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Modern blog formats allow me to make posts of diverse topics as I work on them, yet organize them according to subjects/categories.  The “blog roll” is the reverse chronological sequence of my postings, which may seem semi-random or disorganized to some– select a category to find the coherent themes. If you find them of interest, I invite you to “subscribe” and get an email note when I make a post. Don’t worry, I am not very prolific in this art, so there is no danger of flooding your inbox.

Texas Road Trip: Reconnaissance Resumes

After the eclipse ended, I packed up my equipment again; this time I collapsed the tripod legs—I would need the space to pack up my campsite, which I did the next morning.  I heated the dregs of leftover coffee thinking I would be stopping soon for breakfast on the road, including fresh brewed coffee. 

I made the mistake of not stopping in Fort Davis for that breakfast. I thought it was too soon, it was only ten miles from the campground.  But I should have stopped there anyway, because the next towns were too small, or too run down to support a café.  I went all the way to Del Rio, which was too large to have the local flavor of a small down diner.

I did find one however—a Mexican restaurant operating out of a Victorian style hotel.  The staff spoke Spanish, as did the other guests.  It was now lunchtime and I ordered the Monday special:  chili relleno (stuffed chilis?) which were delicious, and with rice and beans, too much.

I continued on toward Eagle Pass, the next large city, but in between was “Radar Base”, which is an intersection of roads where the 2024 solar eclipse is said to be at or near maximum—4 minutes, 30 seconds.  It is a miserable spot however—hot, dusty, windy, with heavy highway traffic and not much shade.  I’m not sure why it has a town designation—a local airstrip and a radio/cell phone/radar tower?

Radar Base. I’m not sure where the radar is. Click to enlarge.

I had intended to stay in Eagle Pass, but on learning that the room rates were $250+, I continued on to Uvalde, a town larger than I expected, and whose notoriety to the world would be established a week later.  There was some conference/convention going on, so the rates were still high, but I had reached the end of my range and desperately needed a shower, so I sprang for the room.

The shower was great.


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I wasn’t expecting to find an eclipse viewing site as I originally hoped—I was too late, all the prime locations had already been booked—or couldn’t be booked (the State Park reservation system only goes 5 months out).

But I felt obligated to document the candidates that I had looked up, as this was the purpose for traveling here.  I could at least take photos and maybe get contact info in case of cancellations.

I located a few more places along the Rio Frio, and the Lost Maples areas along the eclipse path.  There were various resorts and RV parks along a road east of the river, and I stopped at some and inquired.  Locals would stop and talk with me, just being friendly, and I learned a lot about the area. Here are my notes.

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Texas Road Trip: Lunar Eclipse

My cameras at work!

I started to set up for the lunar eclipse; it would occur tonight (this was not a drill)!  But by the time I had the tripods and mount in place, I realized that I had left a critical piece of equipment behind—my camp chair.  I left the stuff for a 10-minute trip back to the campsite to retrieve it.

On return, I found the other guy who had obtained a pass for the overlook (required if we wanted to stay past 10:00 pm).  He was an interesting person who was ok with my being focused on setting up rather than chatting. 

A few other visitors dropped by, including one who was on foot with some portable camera gear.  After a while he decided he wanted a different viewpoint and so he hiked away, disappearing below the crest. 

I was ready at moonrise.  This time I could see the moon as it appeared on the horizon.  I centered it in the cameras, started the tracking and started taking pictures.  The moon rose in a light orange color, brightening to white and then about one-half hour later, the eclipse began.

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AI for 3D

Rendering a photo in a particular artistic style with the help of artificial intelligence

New artificial intelligence (AI) portals such as DALL-E2 that can conjure an image to match a text description, DeepDream, that applies an artistic style to a photograph to turn it into a painting, and plenty of others, are changing the world; here is a fascinating survey

I recently stumbled upon an AI application that I would have loved to have been part of–  creating depth maps from standard, non-3D, non-stereo images.  Why didn’t I think of this?  What a brilliant idea!

A depth map of course, provides that third dimension of distance from the photographer.  And with that information, one can (almost) make a stereoscopic image, a scene in a virtual reality world.

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Building a “Dice Tower”

Parts for a dice tower, printed in blue PLA plastic

I had not heard this descriptor before, but when my son suggested it as a project to help his game-focused young family, I did some investigation.  A dice tower is a mechanism to manage the throw of dice in a way that is fun and relevant to the game being played.  Often the games are similar to Dungeons and Dragons.  And so, the theme of a medieval tower, where dice are dropped from the top and randomized by tumbling down to the bottom is a natural match for the theme of the game.

There are other benefits as well.  For my son’s young family, throwing dice is a haphazard and unpredictable experience.  Haphazard is a desired feature of a dice throwing outcome, but when the dice bounce beyond the table into the next room and have to be located and assessed, it slows down the game.  A more constrained way of throwing dice becomes desirable.  A dice tower, with an easily accessed upper deck to launch the dice, and a containment vessel to receive them below is the perfect solution.  

