Thursday, December 31, 2009

don't mess with Luna

There's no such thing as a Blue Moon.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

deep red head lamp

For Christmas, I gave Mom a headlamp.

I wrote on her gift card, "Happy Splunking." Steve and I had to explain to her what that meant. What I really bought it for was when she might observe with her telescope. She needed a good red portable light. She liked my baseball cap clip light but I was having a hard time sourcing red ones. But then, the more I thought about it, a strap-style headlamp would be more versatile. I also wanted to avoid something with non-standard batteries.

The Petzl Tikka Plus 2 Headlamp I picked up from Mountain Equipment Co-op. Mom finally got 'round to testing it tonight. It works great.

I was very impressed with the red colour. It is quite dark or deep. I wasn't expecting that.


Mostly she uses it when the power goes out.

ready for skin

Got a few more steps done today, with supplies purchased yesterday. Had to use 2 pieces of 1/4" plywood for the roof base. Used PL Premium to glue the roof deck to the insulation; added a few long screws. Then added the self-adhesive ice shield to the roof deck. Added the lower hinge support. This allowed me to finally add the insulation on the back wall.

Measured the height of the new large casters and found them to be over 3.5 inches tall. I mounted 1 fixed and 1 rotating caster each to a 21" long 4x4. Did this twice.

Attached these wheel rails to the 3/4" base with adhesive and 6 long wood screws. Cut insulation to fit around the wheel supports.

Easier to work on it now. Added the insulation to the door 1/4" plywood with PL 2000. Thought I had cut it wrong but the insulation had shifted a little. Then I added ranch board with more PL Premium.

Didn't have enough to do it in one piece. It doesn't look like I'll have enough of the ranch board for the entire structure... And I've run out of time. I'll return in a few weeks to finish it.

Monday, December 28, 2009

more supplies

Mom and I made another trip to Home Hardware this afternoon. In particular, we bought some DOW blue R5 styrofoam insulation and some plywood, so I could begin the next stage of construction. The guy at the service counter said the R5 only came in 2x8 sheets. Weird. I thought, when I was helping Willy with his bathroom reno, that we were working with 4x8 sheets...

I've since added the 3/4" plywood to the bottom and the ½" plywood to the top. The side insulation pieces were installed, glued to the frame with PL 2000 construction adhesive. Stinky stuff. Not comfortable when you get it on your skin.

Then I started to build the door frame. The 2x4 for uprights will offer better anchor points for the hinges, on the left, and the utility lock, on the right.

It is slightly smaller than the opening (which is 50 x 23).

I spent a long time try to build a cross member that would help hold the frame true. But it seemed, immediately, to make things worse. When I considered that the facia would do that job, I removed the diagonal cross member.

Used a bunch of 1" and 1½" drywall screws to attach the ¼" plywood to the door frame.

Did a few other minor steps. But I couldn't attach any more insulation--I had used up almost one full tube of the PL 2000.

Tomorrow, I will return to the building centre. For a few reasons: we forgot to pick up the roof felt and ice/water barrier; I'll get more adhesive; and I'll take a look at their caster selection.

test fit

I wanted to see if the box would truly fit around the telescope. Everything up to this point has been "on paper." Also, I need to learn how high the box will need to sit above the deck, given the new pier is effectively taller than the stock mount. Not the best weather but what the hey...

It fits!

I elevated the whole frame on blocks.

Top clearance is good!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

box begins

After a trip into St Thomas's Home Hardware Building Centre, I began to build the frame of the telescope box (outhouse? shed?) for Mom's observatory.

This was an effort to verify the proper inner dimensions of the box. The telescope "footprint" is 27 by 14 inches, including focuser, counterweight shaft, and other bits that stick out. The wood pieces on the floor were cut to 23 (width) and 21 (depth) inches. I measured the inner diagonal and there appeared to be enough room. These pieces will not actually be used on the bottom; again, they just helped me know that my initial measurements were correct.

