Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Latest Melinda News!

The latest news is that there is actually very little news.  Melinda has been resting a lot, and I've been helping as best as I can - running for food shopping, prescriptions, doing what needs doing.  She had a cardiologist appointment today to analyze why she had an "episode" of tachycardia during her first chemo dose.  It remains unexplained, but we've got several excuses, including not eating for over 20 hours last Thursday while we were running between MRIs, oncology appointments, PET scans and packing clothes before checking into the hospital.  Then the next morning she gets tachycardia during her first chemo - certainly no stress or reason to be nervous there, right?  Anyway, today's EKG was normal, the doctor ordered an echo cardiogram on Thursday adjacent to her audiology exam (one of the chemo drugs can affect hearing), but those 2 exams are all that is scheduled this week.  We're working on getting her leave paperwork completed, I got her car battery replaced when it wouldn't start yesterday - just stuff like that.

We expect her to be tired, REALLY tired the next week or more as the chemo kicks in.  Nausea is an issue the next few days, and we've been trying to stay on top of getting a couple nausea drugs into her to keep up with it.  Other than that, she has had a little dizziness - she compares it to early stages of the flu, without the fever.  We may have a friend over tomorrow, and if she seems stable, I might go in to work for a few hours for the first time this week, but mostly I'm being the Jewish mother - pushing the food, fluid and anti-nausea drugs.

We have been amazed at the outpouring of love and prayers coming our way!  Our friend Jenn from Phoenix has made 2 trips down with food, today coming down to cook some more and spend time with us.  Others have just come and spent time, called, sent cards and messages on Facebook.  We've got several offers the next few days of food deliveries, and time to spend for whatever we need.  We appreciate it greatly, and will take you up on it, but are mostly just spending time to see ourselves how we're doing and finding out ourselves what we need.  Be patient and know that we love you all too!

Sunday, August 25, 2013

The Patient is Home and Resting Comfortably...

Today Melinda got her last round of chemo this cycle and surprisingly, her doctor decided to delay her scans that were scheduled tomorrow, so sent her home.  She has some blood tests tomorrow and other doctor visits the next few days, still to be scheduled.  But for now she is home, unpacked, resting and is enjoying acting as jungle gym for all our cats who are eager to see her.  She had one wave of nausea while having dinner, but that's the only ill effect so far.  I'm hoping the expected exhaustion expected the next week or so is less than expected.  Only time will tell, but for now we are still happy we're on course and glad we have a great team working on our side.  Stay tuned!

Melinda's Weekend Chemo Stay-cation

Life has been a whirlwind the last half dozen days, from detection to diagnosis to treatment of the small-cell lung cancer we're facing.  The great news is that brain scans come back clear.  So long as any tumors remain in body organs that get a blood flow, it should respond to chemo.  The PET scan does show "hot spots" in her pancreas and neck, so we all think that the decision to start treatment NOW is a good one.  Melinda has been amazingly determined and with the help of a parade of our close friends that have offered support and come stayed with her this weekend, how can we not continue to feel optimistic.  The staff at 3NW has been great, and while nurses can be difficult patients, we've universally loved everyone we've worked with on the floor.  Between the attentive care, central location, and 24 hour room service with a varied menu, it almost seems like a little spa, except with IV chemo!

While the care is great, there is no mistaking why we are here.  Chemotherapy is tough stuff and watching the nurses don gear to protect themselves is startling.  I've been a patient for lots of procedures, but watching them "gear up" is still a shock.  She is getting a dual combo of Cisplaten and Etoposide on the first day, and just the latter for 2 additional days.  She had a bit of a reaction half way through the first bag when her heart rate rose and blood pressure dropped and pulse Ox lowered.  They are still investigating the causes of that, but might have been a reaction to stress, anxiety, or weird eating schedule the day before (hadn't eaten in 20 hours for some of the Thursday tests).  We're meeting a cardiologist Monday for that issue.  No repeat issues on  Sunday's treatment, thank goodness.  Also, more MRI scans on Monday after the first round to monitor any early reaction to the weekend treatment.  She will likely get released after that, and will be recovering with me at home.  Subsequent rounds of treatment will be as an outpatient from the Arizona Cancer Center, literally a mile from our house - only the urgency of the start of treatments dictated the inpatient treatment this time.

But besides the serious issues going on, several of our friends joined in to make it a tolerable weekend, especially when I needed to go to work for most of Saturday for the next Mirror Lab casting.  I had promised a tour to a big group from Phoenix, and was to help with the big crowd of partners and affiliates.  Our local buddies jumped in to make sure she didn't miss me in my absence...

