Tuesday, September 28, 2010

J.J. Abrams + Michael Emerson + Terry O'Quinn = Love

Just a tiny bit of (last week's) news that I have to mention.

Last week, the news broke out that J.J. Abrams was pitching an hour-long comedic drama about ex-black-ops agents... to be played by Michael Emerson and Terry O'Quinn (EW, Movieline, etc.). Lost fans know the pair as Ben Linus and John Locke, respectively. They're both outstanding (and Emmy-winning) actors--their characters were two of the best on Lost--and the thought of them together again makes me squeeee! I am having trouble picturing the buddy comedy, though; there were moments of humor for both of them in Lost, but no one would call Ben Linus a particularly funny guy. And he certainly was not Locke's buddy. Still, even though I haven't seen them do comedy before, they're so talented that I'm sure they would be great comedic black-ops types. And we know they're a good pair that can play well off each other.

Anyway, not long after that news got out, we learned that NBC had picked up the show (Movieline). It's still a rough road ahead to getting it onto our TV screens, but it's no longer just a fun idea--it's starting to come together. I'll definitely check this show out if it gets made. Too cool.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Story Time Sunday: For 20 Feet

It's been a long time since I did a Story Time Sunday post; I guess over the summer I had plenty of new stories to tell, leaving no time for narrating old favorites like this one. Anyway, this is the story of the time I broke the law for 20 feet. Not so serious, but it's fun to tell, anyway.

Apologies for the lame visuals for this one. This should really just be an audio thing, but Blogger is weird and I only know how to do videos.

P.S. In case it's not obvious, during driver's ed I only had a learner's permit, allowing me to drive only with a licensed driver in the passenger seat.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Snorkeling in Sharks Cove - Video

Tuesday's photos post tells you everything you need to know about my snorkeling outing in Sharks Cove on the North Shore of O'ahu. The video is pretty self-explanatory, with some annotations added for the fish that I could identify. Keep an eye out for the OCTOPUS!

Watch it in 720p HD if you like.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Happy Autumn, Moon Festival, and Hobbit Day!

It is now officially fall, if you take the beginning of fall to be the autumnal equinox, which was at 5:09 pm Hawaii time (erm...11:09 pm East Coast U.S. time, and the rest of you will have to figure it out for yourselves). September 22 is also the Chinese Moon Festival this year, also sometimes called the Mid-Autumn Festival, but I won't call it that because I just said that autumn started today. I feel like a bad half-Chinese person, but I don't really know much about the Moon Festival, beyond that we get to eat mooncakes. Mmmm. Today also happens to be Hobbit Day, as September 22 is the birthday of both Bilbo and Frodo Baggins. So there are many reasons to celebrate today (though I realize that for most of the world it is already tomorrow, which messes up the alignment of autumn with Hobbit Day and the Moon Festival, but whatever). Anyway, happy autumn, happy Moon Festival, and happy Hobbit Day!

I don't have anything humorous or insightful or cool or geeky to share today, just some scattered thoughts. It has been a very long week, and I can't believe it's only Wednesday. Feels like it must be Friday. The Housemate is on the mainland this week for a workshop relevant to the research he is doing, so I've been having solitary evenings and nights. It's a lot less fun when there's no one to watch TV shows with me (especially considering that this week is the big pilot episode week for most TV shows), cook dinner with me, and dine with me. And cuddle with me. I think of it as practice for when he goes to Antarctica for over three months. But thinking that makes me sad.

My grandmother went to the hospital on Saturday night, just a couple hours after I had visited her at her apartment. She had seemed tired when I saw her, but I just assumed it was because I was visiting during afternoon nap time. I guess later she was feeling extra tired, and very weak. Turns out she had a very low red blood cell count, and low sodium. The MRI also revealed what the doctor told me were "mini strokes", which I thought sounded bad (even a mini stroke is still a stroke, right?), but he said they didn't seem to be causing problems, so it was fine. So every day this week, I've been driving my grandfather from his retirement home to the hospital in the morning, then going back after work to visit my grandmother, help her eat dinner (and make sure she eats well--she needs her strength!), and take my grandfather home. The last time she was in the hospital, there were other relatives that my grandfather asked to help out, too, but his brother is in China right now, and his sister-in-law just had an eye operation and can't drive... So it's been me. I'm happy I'm here to help, but it has made the days especially long. The good news is that they discharged her this evening, and I just drove her home. It will still be nice to visit, especially since she's in the special care wing of the retirement home, rather than her apartment, but at least I don't have to do all the driving anymore. And she's happy to be back at the retirement home, which is good.

