Category Archives: Sunsets

Spring Thunderstorm On The Horizon

I was seeing the warnings from the local National Weather Service office on their Twitter account. Nothing near us (yet) but there were some big cells of convective activity (i.e., thunderstorms) popping up over the Antelope Valley and moving down toward Pasadena.

It was just a couple of minutes after sunset here, but those big thunderheads might be still above the horizon and lit up…

A quick walk down the “back side” of the hill showed that to be true!

I guess if you like seeing some active weather like I do, the Antelope Valley and upper desert were the places to be today! As Maxwell Smart used to say, “Missed it by that much!” (Where “that” is defined as 150-200 miles in this case.)

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Filed under Photography, Sunsets, Weather

You Can’t Take A Bad Picture Here – May 11th

There are places on the planet where it is damn near impossible to take a bad picture, no matter your equipment, skill level, or whatever. I’m sure there are folks who somehow do manage to screw it up, but they’re in a different class from us mere mortals.

For example:

The Grand Canyon at sunset.

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Filed under Photography, Sunsets, Travel

Focus & Perception

I find it interesting to observe the difference between what we see with the eye and what the camera records. They’re different mechanisms, different algorithms. For example…

To the eye at sunset the other night, looking south toward the Santa Monica Mountains I saw the bright lights of the setting sun reflecting off of a handful of windows that happened to be tilted in just the right direction. They were like golden jewels, pinpoints. The mountains were still lit at their tops while below the world slipped into shadow. On the valley floor below I could see red & white pinpoints, the traffic along Valley Circle Boulevard going and coming as folks got home from the day.

It was quite the scene. I grabbed my camera.

The camera still sees the golden glints and the traffic, but what stands out is what my brain had completely ignored and filtered out, the maze of power lines and the giant pole right in the middle. Sure, they were there when I was looking. But I wasn’t focused on them, opitically or mentally, but on what was in the distance. Unconsicously my brain filtered out all of those objects. Yet when the camera locks them into place in a two-dimensional image, they’re impossible to ignore.

What else is right there in front of us, but ignored, filtered out because we’re focused on something shiny behind us?

Rather than beat you over the head with the analogy, the philisophical implications are left as an exercise for the student…

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Filed under Photography, Sunsets

Ten Years Of WLTSTF

It snuck up on me. It wasn’t until this afternoon that I realized that today is the 10th anniversary of my starting this website.

I guess this is sort of a big one.

10 years.

3,653 days.

3,745 posts.

8,921 images. (90%+ are taken by me. The rest are images from the news, from cell phone screen captures, and so on.) To be perfectly honest, some of my favorite images of those 8,921 were posted yesterday. Still just a bit gobsmacked by that.

72 videos.

10 audio clips.

2,978 total comments.

75,498 total views.

49,522 total visitors to the site.

11,438 total likes.

1,827 followers (730 from WordPress, 703 from Twitter, 280 from FaceBook, 10 from Tumblr, 58 from, and 46 from Spoutible)

God alone knows how many words.

The last time I either was too busy or, more likely, simply forgot to post anything was April 10, 2020. Since they I’ve posted 1,115 days in a row.

In total there have only been fourteen days of those 3,653 days when I didn’t post anything at all.

I’m not only here (which is probably the most reliable source since I have the most control over the site’s existance) but also on:

  • Twitter (@momdude56)
  • Facebook (/paul.willett.56)
  • Mastodon (@momdude)
  • Post (@momdude)
  • Spoutible (@momdude)
  • Instagram (@momdude56)
  • Tumblr (pauljwillett)
  • Snapchat (pauljwillett)
  • Hive (@momdude)
  • BlueSky (waiting for an invite, but I’ll give you three guesses what it will be…)
  • Email (

I hope that at least a few of the 1,827 folks who get notified every day that I’ve posted something take a minute to look and/or read and get a moment of zen or pleasure from it. I enjoy creating it.

As always, I hope that in the next year there are many more occasions to share a pretty picture, a goofy story, or something clever.

As always, I hope that in the next year there will be many fewer occasions to descend into a venting rant about something stupid, annoying, or depressing.

As do we all, I’m sure.

As a lovely parting gift, couple of favorite pictures from the last year:

Stick around for the next year. It’ll be a slice!


Filed under Airshows, Astronomy, Birds, Christmas Lights, Critters, Entertainment, KC Chiefs, LA Angels, LA Kings, Los Angeles, Paul, Photography, Sports, Sunsets, Writing

Bisecting The Sky

Southwest flight #2040, San Jose, CA to San Diego, CA, at 37,800 feet and 500 knots, a Boeing 737-8H4. It’s at the pointy end of that line of water vapor.