And while keeping one's hair always seems a concern, Melinda is being pro-active.  Knowing that more than likely it will come out or thin dramatically, she wanted to get it cut short, not only to minimize the effect of the chemo, but it is also tough for her to bend over with her current breathing issues, so hair maintenance is much simplified.

Our friend Michelle volunteered to bring scissors and clippers and do the deed for her.  Not that I couldn't watch, but I needed to leave for cat chores, but returned to find Melinda with a short, very stylish cut.  Shown here is the post-shampoo, pre-clip do and the after version with our buddy Erica.

We've been really gratified by the response from around the world as friends find out about the rapid change in our lives.  Facebook is responsible for most, and she enjoys reading all the notes she gets, responding to those that she can.  Evidently, up in the NICU, they reward the milestones of the preemies with beads that are strung into strings.  Well, some of her nurse buddies responded with her own set - these for IV starts and needle pokes, these for chemo treatments.  Of course, delivered in a cat-themed cloth bag!  Hopefully far in the future they will remind us of the trialing time we spent recovering Min's health in the late Summer of '13.  In the meantime, thanks for all your support, love and prayers for her recovery!  We love and appreciate hearing from you!

Friday, August 23, 2013

The Path is Clear(er)!

We've been feeling a little lost lately, but our journey became a little clearer today!  Melinda has been a little under the weather - she traces it back to June when she felt a little out of breath at the Canyon, blaming it on the elevation.  More recently she has been feeling tired and developed a bit of a cough before our recent Midwest trip, slowly getting worse with labored breathing, almost day to day lately.  She saw her doctor 2 weeks ago when we got back, a chest x-ray saw a mass between her lungs, a CT indicated perhaps small-cell lung cancer or lymphoma.  A biopsy was performed just 2 days ago (seems like a week ago already!), and today the firm diagnosis - small cell lung cancer.  Initially chemotherapy was scheduled for next week and more imaging (head CT and PET scan) bookending an oncology appointment today (a long day!).

The oncologist, upon hearing the description of her worsening condition said she wasn't going to wait till next week - she was being admitted to University Medical Center TONIGHT for chemo TOMORROW and for the NEXT THREE DAYS!  I just got back from the hospital where she has been chipper and perky, feeling the most optimistic she has in a while after the oncologist insists her breathing should improve after 3 sessions over the weekend.  Some of her co-workers came down from the NICU, and some of mine from the Mirror Lab came by to offer support and love.  The journey starts tomorrow, but for the first time in a couple weeks, the path looks clearer!

Monday, August 19, 2013

Last of the Leftovers!

These are the last of the leftovers from our recent Midwest trip - don't think I can wring out any more posts of the nearly 700 pictures I took in those 3 weeks...  But these shots are cool enough they need to be on the blog!

First up are a couple pictures taken a day or two into my trip - I stopped in Clinton, IA to have an early dinner with my schoolmate Jeff.  I was on my way to join the RAGBRAI group in Cedar Rapids, and Clinton, right on the Iowa side of the Mississippi (and where I was born!) was a nice stopping point for the 3.5 hour drive.  After dinner at a burger joint, we noticed there was a car show in the adjacent parking lot.  While I admire restored cars from decades ago, I'm not a car guy, but I like the photo ops that present themselves.  At left is a hood ornament from a '55 Chevy Bel Air.  While it looks to be a jet plane to me, a Google search calls it a bird, and while birds generally lack vertical stabilizers, what appears to be a windscreen can be a stylized bird head...  You can form your own opinion!

And while I don't go out of my way usually to capture a 3D stereo view, the curves of some cars scream for its use.  Here is a view of a '66 Corvette, which I do remember making my heart go pitter-pat back in the day.  This is a cross-eyed view - cross your eyes slightly to observe the right picture with your left eye, and vice-versa.  You will then see a center picture that reveals depth to your brain.  It is easier to do it with the thumbnails, then you can click the image for the full-resolution view.

One of my walks in the prairie section of the local forest preserve, I was looking for targets to shoot and saw a plant just covered in lil' red aphids!  This is the only plant I saw them on, and there were likely hundreds on the otherwise healthy-looking plant.  While there were few adults (with the wings at left), there was a variety of sizes in various stages of growth, as shown at right.  They all looked so curious doing headstands with proboscis buried in the stem!  These are taken with the macro at just about the closest I can get!

