Speaking of . . .

I’m going to be talking at some community events in February on database change management using Team System. I gave the talk at the Orlando SQLSaturday! where it was well received. Hope to see you at one of the upcoming events.

Cayman Island dive video

The first segment is at the beginning of the first dive, starting in 45 feet of water. We were at the top of a wall that dropped to over 2,000 feet. The group huddles up for a moment, making sure everything is working properly. In the background you might be able to hear some of the SeaDoos buzzing nearby. They didn’t have any respect (probably no knowledge) of the rules requiring them to stand off a few hundred feet from the dive flag. Be careful when surfacing! We didn’t stay in the tight group for long, and I wound up at the back of the pack, taking pictures and videos. My dive buddy had a hard time staying down. He didn’t have enough weight, so most of the dive he was feet up, kicking to stay at depth. I could tell he wasn’t having fun.

I was surprised by how few fish there were on the reef. There was much greater diversity on the reef in Roatan Island. Although, I did see a nice, large lobster that would have made an excellent meal for two. And in the video I captured a huge blue angelfish. Visibility was over 100 feet, but since we were so deep most of the colors had filtered out, leaving everything a blue color. Snorkeling closer to the surface in Roatan drove home the point that deeper isn’t always better. Max depth for the two dives was 76 feet.

As we were surfacing I was still shooting video and wasn’t paying attention to where I was. I was watching my depth and ascent rate, but wasn’t looking overhead. I suddenly noticed I was directly under the boat, only a couple of feet from bonking my head. That would have been embarrassing.

Anyway, it was the first time I’d used my camera in its new underwater housing. I was really pleased with the outcome and learned a bunch of things such as when shooting video, pan the camera slowly. So much of my video looked like something out of the “Blair Witch Project” – chased by some horrible underwater creature. : )

Isla Roatan – snorkeling videos

The sky was cloudy and it drizzled occasionally, but we were wet in the water anyway and didn’t care. Best news was there wasn’t any wind on this side of the island, and no waves either. And the snorkeling was fabulous. This is a combination of three videos that I took.

The first segment I took above a wall that dropped about 40 feet. After I came up a school of blue fish came swimming by. Unfortunately I was out of breath and couldn’t dive back down on them for a close up.

The second segment is a close up of one of the big blue fish. Gorgeous color. It tried to hide under a small overhang, but it wasn’t too deep and I dove down to it. I had to be careful not to crash into the coral while trying to stay below, keep the camera relatively still, hold my breath, and not pass out from my oxygen-starved brain.

The third segment is above another stand of coral. Towards the end I dive down on some LSU-colored tropical fish. Were these a sign that LSU was going to be national champs? Nah. They were just some pretty little fish just hanging out on a Friday morning.

I wish I’d had a scuba tank so I could have stayed down longer and captured more of the sights. If I ever get a chance to go back, I’ll jump on it.

After snorkeling through the beautiful coral I stopped in some shallow water took a soothing video of some sea grass. In the second video I was in about 4 feet of water, standing above the sea grass. There was just enough flow to the water to make the grass peacefully move back and forth. Above the water in the distance you can easily see one of the two nearby shipwrecks.

Pam’s birthday cruise – part 7 – it’s all over ‘cept the memories

We’re back home now. I still can’t get over how beautiful the reef at Roatan Island, Honduras is. Our voyage back north from Honduras was pretty uneventful, except for …. what happened to the Cuban Refugees? There were rumors throughout the ship. They’d been dropped off in Mexico – that’s why we docked even though many of the ships didn’t because of the danger from the high winds. Or, we’re going to drop them off with the Cuban military as we pass by Cuba on the way home. Or, we’re going to turn them over to the US Coast Guard somewhere in south Florida.

Turns out the last one was the correct story. As we neared Key West, the cruise director made an announcement that we’d be meeting a Coast Guard cutter and transferring the refugees. He didn’t say what would happen to them after that. The wind and waves finally were starting to subside, so there wasn’t any difficulty with the mashup. (Had to through that word in there. I hate it.)

But it was kinda like the Keystone Cops. The reason we had kept the refugees all week long was because the Coast Guard Cutter had mechanical difficulties on the day we found them. On Saturday, as the cutter drew alongside us, they lowered their red Zodiac into the water, and came over to pick up the folks a 3 at a time. They grabbed the first group, and pulled away from our ship. Then they started slowing down, then drifting backwards. Their outboard engine had stalled out and they couldn’t get it restarted. A guy fiddled with the engine while the other kept trying the ignition switch. Nada. After a couple of minutes they were pretty far behind us and the cutter, and it looked like our rescue boat would have to go rescue the Coast Guard Zodiac. I was embarrassed for the guys.

