Diving the Great Barrier Reef & learning about underwater photography: Cairns, Queensland, Australia

Earlier this week I am happy to say that I completed yet another one of my bucket list items; I went scuba diving/snorkeling at the Great Barrier Reef along the eastern coast of Australia…. before it died completely. That said, I’m VERY sorry to say that, at least for the bits I was able to see up close, were already pretty much bleached/dead, when compared to pictures I have seen over the years of the explosion of color it once was…. very sad. Global climate change, it’s a thing.

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My travel-buddy and I had went up to Cairns in northern Queensland, which is the town located closest to barrier reef, and stayed there for a week. Be warned! Once you get there you’ll be barraged with boat tour options because Cairns is about either diving the reef, or visiting the UNESCO world heritage area rainforests/wetlands that line this part of the Australian coast. We ultimately opted for a company a friend of ours had previously used and been very happy with, called Reef Experience, which advertises itself as the only one to offer “all-inclusive” tours… no “hidden fees”, etc.

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This would be one of the photos they sell to you, taken by their photographer

What this translates to (per my understanding, which may be flawed)… is that while there are other companies that may seem cheaper… in reality they all pretty much cost the same or in fact more, while delivering essentially the same offerings. The major difference is other companies might not include various taxes and fees and what not (cost of the swim gear?) in the advertised price, and you’ll find you have to choose to add them in addition, or not dive… and by the time you do, those other guys are actually more expensive (unless you own all your own scuba gear, etc).

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Our tour group, including me and my friend (can you spot me?). The company posted this to their Facebook page for us to download afterwards — a freebie photo

They do have an online website, but I, rather than make the reservation that way, dragged my ass into their offices (a short walk from our Airbnb) FIVE days in advance of our trip …  on the assumption that this would keep problems from developing … I paid for the two reservations, and they asked were there any food restrictions. I explained that my friend was a vegetarian who was allergic to mushrooms. So, all good, and was told what to bring with me, when we’d be picked up, etc… and went home.

TWO days later (on Sunday, when we were supposed to dive on Wednesday), and I might add AFTER it was already two late to cancel and get a refund!!!!! I get an email explaining that under Queensland law, not everyone is legally allowed to do scuba diving and that we had to both fill out a medical form and send them a list of all the medications that we were taking, dosage, and how often; They would then show the list to their dive doctor and he would say if we could dive; or he would say that we needed to go to a doctor to be certified in person as healthy enough to do scuba. WHY they could not have told me that when I was in the office, and given me the form then, I don’t know. …. AND this was no PDF that we could fill-in and then send back to them, or even a website to fill out, it was an image file (???!!!). Something you needed to print out and fax back. Now keep in mind, we’re tourists, and I’ve yet to find a really portable printer (and who the fuck brings those on a plane?) and the Airbnb we were renting didn’t have “business office” facilities … so we had to get REALLY creative to figure out how to fill this thing… my friend, who is a professional geek, luckily had an image editor on his laptop… I have no idea how other people might manage it

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Also, read the form REALLY carefully. [Have you EVER suffered from a cold? Our best guess was that was, what’s called in the legal profession, a gotcha question; i.e, IF anything bad happens that you might want to sue them over, odds are you answered “have you ever had the common cold” with “No” because you want to be allowed to go scuba diving, and they can then say “SEE they lied on the form! They can’t sue us!”

So… Early Monday morning, after finally figuring out how to fill this thing in, and before we left to do the tourist stuff we had come to Cairns to do — which was NOT filling out medical forms, we sent it to them. LATE Monday night — seriously I kept checking my emails for a response from them, it didn’t come till around 9pm…. we got an email saying that their doctor had OK’d me to dive, but my NOT my friend (who is WAY healthier than I am and not a month before had been scuba diving in the waters off of Bali). Do not pass go, do not collect $200…. He had be seen by an actual doctor to get OK’d to dive, and they suggested a 24 hour walk-in-clinic nearby. My friend (being too tired and grumpy to go that night) contacted them to make an actual appointment for the next morning, but was told he couldn’t get one, that he had to come in as a walk-in, and hope to be seen on a first come first seen basis starting 5pm. (We called the company, who started calling around to other clinics and NONE could see him.) So the next day, he went over at 4:30 …but the doctors on staff did NOT know of his medication, and could NOT ok him to dive! They told him he had to come back AGAIN the following morning at 6:00 AM, BEFORE our 7:30 am dive, when the doctor who actually knew his stuff would be there. So my friend did, and that doctor said it was no problem — the drug is a common one in the USA, but less commonly used in Australia — and thankfully my friend was able to go there and be back by 7am, in time for our 7:30 bus…. which came 10 minutes early…. and after all that rushing, we were dropped off and discovered we now had to stand and wait for the boat crew to be ready…. because they were not.

