2017 In Retrospect

Welp… 2017 happened…

Starting in 2013, every year around New Years, I post a sort of rundown of what’s happened in my life over the last year. Now 2017 has come to a close and I guess it’s that time.

I’m not going into politics because this isn’t the place, but let’s just say that I am not pleased on that front. Let’s try to take better care of each other this next year.

Since my blog’s creation, I posted at least one thing a week until this September, when I decided to stop. I got busy and it appeared I was the only person that really cared that I did it on a schedule.
Last semester was very full. It’s over now. I plan to post a bit more this spring, but it surely won’t rise back up to a rate of once a week. Keep an eye out: new stuff’s coming!

If you’ve looked through the archives at all recently, you may have noticed that I’ve taken down a lot of the fiction. This is because one of the major projects I’ve been working on over the last few months is a short story collection. I’ve been taking a lot of them down, reediting, then fitting them into the collection. The intent is to self publish it in the not-too-distant future. So that’s on its way!

The other writing-related thing I’ve done this year is finish the first draft of a space-western (Lyssa Jordon: Robot Hunter). That feels nice, but it is still very… well… first drafty.

This is my second year teaching community college and I still love it. I’ve had the opportunity to work with many students that I can see going on to do fantastic things… and others that refused to do their homework. In other news, my special lady friend and I have decided that at the end of this school year we will be relocating to… somewhere… If you follow me on social media, grab the popcorn and tune back in for posts about how frustrating looking for a job is.
It’s going to be a hoot.

The eclipse was frigg’n cool. It has its own post, though, so I won’t talk more about it now… I guess (Read about it here: https://imasillypirate.wordpress.com/2017/08/25/eclipse-august-21st-2017/).

I got my first DSLR this summer (a Nikon D3400) and I’ve had a lot of fun with it, as well as used it as an excuse to go out and stare at pretty things on occasion. Even if most of the pictures didn’t turn out great, forcing myself to go outside has probably been worth it. I’ll put a few of my pictures below so that the post looks less boring.

My friends and family, per usual, have been a highlight of the year.

My special lady friend and I are now coming up on 6 years of awesomeness together. She makes me as happy as a clam that has a particularly good reason to be happy… because what the fuck do clams have to be happy about anyway?

My mother and her business partner have hit some rough times with their shop for reasons beyond their control, which is hard to watch. They, however, are a smart, dedicated, resourceful pair that have the support of an entire, close-knit community behind them. I have full faith that they will figure something out if they want to.

My sister is still being an impressive brainiac (so to speak). Publishing papers left and right and, well, just being an all around bad-ass.

My brother changed companies this year and he seems way happier in his new role as… *insert something impressive sounding that, to me, translates to “computer wizard”* (I still don’t really understand exactly what he does there, but the lower limit I’m able to set of the impressive scale is pretty high. The fact that he’s happy and kicks ass at Eve is what’s important).

My dad still seems to enjoy his work, which is great. I’ve really enjoyed getting to hear my parents play together (mom on the bass, dad on the guitar or mandolin). I may be biased, but I think they sound amazing and are so cute it hurts.

I’ve made some new friends, both those that live in the internet and those that don’t. I’ve started attending a critique group full of great writers, and I’ve started attending meetings for San Diego Sabers (which is a rad bunch of nerds that train in lightsaber combat). Both of these activities have been a lot of fun and very educational.

I’ve grown closer with some previously existing friends (which I am grateful for), I’ve lost touch with some (which is too bad), and there are others still which have left us completely (which hurts, but is a fact of life). You all mean so much to me that every year when I try to express it words dun not work for to ‘splaining my feels at you.

Thank you for putting up with me. Thank you for joining me. Thank you for sharing with me. Thank you for your support. Thank you for your dog pictures.

Well, congratulations on surviving 2017. May this next year surprise us all with how wonderful it turns out to be.

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Eclipse August 21st 2017

The rented Excursion rolled to an uneven stop hanging off the side of a secluded, dusty county road that ran through a field about 23 miles north of Lingle, Wyoming. The

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We got there before sunrise.

county road, creatively named Road 12, was fittingly lined all up and down both sides by sunflowers. Despite the cheery demeanor of the flora, it was cold and dark and our ragtag team of eclipse-hungry nerds were tired from our 2 am departure on the road from Loveland, Colorado. We, however, were in good spirits, because we had made it.

