desk.

After that, the nurse scolded us about our low blood sugar and wouldn’t let anyone else get vaccinated without first eating breakfast.

(Update: I completely forgot that there was a student reporter there that day, taking pictures for the campus newspaper! I found some of them — not great, but proof enough! — while packing up my photo albums. I’ll add them to the end of this blog entry…)

Since that day, I’ve only ever lost consciousness one other time, after struggling with a prolonged queasy feeling resulting from an I.V. put into my arm by an oral surgeon… but that’s another story.

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STS-131 Space Shuttle Discovery Launch

Posted by Arlo on Apr 16, 2010 under Photography, Postcard Valet

STS-131 Space Shuttle Discovery Launch

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When Oksana and I were researching all the things we could do during our year of travel, one of the things I wrote down was “See a Shuttle Launch.”  It’s not that I had any special interest in seeing one (though I do think space travel is pretty darn cool), it just seemed like one of those things you should do at least once.  You know, like “see a total eclipse,” or “go skydiving.”

Turns out, when you live in Alaska, there can be some pretty tall hurdles to overcome before you can see a Shuttle launch.
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Ecuador: Scariest Ride to Baños

Posted by Arlo on Apr 14, 2010 under Postcard Valet, PV-Podcast, Travel, Videos

The view out the back of our ride

There was a wall of rock on one side, a 300-foot cliff down to a dry riverbed on the other.  Alicia and I were sandwiched into the back of a pickup truck with our rented bikes, gripping its sides as a car battery and broken glass slid around our feet.  Our driver seemed to be chatting with the three other men in the cab while he raced up the Andean mountain road.  Our tires literally squealed on the pavement as he drove us, more often than not, into the oncoming lane.  It occurred to me, while rounding another blind curve, that going over the cliff was the least of our worries.  At that speed, sitting in the back of a pickup, any accident was likely to be fatal.  I thought: This may be the scariest ride of my life.

And that was before they pulled out their guns.

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PV008: Sydney Opera House

Posted by Arlo on Apr 12, 2010 under Postcard Valet, PV-Podcast, Travel, Uncategorized, Videos

Wow, finally time to put this one to bed!  I’ve been thinking about and working on this episode for a long time.  Since 2008, if the time stamp on my Word doc can be believed!

Originally, when I was mulling over about how to tackle a podcast, I latched onto the idea of using a homemade teleprompter.  In theory, this would have had all sorts of benefits:

  • I could keep going with my blog-entry style of writing.
  • I wouldn’t have to practice speaking without notes.
  • At the end of the recording, I’d have a Google-ready transcript ready for posting.

In practice, however, the setup was clunky and the free teleprompter software really wasn’t very good.  I used our Sydney Opera House footage for a practice run and gave up well before the editing phase.  I did have the transcript written, however, and for fun, I’ve pasted it in, way down at the end of this post.  It’s interesting to see, after two years, what made the final cut and what was left on the cutting room floor.

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