Clock didn’t tick for long since my first visit to US and I got a chance to visit Redmond again. Another high priority work, short deadline and huge expectations.
August 11, 2017
Hot summer evening and snacks break. A kind of perfect time to gossip about things around you. I was discussing entrepreneurship journey with my friend who was in Hyderabad for a startup conference. His zeal and passion to build something was making me go crazy and it hooked me in no time. Suddenly, my phone rang. It usually flashes name of the person at the other end only when something important comes up. Last time it did was when I had a trip to US and the second time, I got promoted.
“Hey Aashish! How are you doing man?”, my manager asked.
“It’s good”. While I was talking, another thread in my mind was trying to find clue on what might be the reason for this urgent meeting.
“Some urgent work has come up. We have to start on this immediately. Before I tell you the specifics, let me warn you that the timeline is quite aggressive and you have to be really efficient in delivering it. We have carefully chosen two engineers with strong debugging skills who can fix and unblock issues quickly.”, he explained the situation in one deep breathe.
“What is the ETA?”, I asked.
“YESTERDAY”, he smiled. “One thing that can be of your interest is that there is an opportunity to visit Redmond. I know that you love traveling. Based on the peer feedback and the work you have been doing, you have proven yourself to be the guy who gets the work done.”, he continued further.
“You can think over the weekend and tell me if you are interested in taking up this opportunity. I would like if you say yes”, he was done with talking.
Well, I didn’t know if I had a choice to press the NO button. Nevertheless, there were multiple reasons on why I wanted to work in that area. There was high visibility and sole ownership. I wanted to work on something new. Plus visiting Redmond was the icing on the cake. I didn’t need a weekend to make up my mind.
“I see it as a fantastic opportunity from the visibility perspective. I am in”, I was excited.
“Thanks man! I will let you know the dates”, he looked happy.
August 25, 2017
I wrapped up the work I was doing and started getting myself familiar with Applescript, a Mac automation language. 2 weeks later, I came to know the exact date to travel.
In my last visit to US, I missed shooting Seattle the way I wanted because of last minute ticket booking and not bringing the right gear. Two things I did over the weekend. I started a mail thread in Microsoft Photography Club about the best places to shoot and if anyone wanted to accompany me. Second, I booked tickets in my favorite airlines, Emirates.
Technical bugs can snatch away your happiness. Just before 4 days of travel, I received mail from American Express Travel Agency saying my ticket in Emirates was not booked because of some technical glitch. The front end and back end were not in sync and there was a problem communicating my ticket booking request. What I received was the itinerary and not the flight tickets. They were in continuous talk with Emirates folks for 2 days. But no luck. I, finally booked tickets in British Airways.
Based on recommendations from my friends in company, I created a list of places to shoot in Seattle. The list topped with capturing Space Needle from different view points.
September 1, 2017
“Good morning, Mr Aashish!”, the gorgeous lady at the Checkin counter greeted. “Would you like a more luxurious and comfortable journey.”, she asked and explained the business class etiquette.
“Is it a free upgrade?”
“I’m sorry. But No”
“I think I will do just fine”, the happiness was gone in the split of a second.
The same lady was wandering around after an hour looking for me.
“May I see your boarding pass please”, she asked.
“Is there a problem?”, I asked and handed over my pass to her.
“Not if upgrading is an issue for you. Make sure you travel business next time by yourself”, she smiled.
I couldn’t believe it. Last evening I was reading some blog for free upgrade and their tips worked. This was first time I was traveling with British.
It didn’t feel any different until she asked, “Would you like to have some Champagne sir?”
Their menu never changes
I stayed in the same Marriott hotel I chose last time. I must say, they don’t like a change. Nothing had changed in 8 months. Same California grapes, juicy pineapple and waffles with chocolate chips.
My schedule in US was simple. Wake up at 4:30 in the morning, take hot water bath in bathtub, reach office by 8-8:30. Mornings are best when you want great productivity and efficiency. I got 5 free evenings dedicated to photography.
