Monday, 30 November 2009

The aftermath

Well, last night's storm created a little excitement around here and Mauna Kea experienced its second snowfall of the winter. I wasn't at the summit but the various webcams on Mauna Kea caught the the early-morning scene although within a few hours most of the snow had already melted - it's still a little early in the season for the really bad snow storms we see from time to time and the daytime temperatures and sunlight are usually sufficient to melt the snow quickly.

UKIRT's webcam caught the snow covered road a little after 8am. The tracks in the snow were probably left by the rangers on their early morning inspection of the summit. They closed the road for a while until the snow had melted.

The webcam on Gemini captured the CFHT, MKAM and the snow field in between.

To the south, one of the NOAA Mauna Loa Observatory webcams captured Mauna Kea in the early morning light with snow on the summit, although as you can see the snow was clearly contained to the summit area and didn't extend much further down than a few hundred feet. Occasionally it can snow all the way down to Hale Pohaku at the 9,000 foot level.

By sunset this evening, the snow had nearly all gone.

At home it wasn't so pretty! Although I didn't hear anything overnight (the wind and rain was a little too loud and of course I'd closed all the windows!) this morning I found a couple of trees had come down, I assume due to the wind.

This one barely missed my car, it was literally inches away, the end of the branches had snapped off when they hit the ground and were actually under the car! I don't think the tree is that healthy which probably explains why it fell.

I have no idea what the tree is called, sorry, but looking up at the branches this is where the it had clearly snapped overnight. Looking round a little more, I saw several other places where branches had snapped off but I couldn't find the branches! This is actually right on the boundary between my yard and the neighbouring uncleared land which is difficult to access as it's overgrown, so I assume the fallen branches are over there somewhere.

Out in the front yard I found a piece of my rooftop TV antenna. I don't think reception's going to be very good for a while! Incidentally, that trunk in the ground used to be underneath the "lawn", you wouldn't have known it was there. The unusually bad storms of the last couple of years plus summer droughts have eroded my top soil so badly that it now protrudes a couple of inches above the ground.

The infamous glowing picnic table effect

Stupidly, I forgot I had left my camera out in the top lanai on its tripod. When I was closing all the doors and windows in panic last night I suddenly saw that the tripod had been blown over and the camera was lying on the wet lanai floor. I brought it in immediately, dried it off and turned it on. It seemed to work although I didn't take any pictures. My first attempt at taking a picture when I arrived home this evening, however, resulted in this:

Uh oh! Why was my picnic table and bench glowing like this? I was obviously a little concerned that I'd damaged the camera or had my table taken on some ghostly paranormal-like properties during the storm?

Turns out it appears to be something to do with the circular polarizer I habitually keep on the camera lense. When I took it off the pictures looked normal again. Although I had cleaned and dried the filter, and it looked good to my eye, something was up with it. I'm going to leave it in its case with some desiccant and perhaps a few grains of rice and see if that fixes the problem. I should understand how a polarizer might cause such an effect, but am going to have to think about it...

Stormy night

Heavy rainfall, the threat of thunderstorms and a strong northerly wind is flooding the back yard and the lanais. My house is orientated so that the lanais face north and in the summer they're a relatively cool place to stay. With this type of storm, however, it's a bit of a disadvantage as I realised when I arrived home this evening.

All the windows are shut (that's pretty rare here) and despite that my computer monitor is wobbling like mad because the wind is making the house shake! I hope the promised thunderstorms don't make an appearance, I could do without that.

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Don't look directly at the sun

It's dangerous for your eyes and plays havoc with the exposure meter on your camera.

Friday, 27 November 2009

A changing picture

Some of you might think I'm obsessed with sunsets. That's not actually the case, I prefer sunrises! Still, I tend to post a lot of sunset pictures here but it's not really by choice. I'm either working during the day or at night and often the only time I get a chance to get the camera out is between those shifts, i.e., sunrise or sunset.

