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Photo gallery from 2017 total solar eclipse

I was just outside Weiser Idaho, a small town on the Snake river, for the 2017 Eclipse, which was an excellent, if short, spectacle which reawakened U.S. interests in total eclipses. They are, as I wrote earlier, the most spectacular natural phenomenon you can see on the Earth, but due to their random pattern it’s been a long time since one has covered so much of the world’s richest country.

For me, it was my sixth total eclipse, but the first I could drive to. I began this journey in Mexico in 1991, with the super-eclipse of that year, which also was the last to visit the United States (it was visible on the big island of Hawai`i.) Since then I have flown around the world to the Curacao area, to the Black Sea, to the Marshall Islands (more photos) and French Polynesia to see other total eclipses. And I will continue to do so starting with 2 years from now in Argentina.

See the gallery

I recommend before you read that you enjoy my Gallery of 2017 Eclipse Photos in HD resolution. When going through them I recommend you click the “i” button so you can read the descriptions; they do not show in the slide show.

HDR from main camera

Why it’s impossible (today) to photograph

I did not photograph my first eclipse (nor should anybody) but every photographer, seeing such a spectacle, hopes to capture it. We can’t, because in addition to being the most spectacular natural event, it’s also the one with the greatest dynamic range. In one small field you have brilliant jets of fire coming off the sun, its hot inner atmosphere, its giant glowing outer atmosphere and a dimly lit dark sky in which you can see stars. And then there is the unlit side of the moon which appears to be the blackest thing you have ever seen. While you can capture all these light values with a big bracket, no display device can come close to showing that 24 stop range. Only the human eye and visual system can perceive it.

Some day though, they will make reasonable display devices that can do this, but even then it will be tough. For the eclipse covers just a few degrees of sky, but in reality it’s a full 360 experience, with eerie light in all directions and the temporary light of twilight in every direction. Still, we try.

In the future, when there is a retinal resolution VR headset with 24 bits of HDR light level ability, we might be able to show people an eclipse without going to one. Though you should still go.

Moment of 3rd contact

That’s why these photographs are so different. Every exposure reveals a different aspect of the eclipse. Short exposures show the prominences and the “chromosphere” — the inner atmosphere of the sun visible only at the start and end of the eclipse. Longer exposures reveal more of the giant corona. The fingers of the outer corona involve 2 or 4 second exposures! The most interesting parts happen at 2nd and 3rd contact (the start and end) and also have many aspects. About 1/60th of a second shows the amazing diamond ring by letting the tiny sliver of sun blow out the sensor to make the diamond, as it does to the eye.

Time to rename the partial eclipse

One thing that saddens and frustrates me is that all of this is only visible in a band less than 100 miles wide where the eclipse is total. Outside that, for thousands of miles, one can see (with eye protection) a “partial eclipse.” They both get called an eclipse but the difference is night and day. Yet I think the naming makes people not understand the difference. They think a “90% partial eclipse” is perhaps 90% as interesting as a total eclipse. Nothing could be more wrong. There are really three different things:

  1. The total eclipse, the most amazing thing you will ever see.
  2. The >98% partial eclipse (and annular eclipse) which are definitely an interesting event, but still just a tiny shadow of what a total eclipse is.
  3. The ordinary partial eclipse, which is a fun and educational curiosity.

I constantly meet people who think they saw “the eclipse” when to me and all others who have seen one, only the total eclipse is the eclipse. While the 98% partial is interesting, nobody should ever see that, because if you are that close to the band of totality, you would be nuts not to make the effort to go that extra distance. In a total eclipse, you see all that the partial has to offer, and even a few partial effects not seen except at 99.9%

A wider angle HDR with deep corona

As such, I propose we rename the partial eclipse, calling it something like a “grazing transit of the moon.” An eclipse technically is a transit of the moon over the sun, but my main goal is to use a different term for the partial and total so that people don’t get confused. To tell people in the partial zone “you saw a transit, hope it was interesting” while telling people in the total zone, “You saw a solar eclipse, wasn’t that the most amazing thing you’ve ever seen?”

Automating the photography

This was the first eclipse I have ever driven to, and because of that, I went a bit overboard, able to bring all sorts of gear. I had to stop myself and scale back, but I still brought 2 telescopes, 4 cameras, one long lens, 5 tripods and more.  read more »

Whoops, UA you could sure do a lot better with long delays and cancels

Last night, as they were towing our plane from the gate in Miami there was a very unusual bump — turns out they put the tow bar on wrong and damaged the landing gear. It became clear in time that we would not fly that night (FA timeout loomed.) I’ve seen this a lot, so I was on the phone immediately to book another flight, but I would still need a hotel voucher for the night, as would most other folks on the flight, even if they took the same flight the next day after the repair.

They sent everybody back to the check-in counters to get processed, and they only had a few staff since all other flights had left. As such there was a long line, and the first 3 people in it took 10 minutes each to process because they were trying to change flights as well as get vouchers. Overall, it’s a terrible experience, and it’s been this way for a very long time — a decade ago I saw multi-hour waits for people to get vouchers after weather in Dulles.

There is so much they could have done better, and since this happens all the time, and has for decades, I am not sure why they don’t. Here are some things they could do.

Everything should be doable over the phone or online

I rebooked my flight on the phone. So should everybody. There are a thousand phone agents. Non-status passengers were getting long hold times, so perhaps they should have a special priority code for passengers who have had a major problem like an overnight delay or cancel.

More to the point, the agents should be regularly announcing to people in line, “If you need to rebook, please call this number or use our app.” Several times passengers came up to the counter to say, “would you please announce to the line what’s going on?”

These vouchers are just a piece of paper with a one-time-use credit card number and other relevant info on them. They should be electronic. Everybody should be able to just get their voucher on their phone. Failing that, they should be able to use the check-in kiosks to print a voucher. Go to the kiosk, scan your boarding pass, get your vouchers. How hard can that be? (Update: Apparently Delta does this giving UA no excuse.) Only go to the agents for special requests. Failing that, if you really need to talk to a phone agent to get your voucher confirmed, let them enable you to print it at the kiosk.

Ideally, the customer should not need to do anything. You should get a notification by app or text saying, “Sorry your flight is delayed overnight. Here are your vouchers.” The people who don’t have the app downloaded will have it pretty quickly rather than wait in line.

Electronic vouchers

Sure, some vendors might not be ready for electronic vouchers. But if airlines said, “Take electronic vouchers or don’t get all this business” I think they would change pretty quickly. As long as a few vendors take them, you can tell passengers, “Here is your electronic voucher, good at these vendors. If you wish a different vendor, go to a UA kiosk or counter to exchange for a paper voucher.” I don’t think most passengers would bother.

If you can’t do it online, do it in bulk

The terminals at the gate should simply have spewed out the vouchers in a big stack and the gate agents (not the counter agents) should have handed them out quickly to people by calling names or forming lines based on last name. Then they could deal with the special requests. Doing it at the gate is important because all the people there are passengers — out at check-in you need to re-verify that. At the gate, if need be, they can flash their boarding pass — there are scanners for that of course — and get their vouchers.

Use Lyft or Uber for transport and handle other airports

I rebooked out of Fort Lauderdale. It’s only a 30 minute drive at night. They were quite unprepared for that and took a long time to issue me vouchers for there. This can be improved, or I can be a special case if need be.

They gave me a voucher for supershuttle to get to Fort Lauderdale. I was surprised to see that Supershuttle’s fare for a shared ride was $39, while Lyft was $36 for a private ride. I wanted sleep so I took the Lyft at my own expense, but it would save them money if they allowed Lyft and Uber to be providers for ground transport.

Make it all frictionless

It was the airport that broke the gear, but the airline had to deal with it. One measures the quality of a company by how it handles failures even more than how it works when all is right. Here’s what I think would have been the best result.

  1. As soon as a delay was likely, the computer should have reserved an alternate flight for me, and sent me a message to select my preferred alternates. These seats would be protected against other people in the same boat, though I might lose them to paying external customers. (As a 1K in first class, I expect to be treated better here.)
  2. As soon as the delay or cancel is confirmed, my phone should have beeped to let me confirm whether I want to take the continuation or the alternate flight.
  3. Next the phone app should have generated the vouchers and put them in the phone. Or better still, the information should have been transmitted to the hotel and my booking made and already checked in (if I’m an out of towner.) Instructions on how to get to the hotel and its shuttle schedule should come with that.
  4. While I am in transit, I should be able to browse my food options on meal vouchers, and order online if the restaurant offers that.

Discouraging voucher use

The only reason I can imagine the airline keeps it so painful is they wish to discourage voucher use. For example, if flying from your home city, they surely want you to go stay at home. If they make the process really painful, people who would find it convenient to stay at the airport (due to long trips, traffic, parking or early flights) might give up and go home, saving the airline money.

The airlines could make automatic issuance of vouchers happen only for people who don’t live in the airport town. That leaves the people who were visiting friends or family and have a place to stay for free. The airlines will prefer you use that. One solution would be to offer visitors some flyer miles or flight credit if they are willing to handle their own expenses. Flight credit is cheap for airlines, as many people never get around to redeeming it.

How do other airlines do?

Does United just suck at this? Are there airlines which do what I propose, or otherwise handle this a lot better?

E-mail is more secure than we think, we should use it

E-mail is facing a decline. This is something I lament, and I plan to write more about that general problem, but today I want to point out something that is true, but usually not recognized. Namely that E-mail today is often secure in transit, and we can make better use of that and improve it.

The right way to secure any messaging service is end-to-end. That means that only the endpoints — ie. your mail client — have the keys and encrypt or decrypt the message. It’s impossible, if the crypto works, for anybody along the path, including the operators of the mail servers as well as the pipes, to decode anything but the target address of your message.

We could have built an end-to-end secure E-mail system. I even proposed just how to do it over a decade ago and I still think we should do what I proposed and more. But we didn’t.

Along the way, though, we have mostly secured the individual links an E-mail follows. Most mail servers use encrypted SMTP over TLS when exchanging mail. The major web-mail programs like Gmail use encrypted HTTPS web sessions for reading it. The IMAP and POP servers generally support encrypted connections with clients. My own server supports only IMAPS and never IMAP or POP, and there are others like that.

What this means is that if I send a message to you on Gmail, while my SMTP proxy and Google can read that message, nobody tapping the wire can. Governments and possibly attackers can get into those servers and read that E-mail, but it’s not an easy thing to do. This is not perfect, but it’s actually pretty useful, and could be more useful.  read more »

Don't feed the radical right trolls by counter-protesting them

We’re all shocked at the idea of a growing neo-Nazi movement, at the horrible attack in Virginia and the lack of condemnation by the President. It’s making us forget that the neo-Nazi radical right are trolls with many parallels to online trolls. And the only thing to do is not to feed the trolls, and definitely don’t attack the civil rights that they make use of.

A protest march has 3 main functions:

  1. Get publicity for the cause
  2. Show those of similar mind that they are not alone and foster community
  3. Show the outside world that you have numbers

The first is the primary purpose. They don’t get very far shouting slogans at the people walking their dogs past their march. There are far better ways to get your message out today. The march works because people talk about it, write about it in the press, or even better, if they counter-protest it, vastly multiplying the publicity. Counter-protests are what any small radical group wants, not a quiet and peaceful rally. To do this they will be as outrageous as they can, to goad their opponents. The protest group wants to show they have numbers, but to show it they need publicity. In this case, they don’t have very large numbers.

A perfect example is the Phelps Westboro Baptist “Church.” They protest at funerals with offensive signs saying “God hates fags” and similar. They are not protesting the funerals. They do it only in the hope that people will get riled up and bring them tons of publicity, and it works. (Some even speculate that their goal is to get people to get so upset they assault them, and then they file court actions profitably!)

We have a strong urge not to leave something as pernicious as neo-nazis ignored. We feel we must show “this is not us.” And we want to show our numbers are large while theirs are small. But we know our numbers are large. But the attention given to them grows their numbers. Nobody joins a neo-nazi group imagining the “movement” is not reviled. They join because it is reviled by their ideological opponents. We must resist that urge. We must ignore them, and treat them as the irrelevant last adherents of a philosophy long left in the dustbin of history, which is what they are.

Radical groups have been around forever, and were not always trolls. But today’s online world gives them an alternative and better place to communicate, to promote their ideas, and to find strength in numbers, if they have numbers. As such the “march” is far less important for those things, and much more of its purpose is trolling.

There are those who feel that the approach of not feeding trolls is too simplistic or outdated and that there are other techniques that can work online. In the physical world, which is not a private playground like most online spaces, censorship is not permitted and only non-physical methods can be applied. This has frustated some people…

One alternative

I don’t pretend there can’t be ways to respond to trolls, as long as you’re sure you are not giving them the reaction they goaded you for. One town in Bavaria took pledges so that the more Nazis and the more they marched more money was donated to an anti-Nazi charity. In the USA, rather than a physical counter protest, giving money to Southern Poverty Law Center or others for every neo who shows up could be highly effective.

If you are skilled at it — really this is not for amateurs — mocking them can also work. They want people to be angry, not laughing, and especially not laughing at them. As noted, the comedy must be very good. Mean spirited comedy can get a laugh but is also a reaction of fear or anger.

Don’t attack civil rights

Nazis get people upset, naturally. My grandmother was a Jew out of Vitebsk, where the Einsatzgruppen B set up a base and murdered every Jew in the city, including all her relatives that did not emmigrate as her family fortunately did. I have reason to understand the horror of Nazi thinking. So I get really pissed when people start attacking the civil rights which belong to all, including neo-nazis, forcing me to defend them. I defend the rights, not the assholes, but often to others, and sometimes even to us, it can seem like we have to defend the scum.

If you think you want to call for a reduction in free speech for these scum, think again. It’s what they want. They would like nothing better than to have their marches banned, their web sites shut down. It’s publicity and makes them victims. And yes, they will laugh at those of us who will defend those rights.

Make no mistake. When our rights come under attack, there will be people defending them. It’s just a given, and even if you don’t agree with doing that, it’s the choice of the rights defenders, not your choice. It’s going to happen. Your only choice is whether to force those defenders into action. If you attack the free speech of scum, you are playing into their hands. It also won’t work, and is a bad idea, as I outlined in my article recently on Free Speech Theory.

If there’s a legal case over free speech or other rights of these folks, the ones who attacked those rights are the ones to blame. So don’t say it’s OK to censor or ban them. Don’t say it’s OK to punch them (if they have not been violent.) You might believe it, and in this post I am not arguing with you about that. I’m telling you what your choice will set in motion, and it’s not what you want.

Hard as it may be, as long as they are a small radical fringe, the best course is to ignore them. You won’t fix them by focusing the world on them. If they get to be big enough to be a real threat, you can pay some attention, but don’t help them get there.

Your eclipse guide (with the things not in many eclipse guides)

I will be heading to western Idaho this weekend to watch my sixth total Eclipse. That makes me a mid-grade eclipse chaser, so let me tell you some important things you need to know, which are not in some of the other eclipse guides out there. For good general sites look at places like NASA’s Eclipse Guide which has nice maps or this map.

Totality is everything

The difference between a total solar eclipse and a partial one — even a 98% partial one — is literally night and day. It’s like the difference between sex and holding hands. They are really two different things with a similar sounding name. And a lunar eclipse is again something vastly different. This does not mean a high-partial eclipse is not an interesting thing, but the total eclipse is by far the most spectacular natural phenomenon visible on this planet. Beyond the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Norway, etc. So if you can get to totality, get there. Do not think you are seeing the eclipse if you don’t get into the zone of totality.

People debate about how total it should be

Many people seek to get close to the centerline of the eclipse. This provides the longest eclipse for your area. You will only lose a modest number of seconds if you are within 15 miles of the centerline, so you don’t have to get exactly there, and in fact it may be too crowded there.

On the other hand there are those who deliberately get close to the edge, giving up 30-40% of their eclipse time in order to see more “edge effects.” Near the edge, the edge effects are longer and a bit more spectacular. In particular the diamond ring will be a fair bit longer, and you may see more prominences and chromosphere for longer. If this is your first eclipse, I am not sure you want to get too close to the edge. But try any of the map web sites that will tell you your duration, and get somewhere that has within 30-40 seconds of the centerline time.

You look at the total eclipse with zero eye protection

You’ve been hearing endless talk about eclipse glasses and how well made they are. Eclipse glasses are only for the boring partial phase. They give you a way to track the progress of the moon while waiting for the main event. Once totality is over, everybody packs up and does not even bother to watch the 2nd half of the partial eclipse, that’s how boring the partial part is.

But don’t be one of those people who, told about the danger of eclipses, does not watch totality with your bare eyes. In fact, use binoculars in addition to your naked eyes, and perhaps a short look through a telescope — but not during the diamond rings or any partial phase.

Update: There is a nice large sunspot group that should still be there on Eclipse day, making the partial phase more interesting to those with good eyesight.

In totality you are looking not at the sun, but its amazing atmosphere — the “corona” — full of streamers, and many times the size of the sun or moon. You may also see jets of fire coming off the sun, and at the start and end of totality you will see the hot red inner atmosphere of the sun, known as the chromosphere.

If you are crazy enough to be outside the total zone but close to it, you still can’t look with your bare eyes at any part of the eclipse.

There are some cool things in a 99% partial eclipse (which you see just before and after totality.)

An eclipse is most glorious in the sky but a lot of other things happen around it. As it gets very close to total you will see the nature of the sunlight change and become quite eerie. Shadows of trees will turn into collections of crescents. About 20-60 seconds before and after totality, if you have a white sheet on the ground, you will see ripples of light waving, like on the bottom of a giant swimming pool. And the shadow. You will see it approach. If you are up on a mountain or in a plane this will be more obvious. It is going at 1,000 to 2,000 miles per hour.  read more »