A Walk in the Park

Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park reopened to the public at the end of September. Reshaped by the eruptions the park has substantially changed since I was last there back in February. It was well past time I got myself out to the park to see the changes, it had been open almost two months!

Julian examines a lava mushroom near the 1969 fissure on the Mauna Ulu trail
I had resolved to go over the long holiday weekend. An additional idea occurred to me, if I was going, why not kidnap my young nephews along for the trip. We would leave the gals to whatever they will do, and go have an adventure.

Off we go.

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Crossing the Saddle at Night

Leaving Hilo I turn towards the shortest path home. It is also my favorite path by far. Not for me the twisting turns, small towns, and driving rains of the Hamakua coast road. I turn towards Saddle Road, to the pass between the enormous volcanoes of Hawaii.

Saddle Road
Saddle Road seen as it was in 2007, before rebuilding
The road is smooth and fast now. The Saddle of legend and rental car prohibition is mostly gone, only fragments remain. While you can still drive bits of the old Saddle, they are no longer the main road, bypassed by the new highway.

Even before the road was re-built this was my favorite route to cross the island. The traffic is far heavier now, the new road no longer offers the challenges and dangers of the old road. Drivers no longer deterred by those dangers now use the new road to cross the island rather than driving around the northern belt road.

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In-Flight Annoyance

Recently traveling with United Airlines for our Nicaragua trip I ran face first into their in-flight entertainment system. My choice of words is literally accurate here, as the system is in-your-face in a most unappreciated way.

United In Flight Entertainment System
The United Airlines in-flight entertainment system
The unit consists of a seven inch LCD screen in every seat back, and a small control pad on the arm rest. A selection of movies and shows can be purchased by running a credit card through the slot beside the screen. Content in this system is strictly paid for, there is very little free material, one channel with a sliced up documentary and other segments that are essentially long ads. A preview period is run at the start of the flight with payment required to continue your chosen show.

The unit is also used to replace the traditional cabin safety briefing with a video that runs before takeoff. Aside from the safety briefing you will need headphones with a standard stereo plug to hear the soundtrack.

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A Bad Day in Houston

Modern air travel is an extraordinary complex system. The endless series of arrivals and departures at any large airport is a carefully choreographed dance. Unfortunately this system can be easily snarled when the process is disturbed.

Houston Airport Concourse
Gate seating, where to spend far too many hours in the Houston airport
The first sign of trouble was our aircrew securing the cabin for arrival early. They stopped the last beverage service and hurriedly gathered the trash long before we began descent. The reason quickly became apparent as towering thunderheads appeared all around us and the aircraft began to bounce and shudder in the unstable winds. Despite the promise of worse our landing in Houston proceeded without issue. Rolling down a wet runway and noting the pools of water covering the grass between the taxiways, clearly the airport had been visited by the heavy rains of those thunderstorms.

Next problem? No gate was available and we spend 45 minutes sitting on a taxiway waiting our turn at a gate for disembarking. I have plenty of time to observe that puddled water and the low slung engines of a 737 can create fascinating little vortexes of swirling water just below the engine intake. We were not worried, we had a five hour layover in our schedule and being late to the gate was not an issue. Many of our fellow passengers were not quite so relaxed, fretting about tight connections and missed flights.

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Yes, Darker View has been a bit quiet lately. I have been not only off-island but out of the country for the last couple weeks. I flew to Portland to join my parents on a trip to Nicaragua.

A Nicaraguan farmer leaning against the wall of his home in Tierra Amarilla
We spent ten days in Nicaragua, the first part of the trip helping out with El Porvenir, an NGO that does water and sanitation work with rural farming communities. The last part of the trip was spent playing tourist, traveling the Rio San Juan on the border between Nicaragua and Costa Rica. The trip allowed me to spent a good deal of time with my parents, do more than a little photography, and visit a beautiful country.

Back at home and back online, I have a series of posts in the works to record my experiences. The trip was extraordinarily memorable, with interesting stories to share. Along the way I did a lot of photography, thus I have gigabytes of material that needs to be sorted through. The best of this will appear here on DV as I have a chance to process it. My hope is that I can preserve a bit of the experience here in blog form. Not only for you to read, but as a record that I can read many years from now to remember this wonderful trip.

Makaʻiki – A 6-inch Travel Telescope

A six-inch f/5 telescope designed to allow maximum portability. A simple travel telescope that can go anywhere, small enough to fit in an airline carry-on bag while leaving room for clothing. Large enough to provide good views of celestial targets.

First Light for Makaʻiki
Makaʻiki under the stars for the first time at Hale Pōhaku on the side of Mauna Kea

I call the design Travel6, for obvious reasons. The actual telescope I have dubbed Makaʻiki, or simply “little eye” in Hawaiian. While 6″ may seem big to some, by the standards of amateur telescopes it is quite small. By the standards of the telescopes I work on it is downright miniscule.