Not being a morning person, you can see why the sunset shots predominate!

As it turns out, sunset or sunrise is normally the best time to take landscape pictures as the colours are much more intense during those times. During the middle of the day things tend to get washed out a bit and pictures are not so interesting. I've heard one or two stories that editors of photography magazines will simply not accept landscape photos if they are not taken during the "magic hour", i.e., the hour just after sunrise and the hour just before sunset. I don't know how true those rumours are but suspect there is something to it.

In fact you can take remarkably beautiful pictures before sunrise and after sunset. I think that's when the sky is at its best but often you need that sun just above the horizon to illuminate the scene such as mountains etc. For beautiful skies though, just after sunset is the best!

These two were taken a couple of days ago from my house. It's not the best place for sunset shots since I'm on the wrong side of the island for that and the utility lines tend to spoil things. Sometimes, though, I take a quick glance to the west and it looks stunning. So, even though I know I could take prettier shots elsewhere, I think it's better just to take a picture of what you think is beautiful whenever you get the chance. I'd have loved to have been on a sandy beach on the west side of the island when taking these two pictures but should I really put the camera away just because I'm not in the ideal spot? I don't think so!

The sun hasn't quite set yet, the higher cirrus clouds are only showing a hint of sunset colours but the lower clouds glow yellow/orange.

Fifteen minutes later the sun has set but the high clouds in the distance are illuminated by the reddened sunlight. The lower clouds are now in shadow.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

A Thanksgiving thank you

Thank you to all who take the time to pop by my little blog. You mean a lot to me and to show my appreciation I thought I'd mention a few of you and your own blogs. This is in no particular order and I can't mention everyone and my sincerest apologies if I missed you out - just blame my altitude-addled brain!

Pam (Beep) is the most dear and wonderful friend who is suffering from a severe and life-threatening illness not helped by the crazy health system in the USA. She means the world to me. Pam has several blogs including Beep's Purple Personal Blog and Grrls Just Wanna Have Fun!. Her home page is Beep's Home on the Web. Please do take the time to visit and if there's anything you can do to help, even just to add a comment from time to time, it will help more than you think.

Keera, another California Girl(!), writes from her home in Norway and I always look forward to reading her beautifully written articles and photos of a place I think I'd love to visit! Her blog is called A Roll in the Universe.

Alice has been an online friend for years and has a wonderful blog called 10,000 Monkeys and & Camera. Like Pam and Keera, I have known her for many years and love her views on life and her photos. She also produces the most amazing food porn!

Hilary authors one of my favourite blogs, The Smitten Image. Stunning pictures and beautiful writing. And a dog called Benny! Hilary's blog is extremely popular and if you visit you'll find out why. I'm honoured to have Hilary visit my own humble offering and it means a lot to me.

Diane is a wonderful writer with a sense of humour I adore! I love her blog and always read it although I think she doesn't like the fact that I don't leave many comments. Well, dear, it's usually because I can't think of anything to say, your writing is just so much better than mine! Her blog is called Diane's Addled Ramblings and it's one of the best out there!

Then there's Lou Minatti over at, er, Lou Minatti. He is another friend I've known online for many years and a fellow skeptic. Although I think our political views are quite different he is just the nicest guy out there and has a very bright mind. I have a lot of time for you, Lou, and one day I'll visit Houston, but it'll have to be during the winter!

Like me, Andrew works on Mauna Kea although he tends to work the day shift. His is another blog with beautiful photos and a lot of astronomy as well as the most gorgeous underwater pictures. His blog is called A Darker View and really worth a visit!

Damon, one of the more prolific bloggers I know, has his own site called Damon Tucker's Blog which includes a lot of local news, but I think his achievement was the creation of the wonderful "From Big Island (FBI)" web site. I don't know how he keeps it up to date but it's a collection of the best Big Island blogs and tweets and is simply phenomenal. Do you want to visit the Big Island? Just visit that website to see views from a huge range of people that live on the island. I can't thank Damon enough for his work on creating and maintaining that web site.

