Today Was A Holiday?

Yeah, just like this was a weekend…

There’s an Adam Savage video recently where he talks about skills he picked up or developed while making “Mythbusters.” (One of the finest shows ever!) The short version is that he got REALLY good at unconsciously knowing how to pace the work so that they could always just get done on time.

This time of year when I’m juggling three or four critical deadlines at a time with more waiting in the wings to jump in (think of it as a fresh set of legs coming out on the power play to kick my ass) I’m in the same spot. I don’t think I’m as good yet as he was. I’m more like “hitting deadlines…ish.” Nothing fatal (yet) but it would be nice to have a bit more slack built into the system.

But not fatal.


(And it’s 39 hours and counting until…)

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Filed under Deep Thoughts, Paul

ISS Pass – January 17th

This came out SOOOOOO GREAT!!

Okay, following the near heart attack from today’s Chiefs playoff game (if you don’t know or care, our MVP All-Star got injured, we won anyway but it was close) and “everything else,” I noticed that there was a nice ISS pass tonight. And it was clear and a million. Time to play with the wide-angle lens.

(Image from

Rise in the southwest, well after sunset, nice and high and bright, right past the shoulder of Orion, fade to yellow-orange-red-dark as the ISS goes into night right next to Castor and Pollux in Gemini.

So, first of all, the wide-angle lens. Unlike the telephoto lens (70-300 mm) and the replacement normal lens (I got it a couple years ago when the 15+ year old original lens started to break down – 18-55mm zoom just like the ones that normally ship with the Canon DSLRs) this one has a great reputation for astrophotography since it has a very well calibrated hard stop to focus at infinity. If you need the back story, look back through the astrophotos here for the past year where I’ve whined and bitched about how the focus for astrophotography on the other two lenses can be a crap shoot. It’s been very frustrating.

I used the telephoto for all of the Great Conjunction photos and I’m at least at a truce with it where I can make it work. But that “normal” lens? What a pain. It was time to try out this wide-angle lens.

Oh. My. God. I might just be in love.

Here’s one 5-second exposure from the sequence. The ISS is that streak departing the frame at the upper left after having entered right by the telephone pole in the lower right. The bright white light in the middle right is the moon. Just below the center right of the picture is the idiot streetlight, along with all of the lens flares coming up from it. And just above the light is a streak from a jet coming out of LAX.

But blow it up – click on the image to see it full sized. See how all of those stars are perfectly in focus pinpoints??!!! Just off the left edge, partially in the tree is Orion. You can even see that the middle star in the “sword” is a nebula, not a star. Just above and to the right of the ISS streak is the “V” of Taurus, and above and to the right of that is the Pleiades cluster. (I can also see the next thing I need to work on to improve the image even more, but I’ll leave the details for later. Let’s just say that I’ve never had a series of images so good that that particular flaw was visible, but now that I do I’m pretty sure I know how to get rid of it…)

I am very pleased!

Then I put 39 consecutive 5-second images together using StarStax…


There’s the ISS coming from the lower right to the upper left, and that outbound LAX jet coming from bottom to top. The moon and stars are all trailing since they got picked up on every single image over the course of three minutes and fifteen seconds and the planet was rotating. But LOOK AT HOW SHARP THOSE STAR TRAILS ARE!!

So, this is something I like a lot. At the same time, it points toward the next steps.

First, fix that little issue with the nature of digital cameras, fairly easy, and I’m pretty sure I can do it in Photoshop. I’ve seen the tutorial, I just have to find it again.

Secondly, mount the camera on the telescope now that I have it working again also. Not to use the telescope as a honkin’ huge telephoto lens, not at all what’s needed for this application. I need that wide-angle view! But mount the camera on the telescope and then have the equatorial mount compensate for the Earth’s motion while I’m taking the 3+ minutes of images, so all of those star images line up. The last time I did that and had it working I was using my Olympus OM-1 camera and shooting on slide film.

