Tuesday, October 09, 2018

A Day In Milan

 When I was in Zurich last month, I had a day free on the schedule.  I decided that I was due for an adventure.  So I looked on the map to places I haven't been to yet, and saw that Italy was not that far away.

So I booked a train to Milan - as one does.

Turns out I could only get on an early morning train, so at 6:30am I pulled out of the Zurich Hauptbahnhof and took the leisurely 3.5 hour train ride south to Milan.

At first I thought going there was a big mistake, as the beginning of the trip seemed like a comedy of errors:

  • I had to fend off my pre-booked seat from a cranky old lady
  • My breakfast sandwich had pickles on it
  • At the Italian border someone from my car was arrested by authorities and taken off the train forcibly in handcuffs.
  • When I arrived in Milan my cell phone (which, being GoogleFi should have international roaming), stopped communicating and lost all cell signal.
  • The wifi in the Milan station requires a text message verification to get connected, which is impossible when one doesn't have cell signal.
  • I was depending on Google Maps for navigation, so I had no idea what subway train to get on.
  • The toilets, which cost money in Italy (despite being super disgusting) wouldn't accept by Euro, so no comfort stop for me.
  • I finally got cell signal again by rebooting my phone.  Train station wifi didn't work anyway.
  • Finally figured out the subway, and went to machine to get tickets, which promptly ate my 10 Euro note.
  • Managed to talk to attendant to rescue note.
  • Finally got subway tickets, and was on my way.
Three stops later, I arrived at the Duomo Cathedral.
The moment I walked into the square I knew I had made the right decision to visit.

The square was classic Italian... pigeons, old ornate architecture, Moroccan hustlers taking pictures of people holding pigeons... classic!

I stopped to take in the scenery, and to take some photos with my Hulk action figure (as one does) in front of the cathedral.  Ended up looking like this:

I then stated walking around the city, along old streets, and the old ornate archtecture.

This is a mall.  Yep, a mall. Called the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II.

This is the central ceiling of the mall.

So after this I decided to do some geocaching.  I got so involved in that I forgot to take a lot of photos... so you're going to have to trust me.  I ended up walking 9 miles, found 7 caches, and checked out some more of the streets, and an awesome castle in a park.

When it got close to supper time I stopped off at a restuarant with seating on the street, and had myself some pasta.

On the way back to the subway I followed an Oompa oompa band... as one does.

Then at 7:30 I got back on the train and headed off to Zurich.

My issues were not over tho.... on the way back we stopped just across the Italian border.  I asked why, and was told there was a fire in a tunnel ahead.  I may have misheard what the attendant said tho as 15 minute later the tracks were clear... however we lacked a Swiss train driver, so we waited another 30 minutes before we were able to move again.

So just before midnight I crashed into my hotel room and fell asleep.  Milan was tiring, tested by patience at times, but man, what a nice town.

Friday, October 05, 2018

A Day In Lucerne

A few months ago I was on a work trip to Switzerland.  I had a couple off days, so I decided to spend one of them checking out Lucerne.

This is a few moments that happened during that day.

Lucerne is a relatively short 45 minute train ride away from Zurich.  I took my time to get there, and spent the morning around the lake, and playing with the local swans.

After lunch I headed over to check out some of the history of this ancient town.  Starting with the Lion of Lucerne.  The lion is a relief carved in stone, with a nice pond in front of it.  It was carved in 1820, and is a monument to a massacre of Swiss troops during the French revolution in 1792.
Lucerne is infected with a lot of tour busses, and therefore crowds.   I spent a good 30 minutes at the monument, during which time 4 busses of tourists came thru.  Bus tours are the worst.

However they didn't keep me from finding my first geocache of my trip. I don't cache much anymore, but when I am at a cool location like this I get inspired to pull out the Geocaching app and see what is near by.  In this case there was a cache in the woods right at the edge of the monument.
After communing with the lion, I walked along the Musegg wall, which is a section of wall from medieval times, 1386.  This is the thing I love about Europe - nothing in North America is anywhere near this old.
The far end of the wall leads to a walk along the Reuss River, and more of the ancient architecture of the town.
I found a nice place along the river to grab a beer, sit back, and enjoy the town as it past me by.  Highly relaxing way to go - I recommend it as a strategy.

