Cygnus Launch

On Saturday November 2, 2019 NASA launched an Antares Rocket as a resupply mission to the International Space Station from the Wallops flight facility in Wallops, Virginia. Wallops is about 160 miles from my home.

Wallops is fun because I can see the rockets as they start to enter orbit once they get pretty high in the sky (like 80,000 – 100,000 feet). In the evenings it is very easy to spot them but hard to photo. This is my first attempt to see if I can see them during the day.

Friday night I did the research on when the launch was going to be performed. They had a 5 minute launch window to complete the launch. I really wanted to drive to Wallops for the launch but knew I would not have the time due to my work schedule. I’ll save that trip for another time. My mission this time was to see if I could actually see the rocket from my home and do my best to photo the rocket on the horizon.

The morning was very clear and cold but hazy. The sun was very bright making the haze even worth. I didnt think I’d be able to get a decent photo of the rocket. During the event I am listening to an Internet stream from NASA giving me details of the launch in progress. So I had a decent idea of when I might see the rocket.

I decided to use my drone to photo my “process” before and during the launch. It would also serve as a queue on where to sync up the video after the event. I start the video about 2 minutes before launch. Here is that video:

Looking through a 600 mm lens is like looking through a very powerful telescope which makes it quite hard to find your subject “randomly” when you are holding it in your hand looking through a tiny view finder window. You really have to focus. And then focusing on such a faint subject so far away takes a little skill. Even so I was quite surprised that I could seen the rocket so clearly once I locked on the image through the long lens. It wouldn’t last long. Maybe 30 seconds.

The photo I took looked pretty good. Until I got it on the computer I didnt realize that it was in perfect focus and you could see the engine firing through the smoke of the contrail.

Cygnus NG-12

It turns out that I have to wait until the rocket is just about done with its first stage burn at an altitude of about 100,000 feet before it comes into view. For future launches this is helpful to know. And now that I’ve seen many of these launches I know exactly where to look on the horizon.

It was fun to participate in the event even if it was from afar. We’ll get out there soon during one of the launches in the future. Hopefully to get photos that are a little closer.

Very Large Grouper (Fish)

In the 1990’s we went on a vacation to Australia. During that trip we spent a few days offshore at the Great Barrier Reef. Most notable was at a place called Lizard Island. If you’ve not been to Lizard Island I highly recommend it. It’s pricey and very far away but you’ll never be quite the same when you get back.

But I digress …

During that trip we did a lot of snorkeling. The reef is so beautiful that you do not need to scuba to see the wildlife. On each one of our snorkel trips we encountered large schools of grouper fish that I estimated to be 1.5 to 2 times larger than my body. While they didn’t seem aggressive I mentioned back then it would likely not be a good idea to swim out where they were.

I would come back from this wonderful vacation and tell my friends stories of these large grouper that were twice my size and shape swimming in the Great Barrier Reef. They all looked at me like I was crazy. I don’t think anyone believed me. To this day, I think people thought I was making this shit up.

Yesterday I read this story about some sharks that were feeding on a dead swordfish at the bottom of the ocean off South Carolina during a diving expedition headed up by NOAA. They featured this video of the sharks feeding on the swordfish. Watch to the end … wait for it …

Go to this link if your browser does not support HTML5 video.

That grouper ate an entire shark!

Do you believe me now? This is the fish I saw.

If you happen to be snorkeling and see a giant grouper I’d treat it like the wild animal it is.

You can say I told you so. No bullshit.

Dive 07: “Shark Rock”

Photos and video were produced by NOAA.
Date: June 28, 2019
Location: Lat: 31.59517078°, Lon: -79.10225958°
Dive Depth Range: 446 – 454 meters (1,463 – 1,490 feet)

For the full web site story by NOAA go here

This is the location of the grouper. Don’t swim here! 🙂

July 4 2019 in the Shenandoah

At some point in this day I got in a bad mood. I wanted to go for a motorcycle ride and was frustrated that I didn’t do it. I let chores and other things keep me from getting out early.

Until we ran into this.