This might be the end of some of the frustration and the start of some fun!

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Filed under Astronomy, Photography, Space

Not At The Finish Line

I was thinking earlier about how drained and exhausted I feel on the one hand, while on the other hand being pretty satisfied with getting a LOT of things accomplished and done, while on the third hand being stressed as hell over some looming deadlines that are just kicking my ass.

My first thought was about the accomplishments, and I thought, “Huh, at the end of the actual marathons I’ve always felt at least a certain sense of success for having met my goals. I wonder why that’s not happening now.”

Then I realized that we’re not at the finish line. I can see it from here, at least in a certain sense. We’ve (almost) survived the horrors of the last four years in general and the last year in particular – just four more days to go. And I’ve met a LOT of those goals and deadlines – but I’ve got those others still to deal with. And as soon as those are met I’ve got a couple more lurking right behind.

So this is more like the 20-mile mark when you’re through Beverly Hills and Century City and past the UCLA campus and you’re just coming into Santa Monica. “Hitting the wall.” I sort of hated that.

But I always kept running. And tomorrow I’ll continue again.

Stay safe.

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Filed under Deep Thoughts, Paul, Politics

No Context For You – January 15th

The measure of our lives…

It used to be the beat of our hearts, the measure that gave us the second, but now even that’s supplanted by sensors built into our wrist computers, bitching at us to stand or exercise, or chastising us if it doesn’t like our pulse.

And we wonder why we’re tired all the time.

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The Moon’s Back!

Well, actually it’s front, since that’s the only side we see from here…

Tired and stupid Dad jokes! Because I’m a tired and stupid dad! (Why does “tired and stupid” sound correct but “stupid and tired” doesn’t?)

And ZOOM! It’s not just for tired and stupid working from home meetings any more! The Moon’s that tiny little crescent near the horizon? So, ZOOM!

It’s amazing, it’s back here (more or less, for various values of “here”) every four weeks! And it’s much more fun to see here in the evening than it is to get up pre-dawn and see it curved the other way about six days earlier. (Or twenty-two days later.) Pre-dawn astronomy is only for particularly special events, like comets, or eclipses, or once-in-a-lifetime alien mothership visitations!


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Filed under Astronomy, Photography, Space

It’s Seen Better Days

…but then again, so has the country that it represents.

This is the same flag that had started to shred back in October with the wind storms that came through. At that point, leading up to the election, it was my opinion that things were pretty messed up and getting dangerous in the United States, so I left it like that as a symbol of the country’s condition.

Since then the wind has continued to shred and wrap, much as the political winds have. Today, of course, that culminated in the second impeachment of a lower-than-whale-shit waste of protoplasm who never should have been within 100 miles of the White House.

But assuming that creature doesn’t do something truly insane and is allowed to do so by enough evil cult sycophants, in 6 days, 14 hours, 9 minutes, and 11 seconds (there’s an app for that!) I think we’ll be in a much better place (albeit with a metric shit-ton of work ahead of us!). I’m sure there will be some champagne, and I’m sure I can swing a new flag as a symbol of that new beginning.

But for tonight, we’re all still hanging on by a thread.

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Filed under Castle Willett, Photography, Politics


As has been noted, there’s a ***LOT*** of bad shit going on right now. How are you coping?

I have a few things to share. Note, these are not guaranteed to get you through the work day – probably quite the opposite so far as getting work done if you’re working from home. But they might let you get through to the other side more or less sane, as opposed to exploding.

