Be sure to check out BT on Soundcloud. I’m a fan of his, and I happened to send him a tweet one day while I was editing photos and listening to this. He tweeted me right back and it got meta and awesome. Anyway, check that dude out… he’s cool, like the other side of the pillow.
Daily Photo – The Lupins Under Wormhole Clouds
If anyone ever does a Google search for “The Lupins Under Wormhole Clouds” – chances are high this blog entry will turn up. I did not actually take the time to Google it myself, but I just have this general feeling…
Every now and then when you look up in NZ, you just see crazy stuff happening in the skies. It must be because the warm sea air rips over the mountains along the west coast and it makes the air and moisture do crazy things. Everything on this side of the mountain is a feast for the eyes in the sky…
I know this has been a controversial decision, so Frederick Van Johnson, host of This Week in Photo, wanted to get me into this interview. Now, here’s a cool thing. If you go to This Link For the Interview, you can scrub forwards and back in the video until you see the question you want answered. Man, it is a long interview, but everything you ever wanted to know is in there!
A bunch of Sony NEX-7 Shots
I hope you don’t mind if I post a lot of recent shots with the NEX-7. I uploaded a lot to use with the newly updated Sony NEX-7 Review, but I didn’t end up using them! I love them (obviously), but I didn’t want the review just to have 50+ photos in it! I include a ton of photos in my reviews already, but I feel like there is a point where it is just tooooo much and it becomes overwhelming. I don’t know where that spot is, but, anyway, I end up having to leave a few shots behind, like this one. It doesn’t mean I love it any less… but you know that old question where you are on a sinking boat and you can only save a few kids – which ones do you choose? It doesn’t matter!
Daily Photo – The Trees Peak Through The Fog
I was waiting in Tekapo with my son for my wife to arrive. We had just finished spending the day shooting the Loon Balloons from Google X, and we were going to meet Tina and the girls in Tekapo. Since they were arriving after sunset, I wanted to find a good place to watch the sun go down. I could not decide between Lake Tekapo and Lake Pukaki, which are very close together. So, in between the two, I saw this fog rolling in and decided to stop and take this photo.
I noticed a shortcoming in Google Glass. When you are in a helicopter and trying to get Google Map directions, the only options are walking, biking, public transport, or car. There is nothing about a chopper in there.
But I wasn’t flying the thing. I had the back window seat and was busy tracking the Google[x] Project Loon balloons. I didn’t really plan on making a video until I jumped in the chopper. Then, I thought, hey, “This is gonna be cool. I should record it!” I’m still getting my head around the idea of recording the “highlights” of my day. I’m doing it more and more with my kids. I don’t want to lose these moments, you know?
If you click below, you can see the video I made with Glass. Is it blocked in your country? Here is the Vimeo link.
I didn’t know anything about Project Loon when I signed the paperwork from Google. They just said “Sign it.” I was like… errrr… okay. But if it was from Google[x], I figured it had to be cool. Besides, I trust Google and I guess they know I am a good secret-keeper. It sounded like a great chance to go see Project Loon and take pictures behind the scenes.
Let me back up a second. So, it turns out that Google has this cool secret plan to launch a matrix of balloons all around the earth to bring internet to the masses. There are billions of people on Earth without internet. It turns out that launching a ton of low-cost balloons could be the most effective way of getting these people connected.
And, by coinkidink, they happened to be testing these balloon systems in New Zealand, where I just moved about a year ago with my family! I live down in Queenstown, which is about three hours south of the launch site in Tekapo. I drove up there with my son and arrived at midnight. A few hours later, at the crack of dawn, I was watching a launch and flying all over the south island to get photos and test out the balloons. We had a whole covey of helicopters out there. It was like Apocalypse Google Now.
The balloon launch worked flawlessly. I’m sure they’ve had many failures (in the wonderful Google-iterative-development-manner), but the one I saw was perfect. They partnered with another company called Raven Aerostar to help with the balloons. These guys build the NASA weather balloons, the Macy’s Day Parade balloons, and all kinds of other hardcore things. I was kind of hoping the balloons would be in the shape of Snoopy and Barney, but no such luck.
