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FlightAware officially rocks

Monday, October 25th, 2010

In case you’ve never heard of it, FlightAware is a cool website that allows you to track flights.  I’ve been following them since I first heard about them back in 2006 in BSDtalk PodCast #42 (I just realized it was #42 in looking it up again).  FreeBSD, PostgreSQL, and aviation all in one PodCast — I was riveted.  I stopped being an active pilot in 2001, so it wasn’t something I needed, but I’m always curious about traffic around and it’s a neat way to see some of what is coming and going.  Today, FlightAware officially rocked it and made my day.  It started last night.  I was looking at what traffic had been coming and going to the little GA airports around town and noticed an Avantair Piaggio Avanti was enroute to town.  This was almost midnight, so this was just interesting.  I looked a bit closer at the travel history and realized that it probably wouldn’t be leaving too early today (by my standards).  So, when I got up in the morning I checked if there was a filed flight plan — nope.  I then actually signed up with FlightAware so that I could setup alerts and did just that.  I setup an alert for that flight number in case they filed a flight plan, departed, etc.  It wasn’t long and I got an alert.  They’d filed a flight plan for a departure in 15 minutes.  I grabbed the camera, jumped in the car, and headed to the airport.  Timing was great as I was able to see the plane startup, taxi, and take-off.  I can now say I’ve seen a Piaggio Avanti.  I’ve certainly seen pictures, but there’s something special about seeing something for real (not up close in this case, though).  It’s a beautiful plane.  I was surprised that it wasn’t that loud while taxiing.  I certainly heard the distinctive square wave noise as it did a run-up, but I didn’t get to hear it take-off as a Skylane started up some 25 feet from me while the Piaggio Aero was doing it’s run-up.  I got some okay pictures.  This had me jazzed, though.  Later in the day I saw that a Piper Aerostar 600 was scheduled to arrive.  Wind was such that I figured the approach would be visible from the house, so I stood outside for a few minutes before arrival to see if it came by — it did.  Nice.  So, now I’ve seen an Aerostar.  I love Ted Smith designs and the Aerostar has a reputation for being one of his best.  Great day!

Grab the right lens

Monday, June 21st, 2010

It should go without saying — grab the right lens. We went to the Memphis Exotic Italian Car Show today and I just grabbed my camera on the way out. I only have 2 lenses and I figured that the one already installed would be “good enough”. Well, that was a big mistake. It wound up being my 50 – 200 lens, which is fine, but a bit too much zoom on an APS-C sized sensor like I’ve got. I kept finding myself trying to step back in places I couldn’t. It was really frustrating. Neat cars, nice show, a little small, especially for $10/person, but nice place to take Grandpa on Father’s Day. There are truely some cool cars in town.

It’s GMT for me

Friday, June 11th, 2010

I’m giving in. I’ve set my camera clock to GMT. The timestamps in the EXIF data on most of the pictures I take are only good for picking out what day it was taken, maybe even localizing to morning or afternoon. The problem is I almost never remember to change it’s setting when we have the DST transitions or travel to different timezones. If I never remembered I guess it wouldn’t be quite as bad. So, today is a flag day — all of my primary camera pictures after 6/11/2010 are stamped in GMT.

Memphis in May 2007: Sunset Symphony

Sunday, May 27th, 2007

We went to see the Memphis in May 2007: Sunset Symphony on Saturday evening.  We didn’t know exactly what to expect, but I had heard about a mini airshow going to be going on.  That really drew me in.  Neat event.  The mini airshow was quite small, but topped off with a wonderful performance by Skip Stewart.  I’ve seen him perform before and, honestly, the dude is nuts.  There is a fine fine line between someone that is really really good and someone that is insane.  I think he tips toward the insane side.  I’ve read that he lost his FAA performance waiver for a while over a particular maneuver, so I’m not the only one.  They reinstated him, though, so maybe I’m just too conservative.  After the airshow was the Memphis Symphony performing many general public friendly pieces.  We didn’t really see that from where we camped out.  We could hear it, though.  This was followed by the Temptations, which was certainly a crowd pleaser.  Then for the closing act, the Memphis Symphony played the 1812 Overture with fireworks in place of the cannons.  Then after that was a beautiful fireworks display.  It started off kind of slow, but was really well done overall.  It was huge.   I’d say it’s the best fireworks display I’ve ever seen.  Very cool.

