Sunday, July 29, 2007

LOO - August 23

That's short for Lights Out Ontario.

Some dude on Facebook (Greg Gardner) is trying to organise Lights Out Ontario near the anniversary of the great northeast North American blackout of August 14, 2003.

He's urging us to shut off all our lights and non-essential appliances on August 23 to celebrate the event, save some electricity, be green, etc.

Hey. If he pulls this off, it might be a great night to observe!

Saturday, July 28, 2007

have folding cart will travel

I set off early today to obtain a garden cart.

Canadian Tire was blowing out the discontinued Yard Works mesh two-tier and folding carts. With pneumatic tires, a pull handle, and what appeared to be two large decks and impressive weight-bearing capacity, I tried to buy the two-tier version for an amazing $30 (regularly $100). After visiting 4 stores in the Greater Toronto Area, none of which had any in stock, or when their system showed that they did, they couldn't find them, I realised that I needed to shift gears. The 407 and Dufferin store had the folding version in stock.

Hmmm. I hadn't really thought through something. Where was I going to store the non-folding version? The garage is maxed out! Also, the folding one was more expensive. OK. It was $36 (regularly $120)!

The real concern was: would it be wide enough? With the sides like a wagon, would I be able to fit the telescope case, paperwork boxes, tripod, counter weights, etc. in it?

What the heck! Even if I can't use it, I'll have not trouble getting rid of it.

After some fiddly assembly back at home, I took it for a test drive.

It is going to be awesome for lugging telescope gear! In fact, at Awenda, from parking lot to dock, for example, it will reduce the 4 or 5 trips to 1! Same thing with RASC City Observing Sessions.

The particulars:
  • detachable pull handle (so you can tow it)
  • handle also folds over cart during storage
  • lies about 10" thick when folded
  • large pneumatic tires (to absorb shock)
  • wheels are at edges of cart for good balance
  • can take 300 kg of weight!
  • life-time warranty
The inner dimensions within the 9" tall walls are 19.5" x 39". More than enough room for the OTA case, either on its end or lying down. Perfect.

Incredibly, it fits in my car trunk!

I can't wait to use this! Sheesh, we can go off-roading!

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

1 degree from Commanders Rick and Uhura

Tonight, at the gastronomical society meeting after the astronomical meeting, Guy N. revealed that he was the set department for Prisoners of Gravity show.

Guy also noted that Nichelle Nichols did her interview in the studio.

my own big DOC

I bought the large or big version of Dave's Observing Chair this evening after the RASC meeting. Can't wait to use it!

At the recent DDO star party, I tested this chair. It worked well with my cat 'scope on its tall tripod while viewing at object near the horizon.

Dave G. recently built a web site featuring his wood work.

RASC support

On behalf of the National RASC organisation, Denis G. presented me with a loaner green laser pointer and a cache of RASC brochures. These items are for my Awenda Astronomy presentation.

red solar lights gifted

Tonight I presented Ralph C. with a set of four solar lights for the Carr Observatory. I had tricked these out with super bright red LEDs.

There was some discussion where they might be installed. I told the group that I had envisioned some on the (new) deck. But Tony's suggestion to put them along the path from the back door to the observatory is an excellent one.

Heck, if they work well and people like them, we can always make more!

GE plastic

While at the DDO, Brian had suggested I visit "GE Plastics" on Airport Rd. They would be able to hook me up with some good stuff for my light table prototype deck.

Today I visited GE Polymershapes in Brampton. Went to the Cash and Carry counter at the back. Told the guy, "I don't know what I want exactly. A translucent or white thin sheet of plastic that will scatter light. Oh, and a clear sheet too."

He wandered off. A little while later the primadonna sauntered back, not making eye-contact, taking a phone call. Weird. We waited some more. Finally, he returned with some largish sheets.

"Here. Merry Christmas. Bye."

I scooted.


I chatted with a skinhead ex-semi-pro football (i.e. soccer) player while waiting. He suggested I try UHMW. He believes it scatters light well.

We'll see how this while plastic does in full dark conditions.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

need deep sky

I think one source of dissatisfaction or frustration of late is that I have not seen, through my telescope, many new Messiers. I need some deep sky!

Friday, July 20, 2007

DDO show (Richmond Hill)

The drive up to the David Dunlap Observatory was maddening. Everyone (and I mean everyone) on Hwy 401 was being a goof! And there were some very slow jackasses in the left lane on Hwy 404. Good thing I left home when I did. And that I kept my foot in it.

