The Robservatory

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Travel

Stuff related to various trips

Classic cars and one big dam thing

I’ve been away from home for nearly a month—first a couple weeks in DC to visit family, then off to Las Vegas with our APA 8-ball pool team for the World Championships. We did reasonably well, winning four matches and finishing in the 65th to 128th place bucket. (It’s a huge tournament, with 713 teams this year, so not every place is played out.)

Because of the uncertainty of when we’d be finished in the tournament—it’s a modified double-elimination, so you’re guaranteed two matches, but nothing more—I chose to drive, so I could leave as soon as we were finished. (Also playing into my decision was the fact that I was leaving from south of Bend, Oregon, which isn’t really convenient to flying to Las Vegas—I’d either have a one-hour drive to an airport followed by a flight to Seattle and a layover, or a four-hour drive to Portland for a direct flight.)

I’ll have more to say on the road trip in a future write up, but thought I’d take a minute to share some photos I snapped during the journey. None of these are edited at all; I haven’t had the time; they’re all direct from the camera, my Nikon D5500 (though there is one iPhone panorama).

First, in Reno, I stumbled across this fantastic exhibition of classic cars. Although it was really warm out, it was well worth walking through this collection of gorgeous cars. There was a bit of everything there—true classics, kit cars, semi-modern cars, and even a few race cars.

Classic Mustang in Reno

Once in Vegas, on our one day off, we drove out to Hoover Dam, drove across (which I didn’t think was allowed any more, after the opening of the Hoover Dam Bypass, but it was), then parked and explored for a bit. I snapped a bunch of pictures, none of which reveal just how mind-numbingly hot it was outside. They also, as always, fail to capture the sheer size of the dam and the vertigo you experience when peering over the edge. It really is worth the visit if you’re in the area. (The tour is highly recommended, too; we just didn’t have enough time.)

Hoover Dam

In all, it was a great trip, and hopefully we do well in league this year and get to go back again next year!

Review: Olala 10,000mAh Power Bank

For those not aware, I have something of an addiction to portable power packs—with two kids and who knows how many devices, it seems someone somewhere is always out of power.

For the last few weeks, I’ve been testing an addition to our stable of such products: Olala’s $32 10,000mAh Power Bank.1I received the Power Bank at a greatly reduced cost, but my review is based solely on its performance and my impressions of its build quality.

This shiny piano black unit looks great (though that shiny finish is a fingerprint magnet), and its smooth surface means it easily slides into a pocket in a backpack. Four blue LEDs let you know how much juice you have left. Unlike some battery packs, this one is Apple MFi Certified, meaning Olala has gone through the necessary steps to certify that their device meets Apple’s standards. (You can search for MFi certified devices in case you’re ever curious about a given accessory developer.)

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Construction of the Millau Viaduct

I’ve long been fascinated by massive engineering projects, whether they be for ships or tunnels or skyscrapers…or in this case, a bridge.

The Millau Viaduct is an amazing structure in the south of France; it spans a deep and wide valley with incredibly tall pylons and an elegant design.

Photo by logopop. [original photo]

While browsing YouTube the other day, for something completely unrelated (isn’t it always like that?), I stumbled on this excellent show about the construction of the bridge:

Just amazing what they did to get that bridge built—and without a single worker injury of any note, despite working hundreds of feet above the ground for four years.

787 takeoffs and landings

This one’s only for the aviation geeks, and it goes along with my writeup on the 787. I recorded the takeoffs and landings in both Calgary and London during my 787 trip; if you enjoy such things, here they are (in glorious 4K). Watch for the cameo by the retired Concorde, around the 6:15 mark.

I’m not sure when it will happen, but I’m definitely looking forward to my next flight on a 787!

From the passenger seat: Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner

The Many Tricks company is somewhat unique, as we’re a two-person multi-national organization: I’m based in Portland, Oregon, and Peter Maurer, my business partner, lives in Germany. We’ve met in person a few times—a couple of times at WWDC in San Francisco, and once in Portland (just after we relaunched the company in 2010).

So this time, it was my turn to travel, and in April of 2016, I set out for Germany for a couple weeks. Being something of an aviation freak, though, I couldn’t book just any flight to Germany: I wanted to fly on Boeing’s newest jet, the 787.

I started with the Airport Spotting site’s 787 routes page, which tries to list all 787 flights. I then searched for flights that would get me close to my destination, on my schedule, and meeting my budget.

With those key variables taken into account, and certain flights being sold out, there was literally only one choice that met my needs: An Air Canada flight out of Calgary to London. From there, I’d transfer to another airline for the trip to Basel, Switzerland. (Basel is the closest major airport to Freiburg, Germany, where Peter lives.)

Calgary might appear somewhat out of the way for flying from Portland to London, but it’s really not—it’s pretty close to being right on the great circle route between the two cities:

And as it’s not possible to fly direct from Portland to Europe (at least, not on a 787!), I’d be flying somewhere else first anyway, so why not Calgary?

Things were complicated a bit by the difficulty of getting to Calgary—I had to fly through Seattle first (welcome to the hub-and-spoke system). So my travel day was going to be Portland > Seattle > Calgary > London > Basel > Freiburg. Total travel time from my door to Peter’s door would be about 22 hours, which makes for a very long travel day.

