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Back in 2009 I shot the picture above from a plane flight on approach to SFO. On Flickr (at that link) the photo has had 16,524 views and has been faved 420 times as of now. Here’s the caption:

These are salt evaporation ponds on the shores of San Francisco Bay, filled with slowly evaporating salt water impounded within levees in former tidelands. There are many of these ponds surrounding the South Bay.

A series microscopic life forms of different kinds and colors predominate to in series as the water evaporates. First comes green algae. Next brine shrimp predominate, turning the pond orange. Next, dunaliella salina, a micro-algae containing high amounts of beta-carotene (itself with high commercial value), predominates, turning the water red. Other organisms can also change the hue of each pond. The full range of colors include red, green, orange and yellow, brown and blue. Finally, when the water is evaporated, the white of salt alone remains. This is harvested with machines, and the process repeats.

Given the popularity of that photo and others I’ve shot like it (see here and here), I’ve wanted to make a large print of it to mount and hang somewhere. But there’s a problem: the photo was shot with a 2005-vintage Canon 30D, an 8.2 megapixel SLR with an APS-C (less than full frame) sensor, and an aftermarket zoom lens. It’s also a JPEG shot, which means it shows compression artifacts when you look closely or enlarge it a lot. To illustrate the problem, here’s a close-up of one section of the photo:

See how grainy and full of artifacts that is? Also not especially sharp. So that was an enlargement deal breaker.

Until today, that is, when my friend Marian Crostic, a fine art photographer who often prints large pieces, told me about Topaz LabsGigapixel AI. I’ve tried image enhancing software before with mixed results, but on Marian’s word and an $80 price, I decided to give this one a whack. Here’s the result:

Color me impressed enough to think it’s worth sharing.



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FlightAware's Misery MapThat’s FlightAware‘s MiseryMap. Go there now, click on the blue “play” button and watch what happens. If you’re close to now (8:56pm EST), you’ll see what weather does directly to major airports in Chicago, New York and Atlanta, and indirectly (by delayed flights due to unavailable airplanes, mostly) to Houston, Dallas, Los Angeles, Miami, etc. If you’re at some other time in the future, it will still show weather and flight delays, because we always have both.

The MiseryMap is also one of the coolest and most useful examples of data visualization on the Web. And a trifecta winner for weather, aviation and geography freaks like me.

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Before the salt in evaporating sea water turns white, it goes through stages of color that range from jade green to brick red, with variations of orange, yellow and other colors. From above the salt ponds around San Francisco Bay look like giant panes of stained glass. The shot above is from my latest set, shot on approach to SFO last week.

Here’s another series.

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The shot above, made on Sunday out the window of a plane on approach to Las Vegas, comes three and a half years after this shot, which I took from the ground at Hoover Dam. Here’s a whole set of the fly-by. Not much of the dam shows. The Colorado River gorge is easier to see.

Two things stand out for me in this scene. One is the remarkable engineering involved in building the Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge, better known as the Hoover Dam Bypass. The other is that, from altitude — far more than from the ground — you can see the volcanic nature and origin of the rock supporting both the bridge and hte dam. I’ve been looking around for source docs online that detail the provenance of this rock, which needs to be of a competence sufficient to anchor one of the world’s biggest dams, while also supporting a bridge over a gorge. As I recall from the visit, it’s rhyolite. But, not sure. Looks like it. Maybe Arizona Geology can fill us in.

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They might have split up or they might have capsized
They may have broke deep and took water
And all that remains is the faces and the names
Of the wives and the sons and the daughters.

Gordon Lightfoot, from “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald”

A storm on Lake Superior drowned the Edmund Fitzgerald. From the way it looks now, a storm over the Atlantic destroyed Air France Flight 447 earlier this week.

A book and a movie nailed the “perfect storm” meme in our heads, and I suppose the label might apply here. Flight 447 was crossing through a region known to weather professionals as the intertropical convergence zone. Storms rise quickly there, and concentrate in a band that runs around the Earth like a broad equator of roiling clouds. While lines of thunderstorms familiar to those of us in temperate zones can run for hundreds of miles along a weather front, these intertropical mothers are different in several senses, not the least of which is that it’s harder to avoid getting tossed around while weaving through them in an airplane — especially in the middle of the night over the middle of an ocean. This is due partly to the widespread and rapid-forming nature of the storms themselves, and partly to the absence of navigation guidance from the ground.

There isn’t any ground underneath. The nearest radar is far beyond the horizon. And, in some cases, such as Flight 447’s, guidance from the air is also lacking. According to that first link (a Bloomberg piece by John Hughes), less than one flight per hour takes the route flown by Flight 447, which was last heard from at 2:14am, local time, over the Atlantic appoximately midway between South America and Africa.

That also puts it over the broad Mid-Atlantic Ridge, a mountain range that runs like a baseball seam between tectonic plates. It’s mountainous down there. Go to 3° 34′ 39.72″ N, 30° 22′ 27.84″ W (3.5777, -30.3744) on Google Earth, drop about 12,500 feet below the surface, and you would see approximately this —


— if it were not also the blacker than the darkest night down there. Good luck finding the flight data and voice recorders. Or anything else that doesn’t float.