Even though I'm going to wait until the Housemate gets home before I watch most of the TV shows this week, I will mention what shows I plan on following this fall. New show Nikita (CW, Thurs. 9pm) has already hooked me, after debuting two weeks ago with a pretty awesome pilot. I'm very excited for the return of Chuck (NBC, Mon. 8pm), How I Met Your Mother (CBS, Mon. 8pm), Glee (FOX, Tues. 8pm), Big Bang Theory (CBS, Thurs. 8pm), and Fringe (FOX, Thurs. 9pm), all of which are back this week. I'm still trying to catch up on last season of Castle (ABC, Mon. 10pm), which came back this week as well. I have high hopes for the Hawaii Five-O reboot (CBS, Mon. 10pm), as well as the new J.J. Abrams creation Undercovers (NBC, Wed. 8pm), about a married couple who return to the CIA, both of which debut this week. I also plan on checking out No Ordinary Family (ABC, Tues. 8pm, starting next week), about a family who suddenly get super powers, and The Event (NBC, Mon. 9pm, starting this week), which looks like "this year's FlashForward"--a confusing, mysterious sci-fi/conspiracy type thing. I actually watched about half the pilot of The Event before feeling guilty and deciding to wait for the Housemate, but I was pleased with myself when I recognized a couple of the filming locations to be here on Oahu, though I don't think the scenes were supposed to be in Hawaii. This got me all the more excited to see Hawaii Five-O, which is shot here in Hawaii and is supposed to be Hawaii. That should be fun.

OK, looks like it's time to end this rambling post. Sorry about that. Tomorrow I'll post the video I took snorkeling in Sharks Cove, which includes a glimpse of an octopus. I promise tomorrow's post will be decidedly less rambling.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Snorkeling in Sharks Cove

On Labor Day weekend, I went with a few friends from school to the North Shore for a snorkeling/diving trip. That is, the five who are scuba certified went diving, and the two of us who aren't went snorkeling. I'm really going to get on that dive certification thing, but in the meantime, I'm having a lot of fun snorkeling, and at least I had a snorkel buddy.

Sharks Cove is a very popular snorkeling spot located on the North Shore. It's not as big or as popular as Hanauma Bay, but it may be second in fame on the island. The trouble with Sharks Cove is that during the winter, when the North Shore experiences its world-famous huge waves, the cove is not suitable for snorkeling. But for this Labor Day weekend, at the beginning of September, the wave forecast predicted all glassy water. Of course, being a popular snorkel spot, and it being a holiday weekend, it was a pretty crowded place.

There was a nice variety of fish, though after the Big Island, I have to say I was a little underwhelmed, mainly due to the lack of live coral in Sharks Cove. This is about as much live coral as I saw (at the bottom right--looks kind of alive, right?):

It's really sad that all the coral near the shore of highly populated Oahu has died off, and you have to go into deeper water to see what live coral is left (or so I hear). Still, while Sharks Cove may have provided a relatively drab backdrop, it did have plenty of beautiful, cute, colorful, and interesting fish. Sadly, no sharks.

The schools of needlefish were pretty cool.

Cornetfish, another long and skinny fish.

A very colorful fish with an interesting pattern

This one was such a cutey--very small, maybe three inches or so.

My favorite: the spotted boxfish. The bright blue sides mark it as a male. It was so cute; I stalked it for a while.

View from the parking lot near Sharks Cove

Check back on Thursday when I'll post the video from the trip--you can see more of the cute blue boxfish (I mentioned I stalked it), plus catch a glimpse of an OCTOPUS!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Neverwinter and more on Milo

These are last month's news, but still worth mentioning.

Back in June 2009 I mentioned the news that Atari's Cryptic Studios would be developing a new Neverwinter Nights MMO. Atari has now announced that "Neverwinter" will be released late 2011 (Variety - Technotainment). It is not going to be an MMO, but it is described as an online multiplayer RPG. I imagine it may be something like Guild Wars or Hellgate: London, where you can see other people in town, put together a group, and then go adventuring in a private instance of the explorable areas. The story will be based on an upcoming trilogy by popular D&D novelist R. A. Salvatore. The story will take place after the events of Neverwinter Nights and Neverwinter Nights 2, with poor Neverwinter (seemingly as always) in a dangerous state of disarray. Hopefully Cryptic Studios will do a good job.

