Saturday, December 13, 2008

Pictures from a different source

I love seeing pictures from earlier times in this country. Recently I found a blog that has some beautiful images from various sources, and the best part is that you can see them in a decent size.

It's called the Shorpy Photo Archive, and here's an example of their pics:

That's a picture from 1960 of an ultra-modern house in the Hollywood Hills in California. Here's the direct link.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Favorite Pictures #4 - Houston Skyline

During my early years at Waste Management, I worked on the 39th floor downtown. We had an excellent view of the Houston skyline, and I snapped this picture back in 2001.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Favorite Pictures #3 - The moon in eclipse

Back in May 2003, we had very nice total eclipse of the moon. I've always enjoyed looking at lunar eclipses -- the moon takes on an otherwordly quality. Lunar eclipses can only occur when the moon is full. Therefore, the relief on the lunar surface that one sees during first quarter or other phases disappears. Thus, the apparent smoothness of the lunar surfaces appears a bit incongruous when during the the partial stages of the eclipse, like this picture:

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Favorite Pictures #2 - Setting sun

This picture of the sun setting over the Mediterranean was taken the day after the eclipse we saw in Libya. A bunch of us at our table wanted to see a "green flash", that rare phenomenon that occurs sometimes when the conditions are just right. As the sun descends below the horizon, the light is refracted through thicker levels of our atmosphere, and if you're lucky, you'll see a flash of green light at the top of the solar disk.

Well, we didn't get a green flash, but we did get quite a lovely sunset. The solar eclipse the day before had been stunning. This sunset was a coda to that memorable display.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Favorite Pictures #1 - Renaissance Pop & Tot

I thought I'd upload some of the pictures I've taken that I like best. This one was taken at the Renaissance Festival in 2004. A father and son in similar garb take in the sights of the festival.

Look for more of my favorites in the future.

All I want

funny pictures of cats with captions
more animals

Monday, December 01, 2008

A triangle in the sky

The triple conjunction of the Moon, Jupiter, and Venus was beautiful. I set up my camera at work because the southwestern horizon is better there, and I took a passel of pics. This one seemed to be about the best.

Click on the picture to see a big version.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Name Finder

Here's an interesting website - you plug in a last name and it shows the countries where that last name is most prevalent.

You can drill down into each country - for instance, drilling down into Texas shows that Harris County (where Houston is) has the highest concentration of Clayworth's in the state.

I'm not sure where the information is gathered from -- perhaps Census Bureau records, but it's interesting.

New Zealand is the country with the highest frequecy of Clayworth's.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Sunday, November 02, 2008

When I ruled the world

I must admit that I don't keep up with the latest in music these days, but even these double-nickel ears can still respond to talent, particularly Coldplay's catchy, intriguing and smart song, Viva la Vida.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Friday, October 24, 2008

We pause for this political PSA

There is something simultaneously hilarious and creepy about this video that Ron Howard, Andy Griffith, and Henry Winkler put out. Yes, it's for Obama, but even if you're not a Democrat, you'll laugh at Opie and Andy, Richie and the Fonz.

See more Ron Howard videos at Funny or Die

Friday, October 17, 2008

Astronomy Day already??

My, the time, she does fly. Saturday is Astronomy Day again at the George Observatory. I've already made note of it in a Cosmo.Sphere post.

Anyway, I'm going to be doing Photographer/Videographer/Floater duties from about noon to 11 PM. It's a lot of fun to see all those people being introduced to the wonders of the sky ("Bob, meet Jupiter. Jupiter, this is Bob.")

This time around I'm going to have a little more structure to the video I put together. I'll be talking with the guests and getting their impressions, and posing some questions to the volunteers. My aim is to say a little something about what draws people to marvel at the sky.

Here's one of the videos I shot last year:

And part two:

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Even Pepper has hurricane duties

It was windy

Hurricane Ike paid our area a visit on September 12, Friday night, making landfall at Galveston at around 2 AM. This was a huge storm, almost as big as Texas, and we felt the effects of it long before the eye crossed the coast.

Here is a video I shot out in our front yard Friday evening, about 7.

The wind howled and the rain came and the power was lost.

For eight days. And we were lucky. As I write this, there are about half a million people in the greater Houston area still without electricity.

Here's the view of what things looked like on Saturday morning, long after the storm had passed.