On our last weekend there, we were slow to leave the pizza joint where we had dined with relatives and were once again visiting with classmate Jeff.  It was nearing sunset and I happened to look up and saw the most remarkable sky.  While not particularly clear or cloudy, the range in tone just caught my eye and I squeezed off a couple frames, one of them shown here.  For some reason, we don't see many cumulus clouds like this in the desert southwest, and it stands out to me.

Well, that just about concludes the coverage of our Summer Midwest trip.  I hope you enjoyed the pics as much as I did taking and presenting them!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Another Mirror Lab Extravaganza!

With the next big mirror casting coming up next week, we didn't need much more on our plate at work, but the notice came at our Monday morning organizational meeting - prepare for an event on Wednesday that includes the University President and a congressman! 

These have come up before in the past.  The Mirror Lab is a high-profile site and enjoys some notoriety in industry.  For instance, a few years back,I blogged about another event that enjoyed congresswoman Gabriel Giffords who was critically injured by a gunman 8 months later.  This one was a meeting of University officials and local industrial affiliates pushing Congressman Ron Barber (who was Gabby's chief of staff and eventually won her congressional seat) in promoting a National Photonics Initiative.  From the growth of astronomy and the associated optics industry the last 60 years, Tucson is sometimes called "Optics Valley".  Mr. Barber agreed it was not a good time to ask the federal government for seed or research money, but was told by industrial officials that the US is falling behind in the industry as Europe, China, Japan and Korea all invest in photonics.  Both of these pictures is the same, but I couldn't decide which I liked better, the 4-frame mosaic at right or the 8 frame mosaic showing the test tower that dominates the optic lab at left.  I hope you enjoy both!

The event started by Ron Barber and UA President Ann Hart touring the Mirror Lab.  They were followed by a crowd of aids, security, University officials, and, of course, the press.  It was amazing to watch the crowd surrounded by photographers and reporters as they moved slowly through the lab.  At left, from left is Roger Angel, Regeant's Professor and Director of the Mirror lab, Thomas Koch, Dean of the College of Optical Sciences, Mr Ron Barber, Congressman, Ann Hart, UA President, and Buell Jannuzi, Director of Steward Observatory.  Of course, this tour gets to go where no one else gets to go, so they were led down adjacent to the LSST mirror being figured.  Here the group is joined by Peter Strittmatter at right, former Director of Steward Observatory.

The tour ended with Mr. Barber giving a couple quick video interviews while guests and affiliates visited a light buffet.  I'm thinking that a Congressman always has to be "on", as I caught this shot of him from overhead as he talks to the press.  This was followed by about 20 minutes of a statement and remarks before entertaining questions and ideas from the affiliates in the optics and photonics industry.  We had shut down the polishing operation by that time so that the noise wouldn't interfere, so I was free to wander and take a few pictures, including the panoramas atop this post.  At right, Peter Strittmatter at left and Roger Angel at right listen to Mr. Barber's comments in the distance.  The only resultant stories I've seen (didn't see the news that evening), was a report from science reporter Tom Beal

These are fun events, the Lab is certainly an interesting place to hold any sort of expo to highlight optics or local technology.  I'm sure we'll have them again - stay tuned!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Time To Cast Another Mirror!

Polishing mirrors, particularly the behemoths we make at the Steward Observatory Mirror Lab is a slow, exacting process. While we work long hours, in fact, we're up to 3 shifts a day now, it still takes years to finish a mirror surface to the accuracy of nearly a glass molecule! But the casting of the mirror substrates is more a matter of engineering and science. We've got a fantastic casting crew that can push out the nearly 30 foot diameter substrates nearly once a year. Our last casting was a year ago January, and we're about to start another in a few days. This one is the 3rd mirror substrate for the Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT), and yesterday was the loading of the glass into the telescope mold.

Few things are more photogenic that watching the loading of 20 tons of gleaming glass chunks into the mold.  The E6 glass is a Pyrex equivalent, made for us from Ohara Optical in Japan.  They make it in small batches of a ton at a time, and cleave it into the chunks seen so that they will melt together in the substrate without trapping air bubbles.  And while these days we could obtain glass with nearly zero coefficient of thermal expansion(CTE), we use borosilicate glasses which become fluid enough to melt and run into the mold.  Ultra-low CTE glasses do not become fluid enough to do that.

