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Topics - Something Fishy

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Tech Talk / Photo Plus Expo NY: Free Pass
« on: October 19, 2017, 01:18:44 PM »

Choose a free expo pass of 15% off the conference.

Come say Hi!

Up In The Air / DL Economy: 20k RT to Hawaii, 12k to Carribean
« on: October 10, 2017, 01:24:55 PM »
Search on DL. Many dates available.


Up In The Air / VX Flights Now Bookable With BA Avios
« on: October 08, 2017, 03:11:59 PM »
For flights after 4/25/18 (will likely be AS flight number by then). Needs to be called in. Regular award chart applies.

HT: Lucky


It was many years ago that I discovered the existence of Jade Mountain Resort on the island of St. Lucia. This was years before I discovered my true love of travel and the miles and points game which made it all possible; all I knew was that this incredible place existed and that I want to stay there, preferably to celebrate my tenth wedding anniversary. The fact that rooms are between $2000 and $3000 a night didn't faze me much; clearly, by the time I was married for ten years I'd be a millionaire (at least!) and able to afford it, no problem.

Well as the years went by my tenth anniversary inched ever closer, but the million dollars remained elusive. It was becoming clear that there is no way in the world that I am blowing ten grand on a few night's worth of Jade Mountain. While the resort has remained on my bucket list, for the last few years I've been vaguely looking for an alternative place to go.

While the Maldives or Bora Bora were the obvious candidates, we needed something closer as we couldn't leave our daughter for too long. My main objectives were privacy and incredible snorkeling; with that and the time constraints, the obvious answer was somewhere in the Caribbean.

And so I found myself a few months ago marching into the house, cold, wet, and exhausted. I had just finished shoveling three feet of snow off the driveway and I was sick of it. I plopped down on the couch with one goal: book a tropical vacation.

Looking through a collection of "top places to snorkel" type lists, one unlikely place kept on popping up: the Bay Islands of Honduras. I had never even heard of these islands, and yet here they were, touted as a snorkeling and diving mecca. Further research showed that this was indeed true - despite not exactly being on a typical tourist's radar, the underwater world here is absolutely beautiful and pristine.

Still sitting on my couch on that cold, cold, wet day, a magical word jumped out at me: cheap private island.

Cheap private island? If there was an oxymoron in the travel world, surely this is it. Private islands are for the likes of Richard Branson and I don't know... the Queen of England? No way that a schlub like me could ever afford to even rent one for a few nights.

But if the internet says that a cheap private island can be had in Honduras, it's gotta be true. Do I duly did some research, and lo, not only does it exist, but the reviews were numerous and positive!

A private island? Incredible snorkeling? Cheap, to boot? Sign me up! I immediately fired off an email to the owner and got the booking-ball rolling.

The first thing I needed to do is choose an island. Yes, it turns out that there are actually two  to choose from... Sandy Cay is the smaller one of the two, but offered more privacy and a better reef. Little Cay is a bit bigger (yes, I know...), has a larger and nicer house, and a protected swimming area great for kids. Considering that our priorities were privacy and snorkeling, Sandy Cay easily emerged as the winner.

And so, for the princely sum of $140 a night, we became the sole inhabitants of a private island in paradise.

And by private, I mean private. There is nothing on the island but sand, palm trees, and a single house. No neighbors, no staff, no yentas insistent on learning your entire family history. Just utter and complete privacy.

The reviews were invaluable for a number of reasons, most importantly for helping to set expectations. This was not a 5-star resort; if I had to quantify the house, I'd compare it to a bungalow in the Catskills. Large and decent, but not new or fancy by any stretch of the imagination (I'll expound on these details greatly further along in this TR). The pictures on their website were somewhat out of date; but recent reviews and trip reports more than made up for that.

Booking the island was somewhat of an adventure in and of itself. Honduras, being the third-world country that it is, is slow enough. Couple that with "island time" and every email took three days to get a response to. Eventually we learned to live with it; that's just how things are done there (we had the same exact experience with every Honduran we dealt with). Payment was by Money Gram only, and 50% up front was required to secure the reservation. Not something I'd normally be comfortable with, but reading many people's positive experiences sure helped. It took over a week, but eventually everything was all set.

Now we had to figure out how to get there; this was by far easier said than done.

Getting to Honduras itself is easy; there are tons of flights to San Pedro Sula (SAP), which is the biggest city in the country and its main point of entry. UA, AV, and CM all fly there, so there was even decent *A award availability. The problem with that (of course there's a problem!) is that getting from there to the islands involves an overnight. With SAP holding the honorable distinction of the third most dangerous city in the world (recently downgraded from #1), that was not a particularly relishing thought.

