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Tech journalist since the dark ages. Windows Secrets, LangaList newsletter, Windows Magazine (NetGuide, Home PC), Byte, Popular Computing, yadda yadda yadda. Google me, if it matters.

This feed is mostly personal interest; it's NOT my professional writing. There's tech here, yes, but also lots of general science and some politics and weird humor thrown in.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Exploring Boston: Fireworks washout (full)

I went to photograph Boston's 4th of July fireworks last night.

It was supposed to be a spectacle --- 10,000 fireworks launched from 7 barges in the Charles River in a span of 20 minutes; an average of 8-9 shells per second, with peak rates higher. But Nature had a show planned of her own.

Massachusetts Avenue was closed for the fireworks, and I picked what I thought would be a primo spot. Here's a map: the X is where the barges were anchored, the O is where I was.


The celebrations had gone on all day, music starting at noon, the Blue Angels flying low and fast over the city, Navy Seals parachuting in --- the whole shebang. It was, alas, partly a workday for me (my deadlines are on Wednesdays), so I missed the early stuff.

But I was there two hours early for the fireworks.

Despite the earliness, the Mass Ave bridge was filling rapidly as dusk set in. These first few shots are just cellphone pix; I hadn't set up my camera yet.


Note the sky in the next pic: the looming darkness was a massive thunderstorm --- one of several that would change the course of the evening.


But the storm was still a long way off, and we were treated to crepuscular rays beneath the building overcast.


I got settled and put my camera on its tripod --- the low light meant long exposures. Here’s one of the first: The State House dome's on the right; the TV kleig lights at the Hatch Shell on the lower left.


Security was tight: State, city, MDC (another local jurisdiction), sherrif's cops; fire and EMTs, National Guard, Park police.... A lot of the water activity was to keep idiots away from the explosive barges.


Center frame, behind the boats: the barges:


Live music was streaming from the Hatch Shell concert. Across the river, the geeks at MIT turned this building into a giant musical display, sort of like the "visualizations" MP3 players provide. Each window was one pixel.


It was dark, and my camera's video capabilities are an afterthought, but this poorly-exposed video clip will give you the idea. Note also the lightning in the background.

It was full dark now, both from the hour, and from the thickening clouds. All the remaining shots are 4-second time exposures.



Some of the party boats were very festive:


The banks of the Charles were packed.


The lightning was getting very close; individual cloud-to-ground strokes were visible in the middle distance. It became a show in its own right; people Ooooo'd and Ahhhhh'd and clapped after each bolt.

I was watching the storm radar on my smartphone, and the edge of a bright red cell was approaching. It wasn't promising.

I took some more time exposures of the city.



A short while later, the National Guard came across the bridge and politely asked everyone to leave. They explained that fireworks were being postponed due to the danger of the barge being struck by lightning; and our location on a steel bridge over open water was not the safest spot imaginable.

The storm was closing in, but not yet there. I opted to stay for a while. So did most others.

Then the less-polite State Police came though ordered everyone off the bridge. No choice in the matter.

I took one last shot:


There was mass confusion. I found out later that the people who were actually in the enclosed area in front of the Hatch Shell --- some had been there 12 hours --- were evacuated to a traffic tunnel on the closed Storrow Drive. People under the trees along the riverbanks were left to their own devices. But with no place to shelter, most of us on the bridge --- multiple thousands --- just left.

The fireworks were nationally televised, so network commitments made the organizers loathe to postpone: once the lightning-active cell passed, the people in the Storrow Drive tunnel were let back out, and the concert restarted.

I got home just before the rain. After a while, I could hear the fireworks from my apartment, but the attendees had been evacuated again, and the live music stopped again. For the TV feed audio, they used recordings from the previous day's rehearsals.

Ah well. Maybe next year.

At least I got some nice city shots from the outing. :)

Photobucket album.