Comet C/2020 f3 (NEOWISE)

had a lucky streak tonight, and everything lined up so that I was able to see and photograph comet C/2020 f3 (NEOWISE) that’s almost at peak (closest point to earth anyway). No line at the grocery store, dinner was done and eaten in time for me to check the location a friend had given, realize it was almost an hour away, get my gear together, and drive out to it.

Then when we were there, a cop drove by the road we were parked on, came over the loudspeaker, and told everyone they had to re-park on the main road; it’s like, come on man, this happens once every seven thousand years. But whatever, he has a gun and can shoot me if he feels like it, so I move the car, grab the gear, and walk back to the same ledge, where the cop proceeds to periodically shine his stupid searchlights at us. Ugh. At least I had a lens hood.

Spent about 20 or 30 minutes photographing. I really should have done a bunch of 1-second exposures and stacked them for the long lens; I had to do some work in photoshop to remove the slight star trails. Also, the second image is a mosaic of 3 frames, so it won’t line up perfectly with a star chart because the frames were tens of seconds apart. There is what appears to be a meteorite next to the little dipper’s handle, too. A nice bonus.

Posted on 2020-07-21 08:46:26Z GMT

walking during the early onset period

So this was early in the process. If we’re all Wile E. Coyote, running off a cliff, this was the moment the ground was no longer there, but nobody had yet noticed. For reference, we’re now in free fall, hoping the shovel we’re holding will buy us some time (we = the USA, and the poorly coordinated response). Couldn’t just pay people to stay home for 6 weeks and wear masks when we go out for groceries, could we? That would be to easy. I’m not shouting. You’re shouting. No, you calm down.

I mean, we pay farmers not to grow food to control markets; this is exactly the same thing (except that people are also starving).

Anyway. I was doing a lot of walks in the first part of the lockdown. Solo, and with Sophie. I posted some of the pictures at the time, right when I migrated to this new blogging software and redesigned everything.

I have a lot of stuff I’d like to work on, not sure which direction to go in. There’s a new bag design I’m kicking around, a bit of a riff on the Domke J series satchels (with better closure, organization, and most of all, rain-proofing). There’s the ever present bike work, but I’m waiting on materials to come in for the fixture, and also I need the lathe to cut the tubing.

There’s also a couple book projects to work on; I want to take all the dinner club photos I took over the years and make a little chapbook. I also feel like the San Pablo stuff is coming to a close. I don’t know if it’s in a place that’s good or done but I know I’m not feeling like working on it any more. The world has moved on, and it’s time for some other project. So I’ll be working on an edit for that, to see if there’s enough to make something out of or if I just file it away for further work later. We’ll see.

Posted on 2020-07-06 00:37:03Z GMT

false vacuum collapse

blogger’s note: I wrote this two weeks ago, late at night, and thought I’d come back to it in the morning, and then the protests in Minneapolis boiled over into the rest of the country, and now we’re talking seriously about police abolition. Never thought I’d see it. To be clear, it’s a wonderful first step, and something I didn’t probably make clear below is that these kind of moments aren’t always bad as in buried at the bottom of a hole in the ground; but unpredictable, for sure.

Dan Hon, over on twitter, keeps saying “Slowly, then all at once.” Everything seems to be humming along, approaching a new normal, and then a bunch of stuff happens and the bottom falls out of the world. So: There’s this idea out of Quantum Mechanics that says that the ground state of the universe, the quantum vacuum between particles, is not a true ground, that it isn’t really the ‘bottom’. The properties of that vacuum determine a lot of things about our world, like the fact that particles stick together to form atoms, atoms make bonds, etc etc. Real literal fabric of the universe, here.

And, well, it’s possible that fabric is not stable, that we’re in what’s called a local minima. Imagine a waterfall. Now, imagine, some way down, there is a ledge, and on that ledge, over eons, there forms a pool. Water can hang out in the pool, and be pretty stable seeming. If someone jumps into it though, a lot of water will splash over, and continue hurtling towards the ground.

Or, better yet, think of a big hole in the ground, maybe 10 feet deep and wide. It’s freshly dug, and the walls seem solid. Anyone who’s ever worked down in such a hole will tell you it isn’t. It seems OK because it’s in a little ledge of stability. When a car drives by or someone steps on the edge, adding energy to the system, it can kick the it out of the region of stability, racing down to a new ground state; in this case, you better hope nobody was in the hole (on a real construction site, they use trench plates braced against the sides to prevent such accidents).

