A Week in O’ahu

As much as I’ve enjoyed the rest of Hawaii, I had yet to visit O’ahu and was always put off by pictures of busy Honolulu and Waikiki.  However, as part of Darlene’s “birthday month”, off we went – and while it doesn’t compare to Kauai or the Big Island, it was still quite enjoyable!

A short video montage of our week in O’ahu (under six minutes, 119 MB)

We rented a condo in Waikiki for four nights and then spent the remaining two nights at a place on the north shore.  We walked the length of Waikiki (and up to the top of Diamond Head and back), snorkeled at Hanauma Bay, spent a rainy day at the Pearl Harbor exhibits, visited some of the south and eastern shoreline, navigated Dole’s “world’s largest pineapple maze”and enjoyed more snorkeling in the north bay.

Click through for the full gallery:

      

Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Tracking Coyotes

I had my first chance to try using my drone to track the coyotes that are often in the neighborhood.  I heard them yipping so I pulled out the Mavic Pro and sent it to hover over the nearby field.  I had to hang around looking for them for some 10 minutes or so before they apparently came out of the bushes to bask in the sun.  They didn’t seem too disturbed by the Mavic but I kept it back aways and zoomed in 2x and then further cropped the footage afterwards:

Spying on coyotes from a drone (1:45, 68 MB)

Tagged , , | Leave a comment

To Universal Studios Hollywood

Darlene and I made a quick, three-day trip down to Universal Studios Hollywood last week — to see the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, of course!  While we were there, we also visited the La Brea Tar Pits and Griffith Park and tried to get to Mann’s Chinese Theater (but it was closed off for a movie premiere) – all places I hadn’t seen for 30-40 years and new for Darlene.

   

The main attraction was of course Universal Studios and we decided to buy their “VIP Tour” tickets.  These are guided, 12-person tour groups that start with early access to the park after an included breakfast.  You get an extended tour of the back lots (two hours rather than the normal 45 minutes) via a single-car trolley instead of the usual tram.  This back lot tour includes getting out and walking around some of the sets and potentially sound stages and working sets (depending on the activity that day) as well as visiting part of their props and costumes warehouse.  You get escorted “priority” access to the various rides and shows (bypassing the lines or enjoying reserved seating) and a really wonderful buffet lunch in a separate VIP dining area.  The VIP passes cost nearly three times as much as the normal pass but we had read reviews from a lot of folks saying it’s a fun and worthwhile experience and now we would agree.  Here’s someone’s detailed description from 2012.

We also took a nice tour of Paramount Studios the following day before catching our plane home.

Tagged , | Leave a comment

More Fresh Powder in Tahoe

I joined Resi, Troy and Aiden for a ski weekend in Tahoe (at Homewood) in early April and we lucked out with lots of fresh powder both days.  Click through for pictures and video.

Tagged | Leave a comment

Darlene’s Family Comes to Visit

In celebration of Darlene’s 50th birthday, Alice, Kathy, Shel and Vicky came to visit and we gave them a tour of some Santa Cruz sights: Natural Bridges State Beach and the Monarch butterfly grove, the Seymour Marine Discovery Center, Lighthouse Point overlooking Steamer Lane, the Santa Cruz Pier, Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park and Roaring Camp Railroads.  Earlier we also took Darlene’s mom, Alice, to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, the Monterey Zoo and the Santa Cruz Boardwalk.

Click through for pictures and video:

          

Tagged | Leave a comment

Darlene’s Almost Nearly 50th

Click through for pictures and video from Darlene’s almost nearly 50th birthday party!

Tagged , | Leave a comment

A Gray Whale Threesome

Darlene and her mom and I took a whale watching tour out of Santa Cruz on March 23rd with Stagnaro Charters.  (I didn’t know whale tours were available out of town here in Santa Cruz – super convenient as opposed to driving down to Monterey.)  We were very lucky to get to first come across a threesome of gray whales in the midst of their courtship/mating – something that apparently gray whales do in groups of three or more:

What appears to be mating, however, is simply an elaborate courtship in which two males can be seen attempting to mate with a female.