But then they finally got the engine started (to a rousing set of cheers from our ship), and made the transfer. The refugees were taken aboard the cutter and processed. We could see them filling out some paperwork, and they had to put on special wristbands (no, not handcuffs). As the last group was offloaded we could see the same guy who was last to leave their original boat. They were smiling and hugging each other once again. Our ship gave a couple of loud blasts with its horn, everyone cheered, and away we went. The cruise director announced they were being taken to a Cuban refugee camp in the Keys.

Saturday evening we all went to the lounge where the band sang Happy Birthday to Cindy. We had a couple of beers, danced a few dances, took pictures with the band, and called it a night.

We sailed our way back into Tampa Bay in the early hours on Sunday morning. The ship’s fog horn sounded every so often; the fog was super thick. Anyone who lives near Channelside, like on Davis Island, had to be blasted awake by the horn. Very loud. It meant business.

After I posted my refugee pictures on my Flickr site I did a search there and discovered we weren’t the first cruise ship to pick up Cuban refugees. But our group definitely had the best boat. Our people looked like they were out on a merry boat ride – some of the others were rescued from totally unseaworthy “boats”.

Well, Pam and Cindy are suddenly another year older, Dave is about to be, and me just a couple of weeks away. Time flies. It was great to see them on the cruise. Dave had fully recovered from his water fountain fun times, care of the Cayman Islands. He definitely didn’t mind that part being over with. : )

Let’s do it again!

Pam’s birthday cruise, part 6 – Roatan Island

During the middle of the night I woke up and took a look at the Ship Map Channel. What the…? We had done a couple of zig-zags and now were doing a loop-de-loop. Huh? The map zoomed out a bit then I could see – Belize and Roatan are so close to each other that it doesn’t really take long to get from here to there. . . so we were in a holding pattern. Didn’t really want to dock at night. So I went back to sleep.

Woke up early and checked the Ship Map Channel again. (I’m becoming addicted to it.). Winds are 20-25. But as we make our way around the south side of the island, the wind drops. Hey! This could be good. During breakfast we all make predictions on whether we’ll actually get to snorkel. And as we dock, we can see clear blue water and coral right beside us. Hey, just let me jump over and do some snorkeling here!

Then the announcements started – most of the tours including ours are on the north side of the island. The side that’s getting pounded by 25 knot winds and big waves. Canceled again. Rats! So we all dash downstairs to see what is available. Hey – Coral Cay Island Snorkeling. Sweet! We quickly choose that one. If the water is anything like what’s outside our ship we’ll be fine. There’s no wind and waves on this side since the wind is out of the north. This could be really good!

We hop on a tired old van and head off to the snorkeling spot. Heh – the van was on its last legs about 10 years ago. Don’t know how it was still running, but it got us there. The skies were still a bit overcast and we could see mist in the distance coming our way, but the water – beautiful. Serene. And we were going snorkeling.

A couple of large ships had wrecked during storms years ago, their hulks standing guard over the snorkeling area. The water was nice and warm and calling our names. We started off in some shallow water – about 6 feet, but the guide told us it would quickly drop off to 50 feet down a ledge, then all the way down to 2000 feet. Cool.

The shallow coral had a lot of sand on top, and I started preparing myself for a disappointing time. But as we headed out to deeper water, the topping sand gave way to the most beautiful coral fields I’ve ever seen. I was floored. The variety. The color. The expansiveness. Unbelievable.

I took picture after picture. I’d drop down to 20 feet and snap a few pictures until my out of practice lungs would start screaming at me to surface. Oh, for a scuba tank! Just let me stay down here for a couple of hours. I don’t need to go too deep – just anywhere along here. Beautiful coral.

I have been spoiled.

I’ll post a couple of pictures here, but take a look at some of the others over on my Flickr site. I’ll wait for you to come back.

Pam’s birthday cruise, part 5 – Belize

The wind gods are still in charge. We woke up early today and I immediately turned on the Ship Map Channel. On the water, still blowing 30 with gusts to 40 knots. Betcha we’re not going snorkeling today. And a couple of hours later we, and everyone else who had water sports planned – all that stuff was canceled because of the wind and waves. At least Dave was starting to feel a bit better, but he was still quarantined to his cabin until the doctors could check him out around 10 AM. They were going to hang on the boat for the day.

So Pam and I dashed downstairs and decided to go horseback riding. We took a splashy tender boat to shore and climbed aboard a bus that took us on a 25 mile adventure. We were startled at the number of simple looking houses that had fences. That wasn’t the startling part, though. It was the razor wire at the top of the fences. Odd. The part of the country we drove through was quite poor looking immediately outside the protected tourist area.