The fireworks display at Memphis in May 2007 Sunset Symphony

Air Power Arkansas 2006

Monday, November 6th, 2006

So, we went to the air show in Little Rock (well, technically Jacksonville, but it was at “Little Rock Air Force Base”) on Saturday.  You know it’s a sign of things to come when you don’t even set your alarm correctly.  The plan was to get up at 5:30am and be ready to hit the road at 6:30am so we could get there a little after the gates opened.  I actually woke up around 5am, but stayed in bed waiting for my alarm to go off.  After a while I start to wonder, because I saw the faint light of daylight coming through the window.  I check the time and it’s just past 6am.  So much for my alarm.  As we’re getting ready it goes off.  I had set it for 6:30am, not 5:30am.  We rush to get ready to go, which means we’ll forget something.  Camera? Check.  Cash? Check.  Extra Battery? Check.  Ear Plugs? Check.  Directions? Check.  Okay, we must be ready to go.  Then, out of habit, we get on I-40 East instead of West.

After we get turned back around it’s smooth sailing–until an hour later when I remember that we forgot our folding chairs.  When we get to the exit for the show, things are working fairly well.  The police are manually directing traffic instead of letting the street lights get things backed up.  We enter the base’s main entrance in a very long line of cars.  As we come up through one of several points where armed soldiers are directing traffic we get randomly selected to go through the security check line.  That was pretty painless, actually.  It just feels funny seeing uniformed soldiers with M4′s, M9′s, and German Shepards going through cars.
After that, we just follow the huge line of cars down the road.  I don’t know how big Air Force bases tend to be, but this one felt pretty large to me.  Most of the driving down the “entrance” felt like normal roads with few signs of being a military installation.  Eventually we get to the parking area, which is actually just a very large section of tarmac roped and blockaded off for parking.  It was quite organized.

We got parked, hydrated, suited up (still a little cold) and headed toward the entrance. They had security screening there with metal detectors (not really set very high) and bag searches.  That went quickly.  And then we were inside.  Notice nothing about tickets?  There were none.  That was a pleasant surprise.  Programs were handed out for free too.  Not that the schedule was accurate, but it was a good gesture, and the programs were of very good quality otherwise.

The static displays were outstanding.  Directly by the entrance was a C-5 Galaxy from Altus (there were several aircraft from Oklahoma Air Force bases) setup almost like a gateway in that you could choose to walk right through it.  The static displays consisted mainly of current Air Force aircraft, but there were several from the Navy, Marines, Army, Coast Guard, and private groups.  The military aircraft were a very nice cross section of currently deployed machines.  I was particularly happy to see the F-22 (I had never see one in person), the F-117, and the B-52.  Being the “Home of the Herk” (C-130′s), they had several varations of the C-130 on display and to me it was educating.  It marks the first time I had seen the J model with the new engines and props.  It is quite odd looking to me, but the benefits sound quite good.  I noticed that the V-22 wasn’t there.  The website for the show indicated it would be.  I didn’t see any UAV’s either.  An interesting aircraft I saw was the AN-26 with the question mark on the tail.  I take it that it’s a private carrier, because it had nearly no markings.  A google on the N number shows it’s owned by a “SRX Transcontinental Inc.” since June 2005 from the Russian Air Force for $72,500 (which seems insanely cheap to me).  This one makes me feel funny.  Probably best not to ask too many questions about it as it’s supposedly the only AN-26 in U.S. registration.

The show portion of the show was pretty good too.  I have a general preference for high performance prop planes doing extreme aerobatics, so the show was a little lacking to me (only 2 such acts).  Seeing the Red Baron team do their thing is impressive.  They really have some amazing skills to do what they do, but it just doesn’t get my heart pumping like watching the late Eric Beard do some pretty gyroscopic stuff in his Yak-54.  The two acts that fell into this category were quite good.  I forget their names right now, but the one in the pink SU-26 was an outstanding performer.  I just assume he didn’t have the low level waiver, because it seemed like he was so far back from the line (both up and away).  The quality of the routine was outstanding, but it just felt less engaging due to the distance.  The pilot in the Pitts was certainly more engaging with a lower and closer act.  He really got my attention.  The Canadian CF-18 demo was good.  The Viper West demo was alright (fairly routine).  The F-15 demo was interesting.  I don’t recall seeing that one before.  The E-2 was interesting simply in how low they flew it in 90 degree banks.  The C-130 cargo and troop drops were cool in the scope of their demo.  The flights were huge and were so cool to watch.  Shockwave was okay.  It felt rushed, because I’ve seen him do longer acts at other shows.  The “other” F-16 demo was good.  The heritage flight was good.  I really loved the F-86 — it was beautiful.  Fat Albert’s JATO launch was the same as before.  The Blue Angels were flawless yet again.  They truly are a precision demonstration team.  If only I had a chair for the 6.5 hours of flying.

