Election 2014 | Getting Out The Vote

Communities all across the U.S. have elections this coming Tuesday Nov. 4. My state of Iowa is electing a governor and a senator. We will also elect a member of congress from our district. There are races for many other state and local offices and some ballot questions to decide.

Both Melanie and I are volunteering with our Democratic party Saturday through Tuesday to Get Out The Vote – GOTV. We have also been helping before these final days. There are thousands upon thousands of citizens who are doing this all across the country. They come from both major political parties. I think this is the correct grass-roots way.

The overwhelming amounts of BIG donations coming from undisclosed donors is destroying our system where each common person feels their vote counts as much as the next. People feel their voice does not count any more. They are losing interest and are fed up and angry with government. I feel campaign financing reform should eliminate all donations like those. That is an issue for another post.

Control of the senate hinges on the outcomes of only a few states where there are competitive races. Iowa has one of those races. Our long time senator, Tom Harkin, is retiring. Many of us are supporting current congressman, Bruce Braley, to be his replacement. Today, I visited the FiveThirtyEight blog by Nate Silver to see what the current projections look like in those competitive races. Our Iowa race is within a point based on his polling.



For the final four days, volunteers will be visiting the homes of potential voters and calling them to see if they have voted. If we find they have actually voted based upon official records, that night we will strike their name from the list. We won’t ask them the next day.

Early voting is widely available in Iowa. Past history shows many take advantage of early voting in our county, which is a Democratic stronghold. We are looking for every possible vote for our candidates in order to have election results in our favor.

Solar Eclipse | Images | Not Mine

I was hopeful the sky would clear enough to the west to let me see the eclipse. It was not to be. Better luck next time. Instead of sharing my own photos, I visited Slooh which had a telescope trained on the Sun from Prescott, AZ. Slooh covers many live astronomy events in partnership with observatories. They covered this entire event and have a recording available for you to replay. In addition, there is commentary about aspects of the eclipse that is helpful. Visit their website linked above for the replay. Scroll down their page for highlights such as these.

That big sunspot group just below center was the subject of a story by Astronomy Picture of the Day. Follow the link to see it up close and in great detail.

Image Credit & Copyright: Randall Shivak and Alan Friedman

Solar Eclipse | Safe Viewing Methods

The current visible satellite images show many areas of the country will have clear conditions late this afternoon. Click on this link to see what might be in store for you. Online viewing is available at Slooh, and at several sites listed here by Sky & Telescope.

Here are two completely safe viewing methods for this evening’s solar eclipse. Push a thick pin, thin toothpick, or pencil point through an index card or piece of foil. Try to make the hole very round and not too big. Hold the pinhole two or three feet from a white surface so it projects sunlight onto it. Tape the card onto something so it is not moving.

Make a box viewer with the same pinhole technique. This will improve the contrast of the image. The link in the caption of the picture above has an interesting project that uses your cell phone and a box viewer to obtain an image of the eclipse.

Solar Eclipse | Test Photos

I had some fun this morning. I got up at 5 am to look for some Orionid meteors. I saw one unimpressive short streak.

Just before 6 am, I noticed the Moon rising above the roofline of the house across the street. I set up my older model video camera which has a 35x optical zoom, much more than the 6x on my digital camera. The video optics are not as good. But, I can get a bigger image with that zoom.


Auto-exposure by the video camera shows subtle earthshine


Manual reduction reduced exposure of crescent

I also wanted to prepare and practice for the solar eclipse coming Thursday late afternoon. Details of the eclipse are in this previous post. If the weather doesn’t cooperate, the practice will be for naught. If it does cooperate, I want to be ready.

Using the same video camera as above for the Moon shots, I covered the lens with a safe eclipse-viewing filter and zoomed in. It captured a rather large sunspot just left of center which was interesting. The noise and patterns you might notice in the photo are from the camera, not the Sun.


Video camera image with color removed and noise reduction

NASA has a great spacecraft called Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO) which views the Sun in multiple wavelengths and gathers frequent images. My post on SDO. I visited their site right after I captured my own image above. It shows the sunspot I saw and some additional small ones. I think I can just make out the small one on the right side of my image.


NASA Solar Dynamics Observatory

If the eclipse is viewable this coming Thursday, the Moon will cover about 55% of the Sun at my location. I will try to capture the event with my simple equipment and share it with you.

Solar Eclipse | 23 Oct | Partial Near Sunset

Late in the day on Thursday October 23rd, the Moon will pass in front of the Sun and obstruct part of it. This partial eclipse will occur at sunset on the east coast. Nearly all of the states will have the opportunity to see a crescent shape to the Sun. Southern states will see about 40% of the Sun eclipsed. Northern will see over 60% eclipsed.

Below this graphic is an excellent video from the staff of Science@NASA which explains more about the eclipse and some interesting things to try to see. Now all we need is good weather. I will talk to my sources to see if it can be arranged.

Additional details can be found at this article from the editors of Sky & Telescope. I suggest you take a look.


Sky & Telescope | Leah Tiscione

Milkweed | Seeds Harvested

Originally posted on Our View From Iowa:

Milkweed plants are disappearing according to Monarch Watch and other sources. The Monarch butterflies rely upon them for survival. I decided to gather a few seed pods so I can plant some in my backyard and along a trail near my house. I cruised around some places on my bike looking for patches of milkweed that had extra pods I could harvest and bring home. I only took seven and left the rest for nature. I placed them on the deck for a month to dry out. That worked well. They split open and revealed their many seeds with attached coma.


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Each pod had dozens of healthy brown seeds. The challenge was to remove them without getting coma fuzzies all over the place. The garage seemed the best place to do that job.


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I grasped each pod firmly by the end opposite the seeds. That is where the…

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Dead Trees | Impressive Removal Job

Two elm trees died on the property line between our house and our neighbor. We decided to split the cost and have them removed before they dropped dead branches and damaged our houses or injured a person. Their trunks were 14″ and 24″ in diameter. Equipment could not get to them between the houses. They couldn’t be dropped into a yard due to lack of space. In came the heavy duty 80 ft crane to my driveway. Because of its size, I had to sign a waiver for possible damage to the concrete. Nothing happened to the concrete.


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