Covid-19: A View From Assisted Living

When it became obvious that the Covid-19 corona virus would become a national disaster I began this Post as a periodic email to my children and grandchildren. When informed by my elder daughter that nobody—especially grandchildren—reads emails anymore, this is what has emerged.

The most recent update is here at the top. (If you’d like to start at the beginning, click here for the March 17 update.)

I’d love to hear from you in the Comments (scroll to the bottom of the post).


Update 17: Tuesday, September 1, 2020
Hi All:

Youville has made no addition to its update of July 20.

I believe there are no current Covid-19 cases among inmates or staff.

Here are links to Covid-19 updates at neighboring assisted living facilities at North Hill and Brookhaven where I know some people.

Brookhaven has had no update since June 22nd.
North Hill, I may say, seems not to be doing as well as we here at Youville. Kudos! They are in control(?) but have had many infections and deaths. Note again that they are a much larger facility than we and may therefore be more representative of the U.S. in microcosm.

Our isolation moves us to reflect upon friendships and regrets of the past: Ozerki

I went down for lunch last week to the “socially distanced” dining room. It was so efficiently distanced that I might as well have dined alone.
With nearly one-hundred meals to be served—take-out style to your door—three times a day we wonder how the staff can keep up. We have our own little frustrations (the orders are never quite right), but this must be nothing compared to the difficulties of staff trying to do the best they can.

We have a true gem in Connie who drives the Youville truck and keeps us in cat food, kitty litter, and beer.

Zoom! Yay! Holley fixed the microphone problem!
No new pic of kitty. Hoping for a Recumbent and an Odalisque.

Paul Krugman has an encouraging view from New York:

Rt.live tells us today that Massachusetts is holding its place in the transmission coefficient (R0) game among the states. We (MA) are now still negative—meaning that, on average, each infected individual is passing his infection on to very few others. At least in Cambridge, mask use in the streets seems almost universal. Paul Krugman has a sanguine view of his surroundings in NYC.

Here again the current graph from Our World in Data. It shows that the number of new cases per day (43,700, still highest in the World!) is slightly improved from my last post but with no sign of levelling off:
OWD 9-1

It’s perfectly clear that the U.S., owing to its faux culture of exceptionalism and its fostering of a broad cult of willful ignorance, will not be out of this for years. Now Trump wants to sacrifice two million on the altar of his cult. Sorry.

And here, again, is a link from USAFacts to similar information for all fifty states.
Click around in this link to see how Massachusetts and the rest of the U.S. are doing.

XoXoX,
Dad (aka Bill, and Châtelaine)


Update 16: Sunday, August 15, 2020
Hi All:

Youville has made no addition to its update of July 20.

I believe there are no current Covid-19 cases among inmates or staff.
I have not as yet taken part in the optional and partial opening of the dining facilities newly in effect.

Here are links to Covid-19 updates at neighboring assisted living facilities at North Hill and Brookhaven where I know some people.

North Hill is not doing as well as we are here at our Youville. What’s interesting is the presence of “scofflaws.” Of course they are a much larger facility than we and maybe more representative of the U.S. in microcosm.
The Brookhaven update is not current.

I’m happy to be back on the exercise machine!
I gasp for breath as I watch Stephanie Ruhle and Ali Velshi “bringing me news of fresh disaster.” [“But never you mind, my dear. Put on the kettle; we’ll have a nice cup o’ boilin’ ‘ot water.” Do any of you remember the “Beyond the Fringe” sketch of the sixties?]

And now the clothes washer on my floor has croaked.

Img_1763
Chatelaine Ascendant

Good news at the dentist! Where she had threatened a crown was merely a coronet—the tooth was saved to fulfill its manifest dentistry.  RIP Alfred E. Neuman.

Amazingly Rt.live tells us again that Massachusetts has moved back to the head of the line in transmission coefficient (R0) among the states. We (MA) are now very negative again—meaning that, on average, each infected individual is passing his infection on to very few others. Again, I’m not sure why, but the Covid Gods seem to be with us.

Below is the current graph from Our World in Data. It now shows that the number of new cases per day (50,000, still highest in the World!) has remained fairly constant (a straight line), but with no sign of levelling off.
It got better through June and then worse again in July and is back now to where it was in mid July.

It’s perfectly clear that the U.S., owing to its faux culture of exceptionalism and its fostering of a broad cult of willful ignorance, will not be out of this for years. Sorry.

OWD 8-15

And here, again, is a link from USAFacts to similar information for all fifty states.
Click around in this link to see how Massachusetts and the rest of the U.S. are doing.

Hi Meg and Patrick. Looking forward to sitting at distance with you on the Youville patio on Monday.

XoXoX,
Dad (aka Bill, and Châtelaine)


Update 15: Saturday, August 1, 2020
Hi All:

Here is a link to Youville’s July 20 update.
I have added a paragraph describing the rules for outside (patio) visiting. Its one Draconian measure is that only two guests are permitted at a time.

The fancy dinnerware upgrade has happened. In its first manifestation—today at lunch—I received two entrees: An egg salad sandwich on white and a hamburger. I don’t remember which I had ordered, but one had to go. It’s too bad that the orders are almost never quite “right”. It leads to shameful food waste.  But the staff works so hard to accommodate us that it seems petty to complain. It’s good though that we’ve now eliminated a fair amount of single use plastic and bags.

The optional and partial opening of the dining facilities is also newly in effect. People take turns so that social distancing can be observed.
I think I’ll stick with in-house meals for a while.

I believe there are no current covid-19 cases among inmates or staff. I have a good feeling that we’re safer here than in the big suburban prisons.

Here are links to covid-19 updates at neighboring suburban assisted living facilities at North Hill and Brookhaven where I know some people.
Current Massachusetts statistics.

And here is a link to her new piece, God’sWaitingRoom by Ruth Daniloff, a fellow Youville inmate.

The exercise machine is fixed! I was afraid I might be losing some muscle tone and deep breathing capability.

The tooth pulling was trivial and painless, but she’s discovered that I will probably lose one of my incisors. Bummer. Anticipate my new Alfred E. Neuman smile.
You’ll be glad to hear that I have a renewed appointment with the urologist.

Châtelaine is not very nice to me but I try to be nice to her. How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless kitty.

Rt.live tells us that Massachusetts has further fallen in transmission coefficient (R0) among the states. we (MA) are now very positive—meaning that, on average, an infected individual is passing his infection on to more than one other person, thus promoting growth rather than fostering gradual remission. I’m not sure why, but some are blaming unsafe July Fourth gatherings. It takes about three weeks to see the results of idiocy.

Here is the current graph from Our World in Data. It now shows that the number of new cases per day (52,000, highest in the World!) remains fairly constant (a straight line), with no sign of leveling off:
OWD 8-1

In my Update 8 of May 1 I mused about a national total infection count of four million by July. I am going to muse again—today it is 4.56 million—and say that by Election Day it will be near ten million—about three in every one-hundred Americans! This because it is by now obvious that the Trump administration has no plan to mitigate the disaster—and it never will.

Just tonight I’m hearing of a virus “catch” party of seven-hundred young MAGAt covidiots in New Jersey.

Here, again, is a link from USAFacts to similar information for all fifty states.
Click around in this link to see how Massachusetts and the rest of the U.S. are doing.