If you were to say, “That’s just a routine sunset and a plane flying overhead,” then you would be correct. And so much missing the point.

What’s 100% normal for us in the US today would have been jaw droppingly amazing to someone from 100 years ago and witchcraft to someone from 300 years ago. And even today there are multitudes who honestly believe that the moon landings were faked, the Earth is flat, and vaccines don’t work.

So the next time you see a jet with a couple hundred passengers just routinely travelling in 90 minutes a route that would have taken their great-great-great-grandparents a week, stop to take it in and wonder what your great-great-great-grandkids will think of as routine and you would think of as black magic.

Or just watch the moon, the clouds, the pretty sunset, and the bright white line sprinting across the sky. Keep it simple.

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Sunset – April 16th

Sunset is an interesting benchmark for our human brains. While our lives are run by clocks these days, most of the measures that we’ve created to mark the passing of time hae something to do with astronomical events and values. 24 hours to a day. 12 hours (sort of) of day and 12 hours (sort of) of night. 28 days to a lunar cycle. The starting dates for the four seasons. 365 days (sort of) to a year.

Sunset is often a time to think back on the day that’s ending and look forward to the day that’s starting with sunrise. That looking forward, that foreboding, that anticipation is weighing on me tonight.

Tomorrow morning, if all goes well, about 08:00 CDT (13:00 UTC, 06:00 PDT) we may see the first launch of SpaceX’s Super Heavy booster and Starship spacecraft. And that could be a HUGE next step to make tomorrow’s world significantly different that tonight’s.

In tonight’s sunset sky, up in the upper right, is Venus. Let’s take it as an example.

Right now there are no spacecraft orbiting it or exploring it. We have had an orbiter there and it gave us a treasure trove of data. The US has never put a robot spacecraft on Venus’s surface, although the Russians have. However, due to the hellscape of monstrous atmospheric pressure and heat, those probes only sent back a handful of pictures and data, surviving only a couple of minutes.

There are proposals and new projects on the US slate. But with the current state of human launch capabilities, interplanetary probes are rare and expensive. Every gram of weight is incredibly precious, so spacecraft have to be optimized as much as possible, which means they’re expensive to design and expensive to design. And researchers and engineers typically get one chance to get it right, so everything has to be perfect.

In this case, sending something to Venus, even to do a limited set of tasks or carry a set of a dozen or so instruments and experiments, is something that happens every couple of decades and costs hundreds of millions of dollars.

Because it’s so expensive to launch. Because launch capabilities are so limited.

What if those restrictions were gone?

SpaceX’s Starship is designed to be reuseable the way that a 747 is reuseable. If every 747 took one flight and then was destroyed, flying on an commercial aircraft would be incredibly expensive and rare. But a 747, while costing hundreds of millions of dollars to build, has a lifetime of thousands of flights, usually several a day. So Boeing doesn’t build one from start to finish and then start on the next one – they rolled one off of the assembly line every couple of days, dozens a month, hundreds a year. And they all fly almost constantly, so it’s cheap enough to use them to bring planeloads of bananas from Central America and winter apples from Chili and FedEx packages from all over the world so that you and I could have those things the next day.

Let’s do that space.

If SpaceX builds Starships to fly dozens, hundreds, thousands of flights and builds hundreds and thousands of them and can launch each one multiple times a week, let alone multiple times per day, then getting into low Earth orbit (LEO) gets dirt cheap by today’s standards.

And if THAT happens, and you want to explore Venus, you don’t need to build billion dollar spacecraft that are relatively tiny and perfect with a limited suite of instruments. You can build a dozen, a hundred, a thousand spacecraft for a couple hundred thousand dollars each and flood Venus with orbiters, landers, rovers, balloons – whatever you can think of. And when you learn critical things from the first few, then you build better and cheaper and more capable spacecraft in the second round. It’s a positive feedback loop.

Do I expect Starship to launch tomorrow? Maybe, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it takes a few tries and a few days. No one’s ever done this before and rockets are hard.

When they do launch, do I expect the first mission to go perfectly? Probably not. Remember, rockets are hard! But do I expect them to figure it out and keep trying and succeed in a few months? Yes, no doubt.

