Industrial Hot Air Ballooning

Things have changed since I attended the BFA (Balloon Federation of America) competitions in Indianola (Iowa) almost forty years ago. It used to be that hot air balloon rides were done in a basket that could hold five or six people at best. A basket for competition might hold just one or two. The one I was in last Sunday (20 September 2015) could easily accommodate twenty-four or more. There were twenty in our party plus the pilot.

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The basket on this balloon was about twenty feet long and a tad over five feet wide. It is the next to the largest made by Kubicek Balloons of the Czech Republic and the balloon is currently the largest one flying in the US. The purchase from Kubicek was prompted by the current favorable exchange rate. Four burners were about right for the size of the envelope. It required four gas powered fans to do the inflation of the envelope.

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I don’t know how much air was displaced by the envelope but it was big. The photo above doesn’t really provide any sense of scale. Kubicek recommends an envelope of about fifteen-thousand cubic meters in temperate zones at low altitudes for a basket this size.

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Here we have the mandatory flames-into-envelope photo as we were lifting off the ground.

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We got an overhead view of activity at the Deer Valley Airport during most of the ride.

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The Central Arizona Project Canal was the big landmark on our flight.

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Checking out the Deer Valley neighborhoods was interesting but I would like my next hot air balloon flight to be somewhere more picturesque. I also prefer the smaller balloons. It’s the same sort of thing that makes a flight in a Cessna 172 seem more of an adventure than one in an Airbus A320.

Not to worry. Time spent in the air like this is time well spent.

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Hot air balloons are also great subject matter for photography. It’s hard to make a bad photo around a launch site.  They don’t pose but they don’t move around real fast either.


“We shape our tools and then they ape us.”

The quote is from Father John Culkin, SJ, a Professor of Communication at Fordham University with modification from his friend Marshall McLuhan. Embodied in the sentence is the (extremely) condensed version of what Thomas Kuhn wrote in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. How we choose to look at something will determine what we will see. Our tools create for us our imaginative view of the world. Our mental constructs will let us work with a world that is manageable instead of an endless source of unrelated sensory experience. (A world that is “sensible.”)

The quote holds true at the practical level as Eric Kim tells us in a blog article on what he learned about street photography from Joel Meyerowitz; Eric Kim’s blog piece on Joel Meyerowitz.  It seems that Meyerowitz spent some time with an 8 by 10 view camera. Rather than changing the way one does the same photography the end result is that the radically different tools change the way one views the world. (Meyerowitz is best known for his street photographs using a hand-held Leica.) And so it goes for whatever way we wish to conceptualize the world around us, whether the concepts are religious, political, or foundational doctrine from a particular area of scientific inquiry.

image from

image from

Eric Kim’s blog explains this point very well and you can get through it in a lot less time than Thomas Kuhn’s book and with a lesser requirement for grounding in the physical sciences and mathematics.

Kurt Friedrich Gödel let us know (by extension) that our world view cannot be both consistent and complete.  It is important, then, to understand what tools and concepts we are using when we try to make sense of the world.

I suggest taking the time to read the Eric Kim blog. It is about more than just street photography. It’s a good philosophical tract done under the title of 12 Lessons Joel Meyerowitz Has Taught Me About Street Photography.


Drones and maybe 4K

Loh Siu Yin of Beyond Broadcast summed up this year’s NAB offerings as, “Drones and maybe 4K.”  Drones are big. Helicopter style drones replace cranes and piloted helicopters for collecting footage with Hollywood impact at an Indie budget. The current set of video cameras that can do 4K are a boon to the creators of cinema. Delivering a 4K product to the viewer at home opens up an entirely new set of problems, technical, legal, and economic.

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Drones are fun and entertaining and they don’t have to fly to collect useful images. More than one major manufacturer has cameras capable of cinema quality and small enough for the payload capacity of a small helicopter drone. They might also be something that rolls around on the ground.

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Blackmagic Design displayed one of the smallest cinema cameras atop a ground based drone.

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Canon displayed the C300 Mark II and had a clever, short feature film, Trick Shot, that displayed many of its capabilities. I had such a good time in the Canon Theater at this year’s NAB that I might try to speed through everyone else’s displays next year so as to spend more time there and also at Canon’s live presentations. The film Trick Shot also made use of the Canon XC10 camcorder. The XC10 is a few stops short of the amazing 15 stops of dynamic range of the C300 Mark II but it is tiny enough to handle images impossible with other cameras. It was used for the pool cue POV shots in Trick Shot. The XC10 will be available by mid-summer. The C300 Mark II cab be expected in September.

