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Saturday, February 28, 2009

Thirdday blues

I'm tired. Getting worn out. I'm sure I have all sorts of stuff to blog about, but I can't remember what. The evening of the third day of the rotation can be like that.

And there is a fourth day, which is great. I was worried that we might have had a one-day shutdown tomorrow. Money is good.

No rest after work tomorrow, though. On the way home I have to stop for gas, then pick up my mom and head with her out to my brother's house for a few hours.

Can't even sleep in Monday morning; I have to call AAA* first thing and have them give me a jump and/or tow to the service station near my house across town. Then I'll do some long-overdue maintenance work at the house, and maybe even take a nap for a few hours. Maybe I'll fire up one of the DTV converter boxes I bought with the government coupon and see how well they work without an antenna. (My guess is, not very well.)

Sometime during my four days off I need to take my mom's car for an oil change and then wash off the highway grime I've accumulated this rotation.

Today at work was not as chaotic as the first two days of the rotation but was still very bad, much worse than the previous rotations I've spent in this area. Plus I found out that on the first day of the rotation, something got messed up on one of my jobs that I should have noticed - would have noticed, if I hadn't spent most of the twelve hours that day running from system to system to clear alarms. I hope things get straightened out soon, before anything else gets messed up while I'm busy dealing with whichever piece of equipment is screaming the loudest.


*The American Automobile Association, of which I am a member, not Alcoholics Anonymous, of which I am not.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Rain in Winter

Winter has been running hot and cold lately. Well, more like cold, very cold, and not really so cold. Today fell into the "not really so cold" category, though I was in work for most of it. When I took my lunch at 4:00 PM (it was one of those days; I had last eaten at 3:30 in the morning, and would be leaving work at 6:00) I was a little surprised and disappointed to see that the day had turned dark and rainy. Not that I will miss the snow that has finally been washed away, but I was looking forward to seeing Venus and the Moon tonight.

While searching for a picture to put on yesterday's Venus/Moon post, I was a little surprised to see how much snow we had on the ground on March 20, 2007. But this is not that unusual. Here are images from a snowstorm on March 24, 2005. I don't think we had March snow in 2006 or last year, and I didn't start my blog until May 2004 so I don't know offhand what the day-to-day weather was like.

The rain concerns me, though. One of the big purchases I'm trying to save up for is a few truckloads of dirt - topsoil, maybe even - to pile around the foundations of my mom's house and help direct rainfall and surface water away from our basement. Basement flooding from groundwater seepage has been a major concern in past years, and I expect it will be an issue sooner or later this year.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Venus and the Moon over the next few days

On the way home from work today I saw the most stunningly tiny crescent Moon I have ever seen. It was partly obscured by clouds, which added to the beauty, tinting it a deep orange. When I saw it, perhaps around 6:15 PM, the horns appeared to be pointing directly up, or nearly so, suggesting it was very nearly directly positioned above the Sun. (I am far more used to seeing the Moon south of the Sun - to the left of the Sun in the evening, to the right of it in the morning.)

If you have noticed that intensely bright beacon in the western sky just after sunset, then you already know where to look to see the planet Venus. Over the next few nights the Moon will be in the same general neighborhood.

Phil Plait did a post alerting readers to the "Beauty Without Borders" project, which invites people to join in observing the Moon and Venus over the next few days. This is something anyone - well, almost anyone - can participate in, regardless of how light-polluted their skies are. Venus and the Moon are that bright. Even partly cloudy skies should not make viewing impossible, though there's a limit to how much cloud cover the two brightest objects in the night sky can penetrate. Get photos if you can, and share them with the world!


Venus, the Moon, and a neighbor's house,
viewed from the bow window of my mom's house
at 8:12 PM Tuesday, March 20, 2007.
From the Beauty Without Borders website:

An Evening With Venus
Join this event from anywhere in the world, even if you are going to watch from your deck or backyard. Use binoculars if you haven't got a telescope.


Already 16 countries has got together to enjoy the beautiful views of Venus.
Start Time: February 25, 2009 at 7:00pm
End Time: Sunday, March 1, 2009 at 9:00pm
Location: Global - Everywhere, Your street or your event street, you choose.
Venus event;

The crescent Venus meets the new Moon, will be an awesome spectacle, seen and shared locally and globally. “On the evening of Feb. 28, the crescent moon will pass near Venus and will create a beautiful sight for sky watchers.”

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Work and dead batteries

Good news: I'm going back to work tomorrow.

Bad news: The battery problems that I noticed when I ran out to get a new monitor on Monday have apparently worsened to the point that my car will now not start. I spent much of these past few days running errands with my mom in her car, so I didn't actually get to check the car until now. Looks like I'll be borrowing her car again for these next four days, and then spending money on a new battery next week. Dammit.

The original battery lasted over eight years; this one isn't quite four-and-a-half years old.

I hope it's just the battery.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Sex on Fire / All Fired Up

The Internet is a scary, amazing, wonderful place, and an amazing research tool for even the most trivial things.

Saturday night, half-delirious in my post-rotation state, a song was bubbling up from my hindbrain. Problem is, I had no idea what it was. It sounded old, but I had a feeling it was new, or relatively so. I couldn't catch many of the words, I knew there was a chorus of "(sooooooomething) this (something)'s on fire" - or something like that. I tried Googling various chunks of that, and I didn't recognize any of the results. After a few minutes of searching I decided to take a stab at one of the results, since it was a YouTube video and I would know pretty quickly if it was the right song. And it was. Kings of Leon, "Sex On Fire": (right-click to open in new Tab or Window)



Thing is, simplistic as it is, annoying as the video of the oh-so-pretty lead singer writhing sweatily on the floor, apparently in a feverish delirium is, this song sounded familiar. But why, and to what? Some words kept pressing themselves into my mind:

Now I believe there comes a time
When everything just falls in line
We live and learn from our mistakes
The deepest cuts are healed by faith


Yes, of course. "All Fired Up" by Pat Benetar. I called it up on YouTube and was amazed at the similarities, down to the opening chord changes - though the Pat Benetar song is far more complex and, in my opinion, the far superior song. Listen for yourself (right-click here to open in new window or tab) and see:


That wasn't the only research I did that night. But I'll leave the other story for another time.


NOTE TO SELF, 5/3/09: Don't leave stories for other times without leaving notes for yourself as to what the story is. I know the research involved an actress, I just don't remember who.

NOTE TO SELF, 1/23/10: It was Tara Lightfoot, the model who appeared in a Snorg Tees ad wearing a T-shirt that says "I Drink Your Milkshake."

Monday, February 23, 2009

Good news, bad news, good news...

GOOD NEWS: Nicky now has Dolly back.


After church yesterday my mom and I went out to do a little shopping. I had a 15% off coupon at a store, and the coupon was expiring yesterday, and I knew I could get dimmable fluorescent light bulbs there - it's the only place I know of where you can get these things. So after Mass ended at about 12:45 we headed up to the store. By the time we got done there it was just after 2:00.

