Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Hotter 'n Hell

It was 107° on my front porch Sunday. In the shade.

Meanwhile, the Homeowner's Nazis Association looked at the calendar and decided to padlock the swimming pool. For this I pay $600 a year?

Saturday, September 24, 2005


Not a drop of rain. Some high clouds overhead, more to the east, and a light, steady northeast wind. I'm actually a little disappointed.

I talked to my Dad in Nacogdoches this morning. Their power was out and they were getting pretty steady rain--about half an inch an hour was his guess. They had a few small branches down, but nothing more.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Hurricane Watch

It's official: there is no bottled water left in the city limits of Austin.

There's been a weird sort of pregnant tension in the air today. Something's gonna happen, but what and when still remain to be seen. I don't have anything to add to what's been on the news, except I don't think it's going to be a big deal *here*. We'll get some (needed) rain, and maybe some limbs down, but if the lights even flicker I'll be surprised.

You wouldn't know there's a huge storm around the corner from the Clear Sky Clock. Check this out:

I mean really, 0% cloud cover & better than average transparency? I wonder about their forecast model. On the other hand, the clock's usually pretty accurate.

I'm weirdly excited about a big blow, and a little disappointed that the storm seems to be turning east of us. Don't misunderstand--I don't want death and destruction, but it's kinda neat to get a break in routine.

In astro news, we had good seeing last night. I had Mars in the 6" DSH @ 300x--supposedly the theoretical limit in that scope (and my limit on eyepieces)--and it looked like it could have taken more magnification. Dave Rivenburg of Dam Astronomers posted this picture. My view wasn't quite that good, but it wasn't that far off.

I'm really starting to get the itch for an better astrophotography setup before Mars's opposition at the end of October.

Hook ’Em

Texas 51, Rice 10.
Temperature at kick-off on the sunny side of the stadium, where David & I were sitting: 106°

I don't think I'm one of those guys who goes ga-ga for sports. I don't watch Sportscenter every night before bed. I don't have a NASCAR sticker on the back of my car. But I do like Texas football. There's just something about getting together with 80,000 of your closest friends and watching the game that's satisfying.

I don't recall having "school spirit" when I was actually in school. Sure, I was proud of my College and my University, but I didn't obsess over it. (Unlike the folks that attend that other fine school in Texas, where they follow that silly collie dog around, beating each other up and calling it "good bull.")

Our observation on turning 40: We're now officially invisible to women born after the Bicentennial. Or if we do somehow drift into her peripheral vision, we're "scary old guy." As in, "Euww, you're as old as my Dad." I suspect Dave & I are a lot alike in that we started admiring college girls in college, and never stopped.

It was kinda weird being back on campus. There's been a lot of construction since we were there, so I don't recognize a lot of things any more. The intramural field that was across the street from my dorm has a new dorm sitting on it. I wonder if my name is still carved in the sandstone on the roof of Prather Hall.

Thursday, September 15, 2005


Tuesday evening the family was out in the front yard. I had just mowed, and Tanya & baby Wade from across the street were visiting. From down the street comes this cat. He's friendly enough--he played with the neighbors for a minute, and tolerated both toddler boys. I picked him up and commented what a nice-looking cat he was. I'm a sucker for stray cats. Ask Oscar, he showed up and hung around for 16 years.

As we went inside, this cat comes along. Fine, he's clean and well-mannered. I take Buddy for his evening walk, and we pass a woman on the next block setting out a dish of food.

"Did you lose a cat?' I asked.

"No," she replied. "I'm looking after this stray. He's almost white, with dark stripes on his legs and tail."

"Oh. I know him. He's in my house. Do you know where he belongs?"

She explained that the folks across the street from her had him, but left him behind when they moved. She already has two cats and just couldn't keep a third.

The timing is interesting. I had been talking with another couple in the neighborhood (you meet a lot of people walking the dog) about adopting their cat. She was allergic to him, and was looking for a new home. I was all set to get back with them when this stray showed up.

Anyway, he's spent two nights with us and we bought a bag of food, so I guess he's ours now. Meet Tycho:

I guessing he's about 9 months old. His coat is extremely soft, and judging by his markings, I think he's half-Siamese, and half tabby. He's definitely got the blue eyes, dark points and the Siamese voice. His disposition is super-sweet; he lets Ian pick him up and carry him around. You can hear him purring from the far end of the house.

Naming him was fun. I originally started with Descartes, but it just didn't roll off the tongue quite right. Besides, I can just imagine trying to spell it for the girl at the vet's office. I like the way Tycho rhymes with "psycho." And if you think about it, he's bright in the middle with rays coming off of him, kinda like this:

And if we should wind up with a second cat, we could name him Kepler.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005


Some random notes from the weekend.

Dad's deer lease isn't as dark as Linda's place in Brenham. I was surprised by the size of the light dome from Nacogdoches, 15 miles away. Transparency was pretty good, so I'm not sure how much was due to humidity, but a third of the sky just was washed out. Now that I know, I won't haul the big LX200 out there.

But the stuff I did see was impressive. I finally got M33 (Triangulum Galaxy), which is just too dim from home. I tried for a month 2 years ago with the 6", and the best I got was a general glowing patch. This time I caught hints of the spiral structure, even. M31 (Andromeda Galaxy) totally filled my largest eyepiece, nearly a 1° field of view. Also saw a few dim NGCs in the north that I didn't make notes on.

