I squeeed with delight when I got the e-mail from Netflix on Monday afternoon that they were shipping me the BluRay of Hugo. I really thought I would be forcing myself to watch the remake of Conan the Barbarian (starring Jason Momoa of Stargate: Atlantis fame). Since Hugo wasn’t slated for release to the public until Tuesday, I was very pleasantly surprised when Netflix opted to send it to me the day before the official release date (although I didn’t actually receive it until Tuesday, so perhaps that makes it okay).
I got home from work a few minutes early to find Terry concocting a new pasta dish with butternut squash and broccoli. He already had an appetizer in the oven so I removed myself to the great room to do some exercising while dinner finished cooking. I wanted to make sure that my evening was completely free of obstructions so Terry and I could watch Hugo in peace. I even remembered to feed the dogs.
I enjoyed Hugo and especially the story of Georges Méliès, excellently portrayed by Ben Kingsley. I knew of Méliès’ famous film (often billed as one of the first science fiction films) Le Voyage dans la lune (or A Trip to the Moon for us English speaking blokes). But Hugo exhibited more steampunk and fantasy elements than true science fiction, being based in a 1930s Paris railroad station. I would really categorize this as a historical fiction piece, since most of the information on Méliès is accurately portrayed. I did love seeing Christopher Lee again, albeit in a cameo-esque role as the bookshop owner. Terry remarked after the movie that he recognized the actor portraying the Station Inspector (played by Sacha Baron Cohen of Borat fame – ugh).
Oh, and I almost forgot. My wonderful husband reminded me that I get to work one extra day this month without any extra pay. Isn’t he adorable? Sheesh! As if I needed a reminder of the joys of being salaried.
Winner of the 2007 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film
Terry and I avoided watching the actual Oscars Award ceremony last Sunday evening by watching a previously recorded to DVR copy of The Counterfeiters, an Austrian-German foreign language film that won an Oscar five years previously.
Synopsis from Wikipedia:
It fictionalizes Operation Bernhard, a secret plan by the Nazis during the Second World War to destabilize the United Kingdom by flooding its economy with forged Bank of England bank notes. The film centers on a Jewish counterfeiter, Salomon ‘Sally’ Sorowitsch, who is coerced into assisting the Nazi operation at the Sachsenhausen concentration camp.
The film is based on a memoir written by Adolf Burger, a Jewish Slovak typographer who was imprisoned in 1942 for forging baptismal certificates to save Jews from deportation, and was later interned at Sachsenhausen to work on Operation Bernhard. Ruzowitsky consulted closely with Burger through almost every stage of the writing and production. The film won the 2007 Best Foreign Language Film Oscar at the 80th Academy Awards.
Not an easy film to watch, of course. Nothing focusing on the Holocaust and Nazi concentration camps is ever easy to watch and never should be. Even with the handicap of having to read subtitles, I found it easy to keep up with the story. But, in the end, I found it difficult to relate to any of the characters, so I failed to make a meaningful emotional connection. I admired Burger, who kept sabotaging Sorowitsch’s efforts to counterfeit the dollar.
While I scanned the early evening skies for Mercury, Terry stayed at home, installing a secondary finder scope on my telescope. I bought the red LED finder scope months ago because the original finder scope attached to my ETX-90 becomes unusable at near vertical viewing orientations. Only the larger ETX-105 and ETX-125 came with a right-angle view finder.
Now all I needed to do was dial it in. And I had at least two (if not three) easily seen objects to do it with. I took the telescope out on the lower patio and set it up. I opted to do an easy align this time with the Autostar handheld device and thankfully it picked Sirius as the first star to align upon. Sirius was the first non-planet object I saw after sunset earlier in the evening during my hunt for Mercury. After Jupiter, I saw Sirius appear about thirty minutes after sunset. The Dog Star was clearly visible through the bare branches of my mulberry tree and the Autostar got within five degrees of it on the first try. So, I at least had oriented the telescope to it’s home position on it’s mount correctly this time.
The second star for the easy alignment was Pollux, the twin to Castor in the constellation Gemini. Since my house is over two stories tall and I had setup the telescope ten feet west of the tallest part of it, seeing the constellation Gemini was quite a challenge. The two brightest stars (Castor and Pollux) had just peaked over the roof. Then I had a moment of panic. Which one of the two is Pollux? I knew Castor was brighter (because it’s actually a binary or double-star that I hope to one day see separately) so I zeroed in on the less bright star. The Autostar reported a successful alignment. Incidentally, Castor is the ‘star of the week’ over at Earthsky.
