Electrical Hazard

Over the last week at work we have been preparing an unused part of the facility for use. We need a place for an industrial freeze dryer and a walk in cooler. But first we had to clear out a massive pile of junk that had accumulated, and do demolition on a lot of old equipment and piping to remodel the space.

A burned and melted power receptacle
A burned and melted power receptacle

Demolition? Break out the sawzall! We used a big sawzall, a small pile of saw blades, an angle grinder with a diamond cutoff wheel, a bit of muscle and a lot of sweat to get it done. The pile of trash accumulated rapidly along the fence, old lumber, a lot of PVC pipe, and a lot of rust… A big dumpster will appear later.

Rust. This close to the ocean everything is badly corroded, do not even try to release the old bolts, just pop a fresh battery into the angle grinder and let the sparks fly. The 20 amp sawzall does not use batteries, good for the thicker pipes and framed walls, it rips through PVC like butter.

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Digging a Well By Hand

Travel allows one to see so much, experiences that allow an observant traveler to see a wider world. Different foods, different views of life, different ways of doing things. While much of this is subtle, the small experiences, some observations are dramatically different and memorable… At the school we were visiting an age old art was being practiced… Digging a well by hand deep into the earth to reach the water below.

Digging a well by hand
The winch frame stands over a hand dug well with the crew standing around

A simple wooden frame sits over the well, a hand cranked winch wound with just enough 5/8″ jute rope to reach the bottom. No bearings at the ends, the winch shaft just heavily greased where it passes through the wooden frame. Simple tubes over the handles allow the cranks to be easily spun by hand as the loads of soil are lifted from the earth below.

The well is being dug by a crew of four to five young men. One fellow deep in the shaft, a couple winching the loads up and down, and at times another preparing the materials… Loading bricks into buckets, mixing mortar, or resting in the shade.

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Safe Solar Viewing

You have heard it before, but it really is true! Looking at the Sun for longer than a few brief moments with an unprotected eye can lead to permanent damage. Looking at the Sun with any sort of optical deceive that has not been properly filtered can lead to instantaneous eye damage.

Sunspot AR2192
The complex sunspot AR2192 visible on 24 October, 2014

Discussed below are the only safe methods I am aware of to view the Sun. There are some dodgy methods out there. Take chance with your irreplaceable eyesight? I think not. Be careful and do it right if you want a look.

For the unaided eye there are a couple options to view the Sun safely…

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Guardrails on Mauna Kea

Guardrails? What is the problem? It is only a few hundred feet to the switchback below. As if taking all of the fun out of Saddle Road is not enough.

Mauna Kea Guardrails
New guardrails added to the summit road on Mauna Kea
I suppose the addition is not such a bad idea, the road is a little safer.

Mauna Kea Support Services is overseeing the addition of guardrails on quite a few of the more dangerous places on the summit road. This includes the lower side of each of the hairpin turns for the switchbacks. Notable curves are getting the same treatment.

The new rail locations include the spot where a red jeep went off the road a few years ago, killing the driver and a passenger.

MKSS had made a number of safety improvements to the mountain facilities over the last few months, part of a concerted effort. New speed bumps at the visitor center, guardrails, and plans for new signage along the road.

Visitor and observatory traffic on the mountain is increasing, so is the attention from state officials. With the new comprehensive management plan in place, and groundbreaking for TMT not far off, now is a good time for it.

Getting to the Lava

Note: This post has been revised based on current conditions and access. You can see the revised post here.

Getting close to flowing lava is a great experience, but one that is fraught with risks. Sometimes the lava is relatively easy to access, near a road or developed trail. Most of the time it takes a serious hike across the old flows to get near, an arduous trip with no trail or map to guide you.

Kupapa'u Lava
An active pāhoehoe breakout at Kupapa’u

My most recent hike was my fifth trip out to the flowing lava, requiring my longest hike over the flows to date at just under three miles each way. OK, maybe I am not yet a veteran, but these trips have taught me a lesson or two. Going onto the lava is an inherently risky proposition and one must accept that risk. With a little knowledge and preparation the risks can be mitigated. Besides, the reward is spectacular!

You can take my word for it, or perhaps read the same information from someone who has been out far more than I. We will all tell much the same story.

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Trek to the Lava

The lava has been entering the sea for over a month now. I have wanted to hike out, but life and other commitments have consistently intervened. With off-island guests, I made the offer to lead a hike out to the flowing lava. My sister-in-law Darcy was the only one that took me up on the offer, the prospect of a 2am wake-up and a two hour trek across rough ground too much for some. We left the others in bed.

Kupapa'u Lava
A active pāhoehoe breakout at Kupapa’u
This is the same plan I have used before, a two hour run across the island to Kalapana gets us to the edge of the flow field about 4am. This leaves another two hours to hike to the lava flows. We would need the time! It would take all of that two hours to make just 2.7miles. Two hours over the rough ground of older lava flows, avoiding pits, loose plates, large cracks and small hummocks that rose 10-20feet overhead. This was in pitch black conditions with no moonlight to help. It was alternating bright stars and clouds overhead, two brief showers left us dampened but comfortable in the warm tropical dawn.