Day 1 – Kerry Park and Alki beach
I met Vijay, a Microsoft engineer and a wildlife photographer. We planned to shoot sunset at Kerry Park and skyline at Alki beach. It was a sunny day and there were chances to get good drama in sky and Mt Rainier in the behind.
The blue hour beauty
This is another picture from my Space Needle series captured in blue hour. 10 points to those who noticed Mt. Rainier in the background before reading this.You have to be really lucky to capture it from Kerry Park. The day has to be clear and sky has to be smoke free to frame the beauty of Space Needle and Mt. Rainier in one postcard shot. When I was in Seattle, due to some wildfire, whole Seattle was in smoke and haze. Mt. Rainier was visible on only 2 days.
I took 3 pictures in different exposures when the sun was about to set. One, for the Space Needle, second for the Mt. Rainier, and third for the rest. I then blended these pictures in Photoshop to bring what I witnessed there.
PS: Did you know that Space Needle is the 8th most photographed subject in the world?
Lonely Space Needle under the moon
Kerry Park in Seattle is very famous among photographers for its postcard view of Space Needle. On a good lucky day when the sky is clear, part of Mt. Rainier can be seen too just behind the Space Needle. Vijay and I had planned for shooting sunset, blue hour and of course moon as we were shy of just 3 days from full moon. We reached Kerry 2 hours before sunset and found that there was some construction going on and it was making our frames look not as good as we planned. Making up early there came to our rescue as we were able to grab the best spot to avoid the cranes. We could feel the envy of fellow photographers.
The moon stood high above Space Needle at around 8:30 and I captured two pictures with different exposures, one with the moon in focus and the other with the Needle. I then blended those two pictures in Photoshop to get closer to what I witnessed there. Photography is about patience. We had to wait 4 hours for few good pictures.
Technique used: Exposure bracketing and blending
Day 2 – Waterfront Park
This picture reminds me of the serene beauty, I oftentimes wish to visit. The place where there is a bridge and a big lake around. A fusion of man made and nature. Waterfront park in Seattle is quite pictureque and you can’t go wrong anytime in evening. I wanted to shoot sunset, but ended up capturing blue hour as the sky was not dramatic that day because of smoke.
I shot two pictures at different exposures, one for the bridge and the railing on right and second for the rest. Due to dark, there was noise in picture which was corrected using longer exposure. I then blended those pictures in Photoshop.
Day 3: Columbia Skyview tower
The Great Wheel teleport
Seattle Great Wheel from 73rd floor of Columbia sky tower looked like a toy. I wondered what would it look like if it were to be teleported. I pulled out 35mm, slowed shutter to 13 seconds at f14 and pano’ed while capturing. It took 20 minutes and multiple shots to bring the wheel to perfection. The result was no less than what we get to see in sci-fi movies.
Technique: Single capture pano.
Day 4: Waterfront park
Waterfront Park was something I fell in love with. I visited there again to shoot the beautiful fountain.
Capturing this frame was like a dream come true. Ever since I owned a camera, I had this routine of checking famous photographers’ portfolio and their work. The smooth flow of waterfall and fountains always intimidated me. Their gigantic beauty and mesmerizing views has the power to render anyone spellbound and speechless.
The moment I set foot in Waterfront park in Seattle, I had this composition in mind where the fountain would be in foreground hiding part of Great Wheel in the back. I wanted to shoot sunset. But due to some wildfire, whole Seattle was in smoke and haze. The sunset was very dull and unfortunately there was no drama in the sky. There were two challenges in capturing this picture. One, the wheel rotates every now and then. Two, the wheel changes color thereby casting different color shade onto the fountain. I shot two pictures, one with 25s exposure to give smooth flowing feel to the water and brighten the foreground and the other with 10s exposure to lit the wheel. To make sure this blends in a perfect one picture, I waited for the right moment when wheel was not rotating and there was enough time to capture two pictures without the change in color of lights.
Follow me on Instagram to see more of my work:instagram.com/aashishbarnwal/
Day 5: Gasworks park
Guns in the air
Gasworks Park in Seattle is famous for its cylindrical structures. One can get one of the best views of Skyline there. A part of it looks like big guns pointed to the sky when shot during sunset. This is a composite picture. Birds have been added in Photoshop.
