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Some Starlab Sites (or Sights)

The summer reading theme this year has been “A Universe of Stories” so I’ve been busy taking the museum’s portable planetarium, Starlab, on the road. I’ve been to Athens, Mechanicville, Guilderland, Watervliet (twice), Voorheesville, Chatham (pronounced Chat-um), Greenbush, Goshen, Stephenton—and those are just the ones I can think of easily. Because of the area’s long history, there’s been some interesting to things find at the different libraries:

Goshen (about two hours from us and about an hour from NYC) had a real mystery: some abandoned remains next to the brand new library:

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And here’s Starlab in some more detail:

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Rose Gardens and Baby Robins

I actually typed this up quite a while ago, but then thanks to some careless navigating on my part, killed the page before it could save. So to recap an older experience, Theresa and I visited Schenectady’s Central Park Rose Gardens, exploring around both an Indian-American wedding and some cosplayers. Theresa was taking the pictures again:

As we were leaving, we discovered a trap door which was presumably for irrigation, etc, but bore an uncanny resemblance to the ones in one of our favorite games, Skyrim (in fact, I originally wanted the xBox just to play Skyrim then succeeded in getting Theresa hooked!)

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That evening had actually started by us finding a baby robin hanging out in the greenspace in front of our door, which seemed weird because we’d just assumed a) any babies were grown more by now or b) that any babies would have hatched in the springtime. Admittedly, we’d never researched either so these were just assumptions. We kept our distance, so the photo we took is pretty bad, but it was visibly nervous even when we were staying that far away:

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Tomhannock Reservoir

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Tomhannock Reservoir

This was a very short little afternoon trip to a place we’d spotted when we visited the Bennington National Monument. It was this picturesque little reservoir that the highway literally travels over. The desnity of the woods, the clarity of the water, and the amount of greenery were all shocks to both of us having come most recently from dry southwest Kansas!

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Saratoga National Historical Site

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Saratoga National Historical Site

The site of the battle of Saratoga had a “Raptors Rock!” (the birds, that is, not the dinos) so we went to see the angry murderbirds and some of the history. While the terrain is pretty open by local standards, it was certainly not compared to what we were used to. The nearby Hudson river defined the edge for a lot of the battle, but we never actually saw it because of the trees!

Despite the fame of the battle and length of time since then, there was still archeological digs going on and small personal touches and remains of weapons can still be found apparently. Unfortunately we’d sat in the sun for the better part of an hour and a half before going to explore the park, so we didn’t do in the battlefield proper. Most of the pictures are by Theresa again.


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The raptors were presented by a local wildlife rescue group, who brought out a shriek owl, barred owl, aplomado falcon, raven, red-tailed hawk, and Eurasian eagle owl. The shriek owl, Hootie, was the first one they brought out and upon hearing everyone go “awwww” jokingly informed us he hated it when people did that because he was VICIOUS!

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Next up was a barred owl, known for their laugh-like calls and ability to vaguely sound like people. Kansas is right on the edge of their range, so it was a new type for me.

Esteban, the aplomado falcon was also a new type to me: while common through central and southern Mexico they had been “extirpated” (eliminated) from the southern US and are slowly being reintroduced. Looking rather like an enlarged kestrel, they hunt in mating pairs with one working to flush birds out of the tall grass while the other takes the prey.

The Eurasian eagle-owl, Wyatt, was probably the star of the show. They grow to be the largest owls in the world (the females anyways), they’re relatives of the great horned owls but are about 1/3 larger. Wyatt either talked to the handler, or would react when she stroked his foot, and showed off a few deep hoots for us. As he sat on the perch, under a large porch, crows slowly started to congregate since they would work to drive an owl away in nature.

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Albany Tulip Festival (also, where's the VR photos?)

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Albany Tulip Festival (also, where's the VR photos?)

One of the events Theresa and I knew to watch for even before we had moved was the tulip festival in Albany. An appropriately big deal for an area settled by the Dutch, when we went it was rainy (very typical here), cold, and muddy from everyone who’d gone the day before when it was 60+ degrees. Our umbrella is a little small and we’re a little unpracticed at sharing it, but it was definitely a worthwhile visit! Theresa took all of these while I handled the umbrella:

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Now, where are the VR photos? A few months ago, Flickr was acquired by SmugMug, so they placed all these new limits on uploads in an attempt to force users to buy pro accounts: I did not. I’m still adjusting to different photo sharing services and getting back into the habit of taking VR photos. Once both of those things happen I’ll try and resume the panoramas…since I know my audience is just dying to see them!

In the meantime, please accept this picture Theresa took of a flowering tree that sits on my walk to work: these and similar trees are much more common out here than in Kansas. The orange and green in the background is a former Great Northern locomotive that was produced in Schenectady.

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Astrid!

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Astrid!

Shortly after moving in, Theresa and I had our first visitor:

Not just gorgeous, this lost cat (we left it alone at first to confirm this, then it reappeared two days later, worse for wear) was extremely lovey-dovey.

