Eclipse Day

Monday, August 21st, 2017 10:24 pm
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It was partly cloudy here today.

I got to see a lot of the partial eclipse. A few minutes before totality, a big cloud moved in front of the sun, so I didn't get to watch that most special part. But I did get to experience the sky darkening (not nearly as dark as in the middle of the night; more like shortly after sunset), and the temperature dropping, and the wind whipping up, and a few cicadas starting to buzz, and part of the horizon looking pink.

It was very similar to big thunderstorm building up. That's what the dogs seemed to think, anyway, as they rushed for the porch and pawed at the front door to be let inside. I let them in and then us humans remained outside to watch.

One curious thing is that the partial eclipse started with the moon entering the upper right portion of the sun, and ended with the moon leaving the upper left portion of the sun (when viewing generally southwards for both). That's not what I had expected.

Many people here in town did get to see the totality; it just depended on where one was, and where the clouds were.

My neighbor was visiting a relative at the hospital this afternoon, and she told me that a lot of the hospital staff went outside to view the eclipse (but staff who were needed inside stayed in). She said that the Emergency Room remained open, but the normal operating rooms were closed for that time period. That answers one of the things I had wondered about.

Click to enlarge...


Saturday, August 19th, 2017 03:53 am
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Three vultures and a crow in a dead tree. The crow seemed to be cawing at the vultures.

Impressive power lines.

I call this the "yellow brick road". Yellow flowers grow in this gravel path, and only in the path, not in the surrounding fields of grass.
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For the last 3 days, I've seen the crescent moon in the sky during the late morning.

2017/08/16, 10:16am EDT:

2017/08/17, 8:43am EDT:

(On 2017/08/18, I saw the moon around 10:30am, but didn't think of taking a photo.)

But I have been unable to find the moon in the sky around 2:30pm (during my lunch breaks). I've been wondering why I can't find it in the afternoon.

(No wonder I've never paid much attention to the path of the moon in the sky. At night, I'm usually inside or asleep. In the daytime, even when the moon is in the sky, it's hard to see.)

On all 3 days, it's been partly cloudy, with today being the least cloudy. So it's possible the moon was behind a cloud. But as much as I've searched the sky, it seems unlikely it's *always* been behind a cloud.

As of today (2017/08/18) at my location, per the NOAA solar calculator (Find Sunrise, Sunset, Solar Noon and Solar Position for Any Place on Earth), solar noon is around 1:30pm. So at 2:30pm, the sun is still fairly high overhead.

On 8/16, it was 5 days before new moon and the eclipse, so the moon would have been about 5 * 13 = 65 degrees away from the sun. So that was most likely too near the horizon for me to see, as there are some trees and buildings around.

On 8/17, the moon would have been 4 * 13 = 52 degrees away from the sun. I think I should have been able to see it at that angle.

Today on 8/18, the moon would have been 3 * 13 = 39 degrees away from the sun. Surely I should have been able to see it at that angle.

The closer we get to the new moon, the thinner the crescent is. So the harder it is to see. It is hard to find a tiny arc of white in a light blue sky, and even more so when there are distracting white clouds around. But is that the only reason I haven't found it?

Per this page: Finding the Moon, crescent moons are "not observable" except right before sunset or after dawn. But I've seen it at 10:30am which isn't right after dawn. So I think it would be more accurate to say "not easily observable".

If I can see it at 10:30am when the sun is already bright in the sky, why shouldn't I be able to see it at 2:30pm?

I got to wondering whether how I think of the angles in the sky is wrong. I am thinking of 45 degrees as being the distance from straight overhead to a point halfway to the horizon. But the 13 degrees that the moon moves per day is in relation to the center of the earth, not to my spot on the surface of the earth. Therefore, is how I'm visualizing the angles in the sky wrong?

When the moon orbits 45 degrees around the earth, is that a much greater distance than the distance I see from overhead to halfway to the horizon?