Seattle is the most beautiful city I have visited so far. From magnificent skylines to gigantic mountains, from beautiful lake to green valley, from big shopping complexes to small huts, your eyes can never stop wandering. Sunset would make you wonder if this is real. I have just fallen in love with the city. I had plan for visiting Gasworks Park to shoot skyline and the large gas cylindrical structure. What I didn’t know was that it also offers a clean green valley where you can see a lot of couples roaming around. This looked like a perfect spot for photographers and love birds alike. When the sun was about to set and the sky changed its color, I saw this lovely couple holding hands and walking towards the sunset horizon. Although the park was full of people, I got lucky to frame only what I wanted.
The Piano Store
Being a Piano fanatic, I visited Classic Pianos in Bellevue. More than anything, I wanted to own a Piano since quite long. I tried many Pianos, ranging from 5k to 25k dollars. I really liked one from Yamaha and longing to get it.
Photography or Shopping?
Last day in US was annihilated in shopping at Seattle Premium Outlets. It was a tough decision as I wanted to visit the majestic Mt. Rainier and shoot the Paradise and Reflection view points. But due to some wildfire, whole Seattle was in smoke and haze. Parts of Mt. Rainier were closed until the wildfire settled down. I heard that there was some view point which was open and I was desperate to go there. But my friend wanted to buy things for his family. Premium Outlets was 35 miles from our stay and we spent whole day shopping stuffs for our families.
Why do we click pictures? To frame moments, walk down memory lanes and reminisce about events that once awestrucked us. This post is a living example of how pictures help you to relive memories that would have otherwise been lost.
Luckily, I was able to get 4 days of vacation to visit California. California is a beautiful city and my main interest was to wander in the streets of Disney Land and Universal Studios. A dream of decade to see Sleeping beauty castle and roam around in Harry Potter Park with a wizard wand in hand was about to be fulfilled.
Spirit Airlines sucks
Having spent a huge chunk of money in shopping and local traveling, I was reluctant to burn another big hole in my pocket. Though I make exceptions if it comes to my family or my hobbies or sometimes my friends too, being raised in middle class, my brain is hardwired to see value for money. We got our tickets from Seattle to Los Angeles booked at cheaper rates. My plan looked something like:
One day in San Diego, Visit Disney Land and Universal Studios in LA.
Our plan screwed up when Spirit Airlines managed to fly late by 5 hours the same day I was to visit Disney Land. Spirit Airlines allows only 6 kgs cabin luggage, majority of which was occupied with my camera and its equipments. I managed to get one fine picture depicting bad weather of Seattle while roaming around impatiently at the airport.
Wonders of California
The first thing that comes to my mind when someone talks about California is that it is hotter. From Seattle’s chilling winter where you need layered wear to LA’s summer, the change was very noticeable. One fine evening in Seattle, on the pavement outside Cheesecake Factory, I was waiting for my friend and slightly bored as she was running late. That’s when I witnessed the second snow fall in my life. Seattle is said to be depressing in winters. Well, didn’t look like it to me.
One of the best thing in California I observed was all happy faces around. It makes me wonder, “How can so many happy people exist at one place?”.
Day 1: Disney Land, LA
We reached LA at ~4:00 PM. It was 4:55 when we reached Disney Land. We were very grateful to book tickets online. It had already started getting dark.
Dreams do come true
Sleeping beauty castle was always in my To visit list. And people there were as crazy as I was after witnessing this magnificent beauty. Even the huge crowd couldn’t dampen the excitement. Happiness was in the air.
The castle looked even more magnificent when it got dark. As magical and brightening it could be, its starking contrast had the power to stop you from taking your eyes off it.
Every part of the park is quite picturesque. If you love taking pictures, it would be hard to put camera down for a moment. The park was full of families and there were so many kids around. It was funny to know that there was a separate parking for strollers and it was full.
They celebrate Diwali each day
Isn’t it exciting that they celebrate Diwali every day? It was the kind of fireworks we get to see at the start of each of Disney’s movie. It was beautiful and kind of spell bounding.
