Sunday, September 28, 2014

Two Views of Tonight's Moon

The moon is looking good tonight. A camera equipped with a zoom lens can capture it nicely but, like most things, it looks drastically different depending on the exposure.
Canon T3i, 250 mm lens, 1/1000 second, f/4.0,  ISO 3200
The short exposure (above) captures the moon's craters and its smooth, dark mare, while in a longer exposure (below) they are overexposed but the faint earthshine is revealed.
Canon T3i, 250 mm lens, 1/5 second, f/4.0,  ISO 3200
I thought the earthshine looked better last night, but I suppose it isn't too bad tonight.

iPhone Time-Lapse Videos

The new iOS 8 operating system for the iPhone has a nifty time-lapse feature. I recently picked up the wonderful Joby tripod for the iPhone and have shot a couple of short cloud videos.

Yesterday morning:

Yesterday afternoon:

This morning's sunrise:
This is a fun feature and I'll be shooting some more of these. When I get something especially interesting it will certainly get posted here.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Take A Look Out There, Planets Everywhere

The Moon has returned to the evening sky. Tonight it is close to the planet Saturn. Here's how they looked to my camera:
Canon 3Ti 1 second, 250mm ISO 3200 f/5.6
That's Saturn to the upper left. The fainter Nu Librae is just left of the Moon. The exposure here was long enough to bring out the earthshine - where the reflected light of the daytime Earth illuminates the portion of the moon where the sun has not yet risen.

By tomorrow night the moon will be on the other side of Saturn and heading towards the red planet Mars. Mars is currently is close in the sky to the red supergiant star Antares.
Mars and Antares are of similar brightness and color, so much so that the name Antares means 'rival of Mars'. In the sky Mars is now moving gradually eastward relative to Antares. They are in the southwest sky in the early evening. Take a look and see if you can notice them getting farther apart as the nights advance.

The moon will swing to the other side of them by the 29th.

Bright Jupiter doesn't rise in the east until just after 2 am, but if you want to catch another planet you might consider waiting until the early morning hours of October 8th. There will be a total lunar eclipse that night and the planet Uranus will be relatively close to the moon. Uranus is almost as bright as Nu Librae and should be visible during the total phase of the eclipse. You'll need dark skies that are relatively free from light pollution to see Uranus, but if you are heading out to enjoy the lunar eclipse, it is worth seeing if you can spot our solar system's seventh planet.

I'll have more on the October 8 total lunar eclipse and the partial solar eclipse that will follow 2 weeks after that in a future blog post.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Star Trek: The Deadly Years

It is time for another episode of Star Trek, my 40th.
In The Deadly Years we get to watch four regulars, and one extra, rapidly age and head toward death. We also get to learn that Chekov is self-centered and compassionless; and that Kirk is to become a nasty, bitter old man. Sounds fun, doesn't it?
It begins with a landing party beaming down to Gamma Hydra IV. They're on a mission to re-supply an experimental colony there. Maybe they were going to actually beam down the supplies later.
As they look for the missing colonists Chekov freaks out when he discovers a dead body, Alvin, who has clearly died of old age.
Spock was about to explain that no one in the colony could possibly have died of old age when they are interrupted by the shocking appearance of Elaine and Robert, who are supposedly aged 27 and 29.  And we roll the opening credits.
Joining the regulars in this episode are Commodore Stocker and Dr. Janet Wallace, an expert in endocrinology. Kirk and Wallace used to be romantically involved and now that her husband has passed away. . .  Alas, their conversation gets interrupted by a call from the bridge.
Kirk, with his shirt off, establishing a baseline for what is to come.
It has become clear that the entire landing party, save Chekov, has the same ailment that afflicted the colonists. There's no discussion as whether or not it is communicable to anyone else, so no one is worried about a full-scale outbreak on the ship.
Later, Dr. Wallace on her way to the biochemistry lab, lingers in the corridor waiting for Kirk. I guess she's not really feeling the urgency of the situation. Kirk quickly switches the conversation to her late husband, asking her how much older he was than her. Clearly Kirk is implying that she likes older men and that he is now an older man. She answers and then says, "I don't want to talk about him. I want to talk about us." Kirk finally counters with, "What are you offering me, Jan? Love, or a going away present?" It comes off as pretty creepy to me.
Commodore Stocker wants the Enterprise to head off to Starbase 10, under the assumption that the base has better medical facilities. Instead, Kirk and the others are aging before his eyes. Soon we see Kirk being forgetful, snoozing on the bridge and growing cranky.