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Talk about hurry up and wait!!! But back to the issue of pricing…. Essentially most of the one-day tours at this price point, about $150 USD/person, all seemed to last for about the same length. You should expect need to arrive at your ship at about 7:30 am and return to port at 4:30 pm. (Like I said, ours included pickup from and drop-off at our hotel — and thankfully the Airbnb was actually IN a hotel or they would not have — as part of the price… on the up side, they did call us when they were about to arrive. I STRONGLY suggest you find what the nearest hotel to you is, and set that as your pick up location if your airbnb is NOT so situated)

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Finally the staff arrived to check us all in. We had to show either the print out of our ticket or an email confirming it. On their sheet I saw that they had my friend listed as vegetarian, but NOTHING about his mushroom allergy, so I reminded them…. they said “thank you” and wrote it down…..

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This guy was traveling solo

Then every group of visitors (friends, families, etc) had their photo taken… like the one I posted at the top of the blog…. this is a photo you’ll be expected to buy later…

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Before the boat got started they talked to us, and told us that motion sickness pills (both medicinal and ginger tablets) were available. The Medical ones were $3 AUD for two pills (one for BEFORE we got moving, the second to be taken after lunch), which I went straight over the purchased… and was SO glad I did. Even with, I had to focus on calm breathing and such during part of the rougher parts of the ride out. During the way out to the dive site they fed us breakfast, and lets just say some of the folk who had thought they didn’t need the pills had ‘spilled their cookies’. For my travel buddy…. they had a veggie burger, which he didn’t want because he wasn’t hungry… and for everyone else there were fried-egg and bacon sandwiches… I just had a fried egg which I patted down with paper towels, to remove the oil. While doing it I talked to the chef-female and asked her, “did they tell you my vegetarian friend is allergic to mushrooms?” and the answer was “NO they  had NOT.!”… Keep in mind I told them this TWICE…. AND she kind of freaked because the dish she was getting ready to make for his lunch, was FULL of mushrooms!!!! That’s a MAJOR screw up!!

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There’s a top deck for those wanting to tan and rest, note the resort deck out in the distance (it just stays out there pretty much 24/7)

SO, that said… Along the way no matter which cruise you take, they’ll feed you breakfast, lunch, and a snack on the return trip (ours were all you can eat, and there was enough for seconds) — which is either included or you’ll need to pay extra. Ours was included, with water, tea and coffee for free…. pop or beer cost extra.

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Taken using their underwater rental camera… notice the color difference between the shoe in or out of the water?

Once out there, you’ll be lent a blue “stinger suit’ to protect you from jelly fish stings, a pair of flippers, a snorkel and goggles. Our company also lent a wet suit to anyone who was a certified swimmer and didn’t have their own (again something that I think other companies might charge you for). They seemed to have all the gear at pretty much every size, so for instance my friend who wears a shoe size of 13 Australia /49 European & 15 US — huge feet, has trouble find socks and shoes, WAS able to borrow ones that fit… while my feet are at the other end of spectrum (unusually small for a white girl, although average for an Asian woman), and I was also able to find ones that fit snuggly.

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They even had prescription goggles that they were lending out for free. I have particularly horrible eyesight, and doubted they’d have mine… but they had one that was close enough to allow me to see, and even had one that was for folks who were even worse than me… although they weren’t bifocals so I could see far but not near….

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Me, with my borrowed prescription goggles — purchased pic

Once we got out to the reef and dropped anchor, everyone got one scuba dive with an instructor (if they weren’t already certified), where the staff helps you get into the gear, into the water, and then makes sure you can both breath properly using the tank and regulator, and are able to expel water from your goggles while under the water (because apparently the goggles have not yet been made where that won’t happen).

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The rental camera is red filtered for underwater use, and is kind of lousy above it

And then you get led around by the instructor for about 20 minutes after that, after the photographer has had a chance to take pics of you while under the water. A second optional scuba dive was available for $65 AUD more (clearly advertised as such in advance), and you could make up your mind to add it after you’ve done the first depending on how you felt about it.

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This platform (holding a mini motor boat for emergency pick ups) was lowered into the water, and we took off from it, see the 12 air tanks lined up?

The first dive was about half an 35 min and included instructions and making sure each diver UNDERSTOOD them and could demonstrate them (one on one testing), while the second scuba dive is 45 minutes with none of it wasted on instruction. IF you are a certified diver… you could spend the WHOLE time swimming alone, but if not you HAD to swim with a guide and HAD to go through the lesson, even if, like my travel buddy, it’s not your first time going scuba diving. In fact in my group of four swimmers,  I was the only virgin who had never done it before.

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The red filter is simplistic, and makes everything look green

So the pic above — see how it’s very green? — That was one I took with their underwater rental camera which cost me about $99 to rent (but included my choice of 15 of the professional photographer shots … not great, … The pics below are that are blue, are by their photographer…. the very big fish is like the crew’s pet. Apparently this type of fish has a 5 year memory and is a bit like a dog in terms of his level of affection for the divers who come by daily

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The professional photos were color adjusted using very expensive specialized software, I’m SURE of it, because I watched him doing it.

