total solar eclipse!

Thursday, June 22nd, 2017 08:27 am
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The path of the total solar eclipse that will happen on August 21 includes Columbia, SC, where I live!

The total eclipse path in SC also includes Greenville and Charleston, two of the other largest cities/towns in the state.

This NASA map shows more details, and the area that will get a 90% eclipse is pretty big. I imagine 90% will be pretty stunning to see, too. But it may not be, because we had a partial eclipse before which was nearly unnoticeable. A small amount of sun is still very bright.

I hope it won't be cloudy here on that day.
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Yesterday after work, I drove to Congaree Park with my mom. From the status updates posted by the park, the peak firefly activity might have already been over. But even if so, I thought it would still be neat to be in a wilderness area after nightfall. Most other parks around here close at dusk. The forecast was for clear skies, so maybe there would also be a nice starry sky - here in town there is too much ambient light to see more than the brightest ones.

I looked up directions on how to drive there. I found that the Google Maps app has an option for downloading a zoomable map of a selected area. You can download maps of where you are planning to go using WiFi, and later on use them to navigate with GPS, without using any cellular data.

But my car also has a built-in navigator. So once I reached the outskirts of town, I turned it on and entered the address. I just wanted to be sure that I didn't miss the turn-off way down on Bluff Road. The expected route displayed on the screen, but once I started driving, it told me to turn right when I was certain that I should turn left. I stopped to verify on Google Maps that my memory was correct. Then I turned left and drove on. It started nagging "Turn left... recalculating", "Turn left ... recalculating", "Make a U-turn!" and so on and so on. I have no idea where it was trying to take me to. I wanted to turn it off, but neither my mom nor I could figure out how. Finally, after parking the car again and pressing a bunch of things on the screen, I turned it off.

The park's website had said that only flashlights with red filters or covers should be used, to avoid disturbing the fireflies. I happened to have a flashlight, plus a small BugLit flashlight, plus a headlamp, all with red LEDs. As my mom was coming too, I also brought 2 other flashlights, with red/pink cellophane covering the lights. But they weren't necessary. I only needed a flashlight on the way out. My mom only used the BugLit. The ones with the cellophane covers were still really way too bright anyway.

The parking lot was full already at the park, so I parked behind another car on the side of the road. It was already dusk. On the boardwalk, we walked past a lot of other people. We finally stopped at what seemed a good spot. (Beset by thoughts of "Maybe there are more fireflies further down. Or maybe there are fewer. Maybe that would only take us closer to that crying baby.") There were a lot of people noises. In the beginning, people were also constantly walking past behind us in both directions. Later on, much of that subsided and it was more peaceful. Surely there are places in the park where one could see fireflies too, without the crowds of people. But you'd need to be familiar with the park to know where to go.

There were a lot of fireflies, but not as many as I had hopefully envisioned. The peak activity must already be past. I didn't notice much synchronicity going on, although there were moments when a small group of them would flash at nearly the same time, and then go dark, and then do that again a few times. But there were also other fireflies around them doing their own thing, so it wasn't very obvious. The status posted by the park today said "Fireflies were again active last night (Friday, May 26). Visitors reported that separate groups of fireflies were synchronized (as opposed to all of them being synchronized together)." Maybe it was more obvious in other spots, than where we were standing.

When I see fireflies in my yard, the color of their flash is bright yellow. But the flash of the ones in the park was more white, like moonlight. (Maybe that was only because they were further away - the ones that were closer did have more color). But that white light made them look like twinkling stars in amongst the trees. Very magical. Twinkling moving stars. The kind of thing which might make you believe in fairies. In the moments when people were being quiet, you could hear the nighttime insect noises all around. There were occasional owl (I assume) calls. (Not hoot-hoot sounds. Though now checking YouTube for owl calls, it didn't sound like those, so maybe they weren't owls after all.)

We stayed after most other people had left. It was nicer then, without all the distractions, even though the twinkling fireflies seemed fainter by then, more misty and dreamlike. As we were on the way out, a few other people arrived. Perhaps they wanted to avoid the crowds too.

Other than the fireflies and the flashlights of people walking by, at ground-level it was quite dark. But looking up, you could see the sky a lighter blue between the dark outlines of trees. Even when we left, around 11pm, the sky still was that color. Not pitch black pierced by white stars, as I'd expect. Although the stars themselves were plentiful and beautiful. Does the night sky never really get black, even in the countryside? The moon was almost new, so the light wasn't from it. Maybe it was still ambient light from town; the park is only about half an hour away. Or do the stars always make the night sky seem a lighter color?

