Monday, 29 February 2016

Weather in Indonesia

Many thanks to Jay Anderson who posted this link for weather images anybody can understand! The following link will take you to a page for weather around Indonesia with easy to follow instructions and graphics.

As of this morning things are looking very good for the eclipse of March 9th. Of course, weather is what you get and we have a week to wait that out.

From Singapore, the weather is classically tropical. Clouds can be seen up in the sky at all times of day, fast moving, some with a drop or two of rain, however one can say it has been sunny most of the time. In other words, the weather is a tad chaotic and the situation is beautiful. There are no major storm fronts coming our way and even if a stray cloud occludes the eclipse for a few seconds, it will not be a show stopper!

Clear sky for the eclipse is what everyone wants. But I am willing to settle for a mostly clear day with fast moving clouds too.

Sunday, 28 February 2016

Eclipse Chasers from around the world

Eclipse chasers from all over are converging on Indonesia and other points near/along the path of the March 9th total solar eclipse path. We are going to be on board the Volendam cruise ship leaving Singapore and have arrived ahead of the departure to make sure we are on board in plenty of time! The ship is departing Tuesday and so we have some time for a little sight seeing.

Singapore is near the equator and enjoys hot tropical weather year round. This means lots of rain and humidity as well as some very warm temperatures. Plants love it and the city is surrounded by lush gardens full of beautiful trees and flowers.
A great way to view Singapore is from a cable car suspended hundreds of meters above.
Singapore is also a shipping hub in Asia hosting a very large array of ships and containers from all over the world.

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Destination Singapore

Early next week we leave our Jamaican winter paradise headed towards Singapore via the USA. We fly through Florida then on to California before heading across the Pacific Ocean with a quick stop in Japan before reaching Singapore. It will be a long sequence of flights.

While Singapore is about one degree off the equator to the North, most of Indonesia is below the equator in the southern hemisphere. That means that the seasons for growing are reversed. It should be Mango Season when we are there. This is good and bad. It is good because Mangos are very good to eat. It is bad because Mangos ripen during the rainy season. Small mangos appear first then the bigger ones a few months later. We are arriving at the end of the rainy season, hope we find plenty of plump mangos ready to eat!

So what about the weather situation in Indonesia? I'm going to repeat the web site for leading solar eclipse weather expert Jay Anderson's climate study and weather links for the area.

Tune in here and there for weather updates but do keep in mind that "Climate is what you expect, weather is what you get."  As I get a chance I will report the weather in the region after we get there. As many know, weather forecasts are not 100% correct and rarely account for microclimates.

Clear sky!

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Observing TSE2016 from the Volendam

We cannot be certain of our observing location this far in advance. A lot will be based on the weather of the day. Climate study is in our favor, but this season has had more rain than normal thus far.

Our estimated location can be seen at the map with the Online Solar Eclipse Calculator

What I wanted to know is how far up the Sun will be during totality. The answer is "just over a third of the way up from the horizon". This will allow for comfortable viewing through binoculars and hand held cameras from deck chairs.

The trade off of having more atmosphere (not as close to the zenith) to see through is that mornings tend to be clear in the tropics. We can only hope that the eclipse cooling effect plays into our favor to keep the sky clear.

Weather and climate information is available from eclipse weather expert Jay Anderson online for this eclipse at

Monday, 15 February 2016

Photography Tip for Eclipse Chasers

Here is a new cartoon tip for eclipse photography. Don't wait until the eclipse to learn the camera settings and get things ready!

More cartoons about photography can be found at: Eclipse Photography Cartoons Page 1 and Eclipse Photography Cartoons Page 2.

Saturday, 13 February 2016

Cartoon additions

I added some more cartoons to the "Chasing" and "Air Travel" categories web page. Click the links to see them.
Eclipse Chasing -
Air Travel -

If you have an idea for an eclipse related cartoon, let me know. I know I can't draw worth a dang, but it is still fun.

Thursday, 11 February 2016

Volendam Cruise Ship Deck Plans

I was studying the Volendam deck plans and found there to be ample viewing space up on the top provided we find a calm spot and can aim the ship in a direction along a line between the NNW and SSE directions. As normal, somewhere near the center of the ship will provide the smoothest location but NO WHERE is trouble free for photographers.

