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Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Viewing the Eclipse in Grand Island, Nebraska

There is little noticeable darkening of the day as a solar eclipse approaches totality until the last few percent of the sun's disc is covered.  A deeply cloudy day filters 80 or more percent of the sun and your eye will easily compensate for the loss.  The last few percent of the sun's surface disappears relatively quickly if you are in the path of totality and that is the reason for making the trip.  It is almost like sliding a dimmer switch slowly to the off position.

As the darkening was just becoming apparent to my eye, I decided to shoot some video of the surrounding eclipse watchers with my subcompact pocket digital camera.  Just after I began, I saw the shadows of a flock of 80+ geese pass by on the ground.  I looked up to follow them as many others were doing and continued to follow them as the poor things experienced this surprise of nature in the early afternoon.  The tight V-shaped formation broke and it was every goose for themselves!

Over the course of a minute, as the sky darkened, the effect was spectacular as you can tell from the reaction of the crowd.  The sun's corona was bright - and white as any light I have ever seen.  Venus appeared nearby.  Was that really two and a half minutes of totality?  It felt like thirty seconds.
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Here's the video.

I never did get back to the camera on the tripod.  The geese video beats anything I would have gotten otherwise.

After totality, we crossed the street to Hall County Veterans Park where I found a serious photographer/astronomer who was set up with a telescope, camera, laptop and associated gear to get some great pictures.  He showed me a couple of his pictures and let me look through the eyepiece of the setup to watch the receding crescent.



I have seven years to get properly equipped for the next eclipse.  I now see why people chase these things.

Off to See the Eclipse - Part 3, The Road to Grand Island

With the eclipse due in Beatrice just after 1:00 p.m., we were up early for the final leg of the trip from Sioux City, Iowa.  It is about a three hour drive down the freeway, to Omaha and through Lincoln.  I decided that a four hour route around the larger cities might be wise under the circumstances so we headed due west on US 20 and then south on US 81.

This got us to Norfolk, Nebraska, for breakfast.  We stopped at the Perkins restaurant with the large United States flag out front - just a few blocks down from the intersection of Eisenhower Avenue and Johnny Carson Blvd. Johnny graduated from Norfolk High School. (This is truly "red-state" territory.  The Nebraska 2016 presidential vote broke 59%-34% in favor of President Trump.  There were two counties in the state that Secretary Clinton carried.)

After breakfast, we soon approached Columbus and faced a decision.  The sunny day we had been promised a week earlier was not going to be here.  Looking to the southeast, we saw clouds but to the southwest there was blue sky. 

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We decided to leave Beatrice to Bill Nye, the science guy with the bow tie.  We turned toward Grand Island instead.   This put us on U.S. 30, The Lincoln Highway.

We were quickly in the path of totality and began to see eclipse viewers on both sides of the road.

At Central City, a group was gathered in front of the library.  Others sat in lawn chairs in their front yards.  The hardware store had a grill going with hot dogs.
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In between towns, folks just pulled off the road by the corn fields.


With no specific location in mind in Grand Island, we headed toward the WalMart parking lot, certain that there would be a crowd watching there.  But on the way we saw a delightful city park and pulled in there to set up shop.

We had two set of glasses for eye protection.
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I had a camera on a tripod plus my usual compact digital camera.

Off to See the Eclipse - Part 2, Le Mars, Iowa

We spent our first night in the "Great Lakes" area of northwest Iowa near the shore of Lake Okoboji.  This happened to be the weekend of the "boji bike rally" so there was quite a crowd around the lake.

The next day required only a short drive through the fields of corn and soybeans to arrive at our home base of Sioux City, Iowa.  Had I planned a bit farther ahead, we might have located closer to the path of eclipse totality in Nebraska but hotel rooms were scarce a month ahead of the event.

The short distance traveled on this day gave us plenty of time for a stop at Le Mars, Iowa - proclaimed by the Iowa Legislature as the "Ice Cream Capital of the World."  This is the home of the Wells Dairy, a business once purchased for $250 and now the site of the Blue Bunny Ice Cream manufacturing operation.

This 900,000 square foot plant employs 1,000 people making ice cream and other treats such as the red white and blue Bomb Pop.

