Sunday, November 29, 2009

database work

Met with Ralph today at his home. We reviewed the Access database he uses for the RASC Toronto Centre membership recording keeping. I made a few suggestions and learned more about how he uses it. We added some new fields, built a good query for adding and editing records, and compressed the file (32 MB to 16).

Then, with the database working better, and using a new custom query, we added some missing data, in particular, the member's occupation, and if they are retired. This will help us with some future demographic analysis.

I was most interested in who is involved in the IT industry. Maybe I can recruit some of these people...

Watch out!

don't buy these!

Was looking at the Princess Auto flyer. Near or on the back page is an ad for binoculars! 7x50, coated optics, case. The "best" part? They are on sale $8.88! Yep. Not a typo. A bargain at 10x the price...

found fuse!

Back in September at Mew Lake, the CLA plug of my Kendrick dew heater did its own impression of a supernova as I was packing up in the middle of the night: it exploded, popping open, releasing its innards to the ether.

At the time, fumbling around in the darkness, I found the metal pin.

The fuse I never found.

I looked the next day in daylight to no avail.

Today, I found it! The original 5A fuse.

It was inside the old laptop bag that I now use to carry around the Century booster pak, down at the bottom, underneath the heavy battery.


I also found the new pack of hard warmers in here. Hadn't seen those for a while... Makes sense. I will use these, upon Guy's suggestion, to keep portable batteries warm in the field.

built strategy group

Ralph said he was going to make a Yahoo!Group so to facilitate on-going communication for the strategic planning by the RASC Toronto Centre. I think he first said this at our first conference. And then again at the council meeting.

I offered to help. He accepted.

I completed the set up this evening. We have 32 people on board so far. Waiting for another 4 or 5.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

new used batteries

Recycling and recycling... I picked up a couple of deep cycle batteries from Randy in Ajax (referred by Troy). Made a donation to the South Pickering Amateur Radio club. He wouldn't take $50.

There's a large colour sticker on the side:
Advanced American Technology
Sealed Gel Technology
E.P.M. Products, Baltimore, MD 21226

For "Deep Cycle" continuous discharge/recharge and all "Marine Type" applications and "Float Type" Service.
Large sticker on top says:
Sealed, non-spillable lead acid gel battery F.A.A., C.A.B., I.A.T.A., and D.O.T. air transport approved.

Charge voltage limited to 14.1 volts @ 68°F.
Ventilate well. Do not store in an airtight container.
No. 8G22NF.
I tested them with my 12 volt car light. All good. I measured one for size.

height (including posts): 9-1/4 inches
width: 5-1/2"
depth: 9"

They look like this (without the bolts or Marathon sticker):

I found this photo over at Battery Mart. Looks like it is the same battery... Here's what they say about their battery:
  • Gelled electrolyte won't spill, even if the battery is tipped upside down ... or cracked open.
  • Length: 9 3/8 in.
  • Width: 5 1/2 in.
  • Height: 9 1/4 in. to top of terminals.
  • Shipping Weight: 39.75 Pounds.
  • Reserve Capacity: 77 minutes.
  • 51 Amp Hour @20 hour rate.
  • Group size: 8G22NF, NF-22.
  • Requires special gel charger to charge.
Looking forward to more power in the field. I wonder if I can link 'em in parallel...

Friday, November 27, 2009

from USA via NFLD

Phil says he has a good 12 volt battery charger. Microprocessor controlled, 4-stage, that he bought from a Newfoundland shop, made in the USA. Told me to look up "battery tender plus."

Does he mean this?

Thursday, November 26, 2009

webspotting 13 - PlanetQuest

As published in the Dec 2009/Jan 2010 issue of SCOPE, the newsletter of the RASC Toronto Centre. Republished here with permission.


403. The number of exoworlds discovered so far. I don't know about you but I am truly fascinated with the search for planets beyond our solar system. It is exciting to me to know that (if I can avoid being run over by a truck, crashing my car, or being sucked into a black hole) I will experience, in my lifetime, the discovery of Earth-sized exoplanets in the Goldilocks zone with oxygen-nitrogen atmospheres!