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Repair or Replace?

The underbelly of a Kenmore Elite model 665.1393xx dishwasher.

Well, I have to admit defeat in my attempt to repair our dishwasher.  I was confident that I could fix it, consistent with my philosophy that it is better maintaining and repairing, than discarding and replacing (a tenet of the “steady state economy”).  But after weeks in this broken condition, while ordering candidate replacement parts, watching dozens of YouTube repair videos, with hours on the floor trying to access, test and replace components, and after dozens of wash and diagnostic cycles, not to mention the dishes I broke while tipping the (still loaded) unit on its side, I am giving up.   

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Manitoba Nights

Aurora in the fog. Photo by Eric Persson.

I recently spent a week In our neighbor to the north, specifically the Canadian province of Manitoba.  We had booked a trip with friends to a remote lodge nearly a year prior, and we were finally there!  The travel brochures promised spectacular scenery and wildlife, interesting geology, world class fishing, and northern lights.  I wasn’t all that interested in fishing, but I’m always interested in the other items on that list. (And the fishing turned out to be a highlight!)

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An Anecdotal Tribute

Two pairs of brothers backpacking in 1987.  I’m on the left next to my younger brother Eric.  My dad, Tod, is on the right, next to his younger brother, my uncle Bob

Dr Robert Olson, 1940-2022

It is with great sadness that I report the passing of my uncle, Dr. Robert Olson.  After a lengthy battle with multiple myeloma that included periods of remission, he succumbed on September 15, 2022.  He was a remarkable man, and there will be many tributes that capture his many talents, his professional contributions, his passion for gardening, and his strong friendships and family relations.  They will all be inadequate, as is any attempt to capture the essence of a person’s life.

But to the list of inadequate tributes, I would like to add mine, an anecdote that I wrote a few years ago following a Thanksgiving dinner, one of many large and boisterous holiday gatherings that he loved to host, with his daughters handling cooking and logistics.  I was able to share it with Bob in a letter, at a time of better health.  He was an important influence on me during a formative period of my life.

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Texas Road Trip: Driving Adventures, Mistakes Made

Looking over the (dry) Rio Grande to Mexico. The white canvas arch covers the US Border Station where I would soon be detained.

I intended to visit Big Bend Park and found it on my Texas road atlas southeast of Marfa—except that it was labelled “Big Bend Ranch State Park”.  It had what appeared to be a major route through it, Casa Piedra Road, that I could take and see the terrain and park facilities, then continue through to the town of Presidio, where I could find lunch, and then take another major road back home.

So that was the plan.  But it turns out that Big Bend Ranch State Park is entirely different from Big Bend National Park. I was confused but it didn’t matter. I missed the turnoff for the road through the park and stayed on US 67 to Presidio.

And I continued to follow US 67, thinking it would show me how to get to Big Bend Park.  Eventually I found myself approaching a major checkpoint—the customs and border inspections.

I looked for a way to turn around before actually getting there, but I saw no convenient way to do this and suddenly found myself going through a covered channel with many many speed bumps—aggressive and alternating sides of the lane, then full width and strategically placed.  There was no place to exit; the lane continued on and I thought maybe there would still be a turnaround opportunity.  But there wasn’t, and I was now passing a long line of cars headed in the other direction, nearly all with Texas plates, stopped, waiting their turn to be inspected and pass into the U.S.

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Texas Road Trip: Historic Fort Davis and Marfa

Prada Marfa, one of several roadside art installations outside Marfa TX

Fort Davis is the name of the town, “Historic Fort Davis” is the reconstructed early fort, established here in the 1850’s to protect the growing number of emigrants, and the mail and freight traffic to support and supply them in the westward expansion.  My national parks pass gave me entry and access to a walking tour of the fort grounds to see the buildings that have been restored, and exhibits in some of them depicting the conditions and resources of a military outpost.  It was very interesting to learn of the difficult conditions on the frontier, and the life of enlisted men stationed at the fort.  It is probably not so interesting to small children; a rudimentary awareness of US history is helpful.  I recommend visiting in the morning, before the temperatures become excessive.

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Texas Road Trip: McDonald Observatory and Lunar Eclipse Practice

A peek through a guest observing port at the HET. The mirror is held by the blue-green frame; a curved reflection of struts can be seen on its surface.

This is a very dark sky part of Texas, and so it makes sense to locate an observatory here.  It is semi-open to the public for self-guided tours at the visitor center, and the grounds hosting three major observatory domes and many smaller ones.  One of them allowed a peek at the 10-meter Hobby Eberly Telescope, a multifaceted composite mirror on a huge mount structure.  I saw it in its resting position, perhaps for maintenance, or an instrument changeover.  As I tried to identify the mirror segments, I realized that what appeared to be the interior of the dome building, was actually its reflection on the mirrors, their reflectivity so high as to make them seem invisible!

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