I've talked about Microsoft's Kinect/Project Natal a number of times on this blog, and I've mentioned that I was particularly impressed by the Milo demo at E3 2009. In that demo, Milo was a little boy who interacted with the player in very impressive ways: He recognized the player, would comment on the color she was wearing, could recognize many words as well as detect and react to the tone in her voice, and could even be "passed" a drawing she did as she held up her real-world drawing to the Kinect camera, which copied it into Milo's virtual world. But even as E3 this year showed off the Kinect, to be released before Christmas of this year, we saw no more of Milo. Until recently (Variety's Technotainment).

The technology has come along. Apparently Milo's artificial intelligence lives in one place (rather than being copied many times to each separate location?), so that his interactions with each individual player can help refine future interactions with every player (and maybe lead to world domination). There is now a more apparent user interface, and a sort of plot: Milo has just moved from the U.K. to the U.S. and doesn't have any friends yet, so he dreams up the player as an imaginary friend. I think it's all pretty amazing. It's not clear when we might see a game based on Milo, but hopefully they're going somewhere with this technology so we all can have a try at being Milo's friend.

Peter Molyneux did a recent TED talk showing off Milo's development. Check it out:

Monday, September 13, 2010

My Big Island trip: Snorkeling and Volcano Videos

Finally, I've sifted through all the video footage the Housemate and I took on my camera during our trip to the Big Island to bring you only the best (or at least the better). I ended up making two videos.

The first includes all of my good snorkeling footage; though it does have a couple clips taken while not snorkeling, they are at least water related (such as the baby eel from the tide pool at Pine Trees Beach). I figured one snorkeling video was more convenient than separate videos for each of the beaches I went to. I will note again that the Housemate is much steadier with the camera while snorkeling than I am, in part because he is much more experienced with free-diving than I am. So you can mostly tell the shots that I took by whether or not they look jumpy. The steady shots underwater are basically all his.

The second is the video I took at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park; it has some short clips of craters and steam vents, but it's mostly the awesome video footage from when we went to see the red hot lava. Since when I was filming, I didn't know which clips would be put in the final video, or even that I would be making a final edited video, I prepared many of them as standalone clips. That is to say, I did quiet little narrations in many of them (e.g. "This is the Halema'uma'u Crater on August 28, 2010"). How many times can you hear me say the date? Oh well, you can ignore my commentary, since the subtitles tell you what you need to know.

Note you can watch it in HD (720p). Enjoy!

Snorkeling video

Volcano video

Here are the links to all of my previous posts of photos (and stories) from our trip to the Big Island (just to have them conveniently all in one place).

Magic Sands Beach Park (first snorkeling trip)
Pine Trees Beach (lava rock beach with tide pool)
Hapuna Bay (second snorkeling trip)
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Halemaumau Crater and Thurston Lava Tube
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: Kilauea Iki
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: End of the Road
Hawaii Volcanoes National Park: RED HOT LAVA!
Pu'uhonua o Hanaunau (the best snorkeling)

Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Housemate: First Anniversary

Tonight marks the first anniversary of my first kiss with the Housemate*. The first night that we spent together (fully clothed, no further than "second base"). For those of you who are newer to my blog and don't remember all the drama I posted about at the beginning of our relationship, you can find all the links to the posts here. I have been relatively quiet about the progress of our relationship since the first several weeks when I was still finding my footing and felt like airing my uncertainties on this blog. But I figure this is good a time for a little update, in case people are interested in how things are between us now.

Things have been going pretty smoothly for a while. After a couple months, I got over the weirdness of calling him my boyfriend, and being considered his girlfriend. I did spend a while trying to figure out when I could tell him I loved him (he had already told me--way too early, I might add--though he did back up from it for awhile, probably waiting for me to say it once before he tried saying it again). I tried planning (OK, how about when he drops me off at the airport? Or maybe when we he gets back from vacation and I pick him up at the airport? How about his birthday?). But the occasion just never seemed right. And then finally a few months later it happened. It happened naturally, without any fanfare or anything--just kind of went by as if it were nothing new. I guess it wasn't really, because I think he already knew. We tell each other "I love you" a lot, now.

We sleep together every night, but we still haven't passed "third base". I'm not really sure why; maybe he has ethical reasons to abstain from sex before marriage? I suppose maybe it's something we should talk about, but since we both seem comfortable with the current arrangement we haven't moved to change anything. Is that strange?