“Sleeping beauty castle in fireworks”
One of the things I remember very well from my trip to Disney Land, LA is the park being lit up in fireworks for around half an hour. This is probably the best fireworks I’ve witnessed in my life so far. Due to the huge crowd, trying my best to grab the best spot and not owning a wide angle lens back then, this is the best shot I could get. As you might have observed, in the center, lies there the peak of very famous Sleeping Beauty Castle.
They mark the end of day with an electric parade where you get to see almost every Disney character marching on the narrow roads with awestruck presentation.
The magical music
Disneyland seems particularly fond of Mozart. Being a classic music fanatic, it was pleasant to listen Mozart’s famous Allegro everywhere. It added flavors to the magical feeling. You can listen the music here.
It is really hard to imagine someone returning not happy after spending a day in the park. It was a very nice experience indeed for 100 USD.
Day 2 : Universal Studios Hollywood, LA
It wasn’t a difficult call to decide which one of the Theme Parks I wanted to spend 2 days in. I booked 2 days ticket for Universal Studios for 129 bucksI knew one day was not enough to quench my thirst for Harry Potter.
If you hail from India and happen to visit Ramoji film city in Hyderabad, Universal Studios is like Ramoji, just a thousand times better. It has theme parks and attractions of many famous characters. Minion Mayhem and the girl’s house, Transformers, Simpsons, Shrek, Walking dead, Mummy, Spongebob and the most important The wizarding world of Harry Potter.
The wizarding world of Harry Potter
If you are a No-Maj and are reading this, let me warn you muggle. What you are gonna read next is not everyone’s cup of tea. To feel the magic and connect with this fantabulastic world, it needs an exceptional level of imagination and a deep dive into the story. If not, bear no delusions, it would be just another story and another park for you. Chances are you may not understand Potterheads and their craziness.
A magical experience is all I would say. Even 2 decades of Harry Potter universe hasn’t lessened the craziness, The crowd was ecstatic and delighted. Their glittering eyes were reflection of dreams coming true. Being a person who has grown up with Harry Potter waiting relentlessly, I felt like going back into childhood.
Hogwarts, Hogmeade, Platform 9 3/4, Hogwarts Express, Diagon Alley, Three Broomsticks minus Madame Rosemerta, Ollivanders, Hagrid’s hut, Honeydukes, Zonko’s joke shop, Hog’s Head, Butterbeer cart, Post office. The park has got everything in attention to detail. I couldn’t have imagined it any better. People rushing in the narrow streets of Diagon Alley was as if it came from book alive.
The school of magic
I oftentimes wonder, how different life would be, how full of magic and fantastical beauty, if my Hogwarts letter would have arrived.
Ollivanders, makers of fine wand
Ollivanders, makers of fine wand since 382 BC, helping eleven years old getting their first wand. He very well portrayed the scene from the first movie where Harry gets his wand. It was as if I was teleported into the movie and watched it happen. As a matter of fact, wand chooses its master. When spell was read with wrong wand in hand, the shacks broke. The setting couldn’t have been more perfect.
I got The Elder Wand, magnificent and powerful.
Hogwarts Express about to leave from platform number 9 3/4.
Gringotts: The wizards’ bank
Enter, stranger, but take heed
Of what awaits the sin of greed
For those who take, but do not earn,
Must pay most dearly in their turn.
So if you seek beneath our floors
A treasure that was never yours,
Thief, you have been warned, beware
Of finding more than treasure there.
Gringotts. Wizards’ bank, run by Goblins. Gringotts is the safest place in the world for
anything you want to keep safe — ‘cept maybe Hogwarts.
A quick note on Hogwarts and Hogsmeade. Hogwarts is a magic school where you learn magic and how to control it for greater good. Hogsmeade is a village near Hogwarts where Harry and his friends used to go to chillax after tiring and exhausting exams.
The three broomsticks and Butterbeer
Three broomsticks is a well known pub in Hogsmeade, particularly famous of its delicious signature drink Butterbeer and its beautiful owner Madam Rosmerta.
