Palo Verde High School in Tucson, Arizona had an excellent Industrial Arts program. Years before, in the early sixties, the Tucson Independent School District had the foresight to offer training in many industrial trades, building our school with an external set of buildings for shop classes. We had auto, wood, welding, sheet metal, machine, and electronics shops. They didn’t call it a “magnet” school back then, they just started building them that way.
At registration, in the onset of my freshman year, I rushed across the cafeteria to trade computer punch cards with a teacher and enroll in the rotating program of courses that in my case started with electronics.
The semester began with lots of training on basic circuits followed by experiments at the school’s Lab-Volt benches. Near the end of the quarter, with all the basic stuff accomplished, it was time to construct our final project: An LED digital clock. Our teacher, Mr. Reynolds, explained that after our parents ponied up the cash, he’d order a clock module kit for each student from Digi-Key. Mom agreed to fund my endeavor, and I agreed to build her a digital clock!
I knew about Digi-Key already. Back then, the electronics magazines like Popular Electronics had mail-in cards inserted in them where you’d circle a few numbers, send them back to the publisher, and the corresponding companies would send you their catalog or information on. Free stuff in the mail! Yes, I was already getting the Digi-Key catalogs, but this would be the first of many components I’d actually receive from them.
The kits themselves were pretty basic. You’d get a National Semiconductor MA1023 clock module, a transformer, and four pushbutton switches. What you did from there was up to you. Assembly involved soldering and wiring the switches and transformer to the module and then wiring the transformer to an AC cord. My personal customization was to add a speaker and volume pot to make it an alarm clock.
Mr Reynolds required that we make or modify some kind of enclosure for the project. I think most students used the standard plastic enclosures with metal lids that they drilled, cut, and filed to suit.
For my enclosure, I chose to bend some yellow sheet plastic into a three sided C-shape. First I drilled the holes and made the cutout for the display bezel. Then I used a plastic bender/folder fabricated by our sheet metal and drafting teacher, Mr. Mentzer. That was made from a refrigerator defroster heating element and some heat retardant panels. At home, I hand crafted the pine sides using a jigsaw, router, and belt sander.
I was pretty proud of the work I did on that early project. Mom used it for years, and it still works great today.
Yep, I go both ways. My penchant for hardware was fostered in the 3rd grade. My uncle got me a “crystal” radio kit for my birthday.
I also spent many after school hours at a friend’s house working on the Radio Shack electronic X-in-one kits. The first being his 100-in-1.
Many others followed: My own 10-in-1, then a 150-in-1, and so on.
At the time, software was not a thing for kids my age. My interest in electronic circuits did get me looking at Popular Electronics magazine at the city and Jr. high school libraries. Eventually, I convinced my mom to get me a subscription for myself. I’d read those monthly issues in great detail, and I’d pick up old issues at bargain book sales.
Next came the subscription to Radio-Electronics.
My freshman year in high school finally provided me access to a TRS-80 Model I after school. The data processing classroom had two, and certain respectful students were allowed to learn on them until the janitor came to clean the room and lock the door at the end of his shift. I went out and plunked down $5.95 plus tax to get this manual so that I could start learning BASIC.
I learned BASIC at home, with the computer, but then came into the classroom to try my programs. I also tried some programs out at Radio Shack, but would usually get shooed away by the sales team before I got very far.
It wasn’t too long before I started hearing about the ZX80, and then the big price drop happened at the introduction of the ZX81. I ordered an assembled unit and 16K memory expansion for about $150. I had my first computer.
From there, I got into the computer magazines: Compute! and Byte.
At that point, I was of both worlds: Hardware … and Software.
I still tend to work right there, right at the bare metal interface of the two worlds. That duality always comes up in my job interviews. When I saw the following video for the first time, I realized that I’d forever remember it in every interview going forward.
My good friend Joey Ramirez was heading up the School Maker Faire® at the elementary school and he asked if I’d like to present my Star Display as an exhibitor. I’m definitely a Maker Faire kind of guy, so I jumped right on board.
The two-hour after-school event was put on by Joey and the PTA, with the help of the Thinkery and the local robotics teams. Sponsors included: Pawsitively Healing Veterinary HouseCalls, Steiner Cleaners, and RG Orthodontics.