My mom then asked if we could stop at a bank that stays open until 3:00 on Sundays so she could deposit a refund check she received for overpayment to a doctor. (It's unusual for there to be any banks open on a Sunday.) We went there, and then I decided to stop at a pet supplies store to get a toy for Nicky that would keep him amused until we located Dolly. On the way there, my mom asked if we could stop at a local chocolate shop and see if they had any discounted Valentine's candy - specifically chocolate-covered soft caramels. (They didn't have any Valentine's candy, so I got her Easter candy instead. Paid through the eye for it, but, hey, it's what she wanted.)

The upshot of this is, after we ran all these errands and got home, it was already after 4:00.

We got home and I presented Nicky with the interim Dolly - a small blue furry puppy with floppy ears. He wasn't very interested. I ate quickly, went online, read my mail, checked my junk mail on a whim, and wound up banging out yesterday's post. I then meandered around the Internet a while, checking Facebook and my friends' sites.

After a while I started to feel guilty. I had promised Nicky I would look for Dolly, and I had a pretty good idea where to look, and here I was screwing around on the Internet. I didn't want to log off, but I didn't want my monitor to burst into flames while I was away. So I switched off the monitor and went off to search for Dolly.

I looked in the most likely spot - some boxes near the bottom of the steps to our basement. Nicky often plays with Dolly on these steps, and I toss my coat on top of the boxes when I come home. Maybe Dolly had fallen between or behind the boxes? I moved them around and searched a bit and came up empty.

I then moved to other spots I hadn't had time to search earlier in the week while I was at work. I looked around my bed, and behind it, and under it. Nothing. Then I began to pull the blankets off, layer after layer. And there, tangled in the blankets, was Dolly! I had found her!

Nicky was happy. He had been showing an increasingly disturbing lassitude the past few days, which I attributed to pining for the loss of his favorite toy, and his sudden improvement in spirits seemed to confirm what I had believed. He carried Dolly around, and yelled at her, and yelled at me when I tried to move her into a better position for photos. But something still seemed wrong.

Whatever. I had been away from the computer too long. I switched on the monitor, got ready to report the good news, and...

...nothing.

BAD NEWS: My monitor finally died.

Well, it was hardly a surprise, but it was upsetting. No image, no nothing - I did manage to get a white spot in the middle of the screen at one point, but that didn't last. My monitor was dead, and there was nothing to do but replace it.

GOOD NEWS: I got an new monitor, and it didn't cost me an arm and a leg.

More like just an arm. Still, it's bigger than my old CRT that I bought back in 1999, which was a 19" diagonal as compared to this 21.5" wide widescreen monitor, and it cost less than half as much as that one did, and weighs about twenty-five pounds less. It took me a while to set up, and I didn't much like the "force-fitting" of the screen to the base - it took three calls to the Samsung help line before I got someone who told me just to push down as hard as I could. Note to the folks who design those helpful pictograms to show non-literate users how to assemble things without the use of, say, detailed directions using words: These things suck. Please use words.

BAD NEWS: Nicky still was not himself.

He's been displaying increasingly odd behavior. Saturday morning he wasn't himself. He usually nudges his face into mine when my alarm goes off, and then paws at me to pet him as I am getting ready for work in the morning. Saturday he did these things, but without much enthusiasm. Saturday evening my mom found him lurking under her bed, resting against the baseboard of radiation, trying to get warm. He usually doesn't do this. As I headed to bed that night he did the same thing against the kitchen baseboard.

Sunday morning he mostly ignored me.

Sunday evening he was already in my bed when I got there, and hissed at me and ran away as I went to bed.

This morning he was not in my bed. I found him crouched on a mat in front of the downstairs bathroom.

He's also not eating right. He normally is a little piggy, eating all of his food and then raiding the other cats' bowls and eating whatever they haven't. These past few days he has taken a few bites, swallowed with an exaggerated gulp, and then wandered off. Sometime he would retch afterwards, sometimes throw up a little mucus.

Today we decided to take him to the vet. My mom called first thing this morning and was able to get an afternoon appointment, which gave me a chance to go out, do some monitor shopping, try to set up the new monitor, and spend some time on the phone with customer service before it was time to pack Nicky into his crate and take him to the vet's.

GOOD NEWS: It's probably just a food allergy.

Nicky cried the whole way up, a pathetic, eerie yowl that I have only heard when we are taking him to the vet's - and once, in the middle of the night, when he had a nightmare. The vet was able to see him fairly quickly and ran a battery of tests and checks, none of which revealed anything suspicious. He then asked about changes to his diet, and we noted that, yes, we had just started him on some new cat food that we bought last Tuesday. He suggested that we eliminate this from his diet and switch him back to what he had been eating - perhaps he is allergic to some specific protein used in this new cat food. We had been thinking along these lines already, but we wanted to eliminate the possibility that it could be something else.

BAD NEWS: This visit DID cost an arm and a leg.

So that's a total of two arms and one leg for today - or, in other terms, nearly everything I earned in these past few days of work. But these were necessary expenses. Without a monitor I would be - was - blind online. And I would never skimp on something like today's trip to the vet.

That's OK. These expenses have been deferred through the magic of credit cards. I'm starting to look upon debt as a measurement of optimism, of hope for the future. I have faith that someday I will be able to pay back all these debts.

Here's hoping that the future holds more good news, and less bad.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

For ME? How exciting!

Just got this from "U.S. Customs and Border Protection" (infocbp [at] customs.com). Just another example of how far this country fell during the Bush years: high-ranking federal officials writing like they're, I don't know, Nigerian scam artists or something:
We hereby bring to your notice that a consignment been delivered at your residence by a diplomat had been stopped by us. This is a security measure put in place by United States of America check terrorism and money laundry through the sale of illegal drugs locally and internationally.

After examination, we found out that the consignment contained the sum of US$3.7 Million, which upon further investigation revealed that the fund was your inheritance.

Consequently, the diplomat will deliver your consignment at your residence after all protocols have been observed.

However, in order to procced we need you to reconfirm the following information,

Full Name:

Residential Address:

Date of Birth:

Occupation:

Telephone/Mobile Numbers:

We await your response.

Regards,
W. Ralph Basham
Commissioner, U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
(Yes, that period at the end is in the original. A nice touch.)

Oh boy! I inherited the sum of US$3.7 Million! I can't wait to go out and spend all those U.S. dollars!

But wouldn't it be more efficient for me to just send this guy my bank account numbers, so they could deposit the money directly?

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Alternate lyrics to "O Fortuna" from Carmina Burana

Everybody knows the song "O Fortuna" from Carl Orff's Carmina Burana, even if they don't know it by name. It's that dramatic choral piece that is used to make good movies, bad movies, and everything in between seem a lot cooler - in the trailers, at least.

Sure, you've heard it. But you probably have no idea what the lyrics are. Here is a helpful phonetic version, so even if you don't know the words you can still sing along!


(Attention readers on Facebook: there's a YouTube video right above these words. If you can't see it, click through to my original post.)

Enjoy. And remember - be good for Peace Monkey's sake!


I totally stole this from Phil Plait's Bad Astronomy.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Incompetence

I went back to work on the DVD Molding floor last December. It's a tough job, for me at least: on your feet twelve hours, answering alarms, installing things that can be ruined by a speck of dust, doing minor weightlifting. For weeks I would come home sore and exhausted, and sometimes frustrated when things didn't go off flawlessly and like clockwork.