Shortly after I finished by beer and started walking again I came across a street performer, doing street performer things.
I then crossed Kappelbrucke, and spotted this perfectly lit tourist posing for her friend.  I sniped a photo.  This isn't remarkable in any way except it serves as a reminder that shortly afterwards I became a Lucerne Tourist Attraction.
So as I was coming off Kappelbrucke, I noticed a bunch of chinese tourists taking photos.  They were all excited, as chinese tourists tend to be.  One of them, an older gentleman, aimed his camera at me,  so I waved at him,  One of the ladies then aimed his camera at me, so I waved again. (I'm friendly like that.)

I went to walk past them, but they waved me over.  Before I knew it I was a part of a large group photo of tourists.  Then they switched out and I was included in another photo.  Finally I had my photo taken with the  gentleman who first took my picture.

There was much laughing, and good times.  I seemed to be a hit.  I just imagine that family talking about that large Swiss man they met, not knowing I am a fraud (from a Swiss perspective - I am legitimately large).

So back to Kappelbrucke.  In english it is known as Chapel Bridge.  It is a rather long wooden pedestrian bridge  - seveal hundred feet across the Ruess River.  Along the way are dozens of religious themed paintings so passerby's will spend time contemplating their eternal souls whilst they cross the river.

Now its a tourist attraction.  Mind you, a very pretty one.

Around this time a co-worker, who went off on a hike that day, was passing thru Lucerne on his way back to Zurich, so he stopped by and we spend some time exploring the city together.  Joel is the photographer in this photo.
Shortly after that we headed off for supper, then got on a train back to Zurich.

Lucerne is a nice town, and I hope to make it back here some day.

Wednesday, October 03, 2018

The One About The Swiss Swan

So there I was in Lucerne Switzerland, walking along Lake Lucerne, singing Lucerne In The Sky With Diamonds, and giggling to myself at the clever, clever pun (internally laughing.  Outwardly I was stoic, I didn't want to appear too jolly in front of the Swiss).

When out of the corner of my eye I spotted a majestic swan, swanning out in the middle of the lake.  I sat down on the bank, and started taking his picture.  Suddenly he started swimming slowly towards me.
He slid up right beside me.  I kept taking photos the whole time.  He seemed as happy as a clam, or a swan, or a swan clam, whatever combination denotes super happy fun times in the animal kingdom.

He mugged for the camera, turning his head this way, and that way.   At one point in time I was going to ask him to do duck lips, but then I realized that was likely racist and culturally insensitive in the avian world, so I didn't.
 All was good until I zoomed my camera in to get an extreme closeup.  As my lens extended outwards, the white beast began to hiss.  He was having none of his extreme closeups (what a diva!)

I spoke sternly, and told him that if he wanted this model shoot to continue he would have to behave himself, learn some manners, and generally be civil.  Otherwise it wasn't worth the money I was getting paid (to be fair we were both just working for exposure).

Eventually he calmed down, and I clocked in this masterful (if I do say so myself), portrait.

After that, Mr "I don't like closeups", swam away.  He left so quickly he didn't leave any contact information for me to send his prints, so I hope he gets the chance to read this post.
Until then, this image will be the last memory I had of the time that I shot a Swan up close in Lucerne.

Wordless Wednesday

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

What the What?

The following surreal moment is based on a true story that happened while returning to my hotel from a restaurant in Zurich.

Picture, if you will, walking thru a back street in a European town.
It is dark and stormy.

You hear operatic singing in the distance.
You keep walking, and see a light glowing in a park.

You go to investigate, as one does.
The singing gets louder - there is a violin playing.

As you get closer still you see a 20-something girl walking around
She is singing opera while constructing a green-house looking structure

The violin player plays on from the darkness.
The girl sings and constructs.

She stops.
Spoken word springs forth from the structure.

More lights come on.
It is all bright and weird.
Culture shock ensues.

Makes me question exactly what was put into my Hooters burger.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

When In Zurich, Eat as the Zurichians Do.

They say that when one is traveling in foreign countries, one way to absorb the local culture is to eat the foods that the locals eat.

I am currently in Zurich Switzerland for work.  It is supper time and I got a little peckish, so I looked on Google Maps to see what was available on a Sunday night around my hotel, and picked a restaurant that we don't have in the town I live in.


If it helps, my burger did have Swiss cheese on it.

Interestingly enough Google Maps describes the place as "Chain grill known for wings and waitresses."   Really good description, I must say.

Also, tasty burgers.

Ain't cultural exchanges wonderful?