There are ice cream cone sculptures around town from the Post Office to churches.
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We followed the signs to the Blue Bunny ice cream parlor and museum.  The museum was rather sparse - nothing like the Kool Aid Museum in Hastings, Nebraska.  But the ice cream parlor was outstanding and makes the visit worthwhile.
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I posed for a picture with the Blue Bunny, of course.


Off to See the Eclipse - Part 1, Blue Earth, Minnesota

It's not a long journey from our home in Bloomington, MN to our chosen viewing spot near Beatrice, Nebraska.  Google Maps puts it at around 460 miles.  Of course, we take the scenic route which adds some distance and a lot of time.  We left Saturday afternoon and made our first stop at Blue Earth, Minnesota.

Minnesota is home to two legendary giants, Paul Bunyan and The Jolly Green Giant.  While The Jolly Green Giant is reputed to actually live in the Minnesota River valley near the town of LeSueur, his most famous likeness can be found near I-90 in the town of Blue Earth.

Here I am standing beside the base of the big guy.
The Green Giant company has long had a canning plant in Blue Earth to pack the peas, green beans and corn that are associated with this famous trademark.

The statue was put in place in September of 1978 just as I-90 was completed in the area making it the nation's first transcontinental (Boston to Seattle) Interstate.  The statue is located about a half mile south of I-90 along U.S. highway 169.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Planning for the Eclipse

When I was still in grade school in Portland during the 1950s, I became aware of the total solar eclipse coming in 1979.  It was no doubt shown in this Golden Guide to the Stars that I can't seem to find in my many boxes of books right now.

Unfortunately, I had moved from Portland, which was in the path of totality in 1979 and missed the grand show.

But now it is 2017, and Linda and I are not going to miss this year's show.  If you have not convinced yourself that you need to get to a cloudless location in the path of totality next week, perhaps this writer at Wired can help motivate you.
During a solar totality, animals usually fall silent. People howl and weep. Flames of nuclear fire visibly erupt like geysers from the sun’s edge. Shimmering dark lines cover the ground.

Or this description of the 1979 eclipse from Oregon Live.
"As the event began and the sky started to darken, a hush fell over the crowd. Everyone overcome by what was happening. As the moon completely blocked out the sun and the sky went black, the silence was complete: no birds sang or chirped, no words were spoken, although a collective gasp of appreciation of the power of nature filtered through the crowd. It literally gave us goosebumps."
 We have decided to watch from an area near Beatrice, Nebraska, a bit south of Lincoln.  Here is the path of totality through Nebraska.

 Why Beatrice?  Well, it is almost directly in the center of totality, it is only 150 miles from the nearest available motel room (I should have started looking much earlier!) it is on the list of 29 epic places to watch the eclipse and the nearby Homestead National Monument is planning special activities.

As a worst case, we can find a spot in the rural area if traffic gets too bad.

At this point, the weather forecast is looking very favorable.

If you are wondering about where the eclipse paths have been and will be over a 150 year period, I put together this composite map from the NASA website.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Construction in Progress

I had always thought there was something special about this house in our neighborhood. For me, it had a magical quality to it.  I photographed it about 4 years ago and was glad I did as it disappeared shortly afterward.

If you hide the satellite dish, remove the sofa and clean up the trash, you can imagine it as the hired-hand's home when paired with this stately old manor house nearby.

With a little imagination, you would have an ideal setting for a Naguib Mahfouz or Agatha Christie novel set in the Egyptian countryside a hundred years ago.

The old dusty house sat on the last vacant lot on our street giving us a shortcut over to Ragab Sons supermarket.  Here's the lot, before and current.
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About a week ago, I noticed a crew going to work drilling holes in the pit for a high-rise foundation.  I had to stop and admire the crew.  Some projects use major-league heavy equipment to do this kind of work, but here the crew is doing it the old fashioned way, turning the drill bit by hand.

They are not without some power tools; they have an engine and winch to lift the drill bit back out of the hole.  Here is a look at both the drilling rig and the drill bit.
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I feel bad that I will miss much of the construction over the next nine months, although this building will likely be going up slowly.

I've photographed quite a few of these construction projects which result in ten to twelve story buildings.  The building techniques are very straightforward.  After the foundation footings are in and a foundation poured, each floor is poured.

