Waterfire, June 1, 2024

I first went to Waterfire shortly after starting to work in Providence. My coworkers were talking about it, so when there was a Friday Waterfire scheduled, I decided to stick around for it.

I often went while I was working in Providence, but less so once I stopped. At some point, I asked Mum if she’d like to go; she was always good for tagging along, and it turned out she enjoyed it too.

The first full lighting of the year was last Saturday night, and I decided to go, despite the fact that I’d been up late the night before and I was dead tired. It was the first time I relied solely on the iPhone for photography.

Michael Grando in 2007

In previous years, there was a character, “Pierrot”, who stood in a little boat and handed out carnations to people lining the sides of the river. Michael Grando, who played him, died last winter. To remember him, during the earlier part of the presentation, his boat went up and down the river with his costume on a pole, in memory of him, and then, as the night wore on, his daughter took over, as a new character, “Pierrette”, handing out flowers.

I did what I usually do — started at Providence Place Mall, waited for the fires to be lit, then walked along the river to the end. When I got to the place where they were putting out luminaria, I bought one in memory of Mum.

Eclipse

For as long as I can remember, for as long as I’ve known what they were, I’ve wanted to see a total eclipse of the sun. Lunar eclipses are relatively common, and a little underwhelming; I’ve seen partial solar eclipses; they’re… OK, but I’ve always wanted to see the glowing corona.

I remember desperately trying to convince my mother to go see the 1970 eclipse in Nantucket. No sale. And as I’ve gotten older, there’s nothing that’s been close enough that I would consider it to be “within range”, so it was with considerable interest when I found out about the 2024 eclipse, and I decide I want to see that one.

As the time got closer though, I had second thoughts. April in the northeast… the weather is awfully variable. And frequently rainy. And I was having trouble deciding where to try to view from: Liverpool, New York, where my brother’s friend Rich lives, or the western shore of Lake Champlain. The Finger Lakes are close to Liverpool, and it would be nice to see Rich, but I knew where Ticonderoga was, and it was two hours closer, and it was only half an hour outside the path of totality — relatively easy to cover in the morning, even if traffic did get heavy closer to the eclipse.I booked a room at the Trout House Resort, where I’d stayed for the trip to the Star Trek Set Tour and Fort Ticonderoga.

I booked a room in the “Country Inn” of the resort, and in hind sight, I should have booked one of the log cabins. This area is a resort area, like the Cape, but it just doesn’t have much by way of restaurants, especially in what is still the off-season, and the resort itself does not offer dining.

The sky was completely clear when left the resort this morning. I ended up having breakfast in Ticonderoga, across the street from the Star Trek tour, and then headed north. My original intention was to stake out a spot in Port Henry New York, on the shore of Lake Champlain. I had visions of a quaint little town, sort of like Chatham, but I ended up sailing right past it, without really realizing I was passing through. So I decided to keep on and head for Westport, New York, also on the shores of Lake Champlain, but fortunately, closer to the center of the path of totality, meaning we had an extra 30 seconds of totality.

I got there around 10:30 in the morning. There were already a fair number of people there, but I was able to find a place to park the car relatively easily, across the street from Westport’s rather handsome Victorian library. From there, it became of a question of “What do I do with myself for four hours until the eclipse starts?” There was a nature trail through the woods that I followed for a little while, but I’m really not a trail person, so I turned back and headed down the beach.

I’ve been kicking myself all day for my lack of preparation. Other people brought chairs with them; I did not. Fortunately, there was a beached dock I was able to sit on while waiting. I could have also used some sunscreen; I’m feeling a little sunburnt right now. Last week, I’d looked at filters for the Nikon for the eclipse, but had been looking on the phone, and never got around to placing the order.

One thing I did get was a pair of solar eclipse binoculars. Around $45 at B&H Photo, and totally worth it. They took a little getting used to — you can’t see anything other than the sun, so it’s a little hard to find it, but they provided a fine view of the sun. I was able to see not only the encroaching moon, but also a sunspot right in the middle of it. They also came with a bunch of free eclipse sunglasses

So I poked around, and read as much of a book on my phone as I could without running the battery down — a real book is another thing I should have brought with me. I walked around a bit and took some pictures.

There were a lot of people there, but I wouldn’t say it was overcrowded.

It had been completely sunny when I left the Trout House. As I waited, though, I noticed some high thin clouds starting to overspread the sky. It still seemed sunny, the sun still cast shadows, but I couldn’t help but notice that the sky was becoming milkier.

