At left is a screenshot of the iPad application LightTrac.

LightTrac displays various information about how the sun traverses the sky in any given location, along with moonrise/moonset times.

When doing any kind of outdoor photography, it is extremely helpful to know exactly how the sun is going to track through the sky. Obviously, while in the field, you can just look up to figure this out. Having an application that models the sun’s traversal such that you have an idea of how the light will change throughout the day is tremendously useful.

On a vacation or any kind of a planned photo shoot, this application makes it easy to know what photo opportunities might be optimal in the magic light of sunrise and sunset. When visiting a city for a day tour, it can help you decide on an optimal path through a city; if you travel primarily east to west in the AM, returning in the PM, you’ll maximize time with the sun at your back illuminating what is in front of you!

Beyond photography, LightTrac has also answered a question I’ve long had about my garden plot; exactly how does the sun traverse the plot and where should I plant tall stuff to minimally shade shorter stuff (the answer is that my garden’s rows are likely to be on a diagonal to the plot in the coming years!

While there is always room for improvement — knowing where the moon is can help to plan for long exposure ghostly night shots, for example and the app “only” gives phases, moonrise and moonset — the application is intuitive, useful, and generally pleasant to use.

Sea Lion Strikes a Pose

Our first hike was on North Seymour Island, a small island just to the north of Baltra Island. During lunch, the Endeavor left the bay on Baltra and anchored just off shore of North Seymour.

Travel aside: The logistics of the trip were pretty intense; the Endeavor generally only moved when we were asleep or during meals (as needed to get to the next location). The guests were pretty much never confronted with the monumental amount of work going on around us to get from place to place, to portage folks to/from excursions, or to otherwise keep the boat livable and comfortable. Truly, the crew did a fantastic job of making us comfortable and providing access to the animals with minimal environmental impact.

The North Seymour island hike is a good introduction to the typical excursion in Galapagos. The overarching theme of every excursion was do no harm. Hikes were always on marked trails approved by the Galapagos National Park. Excursions were always broken into groups of 12 to 14 people with at least one licensed naturalist per group.

Animals come first. Many times on a hike, we would pause while some critter would take its merry time crossing our path.

Sea Lion Stares Back

At left is the first critter on this particular hike. A Galapagos Sea Lion doing a bit of sunning. It was pretty much exactly in the middle of where we entered the trail. Around we went and it really didn’t care.

That much, anyway. As you’ll see in a number of photos, sea lions are very curious beasts and, for some odd reason, they really like to look at you upside down as the character on the right was doing!

However, the wildlife of North Seymour was certainly not limited to sea lions!

Christine & Roger Fresh Off The Plane

After nearly three days of travel (SF -> Miami (overnight) -> Quito -> Guayaquil (overnight) -> Baltra, Galapagos), we arrived in the Galapagos Islands Baltra Airport to a sunny, warm, late morning.

Like almost all but the oldest islands in the Galapagos archipelago, Baltra is fairly flat with a central set of volcanic hills. The vegetation tends to be relatively low growing, the ground littered with volcanic rock and the place is generally inhospitable to mammals.

Female Lava Lizard (Tropidurus) at Airport

Even at the airport, it was already readily apparent that the animal life of the Galapagos was utterly unique in its general lack of fear of people. Waiting for customs, we were greeted by a handful of lava lizards, finches, and a Galapagos locust or two. Save for the locust, the critters were far, far, more concerned about territorial rights amongst their peers than they were of us.

National Geographic Endeavor

We then took a short bus ride to the Endeavor, the National Geographic / Lindblad ship that would be our home for the next week.

Photo aside (there’ll be a lot of these):Along the way, I took a photo of the ship out the bus window. The bus was a good 1/2 mile — maybe 2/3rds — from the boat when I took this photo. It was hot and humid and there was considerable heat haze in the air. As a result, the full sized image of the boat looks more like a watercolor than a photograph! Neat!

After being greeted by the crew, a nice lunch, and safety orientation, we spent the afternoon hiking around North Seymour Island for our first real encounter with the amazing wildlife of the Galapagos.

Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura)

Since we accidentally acquired a parakeet, we go through quite a bit of bird seed. Steve– the parakeet– gets a fresh bit of food each day, but never quite finishes yesterday’s. I didn’t want Roger simply pitching the old into the yard as that attracts rats and Ruby — the dog — would hoover it up (she is a confused dog; part cat, part bird)!

So, we built a super simple bird feeding platform. It is a wooden frame with a bit of window screen in the middle. The screen is held to the frame by bits of thin wood nailed to the frame (as seen in the photo). The whole thing is suspended from the house via eye-hooks with coated stainless steel wire.

Dead easy to build and made entirely from scrap and junk drawer bits.

By going with this open design, we can throw Steve’s leftovers, bits of fruit, seed pods and the like onto the frame. Rats don’t seem to bother it given the proximity to the house and the slippery wires (which, frankly, surprises me a bit).

Because it is open, the feeder attracts birds that are normally ground feeders, like this pair of mourning doves that visit the feeder every afternoon.

With the release of Aperture 3, geotagging photos is now an integral part of the application’s workflow. Aperture grew the Faces & Places features like iPhotos!