To test how successful the alignment might or might not be, I told the Autostar to go find Venus. Since I could clearly see Venus shining brightly next to the Moon, I knew I would be able to further tune the alignment of the telescope and the new finder scope using it as a guide star. The Autostar again got the telescope within five degrees (or less) of Venus so I proceeded to update the red LED finder scope’s focus. I had been so focused on my finder scopes that when I put my eye to the telescope’s eyepiece I realized I hadn’t even gotten one out of the case yet! I grabbed a 26mm eyepiece and quickly focused on Venus, but it was so bright I couldn’t get a crisp clean focus. I at least centered it in the telescope’s field of view and let the Autostar slew for a few minutes. Venus kept creeping slowly out of the center (nothing new but something I need to look into). Next stop, Jupiter.
Again, the Autostar got close, but not quite. I’m beginning to think I need to recalibrate and retrain the drives in the ETX-90 mount. Jupiter in all it’s glory with four moons visible (two on either side). I grabbed Terry out of the band room to take a quick look, but he retreated back inside because of the cold. I hardly noticed it, having stood outside during sunset for over and hour and now observing from the backyard in just a t-shirt and jeans (the house provided a substantial windbreak).
At this point, I was happy with the installation, configuration and usefulness of the new red LED finder scope. What could I attempt observing before packing up everything and returning it to the band room? Ah! Something in Orion. Thankfully, Orion appeared high in the sky, almost due south (just a bit to the east). Since I suffer from an extreme light pollution epidemic in Lansing, the higher up an object, the better to minimize the amount of light and atmosphere I need to peer through. Having a clear cold night to make the air dense also helps. I searched the Autostar’s object database and found the Great Orion Nebula. Fetch! I said and off the telescope went.
The telescope stopped in the general vicinity of the belt of Orion. I didn’t think that was the exact location of the Orion Nebula, so I grabbed my Sky & Telescope Pocket Star Atlas and confirmed the location as being in the sword, not the belt. Using both finder scopes, I slowly got the telescope oriented on the objects in the sword. Using the eyepiece, I slowly scanned the much smaller field of view and saw a grey cloud like smudge pass by. I stopped. I returned to the smudge. This must be it! I put in a stronger magnification eyepiece and spent several minutes taking in the sights of a nebula. Only long exposures with very sensitive camera equipment equatorially mounted … or the Hubble Space Telescope in orbit (outside of our dirty atmosphere) … can produce stunning color images like this one:
I hope it was the Orion Nebula. I am almost convinced it was, but since my telescope is a reflector (not a refractor), the image I view in the eyepiece is not only upside down, but reversed right to left, and almost always black-and-white (or gray). When I compare what I see to a star atlas, I have to do mental spatial gymnastics on the fly. I did get Terry to come out one more time and view the smudge that was a nebula before packing up the telescope and putting astronomy to bed for the night.
I woke up before sunrise this morning (no surprise … I always do that with or without an alarm). I fed the dogs and when I let them out the back patio door, I noticed to bright objects in the western sky. They both had to be Saturn and Mars. I went to Terry’s computer and logged in to my Astronomy.com account (since I subscribe to the electronic edition of Astronomy on my Nook Color, I get ‘extras’ on their website). Using their StarDomePlus Java application, I confirmed the contents of the sky at that exact moment from my location in Lansing. Yes! Mars was the bright spot in the western sky and Saturn appeared just up and to the southwest of it. If only I had gotten up an hour or so earlier, I could have set up the telescope (again) and looked at Mars and Saturn both. I think I just found my next astronomical hunting expedition.
I could not have asked for a more beautiful or perfect day yesterday (weather-wise). Crystal clear light blue skies and a light wind out of the southeast I believe. I kept my fingers crossed most of the day. Mid-afternoon I decided to call my father to see if he was interested in joining my Mercury hunting party. I left him a voice-mail and went back to housecleaning for a couple more hours. At five o’clock, I still hadn’t heard from him and tried calling him one more time. He answered on the fourth ring. He’d been splitting wood all day (not surprising) and hadn’t heard his phone ring or felt it vibrate and had not listened to my voice-mail. I told him my game plan and that while I didn’t have a specific spot in mind, I planned to leave my house at a quarter to six and start driving west from Lansing in search of a hill with an unobstructed view to the western horizon. He didn’t know if he could make it, but he would call me once he got back home, retrieved his binoculars and got in his car.
