Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Desert Sunset

Fading sunlight this evening cast a red-orange glow on the Catalina mountains this evening. They were capped with a fresh layer of snow, making the sight even better.
Can you spot Mt. Lemmon Observatory?
A few minutes later the show had shifted to the west:

Another day in the desert comes to an end.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Eyes on the Stars

Just as yesterday was the anniversary of the Apollo One accident, today is the anniversary of the Challenger disaster. The loss of the Space Shuttle Challenger, with all its crew, was a big setback for the U.S. space program. It was also an event that had a huge influence on my life. Alas, I do not have time to recount that tale today. Instead I will simply share this touching video about astronaut Ronald McNair, one of the seven astronauts that perished twenty seven years ago today.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Remembering Apollo One

Forty six years ago today the crew of Apollo One died in a tragic accident.
Apollo One's Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee
At the time I was just four years old. I was not aware of their sacrifice.

Almost two and a half years later I was still not aware of Apollo One, but I was glued to the TV set as Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins headed off to the Moon in Apollo Eleven. I can still remember watching that first landing and the moonwalk that followed.

As the Moon landings continued my interest grew and I began to read all that I could about the Apollo program. Some years later, when I discovered used book stores, I found this treasure:

Inside the book was a news clipping of an editorial cartoon placed there by the book's previous owner. The cartoon, which I still keep within the book above, shows a depiction of Armstrong lifting the flag into place on the Moon. It is reminiscent of the famous photo of the flag raising over Iwo Jima in World War II. Only here, it is the crew of Apollo One helping Armstrong lift the flag.

They didn't make it to the Moon, but through their efforts and sacrifice we all did. Grissom, White and Chaffee helped to make it all possible.

Star Trek: The Naked Time

The Naked Time was the first real breakout episode of Star Trek. It featured the show's first engineering crisis (and first appearance of the Jefferies Tube), an epidemic that allowed us to learn about our characters, and even a bit of time travel. The episode was popular enough that its premise was used for an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, The Naked Now. It was even mentioned in another ST:TNG episode, Relics. There, Scotty guest stars and recounts stories of the good old days.

The Naked Time begins as the Enterprise crew visits planet Psi 2000 to pick up a research team before the planet collapses. (Hmmm.... I didn't know planets did that sort of thing. Stars certainly do though.)

Spock and Lt. Joe Tormolen beam down to the research station only to find it everyone dead and frozen. They must has suspected trouble as they wore these nifty suits:
Unfortunately Tormolen takes off his glove and touches stuff before Spock tells him: "Be certain we expose ourselves to nothing." Oh, well. What could go wrong?

After being decontaminated and checked in sick bay, Tormolen heads for the Rec Hall.
3-D Checkers. Way cooler than 3-D Chess.
In the Rec Hall Tormolen, played by Stewart Moss, expresses doubts about the exploration of space and about himself. He briefly threatens Riley (Bruce Hyde) and Sulu (George Takei) before turning the knife on himself.
As we soon learn he's picked up an illness that rapidly spreads to the rest of the crew just as the planet is on the verge of collapse.

The disease brings out otherwise hidden character traits and becomes a wonderful vehicle for learning about our characters. Thankfully, the cast pulls it off wonderfully.

Sulu and Riley become the first affected. "Captain" Riley locks himself in Engineering while Sulu chases crewmen with a rapier. Unfortunately, Riley has also locked out helm control. As the planet starts its collapse the Enterprise is rocked about.
Note the Andromeda Galaxy and the Ring Nebula on the displays.
Things rapidly descend into chaos.
Janice is harassed in the corridors. Again. It seems to be a regular thing on the show, at least this time the disease is to blame. As the illness spreads we learn that Nurse Chapel is in love with Spock.
Too bad Christine doesn't know about Pon Farr.
Meanwhile, not only did Riley lock out helm control, he also turned off the ships engines and the ship is spiraling out of control down into the planet's atmosphere.
Scotty: He can't change the laws of physics.
McCoy finally figures out the problem and after a great scene with Spock and Kirk in the briefing room it is time to try a cold restart of the engines, balancing them into a controlled matter-anti-matter implosion.
No beach to walk on.
The implosion pulls the ship free and catapults them backward in time, bringing the possibility of time travel for future episodes.

