Totality Snapshots

Sunday, August 27th 2017 at 7:38 pm
by Jonah

We were listening to this podcast on our way down to Mexico this spring and thought, hey, maybe this total eclipse thing is worth seeing. We’d both seen partial eclipses before and were like, that’s pretty cool, but it didn’t really seem worth going out of the way to see.  But if all hotel rooms were booked a year in advance all along the path of totality and all we had to do was drive a few hours north to Wyoming to see it?  Why not?  So as soon as we got back from Mexico, I put on my company calendar that I would be out August 21.  Berck ordered some eclipse glasses from Amazon.

A couple weeks before the eclipse, our friend Andrew called Berck to ask about flying up to the path of totality.  Berck told him there were too many variables involved in flying, and besides, we had already planned to drive Frances the Land Cruiser to Wyoming the day before and find a good place to camp, or at least park, and watch the eclipse the next day.  And that we had an empty back seat.  He decided to join us on our adventure.

Berck got an e-mail from Amazon saying that they had been unable to verify from the manufacturer that the eclipse glasses they’d shipped us were safe, despite saying all over the package that they were (it also said they were made in China).  By now we had tried them out by staring at the sun with them on. Fortunately, he Thursday before the eclipse, one of Berck’s coworkers gave him two certified eclipse glasses.

Saturday I baked buns, and Berck cooked brats in beer.  Berck cut up and gathered two plastic tubs of wood for a campfire.  Then he checked one more time and saw that a fire ban had been put in place for Wyoming.  He took the tubs of firewood back out of the Land Cruiser.

Sunday morning we got up early and packed up.  Berck had me buy 60 pounds of ice, only 50 of which we could fit in our cooler and mash tun (which also happens to be a cooler).

Stopped in Boulder and had a delicious brunch with Andrew and his girlfriend Kayleigh, who was also able to come.

Andrew made me check if we were in the path of totality yet every five minutes or so of driving.

Stopped in Laramie for ice cream and beer.  Had to drive a whole block away to find a parking place.  Guy at the brewery said they were slammed with all the out of town traffic.

Stopped at the Medicine Bow VOR, which Berck had flown over countless times but never seen from the ground.  Kayleigh was mostly amazed at the amount of cow hair stuck to the fence from them scratching against it.

We gassed up in Casper in the middle of horrible dust storm, but it was the last gas until Shoshoni.  We pulled off in the thriving metropolis of Moneta for Andrew to take a photo next to the unincorporated municipality sign then headed south from Highway 24 down Castle Garden Road.  Our research had told us that this area was likely to have clear weather and that all the land we were on was BLM land, on which it is perfectly legal to camp anywhere, as long as you’re 100 feet from any water source and bury your poop at least six inches.  I’d bought a shovel the week before at a military surplus store.

Andrew and Kayleigh set up their tent, and we blew up their air mattress from the cigarette lighter in the Land Cruiser; then we blew up ours.  We set our air mattress out on a tarp on the ground, after a search for the area with the fewest cacti.

 

Andrew and Kayleigh thought that was such a great idea that, after stuffing their air mattress into their tent, they extricated it and laid it out in another area relatively free of cacti.

Berck set up the camp stove and heated up the brats.  We opened the cooler and popped open bottles of beer and sat in our camp chairs and ate, eventually turning out the lantern and admiring the Perseids streaming out of the north sky. The weather was perfect, and the biting flies only bit so much (I got a nice bite on my right hand and side of my neck). We slept under the Milky Way.

I awoke just as the sun was rising.

Everyone else stayed asleep, so I went for a walk and then read my book.  Once Berck and Kayleigh were awake, I cleaned the brat pot to heat water for coffee and make bacon and French toast.

Andrew set up a pop-up, which was awfully nice to be under once it started getting hot.

As the partial eclipse started, we put on our glasses periodically to watch its progress. You can’t see anything else wearing them.

Totality was getting close, so we decided to hike up to the top of a nearby hill to watch.  Here’s the darkness approaching from the west.

Finally, the last little bit of sunshine disappeared, and we took off our glasses.  We’d been listening to Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon play on a Bluetooth speaker Andrew was carrying around.  Andrew had set the album to start playing so that the final song “Eclipse” would come on right at this moment, and it did.

For the weeks prior to the total eclipse, the news media had been doing stories on the eclipse non-stop.  I listen to a lot of Public Radio, so I’d heard story after story of eclipse chasers and people who say it’s an amazing experience.  The media had played recordings of people watching past eclipses, and the sounds of rapture were amusing and alluring all at once.  People just couldn’t seem to be able to keep from shouting when totality happened.