Next I began work on one of the side elements. I cut the front and back supports a bit longer than originally planned (57" and 49" tall respectively). Can't hurt, a bit more height inside the box... Initially, I cut the supports square.

On the floor, I squared the bottom piece to the upright supports. Then with a long piece of wood, I was able to score a line from the peak of the front support to the lowest point of the back support. It looked like about a 30° angle. I cut the upright tops at the appropriate angle and then scored and cut the top support. Mom's table saw was very helpful.

Left wall done. Everything was screwed together with 3" wood deck screws.

Again, I did some test measurements. Upright clearance for the telescope optical tube looked good.

I realised I made a mistake in my wood cutting. I had not pre-planned the most efficient or optimal use of the wood so I wasted a bit of the new 2x2. Forgot to use my spreadsheet's "solver" feature! Fortunately, Mom had lots of new 2x4s so I was able to incorporate some of it into the structure. This also allows for some "cross bracing" at places. That said, I do not want the box to be too heavy. And it does not need to be incredibly strong.

I decided to take an organic approach: rather than make the other side, I started adding the back and top elements.

More 2x4s to the rescue.

The other side went together quickly. Before I knew it, I had the basic structure done.

The bottom front brace was not attached at this stage; it was just wedged in place.

I took a break for a hot turkey sandwich. Yum! After dins, I headed back out to the garage. And spent most of my time just staring at the thing. I did add the 2x2 to the front face, near the top. This will support the small front facia above the door, to which I'll attach the drip edge. And I finally screwed in the bottom 2x4 piece.

All but finished.

The whole thing is pretty square.

I considered where the hinges will attach, on the left. I will put additional framing here for support. I measured the front door opening (50" x 23"). I considered, for a long time, how I would proceed.

Finally, I realised there was nothing else I could accomplish tonight. Headed inside to do some more paperwork planning, supplies planning, to learn about shingling, and to think more about how the door would work.

Friday, December 25, 2009

gifts received

I received a few astronomy-related items this Christmas... Directly and indirectly related.

Donna gave me the January 2010 editions of both Sky and Telescope and Astronomy. The S&T includes the neat annual graph (the Almanac), shaped like an hourglass, which shows the location of the planets over the whole year. I'll hang that beside my RASC 2010 calendar (which I bought for myself).

Donna gave me Dava Sobel's book The Planets. I really enjoyed her Longitude.

Mom gave me a drawer pull from Lee Valley (I think). It's the Space Shuttle! It can also be used as a fridge magnet (which is how I shall use it). Isn't it cute?!

Mom also gave me some soft pencils, 4B. Seven of them... They are Turquoise brand, without erasers. This rounds out my current selection with various grades or degrees of softness (B, 2B, 4B). I'll use these for astronomical sketching.

Then she gave me 40-gram insulated-heated gloves! Sweet. They have little battery holders on the wrist gauntlets which hold 4 AA batteries. Two settings: low (8 hours) and high (6 hours). I wondered if the Gaherty Curse is upon us now, if that explains the super cold temperatures...

I should remember these gloves if I decide to go for a bike ride...


I almost forgot. I received another set of the IYA postage stamps! The 10-pack with bonus envelope seals.

The set that Malcolm gave me back in August... I'll keep those. But this set from Donna & Steve, I'll use 'em.

Monday, December 21, 2009

NEAF invite

Phil invited me to join him at NEAF in New York state in April. It'd be kinda cool. I've asked him for details, travel and accommodation costs, etc.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Digi-Key Canada rocks!

I'm working on making my own astronomical flashlight. Prototyping is progressing. The only thing I need to track down are some old school Germanium diodes.

Placed an order with Digi-Key Canada for some interesting bits... Right-angle 8-pin DIP socket (ed58408-nd)—I'll use this to be the LED holder. A tiny 100 kilo-ohm thumbwheel potentiometer (3352t-104LF-nd)—for brightness control (or, more correctly, pulse width modulation). And best of all? Some "super red" waterclear 5mm LEDs (67-1612-nd).