On the bus the young woman guide announced that it was her very first day on the bus. She was obviously nervous; she said a couple of things then clamed up. Oops. She handed the mike to the driver who gave us a pretty humorous and entertaining ride. We talked to the gal after we got off the bus, and discovered she is 37 years old. She looked 17. And she has 5 children. She had been working as a waitress at the hacienda part of the horse center; she was supposed to start on the bus next week. They surprised her – she was also supposed to get a script to study. She was so nervous. She smiled, we smiled, she laughed and we laughed with her and said she did fine. She was very sweet.

We had to wait a while before the horses were ready, so Pam and I lounged in some hammocks near the pool. OK. Just let me stay here for the afternoon and I’ll be good. Man, gotta get a couple of these for home.

The horseback ride took us through some of the jungle. We were protected from the strong winds – where we were there was just a slight breeze with overcast skies. There were cool looking Tarzan vines hanging down and enormous ferns that grew over 20 feet tall. It was beautiful and very peaceful.

Pam had a spirited horse that was willing to trot along at the most subtle urging. Mine? A real slowpoke named Guinness. He must have had a few before we started, because no matter what I did he stayed in one gear. Plod. By the end of the ride I was glad to have a plodder. I was getting saddle sore; who knows what kind of blisters I’d have had if Guinness had any speed. Pam had a great time and she looked like a total natural in the saddle.

When we got back to the ship we had dinner with Cindy and Dave (who only ate some simple soup, poor guy). Tomorrow morning is Roatan Island, Honduras. Our last shore day before heading back. Our last chance to go snorkeling. Before heading up for the night I checked with the purser for the weather forecast for tomorrow. 20-25 knot winds are predicted. It’s going to be iffy.

Pam’s birthday cruise, part 4 – splash in Cozumel

We sailed from the Cayman Islands to Cozumel New Year’s night. Dave was still quarantined, and wouldn’t be able to see the doctor again until this morning. Pam and I got a good night’s sleep though, worn out from all the partying New Year’s Eve and all the excitement in Grand Cayman. But around 3AM I woke up and noticed the ship was bouncing around a bunch. So far the gulf had been nice and smooth, but now we were rocking. I turned on the Ship Map Channel to see what the wind speed was. I couldn’t believe my eyes. There were 50 knot winds with gusts over 60. Wow. The air outside was still relatively warm, but the wind had definitely kicked up some waves. Maybe the island would knock down some of the wind and waves and we’d still get to go kayaking. Maybe not.

We slowly arrived in Cozumel, and you could tell the ship was having a hard time docking. The wind was still as strong as ever. We looked off in the distance and saw a couple of other ships that had successfully docked, but also saw a couple that gave up and headed back out to sea. Then the cruise director came over the mike and started announcing the canceled shore excursions. Pretty much everything was canceled.

Dave went to the infirmary where they confirmed he needed to stay quarantined. Come back and see them at 10 the next day. Ouch. So much for doing anything off the boat in Belize, too. We felt so bad for him. He felt so bad period.

Pam and Cindy decided to go onto shore and do a little shopping. I hung out on the boat and then noticed the large waves splashing against the pier where it met the shoreline. There was a perfect meeting of wind, waves, and pier, all of which made for some fantastic splashes and spray. I grabbed my Nikon and headed to the aft portion of the Lido deck to watch the action. I wasn’t the only one with that idea. The way the boat was situated the back of the Lido deck was sheltered from the wind. It also had a perfect view of everyone who tried to make it onto shore without getting wet. Pretty much an impossible task.

People would completely disappear from view. And almost every time the guys would leave their gals behind to fend for themselves. The man would see the wave coming and book it out of the way. The woman…. splash. There was one guy who stayed right with the gal he was with. They both got drenched. Sucker.

Some of the expressions on people’s faces were absolutely classic. Every time they would see the blast coming they would get a fatalistic look (sometimes of horror), and bring a hand up to protect themselves. Every time. And most of the time they would stop in their tracks and cringe. Just to get soaked even that much more. I took hundreds of pictures, using burst mode to capture the waves on a couple dozen groups. That evening after I uploaded the pictures, Pam, Cindy, and I rolled on the floor laughing as we spotted people who would wait in the background trying to figure out the wave pattern. But it was too unpredictable. They’d finally make a run for it and still get clobbered.

The waves didn’t have pity on anyone. A guy getting pushed in a wheelchair – splash! A guy walking with a cane – soaked! Twice yet. A mother with her little girl in a stroller – SPLASH! No slack for anybody.

It turned out to be an entertaining way to spend the day. People were cheering and clapping, rooting for people to make it without getting wet, then roaring with laughter when someone would take a bath. Good times in Cozumel. Next stop tomorrow, Belize. Hopefully this wind will die down and we’ll be able to go catamaran sailing / snorkeling.

