Capturing Jupiter Opposition 2019

Living in Houston, I don’t do much astrophotography. When I do attempt to capture the night sky, it’s usually with a wide angle lens and a long exposure, like this shot from the Lick Observatory in California a few years ago.

However, this month all of the news outlets in Houston were hyping up Jupiter and claiming that you would be able to see not only the planet, but also its four largest moons with only binoculars June 10. I decided to had to check it out.

I pulled out my vintage Leica R 400mm f6.8 Telyt and stacked both a 2x teleconverter and a 1.4x teleconverter before attaching it to a Sony A7II and bolting it all to a good tripod.

I’m not a big fan of teleconverters since you lose stops of light and some detail, but I was going for maximum magnification, and this rig got me the equivalent of a 1120mm lens.

For reference, this is how close 1120mm gets you to the moon on a full-frame, 35mm equivalent camera.

I have the StarTracker app on my phone, so I knew right where to look in the sky. The hardest part of the evening was waiting until Jupiter made its appearance above the neighbor’s trees about 10:30 p.m.

I took a couple dozen shots at varying shutter speeds and ISOs, but it seemed like f8 (plus the lost stops from the teleconverters, so actually f22), 1/500 second at ISO 1600 gave the clearest results. However, I had to develop the RAW files twice — once to properly expose Jupiter and once to expose the moons. Then I combined the two files into one photo.

There is Jupiter with Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto. It’s not going to win any awards, but it’s pretty cool that you can see at least some amount of detail on Jupiter even using old lenses from the 1970s.

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Restoring my Dad’s 1960 Crestliner

When we were kids, Sunday afternoons after church were often spent out on the Mississippi in our family boat. We would swim in the gross brown water, fish, tube off the back of the boat, or explore the sandy islands that dot the river. We used to take the boat on vacations with us, and we always took the cousins out when they came to visit.

The 1960 Crestliner was the first boat that we owned. My dad got it from his parents when he was in high school. My mom says it was in worse shape then than when I got it. My dad fixed it up and used to drive it way too fast, ramping off barge wakes.

Our family moved on to other boats, but my dad was not the kind of man to get rid of old things. We started to have more of an Armada in our yard. When he passed away a couple years ago he left us three boats as part of his large “collection” of items.

I chose the Crestliner to keep for myself for three reasons. 1. It’s aluminum and so simply designed that not much can go wrong. 2. It’s small and easy. 3. It was the first and meant the most to my dad.

I’ve had it for a couple years now, but I just got started on the process of restoring it into something that we can use again as a family.

The first step was to rip up the rotten wood floors. After that I had to take out all of the flotation foam because there was years worth of compost underneath. I scooped out six five-gallon buckets of dirt from the bottom of the hull. It turned out that most of the foam was old and rotted anyway, so I threw it all out.

Then we hosed it down and I took it over to a mechanic to get the engine inspected. Phase 2 will be a new wooden floor, new seats and a running engine. Hopefully in time for the 4th of July!

5 Tips for Better Writing

Check your facts

You know exactly what you think you know until you look it up.

Hmm, that mango looks like it would make some great guacamole.

Even if you’re positive everything is correct, take the time to utilize spellcheck, check your AP Style Guide, and run any bold claims through sites like Snopes.com or FactCheck.org.

Remember to check your graphics and photos for accuracy as well.

Keep your message focused

Cramming too many messages together causes clutter and confusion.

Those poor children.

Lead with what is important and keep your messages brief and to the point. Rambling is an easy way to lose readers. Make a new post for each topic.

Update your messaging

What was once inspirational can end up being offensive.

First step to helping, stop calling them retarded!

Revisit your strategy. Do the slogans and calls to action used in the past still make sense?

Be aware of cultural connotations

Stay sensitive to the culture and history of your target audience.

Was this craigslist user named Jim Crow?

I doubt this poster was even aware of the cultural history of his or her title, but if a business was to make the same sort of mistake, it could cause major backlash.

Focus your message to each channel

Hot links and video are great, unless you’re working in print.

What is this new paper technology? No batteries required!

Blogs are not the same as Facebook, which is not the same as Instagram, which is not the same as LinkedIn, and you get what I’m saying. Craft your message to best fit each channel, but to complement across all channels. Nothing is more irritating than messages that are cut off, links that don’t work, or the promise of photos or video when there are none.

London Calling: The long tow home

Well, the Cougar and I managed to fulfill our acting obligations. She did a great job looking like a running car that was getting gas, even though she wasn’t running and the gas pumps didn’t actually work. I just did my best to follow directions and look distraught everyone time the gas station attendant died in my arms. However, once we finished, the big question was, how do we get home?

