Down time

Kind of. We decided to go down to Florida to change the temperature for a week.

St. Augustine, Florida
Windy yet placid

I didn’t take the week off from work. Instead I just worked in Florida. It’s one of the cool things about my job. Technically I can work anywhere as long as I have good Internet access.

On this day I sat in a vehicle near the ocean and watched the wildlife while I worked. I saw things I don’t normally see. For 15 minutes I watched a family of dolphins body surf the waves. I really wanted to take photos of them but I was presenting in a meeting which did not afford me that opportunity. It was so interesting and deliberate. One of them would go on its back while the others on their bellies. They were clearly playing with each other.

Then a few minutes after that I noticed a seagull testing his scooping skills. It would pick up a stick, glide up in the wind then drop the stick. As the stick fell it would swoop down and try to catch it before it hit the ground. I watch them try to get his seagull friends to join in but none did. For 20 minutes this game continued.

One of the days it was 85ºF and we were able to ride a motorcycle all around St. Augustine. The other days it was chilly and cloudy so we decided to stay “inside”. It was nice to slow down, eat seafood and camp in another State Park. Go here for a map of Matanzas State Forrest.

Graduation: Confirmed

Yes, she said she graduated. Yes, they sent a diploma. No, they are not sending any more bills.

But tonight, with my own ears, I heard her name spoken in a commencement which confirmed directly from the school that she had, in fact, graduated.

Congratulations, Helen Westerman!

We are proud of you.

Helen is a 2020 graduate from the Virginia Tech Architecture program with Cum Laude honors. Whoop!

First Snow Storm of 2020 Winter

Yesterday we got our first big snow storm of 2020. The night before I set up one of my cameras to do an 8 hour time lapse to capture the weather all day long.

A cool time lapse of the storm from start to almost finish.

Predictions were all over the place but at the end of this we got 8 inches of snow with layers of ice in between. Today it’s very heavy and wet yet cold enough to still have ice in the trees.

This morning’s sunrise.

After the sunrise and after I got done with most of my work I set out to clear a path so we can get out of the house and get some exercise.

The sun will do the rest but the ice and snow are here to stay for a while.

Comet Neowise 2020

2020 has been an interesting year to say the least. One thing that hasn’t changed is the Universe. I work to keep that in mind as I live from day to day.

From my front porch every evening this summer Jupiter and Saturn have been some of the brightest objects in the sky. Using Gloria’s telescope I’ve been able to clearly see the rings of Saturn and the storms of Jupiter along with many of their moons.

Even with nothing than a regular set of binoculars Jupiter is so close to Earth that the moons are clearly visible without much aid. With a zoom lens, camera and tripod one can take a picture of them without much difficulty.

Then there is comet Neowise. This one snuck up on us. Somehow we can put landers on the moon but not know when a comet is orbiting the sun. Granted, the last time it was here was 6,766 years ago. And it won’t be back for another 6,766 years.

That being said, I wanted to find this comet and see if I could capture it from my own front yard. The biggest problem I have with some of the astronomy stuff is that it happens at like 5 in the morning. That’s not always appealing to me. I’ll do it but it would be way more convenient if it was like around midnight.

And, as it turns out, that was going to happen. All I had to do was wait a couple of weeks and I could get a view in the northwest sky as it set with the sun after 10pm.

The first time I saw it was with binoculars. It was so much larger than I was expecting that I had overlooked it for 30 minutes. And it was much more faint than I was expecting especially as it was dodging in and out of the clouds. With my older eyes and the less than ideal viewing conditions this was going to be challenging to take a clear photo of this thing at night.

With a 600mm lens I knew that I could only keep the shutter open for about 5 seconds to keep the blur at a minimum. That means the ISO has to be fast and the aperture wide open. This is going to produce a grainy/noisy photo and if it’s not tack sharp it not going to come out well.

Focusing in the night sky is not easy. Because my eyes are not the best at determining the focal distance like they were when I was 16 I have to use the camera to help me by focusing on stars in the sky and getting them sharp and then assuming that the comet will be sharp in that background. One tiny camera shake and the photo will be ruined.

300 images later, I picked the 3 I liked the best.

Color image of Comet Neowise.

The color image above shows the green core of the comet against some of the stars on a very cloudy night. I was never afforded a totally dark sky view of the comet while it could be seen from here.

Color image of Comet Neowise just above the horizon.

When the comet was behind the clouds I turned my camera around to see if I could take a decent photo of Jupiter and maybe some of it’s moon. Keep in mind I only have a Nikon camera and lens on a tripod so this is not a telescope or anything fancy.

Jupiter and 4 of its moons.

The picture of Jupiter doesn’t look like much at first glance. But I was shocked that I could get such a good photo of the planet and some of it’s moons. If you zoom into the photo you will see that one of the moons is blue. I think this is Europa which has high water content.

If you didn’t get to see it this trip around the sun unfortunately you are now going to have to take my word that it was there. Or use better camera gear than I have.

It was a fun evening I shared with my family. Interesting time in an interesting year looking at cool astronomy objects.

If you get bored, look up. The comet is about gone but many other object are up there. The sky can offer some interesting things to think about. Maybe give you break to think about other things for a while.

Making hay June 2020

This cathartic video from above shows 5 minutes of the process of making hay on our farm. There is no music or narrative. Just make it the size of your screen and enjoy the process.

We gathered 34 round bales of hay in this first cut of 2020.

Things generally slow down this time a year. With the virus things are REALLY slow right now. Everything I’d normally do in the spring, summer and fall is cancelled. There are no vacations planned or other distractions that would normally happen in a summer. This doesn’t look to change before the end of the year.