Pics are up:

http://www.boontheekul.org/dustin/photogallery/?folder=Events/Airshows/Air_Power_Arkansas_2006

Large Print Panorama

Monday, October 23rd, 2006

Well, in moving to our new offices at work I’ve got a very nice cube that I wanted to decorate.  It’s prompted me to do something I’ve been meaning to do for about four years (and that’s no exaggeration).  I wanted to do a really good panoramic composition and get it made as a large print.  Well, I’ve finally done it.  I looked at some large resolution work I’d done before and it turns out that they alignment was pretty bad.  I needed some software to do a better job.  I’ve previously posted about some software I found and while it’s cool, it was more of a proof of concept.  I’ve dug around more and found AutoPano Pro (based on Autostitch).  After spending a few hours with the trial I thought it was worth it and bought it.  I then proceeded to really work on getting some print worthy panoramas assembled.  After several done I decided on this composition to be my first try for printing over at Kinkos:

Bang Pa-In Summer Palace

The print turned out to be much more expensive that I had thought it would be, but at 71 inches by 11 inches it isn’t exactly small.  It has me wondering if I actually want to put pin holes in it to get it put up.  We’ll see.

Gallery Software Upgrades

Thursday, October 19th, 2006

After some prodding, I’ve added some extra navigation buttons in the photo gallery.  Now when you view a specific picture you have a next / previous link available instead of having to back up to the thumbnail view to select an adjacent picture.  It required less code than I thought it would.  Maybe I’ll get around to the slideshow suggestion next.

Sky Fest 2006 Pics Up

Sunday, October 8th, 2006

We went to Sky Fest 2006 in Jackson, TN on Saturday. It was a blast. The turnout was quite good. This is definitely one of the smaller shows I’ve been to, but it wasn’t bad in the slightest. There was a bit more of a carnival atmosphiere (ferris wheel, petting zoo, etc), but the show itself was top notch. There were a few more static displays at the Tunica Air Races last year. I think space may have had something to do with it, as the airport isn’t very large. I’m not complaining, though. The size also presented some more comforts I’m not used to from larger shows. The announcer stated that there had been a 3 year hiatus since the last show, so I hope this sticks around for the future. Check out the multitude of pics:

http://www.boontheekul.org/dustin/photogallery/?folder=Events/Airshows/Sky_Fest_2006

Panorama stitching software

Friday, January 13th, 2006

Well, I started looking at panorama stitching software again. I found this cool software called autostitch. I’ve been testing it out with some good results thus far. They haven’t been perfect yet, but it may be better than I can do with hugin and enblend. I’ll have to try them all and compare. Here’s a raw stitch:
Grand Canyon

Photos all up

Wednesday, December 28th, 2005

I’ve now got basically all the vacation photos up. I’ve tried to sort them out a bit, but I’m not real happy with what I’ve done. I’ll fix it if I figure out something better. I’m more interested in doing the panorama compositions. At least they are viewable now. Most of the shots are of the general point-and-shoot nature and tend to be a little fuzzy, but there are some really good ones. In working with this new camera (Sony DSC-P200) for the first time, I’ve had to relearn how to do a number of things I’m more used to on my camera (Sony DSC-F707). Several of the manual settings I was looking for still allude me, but the automatic modes are still quite good. In particular I like the low-light capabilities of this camera. I intentionally turned off the flash for basically all the shooting due to my disdain of flashes going off in my face (on the receiving end). My camera’s low light capability is rather bad, but I can still coax some decent pictures out of it. This new camera is much much better, but it has more to do with improvements in the software, than the lens. The lens on my camera is far superior, but the software on this new camera does an outstanding job if you hold the camera very still. Much of the fuzzy shots you see are the result of my not being steady enough with the camera. This is quite evident when you compare the Grand Canyon pictures with the rather dark Las Vegas pictures. My hand was probably less steady in that thin mountain air of the Grand Canyon and the pictures are much sharper due to the camera being able to work with more light. Ah well, live and learn.