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I became a big fan of Canon at this year’s NAB though I expect I’ll still be carrying a Fujifilm X10 for still photos in the foreseeable future. The films at the Canon Theater were entertaining and informative and the live presentations were the source of great insight into their creation.

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Canon Professional Services (CPS) members could bring their gear to the show for  a free checkup or for needed repairs.

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Newtek must have used a different team of writers for their product demonstrations this year. The super heroes were absent and the presenters were dressed in street clothes. The feature set of the TriCaster and its variations was still very impressive.

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The sets for camera demos are always entertaining. Above is what was set up for the AJA CION production camera.

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What if you don’t want to hire professional models for your display? M/A Com managed to get through the show with these animated fellows who did not even take a lunch break during the four days of exhibits.

It’s hard to say whether we will scrap 8VSB in order to allow terrestrial broadcasters to move to the next level of definition and dynamic range for television viewing. The equipment now available on the production side certainly pushes the  envelope for cinema makers. The marketplace is where the delivery system will be picked. Maybe the decision will be closer at the time of NAB 2016.

No pictures for this but the NAB radio avant garde continues to be based in Halifax. The support provided by Nautel and the continuing development of their product never ceases. They have set the standard for radio transmitters. The next year will tell the tale on what they can manage with television.

“You can never prepare for a surprise.” – – – Mason Williams

NAB is over for another year and the deluge of email about new products should be slowing down a bit. We can all go back to live as usual until it is time to start planning for NAB 2016 . . .  maybe in a week or two.


Tjoet Nja’ Dhien

Eros Djarot’s 1988 film was picked as the Best International Film at the 1989 Cannes Film Festival. It chronicles the life of one of the most highly regarded Indonesian freedom fighters on the long road to independence. I was reminded of the film when I ran across the pamphlet distributed at the screening of the film in Jakarta in the early ’90s.

Tjoet Nja' Dhien 26-Mar-1873

I was surprised that the full film can be seen now on YouTube. Subtitles are in Bahasa Indonesia.

Tjoet Nja’ Dhien (1988) Full Movie

This is the first film to provide international recognition for Indonesian film. It stands out as the first notable serious film in an industry otherwise devoted to film for popular consumption.


3 Years of Alas Bamiyan

The three year anniversary of this blog falls on St. Patrick’s Day 2015. I am reminded of last year’s post about the birthplace of Ireland’s patron saint;

Saint Patrick was born in Dunbartonshire!

I was also reminded that there have been only four postings to this blog over the past year. I will try to do better. I am back in the US after a six month contract at Bagram Airfield and I can no longer use the lack of internet connectivity as an excuse for failure to do regular postings. I will try to do more in the year ahead.

Here’s wishing everyone a pleasant meal of corned beef and cabbage as those of us involved with broadcast prepare to handle the yearly whirlwind of information forthcoming at the NAB Convention.


Another Radio Yowali; personal notes on sustainability and influence

(Joan Didion once remarked,“I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.” This piece developed in a similar fashion. It was written at the suggestion of Elva Narcia, Director General of the Mexican NGO Glifos Comunicaciones, an organization focused on communications and social media. It was one of those stories that only came into existence when I tried to set down my thoughts about the impending loss of the station where I spent my year in Kandahar.)

Radio Yowali - The best music and fresh news 88.5

Radio Yowali – The best music and fresh news 88.5

A few months ago I wrote some notes (The Many Lives of Radio Yawali Ghag) on Radio Yawali Ghag, the radio station in Wardak province founded by Internews Network with funding from USAID. That is the station rebuilt three times to date because of insurgent attacks either on the station or on nearby facilities. My conclusion was that the station was sustainable at a minimal level as a commercial entity, gaining enough in revenues to purchase fuel for the generator and pay a few staff members, but that it would never generate sufficient revenue if it needed to rebuild the facility without outside assistance.

The Radio Yowali of this article is a group of about half a dozen stations in the south of Afghanistan with studios In Kandahar. Yowali (or Yawali) are transliterations of the Pashto word which is usually translated ‘together.’ These stations identify themselves as a voice for unity.