Health, Family, work and hobbies; I’m blessed to have all these near me.

After the hay bales are wrapped they have to be moved to a place they can be placed on a trailer and placed under a barn roof. This hay is for horses so it must be kept dry.

For some reason I am drawn to the engineering of making hay. There was a time when it would take 5-6 people to do this work and it would take 2-4 times to get the same amount of hay off the ground. Now 1-2 people can do it in a day.

Hopefully we’ll get 1-2 more cuttings this year. The air is cool and we are getting plenty of rain. The grasses love this grow environment. So if the trends of cooler summer and consistent rain continues the hay yield will be high this year.

Sunrise June 11, 2020

We live in Narnia.

We have such interesting weather here in between the mountains. The original farm here was named “Crosswind Farm”. I didn’t think much about this until we moved in. The winds come from all directions all the time.

The Coriolis effect is very pronounced here. It’s very easy to see the cloud layers moving at right angles from each other.

It’s been very sunny and warm lately. Thankfully. I was pretty done with winter temperatures around here. It can get cold and stay cold here for half the year. So it’s nice to be in the 80º’s again.

A front came through and brought these clouds, some rain and lightening storms. The grass and trees are uber green. Summer is well on it’s way.

I hope you have a good day.

Iceland Without Tourists

The last time we were in Iceland we took a tour that few people have done. We drove the “Ring Road” on our own in a camper staying in camp grounds each evening.

Even with other tourist in the county once you get past 1 hour outside of Reykjavík they would turn around and go back to Reykjavík at the end of the day. So just after Skogafoss waterfall we were mostly on our own. It was a fun and unique vacation we got to share together.

We wanted to get to the Western fjords but needed another full week to get through there. We decided to make a third trip and to do that by itself. We have yet to make it there a third time.

If you want to race to the end of the video to where they only talk about what it’s like to be in Iceland without tourists you can go here. I’ve been here and I can imagine exactly what it is like. It must be glorious.

If you want to see my notes on the last time we where there you can find them here. It’s hard to believe it was 2 years ago. It’s been a weird couple of years.

Iceland is a breathtaking place to be. If you can get there I highly recommend it.

Sunset surprise

After work yesterday I took my drone out for some practice run. It was foggy overcast and I thought the sun had already gone down because there were no sun rays on the ground. As I took off and got some altitude it was clear the sun had not set yet.

I’m always amazed at the photos that I can stitch together using the shitty little camera onboard a Mavic drone. I shoot them in raw so I can manipulate them on my computer to bring out the colors better. From the ground it was overcast and dark already. So it was fun to capture some of the last color and rays of the day.

You can create a ton of media very quickly. Over the last 10 or so years I’ve learned how to take that media, rename it, organize it into folders by date so it can all be cataloged properly. I don’t do that to make my life easier today. I do it so that when I go back and look at this 5-10 years later I know everything about the situation; where I was, what I was doing, notes about the day, my mood, etc. That takes a ton of practice and disipline.

Then as I was going to bed I looked out and the strawberry moon was hanging out in the fog. So I got a telescope out to peer at that for a while. It’s always amazing to see the moon through a nice telescope with all it’s mountains and other features. My iphone can take a decent picture thorough the same lens as I look with my eyes. It’s not the best, but it’s OK.

As seen from my iPhone looking through a telescope and some fog.

It’s incredibly bright even through the fog. It’s best to use a filter to tone down the brightness but I didn’t have that available to me when I took this. You get the idea.

Sheltering in place is still the norm around here. Working from home has been my modis operandi lately. It’s been that way for the better part of the last 25 years so not much has changed. I just don’t see many people I work with anymore except through the computer lens. That doesn’t look like it will change for the rest of 2020.

As of yesterday the remaining events that I would attend this year have been cancelled. That leaves my summer 100% available back to me to do with what I want. That hasn’t happened in so long I can’t remember. So I’ll spend it working around the farm, learning new things, working and hopefully a vacation or two if that is even possible.

I hope your skies are as pretty as mine.

Strap on a GoPro? Will it fly?

Today I was out flying my glider with air so laminar that it appeared from the ground that there was no turbulence. I though, “Hey, I should record this!”

So I land, go inside and get this GoPro Hero 3 sitting on my desk and put some Velcro on the bottom then attached it to my glider as near the CG as I could get it. I had no idea if it would fly well with the camera attached which will no doubt introduce a ton of drag because it is not small at all. Or light.

I was surprised how well it actually flew and even more surprised to see the footage from the GoPro when I got on the ground.

This plane has no FPV (First Person View) optics on it so I fly it 100% by hand and with only visual cues from the ground. From the ground you do not get a sense of how things are going on board the aircraft except from what you can see from the ground. I’ve always wondered what it was like up in the sky with this lumbering old bird.

I call it the pterodactyl because it looks like an old dinosaur. I recovered it from a box that was destined for the trash at the hands of others. I thought that I’d put it back together but it was low on my list of plane priorities. But one day I did put it back together, added a motor, motor controller, radios, servos and the like and got it back in the air. It’s one of my favorites now.

It’s a circa 1970 balsa glider that was designed to be launched with a rubber band from the ground then flown into the thermals from there. It was only designed to be turned with rudder and elevator. I added ailerons to the wings as well which gives me much more control of the large wing it has.

Will I crash?

This video is pieces of a 10 minute flight. I cut out a ton of it so it wasn’t so boring.

I hope you’re having a nice day!

Take care.