Monday, January 25, 2016

My Favorite Roadway Art!

Do much driving around Tucson and you will soon spot some art or something that LOOKS like it might be art! They seem to sprout from road expansion projects, and thus the funding source is found - the Federal Transportation Administration requires that 1% of transportation projects using federal funds be spent on art or enhancements. I think it is a good idea to get away from the raw concrete and steel and soften the edges a bit. It is tough to find a single source that shows the variety of work and artists, but there is a small gallery in this newspaper article...

But I do have a favorite! I go out of my way just to pass by it - fortunately it is almost on my way home if I'm going north on I-10. It is on one of the underpasses on the Miracle Mile exchange, installed when the interchange was re-aligned 20 years ago. Local artist Gary Mackender did all 6 of the huge (35 feet wide, 9 to 20 feet high) mosaics after hand-painting the 18,000 tiles. My favorite is the first one you see as you go north on the right (east) side. Shown at left (slightly fuzzed as to not reveal the surprise!), it appears to be a lizard (Gila Monster) in the desert overlooking a beach and body of water with perhaps a rock or small island offshore. It reminds me of the desert down near the Sea of Cortez, where the desert runs right to the shore. When you drive past it at 70+ miles per hour, that is about all the detail you see.

But slowing down to the speed limit or lower (65mph at that spot) you pick up more details, as shown at right. What was thought to be a body of water is a flood of urban sprawl extending outwards into the desert, with the lizard looking aghast at what is happening. I think it is a great statement the artist makes in preserving what is left of the desert before it is gone. Don't worry - I didn't take it while driving like some people on Long Island I know! Melinda drove the last leg back from our Christmas trip to Rocky Point, and I shot out the windshield as she drove the speed limit. The last shot of the 3 I took cleared the ocotillo plant that shows in the upper shot. I love the colors and the theme, so spreading the word here is what else I can do...

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Official End Of The Holidays!

The holiday season officially ended the other day with the arrival of the last card! Why was it delayed so much, nearly a month late after 5 weeks in transit? Well, it came from our friend Sergey Karpov, via air mail from Krasnoyarsk, Russia! It is a very long way away - almost exactly opposite us in Longitude (93 degees east), though closer to us if we headed due north over the pole (56 degrees north latitude). Sergey sent a Christmas Eve e-mail, telling me the card and desktop calendar the astronomy club put together from astro-photos they had taken would be late as he had suffered from flu and didn't get it off till mid-December. Still, 5 weeks for air mail seems slow!

The story of Sergey and "our Russian children" is pretty simple - as then-president of the Tucson astronomy club in the mid-90s, he wrote to me asking for help in arranging a tour for a few members of his astronomy club. I jumped at the chance, and one youngster came, along with 3 chaperones! Over a decade later, Sergey again contacted me and wanted to do it again! This time he had 11 teenagers and just him to keep an eye on things! Melinda and I had a great time spending 8 days with them as we kept them busy every day with activities from attending an American high school, touring Observatories at Mount Graham, Mount Lemmon and Kitt Peak, Pima Air Museum, then a trip to northern Arizona to Meteor Crater, Grand Canyon and finally Lowell Observatory. And after each of our long days, I would post a blog about our activities so their parents could keep an eye on us from around the world! It was great! They are considering another trip in August of 2017 to observe the total solar eclipse that occurs in the middle part of the country. I hope it happens!

So it is always nice to hear from Sergey. The card was beautiful - the front (at left) had some holographic printing to outline parts of the image of Snegurochka (more on her in a moment). At right is part of the inside. Of course, it is in Russian (duh!), and while I do not speak (or read) Russian, our neighbor across the cul-de-sac Cheryl does. She even brought it to school to show one of her native Russian students who seemed awfully interested in how such a card made it to Tucson! My thought of the card's cover girl was sort of a knockout Mother Nature, but Cheryl immediately recognized the image of Snegurochka, the Snowmaiden, daughter of Spring and Winter. She even supplied the legend of Snegurochka, who is eventually melted when she falls in love with a mortal. You should also check out some of the impressive images that Google turns up!