And so other systems can exhibit the same behavior. The quantum vacuum may or may not be at a true ground state, and even if it isn’t, it might take more energy than the whole universe will ever have to kick it over. It’s something that keeps a very specific brand of nerd up at night (never me; I lack the maths skill to really be frightened).

Normal society is a sort of ground state, too. All the different systems that surround us and do stuff like cut down trees to produce toilet paper, deliver our mail, stock the shelves at the grocery store, those are all sort of the result of the system working (there are negative effects of the system ‘working’ too, which we call structural violence, but that’s another essay).

So COVID-19 is a shock to that system. The first round of quarantine, the first 6 weeks or so, were the first new local minima. People baked bread and sewed masks and put up with the difficulties of isolation and waited. Many world governments used this time to get a handle on testing and tracing and are doing OK. America didn’t. We have an idiot in charge. So we’re right now kicking off a cascade into a new, lower state that may or may not be a real ground state. Anti-police protests in Minneapolis. Anti-mask protests by people that want to start a second civil war (look for the dudes in the hawaiian shirts and don’t trust them).

update, two weeks after the first draft: Turns out the free fall isn’t out of our hands. The de-funding of the Minneapolis force is just a beginning. Shit, I’m hopeful. How long can we maintain this? How far can we go? Prison abolition? Reparations? Open borders? I haven’t been able to go out to the protests for medical reasons (I have a couple COVID-19 risk factors) but I’ve been donating and doing what I can from home.

update, three weeks later: I went to a protest! it was great! I decided that I cared more about showing up than my personal safety, and did as much as I could to mitigate the danger. photos are unrelated San Pablo and my hood.

Posted on 2020-06-27 10:52:20Z GMT

the last night out (zero fucks)

Ye olde insomnia again, so here I am, blogging at 2:30 in the morning. Fell asleep on the couch at like 8, moved to the bed shortly thereafter, work up just after midnight. Some day I’ll learn.

These photos were at the last Zero Fucks show, shortly before the quarantine came down. It was after many workplaces had gone work from home, and it wasn’t super crowded because I think people were already starting to stay in. I always love going to the shows they put on, it’s such a good vibe; even this one was pretty great.

The surge is well underway here. Maybe not in the bay, but the US at large is back on that hockey stick growth in terms of new cases. Completely fucked. We should probably cancel the rest of the summer, everybody go back to staying inside as much as possible. Of course, our government is shit, and won’t lift a finger to help us, even as more people have died from COVID than two Vietnam wars. We’re gonna have to do several politically impossible things if our liberal democracy is going to make it through this. 1) has to be UBI, so people don’t have to go back to jobs that will cause more death. 2) has to be the dismantling of the police, because anything else would be inhumane. 3) is probably remove the president from office, by ballot box or by general strike, demanding his resignation (and his VP; Pence is probably worse).

I have a whole post written about moments like this, how you can’t tell what will happen once you break out of local minima in complex systems, but it’ll have to wait. Maybe tomorrow.

Posted on 2020-06-25 09:39:29Z GMT

pushing off the top of the backlog

lot of irons in the fire at the moment. Protest photos, and the ethics thereof; a whole essay on why software sucks sometimes; a stack of photos from mid-march on. These were on the third of march, election day. I voted for Warren, for the record.

So, while all those things are still getting sorted and falling into place, I figured I should just push out a blog post. Some photos, a little update. Things are moving, here. Knee is mostly better, ankles have good and bad days. They still haven’t arrested the cops that killed Breonna Taylor, but we’re still in the streets (It took prosecutors a year to file charges against Oscar Grant’s killer, for reference). But/and: Just heard SF public schools is following Oakland’s lead and ending their relationship with SFPD. It’s not all bad news. We can do better, be better, and we will.

So what am I doing? While I was having trouble getting around, I was mostly trying to spread good information (protest tactics, anti-racism resources) mostly via twitter, and also donating money to a lot of stuff that came over the transom. I didn’t tweet too much about that, seemed too much like bragging to my midwestern upbringing. I’ve been taking comfort in little bits of poetry that come back to me, bits of Ulysses and Lays of Ancient Rome (“How can man die better than facing fearful odds…”) and others too. Roethke and Baldwin, too.

Now that I am getting around a little better, I went to a protest last Friday at the port, and it was amazing. I’ll probably write more about it when I actually post the photos. Don’t know when that’ll be.

Posted on 2020-06-24 07:50:16Z GMT