The three broomsticks – The great feast
Time for some magical food in the Hogsmeade village. It was probably one of the best days of my life so far. Being a huge Harry Potter fan, how could I miss “The three broomsticks”? The famous tavern in Hogsmeade had its own charm. The magnificent dark ambience was perfect for talking in plain sight. It is no surprise why wizards and witches choose this place to hear gossips. Even the place being full of muggles that day couldn’t suppress my goosebumps.
A pint of Butterbeer at Three Broomsticks.
As a fan of wizarding world of Harry Potter since my very childhood, I fantasized about having a taste of Butterbeer. I always thought it would be like magic flowing in my veins. As I grew up and got a chance to have it, I must say it tasted something like Butterscotch. The Butterbeer lived up to its expectations. I could literally find myself diving into the magical world and remembered one of the greatest friendship I have ever known, the friendship of Harry, Ronald and Hermione. Sad part was I had to drink this alone.
I hope someday I will visit there again with my Ronald and Hermione.
Do you remember the roasted chicken Harry used to crave for when he stayed at his Uncle’s place during summers? Or when he used to eat like a hungry beast after long Quidditch practice?
Well, I tried the “Lemon herb roast chicken platter” at Three broomsticks and it was worth all the rumor.
The second home of Harry, Ronald and Hermione where they used to spend their free evenings when not worrying about Quidditch practices and studies. This is where Norbert was born. The lantern hanging across the wooden door was often used by them in Forbidden forest.
Magic was in the air
A kid practicing trying to rotate cauldron using Wingardium Leviosa spell in Hogwarts. Two kinds of wands they were selling in Ollivanders – Interactive and non-interactive. Interactive ones were real magic and could be used to turn lights on/off, float objects, turn on the water in a fountain, make birds sing and many more such stuffs.
To be continued… In the next post, I will talk more about Universal Studios and San Diego story.
Life can be smarter, better and more efficient by following 3 Cs: Consistency, Choices, Communication. More on these below:
Whatever you do, be consistent. Be it waking up in the morning or playing piano or reading a blog.
The less you involve your brain in thinking about stuffs that don’t add much value, the more you would get to spend time in creative stuffs. Reduce choices in day to day life. Ever wondered what Zuckerberg’s wardrobe looks like? He purchases apparels of same color and design. It helps him keeping focus on important things.
What is the first thing besides dressing sense you notice in a person you meet first time? We get to know a lot about a person by the way (s)he talks. Communication plays a very important role in your professional and personal fronts. Public speaking is one good thing you would like to master. Watch Ted talks and practice speaking in front of mirror. It would help boost confidence.
Be in company of smarter people
It is said that a person is known by the company (s)he keeps. If you are in company of smarter people, you would get to learn more. A wise man once said, “If you are the smartest person in the room, you’re probably in the wrong room”.
Plan your day in advance
Note down things you want to do before you start your day. Not only this will help you manage your day efficiency, but it will help you remember easily forgettable stuffs. There are things you remember when you are not thinking much, but are easily missed when your have a busy schedule. Example, calling a friend, responding a mail or paying bills
No much TV series
If you are a TV series fanatic, you must be knowing how addictive it can be. It can affect your sleep if you don’t control your addiction. Watch less of series
Smartness is a continuous process. You need to work towards it each day. In this fast paced agile world, things change rapidly and you must adapt to the change or you would be outdated. Learn a new language or a new skill.
Take a walk and think
When you’re stuck in a problem and no solution seems to strike your creative brain, take a walk and think. It helped me many times in situations where I couldn’t think anything working while sitting in front of a monitor.
Remember 10,000 rule. The principle holds that 10,000 hours of “deliberate practice” are needed to become world-class in any field. Practice a skill you want to be good at sometime each day.
If you like this, you might like other posts in the Hack your life series.
My thoughts in this article have greatly been inspired by not-so-famous deductive genius brilliant TV series Forever. You probably don’t need to put a gun on my head to make me say that this is by far one of the best series I have watched.
