Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Discovery 12.5 Dobsonian: Initial Thoughts

Discovery 12.5" at its new home - many new
deep sky explorations await!
When I poked my head out this morning I almost didn't get up because it looked a bit foggy and there was a halo around the moon indicating a good bit of humidity in the sky... And even a few wisps of clouds. But I had not yet had a chance to look at Jupiter with the new scope so curiosity got the best of me. I was up late last night working on a list of double stars so when I went to bed I did so in all my cozy layers. All I had to do was slip on my boots, a hat and my coat. I grabbed two eyepieces and stepped out the door.

The scope and everything around it was with coated with a thick layer of frost. 19 degrees this morning but, thankfully, no wind. There were birds though, lots of chirpy birds. And a very pretty sunrise. And Jupiter which you don't see in this picture because the gas giant was out of the range of the photo, just a pinpoint of light high in the western sky. To the untrained eye the largest planet in our solar system would have looked like a star about to fade from view in the brightening sky.

I'm glad I got up when I did because had I waited another 15 minutes I might not have found it. As it was I had just enough time to tilt the scope over and place the Tetrad's red center point on the fading pinpoint. I was treated to the best view of Jupiter I've ever had. Even with the coming daylight I saw three bands of reddish clouds stretching across the white sphere of the planet. The two main bands even hinted at a bit of detail along the edges which exhibited irregularities. Even more,  the white base color of the planet turned into a gradient of a fainter red over the north and south poles. Four moons were easily visible as pinpoints of light.

For a little treat after Jupiter I swung over to the moon (top right corner of the photo) and in its current crescent stage it's possible to see many more craters along the edge and it was a fantastic view.

This marks the 5th viewing session with the new scope. Well, new to me. It's actually about 14 years old. Handmade by the folks at Discovery Telescopes, it was a chance find on Craig's List. With a mirror of 12.5" it's only slightly larger than the Zummel's 12" mirror. I am not at all unhappy with the Zummel and have enjoyed it a great deal over the past three years but this was a chance at a better scope and thus a better visual experience at a good price so I went for it. Not only are the optics better but it came with an equatorial platform for tracking objects in the eyepiece. So, what are some of the differences and how does it perform?

Most importantly, the Discovery scopes are built with hand-made mirrors that are a step up from mass produced mirrors used in scopes by Zummel, Orion and others. Or so it is said. In terms of the visual experience I have to also mention that the Discovery is built using cardboard Sonotubes. Yes, cardboard. Very well painted and the Sonotube is very, very sturdy so this is not something that will bend or break easily as long as it is taken care of. But most importantly, the interior of the tube is pitch black. Unlike an unflocked metal scope that's been painted black but appears gray this is completely black. Set this next to the Zummel on a dark night and you'd be amazed at the grayish blue glow that you see when looking down the tube of the Zummel. Look down the tube of the Discovery and it is pitch black. The only light to be seen is that being reflected back up by the primary mirror at the base of the tube.

The result of the improved mirror and the blackened tube in the eyepiece is not just noticeable but dramatic. I can't say for certain how much of the improvement is the mirror and how much is the darker tube but I can say that in the five sessions I've had I am thrilled. As mentioned above, the view of Jupiter this morning was the best I've ever had. Did I think my views before were lacking? At the time, no. I was always very happy with them. But it is greatly improved with this scope. I'm looking forward to more viewings with darker skies and greater contrast.  I suspect that for the most part the views will only be better.

Another object I've viewed during four of the sessions that needs special attention is the Orion Nebula. WOW. The view with this scope is nothing short of spectacular. When viewing astronomical objects, especially nebulosity, the key is contrast which translates into increased detail. With such low light the observer is always looking for the subtle details to be found in gradients of gray and usually blueish light. So, in an object such as the Orion Nebula which is easy to see even in binoculars the details emerge as you improve your practice viewing and as you observe with better equipment. I’ve had a good bit of practice and am seeing more all the time just because I’ve been looking at it now for 3+ years with several different scopes. In some ways it's like other visual activities that one learns in practice.