On the way out, I stopped at another small parking lot to get a better view of the sky. It was beautiful. I wasn't able to see the milky way (would it be overhead? I don't even know where to look). I think there was a pond nearby, but it was too dark to tell. There were some weird animal noises coming from the other side. I have no idea what it was. My mom guessed it might be a male deer. Maybe, based on this - the sound was sort of like that, though it's hard to remember now.

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How can I have lived here this long, without having heard about this phenomenon before?

Synchronized fireflies lighting skies at Congaree National Park

bush-cats

Friday, May 19th, 2017 09:30 am
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There's an "End Road Work" sign across the street which was put up months ago and is still there, even though no road work has been done. At first the sign was taped over with black plastic, but that has since blown away. I suppose they were planning to do some roadwork originally, but it must have been delayed.

Someone put up a small new sign underneath it. I squinted at it through my window to see what it says. "Cats in the Bushes" ?

I looked again. "Cash for Houses"

Hmm. The first version was more interesting.
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Checking why it hasn't felt like winter to me, this year...

With the help of numbers from Weather Underground (a wonderful weather resource), I've determined the following for my area here in central South Carolina. All temperatures are in Fahrenheit.

(although I wouldn't be surprised if I flubbed some numbers here and there in writing this post.)

..

The average December high temperature is 58, and the average low is 35.
This year (2016), the average December high was 60, and the average low was 40. So our December was 2 to 5 degrees warmer than usual.
.
The highest high was 82 degrees, on Dec 19.
The highest low was 54 degrees, on Dec 28.
.
The lowest high was 39 degrees, on Dec 17.
The lowest low was 24 degrees, on Dec 11.
.
What I'd consider warm winter days:
We had 6 days where the high temp was 70 or higher.
We had 9 days where the high temp was 65 or higher.

What I'd consider cold winter days, for here:
We had 6 days where the high temp was 50 or below.
We had 7 nights where the low temp was 32 or below.

..

The average January high temperature is 56, and the average low is 34.
This year (2017), the average high was 64, and the average low was 43. So our January was 8 to 9 degrees warmer than usual.
.
The highest high was 80 degrees, on 3 separate days: Jan 14, 16, and 19.
The highest low was 60 degrees, on Jan 23.
.
The lowest high was 39, on Jan 9.
The lowest low was 22 degrees, on Jan 10.
.
What I'd consider warm winter days:
We had 11 days where the high temp was 70 or higher.
We had 17 days where the high temp was 65 or higher.

What I'd consider cold winter days, for here:
We had 4 days where the high temp was 50 or below.
We had 6 nights where the low temp was 32 or below.

..

For February 1 through 11, the average high temperature is 58, and the average low is 35.
This year (2017), the average high was 68, and the average low was 41. So our February, so far, has been 6 to 10 degrees warmer than usual.
.
The highest high was 78 degrees, on Feb 8.
The highest low was 58 degrees, on Feb 9.
.
The lowest high was 49 degrees, on Feb 5.
The lowest low was 28 degrees, on Feb 6 and Feb 11.
.
What I'd consider warm winter days:
We had 6 days (out of 11) where the high temp was 70 or higher.
We had 7 days (out of 11) where the high temp was 65 or higher.

What I'd consider cold winter days, for here:
We had 1 day (out of 11) where the high temp was 50 or below.
We had 3 nights (out of 11) where the low temp was 32 or below.

...

Based on the overall averages for this area, the daily highs and lows usually hit their low point in the first week of January, at 55 and 33 degrees respectively; then they start rising again. (Though there are odd blips for Jan 1 and Jan 4, with higher average temps than the surrounding days).

soda city

Thursday, December 1st, 2016 12:01 am
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There's been a "Soda City Market" downtown for several years. I always wondered a bit why they called it that. I figured it had something to do with soda being sold there, among other things. Because I remembered reading about some brand of artisan soda being sold there once.