Hope we can resolve the camera/mic problem for some better Zooming,
XoXoX,
Dad (aka Bill and Châtelaine)



Update 14: Wednesday, July 15, 2020
Hi All:

Here is a link to Youville’s July 10 update.
They plan an optional and partial opening of the dining facilities.
And to make an upgrade to the room service, i.e., thermal containers and nicer tableware to replace the plastic. For me this is not much of a change because I already transfer everything to my own washed tableware and microwave as necessary. This way I can eat at my leisure—not worrying the food will be cold.
The dining room schedule will be such that occupancy is limited to promote distancing.

I believe there are no covid-19 cases among Youville inmates or staff.

Here are links to covid-19 updates at neighboring assisted living facilities at North Hill and Brookhaven where I have friends.

Alas, my favorite exercise machine has failed, but I’m assured that new parts are on the way.

I went to my every six-month eye exam and am told that everything is OK.
But now I have to have a tooth pulled, and must suffer the ministrations of the podiatrist for my painful toenails.

A bright naked-eye comet, Neowise, is in the sky and just now (July 15) has become visible in the evening after sunset. The west facing windows on the 7th floor at Youville should be a good place to try to see it. In recent weeks it has been a before-sunrise object but now, having passed perihelion, it is in the evening sky. Seven-hundred years ago the appearance of comets portended disaster and plague—can that be still the case?

In my astronomy days I took a few comet pix myself.

Img_1761I’m waiting for an e-camera Match has sent me to make Zoom-ing less stressful.

Rt.live tells us that Massachusetts has lost its position as having the lowest transmission coefficient (R0) of all the states. I’m not sure why, but we (MA) are now positive—meaning that, on average, an infected individual is passing his infection on to more than one other person, thus promoting growth rather than fostering gradual remission.

Here is an interesting new metric I just stumbled upon at Twitter. Given any random crowd size from ten to ten-thousand—Georgia Tech predicts (by U.S. county) what the chances are that at least one infected person will be in that group.  Poke around in it—it’s frightening. In Arizona it’s 88% for a group of 25. In Massachusetts (Middlesex County) it’s 9%. Wear your masks when outside!

I continue to notice that in Cambridge just about everyone on the street is masked. And inside offices and stores it is universal.

From now on I plan to post twice monthly.

Again, my fears of June 10th continue to be realized. The early and ill-advised (mostly red state) maskless and crowded “openings” in the South and the West have proved disastrous—nationally overwhelming the modest gains made in the Northeast. This failing is owing (let’s admit it) to the Trump administration’s having instituted no national coronavirus policy. The daily increase in the number of confirmed cases in the U.S. [highest in the World!] has ballooned from about 45,000 cases per day (June 30th) to 66,000 cases per day (July 15th) with no end in sight.

Here is the current graph from Our World in Data. It now shows that the number of new cases per day has become constant (a straight line, no longer increasing):
OWD 7-15It’s that bending back upward that we knew was coming in Update 10 on May 21 when the southern governors first announced their “reopenings.”
This is a long, long way from leveling off to zero.

In my Update 8 of May 1, I mused about a national total infection count of four million by July. There were those then who thought this preposterous. Now July has come and it is 3.43 million—about one in every one-hundred Americans!
Update 7/23/20: So, I missed it by a week.

And here is a link from USAFacts to similar information for all fifty states.
Click around in this link to see how Massachusetts and the rest of the U.S. are doing.

I will say it again: The “first” wave is still building and is long from washing over us.
We will be submerged in this national administrative catastrophe for many, many months.

XoXoX,
Dad (aka Bill and Châtelaine)



Update 13: Tuesday, June 30, 2020
Hi All:

Youville House has posted no update during this twenty day period.
I believe there are no covid-19 cases among inmates or staff.
This is owing to the dedication of our essential workers who, themselves, must find it much more daunting to follow the “rules” than for us for the most part safely hidden in our dens.

Here are links to covid-19 updates at neighboring assisted living facilities at North Hill and Brookhaven.

I did go through the car wash. 🙂

And I went elsewhere as well—to the Subaru shop in Belmont, to my old shop in Auburndale for a new inspection sticker, and to Needham for an annual hearing evaluation. I was hugely impressed by the coronavirus response at these places. Masks and distancing universally and cheerfully observed—no Karens in sight. Waiting rooms closed, hand sanitizer on the counters, seating only outside, door handles and steering wheels wiped. Too, masks on the street are almost universal. Cambridge has new lighted traffic signs saying “Face covering required in Cambridge;” in Needham—not so much.

It should be noted that today Massachusetts has almost the lowest transmission coefficient (R0) of all the states, and that its curve of confirmed infections is noticeably flattening. Massachusetts rocks!

My previous posts have been at ten day intervals, but I delayed this one another ten days so that the unfortunate national trend would stand out more starkly.

My fears of June 10th have been realized. The early and ill-advised (mostly red state) maskless and crowded “openings” in the South and the West have proved disastrous—nationally overwhelming the modest gains made in the Northeast. This failing is owing to the Administration’s having instituted no national coronavirus policy. The daily increase in the number of confirmed cases in the U.S. [highest in the world] has ballooned from about 22,000 cases per day (June 10th) to 45,000 today (June 30th) with no end in sight:

Here is the graph showing the upward curving national infection rate between June 10th and June 30th:
OWD 6-30

And here is a link to data for all fifty states.
Click around in this link to see how Massachusetts and its counties and the rest of the U.S. are doing.

The “first” wave is still building and is long from crashing over us.
We will be submerged in this disaster for many, many months.

Sorry—no cat pic.

XXX,
Dad (aka Bill)



Update 12: Wednesday, June 10, 2020
Hi All:

Here is a link to Youville’s June 1 update.
It’s mostly new complicated and cumbersome visiting requirements—certainly justified in the current Covid-19 climate.

Links to Covid-19 updates at neighboring assisted living facilities at North Hill and Brookhaven.

Again, as for me, there is really nothing new.
As usual, surfing the Twitterverse (with @EricBoehlert and his PressRun.media) trying to hold the feet of the Trump-enabling Press to the fire.

Now that it has arrived it is hard to take advantage of the nice weather—unless you’re resigned to enjoying it alone or, at most, with masked and muffled beings six feet away. My hearing being what it is I don’t much take to it. (I’m thinking of having another hearing exam and aids update.)

As entertainment I’m thinking of taking the car through the local car wash. Any takers?

I continue in my personal view of these current nation-wide “openings” in that they will prove to have been a mistake—if not a disaster—the results of which will be still hidden for another few weeks. The U.S. total infection rate arc continues upward, now just noticeably more steeply than ten days ago. The “first” wave is increasing in size and long from over.

Here is link to a broad assessment from The Atlantic.
And here (6/11) is a new confirmation of my fears.

XXX,
Dad (aka Bill)



Update 11: Sunday, May 31, 2020
Hi All:

Here is a link to Youville’s May 29 update.
They are announcing that if we should leave Youville for “an extended stay” we will be subject to fourteen days of quarantine upon our return. I’m assuming that this definition does not include local medical appointments; but I think it needs some clarification.

Here are links to Covid-19 updates at neighboring assisted living facilities at North Hill and Brookhaven.

And here is a link to a timely piece, “The Virus,” by Ruth Daniloff, a fellow Youville inmate.

Again, as for me, there is really nothing new.
“Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow, creeps on this petty pace from day to day.”