But... as can be seen in the diagram, the larger you draw the earth, the closer the 45 degrees gets to one's visible horizon, and it would eventually even pass below the horizon. Yet I've been able to see the moon in the mornings, and the distance between it and the sun hasn't seemed such a large angle. So surely the above diagram can't be right.

(Update #2, 2017/08/20: I've figured it out. The diagram is basically correct, but my assumption about the 45 degree line eventually passing below the horizon was wrong (just because I don't draw the horizon line to infinity, doesn't mean it doesn't go to infinity). If the angle to the moon as measured from the center of the earth is 45 degrees (from directly overhead), then the angle as measured from the surface of the earth would be more than 45 degrees. But because the distance to the moon is so large in comparison to the size of the earth, the angle is only slightly more. See follow-up post.)

On the same topic, I got to wondering how much of the sky / celestial sphere am I actually capable of observing from a point on the earth, at any moment in time. Ie. if I turn all the way around, looking towards the horizon, and up above me, how much of the sphere of the sky which surrounds the earth, am I seeing?

Based on the diagram, the amount of sky seen would not be half the sphere, as I've previously assumed. Yet again, the larger one draws the earth, the less of the sky one would seem to see. Surely that can't be right?

Based on these answers, it sounds like you should be able to see half of the sky at any time. But I don't understand the formulas and calculations listed.

Update (afternoon of 2017/08/19):

Today, the morning of 8/19, around 7:40am and again at 10:20am, I wasn't able to find the moon in the sky, even though it was clear with no clouds. So as of 2 days before new moon, the crescent must be too small and faint to see in the daytime. Perhaps a clear sky being so much brighter than a partially cloudy sky, also makes it harder to see. - shows you the current position of the moon in the sky, and moonrise/moonset directions, for any position you select on the map.

Sun Locator Lite - a free app which lets you find the sun and moon by pointing the phone at the sky (as long as the phone has an internal compass/magnetometer - mine doesn't, but Qiao's does). The Pro version lets you get information for any day and time of the year.

Today, 2 days before the eclipse, the moon should be about 2 * 13 = 26 degrees from the sun. I used the above Sun Locator app to find the position of the moon and compare it to the sun's position, and estimated the angle between them. If anything, it seemed less than 26 degrees, not more. So that indicates that there's something wrong with my thinking in terms of the above diagram. But where have I gone wrong? I still haven't figured that out.
(And even with the app to show me its exact location, I still can't see the crescent moon in the afternoon sky.)

But I did have an epiphany on how much of the sky is visible from a point on earth at a single moment in time. It depends on what I'm calling the "sky". I think of the sky as a sphere centered around the earth, upon which I see moon, sun, stars, clouds, etc. But there are many such possible spheres around the earth, different distances from the center of the earth.

How much of the sky is seen depends on which of those spheres one considers. If one considers a sphere which is say, 10 kilometers above sea level, you can calculate the surface area of that sphere. The earth's diameter is 12,742 km. So the sphere's diameter would be 12,752 km, its radius (r) would be 6376 km, and it's surface area would be 4*pi*r^2.

[ another interesting thought... For an infinitely thin sphere, the size of the inside and outside surface areas should be the same, right? But how can that be? I can't visualize them being the same size. ]

Imagine that we cut a small slice, 10 km deep, from the top of that sphere. We can then calculate the surface area of that slice (with some formula, which I would have to look up.) That would tell us how much of the whole sphere we can see at a single moment, and it would be a fairly small portion.

But now, consider a sky-sphere with a much larger radius of 5 light-years - reaching the nearest stars - or even larger. At such distances, the diameter of the earth is minute in comparison - it can be considered negligible. A plane which touches the surface of the earth at one point is practically the same as another parallel plane which intersects both the center of the earth and the sphere. Either way, half of the sphere is above the plane, and half below. So the person can see half of that sky-sphere.