The process started a couple weeks ago when the glass was brought in from our off-site storage.  Each block was inspected under crossed Polaroid filters to look for internal stresses.  While Ohara goes to considerable effort to maintain precise uniformity from batch to batch, occasional impurities result in internal stresses that do not get relieved by re-melting.  In the crossed-Polaroid test, stress birefringence rotates the plane of polarization allowing it to become visible.  In the photo at left, a seed, a speck of impurity introduces a high-stress point (circled at lower right).  If these are close enough to the block's surface, the glass can be re-cleaved to remove it and the rest of the block can be used.  Besides pulling out the small percentage that is rejected for high stress as above, it is also graded for quality.  The best glass is layered on top of the mold last so that the mirror faceplate will contain the highest quality.

The actual loading is a day-long Herculean effort by the crew.  They usually recruit a couple volunteers from other areas of the lab to lend a hand.  The shot at left shows a panorama of the operation.  A forklift brings up pallets of the inspected glass blocks at left, and a crew loads them into the inclined rollers to hoist them to the 3-man crew placing the individual blocks into the mold.  Another worker removes and collapses the empty boxes for recycling.  Peeking into the oven, you can see some of the resistive heater elements lining the oven interior, and the Inconel bands that encase the tub walls of the mold.  The crew had started loading about 5am and these pictures were taken about 6+ hours later.  It makes for a long, strenuous day, followed by the removal of the loading scaffolding.  Today after a final look around, they installed the top of the oven and make final preparations for the 3-month casting process.

Round about this weekend they will flick the switch and it will start the temperature ramp up towards the melting point of the glass.  It takes about a week to reach the high temperature of 1180C when the mold will fill with the molten glass as the oven spins at the correct speed to form the right curve on the molten surface.  This is scheduled to happen during the weekend of the 24th, after which it will cool slowly to prevent stress in the blank.  If all goes well, we'll get to open up the oven and take our first look about Thanksgiving.  If only we could pump out polished mirrors as fast!

My Favorite Galaxy!

Melinda was off last night, and the monsoon weather continues on hiatus, so we again headed to Kitt Peak National Observatory to catch some early Perseid meteors.  Since it was a "school night", we couldn't stay too late, but since she has to work on Monday night, the peak of the annual meteor shower, better to catch some than stay home and miss most if not all of them!

The Nightly Observing Program had been cancelled, since the forecast had called for a chance of rain, so we arrived to an empty parking lot, though all the "Big Boy" professional telescopes were open and working.  Like the other night we set up in the lot since it had pretty good horizons - not too much obstructions from the nearby trees or hills.  Melinda was only interested in the meteors, so set up a chair for visual lookin' and I again set up the tracking platform for some wide-field photography.  My hope, of course, was to capture a few meteors, but other than that, didn't have much of a plan. 

The waxing crescent moon was still above the horizon, but with it only 4 or 5 days past new, didn't much diminish the Milky Way Galaxy transiting almost due south.  In fact, the little bit of moonlight lit up the domes on the south ridge of the Observatory enough to let them stand out with the galaxy center shining down.  The image at left is a single exposure with the Canon XSi and Nikon 16mm fisheye at F/2.8.  I used the tracking platform at the half-speed rate so that the blur would be spread out between star and horizon to allow a little longer exposure.  This one is 90 seconds at ISO 1600 with in-camera noise reduction on.  The dome to the left is the 2.1 meter, and at right center is the WIYN 0.9 meter telescope.  The row of red lights at the bottom are to guide NOP guests to the rest rooms.

While taking the above exposure, I got a wild idea...  With the ease of making the panorama the other night of the Prancing Horse Nebula, I wondered how wide-field shots of the Milky Way could be put together for a portrait of our galaxy.  I chose another Nikon lens, an older 20mm F2.8 from my film days, and started down near the southern horizon.  I shot 4 or 5 exposures of 3 minutes each to stack and reduce noise, then moved north a good part of the frame, allowing a little overlap for software to assemble the panorama.  Of course, with meteors whizzing across the sky, if I happened to catch any of them, all the better!  In fact, I caught only one - a pretty bright one we saw zipping just above Cygnus, shown at left.  Deneb (alpha Cygni) is the bright star just right of center, with the North American Nebula just below left of it.  While only capturing the one meteor, we saw 43 Perseids in 3 hours of looking, and also saw about a dozen from the Delta Aquariids and Anthelion radiants as well as some sporadic, random meteors that we didn't include in our totals.