And that’s what happened to us.  Despite the fact that the four of us were standing close together atop a hill, watching something we had come here specifically to watch, we started shouting in amazement anyway.  I’ve seen lots of photos and videos of totality, and nothing seems to be able to truly capture it.

Here’s a picture I tried to take with my phone.  It’s blurry because it was pretty dark, like dusk, but the sun’s corona is still really bright.  What you can’t see is the black hole where the sun should be.  It was dark enough that we could see Jupiter clearly.  It wasn’t quite dark enough to see stars.  After much fiddling with the settings on his SLR, Berck was able to take this photo, which is closely cropped.

It didn’t look like that because the sky was still blue.  The air got cold.  And then it started getting light around us and the sun poked out a tiny ray of sunshine.  Our bodies cast shadows again, and warmth came back.  And right then Pink Floyd’s “Eclipse” ended and the next song Andrew had set to play came on, Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart”.

The total eclipse was definitely worth seeing.  Even if we had to sit in traffic on two lane highways for three hours in the Wyoming sun on our way home.  Because we were willing to take backroads, we probably had to wait in traffic for a lot less time than a lot of people, and Andrew’s plan to take the west route home instead of back through Casper turned out to be an excellent decision, as I later heard from my friends trying to get back to Colorado Springs from Casper (a 13 hour trip). But we’d gassed up in Shoshoni, and I’d brought enough water and snacks for a small army.

Once we got to I-80, things got a lot easier, and we even had time to meet our friends Laura and Jared in Ft. Collins for dinner at an excellent Afghan restaurant, where Andrew got to exclaim, for the very last time this trip, “The difference between a partial eclipse and a total eclipse is LITERALLY night and day!”

Koch Brothers

Thursday, July 20th 2017 at 9:38 pm
by Berck

I just finished listening to Freakonomics’ two-part interview with Charles Koch. (I found part II much more interesting than part I.)

I was somewhat dreading listening to these, figuring I had a pretty good idea of what Charles Koch would have to say, given the sort of candidates he’s donated to. I was mostly wrong. I was very surprised to find out that he and I actually have very similar political views on most issues. He identifies as a classical liberal, as do I.

He believes that freedom is very important. He’s generally pro-immigration, pro free trade, anti politician, and possibly above all, anti special interest. He’s anti war on drugs, and, in general, espouses fairly liberal views on social freedoms, though it’s clear these issues are not at all important to him.

I’d generally believed the idea that Koch brothers spend most of their money in support of their own interests. Suurprisingly, they loudly advocate for causes and positions that would, in fact, cost them lots of money.

So I’m left a bit dumbfounded at the list of politicians the Koch brothers have backed. Take, for instance Scott Walker. Scott walker is anti-abortion, pro foreign military involvement, anti immigration, anti same-sex marriage. These positions are in direct contradiction with the stated positions of both Koch brothers.

The closest I can come to reconciling their statements and the candidates they’ve backed is simply that social issues aren’t at all important to the Kochs. David Koch, in an interview with Barbara Walters, said in response to a similar question, “What… I want these candidates to support a balanced budget. I’m very worried that if the budget is not balanced, inflation could occur and the economy of our country could suffer terribly.”

So it’s not that we disagree on most of the issues, but I do think we seriously disagree about the priorities. I don’t think that liberal economic policies are anywhere near as terrible as he does, and he doesn’t think that socially conservative policies are anywhere near as terrible.

Fundamentally, while we both rate freedom as the most important thing, I think we actually disagree about why it’s important. I view freedom as a necessary first principle, without which we cannot possibly get anything right. Koch believes that freedom is not just a good in its own right, but in fact, a *sufficient* good.

Take, for instance, his position on global warming. He believes that it might be a problem in the future, and he thinks innovation is our best way to solve the problem. He believes that all the regulation enacted to date to address the problem is merely symbolic and will do nothing to actually solve it. I agree with him up to this point. But then we diverge. He believes that we can achieve the necessary innovation by simply “removing regulatory obstacles to innovation”, and solutions will, somehow, magically flow forth.

I disagree entirely. I don’t believe that there is regulation hindering innovation. Furthermore, I believe the exact opposite: regulation is one of the best ways to achieve innovation! How did we get awesome LED lights that work better than incandescent bulbs and are now affordable? Regulation that outlawed incandescent bulbs. Sure, there was a terrible period where all we could get were awful CFL bulbs. But now we have awesome LEDs that provide higher quality light at lower power for cheaper long-term prices than incandescent bulbs. This never would have happened so fast without the regulatory pressure.

Furthermore, I think it’s just absurd to think that freedom will solve all our problems. We need freedom in order to solve them, but freedom alone isn’t going to do it.

July 4th Weekend Activity

Tuesday, July 4th 2017 at 8:18 pm
by Jonah

Biscuits in Divide

Saturday, June 24th 2017 at 4:46 pm
by Berck

Jonah used to make excellent biscuits, but then we moved to Divide. The difference in altitude (6,000ft to 9,000ft) was enough to turn her biscuits into greasy blobs suitable for packing to your next arctic exhibition. So I fired her from biscuit making and decided to try it myself.

There are a lot of myths about baking at altitude. Rules of thumb that say “add/subtract ingredient X per thousand feet of altitude” are generally terrible advice. Corrections that work at 6,000 feet may need to be completely reversed by 8,000 feet. In Colorado Springs, we mostly got by without changing much, but our house is at 9,200ft now, and that changes everything.

The most important information I’ve found is in a book that someone (she can’t remember who) bought for Jonah: Pie in the Sky by Susan Purdy. She actually has recipes for 10,000ft, all of which she worked out in Breckinridge, so they actually work. Looking at the altitude tables for each recipe in this book illustrate just how different things are at each altitude.

When it comes to biscuits, she had the most important piece of information: buttermilk biscuits are just not going to work at 10,000ft. The reaction is too quick, releases too much pressure, and eventually results in collapsed biscuits. She says that she had an incredibly hard time finally producing biscuits for this altitude.

So, I took that information, and her otherwise boring biscuit recipe and combined it with techniques from Peter Reinhart as well as a few tricks of my own to produce the first biscuits I’m actually happy with in Divide.

1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup vodka
1 stick frozen butter
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups all-purpose flour (though half pastry flour would be better if I could ever find it)

Grate the frozen butter into the flour, add the rest of the ingredients. Roll/fold the dough at least 4 times then cut into biscuits. Bake on a stone at 425F.

Organic CDs – a short story

Friday, January 6th 2017 at 10:08 pm
by Jonah

Organic CDs

By Jonah

 

“They’re organic, locally sourced CDs,” said my roommate proudly.

“What?” I asked.  We were at the farmers market on a Saturday morning.

“They’re also artisanal,” he added.

“Are they fair trade too?” I asked mockingly.

“No,” said Jake, almost condescendingly.  “They don’t need to be fair trade if they’re locally sourced.”

Jake is harmless but an idiot.  He works the graveyard shift at Comcast doing tech support.  He makes just about enough to be able to afford a room in my apartment.  He survives on mainly frozen pizzas from the freezer section of Whole Foods.  To say he’s a sucker for anything that has “small-batch,” “bespoke,” or “hand crafted” on the label is an understatement.  

That’s probably why he likes coming to the farmers market with me on Saturday mornings, even after he’s been up all night at work.  He certainly wouldn’t know what to do with all the great produce there.  Me, I definitely come for the super fresh vegetables.  In summer they’ve got huge peaches, as big as a baby’s head, astonishingly succulant and sweet.  If you hit the market at just the right time, they’ve got some halfway decent tomatoes.  And of course, there’s the stand with the local honey.  I say I buy it to fend off allergies, but really I just love fishing out chunks of honeycomb and biting into the stuff, while helplessly letting honey run down my chin.

There’s other stuff at the farmers market too that isn’t produce.  One of my favorite booths is the guy with crates and crates of old books.  If I’ve got a few extra bucks, I’ll dig through them till I get to the oldest one I can find and buy it.  Usually, it’ll be something like a book of manners from the late 1800s or something in some other language I can’t read.  But old books fascinate me.  Invariably, they’ve got their first owner’s signature inside the front cover, perfect loops all slanted at exactly the same angle, scratched expertly with a fountain pen.  This trip I’d scored an 1873 edition of fairy tales by the Brothers Grimm.  It was pretty beat up, but I was thrilled to add it to my collection.

Meanwhile, Jake had apparently stumbled upon the stand selling organic CDs.  “How can a CD even be organic?” I demanded.  “It’s mostly plastic!”

“…which is made from oil, which comes from ancient vegetable matter, which certainly wasn’t exposed to anything artificial,” Jake countered, clenching his teeth with the last syllable.

I sighed.  Arguing with Jake was like arguing with a brick wall.  I was holding many plastic bags at this point, including a big sack of zucchini. Twenty-five cents a pound, they were basically giving it away for free!  But the plastic bag handles were digging into the skin on my hands, and I was hot and thirsty.  “Fine.  Let’s go.”

 

I stumbled into the kitchen early the next morning to make coffee.  The refrigerator stopped humming as it cycled off.  And that’s when I heard it.

It sounded like whispering.

I looked around.  The kitchen window was closed.  The front door was deadbolted.  I swiveled my head around, trying to isolate the sound.  It seemed to be coming from Jake’s MacBook sitting open on the kitchen table.

Jake lumbered into the kitchen wearing nothing but a pair of briefs and white athletic socks.  (We keep things pretty informal in the apartment.) For some reason Jake tried to wake and sleep at normal times on the weekends; if asked, he’d mumble something about circadian rhythms, but I think he just liked to have company.  He yawned and then asked, “What’s that noise?”

“You’ve got an audio file or something playing on your computer,” I said.

He tapped at the touchpad and answered, “No, nothing is open. And the sound is turned off.”

The whispering was definitely coming from the MacBook.  “Let me take a look,” I said.  I’m no computer expert, but I’m not an idiot either.  I tried to open an app.  It sadly bounced in the dock a few times before giving up.  “You must have downloaded a virus or some malware or something,” I said.  Jake had saved up for months to buy this MacBook, after I convinced him that it would be a lot less vulnerable to malicious software, but there does exist some malware that can infect Apple products.  

It occurred to me that I think better after coffee, and I turned back to the sink and started filling the kettle. 

“It sounds like it’s trying to communicate,” said Jake, picking up the computer and holding it close to his ear.  “I just can’t make out the words…”

“What’s the last thing you did on it?”

“Well,” said Jake, “I inserted one of my new CDs into it to backup photos and whatnot…”

“Oh, no!” I groaned.  “The CDs must have been infected!  This is why you can’t just stick stuff in a computer that you find randomly lying around!  We’re going to have to reformat the whole operating system…”

“NO!” screamed Jake.  He slammed the MacBook shut and hugged it tight to his hairy chest.  “It’s trying to tell me something!  And those are not random CDs.  They’re ARTISANAL!”

 

We found the guy selling the organic CDs at the far end of the farmers market.  “That’s him,” said Jake.  “That’s Gerald.”

Gerald was sitting behind a card table in the back corner of his tent, the only part that had any shade from the morning sun.  He had thinning red hair and a closely trimmed red mustache.  He was wearing a short sleeve plaid shirt with several pens in the front pocket and had eyeglasses frames that had gone out of style two decades prior.  It didn’t look like he had all that many wares to sell.

Jake lay the laptop on the card table and opened it up.  “This happened after I inserted one of the CDs,” he said, turning it toward Gerald.

“Oh, yes, sometimes this happens,” said Gerald with interest.

“…sometimes you sell virus infected CDs?” I asked.

“My products are of the highest quality!” answered Gerald, leaning back and sticking out his chest, dislodging one of the pens in his front pocket.  “I manufacture them all myself in my basement using only the highest quality materials.”

“Well?” asked Jake solemnly, “What happened to my computer?”

Gerald somehow magically opened a command prompt and furiously typed some gibberish into it.  An upside-down snowfall of characters sped to the top of the screen and disappeared, far too fast for the human eye to read, except for Gerald’s eyes.  “Yes,” he said, “Your computer has become self-aware.  It is now an artificial intelligence.  See?” he said, pointing to the speeding text, “It’s metastasizing into all the directories…”

At least, that’s what it sounded like he was saying.  He talked for a long time in full paragraphs using all sorts of technical jargon I couldn’t understand.  I knew Jake was catching even less than I was, but Jake stood there nodding anyway.

“Okay,” I said, when Gerald had paused to take a breath.  “But how do we fix it?”

Gerald looked aghast.  “You can’t FIX it.  It’s a sentient being!  It’s alive! Rebooting it or even letting its battery run out would be tantamount to murder!”

“Cool,” said Jake, still nodding.  “So it’s like a supercomputer now?  It can learn and think for itself?  I can have conversations with it?  It can solve real world problems?”

“I wouldn’t go that far,” said Gerald.  “This is an older version MacBook.  It will never be very smart.  Maybe about the intelligence of a two year old child.  If you’re lucky.”

 

The Macbook sits open by the window beside my bookcase of old books.  Jake thinks it likes sunbeams and looking out the window.  He lovingly dusts it once a week.  I’m not allowed to plug anything else into its dedicated wall outlet, in case a fuse blows or something.  The whispering has kept up and freaks me out a little, though I can easily drown it out by turning on the TV or playing some music.  

Occasionally, when he thinks I’m sleeping, Jake will sit by the MacBook and read fairy tales to it out of my Brothers Grimm book.