These babies, made by Lumex Opto/Components Inc, are bright, at 2800 mcd. But most importantly: they emit light at 660 nm! That's the dominant and peak rating. They are deep red!

Phil piggybacked on the order. He requested some CLA sockets with locking mechanism and rubber cover (as212-nd) and a special cable. He wants the 12 volt sockets for his new gel battery project...

I placed the order without fanfare online on the 12th. Sunday. It showed up today! Incredible.


Right angle DIP: $4.98.
Pot 100k ohm: $1.40.
CLA socket: $3.40.
Deep red LEDs: priceless.

Monday, December 14, 2009

WISE away!

I was travelling to a work location when the WISE telescope was launched.

Glad to learn it went well!

Commissioning and testing should conclude in one month... Keep an eye on the JPL site for updates.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

helped Kiron

Kiron is a new astronomy enthusiast. I don't remember when I first met him... I think it was during the summer, maybe at a star party. He signed up for the fall NOVA class and we started chatting more and more, particularly at RASC Toronto Centre meetings. That's when we discovered we were neighbours. Despite being just a couple of streets away, we never successfully met up for any back yard astronomy.

He approached me after my TSTM presentation last Wednesday and asked if I could help him out with his impending trip to India. He wanted assistance in predicting what he would see in the night skies. Cool!

So we met up at Timothy's on Bloor West. I brought a netbook with Stellarium. We set the computer's location, time zone, and fired up the planetarium software. We tried locations in northern and southern India. We took screen snapshots. If he's lucky, he'll be able to see the Magellanic clouds and η (eta) Carina and the Tarantula and Proxima Centuri.

I also emailed him my notes (synced from Evernote via the shop's wifi). These included links to commercial planispheres for 20 and 30° latitudes, a site where you can make your own planisphere (but with a large amount of distortion), and a bunch of local club web sites.

I look forward to his reports from near the equator!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

calendar experiment

I'm looking for efficiencies and less duplication...

I presently do the following:
  • make an astronomy calendar, in list style, on my blog companion site for entire year; manually created and edited continuously...
  • for each TSTM presentation I'm asked to deliver, make a month-at-a-glance style calendar
  • for the odd NOVA lesson, make the same monthly calendar, usually twice!
  • print The Evening Sky Map once a month and put in beside my desk, so to stay abreast of upcoming events
  • look at the RASC annual month-at-a-glance calendar, hung near the coffee maker, whenever I get the chance
  • regularly monitor the Sky and Telescope's week-at-a-glance article
I'm a bit frustrated at entering data I've already input somewhere else. And I'm frustrated when I miss events that are interesting to me.
  • I don't want to repeat data entry; I should enter once and it should show up every where
  • I'd like a calendar that I can quickly look at and it shows me what's up (in the sky) today; while the list and monthly style are good, I need something that focuses on today
  • I'd like better handling of multi-day events, repeating things
And somehow, in all of this, I don't want to use my Psion Agenda. I can't put my finger on this exactly but it just doesn't seem the right place. It'd be good to have alarms or reminders in my pocket... Perhaps it is because I don't regular synch it with a PC. It is too autonomous. Maybe if I was using a smartphone and synching my calendar everyday, or online, every minute...

I've thought about coding an application on the Psion palmtop, maybe that automatically appeared each time I turned it on. But that's not a trivial undertaking. And it still doesn't solve the issue of sharing this information...

So, for some time, I've been kicking around if there is a way I could implement a public or shared calendar (read-only mind you) that would support all these features...

I used to run a public internet calendar on a Windows 2000 server from under my desk...

There's Google's calendar with iCal support.

But then it suddenly hit me.

I'm using Yahoo! Widgets now on my main PC computer. A computer I use essentially everyday. And, in particular, I've starting using widgets so I can keep an eye on a bunch of astronomical related things. At the moment, I'm using widgets for the local weather, local radar, APOD, the Moon's phase, and the Sun (from SOHO). It's actually fantastic, all these live feeders.

