Sunday, June 28, 2009

Kelsey's Excellent Encounter

Usually when we have a weekend BBQ for family here at Ft. Harrington, there are many, many people involved. On Saturday, June 27th, 2009, though, we had an unusually small gathering: just Grace-the-Granddaughter, her mom (Adrianne), and her uncle Adam.

Old yellow Kelsey generally has an absolute gas at family gatherings, tripping happily from one person to another until he's so worn out that he collapses. With fewer targets this time, though, for some reason he zeroed in on Adrianne as the object of his attention.

In this little set, we see him wooing her, greeting her, and, ultimately, settling in happily at her side.

What a suck-up my dog is.

Kelsey's Excellent Encounter (1 of 7)
Adrianne, Kelsey, and Grace. Kelsey starts by placing himself where he can't be ignored.

Kelsey's Excellent Encounter (2 of 7)
Kelsey sandwich! Excellent!

Kelsey's Excellent Encounter (3 of 7)
"Please, let me introduce myself!"

Kelsey's Excellent Encounter (4 of 7)
"... I am a dog whose refinement belies my breeding, my lady."

(It's interesting to note how he holds his ears in this set compared to how he does when he's at work.)

Kelsey's Excellent Encounter (5 of 7)
Kissing the back of the hand is customary, but Kelsey's doing pretty well for a dog, don't you think?

She's let me sit here! Oh, the ecstasy! Oh, the joy!
Oh, the damn' little suckup spaniel, horning in from the left. He always does that.

Kelsey's Excellent Encounter (7 of 7)
Settled in.

Little does Adrianne know it, but, at this instant, Kelsey would have followed her through the very gates of Hell. He's also actively guarding her now; note the position of his ears.


Thursday, June 25, 2009

One Dome, Two Skies

Path to the main entrance of DeAnza College's Fujitsu Planetarium, whose blue dome can be glimpsed through the redwood grove that shelters it.

While I have posted before about the installation of remarkable new technology in the planetarium I'm privileged to work in, I have not until now posted any images of what that technology can produce. In part, that has been due to the imaging challenges involved: the planetarium simulates the night sky in all ways, including darkness. That and the odd geometry involved in shooting photos of images projected on a hemisphere was enough to keep me from learning how to manage it for a while.

But I'm starting to be able to do it.

Mars and Phobos, seen from about a hundred kilometers above the latter, as they would have been seen at about 2pm, Pacific Daylight Time, this afternoon.

The "Two Skies" part of this post's title refers to the two sky simulation systems at the heart of the planetarium's renovation. I refer to them as the "space simulator" (SkySkan's all-digital system) and the "sky simulator" (Konica-Minolta's new-generation Infinium-S optical-mechanical system.) Each does a different job in magnificent fashion.

The Space Simulator

SkySkan's digital system provides me with the ability to "fly" through a huge database which includes, among much else, accurate information about the locations, angles of illumination, and orientation of thousands of solar system objects at any time within several thousand years of now, both forward and backward in time.

Jupiter's inner satellites' orbital paths and their locations at about 2:15, PDT, June 25.

It's important to note that the images in this post are actual photographs of part of the inside of a planetarium dome, not screen captures from a computer monitor. Unless otherwise noted, each of the images here cover the same area of the dome, a slice about 25 feet wide and commensurately high. The dome itself is a hemisphere 50 feet in diameter, and the camera's location was about 35 feet from the point of aim. This means that, while not particularly evident, the edges and top of the frame are fairly significantly closer to the camera than the center and bottom (which is just above the bottom rim of the dome.)

Simulated Ganymede with Jupiter in the background, June 25, 2009. This and the other "space simulator" images in this post are 20-second exposures with a Nikon D70 at ISO 400 using an 18mm lens stopped to f/8.

It is also important to note that the images here are not frames from a movie. The operator of the system is completely free to specify location, time, and direction of view of the "camera." Navigation is remarkably simple -- but what goes on under the surface isn't. The database is manipulated by a stack of ten quad-core Intel computers. One computer orchestrates the other nine, one is dedicated to managing sound for applications that have it, and the other eight each manage one "channel." Each visual channel is projected on a "tile" that covers 1/8 of the dome, and the ensemble is remarkably seamless in appearance. Projection is done by a pair of cinema theater grade Sony digital projectors with special optics, each of which handles four of the channels.

Looking back toward the Sun from Saturn on June 25, 2009.

The detail and accuracy in the database (which is frequently updated by SkySkan) is astonishing -- and very, very useful as a teaching tool. The above image of Saturn, for example, shows some interesting things in the shadow of the planet across the rings toward us. (Click on the image to see it larger.) Notice that you can see some stars through the rings in the shadow? That's not a mistake: there are places in the rings where the material is thin enough for that to happen... and places where it isn't. If we shift our position a little down and to the right...

... the two stars that shone brightly through the "Cassini Division" in the previous view are now blocked by the more richly-populated A Ring (the brightest component of the system in reflected sunlight.)

View toward the center of the Milky Way Galaxy. If you click on the above image, you'll see that all of the stars have color. Those colors (based on the stars' spectral types) are not usually evident to most planetarium patrons except for the very brightest ones -- as is the case in the real sky -- but they're there, nonetheless.

The Sky Simulator

The other system, the Konica-Minolta Infinium-S, can't fly us around the solar system, but it provides a much more realistic simulation of the night sky as seen from right here on Earth.

The optical-mechanical projector at the heart of the Konica-Minolta system is an engineering marvel, and I don't have a clue as to how it performs its magic.