That changed the last week of January. I'm not sure why, but I suddenly found myself more relaxed, more at ease. It's not like the work got easier - the beginning of that rotation was one of the most brutal days I've had - but it was like my attitude changed, and lots of other things changed, too. Things went off flawlessly, like clockwork. And when I walked out, I was no longer sore.

The next day, I was switched onto some different systems, of a design I haven't touched since November of 2007. I got a crash refresher course in the first hours of that second day - and by the afternoon, I was feeling perfectly at ease. For the rest of the rotation I rocked and rolled in there, pounding out the discs with very few problems.

Then I was laid off for nearly three weeks.

I came back to work yesterday and started back in the same place I had last worked. It took some time to re-orient myself, but I did. But soon I was told that I would be spending the afternoon in the place I had been working before, the area where I had most of my experience. OK, no problem. I wrapped things up and after lunch headed over there.

And suddenly all the gear-shifting got to me, and I felt very frustrated and incompetent again. Things did not go as well as they should have, neither yesterday nor today. I tried all the tricks I thought I had learned for approaching the task with a relaxed attitude, but I quickly became overwhelmed. And I hobbled out both days, sore and frustrated.

I don't like feeling incompetent. It's not something I'm used to. It's how I felt during my brief and horrible stint in grad school. It's how I feel when I walk into a hardware store looking for a 3/16" left-handed framistat, and all I can see are rack after rack of things that could be but probably are not what I'm looking for. It's how I felt the one and only time I laced up ice skates and found myself alternately making like the newborn Bambi, slowly drifting backwards, or hurtling into the walls of the rink, injuring myself enough to bleed.

There are two ways of not feeling incompetent. Avoid the situation, or develop the competency.

Tomorrow's another day, the last day of this shortened rotation. I will try to be more relaxed. We'll see how things go.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Back to work

After three weeks of being idled, I went back to work today to begin a slightly abbreviated three-day rotation. With the holiday pay from Presidents Day, that will be a decent paycheck. For this week, anyway.

That means I have to be in bed soon. I just ate dinner, put together my lunch, and caught up on my reading list of blogs - some of it, anyway.

Before I go to bed I should look around a bit for my cat's favorite toy, Dolly, a Fluppy plush toy that my grandmother won at bingo at the nursing home back in 1997. It became our new kitten's crib companion, and he has carried it around ever since. It went missing earlier this week, and he has been tearing the house apart looking for it.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Sweeney Todd review

I saw Sweeney Todd this past Sunday, February 15, 2009 at the Scranton Cultural Center, courtesy of a friend. Aside from a quick read-through of the Wikipedia entry this was my first exposure to the story, not counting fleeting references in popular culture (the elephantine aliens in Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle's Footfall catch a bit of it while scanning TV broadcasts from Earth) and my confusing childhood ownership of a die-cast Corgi Rockets Todd Sweeney race car.

I enjoy going to the theater to see live performances, even ballet. (Real men can admit they enjoy ballet. I like quiche, too. You wanna make something of it?) To know that every moment of practice and preparation and training has led to this moment on stage, right now, which passes before it can even be comprehended and makes way for the next. What can the performer do with that moment? What framework have the writer, composer, director, and the history and tradition of the particular piece provided?

I've seen a few live performances in my life. The ballets Copellia and The Nutcracker (several different stagings, never the same one twice), The Fantasticks and Bus Stop and The House of Blue Leaves and The Zoo Story and Anything Goes in college, She Stoops to Conquer and Lysistrata at my alma mater a few years back, Les Misérables in London, RENT in Scranton, Twelfth Night at the local community college, STOMP many years ago, and a few others. Sweeney Todd is just the latest.

The other productions had one or more characteristics in common: Music that got under your skin and stayed with you ("Look Down" and "Who Am I?" and "One Day More" from Les Mis, "Try to Remember" and "It Depends on What You Pay" - which I remember as "Rape Song" - from The Fantasticks); characters who you could relate to, or at least care about; stories that carried you along, even if you knew where they were going already; a message, a moral, a theme...something.

Sweeney Todd is different.

For the most part the characters are one-dimensional. Sweeney Todd is an angry spirit of vengeance from the moment he rises from his own coffin; his anger grows, and eventually blinds him entirely, threatening to destroy everyone he once held dear. Mrs. Lovett is a monster with a few tinges of humanity and a couple of laugh lines; like the Thénardiers in Les Mis, she is such a scene-chewing character that it is impossible not to get a kick out of her. Anthony, who resembles in many ways Antonio from Twelfth Night, is an earnest but dopey soul, befuddled by infatuation with the similarly dopey and love-struck Johanna, Sweeney Todd's stolen daughter and the ward and love interest of the monstrous Judge Turpin, who exiled Sweeney Todd in his previous identity of Benjamin Barker in a plot to have Barker's beloved wife for himself. The Beggar Woman is tragic on multiple levels, Pirelli is little more than an accent, Jonas Fogg is a sub-monster with precious little to say or do, the Beadle is more a clown and stooge than villain. Tobias, Pirelli's (and later Mrs. Lovett's) half-witted assistant, is the only character with a bit of depth; he wanders through the story and pieces together what is happening, losing what little he has of a mind in the process. It is through his somewhat deranged voice that this tale is told, at least initially.

There is no character in this cast that really makes you care about them. Sweeney Todd got screwed; yes, that's sad, but, you know, if everyone who had crap happen to them became a serial killer, there would be a lot fewer people around to seek revenge on. Mrs. Lovett's moments of humanity displayed in her reverie "By the Sea" are offset by frequent reminders that she is as monstrous a villain as the Judge. The Old Beggar Woman and Johanna are tragic, but ultimately annoying. Anthony almost elicits sympathy in his quest to free Johanna from her confinement and run off with her. Tobias - well, yes, what happens to him in the end is more tragic than all those who get their throats neatly slashed, which is nearly every other character in the story, but his dim-wittedness makes it hard to relate to him.

No performer really thrilled or disappointed me. All were quite up to playing their roles. Merrit David James's Sweeney Todd was angry from beginning to end. Carrie Cimma played Mrs. Lovett with lusty gusto. Standbys Andrew Crowe and Marita Stryker (who has a beautiful singing voice) played the young lovers Anthony and Johanna quite well. Patty Lohr's Old Beggar Woman flicked easily through all of the derangements of her character, from a pathetic poor thing to a lewd and vulgar creature of the streets to a moment of clarity in "City on Fire." Ruthie Ann Miles's Pirelli was good for a laugh, but seemed to be more matter-of-fact than menacing in her confrontation with Todd. Judge Turpin, as played by David Alan Marshall, was appropriately detestable, while Matt Cusack's Jonas Fogg had a bit of a Mad Scientist bent. (Maybe it was the glasses and lab coat.) The Beadle was played by Bob Bohan as a buffoon, in a characterization that clashed somewhat with the more spare and severe performances around him. Chris Marchant's Tobias shuffled and cringed and was pathetic, tragic, abused, and earnest, somewhat reminiscent of poor Smike from Nicholas Nickelby.

