The Robservatory

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Travel

Stuff related to various trips

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 1920x1080 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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A visit to an amazing aviation museum

evergreenlogoIf you're an aviation enthusiast (as I am), and you're ever in Oregon, you owe yourself a trip to the Evergreen Air and Space Museum.

Despite living here for nearly 20 years, I'd never been until last week. The kids had a day off school, and we had some tickets we'd bought during a fundraiser for OMSI, so we went and made a day of it.

The museum has a large collection (100+) of aircraft, all in impeccable shape. In addition, there's quite a collection of space memorabilia, including a full-size Titan rocket. The star attraction, though, is the Spruce Goose, Howard Hughes' massive flying boat. There's also a waterpark whose key feature is four water slides that drop out of the side of an actual 747, which sits on top of the water park's building. Our passes included cockpit access to the Spruce Goose as well as a tour of the cockpit of the 747 sitting on top of the waterpark.

As you might expect of an aviation enthusiast, I snapped a ton of pictures. The more bearable of my efforts can be seen in this album (set to open in a new window). You can navigate with the on-screen buttons, the arrow keys, or by clicking directly on each image; you can also resize your browser window, and the image sizes will adjust.

If you enjoy all things aviation, you should put the Evergreen Air and Space Museum on your list; it's definitely worth the time and effort it takes to get there.

Photos from our summer tour

After posting about my favorite roads from our summer tour around the west, a few people asked to see some pictures. Here's an album showing some of the interesting sites and landscapes:

Summer Tour 2010

It really was an amazing journey—4,000 miles in about 18 driving days, plus another 700 miles during a one-week stay in Colorado to visit friends and relatives. More about the trip, in particular spending that much time in a car with two young children, in a future post.

These are a few of my favorite roads…

Last summer, we took our two girls on a 30-day, 4,000-mile trek around the western United States (here's the full route). The trip was made possible by my wife's employer, where everyone is given a multi-week sabattical after 10 years of service.

Our kids are relatively young for such a journey--just four and seven at the time of the trip. To make it bearable for them (and us!), we drove relatively short distances each day, and spent a mostly-driving-free week in Colorado in the middle of the trip. (More on the lessons we learned traveling for 30 days straight with two young kids in a future blog post...)

What was great about the trip, for the adults in the car at least, was that relatively little time was spent on interstate highways--only 1,200 of the 4,000 miles, and of those 1,200 miles, 900 of them were on the first three days and the last day of the trip. So most of the time, we were on state highways or even smaller backroads. These are the roads where you can really see the country, and get away from the crowds--many times we had the road completely to ourselves.

Given how much we enjoyed these roads, I thought I'd take a few minutes and share some of my favorites from the journey. (Click the small map image for the full Google Maps view (in a new window) of each road.)
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Trip report: Destin, Florida

Last week, we took the kids to a family reunion in Destin, Florida. For those who've never been (as I hadn't prior to last week), here are some observations from my experiences.

  • Highway 98, the main arterial road that runs up and down the peninsula, is seemingly always crowded. This is especially true on Saturday and Sunday. We sent some folks on a grocery run to a Sam's Club when we arrived on Saturday. It was 16 miles away, and it took them nearly an hour to get there. The rental office was five miles from the bridge where we crossed to the peninsula, and it took nearly 20 minutes to cover that distance.
  • The sand (at least on Crystal Beach, which is where we stayed) is simply astonishing. Pure white and very soft, with nary a hard shell to poke you in the foot.
  • The water temp near the surface was 80F+, and very pleasant. Waves are generally small, but large enough for the kids to enjoy some boogie boarding. We went scuba diving one day (though Destin isn't the greatest of dive destinations), doing two relatively short dives (as they were somewhat deep). One decent picture at right.
    The water temp was about 73F to 77F at 60 to 85 feet; we wore 3mm wet suits, which kept us warm enough for the two dives.

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San Juan to Dallas in-flight images

The following will probably only be of interest to aviation buffs--so if that's not you, you can stop reading now :).

My wife and I recently took a week to go scuba diving in Bonaire. I'll be posting more about that trip shortly, but getting to and from Bonaire from Portland, Oregon, isn't exactly simple. There's an overnight Continental flight that leaves out of Houston once a week, but neither of us enjoy such flights, so that was out. We wound up flying to Dallas (on an MD-80), then to San Juan, Puerto Rico (757-200WL), and then on to Bonaire (ATR-72). On the way down, we spent a night in Dallas, but coming home, we did it as one (long) 20-hour day.

While flying home, I snapped a number of pictures of the various islands we flew over--starting with the Turks and Caicos Islands and ending as we flew over the Bahamas. I found the mix of clouds, shadows, land, sky, and water to make for some very interesting images. None of these are award-winners (I was using my Canon 850is again, and there are often reflections in the window), but I just loved the colors.

As noted, more on Bonaire later--including a review of the island as a destination for scuba divers, as well as some of my underwater images from the week's dives.

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