Finally but definitely not least, there's Zuzana (Protege). What a wonderful and beautiful person. She can't say a bad word about anyone and even my most boring blog posts have a comment from her that are always so incredibly polite and complimentary. Is there anyone on this planet nicer than her? I don't think so. Zuzana's wonderful blog is called Life Through Reflections.

There are so many other people I'd like to mention. Ant is a friend and colleague whose photos blow us all away. Brad, another friend and colleague likes growing mustaches and writes some awesome software while being a new father. John hikes some of the most beautiful places on the planet and always writes so intelligently as well as showing us beautiful pictures from the Kona side. Blake is going through the same thing I did over a decade ago and trying to find a place to live on one of the most beautiful places in the world and Devany has already arrived, complete with the most incredible recipes you could imagine and some stunning sunrise views! Then there's Kahuku whose site I only recently discovered but fell in love with the photography in seconds.

I must have missed out several people and if so I do apologise, please let me know and I'll correct it. It wasn't deliberate.

Thank you again for spending a little time reading my blog, putting up with my occasional rants and leaving all your wonderful comments. It means so much to me!


Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Dear Mum, today we visited Mauna Kea and...

...found a really cool cherry picker!

With a couple of hundred people at the summit for sunset, nearly all watching another view of the sun slipping into the Pacific Ocean, a couple of people found something much more interesting to explore.

I know everyone's different, perhaps the guy is an engineer or something, but I was a little surprised to see a couple more interested in the contractor's cherry picker outside UKIRT than watch the sunset. They probably paid something like $400 to visit the summit on one of the commercial tours (the luminous orange clothing gives it away) and yet they were far more intrigued by the equipment left outside UKIRT, which is undergoing a paint job, than the wonderful and out-of-this-world view to the west.

Everyone to their own I guess...

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving, everyone, and to those that do not celebrate Thanksgiving, which is pretty much the rest of the world apart from North America, have a wonderful day anyway. If it includes a close examination of a cherry picker, I can only wish that you have a fantastic time doing that!

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Sunset on the Rainbow Isle

Few things beat coming back home in the evening after spending time on Mauna Kea's summit and seeing the most intensely coloured rainbow you could wish for as the sun is setting. There was no time to frame the shots in a nice way or go somewhere else to catch the ocean and shoreline as well, just time to go out on the upper lanai and take a couple of pictures. The rain shower that produced the rainbow was fast-moving and left little time to take a picture. I could have got back into my car and taken a couple of minutes to get to the nearby cliffs, but by then the rainbow would have gone.

Monday, 23 November 2009

Views from the tour

Well, I think everyone I took on the tour of Mauna Kea this past Saturday survived; the same number of people that went to the summit also managed to get back down to Hilo and I don't think we left anyone behind. I know one or two people had some issues with the altitude and for that I apologise although there's little I can do about that unfortunately. You never know who's going to do well at 14,000 feet and who won't. I've seen some of the fittest people I've ever met become a drooling and incoherent mess within a couple of hours yet people you think are going to do badly seem completely unaffected. The group I took up did rather well I think!

I didn't have much time to take photos during the visit as I spent most of the time chatting and describing the mountain as well trying to explain what astronomers do with the telescopes at the summit. I hope everyone managed to learn a little about what we do and the environment we work in. Unfortunately due to some summit-level clouds one of the hoped-for highlights didn't happen - opening the domes at sunset. Only one telescope actually opened while we were there whereas the others were all measuring high humidity and therefore couldn't open their protective domes as it would risk water condensing on the cold optical surfaces and electronics.

Still, the views were as stunning as ever but above all I met some new and wonderful friends!

A post-sunset view of Hualalai taken from just outside the UKIRT dome.

Submillimeter Valley and the setting sun, again taken from just outside UKIRT.

Shadows of the summit ridge telescopes on a cinder cone. Taken just outside the CFHT. Left to right the shadows are of the CFHT, Gemini and the UH 88-inch.