So again, compare the color palate of the pics by the professional (blue) with the one they rented me (green), which I used while scuba diving… i.e., going MUCH deeper into the water than I would experience while snorkeling… much higher water pressure.

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The above were also passed through some basic color balancing attempts by me, using my Macbook’s photo program not complex algorithms for divers

Dealing with this pressure, and the fact that the goggles flood regularly is a big part of what they taught us before we went down. I felt ok for most of it; there were some initial problems my regulator which for some reason was set so tightly that I was having to REALLY force the air out while breathing, I could just breath out.

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Multiple boats all sharing reef adjacent areas, and little platforms set up about midway between

I hand signaled the instructor as we’d been instructed… we went to the surface and I told him about it and he made some sort of adjustment to the thing…  and from then on it was fine. Also between the fat on my ass and my tits, there was too much buoyancy between me and the suit (which also has built-in air pockets) so that I wasn’t able to submerge like everybody else … again I asked to go up… explained it to him… he made some more adjustments and then I was fine.

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A purchased pic of the diving staff, the blond guy front and center led my group of 4+him

After we finished the dive the instructor (blond guy wearing glasses above) told me that I had actually done unusually well and should feel proud of myself. He said that MOST virgins on the first dive freak out during the instruction section, because of problems breathing, or feeling like they were being water boarded, or whatever…. and MOST never actually manage to get past the initial instruction phase to do the scuba dive itself. I on the other hand had managed to do the whole thing, including pretty much the whole time allocated to the dive.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_213c.jpgBut at the very end of it my core muscles in my torso, and the muscles in my legs were just knackered. At that point, my friend, who is a strong swimmer, signed up not for the 2nd scuba dive (which he had intended to do) but rather for a snorkel dive with the ships marine biologist (I forget what the fee for that was, but it was less than the snorkel dive), which you could only sign up for if you were a strong swimmer. Since I was tired, he ‘informed’ me that he was borrowing my rental camera. 

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Me, showing off my iPhone in it’s waterproof plastic case, $28 AUD/~$20 USD ($13 on amazon)

Before going on the trip I had found a camera store just near our Airbnb rental. The girl working there had convinced me that the rental underwater camera’s offered by these trips weren’t actually all that good, and intended more for video than photos. That a better option, was to use my own iPhone inside one of these clear, heavy plastic zip-lock bags designed for smart phones. She said that’s what she uses and has used for a few years, and if you’re NOT going to invest in a top of the line camera it’s really the best choice. Supposedly I COULD have used it for scuba diving but to be honest, I didn’t trust it to keep my iPhone dry more than a few feet down …. but I figured snorkeling it could manage…. and in addition to the scuba outing, which you HAD to do with a crew member unless you had certification to scuba solo (which takes a full three days minimum to complete in Australia) there were two chances to go snorkeling independently (about four hours total) — although you had to stay within a certain distance of the boat/life guards while doing it ….

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Googles maps

An image of an underwater reef taken from above the water, they’re easy to spot, and at points they come up so high that boats can’t pass over them… so snorkeling really is a viable option… at the right locations you don’t HAVE to go very deep to seem them. Our boat while it ultimately docked at two different locations, so we got to see some variation of the reef while limiting our snorkeling to within the ken of the lifeguards. Although, that said…. BOTH locations were on/at the bit of the barrier called the Norman reef — if you look at a map of the barrier reef, it looks like a line of underwater islands.

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As the medical thing we had to go through earlier demonstrated, not everyone can scuba dive safely because of medical reasons— for instance people taking certain prescriptions aren’t allowed,  and not everyone feels comfortable scuba diving (even among those who want to, they freak out when first trying it as it can be claustrophobic and a bit like being water boarded). As such, even though scuba is included in the price, you can choose to just do snorkeling the whole time, if you’d rather

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These were the photos I took during our first chance at snorkeling, before we did our scuba session, when I was still using their rented underwater go-pro type camera (i.e., everything is very green)

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Photos from the rented camera, even after I futzed with the color balance on my computer, still not very good (but better)

… First thing I noticed when doing snorkeling was that MUCH bigger fish than I saw by the reefs seemed to like to hang out JUST under the boat. I think it has something to do with what was in the blue plastic bin they had hanging below the boat… it had these things that looked like transponders in it which I guess sent out sound-waves that attracts the fish to the boat… but that’s just an educated guess (after they pulled up the crate, no more big fish were hanging out down there). Anyway, once again… here was the photo I took of the photographer using the expensive to rent underwater rental camera … very very green

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And by comparison, THIS is the image of the same guy only this time I was using my iPhone inside the plastic bag. See how BLUE everything is? And sort of monotone everything is?