For example, as a bird watcher I'm still learning new things about birds and learning how not just identify them but to really see the details. With birds it's everything from the shape of the beak to the colorful feather markings, the shape of it's body, to the way the bird flies and more.

In visual astronomy practice helps one to see more details in any instrument but it also helps one notice the refined details in better instruments. If I were to look at the Orion Nebula with my 8" scope now I would see more than I did 3 years ago when I first looked using that scope because I know how too look. I know about averted vision and about spending enough time on an object. I know more of the details and about looking at dark areas as much as the light areas. So, regardless of instrument the view is always getting better with practice and familiarity. But with the Discovery I can safely say that I am seeing an amazing amount of new detail. The increased contrast means the subtle details that would have been lacking before now stand out. Differences in color and brightness mean differences in gradient which, in the case of this particular object, means a new sense of visual depth, of dimension. Honestly, this wasn't something I was expecting. Yes, I was hoping for a better view, better detail, but I didn't quite understand what that would be. Now I know.

Viewing the nebula now means seeing new detail everywhere which leads to this added sense of dimension. It's no longer a flat view. Now, I expect not all objects will benefit in the same way. In fact, I know they will not. My view of the Crab nebula is improved but not by much. It is a much dimmer object to begin with and as I understand it details only emerge with scopes larger than 16". I can't say that's true but I can say that my view is largely the same with all three of the scopes I have at my disposal: 8", 12" and the 12.5". In all three it is an irregular, somewhat spherical gray nebulosity that offers little to no detail. But M82, one of the two Bode's galaxies?  I've not had nearly as much time with M82 with the new scope but in the brief time I've had I'd say it is improved a good bit. It might not prove to be as dramatic as the view of the Orion Nebula but it's definitely better. The same for the Andromeda Galaxy and the Triangulum Galaxy. My expectation is that objects such as galaxies that can offer a view of spiral arm structure will benefit a good bit which is great because they are some of my favorite objects to view. Some nebulae will be improved, others won't. I doubt larger open clusters of stars will be improved but I suspect the resolution of some of the fainter stars in some open clusters will be as will some globular clusters.

Thursday, August 06, 2015

Kaleesha's Book Free Day Today!

Kaleesha’s book, Free to Be, is a freebie today on Amazon! If you've already read it but have not yet left a review please consider doing so as it is a huge help! If you've not gotten your copy why are you still here?? You might also want to consider checking out her blog. Good stuff.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Pigweed!

Not the prettiest of plants but that's okay, the
nutritional content and taste make up for it!
This little grouping is growing very happily
in one of our swales right between our rhubarb
and blueberry.
My new favorite cooked green is a “weed”! As much as I love spinach I don’t grow it that often and when I do I don’t get great crops. I’ve mostly replaced it with kale which I’ve had good experiences growing. But I’ve found a new favorite and as it happens it is a what many would call a weed: pigweed. Of course pigweed is also known as amaranth and there are many varieties. I’m not sure of the exact variety we have growing around Make-it-Do but I can tell you it tastes fantastic when sauteed in a bit of oil or butter with some salt and garlic. Not only does it taste fantastic but it is very nutritious as the greens alone are “are a good source of vitamin A, vitamin C, and folate; they are also a complementing source of other vitamins such as thiamine, niacin, and riboflavin, plus some dietary minerals including calcium, iron, potassium, zinc, copper, and manganese.”

We have it growing in several locations around here and it’s no wonder. It self seeds readily and tolerates a wide range of soil. Well, we’ve got pretty nice soil and are happy to let it set seed. In fact, I’ll be doing my best to help it along by scattering seed in various places. The more of this the better!

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Video: Swale Update

We started putting in the swales in the middle of April so they've had a bit of time to mature with clover as well as a variety of edibles ranging from perennial berries to rhubarb to annuals such as kale and cow peas. As luck would have it our muscovy ducklings hatched  just days after the swales filled for the first time. They wasted no time and began swimming in the swales on their first day.


