Manifest Destiny or Pipe Dream?

I could probably run a blog just reblogging Wayne Hale’s stuff. Here he makes a pretty good argument for why we should — nay, must — continue exploring space. For my part, I think the survival of the species depends upon it. Assuming the good Lord continues to tarry patiently in his return, we’re going to outgrow this little rock, if some wandering asteroid doesn’t do us in first. But more than that, exploration is in our blood, in our souls. It is part of our identity as a species and as a people. Yes, there’s plenty of exploration still to do here, especially in the oceans, but there’s a whole universe out there. if we do not move forward and seek out the unknown, something very important deep within us will die.

Wayne Hale's Blog

“I started out as a child” – William H. Cosby, Jr., Ed.D.

I have been ruined by the timing of my childhood. Grew up with the space race; 3 years old when Sputnik launched, 7 when Gagarin and Shepard flew and JFK promised the moon, allowed to stay up late to watch if Ranger or Surveyor were going to be successful, watched Gemini through grade school, Apollo through High School, and somewhere in between read a host of science fiction stories.
SF definitely ruined my life; captivated as I was at an impressionable age by Asimov, Clark, Heinlein, and so very many others. Watched “Destination Moon” a thousand times along with every other B grade SF movie ever made. Then, of course, came Star Trek. After that show went off prime time network programming, one of the local TV stations in my area showed reruns every night…

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Risk Tolerance

Wayne Hale’s blog is a must read. Almost every single entry is a wealth of knowledge and insight. Dig in, and be prepared to lose a few days indulging in a good read.

Wayne Hale's Blog

I am a big fan of the author Bill Bryson. I have enjoyed all his books and recently have been rereading “One Summer: America, 1927”. His sparkling account joyously brings that time to life. Looking back at 1927 from April to October, Bryson chronicles an amazing time: Babe Ruth and Lou Gehring, Coolidge and Harding, the first ‘talking’ pictures bringing revolution to Hollywood, and of course, Lucky Lindy. Yes, I recommend you buy Bryson’s book and read it.

Especially study the part about the Orteg prize and the competition to be the first to fly nonstop from New York to Paris. As I read about aviation in 1927, I am powerfully aware of the many folks — people who would influence space policy today — who continue to draw comparisons between aviation in the ‘golden age’ and space exploration.

Remembering the actual events of those years should give those advocates…

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Models on Trains!

I spend a fair percentage of my photography time taking pictures of trains and railroad related subjects.  When the nearby Bluegrass Railroad Museum offered a “Trains and Tripods” event — an all day photo shoot and training session on the museum’s lines and equipment — came up, I couldn’t resist the chance.

As it turned out, it wasn’t quite what I was expecting, though it was a pleasant change.  The planned expert was unable to attend, and the substitute brought along some human models for us to shoot during part of the day.  I’ve done very little portrait or model photography, so this was a rare treat to learn something I’m not very familiar with.

I learned something about my own photography, though.  Shooting the models was interesting, and so was shooting the trains themselves.  But what I found most interesting was documenting things from “behind the scenes”.  Looking through the photos afterwards, the ones I found most interesting were the “behind the scenes” shots — pictures of the models prepping or waiting around, of the expert giving instruction or reviewing photos, of the attendees practicing their art, and so on.  These types of photos tell a story, and often contain some genuine emotion or feeling that just isn’t there with the posed model shots.

I’m still sifting through these more interesting behind the scenes shots, and will share them later.  For now, here are some of my best attempts at model photography from the weekend.

Another new thing for me… all of these shots were taken in full Manual mode, and many were done with my Canon 50mm f1.8 manual focus lens. Of course, most of them have been dressed up a bit in GIMP as well.

WARNING: These photos were taken at a railroad museum sponsored and hosted event, on museum owned and controlled property, under strict safety guidelines regarding the trains and access to the track.  DO NOT take photos like these without first getting permission of the owning and operating railroad(s) and also taking the appropriate safety precautions.  Photography on or around railroad property without authorization and safety precautions can be illegal, dangerous and even deadly.

Trains & Tripods 2014

Trains & Tripods 2014

Trains & Tripods 2014

Trains & Tripods 2014

Trains & Tripods 2014

Trains & Tripods 2014

Trains & Tripods 2014

Trains & Tripods 2014

Trains & Tripods 2014

BGRM Trains & Tripods 2014

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Wild Maddie

Every now and again, you come across a really neat set of photos that just bring some joy into your life.

When those photos show up twice, you take notice 🙂

I had seen Theron Humphrey’s photo set of his dog Maddie once before in another photo blog I follow, and I found them irresistable.  When one of my Facebook friends shared the shot of Maddie yawning at a diner table with some coffee, I just had to go revisit the set.

I suggest you do so as well.  They are fantastic.  Creative, humorous, cute, well shot, and just all that is good with the photo world.