Our family’s been immersed in the local STEM and robotics groups for years, so there were lots of friendly, familiar faces. I was glad to show what I’d been working on recently, and I was impressed by what they had accomplished since we were here.
The robotics team hosted a nice interactive LEGO® robotics “play” area on their FIRST®FLL competition arenas. They also brought along two 3D printers that demonstrated the new equipment and skills they are using.
Numerous school students presented their own tech and craft skills:
a giant rocket model made from PVC pipe
a plethora of Nintendo Labo projects
some excellent and arty craft glue projects
a flying Captain America shield made from cardboard and duct tape
These exhibits were top notch and really got the kids involved in making:
Marble run chutes / sculptures on pegboard walls
Drawing with buzzy, wobbly, scribble bots
Building electric circuits that lit up and spun corks around like tops.
It’s a Major Award!
I was rather surprised that they handed out awards for the adult run exhibits, but it was a nice gesture on the part of the PTA. It made me feel like I’d won the science fair.
Well, it wasn’t a science fair, and maybe I didn’t really “win” after all, but I sure did enjoy it. I’m sure to be seen wearing my “winner” ribbon around town for at least 1.21 months. Thanks for the invite Mr. Ramirez, and thanks for bringing us all together to show our “maker” sides!
The eclipsolunatics arose before the Sun, dressed, and descended to the feeding area. In case you didn’t notice, we added a fourth while we were in Wichita. Our niece/cousin (in pink) who had some free time to spend with us before school started.
When we stepped out of the hotel at the crack of dawn, the worry seemed to drain away. You could see an eclipse in this weather.
We were on the road from Kansas City, MO to St. Joseph, MO as the Sun came up. A trek of 30 miles. More signs heralded the event.
By 7:00AM, we’d made it to the viewing site. No crowds. No traffic jams. The sun is shining. Why are we here so early?
The spot I’d picked was the parking lot of Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church. I’d e-mailed ahead to ask permission to use a few slots. I’d received the green light from Steve K. (facilities) and Fr. Christian.
I heard later, the trailer was a pre-staged advance preparation in case there was a disaster in the area during the time frame of the eclipse.
We started setting up, and then I realized the church patrons were arriving for daily 8AM Mass. I’m not sure how I missed the timing of that on the website, but I started to realize we had the time to attend, and it was the right thing to do. There was still a go/no-go decision to be made about staying at this spot, but it was too early to make the decision. 10:00 was the right time. We paused our set up and went in.
When we came back out, we realized it had rained. Nothing but the tent and the vehicles got wet. The sun continued to shine, and we decided to continue our set up.
I connected the inverter to the car battery and set up the 24” computer monitor and hood. The family devoured “eclipse nuts”. Those are annular dough cakes covered with powdered sugar or chocolate icing. You can get them in packs of 6 at the gas station. If you take a bite out of one it looks like an eclipse. You see, there is more than one kind of eclipse nut. Our boy kept himself entertained with a little Hot Wheels track fun. He took the time to video his setup and luckily got this shot of the nearly completed observatory.
Hey, wait! This isn’t where where were at 10:00AM. What happened?
Well, at 10:15 as I was completing the last steps of the set up, I looked to the South West, and saw rain heading our way. Looking at the radar, I realized we were in the path for an extended shower that might soak our plans. We decided to pack all the eclipse gear in the SUV, all the other stuff in the car, and try to scoot out from under the downpour in the SUV, leaving the car. We were packed in about 20 minutes and nothing was damaged by the rain that started.
We needed two adults in the SUV. One to drive and one to navigate away from the clouds. We found a hole in the clouds and pulled off the highway. A commuter lot just happened to be at the exit we tried, and there were still parking spots available. Everyone else that was there was doing the same thing.
Did our plans change? You bet they did. Plan B was in place. The continuous chance for rain meant that we wouldn’t risk setting up the scope or shade tent for the rest of the day. We had to stay agile and mobile chasing the holes in the clouds.
We got to see the first of the partial phases here. We missed first contact (C1) by just a few minutes. We did get to see a small bite here. The sunspots were evident in the binocular image.
The hole we were under closed just a few minutes later. We were the first to abandon this spot, and we moved on, following the hole to the north east.