Alexander Courage was back to score this episode. His music was another element that helped to knock this episode out of the park. There's over 35 minutes of music written for this episode on the complete collection of Trek music from the original series released by La-La Land Records. The best tracks come from the episode's culmination: Captain's Wig (not a reference to Shatner's hair, really), The Big Go, and Time Reverse/Future Risk and End Title. A sample from Captain's Wig is on the La-La Land site. It is worth a listen.

Speaking of music, some of you might enjoy Five Year Mission, a band that is recording a song for each episode of the original Star Trek series. Some of their songs don't do much for me, but I do like the one they made for this episode, Vulcans Don't Cry. Here's the music video:

The Naked Time is one of the finest episodes of Star Trek. You can watch it online here at startrek.com.

Next up, Charlie X.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

One Sunrise. Two photos.

It is true. This morning's sunrise almost made me late for work. It was a thing of beauty that, as sunrises often do, evolved and blossomed as time marched forward.

I grabbed the DSLR and shot some pics of light and shadow - the red orange clouds above the distant Rincon Mountains.

I had figured that was it, stepped inside to get ready for work and then took another peek. By then the DSLR was put away, but the iPhone was in my pocket. I reached for that and took this.

Seeing such beauty in Nature is a wonderful way to start the day.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Video: Defending the Dark

Check out this video, Defending the Dark:

 Yes, that is me in the video. Yes, that is Gort on my desk.

Seriously, it is a good video on light pollution and worth your time.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Moon Jupiter Conjunction

Here are some pics from the January 21, 2013 conjunction of the Moon with Jupiter. From here in Tucson, AZ the show began well before sunset. 
Taken ~4 pm local time with some cirrus clouds. Jupiter is at lower left.
Just after local sunset.
A little shorter exposure to bring out more detail on the Moon.

 The Moon moves like this all the time, but having a bright companion next to it makes it easy to watch the it glide through the sky.

All pics were shot with a Canon T3i and a 250mm lens. They were cropped, but not re-sized.

Earthereal II Video

Here is a cool video for your Monday:
Timelapse: EARTHEREAL II from Adonis Pulatus on Vimeo.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Star Trek: The Man Trap

The Man Trap was the first episode of Star Trek to be broadcast on TV, but the sixth one made. For any that haven't noticed, I am taking them on here on in production order.

The episode begins as Kirk, McCoy and crewman Darnell beam down to planet M-113 to check in on Professor Crater and his wife Nancy who are there excavating archaeological ruins.

Nancy, McCoy's old girlfriend, is not who she seems to be. Who she seems to be varies depending on who is looking at her.

McCoy sees Nancy as he remembered her 12 years ago.
Kirk (left) and Darnell (right) see different versions of Nancy. 
Interesting that it is the young Crewman Darnell, rather than Kirk, who envisions Nancy as a sex object. The character of Kirk has not yet developed his reputation.

Darnell follows Nancy as she heads out to get Professor Crater. He becomes the first of three crewmen to be killed by her on the planet. Note that none of them are wearing red shirts.
Before their were Red Shirts there was Darnell, Green and Sturgeon
All apparently died by having the salt removed from their bodies and both Professor Crater and Nancy asked for more salt tablets. Coincidence?  "Nancy" assumes the guise of Crewman Green and is beamed up to the ship where more mayhem ensues.
"Why don't you tell me I'm an attractive young lady, or ask me if I've ever been in love? Tell me how your planet Vulcan looks on a lazy evening when the moon is full."
While Spock does not give Uhura anything to hope for here, I do believe that the scene above is the genesis for the Spock/Uhura relationship in J.J. Abrams' 2009 movie Star Trek.
Yeoman Rand apparently cannot walk the corridors without attracting a crowd.
McCoy can't sleep. Maybe he should turn off the light that is shining in his face?
Putting Star Trek aside for a moment, there is a lot of research that supports the idea that light at night isn't especially good for you and that sleeping in the dark is much better for your health. If you are interested in learning more about that, check out this report from the American Medical Association.