I took a slightly different path westward, eventually turning south on 187th street and finding a nice wide long pasture with a gravel road field entrance (and no gate) on top of a ridge with an unobstructed view of the entire horizon (not just the western one). I had about five minutes to setup my camera and tripod before the sun kissed the horizon. I took maybe three of our photos before my dad called my cell phone. I told him where I was and he knew exactly the spot I described and headed directly to me. He arrived just after the sunset and we began scanning the horizon with his binoculars, noting several water towers, silos and a very tall microwave communication tower silhouetted against the red orange glow of the sunset.
I told him we had at least thirty minutes before we would be able to see Mercury. At that point, we could already see Venus and the Moon, both of them very bright and visible before the sunset. Jupiter became visible to the naked eye about twenty or twenty-five minutes after the sunset.
Using my father’s binoculars, we could see Jupiter’s four moons, although it was very difficult keeping the binoculars steady enough to see much detail. Even though the wind was out of the south or southeast, it still cut through our jackets. We used the van as a windbreak and dad got a blanket out of his car and we used that to help protect the camera from the wind when I started taking longer exposures. Mercury became visible to our naked eyes about twenty or fifteen minutes before seven o’clock. I took three shots, only one of which wasn’t blurry or streaked.
I spent the remaining twenty minutes trying to capture all four of the visible objects in a single shot. Here are two of the best of the set of photos I took:
When you click on any of the photos above and are taken to my Flickr site, you can further click into the photo to get a larger better view and then further increase the size (even unto the original) by right clicking on it and using this pop-up menu:
Since we were both freezing by this time, I packed up the camera geer and headed back home. Dad thanked me for the invitation and he headed north back to Leavenworth. We can both check off Mercury from our observing goals.
I got home early Friday. I had to wear my sunglasses for the drive home, always a good sign when you want to do some planet hunting soon after sunset. Since I had more than an hour before the sun would set, I put my latest Netflix BluRay in the player (one of the final two Nebular nominations I hadn’t seen yet) and began watching some strange British science fiction teenage alien mashup (more on that later in a separate review post). I almost watched too long when I realized, at about ten ’til six, that the sun was setting and some clouds had creeped up on the west/northwestern horizon. The camera backpack and tripod were already in the van, so I just grabbed my the keys and took off, telling Terry I’d be back after awhile.
I crossed K-7/US-73, taking 4-H Road west and continue west and southwest until I ended up on a gravel road on a hilltop in a field with an almost unobstructed view to the western horizon. The sunset, which had looked promising (see photo above), fizzled as the clouds continued to encroach from the northwest. I trudged out into the pasture and setup my tripod and attached the camera to it. I took a few sunset photos, none of which really did anything for me, except the one to the right, which included the moon (but not much of the horizon since I had the telephoto lens attached and the field of view was a bit restricted). I had only thrown on a sweater in my rush out of the house, so my fingers kept losing feeling when I needed them most to make adjustments to the camera. While there wasn’t much of a wind, what there was chilled rapidly as the light faded with the setting sun.
Before much longer, though, I could easily spot Venus about five degrees above (and to the left) of the two day old moon. I surprised myself when I extracted the photos from the memory card this morning. When I looked closely at Venus (in the photo above), I actually captured a star-burst thanks to my aperture setting for that shot.
But the most difficult shot to capture last evening was a combination of Jupiter, Venus and the New Moon – all together in one shot. I barely got them squeezed into the field of view with the telephoto and twisted the tripod into an odd angle to capture this wonderful photo:
The clouds never cleared along the western horizon, so I did not have an opportunity to see Mercury. If the sky remains clear today and into this evening (and I have hopes of that happening), I will have yet another opportunity this evening to view Mercury, together with Venus, Jupiter and the New Moon.
If you live in the Northern Hemisphere, and are blessed with an unobstructed western horizon and clear skies, look for the planet Mercury as dusk gives way to nightfall. Look for Mercury to appear near the sunset point on the horizon some 40 to 60 minutes after sundown. Or if you have binoculars, try catching Mercury 30 minutes (or less) after the sun goes down.
Jupiter and Venus help guide you to Mercury, the solar system’s innermost planet. Draw an imaginary line from the right side of Jupiter and past the left side of Venus to spot Mercury near the horizon. But don’t tarry when searching for Mercury. At present, this world sets just a bit over one hour after sunset at mid-northern latitudes.