And wouldn't you know it, they have an included widget called Day Planner. It can connect with your Yahoo!Calendar.

So today I started an experiment. I loaded a Yahoo!Calendar with all the events I noted in my The Sky This Month presentation and handout, to the end of the month. And then I fired up the widget... Voila! All the events happening today are showing up! And tomorrow... Nice. I can add and edit entries through the widget. Cool!

Perfect. This is perfect!

Now, if I share this calendar...

Friday, December 11, 2009

final updates?

I applied some more updates from the RASC web site to my copy of the 2009 Observer's Handbook.

Remember that errors found (and their corrections) are noted on the web. Occasionally, page reprints are available. It's something every Handbook owner should monitor over the year for the particular edition.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

delivered TSTM

I delivered my presentation of The Sky This Month to the RASC Toronto Centre membership at the Ontario Science Centre last night. It was well-received. I'm happy that people enjoy it. I received a number of compliments immediately after and at the pub. They like the graphical style of my presentation, the use of Stellarium, and the calendar handout.

In fact, facilitator Paul said to me afterwards, if I wanted to do them every month, I could! Wow.

Sadly, I didn't have quite enough paper handouts. That showed that more than 50 people were at the meeting! I uploaded a PDF version (310KB) of the 2-page handout to the Centre web site...


Tom Luton pointed out a little mistake made. The low rank I noted on the (3578) Carestia asteroid occultation on Dec 26 is not a factor of the sky lighting or Moon's position but is due to the amount information (or lack thereof) about the asteroid's orbit. High-number asteroids we generally know less about. Thanks for the clarification!


Link killed. Look on the lumpy darkness companion site's presentations page.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

delivered batteries

I provided 12 volt gel batteries to Paul 1, Paul 2, and Ciprian.

They are happy campers.

returned loaner Dob

A RASC Toronto Centre member expressed interest in borrowing one of the telescope loan program's Dobsonian reflectors. John contacted me to ask me to return the one I had signed out.

I've had that telescope for a long time... And I barely used it!

That surprised me.

I don't know why I didn't use it more. The beauty of a 'scope like this is, it takes seconds (OK, a minute or two) to set up. I had signed it out to "test" this feature: easy, fast set-up. And there were many clear nights where I could have popped outside, for a few minutes, an hour. Nights where it was going to be clear only briefly. Or on occasions where I had to work the next day, had to get to bed early. Or when I didn't have a "big" plan, a detailed viewing plan for hours of observing. Where I could have quickly observed from the backyard or driveway or sidewalk, taken a quick peak at Jupiter, tried for shadows on Jupiter, tried for Jovian moon occultations, or something else bright. I could have invited the neighbours over. I could have invited nearby members over.

So, what does this tell me?

Does it in fact mean, regardless of telescope, timing, conditions, I need a formal plan of observing targets? I hope not. I'm still struggling with efficient planning. Still planning "by hand." Still considering whether I should use planning software like SkyHound...

Is it that I'm very interested in double stars now, in an increasingly detailed way, in a scientific way, wherein I would do measurements? And that while I can perform Position Angle and Separation measurements in a light-polluted environment, a Dobsonian mount is not suitable?

Is it that observing is more of a social activity for me? That I'm more compelled to do some observing with others around? I'm really uncertain about that. Sometimes, I know it is true that I'd rather stargaze with others; but there are just as many times where I know I want to be alone...

Is it that I'm getting discouraged observing inside the city limits with washed out skies?

Is it that I'm getting tired of fighting with light polluting neighbours?

Is it that I don't want to have to deal with different types of telescopes? Am I an SCT fan? SCT addict? SCT snob?

Should I not be complicating matters with different gear? When I'm still working out a few kinks with my equipment? On top of learning the CAO equipment? Maybe I should focus.

Maybe it's nothing to do with the hardware.

Maybe there's something else I need to be doing to get me to observe more...

