Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Another Hard Goodbye!

When we returned from our recent trip to the Midwest, we were shocked at YellowCat's appearance - he had lost weight and was lethargic. With his FIV+ status we took him in to the vet and they put him on IVs and did a battery of tests. He had a bad tooth, but nothing extraordinary - didn't eat on his own there either - they were syringe feeding him there for the 4 days he spent there. We considered putting him down then, but decided to return him to friendlier confines for a while, so took him home...

YellowCat came to us 6 years ago - a feral cat that showed up at the food bowl out front - always with a worried look on his face - as shown at left. While shy, he showed promise and we took him to the vet to get neutered and tested before exposing him to our other cats. The bad news is that he was FIV+. He could infect our other cats if they got in fights, so it was important to prevent that. He seemed pretty docile though, and we developed the crate method of introducing new cats to the others. Set up a dog crate in the middle of the living room - a little cat house where the newcomer can live while being exposed to the other cats. We've done this with all our new cats, and except for another FIV+ cat Spitz last year, has always worked well. At right, YellowCat gets a respite from the crate while the other cats are out of the room.

He was a quiet boy, but a great cat. There were some trust issues when he was in the crate, but after getting used to life in the Kitty Resort, for the longest time he wouldn't even go into the back yard! He often joined us on the couch looking for attention, but only in his low-key way, never begging for it, but close enough to accept donations.

Getting back to the narrative, at home he seemed to improve. He ate food regularly, but he declined slowly again. Another trip to the vet and they gave him some fluids, shrugging their shoulders what his diagnosis might be. We had scheduled a dental surgery for today, but alas, he couldn't keep his appointment... He stopped eating last Friday and I started syringe feeding him. That went ok, but he continued to slide - picked up a strange limp, his hips splaying out occasionally. Finally last night he lost control of his hips and it was time to call the emergency vet to see about those final arrangements we'd been considering all along. Of course, all this happened about Midnight, but he is finally at peace. His 6 years spent with us were great ones - certainly he wouldn't have lasted long with his FIV status on the street, so glad we helped out with that. But it is so hard to say goodbye to a friend and always will be.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

An Early-Season Treat!

Happy Father's Day! I'm not a father, but sometimes feel like one, riding herd over 9 cats here at "Ketelsen West"! And since I do most of the cooking around here, I was thinking of doing a traditional Father's Day menu - picnic fare! So when at Safeway this week, I was thinking brat burgers - easy to do and taste great! The bulk sausage is sometimes difficult to find here, so I just slice back the skin and make a burger out of about 1.5 brats and cook them on the grill. And miracle of miracles, Safeway had some great-looking sweet corn! Now where I come from, you don't mess w/sweet corn till it is in season - mid to late July earliest in the Tall Corn State! But the stuff Safeway carried looked freshly picked (believe me, I know fresh-picked!), and I recall reading it was from AZ, not the homogenized California stuff likely picked last month... We sampled some last week and it brought tears to this corn-fed farm boy! So I picked up some more to add to the menu and a can of beans too and that was about all you needed... The pic is the result -stupendous! For those of you wondering condiments, I added a slice of cheddar to the brat burger, along with sliced jalapenos and avocados - and a Mexican Modelo Especial to round it out. A true Father's Day feast!

Mostly we celebrated by staying inside. According to the National Weather Service, it set a record temp of 115F today, and since my computer is still down at home, drove in to work to enter this. At 8:30 pm it was still 102, an hour after sunset! At least it is 5% humidity, but still warm. Oh, and by the way - that is another reason not to have daylight savings time - 'round here, you don't want the sun to stay up another hour into the evening! You want it to go down as early as possible, and 7:30 here at solstice is about the latest it stays up. You want it to start cooling down as soon as possible, and you make do with the sun coming up at 5:30 am if you have to, just to avoid having it stay up into the evening!

Anyway, a great day - a feast for Father's Day, the Cubs won again tonight, and someday soon, perhaps late September, it will cool down again!

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Not Fit For Man Nor Beast!

