Sunday, July 31, 2005


The Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum on the Washington National Mall is the most-visited museum in the world, attracting nearly 10 million visitors a year (including me more than once). It brings some of the most significant artifacts in flight and space history together in one place: the Wright 1903 Flyer, the Spirit of St. Louis, the X-1 Glamourous Glennis in which Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier, and the Apollo 11 command module Columbia. As you might expect, the museum has the world's largest collection of space artifacts.

But where is the world's second-largest space collection, including the Apollo 13 command module Odyssey? The answer is far from obvious, far from just about anywhere – the Kansas Cosmosphere in Hutchinson, Kansas, 50 miles northwest of Wichita.

Located next to the Hutchinson Junior College football stadium is a world-class space museum and the world's premiere facility for restoring historic spacecraft. When the second manned Project Mercury capsule, Gus Grissom's Liberty Bell 7, was recovered from the ocean floor in 1999 thirty-eight years after it sank, it went to the Cosmosphere for restoration. The capsule went on tour starting in 2001, and will go on permanent display in Hutchinson next year. There is a Glamourous Glennis reproduction on display which the Cosmosphere made for the movie, The Right Stuff. Right now they are working on restoring a couple of Project Gemini capsules.

The most significant big items currently on display are Odyssey, the Gemini X capsule, a flown Soviet Vostok, the wreckage of unmanned Mercury capsule MA-1, an SR-71 spy plane looming over the lobby, and a Redstone rocket out front. There's also an huge assortment of other items, ranging from Saturn I engines to astronaut toiletry kits. The museum displays are very well done and contain an incredible amount of information. My only complaint is there was no detailed program or brochure available. If you wanted to know about a display, you had to read about it there. There is a Quicktime guided tour on the web site, but I don't know how good it is because my company laptop won't run it. I'll have to run it when I get home in two weeks.

I was really interested in the display of cameras used by the astronauts. Most of the cameras were fairly standard models. There was a Hasselblad 500EL with a 60mm lens that would be fun to borrow for the weekend, but that's probably out of the question since it came back from the Moon on Apollo 14. 'Blads have detachable film magazines, so the Moon walkers brought the film magazines back but to save weight left the camera bodies on the Moon, all except the one on display at the Cosmosphere.

The Cosmosphere began as the Hutchinson Planetarium in the poultry building at the state fairgrounds in 1962. See this link for the story on how it evolved into a world-class space museum and restoration facility. I remember that I first heard about the Kansas Cosmosphere when Liberty Bell 7 was recovered. I came across the name again when looking for something to do over the weekend and wondered, "How far is that from KC?" Turns out it's 215 miles, so I drove over on Sunday morning. If you include all the shows at the IMAX theater, the Planetarium, and Dr. Goddard's Lab you could probably fill up the entire day, but I had to drive back the same day so I just toured the museum. It gets only about three percent of the number of visitors as the museum in DC, but if some quirk of fate steers you through central Kansas someday, the Cosmosphere is definitely worth a stop.

Apollo 13
Apollo 13 command module Odyssey

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Squaw Creek NWR

I could have sworn there was a lake at Squaw Creek NWR last time I was there. Now you have to take a second look to see the water below the vegetation. There's lot of water lilies, and lots of frogs. If you look closely at this image, below the flower on the left is a little frog.

Lilly and frog
Click for larger image.

I got some very distant shots of the eagles, not worth posting. But it's apparent the juvenile has fledged as it was perched in a tree a couple hundred yards from the nest. One of the parents was in a nearby tree, keeping watch.

I now see a bald eagle adult & fledgling at Squaw Creek NWR in Missouri. Lots of frogs, deer, raccoons, & of course many types of birds.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Fountains at Night

I've been intending to get out with a tripod and shoot some fountains at night. I finally did it last night, first getting a few shots of the tower at Liberty Memorial as the sun was setting, then continuing on down the hill to the fountain in front of Union Station.

Liberty Memorial at sunset.

The people in front of the fountain were waiting for a photographer to set up a shot. They and the water are blurry because it is about an eight-second exposure.

Union Station and fountain.