We saw most of the places on the mountain I'd recommend to visitors but I do apologise for not being able to locate the light switch inside the JCMT dome! It shows how many times I dare enter that place but I hope the subsequent torch/flashlight-led tour was still enjoyable! Jonathan and Tim, the guys working at the UKIRT that night, were also very gracious in letting us warm up in the control room shortly before we drove back down to a more oxygen-rich environment while answering all of my guests' questions. That was really appreciated!

Some of the tour group enjoying one of those special sunsets from Mauna Kea's summit.

Friday, 20 November 2009

Upcoming career move?

I'm going to be a tour guide tomorrow (Saturday). Six people who I've never met before will be taking the Mauna Kea summit tour with me as their guide. It should be fun especially as I can offer a little more than the normal MK tour companies - a guided tour of a submillimetre and infrared telescope plus watching the night crew in action taking data. I won't be charging nearly $200 for the tour as most companies do either, but tips are welcome! I just hope I'm not asked to point out the constellations, that might be embarrassing.

I hope it goes well, and I might even show my guests the best place on the summit for taking photos at sunset or sunrise. Oops, I gave it away in the picture.

What will they think of next?

I was almost taken out today by some driver who clearly wasn't looking out for traffic. Fortunately I saw the guy was doing something very unusual and since I drive rather defensively, as you have to do here, I managed to swerve out of his way. I really was waiting for the big crash but managed to put just enough space between our cars that we missed by inches. At the next stop he was behind me and very sheepishly raised his hand in apology - which I acknowledged although I was a little shaken. We all make mistakes after all.

It occurred to me that perhaps he was using this product. You have to read the reviews, they're priceless. A friend pointed out that the customer images are also worth checking out and indeed they are!

I wonder if they'll come up with a version for motorbikes. That'll be fun to see!

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Tim Hawarden

Tim Hawarden. Picture courtesy of the ROE.

Further to my post a few days ago about Tim's sudden passing, the Royal Observatory Edinburgh now has an orbituary. I still can't believe Tim is no longer with us.

Above the cloud layer

When I was a kid I dreamed of being a pilot. I was going to fly for the Royal Air Force and then pilot airliners all over the world while visiting the most exotic locations on the planet - and being paid to do so. As things turned out, I'm not jetting the airways at 35,000 feet nor am I staying at luxury hotels on tropical beaches but I live in one of the most beautiful places on our planet and I do get to work above the clouds. Things didn't turn out too badly after all!

As ever, you can see larger versions of these post-sunset pictures from Mauna Kea's summit by clicking on them.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Evening colours

I'm glad to see most of the tour companies that visit the summit of Mauna Kea are staying longer after sunset than I remembering them doing in the past. Although the sunset is always beautiful (as long as it's not foggy) the best colours appear in the sky well after the sun has disappeared, often ten to fifteen minutes afterwards. It's great that the visitors have a chance to experience the sky at this time and some of the things I overheard this evening were good to hear, such as "this was the best trip I've ever been on!". It was helped, of course, by having very light winds and reasonably mild temperatures for this time of year (about 2 Celsius or about 36 degrees Fahrenheit).

We can't start observing until about 30 minutes or so after sunset since the sky is still too bright to find our guide stars so I have a little free time to take some pictures. Above is the sky in the west well after the sun had set. The colours were tremendous, deep red on the horizon, bright yellow above, some pink/orange stuff high up (Gobi Desert dust?) and then a deep blue overhead. The two peaks are Haleakala to the left and Pu`u Poli`ahu to the right. Below, to the south, Mauna Loa with some clouds being driven well over the saddle towards the leeward side of the island.

Monday, 16 November 2009

Distant and expensive

Not my best photo by far but a nice one of Haleakala on the island of Maui from Mauna Kea's summit - bracketed by Keck 2 and the NASA IRTF.

