SEIR Building Project

As they built the new Apple Campus in Cupertino, it became a Mecca for drone photographers to document the progress of the construction. At one point Apple security tried to discourage enthusiastic remote pilots but that proved to be a harder task than they thought. With all the new construction on campus, I wanted to emulate the work done in California. The SEIR building broke ground a year ago. After checking local and campus rules, I set a project of myself to document the construction of this new building on the south side of the University of Texas at Arlington campus. When complete it will serve as one pillar of the south entrance to campus for people driving north on Cooper street. My plan is to take pictures and video once a month until the building is complete. After just one month, I’m still on track. You can already see progress between the two videos.

Penitentiary Hollow

Pictures from and around Penitentiary Hollow at Lake Mineral Wells State Park. This is a nice park for some light hiking. There was a bit of a squall brewing when I was there which made it a bit too windy for flying the drone. Most of these pictures were taken from ground level around Penitentiary Hollow which is a popular rock climbing spot. For $7 and a waiver you can run up and down the cliff. Jada proved herself to be a good climber so long as the rocks were no higher than 6″ tall.

Wings Over Dallas

Here are a few pictures from Wings over Dallas 2017 air show featuring the Commemorative Air Force. I was not able to stick around for the flying part of the show. I was able to get in before dawn and have the run of the place for a couple hours to take pictures. I also got some pictures of some non-planes. I used to think that CAF stood for Confederate Air Force which would be a bit of an anachronism.

Millennium Phenom

At Dallas Executive Airport there is an Embraer jet, tail number N100FZ, painted up with images from Star Wars that made me laugh. On one side of the tail is the Millennium Falcon. On the other is a painting of what looks like an X-Wing with the fuselage of a jet. On the front and back of the plane there are painted-on thrust ports that look like the nose of the Space Shuttle. On one side there is a painted on Flux Capacitor. On the main door there’s a logo that looks like it is from Star Fleet and the engines are painted like warp nacelles.

Plano Balloon Fest 2017

Last Sunday I got up early and drove up to the annual Plano Balloon festival. Being Sunday I was expecting there to be limited events. The morning schedule featured the balloon launch and a inbound contest. At dawn there was only one balloon on the field. This one was tethered to allow $25 vertical rides. At 7:30, more balloons arrived and started to inflate. By then the sun was already rising and the photo opportunities passing. Once those balloon left, they drew a big target on the ground. Balloons launched further to the south then attempted to hit as close to the box target without getting in it. Some of those balloons missed the field entirely. All in all, I need to remember to go on Saturday instead of Sunday if I want to get the full effect of a field of balloons. I have been to this festival 3 times now but never to the Saturday night activities. I’ll need to plan on going to the evening balloon glow next time.

Negatives Will Not Be Returned

I was at the drugstore getting some prints from my recent trip. Next to the register was the usual envelope for getting C-41 film developed. The envelope said that they would include a free CD with processing but that the negatives would not be returned. What kind of a bargain is that? The last time I got 35mm film processed there was lint on the scanned images. Fortunately I had the negatives to go back to when I needed additional prints.

Let this serve as a warning for anyone still getting 35mm film developed if you care about the quality of your reprints. 


2017 Eclipse Rendered with Moon

On August 21st, 2017 I was lucky enough to get to witness the total eclipse. I dragged a couple buddies, Lee & Jeff, on at 1500 mile road trip that landed us in Hopkinsville, Kentucky for the event. Scott of Scott’s Astro Page had picked out the location at a church that was renting their parking lot for $20 per person. The weather cooperated and we had a clear view of the sky.

In preparation for the trip I bought a solar filter for my zoom lens from B&H Photo – a respected camera sales company. This filter consists mainly of a piece of film in a cardboard foldable cylinder. I also bought a sheet of solar film to be cut out for other cameras. Lee was able to cut this film out into small disks to protect my video camera and binoculars. The filter came in earlier in the month. I tested it out in the back yard by taking pictures of the sun. I was able to get a clear shot showing details like sunspots. I tried a few tripods but failed to find one that was easy to use to track the movement of the sun. I settled on one that would let me lock in the frame just above my target and it would settle down a few degrees. The problem was that the center of gravity for the camera was too far forward.