What about this place had attracted us? More importantly why was this usually lonely stretch of road already becoming lined with cars before the sun had even come up? I have to imagine you know the answer already, because it was the title of this blog post. On August 21st, 2017 there was a total solar eclipse and this remote location was in the path of totality.

Where we parked the cars was on a corner of Road 12 (GPS coordinates 42.418526,-104.399813, if you are curious) just under 2 miles north of the central line of totality. The sun came up right after we parked and there were a few wispy clouds, but they burned off very quickly. Most of the rest of our group decided it was time for a nap, the eclipse wouldn’t begin until 10:24 mountain time, but I was too excited to sleep; this was to be my first total solar eclipse.

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There were sunflowers all up and down the road.

I had a huge, empty memory card on my camera, two spare batteries, and a bunch of hours to kill… so, while the road continued to fill with car after car, I wandered around taking pictures of bugs, sunflowers, fence posts, and rocks. By the time I had wandered back to the cars, I couldn’t believe how many people had come out to this desolate piece of dirt road. Even before the eclipse began, I was enthused and impressed by the show of interest from nerds of all sorts that had come from everywhere.

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Of course Lego us were there as well.

By the time first contact had rolled around, we had set up chairs, eaten, put on sunscreen… and I had already taken over 1300 pictures between my two cameras (about 1000 of those, though, were from my small PowerShot, taking the images for the time lapses in the little video of the sun rising and the clouds disappearing).

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Just hours after sunrise, this dusty road in the middle of nowhere was already getting crowded.

I had seen partial eclipses before and an annular. Those are very cool. That’s what it looked like as larger and larger bites began to be taken out of the sun. We partook in fun little activities, like projecting a series of crescents from the eclipse onto the ground, excitedly chattering about when totality would happen, commenting on how weirdly sharp the shadows had become, or digging out our sweaters because, though it had been cold when we first arrived, the day had grown warm very quickly, but as the sun disappeared, it grew chilly again. As the sun turned into a tiny sliver, anticipation rose to a point I thought I could no longer take, then, finally, at 11:46 and 14.9 seconds the sun was completely covered. For 2 minutes and 28.8 seconds it was dark in the middle of the day. I pulled the filter of my camera and the goggles off of my eyes and snapped picture after picture to the sounds of gasps around me. It was shortest 2 minutes and 28.8 seconds of my life.

The view was… well… indescribable. If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, though, you know better than to think I won’t try to describe it anyway. You can see a few of my pictures here, and I think they turned out pretty nice, and captured what the occultation itself actually looked like, but the view of the moon covering the

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The first “diamond ring.”

sun was not the entire event. All around me, I could hear people grasping for words and finding that they were totally fine with not finding them; they were blissfully speechless. When I could rip my eyes away from the black circle surrounded by bright white tendrils of the corona, I found what looked to be sunrise/ sunset on the horizon in every direction and I could see a few stars and planets. Obviously, I can describe those individual pieces, but the part that eludes me, is a description of the combination of seeing them while feeling the light and warmth from the sun disappear. There was a feeling in my chest of awe, appreciation, excitement, and perhaps even some irrational sense of primal foreboding. It was an

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Totality

incredibly natural event that humans couldn’t alter if they wanted to, which also managed to look wrong and unnatural. Somehow, at the same time it was awe-inspiring and affirming as well. Mixed into this complicated cocktail of emotions, was a strange feeling of connectedness; all across the country, I knew that at either the same time or very close to the same time, hundreds of thousands, or maybe even millions of people were staring, dumb-founded at the sun. They had put their lives on hold for a moment to

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The end of totality

watch an astronomy-related event. They were sharing in my passion for astronomy. I think the thing that struck me most, though was just how momentous, but fleeting it was. How could something so dramatic, with such an impact, last for less than 2 minutes and 29 seconds? Was that part of why it was so important?

Regardless of how it could be over so quickly, it was. It seems that as soon as I started to absorb the event, it was over and we were all shouting “Filters on” as the sun’s photosphere began to peek out from behind the moon, bringing with it that dangerously bright light we’ve all heard so much about.

