Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Antarctic Peninsula Trip Photos, December 2015

In the second half of December 2015, Olga and I went on a trip of a lifetime* to Antarctica. It was an adventure cruise on board of "Akademik Ioffe" research ship, operated by "OneOcean Expeditions". The trip lasted 9 full days, or 11 days if one counts departure and arrival days. Both the ship crew and the expedition crew were at their topmost level of professionalism and dedication, and we can't thank them enough for making this trip incomparable to anything we've experienced before.

Quick Links

My Favorite Antartica Shots
Favorite pictures from the entire trip
YouTube playlist with trip videos
Day-by-day, outing-by-outing pictures

There are no superlatives that could even start to capture our complete and uninterrupted feeling of amazement we had during the visit. Although we did a fair amount or regular tourism in the years past, the beauty of Antarctic Peninsula during austral summer is nothing short of overwhelming. Huge rocky peaks covered in glaciers rise up to two miles all around you from the water, the surface of which is sometimes lake-like smooth, reflecting everything around you. The sun does not set in the end of December, instead making long sunsets turning into sunrises, creating colors that cannot be described. Wildlife in Antarctica has virtually no predators on the surface, except, of course, humans, and therefore is indifferent to proximity to people and most of other creatures. All of this, together with the very good weather and smooth crossing of the Drake Passage, amounted to an absolutely incredible experience.

It's hard to do anything in Antarctica, other than watch, watch, watch and then watch some more. Each day we spent up to seven hours away from the ship, either making landings on the islands or the continent itself and exploring on feet, or cruising among icebergs on inflatable "zodiac" motorboats. Even when on the ship, we spent every minute we could spare outside. Eating, sleeping, resting and anything else feels like an unforgivable waste of time, because whenever you look out of the window, there is either an absolutely breathtaking view outside, or whales blowing, or penguins purposing, or iceberg shining cyan blue all over, or an albatross soaring, or something else out of the million of wonders from what Antarctica has in store every second of every day.

Thinking of this insane beauty rapidly changing due to the global warming adds a ton of heartache. Humanity with all our achievements in art, architecture, literature and technology, would still amount to a total joke if we let this wonder get destroyed on our watch.

We made thousand of photos and took hours of 4K UHD video footage. I spent weeks culling and developing them, bringing the number of posted ones to something resembling manageable. Links to videos and photos are organized in three buckets: first, the single photo album where we put all our favorites pictures; second, a link to the YouTube playlist where we posted first couple of videos and where we'll keep adding them - yes, editing videos is just starting; and third, photos organized by each trip day and each landing or "zodiac" cruise.

Day-by-Day, Outing-by-Outing Trip Pictures

I start with pictures taken after our arrival to the Antarctic Peninsula area. Pictures from Drake Passage, going to and from, as well as Ushuaia pictures, are at the end.

Gerlache Strait
Gerlache Strait cruising pictures is also a separate album comprising shots from multiple days. I find myself looking pictures in this album most frequently. These pictures are taken from the ship, mostly while being out on the deck, but sometimes just out of the window. Glaciers, peaks, icebergs, whales, as well as penguins and seals on ice and in the water.

December 23, 2015

Orne Harbor
Orne Harbor, our first landing on the Antarctic continent. First penguins, first blizzard, first real taste of Antarctica.

Cuverville Island

Cuverville Island and "Zodiac" Cruise Among Icebergs. Close encounters with penguins and whimsically-shaped and surreal-colored icebergs.

Lemaire Channel

Lemaire Channel Cruise. Arguably the crown-jewel of the trip sightseeing. We were lucky that Lemaire got free of ice just one day before our arrival. This place is simply magical.
You may also watch the 4K UHD time-lapse video of our passage through Lemare.

December 24, 2015

Waterboat Point & Gonzalez Videla Station
Waterboat Point & Gonzalez Videla Station. An Emperor penguin, a female Elephant seal, leucistic Gentoo penguin, and hundreds of regular Gentoos producing incredible amount of guano.