Fortunately, a cool front came through Sunday night, and the next few days were relatively bearable. On Monday, we waved goodbye to the contents of our freezer. So long, sirloin. Bye-bye, frozen veggies.

Our friend Barbara, who lives in another part of Sugar Land, didn't lose power at all. We stayed over at her house a few nights, and we were most grateful.

Also, we got to know more of our neighbors in the past couple of weeks than in the 13 years prior to Ike. That's a good thing.

Ike was just a Category Two hurricane. If we ever take a hit from a Cat 4 or 5, heaven help us.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Streets of Sugar Land

For those few who haven't yet heard of it, Google Street View is a feature of Google Maps. Google had a specially-equipped vehicle drive down streets in hundreds of cities in the US and Europe, taking images every few feet. These images are available to anyone with an Internet connection.

I didn't realize it until a few days ago, but they pretty much covered all of Sugar Land, including the swankienda where I hang my hat.

There's our house. Now, I know that the streets are public property, and anyone can come along and snap a picture. It doesn't show anything that really invades my life. It does show that it was garbage day.

But still. I love the InterTubes and the rich oceans of information available at the click of a mouse, but there is a price, and that price is a degree of privacy. It will be very interesting to see where the next hundred years takes us.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Storm Damage

Tropical storm Eduoard passed through our area yesterday. There are a lot of people telling us that "it was only a tropical storm" and "you got off lucky". Well, I just want to remind people that even a tropical storm can leave devastation in its wake. Here's documentary evidence of the path of destruction left by Eduoard.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Paparrazi to ducklings

There's a little lake not too far away, and I was driving by it when I saw a duck herding her little ones alone. I had recently acquired a new compact digital camera that could take video, so I stopped by one evening, found the birds, and shot some video.

The papa duck served as bodyguard, hissing at me, sounding just like a ticked-off cat. I snagged the video and left them to their avian business.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The country of the metaphor

I was talking with a colleague yesterday, and she referred to someone who she couldn't get a hold of as being incognito. That triggered an idea.

If I was designing my own country, I'd like to have some cities with names like this:

Cognito - The city where everyone travels in disguise. If I can't find someone, he (or she) must be in Cognito.

Effable - If I'm looking for someone who's often subject to hard-to-express ideas, I'd be sure to look in Effable.

Ept - The clumsy, useless people are in Ept.

Effigy - This will be where all the hangings take place. "The murderer was hung in Effigy."

Ertia - The people are hard to get going, but once they do, they're hard to stop in Ertia.

You get the idea. If you're looking for me, I'll be in Scrutable.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

That cat again

Simon Tofield has made another one of his delightful cartoons again - a man, a cat, a sofa, and a TV. Once again, cat wins.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Wouldn't you like to be a Pepper too?

We've acquired a new feline overlord. Her name is Pepper, for the salt n' pepper pattern of some of her fur. We obtained her from Citizens for Animal Protection in Houston, and so far she seems to think it's all right to be waited on hand and paw by the strange hairless apes in the house (i.e., me and Linda).

She likes to crawl up on my chest when I'm in the recliner and chew on my beard.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Blogging on Space

The Houston Chronicle has a new space blog and I'm one of the authors. About a month ago, Eric Berger, AKA SciGuy on the Houston Chronicle website, announced plans to expand the science blogs with new content. The first one, ATMO.SPHERE, was launched a month ago. Now we have COSMO.SPHERE, and I will be contributing posts related to amateur astronomy.

Justin Kugler, a NASA engineer, and Fritz Benedict, a professional astronomer based at UT, will be making contributions on space and astronomy. I already have a post up about the constellation Scorpius and what may be found there.

I'm looking forward to making further contributions, and reading what the others have to say. I'm very excited about this.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Boom De Yada!

I absolutely love this Discovery Channel commercial!

Monday, June 02, 2008

It's a star party!

I got to the Prude Ranch about noon yesterday, after driving about six hours through very nice scenery. Terrain! Hills! Mountains!

I joined a line of about 20 cars and RV’s at the gate, going through initial check-in. Then I went to the Ranch office to get my room key. They gave me directions up the hill to where the upper observing field is located, and I found the room. I unloaded some luggage and sundries.

