Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Fixed a long time bug

As a programmer, I was told to never admit mistakes. It makes the entire world of computing seem vulnerable. Especially to those that don't understand the complex nuances of the task. The eclipse-chasers web site has been an on going, learn as I go, project since 1999 and contains millions of lines of code in the form of HTML, PHP, Javascript, and CSS files. When I go back and try to change something, it can be a real education as to what I did wrong and so on. Much of the code was created using reference books containing equations and so the comments all link back to those references. It can be laborious at times.

Fortunately, I am a rather good programmer and know a few tricks of the trade. For one, I use modular structures. Another is that without thinking much about it, I use Object Oriented Programming as a natural language. This makes working the code much easier and I can often correct or modify things quickly as a result.

But there has been one that has been bugging me. Several users have reported that when entering information for an annular eclipse it was logged as a total. All the input matched up with a total, but it was just not being saved correctly.

I have poured through that code carefully and could not find anything that would cause these problems. For years I searched and then, yesterday, the bug manifested itself clearly and I was able to correct it! I am pleased to report that annular eclipses should be recorded properly and not require webmaster intervention. I thought I had licked this problem last March, but I had missed a small module and now it is back in a proper way, no longer an orphaned child of a quick hack.

This has been a good week for fixing simple bugs. Just sent an update to Fred's eclipse-wise correcting a stupid omission on my behalf.

Keep adding your observations to the log and encourage others to do the same! And let me know if you find anything amiss.

Monday, 11 July 2016

TSE2017 Where you going?

At the recent CAS meeting I did a talk about the upcoming TSE next summer. The most frequent question, asked in many different ways, was: Where are you going to be?

While nothing is final at this time, I have been looking at several possible locations. All of these can be reached from central Ohio by car in a day or two. Here they are in the order I researched them.

First was Casper Wyoming. The chances of clear sky there is pretty good, in fact, it is about the best along the eclipse path you will find. Madras Oregon area is better, but Casper offers some other features such as a good road system heading along the central path towards the East. If the weather is bad in Madras, chances are it will be bad anywhere one can drive that morning. That is not the case in Casper. Bad weather in Casper does not mean bad weather towards the East, in fact it can be quite different as one leaves the mountains and heads in to the Great Plains.

The problem with Casper is one of extreme price gouging by the hotels. This is a grand opportunity for them and rates are running very high, if you can find a hotel. A friend who has relatives in the Cheyenne area said this happens around big rodeos too. So I guess you could say the eclipse is just another rodeo for them.

My second choice was Grand Island Nebraska. There really isn't much in terms of tourist things in Grand Island, mostly flat farmland, but the climate studies are very good (they get worse to the East) and a major highway runs just past Grand Island and remains in the central path for quite a distance to the East and West. I have not heard of any price gouging going on there, let me know if you have other information.

The third choice is the Nashville area. While climate studies are not as favorable as the locations further West, they are not bad and the eclipse cooling effect may play into favor. Lines of hills and the rivers tend to draw weather up and over Nashville or to the South. This location is looking pretty good and we are waiting to get some price quotes. From Columbus, Nashville is a six hour drive.

Nashville area totality map - courtesy of Michael Zeiler, GreatAmericanEclipse.Com

Assuming we can get good hotel rates in the Nashville area, we are leaning that direction. Want to come along? Maybe we can get group space?

Let me know your thoughts and plans!

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Columbus Astronomical Society - Eclipse presentation

On Saturday 9 July I will be speaking at Perkins Observatory which hosts the Columbus Astronomical Society (Ohio). The topic - eclipses of course!

Meetings are open to visitors so if you are in the area on the 9th of July, come on up. Meeting starts at 8pm. For directions to Perkins Observatory, see the web site. Your GPS may not get you there since it sits in a forested area in the middle of a golf course.

Perkins Observatory is a cool place to visit any time. Public programs and special presentations are listed on the website. Perkins Observatory has a great history. Big Ear radio telescope, the 69" telescope, and much more used to be deeply involved in astronomical research. When the 69" was moved to darker and better sky out west it was replaced with a 30" that is still used for teaching and basic research. Visitors can also enjoy a museum of astronomy that has an impressive collection of model rockets on display. The director, Tom Burns, is a rocket enthusiast. He is also a great guy to meet if you get the chance.

Some years ago I was president of the society and it is an excellent group of astronomy enthusiasts. I am really looking forward to the presentation and renewing some long time friendships. Since moving to the West Indies I have not been an active member so it will fun to check things out.

Saturday, 25 June 2016

Where can you get Eclipse Nuts?

There are only a few places you can purchase your own copy of Eclipse Nuts.