My wonderful parents, still bailing me out of trouble at age 41.

Well, big thanks to my parents who made the four hour drive from Montgomery Saturday morning to drag me home. They even picked up a trailer in Conroe, so that it would only be a 24-hour rental rate instead of the steeper U-Haul one-way fees.

I went to Home Depot and bought a 1-ton come-along to make loading the car easier, and it was … for a minute. We got it about halfway onto the trailer when the come-along jammed up. That’s when we started attracting bystanders. Unfortunately we didn’t attract enough to just muscle to car up onto the trailer, but we did attract enough to have lots of extra opinions on how to make it all work.

Once the Cougar was finally loaded, we took a ride into downtown Corpus for lunch at the dog-friendly Executive Surf Club. It was the only relaxing, vacationy part of the trip, which I had promised Mary would be so incredibly relaxing and vacationy, except for the evening I’d be working on the movie. (Sorry, honey.)

My mother’s attempt at a group selfie.

We cruised a few miles down the coast to get a look at the ocean before going back to pick up the rig for the drive back to Houston. Of course, there was a mandatory stop at DQ, so my mother could get a Blizzard.

Just looking natural at the trailer club out behind the Dairy Queen.

We made it back to Spring around 8 p.m., and I made enough commotion trying to back the trailer into my driveway that it attracted all the neighbors. Big shout out the everyone who helped pushed the Cougar off the trailer and into the garage.

Back in the garage, ready for a rear-end tear down.

Well, some lessons learned.

First off, Hollywood is rough. Even if you’re the main character in a crime documentary re-enactment scene, your pay slip still says “extra.”

Movies do not pay well enough to cover classic car maintenance and repairs.

Maybe I should invest in a vehicle with some towing capacity and a trailer hitch.

And most importantly of all, I have an amazing family. Thank you again to Mary for picking me up off the side of the road and sitting around in a hotel all weekend while I dealt with the car issues. Also, huge thanks to my parents for spending an entire Saturday driving to help me get the Cougar hauled home.

I’m a lucky guy.

London Calling: The show must go on

After some discussion with the local producer about replacing my car with a Camaro, it was decided that “The Phantom” needed the authenticity of a white 1967 Mercury Cougar to match the crime scene photos. A guy named Joe had trailered in a 1980s Ford Crown Victoria from Austin for the scene.

Joe, being an absolutely amazing guy, agreed to use his trailer to pick the Cougar up from the transmission shop where they had FINALLY looked at the problem around 3 p.m., but then said they wouldn’t get to it until Monday.

Three of us could not push this car up the ramp. She’s a heavy girl.

We deposited the Cougar in front of the gas pumps at the Sunny’s Convenience Store, carefully making sure the axle didn’t slide out when we were rolling it around.

These gas pumps don’t actually work. #acting

Mary’s one question was whether or not there would be a food buffet where all the actors could just graze in between shoots. There was — sort of.

As the production assistants finished setting up lights and removing all the blatantly modern signage from the gas station, I was issued my authentic 1983 street wear — a grey polo with a grey sweater. Apparently in the crime scene photos, Kevan Baker was also wearing a hat, so they stole a sweaty baseball cap off one the PAs and stuck it on my head.

I’m going to look goofy as heck in this movie. Also, watch for continuity because the bloody, dying gas station attendant falls into my arms. However, that meant my sweater got bloody on take one, and we did it about 25 times. Then we switched back to some pre-death scenes after I was bloody. Should be interesting to see if it shows.

Hurry up, and wait. That’s what making movies is all about.

So after all the intense gas pumping, stabbing, and first aid scenes, they wrapped it up with a Police ID of … you guessed it, the wrong Carlos. To add a bit of irony, the actor who played the actual killer was used as a stand-in with the Police for the ID scene.

They shot this scene from behind the car to catch the bright mag lights shining in onto the perp. They had instructions to let the light wander off the guys face onto the camera lens and then back. I’m really curious to see what it actually looked like in the camera.

The Cougar rolled out of scene, taking 5.

Once we finally wrapped, Joe trailered the Cougar back to our hotel and unloaded her in the parking lot for me before going back to the set for his police cruiser. Thanks, Joe!

Now we just have to get the Cougar back to Houston …

London Calling: Waiting is the hardest part

Upon investigation of the breakdown, it seems I had a wheel bearing disintegrate, which then let the rear axle slide out.

Those tires really fill the wheel wells when the axle is extended.

Since I don’t have a traction lock rear differential, all the power is being sent to the road through that driver side rear tire. Once the axle slide out of the differential, there was no more power.

That’s not where everything is supposed to be located.