Pam’s birthday cruise, part 3 – stingrays

While I was diving the depths off Grand Cayman, Pam, Cindy and Dave headed off to Stingray Island to commune with those violent creatures.

Now they had a great time. Pam even got kinda intimate with one, and has a picture to prove it. She said they weren’t slimy at all, and their mouths were like super strong vacuum cleaners. They were out to eat the hand-fed squid, and weren’t shy about trying to take it from you. They also knew that the blue bucket held the squid. Anyone close to it was subject to a hickey. Women were shouting “Stay away from the blue bucket.” It was a laugh riot.

After playing with the rays for a while they browsed the tourist shops on Grand Cayman. Dave made the mistake of drinking some water out of a public water fountain. Big mistake. That evening he started feeling odd and the next morning went to the doctor. He’d contracted a bit of lower GI fun. They didn’t know if he was contagious even though Cindy hadn’t gotten sick, and to be safe (and to keep the rest of the ship safe), Dave was quarantined to his cabin for 24 hours. Clear liquids for several hours. Ect. No partying for Dave in Cozumel, our next port.

But it turned out he didn’t miss too much. The weather was about to take a turn for the worse.

Pam’s birthday cruise, part 3 – Cayman Islands

Pam headed off to Stingray Island with Cindy and Dave. I smeared toothpaste on my mask then trudged along with my diving gear for a two tank dive off one of the walls on the west side of the island. If you’ve never tried toothpaste to help keep your mask from fogging, give it a try. It works great.

The dives were a total blast. There were 20 others on the dive boat, but it was pretty roomy and we went down in two groups, so it didn’t seem that crowded. I was paired up with a guy who’d traveled across the country to get to Tampa for the cruise. At some point from the Tampa airport to his cabin, someone went through his luggage and stole his regulator, including his dive computer. He was a bit bummed. I always detach my computer and carry it around with me in my backpack – I never check it in with the luggage. Guess it pays off.

On the boat they had a mixture of baby shampoo & water in a spray bottle, so I spritzed my mask with that for good measure. (Yet another excellent anti-fog method.) It and the toothpaste worked their magic. My mask didn’t fog at all.

The water was clear and warm, but I still wore my shortie wetsuit. I’m Mr. Wimpy, after all and don’t like getting cold. And I’d hauled the thing around with me in my luggage, so I felt I needed to at least wear some of the suit.

The dive leader was just a kid. While he and I were waiting on the surface for the others in the group to splash in, he said, “Welcome to my office.” Dang. What a concept. What a way to live.

One thing that really amazed me was how inexperienced a few of the divers were. They asked some really basic questions, one didn’t know how to clear her snorkel, and here they were going down on a wall that drops to 2000 feet deep. Yikes. I hope they have good insurance.

My dive buddy didn’t check his buoyancy before descending and was very under-weighted, so when he tried to go down, he didn’t. I quickly dropped to 20 feet, looked around and didn’t see him anywhere. The bottom, heading over to the ledge, was 60 feet. I looked up and spotted him, still stuck at the surface.

He worked and worked and finally made it deep, but was having to fight the whole time to stay down. I could tell he wasn’t having any fun.

The reef at Grand Cayman was beautiful, with a large variety of coral and fish. Our first dive had us over a wall that dropped down to over 2000 feet deep. Maybe the guy who was having difficulty getting deep was just being overly cautious. Not too many people survive a dive to the very bottom. He ended up not going on the second dive. His head was hurting and his sinuses had stopped up.

The second dive was in a different spot on the reef, about a mile away. There was a nice ledge with an large overhang about 15 feet off the bottom. A giant lobster was hiding in one of the nooks. Ah, he would have made a nice dinner.

I took a bunch of pictures while I was down, but couldn’t really tell how they were coming out. I could tell that my flash was brining out colors that are typically filtered out from the water. I looked at the display after my first picture and saw stunning red – that coral looked black without the extra light. Cool.

After the dive was over and I made it back to the cruise liner I uploaded the pictures to my computer. Overall I was pleased with the camera and housing. It captured some really good images. I learned the hard way that the flash, even with the diffuser in front of it, could easily overexpose the picture. And when the flash is used the camera slows the shutter down to 1/60th of a second. That’s too slow. It’s easy to move the camera and blur the picture. I need to see if there’s a way to keep the shutter fast even while using flash. I also need to practice more to see when I need to use macro mode vs normal mode.

The videos I took came out really nice, but I learned that I need to make slower movements with the camera. Sometimes it looked like I had ADD, focusing in on something for a couple of seconds then blurring the camera as I moved onto something else that grabbed my attention. Live and learn.