↵ Use original player
YouTube
← Replay
X
i

Sunday, June 07, 2015

Friday, June 05, 2015

Ducks, the universe and turning 46

I’m 46 today. I’ve never paid too much heed to birthdays. Just another day. That said, I’d like to think that I greatly value my life on earth so everyday is, generally speaking, a good day. I try to live my life in a thoughtful, deliberate manner. I don’t want to just go through the motions, don’t want to take things for granted, don’t want to function in some sort of auto-pilot mode. When someone asks me how I am or what I’ve been up to I don’t want to ever say: “Oh, the usual.”

As I sit here I have four year old Justin sitting next to me. He’s playing with an AT&T sim card. He’s curious. A minute ago he was playing with the two little plastic containers that each contain one of Kaleesha’s teeth that were removed a month ago in preparation for her getting her grill (her braces). I mention all this because 36 months ago I would have never guessed I’d be sitting on this bed living this life. I had not yet met Kaleesha or Justin or the other six fantastic humans I now live with. My life would soon take a very sharp turn for the better. It was already a pretty fantastic life. I had no idea it could be so much better.

A few minutes ago I was reading through my RSS feeds and came across a post by Matt Gemmell who, as it happens, shares my birthday. He’s 36:
I was born on this day, thirty-six years ago – which means that, traditionally, I’ve already had about half of my life.
Wow. Half-life at 36. I’m 10 years past that. I know that many people sort of freak out at 40. I didn’t. Should I freak out at 46 and the idea that I’m probably past half-way through my life on earth? I don’t think so. You see, I’ve got an adorable four year old sitting next to me making funny faces. Life on earth is unpredictable. For me it has been a fantastic journey. I enjoy great privilege. I know that I’m really fucking lucky. I was born a white male in the U.S. in a middle class family. I’m not going to dwell on that but I do want to acknowledge it because it seems wrong not too. I know that there are billions on this planet, who, at this moment, struggle to live the most basic of lives. I plan to spend some time soon writing about the idea of human ethics in regards to how we care for one another and how we care for our planet. Now is not that time. Back on point Henke.

Whether I live another 5, 15 or 30 years I can say I’ve had a pretty fantastic go of it. I hope to last a good long while because at 46 I’ve got a new partner in life and 7 kids that I want to spend a lot of time with. This is a whole new chapter, maybe a new book and not one I saw coming. And with it I feel the need to search harder for a reason to hope that life on earth might be improved.

In my 20s I wanted to leave the world a better place. I thought we could all play a part. I was passionate, angry and idealistic. Then, at some point in my early 30s I thought that at the very least I’d try to do no harm even if I couldn’t create a positive change. It’s easy to fall into that kind of thinking given the apparent trajectory of things on our planet. I’d had a moment while floating in the ocean in which I had the thought that I was just one cell in the sea, just a tiny tiny human in the briefest of moments in a long expanse of time. Humans are just a brief moment, I was just one tiny life form in the grand scheme of things. A began to understand the greater context. Astronomy and the contemplation of the cosmos only increases the sense of being tiny and yet finding a comfort in that. I find the greatest sense of peace in being just an infinitesimal life existing for just a flash of time. I belong to this Universe. I’m home.

Which brings me to the duck. I call her baby girl mama duck. You see, we got three ducks last spring to keep a visiting Canada goose company. The goose left in early fall but the ducks remained. Two males and a female. We called her Louie and when she had babies in the fall we also started calling her mamma duck. We still have one of her ducklings, a girl who we call baby girl. Well, this spring both mama duck and baby girl started sitting on nests and both hatched out lots of ducklings. So, mama duck is still mama duck and baby girl is now baby girl mama duck. See? Well, as it happens baby girl mama duck was not the best mama and started losing her babies. When someone answered our ducklings for sale ad we were happy that they wanted LOTS of ducklings and yesteday sold the remaining 6 ducklings that baby girl mama duck had not yet lost. But that was a mistake.

Are you wondering where I’m going with this? Bear with me, we’re almost there. You see since selling those 6 ducklings yesterday baby girl mama duck has been very upset. From our perspective, she was a new mama duck that was loosing track of her ducklings and the sooner they were sold the safer they would be. But she was the mama duck and now she’s very distraught. She just wandered by the window and I could hear her quiet quacking. She’s making the rounds and seems to be in a contstant search. ALL of her ducklings are gone she doesn’t understand why. It is a futile search.

