Working Around a Solar Eclipse (Oct 2014)

I literally found out yesterday about today’s partial solar eclipse. Unlike the last one visible from Southern California in 2012, which was conveniently on a weekend, this ended up being right in the middle of the work day. Add in a lot of other stuff going on, and I didn’t have time to do anything like go out to a prime viewing spot or make a giant pinhole camera.

My original plan was to take a late lunch, see what I could see, then try to head back outside at the point of greatest eclipse. I sat on a bench in the courtyard, surrounded by trees, checking a tiny pinhole camera I’d made from a tea box at the last minute and also looking for a good spot with images projected through the tree leaves.

After about half an hour I started to wonder why I wasn’t seeing any signs of eclipse, and looked up the times again. Apparently the calculator I used didn’t account for daylight saving time. The good thing about that: I was early, not late. The bad thing: Greatest eclipse was actually going to be during/shortly after a production switchover at work that I needed to be on hand for.

So I headed back outside around 2:50 to look at the clusters of eclipsed suns projected by the leaves in the shady courtyard.

Solar eclipse projected through tree leaves.

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Exploring the Creek (Two Photos)

It was a late-summer heat wave, and while the picnic itself was spread out in the shade beneath some trees, it was over 100 degrees. Still, a preschooler can’t be terribly interested in his parents’ old school friends catching up, and my son kept trying to wander off to play in the hot, hot sun.

Finally, after lunch, I decided instead of bringing him back I’d go with him. On the other side of the hill we found a small concrete-lined channel, amazingly with water in it, then followed it upstream to where it opened up into a stream running through the grass.

Creek running through grass.

Further up we found a wooden foot bridge, and then trees closed in around it. The shade was very welcome!

Exploring the Creek

This second photo is looking back downstream toward the open area. Just behind me there’s a chain link fence that marks the edge of the park, and a hill leading up to the road. The stream is fed from a drainage pipe, and judging from the erosion patterns, it picks up a lot of runoff during the rainy season.

I took both shots with my phone in HDR mode to get both the light and shade areas clear. Unfortunately on the second shot it ended up blurring the leaves, since they moved just enough in the breeze between bracketed shots. It looks great on a small screen, though!

Revisiting an Old Tech Complaint: POS Touchscreens

I found myself looking back at a 10-year-old rant about touch screens, or rather touch screens used where they weren’t the best solution: PIN entry pads for point-of-sale terminals.

We were at the grocery store earlier today, and Katie was grumbling about the stylus-only touch screens they had for entering a PIN. Unlike actual keypads, you can’t hide the number you’re entering, because you have to move that stylus around instead of 10-keying it in.

On one hand, a touch screen with a stylus is great for visual feedback and for collecting signatures, because the store can keep things on file digitally instead of or in addition to a paper copy. And once you’ve got that, it’s reasonable to drop the keypad, since you can simulate it in the touch screen. But unless it can react as quickly as actual buttons, and react to fingers instead of a stylus, it can’t completely replace the way a keypad is actually used.

What I find interesting about this is that the industry actually fixed the problem by rolling back: Even though touch-screen devices are all over the place now, I can’t remember the last time I used a touch-based POS terminal that didn’t have a physical keypad — often slightly shielded from view — for PIN entry. The occasional phone or iPad with a Square reader, but that’s it.

On the other hand, the Fry’s line notification system I griped about in the same article is still as lousy as ever.