I need a shop to replace the axle and press in a new wheel bearing and seal. Since there’s oil all over the brake shoes, those need to be replaced as well.

It’s 2 p.m. and the place I dropped it last night just now got it on the lift. They close at 6 p.m. Call time is at 7 p.m.

We discussed towing the car over if it’s not fixed in time, but towing costs bust the production cost of the movie. They’re searching for another car.

I’m starting to get worried my Cougar is going to be stuck in Corpus Christi.

London Calling: The Cruise to Corpus Christi

Sunny skies and open roads

I had to drive to work in the rain. Driving in drizzle during rush hour in Houston is the most hazardous thing you can do in a car. You’re almost guaranteed to get rear-ended sooner or later.

However, I made it to work, and my day ticked ever so slowly away as I waited for the big road trip.

I managed to get out of the office by 4:30 p.m., gassed up the Cougar, and we tackled traffic heading south out of town. She was purring like a kitten.

I noticed an insane amount of police presence along 59, mostly monitoring northbound motorists. It’s as if someone declared there was an immigration crisis at the border and then instructed DPS to make sure they apprehended enough people to prove it. I made sure to stick to the speed limit.

Just before the turnoff onto 77 I stopped for more gas. I probably had enough to make Corpus, but I didn’t want to risk it.

Taste that sweet premium

After filling up, I turned the key, and I got the dreaded slow crank. This was my biggest fear. I JUST replaced the starter last week.

I popped the hood, jiggled the starter cable, and tried the key again. She started right away. I smiled, put her in gear, and headed on down the road.

I had turned off of 77 onto 136 at dusk, and I was cruising down that little road thinking to myself, you did it. You built a reliable driver. Where should we go after this? Maybe we can tour cross-country the way the Bumfuzzles toured in their vintage Porsche. Maybe I’ll make the drive to the West Coast Classic Cougar open house this year.

Then I attempted to speed up, and there was a lurch and a click. I decided that maybe I shouldn’t speed up, and just stuck with cruising at 65. I was only 25 miles from the hotel, no need to rush.

A few minutes later, there was another click and suddenly I lost all power. I guided the car to the side of the road to assess the situation.

She was still running. Temp was great, no warning lights. I tried to put her back in gear — nothing. Reverse — nothing. Overdrive — nothing. Drive — nothing. I was stuck.

I called my Hagerty roadside assistance number. The operator pinged my location and said a tow truck would be there in about 60 minutes. About ten minutes later my wonderful wife rolled up behind me.

I had tried and tried to talk her into coming with me, so we could make a weekend of the event, but she had insisted she wasn’t coming until Friday. Thankfully her FOMO (fear of missing out) got her moving early, and she had left Houston just a few minutes after I did.

We sat together in the Terrain looking up at the stars and petting the dogs until the tow truck arrived.

Sometimes you need a little help to get there

The car got loaded, and we noticed the left rear axle was sliding out. When troubleshooting car problems, it’s usually good to start with the piece that’s falling off. My guess is the transmission is actually still functioning, but there’s nothing connected to the differential to power the car.

We dropped the car off at Greatstate Transmissions. Who knows if that was the right place to take it, but nothing was open at 11 p.m., and I didn’t really want to pay for another tow from the hotel to a shop the next morning. They open at 7 a.m., so I’ll call them early to find out if the Cougar will be moving in time for her big scene.

We’re definitely coming out upside down on this little venture, but hey, it’s already been interesting.

London Calling: The wrong Carlos

On the evening of February 4, 1983, Wanda Lopez, a gas station attendant in Corpus Christi was stabbed to death. A man named Carlos DeLuna was arrested and convicted of the murder, then executed by lethal injection in 1989. DeLuna always maintained his innocence and claimed the murder was committed by a man named Carlos Hernandez. However, DeLuna was never able to identify Hernandez and prosecutors referred to him as “a phantom” in court.

Carlos DeLuna at left and Carlos Hernandez at right

Years later, an investigative team determined Hernandez was a real person, lived near the site of the murder, and he had a tendency to stab people.

The case of mistaken identity and probable execution of an innocent man has been researched in detail, and a Columbia Law School professor wrote a book on the case.

So how do the Cougar and I fit into all of this?

Well, apparently the first witness on the scene was a man named Kevan Baker, who had stopped to gas up his white 1967 Mercury Cougar.

The white Cougar was a key part of authentically recreating the crime scene.

I made sure the producers were aware that my car was a work in progress and not what could be considered anywhere close to restored, but after sending plenty of pictures, they assured me it would work great for the movie and said the re-enactment scenes would have a soft focus anyway. Plus, the scene is set in 1983, so it’s not like the car would have looked showroom new.