Early Sunday morning we piled in the car and drove to Memphis. When we finally got there, it was time for a little tourist action. This included barbecue and visits to Graceland, Bass Pro Shop Pyramid, and The Withers Collection Museum and Gallery.

Our original plans included a trip to NASA in Huntsville. About a week before the eclipse, Scott advised us that the weather forecast made Kansas a much better option. We scrapped our plans and targeted Hiawatha, Kansas. As the week went on, it was clear that Kansas City would be under thunderstorms come Monday. We pivoted back to Tennessee and eventually west of Nashville in Kentucky. With all this change of plans came a change to hotel reservations. At some point with all the cancellations and rebooking, my credit card decided that something was foul and started declining my transactions. This caused our Sunday night hotel reservation to get cancelled. I got this notification via email on the road that morning. I tried to rebook the same motel but it was now sold out. I did manage to find another hotel just up the road in Jackson, Tennessee for the luxurious price of $38 per night. Once we got there we found that they may have over charged for the facilities. You know its a quality establishment when they have South Park blaring in the lobby. After some obligatory snafu with the reservations we were set for the night.

The next morning we hit the road due north. Traffic was light although we would not know what normal Monday traffic in Kentucky would be anyway. We started seeing road-side vendors selling t-shirts. Even Chick-fil-A was getting into the act with their own “Solr Eclipz” shirt. We made it to All Nations Church about 11am with plenty of time to setup and get ready.

Scott had been there since the night before. He had his telescopes already celestially oriented. He also had a big solar scope that became a favorite attraction. As I expected, tracking the sun with my tripod was proving to be a hassle until I had the bright idea to use the mount point on the camera body instead of on the lens. Normally this is a bad idea because the lens weighs twice what the camera does, if not more. But with the lens pointing almost straight up, the center of gravity was now over the tripod and it became much easier to position the camera to track the sun.

This was my first total eclipse. Back in 1991 there was a partial eclipse. I remember being in the back yard of my rental house with my Canon EOS 10s and a 300mm zoom lens. To protect my investment, I used a black Glad trash bag. The setup worked pretty well. It was hard to focus without looking through the view finder. I used a piece of paper to project through the lens to do my focusing. I mistakenly choose infinity as the focal point. I now know that to be wrong. I would have to wait for my 35mm film to get processed before I could see the results.

For this trip, I was a little more prepared. Scott set up a video camera to record the scene at ground level. His video shows the shadow coming from the west and contrails of jets flying overhead. I brought my drone and did a couple of circuits of the the field and then set it up to hover over us looking down. The idea was to get the view from the sun. It did not turn out as well as I’d hoped. I also shot some video of the eclipse itself but since the filter was taped on, it was not of any use once the totality started. I fortunately remembered to remove the filter from my camera to catch the totality. I was not sure what settings to use. I set the aperture at F8 and spun the shutter speed dial up an down to get a range of exposures. I trusted the autofocus to do better than my own eyes and it worked out well.

After the totality the parking lot started to empty like half time of a one-sided football game. We stuck around for a little bit but then packed up to hit the road. We ended up having to avoid Memphis altogether because of the traffic and construction would have added two ours to our trip. Siri routed us to Missouri to become the fifth state on our tour.

What about next time? Now that I had a chance to reflect on the trip, the one thing I would do different is to be at a location with scenery, preferably at higher latitude. The video from the northwest part of the eclipse route show the event juxtaposed with terrain where our view was almost directly overhead.

Video of Eclipse from Drone.

Video looking west during eclipse.

Tree Eulogy

I was very sad to see this tree had not survived this weeks storms. It was not able to stand up to the 70 mph straight line winds. I drive by this tree in south Fort Worth sometimes twice a day. I loved to see it standing solitary out in the field. At certain times of the year I would drive by at dawn and other times at dusk. Many times I noted how pretty the scene was. A few times I actually stopped, walked across the muddy ditch to the fence to get a clear picture. It will be missed.

Seattle’s Waterfront

After taking the tour of Chihuly’s, I had some extra time before my flight. I took the monorail from the Space Needle and then walked down to Pikes Place Market and then the Waterfront, taking pictures along the way. A few blocks south of Pike I was walking back up some stairs and came across some cherry trees in full bloom. I wish my camera could catch the scent. Soon afterward the rain came back and it was time to hop on a plane home.