So anyway, I ended up shooting 6 frames with the 20mm, 4 or 5 exposures of 3 minutes each.  Coverage pretty much went from the southern horizon to below Cassiopeia near the northern horizon, though some thin clouds or haze, lit up by Tucson and Phoenix had me cropping out some of that section.  Amazingly, Photoshop had no issues with assembling the star exposures.  My only issues were with data reduction...  I shot raws as well as jpegs, also took the occasional dark frame to subtract electronic noise.  I first reduced the raws, subtracted the darks, reconverted to color, then stacked and assembled the panorama.  Unfortunately, this version was difficult to make the Milky Way look realistic.  The fainter sections looked very much like the brightest sections, so I went through it all again with just jpegs, without dark subtraction.  Since the blog limits me to 1600 pixels wide anyway, you can't see any sign of the hot pixels anyway...  And this version looks much more realistic, and the dark nebulae structure scattered through the plane of the Galaxy looks quite amazing!  Absolutely click on the image to see the full-size version.  I've seen a few impressive pictures of distant edge-on galaxies, but here you can see my favorite galaxy, assembled from images taken with a 20mm lens in less than 2 hours of exposure! 

And while the pixel limit really cuts down on what you can spot, you can easily pick out the Andromeda Galaxy at the lower left corner.  Of course the Prancing Horse dark nebula is seen to the lower left of Antares at the far upper right.  And the Summer Triangle of Vega, Deneb and Altair can be seen near the center.  Perhaps I'll make an annotated version with labels, but it is a shame you can't see the 10,000 pixel wide image.  Anyway, enjoy!

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Pipe or Horsie?

I spent a few hours on Kitt Peak the other night and posted the Iridium Flare shot that was my first exposure of the night.  The next couple hours was spent on a 3-panel mosaic near the center of the Milky Way Galaxy - one of my favorite fields, the Prancing Horse Nebula.  Shown here is a wide field shot from a couple years ago from an observing session with our friend Christian.  Regulars know I'm a fan of dark nebulae - clouds of dust and gas silhouetted against distant cloud of stars behind it.  The left side of the frame shows the network of dark clouds known as either the "Pipe Nebula" or the "Prancing Horse Nebula".  You've got to use your imagination, but both can be made out.

One way to improve an image is to expose longer, another way is to use a telephoto lens and assemble a mosaic of the field.  This has the advantage of improving the resolution of the target object.  Using the (relatively new) Polarie tracking platform, I shot the dark nebula with my Canon XSi and 20-200mm lens, set to 100mm focal length at F/3.2.  Starting with the rear leg of the horse, or the pipe part of the nebula, I shot 10 exposures of 3 minutes each, shifted northward and repeated the sequence for the center and head sections of the field.  I took a couple corresponding dark frames at the start, between fields, and after the sequence to subtract during processing.  One rule-of-thumb in processing is that you sit in front of the computer just about as long as you spend exposing, and it was true in this case too.  Of course, it would help if I did this more often and became a little more proficient...  Luckily the automatic "photomerge" function in Photoshop worked on these starfields and made the mosaic construction easier.

The image at left is the result.  Do click on the image to see the full-size version - reproduced here at the Blog maximum 1600 pixels across.  There are a LOT of deep sky objects contained in the field, including a dozen or so globular clusters, and likely more Barnard cataloged dark nebulae.  The one that is readily seen is B72, the Snake Nebula, located right about in the center of the frame.  Unfortunately, the scale of the image is still too small to resolve many more objects.  I've rotated the frame to better "see" the Prancing Horse shape.  And while the left side of the frame looks redder (and corresponds to the first frame), I've treated all the fields the same, so I believe it is real...

This is the same frame, cropped slightly and rotated back so that North is upwards to show the "Pipe" (as in smoking pipe).  The tendrils are supposed to be wisps of smoke emanating upwards from the pipe.  Let me know if anyone doesn't see the shapes, and I'll add an annotated pair of images...

About the only way to do better, in resolution and depth is to start zooming into the field, particularly with the 1600 pixel blog limit.  It is too late in this observing session to do much of that, but may take up the challenge in the future!

Friday, August 9, 2013

My God, It's Full of Stars!

A couple sayings seem appropriate for this post.  The first is that you gotta' "Make Hay While The Sun Shines".  In other words, if the weather is good, and you've got hay cut, put off the trip to town and bale your hay before tomorrow's storm ruins the crop.  Farmers say it, really!  The other that comes to mind is that "I'd rather be lucky than good", and the picture at left seems to prove that!

We're back in Arizona now and we find a break in the monsoon clouds, so after getting Melinda safely off to work last night, I headed up to Kitt Peak National Observatory for some photon collecting..  While checking weather conditions, I normally check Heavens-Above to see about satellites, and notice a rather faint Iridium Flare is better if you go west (towards Kitt Peak).  Switching to the Observatory for the observing condition, the flare is predicted to be -8.4, which is about as bright as they get and about 80 times the brilliance of Venus!  What makes it more interesting is that it happens a few degrees from the deep-sky object M27, the "Dumbbell Nebula".  I usually enjoy imaging flares near sky objects, have posted one or two in the past.  Leaving home in Tucson, I had almost 2 hours to flare - you can set your watch by these, so you can't be late!