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Taken with my iPhone … really

DwdX1JAQSv+xgt9Rj8NcXg_thumb_c24e.jpgAfterwards, at the end of the trip while we were heading back to port, one of the staff members saw me flipping through images, and suggested try a free app for the smart phone, that she loves, which would automatically color correct my photos for me (it also allows you to modify that correction, less or more, etc) called Dive+ … which I did… and here’s what it looks like (before and after)

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So it’s a sort of judgement call as to whether to use it or not to apply the correction… but I was actually REALLY happy with some of the photos I ultimately got with the iPhone/Dive+ combo

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Love this one, it’s very other worldly

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I keep wondering how far down the professional dive photographer had to go to find this shot (below) … because it was NOT up near the surface where we were snorkeling (images above), that’s for sure

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Purchased image from our dive, also visible on their Facebook page

That said, its pretty clear from my images that the barrier reef, at least up at the top where a snorkelers could see it is already like 90% bleached out in these areas… which is very very sad.

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bottom right is scuba and deep divers (folks who are experienced enough to hold their breaths and go deep)

OR of course, if you don’t TRUST the plastic pack to keep your smartphone dry, you could always still rent from one of those underwater cameras from the tour company … which I opted for — at the last-minute — as the thought of a water-logged smartphone popped into my brain before the scuba dive. I admit I did this AFTER a lecture by the photographer about how much better my photos would be if I had the right equipment…

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purchased pic of me and my friend … I’m holding the rented phone (at the end of the yellow thing… which will make it float/bob in the water if you loose it) in my left hand

Actually I think that it was because  I decided to rent their go-pro-type underwater camera (the yellow thing in my left hand in the picture below) along with a package of 15 of the digital photos the professional photographer took……that they decided to put the above photo on their Facebook page… I’m GUESSING it was because … as far as I know, I was one of only TWO people who had opted to rent one of those underwater camera things, and as the camera is front and center in this photo, above, the photo helps to promote other people renting it

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The Hubble Space Telescope Replica in Marshfield Missouri, his home town

As you’re passing through small town of Marshfield Missouri on Route 66 (population 5,720, so slightly larger than my high school) if you pay attention you’ll realize that within the boundaries of the town the route bears the name of Hubble Drive; this is in honor of the town’s favorite son, the historically important American Astronomer Edwin Hubble (1889-1953)

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Hubble is highly respected in the scientific community as one of the most important astronomers of ALL time. He played a CRUCIAL role in establishing the scientific fields of extragalactic astronomy (studying objects OUTSIDE the Milky Way) and observational cosmology (the study of structure and evolution of the universe, not through theory, but through things we can actually see).

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And, if you choose to divert just a little bit off 66 to enter the center of town, you’ll find a 1/4 scale replica of the Space Telescope named in his honor (which makes complete sense once you realize who he was and what he did) sitting alongside the town hall.

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In addition his efforts are lauded in murals I spotted around town

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And YET … Webster Country, where Marshfield is located is a deeply Republican area and voted 76.9% in favor of Trump… And Marshfield is 97.8% lily white…. So what do you want to bet that the old guy is turning over in his grave because most of his hometown’s residents believe science is a bad thing?

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The Meadow Gold Sign in Tulsa, Oklahoma, a study in how iconic historic, but mildly ‘silly’ stuff is preserved for posterity

If you drive down Route 66 in downtown Tulsa Oklahoma you can’t but see the Meadow Gold Sign. All of the “what to see” sources had talked about this sign as an iconic Route 66, and when I first saw it I had assumed (never assume) that they had destroyed the original building but they kept the sign — and thought that there was something glorious about that… but I was wrong. While the sign had always been on historic Route 66, its original location had been at about a mile East (but still on the route) at the corner of 11th Street and Lewis Avenue.

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The sign is in fact a set of two signs that once stood back to back (note the back of the 2nd in the picture above), but is now set at a sort of V alignment. This was done to serve its new purpose, as historical art, that has been made easily visible to traffic moving in either direction on route 66.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_aee9.jpgOriginally installed in the 1930’s, on top of a small one story building, the sign’s lights started going dark in the 1970’s. Once the building where it had sat was destroyed (now an “Advanced Auto Parts” store) this iconic to the city neon-sign was saved from the wrecking ball, and began to be restored in 2004 (to the tune of $337K), and moved to this new location on Route 66, which was donated to the city for this purpose. What it stands upon is more of a shelter from the elements, than a building, and has a collection of brass plates explaining bits of the history of the sign.

UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_aeea.jpgThe restoration and moving of the sign was a project that involved many hands. Initially the Tulsa Foundation for Architecture (TFA) had received a small grant of $15K from the National Park Service‘s (NPS), Route 66 Corridor group to restore the neon sign. This was done through their “National Center for the preservation of Technology” group, among whose stated goals is the preservation of the neon signs along Route 66. This is being undertaken in recognition that neon signs are not JUST advertising, they are a form of functional-art; and that together, these signs help to evoke earlier times along Route 66, but that are just like our historic buildings are currently under threat by neglect or demolition and can only be saved from the shortsightedness of the market place by government intervention. Maintaining these past technological structures is important not only historically, but also because it supports local economies through tourism.

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Once the initial seed funding ($15K) had been secured by the TFA from the NPS, this “primed the pump” so to speak, making it easier to raise matching funds from other sources — to the tune of  $322,273, the actual cost of restoration. Among these were the privately funded National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Oklahoma Route 66 Association. And then more funds were collected from the public at large via the City’s Vision 2025 initiative; this was a new one cent tax increase that would be maintained for 13 years whose proceeds were earmarked towards economic development and capital improvement projects, such as saving the Meadow Gold sign — but that had to be agreed to by the voters of Tulsa County.

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This tax was ultimately instituted, in part as a result of multiple newspaper articles about how the sign was in danger of being destroyed, and that funding was desperately being at first being sought, and this new tax was needed to that end.

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Mural on a wall directly facing the sign’s location, I’m assuming this was in regard to raising the money needed (over $300) to save an Iconic Route 66 sign

Meadow Gold had been a dairy brand that belonged to the Beatrice Foods Company, founded in 1894 initially as the Beatrice Creamery Company, and then incorporated in 1905 as the Beatrice Creamery Company of Iowa. During that time they had begun the Meadow Gold dairy brand — which by World War II was a household name in much of America, and had branched out into the development of other dairy products … so that in 1946 the company changed its name yet again to simply the Beatrice Foods Co., as visible on the sign.

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That said, the in the 1980’s the Beatrice fell on hard times mostly of their own construction. They lost a major lawsuit against them for toxic dumping (which resulted in an award-winning book and a film called A Civil Action),  and they operated in South Africa during apartheid and hence suffered from some boycotting. As the company had taken on many other non-food business over the years, in 1984 they changed their name from Beatrice Foods Co. to Beatrice Companies, Inc., and then sold off their Meadow Gold Brand, along which was now part of their Beatrice Dairy Products, Inc., subsidiary, along with a couple of other brands, to Borden, Inc. in December 1986 for $315,000,000. Borden then went defunct in 2001, so that the Meadow Gold brand (which is still an American household name) is now owned by Dean Foods.

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Interestingly, I did not find a SINGLE source talking about how the Meadow Gold brand or Dean foods chipped in to help save the sign advertising THEIR product. BUT, I could of course be wrong, and maybe they did so anonymously — which from a political standpoint would make sense.

Afton Station’s classic Packards, Afton, OK

Located directly on Route 66, The Afton Station Packard Museum, is yet another historic Gas station and mechanics shop that has been repurposed into a museum. This one is dedicated to the Packard and other classic cars — but I can’t tell you much as it was closed-up by the time I got there (4:30 ish on Sunday).

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That said, the town it is in is DEAD… to the point of scary; I’d say a good 80% of the businesses on this street are closed up and the few people that I saw (were more stumbling than) walking around all looked suspiciously like meth users.

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So between that and the weather, I was pretty motivated to not stay here too long. I did however peer through the windows, and from the look of it,

IMG_1127.JPGA very large gift shop that once again is mostly filled with EXACTLY the same merchandise I’ve seen elsewhere. IMG_1126.JPGAnd a collection that consists of seven cars shoved into the garage, with very little to no explanations. IMG_1129IMG_1128

The technically named, Midpoint Cafe in Adrian, Texas

The Midpoint Cafe stands one what is supposed to be exactly on the midpoint of route 66,  so that it is located 1139 miles from the route’s original endpoints in LA and Chicago (initially I was wondering WHICH endpoints on which date… since we already know that on the LA end it’s been moved a few blocks, but Wikipedia says the endpoint when it was first constructed in 1928).

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The cafe has had many owners and names over the years, but according to Wikipedia, once the bi-passed towns began to organize themselves to try to put Route 66 back on the map…

“The president and founder of the U.S. Route 66 Association called me one day. He said, ‘Kid, you better do something because you are at the midway point of Route 66. You need to change that name.’”— Fran Houser, former owner of the Adrian Café

That said, I was DEEPLY impressed with the efforts they’ve made to drive home that point.
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directly across the street from the cafe I was able to take this photograph, ALL BY MYSELF… no one there to help me… how you ask?

THIS is how

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What you’e looking at is essentially a camera stand placed so as to give you the perfect framing for you photographs. You put your camera here, set the timer and run over to the sign and wallah, a perfect photo. (Of course I didn’t run, I used the count down mechanism I can trigger on my apple watch)

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Same stand photographed from the other side so you can see the bright white line proving the point yet again, that the restaurant sits at the midpoint

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In fact all its missing is a line down the middle of the floor

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unimpressive gift shop, but I was tempted….