Now, what about a sphere with radius of 150 million km (about the distance from the earth to the sun)? In comparison to that distance, the earth's diameter is roughly 0.01%.* So again, it's basically negligible, and we can see practically half of the sphere at any moment in time.


Other interesting tidbits:

How far away is the horizon? Short answer: About 4 to 5 kilometers away, at standing eye-level for an average-height adult.

I see the moon: introducing our nearest neighbour - has several good diagrams/images.
Per this page, the moon's orbital plane is tilted 5 degrees from the ecliptic. That's not as much as I imagined. But when you add in the 23.5 angle of the earth's axis, the moon can orbit up to 29 degrees above or below the earth's equator.

Lunar Orbital Libration
Libration definition: "a real or apparent oscillatory motion, especially of the moon."

Altitude and Azimuth

* A lot of these numbers are rough calculations I've done, and they may have errors. Please don't rely on any numbers I've posted, without verifying them. If you find an error, please let me know so that I can correct it.

flight skills

Tuesday, July 18th, 2017 11:39 pm
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Walking back from my lunch break, I passed a group of 7 crows cawing and flitting between trees.

Next, I came across a group of vultures standing together in a group on the grass. At first glance, they looked like black crows too. I tried not to look at them very directly, as doing so generally scares them away. But I got out my cell phone and took a furtive photo.

A few of the vultures flew upwards and bumped into the side of the building behind them before landing back on the ground. Huh? A couple more did the same thing, and I wondered what were they doing. Then I realized... they were all younglings, and were frightened of me and trying to fly up onto the top of the building. But their flying skills aren't good enough yet to fly straight up 20 feet like that. I walked away, not to scare them further, poor things.

It reminded me of a day last week when I walked right past a single young vulture that was sitting on a railing, not even noticing it until the last moment, as I had just walked out of the building into the sunshine.

A few days ago I was reading about vines... ah yes, to see if my mom was correct that letting them grow up the pine tree trunks can hurt the trees. While doing that, I found out the name of one of the vines that grows in my yard: Virginia Creeper. It has little suckers on its tendrils that helps it climb, and 5 leaflets in each compound leaf.

Earlier today while walking, I saw a similar looking plant with leaflets of 3... and remembered that rhyme, "leaves of three, let them be". I wondered if it was poison ivy. It looks so innocuous; I walk by it nearly every day. In lieu of touching the leaves to find out, I did a web search on my cell phone to find some images of poison ivy, and sure enough, that is what it was. Now I know what it looks like. For the moment, anyway.

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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.

never see the same

Thursday, May 18th, 2017 09:43 am
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Now when I see dandelions, I think to myself "Aha! That one has pointy leaves, not round, and they are sticking up, not close to the ground. That is a true dandelion." Or "That's not a true dandelion, it's cat's claw... err, no, cat's ear" (almost every time, "cat's claw" comes to mind first, even though I'm not familiar with it... per a search, it looks similar to yellow jessamine).

The yellow flowers themselves look identical to me on both kinds of dandelions, though this one below didn't have a ball of unopened petals in the middle. Its petals were all open.

It's like when as a kid, I learned the difference between white oak which has the round/curve-edged leaves versus black oak which has the pointy-edged leaves, not to mention, blackjack oak.

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I've decided which phone to buy. The Moto G4 Play has pretty good specs (it has 2GB RAM, not 1/2 GB as I originally thought), for a good price.


This is the most chewed-on tree trunk by the pond.

These are Catalpa tree blossoms. The photo is from 2015, but the tree has blossoms this year too. The blossoms are about the size of big popcorn, and don't have much scent. But a clump of honeysuckle is also growing by the tree, the lovely sweet scent of which has fooled me a few times.

I found this growing in the ground in Qiao's yard. At first glance they look like fallen red blossoms, but what is that black tarry gunk on them? It's one of the strangest looking things. Per the internet, they are called starfish fungus. I saw one by the pond at work too, an odd coincidence, as I don't ever remember seeing these before. But then again, maybe I did and simply thought they were fallen blossoms.