The usual disclaimer from this summer in KC applies: These were shot as JPGs. I may post some better ones after I can convert my RAW files and see what I have. See Western Missouri 2005 for more photos in and around Kansas City.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

View from the Tower

When I first started visiting Kansas City in 1986, Union Station was a municipal embarrassment and the Liberty Memorial wasn't far behind. Recently a lot of money was spent to bring these two significant properties up to date.

The Liberty Memorial is the nation’s official World War I monument, but when I first saw it, it seemed on the verge of becoming a neglected ruin. $30 million was spent on renovation from 2000-2002, and once again it’s an appropriate memorial to the cataclysm that has now almost entirely slipped into history. The two buildings flanking the tower contain some interesting museum exhibits, and work is proceeding on an expanded museum located beneath the monument, with opening scheduled for 2006.

The tower is 217 feet tall and has an observation deck, with an elevator that gets visitors most of the way to the top. Sunday I decided to check out the view. Closest to the memorial is Union Station, which was a decrepit hulk when I first saw it in 1986. It took $250 million to renovate it in 1997-99. Some of the money went into construction of the attached Science City and theaters, but a big chunk of cash was necessary just to restore the old building to a usable condition. They did a great job on the restoration and I highly recommend a visit. But it’s a white elephant, utterly impractical. Here’s an instructive comment from the Mayor’s Union Station Task Force Report released three months ago:

During the first five years of operation, a great deal of effort was expended to achieve sustainable success but, subsequent performance clearly demonstrated that income generating expectations of Science City, the theaters and other attractions had been overly optimistic. In retrospect, the advice of a number of early consultants was flawed. The concept that the anchor attractions–in this case, Science City and an IWERKS theater—could fund the operations of the entire Union Station complex was wrong. In fact, the recent comparative study of similar venues around the country argues that permanent museum venues do well to break even financially on a standalone basis.

Oh well. I wonder how long it will be before it is an eyesore again.

Union Station at left, Crown Center at right, downtown in the background.

Monday, July 18, 2005

What I Did This Summer.

My bird feeders were empty when I got home last Thursday because I hadn't been home for a month. Within a day of replenishing the sunflower and thistle seeds, visitors including a cardinal, a rose-breasted grosbeak pair, plenty of goldfinches, a clever chipmunk, and a large bluejay returned to the feeders. I haven't done a photo session through my back window this year, but the page Backyard Habitat has images from previous years.

I managed to get my Photoshop chores done and most of the Summer 2005 photos have been posted, including Western Missouri, Blue Angels, St. Louis, Colorado, and Milwaukee/Green Bay. I also thought the color was weird on this year's Braintree Hawks photos so I redid those. I still have another month to go in the Kansas City area so there may be some more photo ops that will end up on the Western Missouri page. Below is one of the photos from the St. Louis trip that was shot as Canon RAW and processed in Photoshop. I would rather shoot RAW unless there's a reason not to because there is more leeway for adjustments. If you don't like processing digital images, then shoot JPG and delete the bad ones. But when shooting an unpredictable subject such as wildlife, I would rather have a chance to save an image where the automatic white balance and exposure aren't quite perfect. This one didn't require much adjusting.

Humboldt Penguin, St. Louis Zoo

Gadget of the Day: Children are our future. They also can be annoyingly noisy. Such was the case with one little "darling" on the flight from Providence to Kansas City today. Fortunately I had my new Bose Quiet Comfort 2 Noise Cancelling Headphones. By themselves, the headphones will completely blot out such background noise as a home refrigerator or furnace, and will substantially reduce louder noise such as a jet engine. It's a weird experience the first time you put them on, like you have to pop your ears. But they need to be plugged into something like an MP3 player to cancel a five-year-old kid, or any sound other than background noise. Fortunately I had both the headphones and my Flashtrax in my carry-on. The Lizard King blotted out the relentless jabbering.

During the time when cell phones were still allowed prior to takeoff, I noticed that the headphones picked up some interference from them. (With the cell phones off, there was no interference. 2+2=4.) There are other brands of noise-cancelling headphones that are less expensive, but Bose seems to be the standard setter in this area and I went with my brother's experience with this model.

And in case anyone doesn't know, "The Lizard King" is another name for Jim Morrison of "The Doors."