For our example, do I expect to have a hundred spacecraft in and around Venus in two years, or five years? No, obviously not. In ten years? Not a hundred, but maybe a handful, ideas that are just proposals now, fighting amongst each other to get that one golden ring from NASA for that one-in-a-decade slot. In twenty or twenty-five years? No doubt.

Tonight, at sunset, I look at Venus and there’s no way to scatter the planet with orbiters and landers and rovers and blimps.

Tomorrow, at sunset, we might be a LOT closer to the day that we can. And that day might be well in my lifetime.

Good luck tomorrow, Starship!

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Filed under Photography, Space, Sunsets

Venus & Party Lights

Tonight I was at a very pleasant event for one of our business partners in Pasadena. It was held outdoors and I don’t know if anyone else noticed Venus bright as all getout in the western sunset sky, but I though it looked lovely up above the party lights strung overhead.

The tiny lens flares from all of the party lights in the lower 1/3 of the picture were a surprise!

Do you prefer it with or without all of the tiny lens flares?

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Filed under Astronomy, Photography, Sunsets

Another Of THOSE Sunsets

I came out into the living room just after sunset and the window in the front door was bright red.

It was so bright and so red that my first thought was that either there were emergency vehicles outside, a brush fire, or both. Which makes no sense with all of the rain we’ve had.

Instead, it was just another of THOSE sunsets. The amazing, fantastic, bright orange and red and pink kind.

As it faded , the colors covered less of the sky but seemed to get more intense near the horizon.

Some days you just need to be in the right place at the right time.

Welcome to April!

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One Cloudy Planet

Hope springs eternal in the (not so) young amateur astronomer’s heart as he searches for five planets in the sky at once. Even if I can’t get a good photo, maybe I can at least see them?

Maybe Jupiter and Mercury can be seen through that hole in the oncoming storm front? Nope, they’re actually over to the far right, just to the right of the top of Castle Peak that you can just see in the bottom right corner. But at this point it was too bright, too close to sunset to see. Plus, you know, CLOUDS!

The clouds did have a little bit of iridescence, and it was clear overhead so I could see the quarter Moon, but the clouds were not only hiding dim Jupiter and Mercury but also obscuring my view of  bright Venus and super dim Uranus up somewhere where that jet was passing by in the upper left.

I hope you had better hunting and clearer skies than I did!

All I saw was one cloudy planet, the one that I’m stuck to.

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Filed under Astronomy, Photography, Sunsets

Scud Running

If you’re a pilot, you’ll be familiar with the term “scud running.” In more formal terms, it means trying to squeeze between low clouds (scud) and the ground or minimum altitude restrictions. (That “hard deck” they’re always talking about in “Top Gun?” It’s that.) One’s often flying under Visual Flight Rules (VFR) where you’re not necessarily talking to Air Traffic Control (ATC). One might not be rated for Instrument Flight Rules (IFR). One might not want to be bothered with all of the paperwork and control and planning involved in IFR flight and want to stay in the “easier” VFR flight rules.

In more snarky terms, it means “maintaining visual contact with the ground while avoiding physical contact with it.” To be legal in most controlled airspace you need to be 500 feet away from the clouds and 1,200 feet above the ground (depending on what airspace you’re in) with three miles of visibility. But if you can get into Class G (uncontrolled) airspace it’s 500 feet from the clouds and one mile of visibility. So if you get down low and can squeeze between those hills and mountains and the ground and that lowering cloud deck…

This is dangerous. Often VERY dangerous. Legal? Probably. Sometimes. Maybe. -ish.

Lots of things can go very wrong very fast. There are more and more things like cell towers, power lines, wind turbine towers, and buildings out there to make something very hard and very bad to fly into. At such a low altitude, if anything goes wrong (like engine problems) you have very little room for error or maneuvering. Scud is often found near the edges of thunderstorms and that can mean downdrafts that just reach out and slap you out of the sky. The clouds can close in and leave you in IFR conditions, blind, close to the ground, and in a world of hurt.

Got the picture?

The same thing happens in life. You take a “small” chance and get away with it. You know better, but it’s convenient and you just need to bend the rules a little bit, not really break them. Then the next time it’s easier to do it again. And the next time you bend the rules just a little bit more. You keep getting away with it. Again, and again, and…

…and then things go pear-shaped and sideways and you’re seriously up the creek.

I think this is basically the overall story arc of “Breaking Bad.”

Admire the scud in the sunset. Avoid the scud running in a plane or in everyday life.

Just something to think about.


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Filed under Flying, Photography, Sunsets, Weather