It would soon rain

It happened on the way back home after lunch. As we drove into and out of light rain showers well before all this happened I chatted with my partner that the summer rains are nice since mostly you ride into them and then quickly out of them. Our riding suits are “waterproof” for short duration rains. This was not one of those. Soon it would really come down in buckets.

As we move towards home this cloud got closer and closer.

Lightening started crashing down all around us and it was very hard to see out the window. The casual ride got pretty cosy and I was thankful that I was not on my motorcycle this day.

We watch this cloud roll in very quickly. It enveloped the mountain. The temperature dropped. Then the torrent came.

The ridges as seen from Hogback Mountain

To capture the picture above I use a 600mm lens. The mountains are very far away. You can tell the pressure is dropping as the fog starts to hug the mountains. This was the precursor to the big rain cloud above.

It was nice to get out in this weather. Glad I had my cameras even though it was frustrating gather it all.

I stayed in a bad mood. Sometimes I don’t get that. Maybe it was the weather.

Scenes from Annapolis, Maryland.

Last week we went to Annapolis to visit with some YouTubers I follow at the Annapolis harbor. They are sail enthusiast. I enjoy watching their adventures on terra firma.

I brought my camera with me in case there was something I wanted to capture that I couldn’t with my cell phone. I’m still learning how to shoot things other than landscapes.

We didn’t take any pictures of the event we attended that evening but ended up working our way into downtown Annapolis where the pride festival was in full swing.

I’m not sure if the amount of people down there was “normal” for a Friday but there were sure a lot of people there. I was quite surprised to drive into town, go to our restaurant and park right up front and center. Looking back, I think it was just the luck of the draw that evening.

It was nice to meet friends I only know over the Internet doing what they love and meeting others who are doing the same. And nice to get back home to enjoy a long weekend goofing around here.

It’s a long way to drive but we should do this more often.

Solstice 2019

Has it really been since Easter since I’ve posted?

Today is the summer solstice marking the first day of summer. Around here the air is more humid and warm. It’s not like this very long so the next few months are enjoyable compared to the very cold of winter. We soak up as much of the warmth as we can.

The last week was supposed to be stormy and wet. It turned out not to rain much at all. I worked to get all the grass cut so I didn’t have to worry about soggy ground. I have a lot of grass to cut each week so getting that done when I can is important. Turns out I had plenty of time and got to take the week off anyway.

It does get stormy around here. Although this was the week before it was supposed to get crazy. This storm brought crazy rain and wind. It was also the last time it really rained around here.

Since the weather is nice I hope to get out on my motorcycle some. It should be a good weekend to ride.

Normally this time of year, in particular today, I would be preparing for the Radio Field Day. This is the first year in, I think it’s been …, 10 years since I have not been involved in a very big way. It feels really weird that I would not be involved to the extent that I have been in the past.

Not only am I not involved but the club I belong to called the entire event off for 2019. It’s a weird time of inflection for our small club. Feels a little splintered. Probably a growth thing. It’s just weird to go from full throttle to a complete stop in the span of a year.

Back to the fun stuff.

My Ducati Multistrada 1200S at one of my favorite locations near home.
The riding around my home is some of the best in the USA.
Quiet time in the forrest.

My motorcycle takes me to cool places. Places I would never go in my car; down roads that are worth driving but much too far out of the way when I’m trying to get from point A to point B. It’s also a time I don’t have to think about anything else other than enjoying my environment and making observations.

Work has been busy which is most of the reason I have not been able to focus on my blog, photography, etc. Hopefully that changes soon.

The solstice is a time marker for me. A half way point in the year. A time to look forward and maximize the summer months to get things done in preparation for winter when things get cold again. Maybe go fishing, camping and otherwise chilling out. Its typically a quieter time around here.

I hope you have a good day!

We spent quality time together.

I’ve been getting ready for a long motorcycle ride for a few months now. On the last trip I took an electronic fuel sensing unit started to fail on my Ducati. It’s not a huge problem except that you don’t know how much fuel is in the tank and it constantly throws errors on the computer that are hard to ignore.