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Visiting the Summit of Mauna Kea

Visiting the summit of Mauna Kea is high on many visitor’s to-do list when coming to the island. The summit region is spectacularly beautiful, even after six years of visiting several times a week I still find it so. My habit is to drive, or to ride shotgun in order to enjoy the view. I keep a camera at hand, ready for the inevitable situations where beautiful is transformed to spectacular with a well placed cloud or shaft of sunlight.

Summit Visitors await Sunset
The usual crowd of summit visitors await sunset along the ridge between the Gemini and CFHT telescopes
Any visit to the summit starts by stopping in at the Mauna Kea Visitor Information Center. Located at 9,200ft the center is found at the end of the paved road. The folks here are responsible for providing visitor information and helping you out if you get into trouble, a service provided by the observatories through Mauna Kea Support Services. This includes the Mauna Kea Rangers who patrol the mountain, providing information, advice and assistance to visitors. Also found at “The VIS” are bathrooms, a gift shop, and the evening star gazing program.
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Safe Transit Viewing

You have heard it before, but it really is true! Looking at the Sun for longer than a few brief moments with an unprotected eye can lead to permanent damage. Looking at the Sun with any sort of optical deceive that has not been properly filtered can lead to instantaneous eye damage.

Discussed below are the only safe methods I am aware of to view the Sun. There are some dodgy methods out there. Take chance with your irreplaceable eyesight? I think not. Be careful and do it right if you want a look.

For the unaided eye there are a couple options to view the Sun safely…

  • Solar Viewing Glasses Proper solar viewing filters are made from a thin plastic film, usually mylar, coated with metal to properly filter the Sun’s light for viewing with the unaided eye. These are widely available and quite cheap. Local astronomy organizations have been giving them away in preparation for the transit. Do not attempt to use these viewers in conjunction with binoculars or small telescopes, they do not provide sufficient filtering for optics!

  • Welding Glass Filters used for viewing welding offer much the same protection as solar filters. A shade 13 or darker welding filter can provide good protection for the unaided eye. Again, do not use a welding filter with any sort of optical device such as binoculars, they are not designed for such use and may not block enough light.

A much better view of the event can be seen if modest magnification is used. Do keep in mind that any soft of binoculars or telescope also concentrates much more light that the eye alone. Remember those childhood “experiments” involving a magnifying glass and ants? The best options here are the use of solar filters designed to be used on a telescope, or indirect means such as image projection.

Solar Filter
A solar filter mounted on a refracting telescope

  • Solar Filters for Telescopes Filters specifically designed for telescopes consist of either a plastic film, or a sheet of glass, coated with a thin layer of metal to block the Sun’s light. These filters pass about 1/1000 of one percent of the light. More importantly, they block the harmful infrared and ultraviolet light that could so easily cause damage. The filters can be purchased in many sizes as appropriate for various models of telescopes, costing between one hundred and several hundred dollars.

  • Image Projection One of the simplest methods of displaying a solar image is projection. A white screen placed a foot or two behind a telescope will produce a very nice image of the Sun that can be safely viewed by a number of people simultaneously.

    Keep in mind that the beam of light out of the eyepiece is quite intense, potentially hot enough to burn a careless finger placed near the exit from the telescope.

    The method works best with small optical systems, binoculars or the smallest of telescopes. You do not need big optics to project a very nice solar image.

    You do not have any optics? Use the simplest optical arrangement of all, the pinhole camera!

If you do not have a safe means of viewing the transit and do want a look, you can go to one of the many public events being organized. Here on the Big Island there are quite a few options, one should be close to you.

Transponder Based Aircraft Detection

When you shine a powerful laser into the sky, someone is likely to notice.

That someone is likely to be the Federal Aviation Administration, who, for some reason, seem to be concerned about the possibility of our illuminating a passenger airliner with an AO laser.

Both Keck lasers in operation
Both the Keck 1 and Keck 2 lasers in operation under a nearly full Moon
We currently use laser spotters to insure this does not happen. Yes, some poor soul must sit outside all night long and watch the skies for aircraft near the beams. When the weather is nice this is not a problem. It is seldom that nice, a bitterly cold wind is the usual condition. I have done this duty, for about an hour, and really do not need to do it again. After a night in the cold, is a person really an alert observer? An automated system that removes the human element from the equation is really a better solution.

Enter TBAD, the Transponder Based Aircraft Detector. All commercial and most civil aircraft carry a 1090MHz ADS-B transponder that identifies the aircraft and provides basic data. The transponder is part of an aircraft tracking system now used by air traffic control centers around the world to supplement, or in some cases replace, radar systems. An idea… Create a directional antenna that can determine if a 1090MHz transmitter is in the beam of the antenna and mount that antenna to the telescope. With such a system we can detect an aircraft approaching our beam and shutter the laser. The idea was conceived by Tom Murphy and Bill Coles at the University of California San Diego. Thus TBAD can alternately mean Tom and Bill’s Aircraft Detector.

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