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Week of 27 June 2005

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Monday, 27 June 2005
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09:55 - We had dinner with Paul and Mary Saturday evening, and Mary has promised photos of her sock and underwear drawers. Stay tuned. When Mary delivers the images, I'll post them here.

Our next-door neighbor killed an adult copperhead in his back yard yesterday. Barbara took the news surprisingly well. She's terrified of any snake, let alone a venomous one. I rather like snakes, but I don't blame Jim for killing it. I would have done the same. There are simply too many pets and small children around here. Although a copperhead bite is seldom fatal to a healthy adult, it can kill children and pets.

Ironically, although copperheads are generally sluggish and not aggressive, they account for the majority of the poisonous snake bites here in the eastern US. They're very common, and they like to live in suburban developments near flowing water, which describes ours. Their usual reaction to a threat is to freeze and hope they won't be seen. To be bitten by a copperhead, you just about have to step on it or try to grab it. Unfortunately, that's often what kids and dogs do.

It's amazing how much the price of DVD recorders has fallen. With the NEC ND-3520A selling for less than $50, I wonder if it ever makes sense to install a CD writer. Probably not, except for a system where budget is a top priority. Blank DVD discs are now reasonable as well. I see that Office Depot sells a spindle of 50 Maxell DVD+R discs--which we recommend--for $17.99, and I've seen spindles of 100 off-brand DVD+R discs selling for $20.

But what really amazed me was how much the price of DVD video recorders has dropped. Best Buy is selling a CyberHome DVR1600 DVD recorder for $123, and there are many brand-name recorders for under $200. These things don't have TiVo-like functionality; they're simply VCR replacements that record to optical discs instead of tape. The unit I looked at offers four choices for recording quality, from HQ (1 hour on a standard DVD+R disc) to SLP (8 hours), so it seems to be a direct replacement for a VCR and T-60 to T-160 tapes. I suspect the image quality at any given level is superior to VHS as well. With that level of functionality and that price for DVD recorders, VCRs are truly obsolete.

I wonder if the TiVo and similar PVRs aren't obsolete as well, particularly once the manufacturers add VCR+ functionality to these inexpensive DVD recorders. Most people don't care much about the bells and whistles on a TiVo. What they want is to record TV programs and play them back, zapping commercials. These inexpensive DVD recorders provide the basic functionality needed without requiring an expensive subscription.

I may buy one just to play around with it. It'd be interesting to see if it records in a format that's easily editable to remove commercials and so on.

13:55 - There's a wonderful link on Brian Bilbrey's site. It begins,

"The theory of intelligent attraction (IA) holds that certain behaviors in the universe are best explained by an intelligent cause, as opposed to the more commonly accepted gravitational theories."

I wish I'd thought of doing this myself. One cannot debate science rationally with people who are too stupid to understand the scientific method or too disingenuous to admit their intentions. The best way to answer these morons is to ridicule them, and this site does a wonderful job of that.


Tuesday, 28 June 2005
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09:15 - The first of the articles I wrote for the O'Reilly web site to help market Astronomy Hacks should be posted this afternoon. O'Reilly sent me a link to a preliminary version of Observing Deep Impact. They call it unedited, but they've done at least some light editing that's introduced some minor errors. We'll get those fixed, and the final version should be up this afternoon. It will also include the graphics, which are absent in this preliminary version.


Wednesday, 29 June 2005
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09:25 - The final Observing Deep Impact article is now posted.

Unfortunately, if the weather stays as it has been, we won't get much of an opportunity to observe the aftermath of the impact. It's been pretty much cloudy around here for what seems like weeks. Every once in a great while we get a clear night, but invariably the moon is up when that happens. Barbara and I look back with fond memories on that summer three or four years ago when the skies were clear nearly every night. We often went out a couple times during the week as well as on Friday, Saturday, and often Sunday nights. We got in more observing that summer than we have in total before or since. Of course, the entire region was in a severe drought, so on balance it's probably better to have the clouds.

Work continues to progress on the new PC hardware book. Barbara and I will probably take some time off for the holiday weekend.


Thursday, 30 June 2005
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10:05 - Rats! We'd planned an astronomy field trip up to the Wake Forest University Lodge on the Blue Ridge Parkway this weekend, but we're going to be clouded out again. Not just clouded out this time, but rained out and severe thunderstormed out. The southeastern US simply sucks in terms of observing weather. We should probably move to New Mexico.

Failing that, I'm trying to convince our observing buddies that indoor observing is the wave of the future. I'm thinking about building an indoor virtual telescope, using a Linux cluster supercomputer doing real-time image rendering to show realistic images in the Telrad, finder, and eyepiece, and DSCs used in reverse to determine the visible field. I think it'd be pretty neat. We could choose any location on Earth for our virtual observatory, any date, any seeing conditions and transparency, any amount of light pollution, any virtual focal length, aperture, and eyepiece, and so on.

I wonder if Astronomical League would credit observations we made with it towards certificates.

To which observing buddy Paul Jones responds:

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: Re: Fancy Gap
Date: Thu, 30 Jun 2005 09:29:42 -0400
From: Paul Jones
To: Robert Bruce Thompson

Knowing you, you'd hook your virtual telescope up to a Linux supercluster and it still wouldn't have go-to.

And I replied:

No, but it would have tracking, in the same sense as an EQ platform--move to the object manually, release the scope, and it tracks. Of course, the scope itself wouldn't literally move. The Linux cluster would simply keep the object centered in the field of view.

I know you guys all think I'm kidding, but I'm half-way seriously thinking about doing this. Think of the advantages: observe whenever we want (including in broad daylight), no bugs, no cold weather, "clear" every "night", bathroom and kitchen at hand, etc. Plus which, wouldn't you like to observe through a virtual 200" Dob at 15,000 feet in the Andes?

Okay, okay, so it'd have virtual go-to. But we could disable that when we wanted to log Herschel 400 objects or do a Messier Marathon. I could even build in support for equatorial movements to make you happy.


Friday, 1 July 2005
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Saturday, 2 July 2005
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Sunday, 3 July 2005
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