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Hurricane Florence: A Status Update

Quick update on Florence for those of our friends and family who are not from around here.

TL;DR,  Florence is dull for us so far, may get more exciting later.

So unlike most of the state to the east of us, we've gotten very little rain.  It has been a slow drizzle all morning, but I suspect we haven't gotten much more than an inch so far here.

That may change this afternoon, but I suspect its not going to be all that bad.

This is the weather radar as I write this:

The green areas are "bring an umbrella, maybe" type of rain,  The yellows are getting closer to the "bring a canoe" levels of rain.  So for the afternoon were likely only getting a constant misting of rain.  If/when the yellow stuff hits, we may get 3-4 inches.

However that won't affect us much.  The creek behind our house, which has a tendancy to rise a fair amount when it rains, has only risen a few inches.  It has 8ft before it crests its bank (and another 2 before it would get to the house, which it never has), so unless something way dramatic happens beyond what is being forecast, I don't see that happening. Especially considering Florence is underperforming based on its forecasts (at least for us).

Schools are closed tomorrow, which is nice.

So, we're good.  Continue to send your prayers, concerns, and charitable donations to the east.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Still Honorable, Y'all!

Last month I found out one of my photos was accepted in a photography exhibit at the Burke County Arts Council.  Today I attended the reception, and found out my photo was awarded an Honorable Mention in the catetgory of "A Splash Of Red."

This is me being honorable:

I feel pretty good about this, considering I don't shoot portraits very much. 

Hurricane Florence Is Coming. We're fine.

tl;dr:  Hurricane Florence will hit us; we'll be fine.

 I have had the pleasure of making a lot of awesome friends from all over the world due to my geocaching and my photography.  As a result we are getting a lot of expressions of concerns about our safety due to the massive storm known as Hurricane Florence.

This post is intended to report what we expect to happen, and to allay any fears.

First off, thanks everyone for your concerns.  It is heart warming to know we're thought of!  It is appreciated.

So this is the  current weather map as I write this post:

It looks nasty.  However we are well inland, and the hurricane is expected to take almost two more days to really impact us.  By then it will have burned off most of its wind, leaving a lot of rain.

So we expect to get wet.

This is the current projected track:

So the main threat to our house is flooding.  We have a creek in back of our house that tends to flood when we get a lot of rain.  That creek has never threatened the house however, or even come close.

We are expecting 6-10" of rain, over 48 hours, starting Saturday afternoon.  This is a lot, but it is within the realm of "we've had that much before", at least since the 10 years we've lived in this house.  So I don't expect much damage, except some errosion at the creek bank, which is a long way from the house.

Even worst case expectations where we get twice that rain, the way our house is built (into the side of the hill, basement walks out to the back yard, main floor walks out to the front yard), the floods would have to rise a full 4 feet higher than its ever been before it causes is any monumental harm to our belongings (benefits of having never really finished the basement, and the parts that are finished could really use a refresh anyway).

Our current risk to our lifestyle at present is an extended loss of power, which we are prepared for.  Lots of batteries and non-perishable foods etc.  It's also autumn, so the outside temperatures do not range into life threatening on either scale (lows 60s, high 70s) so we should be able to survive without power for many many days.

I'll keep you all posted as to our status as the weekend progresses, but I expect it won't be exciting.  All the action is at the coast, so please direct your prayers, concerns, and charitable donations to the east.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Building The Millennium Falcon: Adventures In Hollywood Shocker!

As I was winding up my research into the building of the Millennium Falcon,  I came across a weird note found at the bottom of the box of records that just had two faded words "Filming permit", and "Scene 7a - '/..kie."

I also found this intriguing photo of a movie shoot.
I assume this is the movie related to the film permit.  I could find no other record of a film being shot during the time the Falcon was being made.

Looking at the photo it looks like a western movie, with a human and a wookiee.  Very interesting, but lacking other evidence I decided to abandon this line of inquiry and stick to construction details.

However during an archeological spelunking into the ancient libraries of Coruscant, I found an answer.  It was taped to a broken down droid in a disused trash compactor with a sign that said "Beware the Rancor".

That answer is in the form of this rather distressed movie poster:
Holy cow, right?

So the wookiee is Chewbacca.  This means that Chewie already had experience with the Falcon long before he joined up with Han Solo. 

Crazy, right?