I had decided to go to the DDO Friday night (with my still-manual 8" catadioptric) versus Saturday night (as I have to get up way too early Sunday morning...). I was joined by Theresa and Brian (big Meade Light Bridge), Terry L (Dobsonian), Dave G (10" Dobsonian), Scott (APO), Mahesh (catadioptric with go-to)...

Brian and Theresa were there ahead of me. They're truly newbies. They only got their telescope(s) and gear in the last few months. And they only joined the RASC last fall. That said, they made it to the Mew Lake party. They are gadgets freaks too! They had a compact table and chair from CTC. Brian had rigged up red lights all over it—nicely done! They had a (Nexxtech) portable weather station too (learned later it was a Kestrel)!

Chatted with Terry L about Cartes du Ciel. He intimated that he had not downloaded it yet for fear that it might overload his older computer. I also chatted with him about the Yahoo!Groups: he's not online. I suggested he create an account and send a note to Ralph to get approved.

Anthony popped by later to say hi.

Venus was wonderful, a large crescent, before setting. The visitors for the early show got to see it. Many thought it was the Moon. "No," I exclaimed, pointing south, "The Moon's over there!" There was a long line up at my 'scope at one point. (Memories of Mars at York.)

I argued that with the naked eye you could tell Venus was not a point source but also not a disk. Before it got quite dark and the contrast started to wash it out, it looked stretched to me, oblong.

None of us could find Saturn, sadly. It should have been level with Venus and to the right. I estimated it was 9° to the right (mentally subtracting the azimuth numbers that Procyon was telling me). Dave G, with his binos, called out that he had found it. But when I bull's eyed his target, I saw it was a blue-white star. I suggested it might be Regulus...

Shortly after I gave up the search for Saturn when I realised that even if I had found it, it would have been disappointing.

The Moon was attractive early on. Some of my first visitors were impressed by the detail, particularly along the edge of the shadow. Soon however the Moon had dipped behind a large tree.

Jupiter was up with three moons showing. Later Io emerged from the planet's shadow and tangled with Europa. My Procyon software proved very handy for identifying the moons and simulating time shifting.

I completely forgot to go for the comet (despite bringing a print out of the path)!

I started chasing some double stars, Sissy Haas's book in hand:
  • Albireo was a crowd pleaser. I returned to it several times.
  • Looked briefly at Altair, a very bright star, surrounded by many small faint stars. I could not tell which star was the "violet" companion.
  • Mizar A and B and Alcor were satisfying.
  • I tried for 15 Aquila. It proved subject to much argument. I saw dark yellow and rusty rosy red colours; others saw blue! Crazy!
  • I tried for 57 Aquila but the sky was too bright to star hop easily to it.
  • Viewed Epsilon Lyra, the double-double, at 110x. I couldn't split at first, mistook it as the wrong object. But when I returned to it, and stared for a moment, realised I had it. It was particularly good when the air steadied. Each star was separate in the 18mm eyepiece. I did notice, with one of the pairs, that the stars were slightly different colours--but I did not note which pair it was. I sketched the orientation to help visitors see it.
  • Polaris's dark companion was interesting.
It occurred to me that I did not have easy access to the Sky & Telescope "summer favourites" list of multiple stars. I should transfer these onto paper or into my palmtop...

Looked at Messier 13 (M13) and later Messier 57 (M57) through the Light Bridge. Both were magnificent.

Once again visitors asked how far away objects were. Planets I could tell them; but my Procyon palmtop software does not show distances for stars.

Broke the thin glass top on my light box after putting too much weight on it. Good thing it was covered on the top and bottom with the frosted Con-Tact film otherwise small shards of glass would have gone everywhere! The incident reminded me that I might want some centre support, clear acrylic maybe, under the deck. I continued to use my Tirion black charts to locate some of the double stars, despite the broken glass.

My light table was a big hit again. Visitors and RASC members alike were impressed with it. I briefly chatted with Dave G about it and suggested that when I'm done my prototyping I'll get him to build me a nice wooden box for it.

Brian recommended a plastics outfit up by the airport. Sounds like they have strong clear plastics that I could use for the top or cover and frosted or white plastics that might suit as a diffuser. I'll have to visit.

Tried Dave G's latest tall observing chair this evening. It works really well with my cat 'scope when I'm viewing low objects. It includes a foot rest. Sold!

We saw a number of "sputniks" through the evening. Apropos with the Russian family in attendance! Actually, it was really interesting all the different ethnic families out for the evening. Astronomy is a great leveler.

Temperature hovered around 16 or 17° all evening, well above the 10° dew point. Generally very pleasant. I was almost got chilled though. Next time I should bring a jacket.

It was windy this evening, which was good: kept the mozzies away.

It occurred to me to document the names of all the RASC members who helped out.

Started packing up around 11:45 PM.

A good evening overall. Crowds were not too zany. It was a pleasant temperature. Sky conditions were pretty good. And, I thought, we had a good showing of members from the Centre. The DDO staffer was very thankful, making the rounds, as we were packing up.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

white only

Henry Ford said, when asked of the Model T, "Black only."

Frank of Primeline tools said, when I asked of the PrimeLite LED head lamp, "White only."

converted garden light

One of the items on sale at Canadian Tire this week was a set of four Solar-Powered Garden Lights by Emerald (#52-4010-8). I bought a box (for a couple of reasons).

Each light has a (remarkably) small solar panel, super-bright white LED, on-off switch, and small circuit board (with some through-the-hole and surface-mount components). A Ni-Cd battery AA-style is included.

I examined the circuit board noting the colour bands of the ¼-watt resistors and the pathways. I realised that I could substitute super-bright red LED without changing the resistors. Sweet.

So, I popped out the white; and replaced it with a red. It works!

Now I have some astronomer-friendly solar-powered (or should I say, star-powered) garden lights!

Monday, July 16, 2007

controller with my name on it

After several failed attempts from Canada to order the (new, deeply discounted) SD-1 controller from Vixen North America (sic), I asked my Aunt PJ in Michigan to get it for me. She emailed to say it showed up as requested. Woo hoo!

By coincidence, my Mom had planned a week-long trip to visit her sister. So, Mom will be bringing it back for me.

I can't wait!


Note: VNA will not accept Canadian credit cards. VNA will not deliver to Canada. VNA will not process orders shipped to a US address made with a US Visa credit card associated with a Canadian billing address. VNA should change their name...

Sunday, July 15, 2007

finished deck (Blue Mountain)

Went to the Carr Astronomical Observatory (CAO). Was hoping to get some deep sky observing in during the "work party" weekend. The weather wasn't looking good for either...

I had packed every bit of astronomy gear including laptop computer, RedShift CD-ROM, binos and big metal tripod, carpentry tools, Will's 4-foot level, solar "deck" lights (purchased enroute), fine Pilsner beer, and a bit of camping gear. In fact, I had just done the seals on the tent fly so was looking to "test drive" (little did I know I'd get so much rain).

I decided to try Hwy 400 into Barrie. Bad idea. What was I thinking?! Crappy stupid traffic, even at 2:30 pm. Never. Never again. Humans!

Arrived the CAO late in the afternoon. Unpacked slowly, set up the telescope, and set up my tent.

(The patio stones had settled! The viewing deck felt really good!)

Met Tayoob. He was camping too, in his new tent (which he got for a smokin' good deal). In fact, he seems to find insanely smokin' good deals on many things, including astronomy gear! I ordered him to tell us in the future... Later, he offered some of his dinner to me as I had (once again) not brought supplies for the Friday evening.

As darkness fell, we tried working with the sky. It was not good. Regardless, we had some fun. Tayoob, resident expert, helped us with Arabic pronunciations. That said, I still need to practice the star names of Libra. Yowza. Tye further impressed me with his extensive knowledge of star names and constellations. He was the on-site "sky scout:" we could point to anything and he would ID it.

9:40 PM. Viewed Venus as a crescent, in Leo, over the GBO.

Phil C arrived. I shuffled some stuff on the viewing deck out of the way. Later he targeted the Comet LINEAR (C/2006 VZ13) as it slid within Draco. I looked through the eyepiece but, had to admit, could not definitively say I saw it.

Increasingly, I was frustrated. I didn't know why exactly. Was it that I did not have a master plan? Vision seemed off. Booze? Essentially I abandoned my 'scope.

I decided to help Frances with constellations and some big stars. That was enjoyable. With Tye's green laser it was easy and fun. At one point, we discussed double stars. I tuned my 'scope to Albireo. So pretty.

Jupiter, in Scorpius, was pleasing. Many of us studied it. We saw it surrounded by many points of light. I thought I would assist in identifying them, with my laptop outside, RedShift CD loaded. But while we saw what appeared to be 4 moons, my old RedShift software only showed 3. It looked like the software was wrong! Ironically, I had said earlier in the evening that I had always found it to be very reliable. I didn't think to check my Procyon palmtop software...

Phil helped me in recognising the dark North Equatorial Belt (NEB) of Jupiter.

Meanwhile, Terry L (at his dob) silently sketched away...

When it stopped raining, I helped build the 2 kilometre long model of the solar system. Later, I worked on deck and ramp beside Chas.

While we were on a long rain break I built a simple valance for the eyepiece cabinet in the main observatory. Now the bright light from red light rope doesn't shine right in you eyeballs when you're at the workstation.

During sunny periods, we did a bit of solar observing. The Baader views of the Sun were spectacular! It was a first for me, seeing the grey penumbras around the dark spots. Tremendous detail. The more I looked, the more I spots I saw, clustered together.

Later, with my RASC Toronto Centre webmaster hat on, I "interviewed" some members about the Centre's web site. I got some good feedback from Tayoob and Denis. Gary M, with a technical background, imparted a lot of commentary and suggestions. Tye actually had a lot of brilliant observations, giving me a good sense of perspectives of the average user.

In the background, I noticed Ralph getting some web coaching from Denis. It is good to see the whole team getting more familiar and comfortable with the environment. I also circulated draft copies of my editor user manual and quick reference guide to Phil, Denis, and others.

Was unsuccessful connecting my Win2K laptop to the CAO wireless network...

Chatted a bit with Terry about astronomy software, suggesting he download Cartes du Ciel.

We finished it! We layed all the planks for the desk and ramp. Wow. We signed The Last Plank.

Very satisfying.

Now, I need to book a trip to the CAO where I don't do any work! ;-)

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Procyon updated

He didn't have to do it. He made it clear to me that he had not worked on the EPOC software for some time. Still, my enquiry as to the accuracy of the Saturn moon display in Procyon X Pro prompted John Sussenbach to revise the program. He emailed me the update today. Woo hoo! My Psion shows an accurate display of the moons around Saturn.

So, once again, I have useful astronomical information in my pocket. And I should be able, with little fiddling, in seconds, be able to confirm the location of Titan, Mimas, Rhea, Enceladus, Tethys, Hyperion, Dione, and Iapetus!

Procyon snapshot:

Cartes du Ciel (mirror image, rotated) snapshot:

The Psion still amazes me...

Monday, July 09, 2007

tricked out my car

I have an old car. In fact, it was built in May 1987, so just celebrated its 20th birthday! Woo hoo.

A great thing about old cars is that you can shut off the lights and "run silent" in dark conditions. I personally find this handy for a variety of reasons. If I'm camping, and returning to my site with say a trunk load of supplies, I can avoid disturbing my fellow campers by turning off my headlights.

Today, I added a feature to the car that will prove favourable to my fellow astronomers. I installed a cut-off switch on the reverse light circuit. So now, when I grab reverse gear, I can prevent the large white reverse lights from coming on.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

bought a Clip N Lite

While at the Steelback Grand Prix, I bought a Clip N Lite from a local vendor.

Mr. Smith of Smartbizz Enterprizes had a number of LED products. The Clip N Lite head lamp, a thin 5-LED unit that clips to the brim of your baseball cap, I had seen early this year. A great idea for camping, late night repairs or renovations, etc. Mr. Smith had developed a simple filter of coloured cellophane which curved in front of the LEDs. The red one caught my eye.

I asked him if the manufacturer offered units with red LEDs. He intimated they did but to import them he'd have to buy an entire shipping container's worth. He said he "invented" the filter as an easy-to-use and inexpensive solution.

He charged me $15 for the light and $2 for the filter. Batteries (two CR2032s) included!

I just might mimic his filter with a couple of additional sheets of red cellophane, so to darken the bright light produced. I will also make them a little wider, so to block extraneous white light.

And I just might contact the (local) manufacturer...

Friday, July 06, 2007

NASA gifts!

Hooked up with Diane at the Steelback Grand Prix of Toronto.

We caught up on many things. I had something of hers that I returned; she returned my Chicane DVD. And, she gave me gifts from herself and her brother's family (Evan, Colin, Cindy, and Terry). When they were down to Florida for a vacation together, they visited the Kennedy Space Centre.

They gave me a holographic button. It shows the NASA logo straight on and then some stylised planets and the word "Exploration." That's fun! It fell off my duffle bag at one point so I quickly tucked it away.

The coolest gift was the t-shirt. It has the NASA logo front and centre. The text is hilarious: I need my space!

Very apropos. I love it.

Great peeps!