Saturday, September 2, 2017

Total Solar Eclipse of 2017 - Part III

Part III - The Technical Details

My Equipment

Basically my eclipse equipment doubles as my astrophotography gear.  That included my 8" Celestron SCT and a Celestron 500mm Mak lens piggy-backed on the telescope. I used two Canon cameras: my new EOS 6D was mounted on the C8 and my older EOS 50D was on the 500mm.

Primary Equipment

  • Celestron Celestar8 Deluxe Schmidt-Cassegrain (Schmidt-Cass or SCT) reflector telescope 
    • standard "Wedgpod" (wedge and tripod)
    • custom aluminum and 3D printed "piggy back" rail w/ Manfrotto quick-release adapter (I designed this adaptor and feature it on Thingiverse: C8 Camera Mount Assembly
    • Thousand Oaks Optical white light, silver/black polymer solar filter (RG-9187)
    • Celestron Reducer / Corrector f/6.3 (model #94175)
    • Orion T-Adapter (#5116)
    • TalentCell 12V/9V/5V 8.3Ah Power Bank w/5.5x2.1mm power cable (model YB1208300-USB)
  • Canon EOS 6D full-frame DSLR
    • Opteka intervalometer w/ Kirkland AAA batteries 
    • Canon LP-E6 and Powerextra batteries 
    • SanDisk Extreme PRO 32GB SD cards
  • Celestron 500mm f/5.6 Mirror Lens - Maksutov-Cassegrain (Mak or MCT) Spotting Scope 
    • Thousand Oaks Optical white light, type 2+ glass solar filter (S-4250 I believe)
    • Manfrotto 200PL quick-release plate
  • Canon EOS 50D crop (1.6x) DSLR
    • Zeikos battery grip (ZE-CBG50)
    • Neewer intervalometer (EZa-C3) w/ Kirkland AAA batteries 
    • STK BP-511A batteries 
    • SanDisk Extreme 8GB CF cards

Secondary Equipment

  • Canon FS100 digital video camera
    • XX tripod
  • GoPro Hero (original) action camera
    • custom 3D printed base (and duct tape)
  • Garmin Virb X action camera
    • Manfrotto 200PL quick-release plate and adaptor
    • Manfrotto ball head
    • Manfrotto tripod
  • Samsung Galazy S4mini Duos

Miscellaneous Stuff for the Event

  • Garmin "Colorado" 400t GPS
  • Sperti Inc, Astro Compass Mark II (WWII vintage)
  • green lasers for pointing to starts, planets, constellations, satellites, etc at night
  • Pin-hole viewing "equipment"
    • retasked lens aperture and telescope end-cup for an adjustable pin-hole
    • black foam board and aluminum foil pin-hole 'slides'
      • fingers, hats, etc work too
    • white foam board for a 'screen'
    • camp chair to rest the screen on
  • A few 4/5" x 5.5"shade #14 welding glass
  • miscellaneous "eclipse" glasses including sets from the WyoParksEclipse (came with the parks passes I purchased) and some older "Eclipser" glasses from the Venus transit
  • mason's line for setting-up / checking North alignment
  • folding table
  • scrap carpet remnant for placing more delicate equipment on the table (and keeping it from rolling / sliding around)
  • Walmart 'easy-up' sun shade (kept me from getting sunburn when not in totality)
  • camp chairs


The camera's were set with the following notable exposure values...

Canon EOS 6D (t-mount on C8 w/ reducer)
  • effective focal length 1280mm
    • 'un-reduced' focal length is 2032mm
  • fixed aperture f/6.3
    • 'un-reduced' aperture is f/10
  • Custom 1 (partial phase):
    • "M" mode
    • ISO 100
    • Tv 1/800s
    • no bracket
    • Remote timer settings: 
      • 1min interval
      • N=81
  • Custom 2 (totality):
    • "M" mode
    • ISO 400
    • Tv 1/30s
    • +/-2stops, +/-4stops bracket (5 shots)
      • +/-2stops = 1/8s, 1/125s
      • +/-4stops = 0.5s, 1/500s
    • Remote timer setting (planned): 
      • 1/2s interval
      • N=272
Canon EOS 50D (piggy-back on C8 w/ 500mm lens)
  • focal length 500mm
  • fixed aperture f/5.6
  • Custom 1 (partial phase):
    • "M" mode
    • ISO 100
    • Tv 1/200s
    • +/-1stop bracket
      • +/-1stops = 1/100s, 1/400s
    • Remote timer setting:
      • 1min interval
      • N=81
  • Custom 2 (totality):
    • "M" mode
    • ISO 400
    • Tv 1/8s
    • +/-2stops
      • +/-2stops = 0.5s, 1/30s
    • Remote timer setting (planned):
      • 1s interval
      • N=136
50D under-exposed at 1/400s
These exposure settings were based on Fred Espenak's exposure guide: SEphoto.html and the results of a few test shots.
For example, the 50D on the 500mm was test-shot at ISO 100, using shutter times of Tv = 1/1000s, 1/800s, 1/640s, 1/400s, even 1/25s, finally settling on a bracket at 1/200s.

Similar testing was done for the 6D on the C8, shooting at ISO 100, using shutter times of Tv = 1/400s, 1/500s, 1/640s, 1/800s, and 1/1000s.  For the 6D/telescope setup I settled on 1/800s as the best exposure.

Lessons Learned

Practice, practice, practice!  OK, that was the advice of the Canon site, and a number of others that I visited pre-eclipse. The problem was, I did not follow it very well and when it came to totality, I was mesmerized.  My biggest mistake: I did not switch my camera customs settings from C1 to C2.  All told, photos came out OK anyways and I witnessed an amazing event.