As for Glass, I would alternate between taking photos and videos. It’s super easy. By default, the Glass video (which is all HD), only records 10 seconds. But you can click a little button on top if what you are recording is interesting and it can go for a long time. This is actually a smart system. Most 10-second videos are quite boring and you can bail out easily. It sure makes it easier later when editing. I edited together everything in iMovie in about five minutes. That was easy and fun.
But then I realized another little problem. I mean, it’s a good problem, but still a problem. I’m recording more and more video every day, especially of my family. Editing it down and picking the best bits takes a bit of time. Creating a “highlight” reel of your day or week is a cool idea, so I am looking forward to when it is more automated. Google+ photos are already doing a smart job of this with “Highlights” where it automatically picks the best photos. I’m looking forward to when that happens with video too. Anyhoo, for now, it just takes a few minutes in iMovie to edit stuff down… not the end of the world.
Back to the Loon story. We landed on a very remote farm in Canturbury, which is sort of a central area of the South Island of New Zealand. Even here, there are about a million people without internet. After landing, we went into the house and tested out the internet as the balloons were flying overhead, forming an internet mesh. It worked perfectly! The family was thrilled. Well, the wife was not so thrilled when her husband started looking on trademe.co.nz (the New Zealand ebay) at buying another truck.
It was a fun experience, and the Google team on Loon is really clever. They’ve been working hard on this, and there is a lot of hard and fun work left to do. I felt kind of like the-guy-that-didn’t-belong. I was just kind of darting in and out, staying out of the way, taking photos, and drinking it all in. But man, it was cool. I was really honored.
One of my best photos I took from the helicopter no one has even seen yet! I was there with the famous Steven Levy from Wired Magazine. They got an exclusive on my very very very favorite photo, and that will appear in the magazine on newstands soon. Steven’s full article on Project Loon will also be another must-read, so be sure to check that out.
Here’s one of my favorite images from that day in the chopper. Shooting from a helicopter is always tough. If you watched that video, you’ll see I switched a lot between different cameras. Even though I am using the Sony NEX-7 a lot, I chose the Nikon here because of the extreme conditions. I was quite worried I would only get a few minutes to shoot, so I wanted to make sure I did not run into any buffering problems… this is why I went with the Nikon.
Don’t know what buffering is? That is what happens when you take a whole bunch of photos in a row and the camera has to save them quickly. On lesser cameras, sometimes you can only take a few photos before there is a long pause while it writes the photos. The NEX-7 lets met get in about 10-13 photos before it starts going slow. The Nikon D3s lets me take about 30+ I think!
I get a strange email from Google. Just sign the paperwork they say. We can’t tell you anything. I sign, assuming it’s gotta be cool with an approach like that.
Fast Forward One Week
Next thing I knew, I was up in a helicopter over Tekapo, New Zealand, sitting by Steven Levy from Wired magazine tracking balloons as they headed for the stratosphere. I was just a few hours north of my home in Queenstown, so I was excited to check out this secret Google X project right in my own backyard!
So, here’s the whole story. I’ll start with a video I shot with Google Glass that shows some of the behind-the-scenes. Can’t see it in your country? Here’s the Vimeo version.
(Note, there is the Longer Video coming soon that has a lot of the tech talk and geeky stuff if you want to know more.)
Here is beautiful Tekapo, NZ. The water is that wondrous color from all the fresh glacial melt.
So, what’s the reason for all this? Well, there are billions of people on Earth without Internet. Billions! What’s a crazy (loon-y) idea to get them Internet? Step in Project Loon from Google X and Rich DeVaul. What’s the net result of it all? You can see the little white dot-balloon in the photo bellow on the left floating over New Zealand.
The Internet floats over New Zealand. Another Google Loon Balloon makes its way towards the stratosphere, spreading Internet like ambrosia dripping from Mount Olympus. We soared up vertically over the mountains, spiraling up to track the balloons. I had great trouble spotting the balloon from the chopper! But there, you can see a little white dot there on the left in the sky. It's not like one of those giant hot-air balloons. It's more like a tiny weather balloon.
New Zealand was a perfect test bed because even though we have only 4 million people, 1 million of us don’t even have Internet. Or, if we have it, it’s crazy-expensive. We even visited one farmer (Charles) who said that he had to pay $1400 for ONE month of satellite-Internet. Crazy!