Now it just hit me. Columbia is abbreviated "Cola". Cola = Soda, ergo Soda City!

so quick I'm dazed

Tuesday, November 8th, 2016 11:27 am
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I still can't believe it. I was expecting to stand in line for at least an hour to vote. I was expecting there might even be a minor traffic jam getting into the polling place parking lot. But it was nearly empty. There were only 2 people in line in front of me, and it only took me a few minutes between entering the building, casting my vote, and leaving.

There were 10 voting machines out, with under half of them actively being used when I got there (around 11am), which must explain why there was no backup of voters.

This is my 7th time voting in a presidential election. In 2012 and 2008, I stood in line for about 2.25 hours each time. I don't have notes on the prior years, but do remember that at least one of those earlier years had very very long lines too.

In the local elections, there are a couple races with multiple qualified candidates who seem like they'd do a good job. The U.S. Senate race has 2 candidates who both sound good to me, based on their positions - Thomas Dixon and Michael Scarborough. But whether either will be able to beat the incumbent Republican (Tim Scott) is questionable. We'll see. In the local school district race, there are 12 candidates running for 3 positions, and I had quite a hard time choosing, as nearly all of them gave a good impression in a video-taped Q&A session.
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I'm checking out the 3rd-party candidates on the ballot in SC.

Who is on the presidential ballot where? - Map showing which candidates are on the ballot in each state.

Peter Skewes, of the "American Party of South Carolina", is only on the ballot here in SC, so has not even the slightest chance of winning nationwide. He is also a write-in candidate in Connecticut. It sounds like many, if not all, states require write-in candidates to be registered. If an unregistered person's name is written-in on a ballot, the vote won't be counted.

SC is one of 9 states which doesn't provide a write-in option for the presidential race.

Skewes' page listing Political Distractions is a bit interesting.
Current estimates indicate that there are approximately 100,000 ISIS soldiers. This is less than the population of Fargo, North Dakota."
..
There has been a constant decline in people entering the US illegally over the last 20 years. There has also been a constant increase in people in the US illegally moving back to Mexico. We are almost at a net gain of zero when considering immigration and emigration. Our efforts to seal the border have worked.
Over 50% of the undocumented workers have W-2 forms and are paying income taxes. If they have W-2 forms, then the agencies that should be controlling undocumented workers have failed us. We have a law in place that states it is illegal to hire, recruit, or refer undocumented workers for work.


[Boy, I'm getting tired. ::checks clock:: Let's see, that's the 1st one o'clock, not the 2nd, right? Ok, good.]

The Johnson & Weld (Libertarian party) site says "By winning just one key state, we can prevent Hillary and Trump from getting 270 electoral votes."
What would happen then, I wonder? Per the electoral college FAQ:
If no candidate receives a majority of Electoral votes, the House of Representatives elects the President from the 3 Presidential candidates who received the most Electoral votes. Each state delegation has one vote. The Senate would elect the Vice President from the 2 Vice Presidential candidates with the most Electoral votes. Each Senator would cast one vote for Vice President. If the House of Representatives fails to elect a President by Inauguration Day, the Vice-President Elect serves as acting President until the deadlock is resolved in the House.

So we could potentially end up with a president and vice-president from different parties? Interesting.

Johnson & Weld's stance on issues sounds fairly good. I'm surprised. Though I probably wouldn't agree with all the details.

[ Passed the 2nd 1am now. ]

I suppose I should have started my research on the non-presidential elections first, as they are the ones I hadn't decided on yet. Guess I'll have to continue tomorrow.
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...when people turn off their porch lights. Even on a Sunday, the day before, even though around here trick or treating is even less likely to occur on a Sunday than on other days of the week.

I wonder what percentage of households still put out decorations and give out candy. I think it must be very very low. So low that the radio commercial that played twice this evening seems incongruous to me. A female speaker was saying "You don't want to be one of *those* houses where they run out of candy and start handing out pennies".

Not that I've been driving around looking, but I've only seen 2 houses with decorations this year, other than mine (and mine doesn't have much, just some lights and such). One of those 2 houses I only saw because my mom mentioned it to me, and when I drove by this evening, the lights weren't on. Most likely to discourage anyone from thinking they were giving out candy today instead of tomorrow.

I can't imagine anyone in this day and age, young or old, would knock on some stranger's door to trick or treat, just because it has a porch light on, with no decorations up. It's rare enough to get trick-or-treaters at my house, even with Halloween lights up. Surely this turning off of porch lights is just something ingrained in people of an older generation who grew up when trick or treating was more common...