I do wonder about my own vulnerability to the virus, not so much as to who I’m with and where I am, but more as to what I am—a product of good fortune and chance. I suppose that reaching age 95 says something good about general health, but it definitely speaks ill of the statistical chances in regard to surviving the infection.

Does it mean anything that I haven’t had a chest or head cold in ten years? Have I had them all? So, that I’m now immune to all of them? Will the new virus respectfully take heed?

They say that a vitamin D deficiency plays a role. I was discovered to have such a deficiency 50 years ago and have been taking pills ever since.

They say that maintaining lung capacity is important; the reason that, every day, I exercise to breathlessness; hoping that in the ICU with “proning”—if it comes to that—I might make it. Sometimes I try to review in my imagination what days and nights of struggling would be like and how I might be able to respond.

I continue my personal view of these current nation-wide “openings” that they will prove to have been a mistake—if not a disaster—the results of which will be hidden for another few weeks. The U.S. total infection arc continues upward, only barely less steeply than ten days ago.

In the states—especially those in the south and central U.S.—many of the total case trajectories are yet becoming steeper: more and more cases per unit of time as time passes. Their peaks may be months in the future.

The national rate of increase has eased slightly from around 20,000 cases per day, but I expect that, owing to reckless national gatherings having become common again, it will strengthen substantially. It’s not that there will be a “second wave,” it’s that the first and only wave will be bigger.

By mid-June or July we will know whether the “reopening” will be sustainable.

I sure hope that something will allow us to be social beings again.

XXX,
Dad (aka Bill)



Update 10: Thursday, May 21, 2020
Hi All:

Massachusetts cautiously “opens” but there is to be no significant change here at Youville.

Here is a link to Youville’s May 21 update.
Anything I could tell you about what’s new at Youville is included in this update.

And again links to Covid-19 updates at neighboring assisted living facilities at North Hill and Brookhaven.

As for me, there is really nothing new. After a few weeks, which will give us time to see what’s going to happen, I will again look into reinstating medical appointments.

We try to sit in the sun for a while but others are so far away that conversation is impractical, especially with hearing aids.

20052001_ChatelaineThe quality of the food has remained good all along, although sitting down to dinner—alone in ones apartment—is fraught with minor inconveniences like no syrup for the pancakes, no butter for the mashed potatoes, and the impertinent expectations of a kitty-cat.

My personal view of these current nation-wide “openings” is that they will prove to have been a mistake, the results of which will be hidden for another few weeks. Already today news out of Florida suggests that after having opened last week they may be forced to close again.

It no longer makes sense to characterize the change in the infection rate by its doubling time, which has lengthened to a month, because now—owing to sequestering—the case rate of increase appears to be more nearly linear than exponential.
OWD 5-21The national rate of increase is now around 20,000 cases per day, and will stay that way until it increases again as reckless “reopenings” become common.
I expect that by mid-June we will be able to see whether the reopening is sustainable.

Sources:
Here are two interactive websites that show national and state-by-state data:
1. Our World In Data—The one I have been using for the past several updates.
2. USAFacts—A new one showing state-by-state data that I just found this morning (5/22). Louisiana is interesting because it hints at the up-tick I expect for the rest of the country.

XXX,
Dad (aka Bill)



Update 9: Monday, May 11, 2020
Hi All:

The City of Cambridge has tested us, yet again–for the third time! Go Cambridge!
My result was negative. Also they tested us for coronas antibodies but we’ve not heard back on that.

Here is a link to Youville’s May 8 update.

And again links to Covid-19 updates at neighboring assisted living facilities North Hill and Brookhaven.

Well it’s really a super serving of the “Same old, same old.” What can I say?
Some people have been lifted from fourteen-day quarantines and others have returned from surviving the infection itself. There seems to be a bit more distancing sociability going on, but following speech filtered through masks is tough—you don’t realize how much of speech interpretation is visual, especially with hearing aids.

The weather continues cool and inhospitable and so no one is yet out on the patio.

Here is an example of the current tonsorial state:

Img_1756
Bill

The doubling time continues to increase having now reached thirty-one days.  At last post it seemed to me that the total infections might reach four-million by July. If the current count doubles two more times from now—each in thirty-days: to July 11th—it will indeed have exceeded four-million by then.
It is hard to know which course of action will win out. The country in general seems to favor social distancing, but Trump’s “open the economy now” scenario may gain enough strength to cancel the effects of general distancing. We will know the answer by the end of June; watch the doubling time.
OWD 5-11

Here is the logarithmic plot:
OWD 5-11L

XXX,
Dad (aka Bill)



Update 8: Friday, May 1, 2020
Hi All:

Yet again the City of Cambridge has come through with continuing concern for its citizens. As of Wednesday (4/29) all Cantabrigians are required to be masked when on the street. What an opportunity for lovers of intrigue!

Here is a link to Youville’s April 27 update.

And again links to neighboring facilities North Hill and Brookhaven.

AuCordonBleu
Au Cordon Bleu in my kitchenette

At mealtime a knock on the door precedes the appearance–in the kitchenette–of a plastic shopping bag:

Gloves on!

Soup: In paper container; pour into coffee cup; microwave (30sec on high); container back in bag.
Entree: In plastic doggie-box; transfer to dinner plate; nuke as required; container back in bag.
Coffee: In paper cup; transfer to coffee mug; paper cup to trash.
Shopping bag: Finis! Out the door.

Gloves off!

Banana: Wash with soap.
Milk carton: Wash with soap.

Bon appétit! (keeping Châtelaine at bay the while!)

Sewed two more masks to pass some time. Always hoping not to break the thread. Threading the needle is an exercise–almost–of geezer impossibility. And invokes speaking sternly to the machine.

The family has made two forays into Zoom world with mixed results, owing to having to patch video and audio in from my cell phone–my PC/monitor (for the purposes of viewing the Gallery) having no camera or microphone. Lots of talk-over and frantic waving.

I spend time on Twitter watching the cats and baby elephants go by; marveling at the examples of Why Women Live Longer Than Men–it’s akin to the Darwin Award; and pleading with the @NYTimes to give up its sloppy, Trumpy ways. If you’re on Twitter you should be following @EricBoehlert’s new presence at PressRun.media, as he holds the feet of the wayward Press to the fire.

For history buffs here is an excellent timeline of the pandemic of 1918-1919–the similarities are sobering.

What’s worrisome now is the occurrence then of three infection peaks of which the second was the worst. The end of World War I enabled a resurgence of influenza as people celebrated Armistice Day on November 11 and soldiers begin to demobilize.

In 1918-19 my father was stationed in France with the AEF. But on November 14, 1918 his father (my grandfather)—botanist and mycologist George Francis Atkinson—died of that second peak of flu while on a mushroom specimen gathering expedition near Mt. Rainier. (It is my impression that my father was given leave to attend the funeral in Raisinville, Michigan—which would have meant at least a month’s absence from his unit in France.)

Also near the second peak in New York City, on November 16, 1918 my mother boarded a steamer for France to spend a year working with the YMCA running a soldier’s canteen, and then with the Red Cross in reconstruction in the war-torn Champagne region.

Fortunately both Elsie Church and Kerr Atkinson spent the winter of 1919 in different rural regions of France where the virus never penetrated.

What to say about the current Covid-19 crisis? The national doubling time is now about 25 days and increasing 😃. But out in Trumpworld the dynamics may turn out be dramatically different. On that path, I’m reluctant to think, the doubling time could decrease again; the national case total then approaching four million by July. We’ll see.

“Be well, do good work, and stay in touch.”–Keillor
XXX,
Dad (aka Bill)



Update 7: Tuesday, April 21, 2020
Hi All:

The City of Cambridge has tested all of us a second time, this time including an antibody test. I have tested negative.

Today Youville House has issued its latest official update of April 21.

MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow had a segment on the independence–from Trump–of some savvy smaller U.S. cities. I’m trying to encourage her to do one on our own super Cambridge.

Youville has built a transparent barrier around the welcome desk to protect the receptionist.

Our isolation from one another is virtually complete. We are encouraged not to visit.
The meals staff has changed from rigid trays to plastic bags; perhaps considered safer because disposable.

If I may dabble in simile I can say that the efforts of our staff are Herculean. Day in, day out–while the rest of us loaf (ha, ha) in our rooms.

April has been unusually cold and wet (snow recently) so we’re looking forward to the first seventy degree day for sitting outside.

I’m reading that practicing strong breathing, through breathing exercise, may have a positive influence on covid-19 outcomes. April is my third anniversary here at Youville and I am blessed to have an apartment on the same floor as the exercise machines, one of which is easy to use for arms and legs. The Internet lately (for a couple of years maybe) has promoted the idea that short, intensive workouts may, in the long run, be more generally beneficial than longer, less strenuous ones. And, since I dislike exercising as much as the next guy, this seemed worth trying. I set the machines’s stiffness to the maximum (15), maintaining a pace of more than seventy strokes-per-minute for seven minutes*–I do the last ten seconds at 80spm. This is enough completely to exhaust me, breathing so hard I can’t talk, but I feel that it has had a salutary effect on my lung capacity. I’ve been doing this every day now for three years.
*Once around the machine’s “quarter-mile” track.

But not everyone here is as fortunate as I am. Those already with heart conditions and compromised lungs can’t take advantage of this idea.

I have friends in retirement communities in Needham, at North Hill and in Lexington, at Brookhaven, each of who are reporting covid-19 cases.

OWD 4-21
The doubling time has increased significantly from six to eleven days, but bear in mind that the testing under Trump as been an abysmal failure and that the unknown number of actual cases is many times the published figure. And that, owing to the recalcitrance of some GOP state governors, the doubling time may shorten again as their new cases flood the record.

And so–hang in there.
XX,
Dad (aka Bill)



Update 6: Saturday, April 11, 2020
Hi All:
Big news! The City of Cambridge has arranged for every inmate of a nursing home or a retirement community to be tested for covid-19. In fact, two burly fellows in full PPE have just left me after having stuck a long thin swab up my nose.
There is no information yet as to the availability of the results.
Note (4/11): I have since found out that there were not enough test kits to include the Youville staff; and that these additional tests are expected to be available on Monday.

Now everyone here is masked. It began with staff and, just a day or so ago, expanded to everybody.

Masks2
My mask effort

Earlier I had made a mask on a corrugated pattern but it was awkward to make on my sewing machine and was made of some old napkins I had which are too “see light thru” to be of much use.I found a simple mask pattern on-line which used two layers: tight weave cotton bandana outside and cut up fleecy long johns inside. No light see-through the two layers. They look good but are only OK as the fit is not the best and I couldn’t find anything good for the ear loops.

Well, it killed a couple of days anyway.

All Youville all social programs have been cancelled. Staff roams the halls wiping door handles, delivering meals, and checking in on us. They work hard and I hope they will be safe.

My friends at North Hill, a retirement community in Needham, MA, tell me of similar restrictions.

Occasionally the Internet has slowed into uselessness. This was true on Sunday.  At first I accused my browser but it was confirmed by my granddaughter in SF. Everybody is WFH, watching YouTube, Zooming, and taking university classes on-line.
It’s been much better since Monday.

I don’t walk well enough to take advantage of the coming nice weather outdoors.

On a political note everyone seems to be blaming Trump for this. This is all very well as a proximate stance, but misses the main point: The true failure is that of our Senate who have the power, if not the will, overnight to alter our calamitous course.

It is time to see what my eight doublings (since March 20) have wrought.

OWD 4-11
Instead of  64 million we have only 0.5 million.
This is because the case doubling time has increased significantly–a very good thing–and indicative of the efficacy of  social distancing which in no way should be relaxed or ended for many, many weeks.

Love,
Dad (aka Bill)



Update 5: Wednesday, April 1, 2020
Hi All:
The only significant change here at Youville is that our kitchen staff is now fully masked and gloved when in the common spaces distributing and retrieving trays.
The onus on gathering menu preferences has been transferred from staff to us; a huge relief for them I am sure.People seem pretty upbeat and are putting a brave face on things, although I see so few to talk to day-to-day that this may be a misconception.
While keeping our distance we are free to move about in the building and to step outside for “air” or to walk.However dire the prospect overall there are this week some inchoate signs of change.OWD 4-1
My guess for April 1, Wednesday (250,000 U.S. cases) was too high; we’ll have to wait all the way to Saturday for that.

Img_1734
Obligatory cat pic: Châtelaine

Since March 21 the case doubling time has increased (a good thing) from two days to almost five but there is nothing strong to indicate that this trend will continue.

Since, in fact, the total number of cases in the U.S. is much, much larger than this, and is essentially unknowable owing to the national failure in testing ability, we may actually know almost nothing about the future actual doubling times.

Love,
Dad (aka Bill)



Update 4: Wednesday, March 25, 2020
Hi All:

As you see I have transferred this post from email to my website.

Youville has closed its hair salon, a good move, so that all the men now can look like Einstein, and the women like Raquel Welch.

The food stays really good; last night: kudos to the Chef for his medallions of pork.
New plastic dinner trays have replaced the papier mâché. I think this is a good plan; much easier to wash, wipe, and to keep clean.

And they’ve just marked the floor at Reception so that we can’t lean in too closely to the person at the desk.
Meds are still available from Skendarian, the local connection, and we have hard working Connie who is our driver and does our shopping–stuff we need as for pets and the outer man.

We see almost nothing of one another these days, except maybe in the exercise room where some gravitate to the machines–which are now provided with alcohol wipes.

I’m fortunate in having access to the world through my computer; I can’t imagine such solitary confinement without it. Many here were born too soon to become part of the computer age and must be content without it.

We seem largely to be hopeful here inside although outside things are not looking much better:

My 64,000* U.S. infections guess of the last post for the 25th was not met so that there is, as yet, faint hope that the country’s case load has begun to slow, in spite of the fact that the nation has not yet done as much as it should to slow the rise. It is painful to accept that there are, in fact, hugely more U.S. infections than today’s published number indicates owing to the lack of testing and the irresponsibly slow response of our Government.

*By the evening of the 25th the number was 64,000.

QWD 3-25

You can see that the doubling time has slowed from two to three days and, if this trend continues, that in six days there will be two more doublings to 110,000 cases. We can hope by then that the doubling time has lengthened still further, a good thing.

For the more scientific of you here is the semi-log(arithm) plot in which equal doubling intevals plot as a straight line, the slope (steepness) of which indicates the doubling time. My own feeling is that this conveys less well to the layman the truly alarming nature of the growth rate.
QWD 3-25 Log

“Be well, do good work, and stay in touch”

Love,
Dad (aka Bill)



Update 3: Friday, March 20, 2020

Hi All:
Things are stabilizing here at my assisted living facility in Cambridge, Mass. People are getting used to the draconian lockdown derangements. We are already pretty much restricted to our digs. Outside visitor ban; even the U.S. mailman is denied entry. All staff and aides are queried and have their temperature taken at the door. Compulsive hand washing [wringing?] abounds.