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I didn’t eat here, so I can’t give a food review… while it all looked very tasty, there was nothing on the menu that was even remotely healthy. It consisted of things like grilled baloney sandwiches and pie… what I would describe as comfort foods for people who grew up in 50’s.

Route 66 near Navajo Army Depot is red not black; Bellemont, AZ

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Just west of the Navajo Army Depot in Bellemont, Arizona, where Route 66 officially rejoins I-40, there is an old neglected piece of Road 66 that you can’t really transverse because it no longer all connects (and has been renamed Bellemont Camp Road).

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This is what one of them looks like, it is mostly unused because it dead ends, and is no longer kept up by the government. But because of that we get to see the OLD pavement, and for some reason it’s RED instead of black …

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I had noticed this particular feature of the “OLD 66” before in Oro Grande⁩, ⁨California, this time on a road that had been kept up,  so I couldn’t really get a good look at it. What it looked like was a red road had black top placed over it… but the red was a bit wider so it sort of leaked out the sides

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Personally I’d love to know why

 

 

The gas station of the future, a Tesla super charging station in Kettleman City California

At some point in the future places like this will replace gas stations along major roads. Here, rather than pouring gas into your car, you hang out and wait for your car’s battery to recharge. While I’ve seen individual electric vehicle charging parking spots, and even some sponsored by Tesla…  This was the very first time I saw a Tesla super station.

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I counted, this location is capable of charging 40 cars simultaneously, and also has two spots dedicated to handicap vans… plus a few window washing things scattered around, should you need to do that.

The “station” also has a waiting area that I couldn’t get inside of because I’m not a Tesla owner (I asked saying I just wanted to take pictures, but they said no), but I could see (through the windows) and they had come complete with a coffee shop, with a staff member working the cappuccino machine, as well as what seemed to be free bottles of water and/or various other drinks plus some snacks, all of which are available to Tesla owners as they wait for their cars to charge

Computer History Museum: Mountain View, CA

Located in the heart of Silicon Valley, the Computer History Museum in Mountain View California, is a relatively new museum that’s still finding its legs. It is a work of love the houses donations not only from corporations, but from the individual movers and shakers of the bay area (the guys who actually invented the stuff you use today) who donated items from their garages and attics — as in some of them are friends of mine and I remember when this place first opened up.

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One of my favorite people on the planet, I guy who I’ve known for over 20+ years (I knew him when was still an un-tenured professor in Chicago — we used to be dance partners at a country western bar in Chicago — he’s had four books on the New York Times best seller’s list since then), who I wanted to catch up with while I was in town (he’s become impossibly hard to contact since his success) suggested that we meet for lunch at a South American place called Voya located in Mountain View — we had ceviche which was ok, and a few other fish things… didn’t think it was anything to write home about and I was paying more attention to being with my friend than the food… so no review

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(I got his Uber driver to take this photo of us before he took off — I think our last photo together was at his wedding) … ANYWAY… AS I got there a bit early … while waiting for him to arrive, I was walking around…

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you know you’re in the Bay area when….

when I realized that the computer museum …. (one of the jewels of the bay area) was directly across the street …. A place I have not been to in about 16 years… So after he went back to work I went in for a visit.

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By the time I had shopped the gift store, gone to the bathroom, took my purchases back to the car (in part out of fear that my windows had been smashed — see below), yadda yadda, yadda….

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It was already was already 3:30 in the afternoon and instead of having to pay $17.50 to get in (YEESH, that’s EXPENSIVE) I only had to pay $10. You’ll notice this is NOT advertised on their sign. In fact I was utterly clueless to it and just got lucky … the guy who was working the front desk… who had seen me earlier while I was scoping out the gift store

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Whole sections of the store are devoted to women in the sciences stuff, or stuff geek girls might want…  so I got very buy-happy/excited
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Why yes I did get the bumper sticker, why do you ask?
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And of course I got the geek girl jewelry (am now the proud owner of the hoop earrings with fuses hanging in them –these are the sort that are hidden in cars and appliances), and a few other pieces made from computer parts
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That said, NOT ONE of the t-shirts for sale had a V-neck or scoop neck collar, so I didn’t get any of them (which made me very sad)

… HE assumed I had timed it intentionally, calling me a “smart woman” for doing it; but I swear, it was just dumb luck.

That said, there are two sections to the museum, the first one is to the left of the check in counter where you buy your tickets. The other is off to the right, between the counter and the gift shop. The first section, left of the counter, is mostly devoted to temporary exhibits (more than one) while the other is the permanent collection.

