Oct 102013
Southern Railway Locomotive 1401 -- Smithsonian Museum of American History (Click image to enlarge)

Southern Railway Locomotive 1401 — Smithsonian Museum of American History (click image to enlarge)

You couldn’t contemplate #1401 — One of the eight locomotives that, in doubleheader pairs, brought FDR’s body from Warm Springs, Georgia to Washington, DC.

What would FDR have thought of a shutdown of most of the federal government engineered for the political benefit of about 30 house members of one party?

Oct 072013
The Smithsonian's Hirshhorn Museum

The Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum
 (Click image to enlarge)

You didn’t get to see messages being pushed out in the Hirshhorn’s entrance lobby.

Meanwhile the battle of messages continues unabated in Washington, DC.  This past weekend more stories on how this shutdown was part of a plan hatched months ago by a small number of one political party.

Oct 042013
World War II Memorial at Sunset

World War II Memorial at Sunset  (Click image to enlarge)

…But it is interesting how some in Congress turned this into a photo op on Tuesday.  The very politicians who have been contemplating this shutdown for months managed to show up at the WWII Memorial just as a group of WWII veterans did.  These politicians made a big deal about how the veterans were being denied access to the memorial — a situation these same politicians had engineered. An incredibly disrespectful exploitation of the veterans my father served with.

Oct 012013
The Lincoln Memorial on a Better Day

The Lincoln Memorial on a Better Day  (Click image to enlarge)

So instead, we can consider the following excerpts from Lincoln’s speech to the Copper Union, February 27, 1860:

Your purpose, then, plainly stated, is that you will destroy the Government, unless you be allowed to construe and enforce the Constitution as you please, on all points in dispute between you and us. You will rule or ruin in all events. This, plainly stated, is your language…

In that supposed event, you say, you will destroy the Union; and then, you say, the great crime of having destroyed it will be upon us!  That is cool*.  A highwayman holds a pistol to my ear, and mutters through his teeth, “Stand and deliver, or I shall kill you, and then you will be a murderer!”

Rule or ruin.  The highwaymen are among us today.

James Fallows on the shutdown here and here.

[* The 1852 edition of Noah Webster’s dictionary has it: “3. Not hasty; deliberate; as, a cool falsehood or deception. Hence, 4. Impudent in a high degree, as when speaking of some trick, pretension, &c., we say ‘that is cool.’ “]

Sep 142013

Three photographs this time.

Getting ready for a week in London next month and I happened be looking at some pictures from a trip in November, 2000.

These are panoramics shot with a Horizon 202 — a Russian film camera with a swing lens.  The film is loaded over a curved film “plane” inside, and when you press the shutter button, the lens rotates in a 120 degree arc.  I wish they made a digital camera that did something like this.

The workflow was similar to shooting with film cameras at that time:  Develop the negatives; cut them into strips and scan them (the Horizon frame is 24 x 60mm instead of the normal 24 x 36mm), remove the dust spots in PhotoShop, then adjust as per normal practice (noise, curves, color balance, brightness/contrast, sharpening, etc.).  Typically I would shoot Fuji Press (ISO 800) film and used a snap in neutral density filter when outside.  This also allowed me to shoot interior scenes — without the ND filter.

I went back and touched up the photos following a little bit before posting them here.

Inside a London Eye Capsule

A typical dreary end-of-November day, but still a nice flight.  The kid was aware that something was happening, because he could see the lens moving.

In a London Eye capsule -- flying over the Thames (click to enlarge)

In a London Eye capsule — flying over the Thames (click to enlarge)

Iconic London Buses

In the Transport Museum, arranged the “old” way.  At that time, the museum was set up to exhibit.  In this area, you could see five buses arrayed in a fan.  Now the museum is set up for activities.  I guess that’s better for kids, but not as good for history buffs.  The gift store, however, remains one of the better ones, and being at Covent Garden, is easy to find and may be on your itinerary anyway.

London Buses.  (click to enlarge)

London Buses (click to enlarge)

The London Eye from Underneath

A view from under the support legs of the Eye.  The two legs cantilever out over the Thames, so when you look straight down from your capsule, you’re over the water.

Underneath the Eye (click to enlarge)

Underneath the Eye (click to enlarge)

I plan on visiting both of these sites…No idea what those pictures will be like.