Finally, it was quarter past two and the eclipse was beginning. You couldn’t see much yet through the sunglasses, but through the binoculars, it looked like a little shaving had been removed from the sun. The shaving got bigger and bigger, and become visible through the sunglasses.

You don’t realize how bright the sun really is, until you’ve seen an eclipse and realize how much of the sun can be blocked and still have things look bright.

More and more of the sun was blocked. Through the binoculars, I could see a little blotchiness on the face of the sun — it was the cirrus clouds moving in front of it. The shadow of the moon approached the sunspot, then covered it.

On the ground, the light was becoming perceptibly dusky. It wasn’t golden, like sunset, the colors were still neutral, but it was perceptibly darker.

Partiality - getting darker

By the time the sun was three quarters covered, it was getting noticeably colder. I put my jacket on, and shifted my position closer to the beach. I wanted to get some pictures of the shore, and there were some poles there I was hoping to brace the camera on.

As it got darker, I noticed I could hear the birds twittering away.

Finally, there was just a sliver of light left, it seemed to be almost gone, and then I put the binoculars down just in time to see Bailey’s Beads, and then the glowing corona. It was completely awesome and totally worth the waiting around. I’d been looking at it, heavily filtered, for the past hour, and then, to see it with the naked eye, glowing, with a dark sky around it,

It seemed like a ring of glowing white fire around a dark but not black hole. Turning around, I could see the light was like late dusk but not night, since you could see skylight from outside the area of shadow. I grabbed a few pictures as fast as I could… and completely forgot my plan to brace the camera against the poles. They’re all motion blurred. I should have had a tripod with me.

I got a couple of pictures from the phone that were a little — but not much better. I’d been trying without luck throughout the eclipse to shoot it with the iPhone, using the eclipse glasses as a filter. It just did not cooperate.

And as fast as it started, it was over. We were looking at the corona, and then suddenly a bead of light peeked out from the lower left corner, and the totality phase was over. Even though the sun was still mostly covered, it didn’t take long for enough of it to be revealed for it to reassert itself.

.Last week, XKCD posted a cartoon which is so true:

1000% true.

Update: I was just talking with my nephew Danny. Looks like the choice of the western shore of Lake Champlain over Liverpool was a fortunate one; He was in Brockport NY, and had cloud cover.

Flooding on the Charles

We’ve had a ton of stormy weather over the past few weeks, and a lot of water has fallen, so it was not a surprise to see a river flood warning on my phone the other day. When I took a closer look at it, though, even though it was tagged for this town, it was in reality for Norfolk county, specifically the Dover-Medifield area.

I’ve become familiar with that area, first from rides on the motorcycle, and also from a number of kayak trips. My first drone flights were from the grounds of the old Medfield State Hospital. So I decided to head down and take a look. The alert mentioned some road flooding, but I figured I could always stop short and turn around.

My first destination was the Charles River Gateway at the old State Hospital. It overlooks a bend in the river where the state has restored wetlands. The wetlands were completely flooded.

Here is a view from the same spot in November of 2015:

Wetlands like these are an important part of flood control, as they allow the water to spread out horizontally, and be discharged gradually.

From there, I took a short walk along the footpath, then returned to the car and drove over to Route 27, about from the far end of the river in the picture above. By that point, the clouds had started to return; some parts of the sky were clouded over, while other parts were open, spotlighting the trees below.

I ended the day with a cup of tea at a nearby Dunkin Donuts. As I came out, it started to pour briefly, and then I noticed a fantastic rainbow.

Again, Sunrise at Castle Island

Today is once again, the last day of Daylight Savings Time. Just as the days have been ending earlier, they’ve also been starting later and later. With Daylight Savings Time, sunrise was at 7:20 this morning. So, just as I did last year, I decided to head over to Castle Island to see if I could see the sunrise.

Of course, dawn begins a lot earlier than sunrise, and as I learned today, it’s often more interesting than sunrise itself.

The forecast was for clouds overnight and today, but I woke up at 3 and could see the moon overhead, so I went back to bed and dozed for a little while. When I woke again at 5, I decided to take a chance, so I crawled back into my clothes and headed out for Castle Island.

I got there in the just past six. It was quite dark out, so I did the morning’s Wordle, then decided to get out of the car and see if I’d wasted the trip. As I came around the corner of the fort, I saw it — a faint glow of pink to the east.

Gradually, the glow grew and got brighter. It became apparent that the clouds covered most of the sky, but there was a narrow clear band right at the eastern horizon. As the sun approached the horizon, it lit the bottoms of the clouds brilliantly. I could see layers and textures in the clouds. The color shifted from pink to orange as more and more green light mixed with the red. Finally, the sun rose, behind some light haze at the horizon — I never did see the actual disk of the sun — and the colors faded as the sun climbed behind the overcast.