I took it to the local dealer over the winter in hopes they could repair it easily. There was a discussion that it was a defective part and that Ducati would make it good. The end result of that discussion was that for $700 they would change it for me.

Nope.

I purchased the part for $100 and started taking the skin off this bike. I was going to fix it myself.

It took 2 weeks to get the part. Apparently they put in on a boat from Italy after I bought it. Then by horse to Omaha Nebraska. It did get here.

By the time it arrived I had my bike apart, all the fuel out of the tank and ready to put the new part inside this tank. These gasoline tanks are not the ones you may remember. They are formed plastic built to wrap around the frame of he motorcycle. The tank alone is $1200.

Taking the skin off was not an easy process. Someone at Ducati decided it would never have to come off. Apparently they didn’t talk to the electricians who make shitty sensors. Long story short, I had to do some destruction to get the cleats out of the plastic and reconstruction to put them back in the plastic. That took a couple of days.

I got the part, cut the plastic connectors off both the part and wiring harness, soldered the new part directly to the wires, shrink-wrapped it all up and all was better with the computer.

In two more days I’d have it all back together. Well, except for two screws. Which, for the life of me, I could not figure out where they went. I’ll have to take a closer look the next time I take this apart. I predict this sending unit will last a few years if it was made by the same electricians that made the other shitty sensor.

Yesterday I took it out for a 200 mile ride. It ran perfectly. No errors from the computer. And nothing fell off the bike. That I could see, anyway. That’s a win!

2014 Ducati Multistrada 1200S – 150 horsepower, 417 pounds.

When I put it all back together I made sure the bolts would not seize up inside their fittings. And didn’t use the “Ty Stiller school of torque” technique for tightening them back. That technique is interesting. No bolt being too tight until it’s actually broken off and you have to drill it out. I use a gentler method. Nothing wrong with Ty’s methods if you don’t mind drilling things out all the time. Or just throwing it away.

So we got to spend quality time together before the big ride. I still have some work to do but should have it done in a couple of weeks. That’s a week or two before I have to launch. This is new to me. In recent times I’ve only had time to do things at the last minute. This is a nice change in my life.

All I had was my iPhone to take photos. This is the best I could get out of it.

Still decidedly winter looking in the mountains.

I drove my favorite 4 hour loop with an hour stop for lunch. The loop looks approximately like this on google maps:

No trip to Luray, Virginia is complete without a stop to Uncle Bucks for some southern style comfort food. I recommended it. Lots of people were out and about in this town.

It was a necessarily long day. I wanted to make sure everything is working properly. I’ve got to bleed my back brakes because they are pretty mushy. This is also a known problem with a Ducati design. My Honda has a physical linkage to the back break. The Ducati has hydraulics. The hydraulic lines sit right on top of the catalyst which essentially cooks the oil breaking it down over time. This week I’ll bleed them all out and make them new again.

The newer bikes take a lot more maintenance than the older ones. But they sure are fun to ride! And I was not alone. This weekend set up a perfect day of riding so everyone with a motorcycle, their friends and families were all all out riding today.

I rode alone. But wasn’t alone.

Christmas Eve 2018

It’s Christmas Eve already. Everyone is inside for the day awaiting Santa’s arrival. I hope he can find us here!

We’ve spent the better part of the last 3 days in torrential rain on interstate highways in the Pickle. This day there was barely a cloud in the sky. It’s hard to get contrasty photos when there is harsh sunshine but I sent the drone up anyway to take a few photos and video.

Sunset Canyon at Sunset

Speaking of driving, we had the most interesting experience when we met, completely randomly, some of our family while driving down Interstate 70 just east of Wichita, Kansas. I got a call on my cell phone from Karen who had just passed us. Of course, it’s hard to miss the big green machine we have named “The Pickle”:

The Pickle with family

So we took that selfie with the drone. The odds of this happening again are so slim. The odds of this happening at all is probably more slim. Hey, the Pickle has a new paint job on the roof which has repaired all of the water leaking we had with this machine when we bought it.