Social programs have been cancelled and the dining facilities closed. A system of delivering meals to the apartments—initially a bit chaotic— is smoothing out.

Very few of us now are out and about in the public spaces. We miss talking to people. Only one person at a time is permitted in the elevators. Basically I’m just plunked here at my computer.
The staff is knocking itself out to help us and to ease the following of the rules. For them this is a dedicated and dangerous business because they themselves have no way properly to do in-house self-isolation.
Theoretically we seem pretty safe here, but it’s early days and the prognosis for us and the U.S. is not good.
I think many have not really grasped the vastness of this crisis. Few seem to understand the exponential growth function. Especially not the psychopath Trump, his feckless enablers in the GOP, or the Nation at large.
The latest yesterday from Rachel Maddow at MSNBC:
Covid-19 Update 3
With a bit of extrapolation: Today 14,000 cases. The case doubling time seems now to be about 2.2 days. Probably owing to the hordes of the unidentified infected among us.

This is much faster than estimated as recently as a week ago. Originally 9 days.

By April 1 (10 days) four doublings, 250,000 cases.
By April 11, four more doublings: 4 million cases (1% of US population).
By April 21: four more doublings: 64 million (18% of US population). If at 3%, 200,000 dead. Four times the US 50,000 of the 1918 pandemic [in which my grandfather George Francis Atkinson–a prominent mycologist and botanist–died at age 64].
You don’t want even to think about May.
We are still essentially without testing and will be for many weeks; flying blind. Hard to imagine a more colossal (Presidential cum GOP) failure, but there it is.
Let’s see what the case number is on March 25th, five days from now.
Two doublings, to 64,000, would confirm this particular prediction. We may then be able to see whether our one week old (and only partial) national isolation mandate is having an effect.
At least I don’t have to worry about my taxes.
I can’t tell you how weird and unsettling this all seems.
Call me alarmist. I don’t mind.
XX,
Dad (Bill)

 



Update 2: Thursday, March 19, 2020

Hi All:
OK. yesterday, the house instituted a new rule: Only one in an elevator at one time. I thought it would be chaos, but no, our lockdown has sufficiently reduced local circulation so it’s not a problem. The Feds have banned postal personnel from entering the building so staff is now laboriously sorting mail into our cubbies.
Chatelaine
Chatelaine: mistress of the castle (foreground) Irving Porter Church: my grandfather (background)

Cat company is good, but with its hazards. Food delivery to the apt. has proved a boon to Châtelaine and a problem for me. She is aggressively into everything that arrives through the door; I have to fight her off.

On leaving a recent long-scheduled Doctor appointment at Tufts Boston, the receptionist said that I needed another appointment.
  “In six weeks.
      “In six weeks? Are you kidding?
  “No. A bone scan in six weeks.
The woman at the next station caught my eye; she was appalled. She knew.
  “Don’t you realize,” I said, “that in six weeks the US medical system will be on the verge of collapse?”
Blank stare.
I wished them both well and shuffled on home.
Covid-19 Update 2
I can spend the next few days doing taxes. At least something to do.
Love to all,
Dad

 


Update 1: Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Hi All:

I’m surprised and impressed with my assisted living facility. Now for the past week no visitors to residents from outside; staff and outside support personnel temperatures taken on arrival.

Today they eliminated all group activity and closed the common dining facility. All meals to be ordered in writing and delivered to individual apts. Worrisome only if paper plates, utensils, cups are not handled carefully. They’re starting out with the usual hot meals.

But I imagine it will morph gradually into cold and packaged food only (cereal, canned stuff, milk, juice, etc.). We all have small fridges and microwave ovens.  It seems a bit ad hoc and chaotic today but I think they’ll get the hang of it soon.

It will be interesting to see how the “one person in the elevator at a time” rule works out. I’m still able to negotiate my two flights of stairs–but slowly.

I have a new and friendly shelter kitty cat (Châtelaine by name–the mistress of the castle).

We’re all looking forward to its being warm enough to use the patio.

Alas, it will be unseasonably soon; a harbinger of our other existential crisis.

As Garrison Keillor was wont to say: “Be well. Do good work. And stay in touch.”

XX,

Dad (GPBill, Bill)

-o0|0o-

Comets (1957-1969)

 

                                                West (1975n)    Bennett (1969i)       
                                                              Ikeya-Seki (1965f)

I saw my first bright comet (Mrkos 1957d) hanging over the summits in a purple, crystal clear and darkening sky in the Tetons in August of that year. We had to run several hundred yards east, away from the peaks, in order to raise it above the summit ridges. I thought how much fun it would be to be able to photograph (or even to discover) such a one.

My attempts at comet photography began in 1959. In order to learn well in advance of new arrivals I subscribed to the Harvard Observatory announcement cards.

70050005_CometCamera
Comet camera in Weston, Mass. (~1975)

At first with the 2-1/4 x 3-1/4 camera with eyepiece projection (tiny, tiny images bearing gross enlargement), and later with a new camera (independent of the telescope) assembled from an army surplus aerial lens of much longer (250 mm) focal length with a homemade 4×5 plate holder at the back and permanently focussed with a bright star (Sirius) using a knife-edge installed across a small hole made in the ground glass in the film plane.  Eventually I added hand operated slow motion knobs to the right ascension and declination circle adjustments and red-light illuminated cross-wires to the guide telescope thus greatly facilitating the removal of driving clock errors in hours-long exposures.  The intermittency of the escapement gave a slightly muddy, halting motion to the clock. The guide scope axis is not parallel to the camera axis because the guide object is not necessarily the comet itself.

Among the earlier photos were comets Burnham (1959k) from the roof at 300 West 116th Street, Seki-Lines (1962c) from Dobbs Ferry, NY, and later Ikeya-Seki (1965f), Bennett (1969i), and West (1975n) from the yard in Weston, Mass.

The best, though, was comet Ikeya-Seki (1965f) whose tail faintly swept the entire eastern sky from horizon to zenith before dawn at the end of October.  With exposures as long as 30 min (in freezing cold) I was able to get some good pictures with the aerial camera lens.  I developed the negatives at night in small enamel trays on the ping-pong table in the darkened basement.


 

Astronomy, An Adventure (1925-present)

IMG_4604
Irving Porter Church (circa 1920)

My grandfather Irving Porter Church had a small refracting telescope equatorially mounted on a pedestal in his backyard at 9 South Avenue in Ithaca, New York. I can remember it. Somewhere there is a small photo of him in a black frock coat standing beside it. In 1923 the 12-inch refractor of the Fuertes Observatory at Cornell University was named after Prof. Church, then retired chair of the Civil Engineering Department.

In Manhattan, on Saturday, January 24, 1925 (about a week after I was born), there was a total eclipse of the sun. The southern limit of totality was found later that day to have been at 97th Street; observers having been stationed at every other block from 72nd to 135th Streets in order to make the determination. We lived then on West 113th Street, just within the zone where totality lasted only a few seconds.

25012401_Eclipse
New York Times Rotogravure Jan 1925

According to my father people had gathered outdoors despite the bitter cold and as the sun reappeared after the brief spectacle a burst of applause rolled across the rooftops of the city. My father later framed its picture cut from the rotogravure section of the New York Times.

I remember, as a child of less than five, a night in Ithaca (probably in August) during which the grownups were to stay up until after midnight to watch a meteor shower (probably the Perseids). Despite a small tantrum I was packed off to bed as too small to stay up that late and I never saw a meteor shower until decades later.

My father, being an engineer and a scientific sort, passed on to us as children a rudimentary interest in astronomy. In the ’30s, when we were ten, knowledge of the Universe was only a fraction of what it is today and didn’t extend in much detail beyond the Milky Way and the more distant galaxies and nebulae: Messier’s objects were still a mystery. The size and age of the Universe was essentially unknown and Edwin Hubble had hardly yet published his theory demonstrating its uniform expansion. We learned that the Milky Way was our own galaxy seen edge-on and came to recognize the Dippers, the Pole star, Orion and the Pleiades in winter, Lyra and Cygnus in summer. Around the house we had some elementary astronomical star charts and texts most of which I had eventually read.

In July of 1932 there was to be a total eclipse of the sun visible on Cape Cod about noon, but not quite total in Boston—which was just west of the central line which swept south from Maine, over the tip of the Cape, and thence out to sea. My father had made reservations for the family on the Provincetown ferry. The ship was crowded with eclipse goers and hawkers offering smoked glass eye protection at outrageous prices. We had our own rectangular panels of heavily exposed photographic film (metallic silver was the agent) sandwiched between glass plates and taped around the edges. They had been made by my grandfather Church.

We climbed to the top of the Pilgrim Tower in time to watch the eclipse from the belvedere. I remember only the brief phase of totality, the dark moon suspended high on the meridian surrounded by the ethereal halo of the sun’s corona.

My interest in astronomy took a holiday until 1944 when I found myself in the Army Air Force in aerial navigation school at Selman Field in Monroe, Louisiana. That spring and summer we flew all over the southwest in twin-engine Beechcraft [AT-7] Navigation Trainers. We were learning pilotage (watching the ground and comparing it to a map), radio navigation (intersecting and following fixed beams from ground transmitters shown on a map), air-plot (navigating “blind” by compass and airspeed through a motionless mass of air—as though there were no wind—and applying an overall averaged wind correction vector at the very end), and celestial navigation (by the sun, moon, Venus, and the stars). [LORAN had been newly deployed but we weren’t exposed to it until later training in Florida and it had not yet been extended to the western Pacific, where I flew combat missions in 1945.]

Much of the mathematics for solving the spherical trigonometry required of celestial navigation could be simplified by using tables prepared by the U.S. Naval Hydrographic Office (HO). The tables were hardbound in books and our particular method was designated HO-218. There were others suitable for various uses (HO-214, etc.) and one tedious, from scratch, by-hand method, requiring no tables, called the Ageton Solution—which we had to memorize. The HO tables were prepared in advance for a fixed set of twenty-two bright stars more or less evenly distributed over the celestial sphere so that, anywhere on earth at any time of night, one could identify and sight on at least three bright stars so spatially distributed as to permit three lines-of-position to be calculated for plotting on the chart. Thus I learned the names and positions of twenty-two stars many of which I would otherwise probably never have known of.

Long after the War my wife Crissy gave me, as a wedding present, an equatorially mounted four and one-quarter inch Newtonian reflector set on a simple tripod. I became fascinated with its possibilities for observing and photography and set about seeing what I could of the Manhattan sky and of the velvet darkness of that same sky in Winchester, Connecticut where Crissy’s family had a country house—“Windrush.”

Soon I was haunting the general astronomy shelf at the New York Public Library and, through the next year or so, read every book more or less in sequence down the length of the public shelf. I learned about making better telescope mounts, making parabolic mirrors, about solar eclipses and famous expeditions to study them, about transits of Mercury and Venus across the face of the sun, about astronomical photography, and the history of the great discoveries of the past. I read all three volumes of “Amateur Telescope Making” and most of Jenkins & White’s “Fundamentals of Optics.” I was hooked.

Month after month (with the exception of the mirror), working in the bedroom and at my friend Lambert Mazzoni’s shop in a loft south of Houston Street, I gradually rebuilt the telescope and its insubstantial tripod ending with a versatile and sturdy mount with setting circles (right-ascension and declination) and driven by simple weight-driven clockwork to cancel the relative motion of the earth’s rotation during long viewing and photographic sessions. Lambert had a lathe and a drill press at the SoHo shop where I could turn wooden, Masonite, and aluminum parts and make simple cameras and accessories. By working at night I could use the kitchen of our apartment on West 108th Street and later on West 116th Street as a darkroom.

Transit of Mercury

61110701_TransitMy first real foray into photography was to capture some successful exposures of the transit of Mercury across the face of the sun on the seventh of November, 1960—photos taken from the roof at 300 W 108th St. I used the direct solar image of the 4-1/4″ reflector at a focal length of 3,000mm, a homemade camera box with a 2-1/4 x 3-1/4 roll film back, and Kodak Autopositive (super contrast) film slips cut to size from a larger sheet. The raw film had to “reversed” by exposure to bright light. After the beginning of the transit (which lasted about three hours) I could make an exposure, run down to the darkened (windowless) kitchen to develop the film, and skip back to the roof for another exposure with altered timing. Mercury was the tiniest of black dots against the image of the sun, much smaller than sunspots nearby (one of which was gigantic). Later the best negatives were printed with a simple enlarging rig made from an old wood framed bellows camera. There was a problem with “limb darkening” whereby the edges of the solar image were significantly less bright than the center. By winding up, and then letting spin down, an empirically adjusted dodge—an internally toothed annulus of cardboard suspended from an axial black cotton thread just above the projected image during the exposure—I could virtually eliminate the unwanted effect. [The 60 degree threads were moving and thus blurred, and the central thread was out of focus.] The best of these results was published in Sky & Telescope magazine in January of 1961 and reprinted in the 1962 McGraw-Hill “Yearbook of Science and Technology” (under “Planet, Mercury”).

Comets

I saw my first bright comet (Mrkos 1957d) hanging over the summits in a purple, crystal clear and darkening sky in the Tetons in August of that year. We had to run several hundred yards east, away from the peaks, in order to raise it above the summit ridges. I thought how much fun it would be to be able to photograph (or even to discover) such a one.

65110502_IkeyaSeki
Iyeka Seki (1965f)

My attempts at comet photography began in 1959. At first with the 2-1/4 x 3-1/4 camera with eyepiece projection (tiny, tiny images bearing gross enlargement), and later with a new camera (independent of the telescope) assembled from an army surplus aerial lens of much longer (250 mm) focal length with a homemade 4×5 plate holder at the back and permanently focussed with a bright star (Sirius) using a knife-edge installed across a small hole made in the ground glass in the film plane. Eventually I added hand operated slow motion knobs to the right ascension and declination circle adjustments and red-light illuminated cross-wires to the guide telescope thus greatly facilitating the removal of driving clock errors in minutes-long exposures. The intermittency of the escapement gave a slightly muddy, halting motion to the clock. Among the earlier photos were Comets Burnham (1959k) from the roof at 300 West 116th Street, Seki-Lines (1962c) from Dobbs Ferry, NY, and later Ikeya (1964f) and Bennett (1969i) from the yard in Weston, Mass.

The best, though, was Comet Ikeya-Seki (1965f) whose tail faintly swept the entire eastern sky from horizon to zenith before dawn at the end of October. With exposures as long as 30 min (in freezing cold) I was able to get some good pictures with the aerial camera lens. I developed the negatives at night in small enamel trays on the ping-pong table in the darkened basement.

Total Solar Eclipses

Eventually I came across S. A. Mitchell’s “Eclipses of the Sun” (Columbia Univ. Press, 1951) wherefrom I became especially interested in detailed descriptions of the flash spectrum of the solar chromosphere; a phenomenon observable for fleeting seconds at the beginning and ending of a total eclipse of the sun. In particular I was captivated by a description of the discovery of the chromosphere by C. A. Young at the 1870 total eclipse in Spain. He was observing the progress of the eclipse with a hand-held monocular on the objective of which he had mounted a plane diffraction grating:

“As the moon advances, making narrower and narrower the remaining sickle of the solar disc, the dark [Fraunhofer] lines of the [continuous] spectrum [of the waning photosphere] for the most part remain sensibly unchanged, though becoming somewhat more intense. A few, however, begin to fade out, and some even begin to turn palely bright a minute or two before totality begins. But the moment the [photosphere] is hidden, through the whole length of the spectrum—in the red, the green, the violet—the bright lines flash out by the hundreds and thousands almost startlingly; as suddenly as stars from a bursting rocket head, and as evanescent, for the whole thing is over in two or three seconds. The layer [the chromosphere] seems to be something under a thousand miles in thickness, and the moon’s motion covers it very quickly.”

Extraordinary! That was something I had to see, and the more I thought about it, something I had to photograph. It seemed, after some research, that it was something no amateur had yet done. So I set out to design and build a slitless (Rowland mounting) spectrograph; one that I could mount on my clockwork driven equatorial. (For the detailed description of the spectrograph see my article in Sky and Telescope, May 1970, “Gleanings for ATM’s,” p. 318). Usually, to obtain the spectrum of extended objects, a slit is required in the camera itself, but the thin crescent of this object acts as its own slit.

A total eclipse of the sun would be visible in Maine on Saturday, July 20th, 1963.

63072014_Spectrograph
Slitless Spectrograph

A design began to take shape on my drawing board where I worked at Speed-Park (things were a bit slow), and on weekends at Lambert’s loft in SoHo, and in the bedroom of the apartment on West 116th Street. I combed the junk shops on Canal Street for odd parts—my most serendipitous find: an old bulb-operated Packard shutter of the same 2-1/2″ aperture as the concave diffraction grating of 20″ focal length on whose aluminized surface was a 1-1/2″ square area ruled with 15,000 lines per inch. I had essentially finished the construction by the time we moved house from New York to Boston in June of 1963.

That spring Sky & Telescope published my illustration of the sky at totality showing the stars and planets visible during totality.

Totality
The Sky at Totality (C) 1963 William C. Atkinson

Then came final preparations in Cambridge and in my boyhood workshop at 85 Ledgeways in Wellesley Hills. Eventually I spent a last evening on the banks of the Charles River, the spectrograph aimed at the copious neon signage around MIT across the dark river in order, with a jeweler’s loupe, to confirm the focus across the entire length of the parabolic film arc. On the afternoon of the 18th with everything loaded into a new Ford van I headed alone for Maine to allow a day to find a good site and to set up. My friend John Thornton agreed to meet me on eclipse day to help out. I slept on the floor of the van amid the equipment.

Sky and Telescope had predicted the best chance for clear skies at a site on an open hillside southeast of Pleasant Lake in Stetson Maine and virtually on the central line—for the longest possible period of totality. The central line swept down out of Quebec, across central Maine and out to sea at Cadillac Mountain on Mount Desert Island where there was fear of morning fog.

John joined me on Saturday and we spent the morning checking over what I had set up the day before. The morning was nice; clear with drifting fair-weather clouds. Toward noon—the time of the eclipse—the cumuli increased somewhat but everyone (there was large crowd of astronomers and hangers-on strewn across the hillside) seemed optimistic. First contact came—the first nick out of the sun’s disk by the advancing moon—and we then had about an hour. Gradually the clouds billowed larger and filled a greater portion of the sky obscuring the sun for anxious minutes at a time. The sun would reappear (cheers) only to disappear moments later (groans) behind another majestically advancing mass of cloud. The time to second contact (my crucial instant) dwindled to minutes. The world was darkening rapidly; we began anxiously to guess the time when certain blue-sky “holes” would happen along. The moon now covered almost the entire disk of the sun.

A minute to go; sun in the clear. I had a small plane transmission grating taped to one objective of my binoculars and I could see the dark Fraunhofer crescents beginning to condense out of the continuous spectrum of the photosphere. Hand on the shutter bulb, poised, tense. The dark crescents now sharpening, sharpening, scant seconds to go to the flash and then… All dissolved into grayness and faded into virtual night. The cloud took so long to pass that no one even saw the evanescent solar corona, except fleetingly through momentary thinnings in the mist.

The rest of the afternoon was a beautiful summer’s day under a blue sky studded with lamb’s wool clouds. In Orono, at the University of Maine, it poured rain; on Cadillac Mountain, perfectly clear.

The next total eclipse visible on the eastern seaboard would occur on Saturday, March 7th, 1970, the central line passing over Mexico City, leaving the coast at Norfolk, Virginia and grazing Nantucket Island on its way out to sea. This eclipse was part of the 19-year Saros series that included the eclipse of July 1932 that I had seen with my father in Provincetown. For six years the spectrograph gathered dust.

author in 1963
The author in 1963

In 1969 I began a new effort that I came to view as a running battle against Murphy’s Law. I dusted off the spectrograph, telescope, and clockwork and began to prepare for March 1970. I would lie in bed at night conjuring things that could go wrong, each time eventually finding a solution, and in the following days working it out. What if it should rain in the morning; what if there were wind? I arranged the equipment and marked the floor of the 9×9 tent. What if I couldn’t align the polar axis by the North Star the night before or at local noon by the sun? I installed a long surveyor’s compass needle in the main leg of the tripod. What if it were cloudy in the hours before the eclipse? I had calculated the sun’s right ascension and declination at eclipse time so that – once the polar axis of the equatorial mount had been set—I could aim the telescope in advance using only the graduated setting circles. What if the driving clock faltered (as it had in the past)? How could we fine-tune the guiding without a guide telescope (dangerous to the eyes)? And so on and on. Gradually it began to feel as though Murphy could be held at bay.

My friend Frank Dow agreed to accompany me to Nantucket as sorely needed assistance. We set up in the backyard in Weston several times to go through our detailed routine against a stop watch. Frank controlled the guiding using the long tubular lensless sights and the R.A. and declination slow motions to keep the sun’s center always in the cross wires. My plan was to photograph the flash at second contact on Kodachrome film and at third contact on Kodacolor film by taping together the two cassette leaders and winding the film first back into one cartridge then into the other with cranks made from slotted wooden dowels tailored to fit the Kodak 35mm spools. I had a two-spool sample set up that I had used for design, testing, and practice. It was left over from Maine seven years before.

There were to be about ninety seconds of totality between second and third contacts. During this time I would wind film and photograph the corona in color at 3,000mm focal length with the 2-1/4 x 3-1/4 eye-piece projection camera on the 4-1/4 inch Newtonian.