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Northward to Fairbanks


After the long train ride to Carcross, we boarded a tour bus (provided by the WP&YR as part of the journey), and took a scenic ride back to Skagway, including the lovely Emerald Lake (above). We had a nice dinner at the Skagway Brewing Co. and another good night’s rest.  Sunday morning, we packed and headed back North on the AlCan Highway.

(bicycles parked outside the Skagway Brewing Co.)

After a stop in Whitehorse for some Tim Hortons and a few liters of petrol, we rolled in to Beaver Creek in the Yukon for the night.


The Westmark Inn in Beaver Creek is a bit of an older establishment but had a certain flair all its own. There was a dinner theater in the back, and a combination bar and recreation hall in the central building. The rec hall featured a mini-museum literally stuffed with animals that a notable local taxidermist had prepared.


At the time we thought this might be as close to an adult moose as we might get on this trip.

The next day we re-entered Alaska and rolled on toward Fairbanks, retracing our steps back to Tok, where we stopped at Fast Eddy’s for a lunch that would fill up a lumberjack.

(This was the chandelier over the salad bar)

We cruised on Northward toward Fairbanks, keeping a sharp eye out for animals and admiring the many views along the way.


… and then we saw her!


My wife and son had already spotted a male moose on the right side of the road, but we were too late to stop. Not a mile further up the road, though, we saw this lady calmly munching on fireweed. We quickly pulled off the road and snapped off a few shots, along with our other car with the rest of the family and a tour bus that was following us and whose driver was sharp enough to realize why we’d stopped.

Next up on the tour was the Tanana River crossing of the Alyeska (Alaska) Pipeline at Big Delta, just north of Delta Junction.


The Pipeline was one of the main attractions my father wanted to show his grandchildren, so we stopped here for a bit and got a few more shots, before moving on once more.

As we approached Fairbanks, we passed Eielson Air Force Base. Sprawling across the plain north of the road, it was a magnificent sight. My sister was driving, so I whipped up the camera for a panoramic shot of the flight line as we drove by… only to have it knocked down by my sister’s “mom arm”. She had spotted the warning sign forbidding any stopping or photography near the base, and figured we did not need to get arrested on this base. Oh well. The view is seared in my memory… and on Google Maps!

In Fairbanks, we visited the Pipeline again, at a small park set up to allow visitors to examine the pipe closely.


… and then ate at the Cookie Jar, which has been featured on Guy Fieri’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” TV show.

Day two at Fairbanks found us at the University of Alaska Fairbanks Museum, which is a fantastic showcase of Alaskan history and nature. It’s a must-see for sure.



The downstairs area is a natural and human history museum, while the upstairs is an art gallery featuring the works of both native and contemporary Alaskan artists.


One of the funniest sights of the whole trip… on our way through town to our hotel, I looked off to the left and saw one of those typical modern bank signs that show the temperature with a dot-matrix display… the temperature was 74˚F … and the display showed flames beneath the number…

Next up… Denali!


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Volleyball on Full Manual

UK vs. South Carolina

We made it to another UK volleyball game at Memorial Coliseum this past weekend. This time, I found that the camera’s light meter was not quite getting things right.  I don’t recall now whether it was over- or under-exposing the court, but it wasn’t right, so I rotated that little lever over to “M”.

For the first set, I used my Tamron 40A 35-135, but then switched to my Tamron 46A 70-210 f3.8/4 for just that little bit more zoom range.  Both these lenses are fully manual, so my only shooting choices are Aperture (“A”) mode, where the camera chooses the shutter speed, or full manual (“M”).  Plus, they’re both manual focus, but I find that I prefer that for volleyball.

UK vs. South Carolina

A little bit of experimentation landed me at 1/400, f5.6 and ISO 1600.  In hindsight, I probably should have gone wide open (f4) and gotten up to 1/500 or more.  I lost many otherwise good shots due to motion blur either on the ball or the player’s arm.  Even better would be a faster lens, but those are out of my budget.

UK vs. South Carolina

I found that by going manual, I was able to forget about the exposure settings and where the camera was going, and focus more on the action and what the players were doing.  Of course I could only really do this because I was at one location, indoors, with fixed and controlled lighting.  If I were moving around, or if the lighting was changing, I’d have had to be more careful with the settings.  Not that making the required adjustments would be all that hard…

UK vs. South Carolina

I also tried getting shots of the cheerleaders, who were in one corner of the floor, away from the main court lighting.  I discovered that for proper lighting on them, I had to drop the shutter to between 1/200 and 1/250… and to get shots of my family in the stands (which were not lit at all), I had to drop all the way to 1/15 sec.  Unfortunately, I had some focusing problems on the cheerleaders, so none of the photos I took were usable.

UK vs. South Carolina

What I learned is that Manual mode need not be intimidating.  Certainly there are things that could make it more challenging, but for the most part, once I dialed in exposure for the three areas I wanted to shoot, it was a simple matter to adjust as I changed targets.

It was a great game, with UK winning the first (and only) three sets handily, but South Carolina did put up a fight, which kept it interesting.  I’m already looking forward to my next opportunity to shoot the team and practice some more manual-mode shooting.

