Near-Total Eclipse of the Eclipse

We drove down into Iowa Sunday, to put us in striking range of a variety of viewing sites in the totality zone on Monday.

Even Sunday, we encountered traffic and crowding on Interstate 35; we had to wait for a table at a Culver’s down in Iowa.  We did seem to be a bit ahead of the crowd, since our hotel’s parking lot was nearly empty when we got there (or maybe the people on I35 had planned ahead further than us and had hotels down in the totality zone).

Weather forecasts looked fairly dismal. We poked at them a lot, and on Monday morning we chose Falls City Nebraska as our viewing site.

The route there was all back roads, and we encountered no particular traffic. However, the town was quite active, with clear eclipse events at various places, and many optimists hoping to sell $20 parking. We ended up in the parking lot of an empty fast food facility, with a good view of the clouds overhead. A number of other group showed up there shortly.

We can see the sun!

There were thinner spots in the clouds, and occasionally you could tell where the sun was; or even see the disk (filtered by the clouds; at this stage, with the eclipse protective glasses you could see nothing at all, you couldn’t even tell where the sun was behind the clouds).

This raised a technical point I hadn’t really planned for. With the eclipse glasses, or the solar filter over the lens on the camera, you could see nothing at all. Sometimes the clouds were heavy enough we couldn’t tell where the sun was, but when they thinned and you got hints of the sun, sometimes a view of the full disk, you still couldn’t see anything through the filters. This made it difficult to get the camera trained and ready to capture anything that might briefly show through the clouds.  It also left me bouncing back and forth between filters and no filters, trying not to expose my eyes or even the camera sensors to the bare sun, but needing to use bare eyes and sensors to find it much of the time. (There don’t appear to be any weird blind spots in my eyes today, I seem to have been careful enough or lucky enough.)

A bit after first contact, shot through a solar filter (and the clouds).

The clouds thinned out a few times, and we got views near first contact, and occasional views thereafter.

We got some very heavy-duty insectile assistance while waiting for the eclipse to start. Looks like a very big wasp, and we saw it entering and leaving a crack in the pavement, so I guess ground-dwelling. Carrying something even bigger than it was; food for itself or for the next generation I guess.


The light seemed to dim in definite steps as we neared totality, not continuously. It was a weird effect, and repeated a number of times. People watching seemed to agree on when a step had happened.

It did get very dark. We had something like a sunset (except that the sun wasn’t there) all around the horizon; it was dark overhead, but light on all sides, with the sun out there clearly lighting up the clouds. Not sure one would see this effect without the clouds; though just the diffusion of light passing through the air might be enough to give a similar effect.

Half a hair short of totality, through clouds but without solar filter (nothing at all was visible through a filter).

And we got a very brief view in early totality through the clouds, where you could see a bit of corona. I got one photo then, too.

We stop to check out the reappearance of the sun when the clouds suddenly clear after totality.

We hung around to watch the sun come back, and got to see a bit for a while, until the clouds got serious.  Then we headed out—and the clouds cleared and we got bright sun a few minutes later (clouds had been solid to the horizon before) and we got some good clear views of the late stages (I didn’t take photos of the sun then).

Again, nothing much in the way of traffic delays on the back roads, but Interstate 35 was jammed. We had lines for the bathrooms at every stop, and visibly heavy traffic (and much heavier than the southbound traffic) all the way back up to the Twin Cities.  The trip back was over 3 hours longer than it should have been, due to these traffic delays.

Very close to sunset, we did run into a very nice double rainbow.

And got home by 1:30.


Losing Until You Win

That’s what any troublesome project is, of course. And, as often as not, at least some of the losing steps make the problem worse, and you have to cope with that along the way.

In this case, replacing license plates. Nothing much wrong with the old ones, especially the back one, but in Minnesota they get replaced every 7 years anyway.  Now, I think I’ve had these 8 years, but never mind.

