Sunday, October 20, 2013

There Be Whales Here!

Back on our Alaskan cruise in September when we stopped in Juneau we had the chance to go whale watching as our shore excursion. We chose a tour from Allen Marine Tours and they certainly did deliver.
We had been whale watching once before but had never had the chance to see humpback whales and were very much hoping to get a good look at some this time around. I even wore a Star Trek shirt hoping that it help to bring out the humpbacks. I don't think that the shirt made any difference but the whales certainly did cooperate.
On board the whale watching ship they had a poster of whale tail (aka fluke) photos from NOAA's Juneau Fluke Identification Catalog. I was hoping that some of my whale shots might allow me to one from the list and, sure enough, I bagged whale #2258 (above). The shot above is cropped from the full frame, but many of the shots to follow were not.

There is, of course, a limit as to how close the boats can get to the whales, but no limit as to how close the whales can come to the boats. On this day the whales decided to come nice and close. 

It was a good day. As we wrapped up the tour our captain reminded us that the cruise ship that were were returning to was also out in the wilderness and a great platform for observing wildlife. Boy, was she right.

Later that day, I took this shot of a humpback whale from our cabin:
On a later day we were able to watch some humpbacks in the distance as they were bubble net feeding. (Yeah, the pics that follow are all cropped from the full frame.)

Later, we even saw what looks like an orca:
It was wonderful to have a look at these wonderful creatures. We also had some wonderful views of dolphins and I'll put those in another post.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Star Trek: Errand of Mercy

Holy smokes, it has been a month and a half since I have had a new post of my tour through the original Star Trek episodes. Fear not, I am back on track. Today we finally get to meet the Klingons in the wonderful episode Errand of Mercy. The story has a gives an important message about U.S. Soviet Cold War relations with a great sci-fi ending.

As the episode begins Kirk receives a coded message from Starfleet. He tells Spock that, "Negotiations with the Klingon Empire are on the verge of breaking down. Starfleet Command anticipates a surprise attack. We are to proceed to Organia and take whatever steps are necessary to prevent the Klingons from using it as a base."
Within moments the Enterprise is under attack and returns fire, all without showing the enemy ship. Yes, back in the day the special effects were very expensive and they went to great lengths to only show what they really had to show. The special effects from the battle here were all recycled from Balance of Terror.

Uhura relays a message from Starfleet confirming that the Federation is now at war with the Klingons.

After the opening credits, Kirk puts Sulu in command and warns him of an imminent Klingon attack. Sulu's orders are to protect the Enterprise and flee if necessary. Kirk and Spock beam down to Organia to warn the Organians that the Klingons are coming and to try to convince them to work with the good guys. (So much for the Prime Directive, eh?) Earlier Spock described the Organians as a "very peaceful, friendly people living on a primitive level," that apparently score a "Class D minus on Richter's Scale of Cultures." Really, the Richter Scale of Cultures? It's a big galaxy. By the 23rd Century there must have been lots of Richters with scales for all sorts of things. Right? Oh, well. The point is that the Organians will be defenseless against the Klingons.
Ayelborne greets Kirk and Spock.
Ayelborne takes them to the Council Chambers where Kirk makes his case describing the Klingons as a "a military dictatorship" that will place the Organians into vast slave labour camps with no freedom.  Kirk explains, "Your goods will be confiscated. Hostages taken and killed, your leaders confined. You'd be far better off on a penal planet. Infinitely better off."
The Organians are not even slightly concerned and assure Kirk that they are in no danger. Instead they are worried for Kirk and Spock, which frustrates Kirk to no end.

Spock finds that the Organian culture has essentially not changed in thousands of years. Kirk offers military aide and to help them end disease, hunger and hardship. Again, the Organians are not impressed or interested insisting that they are in no danger at all.

The Klingon fleet arrives and the Enterprise flees to safety. Kirk and Spock are encouraged to blend in with the locals. 
The action picks up when the Klingons arrive and we get to meet Commander Kor, played by John Colicos. Kor is quite simply magnificent and a worthy foil to Kirk. He sweeps in and announces that he is the military governor of Organia. He confronts the Council along with Kirk and Spock.

Kor asks Kirk where is smile is. The "stupid, idiotic smile everyone else seems to be wearing." Kor eventually asks if Kirk welcomes him the way that the Organian Council does. When Kirk says no, Kor responds by saying, "Good, honest hatred. Very refreshing. However, it makes no difference whether you welcome me or not. I am here and will stay. You are now subjects of the Klingon Empire. You'll find there are many rules and regulations. They will be posted. Violation of the smallest of them will be punished by death."

