Tuesday, March 16, 2010

I saw a SPACE SHIP over Madison last night!

I did not expect to have such a fun evening last night.  At work this (and next) week, we are doing what we call our 'spring outage'.  In case I've never mentioned it, I work at a power plant right on the campus of the University of Wisconsin, Madison.  Being a power plant, (even though we don't run all the time) we can't just take apart our major equipment whenever we want. The people need the juice man, they neeeeeeed it. So, what we do is, usually twice a year (spring and fall), we have an "outage" where the powers that be, know we're not going to be available to run (or at least part of the plant isn't available).  Anyway, we just started our spring outage on Sunday.  For me, it means I'll be working a couple weekends, and longer days.  Because of this I try to keep my 'non-work' commitments light.  This is why I didn't expect to have such an eventful evening last night.  There's a lot of back story to this one, so hang in there.

Last week, on Monday, I finally got off my ass and got to work on my (humble for this year) motorcycle projects. They mostly consisted of repair and refinement stuff.  I replaced the stock starter with a heavy duty one. To do that I had to remove the oil tank.  Since I had the tank off, I no longer had an excuse not to replace it with one that I bought at a swap meet (for $20) last year.  The only reason I bought it was because the black paint (what else?) on the stock oil tank had started peeling off of it; badly, and that it was a great deal.  Under the peeling paint was chrome.  I'm no painter, but I can't fathom why the HD factory would simply paint a chrome oil tank.  It seems destined to do what mine is doing,  peel off.  Maybe I'll finish peeling the paint off of it (and recover the cool "patent badge" emblem stuck on it) and sell it on Ebay.  More likely, it'll get added to my ever growing collection of parts that used to be on my bike. 

I also managed to replace the gasket on the top of the fuel tank, where the fuel pump (it's fuel injected) fits into the gas tank.  Last year I had the mounting plate that the pump hangs off of modified so that I could install a different (cooler) dash board.  When I re-installed it, I ignored the service manual's warning to replace all 10 screws, that hold it to the gas tank, with new ones.  I also didn't replace the gasket. It was nice rubber and looked fine to me.  Oops! Of course what happened was the first time I filled up the gas tank last year (for my club's annual Pizza Run in early May) gasoline started running out from under my nice new dashboard and all over my shiny scooter. Of course it happened right in front of everyone because it was the first time I leaned the bike over, onto it's kick stand, after filling up. (Embaaaraasssssinnnnng)   I managed to siphon out enough gas so the level was below the leaky gasket and screws (when on the kick stand), but being the lazy ass I am, I didn't try to fix it until now.  I simply never put more than two gallons of  gas into it all summer.  It wasn't that hard. with the purchase of my new car last spring, my poor motorcycle was severely neglected anyway.  I'm hoping to ride more this year, but the allure of nice summer days with the top down in my Bimmer is still pretty strong. I think it may take a few years to come to a equilibrium.

I know that this post, so far, has not only nothing to do with a SPACE SHIP, but very little to do with last night.  Sorry, but it's my blog and if you want to hear about the SPACE SHIP I watched flying over Madison, then you're just going to have to read the background story.  Bear with me, it's not that bad.  (Hint: you can skip to the bottom if you want, but what fun would that be, you big cheater)

Just as I finished tightening the ten NEW screws that hold that plate down my phone rang. It was Kimmy, a friend of mine who hangs out at a bar I go to sometimes, The Sundown, near where Hwy 51 crosses Milwaukee Ave.  Kimmy, gleefully informs me that I they drew my number for the little lottery they do there on Mondays. It's one of those deals where each week (starting just after the previous drawing) you give them a buck and register for the weekly drawing, which is always at the same time and day (7:00pm Monday).  Every person who's ever given them a buck, has a number (I think it may be limited to a certain number of numbers, but I'm not sure) You have the same number every week. For life, I guess. (I'm #21 because I happened to be there when they first started doing it).  If you're 'signed in' (paid your buck) and you're actually present, you win the money and the pot goes back to zip.  If you're 'signed in', but not actually there, you get half of the pot, the other half carries over to next week.   And, if you're a putz,  like me, who is not signed in, and not there, then you get nada. Not one penny. You do get a heaping load of grief from anyone who is there, and has your phone #, not to mention random people for a week or so.  I told Kimmy over the phone, that I was on my way over and that I wasn't even gonna try and wash the smell of gasoline off my hands, AND that she was going to buy me a drink.  You see, I had doused my hands in the gas inside of my fuel tank while trying to weasel the awkward fuel pump assembly into it. Since I really was at a good stopping point, I put my stuff away, hopped in the car and headed straight over to take my medicine.  Of course, when I got there I was ribbed pretty well, but I got several drinks bought for me, which was a nice consolation prize.  The worst of it was, OK get ready for it, this is the SECOND time I was "not present, and not signed in". Nice huh?  This time the pot was just over $500, the last time I missed out, it was over a thousand bucks.  Ouch! Of course, many people, including Patty, the attractive (and fellow BMW driver) manager of the place, reminded me of that fact. Like I would forget.  Fortunately, I'm not currently in the financial difficulties a lot of people are, so I'm able to shake the 'loss' off pretty well.  At least I got a nice story about it.  And, Yes, I did stink up the place like gasoline.  You'd think I'd learned my lesson, but last night, instead of going to the Sundown to have my number drawn again (It wasn't), I was again working on my bike, and then, later, watching a SPACE SHIP zoom over Madison's pretty skyline.

As I said, I didn't have any plans, to do anything at all after work yesterday, but it was such a beautiful day, I had the urge to finally get my bike running and on the road, for at least a test ride.

 Last Sunday (two days ago), after working all day, I went straight to the garage and finished up getting the bike, mostly, put back together> I installed the new battery, filled the oil tank, etc..... Even though I've had the battery on a trickle charger since it arrived a month or two ago, it didn't have enough juice to start the bike up. At least, I hoped that's all the problem was.  I was, at least, happy that the new starter seemed to function properly, but I'd be lying it I said I wasn't a little disappointed.  There's a certain amount of pride that goes along with pressing the 'start' button after completing some work, and having the machine roar to life. I didn't get that. Bummer.  Since I didn't have any jumper cables with me, I left. I wanted to get a good nights sleep, not only was I starting work an hour earlier than normal (outage hours), but the clocks were being sprung forward during my shrinking window of opportunity to sleep, shrinking it even more.

OK, we're finally up to yesterday, Monday.  Again, after a long day of work, my plan was to simply go home and zone out in front of the tube.  I coordinated, by email, with Lisa that she would hang out for a simple low key, no excitement evening of mindless TV.  That plan changed before I even left work.  Like I said,  it was such a glorious springlike day, that I decided I had to try and get the bike running right after work. I emailed Lisa and told her to meet me at the garage, instead of my condo. I figured I better show her how to install the back seat (P-pad) onto the bike, if she doesn't want to sit on the fender.  There was no time like the present.  She agreed.  Once I got there (with the top down on the bimmer. Hooray!) I took my jumper cables that I brought from home, and hooked them up.  The bike started on the first crank.  Like I said, Pride! I felt great. Not only was the bike running for the first time after working on it, but it was about to be ridden. On top of all that, it was helped to life by my other beloved vehicle, my BMW.  Now that my bimmer's jumped the Harley, I think they're some sort of blood brothers. OK maybe not, but they're definitely not strangers anymore, they've got a bond. Right? I know, I know, I'll stop.

While I let the bike sit and idle, I installed a long overdue set of passenger foot pegs.  I wasn't going to make Lisa put those on along with the token effort of putting on her own seat. The bike hasn't had any (official) place for a passenger's feet for quite a while now.  When I first purchased the bike, I had a set of passenger floorboards installed by the dealer.  After the feet they were bought for, left me, and town, I took them off. I eventually sold them (still the only thing I've ever sold on Ebay). Like a fool, back when I bought the bike, I didn't collect the original foot pegs that the dealer took off of it, so when I decided I better have someplace, other than around my waist, for passengers to put their footsies, I had to buy new ones.  It's been an unbelievable hassle getting these foot pegs. You'd think it would be simple.  If this post weren't already of epic length, I'd get into it, but I wont (your welcome).  After installing them (the right one, is still not quite right, and I need to fiddle with it a little more) I finally got to take that much anticipated test ride. The sun was getting close to setting and was really low in the horizon.  I could feel the warmth of this first really nice day of the year starting to fade away as slipped on a pair of work gloves, put my beloved scoot into gear and headed for the nearby clubhouse on my test ride.  Man, did it feel good!  A few minutes at the clubhouse and I turned around to head back.  Shortly after I got back and got my cycle situated back in the garage, a club brother of mine, Stench, showed up.  I had offered, to him, my old battery. I'm pretty sure it still just fine (I just wanted a higher capacity one to go with my higher torque starter, which I need because of my higher compression motor, etc..), so when I overheard him say he was about to order a new one, I offered it to him. He's my brother after all.  He and his "old lady" (I'm not terribly fond of that term, but it is what it is, and it's really not used disparagingly at all. Really) had been out riding around, enjoying the weather. I told him where it was, and that he could get it anytime, he just happened to show up when I was there. Nice, I like when things like that happen.  While I was talking to him I got a call from Lisa for final directions to the garage. I accidentally gave her the wrong street name, which sent her on a little bit of a wild goose chase, for which I later made up for. I manged to navigate her in.  After showing her how to put the P-pad on, and both of us sitting on the non running bike, to test her seat and foot pegs out (with me making engine noises and pretending to be riding down a country road), we left.  I had her follow me home to try and finally begin that relaxing night in.