That Chewbacca is full of surprises.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Building The Millennium Falcon: Canopies and Christenings

I have almost come to the end of my research into unearthed historical photos of the Millennium Falcon, original designation YT-1300 492727ZED from the Corellian Ship Yard archives.  This series includes all my results.

Visual records show that one of the last things to be installed onto the Falcon is the cockpit canopy. 
After the canopy was installed all that was left to do was some fine tuning of the computer system, a final update to the Dejarik table, and fueling up the engines.

As is traditional with ships, the final step before launch was the christening of the ship by breaking a bottle of the finest Corellian Ale over the bow by a dignitary of some renown.

In a weird quirk of fate it is unknown who the renown dignitary was, but it assumed she was a dilettante, and likely a mistress of the foreman as is the (just made up by me) Corellian tradition.
This is the last of the information I have been able to unearth about the Falcon's construction.  I have managed to piece together the majority of the story, but there are some loose threads.

For example, there is this weird note found at the bottom of the box of records that just had two faded words "Filming permit", and "Scene 7a - '/..kie.".    Weird, right?  If I figure out what that means I'll let you know.

Monday, August 20, 2018

Building The Millennium Falcon: Radar and The Cannon

I have been deep in research, plumbing the depths of the historical archives for photos from the Corellian Ship Yards - why?  Cause I'm a nerd that's why.

Historical photos of the Millennium Falcon, original designation YT-1300 492727ZED has been unearthed from the Corellian Ship Yard archives.  This series covers all of them.

Digging deep under piles of paper - what?  Paper in space? Yes.  Paper - under the pizza boxes, and receipts for Blockbuster rentals of the original trilogy, I found these images.

The first is installing of the main cannon.  Don't get cocky.
 The second is programming and aligning the radar dish on top of the falcon.
At first I wasn't sure why the radar dish would need to be aligned, as that is clearly a self-aligning model.  However digging under some old magazines revealed hand written instructions for getting free HBO.  Mystery solved.

Thats all I have this time.  I'm still digging thru the archives, so stay tuned for more historical photos of this legendary freighter.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

BTS: Captain America Comic Book Cover

During the latest round of the Scavenger Hunt, I did all 7 entries in the style of comic book covers, and used action figures as the main subject matter.

You can see all my entries here, but I wanted to go in depth to give a bit of a behind the scenes look into how I created these images.

I picked the image for the word "Photographer" as it is one of the most straight forward ones.

These are very complex shots, so I can't show every last detail.  All told there are over 50 layers, adjustments, effects, and filters, spread out over 5 smart objects. A lot of detail.

However this should cover the basics.

The concept for the word "Photographer" was gear acquisition syndrome - something that plagues many photographers. Many of us always want the latest and greatest equipment. It is a real problem.

With that in mind I dug into my toybox.  I fixated on Danbo, the Amazon.com themed action figure.  I decided to capture the joy of opening that box and pulling out new gear.  I settled on Captain America for two reasons. First, I hadn't used him yet in my work, and second he is one of the few action figures that has a normal looking face. Since the emotional reaction was important, having a recognizable folks can empathize with seemed important.

I tossed the figures into a light box, and took the basic shots.  That and some textures from my library, and some clip art, and I was ready to assemble my image.

These are the elements that went into this image:

The comic logo I created and used on all my images for this round.

I tossed a bunch of layers into an animated gif so you can see how I went thru the process of constructing this image.

Some things of note:

  • All the text was done with the Photoshop text tool, and adding some effects. 
  • The comic book effect on Cap and Danbo was done with a combination of the Poster Edges, Glowing Edges, and Color Halftone effects. Pro Tip: This is where smart objects become your friend.
  • I did adjust Caps face with the liquify tool to add a bit of a smile.
  • The glow from the box was done with brushes in Photoshop
  • No plugins were used in the creation of this image.
Here is the order of events:

So now you know how the magic is done.  You have no excuse for not creating your own.  Good luck!

The 23rd Round Of The Chrysta Rae Photography Scavenger Hunt

The 23rd round of the Chrysta Rae Photography Scavenger Hunt has just ended.  Once again I participated and came up the challenge of creating photographs for each of 7 words.

I went a different direction this round.  Normally I am all LEGO all the time.  This time I decided to mix it up by using action figures (some of which you'll recognize from some of my other recent work).  To give my entries a cohesive look I decided to make them all into comic book covers.

These are my entries.








Personal note, this image is the first collaboration with my 6 year old daughter - that is her handwriting on the sign.