Using hand held binoculars and a VERY PORTABLE point and shoot camera I am not concerned about viewing the eclipse as much as what else can be imaged the same time. Hopefully we will not be dodging clouds, turning the ship just as totality starts, and moving at speed (causes a significant wind change across the deck sometimes). When repositioning, it is important to be mobile and at the same time sympathetic to those with loads of equipment. The best thing to do is tell them "Forget that stuff, watch the eclipse instead!".

Here is the link for the Holland America cruise ship Volendam deck plans. It will start with the lower deck, use the pull down menu to select the ship Volendam, then the upper decks.

There is one deck of particular interest for photography. It is called the Oasis and appears to have palm trees. That is awesome foreground material and requires further investigation. Unless the decor is changed before the eclipse, this location will be a great photo place. Even so, it is high up and should present the least problems if the ship needs to reposition to avoid some clouds. It will most likely be reserved by some group already.

I should mention that there will be several different eclipse groups with their own programs on board at the same time. It is going to be a lot of fun as many of the experts are eclipse chasing friends and associates. We are already planning to meet up on board. We already have our own small group of eclipse chasers. More on that later except to say that one of them will be passing the ONE hour mark of totality on board. This is not something that is easy to accomplish. Check out the web site to see what I mean, there are less than ten people listed who can claim that mark. Eclipse chasers listed by total time.

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Getting closer to decision time

We have been shopping on line and decided to pick up a camera on our way to southeast Asia instead of shopping in Singapore. We will go shopping in Singapore, but not with the need for a new camera. Instead we can look at the newer stuff and consider our 2017 options.

So the decision is to go with the Canon Powershot that can do an amazing 65x magnification without changing lenses. It will be fun to experiment with a new camera while on a cruise around Indonesia. There is so much to see and experience, we are looking forward to it.

For the eclipse, I revert to my original plan and will use binoculars to observe. The camera will be handy for a few snaps when the desire is overwhelming. Our daughter is bring along a GoPro for a wide angle view and claims that her smart phone camera is better than her DSLR. That last item is very interesting as I am quite certain a fair number of people will elect to image the 2017 eclipse using smart phones. Look for some advice on that subject in the near future.

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Buying at the edge of technology

This is a tricky subject. If you are going to buy a new camera, should you not buy the best available? Or should you just settle for the older technology. You know, the one a year or two ancient. The one with fewer features, one or more "standards" missing, and certainly not as powerful as today's offerings.

Let me share a bit of wisdom from my days running a computer consulting company. Unless your client supplies you with the newest machine, don't bother buying one. It will be the same model on "sale" in just a few months as the newer ones hit the streets. It just isn't worth spending the extra money for bragging rights.

My friend Bob used to describe technology pricing with a surfing analogy. When the wave is the most exciting, curling and making noise, where the surfers lurk, then the wave is the highest. The height of the wave is the price. The back end of a really good surfing wave has a gradual curve then drops off rapidly into a trough. This is the realm of the flotsam and no good surfer wants to be there. They want to be up on the curl. I was always happy in the flotsam in terms of pricing. Bob preferred leading the way, cutting the wave so to speak.

Cameras seem to work the same way. Today's state of the art options offer 50+ megapixels, full frames, software smart enough to relieve all but the most picky of professionals, and much more. They can talk to phones directly, they can automatically load embarrassing pictures to social media, and they can put a virus on your computer. Amazing stuff!

I am not embarrassed to admit that I've been around hi-tech stuff for a long time. I worked on a software driver for an early digitizing tool that employed a 128x128 bit "eye". The chip for that eye cost over $4000(US) alone. While we were finishing the driver (follow black lines on vellum sending movement commands to a stepper motor set), a new chip arrived with over 500 bits to a side! We were told to program the driver for up to 4000 bits, wow.

Camera buying comes down to what you want. I don't need a lot of features. What I want is a fast chip. One that can get a lot of photons accurately recorded quickly. And the bigger the better. A full frame would be nice if it is to be a DSLR. Pixel density is an issue when doing longer exposures (heat and other error inducing problems) so something that can tolerate taking deep sky images in the tropics would be nicest. Yup, dream on.