It might well be that my human mind is creating a story. Perhaps I’m projecting. I don’t really know what baby girl mama duck is thinking. But I know what I’m feeling about her and my perception of her loss. A very deep sadness for her. And yet just just moments ago I was going on about finding peace and taking comfort in my awareness of the context of my own tiny, brief existence. The Universe is a big place and we are, essentially, irrelevant. Life on earth will gradually fade as the Sun slowly grows in size and luminosity. In a billion years all of Earth’s water will have evaporated into space and in five billion years our sun (currently a main sequence star) will begin to run out of its primary fuel, hydrogen, and will begin a transition to helium fusion. It will expand slowly into a subgiant and then into a red giant before contracting into a white dwarf.

Futility. That’s not quite the right word. Or is it? We are limited. As individuals and as a collective. Just as baby girl mama duck is limited in her perception or understanding of where her ducklings were, we too are limited. And yet, just as she refused to give up her search, so too do we push on.

Today I’m 46. I don’t know how much more time I have left on our beautiful planet or how I’ll spend that time. As I sit listening to the sweet sounds of kids on a swing blending with the many layers of nearby and distant birdsong I do know that I intend to make the most of it. I’ll enjoy each day and will do my best to create meaningful relationships with the people and natural communities in which I live.

The wonder and beauty of this life is to be found in the intertwined processes of exploration, observation and co-creation. It is in our own efforts that we will find and create meaning, ephemeral though they may be. That’s just the way of it.

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

The U.S. Political System is BROKEN

Worried about climate change? Don't be! The US Senate voted 50-49 to reject "the scientific consensus that humans are causing climate change. So. Problem solved!
The Senate rejected the scientific consensus that humans are causing climate change, days after NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration declared 2014 the hottest year ever recorded on Earth.

Fools. No. Criminals.

Monday, May 04, 2015

Permaculture Progress

Three of four planned water harvesting swales are in and partially planted.
We've been making great progress in our effort to implement a permaculture design at Make-it-Do. Until recently the process has been one of observation. Kaleesha put in a very nice veggie garden when she moved to this property in 2006 and has expanded it ever since. In addition to the gardening she and the kids began learning about the plants growing around the property. They also started keeping chickens, goats and even a dairy cow at one point. She put in her first fruit trees, two apples, four years ago. We added another growing area last year which began the expansion beyond the fenced area and up onto the south sloping hill that the house sits on. That was a bed of rhubarb, comfrey, herbs, raspberries and flowers. Further up on the hill we added four blueberries. But it wasn't until this spring that we began to really think of implementing a design based on the principles of permaculture.

The beginning of our design-a work in progress.
The process really got started a few weeks back when Kaleesha decided that she would give up any future of keeping goats on the property in exchange for a large fruit orchard. This quickly led to a discussion of what it would mean to create a food forest rather than an orchard and from there what it would mean to begin adding other elements of a permaculture design.

The next important step was deciding to build water harvesting swales on contour on the south facing slope to the east of the house. Up until now the side yard was mostly a heavily used play area for the kids so switching it over to planted swales was an important decision.  We were able to do this, in part, due to the decision to not keep goats in the future which allowed us to begin taking down the fencing which exists all over the property. Taking down the fencing means much easier access to different grassed areas for the kids to play in. The side yard is no longer a primary play area so much as a path to get to other areas further out.
Working out the details of our plan

We have a family of 9 living on this 5 acre property and we share it with chickens, ducks, cats, dogs and wildlife. The property itself is fairly complex with soft, fertile soil below the house, rocky soil above the house and 4 acres of woodland which includes a stream and rocky shut-ins consisting of mostly igneous rock running along the western and southern border. The land is mostly sloping with much of the slope facing south or west. In short, there's a great deal of activity and intended purpose happening here and so the permaculture dictate that observation be step one is something we've taken very seriously. We observe and discuss a great deal before taking any action and developing a plan to guide us and to serve as documentation of what has been done is important.