Things aren't completely perfect, though. We never fight, not in the normal sense. We're both too mild-mannered to yell or even really get angry at each other. But I've noticed that what we do is we get sad at each other. We have a disagreement, and someone gets sad. The other person, not wanting to be the type who makes the other one sad, then either rushes in to apologize, or gets sad for making the other person sad. It's like a war of who can make the other person feel more guilty. And it usually ends with lots of kisses and both of us saying we're sorry (though one person--the loser of the "argument"--means it more). Kind of disgusting, in a way. I wish we didn't get sad at each other as often. I swear, the Housemate can be really sensitive about things.

Also, I wonder if the lack of full-on intimacy may be keeping me back a little from fully falling for him. I mean I'm very happy with him, I love him, but after a year I still can't picture ever marrying him. Maybe the fact that I've never "shopped around" is leaving me unsure of whether he's really a good match, since I've no one to compare him to. Or maybe that's just me at this stage in life--some of my friends my age are getting married, but I still feel very far away from that kind of lifestyle.

Anyway, for the most part, I am very happy with our relationship. It's a little weird, and maybe limiting, having my boyfriend also be my best friend and my roommate. But it is also very convenient. We have great times together and always enjoy each other's company. I am making slow progress with surfing (his biggest hobby), and I've been successful in geekifying him through TV shows, movies, and even a little gaming (I just gave him a "Look at me still talking when there's science to do" t-shirt, which he was psyched about). And he cooks for me a lot. It's great. I don't know how things will turn out between us, but for now things are pretty wonderful. That's as much as I can ask for, for now.

*It also happened to be my first romantic kiss ever, but whatever.

Friday, September 10, 2010

My Big Island trip: Hanaunau

After our adventures of the previous night, the Housemate and I were ready to sleep in on Sunday morning. But we didn't want to sleep in too late, since we were leaving the Big Island that night. Time for one more snorkel trip. Turns out we saved the best for last.

Before going snorkeling, the Housemate and I visited Pu'uhonua o Hanaunau National Historical Park, mainly because we pulled into the wrong parking lot and they'd taken our $5 before we realized we'd wanted the next lot for the snorkeling place (but didn't feel too bad because that lot was already full). Pu'uhonua o Hanaunau is a sacred site of the ancient Hawaiians--a sanctuary of sorts. Ancient Hawaiian society had many taboos, such as eating a forbidden food or wearing red or yellow feathers if not royalty, and the penalty for breaking them was death. That may sound harsh for such crimes, but the ancient Hawaiians were what we would consider very superstitious, and they believed that breaking the taboos would bring disaster unless the violator was immediately put to death. If the violator managed to make it to a sanctuary like Pu'uhonua o Hanaunau before being killed, however, he or she would essentially be cleansed of his or her offense and thus forgiven.

The park is small, with a self-guided tour through Hanaunau including traditional structures, a rock apparently used for a traditional game, the royal fish ponds, etc. Hanaunau was a place for the ancient Hawaiian royalty. This harbor was used only by royalty.

These days, though, it seems to be used mainly by sea turtles.

We were there around 1pm, and the sun was very bright and the day very hot. If it had been later in the afternoon we might have walked around a little longer, but as it was we decided we needed to get in the water, so we headed over to the popular snorkeling area just next to the park.

Immediately after getting in, we were already seeing beautiful fish. Of the three snorkel places we went to on the Big Island, it was the only one that had as high a concentration of fish as Hanauma Bay. And it had a LOT of live coral.

A cool coral formation I saw:

Not long after we got in, I saw something I'd never seen before while snorkeling: a moray eel. This was a whitemouth moray eel, to be precise. The Housemate snapped this award-winning shot (we both decided it was the best shot of the trip):

We harassed this guy for a while, trying to get some more shots, some video, waiting for it to come out of its little hole again, when another thing that I'd definitely never seen snorkeling before swam by: a spotted eagle ray. The Housemate got these photos of it:

Not all that spotted, really.

(Meanwhile, I was getting it on video. We followed it for a while, then I ended up lending my camera to the Housemate to take video, since he's better at diving and getting steady shots underwater. Check back next week when I post the snorkeling video. Eagle rays are really amazing to watch--they're so graceful, just flying through the water.)

Later, we saw another moray eel--this one with a crab it had just caught in its mouth. Other fish were gathering around, hoping to get a piece of it. I snapped this (slightly blurry) photo of it just before it found a little nook to hide in while it ate its meal. It all happened very quickly.