There was very little time to relax when the totality was over. As much as I would have loved to watch the other half as the sun was restored to its original size, I had already missed the first day of the semester. The clock was now ticking. I had 21 hours until I was supposed to be standing in front of a class in San Diego: the first of 3 classes in a row. We only had 222 miles to drive to get back to the Denver International Airport and I had just under 7 hours to do it which might have been enough, but Wyoming is just not designed to have that many people driving through it. For the first several hours sitting in traffic, I couldn’t open my mouth without, “man… that was so COOL!” coming out. You’d think that might get annoying, and, true, it may have been, but the car’s other occupants (my special lady friend and her parents) seemed to be in a similar state of enthusiasm.When we finally got to the airport, my special lady friend ran off to her flight, which was to leave 30 minutes after mine (and was the last flight from Denver to San Diego for the evening), I discovered that I had missed the cut-off for checking in for my flight by 2 minutes (no, I couldn’t have checked in earlier, you have to do it in person when you fly basic economy on United). I knew I should be upset, but a few hours before I stared at the sun while it was blocked out by the moon, so my spirits would not be dashed.

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The horizon during totality

Let me tell you that for the next few months, I will be extra-careful when I cross the street, because I have to imagine that I used up all my luck for a little while in the next few minutes after finding out that I had missed my flight. I was helped by a woman that proved to be the nicest, most caring United ticket person I have ever seen or heard of. She was excited to show me a picture of the partial eclipse that she had taken on her phone, then immediately took me to a terminal and found another flight (the one my special lady friend was headed towards already). She had to get permission from her supervisor to get me on it, but she was able to do so, then took me and, to make sure I made it in time, escorted me past the line for security (I still feel a little bad about that part, but I wouldn’t have made it otherwise) and right up to the front, where security went fast. I then had to ride the tram from security to my gate, but when I got there, I just barely caught it. Running off of the train and through the airport I found my gate, just after they started boarding and saw that I had enough time to duck into the restroom and take the leak I’d been holding for hours, then get on the plane.

I didn’t get the ticket woman’s name; I wish I had. I feel like I owe her at least a few of my pictures of the eclipse, if not my first-born child (just kidding: I’m never having kids). If she hadn’t taken a special interest in getting me on that flight, I probably wouldn’t have made it to my classes the next day without shelling out all of the meager funds left on my credit card.

Thank you, nameless ticket lady.

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There was a lot of traffic after totality.

Despite all the stress getting onto a flight, then running into classes to start the new semester only barely prepared, and scrambling all week to catch up, it was still worth it. Even if I had missed my flight, it still would have been worth it. That’s how amazing the total solar eclipse was.

In the next few years, my life is probably going to change quite a bit. Who knows where I’ll end up living and what I’ll be doing? There is, however, one certainty: on April 8th 2024, I’ll be somewhere on the thin path of totality which runs from Mexico through the United States into eastern Canada.

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My First Attempt at Time Lapse Photography

Hey everyone,

I discovered that I can do time lapse photography, so I thought I’d give it a shot. It was actually very easy (See below the video for a description of what I used).

Now, doing it well and just doing it are pretty far apart, and I know I’ve got a long way to go, but for all being done within the first 24 hours of realizing that I had the capability, I’m pretty proud of what I came up with and I thought sharing how easy it is to get started might be beneficial.

The music is something that I composed and played in MuseScore a while back (it was sitting around, so I thought I’d use it). I’m not a musician, so forgive its simplicity and the fact that the instruments are all midi simulations rather than… something that sounds good.

For those that are interested, the shot locations are as follows:
-First two clips with the water – Calavara Lake in Carlsbad, Ca
-The ants and two oak tree clips – Buena Vista Park in Vista, Ca
-Last shot with the grass – out my window in Vista, Ca

 

The camera I used is a Cannon PowersShot SX160 IS with CHDK installed on it. I’ve had the camera for a few years now and I like it, but if I were shopping for it all over again, I would choose something else for one simple reason: this specific PowerShot eats through batteries like a puppy through pizza (maybe a little less messy). The other models of PowerShot I had in the past were not this way. It’s powered by 2 AA batteries and can’t (as far as I’ve figured out) be powered externally (if anyone has any suggestions other than the toothpick trick, please share). Just in the shots used in this video I went through 12 AA battieries; I’m a MONSTER! They are still half full for many other devices, but the camera says they’re dead and turns off. They worked long enough to get these shots, but if I wanted to shoot over a time longer than about 45 minutes (and I do), this just isn’t going to cut it.