I’ll leave you with a few more pictures…

UK vs. South Carolina

UK vs. South Carolina

UK vs. South Carolina
(this one shows some of the motion blur I was fighting…)

UK vs. South Carolina

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All Aboard!

On the first Saturday of the trip, we hit the second “big event” of our visit to Alaska… the 67 mile train ride from Skagway to Carcross on the White Pass & Yukon Route Railway.  The route takes you up the river valley, over the White Pass, through the alien landscape at the border, and then along Lake Bennett to its destination of Carcross at the north end of the lake.  I’ve struggled with this post, because I only took 600 or so photos along the way, and I’m not sure how best to cull that down to a handful that tell the story.

The White Pass and Yukon Route railway was constructed between 1898-1900 from Skagway, AK to Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, to provide an easier route for the thousands of miners in the Klondike Gold Rush. It is a 3-foot narrow gauge railway, and it has been in continuous operation ever since, except for a brief period 1982-1988. It now serves only passengers, and only goes as far as Carcross, YT, but the management is actively studying adding freight traffic and expanding to Whitehorse.

Enough of the history lesson. Plenty more on the Wikipedia page and the company website.

We took the long ride from Skagway to Carcross. It’s 67.1 miles and took pretty much all day. I didn’t really look at my watch. We started at 8:00 AM and stopped for an early lunch around 10:30 or 11:00 at Bennett, beside Lake Bennett. Lunch was a hearty Mulligan Stew (with beef instead of lamb), mashed potatoes, green beans, and a mixed berry pie. After an hour or so at Bennett (during which we could explore the area), we continued on to Carcross, where we disembarked and boarded a tour bus for the return trip to Skagway. We also had a brief stop at Fraser to clear Canadian Customs. If you go, don’t forget your passport. You’ll need it.

The scenery along the route is nothing short of astounding, and my photos hardly do it justice. There was a bit of fog around the pass itself, which I’m told is common, but by Bennett, it was clear and bright and comfortably warm (around 70F). It’s hard to imagine having to cross that ground on foot.

OK, how about some pictures?

At Skagway, they had their snow blower on display. We’ll start with a few views of that.

P1030950 by BGTwinDad, on Flickr

P1030952 by BGTwinDad, on Flickr

P1030956 by BGTwinDad, on Flickr

P1030957 by BGTwinDad, on Flickr

The new station at Skagway…

P1030962 by BGTwinDad, on Flickr

A few of the “famous” Class 90 locomotives…

P1030989 by BGTwinDad, on Flickr

P1030991 by BGTwinDad, on Flickr

P1030993 by BGTwinDad, on Flickr

P1030997 by BGTwinDad, on Flickr
… some of their ALCOs…

P1040001 by BGTwinDad, on Flickr

How about a caboose?

P1040003 by BGTwinDad, on Flickr

The shops at Skagway

P1040046 by BGTwinDad, on Flickr

More ALCOs…

P1040057 by BGTwinDad, on Flickr

P1040058 by BGTwinDad, on Flickr

A MOW speeder, about to head off for a day’s work…

P1040064 by BGTwinDad, on Flickr

WP&YR #52, the very first WP&YR loco… not going anywhere for a while…

P1040069 by BGTwinDad, on Flickr
(but they do have plans to restore it)

Some scenery…

P1040121 by BGTwinDad, on Flickr

P1040131 by BGTwinDad, on Flickr

P1040138 by BGTwinDad, on Flickr

More scenery…

P1040166 by BGTwinDad, on Flickr

They keep this water tanker up the line to refill the steam engines when they use them…

P1040176 by BGTwinDad, on Flickr

P1040179 by BGTwinDad, on Flickr

P1040194 by BGTwinDad, on Flickr

P1040225 by BGTwinDad, on Flickr

The old steel cantilever bridge

P1040248 by BGTwinDad, on Flickr

P1040253 by BGTwinDad, on Flickr

At the summit of White Pass…

P1040275 by BGTwinDad, on Flickr

P1040296 by BGTwinDad, on Flickr

P1040303 by BGTwinDad, on Flickr

The station at Fraser, where we cleared Customs

P1040304 by BGTwinDad, on Flickr

P1040306 by BGTwinDad, on Flickr

Lake Bennett

P1040358 by BGTwinDad, on Flickr

Bennett Station

P1040373 by BGTwinDad, on Flickr

The old church at Bennett… the only remaining building from the gold rush days…

P1040378 by BGTwinDad, on Flickr

Traveling along Lake Bennett… 27 miles of this!

P1040516 by BGTwinDad, on Flickr

The bridge into Carcross

P1040533 by BGTwinDad, on Flickr

Carcross station

P1040551 by BGTwinDad, on Flickr

Rhiannon, our tour guide, waves goodbye!

P1040544 by BGTwinDad, on Flickr

OK, that’s one seriously long post, and a lot of pictures.  I hope you enjoyed it.  I may follow up with another post containing more of the family pictures, and of course we’ve still got half the trip to go…

Next stop – Fairbanks!

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