I got some nice video of the eel after it finished its meal and started swimming around again, which I'll post, as I've said, next week. Here are some other photos the Housemate and I snapped:

Raccoon butterflyfish

Yellow trumpetfish (photo taken by the Housemate)


Coral arch

A yellow tang at the edge of a reef

Between the eels and the ray, this was definitely the most exciting snorkel outing I've ever had (well, maybe the humuhumunukunukuapua'a attack...). I would definitely go back there on another trip, though I'd like to go a little earlier in the morning so I could see Pu'uhonua o Hanaunau National Historical Park a bit more.

That evening we drove up to the Kona airport to go back home to Honolulu. The sunset was beautiful. Snapped from the car:

As with any vacation, I was sad that it was over and that I had to go back to school/work the next day. But we packed so much into our four days there, filled them with so many great memories, we couldn't complain. And I can't wait to go back.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park - RED HOT LAVA!

Long post today. It was a long adventure. But hopefully it will be worth it; our adventure certainly was. If you want, though, you can just skip to all the photos. Follow-up to yesterday's post.

The guide who was going to take us on the hike to see the hot lava was late. He was supposed to be there at 7 pm, but he didn't show until around 7:20 - 7:25. This gave me time to get a little more nervous about the expedition, and for the night to get a little darker. All the people going in our group (eight of us) followed the guide in our cars to another parking lot not in the National Park. Apparently this is where all the guides start their groups hiking out to see the lava, and there was a convenience store, an outdoor/window restaurant, and an outdoor bar with live band where people would come back from seeing the lava to celebrate. We got money from the ATM and water and flashlights from the convenience store (though we ended up using the extra flashlights the guide had, which were brighter). I used the convenience store's bathroom. We all gathered around the guide again as he gave us some last notes before going out. Turns out the hike would take more like one hour and fifteen minutes each way, plus we'd stay out at the lava maybe half an hour or so. So we'd be finishing up around 11 pm. With a two and a half hour drive to Kona after that. Fun.

We headed out away from the noise and the light of the bar, into the dark. The first couple minutes were on an even dirt path, but then we started out over the hardened lava fields. To get a sense of what it probably looked like (I couldn't get a good photo in the dark), see the terrain in the last two photos of yesterday's post. We noticed this tree mold just as we stepped off the path:

The lava cooled with a fallen tree in it, but that tree has since disintegrated, leaving the mold--like someone leaving their shoe print in cooling cement.

After that, it was a rough hike. At the beginning, I'd call out every time I stepped over a big crack--not the kind you'd fall into and get stuck inside, but the kind that could twist your leg pretty bad (if it was the kind of crack you could fall into, the guide would point it out himself, and that only happened once)--to warn the Housemate to watch his step. But after 10 minutes or so, they became commonplace enough that we knew we just had to watch our step all the time. The rocky land was not flat, but had sloped lumps that we were walking up and down and up and down. The top crust was crumbly, so we had to be careful not to slip on the loose bits on the slopes. And the pahoehoe folds were fragile, so the guide warned us not to step on their ridges, since they could break under us and twist our ankle.

I have little sense of how long we hiked over the hardened lava field, though I would estimate about half the hike was that segment, as we were making our way towards the coast. Finally, we made it to the coast, where we turned right to go south towards the lava flow. Here, we got some relief, as the path along the coast went over dirt (though sometimes through stands of trees with tricky roots, but that wasn't so bad). It seemed safe, as long as we didn't look to our left and see the rocky cliff right there leading straight down to the crashing waves. The shrubs and trees were nice to see--some sign of life--and the guide told us that if we heard anything rustling around out there, it was probably a wild boar.

For most of the hike, we'd been able to see the red-glowing plume of sulfur dioxide rising from the lava outflow. As we made our way down the coast, we finally got a sight of the lava. Very distant still--no more than a dot smeared on my camera screen--but distinctive. I snapped a couple pictures, but they would soon become obsolete.

As we got closer to the lava flow, the terrain changed back to rough lava rock. We climbed down a steep slope to a black-sand beach. The sand was very grainy because the land was so new, and the ocean hadn't had time yet to refine the grains. The guide told us that pretty soon, the rock we'd be walking over would be hot (bringing the temperature to over 100 F/38 C, I think he said), then it would get cool again, then it would get hot again as we made the last bit of the trek to where we'd view the lava. As promised, the rock did get hot. Luckily the ocean breeze was there to give us relief. The rocks got cool again, as we walked over older land. Then they got hot again. That could only mean we were getting close to where we'd view the lava.

And before long, there it was. It was spectacular.