At about fifteen minutes to seven, I packed up the camera equipment and headed back to the van. The clouds from the north had snuck up on me, so much so that I could see the orange of the prison lights glowing from their low hanging bellies. I retraced my drive back home. I looked up as I got out of the van and was surprised to note that the clouds had almost completely obscured Juptier and Venus, although the sliver of the New Moon still shone bright. By the time I finished dinner and the movie, though, all I could see out the back patio door were the orange glowing low hanging clouds.
I woke up to a brand new day and a crystal clear dawn. Less than twelve hours, now, until I can hunt for Mercury again.
Fun and funny. Terry and I laughed out loud several times in the near empty movie theater (#7 at the Legends 14 – my personal favorite spot to watch newly released action flix or science fiction extravaganzas) this past Sunday afternoon.
An interesting if a bit of an over-the-top twist on the old love triangle between two CIA agents (and best friends) who discover, date and fight over the the same woman (who is oblivious to their surveillance shenanigans or even to the fact they know each other until it’s nearly too late).
Some discrepancies that bugged me after I left the theater:
If Lauren loved classic rock so much, why is it she only ever danced or sang or exercised to pop or dance music? Not my definition of classic rock. And, if she really loved animals and specifically a canine rescue shelter, why did she not foster a dog or two in her apartment?
And since when does a Brit work for the CIA? Is Tuck on loan from MI6? Did he defect? Did he seek political asylum?
That being said, I still enjoyed watching the movie with Terry. I can’t say I’m entirely happy with the ending, but it still turned out well for everyone involved, excepting the cuts and bruises of course.
I gave up on seeing Mercury (again) as I drove home under ominous low hanging clouds and a fierce northwest wind. I parked the van and entered my home, apologizing to Roxy for not being able to take her on a walk. I caught Terry dicing tomatoes for bruschetta in the kitchen, so I retreated to the great room to get my exercising done before dinner. Roxy and Apollo got a special treat for their dinner. I had to crack open a couple of cans of Pedigree beef stew for them since the large fifty pound bag of dry dog food was nearly empty. They didn’t seem to mind though.
After dinner, we still had over an hour before my daughter’s concert started. I had already redeployed my Linux (Kubuntu distro) and integrated it with the AV receiver, Internet and plasma display. I tested the sound and video quality before letting it apply any security updates and patches it needed since last I turned it on. I flipped the receiver back to the DVR so we could watch the latest NCIS before the concert.
At 7:25, I flipped the receiver back to the computer and made sure the screen saver had sufficient time to not engage for the next hour or two. Then we waited. And waited. And waited some more. As is par for the course at UNT, the performance started about fifteen minutes past the advertised and scheduled time.
I was pleasantly surprised to hear the oratorio sung in English. The reason I go to the trouble to print the programs is most often they are my only lifeline to understanding the text and usually include the original language text and an English translation. Thankfully, all that was needed was one language for Theodora.
During Act I, I made special note of several Airs performed by Jeffrey Snider (as Valens) and Richard Croft (as Septimius). I encourage you to review their biographies in the program. I can appreciate the skill and versatility of the countertenor, Ryland Angel (as Didymus), but I just can’t sit easy listening to him. Theodora (performed by Ava Pine) had some of the most beautiful poetic lines in her airs. Jennifer Lane (as Irene) showed off her range and talents impressively.
The second act included a couple of symphonic interludes bracketing a recitative and air by Theodora which featured mellow soulful melodies sung by wooden flutes. While not specifically featured in a solo, another quest artist, Richard Savino, and his strange looking large chitarrone could easily be seen in the center of the Baroque Orchestra next to the two harpsichords. In fact, I received an e-mail from my uncle asking me what kind of instrument it was and I directed him to the program, specifically the page listing the instruments and their performers.
The highlight of the second act culminated in the final chorus, favored by Handel even above his vaunted Hallelujah chorus (from theMessiah).
He saw the lovely youth, death’s early prey,
Alas, too early snatch’d away!
He heard his mother’s fun’ral cries.
“Rise, youth,” He said. The youth begins to rise.
Lowly the matron bow’d, and bore away the prize.
By this time, the clock struck a quarter ’til ten. Way past my bedtime and Terry had already succumbed to slumber. I hung on through the final intermission and the hopefully briefer third act.