The plan is not done but our work is in progress. We'll proceed slowly as we co-evolve the design plan and the property at the same time. Eventually the written document will catch-up and become more of a plan for future action than a journal of what we've already done. In some aspects this has already happened as the plan has listings and placements for trees and bushes which will not arrive until next week (Pecans, Chestnuts, Goji Berries, and Lingonberries).

Progress!

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Permaculture at Make-it-Do

Halfway through the dig!
A few years back I wrote about putting in my first swale . About a year later I offered up an update. In May of 2013 I left that site behind when I jumped into life with Kaleesha at Make-it-Do Farm. This spring we’ve been getting busy taking some important steps implementing permaculture here at Make-it-Do. In the past couple of weeks we’ve added blueberries, raspberries, blackberries and 12 fruit trees including peaches, plums, cherries and pears. This is just the first step towards a food forest and larger permaculture design. Still to come is adding in a variety of fruit bushes, herbs and ground covers to fill out the various layers between and around the fruit trees.

The biggest development in the kitchen garden: three new hugelculture beds built with lots of half rotted logs and ready for planting.

Planted with fruit and filled with rain!
In addition to the planting we’ve also begun putting in our swales. We’ve got the first of what will be a series of three or more swales on the south facing hill that has been a grass yard on the east side of the house. We’re transforming the grassy slope into a series of water harvesting swales that will be planted with various polycultures. The first has an estimated capacity of 400 gallons and has been planted with blueberries, rhubarb, strawberries and clover. Still to come is comfrey, a few herbs and a fruit tree. Each of the swales will be similarly planted though the specifics will vary. More updates soon!

Monday, March 30, 2015

Busy Spring!

Spring has come to Missouri and with it lots of work for Tucker Creek Creative as well as plenty of work for us at Make-it-Do Farm. As if my freelance work and our farm/garden projects weren’t enough, we’ve also been busy with activities for the kids. Mainly we’ve discovered Farmington-based Lab Revolution which is a technology-based 4-H group. We’ve had fantastic fun thus far.

Check the links above to Kaleesha’s great posts providing all the details and lots of great photos!

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Recycled Wood Shelving

We’ve been wanting to better utilize one of the walls in our bedroom and finally got around to the project during a brief warm spell in January. The goal was rustic shelving that would hold books, satellite modem, and our flat screen. We had a stack of beautifully weathered old cedar wood that had previously been used in someone’s privacy fence. It’s been sitting outside for a while so we needed to use it soon if we were going to use it. It was perfect for our shelving.


It was pretty straight forward. After disassembling the fence we discussed the consruction and came up with a list of lumber sizes. We cut all the pieces which was only slightly tricky because our recycled lumber needed to be mixed and matched a bit.  The whole project took about 5 hours. The only cost? Screws which were also being recycled from an earlier project so getting their second use. Not too bad! 


The final touch was a wall collage of old National Geographic maps and vintage nature journal sketches from this Flickr collection by the British Library.

Staying Warm

There’s nothing quite like staying warm in the winter with wood. In the past I tried to cut and split what I needed but with the years my back has gotten increasingly cranky (as has Kaleesha’s). In particular cutting and splitting wood is a task that can easily put us in bed. That said, sometimes it just has to be done. If it weren’t for the pain it would be a nice way to spend a few hours outside with the kids. Even with the back pain we seem to be able to enjoy it a bit. Everyone working together makes for some sweet moments.


Luckily we had some wood left over at the top of the hill from our observatory project. Cut over a year ago it was perfect for splitting and has been keeping us warm for the past week. Royal and Little were especially helpful in transporting the wood down the hill, smiling and chit-chatting the whole time. Adorable.


Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Free Ebook Today!

Kaleesha’s book, Free to Be, is a freebie today on Amazon! If you've already read it but have not yet left a review please consider doing so as it is a huge help! If you've not gotten your copy why are you still here?? You might also want to consider checking out her blog. Good stuff.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

A Sentient Being

Oliver Sacks on learning he has cancer

I cannot pretend I am without fear. But my predominant feeling is one of gratitude. I have loved and been loved; I have been given much and I have given something in return; I have read and traveled and thought and written. I have had an intercourse with the world, the special intercourse of writers and readers.

