Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Lunar Eclipse: Totally Awesome

Being in Asia, we were perfectly situated for the total lunar eclipse of August 28, 2007.

We raced back from Denpasar to be at home in time for moonrise, and were aghast at the gathering of clouds to the east. After, what -? - 30 days of clear evenings, we suddenly see the heavens poofing over in the direction of the moonrise. We were scheduled to get about a 10 degrees south of due east moonrise, but it was all cloudy-looking over that way. We could see the "thumb" of Lombok Island, but nothing else.

While my hubby ran around gathering up the Celestron telescope, I sat on a campstool out by the surf, braving the ocean breezes with a sarong around my shoulders. I just sat there looking at clouds barely tinged by the west's sunset. It was getting depressing. Suddenly, I spotted the moon behind all the clouds. It was a little higher than I was expecting (it was, by now, close to 7 pm), but it was already in the penumbra, red as Mars, veiled by heavy rain clouds.

With binocs, you could see the utter roundness of the thing... just amazing, and pretty soon it actually started rising above the clouds. As we fumbled with the Celestron, the moon headed for a thick cloud, but by the time it was about 20 degrees in the sky, the clouds disappeared. Our only possible obstacle was a nearby palm frond hanging down.

Well, we got that big old fella in the sites of the telescope and spent the next hour just watching. Our night watchman turned on a security light and we said, "no, don't! Come over here and look at this!" He watched and laughed (us sadly inexperienced foreigners who have never seen an eclipse of the moon), but he liked looking through the Celestron, too. We told him to go get the cook and his helper, and so those guys came down to look, too. The cook called his kids, who came to watch, too. It was all a big science class field trip! The coolest part of this whole eclipse, in my opinion, was watching it slowly end. The sight of the sun "dawning" on the lower (to our eyes, here on the equator) part of the moon was just beautiful! The red pinking up at first, and then craters becoming clearer... we could actually watch the sun hit the ridges and craters differently.

After the eclipse was passing, and the moon resembled a grinning jack o lantern without eyes, we turned the telescope up to Scorpio, above our heads, where Jupiter floated, his bright Galilean moons in line. That means four of the seven or eight satelites of the big gas giant. We could make out a blue line and the big red spot. The planet and his little moons looked like they were just out there in their own little realm, minding their business, rotating in line and doing what planets and moons do. It was sooo beautiful. Cosmic is a great word. It was truly cosmic in both senses.

By the time we sat down to vegetable curry, we still took a few peeks up at the moon, with eyes only. It was funny to see it with a big bite out of it, like a cookie, not at all like a moon phase. At the end, the moon looked like a ball of dough which someone had pushed in at the top... just a dark little dent up there. It was cool!

Friday, August 10, 2007


Back in Macau.

Want to add some film noir to your life? Just get over here to the former Portugese enclave and you'll get all the grit, characters, glam, crime, and typhoons you can bear.

Someone on eBay is selling this movie ad, but I own a copy of it, too, so I don't feel too bad about cutting and pasting his photo here in my blog.

For one hot nightclub scene, producer Howard Hughes had a solid gold dress made for Jane Russell, whose boobs were strong enough to hold up under its significant tonnage and drag!

This is a great little movie, directed by two different filmmakers. Josef von Sternberg directed the mesmerizing dock scenes, which rate amongst the best chase sequences shot in b&w. Mitchum and Sternberg clashed like a strict schoolteacher and a charismatic class clown. But what really ended the German director's stint on this project was his going over schedule and over budget. Scenes of banter and other hot interactions between the two stars were shot incredibly poorly by a studio hack who seemed to just leave the camera running ten feet away. Perhaps he was just entranced by the chemistry of Mitchum and Russell and forgot to yell, "cut." Because even the lacklustre cinematography and awful lighting, such a contrast with von Sternberg's sequences, cannot douse the flames of the two ne'er-do-wells who find themselves washed ashore in the rat-infested docks of postwar Macau.

Here I sit, typing away on the 22nd floor of Macau's most posh hotel, while my husband thrashes out "Cinnamon Girl" on his new Martin, while a typhoon rages away outside. Sunset was a noir-ish affair with a strange glow emanating from behind dark clouds, Penha Church backlit like something out of a horror flick.

We'll be going out on the town in just a little while.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Bridge Disaster

This horrific tragedy is going to attract the opinions of every engineer, would-be engineer, failed engineer, and random pundit. Okay, so I am one, too.

For I don't honestly know if this is an important observation, but check out this detail of satellite-recorded imagery from 1991, over Minneapolis:

This could be an artifact of splicing together a zillion photos taken from afar, but look at that loopy edge to the fated 35W Interstate bridge? I mean, the Cedar Street Bridge is right next to it, and it's straight as an uncooked noodle. Is anyone out there able to shed some light on this oddity?

I can't help but feel that this is some clue to the demise of the bridge. I saw the spot on CNN where, in 2001 or 2, one engineer's report on the bridge's structural system pointed out some sort of flaws. Here it is:
For the state transportation department, the University of Minnesota Civil Engineering Department reported that there were preliminary signs of fatigue on the steel truss section under the roadway, but no cracking. It said there was no need for the transportation department to replace the bridge because of fatigue cracking. But CNN did elaborate with the findings: the structure itself did not have a secondary support system should one level of support fail. In other words, the design of the bridge could have been augmented with supplementary, or secondary, support, just as insurance.

But I am no engineer, just an internet addict who should be working on that novel rewrite.

I can't access google maps from here for some reason. I would like to be able to compare their images with the TerraServer, above. I mean, maybe the site is jammed up from too many people trying to view the scene of the disaster, but for now I cannot get to that image from Bali.

Thanks, , for the posting of this and other images.