I should have paid attention to the weather report. A “severe thunderstorm” warning was issued by NOAA and I missed half of it before I saw the first bolt of lightning. The show progressed well into the evening so I was able to capture some good shots in spite of my late start!
Tonight we were treated to a rare astronomical event (for those of us willing to stay up late anyway). Starting around 11 PM on April 14th, the Moon passed through the shadow of the Earth cast by the Sun, darkening it and casting it in a reddish hue. Cloud cover threatened to spoil the event, but the clouds parted about 15 minutes before the point of maximum redness, around 12:45AM on April 15th. I was ready with my tripod and camera.
Also prominent in the photo is Mars, which is currently at its closest point to Earth in the past six years. I woke up my daughter and brought her outside to see the two bright red objects. She was very tired and cold but acknowledged seeing the moon and quickly asked to be brought back inside. I put her back to bed and before I left her room she asked: “Daddy, if you see any more cool stuff tonight please wake me up!”. I agreed.
I learned about this festival just today, though my wife had been planning on attending for some time. Initially, I hesitated to join them in favor of cleaning my garage, but she told me one of the vendors had exotic birds so I grabbed my camera and hopped in the car. Upon arrival, I realized this place is a photographer’s paradise. The flower fields were in full bloom and the day was warm, clear and bright. While my daughter had fun releasing ladybugs and sipping a smoothie, I was in the flower fields, dodging busy bees and shooting everything in sight. After my camera card filled up, I was able to browse some of the vendors and ended up buying a Moroccan sandstone geode at The 3rd Rock’s booth. The festival was well attended and featured live music and great food courtesy of Solstice Pizza. [Read more…]
We stayed home this year and watched our local city fireworks. Below are some photos. We had a great time and hope you did too. [Read more…]
Since last year’s Field Day, I’ve upgraded my amateur radio license to General Class, but still haven’t spent any time on the air. Instead, I’ve been using my amateur radio privileges to down-link wireless video from remote control airplanes, so all is not lost. Field day is a great opportunity to get on the air and work the HF bands, making remote, long distance contacts from off-the-grid power and field conditions. Another great incentive for attending field day is conversing with other amateur radio operators (HAMs) about a variety of interesting and geeky topics. I end up learning a ton about amateur radio and other technical fields, so it’s always well worth the investment of time and sleep deprivation.
Immediately after arriving, I ran into another first person view (FPV) hobbyist who is also a HAM. He had a small quad copter with a wireless camera and we spent about an hour flying this little bird with down-linked video. Though it was small, it performed admirably in the wind. When the quadcopter’s battery finally died, he brought out his 20 meter mobile rig and used a slingshot with a fishing reel to string an antenna through an overhead treebranch. With so many amateurs competing in the field day contest, it wasn’t long before he made two contacts, one in Manitoba, Canada and another in Nevada. His entire mobile rig was easily transported in a hard briefcase and powered by a couple lithium polymer batteries, originally intended for powering remote control aircraft. I can definitely see myself with a similar rig, making contacts while camping on a remote mountain top.
As the sun set, we got down to business: eating junk food and talking about technical stuff. While there was a radio contest going on, we were too engrossed in our conversation about robotics, Linux, nanotechnology, processor design, etc. that we let hours pass before we finally sat down at the stations to begin DXing. I lasted until about 5AM after which my fatigue level left me mostly zombified. Every time I’m determined to pull an all-nighter with ease (like I did many times in college), I’m left disappointed and exhausted. I must be getting old! :(
Hopefully by this time next year I will have purchased my first HF radio and made some non-field day DX contacts. Time will tell.