Kor is really the first Star Trek villain than is fun. He shares with Kirk their list of rules on Official Klingon Stationery. Snazzie, isn't it?
Is it me, or is that a TIE Fighter on the Klingon stationery?
The Organians refuse to offer any resistance to the Klingons so Kirk and Spock decide that they must take it upon themselves and begin by blowing up a munitions dump. I am not sure what is in a 23rd Century munitions dump but they blew up the cardboard boxes with a sonic grenade. I am not sure where they got the grenade either.

The Organians are not at all pleased by their actions and ask Kirk to never do this again. When Kirk asks if their personal freedoms mean so little to them, Ayelborne responds by saying "How little you understand us, Captain."

Alas, the Klingons were monitoring the whole conservation and when they enter Ayelborne gives away Kirk's identity. Kor had hoped to meet the captain of the U.S.S. Enterprise in battle.
By the way, see that guy between Spock and Kor? He's in the background in a few scenes. I don't think you'll ever see a more clean cut looking Klingon anywhere. It is like they didn't even try to make him look alien. At least Kor has the eyebrows and facial hair.
Kor asks Ayelborne, "Do you always betray your friends?" Before the Klingons take Kirk away, he turns to Ayelborne and says, "I have no desire to die for the likes of you." Kirk and Spock are imprisoned and much to Kirk's surprise they are later released by Ayelborne.

Kor announces that because Kirk and Spock obviously had help in escaping they are killing 200 Organians and will keep killing them until they are returned. So Kirk and Spock decide to take on Kor to keep more Organians from being killed. As they skulk around Kirk asks Spock what he thinks their odds are for being successful. With a straight face Spock says, "Difficult to be precise, Captain. I should say approximately 7,824.7 to 1." Of course, this isn't the first time Spock has given such precise estimates. He also did it in The Devil in the Dark. Both episodes were written by Gene L. Coon.

Eventually they break into Kor's office and there's going to be a rumble! Or is there?
Just as the fight starts on the planet and as the Federation and Klingon space fleets meet, all the weapons, controls, and even the bodies of their opponents become too hot to touch.

The Organians walk in and calmly tell Kirk and Kor that, "We cannot permit you to harm yourselves" and that they have put a stop to the violence. Kirk and Kor are not pleased.

Ayleborne explains, "As I stand here, I also stand upon the home planet of the Klingon Empire, and the home planet of your Federation, Captain. I'm putting a stop to this insane war. .... Unless both sides agree to an immediate cessation of hostilities, all your armed forces, wherever they may be, will be immediately immobilized."
Kirk: "Even if you have some power that we don't understand, you have no right to dictate to our to handle their interstellar relations! We have the right-"
Ayelborne: "To wage war, Captain? To kill millions of innocent people? To destroy life on a planetary scale? Is that what you're defending?"

Kirk is properly embarrassed, as he should be, and then the Organians really lower the boom:
"The mere presence of beings like yourselves is intensely painful to us.... Millions of years ago, Captain, we were humanoid like yourselves, but we have developed beyond the need of physical bodies. That of us which you see is mere appearance for your sake."
They then convert to pure energy right before everyone's eyes and Spock drops his F-bomb - "Fascinating" calling the Organians "pure energy, pure thought" and "not life as we know it at all." It's good stuff.

The Organian Peace Treaty that clearly results is later referred to in The Trouble With Tribbles, but conveniently ignored in most later Trek.

Alas, there was no new music written for this episode. It was all tracked from other episodes.

You can watch Errand of Mercy here from It is well worth it.

 Oh, in case you missed it, be sure to check out my Two Great Treks post from earlier today.

Next up, one of the great ones - The City on the Edge of Forever.

Two Great Treks

If you like classic Star Trek, as I do, you'll want to check out two wonderful looks at the past and the future of the original series.
The past of Trek is represented by Marc Cushman's book These Are the Voyages, TOS Season One. It is an amazingly detailed look at the creation of the first season of Star Trek. It richly covers Gene Roddenberry's story, the creation of the series and gives an in-depth view of how each episode was crafted. Cushman was given full access to the memos and files from the show's creators so there is plenty of material and rare photos that show off everything from an episode-by-episode look at the various script drafts to how the show really did in the ratings (spoiler: the ratings were better than most people were told).