What would I change for next time:
  • Spend more time on focusing the telescopes - I had tools at my disposal that I did not use.  I brought along a laptop to view the test shots--did not pull that out.  I had a Bahtinov focus mask I could have used--but didn't.  I could have done more with the "live view" and a magnifier, but didn't.
  • Adjust the orientation of the 50D - I had the Moon traveling across the Sun from bottom of frame to top of frame.  This was mostly old habit because the camera orients better when mounted piggy-back on the C8.  However, the solar corona tends to be "wider" in the solar plane or ecliptic.  Because of this, I would have captured more corona if the camera was oriented 90deg or "landscape" mode.
  • Change the exposure settings for totality - as already noted, I had planned to do just that, but the emotion of the moment apparently got in the way.
  • Don't forget the other science - I had planned to bring my hand-held weather station, but forgot.  I considered trying to video record the shadow bands, but figured I had enough going on. 
  • Try wide-angle shots of the eclipse - it is very common to see wide-angel stacked photos (multi exposure pictures) with a visually appealing foreground and the eclipsing Sun / Moon in the sky.  Equipment limitations were my primary reason for not trying this--I already had two DSLRs and three (four) video cameras going.
  • Try making video of totality (magnified shot of the Sun/Moon) - again, equipment limitations were my reason for not trying this.
  • Bring my ham equipment - one of the guys I met on the hill (from TX) was a ham and he had been following the NASA balloon experiments.  I should have thought of that!
  • See if there are other phenomenon that can be mixed with the event - A great example is that one of my long-time buddies who is also a photographer (much closer to pro than me), captured the ISS transitioning the eclipse (BlairCraft Photograpy)!  Blind luck, considering the whole transition took less than a second, but he caught it.

Next Chance

With all the reading, videos, etc that I followed leading up to this event, I heard a similar mantra repeated by folks who had already experienced totality: it is addicting.  I have to say, I now understand.  The event went too quickly and I want to experience it again.  Is that a consequence of today's high-tech society were repeated videos are just a click away; where you can find literally thousands of photos, from different angles, times, colors, ... of the same shot?  Maybe.  

This was an experience.

Now, just like back in 2014--prior to the total lunar eclipse--I am looking forward to 2024 in Texas.

Thank you for visiting my blog!

Just a little plug for my equipment:
#Canon #EOS #CanonEOS #6D #50D #Celestron #Garmin #virb

As with the original Star Wars trilogy, the best part of the story starts with a later episode.  I have captured this total eclipse adventure in a number of postings for my own recollection--and you are more than welcome to visit the other pages...
Part III - The Technical Details

Total Solar Eclipse of 2017 - Part II

Part II - The Eclipse

Start of the Day

As with the other mornings in Wyoming, on Monday the 21st of August, I was up around sunrise (~06:30).  However, this morning I could not ease myself back into slumber.  The reason why was obvious--it was the day of a total solar eclipse.
My first goal was to pack.  Our whole group was going to be leaving the area, some right after totality, others would wait until the partial was complete--I was going to be one of the 'laggers' because of my photography.  In an effort to not be "that person" who everyone else was waiting for, I packed-up early.  
Having stacked my camping gear near the truck, I grabbed all my observation equipment (cameras, tripods, etc) and wandered up the hill.  A few folks in our group had already popped up top to photograph or just witness sunrise.  I have to say, I was relieved to see an absence of clouds given the previous day's weather.
Once again, I setup the telescope which had over-nighted in its weather-proof cocoon.  Next, I started preparation for the coming photographic adventure: programming custom settings into my cameras. 
After having reassembled the telescope, programmed the cameras, gotten my mobile phone ready with the timer app and a battery pack connected, and having deployed multiple video cameras, I basically sat back and watched the crowd gather for the start of the early-morning festivities.

Initial Partial-Eclipse

The big event started at 10:23 that day and there was quite a crowd gathering.  Since we had a good 81 minutes until totality (yes, that is pretty precise), I was able to mingle.  Some of the best fun I had for this event was sharing my enthusiasm with anyone who was interested.  After meeting several great people in the days leading up to the eclipse, it was wonderful to see most of them gathering on the hill.
I had forgotten to bring my hand-held weather meter (wind speed, temperature, pressure, etc) so the "scientific observations" I had thought about recording, just did not happen.  But for all of posterity, here are the interesting aspects of the eclipse that we witnessed:
  • The temperature drop leading up to totality was dramatic - The temperature dropped by maybe ~20°F (~10°C) in the lead-up to totality. Some folks walked back to camp to get a jacket.
  • I did not observe shadow bands ("shadow snakes") - I had not setup anything special for observing them, so no surprise.
  • No observed changes in animal behavior - I do not recall the crickets starting to chirp or any change in birds--although we were not in an area that was overpopulated by either.
  • There was a noticeable change in the wind - The light breeze calmed down during totality. To some extent I expected this. Since the preceding day was windy (10~15mph) and I had kept a side-tarp on the canopy rolled up due to wind on the day of the eclipse, it was notably calm during totality.
  • Noticeable changes in shadows and sharper vision - This was a dramatic phenomenon that I had not expected--but makes sense. As the relative size of the Sun shrinks, it becomes more of a point-source of light. The Sun and the Moon are just over 0.5° in size as vied from the Earth (Angular Diameter). My younger son, who was with me to witness this event, observed how the shadow of his hand was ultra-sharp, even when held at a distance from the ground.  My vision felt like someone had turned-up the contrast on my "TV" to 11--it was surreal.

Related to the sharp shadows, I had come prepared with a few pin-hole projector examples and a white, foam-board as a screen. This certainly had a "wow-factor" for the crowd. Demonstrating how "pin-hole" cameras could be make a with their fingers, or any other object such as mesh from a camp chair or their straw hat, resulted in wonderful entertainment.


I have to say, even as an engineer/scientist who likes to write about my observations, it is hard to explain my reaction to totality in words.  I think a deeper, primitive section of my brain took over during those two-plus minutes, and even though I was mostly working on automatic processes (breathing, balancing on two feet, thumbs pushing the shutter buttons :-), etc) I was not able to hold back a shout of excitement. 

Where we were located, the time of totality was calculated to last 2 minutes 16 seconds.  This was based off of maps from NASA, a French mapping web site, and the Solar Eclipse Timer app, all focused down on our GPS-based location: N 42° 25' 10.95" W -105° 20' 43" give-or-take.

Better than trying to describe the event, it may be easier to just show you.  Here are a number of videos and animations from our total eclipse viewing...


Here is a 15min long video, clipped down from an hour-long capture.  Totality starts around the 2:30 mark.  This was taken on a Canon FS100 video camera and was looking North towards the "viewing site".  A majority of our group is in-frame.  Things to notice are how dramatically the background lighting changes from partial, to total, back to partial and the crowd's reaction at each stage!

This camera was positioned to gaze northward from our viewing site, overlooking the Wyoming plains.  A Garmin VIRB X was used to capture this video.

