A Total Eclipse of the Sun

Darlene and I managed to meet up with Glenn, Michele and Seaerra in Eastern Oregon this past week to experience the total solar eclipse together.  We snagged a nice dispersed camping spot in the Malheur National Forest in an area I had scouted out back in June and we arrived four days early to get ahead of any potential crowds.  As it turns out, we were in a remote enough area to only see a scattering of other campers.

We were also very lucky with the weather as there were a number of distant wildfires filling the skies with smoke days before and then it turned cloudy Sunday afternoon.  But on Monday, the day of the eclipse, we had clear blue skies!  (And smoke-filled skies the very next morning.)

A short video montage of the eclipse viewing experience (2.5 minutes)

And yes, seeing a total solar eclipse is truly an amazing experience.  There’s the hour or so of build up beforehand as the light turns queer and dim and the heat of the sun fades away but then, as the last thin crescent splinter of sunlight disappears, you pull off your eye protection and… boom!  The sun’s gorgeous corona suddenly appears streaming all around the pure black disc of the moon.  It’s an incredible sight to behold.  The sky was dark enough to reveal a couple of planets and a few brighter stars.  The sky doesn’t go completely dark because of both the sun’s wispy corona and scattered sunlight from 35 miles away or less in every direction, outside the shadow of the moon.

The view was entirely captivating but, before we knew it, our two minutes of totality was already ending: a small bright bead of light starts to form which quickly brightens to create the stunning “diamond ring” effect.  And then back on with the solar filters and glasses.

I had several cameras set up and recording different perspectives: one with a telephoto lens, one on a drone hovering out-of-earshot, one focused on the scene of us and one on my telescope to capture a much closer view (an 8-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain with a focal reducer to widen the view) and I’m so glad I did as we were able to see several solar eruptions in progress around the edge.  Gorgeous!

Darlene and Michele also took some nice pics and video with handheld cameras.  Click through for the full gallery of pictures and videos:

     

Here’s Michele (my sister-in-law)’s take on the experience: Midnight Sun


Update:  Somebody asked me about our white sheet spread out on the ground and whether we had managed to see the elusive “shadow bands”.  The answer is no, but this question prompted me to go back to the video that was rolling the whole time to see if I could find them.

They’re supposed to be very faint, thin, moving shadows (aka, “shadow snakes”) that are difficult to see and more difficult to record.  We had looked specifically for them on the sheet about a minute before totality and then of course we were completely distracted by the amazing show in the sky afterward.

However, examining the video recording more closely and turning up the contrast, I think I may have found them:

Shadow bands?

 

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Bridge Out!

Big Sur got hit hard with the heavy rains earlier this year, with several massive land slides and the forced demolition of the Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge.  This severely isolated the community around Big Sur and so a temporary, emergency foot path was created to allow residents to get supplies.  They’ve since opened up a path through to the public.  So, until the replacement bridge is completed (end of September), you can park down near the road closure at the Pfieffer Big Sur State Park, hike the steep 1/2 mile trail and get to ride highway 1 with much reduced traffic.

And that’s what I did today with Mark and his family and friends!  We hiked over and rode as far as Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park and the McWay Falls (about 20 miles round trip).

Click through for the full gallery:

    

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Home Theater Upgrade: Dolby Atmos

I’ve just added Dolby Atmos support to my home theater by upgrading my receiver and my Blu-Ray player and by adding a pair of vertically firing speakers.  I decided to go with the Onkyo TX-RZ3100 which provides for 11 audio channels at 140W/channel, giving me 7.2.2 in my new speaker configuration (seven = three front + two side + two rear, two subwoofers, and now two down-firing).  For sources, I now have an UltraHD-capable Sony UBP-X800 Blu-Ray player and the newest AppleTV.  All of this also means I’m ready for 4K/HDR if/when I eventually upgrade my projector.

The additional speakers are a pair of Klipsch RP-140SA add-on speakers that I can simply set on top of my two front subwoofers. They’re naturally angled to fire upwards and bounce off the ceiling and back down to the listening area.  I didn’t want to have to go to the trouble to mount downward-firing speakers on my very high, vaulted ceilings so these were a very easy and convenient solution.  They’re not really meant to be used for a vaulted ceiling, but they seem to be working well enough.  I certainly seem to get a nice reproduction of Dolby Atmos movie soundtracks.