My home laptop computer is down again - the connector comes off the monitor on a regular basis (every 6 months or so) requiring a trip to the repair place to reseat it... At $50 "diagnostic fee", each visit, you would think at some point I could diagnose it for them, or have them teach me to do the connector reseat, but no - I think that they think they have a good thing going... As long as it doesn't happen during the 3-month warrantee period, they make money every time!

Anyway, so no new posts for a few days - not that I've got anything to post... You might have heard we've got a heat wave going here. There is an annual contest to name the date, hour and minute it breaks 100F at the airport, and this year it managed to wait till June 2nd to do it - later than normal. But since then, today was the 13th day this month over that number - it is 108F as I write this at 3:30pm... And yes, it will get hotter the next couple days. I hear that it will be 112F tomorrow and hotter still on Monday, possibly reaching 116F. At least we don't live in Phoenix - a few degrees warmer with its lower elevation, it is supposed to be over 120 Monday. As a result, the streets are pretty deserted as most everyone is hunkered down behind their air conditioned walls. The extended forecasts don't show the highs dropping below 105F for well over a week! Good think it is "a dry heat"! At least I should have my computer back by then...

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Grand Canyon Stereo!

It was last year that I started taking some 3D shots of the Canyon in earnest. I had plans to do more this year, especially with the new 6D camera, but long hours and warm temps added to my overall lethargy... So I only got a few frame sets in, some similar in scope to last year's efforts. Note that ALL of these images need the red/blue anaglyph glasses to see the 3D effect.

The new 6D camera has a sensor twice as large and nearly twice as many pixels as my 8+ year old XSi Canon. It manifests itself is several ways, but shown here is one of them. At left is an anaglyph of Isis Temple with the 6D and 70-200 zoom set to 200mm. One has the choice of down-sampling to the 1600 pixel max limit of the blog, or cropping to full resolution for maximum scale, as shown at right. Both should show similar sharpness when the full-size images are loaded, even though they are taken from the same 2 images!

I was on a stroll between the major hotels of El Tovar and Bright Angel to take these. The baselines varied - Isis Temple was further away so needed at least 80 meters or more. Here at left is Maricopa Point on the West Rim Drive - also not very far away, so only used a 40 meter baseline - about the same for "the Battleship, shown at right just below the rim off the Lodges...

A careful observer might spot some differences from last year's anaglyphs... One of the decisions that have to be made in assembling these is the "zero point" crossing. It is the part of the picture where the two images are exactly aligned and will appear to hover at the same level as the text or the edge of the frame. In the earlier efforts, I chose the zero point pretty much randomly - as a result parts of the 3D image appeared to hover in front of the frame. After discussions with friends over the last year, I've been encouraged to place the zero point near the front of the image, so the entire 3D image will be below the page. While my eyes are still limber enough to converge upon most anything, my friends encouraged me to do it for eye comfort in merging the images...

Here is a wide shot combining the distant Isis Temple with the closer Battleship. Using a large baseline would introduce the afore-mentioned issues in merging the nearer part of the image. So I used a moderate baseline that provided good stereo effect on the Battleship. As a result, the 3D effect in the far distant canyons is reduced compared to the Isis anaglyph at the top of the post... The image at left was taken with the 6D, while the one at right was taken with my IR-modified camera. While the image appears mostly black and white (save the red/blue colors for the anaglyph 3D image), the IR wavelengths provide better haze penetration and darker sky. I'm thinking also that the 3D effect is stronger in the near B&W image, compared to color...

And just to prove that you don't need distant mesas and canyons for stereo effects, after the morning walk when all of these were taken we met some of the crew at the local pizza joint and I took a stereo pair of the "We Cook Special". Cool, eh? Ok, enough of the 3D stuff for now!

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Grand Canyon Star Party, 2016!

This week was the 26th Grand Canyon Star Party... Tonight (Saturday, 11 June) is the last night, but with my schedule, I was only able to attend 3 nights through the middle of the event. Melinda needs to have someone around to assist her, and our friend Donna graciously offered to stay to allow me to keep my attendance streak alive. I'm the only observer to attend every year of the event, in fact, I've done 27 as I was there for the zeroth version, when my new bride, first wife Vicki and I first honeymooned there and decided to come back for our anniversary with some friends to hold a public star party at rim side. Other than pushing the date back to June (froze our butts off on the first one held on our actual anniversary in early May), the event continues today!