But according to a survey last year, 78% of households were giving out candy. WHAT????!!!! The actual survey results say 78% of *parents*, not all households. But still, that sounds awfully high to me. Is it only in the South that neighborhood trick or treating is so low? I have no actual childhood experience with trick or treating in residential neighborhoods like where I live now. As a kid, I only ever trick or treated in military housing areas.

Here's another list of Halloween survey results, from 2013 and 2014.
61 percent of the American public will decorate their front porch or door to welcome trick-or-treaters (69 percent of households with children will do so).
WHAT???!!!
76 percent of households plan to hand out candy to trick-or-treaters this year.
So... that means that 15% of households that plan to give out candy may do it without any decorations after all? Or maybe they simply do it at an alternate location like a school or church.

Anyway. I've got my outfit for tomorrow figured out. I won't wear the vest actually, as it is way too warm for that.



(Ha! Finally found an opportunity to wear my impractical clothes out in public.)
(Hey, if you look closely, you can see my pink-bow-wearing spider hovering in the background.)
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It surprised me to read that the creepy clown phenomenon has already spread to Europe and beyond:
'Scary clown' craze prompts UK police warning to fancy dress shops


Attacker in clown mask stabs man in Sweden


Clown With Axe Arrested In Australia: Creepy Clown Scare Spreads Down Under

The first article at least provides an idea as to what may have started the craze:
Meanwhile, the film studio behind an upcoming Stephen King movie, It, has been forced to deny it sparked the craze, which began within weeks of the first published images of the fictional killer clown Pennywise, played by Bill SkarsgÄrd, in the US.
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Medicare Provider Utilization and Payment Data - a government site. It has spreadsheets which let you compare the amounts that hospitals charged for various procedures.

I downloaded the inpatient & outpatient spreadsheets, and used the Excel filter options to show data for 3 hospitals in my area - Palmetto Richland, Palmetto Baptist, and Providence.

The inpatient data is surprising to me. In nearly all cases where there is data for all 3 hospitals, Providence shows the lowest charges (Average Covered Charges - this is the amount an uninsured person would have to pay). Their charges are generally way less; in many cases less than half that charged by the other hospitals.

The outpatient data shows more variance - in some cases, Providence has higher charges (Average Estimated Submitted Charges), in some cases lower.

As for hospital ratings/quality of care, these pages provide some comparisons:
Medicare Hospital Compare
LeapFrogGroup Hospital Ratings

In general, Providence has good ratings, though in some cases, Palmetto Richland has better ratings.

I wonder why Providence is able to have lower inpatient charges. Palmetto Richland is the largest one, by number of beds. Maybe fewer uninsured people use Providence, compared to the others? Based on the below articles, that doesn't sound like the case, although it could change as the hospital was just sold this year (which I hadn't heard about til now).

Providence to be sold to for-profit hospital company
Providence will maintain its ties to the Catholic church through the bishop in Charleston and uphold church ethics and religious directives, including its ban on abortions, said Sister Judith Ann Karam, a congregational leader.

Trends, finances drove Providence Hospital sale

creeping clowns

Thursday, September 1st, 2016 10:34 pm
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This is the weirdest news story I've heard in quite a while.

Investigation continues in multi-county clown sightings

Multiple law enforcement agencies are investigating a rash of incidents involving clown sightings at apartment complexes and other areas of Greenville and Spartanburg counties. ...

According to an officer speaking on the news clip on that page (@ 3:40), there's even a state law that prohibits people over the age of 16 from dressing in clown outfits. "We will charge you. We really don't want to, but we will... We want to encourage people who may be inclined to dress in clown outfits not to do it." ...
"The clowning around needs to stop. It's illegal. It's dangerous. It's inappropriate."

At 9:25 he mentions it might be related to a movie release (what movie?).
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SCVotes has a page that lets you check your voter registration. The results page lists your federal, state, and local voting districts, based on your address. Even better than that, it now also includes a link to a sample ballot listing all the candidates you'll be able to vote on, based on your address.

A sample ballot is a representation of what your actual ballot will look like on election day. Your sample ballot will contain the offices and questions for which you will be eligible to vote. Sample ballots are for informational purposes only. Sample ballots are made available approximately 45 days prior to an election.

This is something I've been wanting for a long time, so that I can focus on researching the candidates, as opposed to spending a lot of extra time simply trying to figure out which seats are up for election and who the candidates are.