Cheryl's supplied translation:

For New Year's:
When the clock
strikes twelve,
we are given again
the gift of childhood,
We dream & dreams are realized,
and wonders/miracles occur!

May all in life
be wonderful,
May you find yourself
believing in wonders
and the amazing anew,
May this coming year
be like an amazing fairytale!

Monday, January 18, 2016

Stereo Microscope Shootout!

It's Dick's fault! I've mentioned him several times in the blog - we've been friends for a few decades and share an interest in most things that have lenses or other optics in them. A few weeks ago he forwarded a link to some he thought might be interested in a source for stereo microscopes for only $25! He was amazed that you could get any sort of a working microscope with glass lenses for that price. After it came, he was so impressed he ordered a second (holiday season, you know!). After the second was ordered they sent him an e-mail noting that he was such a good customer, they offered a 10% discount on a third - which he promptly ordered!

Now no one needs 3 stereo microscopes unless you plan on giving them away, but he was also interested in noting not only their optical quality, but there uniformity of quality. He had me over to look thru the first one and I had some issues with combining the images into a single image - what you might expect looking through a $25 optical instrument.

After that first session with him, I was reminded that I had a stereo microscope too! It is an antique, or at least old Bausch and Lomb... I obtained it about 3 decades ago - an estate willed to the Optical Sciences Center where I worked at the time. Many of the items the family didn't want was up for silent auction, and I bid on some books, the microscope and a card table which served me well for nearly 2 decades (and still does!) to hold the slide projector at the Grand Canyon! I don't recall what I paid for all, but it couldn't have been much - a few bucks for the books and card table, perhaps $50 for the microscope. After using it perhaps once in those 30 years, I got it out again after Dick's piquing my interest again.

It is a great little system - a stereo microscope that has a full optical system for each eye (called a Greenough-type). Designed for lower powers, it runs from 7X to 112X with 6 objectives (5 of which can be swapped in/out of the turret), and 2 sets of eyepieces (10X and 15X).  At the lowest power its field-of-view is about the size of a quarter, and you get a true 3-D effect, since each eye sees a slightly different angle. A prism cluster atop the turret housing allows for inter-pupillary adjustment and also erects the image. The patent numbers (the earlier one for the turret design, and the second for objective mounting design) indicate the designs were granted to Bausch and Lomb in the mid-20s and mid-30s, so the microscope could well be up to 80 years old.

While the optics seem to be simple singlets or doublets and all are in need of some cleaning, they perform very well! The eyepieces are simple 2-element Ramsdens, and I can't tell about the objectives. At left is a view of the high-power 7.5X objective that shows how the lenses have flat spots in them so that they can be mounted closely enough to operate at higher power... And at right is a close-up of the turret and the 3 positions of the objectives - a built-in 0.7X and two changeable dovetail-mounted ones.

Well, Dick wanted to do a close comparison of my B&L, his brand new version from Explore One, and likely a 40s or 50s vintage Zeiss version that incorporates a zoom system too. Dick also had a new pair of 15X microscope eyepieces - of modern multi-element design to try as well. Unfortunately, I had some photos of our "stereo microscope Shootout" but accidently erased them after assuming I'd downloaded them (first time that has ever happened!). But we took careful note looking at pocket change through them all. My 80-year-old B&L certainly wasn't left in the dust by newer designs, and when paired with the new 15X eyepieces were just as good. Dick even had an Ebay link to a fellow selling the very same eyepieces if I decided to jump into updating my older system.

3D Anaglyph - get out your red/blue glasses!
I was really impressed by the 3D effect demonstrated by all the microscopes. True, all coins have a non-flat surface, but I was just surprised by the depth. Looking at the Connecticut quarter, the big old Charter Oak was an amazing 3D view of intertwining branches. Being the 3D nut that I am, I tried to take images thru my microscope to make an anaglyph, but failed miserably. Even using a macro lens, I had difficulty, the image shown at left my best effort of the quarter for the Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge quarter - the newest-minted. Using the red/blue glasses you can see some depth - a raised rim, with stamped letters, and the bird raised above the background. Almost as good as with the microscopes. I don't know if I'll get into microscopy as much as Dick has, but if I do, I know who to blame!

Saturday, January 16, 2016

3D Extravaganza!

I often have a blog post in mind, but gets misplaced in the shuffle of life. Such is was in a trip back from Illinois way last June. I even mentioned in that post that 3D shots were on the way, but then, here we are in 2016 and I'm just remembering to post them! So grab your red/blue anaglyph 3D glasses and come along for the ride!

Just as a review, while you are moving along on a jet plane at 600 miles an hour, if you take a couple images a couple seconds apart, your baseline is defined by how much you have moved. Entered into Photoshop, the images are aligned, and verified that the scale is the same - the procedure to convert to a red/blue image to view with anaglyph glasses in about a 4 step process. I'll describe it in detail if anyone is interested, but so far, no one has asked. I had a great, high, quality window on that trip, so was a joy to sit with camera and nose pressed against it. When converting to anaglyph, sometimes color tints come into play, so most on that return trip were taken with B&W images from my IR-modified camera. It cuts through the haze for better contrast, turns the sky and bodies of water dark, and vegetation comes out very light or white. Then, when viewed through the red/blue glasses, the images stay B&W without introducing weird color shifts in a color image. But just to prove it works with color, this first image is a color image pair shot in northern New Mexico somewhere. The sinuous landforms and the depth in the clouds and their shadows are quite dramatic! This was shot in color on the trip up to Illinois, the rest are on the return ride...

There is an optimum spacing for revealing the depth in an image. Too large a baseline and it is difficult for your eyes to adjust for the nearest and farthest points of an image. If you restrict the near/far distance, keeping the baseline large exaggerated the depth of the image. Any baseline larger than your eye spacing are defined as "hyper-stereo", but with upwards of a mile separation, these would be considered extreme hyper-stereos! Case in point is this view of a canyon at left that I think is the Middle Gila River in SW central New Mexico. I cropped off the near/far distance so that the large separation would exaggerate the stereo effect.

At right, coming into Tucson, we passed low over the Rincon Mountains, and because of the low altitude, caught lots of details in the terrain and individual Ponderosa pine trees at the high elevations of Mica Mountain.

As is normal, we circled counter-clockwise over the north side of Tucson to land towards the SE at the airport on the far south side of town. I already posted a picture of our cul-de-sac on the earlier blog post. But as we passed the full length of town with the Catalina mountains out my window in slow review, I couldn't help but take a huge series of images pairs. First up is a great stereo pair from the peak of Mount Lemmon at nearly 9200 feet, down to Thimble Peak (5200 feet elevation) at lower center. The ridgeline it sits on divides Bear Canyon on the near side, Sabino Canyon beyond. I love how the few clouds provide a dappled surface that shows up so well on the 3D image.

The next pair at right was taken a few seconds later, and is very similar, but I like the slightly wider shot that shows the clouds at the top of the image. I couldn't decide which I liked better, so you get them both!

One of the nice things about the use of a zoom lens is that you can switch quickly between fields-of-view to vary the coverage. At left is a wider shot as the parade past the "front range" of the Catalinas continued. At left, nestled against the mountain slopes is the white-appearing Ventana Canyon golf resort, with its namesake Ventana Canyon to the left and Esperero Canyon to the right. The black spot at right center is the parking lot at Sabino Canyon. This image pair that made up the anaglyph was shot at 50mm focal length.

A fraction of a minute later, the narrower shot at right resulted. Shot at 85mm focal length, it shows Ventana Canyon in much more detail, with Cathedral Peak at right and Window Peak at left. I'm a big fan of documenting Window Rock, easily seen from around Tucson, and while Window Rock can be seen just left of Window Peak, the window itself can't be seen from this angle or magnification...

The parade of the Catalinas continued with this great view of Finger Rock, barely picked out of the profile top at left center. In front of it is Finger Rock Canyon. Following it uphill, the trail eventually reaches Kimball Peak at the far right.

We finally ran out of mountain ranges out my window, and I also shot our house about then. We banked around towards the south and I also got a few of the popular viewpoint of Gates Pass over the Tucson Mountains on the west side of town. This is one of the "shortcuts" over the range to the west of Tucson - in fact, one of the popular attractions, western movie studio "Old Tucson" is visible at the far upper right corner.

Well, you are now up to date on our June trip! Sorry about the delay, but I'm thinking these 3D anaglyphs are pretty spectacular and glad I finally got them out there!

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

A New Life for an Old Friend!

If you can have favorite telescope, mine would likely be the 2.1-Meter Telescope atop Kitt Peak. Dedicated and brought on-line in 1964, it is a beautiful, classical, equatorial fork-mounted telescope. When I worked there back in the early 80s, it was a favorite of mine - beautiful, easy to work on and change instruments, simple and elegant in design. The mechanicals were built by Willamette Iron and Steel from Portland, Oregon, normally making ocean-going ships and large steam boilers. The mirror was polished in the basement of the NOAO offices optics shop on Cherry Street, from a Pyrex disk cast at Corning Glass. Shown at left, the white telescope moves north-south inside the fork, which rotates east-west to allow access to all parts of the sky. Once an object is aligned, a simple rotation of the fork will keep it centered, since the fork axis is aligned to the Earth's axis. In the rear at ground level is the console room, from which it is operated (built on my watch in 1980!), and the ever-present white spot used to calibrate CCD detectors. The instrument shown here at left is Phoenix, an IR spectrometer.

The past few decades, the National Science Foundation (NSF) has slowly been divesting itself of support of the telescopes at Kitt Peak as budgets get tight. Back in the 80s, the staff supported 9 stellar telescopes, all of which could be used by astronomers around the country if their research was deemed important enough. Kitt Peak is no longer so much a National Observatory, as a collection of private, consortium-operated telescopes as various groups have stepped in to operate them. Only the WIYN and 4-meter have any time available for access, and that is severely restricted to a few blocks of time, or administered thru NASA (for WIYN). It was sad to see the announcement nearly 2 years ago when new tenants for the 2.1 were sought.

Courtesy Robo-AO and Caltech
There were four serious candidates, and finally this last September, it was announced that California Institute of Technology's (Caltech) Robo-AO program would take over the facility. There was some word of an adaptive-optics (AO) program, but details were not quickly forthcoming. AO is exciting stuff - a product of "Star Wars" technology of the late 80s that use deformable mirrors to correct the blurring effects of the Earth's atmosphere. It has been the goal of many astronomer teams to get images similar in sharpness to that of the Space Telescope, from within this ocean of air we live in, with various amounts of success.

Laser Projector, dome lights on, off. 
Courtesy Robo-AO, Caltech
I didn't know much about the Caltech program, but last night I scored an invite to a lecture by one of the scientists from the program - Reed Riddle talked to the Kitt Peak docents about the program and some of their results. Shown at left is the dome of the 2.1 meter telescope, now in use by Robo-AO, since they moved in early November! The image is misleading - the instrument uses a laser to create an artificial guide star, but it emits a beam in the ultraviolet that is invisible to the eye. Shown here is an image from a camera that has been modified - the UV blocking filter has been removed and the laser is now visible by UV leaks in the bayer filter matrix, now visible to the sensor, but still not to the eye.

Otherwise the system is similar to others. Because the laser works in the UV, it has the benefit that it does not bother pilots or airplanes, so the FAA has no objections to its use. Also because of the short wavelength used, corrections can be made in the visible part of the spectrum. Most artificial guide stars use visible light, so would interfere with visible applications. Most of these systems do their science in the near infrared wavelengths. The 10 watt laser is diverged to about 15cm before projecting, and is precisely aligned with the telescope view. Focused about 10km altitude (6 miles up), it makes an artificial guide star about 2cm diameter visible from Rayleigh scattering. While not quite at the top of the atmosphere, it can be used to correct much of the effects of atmospheric turbulence. The artificial star is imaged by the telescope, and run through a Schack-Hartmann sensor which controls a 140-segment flexible mirror in a feedback loop to correct for turbulence.

You can't argue with the results! Shown here is a video of Saturn from their early results with the Palomar 60" - the first half of the clip is without the AO turned on, the second half shows the results when turned on:

They literally walked into the facility 2 months ago and are really still getting things working, but early results are encouraging. Reed showed us star images that readily showed diffraction rings, and you can't really do better than that! They have extensive programs in observing Kepler objects that show exoplanets, as well as a number of high-resolution imaging including planetary disks, multiple stars and centers of star clusters. They are still looking for observing ideas, since instead of a week or two of observing time, they will now have unlimited telescope use at the 2.1 meter. Lucky them!