At first we took to calling it Perseus/Percy because of some marking-like behaviors and started plumbing the local pet connections to see about an owner.

Day 2 and we took it to a local rescue group with the intentions of leaving it there, but we, naturally had second thoughts about keeping it. Besides walking out with the cat, we came out with the knowledge that it was unchipped and probably a female! Thus, Percy became Astrid.

We spent another day with her and even took her to the vet to check on her before coming to the responsible conclusion that we couldn’t really keep her. A second trip to the rescue resulted in the realization that we needed an appointment.

By this time we had accumulated all the cat food, kitty litter, and secondhand crates you would expect. We made an appointment (for two weeks later) and went back home with our cat. Late on the third day/early on the fourth day, the owner of “Diamond” made contact with us! We were able to successfully reunite them, which was mostly happy for us as we were worried about “supporting” Astrid. It turns out that the owners’ sister was our next door neighbor and she had gone to Florida randomly, putting the cat out.

Astrid was a great joy to have as a guest: she always greeted us at the door, loved to sit or lay with you, and thanks to her Maine Coon heritage, always had something to say. It was a fun long weekend with her!

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The Moving Post

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The Moving Post

For many reasons, this post is long-delayed. Obviously, Theresa and I have left Liberal, Kansas for Schenectady, New York. Formerly the home of GE, and still rich with that company’s history, it is also rich in history on its own right: established in the late 1600s (!) with pre-Revolutionary War structures still around, then a major location on the Erie Canal, the whole town is dripping with history. The flora is much richer owing to the fact it rains almost 1/3 of the year, and the streets meander to avoid hills, “kills” (creeks), and to match long-established routes that predate the town.

Theresa and I are living in a one-bedroom apartment less than five minutes from my job at MiSci. It’s got a nice brick wall for decoration, radiant heating, and no central air owing to the cooler summers. But it does have a balcony we like to sit out on!

After moving, I finally got to assemble the LEGO Saturn V I had been collecting gift cards for. It’s a great build, and, as you’d expect for anything relating to such a large rocket…huge! As we’re a couple of space nerds, it sits on the back of Theresa’s piano next to our little family of plush planets (now up to 4).

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Pueblo Weekend Trip

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Pueblo Weekend Trip

For an "adventure," Theresa and I traveled to Pueblo/Colorado Springs. This meant new territory, I was interested in Theresa's recollections of the the river walk in Pueblo and Colorado Springs' historic areas. We visited the Manitou Springs Cliff Dwellings, Cave of the Winds, and a walkable area. In Pueblo we visited the river walk, the air museum, and stayed in a franchise called the Microtel. Spoiler Alert: they called it that because it was so compact.

In Colorado Springs we also visited our newest favorite restaurant: Santana's Vegan Grill. It was incredible.

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Pueblo-Weisbrod Air Museum

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Pueblo-Weisbrod Air Museum

Since we were staying in Pueblo, a stop at the Pueblo-Weisbrod museum was essential. Besides being another air museum, it is also a former B-24 training center. Plus, they had themselves designated the international B-24 museum, despite also not having a B-24 Liberator. 

I specifically got some photos of a Boeing-Stearman PT-13 Kaydet sans covering for my grandfather. Having done a lot of research on B-24s (and in comparison to B-17s and B-29s) I found being able to enter their B-29s bomb bays fascinating--this is where both panoramas come from.

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Mooney Mustang N7727M Arrives at MAAM

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Mooney Mustang N7727M Arrives at MAAM

On July 27, 2018, the owner of Mooney Mustang N7727M graciously delivered his aircraft to the Mid-America Air Museum. Besides being an interesting and sharp-looking plane, the arrival inspired lots of shuffling which, in turn, set up some new display opportunities. 

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Walk through History: Liberal Army Airfield Warehouses

Researching the Liberal Army Airfield is a passion of Chris' (as a personal note: I think of it as restoring knowledge lost during a time when the Mid-America Air Museum was coasting. While our WWII-era heritage is not the end-all of our history, we do identify the establishment of the Liberal Army Airfield as the start of our museum). When told that one of the remaining warehouses across from the museum is slated for demolition, he took the opportunity to record the structure before it was lost (the other surviving warehouse is privately owned but this one is city owned).

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Air Classics Museum

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Air Classics Museum

A small museum outside of Chicago, Chris wanted to visit the Air Classics Museum on our way back to Liberal.  It had a fun collection of aircraft exhibit outside, including a Sabreliner, reconnaissance version of a Sabre, and Hueys you could climb into. Stairs allowed you to see into the cockpit of the Sabre, Corsair II, and Phantom, presumably facilitating open cockpit days as well.

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Field Museum

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Field Museum

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Theresa took these pictures while we visited the Field Museum. Our first stop was in the lobby, Sue's old location. She's been moved upstairs but Maximo the titanosaur was being assembled in her place. Being museum people, we naturally focused on the workers off to one side, working with the not-yet-assembled fossils. 