Until very recently, all planetarium projectors achieved different brightnesses for their projected stars by a very simple, but very innacurate, method for all but the very brightest ones: by having the "stars" be different sizes: bigger "star" --> brighter "star." That's also the way that the digital Space Simulator that we've been looking at so far does the trick.

But that's not the way the real universe looks.

Unless your eyesight is really bad, the stars in the real sky all look the same size: pinpoints of light. Their brightness differences are entirely due to different intensities. That's the heart of why planetarium simulations never looked very real to me: different brightnesses were achieved by different sizes of images which all had the same surface brightness.

Here's an expanded view of Canis Major in the space simulator system, the one that does brightnesses the old-fashioned way:

... and here, to the same scale, the constellation Lyra in the Konica-Minolta sky simulator system:

If you click on the above image, you'll see that all of the stars have exactly the same size, no matter what their brightness -- just the way the stars appear in the real sky. (As an added bit of realism, the 20 brightest stars in the Konica-Minolta sky can be made to twinkle!)

The realism of the sky simulator system is such that I still haven't figured out how to capture its view very well with my camera. Here's a two-minute exposure toward the Great Summer Triangle at f/8:

(the lights at the bottom are inside the projector itself.) And here's an eight-minute exposure:

I was baffled by the red glow here: to my eye, the dome was pitch black except for the pinpoints of the stars' images.

But the camera doesn't have the same spectral sensitivity that our eyes, do, evidently. Where the faint red in this long time-exposure came from is evident in this trial shot at a lower angle for the space-simulator system:

Saturn, its rings, and some of its satellites' orbital paths.

See the bright red rectangle near the bottom about 3/4 of the way from left to right? That's an infrared broadcast station for the planetarium's assistive listening device system. Its radiation is invisible to the human eye -- but not to the D70's sensor! (This was the first time that I realized that my old digital camera records a significant amount of infrared. That's a little disconcerting.) So the pervasive red glow in the very-long time exposures is IR from these devices reflected from the dome.

The next time I try this, I'll turn off the ALD system... but I ran out of time this afternoon.

The cities shine like stars.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Tomorrow Came in the Mail Today

Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow, by Brian Fies. Please click on the above image to be taken to's ordering page.

My friend, Brian Fies, is a scientist by college training and a cartoon artist by fame. His first book, Mom's Cancer, was written and drawn in response to his mother's battle with the disease and his family's battles to cope with it and to support her. It was widely acclaimed and won many awards. More importantly, selfish creatures that we are, it touched a deep, personal place in each of us who have dealt with a loved one's cancer and that person's response to it, which is not always one of traditional stoic heroism. Maintenance of love through the most difficult of circumstances is facilitated by an unblinking inner eye, and Mom's Cancer showed that very, very clearly.

Since Mom's Cancer, Brian's fans have been anxiously waiting for his next book. Would it be a "sequel"? A medical advice book would have been logical, since Mom's Cancer was so widely acclaimed as a help for families coping with a loved one's catastrophic illness. Or would it be something else entirely?

It is something else entirely.

Brian's publisher, Harry N. Abrams, and his editor, Charlie Kochman, encouraged Brian to follow his enthusiasm for science, technology, and exploration instead of going the "safe" route with a sequel. Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow is the spectacular result of that gamble.

Whatever Happened... chronicles the 20th Century American love affair with technology and progress from its first-bloom manifestation in the 1939 World's Fair through its confused dissolution at the end of the Apollo era. Along the way, it presents images and print media that are genuine echoes of the times they represent, including "play-within-a-play" comic books that are authentic not only in their art, but in the paper on which they're printed! That sort of attention to detail pervades the work: every frame seems to have been researched assiduously for accuracy. I could find no anachronisms, and I tried. Hard.

Hardbound, handsome, brilliantly printed, it would be well worth the $50 cover price it should have. It is an absolute steal at $19.

I'm pretty sure that I would say all of that if I were a thoroughly impartial observer. But I'm not.

Page 118 of Whatever Happened... looks like this:

Click to see a clearer version. Guinness, at right, is waiting for his dinner, not particularly enthralled by the artwork.

... and here's a closer look:

(Click the image to see a ligible version. Guinness's butt, blurred by the long exposure, is scooting behind the book at upper-left. Maybe it's time to feed him, think?)

That scene is based on one of my Dad's photographs, taken in the early 1960's:

Mom and I lunching in a Florida roadside diner, spring, 1961.

Brian saw it in this post in SherWords at a very opportune time while he was working on Whatever Happened... , and asked if he could use it. I think I hesitated for less than an eighth of a second. I think he did the shot justice, and his acknowledgement at the end of the book is very gracious.

Another thing about Whatever Happened... : Brian had a little virtual "Launch Party" for Whatever Happened... just a little while ago. It is well worth watching -- especially for two things: Brian's careful demonstration of cartooning techniques, and for a "visit" by a famous cartoonist, Stephan Pastis, who does the daily Pearls Before Swine strip. Pastis is a hoot, and it's clear from his behavior at Brian's party where the inspiration for his "Rat" main character comes from.

Pastis also takes off his shirt in that clip. Just in case you needed any further impetus to watch.


Saturday, June 6, 2009

"Satchel" Is Online

Dad Working on His Old Model T, 1941
Dad working on his Model T, circa 1935.

A Satchel of Ordinary Treasure is now online with its first post. A second entry will appear tomorrow morning, and the plan is to roll out a new post or two each weekend. We'll see.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

A Question You Do NOT Want to Hear from Your Wife When She Calls You at Work

"Honey, where do you keep the snake?"