First is online, at an eStore set up by the print-on-demand company CreateSpace. Click here for the Eclipse Nuts ordering page. They are US$20 each plus shipping. You will have to set up an account at Create Space and many of you already have one if you ordered Fred Espenak's book(s) about the eclipses. (Fred is the one that turned me on to the web site print-on-demand.)

Second, the store at GreatAmericanEclipse.Com will have copies for sale. You can order a copy in conjunction with the great eclipse stuff they have for sale (maps, shirts, hats, pins, books, posters, and a lot more).

I'd like to mention that the cartooning has not stopped. I am still creating more and there will be another Eclipse Nuts coming soon. Drawing is a lot of fun if you don't worry about the technical details....

Up the entire night before, all set up, completely wired, red filters on glasses, everything charged - ahh, eclipse chasing!

Saturday, 4 June 2016

Eclipse Nuts - announcement

It is done! My first real "self published" book about eclipses.

And this book is unique. It is unlike any other eclipse book you may have seen before. This is a book of eclipse cartoons poking fun at eclipse chasing and astronomers.

At the most recent TSE in Indonesia a group of eclipse chasing experts were talking about self publishing. As a former author of computer programming books and a long time magazine contributing editor I was very intrigued and joined the conversation. The industry has evolved a lot since the days when I wrote books and at the prodding of two of my friends I started to put together a set of my cartoons (doodles) to be self-published.

The result is Eclipse Nuts.
The cover of Eclipse Nuts - available now from Create Space (an Amazon company).

I like drawing doodles. When inspired by something that strikes a funny nerve in me, I act it out in a doodle.  I have a strange sense of humor. Sometimes I do what I heard or saw directly but most of the time the doodles are an extension of my bizarre way of seeing things. Things like extreme eclipse chasers strapping rockets to themselves do not really exist except in the imagination.

So here is where you can go to buy a copy of the book. 

The e-store and Amazon.Com are the only places you can purchase a copy. They are printed on demand. When you place an order, the machines go to work and produce a brand new copy of the book. It is then sent to you arriving in just a few days.

Over 100 cartoons are included in the book for only US$20 (plus shipping). That is better than 5 cartoons to the dollar that you can enjoy over and over again. I like to use them to answer those standard questions I hear all the time. Somehow a cartoon gets the point across best in many cases. I also use them when doing eclipse lectures to spice up powerpoint presentations.

Once I had a prototype of the book ready, Fred Espenak gave it a look and immediately suggested the name "Eclipse Nuts". It took all of a few seconds for me to like it and that is how the name was born. Originally I had a longer name like "Eclipse Chasers are funny people" however you have to admit, Eclipse Nuts sums it up better.

By the way, I am still creating newer cartoons all the time. If enough copies of this book sell, I will produce another one. The creative juices are not empty. Especially when it comes to my favorite hobby of astronomy and eclipses.

Clear sky!

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Book of doodles coming soon

I just uploaded a book (102 pages) of cartoons/doodles related to eclipses and astronomy to a web site called CreateSpace where they print on demand. That is, if you give them a little money, they will print a copy and send it to you plus they will share a bit of that money with me. Saves printing a bunch and trying to sell them door to door. The Internet is really a wonderful place. Plus only really interested people will demand a copy, that's a couple hundred at best I figure. It was all in good fun at the urging of Fred Espenak and Michael Zeiler, two eclipse chasing experts that are frequent targets of my silly doodles.

Many of the doodles have appeared in various lectures by myself and other chasers. Some were requested and others just came to me as funny ideas. At the Solar Eclipse Conference in 2014 a lot of the doodles were used to introduce the various speakers and topics. Expert eclipse chasers appreciated the humorous look at their hobby or vocation.

When the book is ready for demanding I will post a link at the main web site as well as a note here in the blog. In the mean time, get ready to get to totality in August 2017!

Thursday, 12 May 2016

Transit of Mercury - 2016 - a rare and boring solar system event

Maybe boring is too strong a word. Or maybe I just undersold the event to local friends. No one showed up to take a look except the gardener (and that was the first time he'd ever looked through a telescope). Oh well, I got to hog the eyepiece the entire time! Using my 8" SkyQuest (from Orion) and a full aperture solar filter, I watched for a little over an hour.

Is a Transit of Mercury worth travel to see? Maybe for some, but not for me.

Holding my iPhone to the eyepiece I snapped a couple images. The first shows the full disk of the Sun. Mercury is the tiny dot at the 1:20 position (12:00 is up) about half way from the center to the edge. There are several sunspot groups visible too. This is the view through the 40mm eyepiece.

Amazed by the success of holding the phone/camera to the eyepiece I upped the magnification by putting a 10mm eyepiece in. Mercury is on the top and a sunspot group is visible towards the bottom. 

Below is the set up area. I am in the lower left of the image with my telescope. While it looks windy, it is not too bad. The prevailing winds have blown the palms to look like it is always windy.