Archive for May, 2010

Apollo 14 “Kitty Hawk” Command Module

Posted by Arlo on May 28, 2010 under Photography, Postcard Valet, Travel


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The day before the STS-132 shuttle launch, the NASA folks had arranged a day full of activities for those of us invited to the Tweetup.  We spent the morning in an air-conditioned tent, listening to guest speakers, but after lunch we were taken on a tour all around the Kennedy Space Center.

One of the places we had the most time was at the Saturn V Center.  It’s a huge museum commemorating all the missions that used the Saturn V rocket.  As you enter, there’s a fantastic historical video, then you’re escorted into the actual control room they used back in the day.  They’ve converted the huge room into a presentation that gives you a good feel for what the excitement level must have been like when they launched those massive rockets.

After our group watched the movie, we had about an hour or so to explore the rest of the museum.  I wandered alone, reading the plaques, examining the models, and taking pictures of some of the exhibits.

Off in a dark room devoted to the lunar missions, this capsule sat in a roped-off corner.

Taking pictures in a museum is usually pretty dull.  The lighting is tricky, especially for anything behind glass.  I’m sure that someone who’s proficient at studio photography would enjoy artfully capturing these types of exhibits, but not me.  Even assuming I’d have the luxury to compose the shots as I’d like, I’d probably just end up with the same photo thousands of other museum-goers took.

It was with that mindset that I snapped a few photos of the Apollo 14 Command Module.  I wasn’t trying for a great picture, just wanted to bring home photos that showed what the Saturn V Center looked like.  Like everything else I shot in there, the camera was on the green (automatic) mode.

I didn’t see the photos until I got back to the hotel, but I was immediately struck by this one.  I love the lighting with the module illuminated and the rest of the corner swimming in darkness.  The camera did a good job exposing, of course; all I did was push a button, but whoever designed the exhibit for the “Kitty Hawk” deserves credit, too.

Also, as a side note, I have to say: Even at ISO 1250, the Canon 5D can take some remarkably noise-free photos!

Canon 5D Mark II
Date: 3:28pm, 13 May 2010
Focal Length: 24 mm
Shutter: 1/20 sec
Aperture: F/4
ISO: 1250
Photoshop: Cloned out tiny light flare near ceiling

Vieques’ Bioluminescent Bay

Posted by Arlo on May 27, 2010 under Postcard Valet, Travel

Kayaks ready for a trip out on the Bio Bay

There’s an easily-overlooked natural wonder printed on every map of Puerto Rico: “Mosquito Bay.”  It’s a regrettably descriptive name, but I like to think the fact it has never been changed is simply a clever cartographer’s trick that keeps the surrounding area undeveloped.  The locals on the island of Vieques refer to it as “Bio Bay,” and it’s home to one of the best bioluminescent displays on planet Earth.

The conditions in Mosquito Bay are just right for trillions of organisms, called dinoflagellates, to thrive.  Invisible to the naked eye, these microscopic creatures release a tiny burst of light when the water around them is disturbed. When millions go off at once, the water glows blue-green.

Every night, excepting those near a full moon, local companies bring tourists by the van-load to witness the phenomenon.  You can’t see it from the shore, so boats are provided. Gas-powered motors have been outlawed, but there are still electric-motor pontoon boats for those that want to be up off the water.  Oksana and I chose to take a guided kayak tour.

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Baños at Night

Posted by Arlo on May 21, 2010 under Photography, Postcard Valet, Travel

Baños, Ecuador, New Years Eve

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I spent quite a bit of time at the recent NASA Tweetup looking through my camera’s viewfinder.  Although I didn’t come away with any decent photos of the launch itself (I focused on the video this time, instead), I figured this week’s photo would still come from last weekend.

Then I found myself playing with Oksana’s new iPad, installing the Dropbox app.  I tapped into my account and started to play with what could and couldn’t open on the tablet.  That’s when I came across a folder full of Ecuador photos and realized that, even though I hadn’t taken my DSLR along on the trip, I still managed to come away with some decent shots.

This is Baños.  I love this little town tucked in the middle of the mountains.  There are trails everywhere up the steep hillsides and it only takes around 40 minutes to hike to the top (even if you do have to huff and puff through the altitude).

On one such hike, we found ourselves at the surprisingly popular Café del Cielo.  It was one of the few places we encountered in Baños that had unrestricted wi-fi, plus the packed house was a good indication that the food wasn’t bad, either.  They were too busy to even put us on the waiting list, though, so we resolved to come back later.

Later turned out to be New Year’s Eve.  We wanted to be reunited with the rest of the group before midnight, so hiking up and down the trail in the dark wasn’t an option.  We took an expensive cab ride up the meandering roads behind the mountain instead and, what with all the costumed kids stopping us for New Year’s cash donations, it probably took just as long to get there.  Our driver, knowing that we were at his mercy, arranged for an even higher fare for a scheduled ride back down.

But it was all worth it.  Café del Cielo was practically deserted and the very friendly and attentive waiter put us right up against the plate glass windows.  While Robert, Ana, Alicia, and I enjoyed our small meals (everything cost $5 or less; fairly expensive for Baños) and fantastic fancy coffees, I leaned my wife’s point-and-shoot against the window and took many long-exposure pictures.  Oksana’s little Panasonic doesn’t give you any manual controls, but at least its Starlight preset allows you to dial in 15, 30, or 60 second exposures.  This shot was my favorite of the evening; no reflections in the glass and neither over- nor under-exposed.  Sort of the Goldilocks photo of the set.  You know, just right.

