Thursday, June 13, 2019

Jury Duty!

I got called for jury duty way back in March or so, but with a deferment or two and travel plans, I finally got the assignment to go in on Tuesday. It has been well over a decade since I've been called, let alone served, so was looking forward to it.

I rarely get downtown much where the courts are, and now we have a new way to get downtown - the "modern" streetcar! I can park for free on campus, then take the streetcar downtown and ultimately save on parking downtown. So for the second streetcar ride of my life, I paid $4.50 for a round ticket and headed out early Tuesday (assigned a 7:30am start)! The streetcar is shown at left...

After an uneventful ride in, I had plenty of time to spare to check-in at the jury assembly room. Shown at right, turns out I was not supposed to take photos, but no one can likely be recognized, so don't tell anyone! After watching the orientation video, I immediately got called to go to "city court" a few blocks away, escorted by court officials...

Of course, I got called into the dozen members of the pool who got to be interviewed about employment, jury experience (I had by far the most experience at 4 juries!), bumper stickers. magazine and favorite TV shows... We were told it was a DUI case, and several were excused because of law-enforcement connections, having taken law classes, schedule conflicts, and a few other excuses. After a brief break where the attorneys chose the jurors they wanted, Me and 6 women got picked for the trial! After a 90 minute lunch break, we were to reconvene and the trial would start.

With my successful maneuvering of the streetcar system, I had heard seniors (that's me!) could get an ID card that allows them to ride for $0.75 per ride. The office was only 2 blocks away, so dropped in at my lunch break. There was a huge crowd - over 20 ahead of me, so with number in hand went to a Mexican place around the corner for a snack. By the time I got back there were still 10 ahead of me, but most had given up, so my number was soon called. I'm now official with a real card, refillable from logging in online!

So the trial got under way. It was only supposed to last 2 days, so would make my dentist appointment on Thursday... The jist of the case was that the defendant had been caught speeding by a motorcycle policeman at 12:30am way back in August of '17, over 18 months ago. He had been caught going 46 mph in a 25 zone, and once stopped, showed symptoms of consuming alcohol. Once out of the car, the officer applied the "Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus" (HGN) test, where involuntary eye twitching while following a moving target MAY indicate impairment. The defendant failed the HGN test. In the process of administering the walk/turn test, the defendant could not stand without moving his feet during the instruction phase of that test. After refusing to continue the walk/turn test, and also to blow into the meter, he was placed under arrest, where he eventually agreed to a blood test. A police phlebotomist was called and a blood sample taken within 45 minutes. 4 days later the samples were run in the lab and returned a Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) of 0.093, well over the .08 limit. Besides testimony from the arresting officer, we also heard from the Phlebotomist as well as the fellow who ran the test on the "Headspace Gas Chromatography" device. We heard all about the details of its operation, as well as its statistical accuracy. HGC is the universally accepted state-of-the-art, being only superseded by the much-more-expensive mass spectrometer analysis. So by the end of Day1, we had heard from all three of the prosecution's witnesses, and were sent home with the defense starting on Day2.

I again, used the streetcar on Day2, this time with my brand-new card! After waiting for the defense witness, we didn't get started till nearly 11.  The defense emphasized the HGN test can occur with BAC as low as .05, still legally able to operate a motor vehicle. They also pointed out some miniscule wiggles in the HGC readout that MIGHT have been due to methanol, which should NOT have been seen in the blood samples as it is poisonous. The prosecution pointed out a number of alcohols, foods, drugs and smoking that can leave slight levels of methanol in the blood.

In the end, the jurors all decided the accuracy of the HGC device was undiminished and the .093 BAC had an accepted confidence level of 99.7%. We had little choice but to find him guilty after about 30 minutes of deliberation. The judge thanked us, handed out some very nice thank you notes, and we were dismissed by about 4:30.