Still, a 6″ telescope is quite capable in the right hands, able to give pleasing views of many celestial objects. The design is an RFT, or rich field telescope. A low power, wide angle eyepiece will result in a field rich in stars.

Like all good telescopes the design is based on ideas borrowed from other telescopes I have seen. In this case the basic design is from a very similar telescope by Brett Schaerer he named WikiKea, a telescope I had a chance to examine at Oregon Star Party a couple years ago. He incorporated a clever focus mechanism into that ‘scope that got my attention. This is a design I liked, I would have to build one for myself sometime.

Travel6 Telescope Plans

Of course I had no plans for the ‘scope, just a couple photos. The first task was to draw up a complete set of plans, only then would I be able to understand all of the design issues. I have posted the full mechanical plans for the telescope at the link above. These plans should be enough for anyone with a little workshop savvy to duplicate the telescope.

The design shown could be notably simplified if one chose to do so. I have enough parts left over to build a second scope, and may consider a refined design the second time through based on the lessons of the first pass.

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Traveling through Switzerland

One of the first binders of slides I grabbed for digitizing happened to be a trip through Switzerland that I took in 1987 with my family.

I was living in England at the time with the USAF. My parents and brother joined me there. We then crossed the channel from Dover to Calais, changed trains in Paris, taking a high speed train to Lausanne. From there my brother and I bounced around with some Swiss bus and rail passes until we rejoined my parents in Zermatt.

It was a memorable trip, there is so much I can remember from thirty five years ago. Going through these old slides certainly brought back memories!

Back Home

It is pretty. It is a view I have spent all too much time staring at lately. Four times from the islands to the mainland in a bit over a month. Four times I have run the route from Kona, to Seattle, to Portland. Six times I have bounced through SeaTac airport when I add the run from Portland to Juneau and back.

I am back home for a while. Still dealing with the slightly disconnected feeling I often get after a long vacation. Living in a totally different world for a few weeks changes the definition of normal. It is back to work tomorrow and a resumption of the normal routine of life.

Pacific Wing
Looking out from the window of Alaska flight 843 from Seattle to Kona, 8Sep2013


Where are we going today? The usual question, often the answer is ill defined. It is not that we do not have a plan, we do. It is simply that experience has taught us to keep the plan loose. Weather conditions, what the wildlife is doing, what we want to do. The plan can change.

Sunset Under Way
Sunset while we are under way, a few miles yet to go for our anchorage
Bad weather in Chatham strait? There is little pleasure to be found in pounding our way through six foot seas. Perhaps we will spend the day looking for bear in the arms of Tenakee inlet. With flexibility we can maximize the adventure with less stress.

Thus the plan is kept very general. There are some constraints, this year we have an entry permit for Glacier Bay National Park which specifies an entry date. Of course we do have to be back in Juneau in time to make the flight home. Beyond that? Just a general idea of where we plan to go and where we will stop.

The evening often sees my father and I with charts spread across the table and on the screen, planning the details of the next day and identifying a possible anchorage or two. We plan with a fair amount of experience, we have come to know these waters a bit. We plan with a backup in mind, we know that conditions will change, or we might linger when the whales or fish cooperate. Point Adolphus? How long do we want to watch whales. Funter Bay? Been there a few times… I can do that anchorage in the dark if need be.

Where are we going this year? I know… Perhaps here or there. We will just have to see. It has never failed to be fun.

GoPro Fun

What can you do with a little camera? A camera that is rugged and waterproof? A camera that shoots video, stills and timelapse?

GoPro Timelapse Setup
A GoPro set up with a window mount doing a timelapse of sunset as we cross the Pacific.
That is the challenge of a GoPro.

It is a fun little camera. The video quality is decent as long as there is enough light. I have been using it for diving, I know that the case is good to well over 100 feet. The little camera is a good choice when the mantas show up to dance.

Why not take the camera fishing in Alaska?

For this trip I have set up to find out just what you can do with it. GoPro camera? Check. A variety of mounting methods? Check. My friend Mark has done some fun things with his GoPro lately, providing some inspiration and setting me a bit of a challenge. I may have taught Mark a few things about video editing to get him started, he has taken those lessons and run with them.

One of the intruging features is the WiFi back. This gives me remote control of the camera from my iPad. There is no viewfinder on the back of the camera, but with the WiFi setup my pad becomes the viewfinder allowing the camera setup to be checked.

The remote option also allows me to mount the camera on the boat somewhere and control it with the tablet. Hanging off the bow? On top of the mast? The little suction cup mount should stick to the boat just about anywhere. One of the provided adhesive mounts, designed for a helmet, looks to have just the right curve for the radar mast.

The front ring of the camera case has been replaced with an aluminum ring and a mounting point for a lanyard. A ten dollar EBay purchase that looked to be a wise idea. This should allow a strong safety tether and more freedom in placing the camera in otherwise risky locations. Need to buy some strong cord in Juneau.

What do I come up with? Anything worth watching? Stay tuned to DarkerView to find out…