 I noted in my lumpy darkness blog back in Dec 08 that I was finding it rather incredible that we were detecting the particulars of a planet (mass, size, atmosphere), not from our Federation starship parked in orbit, as reported by a pointy-eared science officer, but from our home planet via telescopes across light-years of space-time.
Hubble and  Spitzer continue to analyse the atmospheres of exoplanets... Two analyses are complete. The recent discovery showed water, methane, and carbon dioxide on a planet 150 light-years away.
It was only in Sep 08 that the University of Toronto team of David Lafrenière, Ray Jayawardhana, and Martin van Kerkwijk made history with the first photograph of a planet orbiting a star. It was very exciting to see Dr Lafrenière present this cutting-edge research to us in Jan 09!
Of course, the Kepler telescope was launched in March 2009. In the direction of Cygnus, it is scanning for terrestrial planets the size of Earth. Early test results in August showed better than expected results. They've lost a couple of sensors. That means they have slightly less than 95 megapixels! I’m sure they'll do just fine.
This must surely be one of the most exhilarating branches of astronomy. You can keep tabs on what everyone is doing in one spot. Visit for an informative historical timeline, and a compilation of all the various missions, past and present. With a Mac widget or Windows gadget you can download a list of related websites. My favourite area is the interactive 3D star system atlas (requires Shockwave).
You might want to note a few of the nearby systems visible to the naked eye or small telescope. Like Fomalhaut. Handy to show visitors during star parties or sidewalk astronomy. It will be fun to watch their faces when you tell them we know there are planets around that star... that we've seen them. Oh, and they harbour water!

fossils from Mars

The evidence is now considered very strong that life existed on Mars.

5 billion years ago.

Pretty incredible stuff.

Makes one wonder what would have happened if the fourth rock from the Sun had kept its atmosphere and water...

deep red design

I want to build my own astronomy flashlight. There are some great designs out there but I want to be able to choose the LEDs and the colour.

I found a good circuit design at the Renewable Energy UK website. It features pulse width modulation (PWM) based on a IC 555 timer.

The notes are quite good. For example, they suggested using germanium diodes in place of signal diodes so that the dimming range can be extended to go from 1% to 99%.

I tried the circuit on the electronic kit at 9 volts with water clear red LEDs and it worked good!


Bought most of the bits at Sayal: 555 timer, 1k resistor, etched board, NPN transistor, diodes, electrolytic capacitor, regular caps, and project box. All for around $20. Couldn't find really small potentiometers...

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

astronomy is messy

So says Elizabeth "Libby" Harper-Clark.

The young doctoral student of the department of Astronomy & Astrophysics at the University of Toronto presented at the RASC Toronto Centre meeting tonight. She talked about her fascination with star formation out of gas clouds, losing herself in HST images of the Carina Nebula (see the 2007 panorama on APOD), and her on-going efforts to simulate this on a bladed supercomputer.

Fantastic presentation. Clearly dealing with complex things, advanced computer programming (using adaptive meshes), cutting-edge physics, she explained it all in a way that was palatable for everyone in the audience. Like Roberto Abraham, she makes science fun.

And her British roots showed, with references to bits, bobs, naughts, long e sound with ligatures in nebulae and supernovae, etc.

She was animated, passionate, funny. In a word: ebullient.

I wish I had known people like her when I was at university.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

crescent Moon low (Toronto)

As I walked west to Scott's for a friendly card game, I took in the western sky. The Moon was very low. Just above the trees. Hued amber through additional air masses.

I estimated it to be about 5 days old.

Jupiter was higher up. I wondered what its moons were doing...

The summer triangle was setting in the north-west.

CMS manual online

I wrote a user guide for the RASC Toronto Centre's web site Content Management System in the summer of 2007. I circulated it to a couple of people and applied some revisions in the fall of the same year. At the same time, I wrote a quick reference guide, for power users, or people already familiar with the system. And then, quietly, these materials sunk into the depths of my computer...