On the field, which is about the size of a football field, lots of astronomers were staking their claims to their turf. Hmmmm….prime spots were going quickly. I drove my CR-V down and pulled it around to a likely spot, then started to unload. The first thing I did was pull my indoor-outdoor carpeting out and spread it on the ground. The first thing I should have done was get some sunscreen. Noon sun, 5000 feet elevation – it was brutal.

With pauses to get some water (and a helpful fellow next to me who saw my red face and doused me with sunscreen), I nailed the carpeting to the dry Texas soil. Even with a four pound sledge, it was some work.

I had decided in advance that my first evening was going to be one with binoculars and star charts, trying to get familiar with a sky that would be far more crowded with stars than I’m used to. Therefore, I unloaded and sent up the G-11 tripod, but I didn’t set up the scope itself. I covered it with a tarp and secured with bungee cables. I chatted with the other amateurs around me, looked over their equipment (an amazing array of gear), then headed back up the hill to the room.

I had met my roommate, Rick Hillier, earlier. We talked a bit about observing plans. I decided I needed nothing more than about two hours of sleep – I was exhausted. The room was gradually growing cooler, so I sweated, sucked down some more water, and finally dozed.

About 4:30 I awoke. I splashed some water in my face and went outside – and they were still at it on the field. I could hear the pounding of stakes and snatches of conversation. I took a couple of things more down to the field that I would need, then it was down to the dining hall to see what was for supper. I caught a ride with Dennis and Tracy.

Not a bad meal. Pot roast, scalloped potatoes, green beans, different beverages. I sat with the fellow Bendonites (Fort Bend Astronomy Club members) and wolfed down my food.

Afterwards, we drove back to the motel rooms (actually, cabins that are little quadriplexes) and I stretched out again. Then came the crew to tape foil over the windows facing the field – this is the so-called “darkout” where they try to eliminate the possibility of stray light interfering with observations.

About 8 pm, I went down to field. I spent about a half-hour going around taking pictures of the telescopes that were set up. I’ve never seen so much astronomical gear in one area, and this is just one field out of four.

Sunset. Finally, some of the brighter stars start to come out. Saturn and Mars were first visible, and people tested their scopes out those standards. It took 9:30 to become dark enough to see the brighter stars, and about 10:30 before it was fully dark.

It was incredible. I reclined in my lawn chair and scanned the heavens. Steve Cotton, the amateur observer in front of me, was nailing globular after globular with his Celestron, while his wife tooled around with the little go-to Meade that she had. He’d call me over whenever he’d got something good. Like Omega Centuari – this is the finest globular cluster in the skies, and it was like cluster of diamond dust filling the eyepiece.

The Milky Way rising was like it had been described – it looked like clouds coming over the horizon. I was told that some have seen that, decided the observations were going to be over, and started to pack their gear.

I stuck around. From Cygnus through the tail of Scorpio, a hazy river of light was flowing across the night. I spent a good deal of time with binoculars on Sagittarius and Scorpio – there’s so much to see there.

After a bit, I wandered around, ran into Barbara Wilson and her big Dob. She had M-51 ( a galaxy) through and 8mm Tele Vue Ethos eyepiece (something new and expensive to want, dammit) and it was beautiful.

I went back to my observing area, spent a little more time with the binoculars, then finally called it quits about 1:30. I followed my little red light shining on the ground, got inside, tumbled into bed.

It’s the kind of night astronomers dream of.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Packed to the rim

Saturday morning, 8:35 AM - I have never seen that CR-V packed so full of stuff. For a while, I was wondering I was going to have a leave a telescope and mount behind, but I managed to get it all in.

Here's a partial list of what I'm taking:

2 telescopes and mounts
Indoor-outdoor carpet to spread over the dusty west Texas dirt
Plastic tarps to cover the scopes during the daytime
Bungee cords to hold down the tarps
Observing chair
Reclining lawn chair
Canon Digital SLR
Canon Camcorder
Batteries, extension cords, chargers, tools
Bug repellent
Three accessory cases (eyepieces, finder scopes, Telrads, etc.)
Notebook computer

Plus clothing, toiletries, jackets, etc.

I'm leaving shortly. I'll stop in San Antonio for a brief visit to Mom, then off to Junction for an overnight stay in a Best Western.

The long range forecast looks good for the Star Party.

Universe, here I come.

Monday, May 26, 2008

The Stars at night...

...Are going to be very big and bright next week at the Texas Star Party. I'll be attending this annual event for the very first time this year, and I'm really looking forward to it.