My intention was to try and pick up the eclipse shadow as it moved across the landscape.  The original video was also an hour long but I shortened the clip down to 5min with totality starting at about 1:30.  If you slide through on the video, the darkening and subsequent brightening of the sky and landscape becomes more apparent.
There is also a complimentary version from a buddy who used his GoPro, pointing in a slightly more easterly direction.

For an idea of how short the totality event really is, this last video is a time lapse of the crowd starting ~30min before totality and ending about 30 minutes after.  This was compiled from an original GoPro Hero, duct-taped to a stump, clicking off stills every 5 seconds.  The angle was shot towards the South with the 'flare' of the Sun creeping across the upper-left, just out of frame.

I have at least one other video that I have not posted (and may not, mostly because the audio is very distorted). For that capture I used my dash-cam sitting on the table next to the telescope.  I had hooked this camera up to the same battery pack as my cell phone, which is possibly the cause of distortion.


My shots from totality were mostly under exposed due to my basal matter malfunction...
As the shadow passed over us, I celebrated just like everyone else, eventually jumping on my telescope and camera gear to remove the filters from both scopes.  Success!  Well not quite.  It had only taken about 15 seconds to get the filters off but the next step was supposed to be me switching the exposures over to those custom setting I had so carefully programmed into both cameras.  ...enter 'cave man' Marty... that was the point where my event rehearsal broke down.  I did not bother with reprogramming the shutter/times and just opted to bang on those two remotes buttons as if I were playing an old sports game on an original Nintendo.  I just clicked away, "going manual".
Because my exposures were set for a much brighter target (with the filters), my shots were mostly under-exposed and I did not get the bracketing I had so carefully planned.
You tell me, what do you think of these...

This is a combination shot very near C2 (start of totality).  I superimposed the corona from my 50D and the detailed prominence from my 6D.  The red prominences on the right-side of the photo were visible with the naked eye.
If I were to estimate from memory, I would say the corona was visible out to about 6-radii.  Because my totality shots were under exposed, I wanted to just capture a version here that did not push the digital editing process too far.  For this and other combo shots, I simply expanded the size of my 50D photo to match the size of the 6D--so more detail came from the full-frame camera.

Here I have a similar combination shot very near C3 (end of totality).  Like the one above, I used a corona shot from my 50D superimposed on a prominence shot from the 6D.

This is an un-doctored image from my 6D, very near C3.  The "diamond ring" is just about to appear and the red prominences are very visible on the right-side of the Sun.  I think this technically counts as a "Baily's Beads" shot.  I just love the detail the prominences (unfortunately they are slightly out-of-focus).

In summary: 
It happened too fast!  
I want more!

If I were a betting man (and I am), I would place money on just about everybody we met on Esterbrook Hill, trying to make the 2024 eclipse.

Final Partial-Eclipse

The time after totality, running up to C4 (the end of the partial eclipse) was very reflective for everyone who was still milling around at the viewing site.  Most of the folks decided to depart--helplessly trying to beat return traffic--but some people stuck around.  I was still photographing the partial as the Moon moved on in its orbit, so we hung out for a while talking through our shared experience.  It was good to chit-chat with the others who stuck around.  Eventually, I started to pack-up my gear as we all basked in the renewed warmth of our nearest star.

Other Shots

I compiled this .gif animation from my Canon 50D.  Individual frames were taken at 3min intervals during the partial eclipse phase.  Two totality shots are included, since totality lasted less than 3 minutes, these two shots are only around 2min apart.  The sequence does a good job of showing how brief the period of totality really is.  Sorry if the 'jitter' is bothersome, this was a first-cut, manually stacking photos, positioning, filling, etc with GIMP.  I should have an updated versions posted here in a little while.

Returning Home

Driving home was a test of ones patience, but I have to say, most people were in a good mood.  What had taken about 5hrs to drive up from Colorado Springs, eventually took over 8hrs on the return--and we were the lucky ones.  Others in our group took more than 10hrs to return home.


I have a list of people I met on the hill that weekend whom I will be pointing to this blog.  Please feel free to copy these photos and share with family, friends, etc--I only ask that you give credit with my name:
Martin D. Stoehr

Photos and video here are © 2017 by Martin D. Stoehr, All Rights are Reserved.  These low-resolution version may be distributed as you wish with the noted proviso of providing credit.  If posting on the web, please try to include a link to this blog.

I will spend the next month or more producing many high-res shots including a panorama/composite of the total eclipse.  If you are interested in printed copies of any photos here, please feel free to contact me.

Thank you for visiting my blog!

As with the original Star Wars trilogy, the best part of the story starts with a later episode.  I have captured this total eclipse adventure in a number of postings for my own recollection--and you are more than welcome to visit the other pages...
Part II - The Eclipse

Total Solar Eclipse of 2017 - Part I

Part Ia - The History

Total Lunar Eclipse of 2014

Back in early 2014 I was browsing the NASA Eclipse web site in preparation for the coming Total Lunar eclipse of 15 Apr 2014.  Seems so long ago.  That was a fun event for me and I was able to take my astrophotography to a new level that year using my Celestron C8 telescope and my Canon 50D crop camera.

After staying up until the wee hours of the morning at a friend's property in eastern Colorado, and spending many, many hours on GIMP, I ended up with my piece de resistance: an 18" x 48" metal print of a Lunar eclipse panorama.

Total Solar Eclipse of 2017

from NASA's site
Back to the reason for this blog... what I tripped across earlier that year was information about the up-coming total Solar eclipse of 2017--eventually to be known as the Eclipse Across America or the Great American Eclipse.  Unless you live in a cave and have NO access to modern media (radio, TV, cable, or the internet) or possibly are reading this from a different continent, you already knew about this event.  Hopefully you participated in a trip to the totality zone yourself, or if not, you at least walked outside on the 21st of August to witness the partial obscuring of the sun.
This is the story of my first encounter with totality. Any eclipse is a wonderful act of celestial mechanics and I cannot do it justice in explaining the details--most of which I am familiar but do not have the fortitude to document here.  In case you wish to know more, there are a few sites which I recommend:

Back to the story: after gathering a little information in 2014, by April of 2015 I had finally committed to the idea of seeing this total eclipse.  At that point I started investigating locations, travel times, equipment--very rudimentary plans.  