The Pickle is outfitted with enough seating for 5 people comfortably and a full sized bed for two people to sleep comfortably. It’s really nice to be able to get up and move around when you travel 1,700 miles like this. Of course, inside I also have all of the electricity we need to run our laptops, charge batteries, phones and the like.

It’s been a labor of love getting this machine back road ready. When I bought it the machine was a bit of a mess. Slowly I’ve repaired all of the bigger problems we’ve had with it. There is still more to do. I look forward to taking it on motorcycle trips when the weather turns warm again.

We searched pretty hard for accommodations for our travel here. How Gloria managed to get this close is pretty amazing. We are just a stone’s throw from being together which has worked out very well for us.

Our AirBNB

We attended the local Unity Church for their version of the Christmas message tonight. It was an interesting mix of various rituals. Tomorrow we will attend a NatGeo exhibition of “Living with Wolves” at the Boulder Museum.

We’ve spent most of our time in Boulder on Pearl Street where most of the restaurants are located. There is one in particular we enjoy named Wonder Press. Wonder is a 100% organic, cold-pressed juice and nut milk shop located in Boulder, Colorado. They also serve up tasty snacks like avocado toast with radishes. Yum.

The weather here has been clear and cold but from what I am reading that is going to change the day after Christmas where they are predicting a winter storm to race across the US dropping a wide swath of snow. This could change the way we travel home. The Pickle is not 4×4 so we have to be careful to avoid large quantities of snow. I did pick up some chains before we left on this trip but still hope we don’t have to use them.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

 

Jefferson, Texas

The route to East Texas

The route from home to Jefferson, Texas is not that exciting. I’ve driven the route many times before. This time I’m towing my motorcycle with me so we can do a “Shamrock Tour” once we are there.

I managed to take a little longer route to visit my friend John who lives in Brevard, NC. We both love to ride in North Carolina. He likes this area I like the area around Andrews. Back in 1996-1997 we were looking to move to Andrews because I could not stand the traffic in Atlanta when I worked there. I decided it would be better to fly to work every day than sit in my truck. Just before pulling that trigger I was transferred to Memphis but my search for a spot to land near Andrews has never subsided.

The trip through Brevard added another hour+ to the trip but it was nice to see John and have a place to lay my head for a day. I had meetings I needed to attend on Monday morning so it was also good to be stationary for those.

Back in time – Model A Ford – Model A father checking his phone messages. It’s nice to be stationary for a while.

The term Shamrock Tour was apparently created by RoadRunner magazine at some point in the recent past. The idea is that you go to one town and from there you will do 4 days of riding with each one of the legs the leaf of a Shamrock. I call it a clover leaf tour. They have the copyright on their term so I recognize that here.

We are, in fact, following one of their tours from the magazine. Sometimes at 80 miles an hour depending on who is leading. Today we did the shorter of all the days because we were fighting with the weather a bit. When we woke up the air is moist and cool but not raining. The weather is coming though.

Weather on day 1. Luckily we are on the leading edge of this so the rest of the trip will be clear.

It changed the way we rode. We didn’t go quite as far as we normally would but, looking back, we probably could have done the route as originally planned. The rain was predicted to start earlier than it did then rain more than it acutally has.

We can ride in all weather but it’s not that much fun in the rain. Sure, if you have to go to your next destination you’d go no matter what. But these kind of tours give you the flexibility to hang close to a hotel, go to a museum, read a book or take a nap.

The four clover leafs of this “Shamrock” tour.

We did the shorter ride towards Shreveport today. That was going to include a river boat ride but it appears that may have been a weekend only thing at this time of year. Everything is shut down on a Wednesday afternoon. We suspect that come the weekend that people will move into this place and the attractions will be available again. For example, there is a Museum Of Measurement And Time that doesn’t open until Thursday at 10am and only through Saturday. I definitely want to go into this cool place.

On Thursday (October 25, 2018) we are going the longer route down towards Nacogdoches made famous by Bonnie and Clyde. The route is approximately 250 miles. We’ll leave after breakfast, of course. One thing for sure is we have three squares a day. Not sure which way we’ll do the leaf but we’ll likely do it all just like it’s published. Paul has published the route on Google Maps so I’ll have that in my phone.