So, imagine a network, a mesh of balloons that spin around the earth, effortlessly handing off Internet from one balloon to the next, just like the way you hand off phone service from one tower to the next as you drive. You can see more about the tech on Google’s Project Loon site.
Inside the secret Google warehouse... somewhere in New Zealand. By the way, this place is very cold and full of things that you should not touch.
Anyhoo, I was invited along to take photos. Google was nice enough to even officially license a few photos (thanks!). No, they didn’t pay me to write a nice article. I’m just kind of a Google fan. Stephen Levy and Wired liked some of the more special photos too, so you can see even more in Stephen’s article (Wired magazine). Man, he’s a cool guy. You really get to know a dude when you’re ripping through the New Zealand mountains with these crazy Kiwi pilots!
After watching the flawless launch on a chilly morning, we ended up taking a chopper to a remote farm. There were a lot of choppers. It was kind of like Apocalypse Google Now.
We exit one of the choppers to go check the Internet on this farm. You can see the pilot running off with all my camera gear on his back.
We landed and jumped off to go try out the Internet. Again, flawless. I can only assume they had a few failed tests beforehand… they must have been working on this for a long time. But man, it was smooth. The family was super excited. They were on Trademe.co.nz, which is the eBay of New Zealand. The husband was looking for a new truck… his wife was not thrilled.
The balloons worked perfectly. Raven Aerostar is the company that is behind the balloons; they are Google’s design partner for Project Loon. They make balloons for NASA and stuff, so they are pretty hardcore.
Rich talks with one of the tester families. You can see the friendly red Google antenna above and the Loon balloon over there on the right (the tiny white spot!)
At lunch, the creator of the project, Rich DeVaul, told us a funny story. I don’t even know if I can repeat it, but I will. It seems innocuous enough. BTW, I’m not a real journalist or anything. I’m just a guy that takes photos and likes stories.
[Queue Radiolab soundeffects] Rich is tearing down a highway in central California. He’s in his own car. There are other Google people in there, and they are peering upwards and out the window like tornado chasers. They have radio antennae, laptops, and all kinds of crazy Google equipment as they try to track a balloon. At some point, they overload his alternator and they come to an unceremonious stop. They are stranded.
Rich has to call his wife to pick them up. She’s been in the dark for years about this project, and he hasn’t told her anything. She drives hours and hours to pick them up. He fills up her car with nerds and equipment and they sit there silently, ignoring the Fringe/X-Files nonsense that is happening in the backseat. His lips form a line as he looks side to side innocently. I’m not sure if that look actually happened, but it probably did.
I heard she’s here at this press conference that’s happening right now in Christchurch. So now she knows everything; She’s probably quite proud of him!
More balloons are lined up and ready for launch as a chopper lands behind.
And, by the way, if you are here in New Zealand in Christchurch, come see me at the Festival of Flight at the Air Force Museum on Sunday! The Project Loon event is from 10am-2pm on Sunday June 16th. There will be a lot about balloon science and stuff like that… bring the family! Here’s a map.
Anyway, hats off to all the engineers and team members. It’s a cool project. It’s all quite early, of course, but if they can keep iterating, it will be a really cool option to get Internet everywhere. I can see remote villages in Africa having one of those red-ballooned antennas. I can see it forcing competitive local Internet services in SE Asia to provide cheaper service and no data caps (the same way Google Fiber is disrupting competitive services). I can see myself putting one of those antenna on my truck so I have Internet no matter where I travel in New Zealand to take photos. Man, I can’t wait!
I’ve been playing Left 4 Dead 2 a lot with my son. It’s good times. I’m playing Borderlands 2 on the XBox with Ethan, but it’s splitscreen and kinda crazy (but fun in co-op). But I was thinking of also getting it on Steam to play single player a bit. Other good games I’ve been playing are FTL and Civ 5 – always winners… You guys and gals playing anything lately?
Daily Photo – Another Road Through an Endless Valley
I rode down this one with Karen Hutton, Scott Kublin, and Curtis Simmons. Every five minutes they wanted to get out of the car and take a photo. I know the feeling! You see, I already have done this hundreds and hundreds of times… now I only get out on new roads or of the clouds/light is just different “enough”. It doesn’t take much, because there is a lot of variation. And, as most of you know, I’m not one to take a bunch of photos in the middle of a blue sunny day. But, on this day I was!