I'm back on the mountain again and preparing for the sleep problems it always gives me. The circadian rhythm never likes switching from day to night shifts nor does anyone's body enjoy going from sea level to 14,000 feet. It's the job though and a pretty good one when you think about all the problems in the world right now.

In the distance is Maui. I want to go there again. It's about 80 miles away so not far but of course Hawai`i is an island state so you either sail or fly to another island and that's rarely cheap. Maui is also incredibly expensive itself and why shouldn't it be? Many famous people either visit or live there!

In 1994 I took a couple of friends to Maui as a thank you for helping me through some troubled times - all the way from the UK. That was the last time I visited Maui and would love to go back - without those friends this time.

Sunday, 15 November 2009


The storm that affected the Hawaiian islands over the past few days has finally departed, the low has drifted well off to the west now. Fortunately the thunderstorms on the Big Island weren't too bad and the most intense one remained just off the east coast on Saturday morning - the forecasters were saying it would move onshore and the radar images looked ominous, but it stood still for a few hours before moving south. The rainfall was tremendous though, sometimes at rates of well over two inches per hour and deafening on a tin roof!

Some time ago I'd planned to work in the yard Saturday morning before going out for the day but the rain put a stop to that - the yard flooded again which is unusual but seems to have come more of an issue over the last 2 or 3 years - but in any case I wasn't going anywhere until the rain subsided a little. So I spent a couple of hours upgrading software on my PC using my new broadband service which included one or two of the photo processing programmes I use. To test the upgrades, I reprocessed some pictures I took last May at the summit of Mauna Kea as well as one or two I found that I'd forgotten about. I think the results are certainly a lot better although some of this may be due to the fact I understand this photography thing a little better than six months ago!

The top picture is of Mauna Kea's shadow at sunset complete with anticrepuscular rays and the eastern slopes of the mountain. In order to get anticrepuscular rays you need cloud in the west that blocks some of the sunlight and sets up the rays in the first place (below). Although you can't see those rays overhead, they become visible towards the horizon in the east and always look beautiful from the summit.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Lightning phobia

The shuttle being struck by lightning. Image courtesy of NASA.

I've promised once or twice in my blog to tell the story about why I'm a little afraid of thunderstorms. The rather intense storms of the last couple of days, and the promise of more to come reminded me to tell the story.

My first experience of the tremendous amount of energy the atmosphere could dump on us was in early November 2000. For those of us that experienced the great storm of 2000 it was a truly unforgettable 24-hours. The rain started in mid-afternoon and by mid-evening Hilo bayfront was experiencing flooding. Despite the thunder and lightning I slept normally only to awake at sunrise with even heavier rain. Every major highway on the island had been taken out with parts of some roads simply gone - washed away into the ocean. An unbelievable 37-inches of rain fell at Kapapala Ranch in Ka`u in 24-hours and most of Hilo got well over 20-inches. Power was out everywhere and all major roads closed and certainly no chance of going to work for the day!

Roll on a few years to February 2004, at home around sunset and an approaching storm. The lightning looked spectacular so I went outside on the top-floor lanai to watch. Within a minute I witnessed one of my ohia trees get struck by lightning and explode. It was an utterly amazing sight, the tree, about fifty yards away, simply turned into a huge firework and was gone. It happened so close I thought it best not to stay on the lanai and head indoors and that's when all hell broke out.

It's hard to describe the next thirty minutes. A friend and colleague who could see Kaloli Point in the distance said this to me a couple of days later: "I looked over your way, I could see Kaloli Point was getting hammered!".

No exaggeration, for the next half an hour lightning was striking everything within a few hundred yards every few seconds. The noise was unbelievable and even though I thought about evacuating it meant a few seconds out in the open to get to my car and I considered it too risky. Better to stay inside than risk getting struck by lightning. Things were about to get worse though.