I'm still kicking myself for not bringing my tripod on the hike, because I'd been using it earlier in the day. (Having not intended to go on such an arduous hike on that trip to the park, I hadn't brought a suitable hiking pack. When setting out on the night hike I took only my camera case, not thinking to take the little tripod out of my too-clunky purse.) So most of my photos are slightly blurry, since I was taking them in the dark, and the lumpy terrain prevented me from getting a good view with the camera resting on the ground. This was the sharpest photo I got.

Look at it drip! All the while, waves from the left were crashing onto the shore and the rocky ledge where the lava was flowing from, sometimes high enough to cover our view of the lava--just wait until you see the video I'll post next week (still editing...). The dangerous glow of the super hot lava, the slow rise of the illuminated smoke plume, mixed with the power and the sound of the ocean waves crashing onto the shore--it was a truly awesome, breath-taking sight.

This is a photo from the Housemate's camera, where you can see the lava glow reflected in the approaching breaking wave.

While we took photos of the lava flowing into the ocean, the guide scouted ahead to figure out how close we could safely get to some of the hot lava sitting at the surface. We walked just a minute inland where we lost sight of the waves but could see surface lava. This was fairly stationary, and thus relatively safe to get closer to (or so the guide believed). The plume of smoke prevented the guide from taking us to what I guess was a river of lava, which we couldn't see over the ridge, that was feeding the ocean outflow:

The guide took those of us who wanted to get a closer view of the surface lava right up to see it, but some of us chose to stay behind. The Housemate and I decided not to go any farther when we realized we were stepping over cracks that looked like this:

I have no idea what those little orange dots are. I couldn't see them in the dark or under the flashlight.

Besides, we had a perfectly good view of the surface lava from where we were. It wasn't like we needed to touch it or anything.

Blow up that photo and it's like we were right there, right?

It was an amazing sight. While we were standing there, the Housemate said, "I'm really glad we did this." I responded, "I'll say that when we're back at the car."

We hiked back to lights and civilization quietly, everyone just thinking about what we had seen. The creation of new land. Pele (Hawaiian goddess of volcanoes) at work.

It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Unless we go again. We went at night because that's when we were there. The advantage of the nighttime hike was the extra-dramatic glow. The lava stood out so strongly against the darkness, and the huge sulfur dioxide plume caught the red glow as well (it looks gray/white in the day). I wonder if I would have noticed the glow between the rocks in the daylight. The advantage of daytime would be that we wouldn't need flashlights and the light would make it an easier hike, plus we could actually see the lava rock fields, the ocean, the black-sand beach, and the rocky cliffs as we walked by. If I go again, I'll do it during the day, so I can see everything that we walked by. That would mean a lot more photos, though.

The rest of the night was a little crazy. We got back to the parking lot around 11-11:15. Before we headed back to Kona (2.5 hr+ trip), we needed (in rough order of importance)

1. Bathroom stop
2. Gas
3. Coffee so the Housemate could stay awake driving (because of the rental car agreement, I couldn't share the burden there.)
4. Food (I hadn't eaten dinner, though luckily I'd eaten half of my large lunch sandwich around 4 pm, and the Housemate had eaten a bunch of sushi at sunset but having fasted all day he needed more.)

In the first tiny town we got to, we stopped for gas, but we got mad at the place because it declined my credit card (which totally had plenty of credit--the next gas station took it no problem) and they didn't have a bathroom. We went to the next town, slightly larger, and got gas there. Check off #2. But when we went to the gas station's convenience store, even they didn't have a bathroom for us to use. Fail.

We made our way up to Hilo, the largest town on the island. We figured we'd go to the McDonald's to use their bathroom and get some food. By then it was about 11:50, and their door said that they closed at midnight, but they'd already locked the doors and we could see them cleaning the floor inside. I suppose if we'd pounded on the door and demanded to be served, we might have had a chance to get in, but we didn't (and they'd probably closed those registers already). All the fast food places at that strip mall had closed by then, but most of them still had their drive-thrus open. Angry at McDonald's, we went to Taco Bell's drive-thru. Strangely I wasn't in the mood for any sort of food (maybe because it was so late, and my stomach had already given up on the prospect of dinner), so the Housemate ordered some tacos and we left. I ended up eating one of the tacos. Check off #4. But still no bathroom. It was getting a little desperate.