If you are interested in the gritty details of their instrument, check out this 10 minute video, or if you are really hardcore, you can watch this hour-long Caltech Astronomy Colloquium presentation... I'm just glad one of my lil' beauties is enjoying a new life!

ADDENDUM: I had an e-mail discussion with one of the administrators at Kitt Peak, about my concerns it was really no longer a "National Observatory", since most of the telescopes have been transitioned to private control. He correctly pointed out that the 4-Meter Mayall, the 3.2 Meter WIYN and the 2.1 Meter, now controlled by the Caltech Robo-AO are all promising a percentage of their time to competively-awarded research projects. In addition, many of the major projects these large telescopes are transitioning to will have data publicly-available, so able to be widely used by the astronomical community. So while directly-assigned telescope time is continues to be a rarity, the treasure-trove of data that will become available to the public could still qualify it as a true National Observatory!

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Every Mistake In The Book!

I made my bloggin' buddy Ken laugh a few weeks ago when we exchanged e-mails a few weeks ago, talking about rising in the predawn hours to observe Comet Catalina. I told him that: "Of course, to me personally, 5am is a time that exists only theoretically, as I'm usually observing the back of my eyeballs about then... The thought of getting up at 3, driving an hour, setting up gear (in the dark and cold!) to photograph a comet doesn't seem as attractive as back in the Hale-Bopp days 20 years ago when I would do it a couple days a week."

Well, here it is a month later, I've still not seen Catalina, though I blame most of that on the spate of rain and clouds we've enjoyed lately. But recently, I've taken to step outside the predawn hours when "nature calls" to check on the planetary conjunction. This morning was the last chance to see Venus and Saturn less than the moon's-width apart for the last time, and when I ducked out at 6:05, I could see it through a hold in the clouds!

Now I take lots of images to support this blog - over 1700 in December alone, mostly for the Kitt Peak sunset chasing trips, and that doesn't count the hundreds more taken with my secondary camera of Melinda's.  But at 6 in the morning with my sleep-addled brain, I was making every mistake in the book as the inexorable movement of the clouds blocked my view!

Image Stabilization and Spagetti-Os!
Everything finally set - oh-oh...
Diving for the tripod and camera went fine, kit lens - check. Mount in the kitchen before stepping out into the 36.4F morning temperature. Step one is to frame and focus. I could see bright Venus in the viewfinder - looked pretty good to me - go to "Live view" to fine-focus - nothing... Lengthen exposure to make the image brighter - nothing. Evidently it was just out of focus enough to not make Venus visible. A twist of the focus ring and finally there it was. Took an 8 second exposure - a little underexposed. Doubled ISO to 800, and exposure to 10 seconds - better! Turn on long-exposure-noise-reduction, and take another - looks out of focus! Another - tadpole shaped stars! Drat - hadn't turned off image-stabilization! While helpful for hand-held exposures, from a tripod, step number 1 or 2 should always be to turn off IS! Fumble for the switch in the dark - step inside for a flashlight, turn it off and expose again - cloudy! The moment was gone, clouds cover the area, so I pack up and head back to a warm bed.

This morning I look at the results. The image that looked out of focus was actually stars that looked like Spagetti-Os!  The IS had "hunted" and completed a full circle during the 10 second exposure! The best exposure was that shown above, the second taken before noise-reduction was turned on. Total time from first image to last was only 5 minutes, before the clouds moved in... If I had only known what I was doing! Just another demonstration that astrophotography is a little different animal than normal imaging!

Thursday, January 7, 2016

The Subject Was Dwarfs!