At the time I went one of the temporary ones was devoted to a brilliant woman who was not really awarded her just deserts in her lifetime due entirely to her gender… Ada Lovelace

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Lovelace is considered by some to be the first person to fully recognize that the computing machine had applications beyond simply doing calculations, wrote a paper that included an algorithm on this topic, and is as such considered (by those who support her) as having been the first computer programmer (software engineer, versus hardware engineer… and “never the twain shall meet” (for those who don’t know, engineers tend to be one or the other, only VERY rarely are they both).

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The other ‘temporary’ exhibit seemed to be more of a rotating one devoted to any and all of “newest” computer driven technology trends (well, the ones that are public anyway), everything from computer graphics, to texting, to medical technologies (like MRIs) to…

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…the currently oh so sexy topic of fully automated cars. These would be the next step forward after my Subaru which has saved my life more than few times already by spotting potential accidents that I fully admit that I utterly would have missed (or not as the case might be) but for its warning me of them. My car, however, I still have to drive, in the future… a technology which is already visible (in its testing phases), at least on the streets of the Bay area…. is completely self driven cars.

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Pics I took of the testing of “self driven cars” on Bay area streets

This exhibit talked about the not to distant future (hopefully) where they’ve managed to test all the bugs out and fully self driven cars are ready for prime time (a future that I for one look forward to, as I’ve never been one to drive for the fun of it).

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This included side topics of how they are able to now utilize the computer graphics from the previous room create virtual car crashes. Virtual testing allows manufacturers a much cheaper way to test every conceivable sort of normally inconceivable crash, rather than actually smashing up a car. As some of you know, they used to only test two or three different sorts of common crashes; virtual testing allows them to reenact the uncommon ones, as well as test what might happen in those relatively unlikely cases with the newer cars, not yet on the roads.

IMG_0312Additionally, as self driving cars rely a great deal on computerized maps, they also had a small exhibit showing just how advanced this has become… presented by Google Maps

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And there was also segment devoted to Wikipedia (which anyone reading my blog knows I’m a big fan of)

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Indirectly the Museum was exhibiting something it never talked about directly, but which I’ve NEVER seen before and hence was VERY aware of… i.e., a new technology for use in museum presentations

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Now that said, One of the things that impressed me was an innovative sound management system that I’ve not seen anywhere else.

If you look carefully at the picture below you’ll see a woman watching a video in the middle of wide open space… this is pretty unusual although you might not realize it… normally movies are presented in cordoned off areas where the acoustics can be easily controlled. What’s even more unusual is from where she’s sitting the sound is completely clear and distinct, almost to the extent that it was like wearing headphones … or as though it were the only sound in the room, like in a movie theater. YET, from where I took the picture, you can only barely hear what she’s listening to at all.

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How you ask? Well… look above her head and you’ll see there is small white square hanging from the ceiling… That’s where the sound came from… Now, logic dictates that it’s some sort of directed speaker that produces very directed sound waves. As in, she can hear it loudly and distinctly without it annoying someone a few feet away (where I was standing). From there, it merges into a sort of white noise created by the various soundtracks all running simultaneously but without the effect of cacophony of sound, like you get in other museums.

You can’t see it, but right behind me was a different video, with the same set up, with its own sound track, that in no way interfered with the experience the woman in the above picture was having. Now let’s face it, I go to a LOT of museums and I’ve never seen this technology in use before. I have no idea how much it costs but I hope to see it a lot more regularly from now on. It rocked…

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Returning to the museums itself: On this same side of the museum there they also have regular demonstrations of the OLD IBM mainframe computer systems that used to process things like company payrolls, first introduced back in 1959, which had been given the catchy name of the IBM CMH-1401

IMG_0305The demos are given every few hours by actual retired former IBM employees, whose jobs had been to keep the 1401 running in its heyday (read the signs below)IMG_0306

Interestingly, they do so to large throngs of very interested young programmers… keep in mind this was about 3:30 on a Wednesday, not one child or family unit in the room.

IMG_5202These all looked to be young programmers (most were between 23 and 35), new to the bay area (possibly)… and you could tell the older retired engineers were really happy to be so appreciated by the younger generation of engineersIMG_0304At the end of the demonstration you could create a punch card with your name… which I did, and receive a custom printed … on a HISTORIC printer … that says you visited the place (as you can see I was there on September 5th, 2018).

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After this I went to check out the permanent exhibit: This is in fact my 2nd time coming to this museum. The first time was about 16 YEARS ago in 2002 (the year I finally completed my dissertation) while I was still living in the bay area and was invited to the grand opening event for this ‘new’ building for the collection… by friends who had donated various contents from their garage to be shown in here … in fact I knew more than few people at that event who were all there for the same reason (donating objects to the collection). I have to say that at that time the museum was HIGHLY UN-impressive… Since then, major upgrades have occurred and it’s clear they have hired a fairly decent curator to organize the thing, and while it’s still imperfect, it is now quite IMPRESSIVE, although imperfect.