Based on this Post and Courier article, the sample ballots have been available for 2 years already. Wow.

Voters wanting to know exactly what races they will be voting on have had a tough time in the past, but those days may be over - at least for South Carolina voters with access to the Internet.

The State Election Commission has come up with a way for voters to see a sample of the exact ballot they will see on Election Day.

Before, county election offices and newspapers could not produce such ballots. Depending on a voter's address and the number of contested legislative races, each county prepared dozens - even more than 100 - different ballots.

But a new website can help voters sift through that, and it was unveiled this week. Voters simply must key in their county, name and birth date ...

Happy New Year

Friday, January 1st, 2016 02:47 pm
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The New Year's Eve celebration in downtown Columbia included a free concert with Lauryn Hill. I went and met up with my mom there. We weren't close enough to the stage to see much*, but they had big display screens up as well. Since it was out in the open, surrounded by tall buildings, there was a lot of reverberation and the audio quality wasn't that great. But it was nice seeing and hearing her and the other musicians. She played some of her more popular songs after midnight.

*the crowd made me nervous; as more people kept pressing forward, I worried that there could be a crush. So at one point, we moved further away to the side, which took us further from the stage but ironically gave us a better view of the main screen.

The sky was drizzling, but it let up shortly after I arrived, and didn't start back up until right at the end of the concert.

At midnight there were fireworks from behind the state house - lovely. The big Christmas tree was still colorfully lit, next to the stage.

water

Monday, October 12th, 2015 12:10 am
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The boil water advisory started last Sunday and hasn't been lifted yet in my area (though it may be soon). I had previously stored away a few gallons worth of water in glass bottles, for an emergency like this. I've been using that for drinking water and for brushing my teeth. Forestfen also brought me 2 gallons of bottled water she had bought, but it tasted funny to me. Probably from the plastic - it was the non-clear whitish translucent kind. I must remember to only get water in the clear plastic bottles. Or maybe it was just that unfamiliar water often tastes weird till you get used to it.

In the first few days where the water pressure was low, I brought a large plastic garden bin into the bathroom and filled it with water, in case the water were to completely go out. It would at least let us flush the toilet a few times. Haven't had to use it so far.

I've also been boiling water in a large pot once or twice each day, to use for washing dishes, and for the dog's water. I plan to use that for drinking water too, if my other water runs out.

The water coming out of the tap has looked clear/clean/normal all along, and we've been using it as-is for washing hands and bathing. If it actually looked dirty, that would make things much more difficult.

Several free water distribution points have been set up in the city, but I haven't needed to use them so far.

.

Well. That was one thing I wanted to write about. The rest will have to wait.


Update: As of Wednesday 10/15 at 4pm, the boil water advisory has been lifted.
I had begun drinking boiled water; it tasted fine.

SC Flood information

Thursday, October 8th, 2015 11:56 am
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A not quite random thought the other day: That was before all the dams started failing.


SC DOT storm resources - includes a link to a KML file that can be opened with Google Earth to show road closings

Interactive map of road closings and dam failures in Richland County

Another Interactive Map - in some places this map has more accurate info, in other places the above map is more accurate. So don't rely completely on either one.

Additional RC flood-related maps

SC DHEC list of statewide dam failures

SC DHEC twitter feed

Richland County website
Richland County twitter feed

City of Columbia website

WLTX News Facebook page

Congaree Riverkeeper Facebook page

water water

Sunday, October 4th, 2015 10:51 pm
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Wow, a lot of flooding in town, rivers overflowing, streets closed/collapsed, a curfew tonight. Luckily, my house is up on a hill so isn't in danger of flooding. There's a boil water advisory, and my water pressure is about half of normal, but at least I still have water and power.

choppy lake waters

Sunday, July 13th, 2014 01:51 am
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2014/07/05 at Lake Marion, SC

music: "Undiscovered Oceans" by Dan O'Connor (DanoSongs.com)
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We just had a 4.1 magnitude earthquake! Somewhere between South Carolina and Georgia, based on the conflicting info I've found on the web so far.

When I felt the house rumbling, I wasn't sure what it was - thought it might be a helicopter. Qiao was likewise confused. But when I opened the window, and then went outside, I didn't hear any helicopter nearby. Qiao says the dogs didn't react to it at all, oddly.