Panasonic DMC-TZ5
Date: 8:54pm, 26 June 2008
Focal Length: 29mm
Shutter: 30 seconds
Aperture: F/4.8
ISO: 100
Photoshop: Unaltered

Final Stretch

Posted by Arlo on May 19, 2010 under Life of Arlo, Postcard Valet

I’m back from Florida and it feels like we are really beginning to accelerate towards our departure date.  I basically have two weeks left at work, time in which my major responsibilities include training the coworkers I’m leaving behind and packing up my personal belongings.  Oksana will be working through the month of June, training her own replacement, and I’ll spend our last month in Juneau making sure all our possessions are safely packed away.

We also have a thousand-and-one other things to do.  Arrange for medical/travel insurance, complete our vaccinations, set up new bank accounts, cancel most of our utilities and make arrangements on the others to pay up a year in advance, buy ferry tickets, pack, fix the website, and somehow keep posting content (even if it’s Spartan, like this.)

On the plus side, my new Sony Vaio laptop arrived yesterday (after much struggle with FedEx Ground!)  Somewhere around here is my Adobe Master Collection serial number and as soon as I find it, I’ll finally get to try editing actual AVCHD files.  My previous Dell didn’t have the horsepower; let’s see what these i7 chips can do.

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Preparing for STS-132 Tweetup

Posted by Arlo on May 12, 2010 under Postcard Valet, Travel

Boarding my Alaska Airlines flight in Juneau

It’s Tuesday night.  I’m flying red-eye from Juneau to Orlando for NASA’s second-ever Shuttle launch Tweetup.  Seems like a good time to jot down what you can expect from me over the next few days.

I should be arriving at my Orlando hotel around noon on Wednesday, right about when this entry auto-posts, I suspect.  I’ve got half a day to recuperate from the jetlag and, in addition to enjoying an afternoon nap, I plan to tackle a few errands.

First, I need to experiment with a creative tripod solution for launch day.  I have, literally, four cameras at my disposal – not counting my iPhone! – and one thing I learned at the last launch is that one tripod is not enough.  To that end, I want to rig up some sort of contraption that lets me focus two or more cameras at the same subject – the Shuttle, obviously – so that I’m then able to pan and tilt them in tandem.  That’ll solve my dilemma of whether to shoot photos or video, right?  Should be interesting.

While experimenting with that, I’ll be charging all sorts of batteries.  I’m promised an air-conditioned tent, a seat at a table, and my own power strip at NASA’s press site, but it can’t hurt to be prepared.

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Bryce Canyon Natural Bridge

Posted by Arlo on May 9, 2010 under Photography, Postcard Valet, Travel

Bryce Canyon, Natural Bridge

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In 2008, Oksana and I purchased one-way tickets to Florida in the hope of buying a new car.  Fortunately, we found the perfect Jeep the very first day we were there and all we had to do was drive it back home to Alaska.

Even though the most prominent memories we have of the trip are of driving, Oksana constantly doing her MBA homework, driving, Oksana fielding calls from work and driving, we… where was I?  Oh, yeah.  Driving.  We actually did find time to explore a couple places.

I don’t remember how we picked out Bryce Canyon, but it turned out to be a great idea.  I don’t even know if it’s as great as our memories make it seem or if we were just thrilled to have one day on the trip that didn’t involve driving from point A to B.  At any rate, I sure wouldn’t mind going back again.

Once we got there, we scheduled a half-day, afternoon horseback ride; that left the morning for exploring the park.  We asked at the entrance what we could see and do in only four hours and soon after learned just how well it’s laid out.

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Visit the Galapagos with Us!

Posted by Arlo on May 5, 2010 under Life of Arlo, Postcard Valet, Travel

Our group from the Floreana, January 2010

Have you ever thought about going to the Galapagos Islands?  How ‘bout this fall?

Here’s the deal.  Oksana and I will very likely be passing through Ecuador around October or November and I can’t imagine not taking her out to that amazing archipelago.  Unfortunately, it’s going to be way outside our budget of $100/day.  The rest of Ecuador is quite inexpensive, so we might just settle down for awhile and save up for the trip, but I’m hoping we can find another way…

When I was there in January, our group paid for a seven-day tour of the islands.  For the entire week, our home was the 78’ motor yacht, Floreana.  There’s room for 16 passengers (8 rooms), and everything from an English-speaking naturalist guide to three meals a day was provided.  Our itinerary generally consisted of two land excursions and two snorkeling excursions every day, with a couple of nights out on the towns (Puerto Ayora and San Cristóbal.)  Although there were only five people in our group, we quickly bonded all the other tourists and had a fantastic time!

The Yate Floreana

Every time I bring up my trip to the Galapagos, someone says, “Oh, I’d love to go there someday.”  It gets me thinking.  How hard would it be to fill the Floreana with friends and family?

This is me, inviting you to join us on a Galapagos trip!

Let’s discuss the details a bit:

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