Concrete support columns are extended upward by one floor.

Bricks are used to fill in the open spaces.

The final building may be just brick-faced or a coat of cement and paint can be added to make it look first-rate. A building needn't be completed in order for families to move in.

I have watched many bricks being laid in Egypt.  I have never seen a piece of string used to maintain a straight and level line.  There is clearly some great cultural difference that requires Americans to insist on straight lines of bricks.

Since 1955, the Egyptian population has increased from about 23 million to 94 million.  This website projects a population of 151 million in 2050.  Eventually, the entire country will be covered with these brick apartments.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Land for Sale

We took a trip out to Maryanne Stroud's horse ranch and veterinary operation a few days ago.  Linda delivered some cookies and banana bread for the workers and we had a chance to see a couple of lambs born that morning and visit the goats.
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We didn't have access to our usual driver for the trip so we hooked up with an Uber driver, Sayid, who lives nearby and would take us out to the farm and wait for us for a couple of hours.

After our visit, our driver, noting our interest in rural property, mentioned that his family had some farmland for sale and he would be happy to show it to us.  (There are very few Egyptians that do not have a relative with land or apartments for sale!)

We detoured over to his family property about a mile east of the Mariouteya canal, a couple miles south of our appartment.

I should mention that agricultural land in Egypt is measured and sold by the feddan and kirat.  A feddan is almost exactly equal to a U.S. acre (Both were originally defined as the amount of land you can plow with a team of oxen in a day) and there are 24 kirats in a feddan.  So we set out to discover what it would cost to buy a feddan in this area that is rapidly being subdivided.  That should be just about the right size for a country villa with a garden and some space for Linda's long desired stable with a few goats and a donkey.

It turns out that land is the one thing that is not cheap in Egypt!  The going rate for Sayid's family property is around 200,000 Egyptian pounds per kirat.  Translating that for you, figure $280,000 per acre.  And, let's take a look at the lot  We walked down to the road and found this view.

The owner pointed out the boundaries, extending across that plowed area over to the brick wall on the left and down the field to where the horse is standing near the palm tree.  My, that is an unusual shape, I thought.  But he would be willing to part with another 4 kirats along the near left edge to give access to the main road.

"Do you have another piece that is more square," I inquired?  Yes, indeed.  We walked down the road to another lot of about one feddan in size which currently is occupied by a plant nursery.  Much nicer in shape, but the price is higher, 350,000 Egyptian pounds for a kirat.  This lot was 28 kirats for a total price of about $575,000.

We walked back to the owner's villa.  He pointed out that they have city electricity and city water for domestic use plus there is easy access to under ground water for agricultural use.  I noted the electrical service with some skepticism since it appeared to have been slightly re-routed when the owner installed a concrete post near the road and twisted the wires around the re-bar.  The flow from the well system looked pretty good.


We were invited to go up to the top floor of the owner's villa and see the view.  We headed up the stairs only to be blocked at the entrance to the 3rd floor roof by a 3 foot brick wall - presumably a safety measure to keep the kids from tumbling off.  No problem - Sayid and his cousin knocked out the brick wall and we clambered over the resulting pile of bricks to get a good view.

I have to admit the view from the roof is impressive.  It was a hazy day but the Giza pyramids are clearly visible in the distance,

Fortunately, that horse by the palm tree had not moved and was still marking the end of that first long and narrow lot.

We mentioned that we were just starting to look and needed to consider some other options.

On the way back to town, Sayid noticed a good sized plot of land for sale right along the main road and the Mariouteya canal.  This is pricey stuff.  You could probably put up a hotel, restaurant or a factory.  We stopped and Sayid walked down to talk to the owner.  Land of this type sells by the square meter, just as in town, not by the feddan. (There are 4200 square meters in a feddan.)  At 3,800 Egyptian pounds per square meter, a feddan would go for $939,000.
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If you type "Egypt real estate" into Google you will not have to complete the phrase before  "bubble" appears in the auto-completion suggestions.

Unfazed by our lack of immediate interest, Sayid called the next day with the news that he had come upon a feddan with a house and a swimmng pool.  The owner was asking 8 million pounds but would likely take 7.   (A bit over $400,000)

Those apartments in town for $20,000 to $50,000 are looking like pretty good bargains.