I'll be making the drive to the Prude Ranch starting Saturday, overnighting in Junction, then arriving on Sunday for registration, and coming back the following Sunday. Over six hundred amateur astronomers under some the of the darkest skies in the nation! I've been told that the proliferation of stars is so overwhelming that even experienced amateurs can find it hard to recognize familar constellations.

I'm going to try to take both my scopes, the 5" Astro-Physics refractor on the G-11 mount, and my Celestron 9.25" GPS that I got earlier this year. My poor CR-V is going to be filled to bursting.

I'll be in one of the motel rooms, sharing it with another amateur from the Houston area.

Wireless internet access is available at the Party, so I intend to blog about my adventures while I'm there. I've heard that when the Milky Way rises over the mountains, it's been mistaken for storm clouds. Now that I gotta see!

Monday, April 14, 2008

Pale Blue Dot

Carl Sagan said it best here - the Earth, the only abode of life that we know, is a very small place, and what happens here is up to us.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Armpit music

I've always had abiding fondness for Dexy's Midnight Runners and their one hit, "Come On, Eileen". The video evokes Thatcherite early 80's England, and Kevin Rowland's song is catchy and danceable. Armpit music? Just watch the vid.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Arthur C. Clarke - 1917 - 2008

"...overhead, without any fuss, the stars were going out."

- Arthur C. Clarke - "The Nine Billion Names of God"

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Air power

Here's a first hand account of a mission in the SR-71, one of the most incredible aircraft ever made.

"One moonless night, while flying a routine training mission over the Pacific, I wondered what the sky would look like from 84,000 feet if the cockpit lighting were dark. While heading home on a straight course, I slowly turned down all of the lighting, reducing the glare and revealing the night sky. Within seconds, I turned the lights back up, fearful that the jet would know and somehow punish me. But my desire to see the sky overruled my caution, I dimmed the lighting again. To my amazement, I saw a bright light outside my window. As my eyes adjusted to the view, I realized that the brilliance was the broad expanse of the Milky Way, now a gleaming stripe across the sky. Where dark spaces in the sky had usually existed, there were now dense clusters of sparkling stars. Shooting stars flashed across the canvas every few seconds. It was like a fireworks display with no sound. I knew I had to get my eyes back on the instruments, and reluctantly I brought my attention back inside. To my surprise, with the cockp lighting still off, I could see every gauge, lit by starlight. In the plane's mirrors, I could see the eerie shine of my gold spacesuit incandescently illuminated in a celestial glow. I stole one last glance out the window. Despite our speed, we seemed still before the heavens, humbled in the radiance of a much greater power. For those few moments, I felt a part of something far more significant than anything we were doing in the plane. The sharp sound of Walt's voice on the radio brought me back to the tasks at hand as I prepared for our descent."

Read the rest here.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Poster Hedgehog

I've been having fun playing with the Do-It-Yourself poster maker at, the good folks who bring you all those demotivational posters. You can upload the picture of your choice and make it a poster, like this....

The picture was from Cute Overload.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Cat is my copilot

I doubt that I could get Misty to do this. Here is one remarkably calm kitty enjoying a flight perched on the glareshield of the plane (I'm guessing a 172).

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Frozen in Grand Central

Here's an interesting piece of performance art. Over two hundred people agreed to freeze in place in Grand Central Station for a limited time. It's very science-fictional to see them in the video and see how passers-by react.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Jupiter and Venus werethisclose

A very pretty conjunction of Jupiter and Venus this morning. In one shot, you can see the moons of Jupiter. At their closest, they were 0.6 degrees apart, about the width of the full moon. Click on the pictures to see the large version.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Shoot me now!

Perhaps the best of Chuck Jones' Bugs Bunny toons, "Rabbit Seasoning" is crazy funny. Mel Blanc's voice characterizations are just perfect in this.

"Ah, ha....pronoun trouble!"

Monday, January 21, 2008

Okay, I admit it - I was a Trekkie

The new Star Trek movie looks pretty cool. There have been some complaints on the Interwebs that canon has been messed with - such as the Enterprise being constructed on Earth (at Area 51?) instead of in orbit. And other stuff about Kirk being kind of a cheat at the hallowed Starfleet Academy.