The cloud cover was not easy to predict. There were two layers moving in different directions. Following one hole didn’t always result in a clearer sky.
With plan B still under way, we chased the holes in the clouds. Two layers of clouds made it impossible to use the news radar for anything but avoiding the huge cells. We sought out light spots and chased them down the back roads. We moved East on State Route [H] to the intersection of [H], [Z], and [Y]. North on [Y] to (116). (116) to [E]. Man oh man. It’s getting dark. It’s only 15 minutes to totality. We need to stop. Every place around has the purple fencepost markings indicating no trespassing. Don’t park there. OK, right here. We have a triangle between the roads. The middle must be county property. Stop here. Draw the line in the sand, and hope the clouds give us a hole.
We were at the South side of the triangle at [E] and [DD].
Have you seen this fellow? Stay well clear of him. That’s an eclipsolunatic. Do not get between him and his prey.
When the rain stops, we can get out and use our glasses, binoculars, and cameras. When it’s raining we can look through the windows and stay dry.
A bright boy realizes we can use the sunroof to look at the eclipse: “That’s why they call them sunroofs!”
The guy in the front seat is too busy to notice. At least we have snacks.
Are we going to see anything other than it just getting dark? Partial phases? Totality? Corona? Prominences? What about all that other cool stuff I told everyone about? I just don’t know.
Once we were parked, and a hole “opened” (I use the term loosely), I was able to take a few shots through the windshield with the D7100. The filter was cutting out too much light, so I did the unthinkable. Don’t look! Too late. Eclipsolunatics are fast and loose. I wanted closer (300mm) and tighter (focus) on this one. Totality is about 20 minutes away. Hand held.
The next hole that opened let more sunlight through. I used the DIY filter with the Thousand Oaks Black-Silver Polymer here. I was also able to stand outside the SUV. Less than 10 minutes to go. Hand held, leaning against the SUV.
These three photos are the money shots. They’re still frames from the GoPro video. I can’t even believe we could see it. The clouds parted just enough. It was still amazing. In the video you can hear us say so.
I didn’t have the D7100 or telescope out on a tripod due to the nearby rain. The GoPro video is what we ended up with.
Our son took these three stills of totality on or Samsung Tab-E. I cropped them to 16:9.
The photo is blown out some. The white is not blue sky. Just lighter grey. He’s playing with a fallen sign that said “Backwoods ->”.
We ended our chase of holes in the cloud cover and headed back north to St. Joseph to get the car. Lots of traffic was going South to Kansas City. The flow leaving the centerline went on for hours.
The lesson was structured as a “reverse quiz”. The attendees asked canned questions found on randomly drawn slips of paper. Our eccentric instructor answered as best he could. I think he might have been sneaking peeks at his notes. Nobody can keep that much eclipse info in their head at once.
These pictures were frame captures from video taken by the scouts.
I used holes from a push pin. You might try something bigger. Maybe a bunch of different sizes to see what works best
OK, so my last sun-addled brainstorm did get me started on a T-shirt logo. Here are my first inklings:
I’m using the hot pink outline to emulate the hydrogen alpha spectrum you see in eclipse prominences, and a nice fuzzy corona. The font is pretty crazy and goes well with the theme. The background subject is going to be a solar eclipse with the sol part of the word over the sun, and luna over the moon.
July 27, 2017
After a lot more work, I think the design is done.
I added a starfield background, A hydrogen alpha image of the sun, and a nice, cratery moon. Eclipse aficionados will no doubt realize this image is not representative of an actual solar eclipse. The moon would be a black shadow, and the stars would be washed down into the blacks from the heavy filtering needed to show the sun in this way. And what the heck is that fake lens flare doing way over there on the left? I’m really starting to think this has been Photoshopped. I broke up the word parts with alternating colors. Hopefully it’s appealing.
By the way, It’s weirdly hard to find royalty free images of just stars online. Usually something else has been centered in the foreground. The field I used here came from the top of a NASA photo describing the Catalina Sky Survey (asteroid hunting efforts) on Mt. Lemmon near Tucson.
August 4, 2017
The first one!
The one shown here is a large Hanes tagless. This is the custom shirt where you can fill in the four lines of text with what you want. Note the top line is larger text, and there’s a gap between the 2nd and 3rd.