Just as it had a year ago, a tanker came into the harbor from the east. When I first got there, you could just barely see its lights, and then, just as the sun was rising it swept down the channel, made the turn, passed right in front of me, and then into the harbor. It turned out to be the very same tanker I’d seen last year, the Iver Prosperity. When I checked, it looks like it shuttles back and forth between Boston and St. John, Canada.


I was shooting with both the Nikon and the iPhone this morning, and it struck me how disparate they are. Neither one fits the bill completely. During the early part of the dawn, the SLR was nearly useless, as I’d neglected to bring the tripod, and I couldn’t hold it still enough not to blur the images.

The images out of the iPhone more resembled what I was seeing straight out of the camera, but it also tends to flatten the scene in a kind of paradoxical way. The iPhone shoot High Dynamic Range pictures, but then it maps the range of values into the gamut of what it can display. Granted, it can display a much wider range of values, but the end effect is a less contrasty image.

The Nikon, on the other hand, especially since I’m shooting RAW, just records the light values directly to the sensor. The end result is that, especially for a scene like a sunrise, is that it is impossible to record the highest highs and the lowest lows, and the pictures look more contrasty because the shadows are darker and the light areas lighter. You can pull some of the values back in in post-processing, but they’re still more contrasty. Compare the pictures of the clouds shot with the iPhone vs the ones shot with the Nikon — the Nikon better captures the textures of the clouds, while the phone did a better job with the colors. In addition, I have a longer lens available to me on the Nikon, and I tend to use it.

The other trade off with the Nikon is that since I am shooting RAW, I have to correct every damned picture. Apple Photos does not render Nikon RAW files well by default, especially ones like these that were not shot in the noon-day sun.

Once again, I’m impressed with the quality of the pictures coming out of this new phone compared to the ones shot on my old iPhone 12 Pro. Those pictures always looked over sharpened and sometimes had artifacts; I’m not seen it to the same extent with the new phone.

One other thing I have noticed in the new phone is a level indicator when shooting. I’m not sure if it’s new, and whether it’s an iOS 17 thing, or an iPhone 15 pro thing, or whether I simply never noticed it before, but it’s very helpful — when I think to use it. I keep grid lines turned on in the Nikon’s viewfinder, but I still find, when I look at what I’ve done, a lot of crooked horizons — and they’re particularly noticeable with a visible horizon line.

I think the next time I do something like this, I’ll bring the tripod. It was annoying not being able to use the Nikon during the earliest phase of the dawn. I know it’s capable of longer exposures if held steadily enough.

Despite the fact it was quite chilly, it was a good morning. I probably shot too many pictures, but I enjoy the process of shooting, and I had fun.

Big Sur

Today we planned to spend the day at Big Sur. The mountains come down close to the ocean there, creating a very picturesque landscape. There were a lot of things Tom wanted to show us.

Unfortunately, as we got closer, the fog closed in. We could barely see the Bixby Bridge as we crossed the bridge. We stopped at an overlook shortly thereafter; instead of the sea, we saw a sea of fog. The sun was just starting to burn off the fog above us, and with the sun behind us, looking down into the fog I saw my first glory; the water droplets in the fog created a slight rainbow effect around my shadow.

After a quick stop at the park offices, we stopped at Pfeiffer Beach. The fog was intense as we walked along the beach.

After Pfieffer Beach, we got back on the Pacific Coast highway and continued south, towards the McWay falls. As the day went on, and we climbed higher, the sun broke through the fog. As we turned the corner, we noticed an interesting phenomenon: it was wonderfully sunny up above (and in fact, I got a nasty sunburn on my face and head), but the coastline was covered by a solid bed of white fluff. This was especially noticeable from the balcony of the restaurant we ate at. When we finally got to McWay Falls, we could see the fog wafting through the trees, and could barely see the trees.

Tomorrow morning, we clean up, pack up, and take a look at Point Lobos before we head for the airport and home.

Pacific Grove and Carmel

I spent most of today walking around two different towns, Pacific Grove and Carmel.

Brian and the guys were golfing today at Pacific Grove Golf Course, and they needed to be dropped off. So I took them down, noticing on the way there that there was a nice downtown area. After dropping them off, I drove down to the waterfront, took some pictures, and then drove back downtown, had a coffee, then took a walk through the downtown area. There were several real estate offices, a couple of banks, and a few stores. It didn’t seem super touristy. I walked down to the waterfront, saw the Lover’s Point complex, and walked back to the car.