It’s October 25, 2018 and I’m up early. I find this mildly ironic because I am not a morning person and didn’t go to bed last night until about 2am. Interested in the state of the covered bike this morning I got outside to check out the elements. My bike is covered but wet, the air is moist and cool with no wind. It is going to take a while to burn off the moisture but that is exactly what will happen today.

It should remain clear the rest of the week now.

We made it to Nacogdoches without anyone being lost or injured which I found to be interesting since some of the group was doing over the limit and others well under. We have two types of riders on this trip; those that want to cover ground and those happy to stay above it. Riding happens at two very different speeds.

After lunch in Nacogdoches, Mexican of course, we split into three groups. One group headed back to the hotel, I needed to go to a local Wal-mart for sundries and the other making tracks for the next city on the route. Being the longer of the days we have to cover ground in all directions when we split up. Paul and Dad head to Gallatin, TX and I meet them there. Since I left first it was odd that they beat me there. But they did. Richard and Ed headed for the hotel.

Except for one evening we at at one single restaurant for dinner every evening. The name of the place was The KnightLight Theater with friendly wait staff and good food. We dined here 4 of the 5 nights we stayed in Jefferson. By the last night we were well known there. All of the food was good but my favorite was crawfish linguini.

By the way, we stayed at the Historic Kahn Hotel while we were here. We used this as a home base and start/stop for all of our rides. The hotel is sandwiched by cobblestone streets on two sides. From  the hotel everything we wanted to do was a short walk away. We walked to breakfast and dinner each evening. I never got in my car to do anything once I was here. Our stay here coincided with Halloween on a busy Saturday night. It was fun to see children dressed up going from business to business with their families. And some grown-ups doing the same. I swear I was with some witches at dinner. They sounded like it anyway.

On the 26th we got up, shared breakfast and headed to do a tour of Caddo Lake where we would learn about this natural lake and 500 year old Cyprus trees that live there. It afforded me an opportunity to sit in the front of a boat with my professional camera and take some photos against a high-contrast sky.

Caddo Lake, Texas

Looking back, any of the other skies we experienced this week would not have produced such pretty photography as you see here. The wind was cold and blowing the Spanish moss all around. I could spend some serious time just on the lake taking photographs. The trees are so majestic and old. There is a way of life here that is clearly different than any other part of the US.

Caddo Lake, Texas

Caddo Lake, Texas

Caddo Lake, Texas

We were lucky to meet Rich McFarland of Caddo Lake Bayou Tours for our guide. Rich is soft spoke and easy going. From the front of his boat I was able to snap the pictures above. Rich gave us a nice tour of the lake near his boat ram and history lesson of the area going back to it’s lawless years. It was one of the highlights of my trip this week.

Caddo Lake – Bayou Tour launch point

After the lake tour we headed back to the hotel to suit up for our ride for the day. We still had 200+ miles to ride and it was already the noon hour. Since it had only been an hour we last ate some of us were getting hungry and ate a hamburger while the rest of us took off on our bikes for tour #3. #3 was the northwest tour towards Sulphur Springs, Texas.

I like to call this particular tour the “Express Tour”. Not sure where we were headed but we were going there fast! And some of this trip was on “goat trails” including deep ruts of Texas red clay. I still have some of that on my bike to prove it.

We made it back to the hotel about the time the sun was going down. We gathered up the old folks and headed to dinner. You guessed it, back to the The KnightLight Theater! This night there was someone playing acoustic guitar and doing some singing. This was a hit for a couple of us who enjoy this kind of atmosphere and music.

It’s September 27. This day is just with the three of the Westerman clan. We shared breakfast at the Port Jefferson Outpost. I think we at here every morning before our riding. Like the other places, this little place is nice with good breakfast and helpful staff. 2 eggs, bacon, biscuit with gravy and some sweet tea. Good stuff. 5 stars from me.

We start the trip like every other on the assigned route given to us which included goat trails early and often. It wasn’t long before we were doing our own ride on the basic route outlined in the maps with copious “ad libbing” along the way.