Seriously though, there are some features I like on modern cameras for sky viewing. One is the flip up back for a view finder. Use a piece of red filter to make it night vision friendly once the focus is set. My favorite past time currently is photographing constellation groups. Jamaica does not have the constant jet airplane traffic overhead (we have all the satellites though) and that affords a nice luxury for wide field photography.

Big Dipper dumps on a palm tree (meteor cutting handle off)

Monday, 8 February 2016

Eclipse Camera musing

While my Sony NEX5N is fine for many things, I find it will not do the trick for eclipse photography. There are a number of reasons.

First is the lack of a remote control device. I don't have one. There is one that will work available someplace. When I bought the camera it was not something they had at the store. Maybe mail order. Not an easy solution from Jamaica.

Next is the lens. The lens supplied is great for normal shots, just not so great for the types of pictures I take. Maybe it is the resolution. I have an attachment that allows me to use my Canon lens set (at the loss of all lens automatic abilities like stabilizing) and that satisfies my needs. However without the remote I must use the 10-second delay timer to settle the camera and lens on the tripod for the types of exposures I use.

When we purchased the camera we also bought a 2x and 0.58 adapter. The 2x is okay but not of very good quality. The 0.58 on the other hand does a nice job except for distorting the field at the edges.

The next item is how tedious it is to transfer images to the computer and then up to the web. I'd like something with WiFi or better.

So how can such a camera be used? Video perhaps? I will bring it along. It is, after all, what I have to use presently.

But in Singapore, the days before we board the ship. Or maybe in Florida on the way there.

I will go shopping for a new camera.

Thus far, all my shopping has been on line. I have looked at the Canon digitals and do want to eventually get a full frame DSLR to go with the lens set. I am thinking that will be a good upgrade prior to the 2017 eclipse where I can bring back the Quester with a full frame. The current 2/3 frame DSLR family crops too much of the eclipse.

My good friend Wolfgang Schindler, an accomplished photographer, suggested I take a look at the Canon Powershot and similar cameras. These are quite interesting in that they start with a basic description saying they can shoot pictures of the lunar craters. I have often told those that ask about lenses and so on that if they can see craters in an image taken with the camera setup, they can expect to obtain excellent solar eclipse images.

I am leaning towards the purchase of such a camera to use on the trip and for the eclipse. We will be not only seeing a total solar eclipse (yes, I am always an optimist). We will also be seeing plenty of interesting sights along the way in Indonesia. I will be posting them as I can.

By the way, Larry Stevens recently added a new issue of Totality! to the online collection. Go to to read up on TSE2016 and reports from TSE2013.

Sunday, 7 February 2016

TSE 2016 Thoughts revisited

This morning I caught the Old Moon rising in the East before sunrise. It was cloudy just a half hour before the picture. As the Moon cleared the trees across the way the orange color of the sunrise was dominating the horizon.

100mm Canon lens attached to Sony NEX5.

400mm Canon lens attached to Sony NEX5. Yes, it is a 100-400mm zoom, nice.
My biggest gripe with the Sony camera is the lack of a remote control to keep vibration to a minimum.  Normally I use the 10 second delay and this works great under normal astro-photo conditions. However a total solar eclipse is hardly normal when it comes to photography. The trade off of ten whole seconds is unreasonable. Even with the 3 shot option it has this annoying orange light flashing on the front the camera. So the 10 second delay is out of the question for the eclipse. That makes the 100-400mm zoom lens questionable even though it can get great images.

Which brings up the option of video. I have gotten some nice green flash videos using the 100-400mm and a tripod. This is of course from a non-moving mount. For the TSE in March 2016 we will be on a moving ship. I don't think video is going to work all that well unless done at a wide angle.

And I really do enjoy looking through binoculars during totality. And gawking around at the horizon, sky, other people, and so forth.

So how about a light tripod, just the camera, in wide angle video, looking around? Hmm....

For the TSE in 2017, I plan to be on solid ground. That is another thing altogether...