Valens and Septimius both had astonishing airs, but the final duet between Didymus and Theodora contained some of the most glorious poetry written by the librettist Thomas Morell (for the complete Theodora libretto, follow this link. The final chorus to the third act ended about twenty minutes before eleven o’clock. While not as stunning as the previous act’s ending chorus, the words imparted the longed for hope of the tragic figures of Theodora and Didymus:
O love divine, thou source of fame,
Of glory, and all joy!
Let equal fire our souls inflame,
And equal zeal employ,
That we the glorious spring may know,
Whose streams appear’d so bright below.
I shutdown the computer, turned off the receiver and plasma and trudged upstairs to bed, leaving the dogs and the husband to fend for themselves.
While not a featured soloist in the production, Rachelle participated as a member of the Collegium Singers during the impressive performance of Handel’s Theodora. She gets to repeat this performance again this evening in Dallas at the AT&T Performing Arts Center.
I should have known not to get my hopes up while driving westward home from work. I so wanted to see Mercury (something I’ve never observed with the naked eye, a camera, binoculars or a telescope) and a tiny sliver of a new Moon – both within five degrees of each other. I had hyped myself up earlier in the day thanks to a blurb from Sky & Telescope. The sun kept teasing me, peaking out between the clouds just enough to make me squint as I dodge traffic and dropped off my vanpool riders.
The first thing I did when I arrived home was to call my father and ask him if he knew of a hill with an unobstructed view to the western horizon within fifteen or twenty minutes driving distance of my house in Lansing. He delayed his response, since he needed to put up some wood cutting and splitting equipment, but promised to call me back in five or ten minutes.
Terry, my completely awesome husband, already had dinner ready. He prepared the most amazing steak fajitas, with perfectly grilled red onions and red peppers. I so wanted to eat more of them, but restrained myself so I could savor the leftovers another day.
I checked over my camera equipment and secured it in my camera backpack. I collapsed the tripod. I stowed the gear in the back of the van and said farewell to Terry and the dogs. I pulled out of the driveway and stopped at the Fawn Valley stop sign. The decision point. I surveyed the western sky and decided my best bet to capture the most of what was left of the sunset would be from Mt. Muncie Cemetery.
About five minutes later, I had my camera on my tripod just west of the large Stillings monument (a circular plot with the cemetery access road encircling it). I took a few photos, experimenting with different aperture settings, letting the Canon decide how long to exposure through the shutter. I left the AWB setting to cloudy since, obviously, the landscape before me consisted mostly of clouds.
I called my dad back, since he hadn’t returned my call and discovered he was driving down the center of Leavenworth County on County Road 5, personally investigating sites he thought might have worked for observing Mercury and the Moon (had there been no clouds). I sighed, not meaning for him to waste his gas driving all over county back roads. I told him I was at Mt. Muncie and he said he was on the way. I continued to take a few photos, but for the most part, both the sunset and my prospects for observing the conjunction seemed an exercise in futility. Dad arrived and we chatted for a few minutes, eventually spying both Venus and Jupiter through the thinner clouds above us. I packed up the photographic equipment, showing dad the nice camera backpack Terry had bought me last year. I had offered to let him use it during an upcoming trip he was planning.
I woke up to another gloomy day this morning. On the bright side, it’s my mother’s birthday (and I finally remembered to mail her birthday card yesterday). On the dark side (and it was dark when I thought about it), today is trash day in Lansing and the first time for us to use our new trash and recycling bins. Terry, being the wonderful husband he always is, had already dealt with both the trash (taking it out of the old trash can and placing it in the new one) and recycling. Since it was spitting rain at 5:30 this morning, I was even more grateful than normal. I left my camera and tripod in the back of the van overnight, so I had ready access to my camera this morning during the commute, just in case the sunrise surprised me. Until Daylight Savings kicks in, the sun just starts to turn clouds pink and orange when I pick up my last rider near the Kansas Speedway. My final opportunity to take a photo until I reach my destination near the Country Club Plaza. The sunrise disappointed me this morning, just like the sunset did last night. More gray, with a glimmer of gold, but completely lacking in pinks and oranges.
I have to agree with Roger Ebert on this one. The time-shifting back and forth detracted from the plot. I would have preferred the movie stay in the past, reducing the cast and the confusion. As much as I love watching Helen Mirren work, I actually preferred the actors in the past timeline, especially Sam Worthington.
I learned something (yet again) about the Holocaust and Israel’s response (fictional? or based in fact? – I don’t know for sure) to some of it’s perpetrators of terror and torture.
I am glad I watched the film, but do not plan to rewatch it or add it to my permanent library.