Dr. Mark Sykes and Dr. Tom Fleming
Dwarf planets, that is... I frequently attend the Steward Observatory Public Evening Lecture Series, which usually meet a couple Monday nights per month (while school is in session) at the big lecture hall at Steward Observatory - the same location that the Tucson Amateur Astronomy Association meets. The lecture series has been going on since the Observatory was started over 90 years ago! Of course, the University of Arizona is well known for its astronomy department, but it is across the street from the headquarters of Kitt Peak National Observatory, as well as the Lunar and Planetary Lab. So you can imagine the speakers and variety of topics is second to none! And as if you needed another excuse to go, they open the 21" telescope in the old dome for observing if the weather permits!

Such was the case last month when I attended the last talk of the semester - Dr. Mark Sykes CEO and Director of the Planetary Sciences Institute (also in Tucson!) gave a talk on recent discoveries on Ceres, Charon and Pluto. Since New Horizons spacecraft flew past Pluto last July, data has been trickling out as the data is downloaded from across the solar system. So It was going to be great to see the latest images and hear early interpretations of what is being seen.

The lectures are great - well attended by a wide variety of folks - both older people, of which group I include myself, and a good percentage of young college students, some of which obtain extra credit for attending the lecture. Dr. Tom Fleming, Sr. Lecturer at Steward acts as emcee, making announcements, introducing the speaker, and marking off students attendance for their class credit. At left is a 2-frame mosaic of some of the crowd as Tom makes his introductions.

Of course, the first thing Dr. Sykes had to do was talk about the demotion of Pluto from planet to dwarf planet, one of his first slides shown at right. It turns out that the issue isn't a matter of size, but rather if it has "cleared" its orbit of other bodies. As the plot shows, even if Pluto was the size of the Earth (red arrow), it wouldn't be considered a planet! The former asteroid Ceres, now considered a dwarf planet, is the question mark symbol near the bottom - also way too small to be considered a planet.

It has been a golden age recently in spacecraft missions to the planets. Not only the big missions everyone has heard of like Cassini at Saturn, and the parade of Mars landers, but smaller missions like Dawn, spending a year at asteroid Vesta, now orbiting Ceres. And of course, the New Horizons spacecraft flew past Pluto last year. Of course, when the mission was developed and finally launched in 2006, Pluto hadn't been demoted, and was considered off to the final planet of the solar system yet to be explored.

Mark started out with the ongoing Dawn mission at Ceres. One of the greatest mysteries as it approached were the bright spots associated with several craters seen from millions of miles away. At left is his closeup of crater Occator. Dr. Sykes said that scientists were ready to announce that the bright spots were salts or brine likely containing magnesium sulfate hexahydrite. Moving on to the New Horizons results, he showed some incredible images, including the two at right. Scientists had thought it would be a quiet icy world, but has been found to be incredibly diverse, both geologically and chemically.

Another thing that Mark talked about was naming issues. Almost as fast as the images came down, scientists starting naming plains, craters, features, which is generally a no-no unless approved by the IAU, conforming to naming conventions. He showed a map of Pluto's moon Charon showing jokingly (I think!) features named after characters from Star Trek, Star Wars, and other works of fiction (map shown at left).

I almost forgot! There are podcasts of the lectures, so if you want to peruse past lectures, check out the podcast link to the Public Evenings page above. When you do that you can actually watch the slides of the lecture on your computer while you listen - it is great! That means also you can hear/see Dr Sykes' talk there too!

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Outgunned in the Desert!

I've blogged a few times about a couple buddies going out to the desert for some target practice. Each of us own a handgun or two and while one of us (Dan the retired police detective) carried one as part of his work, we all enjoy occasionally slingin' a little lead at targets. 

But it turns out that I work elbow-to-elbow with a certified bunch of gun nuts! During our holiday shutdown at work last week, a "shootout" was organized. Man - I had no idea what I was getting into!  I had rifles and shotguns growing up way back on the farm  - nothing unusual about that - hunting and varmint control almost requiring having guns around.

Most of my co-workers continue the hunting tradition - I've heard lots of stories about various outings for elk, deer and javalina.  Much of the arsenal was on display at the shootout. While there were a couple handguns in evidence, most of the shooting was with the rifles, from small caliber .22s to 30-06 rifles. At left our office staff Linda (left) and Danielle (right), get instruction in small arms. At right, Michael shoots the WWII vintage M1 Garand 30-06 while owner Ray looks on.

