In case you haven’t read, a good portion of the United States will be under part of the path of the moon’s shadow for a total eclipse of the sun on August 21st. I’m very lucky in that I’ll be close enough to the path of totality to probably have a 99% experience.

Many years ago, I was near the path of a solar eclipse, but well away from the path of totality — near this map’s N in Maryland — and I still remember the dimming of the afternoon light.

That eclipse was way pre-Internet, so we didn’t have the daily buzz of Facebook updates, all the websites, and the sale of eclipse-viewing glasses to keep us jazzed in the weeks before the event. (last week, I bought enough ISO-rated specs for the entire family at a local science museum) I must have known about the 1970 eclipse, but I was indoors when it happened. Despite me being in the house, and despite the lack of eclipse-capable photo equipment, that partial eclipse was impressive.

Skipping to the present, in a recent Facebook discussion, an online friend was saddened because she wasn’t able to buy a filter for her camera in time. She’d like photos of the eclipse, but thinks that ruining her camera’s sensor by aiming it at the sun without filters is rather a high price to pay for (maybe) a snapshot. I tend to agree. (!!!)  I suggested that she could make an old-old-fashioned pinhole camera and take photos of the images made with it.

Luckily, I can provide instructions.

Years ago, but not as many years ago as the eclipse I experienced, I made a camera obscura ‘just because.’ I had recently concluded homeschooling three of my four kids and was apparently suffering withdrawal from science projects. As the withdrawal and the project both happened during the Age of the Internet, I have online pictures of my fun at another of my blogs, Happy as Kings (the instructions I mentioned).

 

The oldest and the newest

A pinhole camera I made from a couple of pasteboard boxes, a sheet of typing paper, and some electrical tape (because it’s lightproof).
The large hole isn’t the pinhole, but is the opening for my digital camera so I could take pictures of the pinhole images.

 

If you don’t have filters for your cameras or for your camera phones and you want to take pictures of the eclipse, give the pinhole camera a try.

To increase your chances of taking a recognizable picture, be sure to test the cameras before the eclipse:
— so that you have a functioning pinhole apparatus
— so that your digital camera settings will capture an image
— so that you’ll have figured out how to hold everything in place (a tripod is best, but a pillow arrangement on a table might work)
— and so you’ve had a few dry runs for experience.

Good luck, and happy eclipse viewing.

I was putting myself in the mood for making up my lies — uh, writing my stories — and I was virtually strolling around a country path near Fulda, Germany when I chanced upon my daughter’s dog, Rocco, doing the same thing.  Good thing I had some dog biscuits in my pocket.

Strolling around the Rhön in Germany via Google Cardboard.

 

Me feeding dog biscuits to Rocco over our garden gate.

What it is.

 

Google’s Cardboard function is an application that works in conjunction with a viewing box that fits 4” – 6” phones. Using Cardboard is like looking into a Harry Potter Viewmaster — the view moves as your head scans the displayed scene. Peekaboo totaliarmus!

It’s almost like being there, wherever “there” is.

 

Google Cardboard stereoscopic view.
This view is of one of my former homes — favorite destinations for me. In the late 1980s, me, my husband, and our kids lived in the Perlacher Forst housing area of the Munich Army military community. Our apartment was the one on the 2nd floor.

 

Where you can go.

 

If Google Street View cars or walkers have gone there, you can go there, too.

All it takes is a smart phone with the Cardboard app loaded, choosing a Street View location, tapping on the Cardboard viewer icon, plopping your phone in your Cardboard viewer, and looking into the viewer. The thrill of Potteresque apparating, but without the danger of being splinched.

 

Why to go.

 

The cost of any Cardboard viewer is cheaper than any ticket to faraway lands.

Other perks are:
No suitcase to lug.
No lines at airports or other travel departure points.
No waiting for your color to be called when debarking from a ship.
No electrical transformer thingamajigs needed.
No visa needed (although maybe a Visa).

You also get to sleep in your own bed afterward, but maybe that’s just important for people who’ve had to sleep in many, many different beds.

In any case, for the cost of about a meal for two at Mickey D’s, you can have armchair travel adventures from around the world.

 

Bon voyage!  Gute Reise!  Happy Trails!

 

 

04 Stonehenge

Stonehenge visitor center: To navigate on Google Maps, mouse over the small map in the lower left hand corner on the Google Maps screen. The blue dots are static images, such as this one. The viewer can look around, but can’t walk anywhere. For the ability to move, click on one of the blue lines in the small lower-left map and then either click farther along the blue line, or click on the map image.

 

In light of the potentially disrupting news from the House of Representatives today, I needed to get away for a while. The easiest way to do this, and also to be able to sleep in my own bed, is by taking a trip on Google Maps. Tonight’s visit is to Stonehenge.

The interesting aspect of virtually visiting Stonehenge is that in addition to driving around the henge on the local roads that have been maintained as smaller secondary roads, the viewer can also take a walking tour among the stones.

The picture in the screen shot is of the Visitor Center and shows what I think are representative dwellings where the people who built Stonehenge lived. To get to Stonehenge itself, click on the small lower-left map at Google Maps and navigate by following the blue lines (it’s a bit of a ‘drive’ to the right) and blue dots. Or click here if you’re in a hurry.

I enjoyed the drive from the village to the east and my stroll around the monument. I hope you do, too.

Tonight’s virtual visit was to the island of Shetland. This visit was inspired by the televised version of Ann Cleeves’s story, Dead Water, on Netflix.

At the link, click on the road to “drive” into the town of Lerwick. If you turn around (use the cursor to pull the picture one way or the other), you’ll be facing the sea. I can imagine the Vikings coming over the horizon.

Can you see them, too?

Google Maps view of the ocean from just outside Lerwick, Shetland.

My evening hobby is traveling via Google Maps. It’s cheap. It’s easy. I get to sleep in my own bed when the journey is over.

I like visiting places where I’ve lived and with fifty addresses over a life in and around the military, I have plenty to choose from. My former home in Belgium now has new living room windows; one of my German homes has solar panels on its roof; other homes no longer exist.

I like to take virtual trips to places where friends live or have lived. My best friend when I was 11 moved to Medicine Hat, Alberta, Canada when his dad was transferred, so I made a virtual visit the other night although I’m sure he no longer lives there. None of us live where we used to.

I also like “driving” to places I want to visit — (cue Abbot & Costello) Ni-Ag-Ara Falls!

Tonight’s visit is to Agatha Christie’s home, Greenway. I lived in England when I was a child, but, of course, no one ever took me to visit Mrs. Christie. I don’t know that either of us would have got much out of a visit.

On searching Google Maps for Greenway, I was thrilled to find that the service has a 360 degree view of the front lawn of Greenway, an interactive street view drive down two of the lanes leading to the home, and the 360 degree view on the dock on the River Dart.

 

Google Map’s panoramic view of the front lawn of Greenway.

Seeing where my favorite author lived and wrote the books I so enjoy adds a layer of appreciation to my reading.

 

Other Greenway websites:

 

Anyone looking at the blog will see a big gap this year in published blog posts. Things went off course for me when, in January, I volunteered to do the homeowners association newsletter. I’d written newsletters before, I knew how to tweak my antique Microsoft Publisher program and make pretty PDFs to upload rather than print, and I could set my own schedule. How hard could it be?

What I learned (again) is that me splitting my writing focus isn’t something I do very well. Although both projects involve writing (i.e., typing), real estate legal stuff for a newsletter is a different critter than mystery-writing legal stuff for a story. I was jumping back and forth between subjects, which wasn’t good for either of them.

Now add in the presidential campaign. I’m not actively involved in campaigning, but oh, my goodness, where did the time go?

Now that the election is winding down (one hopes), I’m slowly righting my fictional writing ship that had foundered and I’m getting back on course. The short story I was working on is nearing completion (just a short story?!?) so that’s one more brick in that story wall. Me not being a natural born killer made sorting out the story’s howdunnit challenging. I thought that all my years of reading mysteries and watching detective programs had given me a good grounding in fictional crime. Sadly, writing mysteries is more difficult than reading and watching them.

While I’ve been nudging my fictional ship back on course, I’ve also assembled a nice little play-acting company of amenable, uncomplaining plastic actresses and actors courtesy of the talented and persnickety engineers at Playmobil. The detail of the accessories that come with the little actresses and actors is a great aid to memory and imagination.

And now, having taken a step in getting up after I’ve fallen down, on to completing the story.

 

The general setup for the stories:

The apartment building is to the left, with an office area in front of it. The office and its garages (which doubles as offices when needed) are in the center. The Border is behind them. Above it all is the castle on the hill, which also looks down on the church across from the office. The church bell takes getting used to for the story characters.

The apartment building is to the left, with an office area in front of it. The office and its garages (which doubles as offices when needed) are in the center. The Border is behind them. Above it all is the castle on the hill, which also looks down on the church across from the office. The church bell takes getting used to for the story characters.

 

Where the characters live

Although my stories rarely involve the family members of the characters, having someplace for the characters to live when they aren't in a scene adds depth to my thinking.

Although my stories rarely involve the family members of the characters, having someplace for the characters to live when they aren’t in a scene adds depth to my thinking.

 

 

Cold War Germany

The red and white barriers are reminiscent of the barriers that were on the actual border before the German Reunification. Off to the left is the train station -- track numbers, schedules, and a map -- which usually wasn't so close to the border, but my table top has limited real estate.

The red and white barriers are reminiscent of the barriers that were on the actual border before the German Reunification.
Off to the left is the train station — track numbers, schedules, and a map — which usually wasn’t so close to the border, but my table top has limited real estate.

 

 

Items my actresses and actors could use for mischief

Possible weapons

Possible weapons

 

Story scenes:

The picnic scene

The office is having a picnic for the U.S. Bicentennial. Naturally, because conflict is what drives fiction, a fight breaks out at the picnic.

The office is having a picnic for the U.S. Bicentennial. Naturally, because conflict is what drives fiction, a fight breaks out at the picnic.

 

The office scene

A colleague of my brown-haired main character tells her how he overheard what the red-head said. The colleague has his name taped on his back as the other characters do. That way, they don't get mixed up with each other.

A colleague of my brown-haired main character tells her how he overheard what the red-head said.
The colleague has his name taped on his back as the other characters do. That way, they don’t get mixed up with each other.

 

Finding the body

My main character (the brown haired character at the back) and her colleagues are surprised to find the missing man outside their office, lying in a stairwell near the road (the white stripes are a pedestrian crossing). The back wall of the "office" is open (it's a child's play set), so I had to put in a paper wall to ever so slightly increase the realism.

My main character (the brown haired character at the back) and her colleagues are surprised to find the missing man outside their office, lying in a stairwell near the road (the white stripes are a pedestrian crossing).
The back wall of the “office” is open (it’s a child’s play set), so I had to put in a paper wall to ever so slightly increase the realism.

 

Interlude after the body was found

The main character had errands to run. The other office members were left to talk to the police after the military police gave her permission to leave.

The main character had errands to run. The other office members were left to talk to the police after the military police gave her permission to leave.

 

No, I’m not giving away the ending.