Tag Archives: Eclipse

Picture Perfect

I have a friend that is a fan of doing things. If I really think about it, in reality, he’s a fan of learning things. If there is a thing he wants to and he doesn’t know how to do it, he learns it, and then he does the thing. Then he does this thing that is interesting. He stops. If he wants to get better at the thing he obviously doesn’t stop. He picks another harder or more challenging level for that thing and he keeps learning. But for his original purposes, once the thing is done he stops.

You see, my friend uses this expression that speaks to a philosophy that I have found useful when trying to be more productive:

Perfect is the enemy of done.

It’s a wonderful little sentence when you think about it. It has but six words. You could write it with four (perfect is done’s enemy), you could write it with five and fancy up some of the words (perfection runs contrary to completion), or you could bloat it out with a bunch of unnecessary stuff to make it sound more profound than it actually is (when you seek perfection you are competing against your interest of finishing the task at hand). As it is, it takes its own advice. It does its job and it is finished. It’s not perfect, but it is done.

Take note that this is a different philosophy than rushing through and doing something half-assed. That’s just being lazy and in some cases irresponsible. This expression at its core is about getting the job done but not fretting over minutiae that won’t impact the result in any appreciable way.

I often struggle with this in much of what I do creatively, in particular, my writing. When I write I have the tendency to edit as I go in an effort to have it read as I want it to read when it’s done. I am compelled to make it perfect the first time, or at least in as many iterations right then as it takes to get it just right. The end result is nice, but it takes a looooooooong time to get it there.

For National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), I just write. I start at word count = 0 and I write with reckless abandon until word count = 50,000. I get to the finish line in near record time (for me) but the end result is far from noteworthy. I recently opened up a short manuscript (~51,000 words) that took me less than thirty days to write. It’s actually due to my publisher by the end of October. Aside from the fact that I wrote it three years ago, there was so much wrong with it that I was too embarrassed to let it see the light of day. This example makes a bit of a mockery of the “perfect is the enemy of done” expression.

There needs to be a balance. 

I take great pride in my work and never want something to go out into the world that doesn’t meet my standards, but there is a limit to what is practical. For blog posts, I often employ the “good enough” philosophy. By and large, I think they tend to be decent and occasionally pretty good so I think my approach for these is working. For novels, especially since I’ve just landed a publisher, I need to start trusting the process. I need to get the manuscripts done and stop chasing perfection. The editing team will do their jobs and won’t let it out into the world if it’s subpar and I have to trust them.

The catalyst for this post came during and immediately after the latest solar eclipse. I was on a strict timeline to get set up. I had to prepare the telescope in terms of position and focus and get my camera setup and attached to the telescope. I wanted to do a time-lapse composite image that required shots every 15-20 minutes. My goal was a sequence of 8-10 pictures that spanned the range of full sun to maximum eclipse for my geographic location (~80% coverage).

Nature, being what she is, would not wait and I hadn’t taken the day off work to do this so I had limited time to get set up in between replying to emails and whathaveyou. I would have to settle for “good enough” and cross my fingers. Better planning would have helped a lot. Some observations:

  • I did some test shots the day before so I’d know approximately where to have the focus knop on the telescope and what kind of exposure I needed, at least for a full sun. 
  • I didn’t charge my battery (oops!) 
  • I did have a backup filter I could use if I ran into problems. 
  • I didn’t factor in the angle of the sun and realized that I’d need to be lying on the ground to set up each shot. 
  • I did realize that I could set my rig up on a table to help with this. 
  • I didn’t realize the table shook every time I so much as breathed on it. 
  • The clouds did cooperate (somewhat miraculously) and I managed to get shots every 15 minutes or so throughout the whole 2+ hour event

When I got home I opened up the images and found that I got quite a few good ones. I really wanted to get the pictures up on the internet quickly before the hype died down so I opened up the basic image editor for Windows 10 and did an “auto enhance” on each one, cropped it square and then jacked up the warmth to give them a more sun-like colour. However, the exposure wasn’t identical for each of the pictures and the “auto enhance” feature only did so much to equalize them.

I started to muck with them in Windows 10 and then looked at the clock. I was running out of time and didn’t want to be up all night, so I cut bait on that idea and I put them all into GIMP (basically a free PhotoShop). I was pretty sure that most people would do the standing line of images with totality in the middle. I didn’t have a pic of totality so I was thinking of using either the maximum eclipse or full sun as the focal point. I mucked about with the layout for a bit and tried to come up with something different.

Before too long, inspiration struck and I had my layout. The colours were still off, though and I wasn’t completely okay with how it was looking. A quick time check told me I had precious few moments left so I saved what I had and stepped away from it. A few minutes later, I came back and took a look with fresh eyes, and do you know what? I liked it. I really liked it. The imbalance in the colour worked. It looked real. It looked organic.

It wasn’t perfect but it was done.

I have been using the expression, “Be better, not perfect,” as my personal life motto for a while now and it was at this moment in front of my eclipse photo creation I came to the realization that art and people have at least one thing in common.

Sometimes beauty lies within the imperfections.

“La Fleur d’Eclipse” (c) 2017 Andrew Butters

~ Andrew

Is There Anybody Out There?