$1000′s in Prizes! A ton of Google+ swag! Members of the Google+ team!!
Bring your camera (even mobile phones are cool!) and bring your sense of adventure and discovery! We’ll walk around the streets of Austin together and grab some cool photos to share with one another. If you’ve never been to one of these events before, then this is your chance. Bring a friend or bring the kids — it’s a family-friendly event and all are welcome!
I’ll be giving lessons and teaching how I set up for various shots. Anyone can ask me anything at any time… sort of an in-person AMA!
When: Monday, Mar 11 at 6:30 PM Austin Time
Where: Downtown Austin Watch For Exact Spot Here.
What to bring: Anything from a mobile phone to a DSLR with a tripod
Tag to use for photos: Attach the photos to this event and use the tag #AustinPhotowalk2013 !
“Best Photos of Fellow Photowalkers!”
Share your photos on Google+ and/or in The Photo Community with the tag #AustinPhotowalk2013 – winners will be chosen by a Team of Humans at Google and other coaches from the photowalk.
Thanks to the coaches too: Dave Wilson, Alex Suarez, Mike Connell, Jerry Hayes, and Simi Shonowo !
Daily Photo – Moody Skies Over the Dark Church
I keep going back to Tekapo to see the skies over the lake. If it is clear, you can see amazing stars! But, if cloudy, it’s not so bad because you can get this kind of moody, long-exposure stuff… !
For you camera nerds (Like me!) here is the EXIF: ISO 5000, 16mm (prime fisheye), Nikon D800, f/2.8, 25 second exposure. Remember that you can always see this EXIF info yourself by clicking through on SmugMug then clicking the little “i” to see more.
I don’t do HDR with night shots like this… there is too much star movement… and I’m not sure it would add too much. You can still get a ton of light and color (especially in a place like this) with just the RAW file.
Daily Photo – The Church of the Good Shepherd under the Stars
This is one of The Darkest Skies in the World. You may find this snippet interesting: “A delegation from the country has successfully petitioned UNESCO for the protection of ‘sky-scapes’ as well as landscapes under their World Heritage system, in order to see the status granted to the air above Tekapo and Aoraki Mount Cook.”
If you ever get to this place, you’ll be so shocked that you can see this with the naked eye! It’s certainly worth a visit…
Here’s a little interview I did on Fox News with Clayton Morris. It might help answer a few questions about your new camera!
Daily Photo – Driving Home…
As you approach Lake Tekapo from the East, you pass through an interesting set of geology. The mountains are rolling one second and ragged the next. I’ve noticed that some days also feature very strange light patterns, with heavy clouds overhead while shafts of evening light slice through and light up parts of the hills. I was able to capture this little scene, which only lasted about sixty seconds.
Thanks to that Instagram stumble, sales have been going crazy… we now have over 1 million downloads of 100 Cameras in 1 for iPhone and iPad (iTunes link)! Here’s a cool video from Adorama about the app.
Daily Photo – Evening on the blue Lake Tekapo
Yes, these blues are real!
I’ve gotten tens of thousands of messages from people that say that New Zealand is in their plans to visit in the near future, and when you visit this area, you’ll see how crazy the colors really are. It’s like The Sound of Music To The Next Order of Magnitude… everywhere.
I’ve been adding this location and hundreds more to the free Stuck On Earth app — it should help you easily find these places when you eventually make it here!
Most of you don’t fit into the one below, but all of you can come join in the action in the Stuck In Customs Community. Thank you all for posting so many photos there and having a good time! I’ve asked the moderators to please help out and keep “approving” photos. Many are getting marked as spam by the algorithms! But I think after we approve a few of your shots, they will automatically work in the future…
New Zealand Photo Community
Speaking of New Zealand, I started up a little New Zealand Photographers community on Google+. Here’s a little sample of what it looks like, featuring a photo of Wayne Lorimer!
Daily Photo – The Lupins at Lake Tekapo
I stopped at Lake Tekapo on the way to Christchurch for the great event there. Jason Law had told me all about the lupins here, so I was keen to see for myself! It was good to meet Jason and his crew there for a bit of shooting at sunset!
I enjoyed this spot so much that I came back on my drive home from Christchurch. And, if I were to speculate, I think I’ll visit this place about 1,000 more times!