We found another gas station with a convenience store where we might find some bottles of Starbucks frappuccino and hopefully a bathroom, and pulled off the road there. We worried that the convenience store might not have a bathroom, but before we stopped the car we noticed a Walmart in the next parking lot. Open 24 hours and with reliable BATHROOMS! Never have I been so happy to see a Walmart. We went in and used the bathroom. Check off #1. *Sigh of relief.*

We went back to the convenience store gas station to get some Starbucks frappuccinos. The doors were locked because it was definitely after midnight by now (apparently they lock the doors at 10:30), but we could still make purchases from the cashier inside via intercom and a sliding drawer--like they use in prisons. I'd never seen one of those used for that reason, but I guess if makes sense to prevent robbery. So we bought two frappuccinos through the drawer, standing outside as it started to rain. Did you know that Hilo averages 126 inches of rain a year? Anyway, check off #3. It was now past 12:15. We briefly contemplated trying to find a room to stay at in Hilo, but then we'd just have to spend the next morning driving back, we had free beds waiting for us in Kona, and we had caffeine, so we figured we'd tough it out.

Finally we were on the road. Because we'd come all the way north to Hilo, my GPS told us that it would now be faster to take the more northern route between the volcanoes than to go back around the south point, the way we had come that morning. So we headed back to Kona, in the dark and rain, on a little two-lane highway we hadn't driven before, with almost no one else on the road, and practically nothing but volcano on either side. The Housemate was a little wary of the GPS's directions, because it was sending us on such small roads, but that's the only road there. At one point, we kept going up and down these little hills, and each time we got to the top of one there would be an alarmingly thick fog. We gave up on the radio and I sang songs to help keep the Housemate awake. We made better time than the GPS expected, getting back at 2:15 rather than 2:45. Brush teeth, shower, bed. That bed felt so good. It had been a crazy day, but also an exciting, awe-inspiring, memorable adventure.

Tomorrow I'll share the photos from our last--and best--snorkeling expedition. Be sure to check back next week when I post the video I took at the volcano. The stills don't really do the lava flowing into the ocean justice--you need the movement and the sound to appreciate the moment.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park - End of the road

At the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park visitor center, we were told that if we wanted to see red flowing lava, we'd have to drive down to the end of Highway 130. And it really is the end.

Here's a view of the (solid, cooled) lava field.

And a pretty little view I caught. Not sure who would want a house there, but it is a unique and strangely beautiful landscape.

In the distance, lava flows into the ocean, with a huge plume of sulfur dioxide smoke rising from the site. After sunset, you can see the plume illuminated red from the lava glow. Recently, there have been surface flows around the ocean outflow that viewers could see (in the distance) at the end of Highway 130. But flow patterns change daily, if not hourly. Unfortunately, there was no lava to see from there the day we went. Here's what we could see.

We stayed until just about sunset, but we'd already decided that the glow wasn't going to be satisfying. The Housemate in particular was disappointed that we didn't get to see the red hot glowing flowing lava; I had seen flowing lava (a red speck in the distance) when I first visited the Big Island 15 years ago (gosh, I'm so old), so I was partially satisfied in being able to claim I'd seen red hot lava. Luckily for us, as we walked back from the disappointing view of smoke to the parking lot, some locals sitting at a table at the path entrance/exit caught our attention. They were selling lava tours, where an experienced guide leads us on a hike out to get a good view of the lava flow. You can't go out by yourself, because one: it's probably a bad idea, since it's rough and there are better paths to take than others, and two: it involves going over private property (illegal trespassing!), but the guides cut a deal with the property owners so they're allowed to take people through. They had a laptop showing very impressive video of flowing lava, which they said was taken last Sunday on one such hike. All this could be ours, with $40 and a 45 minute hike.

I was a little wary of going anywhere not sanctioned by the National Park itself, but the Housemate seemed very enthusiastic about the idea. There were some logistics issues, since we hadn't eaten dinner yet and it was 7:00 and this could take 3 hours, and we didn't have cash on us, but we decided we were OK in terms of food and water, we didn't mind driving back to Kona later at night, and there was an ATM at a convenience store right near where the hike to the lava flow would start. We decided to take the plunge.

As we talked to one of the other young couples (a nice Swiss pair) waiting for the guide to arrive, we decided this felt a little like the beginning of a horror movie: four young, international couples, all strangers, heading out with a mysterious guide over rough terrain well after dark, with the promise of a spectacular, if hazardous, sight. Yes, this was a great idea.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park - Kilauea Iki

Along Crater Rim Road, we stopped at a lookout over Kilauea Iki, a crater in the Kilauea caldera that was filled with a lava lake in 1959.