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It starts out logically enough with “ancient” tools for making calculations (as in ones my dad was using 50 years ago), like slide rules, abacuses and maritime tools… and then moves on to things like

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Calculating tools that helped during World War II, back when women who typed in the all the data were called calculators, to innovations of the 1950’s

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there’s discussion of stops and starts and lateral moves as various technologies came up and then quickly died as someone else came up with a more elegant solution

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And there’s discussion of the problems women had entering the male dominated field… to techs that I remember using when I was in grad school (20 years ago)

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I particularly got a kick out of the video game section which talked about these on-line Unix based games like rogue and dungeon crawls where if you got far enough in the game you were allowed to contribute a dungeon section that you had coded yourself to the larger game… but it meant you had to learn the language C++ in order to do it… which drove a lot of players to learn to code.

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… and there were also the more passive games, where you just a customer, like Pac-Man (which my brother excelled at) and pong. IMG_0299IMG_0327

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One of the things that I did NOT like was just how easy it is to get turned around and lost in the maze of exhibits.

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Look at the map above, even there it’s like, “HUH” … unlike most museums there’s no clear path, it’s like a bit like a  giant fun house maze

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… to the extent that there they have had to place massive markers on the floor to direct you around … markers that if the museum were well laid out shouldn’t exist. That said, I can SORT of see a justification for messy layout, in that innovation and the connections between technologies isn’t a straight forward thing. Innovation goes backwards and side-ways and every which way… but a museum really shouldn’t do that.

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I mean look at the above space, really look at them, and tell me if can figure where you’re supposed to go next in terms of the layout of the exhibit. There seems to be little rhyme or reason to it… and seriously, I got kind of lost in it. I almost never get lost.

The future is ALMOST now…or what’s normal in the SanFran Bay area is freaky everywhere else

You know you’re in Silicon Valley when… Didn’t happen to run into any of these in while attending my friend’s 50th wedding anniversary in the North Bay (i.e., north of SF) but as SOON as I got south of San Francisco …. BOOM… these suckers seemed to be everywhere ….  Google’s beta test versions of self-driving cars (i.e., the car drives itself) … there are testers seated in every vehicle who are there to make sure it doesn’t do anything stupid or kill anyone, but for the most part these cars are driving themselves.

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They’re easy to spot because of the radar type things on their roofs.

Welcome to the future!!!

That said, I wasn’t there but a day when I noticed one of the “hiccups” in the system of these new cars… as of today, they drive like your 80-year-old grand mother… in particular the one in the upper right hand picture was in the left turn lane and took for bloody fucking ever to make up its mind that it was in fact safe to make the left turn.

I’ve seen this happen more than a few times now, and then I heard a TV commentator talking about how drivers in the south bay are starting to get pissed off at the Waymo’s blocking traffic in left turn lanes.

The pics I took while NOT driving, were taken on a quiet suburban street in Sunnyvale, not far from Google headquarters…  outside the home of my friend where I was staying for about a week or so… Every day, almost like clockwork…  this Waymo showed up, would pull to the side of the road, stand there for a bit, then go on its way. One day I ran out (grabbed the pics) and got the girl inside to roll down the window. I asked her WHY were they doing that. She said, “I have no idea, the car does what it wants to do, I just sit here and take notes.”

A few days later I went to the Computer History Museum in Mountain View California and saw this display on the topic, about the not to distant future (hopefully) where they’ve managed to test all the bugs out and fully self driven cars are ready for prime time (a future that I for one look forward to, as I’ve never been one to drive for the fun of it).

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A new (to me) sound technology I’ve never seen in a museum before.

Spotted this innovative sound management system that I’ve not seen anywhere else at The Computer History Museum in Mountain View California. I talk about it as part of a blog post about that museum, but I think it’s worth its own mention (and not buried in something much longer).

If you look carefully at the picture below you’ll see a woman watching a video in the middle of wide open space… this is pretty unusual although you might not realize it… normally movies are presented in cordoned off areas where the acoustics can be easily controlled. What’s even more unusual is from where she’s sitting the sound is completely clear and distinct, almost to the extent that it was like wearing headphones … or as though it were the only sound in the room, like in a movie theater. YET, from where I took the picture, you can only barely hear what she’s listening to at all.

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How you ask? Well… look above her head and you’ll see there is small white square hanging from the ceiling… That’s where the sound came from… Now, logic dictates that it’s some sort of directed speaker that produces very directed sound waves. As in, she can hear it loudly and distinctly without it annoying someone a few feet away (where I was standing). From there, it merges into a sort of white noise created by the various soundtracks all running simultaneously but without the effect of cacophony of sound, like you get in other museums.

You can’t see it, but right behind me was a different video, with the same set up, with its own sound track, that in no way interfered with the experience the woman in the above picture was having. Now let’s face it, I go to a LOT of museums and I’ve never seen this technology in use before. I have no idea how much it costs but I hope to see it a lot more regularly from now on. It rocked…