Useful Island and Short "Zodiac" Iceberg Cruise
Useful Island and Short "Zodiac" Iceberg Cruise. There you'll see an Adeli penguin - an extra-cute, melancholic and pretty rare in such high latitude, no less cute and funny Chinstrap penguin close-ups, petty-crime-minded White Sheathbill, and other wonders.

Danco Island Camping Night
Danco Island Camping Night. Yep, we spent our night before Christmas 2015 sleeping on the snow in Antarctica. The video of us going to "bed" is no less fun.

December 25, 2015

George's Point
George's Point. Nothing special really, just a regular insane and incomprehensible beauty. Besides funny critters, some lichens can be seen, dominating the plant life at the place where there is no grass, shrubs or trees.

Neko Harbor
Neko Harbor. The most photographed place in the Antarctic Peninsula, we were told, and deservedly so. A massive glacier descends into the water very close to the landing point. A short hike up, and the entire harbor and surroundings open up in one of the most magnificent views one can experience. A few shots of an avalanche, and panting penguins on the nests experiencing 60°F, 16°C heat. It's our second continent landing.

December 26, 2015

Cierva Cove "Zodiac" Iceberg Cruise
Cierva Cove "Zodiac" Iceberg Cruise. Icebergs so complicated as almost artificial, like movie set props. And tiny islands where a handful of birds of various species get together, as if a few dudes who got away from family responsibilities gathered to play poker.

Mikkelsen Harbor & D'Hainaut Island
Mikkelsen Harbor & D'Hainaut Island. Lounging Weddell seals, solemn remnants of whaling boat right next to whale bones, contrasted with the optimism and cuteness of brand new Gentoo chicks.

December 27, 2015

Deception Island & Whaler's Bay
Deception Island & Whaler's Bay. As if drawn in pencil or chalk, the views from the deck of ship slowly cruising inside the crater of "dormant" volcano, were so unreal, that getting up before 5AM to see this was absolutely worth it.

Half Moon Island
Half Moon Island. Birds: shags, skuas, Antarctic terns, penguins, with the requisite high drama of skuas trying to steal penguins' eggs, and penguins circling their wagons and yell at the top of their lungs. Blue-eyed shags, looking as if they were born after a duck fulled around with a penguin. And skuas are essentially falcons with webbed feet. A dense snowfall at the end to refresh the scenery.

Barrientos Island
Barrientos Island. Another hike to a vantage point overlooking a bay with a large iceberg that ran aground resembling flat iron. There was rapidly changing weather, largely disregarded by seals and penguins. Skua flying through the snow while looking you straight in the eye, is quite a memorable moment.

Leaving South Shetland Islands
Leaving South Shetland Islands. Final hours of the last day in Antarctica: last whales, last islands, last icebergs, and a lifetime to remember.

Getting There and Back

Beagle Channel and Drake Passage
Beagle Channel and Drake Passage. Crossing Drake Channel takes two days, each way. If weather cooperates, as it did in our case, spending time outside watching and photographing albatrosses, petrels and occasional whales is all one can ask for.

Ushuaia, the Town at The End of The World
Ushuaia, the Town at The End of The World. A charming a slightly neglected town where spent a little bit of time before the trip.

Monday, February 22, 2016

PCIe (NVME) SSD drives add manifold performance benefit compared to SATA SSDs

I got my first SSD drive back in 2009. It was in fact a pair of 60 GB OCZ Agility drives, which I ran in RAID-0 (striping) configuration. Each OCZ Agility drive delivered about 200 MB/s writes and 300 MB/s reads, which amounted to about 4-5 times(!) the performance of a regular consumer spindle hard drive. In RAID-0 the performance boost was insane. Two drives back then cost me $360, but I never looked back and never bought a spindle drive since, except for NAS to store media.