Through vegetation

Through less vegetation. You can see the smoke (sulfur dioxide) from the Halemaumau crater in the distance (looks like a low over-exposed cloud).

Seeing that it wasn't very far, we decided to hike down into the crater. The rock underneath is still hot, and water seeping down to the hot rock leads to some steam vents. I've read that you can still feel the heat from the deep rocks on the surface, but in the afternoon sun, it was hard to differentiate that heat from the heat one would expect black rocks sitting in the sun to emit.

A view just as we stepped onto the crater floor

These pretty little shrubs manage to sprout out of what looks it like should be a barren scene.

The Housemate!

A silly (and imperfect--that darn dark strip in the middle!) panoramic. Click for a larger view...

Monday, September 6, 2010

My Big Island trip: Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

On Saturday, the Housemate and I drove around the south point of the Big Island and back up to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, on the east side of the island. This route took somewhere around three hours which, considering that you can get from one corner of Oahu to the farthest corner in about an hour, seemed like a very long way--it's like being on the mainland! Anyway, we made it to the visitor center in the early afternoon (we'd had a relatively late start that morning) and put together our plan. We'd drive around Crater Rim Road, stop at a few sites with short hikes or scenic views--Halema'uma'u Crater lookouts, steam vents, the Thurston lava tube, and Kilauea Iki--then at sunset drive outside of the main park area and make our way to the site where you can sometimes see hot lava flowing into the ocean in the distance. Grab dinner around 7:30, be on the road again by 8-8:30, home around 11. Nice plan, right? Well, the first part worked out pretty well, but the last part about dinner and home by 11 was not to be. More on that when the time comes.

They had a large chunk of Crater Rim Road, the road that goes around the Kilauea Caldera, blocked off, due to the unusually high levels of poisonous sulfur dioxide gas being spewed into the air by the Halemaumau Crater. Luckily the wind was blowing relatively steadily one way, so we could still safely view the crater from certain directions.

Here's the crater (inside the larger caldera) from one angle.

And from another angle. At this site, you could just start to smell the unpleasant odor of the sulfur. We made this stop a short one.

Last time I visited Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, with my family in 2007, we were able to drive around to the closer lookout of the crater, where you now see the plume of smoke covering. The sulfur dioxide plume apparently started up in 2008, for the first time since 1982.

Back towards what in the photos above would be the "left" side of the caldera (away from the smoke plume), we stopped at the Thurston lava tube, decidedly longer than the lava tube by the highway in Kona. It's a very short and easy hike (slightly steep, but with a well-traveled path) to get to the lava tube, and the first part of it is well lighted.

The Housemate makes his way down the lighted portion of the tube.

The second part of the tube is not lighted at all, and it's really pitch black, so only people with flashlights can go there safely. We had the LEDs on our cameras, so we thought we'd go down a bit.

Coming up tomorrow: Kilauea Iki, a lovely crater that we hiked down into.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

My Big Island trip: Hapuna Bay

After our short but worthwhile visit to Pine Trees beach, and our little stop by the highway to see the lava tube, we made our way north to Hapuna Bay. It was a beautiful beach with soft sand, and bigger than Magic Sands. The coral reefs were also much more impressive.

The first thing I saw when I got in, even before I made it to the reef, was this awesome crown of thorns, just walking along on the bottom.

A close-up side view, courtesy of the Housemate (I mentioned he was the better diver). He also got a cool video of it where you can see its little tube feet at work, but as I said before, the video will take me a little longer to go through and edit, so you'll have to wait.

Unfortunately, as cool as they look, crowns of thorns are coral eaters. Look at this patch of reef it's cleared. All that white used to have living organisms coloring it. Apparently, it can clear a patch a few times this size in one day.

The Housemate got this shot of a fish hanging out in the sand.

Not a great picture, but I happened to notice something cool happening here. To the right of and slightly below center is a small fish that is half yellow, half blue (you may need to click on the photo to enlarge it). It is a cleaner wrasse. You can see it on another, larger fish (a saddle wrasse), eating parasites off its back. The saddle wrasse gets a free cleaning, and the cleaner wrasse gets a free meal. Everyone's happy!

I was kind of stalking these two butterflyfish. I've seen them before in Hanauma, and I saw some at another spot on the Big Island, and they seem always to swim in pairs. They're so adorable. And check out all that coral, too!

Here they are, traveling far and wide, together. Sweet.

Now here's a funny fish. The Housemate, obviously, took this one of me.