About 15 minutes after the tree exploded the lightning started to take aim at my house. Now, I know many of you have experienced intense thunderstorms, but have you ever been in a house that was struck by lightning? And not just once, at least three or four times. The first strike was the worst. No warning, just the loudest explosion you could imagine. The house shook and of course all the power went off. A minute later, another strike and another mini-earthquake. A few more followed and when the storm finally moved away after pausing overhead my house for half an hour I was sitting in the middle of the living room floor shaking. It felt as though I'd been under an artillery barrage.

Verizon came by the next day because I'd lost all my electronics including the phone and they found a what was left of a vaporized phone line lying at the edge of my yard. My roof-top TV antenna had turned black and I'd lost four palm trees in the front yard, all struck by lightning.

Move on another two years, February again and another tremendous thunderstorm sat over Kaloli. The rain was more of a problem this time and my lower lanai was flooding. The power had gone off, as usual, so to check how much water was collecting in the lanai I took a flashlight and looked through the screen door. I put my hand on the screen just to help me balance as I took a closer look and then zzzzzfffttt-BANG!

I saw the lightning - it struck about 10-yards away. I was thrown away from the screen door, my arm moving much quicker than the rest of my body! Another 30-minutes sat on the floor in sheer terror and my hand and arm tingling like mad. The tingling didn't stop in my hand until much later the next day.

2006 again but late in the year. On October 15th we had a large earthquake, magnitude 6.7, which caused an awful lot of damage. The next day another one of those thunderstorms that just love to sit over Kaloli Point. The house was struck again - I didn't hide under the bed with the cats but I thought about it.

The next day I was out inspecting the damage and saw my new neighbour doing the same thing. I shouted over to her and asked if she was OK. Her response was something I'll not forget - "I'm just glad I'm still alive!".

I used to love thunderstorms, in fact that was my father's main job at the Met Office in the UK and as a small kid I used to "help" him track and locate lightning strikes. Now they just scare me.

Postscript: The oddest thing about that storm in 2004 is that all of my expensive electronic equipment survived. OK, the TV displayed some really odd colours for the next month or two but I had an amplifying device on the antenna cable which took the brunt of the lightning strike. I wish I had kept it because it really didn't look anything like it used to before the storm. My telephones obviously blew up, the strike on the phone line took them out along with my computer's modem (but the rest of the computer was just fine). The weirdest one was my alarm clock radio. It would tell the time perfectly if it was between twelve and one o'clock but wouldn't work at any other time.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009


The weather forecasts have been pretty dire for the last few days but where I live there's been hardly a drop of rain. On Highway 130 late this afternoon though, the only way in or out of this place, the rain became really heavy and visibility was reduced to almost zero. As usual, many of the Puna drivers didn't think this was a problem and left their headlights turned off on a busy and fast highway. In front of me, about a hundred yards away, I could make out a few cars all tailgating each other and in the mirror, behind me, an idiot that was just a few yards away. I really do wonder what goes through their minds, if anything. I suspect half of them were on their cell phones as well.

The island is surrounded, not just by idiots but by bad weather. The only way out seems to be to the south-west. The infrared satellite image above shows clouds and temperatures: red colours indicate high cold clouds and in this case the tops of thunderstorms whereas the green colours are lower and warmer clouds, but they still hold a lot of water. You really wouldn't believe how much water they contain until you've lived in the Hilo and Puna districts for a few months!

My old home, England, regularly issues flood warnings when there's an inch or two of rain in a day and for good reason, it causes flooding. Here rain can fall at one or two inches per hour, sometimes more, and it's not a problem - unless it goes on for more than a few hours, and it often does!

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Goodbye Tim

This news hit me hard. Tim Hawarden, on the left, passed away today. He was my mentor when I arrived to work here in Hawai`i 13 years ago. I first met him in the early 90s on one of my first trips out here to use UKIRT and it was clear to me then what a brilliant mind he had.

He was a special guy: incredibly intelligent, knowledgeable and fun to be with - I will never forget the snowball fight we had outside UKIRT a few winters ago!