Given the Field Museum's age, it has collections that stretch back into periods when museum collecting was done to different standards, so they had on display an entire mastaba whuch had been removed from Egypt over 100 years ago. They acknowledged changing museum practices at one point when they marked a location which had been defaced by English tourists in the 1800s, adding a layer of history to the tomb which recorded and memorialized the visits but had been removed by early conservators during their restoration. Today such graffiti would have been preserved.

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We visited the taxidermy because this was the first natural history visit we'd been on since Chris read a book about the history of such museums' practices and trends. The dioramas were once a revolution in museum practice, taking natural history museums from library-like sanctuaries of learning to more open institutions. All of the taxidermy present was quite old, included a few species holotypes, but there was a new hyena diorama which had been crowdfunded--it utilized old specimens but built a new enclosure, painted a new background, etc.

The museum was in an art deco structure that led to the great chandelier picture above that Theresa took.

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Spring Storms, Rainbows, and Wind Turbines in Kansas

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Spring Storms, Rainbows, and Wind Turbines in Kansas

On driving to Hutchinson from Liberal, Chris had storms in front of him and a setting sun behind him. Combined with moisture in the air to create some rainbows and wind turbines, which he always finds picturesque, it made for some good picture-taking weather. In fact, he would have made his former 4-H photography leader proud as he ran around a field trying to get a rainbow in just the right spot. His only regret was that he didn't have the SLR and could only use his phone!

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360 Degree Experience: Flying in Liberal's First Airplane

In 1912, Liberal, Kansas organized a "Southwest Fair." A fairgrounds was built, which today, I believe, is still in use as the the "Five State County Fair" grounds. The organizing committee raised $800 and sent a representative to Kansas City to hire Robert Fowler to appear. He'd appeared in Dodge City in May of 1912 before appearing in Liberal that August. Rides were $25 (equivalent to about $600 today) but no one took him up on it. Photos of the event are in the Mid-America Air Museum's collection.

Below is a video, composited from drone footage of Southwest Kansas, and a composite of still images resulting in a rather rough 360 degree video. The still images are sourced from videos people have taken during rides on a modern replica of the Wright B Flyer built, maintained, and operated by the Wright B Flyer organization in Dayton, Ohio.

I'm using the video as a volunteer engagement and recruiting tool; it shows off both a piece of Liberal history and introduces people to virtual/augmented reality.

Titled: "All Set"

Titled: "All Set"

Titled: "Going Up." During his takeoff roll, Robert Fowler had tumbleweeds jam the landing gear (a very SW Kansas touch) and nearly lost control.

Titled: "Going Up." During his takeoff roll, Robert Fowler had tumbleweeds jam the landing gear (a very SW Kansas touch) and nearly lost control.

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Derelict EMB120 and Airplane Cleaning

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Derelict EMB120 and Airplane Cleaning

Suddenly this stripped down Embraer Brasilia showed up next to the Mid-America Air Museum/WWII hangar next door. At first Chris spied it from the road while Theresa was dropping him off, but later investigation involved an up close approach.

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There are actually three derelict airframes at the Liberal Municipal Airport. This one was about to be used for some fire training, which could be done so close to the historic hangar because there was nothing left to actually burn. Smoke generators/bombs were used in lieu of actual flames. 

The leftover oxygen masks dangling from the ceiling would have made the jet appropriate for a horror/apocalypse film.

Also happening was some airplane cleaning and moving at the museum. In order to move our target aircraft, we had to move about 6 or 7 others to clear a path. This also cleared the area around 4 aircraft hanging from the ceiling and located near doors. Their location means they're hard to clean but also are exposed to more dust than average because of the doors opening and closing. Theresa helped with this process, and even goofed off with the Thorp T-18.

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BUTTERFLIES! at Baker Arts Center

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BUTTERFLIES! at Baker Arts Center

At work one day, a 1st grader told me that before coming to the Mid-America Air Museum, they got to touch stingrays. I asked "where?" and the response was the Baker Arts Center (an arts center local to Liberal). I just assumed they were conflating separate trips at first, but upon further investigation I discovered Baker was temporarily hosting a butterfly house and stingray tank. I've touched stingrays at other aquariums, but at the butterfly house, you could pay to feed the butterflies sugar water--an idea that fascinated me for some reason. So Theresa and I headed downtown one afternoon and took a swing through their enclosure. The butterflies were all Monarchs, but there were a lot of them on the flowers donated by the local Wal-Mart. As always, the Monarchs were quite regal looking. They were clearly used to people as they hardly stirred as we moved around, so I got some good views of them drinking nectar.

Getting that good nectar

No panorama from that trip, so instead here's a panorama of Theresa, a coworker, and I inside the massive "Production Line Maintenance" hangar next to the museum. In its heyday, it would hold three B-24 Liberators at a time.

WWII-era Liberator Hangar and former Beechcraft Paint Booths

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