The London Eye
The London Transport Museum
Wikipedia: Horizon Camera

Aug 012013

Checking out some new lenses…

The Udvar-Hazy facility of the National Air and Space Museum (at Dulles International Airport) is a destination for me whenever I need to check out new cameras and lenses…In this case, three lenses for the Fujifilm X-Pro1 camera:  The 12mm f/2.8 and 32mm f/1.8 Zeiss Touits and the 60mm f/2.8 Fuji.  Although I have some regular subjects (for repeatability) any visit can take its own course.

Click on any photo for a full screen view.  (File sizes range from 4MB to 7MB, so will take some time to load.)


Beechcraft D18S “Twin Beech” (60mm lens.  1/200 sec. @ f/2.8.  ISO 800)

Below the entrance overlook. Curtis P-40E “Warhawk” and Vought F4U-1D “Corsair”. (12mm lens. 1/30 sec. @ f/5. ISO 1600)

Curtis P-40 nose detail.  (32mm lens.  1/70 sec. @ f/2.8.  ISO 1600)

Curtis P-40E “Warhawk” nose detail. (32mm lens. 1/70 sec. @ f/2.8. ISO 1600)



King-Bugatti U-16 engine (Duesenburg) builder’s plate. (60mm lens. 1/180 sec. @ f/4.0. ISO 3200)


Republic P-47D-30-RA “Thunderbolt” below Vought OS2U-3 “Kingfisher”. (32mm lens. 1/18 sec. @ f/4.0. ISO 1600.)


Nose of Boeing B-29 “Superfortress” Enola Gay (note reflection of P-47D). (32mm lens. 1/30 sec. @ f/5.6. ISO 1600.)


Boeing 307 Stratoliner engine detail. (60mm lens. 1/90 sec. @ f/4.0. ISO 3200.)


Boeing 307 Stratoliner “Clipper Flying Cloud”. (12mm lens. 1/90 sec. @ f/5.6. ISO 3200.)


Concorde Fox Alpha, Air France (entire plane in one frame). (12mm lens. 1/20 sec. @ f/5.6. ISO 1600.)


Lockheed 1049F-55-96 “Constellation” (C-121C, West Virginia Air National Guard). (60mm lens. 1/210 sec. @ f/4.0. ISO 1600.)


Ariel-1 satellite (replica from parts). (60mm lens. 1/125 sec. @ f/2.8. ISO 1600.)


Space Shuttle “Discovery” hull detail. (60mm lens. 1/40 sec. @ f/2.8. ISO 1600.)


Hawker Hurricane Mk. IIC propeller blade and spinner detail. (60mm lens. 1/75 sec. @ f/3.2. ISO 1600.)


Grumman G-22 “Gulfhawk II”. (60mm lens. 1/55 sec. @ f/4.0. ISO 1600.)

Dec 302012
Dawn — Somewhere Out West…

Airplane window shots are problematic.  You’re typically shooting through three layers of glass and plastic.  Some of those surfaces are probably dirty.  Most of the surfaces are reflecting the other surfaces — and also whatever is in the airplane cabin, including your camera.

But there you are above dawn just breaking “somewhere out west”.  A full moon.  You have to give it a try.

Somewhere Out West -- Dawn from the air.

Somewhere Out West — Dawn from the air.

I shot this with a Panasonic DMC-TS3 which, thoughfully, has an “Aerial Photo” scene mode.  Holding the camera upside down for some shots to position the lens.  The real work is in post processing.  Noise reduction with Noiseware.  Curves, contrast and brightness in Photoshop.  Graduated ND filter effect with NIK Color Efex Pro.  Color balance back in PhotoShop.  A sharpness pass with NIK Sharpener Pro.  Final “save for web” in PhotoShop.  The two control points were the moon (keep it from turning into a solid white orb) and the terrain faces near the front edges of the engine nacelles (keep the details and sharpness of line).

P.S. Another reason, on coast-to-coast daylight flights, for picking a window on the right side westbound and on the left side eastbound.

Sep 072012

Krakow remains the cultural and historical magnet for visitors to Poland.

If you do the Poland Trifecta (Gdansk, Warsaw, and Krakow) it is a good place to end your trip, and four days isn’t too long.  Granted, you might run into groups of British men doing one of those trips (the sight of a Ryan Air jet at the airport can be ominous) and, according to my hotel manager, the Norwegians are coming in with empty suitcases and hitting the Galeria Krakowska in droves.