Image from Wikimedia Commons courtesy Oliver Stein 

There will be a total lunar eclipse this week that almost the entirety of North America will be in a position to see. I’m undecided if I’m going to drag by butt out of bed to watch it because there’s another one coming on October 8th and I’ll have access to a telescope/camera combination then. At any rate, it got me thinking about how fortunate we are to have developed into these fabulous creatures that can ask questions, learn about our world (and the worlds beyond), understand and share information, ask more questions, become inspired, inspire others… and create.

It’s those last three items on the list that more often than not have me feeling that we, as a planet, have just won the Powerball lottery. The first five numbers gave us life. An extraordinary planet that spins and floats around an ordinary star in an ordinary galaxy in a random corner of the Universe. The sixth number, the Powerball number, gave us the self awareness and intelligence to appreciate it all. Whether or not you believe that All Of This was created by the hand of God or we just happened to win the greatest cosmic lottery of all time, one thing is certain: it is absolutely awe inspiring.

Image from Wikimedia Commons courtesy NASA

The iconic photograph above was taken in 1990 by the Voyager 1 spaceprobe at a distance of 6 billion kilometres (3.7 billion miles). It depicts the Earth as a mere 0.12 pixel in size and the photograph is aptly titled “The Pale Blue Dot”. It was taken at the request of Carl Sagan as part of a “Family Portrait” – a collection of photographs of some the planets in our Solar System as taken by Voyager. In his 1994 book, “Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space“, Carl used some amazingly profound words to describe what he saw:

From this distant vantage point, the Earth might not seem of any particular interest. But for us, it’s different. Consider again that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that in glory and triumph they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner. How frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity – in all this vastness – there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known, so far, to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment, the Earth is where we make our stand. It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.

Sagan had a way with words, didn’t he? I keep that photograph along with the first paragraph of his description on my phone and every time I need a little perspective I take a look at it and read the text. The copy of the picture I have has a little arrow pointing to Earth with the comment “You Are Here”.

The human brain has a hard time working with things that are on a scale much larger or much smaller than what we experience on a day-to-day basis. Until you see the entirety of your existence as a dot on a screen I don’t think it’s an easy thing for people to grasp just how small we are, and just how absolutely huge everything else is. Fortunately, there are some very creative people who have come up with some nifty tools that help us out in this regard.

You could easily spend days playing around with these, so be careful. You have been warned!

If The Moon Were Only 1 Pixel – Josh Worth

This is the best example I have ever seen which highlights the true massiveness of the universe. The concept is simple: if the moon were 1 pixel in size on your computer screen how big would everything else be, and more importantly, how far away would everything else be? You use the scrollbar on the bottom and you travel to the right through our solar system starting with the Sun and working your way out to Pluto. Along the way the creator of this site puts witty commentary in the voids between all the planets so if you jump back and forth instead of scrolling you will miss some good stuff. As he says around the 117,350,945 km mark, “Most of space is just space.”

100,000 Stars – Chrome Experiments (Chrome browser only)

From the ‘?’ link on the page:
“100,000 Stars is an interactive visualization of the stellar neighborhood created for the Google Chrome web browser. It shows the location of 119,617 nearby stars derived from multiple sources, including the 1989 Hipparcos mission. Zooming in reveals 87 individually identified stars and our solar system. The galaxy view is an artist’s rendition based on NGC 1232, a spiral galaxy like the Milky Way.

Instructions: Pan using your mouse and zoom in/out using your touchpad or mouse wheel. Click a star’s name to learn more about it.

Warning: Scientific accuracy is not guaranteed. Please do not use this visualization for interstellar navigation.”

Cosmos – ChronoZoom

This is one link where you can get lost for a long while and I’d recommend it for everyone who has ever wondered about the concept of time, as well as every science teacher out there. The site allows you to zoom in and learn about the Universe in terms of time. You start with the Universe at it’s beginning – more than 12 billion years ago and you can scroll, zoom, and click your way through time. As you will see, humans exist in just a fraction of a fraction of the whole thing. Here’s a link that should take you right to “Humanity”. Use your scroll wheel to zoom out and you’ll get a good sense really quickly exactly how far we’ve come in such a short amount of time. Alternatively, click the main link I provided in the header and when you arrive at the site click the word “Humanity” at the top.

Finally, even though this song finishes with a solar eclipse and not a lunar one I think it’s still appropriate to end this post with one of my favourite Pink Floyd tunes. The songs “Brain Damage” and “Eclipse” come off the album Dark Side of the Moon (easily in my top 5 albums of all time) and features a very Sagan-esque set of lyrics:

All that you touch and all that you see
all that you taste, all you feel
and all that you love and all that you hate
all you distrust, all you save
and all that you give and all that you deal
and all that you buy, beg, borrow or steal
and all you create and all you destroy
and all that you do and all that you say
and all that you eat and everyone you meet
and all that you slight and everyone you fight
and all that is now and all that is gone
and all that’s to come and everything under the sun is in tune
but the sun is eclipsed by the moon

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HZL0sNxP_28?rel=0]

~ Andrew