We wondered what chance at all we had for good weather in early March. I had made ferry reservations for the car in December—the reservation clerk wondering why there were so many already booking for the sixth and seventh. The twins (9), Meg and Match, agreed to come too and I arranged a small telescope and camera on a tripod so that Matthew could take some pictures.

During this period the children’s school teachers asked if I would come to their class to explain the eclipse. For the sun I used a blindingly bright photo-flood lamp about four inches in diameter mounted in a large black background sheet and for the corona I painted, on a piece of fly-screen, a diaphanous simulation on the background immediately around the “sun.” A foot or so in front of the sun and slightly larger I mounted a fixed opaque black circle—the “moon.” We set this up on a desk in the front of the classroom at about kid’s eye height and had the children walk slowly across the back of the room. From either side in the back the blinding glare of the “sun” was all that one could see—not the “corona” or even the “moon.” But, as the children walked along, the moon appeared to intrude on the sun’s disk until sudden “totality” in the center when the sun’s corona on the background could then easily be seen. Everybody liked it and I think the kids got the idea. The teacher dragooned the kids into writing nice thank you letters.

Car packing time arrived. We were to leave early on Friday morning and to spend the night at a friend’s house (Julian Everett, an old Dreyfus colleague of mine whom I had visited there before) in Nantucket town. After having packed the instrumental stuff in Weston I assembled a variety of hand tools that I felt might come in handy in general and for emergency—keeping Murphy firmly in mind. Pliers, screw drivers, file, scissors, hammer, hand drill and bits, hacksaw, clamps, wire cutters, wire, tape, glue, oil, and a wood chisel among many others. As I left the workshop I lingered to take a last look around. My eye fell upon a little coping saw and, after a moment of hesitation, I tossed it into the box.

The ferry dock at Wood’s Hole was teeming with activity when we arrived. I had heard that the passage was booked solid and, in spite of earlier confirming phone calls, I was worried a little about the confusion and getting a place in the vehicle line and actually rolling on board. But it sorted itself out and we set sail for Nantucket under sunny skies. Almost everyone on board was on his or her way to see the eclipse.

Nantucket airport was undoubtedly recommended by Sky and Telescope as our observing site. The field, being on the southern side of the island, was just a little closer than the town to the central line of the passage of the moon’s shadow, which passed offshore to the south. There was no practical way of beginning the set up that day, although we did drive down to look over the site. Much pre-eclipse activity was already evident.

Early in the morning we went to the airport. It was hazy but clear and the temperature was above freezing. We found a spot among the many other enthusiasts and the set up went according to plan. We erected the tent, aligned it with north, and set the telescope feet on pre-marked spots. After checking the compass needle in the tripod leg we made small adjustments and precisely at local noon (worked out in advance) we checked the alignment again with the shadow of a plumb bob. In the meantime the telescope and spectrograph were mounted, the image of the sun set on the camera’s ground glass and on the spectrograph’s direct-image cross mark (the “zeroth” order of the spectrum), and the driving clock was started.

Finding a spare minute I set up the small telescope and camera for Matthew; a fixed alignment with a cable release on a 35mm Kodak Retina focussed on infinity.

Fearing degradation from unforeseen light leaks I was loath to load film into the spectrograph unnecessarily early. But now, with about thirty minutes to go, that time had come. I took out the two cartridges, whose leaders had been joined, and set them into the film transport cavities on either end of the 9 inch parabolic film arc. I closed the back and latched it before the insertion the transport cranks from the outside. But, what’s this? They don’t fit? How is it possible that the wooden dowels are now suddenly MUCH TOO LONG?

Seized by panic I was suddenly aware of the baleful presence of Murphy and his inexorable Law: “If something CAN go wrong; it WILL go wrong.” All else was banished from my mind. At home I had failed to try the new film cartridges in the instrument but now I realized that, almost unbelievably in the intervening seven years since Maine, Kodak had altered the 35mm cassette design! What on Earth to do? Only fifteen minutes left! And gradually, as the express bore down, it came to me: the coping saw!

Frantically, in the rapidly gathering darkness I made some simple measurements, marked the dowels and, with the small saw, cut them to the new length and, crucially important, formed the small end-slots required to engage the fins in the cartridge spindles.

Whew! Just in time and with only minutes to go I advanced the film, had Frank check the final alignments, and readied myself to watch the last seconds before second contact with the plane grating on the binoculars.

Poor Matthew had been completely forgotten.

700307-3_Corona
Corona @ 3,000mm fl

It was as it had been in Maine with the difference that the sharpening, darkening Fraunhofer lines suddenly flashed out in brilliant color from red to violet just as Young had described in 1870. I squeezed the bulb and heard the shutter clack open and close in what I hoped would be about a fifth of a second. The flash blazed for about three seconds and faded; totality began; now ninety seconds to its end at third contact.

The corona was beautiful, some stars came out, and everyone in the area fell silent. I wound the spectrograph film, counting crank turns until I knew the film from the second cartridge was in place and that film from the former safely returned to the other cassette. There was time to watch the spectacle and to make and wind several exposures at 3,000mm with the 2-1/4 3-1/4. Then, at third contact, the flash reappeared, facing the other way. I tripped the shutter again.

So great had been the tension that we collapsed to the ground in utter relief. The light returned, intensifying, and the air began to warm. The cassettes we

70030719_MwaMka
“eclipse, we made it!”

rewound to expose again the splice. I think we may have opened a couple of beers. Al Doolittle, my friend from J&M, came by and took some pictures. The children wrote in the dust on the side of the van: “Eclipse, we made it.” Murphy had lost.

That afternoon on Nantucket were visible an unusually bright pair of “sun dogs” made by light refracting from ice crystals high in the stratosphere. Perhaps it was an omen; for the film had yet to be developed.

The Kodachrome spectrogram was beautiful (I had had a morbid fear that the processing lab would unthinkingly chop the continuous nine-inch strip into individual slides). I called Sky and Telescope for a meeting and took it in to show Joseph Ashcroft and Dennis Milon. While I sat there S&T decided, for the first time ever, to publish a full color centerfold. The spectrogram stretched across both pages at the top (S&T, May, 1970). They asked me to write an article for the same issue on the instrument’s design and construction.

Flash Spectrum
Flash spectrum of the solar chromosphere

Later I was invited by Dennis Milon to give a lecture at the Harvard Observatory library on the flash spectrum for the Boston ATMs (Amateur Telescope Makers) for which I prepared a fairly elaborate model to demonstrate what Young had seen in 1870.

Ultimately the flash picture was published in several astronomy text books, some other magazines, a NASA publication, and was on display (greatly enlarged) for many years in the “Hall of the Sun” at the Hayden Planetarium in New York City.

Life moved on. I did not realize it at the time but my “career” as an amateur astronomer had ended with the total solar eclipse of March, 1970.


Postscript:

Bill Atkinson, John Reppy
Solar Eclipse in Jackson, Wyoming (August 2017) W. Atkinson and Prof. J. R. Reppy

The telescope gathered dust in the basement in Weston for many years until the time came to break house and move to Cambridge in April 2017. I arranged to donate it to the Fuertes Observatory at Cornell University, and my friend Cornell Prof. John Reppy agreed to shuttle it from Weston to Ithaca.

But it got one more outing, this year, when John and I decided to drive out to the Tetons to view the August 2017 eclipse.