Once at my place, the weather was so nice we ended up on my balcony just hanging out and talking. We were both soaking up the remnants of a really nice day.  It was just starting to get dark (daylight savings time in effect and all).  A few minutes earlier, as we drove toward my place, the sky was still fiery red and orange on the horizon from what must have been a stupendous sunset.   We had a great view of the it, over Lake Mendota as we passed by James Madison park.  If it were 15 or 30 minutes earlier, instead of turning on Basset St, to go home, I would have gone up to the parking spots, by Washburn Observatory on campus, to watch the sunset, but instead I just went home, saving that treat for another time.  I think it was about 7pm or so now.  I happened to look up and pointed out that there were a couple stars out.  We were watching the sky and I realized that one star had that familiar reddish tint to it. I told Lisa I think that it wasn't a star at all, but Mars, our neighbor.  I went inside to find my nifty star chart to prove the fact but I couldn't find it. I thought I had left it inside of my stargazing book "Turn left at Orion", but it wasn't there. I'm sure when it turns up, I'll have a V8, "A-ha" moment. Until then, it's missing.  I did manage to find my nifty green (532nm) laser pointer.  This thing is so cool. You use it to point out stars to people, because unlike a regular laser pointer, with this one, you can see the beam. It's perfect for pointing out stars (or planets, or SPACE SHIPS). I also had a planetarium app on my iPhone, but for some reason it wouldn't load up. (I've since verified that I was right, and that was indeed Mars we were looking at.) Since I had the iPhone out, I decided to see if the International Space Station was due for a flyby, using one of my favorite apps "GoSatWatch". Remarkably, according to my app, the ISS was due to be visible from here in less than an hour (at 8:17).  I asked Lisa if she'd ever seen a space ship fly by before, and like most taxpayers, she hadn't. I then asked if she wanted to go see it. She said, sure.  I grabbed my camera, my remote release, and my tiny little tripod and we left for a nice walk out to the bike path next to John Nolan Ave.  After walking around, looking for the best place to view it (according to "GoSatWatch" it was going to break the horizon to the Northwest, get as high as about 1/3 of the distance between the horizon and straight up, and then disappear in the Northeast.  Once we found a place to watch from, I set up my camera on the rocks along the thawing lake. I tried to frame the shot to get the capitol building, the sky where the ISS would be, and the Monona terrace all in the view. In hindsight, I somehow cut the Monona terrace in half, but other than that I got what I wanted.  I tried taking a few practice shots, to get the camera settings correct. This was going to be a long, long, exposure. On the order of maybe two minutes (the entire flyby was to be 3 minutes, but my field of view was smaller than that).  After about four practice shots, and about a dozen queries of  "how much more time" to Lisa, who was holding my iPhone, and I think, starting to doubt she'd see anything at all, I made my final adjustments and watched the sky as cars, joggers, walkers, and bicyclists rode by, unaware that a SPACE SHIP was about to fly right over Madison,s pretty skyline. Then, just after 8:17 pm, I saw it and pointed it out to Lisa. Unfortunately, I'd forgotten my nifty green laser, but she soon saw it too.  There's a certain feeling of power that comes from standing  on the edge of a lake, and with nothing more than a gizmo, much smaller than a Star Trek tricorder, be able to confidently tell someone that something that looks exactly like a star, but moves across the sky, is going to appear.  And then it does.  I'm not sure, but I think she was a little impressed.  Once the SPACE SHIP passed by the  light pole that was just outside of my camera's field of view, I triggered open the shutter. The aperture was set to a little f-stop of 18. And I waited, probably with my jaw open until that moving star went past Monona Terrace, at which point I released the shutter, closing it after having had it open for a total of ninety two seconds.  Here's the photo. It's not perfect, but if you look carefully, along the top of the frame you can see a line that arcs across it.  That's the International Space station, A SPACE SHIP, as it flies at 17,500 miles per hour over the mid west, including Madison, Wisconsin. Living inside of that little line of light are five people. The crew of Expedition 22.  How cool is that!


At March 16, 2010 at 10:16 PM , Anonymous dragonlms said...

Way cool, that's how cool that is!

And I think the bike and the car have had eyes for each other for a while now. Nice they finally hooked up.


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be nice.

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