So Monday morning (6 June) found buddy Roger and me wheeling our way towards the Canyon. Now over the decades, things "happen". There was the rear wheel blowout a few years back, and in an early year I had radiator issues in my old-old van before getting "Old Blue" in '94. So breakdown issues are always on my mind. It wasn't really a surprise when we stopped in Phoenix for a quick bathroom break and the "new" van wouldn't start to continue the trip. The resultant clicking sound indicated an electrical issue, and sure enough, there was some battery corrosion, but my tool collection was little prepared for the weird battery terminals.n Fortunately, Roger is an AAA member, so help was on the way in minutes and in short order, "Kevin" had tested the system and recommended a battery replacement with 6 year guarantee, and we were on our way again. No other misadventures occurred, but we got in a little late to the campground and after plopping the tents down, headed to the observing site. It appeared there were plenty of scopes, so we didn't feel guilty not setting up the first night, but instead walked out to the rim to see our first view of the canyon at right, just a little before sunset. Roger hadn't been there in about a decade, so after a quick inspection, headed down to the observing field to rub elbows...

We immediately ran into lots of acquaintances as the astronomers tend to re-attend from one year to the next. While the Tucson Amateur Astronomy Association sponsors the event, the astronomers that volunteer to set up their scopes for the public are from all over the country - perhaps 60% from Arizona, but many from California, Texas and elsewhere. The organizer Jim O'Connor clams we had astronomers from England and France too! There were some thin clouds hanging around after sunset, and we gathered to chat as they hung around. Shown at left is a group of us, starting from left Doug Taylor-Gebler, Joe Bergeron, Roger Ceragioli and Bernie Sanden, with George Barber at far right. While the clouds might normally have affected the observing, this year, with a trio of bright planets (Jupiter, Mars and Saturn) visible from sunset, as well as a waxing crescent Moon, these clouds affected observing little. Once the observing started in earnest, I captured the view at right in a 20 second exposure with the new 6D and Samyang 14mm lens. In it, Bernie's 12" is pointed at Saturn at center near the horizon, with other star party action in the background.

After a little more visiting with friends, Roger and I decided to retire a little early after our long day of travel, so headed "home" to camp. We tried to stop at Yavapai cafeteria, newly remodeled, but couldn't find the snacks we were looking for, found the general store closed, so headed to the tents. Once in camp, it appeared completely clear, so sat and gazed upwards for a bit. There is a curious illusion with the trees blocking the lower part of the sky where light pollution usually exists, that makes the sky appear darker than it actually is. I didn't take any comparison shots from the observing field, but broke out the venerable Nikon 16mm fisheye. Finally with the full-frame sensor of the 6D, I got back the full 180 degrees corner-to-corner field of view I used to enjoy with film. North is generally up, the Big Dipper dominating the upper part of the field, with Arcturus just below center and brilliant Jupiter at far right. Unfortunately Mars, Saturn and the center of the Milky Way weren't high enough to appear, and we weren't about to stay up much later, but the 30 second exposure is pretty impressive!

