iPad mini 2

Two years after I got my wifi iPad mini in Norfolk, I’ve occasionally been running up against the limitations of its older hardware and lack of cellular data. Essentially the iPad mini is a smaller iPad 2, with the same A5 processor and only incremental upgrades from the iPad 2’s system. While that’s continued to mostly suffice for my portable computing needs — as long as I don’t open too many tabs in Safari or play Infinity Blade for too long — I’ve been wanting a little more processing power with cellular data for travel. Tethering with my iPhone has proven horribly unreliable, and I want to get prepaid cellular data on another network from my mobile phone plan to provide backup data access on a network with better coverage.

iPad 2 and iPad mini

I planned to wait and see if Apple’s next iPad mini would offer improvements over their Retina model — and was sorely disappointed when the Oct 2014 keynote introduced an iPad mini with TouchID and ApplePay, but not even a spec bump. It seems Apple would rather focus on larger devices first, treating the Mini line as an afterthought. While I do want TouchID, I don’t want it badly enough to pay over $100 extra for just that on the same hardware as last year.

Apple iPad model comparisons.

So I hit Craigslist instead, and found a seller with a lightly used 32GB Cellular Retina iPad mini 2 for $360, pretty cheap, with 2 years of Applecare still left on it. Good deal on a good device, with Verizon LTE for mobile data. One catch: the nano SIM for the prepaid mobile plan was deactivated, and Verizon makes it very difficult, even impossible, to replace the SIM in-store if you want to stay prepaid. Store rep in DC flat out told me that he’s not allowed to sell new SIMs to customers without a new device or postpaid plan, so I ended up going to a third-party mobile seller on eBay for an unactivated Verizon nano SIM. Once inserted, however, setting up prepaid was quick and straightforward.

iPad mini 2 (retina)

I’ve wrapped it in the same backshell and smart cover as the old iPad mini, and topped the screen with a cheap but clear “Gtopin” tempered glass shield. It’s mostly an incremental upgrade with a year-old device, and that’s at least another year or two that I’ll be tapping in a PIN rather than scanning a fingerprint, but I paid about half the price of a matching* brand new iPad mini 3 with Applecare, so I’m happy and this will do for now.

* Price point matching for second level storage, anyway. Somewhat annoyed at the jump from 32GB to 64GB for next step above base.

Batteries and Geniuses

It’s a bit outdated as of iOS 8, but here’s an actual Apple Store Genius’s guide to improving battery life on your iPhone or iPad. Most useful tip has been to turn off Location Services and Background App Refresh for the Facebook app, which not only slowed battery drain but actually caused the battery percentage to jump.

Of course there’s also the official Apple guide to maximizing battery performance.

And if you were interested in the life of an Apple genius at all, there’s McSweeney’s Retail Therapy: Inside the Apple Store series, and words store staff can’t say to customers.

Milky Way over Chincoteague

While out in Chincoteague last weekend I was eager to take advantage of the clear, dark night sky to get my first photos of the Milky Way with the NEX3 and VCLECF1 lens. Our galaxy did not disappoint.

Milky Way over Chincoteague
Milky Way over Chincoteague

I did get some light glare off the McDonald’s parking lot lights and the Assateague Lighthouse, but a bit of contrast and stacking helped bring out the details, and the Andromeda Galaxy even showed up.

Chincoteague in the Fall

Went to Chincoteague again over the weekend for some hiking and seafood and ponies, to see the island in the Fall and hopefully see the Antares rocket launch. Sadly launch got delayed to the Monday and then the Tuesday after — and even more sadly, the rocket then exploded. We at least got to see Antares intact on the launch pad from Arbuckle Neck.

Continue reading Chincoteague in the Fall

Antares Explosion

The Antares vehicle carring Cygnus CRS Orb-3, Orbital’s third cargo resupply mission to the ISS, suffered a failure shortly after liftoff and fell back to the pad in a fiery explosion. This was an uncrewed cargo capsule, and no one was injured.

Spaceflight videographer Matthew Travis got this alarming view of the explosion from the press viewing site:

I was at the first launch of the Antares rocket last year. That went well. This launch did not go so well, and there’s some speculation that the old Soviet engines powering the vehicle may have been a factor.

Collection of more Antares launch failure videos from Spaceflight 101.

News stories from Jeff Foust for Space News, and Phil Plait for Slate.

First person accounts from the NASA viewing site by Stephen Clark, Doug Mohney and Ken Kremer.

Official statements from NASA and Orbital Sciences.

We visited Chincoteague last weekend and were able to see the rocket on the pad from Arbuckle Neck. Here’s Antares in happier days, on the pad and unexploded:

Antares-Cygnus ORB-3

Failures happen in rocket engineering. Orbital and NASA will learn from this and move forward.

Fairfax Museum and Visitor Center

We’d originally planned to go on a hike at Great Falls for Columbus Day, but rain changed those plans to a more indoorsy venue: the Fairfax Museum and Visitor Center, which I’d been wanting to see but never got down to since we moved out to the county five years ago.

The museum occupies an old schoolhouse built in 1873 along Main Street. Upstairs is “The Fairfax Story,” a permanent exhibit of local history, small but dense with displays and artifacts ranging from pre-colonial times to the Civil War to the modern day.

Fairfax Museum and Visitor Center

There was even a bit of space history in the mix, with a display case on NASA astronaut and Fairfax native Pierre Thuot.

Fairfax Museum and Visitor Center

Downstairs is a mezzanine level for traveling and temporary exhibits. Out front is the visitor center, and from the front desk, a computer loudly broadcasts another historical artifact: an AOL “You’ve got mail” alert.

Fairfax Museum and Visitor Center

A nice little educational museum, right near Fairfax City, well worth a visit if you live in or near the County.

Lunar Eclipse of October 2014

I got up early enough to catch this morning’s lunar eclipse from the roof, but sadly did not make it to the Capitol in time for my original plan, to catch an eclipsed moonset with the DC skyline. Still, it was a lovely total lunar eclipse to start off the morning.

Lunar Eclipse Oct 2014 Lunar Eclipse Oct 2014 Lunar Eclipse Oct 2014

I also tried collecting my high ISO shots of the onset of totality into a crude animation:

Nicer gallery from Capital Weather.

Best tweet of the event was from Mike Brown aka Plutokiller:

Bardarbunga Drone and Ontake Hikers

Going back to volcanoes again, here’s a DJI Phantom drone, piloted by director of aerial imaging Eric Cheng (whom I had previously met a long time ago in Palau), visiting the currently erupting Bárðarbunga Volcano in Iceland:

Meanwhile, in Japan, a surprise eruption on the volcano Ontake has stranded and killed hikers on its slopes. One of the survivors captured video of the ash clouds from the eruption as they fled. Here’s a stabilized version: