Solar Eclipse 2024

Eclipse in LA as projected through my binoculars.

I’ve always wanted to see a total solar eclipse and a few weeks ago contemplated a trip to San Antonio where we have some friends. But a few minutes looking at last minute flight options quashed our attempt to check this one off the bucket list. The weather didn’t cooperate in most of Texas anyways so we would likely have ended up drinking beer on our friend’s couch, not necessarily a bad outcome.

Instead of a trip to Texas I decided to stay put and participate in a physics experiment run by HamSCI out of the University of Scranton that is attempting to answer the question, “How do solar eclipses impact ionospheric structure and dynamics?”

To answer this question HamSCI uses data collected though amateur radio transmission and reception reports. To participate in their eclipse experiment all I had to do was fire up my ancient and somewhat dusty $50 Radio Shack 10 meter radio and, using a digital transmission mode called FT8, send and receive as many messages as I could before, during and after the eclipse. My laptop generates the signals and, using a 3rd party interface box, connects and controls the radio. The folks at HamSCI will analyze the signal reports that are collected on the interwebs.

One of the remarkable features of this digital transmission mode is that you can send and receive messages with people all over the world with very little power and, in my case, a primitive, repurposed CB antenna. The signals bounce off the ionosphere, sometimes multiple times, to reach their destinations. The map above shows the other stations that received my signals during the day of the eclipse.

With the way the signal propagates I can easily reach the East Coast of the U.S., Central and South America and the South Pacific and Asia. I’ve never managed to reach the Midwest or anything north due to the path of the signal and, likely, some issues with my cheap antenna.

Once you get past the initial setup of the open source software used for these digital transmissions, communication is simple. You choose an open frequency with your mouse using the spectrum display at the top and the software handles the back and forth between you and whoever you are communicating with. The messages consist of an exchange of call signs, signal reports and a closing “73” which means something like “best regards”. The lack of a language barrier makes it easy to contact people all over the world.

While I’d love to have been in the path of the eclipse I did get to see at least a third or so of the moon cover the sun as well as some noticeable dimming of our always bright Los Angeles landscape. I spent the time near totality running between our porch and the closet that houses the old-man radio equipment.

How did your solar eclipse viewing go? Were you in the path of totality? What was the scene like? Leave a comment!

Weekend Linkages: Spring Brain Dump

‘Les Animaux Mythologiques’ by Hinzelin Emile, (1857 – 1937)

US spends billions on roads rather than public transport in ‘climate time bomb’

Amazon Ditches ‘Just Walk Out’ Checkouts at Its Grocery Stores

Did Pope Gregory IX Order A Medieval Purge of Black Cats That Caused the Black Death?

Christianity Was Always for the Poor

The night people

All the buildings on Sunset Boulevard

Los Angeles: Chicago by the Sea

Ray Chan Photo: LA Department of Building and Safety

The TV in the waiting room in the Kaiser ophthalmology department yesterday blared nonstop coverage of Sean “Diddy” Combs’ legal troubles (in between ads for Kaiser, ironically). You wouldn’t know that a far more important legal situation was taking place in the courtroom of U.S. District Judge John F. Walker, where former Los Angeles Deputy Mayor Raymond Chan was on trial for a bribery scandal involving former Councilman José Huizar.

I was in Judge Walker’s courtroom on Monday to hear the last of the prosecution’s witnesses, FBI Special Agent Andrew Civetti testify about the financial details of the scandal as well as some 4,500 missing, and presumed deleted, text messages between Chan, Huizar and real estate consultant George Chiang. Both sides rested and closing arguments took place yesterday.

Chan was on trial for aiding Councilman Huizar’s pay-to-play relationship with a number of billionaire developers as well as, allegedly, benefiting financial from these deals. What made Chan’s trial significant is that Judge Walker made public a full range of salacious details about the scandal that, because Huizar pled guilty, we didn’t get to know about until now. Those details included the Councilman’s Vegas trips, dalliances with prostitutes and many envelopes of cash. To be clear Chan was not part of those Vegas trips but he was alleged to have been a part of Huizar’s financial entanglements with developers. Developers bribed their way into favorable zoning and building arrangements as well as having Huizar grease the wheels with trade unions. For more details on this scandal I’d suggest reading Esotouric LA’s substack (2nd article here).

Unfortunately, the LA Times has been gutted and very few people are paying attention to what’s going on at the local and state levels leaving amateurs like me and a few other activists to go to meetings and attend the occasional court proceeding. The spectator gallery on the day I attended Chan’s trial was mostly empty except for a few FBI agents. You can bet that Diddy’s trial will be standing room only.

I’m hoping to do more writing about LA’s rampant corruption in the months ahead including the upcoming trial of yet another Councilman, Curren Price. If you’re wondering why infrastructure projects are so expensive in the country, why we don’t have more affordable housing, why efforts to deal with homelessness seem to stall, one of the first things I’d look at is rampant corruption at the local level in most cities in America. This corruption cuts across both political parties, by the way, and makes what little money we spend on services outside of the military and police so expensive when compared to other industrialized countries. It’s well past time to turn our attention away from has-been rappers.

UPDATE: Chan was found guilty today according to the Los Angeles Times:

Former Los Angeles Deputy Mayor Raymond Chan was found guilty Wednesday of racketeering, bribery, fraud and giving false statements to investigators in a sprawling corruption case targeting pay-to-play schemes involving developers with business at City Hall.

The federal jury reached the verdict in a matter of hours, finding Chan guilty on 12 of 12 counts. Lawyers for both sides finished their closing arguments on Tuesday afternoon.

Sentencing is scheduled for June 10.

Our Butlerian Jihad

If you haven’t seen Dune parts one or two yet, I can summarize it for you: it’s about a family that moves from Portland to Los Angeles and gets involved in our local politics. The visuals are stunning as one would expect from any movie by David Lynch.

Just kidding. You should go see the new Dune movies if just because they break with the tired tropes of so many other science fiction films. Fans of brutalist architecture will especially dig the sets and spaceships.

One of the plot points of the books, de-emphasized in the movies, is Frank Herbert’s notion of a “Butlerian Jihad” a war against “thinking machines”. The lack of blinking and chirping computers differentiates the Dune universe from most other science fiction and I think it resonates with our current struggle against the siren lure of our “smart” phones. The movies tend to overplay what I think is Herbert’s less interesting and overly reductive view of religion.

For a further exploration of the present day implications of a Butlerian Jihad and neo-Luddism the Tech Won’t Save Us podcast had a freewheeling discussion about the recent Dune movies.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, there’s an ongoing Butlerian Jihad happening in my woodshop. I’ve been thinking of expanding the jihad to other areas of my life and will blog if and when these efforts prove successful.