Tim and I had a long chat just a couple of months ago while I was in the UK. He was semi-retired but still spent a lot of time at the Royal Observatory Edinburgh and still had an office - you don't get rid of people with the knowledge Tim had. I tried to extract as much information as I could in the belief he might go into full retirement but as usual with Tim there was no need to try. Tim was a real fountain of knowledge and I just sat there taking it all in.

I learned so much from him, as did all the scientists at the JAC, and now he's gone. It's hard to believe; he was the life of UKIRT.

Monday, 9 November 2009

Winter's approach

It looks as though we're about to experience the first storm of the season. The state will be under a flash flood watch from tomorrow evening and the Big Island summits will likely be issued a winter storm watch from Wednesday morning. Given current conditions these might occur a little earlier, especially for the summit if the MKWC forecast is correct.

The snowfall will likely not be too significant, it's early in the season and temperatures tend to be a little too warm for ice and snow to last long at the summit (although it has happened in the past) but Mauna Kea should see its first dusting of snow in the next few days.

I'll be at the summit early next week so may miss the fun, but if there's snow still up there I'll be sure to take a couple of pictures!

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Puna's ocean and sky

Having a few hours to spare this weekend I thought I'd take the chance to experiment a little with my camera. After the trip to Monterey I really liked the idea of slowing down the movement of water using long exposures, it worked quite well in Monterey in the pre-dawn sky and wanted to try something similar nearer to home. Not always being an early riser I used an ND filter to reduce the light in the pictures above and below and waited for the sun to set in the last two.

I'm sure the pictures could be improved and I'm still not that great when it comes to composition, that's something I'm working on. Anyway, the above picture was taken from my favourite place on the island, the wonderful drive along the coast between Isaac Hale Beach Park (in Pohoiki Bay) and Kalapana. It's such a beautiful road and now the whales are coming back for the winter I'm sure I'll be down there a lot more in the next few months!

Same place, but zoomed in a little with an ND filter - I was trying to smooth out the waves on the rocks.

Much nearer home this evening - the coastline of Hawaiian Paradise Park at the end of Paradise Drive. This is another of my favourite whale watching spots although so far I don't think the whales have reached this side of the island yet. It won't be long though.

Same place but taken on Saturday evening. I don't think it's as nice a shot as the one above, but I really liked the way the red clouds changed the colour of the water. Both these last two used pretty long exposures in an attempt to make the water look interesting - both are blends of 2, 4 and 8 second exposures. Click on the pictures if you want to see larger versions.

Maybe this year I'll actually be able to photograph some whales - I tried last year but never had much luck.

Saturday, 7 November 2009

This broadband thing is bad!

What album should I listen to next? I keep coming back to Dylan even though I'm not a fan but also revisited my past - The Cult, The Cure, The Smiths and then thought I need to pick a band that didn't start with "The".

The problem is I'm still up late at night because I rediscovered "The The". Uncertain Smile - what a song that was with Jules Holland on the piano. Now all I need to do is find the extended version which I used to dance to in the old disco days.

Don't laugh over there, I can hear you!

Friday, 6 November 2009

I'm stuck, what to do?

This may turn out to be a bad idea, or not, but today I went to the Verizon shop in Hilo and bought myself mobile broadband for $60 a month. It was a real suck up moment - do I really want to spend that amount of money each month for fast internet access when I've managed to get by on a dial up for well over a decade?

First results indicate I've been a bloody idiot not to go down the broadband route before. I'm listening to Bob Dylan's(1) latest albums while uploading photos and reading email with attached pictures all at the same time while also making a nice cup of tea and reading photo book reviews. I could have checked my bank balance as well but I didn't want to spoil the day.

This rocks! But it's expensive. The really bad thing about this is I can't use ridiculously slow dial up speeds to make excuses anymore. Coupled with that, I've run out of photographs. I think I may have a few more really nice ones lying around but all I can find right now are a couple of photos of birds. Both were taken in the UK in September and one's a Nottingham heron (above) and the other is a goose, I think, taken in Bracknell where I grew up.