My guess is that our best guesses will narrow to some combination of known facts. Chief among these is that the plane was passing through a region of big thunderstorms that had also shown up quickly. I’m guessing that the pilots did their best to avoid the worst of what they could see with their instruments, and failed. Here is a summary of final messages from the plane.

Whether the plane broke up at altitude (we know it depressurized) or went out of control and crashed intact, the terminal moments of the flight must have been frightening beyond description for those on board.

I’m a frequent flyer who loves aviation. I’ve flown enough to be jaded and calm. But thunderstorms still creep me out. One pilot friend told me a few days ago that the last thing you want to do is go through a “hole” between two thunderheads, because turbulence there can be even worse than inside the clouds themselves. When you see thunderheads building, the expansion itself is a kind of wind, and so is what happens to the air pushed aside as the head builds its visible parts.

One wonders if any decisions will be made, based on what we learn from the crash of Flight 447. Will similar Airbus planes be given a new caution? An upgrade to avionics or reporting methods? A new procedural guide for times when scary storms suddenly materialize? Dunno yet. We’ll see.
I’ll be flying back and forth to London next week. I’m looking forward to the flight as well as the work — as I always do. But, like many travelers, I’ll not be quite as calm about the weather.

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Form the inside of a de-iced plane, it looks like they poured clear syrup all over it. Or so I was reminded when waiting to take off from O’Hare on Saturday night after a snowstorm. What I found, when I tried to shoot pictures through this rippled ooze, was some fun photographic effects. The shot above is one example among many.

Lights outside were optically exploded into large spongy-looking blobs that resembled models of the universe, cooled meteorites, series of vertebrae, asteroids from old video games…

Anyway, I shot a lot of them.

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That’s almost as far as it got.

From Twitter search:

From FlightAware:


US Airways flight #1549 (an Airbus A320) from New York, NY (LGA) to Charlotte, NC (CLT) crashed into the Hudson River today (January 15, 2009) around 3:30pm EST, less than six minutes after takeoff. The maximum altitude was 3200 feet before the aircraft began a descent into the water.

Plane appears intact. Helicopters and ferries responding. FAA is reporting all passengers are out of the plane, and a secondary search is underway.

Early unconfirmed reports are that the aircraft hit a flock of geese. CNN reports that a pilot of the airliner reported a bird strike to air traffic control after takeoff.


Related Links

  • FlightAware Discussion Forums: Airliner Down
  • If FlightAware calls the flight USA1549, that’s how I’m going to call and tag it.

    More as I can write about it, sitting here at a pharmacy in Cambridge. As of now, it appears that all passengers and crew got out alive. Amazing. Some great piloting there. And a sobering lesson in listening to pre-flight safety pitches.

    Reallhy helps that the plane stayed intact (from what we can see). Amazing job landing — actually, ditching — the thing. Wow.

    5pm, on FlightAware:

    USA logo
    USA1549 (web site) (all flights)
    US Airways
    Aircraft Airbus A320 (twin-jet) (A320/Q)
    Origin La Guardia (KLGA)
    Destination Charlotte/Douglas Intl (KCLT)
    Other flights between these airports
    Route BIGGY J75 GVE LYH SUDSY3 (Decode)
    Date Thursday, Jan 15, 2009
    Duration 1 hours 44 minutes
    11 minutes left
    1 hour 32 minutes
    Status En Route (No recent position)
    Scheduled Actual/Estimated
    Departure 03:04PM EST 03:26PM EST
    Arrival 04:38PM EST 05:10PM EST
    Speed 455 kts 153 kts
    Altitude 36000 feet descending 300 feet

    Want to get that down before it scrolls away.

    How long before video of the plane landing, shot from a ferry or shore, shows up on the tubes?

    From a FlightAware post, ship number 106 (N106US, Airbus A320-214, delivered August 2, 1999)

    Jumping in the subway now. More later.

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    The more I fly, the more useful, or at least interesting, the NOAA‘s AviationWeather.gov service becomes. At any given moment it has dozens of different reports on weather at altitude, across North America. The one above is among the many that show potential or reported turbulence.

    I also just discovered TurbulenceForecast.com, with the TurbulenceForecast Blog. There’s a lot of overlap with AviationWeather.gov, since it uses a lot of maps and data from there.

    Here’s the FAA’s page on flight delays. Plus FlightAware, the best of a bad bunch — too much flash and other stuff that doesn’t work on too many browsers, especially ones in handhelds. Speaking of which, I’ve lately been appreciating FlightTrack. The list could go on, but I need to move on. See ya in Boston. (At IAD now. The last two paragraphs were written at SFO, where connectivity was minimal.)

    Oh, click on the map above and check out the current maximum turbulence potential between here (Washington) and Boston. So far there’s just one pilot report, of moderate turbulence, over Connecticut.

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    So I’m here in the Bolt Bus from Boston to New York. There’s wi-fi on board, and power outlets in the backs of most seats. But the wi-fi is slow, so I’m on a Sprint EvDO card. Getting about 1Mb down and .6Mb up. Not bad.

    Anyway, I’ve recently uploaded a pile of photo sets to Flickr, where my inventory of photos is now approaching 26,000. Here is a list of just a few sets, mostly shot from airplanes and other moving vehicles:

    Wow. It’s snowing now. Hard. We’re still in Connecticut, approaching the Westchester border. The Weather.com map is quite colorful:

    Hm. Not taking. Guess I need a separate post for it.

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