Another year passed and around February of 2016 my planning started in earnest.  First-things-first, I needed to upgrade my equipment.  To start with I needed get my hands on a solar filter which I could use with my 8" Celestron telescope.  That was easy enough; I had already purchased a smaller filter for my Celeastron 500mm catadioptric lens (that is a fancy word for "mirrored"), so I went back to the supplier of these filters--Thousand Oaks Optical.  
What prompted earlier purchase of the smaller filter?  That one I picked up for witnessing the 2012 Transit of Venus (Transit of Venus, 2012). In that event I attempted to make an aperture filter for my large C8 telescope using foam board and a piece of welding glass as a filter.  Unfortunately the welding glass was not optical quality and the reduced objective aperture enhanced that deficiency.  I was still able to get some good shots with the 500mm lens and my 50D despite the frequent cloud cover.

Scouting trips

August 21st 2016

My initial plan was to drive up to Wyoming and pick out a nice location within the zone of totality--at the same time of year as the actual event.  Thus 21 Aug... 2016.  

My first targeted location was Glendo Reservoir.  Half-way between Douglas and Guernsey, right off of I-25, there lays a relatively large reservoir surrounded by a state park--perfect for camping and recreation.  I figured that would make a great location: setup a camp early eclipse-weekend, assemble all my equipment, and hang out until the shadow swept by.  Turns out it was a good idea which a lot of other folks had too.  About that later.

Camping has always been a hobby for mine, my family, and my friends, so invitations went out to drum-up interest for a scouting trip.  There was a good bit of back-and-forth discussing the location, camping, and even canoeing / kayaking at the scouting site.  

Unfortunately work got in the way of plans as it often does, and nothing materialized in Aug 2016.  

Early 2017

Fast forward to February 2017--now into the year of the event.  I was randomly digging through solar eclipse information on the web, occasionally checking out weather maps, alternate locations, etc.  It turns out that Wyoming was not only the closest location for us folks in Colorado Springs but it also tends to have some of the best viewing weather for that time of year.  February turned into early April and I started making plans to actually go on that scouting trip.  April was important because it would provide a good reference to where the Sun would be in the sky during the eclipse.  Just like scouting a site on the same day the year prior, referencing an analemma, I found that the perfect "Spring" match to the 21 Aug eclipse date would be 19 Apr.   

Next step was to look into a camp site and possible reservations for the scouting trip.  That was when I learned... 
WyoParks had put weekend passes up for early reservation.  "Great!"--I though, I am ahead of the game.  We should be able to get a site at Glendo...  Nope!  It turns out that rather than opening up reservations 90-days in advance, WyoParks had already offered camping reservations much earlier and all the passes for Glendo State Park had sold out in October!  That put a bit of a damper on my plans.  At the same time I also learned that they were selling one-day car passes for any WY state park, so I purchased two.  

OK, so now I needed to find an alternative--primary site.

Late-April 2017

Additional research showed some interesting prospects: Ayres Natural Bridge Park, Medicine Bow National Forest and Campbell Creek Campground, etc.  The only way to tell which locations would be good and which would be mediocre would be to get 'boots on the ground'.

So, for the weekend of 22-23 April I brought along my youngest son (he needed driving hours, and Wyoming is good for that), and a collection of folks from work.  We piled into a couple of vehicles and drove up to Wyoming to scout for the 'perfect' total eclipse viewing site.  I wanted to check out Glendo, even though it was not available for camping--it would still be a great spot for the viewing.  My father was even considering bringing along his 5th wheel camper and parking it at the General Store lot for a nominal fee.

My buddy Steve is much more experienced, and frankly better at this blogging thing.  He made an entry about our scouting trip in April:

As Steve mentions, we had lunch in Douglas on Sunday--the Village Inn is where our luck turned.  I started chatting-up some local residents as we were checking out.  One gentleman and his wife had been living in the area for quite a while and was curious about the "eclipse traffic" but had very little interest in the event himself.  Very friendly folks.  I always like an impromptu conversation and that one happened to pay off for us.  He had mentioned that they lived south of Douglas, in the small town of Esterbrook.  He did note that private property was interspersed with National Forest land--which raised my interest.  
After consulting the shadow map and seeing that Esterbrook was well within the area, we decided to drive down there and check out the location.  What we found eventually became the location for our eclipse viewing adventure: Esterbrook Hill.

Laramie Peak from Esterbrook Hill

Part Ib - Preparing for The Event

The Nerding-Out and the Trip to the Viewing

Throughout the Summer, I would set up my astrophotography equipment to test it out, in preparation for the coming eclipse.  A few test shots here-and-there.  Eventually I caught this video by Destin Sandlin at SmarterEveryDay. This is where I first found out about the "shadow snakes" and quickly decided to download the Solar Eclipse Timer app.

This video pushed me to be even more aware of other phenomenon.  The animal reactions, the diamond ring, and Baily's beads were all phenomenon I was familiar with--shadow bands was new.

Drumming-up a Crowd

I chatted up many folks about the solar eclipse and I was starting to gather a crowd of interested viewers.  My plan was to take Friday off of work and head up to Esterbrook.  Hoping the camp ground would have an open site was 'Plan A' but the expectation was 'Plan B': to setup a dispersed camp on NF land.
A buddy from work, Troy, was planning to convoy up with me.  My father was planning to head up to Glendo with his 5th wheel camper.  Steve, the guy with the blog, would come up with his wife on Saturday--possibly bringing Jeff (another buddy from work) as well.  My wife would come up on Sunday and bring both boys--she would stay at the trailer and the boys would camp out with me.  Another two buddies from work: Jon, was planning to bringing his wife; the other: Paul, intended to bring two of his three kids.  Another good-old friend, John, his wife and one or two of their boys.  That made a grand total of 17-18 people.

Unfortunately, not everything worked out as planned.  A number of folks had come down with a pretty bad cold including my family.  Eventually we had a grand total of 12 in our group: myself and Troy arrived on Friday; Steve, Lisa, and Jeff arrived on Saturday; Jon came by himself, Sherrie (John's wife) showed up with one kid and my youngest boy, and Paul arrived with his daughter and son.

Early Preparation at the Site

Getting there on Friday

Troy and I planned to check out a few 'escape routes' on our way in to Esterbook.  We planned to drive up I-25 and get of at Exit 94, Fish Creek Rd, rather than Exit 111 at Glendo.  Having stopped in Cheyenne to fill-up the trucks and ourselves we made good time to Chugwater, then Wheatland, where we stopped to top-off the vehicles again. We were carrying extra fuel, not knowing how stretched the local infrastructure would be for the return journey, but planned to fill-up often.  It was a good thing that we did not need much gas at Wheatland since they were charging over $3.30/gal whereas earlier in Cheyenne it was a more reasonable price at ~$2.40/gal.