Today, after a clean-up, freshening, and conversion to HTML, I put the full manual and quick reference online.

Tony, one of my target users, said, "Wow. This is great. Thanks! Did you write the whole manual?"

Hopefully, this will help the current RASC site authors and editors, in particular those who struggle with some of the CMS features. And, going forward, this should help future users.

helped Chris

New member Chris emailed me with some astronomy questions. We had met recently at the DDO and chatted about batteries and dew combating.

Today he asked about Albireo, Jupiter, its moons, shadows and transits, and a "fifth" moon of Jupiter.

I relayed information about double stars, referring to Haas's excellent book and wikipedia. In particular, he wanted to know if Albireo was a binary system. I pointed out that we didn't know for sure but it probably wasn't, since we're not seeing changes in Position Angle and Separation. I also pointed out that star colour is an indicator of size and temperature.

I relayed information about the Galilean moons, referring to the RASC Observer's Handbook. In particular, I said that in good conditions, given the high albedo of Io and Europa, that it should be possible to see them above the surface of the gas giant.

Finally, we discussed what he saw on the evening of the 18th from Huntsville. I suggested that it was a field star he saw and not a fifth moon around Jupiter. The RASC OH says that some can see Himalia—with a real big light bucket. Still, as we both checked Stellarium, we did not see terribly bright stars nearby.

I wondered if it was possibly ι (iota) Capricornus.

Friday, November 20, 2009

bought Tony dinner

I wanted some feedback on the "outhouse" observatory cover for Mom's telescope. I offered to buy Tony dinner. We turned it into a pleasant little outing at Mackenzie's with Grace joining us.

Atop the frame, I'm going to glue pink or blue insulation. Then I'll glue the siding atop the insulation. Then secure it with fasteners. There will be some moulding needed at the corners, well caulked to resist water.

We laboured over the door. Tony thought it best if it opened full, swung back against the wall, 270°. It looks like this will require hinges on the outside then... That would make the box taller too. This reminded me to check clearances between the railings... He also suggested that the door could be steel! Since a wood door will warp. Intriguing. I wonder how narrow you can get them.

We also discussed the wheels. Tony argued against rotating casters. He believes it will be more, not less, difficult to slide the box over the pier. He suggests fixed casters and you just line up perfectly.

This last item, combined with the door opening clearance issue, suggests that I'll have to put the door on the south side, skip the S-turn manoeuvre, and just push the box straight north. Hmm. I will have to consider this carefully.

It was a very successful meeting. It's got me thinking about lots of issues. Which promises fewer surprises.

Stellarium on Mac

Some time ago I had installed Stellarium on the iMac computer over at Will's. He was impressed.

Today, I stumbled across a note in my agenda, to check what happens when you do a screen snapshot. I think it was because I wanted to check the file format.

I discovered the following file on the desktop: stellarium-000.png.

There you have it. So huge "bumps" or BMPs on Windoze; and modern "pings" on Apples.

search for Spock


Not Spock.

My Star Trek Spock baseball cap!

Have you seen this hat? Hopefully on my noggin.

I had lost it. I had no idea where it had gone. I thought, I was very certain, I had had it when I helped at the DDO back in Sep. I was getting discouraged, disheartened, that I had lost it at a restaurant or a client location. Brief searches on the internet for a replacement were coming up negative. It seems the Paramount store is not online. Nothing in eBay. I had retraced my footsteps back further and further. But then I wasn't sure when I had seen it last...

Today?! I have it back in my possession! I had left the cap at a friend's / client's site back on 1 Sep 09...

Spock is safe!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

spoke to council

I attended the RASC Toronto Centre council meeting. I don't usually go to these. But I was encouraged to attend, so to voice my concerns and frustrations surrounding the web site maintenance.