Now it's time for another similarly-unbelievable permanent storage performance increase. Long past the time it should've happened, the outdated SATA storage interface is giving way to PCIe 3.0 x4 with NVME protocol, in the form of the M.2 physical connector. As you'll see below, that's again, a 4-5 times performance gain compared to the SATA SSDs of yesterday. And for M.2/PCIe it is only a beginning. Storage capacity and performance increases based on Moore's law promise truly incredible gains in performance of computers and other devices, while shrinking in size and getting much less power-hungry.

Here's what it meant for me in practice. A few days ago I got an inexpensive and somewhat old AsRock Z97 Extreme6 1150 motherboard to carry over my aging but plentiful 24GB of DDR3 memory. This $120 Z97 board has one little nugget: a PCIe 3.0 4-lane M.2 (NVME) interface, allowing connecting the first consumer NVME drive that hit retail shelves: Samsung Pro 950 512 GB SSD drive.

Here's the Samsung Pro 950 512 GB installed in AsRock Z97 Extreme6 1150 motherboard.

And here's the ATTO benchbark of two SSD drives connected to it: old SATA Samsung Evo 512 GB on the left, and Samsung Pro 950 512 GB attached as M.2 PCIe x4, running on Windows 10:

Behold the difference: 3 times gain in write and 5x gain in read speed for the new vs the old SSD, on 2-year old motherboard! It looks like it's time to stop buying SATA drives, everyone, and move on to Ultra M.2.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Android Lollipop is Incredibly, Unbelievably Bad

Those who know me will attest that it takes a vary serious effort to rattle me to the point where I'd start saying things like "I hate X". I am even more tolerant to the shortcomings of software products. For example, I never shared majority's outspokenly negative view of Windows ME or Windows Vista (Starting with Vista "Start" menu has become moot as search was the quickest way to find and start a program or a document). I could easily deal with problems of those operating systems. In fact, I considered them rather minor, and the reaction of the public overblown. And, I started using computers when MS DOS was the main OS, then I switched to Windows 3.1 and used every version of Windows since then. I spent a few so-so years in the iOS ecosystem and about as much in the Android universe. I have never complained. So now that we've established the baseline of my pain threshold, let me get to the point.

Android Lollipop, you did it. I hate you. My wife does too. In my view, Lollipop is the worst OS, bar none. We used to have Google Nexus 4 phones running Kit Kat smoothly and dutifully. No complaints at all. One day they were "upgraded" to Lollipop, which made our handsets unusable. Not just very slow, but Lollipop terminating and unloading our apps was simply incredible. Podcasts that stop in the middle while running in the background? Check. Phone app that takes 45 seconds to show up while you need to make a call rather urgently? Check. Camera app that shows up a minute after the moment of interest has passed, and then holding your phone hostage for another 30-40 seconds? Oh yeah, all the time! Keyboard that draws letters in the virtual keyboard "button" squares at the rate of one per second? I saw that too.

After tolerating that disaster for a couple of months, we sold Nexus 4 sets on eBay and got LG G2s. It was a great hardware for a value phone, running Kit Kat simply beautifully: not a hitch, very snappy - just a joy to use. Then the terrible day has come - the day of forcible upgrade by LG or whoever is the overlord pushing "upgrades" to our phones. Now our LG G2s are almost as slow and unbearable as Nexus 4s were, except we can't justify buying another hardware less than a year after previous phone purchase. We are stuck in the Lollipop inferno for now.

I understand that this could have been phone manufacturer's fault, but eventually the buck stops with Google. Brief internet search shows that even most recent and expensive hardware is susceptible to the Lollipop slowness curse just as well. Sadly, our exit from Apple ecosystem few years before was precipitated by their very similar software update approach that made the experience of keeping up with hardware miserable.

There is simply no excuse for the Android Lollipop being so incredibly bad. It's really hard to fathom why and how thies disaster of an OS has passed the mesh of Google quality control. I will give Google one more chance with Marshmallow, but if it turns out anything like the experience with the Lollipop, the dreaded switch of the ecosystems might be the only way forward..

For shame, Google.