Plate not in bad shape, except near left hole where I had such a fight with the screw

Front one was easy; though it’s held on by big sheet-metal screws straight into the bumper (which is not sheet metal). But they still feel reasonably solid.

The right-hand screw on the rear one was easy.

The left hand screw, not so much. I was down to my next-to-last idea, before taking it in to a professional (and paying the “if you worked on it yourself first” rate I guess) on Monday, if nothing had worked.

All the tools invoked along the way (plus the corkscrew, which was already lying there)
  1. Big #2 Phillips screwdriver
    No effect.  Didn’t actually raise blisters on my palm.
  2. #2 Phillips bit in ratchet handle
    This gave me more leverage, plus separated pushing in hard (left hand) and twisting (right hand). Screwed up the head pretty good.
  3. Penetrating oil
    Not easy to get at where the screw entered the threads, screw head and plate frame and plate were all in the way. But squirted a bit in the general direction, and waited overnight. Then tried Phillips bits again. No go.
  4. Screw extractor
    Drill into the screw head, then thread the extractor in and twist like hell with a wrench on the end of the extractor. Broke the extractor clean off. Not aware of slipping and getting forces the wrong direction, but no doubt doing this with magic tools to keep things aligned perfectly instead of freehand would have been less likely to break anything.

    Damaged screw head with broken extractor
  5. Break off the plate frame
    It was between the head of the screw and the plate, so removing it gave me more play and better access to where the screw entered the threads. Tried twisting the screw head with slip-joint pliers, no dice.  More penetrating oil, now that I have better access (and wait overnight again).
  6. Try turning the screw head with channel-lock pliers
    This actually worked!  A bit slowly at first, but I got the screw out.

(The next step, not used, was to try to file down two edges of the screw head far enough to give the pliers a better grip.)

New screws are stainless (had to replace the left one anyway, since I’d pretty thoroughly ruined the head). The threads are metric (M5), though, so the heads aren’t a convenient size. The adjustable wrenches will fit them, but that’s much slower than nut-drivers or ratchet sets.

Definitely cheaper than taking it to the professionals (one $5 Irwin extractor, broken; trivial amount of penetrating oil out of existing container). Considerably more time and annoyance, though.

[Edited 7/24/2017 to remove two bad photos of damaged screw head and replace them with one decent one. And switched to consistently label this large machine-screw as a “screw” rather than a “bolt”.]

Still no Moon Colonies

Here’s how I was marking the occasion, 48 years ago:

Shot off my parents’ B&W television

While we’ve done amazing things with remote sensing and with robotic exploration, we haven’t done much more with manned exploration. Given the success of the robots, we couldn’t have gotten that much information for the same money with men. But as somebody who grew up on “the conquest of space” it’s still a major disappointment.

I have several rolls of such shots. They’re all Kodak Tri-X, bulk loaded, shot with my mother’s old Bolsey 35 I believe (I didn’t get my Miranda Sensorex until December of 1969). Developed with stainless steel tanks in a dish pan down by the laundry sink, contact printed in the waterless darkroom the other side of the basement.

The white bands diagonally across many pictures shows that the shutter speed of the camera wasn’t well-enough synced to the scan rate of the TV. The TV scan rate would be extremely accurate or the picture would be complete hash, so the shutter was off.  This was a leaf shutter, not a focal-plane shutter, which affects the symptoms.

This was roll 108; I started the numbering system at 100 to make room for filing older negatives as I found them and organized them.  This was so long ago that the negatives were in glassine sleeves.

Glassine sleeves!

A few of the individual photos:

All the points! We does not have them!

(Promoted from a comment elsewhere, original context not needed for this to make sense.)

Being aggressive, brave, feeling privileged, or whatever it is that makes me speak out in almost any circumstances doesn’t actually correlate well with knowing things useful in a discussion or in having ideas of value to a discussion. It’s worth some effort to me to avoid driving away people who have stuff to contribute to the discussion even if they are “timid” or easily scared off. Brash, outspoken people don’t really lack for opportunities to make their points; but we don’t have “all the points”.