Monday, April 24, 2017


Hey, good news! This isn't from the time machine! Even though it's about to sound like it is.

About this time last year, I was sitting on an Air New Zealand flight from ZQN to AKL when the pilot crackled on and said "Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. This is your captain speaking. We're quite proud to be cruising along at an altitude of 37,000 feet right now, but I'm afraid we've been outdone. If you're sitting on the left side of the aircraft, have a look waaaaaay above the wing, and you'll see a little white speck. That's the balloon that NASA launched from Wanaka today, and it's currently at 110,000 feet. The only reason we can see it is that it's the size of a stadium."

I was sitting on the left side, and my iPhone photo does indeed display the balloon at a whopping 1 pixel in width...not too impressive.

Anyhow, they use these balloons, made from polyethylene film (think sandwich bag) for upper atmosphere science experiments. This year's experiment is for high energy cosmic ray particle astrophysics, which you should say 5 times fast.

Last year's balloon stayed aloft for 46 days, and its flight track can be seen here:

Fast forward to today; NASA's been hanging out in Wanaka for the past couple months prepping for another launch and waiting for a weather window. After scrapping 7 launches, they finally had their opportunity today. When I saw that they were greenlighted, I sprinted out the door with my longest lens and tore towards the airport, arriving with about 5 minutes to spare.

It's (relatively) small at launch, but it expands to the size of a football stadium once it's up in the much thinner upper atmosphere, at which point it will be smooth and round instead of droopy and loose.

Canopy just after launch

Payload dangles

The whole thing

Tracking is already available here:

Way to go NASA! Now go drink some beer.


Monday, February 6, 2017

Southland Romp

This past autumn, Murphy and I leave the house one day without a specific destination in mind. We pile some stuff into the van and just, well, start driving. Fortunately, New Zealand isn't that big, so we'd eventually have had to stop, but we also aren't intending to go on a huge mission.

Before too terribly long, we find ourselves down in Southland, which is the state to the south of Otago, and it's also the state that encompasses most of the southern coast of the island as well as all of the massive fjords.


We end up in the little town of Colac Bay, which is normally pretty quiet, but this weekend happens to be hosting a surfing competition, so it's super busy, which of course is a relative term. There's a perfectly adequate campground, and since "super busy" is, remember, relative, there's plenty of space left for us to park the van and pitch the tent.

Accommodation sorted and with the rest of the more-meager-by-the-day daylight hours to burn, we venture out from the campground for an exploratory run and get a pretty fair tour of the place. The battered trees and bush we find suggest that the weather deteriorates quite frequently, so we consider ourselves lucky that it's only blustery and showery.


Tour complete and bellies rumbling, we walk a few minutes over to The Pavilion, where we are served a fantastic feast. I think it's since changed ownership, so hopefully it's still as good... Our waitress tells us she was surfing with the little local dolphins earlier in the day; I believe this is called the good life.

After a worthy meal and a bottle of wine, we walk it off and burn some time with the camera, and we're rather ready to retire. What we haven't counted on is that the surf comp after party is being held at the tavern attached to the campground, and this is the biggest party of the year. Were it not for the belly full of food and red wine, I like to think we'd have wandered over for a pint, but we instead play the Old Card and opt for earplugs.

Colac Bay dusk

However, before turning in, Ethel takes a few minutes to commandeer the mini-horse that's in a pen in the campground and looking awfully neglected. He's thrilled to be out and about and makes short work of every patch of grass he can find. Good deed done, we turn in.

Murphy's new friend

Breakfast options in Colac Bay are approximately zero, so we head down the road and find a cafe in Orepuki that has just opened and features a super friendly owner. Fixed by coffee and pastries, we continue on, making a lap through Tuatapere and Nightcaps (where we visit our landlords) before Ethel realizes that she's left her purse at the restaurant in Colac Bay the night before. Oops.

Orepuki breakfast

Being less interested in the Big Backtrack than Murphy is, I let her chuck me out of the car in my running clothes to bash out 16k towards an intersection by which she'll pass after she's reunited with her purse. The only downside to this is that we're currently in a "less-inspiring" section of Southland than many others, where "less-inspiring" is a euphemism for "boring as shit." As unexciting as that sounds, I'm able to pretend that it's an episode of Top Gear wherein they're racing each other across some godforsaken landscape using different forms of transportation, and that makes the kilometers go by with more enthusiasm.

Finally, with people and payment methods reunited, we cruise back to Queenstown and call it a successful mission.


Saturday, February 4, 2017

Crepuscular Rays

...aka god rays...

Back in now-ancient history when we lived in Queenstown, we got treated to this display one evening.

Thanks, low-angle sun plus stratocumulus clouds plus atmospheric particulate plus Rayleigh scattering!