After posting on FB, I was amazed that people really HATED jury duty. I think it is pretty cool and very instructive to see our system of courts at work. How can your favorite shows be lawyer shows (at least, from what I heard in the juror interviews) and then avoid jury duty like the plague? I had a nice time, had some nice conversations with my fellow jurors, and learned all about Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus, and Headspace Gas Chromatography! Plus supposedly I made $12/day!

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Kitt Peak Kraziness!

Late May and early June in the Southwestern Desert... Hot and clear! Again, I apologize in not posting for nearly 2 months! I continue to lack inspiration! But the clear dark skies here in AZ truly inspire! I had a couple friends visit that had never been under a dark sky - so the need for outings descended!

My friend Karen from Chicago was down and didn't know what all the astronomy fuss was about, so I scheduled a trip to Kitt Peak National Observatory for one of their "Nightly Observing Programs" (NOPs). It is a pretty cool program (literally, a temperature relief with nearly 20 degree cooler temperatures than Tucson), that allows you to be among the research telescopes at the National Observatory 40 miles SW of Tucson. One drives their own car to the site after it normally closes to the public. After checking in the program, it starts about 90 minutes before sunset with an orientation and a box dinner. Then we head out to watch the always-enjoyable sunset. We had Charles leading the group, who gave a fantastic tour of all we could see, both locally on the mountain, and phenomena in the sky to watch for. That is him at the left with the setting sun in the background. A few moments later, we all watched spellbound for an appearance of the "Green Flash" as the last rays of the sun set below distant mountains. I'm pretty sure I saw it, but was a second or two early with the photo at right for a pure green!

Shortly after sunset, a glance to the east reveals one of the "often seen, but rarely noted" phenomena - the shadow of the earth rising into the sky! In the image at left with the McMath-Pierce Solar Telescope (now closed due to defunding), the dark line above it is the rising shadow of the earth, topped by the pink sunset line of the "Belt of Venus", where the still-shining sunset is tinted pink by sunlight going through massive amounts of atmosphere - just like how our viewed sunset colors are seen. Charles continued his monolog of post-sunset items of interest, then descended back to the Visitor Center. There our group was split into 3 groups - the "Dark Sky Discovery Program" went off to their own 16" telescope for the evening. The remaining 45 folks in the NOP was divided in half, one group to the 20" scope, the other for their orientation to observing with planispheres and binoculars. That is our leader Robert at right, the lights in the VC now using red lights to preserve dark adaptation...

Even though taking night-time photos was discouraged, I did not get permission, but rather, turned down the screen brightness, and the Canon 6D does NOT have a built-in flash, so the effect on nearby large telescopes was nil... I set up on the Visitor Center patio with an old Nikon 16mm fisheye taking in a large swath of the VC and sky, as well as the people out using their planispheres. At left is a single exposure, 15 seconds long at ISO 3200 with the fisheye at F/2.8.  I took these a good portion of the evening, perhaps to someday make a time-lapse, but not today! At the left of the VC is the dome of the fine 20" telescope that we used for our observing a little later. Be sure to click the image and see if you can make out the major constellations in the northern sky in June. For your convenience, I've done the work and labeled the same photo at left...

I let the camera run unattended while we went to the telescope to observe. With the large group of people (23) and only an hour to observe, we only had time for 4 objects. It's always an issue in a dark dome with big crowd as queuing up is always an issue without clearly defined pathways... And with a big telescope and fully-dark skies, I had issues with some of those 4 objects - a double star? Really? And the Beehive open star cluster? With a 20"? Both Karen and I LOVED the view of the M13 Globular Cluster and rising Jupiter (disks of moons could be resolved, even at its low altitude!), but the decision not to show ANY of the spectacular galaxies in the springtime sky is unconscionable! Oh well... Some may remember I used to help run this program a few years back, so I've got stronger opinions than most...