Staging was consistent with the 2004 revival version, with the actors also serving as the orchestra. Murders were accompanied by an ear-splitting steam whistle, a change in the lighting, a momentary tabelau freeze, and a costume change as the victim donned a blood-stained white smock. Impending deaths were often foreshadowed as other characters approached the doomed one while carrying the smock.

While the music of Sweeney Todd has received high praise from others, I found it mostly forgettable. Only "The Ballad of Sweeney Todd" stuck with me as I left the theater. "A Little Priest" made me want to stand up and yell at someone, or at least throttle Stephen Sondheim.* "By the Sea" was alternately funny, touching, and horrific.

I am very grateful to my friend for the opportunity to see this performance. I would be very interested in hearing from others who have seen the original, the revival, and the current tour, to see how their experiences compare to my own.


One quibble: Sweeney Todd sings of his silver-handled razor. The image on the cover of the playbill shows a razor with a handle that appears to be walnut or some other wood.

*This song violates all of John Cleese's rules of comedy:
1. No puns.
2. No puns.
3. NO PUNS!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Advertising as a source of revenue

When I started this blog five years ago, I wasn't entirely sure where I was going to go with it. For example, I wanted to use it to promote my worldview, but I didn't want it to be politically partisan. I wanted it to be a place where I would lay out my point of view in such a clear an irrefutable manner that anyone who read what I had written would have no choice but to abandon whatever positions they had previously held and accept mine as the obvious and only rational choice.

But that changed fairly quickly.

Another thing that changed, albeit more slowly, was my decision not to have advertising on my site. I wanted my writing to be free of any taint of sponsorship that having ads might imply. But Google quickly took care of that by imposing context-sensitive ads on all Blogspot blogs, sometimes with humorous results. That went away after a little while, and the ads were replaced by the Blogger toolbar at the top of the page. Once again, my blog was free of the taint of advertising. Who needed that filthy money, anyway? (Not that bloggers were getting any money from the ads back then.)

In February 2007 I lost my job. And I quickly realized that I needed that filthy money.

I've written about my decision to install AdSense before. The revenue from these ads has been very nearly negligible. It reached a peak in late June and early July of last year, for reasons unknown to me, but has since fallen off dramatically.

Part of the problem may be me. I've tweaked the ads a few times to try to increase their effectiveness, but each time my efforts have seemed to have the opposite effect. Part of the problem may be the AdSense program. It assigns semi-random ads to many of my posts, since my writing covers such a broad range of topics that it is virtually impossible for the 'bots that assign the ads to say "oh, this blog is about astronomy," "oh, this blog is about photography," or "oh, this blog is about stained glass windows." The AdSense program itself has been tweaked lately, eliminating some useful features - like the referrals feature, where I could advertise popular programs like FireFox and earn revenue based on installs by people clicking through from my site. AdSense has also modified its pay rates, apparently, though the metrics upon which these are based are so baffling that it is almost impossible to know for sure. And, of course, it is AdSense itself that is keeping track of how many legitimate clicks are coming from a given site, so there is a large element of trust there.

I'm working again, and have been since August of 2007, though lately my job situation has become...well, somewhat day-to-day. Unstable. Uncertain. Not good. And as you may have noticed, there aren't many alternatives out there, for me or for anyone else.

Advertising revenue would help. If I could figure out the magic formula to get people to legitimately click on my ads, things would definitely be looking up. Getting 10% of visitors to check out a single ad each day is my goal. Right now my rate is less that 0.1%.

It seems like an easy enough thing, but I just haven't figured it out. And then I read this article in last week's Newsweek:

Growing Rich by Blogging Is a High-Tech Fairy Tale - Daniel Lyons, Techtonic Shifts, Newsweek.com

For two years I was obsessed with trying to turn a blog into a business. I posted 10 or 20 items a day to my site, The Secret Diary of Steve Jobs, rarely taking a break. I blogged from cabs, using my BlackBerry. I blogged in the middle of the night, having awakened with an idea. I rationalized this insane behavior by telling myself that at the end of this rainbow I would find a huge pot of gold. But reality kept interfering with this fantasy.
Well, I'm certainly not of the mindset that I can get rich through my blog. (See "How to get Rich with Adsense", Part 1 and Part 2.) But a little supplemental income, a hundred-dollar check every few months, would be nice. Is that asking so much?

Technorati, a blog researcher, estimates that bloggers who run ads earn an average of $5,060 per year.
...err, apparently not.

Part of the trick, I am sure, is to increase my reader base. The Technorati estimate above is skewed by a few dozen blogs that attract over a million visitors a day. My average number of daily visitors peaked a few months ago, for reasons I'd rather not get into, but even then ad revenue was just a fraction of what It was in June and July of last year.

There are things I can do about that: visit and comment on more of the popular sites, with comments that link back to my site. Publicize my site more. Write more about hot-topic issues that will attract more search engine traffic.

None of that will guarantee increased ad clicks. So I will continue to experiment with the layout of the ads on this site, to make them more visible without being excessively intrusive.

(Did you know that the Google search boxes at the top and bottom of my page are also considered ads? Though I'm not entirely sure how they work. Either you have to do a search through them and click on a sponsored link in the results, or you have to do a search, click on a sponsored link, and buy something. I'm still a little unclear on this.)

I'm also aware that there are other advertising revenue services out there. But I don't know if any of them are any more effective than what I've got now. And I'd hate to bog down this site with ads, and unleash a flurry of privacy-invading cookies on my visitors, just in the hopes of earning a few more pennies a day.

I'll keep on plugging away. Keep on at my post-a-day pace. Keep hoping that more people will legitimately click on the ads. (Legitimately! Don't think you'd be doing me a favor by clicking on each ad a zillion times. All that will do is get me banned from the program for life.)

If anyone has any suggestions, or knows of other, more effective ways of monetizing my blog, please let me know.

And look over the ads once in a while. If there's something that catches your eye or sparks your interest, why not check it out?

Monday, February 16, 2009

Imaging Virgo, February 16, 2009

I tried to do some astrophotography tonight around 12:30 AM in an effort to capture Comet Lulin in Virgo. Unfortunately, my early attempts were a hit-or-miss mess: I kept moving the camera to image different parts of the sky, and the results were an indecipherable smattering of white dots on a black background. I needed a plan.

I studied the Whole Sky Chart on Heavens-Above carefully, working out which part of the sky I wanted to image. When I was pretty sure I had figured it out, I went outside again, set up my tripod, aimed my camera, and took shot after shot of the same portion of the sky - as quickly as I could, because clouds were rolling in from the East, and a last-quarter Moon was rising to flood the sky with light. I got just five images, but it felt like more, each with a ten second countdown and at least a full second of open-shutter time.

I downloaded the images, increased the contrast of each one to 93%, stacked the images so each one lightened the previous image (to reinforce bright areas), and...


...well, I did it. I photographed Virgo, and even captured the apparent movement of the stars across the sky from one photo to the next. Compare to this image, with a star chart for Virgo overlaid on the constellation.