CHDK is a set of firmware updates that you can use to increase the functionality of Cannon PowerShots. Model specific downloads and directions can be found here: http://chdk.wikia.com/wiki/CHDK
CHDK is temporary. You just run it off of the memory card and it allows you to run scripts on your camera. The CHDK download for most PowerShots, I believe, come with an intervalometer script. That’s the one I use. It is very simple once you figure out the menus. You set up your camera ready to go with whatever settings you want, then you tell the intervalometer script a time interval, and launch it. It then takes an image every time that interval is up. For example, if I set it to 10 seconds, it will take an image every 10 seconds until I tell it to stop or it runs out of batteries and turns itself off (the latter usually being the case for me). I did find that, because the camera takes a moment to take and save the images, if you set it too short, it will just take an image whenever it is ready. The clip with the ants, for example, was supposed to be a 1 second interval, but it took one image every time it was ready, which was somewhere between 6 and 7 seconds. The rest of my clips were set to 10 seconds or longer and worked like a charm.

A tripod is a good idea. None of these were taken using a tripod, and I think it shows. My tripod was broken, and the one I ordered was sitting on my doorstep when I got back from the last shot for this. One thing that was kind of cool, but 100% unplanned was the sort of droopy panning effect in a couple of shots. Those happened because I set the camera on its empty case and over the course of 45 minutes or so, the whole thing settled. While it worked out this time, I can see how it could completely ruin a set and is probably impossible to plan exactly where the camera ends up pointing. I don’t know how professionals do the fancy pan shots (hey, I’ve only been at this for a day) but I’m 97.46% sure it has nothing to do with setting the camera on a cloth sack propped against a rock and hoping for the best.

Once I got the shots and made it home, I used the OpenShot Video Editor in Linux. OpenShot allows you to import sequences of pictures. It uploads them like a video clip, with some set number of frames per second and you can manipulate it just like any other video clip. OpenShot is free and very intuitive.
I had a few issues, however. OpenShot uses sequential numbering on the file names to determine which files to include and their order. My camera uses a 4 digit number in the file names. There’s some sort of bug (that took me a while to find talk of on the internet) where if the first image in the sequence has more than a 3 digit number, it tries to upload, then the clip just says “INVALID.” So, I rename all the files to have 3 digit numbers. No, I don’t do it by hand. There are many ways to do this. I had a python script already set up to do something like this, so I just re-purposed it and it works. I have a suspicion that I’m going to get told that the easiest way is to use a BASH script. Feel free to tell me, but I already made my Python tool… so… there.
OpenShot is a little lacking in control of the rate that it plays the images. You can not adjust how many frames per second it shows (I don’t know what the standard is, something near 30?). You can have it double of triple each image while importing if you want it to play 2 or 3 times more slowly. I doubled the images on 3 of the clips because I thought they were too fast, but, for the most part, I feel like being able to speed up or slow down these clips would be handy.Another issue I had with OpenShot is that it is, at least on my computer, very slow with videos of this resolution. You may notice that in the above video the syncing of dramatic moments in the music with clip changes is a bit off. This is because I had to export the video each time just to see if it worked, because the playback option in OpenShot was sketchy and would get stuck. When I reduced the resolution, it worked just fine, so that’s a potential solution as well, but I think I might try experimenting with some other software (any suggestions?).
I feel the need to repeat myself here, though… OpenShot is free… So, that’s really nice.

The music was composed in MuseScore in Linux. It is also free and pretty neat. MuseScore is composition software with a midi simulation playback option which is fantastic for someone like me with no idea what they are doing. It has it’s limits, though. The midi playback IS still midi, and it sounds like it… but it was sort of fun getting to output my song as an mp3 and use it in the video. Maybe someday I’ll use music from real instruments, but for goofing around and learning, I think it works just fine.

I hope you found this enlightening or helpful. Please feel free to ask if you have any questions… though… remember, I’m figuring it out as I go along. In all liklyhood, questions will result in us trying to figure it out together rather than me already knowing the answer. That’s the fun part anyway, though, right?