  

So how does it sound?  Well, I definitely like it and I definitely think it was worth the cost and effort.  As much as I liked my existing 7.1 surround sound system, this new object-based, spatially-encoded audio is quite impressive in the movies that make use of it.  It certainly sounds much better than the old channel-based surround sound.  It’s amazing how much more the sound seems to be coming from directions where your speakers aren’t!  I say go for it – particularly if you’re planning to upgrade your components to support 4K/HDR anyway!

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Flying Over Humpbacks

I saw this news article in the Santa Cruz Sentinel this morning talking about how active the humpback whales have been near shore off of Santa Cruz and Aptos these past few weeks.  So Darlene and I grabbed the drone and dashed down to Seacliff State Beach.  I’ve been wanting to try flying the drone to get nice, aerial views of the whales.  (A lot of the coastline is protected via the Monterey Bay Marine Sanctuary but flying in this area is allowed.)

There were probably a dozen of them near shore – you could see them popping up every which way!  The lighting wasn’t great (completely overcast) as the marine layer had yet to burn off but it was still very fun to hang around with the drone waiting for them to appear.

It’s quite the challenge to find them and stay with them using the narrow view of the drone’s camera – even when you can easily see them from shore.  Darlene was helping by watching the feed with the goggles because it’s also hard to see small/distant details on the iPhone or iPad screen, particularly when you’re outside. It’s much easier to see with the goggles but then of course all you can see is what the drone sees.

It was hard tracking them too because once they go under it’s hard to predict where to be looking when they come back up. You want to get closer for more detail but if you’re too close you won’t see them at all when they resurface off camera (which happened repeatedly) – and of course not so close as to harass them.  I should point out that the limited view angle of the drone’s camera makes them appear closer than they really are and yet I still had to heavily crop every one of these clips to make the whales appear large enough in the frame – even in the most distant shots.

I did put a polarizer on the drone camera to try to cut through the reflection of the water surface but it didn’t work that well with the diffuse overcast light so it might work better in directed sunlight.

Need more practice! ;-)

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Two More Bobcats

I heard a strange, low moaning/growl from the scrub behind the house.  It definitely got Pan and Hera’s attention.  It sounded like a noise a calf might make – but when I waited around to see if whatever it was would emerge, it turned out to be a pair of juvenile bobcats growling at each other:

Video footage of two bobcats hanging out behind the house (2:31, 51 MB)

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On the Mendocino Coast

Last week, Darlene and I were able to spend six days following the Mendocino Coast (with the cats in the Traveling Cat Adventure Vehicle, of course), continuing north from where we left off on the Sonoma Coast in December, just north of Fort Ross.  We discovered that all the state park campgrounds were full going up the coast for the coming days but we kept managing to find something.

We stayed the first night at Stillwater Cove and then snagged a spot in an overflow area at Salt Point State Park, where we spent an afternoon mountain biking up to the top of the park and part of the morning flying the drone around.  We visited the Point Arena Lighthouse, which turned out to be more interesting than I expected and we snagged a nice spot in another overflow area on the beach at the Van Damme State Park.  We were able to grab a vacated spot in the park the next morning and then headed out to explore the Mendocino Headlands.  We also checked out the Russian Gulch State Park.

This area around Mendocino has a lot of cool sea caves – we’ll need to come back some time and book a guided sea kayak tour to check them out.  Fort Bragg turned out to be pretty uninteresting and we just passed through, stopping at MacKerricher State Park instead for lunch and to walk around.  Our final and fifth night was at Westport Union Landing State Beach overlooking the bluffs.  At this point, Highway 1 turns inland and you leave the coast for good.  Our last day was essentially spent just getting back home to lots of traffic jams.

Click through for the full gallery:

    

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A Very Mysterious Package

A month ago I received a mysterious package containing a message in a bottle, clippings, printed emails, a pendant marked with symbols, a message written in pictographs and a modern nautical map of part of a certain part of the world.  (I’m being intentionally vague to prevent this from being easily found via search engines.)

It appears to be some sort of puzzle-solving game surrounding a lost treasure.  Seeing as how it arrived soon after my birthday, and how my brother was acting coy in denial, it would appear to be a gift in the form a puzzle game to solve!  Looking on the web, I saw that others have received these packages many months ago and have formed groups to try to solve them.  However, I’ve avoided looking too hard on the web since I don’t want to spoil the fun of figuring it out.

More recently, I received a second package containing hand-drawn, pseudo-aged map fragments, a contract between pirates, pages from a diary and more printed emails.  So… aye!  We have lost treasure and pirates!