Season Two is due to be published early next year and I can't wait to read it. 
If you want to explore the future of classic Trek, there's nothing better than Star Trek Continues. It is a new web series that takes off where TOS Season 3 ended. I was skeptical at first, but their initial episode, Pilgrim of Eternity was great. It very much had the look and feel of Trek. They've assembled a great cast, employ high production values with great lighting and effects, and have lovingly recreated the sets of the show (Check out the pics below lifted from their Facebook). It clearly is a labor of love. If you haven't watched it, what are you waiting for?

Star Trek Continues has a Kickstarter going on right now. They are trying to raise $100,000 to support the creation of more episodes. As of this moment they've got over 40% of their goal with over 700 supporters. My wife and I are supporting the campaign and urge you to do the same. We very much look forward to seeing more episodes and your support will  help to make a difference.
Check it out and consider making a donation. Even small donations add up and get them closer to their goal. Besides, we want to collect our perks and we can't do that unless they hit their goal. 
Spock's Science Station on the Bridge
Scotty, played by Chris Doohan, in the Jefferies Tube
Transporter Room

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Night Flight

Last night I finally had the right confluence of flying at night, a window seat, cloudless skies, and having my DSLR handy. Here are some of my shots.
Canon 3Ti 50mm 1/10 Sec., ISO 6400
I was on a flight from Dallas/Fort Worth to Tucson when I captured these shots. They aren't as good as I was hoping for, but I hope aren't too bad. The motion of the plane (and the photographer), combined with the optically poor window glass of commercial airlines and the internal lights within the plane, made getting the shots pretty difficult.
Canon 3Ti 50mm 1/25 Sec., ISO 6400
My knowledge of the Dallas/Fort Worth area is pretty limited but it is easy to pick out sports lighting. There are four fields in the shot above and one in the shot below.  Both were taken from a high enough altitude that you shouldn't be seeing glare from the fields, yet there it is - light pointing upwards. Poorly directed sports lighting contributes not only to sky glow (lighting up the underside of airplanes) but also light trespass that can disrupt neighborhoods for miles around.
Canon 3Ti 50mm 1/50 Sec., ISO 6400
Much of the light in these photos (and in almost all cities) is misdirected and could be improved. Doing so would save energy, lessen the impact of light on the nighttime environment, improve visibility and reduce light pollution. To learn more, check out the website of the International Dark-Sky Association.
Canon 3Ti 50mm 1/30 Sec., ISO 6400
Canon 3Ti 50mm 1/10 Sec., ISO 6400
Canon 3Ti 50mm 1/10 Sec., ISO 6400
What is this?
Canon 3Ti 50mm 1/10 Sec., ISO 6400, cropped.
From 30,000 it is difficult to tell, especially since I don't know where the plane was when the shot was taken.

Unfortunately as we came towards Tucson all electronic devices had to be turned off.
Canon 3Ti 50mm 1/10 Sec., ISO 6400
I only got this one, bad shot (above). Sometime I hope to get some good night shots here, but last night wasn't it.

If you like any of these shots you check out my Cities From Space posts, they are the most popular on my blog (much more popular than my Star Trek posts which will continue again soon).

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Goodnight, Moon. Hello, ISS.

We had a lovely moonset this evening just before a decent passage of the International Space Station.
Here are a few shots of how it all looked:
Canon T3i, 250 mm, ISO 3200,  f/5.6, 0.6 sec
 Canon T3i, 250 mm, ISO 3200,  f/5.6, 1.6 sec
Canon T3i, 250 mm, ISO 3200,  f/5.6, 1 sec
And finally, here's a shot of the ISS just to the lower left of Sagittarius and the summer Milky Way:
Canon T3i, 18 mm, ISO 3200,  f/5.6, 30 sec
 Yes, that's sky glow in the lower left. I enjoy reasonably dark skies from south to west to north but the glow of Tucson is significant in the southeast and east.

Canon T3i, 18 mm, ISO 3200,  f/5.6, 30 sec
Even in Tucson, which has a pretty progressive outdoor lighting ordinance, light pollution is a problem.

Look for more pics from Alaska to be posted next.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Beautiful Time-Lapse from Mauna Kea

It has been quite a while since I have posted any time-lapse movies to the blog. Here's a beautiful one showing the many telescopes of Mauna Kea Observatory in Hawai'i. They can be seen working under their characteristically clear, dark skies that have made this observing site one of the best on the planet. Take a look:

Mauna Kea Heavens Timelapse from Sean Goebel on Vimeo.