The Radio Yowali programmed from Kandahar is relatively resource rich. It was founded and continues to be funded by NATO as an ISAF asset. Its multiple transmitter facilities, program links to the transmitters in other provinces, and a staff of more than a dozen all are maintained through international funding. All the messages on the station are either “infomercials” designed to facilitate government programs to aid agriculture or education or are more general messages in support of the peace process. There is no commercial funding of the station. It does not sell local advertising.

The target audience of this group of stations serving Kandahar and its neighboring provinces would be males 18 to 35 years old. At least that’s the major standard demographic group that is closest to the audience the stations are trying to reach and hold. Music programming constitutes the bulk of what is found on the stations. Unlike most of the other station in the region which are programmed from the capital Kabul, Radio Yowali puts forth the effort to find Pashto music which reflects the taste of its target audience. Some of the best input for music selection comes from within the station staff. Most of the staff are within the target demo.

The focus on this segment of the audience does not mean that other groups are overlooked in the stations’ programming. There are specific programs directed to women and coverage of Shura (elder council) activities is significant.

Most of the local programming effort is focused on the hourly newscasts. Here, Radio Yowali really shines in relation to other stations in the area. Along with membership in the major Afghan news agencies, Radio Yowali has a team in the field that allow coverage of events that are important locally but are overlooked in the news delivered from the capital. The effort towards local and regional news coverage is not found in the commercial stations available to listeners in the south of Afghanistan. Few stations in the south of Afghanistan could fund this sort of news operation. No other stations do.

The station set out from the beginning to establish itself as a credible regional news source. All material is delivered in Pashto. The journalists and announcers hail from the area and speak a Kandahari dialect. The journalists have retained their editorial integrity and the stories delivered are not slanted to be favorable to the source of station funding. The effort towards local and regional news coverage is not found in the commercial stations available to listeners in the south of Afghanistan.

Good market research is scarce in Afghanistan but the number of shops in the bazaar that have radios tuned to Radio Yowali indicates high acceptance in the market. The objectives of the station have been met and goals achieved. The message has been sent and listeners in the south have experienced a true radio service in the region.

I was saddened on returning to this country in August to learn that Radio Yowali will probably not survive to the end of the year. Funding cuts and the withdrawal of international forces will make it one of the casualties of lack of sustainability. I am familiar with the stories of misdirected funding found in Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s Little America. Radio Yowali is not one of those.

Rather than bemoan the loss of another bit of foreign construction that cannot be maintained by the current Afghan economy, I think it is appropriate to view Radio Yowali as a significant success. The station group was never designed to be transitioned into a commercial entity or have the likelihood of transfer to some benevolent government department. It was intended for a specific purpose of limited duration. It accomplished that purpose very well.

In the years of the station’s existence, listeners in four Afghan provinces had the chance to hear news and information specifically directed to them. Most of the other stations that can be heard in the region are associated with stations in Kabul. Most do not have the resources to fund a local news team of this caliber at the present time. Radio Yowali gave its listeners the chance to hear what radio can be like as the Afghan economy grows.

The station group also gave the staff, particularly the journalists, the chance to operate at the next level. They had a few years to work with a news oriented radio station of the sort that does not exist in the commercial realm outside of Kabul. This is termed “capacity building” in the NGO world but that term tends to minimize the significance of this type of opportunity. A chance to participate in an organization like this would not been available to any of the staff without this grand endeavor in local radio.

Having spent a little more than a year working at Radio Yowali I feel the loss from knowing the station will be with us only a short while longer. But, were I given the chance to remake the project into something at a smaller scale that had a chance at sustainability, I would not. The right choice was made. Many smaller stations will spring up as the Afghan economy grows. Radio Yowali has given root to the idea that a news and information radio service is possible outside of the capital city. It has exposed listeners to what radio can be when serving the public interest is placed at the forefront of station goals. Radio Yowali may go away but it has blazed a path for future service minded broadcasters to follow. It has performed its purpose well. Its impact on the community will be felt for years to come. It will be well remembered and others will fill its place.

NGOs take note; sustainability is only one in a larger inventory of effects. The value of a project is always measured by what it brings to human experience no matter how difficult that might be to quantify.

The neighborhood at night near Radio Yowali

The neighborhood at night near Radio Yowali