I say, let them mess with canon. Let them reboot the whole damned thing. The teaser trailer looks great.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Long Johns and Astronomy

Last night I volunteered at the George Observatory, taking my newly-acquired Celestron 9.25 Nexstar GPS. This would be my “first light” for the scope, and I was curious to see how well it would perform.

The previous night had been cold and rainy. I don’t mind cold and I don’t mind rain, but mixing the two of them is just misery. At any rate, Saturday was forecast to be clear and cold, and that was certainly accurate. I remembered I had some thermal underwear that I got several years ago for another cold astronomical session (some meteor shower), and I hunted for them. It had been a long time since I had worn them, but I managed to squeeze into them, looking something like a gray sausage.

Jeans went over that, plus a long-sleeved shirt, and my Fort Bend Astronomy Club hoodie. I also took along a leather jacket if necessary. I loaded up the gear and headed to Brazos Bend State Park, arriving about 4:30.

I parked in the semi-secret area behind the observatory and unloaded my gear and took it up to the deck, set it up, and started playing around with the computer-control. With this telescope, once you power it up, it acquires its location from the GPS, and selects a star for alignment. Since it was still daylight, I couldn’t confirm alignment, so I just slewed to the moon, and tried it out. In the 40mm eyepiece it looked just fine.

It got a little darker, and Mars became visible, just about 1 degree away from the moon. I slewed to that, and there it was. This isn’t a particularly impressive time for mars – just 12 arc-seconds in diameter, so it’s basically a cantaloupe-colored tiny ball. Back to the moon.

After it got dark, I was able to do a regular GPS alignment, and confirm it with the stars it selected (Capella and Rigel). The optics on the scope are excellent. The clear night was transparent and seeing wasn’t too bad.

The public started showing up, wandering around the deck and checking the view in various scopes manned by the volunteers. They also had tickets for viewing through the big 36” reflector in the main research dome, plus the FBAC 18” scope in the East dome, and the 14” Celestron in the West Dome.

Earlier in the day, I had bought some hand-warmers at Academy. These are neat – just take the little cloth packet, rub and squeeze it a few times, and it slowly gets warm. Keep the packets in your pocket and stick your hands in there to warm them up. They’ll stay warm for about 5 or 6 hours – marvelous things.

I showed the moon and Mars to quite a few people over the next couple of hours. I always enjoy seeing the reaction of people, particularly if they haven’t looked through a telescope often. “Wow!” and “Oh, that’s so cool!” and “Look at all those craters!” I had a filter on the eyepiece to cut the glare, but even so the moon was very bright – you could see the light from the eyepiece falling on their eyes. I wish I had a dollar for everyone who asked me, “Hey, where’s the flag?”

Dew became a problem, but Dennis (one of the other volunteers – great guy) had a little hair dryer, and after I plugged it in and directed the warm air at the corrector plate, it cleared it right off.

I had a green laser pointer with me to point out various things. Kids love that, seeing that narrow green beam touching the sky. More than one wanted to try it out – I let them press the button while I held the laser, since I didn’t want them to inadvertently dazzle someone.

Later on, I used the computer keypad to go to M42, the Orion Nebula. The nearly full moon pretty much washed out the detail, but you could still see the wispy outline of that stellar nursery, and the Trapezium, the four stars at the heart of the nebula, were very sharp – textbook points of light.

A couple of times during the evening, one of the “floaters” (volunteers who circulate around where needed) came over so I had opportunities to go downstairs and use the restroom and get some hot cider and eat a hasty sandwich.

About 10:15, the regular viewing session came to end. I disassembled the gear, packed it up, carted it down to the Honda, and locked it in. I went inside the office to sign out and shoot the breeze with the other volunteers, and drink some more hot cider. Around 11:15, I said my goodbyes, and headed home. A great night – it’s some work going out there and setting up, but it really is worth it to share the night sky with others and show people something they’ve never seen before.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

New Toy

Last weekend, I acquired a Celestron Nexstar GPS 9.25. This is a Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope that features a built in GPS to determine where it is, thus enabling it to select bright stars to align itself. After the alignment, you can select any object in the extensive database, and the telescope will automatically slew to that object.

The 9.25" OTA has gotten a good deal of ink since it was introduced. The primary mirror is a longer focal length than the 8" or 11" Celestrons, and it's developed a reputation for contrast and optical excellence.

I'll be testing it this weekend at the George Observatory (January 19).