With the large amount of time we had sitting in the dark dome, I got permission to step downstairs to relocate my camera to the elevated catwalk of the dome and took few shots showing the rising Milky way over the mountaintop - shown at left. Still with the Fisheye, this is a 25 second exposure, still at ISO 3200.  A piece of the 20" dome at upper left, and along the mountain profile is the 2.1 meter, the 50", the WIYN 36" and the WIYN 3.5 meter. The red streaks are from folks walking back to the VC from the rest rooms... Jupiter is the bright object leading the Milky Way across the sky.

With the end of observing, we moved back downstairs. I sent Karen in for final instructions from the NOP crew. I knew there were shopping opportunities, so I had a few minutes to continue some projects on the patio. One of my thoughts was to try to shoot the rising Milky Way in the "new" sundial (likely now 20 years old!). Shown at left in daytime, the "crystal ball" effect provides a wide field visible in the polished sphere. Unfortunately, it isn't optimum for my application as the projection screen normally receiving a spot of the sun for telling the time, blocks a good chunk of the sphere and the image it transfers. My best effort is shown at right... Still, I liked the sharp little image contained therein, and also loved the out-of-focus stars that reveals their colors more intensely than when in focus! I might have to make my own ball for a repeat!

Thusly inspired by the colors of out-of-focus stars, I purposely took a set of exposures both in-focus, then intentionally out. The rising constellation Scorpius seemed a suitable target, and these are both 2-frame vertical mosaics with a 50mm lens, each frame a combination of several exposures (stacked), 15 seconds each at F/2 to minimize trailing (no tracking device this night!). I love the details seen in such short exposures - the dark nebulae against clouds of Milky Way stars especially!

And while I love the exposure at left of sharp stars, I also love the defocused star images at right that more intently shows the star colors! When in focus, the star colors turn to white as they are mostly saturated in brightness. Defocused, they retain the true star colors. And of course, you know what you can derive from their colors - anyone??? Yes, you in the back - YES, you can tell their temperatures! Well, at least the blue ones are hotter than the yellow or white ones!

The last image taken was just barely seen, but looks much more impressive in the photo as levels adjustments can be made! The Milky Way was rising behind the solar telescope, partially diminished by the lights of Green Valley and Nogales. Pretty amazing what the 6D and 50mm lens can do in 15 seconds!

With that, the crowd was leaving, so packed up the tripod and camera and headed down the mountain, the first mile with headlights covered. Were back home by 12:30 with what I can now confirm were pretty nice images!

BUT! While tripod shots can be fun, Tracked shots are even more fun with the depth, details and colors they can record. I was looking for another opportunity to go photograph with a tracking mount. I've had an AstroTrac for a few years now (may no longer be available). While it seems fine with a 200mm and 300mm lenses, I've not really found the upper limit, so wanted to try the 500mm F/4 camera and lens on it. So 4 days after the above Kitt Peak trip, I returned to the Mountain, this time to a pullout to set up my own gear with friend Susan who claims to have never been under a dark sky. Well she got an eyeful as the Milky Way made an appearance. The 500mm seems to work well with the mount, though I think polar alignment is a bit dodgy! There was slight trailing, but acceptable if the sub-exposures were kept to 90 seconds or so. This required an ISO of 4,000 and shooting at F/5. My target with the 500 was a 3-frame mosaic of the dark cloud commonly called the Pipe Nebula. From a wide-field image, it looks like a smoking pipe with curling smoke rising to form the "Prancing Horse". Shown at left is the mosaic with about 2 hours of exposures with the 3 frames, flat fields and darks subtracted with Sequator and mosaic assembled in Photoshop.

Similarly, with the night winding down on a "school night", I pointed it to a popular field of Messier 8 and 20, the Lagoon and Triffid Nebula (bottom to top). Only 7 minutes of exposure, it is a nice field to shoot quickly before closing down for the night. Susan was impressed with the sky, and I found a new tracking mount easier to set up than the AP1200 that can handle the 500mm lens! So a useful night. Well, any night under clear, dark skies is worthwhile unless Mr. Murphy makes an appearance!