The chair spent a lot of time discussing national matters, so much so, that all the meeting time was consumed. As attendees grew restless, the chair said they wanted to conclude foregoing the committee chair announcements. I started to pack up, wondering why I had even bothered.

One of the councillors however said that I needed to be heard. I was grateful.

I get the impression that it was a bit of an eye opener for a few people!

Hopefully, I will receive better support, going forward.

Monday, November 16, 2009

hunting me down

Paul wanted to suddenly post a "go" notice on the RASC Toronto Centre web site regarding the Leonids meteor shower members-only event at the DDO...

He tried to contact me but found that none of my contact information was in his CrackBerry. So he proceeded to call and email everyone he could find to track me down. Meanwhile, I was teaching a full-day course at a client site. A site with very limited internet access. When I finally hacked an email solution, it was the end of the day. And several messages were piled up asking me to change the web site immediately.

I was not a happy camper. Particularly given that I had tried on many occasions to avoid this very situation.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

first light on pier (Union)

It is fantastic!

After dinner, after tidying up the kitchen, and to take a break before dessert and birthday stuff, we headed out to the loft observatory. I wanted to show off what I had done. I was excited to see how everything worked.

I led Donna and Steve through the darkened back yard. The sky was good, cloud-free, moonless. We tried to not trigger the security lights but were unsuccessful. We could see the red glow from within the studio! Funny. Inside, we turned on the fireplace, and took in the space (as best as possible in red light). There was lots of light actually. We headed up to the loft. I grabbed the extension cord and plugged in the mount motor. We took to the deck. Steve only hit his head once. Mom joined us shortly afterwards.

I tagged Jupiter. It was low in the trees to the south. We could see three of its moons (Callisto and Io on one side, Ganymede on the other, Europa hidden). Too low and distorted to see cloud bands. Everything tinted yellow. I tried to use the Meade orthoscopic 18mm but once again couldn't get to inner focus. Grrr. I put my Plössl 26mm in.

We reviewed constellations (Delphinus, Cygnus, Cassiopeia) and some Messier objects. Mom relayed with enthusiasm the story I had told her earlier about people in March trying to view all the 110 objects, the Messier marathon. We viewed the Summer Triangle, Mom operating the green laser.

We looked at the Pleaides, naked eye, and through the eyepiece. Of course, it filled the entire field. Donna liked the bright stars.

Mom spotted the Milky Way. It was bright through Cygnus. Steve spotted a meteor travelling from east to west, a Leonid I suspected.

I showed Albireo and later the Double Double.

I tried to find the Ring Nebula but didn't have any luck. With or without the Telrad.

Finally, I showed the Andromeda galaxy, straight up. It was stunning, edge to edge, overall bright, and very bright in the centre. Donna was intrigued. I explained that the view from Andromeda would show our galaxy in a similar way.

We spotted Orion rising in the east, belt vertical, Saiph or κ (kappa) Orionis still too low to see.

It was cool and damp. We heard the pie in the kitchen calling our name.

The eyepiece view kept drifting. I assumed it was my (bad) alignment to celestial north. So I turned the mount about one degree to the west. Later I realised the clutch wasn't fully engaged. Still, I marked the mount and pier. I'll do a full, slow, proper alignment over the holidays...

It was amazing. The loft works. The workspace in red light is very nice. The deck works. The pier works. There is no discernible vibration from the deck into the 'scope! Mom wants to fill the steel post with cement. I believe this will dramatically improve the damping.


Steve entertained the idea of sleeping in the studio. Stay close to the 'scope; wake just in time to see something! Cool idea.


Donna wants some seating for the deck. It's definitely required (although I think it should be temporary). Regular lawn chairs would be good. Also, a chaise lounge, for whole-sky and meteor watching.

Mom still likes the idea of some external shelves to hold things like eyepieces and beverages.


My eyeglasses broke again. And, again, I got lucky: I did not lose the lens or little, tiny bolt!

enough light

One string is enough.

It allows for more than enough light from the lower level to make your way up or down.