Christopher Fitzsimmons, an education specialist at the Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, explained that mating in pods of three, with two males and a female, is entirely common among gray whales.

“This rolling and rubbing we see is believed to be the whales familiarizing themselves with one another and making sure the female is receptive to mating,” said Fitzsimmons.

Gray whales engage in often elaborate courtship practices before mating. Males will use their pectoral fins to coerce and align females into mating positions. Females have even been observed avoiding the attempts of males for days.

And then later we came across four more gray whales, one of whom did several breaches in front of us. All very cool!

    

Tagged , | Leave a comment

Little Tikes in the Snow

    

Darlene and I spent the weekend with Resi and Aiden, and Greg, Erin and Merritt as their kids made their first visits to Alpine Meadows and Squaw Valley – on the road to their future Olympic Winter Games!  We also met up with Colin, Richard and Jennifer at Squaw.

Tagged | Leave a comment

Ski Utah!

      

Here are the pictures and video from our annual week of skiing and tabletop gaming, this year back at the Cottonwood Canyons in Utah with a full house: Jon, Jim, Stan, Lewis, Tom, Bill, Kat, Darlene and myself. We were fortunate to get quite a heap of fresh snow early in the week and sunshine for the rest as we visited Alta, Snowbird and Solitude over five days.

Tagged , | 2 Comments

A Flying Camera

2.9 minute video demonstration of the Mavic Pro (223 MB)

This is a short little video montage of my first few flights around my house with DJI’s Mavic Pro – a fantastic, compact little flying camera platform.  This thing folds down to about the size of a quart-size water bottle, weighs only 2 lbs with a battery and flies for about 25 minutes per charge.  It’s got a tiny gimbal-stabilized 4K camera that can capture up to 4096×2160 video.  (The video above is downgraded to 1280×720 but here’s a short snippet of 4K footage.)  The Mavic Pro has lots of sophisticated smarts on board too: automatic return to home, obstacle avoidance, vision positioning system, object tracking/following/circling, etc.  It maintains a live high definition feed to your phone/controller wth a range of over 4 miles, though FAA rules require that you maintain visual line-of-sight and stay below 400 ft from ground level at all times.  (Also, drones and other remote-controlled aircraft cannot be used in national parks, wilderness areas, ski resorts, around crowds or events, etc. without special permission.)

The Mavic Pro is very fun and easy to fly and it’s amazing how clear and stable the video footage is, even enough to use it as a flying tripod or do time-lapse photography.  Best of all it folds down so nicely to fit easily into a small backpack or carrying case.  It’ll be fun to bring this along on some hiking and biking trips.

Here’s some additional footage – the first from nearby Wilder Ranch State Park, including trying out the Mavic’s “Active Track” flight mode and the second from just north of Pescadero Beach while looking for whales:

Wilder Ranch (50 seconds, 59 MB)

Near Pescadero (85 seconds, 110 MB)

Here’s DJI’s related SkyPixel site where you can see sample drone photography.  Here’s one of many reviews about DJI’s Mavic Pro, if you’re interested in more detail.  I’d recommend buying DJI’s “Fly More Combo Pack” which includes the Mavic Pro but also two extra batteries, two extra propellers, the four-battery charging hub, a car charger cord, an adapter for charging your phone or other USB device from a battery pack and the DJI  carrying case/shoulder bag.  You’ll also likely want to get a lens shade as the Mavic’s camera tends to easily catch sunlight even when not pointed at the sun.  This one works well, while this one is too fragile and breaks easily just mounting it.

And one more bit of footage – sneaking up on Darlene’s family while they were here visiting:

Drone Attack! (60 seconds, 22 MB)

Tagged , , | Leave a comment