The question now was: did I image Comet Lulin? I zoomed in and enhanced the relevant part of the image. Here is where the comet should have been tonight:


And here is the same image without the star chart.


I don't see Comet Lulin there anywhere. If you'd like to look more closely for yourself, here is the Heavens-Above finder chart by itself.


I believe that everything shown in my photograph is accounted for on this chart. And I am not seeing Comet Lulin in my photograph.


Here is an extreme close-up of the lower portion of Virgo, with the finder chart superimposed.


And here is the same image without the finder chart. Either Comet Lulin is well off its projected track, or it is too dim to be imaged with my camera.

Comet Lulin should be at maximum brightness February 24. Maybe I'll have better luck then!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

There will be blood, and pies

I'm off to see Sweeney Todd at the Scranton Cultural Center, courtesy of a friend. I'll let you (and the performers!) know how it goes.

Not to be confused with Todd Sweeney, a British racer from the 1950's. I had the Corgi Rockets Todd Sweeney car when I was a kid, though I don't remember it looking like this.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Save your Forevers: Postage rates going up May 11

In what is likely to be an annual event, the price of postage in the U.S. is going up again, to 44 cents on May 11.

USPS - Mailing Services Prices Effective Monday, May 11, 2009
USPS Postal News: Postal Service Mailing Services Prices to Change on May 11

According to the first article,
Prices for mailing services will continue to adjust each May. Prices for most shipping services, including Express Mail and Priority Mail, were adjusted in January and will not change in May.

Some people I know use Forever stamps as freely as they use regular First Class stamps. As a rule, I only use Forevers in extreme emergencies, or in the weeks immediately following a price change until I get new stamps. Ashley, however, pointed out that Forever stamps are most useful on self-addressed stamped envelopes, where you have no control over when your returned item will be posted, and anything sent with insufficient postage will not be delivered.

Hold onto those Forever stamps. They'll be worth more with each passing year. That is, until the United States Postal Service decides that "Forever" has come to an end.

David Bowie: "Absolute Beginners"

A little something for Valentine's Day. Watch it before YouTube yanks it, just like they have yanked about 75% of the videos I have linked to in the past. David Bowie, "Absolute Beginners" , featuring clips from the 1986 movie of the same name:


Here he is performing the song live from the BBC in 2000.


Enjoy!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Susquehanna at Sunset, February 13, 2009

Today I went to the Nanticoke-West Nanticoke bridge over the Susquehanna to photograph the river. I went there later than I did last time, because I had a very different goal in mind.

Susquehanna River, facing East from the Nanticoke-West Nanticoke bridge,
5:03 PM, February 13, 2009

The river looked very different from the last time I took photos of it, eight days ago (here, and here, and here.) The ice was gone from the Northern bank, mostly, though great chunks were flowing out of the East. No shadows of the bridge could be seen, but I wasn't here for shadows. I was here for the sunset. And...well, one shadow. One big shadow.

Canada Geese were in attendance. Quite a few of them flew directly over my head, always traveling from West to East - upriver. Here is a small flock I managed to photograph deliberately at 5:10 PM.

More often, the geese intruded serendipitously into my photos when I had already set the timer. (I was using the self-timer to avoid any camera shake when I pressed the button, which I fear is possible even with my tripod. With the low light levels at sunset, the shutter was staying open long enough for this to be a concern. Unfortunately, this meant that each photo was taken only after a ten second countdown. I wonder if there is a way of shortening that?)

One thing that always bugged me was the fact that I couldn't see the wind turbines at the Bear Creek wind farm from this bridge, even though I knew they were there. They are easily visible from the John S. Fine bridge, about a mile to the East (visible on the right in the image above), and are only twelve or so miles away, on the highest elevation in the area. And then at 5:15 PM, as the sun set and the Eastern horizon began to dim, the white pillars of the windmills (and let's call them windmills, okay, not "wind turbines") suddenly lit up! Can you see them in the image above?

How about here? This is an expanded view of the center part of the previous image, which is itself an optical zoom of the region seen to the left of center in the image before that.

I was able to get quite a few shots of the reflections of the trees along the Southern bank, looking towards Nanticoke. This one was taken at 5:22 PM.

And now, the big show begins. At 5:33 PM the Eastern horizon glows with the countertwilight in shades of orange and pink and purple, reflected in the river below. Sadly, the rest of the day the Eastern horizon is almost always a faint yellowish-brown these days, as is visible in the first image above. The line of sight in these images, if extended out for two hundred miles, grazes the northeastern tip of Manhattan Island.

At 5:37 PM. the shadow of the Earth is clearly visible. Most people have seen this without knowing what they are seeing. It's always fun to point it out to someone for the first time.

At 5:45 PM, as the sun sets farther and farther below the Western horizon, the shadow of the Earth climbs higher and higher above the Eastern horizon. Under certain circumstances of clouds and humidity, the rising shadow can be attended by dark "shadow rays" that have actually extended across the sky, giving the impression of a dark sun rising.

I have only included images of the Eastern sky because the Western sky seemed uniformly uninteresting this evening. But according to M.G.J. Minnaert's Light and Color in the Outdoors, section 219, "Twilight colors", there were actually a broad range of subtle and beautiful phenomena that I missed by focusing my attention entirely in one direction. In my defense, a steel truss bridge is probably not the ideal spot for all-sky viewing!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Happy Lincoln/Darwin Day!

Today is the 200th anniversary of the birth of two major historical figures who helped shape the modern world in very different ways: Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin.

The television coverage has mostly been of the Lincoln anniversary, at least here in America. But online, the focus is more strongly on Darwin. If you went to Google's website today, you saw this:


I'm not going to try to restate the importance and influence of Lincoln or Darwin here. But others on my reading list have taken up the challenge. Here are the posts I've seen so far:

Postcards from Hell's Kitchen: Happy Birthday Mr. President

Watergate Summer: Celebrating Lincoln......and some timely quotes

Watergate Summer: Charles Darwin's Birthday too....

Melissa Auf der Maur's lightning is my girl: celebrate the NATURALIST (Warning: creepy sounds ahead! Scroll down two-thirds of the way to "Multimediamania" and hit the pause button to make stop.)

Phil Plait mentions Darwin in passing in Darwin’s Birthday? Bad Astronomy Discover Magazine

...and links to P.Z. Meyers' Pharyngula: Happy Darwin Day!

The talking dinosaurs of Dinosaur Comics get in on the act! qwantz.com - dinosaur comics - February 12 2009

And then there is the official Darwin Day Celebration page.


If anybody has any other recommended sites, please let me know!

Potential downtime ahead

If I stop posting for a while, it will be because my monitor exploded or died or caught fire or something. Just so you know. After nearly ten years of service, I guess that's to be expected. Hasn't happened yet, but I'm just letting you know ahead of time.

That, or the wind blew me away.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

OMD: If You Leave

My nephew was inducted into the Junior National Honor Society today. After the ceremony, standing with my family in the cafeteria of the Junior/Senior High School that he attends, surrounded by tweens and teens, breathing in the peculiar biochemistry exuded by humans of that age, I had this song press itself into my mind: Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark's "If You Leave", from the Pretty in Pink soundtrack.