I stayed out until about 0200, when Mars was high enough to look at at 260X. The best view was through a light-blue filter, which made the tiny sliver of polar cap really pop out.

The rest of the trip was uneventful. Got Mom's new scanner set up, and installed a ceiling fan in their dining room. What a good son I am. I didn't even take Dad's bait on how the slow response by the Feds to Katrina was the fault of the Louisiana governor. "I got it in an email! Of course it's true!" Man, how did my politics get so polarized from my Dad's?

Friday, September 09, 2005


I had a really long look at Theophilus last night through the 6" dob. It was sitting right on the sunlit side of the terminator, and the floor was still dark, but the central peaks were all lit up.

I didn't realize it until I started looking at pictures of it today, but the Apollo 11 landing site is just to the north of this crater. I've always struggled to ID it in the eyepiece, but I've got a pretty good feel for the landmarks now.

I don't really remember when I first developed an interest in astronomy. I had a buddy in elementary school & Cub Scouts who had a Tasco refractor, probably a 60 mm. I don't know that I ever actually saw anything other than the moon through it. We looked at the stars at Scout camp some, but not much. (In hindsight, I'm kicking myself for making 2 different trips to Philmont Scout Ranch, which has probably some of the darkest skies I'll ever be under, and not even thinking to look up at night.) Years pass, wives and comets come and go, and in 2000 I wind up in an apartment complex across from a fellow with a telescope. One night he shows me Saturn and Jupiter, and the hook is set. Still, it's not until I land in my current job when Robert hands me a copy of Astronomy magazine and a bootleg of Starry Night do I actually do anything about it. I have a little money, Mars is coming around, and there's a telescope store between work and home. About the same time, Miki loans me her old Meade ETX-90 RA. We looked at Mars through it a couple of times, but I knew I wanted more.

So in September of 03 I bought a Celestron C6-N, a 6" f/5 newtonian reflector on a lightweight equatorial mount. I was hooked. My wallet will never be the same. Accessories soon started showing up--a home-built observing chair, a rolling footlocker, an eyepiece kit... I think the biggest mistake was showing up at Mansfield Dam on Friday nights. Once I looked through Ralph's C11 and Todd's 10" LX200GPS, I caught a serious case of aperture fever.

Actually, it was worse than that. I had Gear Acquisition Syndrome on top of Aperture Fever. There's no cure, you simply have to learn to live with it. I started scouring Astromart looking for a big SCT of my very own. I started getting shakes and chills, so I posted a Want to Buy ad. That's when Tom offered up his 10" LX200 Classic, so Trudy & I drove off to South Texas last summer and picked it up. I sold the 6" Celestron to Robert.

Aperture fever went into remission. I love this telescope. It's big enough to go deep, but portable enough to move by myself. I still have ongoing case of GAS though. I added up how much I've spent building an eyepiece collection over the last two years and came up with a figure that I don't think I should share with my wife, at least not until I buy her an expensive piece of jewelry or furniture, or both.

This spring, Hardin Optical decided to get out of the telescope business. They put a lot of things on sale, and I picked up another 6" newtonian, this time an f/8 on a Dobsonian mount. I didn't need another telescope, but this one has been $99 (!) well spent. It takes about 30 seconds to set it up, most of that being the time required to open the front door and carry it out to the driveway.

And the little ETX-90? I took it in trade for some web design work, so I still have it. It works super with a full-aperture solar filter on it.

I'm starting to think I should rename this post, "The One With All The Links In It."


For the last two nights, the CSC has predicted better than average seeing, so I've had the telescope and camera set by the back door to go out and try again on Mars. It's transiting around 0530 this week, which isn't really that early. I don't seem to have trouble waking up, but actually getting out of bed has proved problematic. This morning I started dreaming I was in the back yard setting up. Yup, it was the classic "dreaming you're awake" dream that seems so real until weird things begin happening. I was putting the telescope on the tripod when Todd came out of the house carrying an eight-foot long refractor to piggyback on top of the LX200 as a guide scope. Which was fine, but I had to tell him I didn't have any rings for it.


Wednesday, September 07, 2005


Back from my sister's place in the country. She says all that stuff growing on the field is "Snow on the Mountain;" I say it's a week's work of allergies. The big gob of goo behind my forehead is finally going away, and I think I only left half a lung behind in the shower this morning.

The boy got to ride Squeak and had a good time. It worked out best with me riding behind him--poor Squeakers. She was a good girl though, more interested in eating the yummy lawn than what we were doing on her back. I haven't ridden in years, and my thighs let me know about it that night with a good case of "sewing-machine-leg." Ugh.

The sky refuses to cooperate. Friday was Dam cloudy. Saturday was mostly cloudy & hazy in the morning, and the CSC said it was supposed to stay that way in Brenham, so I didn't schlep the scope along. Naturally, Saturday night wasn't awful once you got above the haze. Clouds followed us home Sunday, and cleared up beautifully Monday night, right about the same time my sinuses decided to go on strike.

Still, after watching the news, I don't really feel like I have a right to complain about anything these days.