While walking along, do you ever have a sudden amusing thought that makes you break out in a big grin?
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I ate 3 dandelion/cat's ear flowers today. They were not sweet. They tasted pretty similar to the green leaves, slightly bitter. The leaves were hairy, but not as unpleasant as chewing on under-ripe peach peel. I could probably eat a plate of it if I had to.

[Edited to add, 2017/05/13: I ate 4 more of the flowers today, after even more carefully peeling off the green parts than last time. They still don't taste sweet, nor particularly good. They taste a little like raw celery but without the crunch. Ie., not bad, but not special either. I wonder if "true" dandelions have any different flavor to them.]

A reminder that there are a lot of mis-facts on the web...
Nutritional Information on Dandelion Root : The image at the top of the page is neither dandelion nor false dandelion. It looks like coltsfoot.

Cat’s Ear: Backyard ‘Weed’ With Super-Antioxidant Properties : This page says: One identifying characteristic of cat’s ear is its leaves; they are sharply toothed and more asymmetrical than the leaves of dandelion. But that is not true. Cat's ear leaves are more rounded than regular dandelion.

I'm sort of amazed at the details I got in some of these photos. When looking at the flowers in the yard, they all pretty much look like the 5th one below. In the sunshine, the clump of unopened petals in the center of some of them aren't very noticeable.

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The little fig tree leafs are growing (bigger). There are a bunch of little figs growing too. The car is already getting lightly covered in pollen. This evening we had some wind and a small refreshing rainstorm. It was too warm inside, so I opened a few windows to get some of the breeze. Tomorrow it will be cooler, a high of 65. (Last week or somewhen, when the forecast was also for 65, I thought *eek* that will be cool, and then reminded myself that normally 65 in February would be nice and temperate.)

Feb 2017 weather history, Columbia SC
(click to enlarge)

Now that it is March, maybe I will stop feeling so disconcerted about the weather. In my experience, we could have cold weather and sporadic snow and ice up through the very end of February here. But March has always sounded like Spring.

Photos under cut... )

770 feet

Tuesday, February 14th, 2017 11:18 pm
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The Oroville Dam, 17 years ago. It didn't look very impressive to me. I had no idea it was the tallest dam in the United States. I mean, come on, it looks like a grassy hill, doesn't it?

View of Oroville Dam from top

View of Oroville Dam from top

Spring of February

Saturday, February 11th, 2017 04:43 pm
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It is such a gorgeous warm sunny day today. This whole so-called winter has been relatively warm. Other than a few cold nights and cool days, it hasn't even felt like winter.

The pink magnolia tree started blooming this week. The blooms don't usually last more than a week or two. Based on photos, in prior years it bloomed in early to late March. So this year is a full month earlier than usual, unless the years in which I didn't take photos had earlier blooms too.

The fragrant yellow jessamine on the fence is also already blooming.

There is a bush at Qiao's house, which I've been curious to know what kind of plant it is. It has thin stalks, some with reddish blossoms and some with white (unless the white ones are a different kind of bush). It started blooming right at the beginning of February, even before the pink magnolia. In the summer, it gets roundish green fruit that look like plum-sized small apples. They are surprising to see, because the thin stalks don't seem like they could support such relatively big fruit, yet they do. The fruit smells and tastes like bitter apples (too bitter to eat). So it's probably some apple variant. It doesn't look like what Google Images shows for crab-apples, though.

After doing some searches, my best guess is that it is a shrub quince, even though the fruit is green rather than yellow, and more apple-shaped than quince-shaped.

More photos... )
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I bought this adjustable shelf to try out as a standing desk setup. It's wide enough for both the keyboard and mouse, and deep enough that I can rest my forearms on it.

At home, my laptop is on an adjustable mount that can be lifted and lowered, so that is how I raise and lower the display. At work, I have 2 monitors, one on the desk for use while sitting, and one on a higher shelf for use while standing (to switch between them, it only requires an alt-ctl-fn key press).