It's plenty of light while working at the table, reading and writing notes.

A moveable light, for looking closely at a star chart, will probably still be needed.


I forgot to test a red LED light string on the deck...

loft workspace

After measuring the railings of Mom's deck (7½' x 11½') for lighting ideas, I returned to the loft to noddle on a table surface.

First I considered seating position, or rather, location, with respect to headroom. From a lawn chair, I tried different spots. Initially, I had considered facing to the side, into the slope. This idea went back to June, when I first considered a table in the loft. But the more I thought about it, this seemed prone to smacks and bumps and cuts. I turned toward the gable. In the south-west side (larger, which I didn't realise at first), as I looked to the gable, I could fit nicely in a nook, while avoiding hitting my head.

An L-shape desk emerged in my mind. This would offer an immense amount of space. Space for a computer, notes, books (although, I'd like to see shelves for storage), a beverage, and the large Tirion charts, of course.

In short order I was measuring and cutting and trimming and test fitting. It all came together rather nicely, I think.

The half-inch plywood Mom had offered that I could use was the perfect amount. The extra vertical 2x2s for the railing, while pressure-treated, served well for supports. Just the wall-roof edging, the way it was exposed, the railing, just the height of it, all worked perfectly for mounting the table. It's a bit hard to see but at the right edge I made an angle cut in the table top. This will hopefully prevent spearing.

Mom said that she has some material that we could use to cover the table top. That will be a nice touch.

Mom offered up the "shop" stool. She bought it some time ago and it had been collecting dust in her garage. It looked like it would work well, with caster wheels, and padded seat. I was very pleased to discover that it offers infinite adjustable height. Nice!

I collected Mom's astronomy books and Tirion charts. Scattered about various places, in the house, the garage; now all in one spot!

It's a nice view!

I really like how it is steps to the telescope. In the summer, it will be a real treat to keep all the paperwork, gear, computer, etc. out of the dew. In the winter, with the door closed, and the fireplace flickering in the background, it's going to be a warm retreat out of the wind.

I hung one 12-foot string of red LED lights in the rafters. I wondered if it would be enough light.

The light string plug is at the back of the desk on the left. This will be a good spot to place a power bar. Actually, I'll try to affix that in the ceiling so it will be easy to access.

Mom had bought a small area rug. I unrolled it. And I moved in my gear. Wow!

Just needs a few charts and some artwork now...

Could I say that the stars aligned? A bit gauche.

I can't wait to use it.

the right charger

Another good tip, from Peter this time: Also be aware that gel-cell batteries require a special charger to recharge and keep them charged. You can't use a cheap-o Canadian Tire charger. I paid about $120 for a gel-cell charger from Digi-key, and it works fine.

new home

I was anxious to try the telescope on the new pier.

After finding the proper hex key (9/64" I believe), I removed the equatorial mount from the battleship-grey tripod pier.

And then grew more anxious. What if the new pier is the wrong diameter?! If it was larger, we'd be screwed. If smaller, still not trivial...

I loosened the three little grubs in the mount and then slipped the heavy mount atop the new green post. It felt good. The cap nestled around the pier without a lot of slop. I tighten the two north grubs, eyeballed north over Mom's house, and then tightened the southern grub. It snugged up in short order. I breathed a sigh of relief: the new steel pier was the perfect size!

In the dark, I'd be able to get a better alignment, of course. Good enough for now.

I installed the OTA in the cradle. Wow! She's in her new home! This is going to be fantastic.

I moved the telescope into various orientations again, to review logistics, where the planned protective box could fit around the 'scope, taking into account prevailing wind direction, how I wanted to angle the roof, etc.

I also noted that the OTA was now 7" about the ground (er, deck). So the new pier is effectively 4" taller. This is good, I think. Does not require any change. This is really good! I wouldn't want to cut that steel.

(I peaked at the mirror at one point. Very clean. That was good news. I had experienced a panic attack that after my cleaning exercise it had tarnished... The thing looks new!)

Now I just have to wait until dark. Then I can do a better alignment of the mount. And we can test the views with people moving about...

loft and deck inspection

I was primarily interested loft of the studio and testing the telescope on the new pier.

Mom's whole studio is fantastic! It's bright! The floor finish is beautiful. The stairs are nicely designed and do not seem to intrude. The inside painting looks very good. Ah, this is probably contributing to the bright feeling. It totally resembles an old cottage. She must be very happy.

Still in its box, I noticed the little electric heater was in the centre of the room. No doubt, we'd be setting that up soon.

I bounded upstairs to the loft and was struck with how different it looked with the door. I found the two latches and released them. Without a knob or handle, I tried to tug on the door by the frame and the latches. It was frozen with the paint. I pulled progressively harder and it finally swung open. I opened it as far as it would go. And it stopped, hitting the roof structure, at about 90 degrees. Ah, the deck...

Oh! The door. It's hung on the right! I wasn't expecting that. I had envisioned, back in June, that the table or "workstation" would be in the north-west corner. But with the hinge there, it would not permit leaving the door open, say during summer observing sessions... OK. Change of plans then. I considered relocating the table to the south-west corner. No reason why it wouldn't work there. I don't think.

Out on the deck, I was very pleasantly surprised. The pier (short concrete base and then hollow steel post) I had noted under the deck protruded through the floor. Between two planks there was a large perfectly circular hole. There was a generous 1" gap all around the pier. Nicely done, Rick.

Everything looked great. The whole studio is complete with stove, interior lighting, stairs, and painting. The loft is generous and easily accessible. The custom door works good!

The workstation area I will need to reconsider.

It was time to relocate the 'scope...


I moved Mom's Edmund Scientific Super Space Conqueror telescope from the back of the garage. I temporarily mounted the optical tube assembly to the equatorial mount so I could play with the orientations and get some good measurements. I snapped a bunch of photos too (with the FujiFilm J20).

Here the OTA is in a vertical orientation. This is how I intend to "store" the 'scope.

The total height is approx. 51 inches. This includes the OTA's length of 47.5". The old iron mount suspends the tube about 3" from the ground. I'll have to measure this distance when the OTA is on the new pier. I had suggested to Rick he could make it a little taller...

I measured position of the tube in the cradle. I had noted that the Edmund product catalog said it was deliberately not centred. This so that with some accessories attached, the OTA would become balanced. I had never noticed this before. Measurements bore it out. The centre of the cradle is 21" from the mirror-end of the tube.

There were some large sheets of corrugated cardboard nearby. I leaned them against the telescope at various places to simulate a box.

The total width is approx. 26". This is the measure parallel to the Declination shaft. Co-linear! And you don't get to use that word everyday. This value includes the eyepiece. Or rather, the focuser. You can just see the focuser sticking out at the bottom of the tube. It protrudes in the direction opposite the Declination shaft.

The total depth is approx. 14". This is the measure along the Right Ascension axis. From the edge of the OTA to the tip of the RA shaft and motor assembly. This includes the old finder scope brackets. Funny. We don't have the original finder scope... I wonder if I should take the brackets off.

All done! Done levelling and measuring and fiddling. I removed the OTA from the cradle. Ready to leave the garage, once and for all.

cooler for warming

Guy had a great suggestion: get a small cooler with a comfortable handle for your 12 volt battery. This will keep the battery warm on cool nights. Especially if you toss in a heat pack! And make it easier to lug.

Friday, November 13, 2009

deep cycle battery leads

Sorry for the pun. After I sent out a note to the RASC Toronto Centre Yahoo!Group about a deep cycle battery on sale at Canadian Tire, Troy sent out the following note...
This just reminded me...  The South Pickering Amateur Radio club has a large number of deep cycle batteries for sale very cheap. They are 50 amp-hour 12v gel-cell batteries.  These batteries are slightly used (4-5 years old) and come from Toronto Police radio towers where they served as backup in case of a power failure.  This means that they are practically new condition and in many cases may not have ever even been discharged at all.  They're asking for $10, or an appropriate club donation per battery...  These things cost over $200 new and one of them would probably operate a scope for weeks on end.  I don't have the exact dimensions, but I understand they are very small for their power, but also very heavy.
Funny timing. My car "booster" battery is old, appears to be on its last legs. I was starting to shop around, research "the next battery." And in doing so, seriously consider building my own. Actually, more than one. So I could keep the dew heating separate from motor drive. Separate from the computer and whatever other doodads I have...

Maybe I'll get a couple of these.

heading west

At long last, I was heading west. A multi-purpose weekend was planned.

I was to attend my first session in a University of Waterloo Optometry eyeglasses study. I needed to take some product boxes down to Mom's for storage and return some long overdue DVDs of Mom's. I wanted to retrieve my multi-format media card reader (perhaps to keep with the netbook computer). I was very overdue to celebrate my birthday. I also needed to change Mom's car over to a winter tire configuration (overdue as well but we've been lucky with weather). I expected that Mom would need my help with other house and yard tasks (as per usual). I had a couple of exciting astronomy items planned. Otherwise I was looking forward to a relaxing visit. It had been a while.

I wanted to take accurate measurements of Mom's telescope. This is so that I can begin plans to build a protective case. In particular, I needed the overall height dimensions, the "width" along the Declination axis, and the "depth" along the Right Ascension. I needed to check the eyepiece orientation and any other attachments and if they protruded outward.

I was also looking forward to seeing the progress in Mom's studio observatory. When I had last visited in June, the stairs were not installed, there was no door between the loft and deck, and the telescope mount pier was still in the planning stages...

It was very clear as I sat in Kitchener-Waterloo rush hour traffic. I entertained the thought, briefly, of pulling off, so to watch the bright ISS flyover at 5:00 PM. But I pressed on. No sighting from the car... Now that non-hands-free devices are banned while driving, does that mean identifying planets and bright stars and looking for satellites can get you a fine?

The sky was quite dark and clear when I arrived at Mom's. She had a tasty dinner waiting. And before I knew it, I was snug as a bug. I did not want to go out. I particularly did not want to set up a telescope and then have to tear it down later. Just couldn't get motivated. After a couple of whiskeys.

That said, I was looking forward to tomorrow!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

handbooks in the mail

So Denis reported today.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Uranus and Neptune in '10

Sounds like an election slogan...

Uranus plot:

Neptune plot:

Made (in seconds) with TheSky6.

Forgot to include the Telrad FOV circles on the first go.

Made up black-on-white versions for the field...

Sunday, November 08, 2009

moved dome to CAO

We moved Bob's fiberglass dome to the CAO this morning.

I picked Tony up from his home and we drove to his shop. Geoff was waiting (with a bed and frame loaded in a little VW). We loaded the 10-ton with our gear. Meanwhile, the guys in Mississauga (Dietmar, Gilles, Stuart, and Eric) moved the parts of 12-foot dome, except for the large iron ring, from the backyard to the curb. We quickly loaded the truck. Off to the Blue Mountains. The rest of the crew made the trip faster and unloaded the garage.

What a beautiful day!

It was lunch time. We ate al fresco, discussed the location and base for the new dome, and bemoaned that we had to leave soon—it was shaping up to be a spectacular night.

After unloading the dome parts to the garage, we then unloaded the National book shelving to the basement of the CAO. I dropped off the 3 strings of red LED lights for a later installation in the pergola. We applied aluminium tape to the south wall of the GBO. I shot photos of the Planet Walk for Tony. Tony showed off the generator shed. Completed a few other small items and headed out.

Tony and I returned to the shop, swapped vehicles, and headed home.

One step closer to our own robotic dome.

reborrowed eyepiece-camera adapter

The RASC Toronto Centre has an inexpensive eyepiece-camera adapter. It allows you to mount a camera (any camera) close to the eyepiece of a telescope. So that you may perform afocal photography. I have borrowed it again.

