Sunday, November 30, 2014

Raptor Free Flight

Last Sunday I visited the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum attending their Raptor Free Flight show. I hadn't been since February of 2013 (and blogged about it here), but the show is still a wonderful experience.
Before the show one of the Museum staff had a barn owl out for everyone to see. It was nice to get such a close, unhurried look at this beautiful bird.
The show began with a Chihuahuan Raven, which is not an actual raptor. It's also not my favorite bird in the show.
I am much more fond of the great horned owl and was happy that I got some decent action shots of this one in flight.
They really are beautiful birds. On occasion I can hear them from my desert home but, not surprisingly, almost never see one.
The smaller Prairie Falcon was up next.
The Prairie Falcon is a beautiful bird, but the Ferruginous Hawk is even more impressive. Notice that both birds are wearing a radio tracking device on their backs.
The Ferruginous Hawk has an impressive 4-foot+ wingspan and it, as did the other birds, flew very low over the crowd. It was common for me to feel air rushing aside as a bird flew past me. Their close proximity made it difficult to get some good shots, but I did manage to get some that I was happy with.
 After the show a trainer brought out a Harris's Hawk (below),  giving us a nice look at that bird too.
If you are in the Tucson area anytime between now and early April, I highly recommending heading out to see the ASDM's raptor show. They run two shows daily and feature other birds too. Check out their site to learn more.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Recent Sky Shots

Hey, it's been a while since I've posted some photography here, as most of it has been going straight to my Instagram account. So if you like what you see here, you should totally follow me there.
Thursday morning's crescent moon, complete with earthshine. 
Here's a beautiful sunrise from November 14th with layers of clouds and sky.
Another sunrise pic with clouds and their shadows.

We've got cool mornings in Arizona now. That means that hot air balloon season is back. Here are a few captures from last weekend and this morning:

Sunrise: November 21, 2014

Yesterday morning's sunrise was pretty nice. Thankfully, I was able to capture it. Have a look:

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Korea's Bright Lights, Big Cities

I recently spent two weeks in South Korea. Much of my time was in Daegu, Korea's third largest metropolitan area which has a population of 2.5 million people.

Korea is a very interesting place, with many differences from what I am used to. Their cities are very bright with unshielded streetlights and numerous bright LED billboards. There's an explosion of light a color that's pretty much everywhere. 
Here's part of the Daegu skyline. There are numerous giant LED billboards (all over exposed in this shot) visible on the tops of buildings. Most of these are not easily seen from street level, but rather seem to be targeted toward the huge blocks of high-rise apartment buildings -- the most common form of housing in Korea.
These photos were taken on a rainy evening, so the weather conditions exaggerate the brightness of the night sky. Still, while I was in Daegu and Seoul there were essentially no stars visible.

These photos were taken from the vantage point of the 16th floor of the hotel I was staying in. While I was there I decided to shoot some time-lapse video with my iPhone looking down on the traffic below. Here's how it looked:

There's a constant flicker of light visible in the lower left portion of the video, that's from a giant LED billboard that was facing the oncoming traffic.

I used my DSLR too. Here's a short exposure of the view below:
and a couple of longer ones to capture the motion of the cars:
It isn't too surprising that a main corridor of a big city would look like this. What was more surprising to me was that the back streets, frequented by pedestrians, are so brightly lit.
There is light and color everywhere. Much of the brightness here is due not just to unshielded lighting but from advertising and high levels of light spilling out from the interiors of shops.
The view above is pretty typical of many of these streets. It didn't seem to matter what city or town it was, the back streets were all very colorful and very bright.
Here's a view looking down on a portion of Seoul, Korea.

There's an increasing awareness of light pollution in Korea, which recently convened an international conference on the topic. They've got a long way to go, but there's plenty of room for improvement.

Yet there are still regions of darkness in South Korea. There's a move underway to create an International Dark Sky Park in southeast Korea, in Yeongyang County, the country's least populated area. I visited the area and, with some work, it could certainly happen. Stay tuned.  

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Partial Solar Eclipse!

