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  • Writer's pictureJeremy Likness

Special 47th Birthday Edition

I've been quite busy since the last update. My response to the medication continues to remain positive. My left arm tremor is very persistent as are involuntary twitches in my fingers. Microsoft has an accommodation specialist who reviewed my issues and recommended two items: a head tracking input for the cursor that I haven't received yet, and this set of foot pedals for mouse clicks.

A set of foot pedals
Toe Tappin Fun

It registers automatically like a mouse. I've been using it and it works great. I'm definitely avoiding phantom clicks. I look forward to the head tracking unit!

Unfortunately, I was unable to attend the Beat Your Symptoms Challenge. I had family visit and our schedule had some unexpected changes. The good news is that the visit was incredible. I plan to do the challenge on my own and post it when done.

Pepper Season Ends

Our puppy, Pepper, is fine. My pepper plants, on the other hand, weren't too excited about some cold snaps and decided to retire. During the season I was able to pick fresh jalafuegos, serranos, and habaneros to include in various meals. I made two batches of hot sauce. For the final pepper harvest, I decided to make hot pepper flakes.

Pepper flakes
Dontcha wish yo peppers were hot like mine

I basically sliced the peppers in half, put them on a baking sheet and dried them in the oven for 2 1/2 hours at 170 degrees. I then dumped them in a bowl and mashed them with a spoon. I've added them to pizza, soup, noodles and other dishes and it is a delicious little kick!

Meet the Parents

Doreen and I were so excited to host my mom and dad for a short week. It has been several years since we saw them last. Neither had visited the Pacific Northwest (except when mom was really young), so we did our best to show them how much variety we have to choose from. We visited the local "novelty town" of Leavenworth (where I picked up some red jalapeno mustard and ghost pepper jam), took walks through our neighborhood, and went hiking.

Happy Hobbit Day

The visit was timed perfectly to overlap with my 47th birthday 🎂. I was born on September 22nd, the same day as Lord of the Rings characters Frodo and Bilbo Baggins. In the book, hobbits give everyone else a gift on their birthday so almost any day you can receive a gift. I received great company, enjoyed some premium spirits with my good friends and neighbors over the fence, and shared some delicious marionberry pie with my family. I received several gifts, but the two most special were cards from my parents and my daughter. They were very heartfelt with powerful words of affirmation that really made my day. Thanks Mom, Dad, and Lizzie. Also, a huge thanks to everyone who reached out over text and social media. It was deeply appreciated!

Wallace Falls

Only 20 minutes from our house is the mountain town of Gold Bar that hosts the trailhead to Wallace Falls. This is an incredibly popular trail that ascends to views of several different waterfalls. We went during the week, so it was less crowded. I had hiked parts of the trail in the past but had to stop due to fallen trees. This was my first time making it to the falls and it was beautiful. My first impression was that this trail featured a steady background soundtrack of water flowing and falling.

Here are some of the fabulous views we witnessed.

That was a fun day. The hike was just over 5 1/2 miles round trip with a nice 1,000-calorie burn.

The Island

We visited Whidbey Island another day. The island is a short ferry ride away. After picking up some breakfast bagels, we started at Ebey's Landing, a short hike to a bluff with amazing views. The moon was out and stayed still long enough for me to capture it with my phone.

The moon
Blue moon

We also had a clear view of Mt. Baker.

A snow-covered volcano in the distance over large swaths of farmland
Mt. Baker

The water was exceptionally sparkling.

Sparkling waves

Here's a few more wider views.

Instead of taking the ferry home, we drove over the northern edge of the island that connects back to the mainland via a large and high bridge called Deception Pass. We stopped by the beach beneath the bridge.

A tree and rocks with water in the background
The stand

Like most places in the Pacific Northwest, the views did not disappoint.

Water, fog, and a bridge in the distance
Deceptively beautiful

You can just see the bridge in the distance. The fog started rolling in right as we arrived. We headed home after the pass and I took a much-needed nap before dropping my parents off at the airport for a red eye. Love you and miss you Mom and Dad!

Astrophotography updates

My biggest update is that for my birthday, Doreen and I agreed I could use some of my annual bonus to purchase a bigger telescope. For those of you "in the know" it's a Celestron Schmidt-Cassegrain 9.25" EdgeHD with a SkyWatcher EQ6-Pro mount. This setup will enable me to take extreme close-ups of planets and galaxies. With a special lens called a focal reducer I can expand the field of view for nebulae. I can also purchase a special feature called HyperStar that lowers the f-stop and expands the field of view. This is a multi-purpose telescope.

Out of the box: 2350mm focal length at f/10.

With reducer: 1650mm focal length at f/9.

With HyperStar (don't have this yet): 525mm focal length at f/2.2.

Many of the items are on backorder, so while I'm waiting, I decided to experiment with taking deep sky photos using nothing more than a tripod and my Sonly Alpha 6300 mirrorless camera.

Mirrorless camera

I had no idea it is possible to take deep space pictures with nothing but a camera and a tripod. It's a learning process for me. I am using a Sony Alpha 6300 mirrorless camera with a 50mm-212mm lens. I tried my first shoots at f/16 which barely lets in any light. I then learned how to adjust the aperture and lowered the f-stop, but realized I had been using a UV filter which is not good for night shots. Since then, I've not had clear skies. Something like this surprised me but seems reasonable with a camera.

Stars and trees
The Orion Constellation

Then, I learned if I can get good focus and take reasonable exposures, I can stack them and produce deep sky shots. For example, I took dozens of photos at a 1-second exposure of the Pleiades (M45). After combining and cropping, this was the result. What surprised me was how it captured some of the faint nebulosity around the stars (with a UV filter on!).

A bluish star cluster
M45: The Pleiades

What surprised me even more is this next photograph. This was zoomed with the 212mm lens at f/6. After combining 365 1-second exposures, I can conclude that astrophotography is possible with an ordinary camera.

A reddish nebula and stars
M42: The Great Orion Nebula

I look forward to shooting clear skies with my newly purchased light pollution filter!

Over the moon

The moon continues to be a favorite target of mine. Here are some recent captures.

Revisiting photos from the past

I also had a clear night that I used to capture more pictures of my favorite targets. I reprocessed the images with the new exposures and love the outcome! Triangulum came out really crisp compared to previous efforts. Here's some recent results. Left to right, top to bottom: M33 Triangulum Galaxy, M27 Dumbbell Nebula, M1 Crab Nebula, and NGC6960 Veil Nebula or Witch's Broom.

My full gallery of images is available here:


I made a few videos as well. The first is a "tour" of nebulae I've imaged this year.

The second is the first part in an introductory series to astrophotography imaging.

Until the next time,

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