In particular, the Places feature allows you to import GPS data from iPhone photos or from GPS data captured by pretty much any device that can spew a standard GPX format data file.


Tagging from the iPhone is straightforward. With the iPhone connected to your computer, go to Places in Aperture and then select Import from iPhone Photos…. Aperture will then display all the photos on your iPhone that have GPS metadata and you can pick the photos from which the GPS data is to be imported. Once picked, Aperture will apply the GPS data to photos taken near the same time as the imported data.

However, one issue with the iPhone is that it really isn’t a terribly good GPS logging device. Using it as one eats the battery and the data generated often has holes. And, because the iPhone uses A-GPS (GPS assisted by cellular signal), it doesn’t work at all when hiking in areas without cell signal. Apparently, I’m mistaken about A-GPS — it should fall back to regular GPS behavior. My experience, though, is that the iPhone just isn’t a terribly good GPS device when it doesn’t have a cell signal and has often been off by miles when in the hinterlands. It works great when on the road or near cities, though.

Roger and Dragonflies

Roger has consistently demonstrated that he can catch the uncatchable bug. Hence, the moniker the bug whisperer.

At left, Roger is holding two dragonflies that he had caught. The two had flown into the house one after the other and Roger caught them both within a minute.

I can remember trying, and completely failing, to catch such critters when I was his age. And he doesn’t just catch them inside, either!

Roger is always very gentle with such creatures and they are always returned to the wild unharmed.

Unless, of course, they are “bad bugs”. Bad bugs meet with death in any of a number of spider webs Roger keeps track of around the house. In some cases, in the web of a spider that Roger had previous caught and moved to a particular plant.

For whatever reason, when Roger catches a spider and moves it to a new home, the spider stays put. Of course, a spider thusly moved is typically rewarded with a steady stream of flies.

Dragonfly Hanging Out on Roger's Hand

Then again, the bugs — and lizards/frogs/whatever — that Roger catches will often stick around for a lot longer than they are restrained.

Of the two dragonflies, one hung out on Roger’s hand for a few minutes before flitting off to freedom.

As a fan of macro photography, Roger’s uncanny rapport with bugs is very very much appreciated!

Ants & Aphids on Oleandar Blossom

This year was mostly a great growing season for our garden. We got lots of beans, squash, tomatoes, and other goodies.

However, this year was also the year of aphids.

At left is a blossom on a red oleandar that I planted a few weeks before that photo was taken.

The ants are farming the aphids. That is, they herd and protect the aphids. In return, the aphids suck the plant’s sap and the ants carry off the waste product — the aphid poop — to store away in their nest for future feasting.

Two species acting symbiotically to irritate the hell out of me.

Ants Herding Aphids on Oleander

If this were the only infestation of this kind, I would be concerned that I had chosen a location for the plant that was sub-optimal and, thus, led to weakness that made the plant susceptible to such an attack.

Black bean aphid  (Aphis fabae)

But, not in this case. This is not the only massive infestation of aphids that I have seen this year!

The community garden was also plagued with aphids. And by plagued, I mean plagued.

This is a closeup of the blossom of a long bean plant. At a distance, the vine looked black because the aphids were this thick over the entire plant.

If you look closely at that photo, there are a handful of parasitic bugs attacking the aphids. Unfortunately, nowhere near enough to quell the infestation. The only solution was to remove the plant in its entirety.

Oddly, they only attacked some of the bean plants. No idea what made one plant more attractive than the next, given that the beans were in the same soil and climbing the same trellis.

Red-Eared Slider with Blossom

Every now and then, a critter will strike a pose for me.

This red-eared slider showed up a week or so ago at the landing site for the Smith’s Fern Grotto tour, a boat trip along the Wailua river with a short walk through the jungle.

They had been looking for the turtle to re-appear. Of course, Roger found it — he has 20/10 vision and finds life in the most surprising places.

Red-eared sliders have become ubiquitous the world over as they are the most popular aquatic turtle kept as pets. We found a rather much larger red-eared slider in Missouri.

skimboard Splash

We have spent the last week in Kauai, Hawaii having a bit of a break from life.

Awesome time.

While sitting on the beach, a guy showed up with a skimboard and started carving the waves of Kalapaki beach. A skimboard is a wonderful way to turn rather small waves into a bit of fun.

He was having a good run at tossing parts of each wave this way and that.

skimboard Fail

But even the small waves can bite back…

Fortunately, spout over handle in the water leads to a relatively soft landing.

(Thanks, Corbin, for the correction!)

Tuna Salad with Cucumber Rolls

My favorite restaurants are ones where I don’t have to think about what I’m going to eat. Just as I wouldn’t expect a chef to tell me how he wants me to implement some specific feature in a piece of software I work on, my ideal relationship with a restaurant is one where the chef is free to serve to me whatever they feel is optimal.

Which makes Furu Sato one of a handful of my very favorite restaurants.

The Japanese refer to this style of dining as omakase. Another favorite restaurant — Tanto — has served me some fantastic omakase meals.

What follows are a series of photos of a couple of typical meals consumed at Furu Sato.