Unlike the lunar eclipse of two weeks ago, we had perfect weather for today's partial solar eclipse. I managed to take a few photos using my DSLR with its 250mm lens and a handheld solar filter. The shots didn't turn out too bad. The view was greatly improved by the presence of the gigantic sunspot that is on the Earth-facing side of the Sun right now.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Star Trek: I, Mudd

Hey, it's time for another episode of Star Trek. Today, I bring you I, Mudd.
I have to confess that I like Harcort Fenton Mudd, yet I'm not especially fond of the two TOS episodes (Mudd's Women and I, Mudd) where he makes an appearance.
Actor Roger C. Carmel certainly gave expressively wonderful performances of this almost lovable 23rd Century conman, yet there is enough in both Mudd episodes to bring them down for me.

Our story begins with McCoy complaining to Spock about a new crewman, Norman, who, "never smiles, whose conversation never varies from the routine of the job, and who won't talk about his background." Not only that, he's missed two appointments for a physical. Presumably, he's getting billed anyway.
We then see Norman and his stunt double swooping in and taking control of Engineering.

Kirk and the gang realize that the ship is off course and they've been locked out of all controls, when Norman enters the bridge saying that he's taken over. Not only that, any attempt to put the ship back on course will result in it's destruction. Norman then explains, "I assure you we are no threat to humanity or humanoid life. We mean you no harm, but we require your ship." When Kirk asks what he means by 'we', Norman gives us The Big Reveal:
Yeah, instead of answering Kirk's question, he raises his shirt and pops open a panel on his tummy. The dude's an android!
A couple of days later, they arrive at the planet and meet Harry Mudd and a planet full of androids, most of whom have been built to Mudd's lecherous specifications. The exception is one android replica of his ex-wife, Stella.
Mudd: "behind every great man there is a woman urging him on. And so it was with my Stella. She urged me on into outer space. Not that she meant to, but with her continual, eternal, confounded nagging. Well, I think of her constantly, and every time I do, I go further out into space."
We soon learn that the androids are from the Andromeda galaxy (m31) and that they need human beings to serve and study. In fact, they plan on using the Enterprise to take over the galaxy. As Norman put it, "We cannot allow any race as greedy and corruptible as yours to have free run of the galaxy....We shall serve them. Their kind will be eager to accept our service. Soon they will become completely dependent upon us."

None of this seemed to bother Mudd until he realized that he was going to be marooned on the planet along with the entire crew of the Enterprise. So, what to do?
Kirk & Spock have noticed there are many versions of each android model, except Norman. Based on this they, correctly, assume that Norman is the key, that "each android mind must be one component of a mass brain linked through a central locus."  Yeah, Norman is the key.

It was never discussed how Norman would control the other androids that were going to serve humanity throughout the galaxy, but I'm sure he's just that awesome. 
Or is he? Kirk and the gang decide to behave irrationally so as to confuse the androids and then overload Norman. It's all kind of painful to watch though.
Spock: "Logic is a little tweeting bird chirping in a meadow. Logic is a wreath of pretty flowers which smell bad."
 The big finish against Norman is pretty weak. Kirk tells Norman that everything Harry says is a lie and then Harry says that he is lying. Norman, apparently incapable of having learned anything from his extensive time studying Harry before they plotted to steal a starship, can't take the contradiction and loses it (complete with smoke coming out of his ears!), "You say you are lying, but if everything you say is a lie then you are telling the truth, but you cannot tell the truth because everything you say is a lie. You lie. You tell the truth. But you cannot for. Illogical! Illogical! Please explain."

Yeah, I know that this was meant to be a somewhat silly episode, but the payoff here doesn't work for me but it is keeping in the tradition of Kirk vs. Computer that we've seen previously in episodes like The Return of the Archons and The Changeling. Trek will go to that well again, but it would have been nice if they could have found another solution.
While our crew is safe, Harry gets his comeuppance at the end. He's to remain on the planet where Kirk and the gang have created hundreds of the Stella model to nag him into being a better person. It's a light sendoff that would certainly a torturous existence for Mudd.

Speaking of a torture, composer Samuel Matlovsky's score for the episode might well qualify as such. The tracks from this episode are the only ones that, from the otherwise awesome complete TOS music set from La-La Land Records, are totally unlistenable.  If you like Trek and music, you should have this set, but if you get it, skip over Matlovsky's score.

Next up is an episode that's much higher on almost everyone's list, The Trouble With Tribbles.