Darlene and I finally spent some time on this last weekend and found that solving the code puzzle in the first package ended up pointing to the longitude and latitude of an island that was then confirmed in a diary page from the second package.  Seems strange to me that it works this way – that a solved puzzle is simply revealed in the later package.  Instead, I would expect solving one puzzle would lead to the key to another puzzle, rather than being simply given away.  We’ll see, I guess.

Without giving too much away, the contents of the second package made it possible to use the message in the bottle and the amulet to pinpoint another location on the modern nautical map, so we’ll see what comes of it.  That appears to be all there is to figure out so far.  There clearly must be at least one more package coming.


Update: Yes, a third package has arrived!  This one is pretty cool too.  A wooden box retrieved from the sand, containing an animal horn with carvings on it, all wrapped in oil cloth:

  

Surprisingly though, the carvings on one side of the horn only confirm what we previously solved in the first two packages.  (Drawing of the lines on the map and interpreting the message-in-a-bottle as to how to project from the intersection points of those lines.)  On the other side, it does have a little treasure map of the island marking out a trail to follow but I don’t yet see what we can do with it.  And I’m pretty sure we’re not expected to fly out to the location to investigate the island in person.

Another package to come?


Update: Oh, yes.

  

And now several theories confirmed, regarding both the content and the intention of the packages – which I will refrain from divulging to avoid spoiling anything for anybody, except to say… very cool!  Also, I guess my title for this post was much more apropos than I could have known.

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Layover on Mt. Shasta

Last stop on our return from Oregon was a couple of nights near and on Mt. Shasta in California.  We enjoyed a lazy morning after camping out off a forest road an hour north (with Shasta in view) and then drove up to Bunny Flat on Mt. Shasta at 7000 ft. and spent the afternoon hiking a couple of miles up to the Sierra Club climber’s hut (built in 1923!).  We found a nice spot to camp afterwards just below Bunny Flat.

  

This ended Pan and Hera’s longest outing in the Traveling Cat Adventure Vehicle – three weeks!  They seem to have adapted quite well to traveling in it and it seems like we could go indefinitely now.  Yay!

Click through for the full gallery of pictures and video.

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Newberry National Volcanic Monument

Heading south from Mt. Hood in late June, we stopped off at the Crooked River gorge in the Peter Skene Ogden State Park between Madras and Redmond.  We were a bit bewildered by how many people were gathering and setting up lawn chairs as if waiting for a big event.  Unfortunately, we made the mistake of asking. ;-)  Turns out they were all there awaiting the passing of an historic steam train engine (Southern Pacific 4449) to cross the bridge.  It was due within the hour so we relocated the Traveling Cat Adventure Vehicle and decided to wait.  After a couple of hours though, it became clear from news being relayed around that there had been delays and it was still an hour or so out.  So we bailed.

Our destination was actually the Newberry National Volcanic Monument and this proved to be a nice place to spend a few days.  We camped the first and last night on some forest roads and one night at one of the campgrounds in the caldera alongside Pauline Lake.  We had a crazy red sky sunset one night, enjoyed some early morning kayaking on the completely still water and a nice trail ride up to near the caldera rim on our mountain bikes.  We hiked the mile-long Lava River Cave lava tube and checked out the lava tree casts.  There’s actually plenty of other trails and caves to visit too but we had to move on.

    

Click through for the full gallery of pictures.

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Antique Flying and Driving Machines

While we were in the Columbia River Gorge area last month, Darlene and I had the chance to spend half a day at the Western Antique Aeroplane and Automobile Museum in Hood River.  This place is only ten years old but it has a huge and fascinating collection of antique, but still operational, cars and planes.  They hold numerous events and classes.  For example, every second Saturday is a “play day” where they bring out and fly or drive a number of the cars and planes to let people experience them.  They also hold classes to learn about and get to drive antique Model T’s (which sounds very cool) or drive classic cars from the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s.  They do restoration work on site, and they host an annual “fly-in” event where you get to see a lot of these antique planes in the air.

I particularly liked how they juxtapose old airplanes and automobiles from the same era.  And I thought it was pretty interesting how old cars look so different and so obviously antique; whereas airplanes from the same time period don’t look so different than planes today.  It was also fun to be reminded of how seat-of-the-pants flying and driving was back in the early days.

Click through for the full gallery, which is only a sampling of what they have on display.

      

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