Surprisingly we rose early Tuesday morning, and hit Yavapai cafeteria for a mediocre breakfast and then continued out to the original site of the star party at Yavapai Point. I was interested in revisiting where I spent many happy days showing magnified views of the Canyon to visitors to attract them to the evening's observing. This time it was a test of optics and camera as I used the Canon 6D with the TEC 140 telescope and field flattener corrector lens for the first time. One of the favorite places to point out for people was the beach down by Phantom Ranch Campground where the river rafters would pull up for breaks. With the 20X binoculars I used to use, hikers and rafters could easily be spotted, about 3 miles away and a mile below us. Nearby is a turn in the South Kaibab Trail where hikers can usually be seen. In a moment of inspiration, I took a 6-frame mosaic, easily assembled in Photoshop, but how to display the 16,000+ pixel wide image in a blog that limits images to 1,500 max, still showing some details visible in the original? I decided to show the mosaic in low resolution, but a few scenes at full res, the resultant view shown at left. Even at 10am, seeing was a limiting factor, but overall sharpness was quite good - can't wait to get it under a dark sky looking upwards.
Unfortunately, the chance to try the TEC at night never materialized. At the star party, you are frantically busy with visitors till some moment between 10 and 11pm when they magically disappear. While this would seem a good time to do some imaging, this is when the astronomers sweep in with their vehicles to pick up scopes and even with parking lights would disrupt an imaging session. Better to play with gear without a group around! I did have a brief window to shoot the 6D with the venerable 70-200 Canon zoom. With the smaller APS sensor of the XSi camera, it always performed admirably. But how would it work with the 6D's sensor over twice as large? That is what I hoped to find out. After the public left Tuesday night, I mounted the camera on the bracket atop my C-14 scope for some tracked shots. As predicted, cars were coming in to collect their gear, but got a couple shots. First up was the wide shot at left taken at 70mm focal length showing Scorpius with Mars at left and Saturn at upper left center. Immediately it was seen the C-14 tube was blocking part of the view! It had never been an issue with smaller sensors but it was for this camera... This shot is a single 60 second exposure at ISO 3200 at F/3.2 - pretty amazing for the field shown! Zooming in to eliminate the tube obstruction, I took a few frames of the narrower field at right at 105mm focal length. This is a stack of 4 frames of 2 minutes each, so 8 minutes total exposure. We miss Mars in this view, but the nebulosity around Antares is easily seen, as is Messier 4 to Antares' right, as well as the dark nebulosity headed towards the "Prancing Horse" in Ophiuchus. Looking carefully at the dark clouds you can pick out the majority of the Pipe Nebula at bottom and the Snake Nebula a little above it.

Fortunately, there are a LOT of pixels to combine when making a 1600 pixel wide image for the blog. The camera puts out an image nearly 5,500 pixels wide, and if you look at the image at full resolution, the corners look pretty lousy! Shown at left is a full-rez crop of the above image at left. While that image looked just slightly bloated, at full scale, the coma and defocus is apparent. While you might decide that the lens isn't suitable for imaging any more, I've got to look into where in the field to focus. I believe I focused at the center - focusing closer to the edge might give better overall images for a final result.

Those were the only night-time images taken. The several hours of public observing grinds on you and you don't really feel like staying too late as the sun hits the tent early in the morning! Life in camp was fun... Roger and I typically ate out at Maswick or elsewhere, so didn't waste effort packing food, cooking utensils, or time and effort to cook. We did have lots of camp "visitors"! The last few years elk have been common company and every day they would cruise through camp feeding on the young oak leaves they desired. This one was a young female, but still was reaching a good 8 feet up into the trees for the right leaves. She seemed unconcerned of our presence - a few minutes after the image at left (taken with 300mm lens), she walked right behind Jose from San Diego! Jose was trying to take a selfie with his phone, but while watching it live, forgot to push the button for an unforgettable shot!

We needed to head back early on Thursday after 3 nights there, two while set up observing for the public. With the crescent Moon as an early target, I'd usually set up on that at 240X or so - bigger than most astronomers ran their scopes. As it got darker and everyone was on the moon, or Jupiter or Mars, I'd move to M-13 where 120X or so did amazing things to the globular cluster. Later, I'd often re-show the moon to those that missed it earlier, usually to great fanfare! There were many memorable meetings with the public, not only Americans, but from all over the world Just the last night we had observers from Argentina, Guatemala, Finland, Egypt, Serbia, and from all points of the U.S. The event has grown steadily from the first one in '91 when me and 3 friends from the Tucson club set up for the public. It is now a big deal with hundreds of astronomers over the course of the week and several thousand public visitors every night. After years of Park effort, the International Dark-Sky Association awarded the Grand Canyon National Park provisional "Dark Sky Park Status" where the night sky will be protected by controlling lighting to minimize pollution, assuring that visitors will continue to join us and stare in wonder at the Milky Way transiting overhead every June. I'm gratified that this event has stimulated interest in our dark sky heritage, and hopefully will continue long into the future! Think about coming to join us!