Above all, I have been a sentient being, a thinking animal, on this beautiful planet, and that in itself has been an enormous privilege and adventure.

Well said.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Idealism, Diplomacy, and the Pale, Blue Dot

Kaleesha's at it again with a really wonderful post about our human ideas about the way things are supposed to be..
Today at lunch I overheard my six year old directing one of the older children in the making of her PB&J sandwich. “Not like that. I want it the way it’s supposed to be.”

At six years old, Little already has ideas about the way things are supposed be. Are all children like this or just mine? I don’t know. I suspect it’s more common than not. In my home, all nine of us, right down to four year old Justin, have perfectionist streaks. Natural born idealists. Though the older we are, the more set in our ways and certain we seem to be.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

It Could Happen

Colin Dickey writing for Aeon on why it’s dangerous for modern civilization to be so dependent on technology:

On 1 September 1859, the British astronomer Richard Carrington witnessed a Coronal Mass Ejection (CME), a burst of solar winds and magnetic energy that had escaped the corona of the Sun. The Carrington Event, as it came to be known, was not only the first recorded CME, it was also one of the largest ever on record, and it unleashed a foreboding and wondrous display of light and magnetic effects. Auroras were seen as far south in the northern hemisphere as San Salvador and Honolulu. As the Baltimore Sun reported at the time: ‘From twilight until 10 o’clock last night the whole heavens were lighted by the aurora borealis, more brilliant and beautiful than had been witnessed for years before.’

At the time, the event caused some minor magnetic disruption to telegraph wires, but for the most part there was little damage caused by such a spectacular event, its main legacy being the fantastic displays of light across the sky in early September. But should a solar flare happen on the scale of the Carrington Event now (and there’s a 12 per cent chance of one hitting the Earth before 2022), the effects might have a radically different impact on our advanced civilisation. If a CME with the same intensity were to hit the Earth head-on, it could cause catastrophic damage.

A National Research Council report in 2008 estimated that another Carrington Event could lead to a disruption of US infrastructure that could take between four and 10 years – and trillions of dollars – to recover from. Particularly vulnerable are the massive transformers on which our entire power system relies. Massive fluxes in magnetic energy can easily overload a transformer’s magnetic core, leading to overheating and melting of their copper cores. In the worst-case scenario, a repeat of the Carrington Event would cripple our infrastructure so severely it could lead to an apocalyptic breakdown of society, a threat utterly unknown to our ‘less civilised’ ancestors.

Illustration: Common Components of Vaccines

Vaccine Illustration From the excellent Compound Interest, a website all about Chemistry, is this post regarding the common components of vaccines.
The recent measles outbreak in the US has once again provoked discussion over vaccinations, and why some parents choose not to vaccinate their children despite the benefits of doing so. Whilst not the only factor, part of the blame lies with misinformation about the chemical composition of vaccines and the effects these compounds can have. This graphic summarises some of the key components in vaccines, as well as clarifying their purpose and safety in the concentrations present.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Apple and the environment

Apple's new solar farm and other environmental efforts:(null)

Apple’s been on a very impressive roll and I’m not talking about it’s ever evolving line of mobile devices and computers, but rather its continuing build-out of solar farms. In 2012 they completed their Maiden North Carolin data center with its own on-site solar power facility which is the largest privately owned solar array in the U.S. Since then they’ve completed work on a facility in Prineville Oregon that utilizes “micro-hydro” and another solar facility in Reno Nevada is set to come online in 2015. In locations where they do not generate power they are sourcing it from wind and other renewables.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

A Rough Guide to Spotting Bad Science

A Rough Guide to Spotting Bad Science:

The vast majority of people will get their science news from online news site articles, and rarely delve into the research that the article is based on. Personally, I think it’s therefore important that people are capable of spotting bad scientific methods, or realising when articles are being economical with the conclusions drawn from research, and that’s what this graphic aims to do. Note that this is not a comprehensive overview, nor is it implied that the presence of one of the points noted automatically means that the research should be disregarded. This is merely intended to provide a rough guide to things to be alert to when either reading science articles or evaluating research.