I have trailer bearing issues and have to cut the trip short about 3/4ths the way around. Those issues behind me, the bike loaded on my trailer and my truck mostly loaded sets me up for an early morning departure. My trip home will be mostly interstate highway (30, 40 and 81). This is why I have the trailer. Slabbing 1,200 miles on a motorcycle on interstate highway doesn’t do anything but make your butt hurt and go through tires.

Me and my rig(s). New trailer bearings when I get home.

I am very glad to have access to my trailer on trips like this. You arrive in decent shape after several days of driving. I’ll be using this trailer a ton in the coming years.

Google – rubbing it in. Plane ride is < 5 hours.

So that’s it. Another successful motorcycle trip just about completed. In total, we drove about 850 motorcycle miles on this tour of the Jefferson area. By the time I got home I had driven 2,530 miles in my truck to get there and back. It took me 2 days to get back home (18 hours of driving).

A bonus was a stop in Memphis where I had lunch with both my sisters and brothers-in-law.. That was nice!

Work starts again on Tuesday so I have to B-line it home. I need to be rested and ready to go. Lots of new projects on the table at work.

Where to next?

2 Minutes of our Day

It was a busy day at my work today. Friday’s are always busy. At the end of the day I took one of my drones up for some photos and a video. The above is the result of that.

Matt, a bee keeper, came over to check out the bees which I didn’t notice until I saw him in the video feed. We have 11 hives now and keep approximately 385,000 bees on our property. I hope that rises over the years. I like the bees. With the bees come the birds, flowers and butterflies. It’s good having them around.

Big day tomorrow with a meeting early followed by the “80TH Annual Ladies Board Rummage Sale“.  The Largest Rummage Sale in the Mid-Atlantic is a two-day event spanning more than 50,000 square feet all under cover. It’s a fun place to show up every year. This is the place I found that 185 year old clock that was broken. I fixed it this year and its a nice addition to our family. Oh, and the 5 airplanes last year. … the list goes on. Maybe I shouldn’t go?!

Then load up the motorcycle and point in a southerly direction.

Lovettsville Oktoberfest 2018

This past weekend we celebrated fall in our small community of Lovettsville at the 9th annual Lovettsville Oktoberfest. It’s grown from a small event taking essentially one city block, a few vendors, beer truck and such to the event it is today supporting tens of thousands of visitors to the small town.

I flew the drone over the event and visited the main tent with the music and merged the two together.

I’m there primarily to help the Loudoun Amateur Radio Group (LARG) support the communications for the event. We play a critical role in helping coordinate public safety of the event each year. Our time is purely voluntary but the effort is very professional. This is our 9th consecutive year of supporting Oktoberfest at Lovettsville.

Oktoberfest 2009 to 2018

One of the more compelling events of Oktoberfest is the Wiener Dog Race. The dogs and training staff work on their skill set all year long to pull off this compelling event. Here is a very brief video of one of the races of this day.

We set up in two locations each year and then many of the members “roam” the event and provide another channel to help with anyone who many need it. It’s proven critically important the last few years.

2018 Lovettsville Oktoberfest – Radio Crew at the small tent

The crew above was just who was there when this picture was taken. There were many others who helped this weekend. Hats off to everyone who helped us!

The venue has changed in a very big way from when we started years ago. There are so many more people there now! The first event was likely less than 1000 people. This year it was tens of thousands but I have no idea how many were actually there.

If you come next  year and want an easier parking experience come on your motorcycle! That’ll shorten every bit of your time fiddling with traffic at this crazy intersection we call the “Squirkle”. It’s not quite a square; not quite a circle and takes 119 signs to help people navigate it properly. When it was first put in and operational it was quiet a fiasco. Lovettsville is different. I’ll leave it at that.

The food was great, the crowd was well behaved and seemed to have a good time. Lots of people were in the tents listening to the music, dancing and mingling with their friends.

After helping here I picked up my wife and we went for a motorcycle ride. Not a bad way to spend a Saturday.