Monday, July 11, 2005

KC by Bus

I had a rental car reserved for the weekend but cancelled it. I reasoned that Kansas City bus routes covered my two intended destinations, the zoo on Saturday and Kauffman Stadium on Sunday.

Unlike my visit to the St. Louis Zoo a few weeks ago, I didn't have another engagement or a rainstorm cutting into my time at the Kansas City Zoo. I covered most of it in about four hours. The featured exhibit of the summer is the white tiger on loan from the zoo in Omaha. The big cat cooperated by rising from a slumber and taking about a minute to reposition in a cooler spot, but I declined to take any photos due to the metal cage surrounding the animal. What's the point of shooting through obvious wiring or bars?

Two Saddle-Billed Storks from Africa were more interesting to me because of their colorful heads and more natural habitat. The birds' white saddle patch showed up as an overexposed white blotch on my JPG images. I also took some RAW images which should provide the opportunity to pull some detail out of the white.

For now the best photo I have from Saturday further demonstrates the macro capability of the Canon G6. It was taken at the zoo, but it's an ordinary Missouri bee on an ordinary Missouri flower.

KC Bee

At Sunday's baseball game, I got a cheap seat in the upper deck, and from there noticed Twins first baseman Jason Morneau drawing arcs with his toe after just about every pitch. Every three innings the grounds crew came out and wiped the slate clean, and he started over. This is one of those pointless things that gets noticed on a hot, lazy summer day. If Morneau's uniform looks sort of strange, the teams were wearing historical Negro Leagues uniforms of the 1909 St. Paul Gophers and 1948 Kansas City Monarchs. The 1909 uniforms were especially baggy.

Morneau drawing. Click for larger version

Grounds crew erases the slate. Click for larger version

The game was Royals DH Mike Sweeney taking on the Twins by himself, with the Twins pulling out a 3-2 victory in 12 innings. Sweeney had two solo home runs and barely missed a third, but his teammates provided no offensive assistance. The Twinkies scored the winning run when Torii Hunter sent a grounder and a broken bat barrel toward Royals third baseman Mark Teahan. Playing for a team 27 games out of first place, it's hard to criticize Teahan if a jagged piece of wood flying toward him interfered with his fielding.

There has been controversy lately over millions of dollars of deferred maintenance at Kauffman Stadium, but as a casual observer it wasn't obvious to me where the deficiencies are. Besides Dodger Stadium, I don't think there is another contender for best baseball stadium built between 1923 and 1989. Most of the rest of them have already been demolished, or should be. There were a lot of Twins fans in attendance, which I theorized is due to their desire to see their team playing in a real ballpark instead of a shopping mall.

Regarding the bus trips, I concluded that Kansas City is not one of those places where it would be possible to have a "normal" life without a car. The buses got me where I was going, eventually, but I would find it hard to live with the severe limitations. Taking the Royals Express to a baseball game from a downtown or Plaza hotel makes sense if the alternative is renting a car and paying $9 for parking, but "Express" is not an accurate title. The bus made at least a dozen turns to hit all the downtown stops before heading to the stadium, even cutting through a parking lot at one point.

Friday, July 08, 2005


The most exotic wildlife I saw in Colorado over the long Fourth of July weekend was a bunny at Rocky Mountain Arsenal NWR, but everywhere I went there were lots and lots of wildflowers. The Canon G6 was put to the test shooting the blooms, and I also tried it on a fireworks display one night. See previous blog entries for the butterflies and fireworks I posted over the weekend.

Because I'm away from my RAW converters and Photoshop for another few weeks, I shot mostly JPG files. One problem with this is I wasn't willing to use automatic white balance for shooting fireworks, so I puzzled for a while what setting to use. I eventually settled on the flash setting. (That's the flash white balance setting; the flash itself was turned off.) In retrospect, I wonder if I should have just selected daylight. With RAW I wouldn't have to make that decision until later. Anyway, shooting fireworks was good practice for another attempt next month.

Besides the bunny, I saw this vegetation at Rocky Mountain Arsenal.

Rocky Mountain Arsenal NWR

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Saturday, July 02, 2005


Arrived in Colorado yesterday for a weekend with family over the 4th of July. I snapped these images of a butterfly in my sister's back yard this morning.