Krakow, however, is not living in the past.  If you spend too much time in the city center, you might overlook that this is a regional commercial center.  And like other cities that are looking to the future, it is also trying to figure out ways to move people around without destroying the city.  The picture below shows bicycle and pedestrian traffic control.  Bikes use the lane to the left, with pedestrians to the right.  There are signs marking the dual use, and even crosswalks marked where there are pedestrians crossing — such as at this dual bike/pedestrian on/off-ramp.


If you visit Auschwitz, chances are you’ll base in Krakow.  As I mentioned a few posts earlier, avoid taking an organized tour if at all possible — especially something like the combined salt mines/death camp tours. If you arrive before 10:oo am during the peak season you can visit Auschwitz without a guide — 10:00 am to 3:00 pm requires a guide.  But to arrive early complicates your transportation since it is over an hour by by public bus and therefore an expensive cab ride.  (Birkenau (Auschwitz II) does not require guides at any time.)

There is some discussion on whether it better to view this kind of site in the context of the specific events that took place — The Holocaust — or in the context of other genocides, pogroms, etc.  In the end, it is your decision what you want to take away with you.

Another issue is the deterioration at the sites.  One the one hand, you’d almost like so see it dissolve into rust and rot — be gone forever.  But the worry is that people will forget — and many (most?) have no idea the scope and scale of the Holocaust.  But these rails and ties just show some of the more obvious deterioration.  Time will tell what kind of balance is struck.


Still the industrial and commercial engine for Poland…All the more amazing when you consider the extent of German destruction. The city continues to build and change.  This display on the observation tower at the Uprising Museum is supposed to show buildings that are still standing from the WWII era (the darker shapes).  However, the some of the newer buildings on the display have since been replaced by even newer buildings.

The sights in Warsaw are farther apart than in Krakow and if you spend time touring, you’ll probably be wise to do your explorations in sectors.  If you spend more than a couple of days, it might be a good idea to learn the tram system — though they can be packed during commuting hours.

Taxi Ride to the Airport

A short distance from the hotel the driver gestured to the right with his head.  “Souvenir of Stalin”.  He was referring to the Palace of Culture and Science.

He asked if I minded the radio, which was playing Polish songs.  I didn’t mind.  We chatted a little and as we got close to the airport I heard a song:

Kayah and Bregovic: “Prawy Do Lewego (From Your Right to Your Left)”

Then I’m saying “That lady — the singer.  That’s, uh, uh — Kayah!”

“Kayah.  Yes.”

“Kayah and Bregovic.  Right?”

He was genuinely surprised that I knew.

He turned up the volume.  We were both tapping our fingers and quietly whistling along.

It was a nice way to end the trip.

Links for this trip…

Cracow-Life:  http://www.cracow-life.com/

Krakow Info:  http://www.krakow-info.com/

Historical Museum of Kraków:  http://mhk.pl/

St Mary’s Basilica (in Polish):  http://www.mariacki.com/

Wawel Royal Cathedral:  http://www.katedra-wawelska.pl/english

Hotel Floryan:  http://www.floryan.com.pl/en/index.php


Auschwitz (Official Site):  http://en.auschwitz.org/m/

Excellent BBC Interactive Map of Auschwitz:


Warsaw-Life:  http://www.warsaw-life.com/

Warsaw Rising Museum:  http://www.1944.pl/en/

The Royal Castle in Warsaw:  http://www.zamek-krolewski.pl/?page=1114

National Museum in Warsaw Information:  http://www.mnw.art.pl/index.php/pl/english

Polish Army Museum (in Polish):  http://www.muzeumwp.pl/

Hotel Mercure Warsaw Grand:

Sep 062012
Polish Army Museum

Located next door (actually the same building) to National Museum, Warsaw, exhibits include a lot of artillery, vehicles, and aircraft stored outside; and a range of arms, armor, and uniforms through the centuries.  Particular emphasis is placed on the Polish Army during WWII and on artifacts from the over 21,000 Polish prisoners (Army officers captured during the 1939 Soviet invasion of Poland, police officers, and intelligentsia – “intelligence agents, gendarmes, landowners, saboteurs, factory owners, lawyers, officials and priests.”) murdered by orders of Stalin in 1940.  It was recently decided to relocate the museum to new facilities in the Citadel, north of Old Town.