No stops for gas, snacks or bathroom, I took the required 80 minutes to legally make the trip and parked in the public lot.  One of the perks of working there - no one would have hassled me setting up there, but no one even checked on me, though one or two of the observatory cars passed in the deep twilight.  It was an incredibly clear night - it had been 2 months since the Canyon star party that I've seen skies like this.  Driving up the western flank of the mountain, the skinniest crescent moon hung on the horizon, yet as clear as overhead it was so clear.  As I set up my new Polarie tracking platform and hooked it up, I still had 10 or so minutes to go.  Camera, telephoto lens, polar align the tracker, install camera, focus on star - PERFECT!  Went to the field, between Delphinius and Cygnus, check camera settings, turn on long-exposure noise reduction for this exposure.  Check the clock - still a couple minutes for a test exposure...  Push the shutter - nothing!  Drat, I know exactly what it is - I forgot to switch the telephoto lens to manual focus, so in the dark, it tried, but couldn't find anything to focus on!  And of course, it moved it off the perfect focus I had set...So, back to a brighter star, live view, focus star, reacquire field in the viewfinder...  Check the clock - do I have time to take a test frame?  No!  Get out the intervalometer, preset to 3 minutes exposure.  Look up - I see a satellite!  Moving towards the field, I think it has to brighten a lot to be the flare, but in a few seconds, I push the button...  Off to the left, suddenly I see the REAL Iridium satellite flare to its brilliant peak - I was watching the wrong satellite!  I wanted to catch some details of the Milky Way and M27 if they were even in the frame, so let it go 2.5 minutes before I finally chickened out and viola - the picture seen above left!  Lucky, lucky, lucky!  The entire frame is shown, north is approximately towards upper right.  An annotated version of the frame is shown at right.  the two streaks are the satellites, the one marked with question marks is the mysterious one I was watching that caused me to start the exposure...

A friend once told me that "Luck Rewards The Well-Prepared", but in this case, I think I was lucky!

Of course, the above picture is re-sampled mightily to make the file a reasonable size, so lots of detail is lost.  Shown here at right at full camera resolution is the section over in Vulpecula (the Fox) where Messier 27, the Dumbbell Nebula is located.  I usually find it (can be spotted in binoculars!) by the faint parallelogram of stars connected in the image.  The greenish disk just below the bottom point is the nebula.  Don't forget that the 70-200 Canon F/2.8 zoom was set to 70mm for a wide field, so few details can be seen other than it's overall shape and color, but still nice to see next to the flare.

While setting up in the twilight, there was sort of a blustery breeze, which I sort of forgot about in my haste to get going.  But it did affect the image.  Lost in the above low-resolution image, the wind was wiggling the camera enough to reveal its presence.  In the full-res image at left you can see the wind-induced wiggles.  While easily seen in the trail of Iridium 75, the wiggle can't be seen in the stars' images, but it does manifest itself by bloating the star images a little bit...

So this is just the first frame of nearly 2GB of data I took on the incredible evening!  The rest I'll save for a subsequent post.  And I was still home by 1:30 - not bad for a "school night"!

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Highlights Of Our Summer Vacation!

Our Summer break at "Ketelsen East" in the western 'burbs of Chicago is winding down, but we've covered a lot of ground in just a couple weeks.  Time to review a few of the highlights, each perhaps not enough to fill out a post on their own...

Of course, the primary reason we come back is because we both have family here.  So we've spent time with both of Melinda's sisters, and seen most of my relatives in Iowa as well - a couple times!  Min and sister Maj travelled down to Saint Louis upon her arrival to visit an elderly aunt while I was still off on RAGBRAI and had a good time reliving the past with them.  The day she returned from that trip, I got back from the bike ride and we returned to Iowa the next day for great niece Alivia's 7th birthday party!  She is a ball of fire, and along with her cousin Mya (also a great niece - that we've not seen in what, over a year) made you tired just watching them!  If we could only harness their energy...  We figured the cool temps would keep everyone out of the pool (high about 70F), but the 2 girls alternated between pool and hot tub at brother Jim's house, all while keeping everyone entertained.  A week later, we returned to visit some friends, and join (Dean's sister) Linda and Lauren for their 35th anniversary (Alivia and Mya's grandparents).  We ate at a local pizza joint and got to hang out with the great nieces again (at right).