Even though this movie came out during the second semester of my first year of college, I still associate this song with my high school experience.

I never was in the National Honor Society, myself. My school district didn't have a chapter until a few years after I graduated.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Wake

I have a different post about one-third done, but I'm going to hold off on it. It's nothing time-critical, anyway.

I tried to bang out that post this afternoon before I went out to the wake of a friend's ex-husband, who died suddenly and unexpectedly this weekend. But I only got the scene-setting part done, and I don't think I can properly finish it before I go to bed.

So here is a different topic: is the cosmetic preparation and presentation of the body of the deceased for the viewing at a wake a dying art? (No pun intended.) It seems that a decade or so ago it was quite common to hear people say "Oh, he (or she) looks so natural!" But lately, the sentiment seems to be "That doesn't look like him (or her) at all!"

I discussed this with my friend, and it seems like there may be several explanations for this:

1. Perhaps in the past the cosmetic preparation of the body for viewing was an art form that the old-timers in each funeral home reserved for themselves, jealously guarding their secrets or assuming that the younger generations could never develop the required skills. And when the old-timers eventually died, these skills died with them, and the younger generations were left to try to rediscover the tricks and techniques necessary for doing a life-like job.

2. Possibly the specific techniques used in the past made use of materials that are not available to the modern funeral home. I'm at a loss for an example, but I am sure there were things that were common practice in the past that would never be allowed today.

3. This just hit me: In the past, at least in small, tightly-knit communities, undertakers were probably quite familiar with any deceased person who came their way from their pre-deceased days. So when they were preparing the body for viewing, they were working from a specific memory of what that person looked like in life. Nowadays it is far more likely that the person doing the preparation is encountering the person they are working on for the very first time. And so they create a replica of a person, but not necessarily the person; they may not get the set of the mouth or the fullness of the cheeks quite right for that specific person. And so what they end up with is technically passable, but is not immediately recognizable to friends and family.

Morbid, I know. And also at least as long as the post I decided I couldn't do for reasons of time. For people from non-Western (or possibly non-American, or even non-Pennsylvanian) cultures, the whole concept of having a corpse on display for viewing before burial may seem a bit odd. But for those who are familiar with this, have you noticed a similar dropoff in the quality of the preparation of the deceased for viewing?

Monday, February 09, 2009

Stained glass thefts in Nanticoke

First, I had absolutely nothing to do with this. As far as I know.

Secondly, this is exactly the sort of thing I'm afraid of with the church windows I'm writing about. Though I'm more concerned the Diocese may decide to make a quick buck by cutting them out and selling them to collectors themselves.

From citizensvoice.com, courtesy of Michelle:


Nanticoke, Newport police investigating stained glass thefts

By Bob Kalinowski
Staff Writer
Published: Monday, February 9, 2009 3:05 PM EST

Police are investigating a rash of burglaries in Nanticoke City and Newport Township involving the theft of stained glass windows.

At least 10 properties, mostly vacant homes that are for sale, have been targeted since Jan. 31, police in both municipalities say.

In most cases, burglars have forced entry into the home and busted the window frames to take the stained glass windows.

Homes targeted in Nanticoke were on East Church Street, South Prospect Street, and East Green Street. Properties burglarized in Newport Township were on Coal Street, and East and West Main Street in Glen Lyon, as well as Old Newport Street in Sheatown.

Investigators are asking residents with houses for sale and realty companies to check their properties.

Anyone with information is asked to call Nanticoke police at 735-2200 or Newport Township police at 735-2000.



UPDATE, sort of: Turns out this isn't the first time this has happened in Nanticoke.

From http://www.nanticokecity.com/npdnews.htm :

5/17/03

Man charged in theft of stained glass

A man was arrested in connection with a Nanticoke burglary Friday morning after he was caught carrying a stolen stained glass window, police said.

The man is also considered a suspect in several other burglaries, city police said.

William Bagielto, 37, 148 W. Church St., Nanticoke, was charged with burglary, theft, receiving stolen property and two counts of criminal trespass.

Three officers spotted Bagielto carrying an antique stained glass window in the 100 block of West Church Street. He told officers Leonard Nardozzo, Joseph Kosch and Richard Vietz that he found the window behind Weis Markets on Lower Broadway, police said. Police said that during a later interview with Nardozzo and Detective William Shultz, Bagielto admitted forcibly removing the window from an apartment building at 122 E. Main St. and breaking another, which fell to the sidewalk.

When Bagielto's home was searched, Nanticoke police found items taken during burglaries at 136 E. Ridge St., 22 W. Ridge St. and 154 W. Church St. Bagielto is being considered a suspect in those crimes, police said.

He was arraigned before District Justice Donald Whittaker, who set bail at $25,000. Bagielto's preliminary hearing is scheduled for 9 a.m. May 22.


And these two items, from http://www.nanticokecity.com/policearchives.htm :

4/28/2007
Police are investigating a burglary of a home owned by St. John’s Lutheran Church on State Street where two stained glass windows, two stained glass doors and copper pipe were stolen on Tuesday.

6/8/2007
William O’Malley, of Kosciuszko Street, reported a stained glass window was stolen from a residence he owns on East Grand Street on Wednesday.

Operation Chaos, Phase Two

I was in a liquor store a few weeks ago trying to pick up some whiskey to use in my home-brewed medicinal tonic - roughly equal parts of lemon, honey, and whiskey, with a splash of water thrown in to tone things down a bit. I had just about used up the bottle of Bushmills Original that I bought for making cookies at Christmas - that stuff does not last long when you're making batch after batch of cookies! - and I wanted to try a brand of Irish whiskey called Feckin, to see if it came any closer to Paddy. (It does, a little.)

I went to the Whiskey/Bourbon/Scotch section of the liquor store, to the Irish Whiskey subsection. I started to glance over the names of the bottles in search of Feckin - and keep in mind, this is Pennsylvania, where the liquor sales are controlled by the state and the options are few. I noticed that the radio in the store was turned up pretty loud, and was playing rock music, which seemed odd.

And then the rock music faded down, and an all-too-familiar voice began to gust out of the speakers.

Rush Limbaugh is a pompous, obnoxious, overbearing blowhard. When his twisted, egocentric worldview is being thrust at you at maximum volume in a public place, it can become very difficult to focus on anything else. Even on seeing the name on a bottle of whiskey that is directly in front of you.

I was able to muster my Zen focus to shut out Limbaugh's voice long enough to let the letters on the labels form words in front of me. I spotted the bottle marked "Feckin", wrapped my fingers around the neck, carried it to the counter, and checked out. (I also picked up a box of Cabernet Sauvignon and a tiny bottle of Cabo Wabo, identical to the one my sister got me as a souvenir from Cabo San Lucas. At least now I'll have a chance to see what that tastes like! Eventually.)

What Limbaugh was going on about was how proud he was that he had arranged a "bipartisan" rejection of President Obama's Recovery Bill - meaning that a handful of Democrats had joined in with a wall of Republicans in voting against it. If the President wanted to know how he should write the Recovery Bill, Limbaugh averred, he would be only too happy to drop by and tell him how to do it.

I couldn't get out of there fast enough.