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Sibling Visit!

We got back safely to AZ on Thursday evening (actually Friday morning), only 3 hours late or so - no reason from the airlines - just the way it is these days! At least they didn't cancel the flight like a year ago, stranding us in Chicago for 2 extra days!  We found upon arrival that Tucson had just broken 100F for the first time Thursday, and is supposed to be something close to 110F over the weekend! It makes that final day in Chicago with a 77F high temp look mighty fine! But anyway, here we are back in Tucson...

And I'm still catching up on May posts even though the calendar sez June! Way back 3 weeks ago, before we even left for the Midwest, we were paid a visit by my sister Linda and her husband Lauren. He had never been to Arizona and she had not since she helped care for me after my first aortic valve replacement surgery 12 years ago, so figured it was a good time for a visit. They camped out at a nearby hotel and spent a few days with us, then took off to the Canyon and northern Az while we flew off to Chicago, to see them up there later in the weekend!

Anyway, we had a great time - I got to impress them with a tour of the Mirror Lab where I work, and they took an early morning tour of the Desert Museum on their own while I got some work hours in. Otherwise we spent lots of time and meals together and tried to give them a taste of Tucson. Lauren was impressed with the "dry heat" and how he never sweated with temps in the 90s, as it evaporated as it was supposed to once he got away from the humidity of Illinois. He was also impressed with the view of the mountains circling the city, so what better day trip to take than a leisurely drive up Mount Lemmon for a late lunch at the Iron Door Inn up by the ski slopes of the mountaintop? While a decent host, I didn't play much of a photographer, so don't have a lot of images of their visit other than the Mount Lemmon trip... Our first stop was at "Bad Dog" (actually Babad Do'ag) overlook shortly after ascending the slopes. That is where I pointed out all the saguaro flowers we could see from that viewpoint, yet another mile up the road and there were no saguaros to be seen at the slightly higher elevation...

Another 10 miles and we got to "Windy Point", another fine place to stop for bathrooms if not for the view. While I've not been there for ages, Linda took off scrambling over the rocks like a native, so I tried to stay within range and took a few pictures. We finally got to a point where you couldn't go much further, a great viewpoint of the Tucson Valley and the mountains beyond. Of course, knowing me, with a willing model that would hold still for a few seconds, I took a stereo pair - at left presented as an anaglyph - so get out your red/blue glasses to view the image at left. Linda told me her granddaughters enjoy looking at the 3D images I post, so they should be doubly thrilled to see grandma on the edge of the cliff! She also tried the "flying" pose a couple times, claiming it felt natural overlooking the canyon. Holding it again for a few seconds, I took a 6-frame panorama to take her and the full view in. Cropped down to reasonably fit a rectangular format here, I printed her out the original 12"X36" banner print and framed it for her while we were in Illinois - she liked it!  Note that Kitt Peak is on the horizon over her right shoulder!

We finished our drive to the mountaintop, enjoying the cool temperatures and the hummingbirds at the Iron Door patio, though we ate inside. We made the short trip down to Summerhaven to check out one or two shops, then headed down the hill. We stopped once more just above Windy Point at Geology Vista - a more regular stop of mine. Grabbing the binoculars, I pointed out a few objects of interest to Lauren, including the view at left of part of the "Boneyard", a storage yard of military aircraft for parts and available for return to service. This image is taken with a 300mm lens, and is shown at full resolution of the Canon XSi (pretty severe crop). Besides the hundreds of acres of planes shown here, at the upper part of the picture is shown the Pima Air and Space Museum, with its own impressive collection of planes. I've also paid a couple visits there the last 2 months and have yet to post about those trips, so still have more to catch up on!

So they had a great trip, and talked about another visit sooner than the 12 elapsed years since Linda has been here.  While we were a little concerned about how draining their visit would be on Melinda, she handled it fine, though perhaps their not staying with us was key to that.  I recall Lauren might have an allergy to our cats too, and with 9 of them around, that might have been a problem!