  1. OK Go videos – go to YouTube or wherever, there are dozens, each one more amazing than the next. No special effects, just astonishing creativity. And most have “Behind The Scenes” or “Making Of” or “Outtakes” videos to accompany the official video.
  2. Cornell Lab FeederWatch Cam – these are the folks who made the wonderful Merlin app that I use and have talked about for IDing birds that wander into our back yard. When I was looking for something different to have on as “video noise” at my desk earlier this week I stumbled on this. WONDERFUL!! Small birds such as sparrows and chickadees, whole flocks of mourning doves, at least two types of woodpeckers, cardinals and blue jays, and the occasional squirrel dropping in like Death From Above. (I suspect the squirrels are jumping in from an off-camera tree that might be a good leap away, so it’s nearly a suicide mission for them, but there’s SO! MUCH! FOOD!)
  3. LabPadre – LabPadre currently has seven cameras set up around the area of the SpaceX testing facility on the Texas coast by South Padre Island. If there’s no actual testing going on during a given day it’s a little boring (but makes great wallpaper and white noise) but when they’re testing (and they’re testing a LOT these days) there might be a static fire engine test or even a flight for one of the prototype Starship spacecraft. The next static fire is probably late tomorrow afternoon, the next big flight is probably coming up later this week? This weekend? First thing next week? It depends on when they’re ready and when the weather cooperates. Still cool to see spacecraft the size of the Space Shuttle stack being churned out by the dozen for testing and occasional destruction while testing. But when they talk about having crews on the moon in 5-6 years and on Mars in 8-10 years (actually those are my estimates, they’re saying half that time) I don’t doubt them.
  4. Hundreds of Hummingbirds – Birds stop coming around after sunset and sunset comes early in Ithaca, New York these days, so when they go to night vision and the only thing moving around are the mice (which I’ve never seen in the feeder, since they can’t jump as far as the squirrels can), there’s a site here in the LA area that has set up a buffet for dozens and dozens of hummingbirds, and there’s always a line waiting for an open spot. The colors and iridescence and amazing flying ability of literally dozens and dozens of these beautiful creatures is something I could watch all day.

So, there are a few ideas. Of course, turning off Twitter and Facebook and picking up a book or listening to some music are always an excellent idea, and if you have the opportunity to safely get out (take a mask and wear it!) and walk around the block or take a short hike through the woods or around the pond, that would be best of all.

What coping mechanisms or favorite distracting and/or entertaining sites have you discovered?


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Hibiscus Aftermath

A few weeks ago I posted pictures of the hibiscus flowers that I had taken while putting up Christmas lights. Now that the lights were taken down, I note that the flowers did what all flowers did. And, I guess, all Christmas light displays as well.

The focus and depth of field is just a bit odd on a couple of these photos.

I like it though – let’s call it “different” or “unconventional” instead of “wrong” or “bad.”

I think that’s a lot of us today – exhausted, drooping, trying to hold on, a little bit off, fading, just trying to get by another day. That’s not wrong or bad – it’s just different. As so many have pointed out, and I’ll echo, be kind to yourself these days. There’s a lot of bad shit and it seems to be getting deeper fast – it’s okay if the best you can do is just the best you can do. And remember that everyone else’s Hell is 100% – cut everyone some slack.

Except for fascists and Nazis. (You know who I’m talking about.) Fuck them.

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Filed under Flowers, Photography, Politics

No Context For You – January 10th

I hope your weekend was calm and relaxing. Somehow I don’t think the week ahead will be, on so many fronts.

I don’t think I’m really giving you the finger – think of it more as sharing one with you by accident.


Try to stay calm.

Try to stay safe.

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The Night Returns – 2021

I’ve pointed out before that the first night after the Christmas lights come down is always a melancholy and bittersweet one. This year the task of taking down the lights was made more “exciting” with a bit of wind. I decided to take it with a bit of good humor.

Not to worry – nothing bent, nothing broken, on either me or the BBQ.

It’s amazing that it takes about three days for me to put up the lights and about three hours to take them down. I’m sure there’s some mathematical theory that explains that, probably dealing with chaos theory, increasing entropy, organized vs disorganized eigenstate vectors, or some such jargon. It just always seems weird to me.

And so, at the end of the day (literally) we’re left with just the porch and garage lights and Orion rising, partially hidden by that giant tree in the back yard.



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