Sorry, I'll try to get back to the Mauna Kea sunsets and sunrises as soon as I can - after I've listened to a couple more online albums...

(1) I've never been a Dylan fan but "Dreamin' of you" and "If you ever go to Houston" seem to have hit the right nerve with me!

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

A photo book?

Protege over at "Life Through Reflections" very kindly suggested I publish a book with the pictures in my blog. In fact I did try this exact thing a few months ago, a simple photo book using Blurb but the result wasn't what I'd hoped for. I don't think it was anything to do with Blurb, but the quality of the photos in the book were quite poor which I'm sure was down to the pictures I used.

Since then I think my photography skills have improved a little bit so I'm willing to give things another try. One of the problems, though, is that I'm on a dialup at home so using a web-based photo book publisher is a little tricky. In fact it's hair-pullingly frustrating. If possible, I'd prefer to download the software in a one-off painful experience, edit the book the way I want and then upload the result, again painfully, once I'm done.

It seems most of the top-rated photo book publishers only offer online publishing software which is horrendous to use over a dialup. If anyone has any suggestions or recommendations I'm listening!

What's the picture above? It's a view from just outside the CFHT at sunset. Cinder cones to the left, a hint of the earth's shadow above the cones (and also to the extreme right), cloud tops at around the typical inversion layer and the shadow of Mauna Kea's summit to the right. I hope you like it and the picture gets bigger if you click on it!

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Another day at the office

The MKWC weather forecast wasn't good, the evening should be fine but come the second half of the night the inversion layer was expected to break down and we stood a good chance of fog at the summit. This meant we had to get going early because I had a few engineering tasks I really wanted to get done which required decent conditions and a dome that was in equilibrium with the outside air temperature. Having a warm dome compared to the atmosphere means you get local turbulence which has quite an impact on image quality, and that would hurt our planned tests.

Still, there was time to wander outside and take the odd snapshot but it was hurried. The shadow of Mauna Kea was visible as usual (above) although at this time of year its relative position has moved so far from the actual summit that the pictures aren't so interesting from this location. The Earth's shadow was also just visible but still low on the horizon. By the time I'd taken that quick panorama I had to go back inside to get some of the calibrations started, but just before walking through the door I heard a commotion from some distance behind me.

Turning around I saw a sight I don't see often - the smaller than usual group of sightseers were making an awful lot of fuss and switching from one side of the summit road where they had watched the sun set into the Pacific and were now all quite excited and pointing over to the east. Flashlights were going off continually and one or two observatory vehicles, heading up to work for the night, were stuck behind the excited crowd.

I'm not absolutely certain what they saw, I couldn't see from my location, but I think someone probably saw the moon rise just above the clouds in the east and had said so. The message must have been passed along quickly because it was utter chaos for a couple of minutes! Unfortunately, I had to get back inside for a few minutes so couldn't go down to see what all the excitement was about, but I'm sure it was the moonrise.

About ten minutes later I was able to pop outside again, this time with tripod in hand. The weather system the MKWC had mentioned was clearly visible off to the west-north-west, seen as the reddish clouds in the distance behind the Subaru Observatory. These were supposed to move in overnight or at least the associated weather system was going to destabilize our atmosphere. It never happened and we left the summit at 6am very tired, cold and hungry but pleased after a really good night's work!

As ever, please click on the pictures if you want to see larger versions.

Monday, 2 November 2009

All quiet on the western front

It's the beginning of another long night of observing on Mauna Kea, but it seems very quiet. Looking around, there seem to be far fewer tourists than usual and even my spot just outside the UKIRT is completely deserted. There are certainly a few tour groups on the summit this evening but the road is usually quite busy with people walking between viewing spots and it was empty when I took the picture below. Incidentally, if you look closely you can just see the shadow of Mauna Kea on the right hand side of the photo.

Perhaps it's because it's Monday...