More About Project Loon – Stuck in Customs

More About Project Loon

Backing up photos – The Latest!

Watch the live show tonight here on the blog. It starts at 7 PM PT, 10 PM ET! We’ll talk all about this…

More photos and another story of the event

If this is an interesting topic for you, check my other article “Release the Google Internet Balloons!” The new article below is something that was written specifically for the Google Glass Explorers.

Wearing Glass to Shoot Project Loon – Venn Diagram Google[x] Overlap

If you have Glass and have access to the private Google Explorers area, you can see this article and more there.

I noticed a shortcoming in Google Glass. When you are in a helicopter and trying to get Google Map directions, the only options are walking, biking, public transport, or car. There is nothing about a chopper in there.

But I wasn’t flying the thing. I had the back window seat and was busy tracking the Google[x] Project Loon balloons. I didn’t really plan on making a video until I jumped in the chopper. Then, I thought, hey, “This is gonna be cool. I should record it!” I’m still getting my head around the idea of recording the “highlights” of my day. I’m doing it more and more with my kids. I don’t want to lose these moments, you know?

If you click below, you can see the video I made with Glass. Is it blocked in your country? Here is the Vimeo link.

I didn’t know anything about Project Loon when I signed the paperwork from Google. They just said “Sign it.” I was like… errrr… okay. But if it was from Google[x], I figured it had to be cool. Besides, I trust Google and I guess they know I am a good secret-keeper. It sounded like a great chance to go see Project Loon and take pictures behind the scenes.

Let me back up a second. So, it turns out that Google has this cool secret plan to launch a matrix of balloons all around the earth to bring internet to the masses. There are billions of people on Earth without internet. It turns out that launching a ton of low-cost balloons could be the most effective way of getting these people connected.

And, by coinkidink, they happened to be testing these balloon systems in New Zealand, where I just moved about a year ago with my family! I live down in Queenstown, which is about three hours south of the launch site in Tekapo. I drove up there with my son and arrived at midnight. A few hours later, at the crack of dawn, I was watching a launch and flying all over the south island to get photos and test out the balloons. We had a whole covey of helicopters out there. It was like Apocalypse Google Now.

The balloon launch worked flawlessly. I’m sure they’ve had many failures (in the wonderful Google-iterative-development-manner), but the one I saw was perfect. They partnered with another company called Raven Aerostar to help with the balloons. These guys build the NASA weather balloons, the Macy’s Day Parade balloons, and all kinds of other hardcore things. I was kind of hoping the balloons would be in the shape of Snoopy and Barney, but no such luck.

As for Glass, I would alternate between taking photos and videos. It’s super easy. By default, the Glass video (which is all HD), only records 10 seconds. But you can click a little button on top if what you are recording is interesting and it can go for a long time. This is actually a smart system. Most 10-second videos are quite boring and you can bail out easily. It sure makes it easier later when editing. I edited together everything in iMovie in about five minutes. That was easy and fun.

But then I realized another little problem. I mean, it’s a good problem, but still a problem. I’m recording more and more video every day, especially of my family. Editing it down and picking the best bits takes a bit of time. Creating a “highlight” reel of your day or week is a cool idea, so I am looking forward to when it is more automated. Google+ photos are already doing a smart job of this with “Highlights” where it automatically picks the best photos. I’m looking forward to when that happens with video too. Anyhoo, for now, it just takes a few minutes in iMovie to edit stuff down… not the end of the world.

Back to the Loon story. We landed on a very remote farm in Canturbury, which is sort of a central area of the South Island of New Zealand. Even here, there are about a million people without internet. After landing, we went into the house and tested out the internet as the balloons were flying overhead, forming an internet mesh. It worked perfectly! The family was thrilled. Well, the wife was not so thrilled when her husband started looking on (the New Zealand ebay) at buying another truck.

It was a fun experience, and the Google team on Loon is really clever. They’ve been working hard on this, and there is a lot of hard and fun work left to do. I felt kind of like the-guy-that-didn’t-belong. I was just kind of darting in and out, staying out of the way, taking photos, and drinking it all in. But man, it was cool. I was really honored.

One of my best photos I took from the helicopter no one has even seen yet! I was there with the famous Steven Levy from Wired Magazine. They got an exclusive on my very very very favorite photo, and that will appear in the magazine on newstands soon. Steven’s full article on Project Loon will also be another must-read, so be sure to check that out.

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Here’s one of my favorite images from that day in the chopper. Shooting from a helicopter is always tough. If you watched that video, you’ll see I switched a lot between different cameras. Even though I am using the Sony NEX-7 a lot, I chose the Nikon here because of the extreme conditions. I was quite worried I would only get a few minutes to shoot, so I wanted to make sure I did not run into any buffering problems… this is why I went with the Nikon.

Don’t know what buffering is? That is what happens when you take a whole bunch of photos in a row and the camera has to save them quickly. On lesser cameras, sometimes you can only take a few photos before there is a long pause while it writes the photos. The NEX-7 lets met get in about 10-13 photos before it starts going slow. The Nikon D3s lets me take about 30+ I think!

Over Lake Tekapo

Photo Information

  • Date Taken2013-06-12 01:53:35
  • CameraNIKON D800
  • Camera MakeNikon
  • Exposure Time1/8000
  • Aperture2.8
  • ISO1250
  • Focal Length16.0 mm
  • FlashOff, Did not fire
  • Exposure ProgramAperture-priority AE
  • Exposure Bias