Also, crepuscular is a cool word.


Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Crown Range Road

I've got an interesting relationship with the carpark at the summit of the Crown Range Road. It's a popular tourist stop, which is just fine, but it's interesting to me because it falls into a special category of roadside attractions.

These are attractions it so happens I've visited far more frequently on a bike than in a car. There are only a handful of these points of interest scattered across the meager portions of the globe I've traversed, and this one is extra special.

You see, of this particular class of places I've seen more of via bike, the Crown Range lookout gets extra points because the road itself, when ridden, has brought nothing to my life but unmitigated agony and regret.

I cannot think of a time that I've arrived at the summit, climbed off my bike, and thought "golly, that was nice." My typical visit involves staring blankly at my feet, spittle half-dried on my chin, and contemplating all the ways in which I'd relinquish my soul in exchange for never having to climb that fucking road again.

That negotiation is usually followed by wondering if I've done permanent damage to my heart this time, shaking violently while unwrapping some awful sporty snack, and then pointing my 8kg steed of plastic, rubber, and aluminum downhill towards corners that lie in wait with a thousand and one ways to die, among other secrets.


In other news, I'd highly recommend coming to visit New Zealand on a cycling holiday!


I've written the above because these two photos were taken from the aforementioned carpark on one of the rare occasions that I've stopped there in a car. I wasn't quite sure how to contextualize them, and then I just started typing, and I'm pretty happy with what came out, so we'll roll with it.

South (incl. Magellanic Clouds)


Anyhow, these photos are worth sharing because it's not at all guaranteed to be good stargazing up there, and these were from a night that featured a neat mix of clear air, light pollution, moonlight, clouds, and even a bit of airglow.

I suppose I could have just written that, but I think the bike bit makes for better reading.


Monday, January 16, 2017

Bali Finale

Right, so I've dragged this out as long as possible, but it's finally time to button up this Bali trip and get on to other stuff.



What I've got for you today is a collection of photos that, for better or worse, make up my lasting impression of Bali. Some of these show the nice things, and others show the not-so-nice things, but it's all real.

Over the wall

Dusk on Batur

Most places I've visited are ones that I've felt eager to return to, but Bali...not so much. Dunno; just think it's not quite my flavor. I will concede that with a little experience under my belt, I would approach a return visit to Bali or somewhere like it far differently than I approached the maiden visit. I'd certainly have a better idea of what to expect.

Shading the departed

The fleet sleeps

I guess a thread that runs through my thoughts about the place is that the Balinese have an indomitable spirit. There are a lot of people with few resources packed into a relatively small area, and they continue to thrive, which is awesome. On the flip side, I feel like an awful lot of tourists there kinda run rampant and take advantage of the country, and that's not really something I want to participate in.

Stormy reflecto

Roadside supermarket

Sadly, I never snagged a photo that adequately represents burning plastic, so that's missing from this collection. Can't say my lungs are missing it, though.

More sunrise

Awaiting departure

And if I had to do it with a single image...

Scooter is life



Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Island Life

Life for the Balinese largely revolves around the sea. In my more cynical days, I'd have suggested that it's difficult for islands to avoid this, but I'd never think of such a thing now.

Minimum wage in Bali is ~150USD/month, and word on the street is that most people get by on about 200USD/month. With an overall budget of seven dollars a day, it should be no surprise that ingenuity and the ocean play pivotal and equal roles in their lives.

At the ready

Good catch

Boat driver + owl

Good as new

Kelp beds I

Kelp beds II

Last tasks

And while not sea-related, a bonus:

Here kitty kitty

It turns out that I do have another post to share from Bali - it's a small collection of photos that don't share a unified theme other than best representing my lasting impressions of the place; suppose it's a highlight reel of sorts.


Lembongan Touristing

With our remaining couple of days in Bali, and in the relative sanctuary of Nusa Lembongan, we strive to do as little as possible while doing as much as possible. I'm not entirely sure what that means, but it mostly makes sense.

Our routine is beyond bland in its simplicity: wake, jog, shower, breakfast, swim, scooter, coffee, scooter, lunch, scooter, coconut, scooter, coffee, nap, scooter, dinner, beer, bed. Here are a few photos that hopefully do some justice to this tortuous routine.

Mirror pool


Inverse Guinness

Nice kitty, mascot of Poh Manis

Beach shacks

As an aside, I get served a meal with metal shavings in it at the place with the cool beach shacks. Staff seems unconcerned. Whatever.

Mini temple at Paddy's little resort

View from Two Peaks

About as fancy as we get; roughly $12 for dinner

Last light

I've got a few more photos to share depicting more daily life and less touristy stuff, and that'll about do it for this hyper-delayed trip report.


Past Detritus