Speaking of cranky . . . . .
"Give us some more blood, Chekov. The needle won't hurt, Chekov. Take off your shirt, Chekov. Roll over, Chekov. Breathe deeply, Chekov. Blood sample, Chekov. Marrow sample, Chekov. Skin sample, Chekov. If I live long enough, I'm going to run out of samples."
There's pretty much no humor in this episode and the one attempt at it, with Chekov complaining, leaves me cold. Always the compassionate man, Chekov--who does not have the disease--is pretty annoyed that he is being heavily studied by McCoy to figure out why he hasn't gotten sick. Maybe he should be thankful that he wont be dead in a few days, or perhaps he could show some concern for those who will be. Nah.
What the heck is that thing? Someone in the prop department really likes aluminum foil.

Stocker convenes a competency hearing for Kirk, who is found to be no longer fit for command.
When Spock gives Kirk the news that he has been relieved and that Stocker is in command, Kirk doesn't take it well. "You traitorous, disloyal... You stab me in the back the first chance you get? Spock, get out. I never want to have to look at you again." I know that command is everything to Kirk, but those are really harsh words and you can tell that Spock is hurt by them. He and Spock have shared so much and Kirk just tosses it all out the window. There should have been an apology scene at the end of the episode.
Stocker takes command and orders the ship to head to Starbase 10 via the shortest route --across the Romulan Neutral Zone. What could go wrong?
Say, remember when Chekov was all scared at seeing the dead body in the beginning of the episode? His adrenalin rush apparently saved him from some radiation being given off by a comet (not that comets really give off radiation). That sparks some ideas back in sickbay and people are finally trying to come up with a cure. It's a good thing too, as the Romulans are here, the effects from Balance of Terror are being recycled, and Stocker sucks at command.

A cure is found in the nick of time and it not only stops the aging, but it brings people back to where they were before they had the sickness. How cool is that?
Kirk returns to save the day, invoking Corbomite in the process.

For the actors, this must have been a difficult shoot, as they had to spend long hours in the makeup chair. I put together some collages showing their transformations.

James Doohan also had his share of make up too, but Scotty pretty much doesn't do anything in this episode, so there aren't as many closeups of him to choose from.

All-in-all, The Deadly Years isn't terrible, but it isn't really good Trek either. There's a nice line from Stocker at the end to remind us how great Kirk is (when he isn't an old man shouting for Spock to get off his lawn),  "I am now quite aware of what a starship can do with the right man at the helm. " But the end is about the only cool thing here. 

There was no music composed for this episode, but there's a bunch of it in the next one I'll be blogging about, I, Mudd

Monday, September 15, 2014

Hurricane Sunset

Hurricane Odile is making its way up Baja California but its clouds have extended northward to cover all of Southern Arizona. We are expecting possibly heavy rains in Tucson later this week, but tonight the storm delivered an off-the-carts amazing sunset.
 The sky was beautiful in every direction, so I had to shoot a panorama.
To the south the sky behind the pink-orange clouds was an amazing shade of blue. Alas, these iPhone shots don't do it justice.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Recent Sky Shots

I took some fun shots of lightning Friday night, but that's not been the only thing in the sky to catch my attention lately. I've been photographing the cloud shadows, the Milky Way and for the last several mornings the waning gibbous moon.
Friday September 12
Saturday September 13
Sunday September 14
Saturday's sunset was remarkable not for its vivid colors. Instead there was a big thunderstorm near the western horizon. The resulting cloud shadows were cast clear across the sky. Check it out:
That's the view looking east with the darker cloud shadows in the twilight sky.

There's an increasing chance of stormy weather for the next few days, but now that the moon is out of the evening sky, and with the skies clear the Milky Way shines nicely. Not as nice as it was in Hawai'i though. From my vantage point NW of Tucson it is nicely placed in the early evening with the constellation of Sagittarius well away from the light pollution of the city.
The focus is a bit soft on this one, but here's the view I have from my back yard and the Milky Way extending up over Sombrero Peak. Not too bad. 

Star Trek: Mirror, Mirror

It is time for the next episode of Star Trek. Today it is Mirror, Mirror.
Mirror, Mirror takes Kirk, McCoy, Uhura and Scotty to an alternate Enterprise in a parallel universe, commonly called the "Mirror Universe," where the Federation is an evil empire and our familiar characters have transformed along with it.
The whole concept was popular enough to spawn several Mirror Universe episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space 9 (which I didn't especially like), an episode of Star Trek: Enterprise (which was quite good) and an episode from the fan-produced Star Trek Continues (more on that later in this post).