Polish Winged Hussar — A major factor in the victory of the Polish forces over the Turks at Vienna, 1683. There is some discussion as to whether the wings were actually worn in battle — of even if the cavalryman could stay mounted on the horse while wearing those wings.

When I first glanced at the sign I thought it was warning against wing-walking on jet fighter aircraft…

The Royal Castle

Up Ulica Nowy Świat (a main shopping and historic boulevard) from the National Museum is Castle Square, the Royal Castle, and Old Town.

Zygmunt’s Column is a meeting spot for Warsaw residents and visitors, and the Castle Square is the location for festivities and official ceremonies.

Zygmunt’s Column, with the original sections, blown up by the Germans in reprisal for the 1944 Rising, in the foreground.

The Royal Castle was painstakingly rebuilt starting in 1970.  After the rubble was cleared following the German’s destruction, it was a cleared area that Poles could see every day for 27 years.  The reconstruction was based on exhaustive research, bits and pieces of the original building salvaged from the original, photographs, and paintings, etc.  The wooden floors are spectacular, with every important room having a different pattern.

Doors of the Church of the Gracious Mother of God (Kościół Matki Bożej Łaskawej)

Located midway between the Market Square and the Royal Castle, the church is adjacent the St. John’s Cathedral.  The doors are by Polish sculptor Igor Mitoraj, who also made the famous partial head that is installed in front of the British Museum, London.

The dates over the door are “1604 – 1944 – 1970”

The Old Town Market Square

Detail of a corner burgher house on the Market Square.

In the Market Square, probably the most famous, and most photographed, fighting mermaid.

Classic Fighting Mermaid pose.

When the mermaid gets hungry…Kabobs?

Warsaw Skyline Panoramic

Taken from a tower overlooking Castle Square.  Almost anything you can see was reconstructed after the Germans leveled Warsaw.  It is estimated that over 150,000 civilians were killed in the Rising and following, and around 550,000 people were expelled.

(Right click on picture and “View Image”.)

Sep 052012
The Palace of Culture and Science

Warsaw’s Palace of Culture and Science.

A relic of the years of Soviet domination, there are a lot of varying opinions about this building.  Some would like to tear it down, but it still has useful facilities.  And what would you put in its place (and who would pay for it)?

The Warsaw Uprising Museum

The museum’s opening was in 2004 — timed for the 60th anniversary of the Warsaw Rising.  While it might be said to have an advantage by only having to present a relatively short span of time — the 66 days of the Rising and a few days preceding it — it does that in a comprehensive, innovative, and thoughtful manner.

Not to be missed is a 3D video that simulates a fly-over of a devastated Warsaw after the German’s pounded much of the city into rubble.

One feature are the desk calendar pages that are on the walls next to exhibits.

“Calendar” pages near exhibits — one for each day of the Rising.

There is a page for each day.  Each page shows (in Polish only) the date and other information for the day including sunrise, sunset, and the maximum temperature.  It also tells what happened in Warsaw that day.  As you go through the museum you can take the calendar pages — eventually totaling 71.

In many exhibits, such as the one below, there are taped interviews with those who fought.  If the exhibit is about light machine guns, there is a video interview with a man describing the Bren gun he actually used.  (All of those interviews are subtitled in English.)

An exhibit of weapons used in the Rising.


The “Kotwica” — Symbol of the Polish secret state and the Armia Krajowa (Home Army, or AK).

A pleasant surprise is this coffee shop.  I had to do a double take to make sure it wasn’t an exhibit.  It is themed for the time period of the Rising and there is also a contemporary area outside on a balcony.

Themed coffee shop in the museum.

On the wall near the coffee shop is this bottle of Cinzano…

“Jozef Wrobel and his Home Army friends decide on May 9, 1945, to save a prewar bottle of Cinzano wine until the day Poland regains her independence and the last foreign soldiers her soil.”

A friend once said that you have to be one heck of a city to have a mermaid with a sword and and shield as your symbol.

Warsaw’s Fighting Mermaid.

View of the museum’s observation tower from the Rose Garden — on the back side of the Memorial Wall.

Sep 032012

I seem to be having a hard time finding sunshine here in Krakow.  However, for a trip to Auschwitz and Birkenau, a bright sunny day might be a bit too incongruous.


The main gate at Auschwitz — from the inside.

Below is one of the early attempts to deal with the remains of murdered persons.  One pair of a total of four ovens at Auschwitz.  The turntable on the floor allows operators to pull ashes out of an oven, turn the cart 180 degrees, and the push the cart over an ash pit to be dumped.  This particular setup was abandoned as more efficient equipment was developed to handle the mass of murdered people.