On the upside, however, I had this amazing scenery during the flight from Seattle to Calgary…

But this post isn’t about the journey—my first with Air Canada, and I have to say I was quite impressed with the service and amenties—it’s about the 17 hours (round trip) that I’ve now spent in the 787…

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The odd story of the single-country multi-country airport

I have traveled through a fair number of airports in my lifetime, but the EuroAirport is the strangest one I’ve ever been in. (I was there because it’s the closest major airport to Freiburg, Germany, where I was working with Peter, my Many Tricks business partner).

The EuroAirport isn’t strange due to layout or location or weird weather or anything. It’s strange because the airport itself is split between two countries, even though it doesn’t straddle a country border—it’s 100% within the territory of France, but a portion of the airport “lies in” Switzerland.

This oddness is a result of the airport’s development history: Basel, Switzerland wanted an airport, but lacked the space. France had the space near the town of Mulhouse, but lacked the money.

The two countries agreed to a joint development effort, starting just after World War II. The end result is an airport in France, paid for by Switzerland, and with portions of the airport physically being in Switzerland, despite the airport’s location completely within France.

You can actually see this in Apple Maps, as seen in the above-right screenshot. Search on EuroAirport and you can see there’s a set of country borders drawn on the airport itself; the outlined region belongs to Switzerland, even though the entirety of the airport lies in France. (Not shown is that the road leading from the airport to Basel is also Swiss property.)

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The (semi) hidden world of Dulles’ Z gates

I spent the last three-ish weeks on the east coast, visiting family along with various tourist sites. We flew in and out of Dulles International Airport, via a direct flight (oh wow, they still exist!) from/to Portland.

If you’ve never been through Dulles, it’s an interesting airport—though a bit less interesting now than in the past.

In the past, you entered the main terminal, cleared security, and then boarded a bus (a two-headed elevating bus, similar to what’s seen in the image at right, often with tails on top to help them be seen from the control tower) to one of the outlying buildings holding the actual gates.

Now most terminals are served by a train system, or via a walkway. But Concourse D is still accessed via the bus, and that’s where we were set to fly out. It was just me and my kids for the flight home; my wife had returned a week earlier. We arrived at the main terminal about 90 minutes before departure. After clearing security, we were headed for the bus to Concourse D when I happened to check a departure sign…and discovered that our flight was delayed for 50 minutes. Ugh.

The Concourse D building at Dulles isn’t one of the nicest places to wait, especially with kids (it can be noisy and hard to find space to relax). But I didn’t really want to head back through security either. Standing there near the entrance to the shuttle busses, I spotted a sign for “Z gates,” which I’d never heard of before. So we headed down that way, just to see if we could find somewhere quiet to pass the time before boarding the shuttle bus.

What we found was a wonderful, nearly deserted oasis of peace and quiet right in the heart of Dulles.

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Trip report: Touring the White House

Last winter, our family decided we’d head to Washington, DC for our summer vacation. With our kids being 11 and eight, we figured they’d be old enough to appreciate some of the history and sites in the area. One thing I remembered from my youth was a White House tour, and I thought it’d be fun to take our kids on the same tour.

Needless to say, things have changed quite a bit since I toured many decades ago. I don’t recall the setup details from my youth (as my parents handled that), but I assume security was somewhat less stringent.

For those interested in possibly taking a tour themselves, here’s how it worked for us…

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Demonstrating iMovie’s stabilization feature

On our flight home from Denver last week, our 10-year-old daughter had the window seat. So I asked her to record the takeoff (using a Canon pocket cam with 1920×1080 video). I gave her no tips (she’d never tried this before), other than to minimize any reflections off the window and to try to keep the camera steady.

The results weren’t bad, given her lack of experience at such things, but they weren’t really usable. So as with my early-morning Portland take-off, I fed the raw video to iMovie’s stabilization routine. The end result is nothing short of amazing, with some caveats as noted after the video:


(Also available on my YouTube channel.)

At first glance, the changes are nothing short of extraordinary. The raw video is almost unwatchable in spots, due to the extreme camera movement. The stabilized video, while jumpy in those same spots, is infinitely more watchable. There are some tradeoffs, of course, to get this stability.
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Aviation geekery: Rainy early morning PDX departure

Earlier this fall, the FAA decided to allow use of electronics below 10,000 feet on flights. As an aviation geek, this was great news; not because I could now use my iPod or whatever all the time, but because I could use my camera to record takeoffs and landings.

In particular, I think takeoffs are amazing events, wherein a huge multi-ton semi-controllable beast of a machine on the ground transforms itself into a powerful and graceful master of the skies, seemingly weighing nothing and covering vast distances at over 500 miles an hour. But I wax off-topic…

I don’t fly all that often any more, and yesterday was my first flight since the rule changes went into effect. It was also a very early departure (5:40am takeoff), so it was pitch black outside. Plus it was overcast and a bit rainy.

Nonetheless, I couldn’t let the opportunity pass me by, so I recorded the takeoff and initial climb out of Portland. There’s even a bit of commentary, for the sake of my daughter sitting next to me.

(For the best visual experience, click the gear icon to choose 1080p, and then zoom to full screen.)

Despite the darkness and rain (or perhaps because of it), I find the resulting video to be mesmerizing…but that’s mostly because I am an aviation geek, and love this stuff. If you’d like the technical details behind the video, keep reading.

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