McCoy not only prescribes sleeping pills, he keeps a stash of them in his quarters (see the open bottle in the pic below). As we will see again and again in the series, he does like medicating his patients.
Meanwhile on the planet surface, Kirk and Spock figure out that there is a shape-shifting creature aboard the Enterprise. They confront Crater.
You call this archaeology?
Crater reveals that Nancy has been dead for sometime now and that the creature is the last of its kind. He compares it to the passenger pigeon and the buffalo (Wait, the buffalo is extinct?) In later episodes, most notably Devil in the Dark, Spock argues for the preservation of such "monsters" - even when they themselves are killing members of the Enterprise crew. As he says about the Horta: "to kill it would be a crime against science." There is no such argument here, nor any attempt at reasoning out a solution, even though Crater says it is intelligent.

Back on the Enterprise the creature kills again, attacks Spock and nearly gets Uhura before the big confrontation in McCoy's cabin as it goes for Kirk.

In a puzzling move it reveals its true form, perhaps because we can't be allowed to see the captain be beaten by a girl.
McCoy is forced to phaser the creature to save Kirk, even though he can't help but think of it as Nancy.

As the episode closes, Spock, on the bridge, asks Kirk if there is anything wrong. Kirk replies that he "was thinking about the buffalo." So there is some hint of remorse in Kirk for killing the last member of this species. But not much. Trek still has some growing up to do.

Alexander Courage wrote just over 35 minutes of moody, eerie music for this episode. It works well on screen, but mostly isn't something that I'll be listening to on its own. As I have mentioned before La-La Land Records has recently released the entirety of music recorded for the original Star Trek Series. You can hear one track from this episode, First Goner/Salty Cat/Dressing Down on La-La Land's page for the release. It is an amazing volume of music.
Want to watch The Man Trap online? StarTrek.com has it here.

Next up, The Naked Time.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Buy Your Dark-Sky Friendly Lighitng at Lowe's.

Not many good choices in the picture of a Lowes outdoor lighting display from a year ago.
I have given a lot of talks on light pollution and outdoor lighting. Perhaps the most common question asked afterwards is "Where can I buy lights that will be dark-sky friendly?" It used to be that the choices for homeowners were pretty limited. There is an online-only store called Starry Night Lights that has many good choices and Home Depot sells a Hampton Bay dark-sky friendly light. Lowes? Not so much, until now as dark-sky friendly lighting has finally come to Lowes.

It is not just about the stars - it is about being a good neighbor & ending light trespass.
Here is a shot of the vastly improved outdoor lighting selection at Lowe's:

Yes, they still have some bad choices, but I counted nine fixtures (six in the shot above) that were on display. Having signage out promoting it is a nice thing to see.

I am not sure yet how widespread the distribution of lighting is, but it certainly has made an appearance in Arizona. If you are reading this and you see that Lowes is carrying in your area, let me know via a comment or a tweet. If you find that your local Lowe's is not carrying it, ask them why & tell them that you would buy their neighbor friendly lighting products if they carried it.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Star Trek: The Enemy Within

The Enemy Within, aka The One with Two Kirks #1
The Enterprise is orbiting planet Alpha 117 on a specimen-gathering mission. An injured crewman is beamed up with a dusting of some sort of magnetic yellow ore on his uniform that, unbeknownst to the crew, causes the transporter to malfunction. The next one to beam up is Captain Kirk.

Kirk stumbles seams confused and is helped out. A short while later, an evil, Opposite Kirk (shown at right, with dramatic lighting) materializes in the transporter room. Kirk has apparently been split in to two opposing halves - Good and Evil.

