Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Holiday 1: Solar Eclipse

Or: a short dip into Russia.

Sunday July 27 I will -- together with two friends -- fly to Moscow. Two other friends will travel by train (they want to do the whole coast-to-coast thing by train, so go all the way from Amsterdam -- not strictly at the coast -- to Beijng -- also not strictly on the coast. It’s the thought that counts...;-). From Moscow the five of us will be taking the Trans-Siberia Express to Novosibirsk, arriving there on Thursday July 31. The next day we hope to witness the solar eclipse as the line of totality crosses over Novosibirsk and lake Novosibirskoye.

On August 2 I’ll be flying from Novosobirsk to Moscow, and after a lengthy stopover continue onwards to Amsterdam. Then it's back home for two days, then back to Schiphol on Tuesday August 5 to fly to Denver for Denvention. Fly back from Denver on Tuesday August 12, arriving at Amsterdam Schiphol on Wednesday August 13, then back to work the Monday after.

They say some people use holidays to rest...

We had a pre-eclipse meeting in Amsterdam last Saturday, where -- amongst many other things -- I found out that, as nerdism goes, I’m small beans. To wit:

Me (after the discussion was about all the far-off places the recent eclipses take place -- Zambia, Australia, Libya, now Siberia, next year China, the Pacific [French Polynesia or Easter island] in 2010): “Why can’t an eclipse take place somewhere nearer by, like Texel(1).”
Friend 1: “Well, the 1715 eclipse went over Texel.”
Me (incredulous): “You’ve got to be kidding me! For the record: I was joking.”
Friend 1: “It’s true(2): I just remember those things.”
Me: “You are the √úbernerd: I bow my head in deference.”
Friend 2: “One doesn’t talk to [friend 1], one consults him.”

Through Futurismic, I am aware of the geek hierarchy. Now I wonder if there is a similar nerd hierarchy(3). As solar eclipse nerdism goes, my friend should be in the very top, possibly only being overclassed by Fred Espanak. But even of that I am not certain.

As it is, my fascination with solar eclipses began in 1999, although it always simmered below the surface as one of the phenomena that you should see at least once in your life (like polar light: I once commissioned a shrimp freezing plant on a Russian fishing vessel when they were fishing for shrimps in January just below Spitsbergen. Air temperature was about -19°C, it was dark all day, and on top of that there was no warm water for the first five days. But I’ve witnessed several displays of spectacular Aurora Borealis, which made it all more than worthwile). Back then, my friend Peter left our holiday in Western Australia a week early to witness the solar eclipse in France. I thought he was crazy.

Peter had some bad luck in France, though: it was completely cloud-covered. Still, he wanted to experience a solar eclipse in clear skies, and the next chance was June 21, 2001: on his birthday. He asked if I was interested to come along, and I did.

Basically, though, I still felt a bit like one of our guides -- Nico -- in Zambia: not an enthusiast, but more to check out what all the fuss was about (and see a place you don’t normally go to in the bargain). It was incredible, and I’ll quote Nico: “I thought all those solar eclipse freaks were crazy. Now I am one of the crazy people.”

So if you wish to remain sane, do not go there.

(1) Texel is a small island just north of Noord-Holland.

(2) Indeed, it’s true. See this link, for example.

(3) And not the Geek→Nerd→Dork hierarchy about cool stuff that goes either like:
  1. Geeks design it;

  2. Nerds buy it;

  3. Dorks break it;


  • Geek: Understands, creates & fixes really cool stuff;

  • Nerd: Understands & collects really cool stuff;

  • Dork: Confused by really cool stuff.