Early ovens at Auschwitz.

 Birkenau (Auschwitz II)

The other iconic gateway.

The rail gate to Birkenau.

A railway wagon of the type used to transport to Birkenau for work or to be killed.  This is the place seen in many photos showing people being taken off the trains and, in many cases, immediately sorted and taken to the gas chambers.

Railway goods wagon of the type used to transport people to Birkenau.

Electrified fence line.

On the Birkenau site, opposite from the railway gate, are the remains of gas chambers and crematoria — destroyed by the SS at the Soviets advanced westward.  A picture of the structure is on the sign to the left.

Gas chamber and crematorium destroyed as Soviet forces drew closer.

The memorial, opposite the camp from the railway gate.  The group in the center are Israeli students.  The government of Israel sends thousands of students every year to tour the death camps.  This practice is considered controversial by some.  The students are accompanied throughout their visit to Poland by Israeli security guards (I counted at least 4 with this group).

Israeli students at the memorial.

Inside one of the wooden barracks.  These were designed as stables for the German Army — to house 52 horses.  They held up to 400 prisoners.

Inside a wooden barrack.

Israeli students light candles in one of the brick barracks.

Visiting Auschwitz and Birkenau

Many people take an organized tour, but I’d recommend avoiding them.  You can do all the research you need online, and I don’t think Auschwitz and Birkenau are best absorbed when you are part of a herd.  Also, during the peak tourist months, you can only enter Auschwitz I between the hours of 10:00 am and 3:00 pm as part of an organized tour– due to the crush of visitors.  There are no such restrictions at Birkenau.

My recommendation is to take a bus from the Krakow bus terminal (right next door to the main Krakow train station).  Get a bus that will get you to the museum no later than 11:00 – 11:30.  Then take the free shuttle to Birkenau (Auschwitz II).  You likely find it very quiet.  Take your time and then take any of the shuttles back to Auschwitz that leave Birkenau after 2:45 pm.  You will have managed is to avoid the surge of tours that starts at Auschwitz, then goes to Birkenau, and then home.

Panoramic Photo of Birkenau

A 360-degree view taken midway between the railway gate and the memorial.  (Right click on photo and then select “View Image”.)

Sep 032012
Birkenau Panoramics

These are panoramics — each roughly 180- degrees — from Birkenau (Auschwitz II) and provide some sense of the expanse of this Death Camp.  They were taken from the midpoint of the path between the famous main gate and the memorial — at the spot where the first life-or-death sorting of news arrivals occurred.

After you select a photo, enlarge it on your screen so that it is fairly high (about 100%) and then pan right and left.

Sep 022012

So I step out of the hotel a little before noon and there is a crowd lining both sides of the ul. Florianska (the street which carries the “Royal Way” into the city and to the Market Square).  The event?  How about a dachshund parade?

Dachshund Parade down ul. Florianska.

On up to Wawel Hill, home of the Wawel Castle and the Wawel Cathedral.

Wawel Cathedral

Passage from Wawel Castle towards the Cathedral.

After Wawel Hill a walk along the Wisla, and a crossing over a pedestrian/cyclist bridge, Love Padlocks (or Love Locks) — and a newlywed couple.

Newlyweds and Love Padlocks on a pedestrian bridge over the Wisla.

The Pharmacy Under the Eagle (Apteka Pod Orłem).  Operated by Tadeusz Pankiewicz, a Roman Catholic, the pharmacy was started in 1910 by his father, and served both Gentiles and Jews in Krakow’s Podgórze district.  The district was turned into a Jewish Ghetto by the Germans in March 1941.  Pankiewicz remained on the premise despite the offer by the Germans to relocate him across the river.

Pharmacy Under the Eagle (Apteka Pod Orłem), taken from Plac Bohaterów Ghetta.

The pharmacy became a hub for a range of activities attempting to support, ease suffering, and to save Jews from transport to death camps.  In 1983 Pankiewicz was recognized as a “Righteous Among the Nations” for his works.

Walking back, I pass a long line…

A line for ice cream.

The clue is a little brown sign below a red sign on the left of this picture:  “LODY” (ice cream).  I have no idea what makes this shop so popular, but ice cream shops and small storefronts are a feature in Poland — at least in the larger cities.

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