Rush Limbaugh, a chickenhawk who managed to avoid doing any actual military service in Vietnam, anointed himself a "General" in "Operation Chaos", an attempt to undermine democracy itself by undermining the Democratic Primary process.

Operation Chaos failed. Rush Limbaugh failed.

But Limbaugh isn't done yet. Not while he has a contract that pays him an estimated $38 million a year through 2016. And I believe that Operation Chaos isn't done yet. This is a man who less than four weeks ago, in response to a request for four hundred words on his hopes for the Obama presidency, summed it up in four: "I hope he fails."

The Bush Presidency was a nightmare on so many levels, a continuous train wreck where the most that those of us on the outside could hope to achieve was a level of damage control. The Obama Presidency inherited that wreckage, and is faced with the daunting task of rebuilding something out of it. And Rush Limbaugh, backed by his army of obedient Dittohead followers, has set out to undermine the Obama Presidency in any way possible.

Limbaugh has done a good job on hamstringing the Recovery Bill through an organized campaign of Dittohead pressure on members of Congress, making sure that his talking points are the ones that are repeated, over and over. And President Obama has failed to learn the one lesson that he could legitimately have learned from his predecessor: never compromise. So now the plan that Nobel laureate economist Paul Krugman criticized for being too small has been trimmed and modified to appease the Congressional Republicans who insist that their long-discredited plan is the only way to fiscal salvation. And what is left is a bastardized hybrid that represents neither the Democratic plan, nor the Republican plan, but a mash-up of parts of both. In a perverse way, this may be the ideal compromise: If it succeeds, both sides can claim victory, but if it fails, both sides can blame the concessions made to the other for its failure.

And if it fails - when it fails - General Rush Limbaugh will sit back somewhere, take a puff from his cigar, and laugh. And chalk up a victorious battle for Operation Chaos.

What does he care about economic recovery? He's got a contract. He's got his $38 million a year. Economic recovery is for the little people.

Like you and me.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Shadows on the snow at sunset, February 6, 2009

I went out with my camera at sunset this past Friday to try to capture some of the delicate colored shadows described by M.G.J. Minnaert in his excellent Light and Color in the Outdoors in section 115, "Colored shadows":

But watch the shadows when the sun sets over a landscape, especially the last few moments before it disappears. As the sun turns orange, then red, then purple, the shadow becomes blue, green, and green-yellow. These tints are so pronounced because, at this time of day, the difference in brightness between the shadow and the surrounding snow is is much less than in the daytime, for the rays of the sun strike the at very small angles and the diffuse light from the sky becomes relatively more important. Moreover, the sun's colors become more and more saturated.
Here are some photos from that afternoon:

Garden swing at sunset. Geez, I really should have brought that swing in before Winter hit. Definitely need to repaint that shed, too!

Butterfly Bush at sunset, facing West. There's a garden under all that snow.

These pockmarks are all the pawprints of the semi-feral cats who patrol our neighborhood, melted down so they all look extra-large.

Side street and the other Butterfly Bush. This is facing East, directly opposite the images that follow.

These next three images are a sequence of shots of a pile of icy snow at the curb as the sun set. I wanted to try to capture the changing colors of the shadows and the snow as the sun set.

5:04 PM

5:08 PM

5:09 PM...almost gone

This is an image of the sky directly overhead at this time. This is what was providing the illumination for all of the shadowed areas.


I don't think the colors in this image are true, since I was inadvisably aiming my camera directly at the setting sun and risking damaging the CCD, as well as getting lens flare and internal reflections. So I don't know if the violet and green at the bottom are legitimate. But I wanted to capture the fact that February 6 is (or is very close to) the day that the setting sun lines up with the East-West streets in Nanticoke. Now I have to dig up my calendar from 2005 (when I was taking Haley for her morning walks prior to her death in May) to see which Spring morning I noted the complementary sunrise.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

The dream of the snakes

OK, this is a weird one. AND I DON'T WANT TO HEAR ANY FREUDIAN ANALYSIS, OK?!? Sometimes a yard full of snakes is just a yard full of snakes.

I dreamt last night that it was Spring, and I was gardening outside of my mom's house, pulling out dead withered weeds, loosening the soil. At some point I noticed something bright green and about the size of a pencil directly in front of me. I reflexively hit it with one of my gardening tools (something I would not do in real life) before I noticed that it wasn't moving. I picked it up and looked at it and saw that it was a snake, and realized from the kink I had just put in its body that it was probably dead.

I think I stood up and started to carry it into the house, I guess to show to my mom, when I noticed a snake on the lawn in front of me. It was a rattlesnake, head raised, ready to strike. I backed up and moved away from it and started to go on a different path into the house, but then I realized that the lawn was covered with snakes, about one every square yard or so, some closer together, some farther apart. Rattlesnakes, Copperheads, Gopher Snakes, Garter Snakes, big, small, poisonous, non-poisonous. It was impossible to take a step without coming down somewhere close to a snake.

Of course, I was wearing thick leather boots in my dream, as I would be while gardening. (I was also wearing leather gloves, which is why I didn't have a problem picking up the first snake.) And naturally, my first thought was I have to get my camera and get some pictures for my blog. So I waded through the snakes, went into the house, and came back out with a camera.

By this time numerous lizards had joined the snakes on the lawn, including some big Monitor lizards who padded through the snakes without a care. I started snapping away, and got at least one shot of a snake with its face pressed nearly up to the lens. Shortly afterwards something went wrong with the camera, and the images started to include the inside of the lens and the aperture, as though the image were being pulled backwards through a tunnel. (I SAID, NO FREUD!) It was then that I realized I hadn't grabbed my digital camera, but instead a disposable film camera which somehow had an image screen attached.

I don't remember much more of the dream of the snakes. I do remember bits of two other dreams. One involved sitting in a waiting room in a hospital, waiting for some sort of procedure. There were multiple waiting rooms in the place, and I had left my coat and hat in one that was several hundred yards from the place where I would be called on. After I retrieved them, I tried to walk back to my proper waiting room but overshot it into an area of restaurants and gift shops, something like what you would encounter in an airport. I don't remember if I ever did get to have whatever procedure I was waiting to have done, done.

(UPDATE, remembered several hours later: Somewhere in this sequence I sat down to play a game of chess with a friend. I was white, he was black, though the pieces were actually more like cocoa-brown and ivory and made of wood. They were also completely scrambled on the board, so we got to work laying out our pieces. As usual I became confused as to the proper placement of the Knight and the Bishop, though in this dream it was the Knight and the Rook - heck, everybody knows where the Rook goes! And as we set up our pieces, I realized that I had some of his pieces, and he had some of mine, but the more we exchanged, the more confused things got, and then I realized that the white pieces were actually from at least three sets, including the frosted glass pieces from a glass chess set I got him in real life several years ago. I remember being very confused and upset by all this.)

Another dream involved living in a dorm-like environment. A musician was coming to play in an attached bar/restaurant, someone young and talented and beautiful and up-and-coming. I don't remember much more of that dream, only at one point I went to use the bathroom in the dorm, and realized that it was located in the one-room apartment where my boss from work lived with his young daughter and his elderly mother. They were all sleeping in beds in the same room as the bathroom, and I was careful not to wake them.

