Saturday, September 22, 2012

Get Your Party Pants On

It doesn't have to be full to be fulfilling

 I know, you’re about partied out with all the celebrations surrounding the first day of autumn, kids going back to school and the opening of the professional football season, however, here’s a biggy you won’t want to miss. (Besides, it’s Saturday and you can sleep in tomorrow.) In case you missed earlier announcements, this is International Observe the Moon Night.
Right, an official night to do what humans (and other creatures) have been doing since before before.
Susan and I got a jump on the festivities last night by attending a pre-event party at Westmont College in nearby Montecito (still in California). The school opens its doors the third Friday of each month, giving us civilians an opportunity to see the world beyond anything we might imagine.

Susan gets her turn to view beyond belief

The keyhole through which we would peek was a 24-inch reflector telescope in the Westmont Observatory. The relatively new high-tech telescope is one of the more powerful on California's Central Coast. (For you tech-type readers, its an F/8 Cassegrain instrument with Ritchey-Chretien optics.)
The Westmont College Observatory’s five-year-old 24-inch Keck Telescope, is already credited with confirming the existence of one supernova and is used by students to research meteorite trajectories, variable stars, and other celestial phenomena.

Students and other astronomer provided information

A half-dozen members of the Santa Barbara Astronomical Unit set up personal telescopes in the plaza surrounding the Keck scope, offering stargazers the chance to see various phenomena, including observations of the moon so close you could almost see footprints.
We spent several hours circulating from scope to scope, listening to astronomers talk in a language we could barely comprehend. And though we couldn’t speak their language, we were able to appreciate the mystery of places such as the Great Globular Cluster in Hercules (Messier 13, or NGC 6205) with its 300,000 stars, and the blue-green tinge of the Ring Nebula (M57, or NGC 6720) 2,300 light-years from Earth.
What concerns me is a conversation I had with one of the astronomers. He feels that there is a very real chance the Andromeda Galaxy (still 2.5 Million light-years away), which contains about one trillion stars, and the Milky Way (home base for planet Earth), which contains about three hundred billion stars, will collide in about four billion years. Shouldn’t we be doing something to prepare for this? I’m just sayin’.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Bird of a Different Feather

Someplace I read the definition of good luck is the point at which preparation intersects opportunity.
Southern California has been all abuzz this past week with talk of the space shuttle Endeavour coming to town as a permanent display at the California Science Center. This morning the LA Times had a list of spots where you might be able to see the shuttle as it piggybacked in on its 747 carrier.
Susan and I had a passing interest, however, standing around with crowds to see something fly by at several hundred miles per hour did not seem like a good use of our morning. Besides, we were determined to find, or refind I should say, a little brown bird that has eluded us twice since our initial sighting at Los Carneros Lake a couple weeks ago.
Nearing 11:30, our stomachs gnawing on our backbones, we decided that the elusive, nameless, bird was going to remain just that. We’re running out of time to bag that bugger. We’ve about given up hope of finding it.
Susan wisely suggested having lunch on the beach at nearby Goleta, a good birding spot as well. While Susan ordered up the chow, I noticed a bunch of photographers down at the beach and even more lined up along the rails of the pier. It took a minute to register—the space shuttle had to fly right by on its way from San Francisco to Los Angeles. While Susan was paying for the eats, I spotted the silver bird off to the north. What I expected to be a flash-by turned into a slow drive-by. One of the fellows near me said it was flying at between 250-275 miles per hour. It seemed slower.

Escorted by two fighter jets, the Boeing 747 and its cargo drifted south, high above the Brown Pelicans and gulls. In true American style, a woman standing behind me said, “Let’s hurry home so we can watch it on TV.” Reality TV might be the ruin of us all.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

No Cookie Cutters Allowed

California dreamin’.
I spent the morning with nephew-in-law Scott, our feet hovering about six inches above the pavement in Montecito, California. But first, a brief lesson in comparative literature. Many American fairytales begin: Once upon a time … While many Russian fairytales begin: Someday there will be a time … Today was a bit of both.
We took a step or two back in time, to when cars had wings on which a young man’s dreams could soar. It was billed as Cars and Coffee, a benefit for the Special Olympics. More than 100 cars, familiar brands and some you’ve never heard of (When was the last time you passed at 1947 Delahaye on the highway?) transformed the quiet landscape of Montecito and the Costal Village Road into a parking lot of dreams.
It was a view of what the world was and what it might be like if money was not an object. Conversations around us, indeed, even our own, began with sentences such as, “If only …” or, “My buddy once had …” or, “Don’t ya just hate it when a car you drove in high school turns up at an antique car show?”
I came away from the show with one overall impression: craftsmanship. Way back in J-school I was admonished never to use the word, unique. Well, I know, they’re gas-guzzling beasts and probably unsafe in the hands of normal people, however, they are as individual as the people that drive (or drove) them. Unique. No focus groups were used to design these babies, just the temperament of the person whose name is on the badge: Porsche, Ferrari, and Ford. Someplace along the way designers all started to use the same wind-tunnel data and focus-group gurus and we’ve ended up with a bunch of cars that look like potatoes with wheels.
Oh well, for a few hours it was worth the trip back in time. If only I had held on to my Porsche 914 …
Dream along with me.

1955 Chevrolet Corvette, coming and going.

When gas cost 31 cents per gallon.

Early form of car alarm. No batteries required.

Lil' Duce Coup--so California.
When cars had wings--and tails. 1959 Coupe da Ville.

Craftsmanship of a '48 Chrysler Woodie

1958 Porsche Speedster and 1962 Porsche 356. Don't drool on the paint, please.

Pierce-Arrow knew how to make radiator caps.

2004 Porsche Carrera GT. A steal at $300,000.

It doesn't get any more Californian than a '56 Chevy Nomad with wood sufrboard hanging out the back.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Photo Op

Anna's, Rufous and an immature Anna's Hummingbirds

 The area around Santa Barbara, California, is rich in history—as well as 475 species of birds. I was doing a bit of reading about the original people to settle here, the Chumash Indians. In their native tongue, the words Santa Barbara mean, Photo Op. Honest. I ain’t lying.
Not only is life out here good; it’s simple: Eat, sleep, bird. What’s not to like?
This morning Susan and I went to one of our favorite spots, Ellwood Mesa, in Goleta, where we usually get to see grassland species. On our way up to the mesa, a house that borders the trail had several hummingbird feeders hanging from its eves. As we were peering through the back gate, the home owners came along and invited us in. Gilbert was a gracious host, telling us all about his feeder array as we sorted out the various species. He had the usual ya-shoulda-been-here-last-week story about a Black-chinned Hummingbird that put in an appearance.
As a photographer I thought I’d died and gone to heaven, not the anticipated direction, when I watched the light shift a bit and the glass doors behind the feeders went black. You can’t get that in nature. I slobbered so much on my Nikon I was afraid I’d have to take it in to the shop for cleaning.
Anyway, It was a morning filled with birds we’d like to share with you. Enjoy.

An uncommon Pacific (Black) Merlin

A mouse-eye view of a White-tailed Kite, AKA Black-shouldered Kite

Aren't those Brown Pelicans getting a bit close?

An unseen traffic controller at the feeders helps.