Additionally, there were a few other wrinkles that complicated the flight planning tremendously. As per anecdotal accounts online, the mainland airports were far stricter at customs than on the islands; the flights to SAP mostly left between 1 and 3am, which was highly undesirable; and if I was going to Honduras, I really really wanted to fly in and out of TGU, which has been on my bucket list forever.

To top all that off, I had won a raffle recently for $600 worth of airfare which I wanted to use on this trip, which made me lean away from using only points. In any case, pretty much all the award availability was in J, which seemed like a waste on such relatively short flights.

And then came the internal flights... There are very few scheduled flights to the islands, none on "real" airlines, and most are on Shabbos anyway. But we could charter a plane for quite cheap... Or should we instead take a pair of ferries, which takes 4 hours but costs less...?

As you can imagine, adding all this up into a comprehensive itinerary resulted in the mother of all spreadsheets.

After weeks of looking, booking, and cancelling, I had an itinerary in place. On Sunday, we'd fly United to Houston and on to Roatan - the "big" airport on the islands. Overnight on Roatan. Monday morning we'd charter a plane to the next, smaller island, Utila. In Utila we'd meet the owner of our island and be taken over by boat, where we'd stay for three nights.

For the return, we'd take boat back to Utila early Thursday morning. We'll fly a hinky-dinky airline called Aerolineas Sosa to La Ceiba (on the mainland) and continue over to Tegucigalpa. From there we'd fly Copa to Panama City, have lunch in town, and fly home to JFK.

United: EWR-IAH-RTB; $436 x2, -$600 from the raffle. Booked in Y, got Y+ due to status, got upgraded to J on the second leg.
Private charter: RTB-UII; $278 for the plane.
Aerolineas Sosa: UII-LCE-TGU; $139 x2.
Copa: TGU-PTY-JFK; 30k UA x2, booked in J.

With an overnight on Roatan, only one thing was left: find a hotel. Luckily, this turned out to be a rather easy task: the top rated hotel on Trip Advisor was also the cheapest. $75 secured us a room in the lovely Seagrape Plantation Resort, which we ended up being extremely pleased with.

And so after a few weeks of planning, we were all set for an epic anniversary trip.

Photobucket just decided to charge $400/year to host your images. If you have anything uploaded and embedded there your images will no longer show up. You will need to re-upload and re-link from a different image host.

Personally, I need to redo all GIFs on my TRs now. (My images are hosted on Flickr, but my GIFs are on Photobucket.)

Of course the question is how do we know that your new host will not pull the same trick next week... Maybe it's time to have TR pictures hosted on the DDF side.

Mods - it seems that we'd need a mechanism for users to edit their old TR posts; I know I do. Maybe some sort of temporary permissions on a thread by thread basis.

I have MVP status to give away. I'll give it to the first person who has at least 100 posts and will in return make a donation of at least $50 to any tzedaka.

PM me.

There's so much conflicting information online... anyone mind sharing their experiences, especially regarding side affects? Mefloquine, Doxycycline, Malarone...

Of course the obvious answer is to discuss it with my doctor, but he likely has less experience with this subject than I do and will end up Googling it himself.

Or if someone has the name of a doc who knows his way around this in the NY area, feel free to share.

Just Shmooze / TPG Master Thread
« on: May 04, 2017, 06:42:20 PM »
Get your barf bags out, folks. I made it to 3 or 4 paragraphs before it got too much.


Education, company reps, free giveaways.

First 200 people will get a free 500GB Thunderbolt hard drive. There will be door prizes also ("while supplies last"), although I'm not sure what those will be (probably nothing spectacular). No purchase necessary.

There will probably be lines before the doors open at 10, so take that into account if you're interested.


This normally costs $199.

I've had this for a number of years now and highly recommend it. It's similar to Lightroom and does your typical RAW editing and so on, but the beauty lies in its incredible noise reduction capabilities. Whenever I have a picture that's hopelessly noisy (either from too-high an ISO or waaay underexposed) I drop it into OpticsPro and let the magic happen. Lightroom and Photoshop don't even come close.

This is not the very latest version (that would be 11), but you'd get pretty much the same denoising capabilities. I'm still on 9, myself.

Trip Reports / For The Birds: On A Wild Goose Chase With Something Fishy
« on: December 19, 2016, 12:25:05 AM »
Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico has long been on my radar. About an hour and a half south of Albuquerque, this oasis in the northernmost reaches of the Chihuahuan Desert is one of the most important birding areas in the world. The Rio Grande provides water for a network of man-made ponds, canals, and dikes, which play host to immense numbers of migrating birds.