After finally reaching the exit, we headed out west from the highway.  At the Harris Park Rd (Co 71) turn-off, there happened to be a temporary Forest Service - Ranger Information stop.  We pulled over to chat with the two guys manning the station and heard confirmation that 'Plan A' was no more--the Esterbrook Campground had filled-up on Thursday.  They politely suggested that the Esterbrook Hill area was "nearly full".  We explained that it was the rendezvous point for our group, so we needed to check out the area before deciding to camp elsewhere.  

Driving up Harris Park we eventually intersected FS 633 which would take us to our final turn--FS 633A.  Once we arrived in the area, it was apparent that we were not the only ones to think this would be a good viewing location.  We pushed on through and eventually drove to the top of Esterbrook Hill, where the footings were all that remained of an old fire watchtower.  There was already a trailer setup on the switch-back just below the peak and a tent up at the top.  Moments before we arrived at the Hill, another vehicle had parked there as well.  Deeming Esterbrook Hill to be too crowded for the existing folks let alone Troy and I, and the others of our group--we decided to drive back and explore the small loop of FS 633AA.  Nice thing too.  The second piece of luck came as we drove around looking for a good camping / viewing location.  After chatting up Tim, the work center head ranger, we eventually ended up sighting a smaller hill just North of Esterbrook Hill.  

That was the spot!

Setting Up

Troy and I could not decide if we should camp by the vehicles or ~100m up the hill.  The small peak was a bit rocky, so we set up a 'base camp' by the road and placed the easy-up canopy at the top of the hill.  Later-on Friday, we walked around scoping out the area.

Setting up an older telescope can be tedious if you are impatient, or it can be fun if your a little bit of a nerd.  I am the latter.  So after staking out a decent location with the canopy, opening up the folding table, and finding a good spot for the telescope, I went about doing some initial alignment.

These telescopes, and all others for that matter, need three basic components to make the "star tracking" work properly: the tripod base needs to be level, the "wedge" needs to be set to the same angle as your latitude, and the base needs to be pointed directly North.  Making the tripod level is a pretty easy endeavor given the built-in bubble level on the wedge.  Determining our latitude has become very easy given that not only my hand-held GPS but even my phone can provide a location down to the fraction of a 'second'.  Setting the angle on the wedge is not very complicated, though it tends to be a course setting.  The final step: pointing North, can sometimes be a challenge.

When setting up a telescope, just locating the "North Star", Polaris, is the easiest way to get started.  However, setting up during the day can pose a bit of a complication--there are no stars visible.  Enter the Astro Compass. This neat little anachronism is still used today for airborne navigation when you happen to be flying very far north or south, near the poles.  Using it, along with a good time piece, and the annual Air Almanac, can yield very accurate bearings (ie which way is north).

Being a little bit of a nerd, I set up my astro compass, shot a north bearing, confirmed that bearing with some notable topography and my mapping GPS, then went about aligning the telescope tripod.  This all worked out remarkably well and was fun to boot.

Meeting New People

Needless to say, with such a nice location for the viewing, it did not take long for people to wonder up the hill and take in the view.  Since everyone was there for the same event, finding a subject to talk about was pretty easy.

I met folks from Texas, many from Colorado, a few locals from Wyoming, a couple of people from Wisconsin, and even a few from outside the US.  Backgrounds were just as diverse: optometrist, lawyer/engineer, retired oil industry/naturalist, student, eclipse chaser, ...

After the event had concluded on Monday, I had a list of over 20 people interested in my photos and video.  Hopefully this blog will be the landing point for everyone at Esterbrook for the Total Solar Eclipse to meet again.

Thank you for visiting my blog!

As with the original Star Wars trilogy, the best part of the story starts with a later episode.  I have captured this total eclipse adventure in a number of postings for my own recollection--and you are more than welcome to visit the other pages...
Part I - The History

Thursday, December 1, 2016

A Skeptic at Heart

The following is a re-post of one I made on LinkedIn back in June 2014…
Whenever I see a new scientific gadget, I am immediately interested. So when my company recently trumpeted the installation of a new fuel cell system to help with electricity production at our headquarters facility, I started reading the internal news post with a small bit of excitement. Unfortunately, being a open skeptic and a staunch believer in the scientific method, my initial interest quickly turned into a critical analysis of what I was reading and watching.

The first few statements made by the manufacturer of the fuel cell system made me question my understanding of basic chemistry or at least my definition of a few words. I am not a Chemist, nor am I an expert in fuel cells, I just have a degree in EE with a minor in Physics. However, being an engineer I tend to work on the application of science to real world problems and while this topic seemed to touch more on classic Chemistry, that never keeps me from asking questions and learning more.

What was it that got me spun up? The claim that the manufacturer makes about the Bloom Energy Server [1]:
Next, an electrochemical reaction converts fuel and air into electricity without combustion.
I found that to be a misleading marketing "fluff" statement at best; unsound scientific reporting or a down-right false statement at worst. A second comment on the page and in the video seemed to fit into the same fluff category:
The oxygen ions combine with the reformed fuel to produce electricity, water, and small amounts of carbon dioxide.
From my old-school understanding, combustion is an exothermic chemical reaction that always releases thermal energy and in some cases (like this) also releases energy in the form of free electrons (electricity) and/or light. Combustion is synonymous with burning in our modern lexicon which implies a flame; but in Chemistry, "combustion" is just an oxidizing reaction (or redox reaction). The chemical equation that both Bloom and Wikipedia [2] show is: CH4(g) + 2O2(g) → CO2(g) + 2H2O(g). When I perform this chemical reaction in my kitchen with a gas range, it is usually call "burning" by the general public or "combustion" by nerds like me.

There is no magic here: methane, natural gas, CH4(g) is oxidized or combusted (the “+ 2O2(g)” part), and gives off CO2(g) and water vapor. Both of these gasses happen to be "a greenhouse gas" one is a major and the other is a minor greenhouse gas. Try to guess which is major—of course, that is a separate discussion that I may cover in a later post. The amount of CO2 given off does not come from the method of generating the reaction. So the “small amount" of carbon dioxide byproduct is no different when Bloom uses a fuel cell to oxidize methane than when I use a stove-top burner to combust natural gas. Mole for mole, the amount of carbon dioxide created is the same when consuming equivalent amounts of methane. By the way, I am willing to bet the Bloom Energy Server consumes a whole lot more natural gas than I do in my kitchen.