I am totally down with the concept of a parallel universe or even that the Many Worlds theory of branching universes which could lead to something sort of like what is portrayed in this episode but it is clear that the audience needs to check their brains at the door and just go with it.
McCoy: "That spot, I spilt acid there a year ago."
The Mirror Universe Enterprise and the standard (normal?) universe have diverged significantly, so to expect the Enterprise of both universes to be crewed by the same people who have been doing the same things, like McCoy's having spilled acid in sick bay in the same place in both universes, is silly.
Yet here we are. The crew of the Enterprise of both universes is paying a visit to the Halkans to see about getting dilithium crystals. An ion storm in both universes hits just as both landing parties are beaming up from the planet surface, causing each group to transpose universes.
Just like sliding down the Bat Pole, everyone changes their clothes during the beam up.
They've been cast into an alternate Enterprise where officers keep a personal guard, crew members advance in rank through assassination, torture is used to discipline the crew, and Spock has a beard.  

A beard!

I wont go into all the details but there's a lot of jockeying for position as Kirk refuses to annihilate the Halakans. Chekov and his entourage tries to assassinate Kirk. Later Spock tells Kirk, "I am ordered to kill you and to proceed against the Halkans as the new captain of the Enterprise."
Interestingly enough, that warning from Spock was the dramatic sendoff before a commercial break. When the action resumes, it's with Kirk narrating a Captain's log saying in part, "We are trapped in a savage, parallel universe from which we must escape within four hours, or I will face a death sentence at Mister Spock's hands." Yet, the resulting scene is of him having a casual drink with Marlena, the 'captain's woman' in this parallel universe. Kirk doesn't seem too worried, does he?
Speaking of Marlena, played by the lovely Barbara Luna, back in the day her outfits generated some angry letters from viewers as they were considered by some to be too revealing. 
Anyway, Kirk and the gang have figured out that they can use the ship to get back to their home universe. Alas, Spock is on to them and a big fight breaks out in Sickbay. Uhura gives the Captain one of those skulls that I mentioned in my Amok Time blog post and they take Spock down with a skull to his skull.
With no visible damage to Spock at all, McCoy is convinced that he'll die if he doesn't get immediate medical treatment. Sulu shows up with his goons to kill them all, but Marlena saves the day with an alien device introduced earlier that I'm not going bother with here. Everyone but McCoy flees to the transporter room to prepare their escape and then Spock exhibits a sudden, remarkable complete recovery. Fastest near-death turn around ever. He then mind melds with the good doctor, learning that the four of them are from another universe.
Marlena shows up in the transporter room to foil the escape plans but Uhura saves the day. The time left to make the return to their universe is growing short when Spock enters with McCoy, telling them, "You must return to your universe. I must have my captain back."
Which gives Kirk the opportunity to give us a dramatic sendoff:
"The illogic of waste, Mister Spock. The waste of lives, potential, resources, time. I submit to you that your Empire is illogical because it cannot endure. I submit that you are illogical to be a willing part of it...If change is inevitable, predictable, beneficial, doesn't logic demand that you be a part of it?...Be the captain of this Enterprise, Mister Spock. Find a logical reason for sparing the Halkans and make it stick. Push till it gives...What will it be? Past or future? Tyranny or freedom? It's up to you...In every revolution, there's one man with a vision."
It's Kirk doing what Kirk and Trek does best, giving us hope for the future--even in an evil alternate universe. Kirk, et al. return to their home universe, where Spock had placed the alternate Kirk, McCoy, Uhura, and Scotty in the brig. Strangely, upon their return Spock tells them that he assumes that "they returned to their Enterprise at the same time you appeared here." Gee, maybe somebody should check that out.
If you want to see if Kirk's challenge to Mirror Spock made a difference, then be sure to watch The Fairest Of Them All from Star Trek Continues. It is a worthy sequel to Mirror, Mirror that follows the events in the Mirror Universe right after this TOS episode. I wont give any details here, as you should watch it for yourself. I will say that Star Trek Continues is producing new episodes that look and feel like classic Trek. They've only produced three so far, but they are very good.

Returning to Mirror, Mirror, veteran composer Fred Steiner returned to the Trek universe to compose about 14 minutes of new music for this episode. Strangely he reused his Romulan theme from Balance of Terror as the 'Blackship theme' used here to represent the alternate, evil universe. There's a slow, romantic version of it too written for Marlena. Steiner always delivered good music for Trek and this is no exception.

That's it for Mirror, Mirror. Next up is The Deadly Years.