An animal specimen is beamed up later and the same thing happens to it.
As Scotty says: "A few seconds after they sent this one up through the transporter, that duplicate appeared. Except it's not a duplicate, it's an opposite. Two of the same animal, but different. One gentle, this. One mean and fierce, that. Some kind of savage, ferocious opposite. Captain, we don't dare send Mister Sulu and the landing party up. If this should happen to a man..."

So Sulu and the landing party are stuck on the planet below where it gets really, really cold (-120). Meanwhile, Opposite Kirk demands Saurian Brandy from Dr. McCoy (he keeps the good stuff in Sick Bay) and heads for Yeoman Rand's quarters.
There Opposite Kirk attacks her. She narrowly escapes rape, scratching his face in the process of fighting him off. Unfortunately soon afterwards Rand has to explain the attempted rape to Spock, McCoy and Kirk, the person she is accusing. Wow, shouldn't there be a female security person or maybe Nurse Chapel available for her to talk tot? Apparently not.

When the scratches are described it is realized that there is a duplicate Kirk on board.
I'm Captain Kirk. I'm Captain Kirk! I'm Captain Kirk!! I'm Captain Kirk!!!
Kirk's duplication eventually leads to him to have problems making command decisions. Spock sees this as something to study:
Spock: We have here an unusual opportunity to appraise the human mind, or to examine, in Earth terms, the roles of good and evil in a man. His negative side, which you call hostility, lust, violence, and his positive side, which Earth people express as compassion, love, tenderness.
McCoy: It's the Captain's guts you're analyzing. Are you aware of that, Spock?
Spock: Yes, and what is it that makes one man an exceptional leader? We see indications that it's his negative side which makes him strong, that his evil side, if you will, properly controlled and disciplined, is vital to his strength. Your negative side removed from you, the power of command begins to elude you.
Meanwhile, Sulu and the landing party aren't having much of a party as they learn that the shuttlecraft hasn't been invented yet.
Chases, the first Vulcan neck pinch, escapes and more ensue. Then comes the opportunity to reunite Kirk's two halves. It is tried first with the dog-like animal. It is made whole again but dies in the process.

Did it die of fright? Might human intelligence keep that from happening to Kirk? As Spock says: "Being split in two halves is no theory with me, Doctor. I have a human half, you see, as well as an alien half, submerged, constantly at war with each other. Personal experience, Doctor. I survive it because my intelligence wins over both, makes them live together. Your intelligence would enable you to survive as well."

Interesting that Spock says it is the Human half that we see and his alien half is submerged. Isn't that backwards? But then again, this is an early episode in the series. Earlier in the episode he is clearly annoyed, but the most out of character moment for Spock in the episode is a shocker.

At the very end, after *spoiler* Kirk is reunited with himself, Rand gives Spock something to sign. Now remember, Rand was nearly raped by the Opposite Kirk, right? Spock leers at her and says: "The impostor had some interesting qualities, wouldn't you say, Yeoman?"

Wait. What? That's right, "emotionless" Spock seems to get pleasure taunting her about this. It is almost like he is saying: "I'll bet you like it rough, don't you baby." Sheesh. Generally Spock is all kinds of awesome, but at this moment? No.

Wow. Moving on. I know that Shatner is famous in some circles for overacting, but I think that he does a fine job here. Everything here -the story, the lighting the music - is a bit over the top, but that is the point.

The episode is given greater oomph by its top notch music. Composer Sol Kaplan, who also scored The Doomsday Machine, wrote nearly 23 minutes of music for The Enemy Within. All of it is classic Trek. If you have seen the series, you will likely recognize all of it. Much of this music was tracked into other episodes as well. You can hear one track of this score, The Rock Slide/The Beam Up/Evil Kirk on La-La Land Records page for the complete release of music for the series. My favorite track title for The Enemy Within: Another Brandy/The Evil Grin/Double Dog Death.

By the way you can watch the entire episode on line right here. Next up? The Man Trap.

Finally, an accidental transporter duplication happened in TNG too. In an episode called Second Chances, we learn that a duplicate, but non-evil, copy of Riker was made from a transporter reflection. Maybe traveling by transporter isn't as safe as everyone says.