My understanding of the most efficient form of fuel cell combustion is the Alkaline Fuel Cell (AFC) which uses the reaction 2H2 + 4OH- → 4H2O + 4e- or the even simpler Proton Exchange Membrane Fuel Cell (PEMFC) with the reaction 2H2 + O2→ 2H2O. These PEMFCs were used in the Apollo and Space Shuttle programs and they were capable of producing electricity at nearly a 70% efficiency level [3] [4] [5]. Unfortunately it takes a high level of industrial energy (jet engine-style compressor) to produce liquefied hydrogen. The combustion of liquid hydrogen still gives off a greenhouse gas (water vapor) as a byproduct of the reaction, but there is no "nasty" CO2. This chemical process allows hydrogen to act as a nice battery—a method of storing a portion of that same industrial energy it took to produce. However, the inefficiencies in the production and the difficulty of storing hydrogen have not been solved to the extent that makes hydrogen fuel cells marketable to the public, thus our reliance on hydrocarbon versions.

It may be fair for Bloom to argue that their system is more efficient at using a chemical reaction in a thermal cycle to produce electricity versus using the intermediate mechanical stage common in power plant-generated electricity, but it is not valid for them to claim it works without combustion. The efficiency argument is also scientifically questionable from my perspective. Our modern power industry can squeeze every bit of efficiency out of their plants by benefiting from scales of production. I assume Bloom must convert the DC electricity in their Server to AC line voltage (at three phases for industrial use?) which is inherently an inefficient process. Just for a comparison I found a table on Wikipedia [6]... Bloom claims over 60% efficacy, which as noted in the link, is pretty close to that of a “gas turbine plus steam turbine” (natural gas power plant). Economic and market games played by the electric utilities to convince consumers when best to place their load onto the grid (peak demand charges) is different than electricity production and transmission efficiencies. Thus, this new on-site power generator may be a good deal for my company, but not because of any magic with hydrocarbon-based electricity production.

If Bloom's customers are hoping to get an independent power source, controlled on-site, and driven by an alternative fuel, then this new fuel cell system seems to be a reasonable investment and should stand on those merits. However, I am not convinced this technology is any “greener”, nor more efficient, and I doubt it costs any less in the long run (a 100kW installation has an estimated cost of $700k-$800k [7]). In my mind this new fuel cell system may help to reduced the chance of a blackout or brown-out occurring on a business campus since it allows electricity to be generated on-site. However, it is still dependent on a utility, it just happens to be a natural gas provider rather than an electricity provider.

"Skeptic" is not a bad word in my dictionary, in fact I feel it embodies what we need more of today. The founder of Maxim, Jack Gifford had a set of principles that he lived by and founded the company on [8]; one of those was:
question everything and everybody
...caveat emptor; be a skeptic. These are wise words.

One of my personal principles is to not be a hypocrite and thus I try to keep an open mind, ready to change if I can be convinced with a sound, logical argument without fallacy. I may have the facts wrong, so please feel free to point out where I have misinterpreted the science. I am willing to be led through the description of a newly found "energy source” like the Bloom Energy Server, and maybe they will read this post and help lead me to a better understanding. However, the laws of Physics, Chemistry, and Thermodynamics often make it difficult to find a free lunch, even with a good guide.

The following are my references for the above text:

Sunday, November 27, 2016

The Truth Behind the 97% Number

A mirrored posting from Quora:

Based on an answer I provided on Quora and a subsequent discussion (, I finally decided to break down for others, my concern about bias from the original Cook et al study which is the source for the oft miss-quoted consensus number.

My deeper analysis started with a comment from Mr Tarr, and here is the statement that finally drove me to document my concerns:

"Cook et al conducted a scientifically rigorous analysis of published abstracts on climate science and reached a scientifically defensible conclusion that the abstracts showed a general consensus regarding AGW. I don’t know why you’d claim that’s not science."
Mr Tarr’s assumption was not much different than the others I have encountered on Quora and elsewhere.

For a link to the original Cook et al “letter” from which a number of quotes are taken directly:

The following is my step-by-step analysis of the Cook study, why it is biased ‘research’, how it goes off the rails, and why people should not blindly believe there is an all powerful consensus backing up their opinions…


To start, Cook's own assessment of the "type" of research the team was performing was not claimed to be rigorous science:
2. Methodology
This letter was conceived as a 'citizen science' project by volunteers contributing to the Skeptical Science website... we searched the ISI Web of Science for papers published from 1991–2011 using topic searches for 'global warming' or 'global climate change'.
As noted, these were"citizen scientists" doing a web search to gather a collection of papers which had "global warming" or "global climate change" listed as a topic in the ISI Web of Science database (Web Of Science).

The Cook et al methodology section goes on to describe how the initial team of 12 categorized and then rated the abstracts of about 11,530 of the 11,944 papers they found in their search. They worked in pairs and had a third reviewer join the rating effort if the initial two reviewers disagreed (which occurred 33% of the time).

Then I submit the team's own assessment of bias (emphasis is mine):
Two sources of rating bias can be cited: first, given that the raters themselves endorsed the scientific consensus on AGW, they may have been more likely to classify papers as sharing that endorsement. Second, scientific reticence ... or 'erring on the side of least drama' (ESLD...) may have exerted an opposite effect by biasing raters towards a 'no position' classification. These sources of bias were partially addressed by the use of multiple independent raters and by comparing abstract rating results to author self-ratings.
As noted, the Cook et al team readily admits they are biased. Unfortunately they do not provide any information on how they validated the unbiased perspective of the"multiple independent raters" nor did they indicate who these raters were or how many were involved. As for the "ESLD"—that is a term (and paper: Climate change prediction: Erring on the side of least drama?) arising from the Climate Change community itself and has very little credibility as a means to prove "an opposite effect [of bias]". Circular arguments are not usually permitted in a logical deduction and I see this self-ascribed anti-bias as little more than an excuse to be scientifically lazy.