We did a lot of local activities!  I think we cooked at home only once, and that was while Melinda was out with her girlfriends and I was home alone to grill...  We ate out with friends pretty much every night.  I got in a pair of banjo lessons, and do well enough that Melinda can recognize the tunes.  We're going to try to get it to Arizona so I can continue to practice.  We saw the movie "The Way Way Back", which was very good...  I went to the "Flea Market", a first-weekend-of-the-month garage sale that fills up the Kane County Fairgrounds with what must be the largest garage sale around.  That is where I found the 'ole camera I first got as a teenager last Fall.  This year, while tempted by a collection of science books from the 1890s, I only spent money to enlarge my collection of astronomy-themed 3D stereo view cards that a woman had.  She specialized in vintage postcards, but had a few thousand of the Keystone View Company cards.  Otherwise, if one was in the market, you could find everything from an Indian totem pole, to unknown rusty farm tools to TV Guide magazine from the 1980s - pretty much anything and everything!

And speaking of friends, we met Mary and Dave, organic farmers west of town here...  She was recently given a telescope that her sister was throwing out from their Wyoming ranch.  Mary didn't know if it was functional, but it also had a thick layer of dirt and dust on it.  We retired to their place after dinner and it was a decade-old Meade telescope of fine quality, though only 3.5" in diameter.  I wiped the dirt off as best I could and was able to show them Saturn - this while set up on the hood of our car since it lacks a tripod.  She was certainly impressed by the view and promises to keep it going after I found her the manual on-line.

And speaking of friends, we spent time with Carolyn a few times - she even joined us in Iowa for Alivia's birthday.  I came home from the Flea market to find her and Melinda down at our micro-beach on the Fox River with her grandson Colin.  They wouldn't let him into the water, but he had fun running and jumping on what little sand there is.

In the 3 weeks I've been here, it is interesting to watch the progression of flowers, both native and cultivated, as they come and go.  When I arrived in mid-July, the plot next to the house was all about the tiger lilies, now there is no trace of them, but the phlox are now filling it with white and lavender.  The sunflower at right is from the back yard of Sharon, a friend over in Davenport, Iowa.  It was backlit and striking, so captured it with the macro...

And while I enjoy stalking the various bugs and insects of the region, you already saw the highlights, but have a couple more to show you.  I spotted a common whitetail dragonfly in a prairie walk at our nearby forest preserve.  Easy to spot, but harder to stalk and sneak up on!  And at right is a katydid spotted in the little jungle adjacent to our house...

And of course, RAGBRAI is always a highlight.  While I've made some posts about it already, indulge me for a few more pictures!  First up is from our camp in a backyard in Harlan Iowa.  After a warm trip across the state, and a hot first day's ride, a rainbow over riders Sue Ellen and Terry portend nicer weather for the rest of the week.  This frame is actually a "High Dynamic Range" (HDR) image assembled from 3 exposures with slightly different exposures to maintain detail in shadows as well as highlights.  We actually had just about the coldest weather we've seen on the ride in my 20 years, hitting 50F for a low on Friday night!

As driver, I don't get on the route very often, but while picking up riders in Pella, I spent some time hanging out in the Dutch capital of the state!  They are quite proud of their heritage, and have the largest operating windmill in the country (135 feet tall) that is actually used for grinding grain.  On this breezy day it was putting on quite a show.  This vertical panorama was able to get it all in with all the bikers in the foreground.  The museum and store in the adjoining building was pretty neat too.  You could even buy your own wooden shoes, including some pretty ornate ones for special occasions!  On my way out I ran into a couple local residents dressed up in traditional garb.  The one on the right admitted she was actually of German descent, but for a crowd of this size, all the locals were Dutch!

Well, those were the highlights of our Summer trip.  What was perhaps the most amazing is that after last Summer's drought and hot temperatures, other than my first few warm days in the mid-nineties, it has rarely gotten over 80F the last couple weeks.  It has been great, though a little on the rainy side.  Given the choice, I'll take rain and cool!  Until next time...

Friday, August 2, 2013

An Odd Visitor!

Just south of our house in Illinois is a jungle of bushes and shrubs.  I hadn't looked around in it this trip, so took a break from yesterday's blog post and brought along the macro lens, just in case anything interesting came along.  Boy, did it! 