There was a wide variety in things to try. One of the newest "toys" was Kevin's AR-15 platform, built up module-by-module to the product he used here. Shooting supersonic 300 AAC (Advanced Armament Corporation) blackout rounds, it is actually licensed as a pistol with its short stock (designed to be strapped to your forearm) and short barrel. He is making an adjustment at left. It had a unity-power LED sight for aiming with arm extended...

Interestingly, between taking turns shooting high-power rounds, Linda admires Danielle's new fingernail polish color at right.

As time went by, shotguns and rifles appeared as if by magic! The image at left shows part of the arsenal, and you can spot the paper target at left and the steel target at right that you could hear "ping" when hit by the handguns. Not quite as much fun as the dueling tree my buddy Chuck has, which is better for head-to-head competition. The high-power rounds were aimed across the 100 meters or so to the other side of the catchment where we were shooting. At right, Heath, who organized the outing, was shooting targets from a sitting position.

Into the second hour of shooting, there was a shift to moving targets and shotguns. At left Kevin tosses a softball to bounce down the hill for Danielle to aim for (mostly successfully!) with a small 410 shotgun. And at right, Kevin is about to fling a skeet for Heath to aim for. They were shooting in pairs for the skeet shooting, but determining who hit the targets was sometimes difficult... I wasn't much interested in shooting rifles or shotguns, so I eventually drifted off and left them to their fun. The girls left before me, but I was next to retire, leaving the hunters going strong.

I'm thinking that after writing this post, there might be some crossover between my shooting groups - I can see Chuck's eyes lighting up shooting Kevin's AR-15... We'll see if we can get it to happen!

Saturday, January 2, 2016

2016 Wish List

This post is definitely not part of the last one, my year-end review, but rather, what is just over the horizon. One of the things I depend on a lot in support of this blog is the imaging, and my ole' venerable Canon XSi is pushing 8 years old. I've already replaced the shutter module a couple years back, and I'm looking to upgrade. On two occasions this year, I've had a chance to use the latest hardware - the Canon 6D with a full-frame sensor(emulating the 24X36mm size of 35mm film). The larger sensor size both widens the field on my lenses currently cut down by the smaller APS sensor of the XSi, and will also have more pixels to maintain the same resolution I've got now. On both opportunities, the lower noise and higher gains and video capabilities available with the new hardware has been really impressive. Things have improved tremendously in 8 years!

But at $1400 for a basic body, with no lens (I can use most of the lenses used now), the household budget doesn't allow such purchases, so I've been looking for "creative" ways to raise funds. I've had a "piggy bank", actually an old pretzel jar, that I use to collect my pocket change at the end of the day. The "Boss" (Melinda), has agreed I can match funds from my personal pension account, and I can also build it up by selling gear too. Today's piggy bank contribution was pretty meager, only 9 cents, but decided with the new year, I should account what my totals are.

The "piggy bank" is shown at left. The lower mark is from the last time I cashed it in a couple years back, when I raised $125. Today it was almost to the top of the cylinder and a new mark installed. Weighing it before taking it to the grocery story (26 pounds!), I used the change counter which is much more convenient than rolling the coins manually. The fee (10.6%) seems reasonable to save my time rolling pennies! After pushing them all down the chute, the grand total was $330.07, of which I pocketed $293.

  The coin distribution of my collected change is interesting, and perhaps even worthy of a post itself. Generally you don't get dollar or half dollar coins in change, so there were none of those. But there were 942 quarters, 640 dimes, 351 nickels and 1177 pennies! Fortunately we don't steal quarters for laundry or the car wash, only pick out the designs we don't have in our quarter collection. I also had collected some foreign coins inadvertently, including mostly older near-worthless Mexican coins, a silver quarter from the 40's that got rejected, and interestingly a 200 lira coin from Itally!

Anyway, from the $293, adding the matching funds, adding the $50 check I got for Christmas from Santa, and the $500 I got for selling a mirror blank a couple months ago, I figure I've collected $1136! Getting closer!

Oh, and if I wanted to truly make a wish list for 2016, I'd include world peace, and some reasonable candidates for elective office later in the year. But my personal goal is working towards the new camera...