With the above indications from the Cook et al team, I hold a high level of skepticism which AGW believers may not. As Mr Tarr had previous posted, Cook et al conducted a "scientifically rigorous analysis…" "and reached a scientifically defensible conclusion" ...and thus accused me (rightly) of "…suggesting that the scientists who found a 97% consensus WEREN’T QUALIFIED to conduct or interpret their study."

So let us see how qualified and biased these 'scientists' may have been. Here is a list of the lead authors to Cook et al and their qualifications:
  • Cook - BS Physics -blogger, author, cartoonist 
  • Nuccitelli - BS Astrophysics, MS Physics - researcher, author 
  • Green - Environmental Chemist - faculty Michigan Tech U 
  • Richardson - Physics,PhD Climate - NASA JPL developer 
  • Winkler - ? - blogger, zoo volunteer 
  • Painting - ? - police officer, environmentalist 
  • Way - BA Geography -student, researcher 
  • Jacobs - MS Environmental Science and Policy - student, researcher 
  • Skuce - BSc Geology, MSc Geophysics - consultant, surveyor, author 
Note that every one of these people are associated with the SkepticalScience web site and blog ( I would draw attention to the fact that 3 of 8 may not have the typical credentials needed to qualify them as 'scientists' let alone 'climate scientists' or 'experts'.

Here is the list of people who were claimed to have "collect[ed] email and rat[ed] abstracts":
  • Jokimaki - BSc Computer Engineering - blogger, author * 
  • Reitano - PhD Physics- materials research * 
  • Honeycutt - ? -entrepreneur * 
  • Cook - ? - ? 
  • Scadden - BSc Geology- thermal modelling, geochemistry 
  • Tamblyn - Mechanical Engineering - researcher, IT * 
  • Blackburn - BSc Environmental Policy - blogger * 
  • Hartz - ? - blogger 
  • Brown - BSc Geosciences - IT security, student * 
  • Morrison - ? - ? 
  • Coulter - Earth Sys Science and Engineering - student 
  • Stolpe - Climatology,Meteorology - researcher 
Note that 6 of 12 (marked with *) are also directly associated with the SkepticalScience web site and blog. In this list, 4 of 12 do not seem to be 'credentialed'.

I will not speak negatively on those who do not have a technical degree nor are directly educated in the field of 'climate science' because I have not ascribed a valid definition of such a thing and I do not care about authority, I simply care about the data and the science. I presume that anyone who took basic, university-level courses in the hard sciences (Physics, Chemistry, Biology) should be more than qualified to speak to these papers’ conclusions. I will leave it to the reader to decide if they are willing to accept the conclusions of bloggers, volunteers, environmentalists, entrepreneurs, and students—heretofore refer to as non-accredited—as credible researchers and 'scientists'.

Given that Cook et al used an initial pool of 12 reviewers with each abstract being initially assigned to two of those 12—I calculate that they could have had one of every 22 abstracts reviewed by two non-accredited individuals (3/12 x 2/11 = 0.0455 assuming 3 in 12 were non-accredited). Similarly about 1 out of 4 abstracts could have had at least one non-accredited reviewer.

Now, here is the trickery they used to get their 97% number…

First they categorized the abstracts of 11,944 papers with their own arbitrary system and “found” the following results:
We find that 66.4% of abstracts expressed no position on AGW, 32.6% endorsed AGW, 0.7% rejected AGW and 0.3% were uncertain about the cause of global warming.

(BTW, these are my graphs. The Cook team did not seem to be interested in providing data visually—maybe because it does not help their argument)

Then they took the sub-categorized abstracts and found that within those 3896 papers; 3783 of the original papers explicitly expressed that position (my emphasis) :
Among abstracts expressing a position on AGW, 97.1% endorsed the consensus position that humans are causing global warming.

There it is: 3783 papers of 11944 papers endorsed the consensus AGW and expressed such a position in the abstract—clear as you would expect from any scientific research paper, right?

Note that the final percentage of papers that “endorse the consensus” out of all the papers reviewed is 31.7% (3783/11944), not 97.1%.

Plus you need to remember, these results are all based on the opinions of the Cook et al team. What is amusing is that the ‘research team’ was able to compare their opinions to some actual authors and found that they were no better than chance at rating the abstracts. As noted in Table 5, based on direct responses from the authors (discussed below), half of the abstract ratings were mis-categorized—they would have saved more time by rolling dice.


I argued with Mr Tarr that rather than using their own rating system, the Cook team could have conducted an actual direct poll of the researchers responsible for each of the abstracts / papers they assembled. As it turns out, to some extent they did exactly that (reference the Supplementary Information document,section S2):
S2. Survey of authors
Email addresses ... were determined for [8547] scientists... The text of the self-rating survey form provided to authors follows. 
... and in the report, these self-ratings were summarized thus:
... 2142 papers received self-ratings from 1189 authors. The self-rated levels of endorsement are shown in table 4. Among self-rated papers that stated a [Cook et al] position on AGW, 97.2% endorsed the consensus. Among self-rated papers not expressing a [Cook et al] position on AGW in the abstract, 53.8% were self-rated as endorsing the consensus.
Unfortunately for Cook's team the response rate from 1189 authors was not as impressive a number as the original 11,944 papers that they started with. Also unfortunate for the ‘science’ aspects of their citizen project, rather than reporting on the survey data they collected (ie which authors responded with what endorsements), the Cook 'research team' applied a number of biases to those direct-email poll results:
  1. they did not provide the direct-poll data as a reference in their paper 
  2. they summarily dismissed the mediocre 'consensus' response 
  3. they arbitrarily re-categorized the direct-poll responses in order to gain a larger 'consensus' percentage 
  4. they claim the trend was toward more endorsements of the AGW position yet their own data show it trending down over the time period of their investigation (Figures 1b and 2b) 
Table 4 shows this relevant information:
% of respondents [of the 2142 papers that:]
"Endorse AGW" = 62.7%
[hold] "No AGW position" = 34.9%
"Reject AGW" = 2.4%
Re-read those results because they come directly from the paper's authors—The consensus of scientists that endorse AGW from the direct poll is less than 63%!

Taking either their own rating system or the direct responses from authors, the 97% consensus number is completely indefensible and is essentially made-up by the Cook et al ‘citizen science’ team.

One could argue that the author response rate to the poll would be biased in favor of those who endorsed the AGW perspective. Because of the public reputation of the Cook et al team at the time and the language of the survey (noted in the S2 supplementary information section), this would not be a surprise. Even if it was not slanted, the absolute most Cook et al could claim would be a 63% endorsement, not 97%.