But now I don't know what it might be...

Regardless of this internal searching, I hope to continue to partake of the loan program with the centre. It's a fantastic perk of membership. I'll try all the types we have. And the camera too! Although, I should consider carefully if I should be doing this right now...

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

SkyNews website stale

I find it very interesting that the SkyNews web site does not show the Jan/Feb 2010 issue. Despite the paper edition travelling through the postal system. They mention that the Nov/Dec issues is on newsstands now! They need someone to update their web site more frequently...

SkyNews Jan/Feb 2010

In addition to the RASC Observer's Handbook, the new issue of SkyNews arrived in my mailbox.

Brightened my afternoon. A very grey afternoon, snow storms threatening, my throat scratching.

There's an article called Easy Astrophotography. I look forward to reading that.

handbook 2010

I received the RASC Observer's Handbook for 2010 today. It might have arrived yesterday actually but I was on the road...

Stef shot the cover photo of NGC 4565. Beautiful. Captured from his driveway in Etobicoke, no less!

It is thick again. And features a number of changes. I'm pleased to see the double star list is triple the size of last year.

It's good timing. Now I can refer to the proper page numbers in my The Sky This Month presentation tomorrow...

5 more batteries

I had offered to RASC Toronto Centre members to get more of the gel 12V batteries. Brothers David and Charles helped me out. I dropped by Charles's shop after work to get 4 more. I'll take some of them to the RASC meeting tomorrow night: one for Paul Mo. and one for Ciprian.

Charles said he could release another one. Cool. I told Paul Ma. that I now had one available for him.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Virgin SS2 uncovered

I don't have a category for this.

It's not strictly astronomy related.

But Virgin rolled out SpaceShipTwo today.

It's very interesting. Space tourism took a step forward with the first commercial company.

And it's a thing of beauty, to boot.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

on polls and files

I was asked about how to implement a poll in the new RASC strategy group. I explained briefly how to do it in an email message. At the same time, I expressed concerns that we shouldn't do anything immediately, since more than 10 participants had yet to bind their Yahoo accounts to the new group.

Also, I urged that we not upload presentation information and pyramid diagrams in PowerPoint; rather, I suggested we use common web image formats or PDF. I was asked how to do these steps. I noted the broad strokes.

Increasingly the responses and replies seemed frantic and urgent. And incomplete! And opposite what had been said earlier. It was curious to me that on more than one occasion, my email message was not read in its entirety.

Frustrated, I suggested that we speak live. Much was sorted out over the telephone.

We'll need to be careful, in the future, in the interest of clear communication.

Thursday, December 03, 2009


I am in possession of a Dane-Elec zPen. Pardon?

This is a digital pen. Attach the doodad to a piece of paper* or a clipboard and turn it on. Write on the paper with the special pen. Your handwritten notes, sketches, doodles, diagrams, happy faces, and otherwise random jottings are captured into the receiver's 1GB flash memory.

Later, jack into a computer and examine the electronic files. In their native state, the ELI files are graphical representations of your notepad pages. Throw them at the character recognition program and they are converted into editable text or word processing files with embedded images.

I am evaluating this technology to see if it might streamline the process of capturing my astronomy observing notes, written in the field, often at the telescope, and immediately capturing my sketches or drawings of what I'm seeing in the eyepiece.

I'm a little disappointed that it cannot be used "live," i.e. as a pointing device. It could then convert a laptop into a tablet PC... But that's a nice-to-have.

* (Any paper works with the zPen. No special paper is required. Just use A4 or letter-size paper, lined, blank, whatever. Landscape or portrait.)

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

eyepiece review

I stumbled across a Cloudy Nights review of the baader planetarium 36mm hyperion-aspheric modular eyepiece. I like this eyepiece. It's light-years better (sorry about that) than my 1¼" in terms of clarity and field of view. Still, I still wonder if it was a good investment. Always nice to find a positive review.

It was interesting to note that the author measured the Apparent Field of View to be 72.3 degrees.