The photo below is of the Orion SteadyPix Universal Camera Mount.

The one we have is a no-name, knock-off, very similar design, from China. That said, it offers two eyepiece adapters, a 1¼" size and a 0.965" size. The clamps are lined with rubber. There are different adapters and spacers for under the camera. While the instruction sheet doesn't include helpful images, it is looks useful. It suggests putting a camera into macro mode.

I'm going to try this new mount with the FujiFilm finepix J20 camera.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

we need another comet

I was invited to the RASC Toronto Centre strategic planning conference (the first of two) at the DDO. Ralph kicked it off talking about steadily declining membership for years. Then Laila guided us through the processes and break-out sessions. We clarified who our target "customer" is and what the brand means to them. It will be interesting to see who this plays out with respect to new services and tasks.

Friday, November 06, 2009

gadgets and widgets

During a recent (botched) teach of Windows Vista, I got kinda fired up about gadgets. There's no way in hell that I'll run Vista on any of my computers though. My primary interest was to have something live on the desktop, so to monitor weather, the Moon, and, ideally, the Clear Sky Charts.

Took a gander at Google's offering. I dunno. Didn't have a warm and fuzzy.

Then read about Yahoo's Widgets. It sounded good.

And in short order, I had an accurate Moon phase doohickey (Moon Phase II version 1.5 by Mark Crossley) in the Dock. Nice. I also found a good APOD widget (version 2.72 by Mr Crossley again). The NASA Exoplanet Quest is pretty cool! 403 so far!

Still searching for a CSC tool, like the one Brian Gibson wrote for Windoze.

label cloud

I added a cloud gadget to this blog. It's on the right below the archive list. It dynamically changes to show the tags used on articles in this blog. The most frequently used tags are larger. Handy!

I also added the "search this blog" since the search tool (at the top left) doesn't work...



As an exercise before the RASC Toronto Centre strategic planning conference coming up on Saturday, I've been thinking about the RASC members I know (in the Toronto Centre and beyond). And what their age and skill levels are.

I was particularly surprised to discover that I know 109 or more people!

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

testing national system

I did a bunch of beta testing of the new RASC national membership database tracking payment system thing... iMIS. Yesterday, the Add a New feature didn't work. OK today. Renewals seem OK. Overall, it looks to be working. But there a bunch of little gremlins that hopefully they will be able to resolve.

cheap lights

Went to Canadian Tire to buy some red LED string lights. For the CAO pergola, Mom's observatory, and my bedroom.

I priced various lengths and types of lights on The Wall of Xmas Lights! 70 mini-bulbs over 23 feet was $15; 35 medium-sized bulbs over 12' was $10; 25 large bulbs over 16' was $14. My original plan was to get rope light for the CAO but it was 9 feet for $13.

And was almost ready to leave with a couple of products when I suddenly spotted a small box. It was a short string, approx. 12 feet in length, green wire casing, small bulb design, 35 red LEDs.

Special price: $4.89.

I put all the previously selected products back on the shelves and picked up a few of these.


They are a great colour, a deep red.

Monday, November 02, 2009

coming soon

Denis sent this note out regarding the RASC Observer's Handbook...
The 2010 Handbooks are at the printer and expected to emerge from their presses next Monday, November 9th. Members whose membership is paid up beyond October 31, 2009 will receive a copy as a benefit of membership. National will be fulfilling orders from our paying customers first (since they help to make possible for us to all receive a copy with our membership) and then member copies will be shipped. Since all of this fulfillment is handled by a mail order house located right here in Toronto I expect that we will receive our copies within 2-5 days of their being shipped. So, to make a long story short you can expect your handbook by the end of November provided that your membership has been paid and your payment has reached National Office. If you would like to check your membership status, you can do so by going to the National website... When you login you can see your mailing address of record as well as your expiry date. If your expiry date is greater than October 31, 2009 then you will receive a Handbook.