Unfortunately 63% endorsement does not make for sensational headlines, nor does it really indicate much of a consensus. So Cook et al, plays one more trick to get back to their original number. Again, by cherry-picking an arbitrary category of authors “among papers with [an] AGW position” they return to a 97.2% of authors “Endorse AGW”.

This just goes to prove:
"There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.
—Benjamin Disraeli (Lies, damned lies, and statistics - Wikipedia)

I personally reject the sub-categorization of "% among respondents with AGW position” shown in Table 4. Remember, the self-admitted, biased authors of Cook et al were the ones who categorized papers as "endorsing AGW"; they cherry-picked a sub-category to strengthen their 'consensus' number. What difference does it make if an author's abstract was deemed to endorse AGW, as judged from the perspective of Cook’s team? Is it not more important that the authors STATE they endorse AGW?

What may have been more relevant was the qualification of the papers' authors as 'climate scientists'. Cook himself frequently uses that term throughout the propaganda which followed the public release of Cook et al—but no where in the paper do they provide backing for which scientists were ‘climate scientists’.

Remember, the “abstracts expressing a position on AGW” is their own sub-category and they chose it to be 97%! It could be whatever they wanted it to be. Cook's team does not even expressly state that 97% of 'climate scientists' endorse AGW, only that their team’s metric of "expressing a position on AGW" in the original abstract is sufficient.

So it is my opinion that the Cook et al team demonstrates and admits to being biased, that they misrepresent the poll numbers which they collected but did not share, AND they continue to spread misinformation through the media to the point that John Cook brags about President Obama's slanted tweet:
He also lead-authored the paper [...], which was tweeted by President Obama
President Obama's Tweet (my emphasis):
Ninety-seven percent of scientists agree: #climate change is real, man-made and dangerous. Read more:...
No Mr Obama, 97% of scientists did not agree that “climate change is real, man-made and dangerous”; but Cook et al wants you to believe they did.

Hopefully that explains my perspective on Cook et al's ‘citizen science’ project.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Thinking about the Aurora shooting

After waking to the radio alarm Friday morning and groggily hearing about “another shooting”, I was a little apathetic but also had that pang of sorrow for innocent lives lost at the hands of a another crazed gunman. Not catching the full story of the tragedy, it was after coming down for breakfast that my wife mentioned the shooting was in Denver. Before heading out the door I took a few minutes to quickly skim the headlines to learn a few reported details about the incident which had struck Aurora Colorado, right on the heels of the wildfire tragedies in Colorado Springs.
I do not want to distract or reduce the attention that should be paid to the victims and families of this heinous crime—everyone should be given their time to grieve and heal.
For disclosure: I am a member of a local Izaak Walton “gun club” and go target shooting with my friends and family on a semi-regular basis. I own a number of firearms including a Winchester shotgun and a Glock semiautomatic pistol (G20) supposedly similar to those used in the shooting. A number of my friends hold concealed carry permits (CCWs), I even had one myself in the past, and I am now considering a renewal. I am a firm (but not very vocal) believer in the “individual” 2nd amendment to our constitution.
After an initial sharing of sorrow with a few friends at the office, the discussion inevitably turned to speculation that one concealed carry movie-goer may have been able to lessen this tragedy—and apparently we were not the only ones thinking that [1]. Since politics are not a shy subject at work either, the discussion also edged toward how this incident would likely be jumped on by the gun-control lobby as one more piece of evidence for regulation. After hearing that evening that the discussions had already heated up on the radio waves and that the theater at which this shooting occurred my have had carry restrictions, I figured it was time to do some “internet fact checking” myself.
So my understanding is that the Century 16 operated by Cinemark Century Theaters, does seem to have an unpublished “gun-free” policy [2[3]. To me this seems to indicate why there were no “return shots” fired. I do not claim that things would have turned out better had this policy not been in place, merely speculated on what I would have or could have done had I been there with my family or friends. What would you have done? Would any of the victims’ families wished that this 71yr old Florida man was there?
What we all should keep in mind is that focusing our laws on an inanimate object will not prevent this from happening, just like making drugs illegal does not stop the use. And I feel the exploitation of emotion around this event is sickening.
Congress should “prevent future tragedies” and pass stricter gun control laws in response to the movie theater shooting, Dan Gross [4], head of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, said in a statement. The Washington-based group describes itself as the country’s largest pro-gun-control lobby. [5] [6]
The folks over at the Brady Campaign feel that:
This is yet another horrific reminder that guns enable mass killings [7]
Look—I understand the position of the Brady Campaign folks. I also understand the position of the NRA (I am a lifetime member). But this kind of non-discussion, sound-bite oriented back-and-forth will not bring back the victims of this shooting. New limitations will not stop crime, it will not prevent people from dying, and it will most certainly not prevent suffering. As much as people would like to live in a perfect utopian society, history has taught us otherwise. Though the feel-good, knee-jerk reaction to “join together in calling for restrictions on the sale and possession of deadly weapons” [8] may make people feel safer, it is an illusion. I can guess at the consequences of limiting or revoking the rights of legally abiding citizens to protect themselves: it is not good for the citizen, it is not good for the moral framework of this country, and it is not going to keep a deranged, mis-guided individual from committing a crime. It displaces the problem from a person to an object—it is a lot easier to hate an object than it is to hate a person. Remember, the crime of murder is already illegal. The crime of assault with a deadly weapon is already illegal. And unfortunately a deadly weapon can be a car [9], a bat [10], or a spatula [11]. Granted, the ability of some to murder on a greater scale is exacerbated by the use of modern firearms, but that genie has been out of the bottle for a very long time [12]. AND this should not be a question about the method, but about the motive. Remove the motive and the crime will not be committed. 

Please, let us first help comfort those that are suffering from this tragedy. If you know someone who is impacted, give them your support—I know how this can help [13].
Then, if we must, let us discuss changes to “gun laws”, not shout past each other. Do we need to change how we sell firearms, who we sell them to, what is manufactured, what is available? Maybe. What we more likely need to do is look inside ourselves, look at society, and ask why a PhD candidate with no background of violence snapped and decided to shoot up a movie theater killing, wounding, and imposing massive suffering that radiates beyond Aurora. Answer that question and you may be closer to the utopia you dream of—though I doubt it.  
From my view, more government is not an answer it is an aversion.