December is the biggest month on the refuge. The biggest attractions are the snow geese, normally numbering around 20,000, and the approximately 10,000 sandhill cranes. On top of these are tens of thousands of "assorted" ducks and birds, both predators and prey. A typical December could see as much as 100,000 individual birds in total.

The refuge is also home to one of the most amazing spectacles in nature: the morning blast-off. As soon as the sun rises, countless thousands of snow geese suddenly lift off as one from their ponds, in an amazing cacophony of sight and sound.

From the moment I learnt of this place I've been dying to photograph it, but every year brought another reason for postponing it. Finally, this year, I bit the bullet and booked tickets for a quick, two-day trip to the Bosque. It didn't take much work to - yet again ;D - rope in whYME and Cat In The Hat to join me.

Round-trip tickets on JetBlue to ABQ came in at a very reasonable 15.9k miles, plus 500 miles each way for Even More Legroom (gotta love Mosaic!).

The only town of any consequence in the area is Socorro, which is about 25 minutes away. Hotels in town were either $400/night affairs, or run-down Motel 6-style places. Being that all we needed was a bed-bug free mattress to spend a couple of hours in, we went with the terribly-reviewed Days Inn. 2 star rating wherever you looked, but everyone agreed that the place is at least clean. That was good enough for us, and for $50 a night it was just what we needed.

For a car we reserved a mid-size at National for around $80 all-in, hoping for easy pickings at the Executive Aisle. As a backup, we had a mini van reserved there as well (under a different name) for around $130.

Camera gear-wise I traveled relatively lightly, being that it was a short trip and that 99% of pictures will require the same basic setup (D500 and 150-600mm lens):

  • Nikon D500 camera
  • Nikon D600 camera
  • Sigma 150-600mm lens
  • Nikon 70-200 f/2.8 lens
  • Nikon 24-70 f/2.8 lens
  • Nikon 14/24 f/2.8 lens
  • Nikon 85 f/1.8 lens
  • Nikon TC1.4 teleconverter
  • Manfrotto 055XPROB tripod
  • Oben CC-2391 tripod
  • Oben BB-101 ballhead
  • Oben GH-50 gimbal
  • Lowepro ProRunner 450 backpack
  • The typical collection of batteries, filters, remotes, and such sundry

For food I decided to try a different type of KSML, one that I'd seen at my local grocery. Two of these plus some homemade food and I was good to go:

I ended up being quite happy with them. The food was simple yet tasty; nothing fancy, just good heimesha food. The cutlet was better than the sesame chicken, but both were quite good and filling. No, it isn't POM or its ilk; but for all of 9 bucks it was a solid value.

Finally it was time to go... The ride from the city to the airport at rush hour was horrendous, as expected; flight was quite nice, as expected; and despite some minor delays we landed in Albuquerque fairly on time, as expected.

For such a small airport, it sure is a pain to get to the car rentals in ABQ. But a short shuttle ride later we were in the rental lot, which to our great disappointment was pretty much empty. Just as we were coming to the conclusion that there's no Executive Aisle for us to pick from, the attendant walks up.

"What would you rather, the Cadillac Escalade, or the Infiniti QX80?"

Yes, sirree! Now that's what I'm talkin' about.

Without further ado, we were loading our bags into a brand-new QX80... with 11 miles on the clock:

For 40 bucks a day. Not a bad deal... not at all.

The drive down to Socorro was quick and painless. Before long we were settled in the hotel and in bed.

At 4:30 the next morning it was off on a literal wild goose chase.

Go to your profile and add your work email into the applicable field and get a $50 Airbnb credit after your next stay.

The Airbnb Business search has a bit fewer results than the general search, but the selection is still tremendous. It is also unclear if you need to book specifically via the business page to be eligible for the credit or if you can book anything.

This is a fantastic alternative to Photoshop, and nearly as powerful. Was Mac-only till now, and was selected Apple's App of the Year. It's being released for Windows now, and they're giving away the Beta for free. The software normally costs $50.

You get RAW processing, HDR, layers, basically pretty much most of Photoshop and Lightroom's features.

Get the download here.

Some more good info here.

Today only.

Package 1 - $100 (normally $230):
3 Cordless handsets
3 Indoor cameras
1 Outdoor camera
3 Window/door sensors
1 Motion sensor
1 Water leak sensor

Package 2 - $80 (normally $180):
Same as above but 1 indoor camera instead of 3, and 2 outdoor cameras instead of 1.

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