Our new baby gave us an opportunity to take a new round of maternity photos, this time in the great outdoors. We headed up toward Lost Lake, stopping at a cherry orchard along the way. My wife had a few ideas for poses that she found on Pinterest that made use of the older sibling in the photo shoot. While Siena did cooperate for most of the photos, we had to bribe her with candy at least once. After the cherry orchard, we made our way up to Lost Lake, past the “road closed” sign and encountered a “resident” about 100 feet from the parking area by the lake. We were politely asked to “leave the premises” due to the imminent dangers posed by the ongoing snowplowing efforts. I scratched my head looking for imposing snow drifts and hazardous black ice, only to find bare roads and parked plows. Still, we complied with the request and returned a few days later. Our return trip offered us a chance to stop at the orchard again, with a different outfit . Our trip to the Lost Lake was successful this time as we parked and made our way to the shore. It was a gorgeous day and the calm wind almost made for a perfect refection of Mount Hood in the lake.
I recently returned from a week-long business trip to Florida where I spent my days learning a real-time kernel for use in embedded systems. I’ve been to Florida once before and I thought it was a festering cesspit then. Not surprisingly, my opinion hasn’t changed. The geography, climate, population, aggressive drivers and prevailing attitude of the locals basically amounts to a resounding “epic fail.” Fortunately, the company that hosted me was top notch, staffed with polite and very intelligent people. By the end of the week I felt fully versed in this new software component. Because of this, and because I wasn’t consumed by a killer sinkhole, I can safely say the trip was successful.
Due to my training schedule and jet lag-induced fatigue, I didn’t get a chance to visit the Everglades. Fortunately, I had a window seat for the flight home so I was able to survey and shoot the massive swamp from the airplane. Once I was done taking photos, I was able to sit back, relax, and take advantage of in-flight WiFi to browse the NTSB’s aviation accident database, starting with ValuJet Flight 592.
We headed down to the marina Saturday evening to watch our local yacht club’s Lighted Boat Parade. Six boats participated this year. While we were waiting for the event to start, I set up my tripod while Siena and my wife headed down the waterfront trail. As they returned, Siena decided to run ahead toward me, crossing the path of five very large dogs with glowing LED collars, reminiscent of the robotic dogs from the movie Up! The dogs were friendly, but it gave us all a momentary scare to see them bounding toward her in the dark.
After gathering at the mouth of the harbor, the lighted boats headed off in formation toward their party spot. Sadly I didn’t get to join them; I could only shoot pictures from afar. Siena yelled “Merry Christmas!” to each boat as it passed closest to us. They were friendly and returned her greeting, some coordinating their effort to the count of three.
We were ready to head home as the boats crossed under the bridge and out of sight. Just before we reached the car, our daughter befriended a 5 year old and they took off running in the opposite direction. Together they followed the waterfront trail under the bridge to a nearby hotel where the boats had gathered to put on a show for the hotel’s guests. We definitely got our exercise trailing these preschoolers with boundless energy.
As we were headed home, Siena whined that she wanted to ride on the boats, to which my wife replied, “we ride in airplanes sweetie, not boats”. I smiled.
I attended a star party last night in Trout Lake with Jim White, our local astronomer. Once again, he brought his 20″ Newtonian reflector telescope and showed us a variety of deep space objects: nebulae, distant galaxies (including M101 and M51), open and globular clusters, etc. The weather was perfect with not a single cloud in the sky. We also were fortunate to have a new moon, with the only source of light pollution being a tiny light at the nearby school. The Perseid Meteor shower was peaking last night, so I brought my camera and set it up for automatic interval shooting. I shot about 200 frames, but only a few captures meteorites. Due to the randomness and brevity of these showers, it was mostly luck and a ton of patience that allowed me to capture anything at all.
Just in case you’re interested in my technique (or lack thereof) here are a few pointers on what I did.
- Use a sturdy tripod – this cannot be emphasized enough
- Remove any filters from the lens that could block light (neutral density, polarizer, etc.)
- Try to focus at infinity or on a distant source of light. Use manual focus.
- Wide open aperture
- Use a relatively high ISO without generating too much noise (I used 640)
- 30 second exposure (go longer and the rotation of the Earth will blur the stars)
- Set interval shooting to occur in rapid succession