The town seemed nice, and clean, and the a fair number of the cottages appeared to be Victorian.

I then drove back to the time share to see if Tom was up and about. He was, so we decided to head up to Carmel, hoping that the Weston Gallery would be open, as I knew it had some Ansel Adams photographs. This was not a surprise, as their website said they were only open by appointment. I’d not made an appointment as I figured if someone was coming specifically in to work for us, there would be more of an expectation we would buy. But I’d hoped they’d be open anyway.

Carmel is a very pretty town. Kind of self-consciously so. It’s a more upscale town than Pacific Grove, and caters more to tourists. Tom and I did find another gallery with a couple of Adams prints, and ended up spending a couple of hours there, before we had to pick the guys up.

The rest of the group decided they wanted to see Carmel as well, so we went back up. In hindsight, I should have gone kayaking, as they ended up doing wine-tasting and not much else.

We did try to get over to Point Lobos after Carmel, but didn’t make it in time, so hopefully tomorrow, on the way to Big Sur.

Day 5: Redwoods and Monterey

We left Santa Cruz this morning to travel down to Monterey. Along the way, we stopped in the Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park.

The redwoods were immense, as expected. One goes there, expecting them to be huge, but still, the visceral impact of these huge trees is unexpected.

We first did a short loop through the state park, the various landmarks marked out by numbers corresponding to notes in a printed guide. Then we took a longer hike through a nearby forest, ending up by an abandoned limestone quarry.

Once we were through, we headed down to Monterey. The land got flatter, and much more agricultural. We passed fields and fields of crops. We stopped in the city of Montery; while the others had lunch, I wandered around a bit, and walked down to the wharf, where again, I saw several sea lions.

After doing a brief errand, we headed to the Air BnB. It’s quite nice; it’s faux rustic. From the outside it looks like a small shack, but it’s actually a couple of stories tall with several bedrooms and bathrooms and complete facilities. We’ll be based here for the rest of the trip. After a couple of hours of downtime, we headed back out for the sunset. We’ve all noticed that sunsets here are not as reddish as back east. My theory is that the Northeast is sort of the tailpipe of North America and we’re more apt to have dust and small particulates in the air, scattering the red light, while here, the air is coming off the Pacific. Nonetheless, it was still pretty.

Day 4 – Traveling to Santa Cruz

We spent Tuesday going down the coast from Pacifica to Santa Cruz. We stopped briefly at Half Moon Bay for a short ramble, took a detour to Cupertino to see the Apple Headquarters, went scootering in San Jose, got to see Tom’s place, then ended up in Santa Cruz for the end of the day.

We headed out of Pacifica, and started south. We took a side stop at Half Moon Bay, where there are walking paths through some woods and fields to the ocean.

Mike and Matt in Half Moon Bay
Mike and Matt in Half Moon Bay

Next stop was Apple Park in Cupertino. You can’t actually go into the Ring Building, but they have a Visitor Center where you can sort of see the Ring Building — enough to get a sense of the scale of it. It’s huge. The Visitor Center also has a diorama of the campus, and they have a virtual display with iPads showing a VR view of the various buildings. The top story is a really nice outdoor viewing area.

Apple Park's Ring Building seen from the visitor center.
Apple Park’s Ring Building seen from the visitor center.

Typical Apple, the bathrooms in the visitor center are impeccably clean, sleek, and premium feeling, and you have to look carefully to figure out how to flush the damned toilet.

From Cupertino, it was a short trip to San Jose, where Brian wanted to give scootering a try. It didn’t last long; we scootering on the margins of the streets and the park, the park was full of homeless people.

From there, we stopped at Tom’s place. It was nice to get a sense of where he lives. We then checked in, and then headed for the coast.

Santa Cruz is sort of a coastal resort. There’s a big wharf, an amusement park, and it has the vibe of a blue-ish collar vacation town. Our first stop was Lighthouse Point, where there were a ton of surfers in the crashing waves. They were flying past the rocky point; it was amazing how good they were.

After watching the surfers for awhile, we then moved up the coast to the Natural Bridge beach. It’s small cove with a natural arch formation, and on the other side, some rock formations that the guys went climbing over

Our last stop was the Santa Cruz Wharf. This is a very long wharf jutting out about half a mile south into the Pacific. It has a bunch of touristy retail and restaurants on it. As I approached the end, I could hear sea lions barking — they were on the piles supporting the wharf. It was near sunset, so I got some sunset pictures, both of the sky, and of some boats anchored nearby. As dusk deepened, the lights came on at the amusement park across the water.