“It’s not the number of years we live that matters. Our lives just add up to a series of moments. We never know when or where they’ll happen, but they stick with us marking our souls forever.”
This quote has home my heart since the time I came across it the first time. It resonates with my soul and propelled me to look life from a different perspective altogether. It taught me that life is not only about making money and living lavishly. It is far beyond that. It is about exploring yourself. It is about realizing your true potential. It is about witnessing what as an individual you can achieve. Nothing is permanent. You can’t be happy all the time. And those sad times too shall pass.
Over the years, I have been trying to explore the things around me to know what I like and what not. There are times when I wonder if I have started becoming a kind of philosophical person. While trying hard to get sleep in late night hours, I often end up questioning myself the definition of a perfect life. And then I hear the echo of a familiar voice in my head telling me that the life needs not to be perfect. We must learn to enjoy imperfections. Happiness is quite subjective and a perfect life is myth. What makes you happy might be worthless for others. The secret mantra is to invest time in things that pump up adrenaline rush in your brain. You can do it for hours without whining about it. I ain’t a morning person. But when it comes to photography, I wake up anytime I want.
When I was ten, all I dreamed was a fleet of luxurious cars and a big bungalow. The reason was simple. I wanted to be happy and those celebrities with big shiny cars and lavish homes always had a big smile on screens. As time passed and I grew up, I realized how wrong I was. While all I still want is happiness, my ambitions have changed. Instead of chasing happiness, I do things that make me happy. Happiness was perhaps, never a thing to be looked for.
“However long you live, even though that might prove a very, very long time, you must tell yourself to live every day, every hour as if it could be your last.”
Today when I look back over my life, I don’t remember every small detail. Things of the past that sounded big and turning point were just small speed breakers in this long journey. You see, memories are slippery things. They have a tendency to fade over time. What I haven’t forgotten is those beautiful moments I lived on the way. Moments that put a curve on my face whenever the brain decides to take a walk down the memory lane.
“Be in company of someone who renders you with the same feeling as when you see your food arriving in a restaurant.”
If there is one thing that saddens me today, it is the void of the special person. Having lived through my fair share of life, I can tell you the most difficult to endure is loneliness. Happiness of achieving something is only worth when it is shared. Life is a game and one that we must play. No matter how careful we are, there is simply no way to go through this life unscathed. But, fortunately for us, it’s a game we don’t have to play alone.
“What kills you is not what causes your heart to stop from beating, but it is what prevents you from living.”
It is said that life is beautiful because it’s finite. People usually wish to live long. The common misconception is that it’s the death that annihilates us. Truth is we die long before if we don’t learn to appreciate the life we have been bestowed. How many of us wake up in the morning and truly appreciate the privilege to be alive and healthy? The moment we start acting like life is a blessing, I assure you it will start to feel like one. Today is nothing but the result of our doings of the past. What we do today, will shape tomorrow.
If you like this, you might like other posts in the Hack your life series.
राह चलते वक़्त से मुलाक़ात हो गई,
दिल किया कि कुछ तोहफे दे दूँ,
जेबों में हाथ डाला तो बस लम्हों को पाया,
कुछ हँसी के, कुछ गम के,
कुछ सुख के, कुछ रम के,
वक़्त ने कहा रख ले इन्हे अपने पास,
इन लम्हों में ही तेरी ज़िन्दगी है,
पहली नौकरी कि ख़ुशी, पहले प्यार का एहसास,
माँ बाप के आँखों में खुशियों कि बरसात,
जब तुम बूढ़े हो जाओगे,
जब दुनिया में तुम्हारी जरुरत कम होगी,
तब यही लम्हे तुम्हारे जीने का सहारा होंगी।
आपकी आँखों के पन्नो में,
इतने गहरे राज़ हैं,
लाखों हमने पढ़ लिए,
फिर भी बेशुमार हैं,
उन समुन्दर सी आँखों ने,
हमे यूँ ब्यान करना सिखा दिया,
हमे तो दो लफ़्ज़ों का सलीका ना था,
और आपके इश्क़ ने हमे शायर बना दिया।