I've never noticed these fellows before, but one species of bush had about a dozen or more on it.  They looked amazing - like a headless beetle!  They are about 5-8mm long, lacked antennae or a head, and walked, if not looked, like a crab in a shell.  Of course, a Google search with similar keywords turned up nothing, so I sent the picture at left to  "Bug Man" Carl Olson, an entomology expert at the University of Arizona.  In a former life, we played volleyball together (he was on a different team) in City League play.  The last couple decades, we was well-known locally in all-things-insect, from being interviewed on TV to various press releases from the University of Arizona.  While he retired from teaching at the beginning of the year, he continues to curate the insect collection of the UA, with nearly 2 million specimens, as well as answer the 4,000 requests for identification that they get a year!

By the time we got back from our evening activities last night I had an answer - they do in fact, have heads - you can see their little brown eyes just in front of their legs.  These are Enchenopa binotata, the two-spotted treehopper.  They have evolved to take on the appearance of thorns or leaf stems to avoid predators.  I also had an inkling that they were hoppers of some sort - after e-mailing Carl the picture, I touched one and it jumped a good foot and a half!

Of course, now that I've seen them, they stand out like a sore thumb and wonder how I've missed them in the past.  They are rather smallish and my 100mm Canon macro didn't do an outstanding job yesterday, as the wind was frustrating my efforts.  Today I did slightly better, getting the shot at left, but still, for a quarter-inch across bug, it is about the best I can do...  And of course, the search continues for the unusual...

Thursday, August 1, 2013

New McDonald's Menu Item - A Blog Post!

As I said in my last RAGBRAI post, after the bikers take off in the morning, I like to linger over breakfast and read the paper.  In Omaha, where the bike ride originated this year, after doing my cooler and snack shopping, I stopped at the McDonald's at 40th and Dodge.  Breakfast was uneventful, but as I was gazing out the window, I saw a blog post!

Even regular readers of this blog likely don't realize it, but at the bottom of the page, there is a link to "FEEDJIT", which tells us who is reading the blog and what they are looking at.  Of course, there are limitations, it identifies not actual readers, but lists the city where their ISP is located, and how they got to the blog.  Interestingly, one of the most popular posts I've ever written is the one on Moiré patterns!  For some reason, the patterns created, usually from a pair of overlapping screens, stands out and yells to me!  In this case, from inside McDonald's, it was caused by the overlapped screen patterns of window advertising!  The view from the outside is innocent enough - shown at left.

But the view from the inside, to someone who (at least sometimes) notices the little things, was very different!  Shown at left is above's left window from the inside.  The Moiré pattern I noticed is in the overlap areas - note that the overlap pattern at right is different from the overlap at left.  Click the image to see a larger version.  What causes it?  Well, the advertisement is not a solid graphic - it has little holes in it...  I know that Tucson has requirements for convenience stores to unblock windows so that the inside can be seen from the outside at night - a theft deterrent.  By putting the little holes in the graphics, they become at least partially transparent to see inside at night, and like these pictures show, you can see outside during the day.

The key for the present experiment is that when the holes are put into the graphic, or if they exist in the substrate before processing, they come out with different hole spacing!  As a result, when they are overlaid on each other a Moiré pattern results.  In fact, when you click and load the left image you may get a checkerboard pattern on your screen as the hole pattern interferes with the pixels on your viewing monitor. The picture at right and near left show the overlapped areas with more resolution so that you can spot both the hole pattern in the graphic and the resultant Moiré pattern.  While the pattern on each of the graphics looks identical, if you look at the full-size version and put a ruler up to the screen you can see that the patterns have slightly different spacings.  Because the Moiré patterns are different, we know that all three of these graphic screens are slightly different in size or frequency.  Even though the 2 outside graphics don't overlap, we can tell that if they did it would result in a different Moiré pattern!

Going back to the very top picture of the
advertisement from the outside, the right hand part of the graphic has a totally different look from the inside.  The main reason is that the graphics have no, or almost no overlap.  However, there is a window sun screen that is used to block part of the incoming light.  The screen, as shown at left, has a regular pattern that hangs down over the graphics.  The resultant set of Moire patterns between graphics and sunscreen is shown at right.  It is quite intricate and again, is different over different graphics showing that the hole spacing differs slightly.  At least to me it is very eye catching, though most people would likely not see the patterns, let alone realize what causes it or knows its name!  I would file it under "frequently seen but rarely observed" - my moniker for details from everyday life that few ever notice.

And while not listed on the menu at McDonald's, I got a big kick out of it.  And after seeing this my first day of the ride, I went looking at other outlets for similar effects, but never saw it again.  Keep your eyes out!