My next challenge was making sure the old girl could take on 250 miles of highway to get to the shoot.

We’ve had to work through a few mechanical issues.

While drivability has gotten better and better over the past year and a half of work, I had kind of taken everything apart to install the air-conditioning and never put it all back together.

I did manage to get the correct console shifter installed and swapped in the refurbished console and radio, but I just didn’t have the time to replace the heater core and tackle the interior portion of the AC install yet. I’ll have to pull everything apart again when I get back to get it finished before the real summer heat starts.

I also finally put the rear emblems on the car. They’re kind of expensive, so I had planned to paint the car first, then put them on, but these people need a Cougar, so it better say Cougar.

The reproduction 1967 quarter panel trim has allegedly been discontinued by Scott Drake.

Then, just to keep me on my toes, the starter decided to go out last week. I replaced that as well. We’re ready to roll — but I brought plenty of tools, just in case.

There were several times in the past few months when I was tempted to just start banging out dents and spraying spots with primer to get the body work started. I had also been talking to a guy in Austin about stripping her down to bare metal and painting her black.

I guess sometimes it does pay off to take things slow.

London Calling: We need your car

Not too long ago, Mary and I were sitting on the couch watching “I am the Night,” that miniseries with Chris Pine about the Black Dahlia Murders set in late 1940s Hollywood. Along with all of the period correct cars in the show, there were several buses and trucks, and I turned to Mary and said, “Who the heck restores old buses? Who even has space for that?”

We pondered over whether it could even be profitable to maintain old buses and work trucks and other specialty vehicles just for use in movies. I also wondered if directors made an effort to work around scenes just so they wouldn’t have to try to find specific vehicles.

A few weeks later one of the officers from the Mercury Cougar Club of America posted in our Facebook group that a woman from London was searching for someone near Corpus Christi that owned a Polar White 1967 Mercury Cougar. I responded that my Cougar matched that description, so he passed on her contact info, and I shot her a message.

Within an hour I was on the phone with a lady named Jenny in London who was booking my car for use in a feature length crime documentary being filmed in Corpus Christi.

And since they needed someone to drive the car in the crime re-enactment scenes, I’m booked as an actor.

My suitcase is in the trunk, and today after work I’m heading south down Highway 59 in this beat-up old car to see what happens next.

What do we even want?

We have been boat shopping since about 6 months after we bought our last boat.  We’ve gone through a lot of different phases while trying to decide what our “forever boat” would look like.  We knew we wanted more space, we wanted a boat that would hold its value, and appreciate as we added more gear, and we wanted something a little more friendly to open seas than our current boat. 

For about 3 years I was convinced that this boat was going to be a catamaran.  It had more space, they’re in high demand and therefore hold their value, and they are relatively flat when sailing.  Once we started to do some serious shopping we realized that in our price range of 50k-80k the actual square footage we were going to get would be a downsize over our regular boat.  I wasn’t swayed though and we went aboard many the odd shaped catamaran.  In the summer of 2013 we chartered a 40 ft Lagoon in the SVIs.  Being aboard that boat for a week changed my mind completely.  While it was very spacious and comfortable at anchor, while sailing the see saw motion of the boat was jarring and uncomfortable.  So I decided that for the price difference, it was not worth the cost. 

So we focused in on monohulls.  We started to hone in on what we wanted.  1. Two cabins 2. Separate shower stall 3. boat that would hold value 4. A heavy duty boat with lots of displacement. 5. Aft Cockpit.  We wanted to stay somewhere below 42 ft to keep the boat pretty manageable between the two of us, and keep maintenance costs down.  

Tayana 42

As we started to look we found that there are a lot of blue water boats in the 42ft length that have everything we want, but in the 80-120k price range.  As we dug deeper we started to find a few boats under 40ft that had two cabins that might be an option.  The IP38 has an aft cabin that is big enough for two people.  They are normally a little higher in price but every once in awhile one will come down.  The Krogen 38 has two lovely cabins and a separate shower stall.  The Amel Sharki has two cabins and even though its a center cockpit, it convinced me with its overall beautiful appearance.  

Amel Sharki

We started to ask around about some of these models in owners groups on facebook, and that eventually led to us meeting some owners in real life and being able to do walk throughs and even go sailing on some of the of the same model boats.  This really helped us to understand potential issues with certain models and gave us a good idea of what to look for when shopping.  

This early research stage is really essential to the whole boat buying process.  Once you see a boat in person its easy to develop an emotional attachment and be blinded to potential costly issues. 

We’re really excited to say that we closed today on a 38ft Kadey Krogen.  It was not an easy road though.  So much to tell you all about the buying/offer process very soon.