The above is okay in terms of comfort. (Having my skin touch cool metal is unpleasant, so I cover the metal with cloth as in the above photo). But to switch from standing to sitting, I need to re-position the keyboard and mouse from the shelf back to the desk, and move the shelf away. The shelf, while light, is big and awkward to move around. So switching between standing and sitting isn't a very simple matter. (Though, if the keyboard were wireless rather than corded, that would help somewhat.)

I found the below setup to be more convenient.

I use a box (or a stack of books) to raise up my mouse & mousepad. I've found that using the mouse is most comfortable when my forearm is horizontal like that, not angled up or down.
I put a wedge (about 2" high) under the keyboard (or stick something else under the front edge so that it is higher than the back edge). Typing is fairly comfortable to me in that position, even though my palms & wrists don't rest on anything. Without the wedge, I would have to bend my wrists a lot, which quickly becomes very uncomfortable.

To switch from sitting to standing, I just need to move over my box, put the mouse & mousepad on it, and slip the wedge under the keyboard. It's much simpler than the shelf.

Hurricane Matthew

Sunday, October 9th, 2016 03:00 am
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Didn't do much damage in my area, as far inland as we are. Our power flickered and went out for a couple hours during the night (as noted by the electric fans and telephone light turning off and on), but was back on by morning. The recycling bin outside was knocked over, and some rain leaked in under the garage door but didn't go very far in. Those grooves I cut in the concrete have been working very well.

I haven't yet heard from my sister though, who was in Charleston. Unless she evacuated after all. I hope she's ok.
[Update: got a text from her, she is ok.]


This flying insect was gathering nectar from the lantana flowers in the evening, last week. It was flitting too quickly for me to get a clear shot of it. It looked unusual due to its thick torso. From doing an image search, it may be some type of hawk moth?

insect on flowers
insect on flowers
insect on flowers
insect on flowers
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cupboard contents

A while back I bought a can of Cuitlacoche, also called "corn mushroom" or less flatteringly, "corn smut". It is considered a delicacy in Mexico, and was expensive - at least $4 or $5 for a small can. I don't recall ever having had it before, and suspected I might not like it, as in general, I don't even like mushrooms. But it being vegan, I figured I should at least try it.

It sat unopened in my cupboard a long time, as it being such a small can, it didn't seem worth the trouble of getting out my saute pan and cooking it.

Remember my trip to Kroger Marketplace, when I found the 89 cent bottle of date/orange/flaxseed/chili spread? (which by the way, makes a chili-bean-like tasting sandwich.) I went back to the same store a couple days later to get a shelf for supporting my keyboard when working standing up. I didn't end up getting the shelf, as it wasn't quite the right size. But this time, the special discount section had a bunch of Cuitlacoche cans, for only 39 cents each! I still didn't know if I'll even like the taste (especially after reading this review), but at least now I could buy enough for a whole panful, to make it seem worth the effort of cooking it.

I also got some other greatly discounted items - vegetarian taco filling, vegetable couscous sauce, and even some switchel drinks. Oh, and even a box of cinnamon raisin Matzo granola.

Man, that place is like a candy store.

Update - 2016/10/09:
I sauteed the cuitlacoche with onion and garlic in peanut oil, and ate it with cornbread and vegan smoked gouda cheese. The cuitlacoche actually tastes all right to me. I'm not sure how to describe it, but it's not at all mushroom-like. It reminds me of some food I've had before, but I can't think what.

the bird is still there

Wednesday, June 15th, 2016 12:54 am
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Oh, and today I saw a hot-pink colored caterpillar. I didn't think of taking a photo of it.


Sunday, March 6th, 2016 10:49 pm
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I made a batch of "Pistachio and Rosewater Cupcakes" (sans frosting) today, but forgot to add in the pistachios. They taste great anyway.

Pink magnolias abloom:

Me back in January, suited up for using the angle grinder:

A sunrise last month: