July 23, 2020 7:40 pm

Comet NEOWISE is making its closest approach to Earth today. Last night I drove up into the hills southeast of Livermore to try and get a look. Visibility was apparently better earlier in the month when the comet was closer to the Sun, but it was also only visible just before sunrise and that just wasn't going to happen.

I used online maps to scout out what I thought would be a good vantage point and I drove out just after sunset. I got to the dirt road and across the cattle guard then I had to wait for the cattle to get off the road. Once they moseyed on their way I climbed up the hills until I had a pretty good view over Livermore. Then I got my camera set up and played around with the moon while I waited for it to get darker.

Dusk over Livermore

I still couldn't see the comet with my eyes and it looked like the main problem was light pollution. But I figured I could use my camera to find it. So I pointed it in the general direction, zoomed out to 50mm, and took a 20-second exposure. I did that a few times before I found it. Here's the first shot I got with the comet in it straight off the camera:

It's right near the bottom, about a third of the way from the right. So I carefully adjusted the tripod to center the comet and then zoomed in to 200mm. The light pollution made it really hard to pull out the details of the comet. Here are my best two shots:

Comet NEOWISE. Pentax K-7, 200mm, 6400 ISO, f/5.6, 6s
Comet NEOWISE. Pentax K-7, 200mm, 6400 ISO, f/5.6, 5s

Then the moon was setting and became a tiny sliver of deep red:

And since I was already out there I turned my camera around away from town and go the stars behind a utility pole:

The K-7 struggles in low-light conditions. It's 11 years old and sensor technology has improved dramatically in that time. I'm planning on upgrading in the near future. Pentax is releasing a new APS-C flagship later this year which I'm keeping an eye on. If reviews are positive I'll probably pick one up. It should be a considerable leap in image quality, auto focusing, and low-light performance.

Mercury Transits the Sun 2019

November 11, 2019 8:22 am

The transit started before sunrise in California, but I thought I'd try to get a picture before heading to work.

My first shot overexposed the sun, but is kind of neat anyway. It's wisteria below and our tree off to the right.

Pentax K-7, 200mm, f/32, 2s. (ND filters)

I took a few other shots and realized my lens has a number of spots that need to be cleaned. I thought they were mercury, but across several shots determined they were moving with the lens and not across the sun.

Looking closer I believe I did manage to get Mercury, smaller than my dirt spots. I believe the spot just above dead-center of the sun is Mercury:

Pentax K-7, 200mm, f/32, 1/25s. (ND filters)

Fall Foliage 2019

November 9, 2019 5:34 pm

Our tree out front has some pretty good coloring this year. Usually it goes from green to brown without much in between. I tried to get some pictures, but only a few looked like anything other than, yup, a tree.

I've been having issues with my 35mm lens ever since I got it. It seems to have an issue focusing in that it focuses behind where it should. So I finally spent some time trying to calibrate it and it seems to be improved but still inconsistent.

This first shot is from the 35mm, then I switched to the 50mm since the distance to the leaves prevented me from filling the frame on the 35mm.

Pentax K-7, 35mm, f/2.4, 1/640s
Pentax K-7, 50mm, f/2.5, 1/125s
Pentax K-7, 50mm, f/2.5, 1/500s

Kyle's Weekend of Solitude

July 19, 2018 9:14 pm

Jess, Heather, and Corinne went down to Texas to visit with her family for about a week.  This left me in the unprecedented situation of having a weekend with no one home.  I decided to take the opportunity to go do something that no one else in the family would want to do with me.  So I drove up in to the forest and hiked a mountain.

There are a handful of old fire lookouts scattered across the American West that you can rent out.  I thought that'd be fun to do, but when I was making these plans a couple months ago everything was already booked.  So I thought it would still be fun to hike up to one anyways.  Turns out the one I was looking at is closed for repairs so I could hike up and not bother anyone.  I found a little hidden gem of a cabin nearby.  I wasn't sure it really existed as I could find no information about it except the one information page.

Hirz Cabin

I'm a bit reluctant to share my find because right now it's basically unused and easily booked.  But that runs the risk of it being closed down due to inactivity and it could use a few repairs.  So, here it is: Hirz Cabin on Shasta Lake.

It is fully off grid with solar panels and a battery bank to provide electricity.  It has a propane tank for heat, hot water, and refrigerator.  I had never seen a propane refrigerator before; didn't know they even existed.

It has two bathrooms, three bedrooms, a full kitchen, dining table, living area, and deck.  Nothing else around it with a private gated driveway.  The introvert's dream.

Finding it is not easy--even with directions.  So I'll help out with that.  Here are the geo-coordinates of the cabin: 40.868194, -122.255826.

Here are some pictures.  You should find all these same pictures on the page (once they're approved) as I uploaded them all to their site as well.

Driveway and gate, coordinates 40.86750, -122.25534

Front of cabin. 2 picnic tables. Grill.

Back of cabin. Deck with Adirondack chairs.

1 of 2 bathrooms. Mirror images of each other. Shower stall, toilet, sink, heater.


Dining / Living Area

Downstairs bedroom

Upstairs Bedroom 1

Upstairs Bedroom 2

I arrived Friday evening and hiked along the lake for a couple of hours before heading to bed.  On Saturday I slept in, ate breakfast, and swept and mopped the floors downstairs as they really needed it.  I did some reading and preparing of my gear.  I cooked myself a nice dinner to load up for my hike.

The Hike to Hirz Mountain Lookout

As sunset approached it was time to head up the mountain.  Since the day was about 109F my plan to was to take off in time to reach the top before sunset and then hang out and cool down before returning after dark.  The location of this lookout was also not entirely clear.  Some Google-maps sleuthing led me to correct location of the trailhead, but I wasn't able to identify the location of the lookout.

So, here's the geo-coordinates of the trailhead: 40.873803, -122.292095.  You can drive up the dirt access road using a 2-wheel-drive vehicle until you reach 40.886311, -122.287697.  At that point the road becomes 4-wheel-drive / high-clearance only.  The lookout itself is at 40.897022, -122.245674.

Trailhead to Hirz Mountain Lookout

I drastically underestimated how long it would take me to get up the mountain (5 miles with a 36-pound backpack) so I did not make it up in time for sunset.  I took a picture with my phone along the way, but it does not do it justice, it was a really nice sunset:

I did, however, get up in time to catch moonset--which was awesome:

Moonset from Hirz Lookout. July 14, 2018.

Venus, I believe, was hanging out with the Moon that evening:

Venus and the Moon from Hirz Lookout. July 14, 2018.

Since it was dark I wasn't able to get a picture of the lookout itself, but here's the plaque at the base as proof I did make it up:

Hirz Mountain Lookout Plaque

And the last full view of the moon before it slipped below the mountains:

I had originally intended to hang out at the lookout past sunset and take some pictures of the stars.  But, I discovered that during my 3-hour hike up I had drunk all but a cup of my 100 ounces of water.  So I figured I better start heading down again while that water was still in my system as I had no way to replenish it.

2 hours and 40 minutes later I was back down the mountain and my legs ready to collapse.  I drove back to the cabin and dropped in to bed.

Shasta Dam

Eventually I got up the next morning and while my legs were not happy about it, they did support me.  I packed up my car and locked up the cabin and headed in to Redding to find a whole pile of food to eat.  Pancakes, bacon, eggs, and hash browns from a Country waffles made for a nice breakfast (and lunch).

After filling up I drove out to Shasta Dam to catch a tour.

You can catch the resident ospreys in one the nests near the visitor's center:

I like this sign because it reminds of something that would have appeared in a late-1990s / early-2000s video game set in the future.  And now we live in the future:

Shasta Dam is one of the largest in the country.  Not as tall as Hoover, but larger overall.

On this tour you do get to go through the generator room.

After my tour I loaded back up in the Civic and drove back home.  It was a fun little trip.  I think we'll have to take a family trip up to the cabin some fall when it's not too hot and maybe rent a 4WD vehicle to drive everyone up to the fire lookout to watch sunset.