It's the first time in a long time I remember having dreams, and these were definitely odd ones.


This post was originally going to be called "Kundalini Dreams", since I seem to recall (from Foucalt's Pendulum, maybe, or maybe from one of Julian May's Metaconcert/Intervention stories) that the Kundalini is the world-snake who is wrapped around the center of the world and whose writhings cause earthquakes. But I couldn't find independent online confirmation of this anywhere. Odd how snakes have been in my consciousness lately. I just read Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' The Black Dossier, which has a substory "The Crazy Wide Forever" written by Jack Kerouak's character Sal Paradise that involves Dr. Sax, who was wrapped up with something called the Great World Snake. Moore counts himself as a devotee of Glycon, an ancient snake god. Meanwhile, the discovery of evidence of the world's largest snake, the now-extinct Titanoboa, has been all over the news lately.

Oddly enough, I have never seen a snake in the wild, and have only seen two lizards - both pointed out to me by other people!

Friday, February 06, 2009

Another Susquehanna Panorama

Susquehanna River viewed from the Nanticoke-West Nanticoke Bridge,
February 5, 2009. Composite of six images taken from 4:05 - 4:06 PM

The panorama I posted yesterday of ice on the Susquehanna River was actually the second one I took. This is the first, taken five minutes earlier. I realized after the fact that I had aimed too high, and had gotten too much sky and not enough river. Also, I was too far from the edge of the ice, which made a more interesting focal point for the second panorama. I'm including it here for the sake of completeness, since I froze my fingers off getting it and feel like I should at least have something to show for my pain!

I think for future panoramas I will take about twice as many images as the camera recommends, so I have more gradual color shifts and less changing perspective from one image to the next.

This is a complete 180 degree panorama. I failed to get the left side of the bridge in the previous panorama. Note the traffic just inches away from me, on the right!

More from the Susquehanna River, February 5, 2009

I managed to get quite a few images during the few freezing minutes I was on the Nanticoke-West Nanticoke Bridge over the Susquehanna River yesterday. Here are some more of them.

Another view of the blue shadows on the ice.

The railroad bridge that parallels the Nanticoke-West Nanticoke Bridge, located slightly to the West. See the Google Earth image below. This photo was taken through the girders of the bridge I was on and in between passing traffic. It was great fun feeling the bridge shake and sway whenever a heavy truck went over.

The Moon over the Susquehanna River.

The place where ice meets water. (Well, ice is also water, so I should say "The place where solid water meets liquid water.")

This image and the two that follow were my attempts to get a picture of a large bird that was gliding over the river. I'm not sure what it was. If you can't see the bird, click on the image and look for the black dot near the middle! Unfortunately, with the sun's glare reflecting off my image screen and nothing else to use as a viewfinder, I couldn't really zoom in any better than this!

Can you see the bird here?

How about here?

Maybe this will make it easier? Though this may actually be the Loch Ness Monster.

A Google Earth view of the places shown on this post and the previous one. The two bridges on the left (to the West) are the railroad bridge and the Nanticoke-West Nanticoke Bridge. On the right is the John S. Fine Bridge. At the top is Plymouth Mountain, and at the bottom is the flood plain and sometimes farm land known as the Nanticoke Flats.

February 6: No green comets for me!

Switched on my alarms for 3:00, my usual work wake-up time, even though today is technically the first day of my four scheduled days off. I wanted to see if I could get a glimpse of Comet Lulin near Zubenelgenubi, a star that would have once been part of the claws of Scorpius if they had not been cruelly ripped off and repurposed as Libra's scales millenia ago.

Based on previous attempts to image this area, I'm not at all sure I'll have any luck with this comet, which is currently at magnitude 6.5 or so. But, hey, you can't win if you don't play, right?

Anyway. Got up, geared up, wrapping myself in layers and carefully shielding my eyes from exposure to bright lights. Attached camera to tripod, opened front door, stepped out onto porch, and...

Clouded out. 100% cloud cover, or so close to 100% that it doesn't make any difference.

Ah well, we'll keep trying!


Here are some dates when Comet Lulin is especially easy to find, reposted from here. And for you West-coasters, there's still an opportunity for you to catch this morning's apparition!

Feb. 6th: Comet Lulin glides by Zubenelgenubi, a double star at the fulcrum of Libra's scales. Zubenelgenubi is not only fun to say (zuBEN-el-JA-newbee), but also a handy guide. You can see Zubenelgenubi with your unaided eye (it is about as bright as stars in the Big Dipper); binoculars pointed at the binary star reveal Comet Lulin in beautiful proximity. [sky map]




Feb. 16th: Comet Lulin passes Spica in the constellation Virgo. Spica is a star of first magnitude and a guidepost even city astronomers cannot miss. A finderscope pointed at Spica will capture Comet Lulin in the field of view, centering the optics within a nudge of both objects. [sky map]

Feb. 24th: Closest approach! On this special morning, Lulin will lie just a few degrees from Saturn in the constellation Leo. Saturn is obvious to the unaided eye, and Lulin could be as well. If this doesn't draw you out of bed, nothing will. [
sky map]

Thursday, February 05, 2009

The Stupid, It Burns! (Phil Plait Edition)


I hope that plognark, the creator of the brilliant original image that provided the basis for this picture, does not look upon this as an actionable...errr, action. But when Phil Plait posted this image today, it was too hard to resist. So, putting my meager graphics-manipulation skills to work, I have created this combo image, mainly for the amusement of Phil and the others at Bad Astronomy.

Susquehanna Panorama, February 5, 2009


Composite of five images taken 4:10 - 4:12 PM,
Thursday, Feb 5, 2009, Nanticoke-West Nanticoke Bridge
Click on picture for much larger image.

You know those signs that say "BRIDGE FREEZES BEFORE ROAD SURFACE"? So do people standing on the bridges. Damn, it was cold up there.

Still, it was worth it. There was ice on the river, some ice, at least, covering almost exactly half the river, extending from the Northern shore. This meant I would be able to get the shadow of the bridge on the ice. As a bonus, I also got cool reflections of the trees in the water.

But, damn, it was cold.

That's Plymouth Mountain to the left, and the Nanticoke Flats to the right. In the distance the John S. Fine Bridge carries Route 29 traffic over the Susquehanna.

Panoramic pictures are pains to create. I used to think it was just me, trying to freehand these things, never getting them to line up exactly right, never getting the colors just right. But it wasn't me. I had the same problems using the tripod. I had to selectively erase large chunks of the overlapping images to get things to line up, or at least to obscure the mismatches. Ditto on the color, though there's at least one point where the colors simply didn't match. I can see it, plain as day.

This panorama covers about 150 degrees. Maybe more. Note the railing on either side of the image.

The ice in the river was incredibly cool, great folded and cracked and refrozen rafts of ice that made me think of Enceladus. Note the color of the shadows in both of these images: not black, not gray, but blue. The color of the sky, illuminating the shadowed regions and reflecting back at the observer. Maybe tomorrow I'll get a picture of what happens to shadows on snow at sunset!