Monthly Archives: September 2012

Shopping at midnight


At midnight last night I had to do some shopping:  my collimator had broken (who knows why or how) and in exasperation I rushed to order a replacement, which I hope will be more robust than this make.  The collimator sort-of works when bandaged with masking tape; but hardly ideal.

Jupiter rose and the Moon had moved far enough round not to be right in my eyes as I looked at it.  It is surprising how much detail you can tease out over a period, although on a quick glance there seems to be nothing except the two major belts.  It’s easier to see the dark features than pale ones – for example, looking at images taken by astrophotographers there is a line of turbulence in the Equatorial Zone, but there’s not enough contrast to allow me to pick that out. The GRS is very pale indeed.

This is the finished drawing in the log:

This is what I tidied up and transcribed from my soggy outdoor notebook – drawing in gloves by red torch (even with added moonlight) not very easy.

Argh! Help! I can see in colour!


Normally this would be a good thing.  But not in the middle of the night. Oh no.  If the grass looks green and the sky looks blue and the housebricks look red, astronomers will gnash their teeth.  Because it means the Moon is full, will be up all night, and is SHOUTING all over the sky.  And while it’s doing this, you can’t even look at the wretched thing itself.  It is excruciatingly bright in the eyepiece; and without any defining shadows, a lot of the features are very difficult to see, even with a ND filter to reduce the glare.

I was fidgeting, and went for my cheap-and-cheerful set of filters.  Want to see the Moon in a deep rich blue?  Pretty!  How about a baleful scarlet?  Yikes!  Pale blue didn’t really look blue at all, but I rather liked a grass-green Moon.  I even tried the nebula filter (that’s just silly) – a rich turquoise green beamed from the eyepiece.

UHC filter looks like a mirror until you hold it up to the light

The dark blue didn’t work at all, in spite of being pretty, but the red was quite restful on the eye, and did bring out the dark features.  It lost too much light, however, and the pale green lost too much contrast.  The nebula filter was eliminated with reluctance, as it did seem to give good contrast to small dark features.  The winner?  Pale blue.  Slightly more contrasty than plain ND, I thought.

Not according to plan


Click into the first picture to see the gallery.

Taking a geekly turn


This week I have been to two public lectures on science topics (epigenetics and metabolism, and new satellite technologies) and have been filling in the gaps with on-line lectures from Gresham College.  How lucky to have this access to science-in-progress, with lots of nuts and bolts (whether you understand them or not) and curiosity-whetters to make you follow up the topics.

Doing autumn


I made a start on clearing the garden at the weekend, but since then the weather has been dreadful so it’s a case of nipping out between squalls.

There wasn’t much to salvage.  Nearly all this season’s corn was undeveloped like this.  And the peppers are tiny.  I’ve just picked the last of them and tossed the plants out of the conservatory as they looked infested.

I didn’t photograph the carrots when I dug them up – they are getting a bit coarse now, but at least they are definitely carrot-shaped.  Some were transmogrified into carrot cake.

The tomatoes are struggling to ripen, out of doors or in.  For the first time ever, I kept a few of the tomato plants inside the conservatory for the whole summer.  They have been disappointing on the whole though – coarse skins, and the flavour not as good as usual.

I managed to get enough to make soup once or twice.  This is the recipe from the Pauper’s Cookbook – you strain out all the skin and seeds, so you don’t have to worry about peeling them.  This batch looked quite pretty so I took a photo.



It’s the end of a long day, a squall is hammering the garden, I’m scrubbing the loo.  I’ve got Radio 4 on iPlayer.  Material World has an item about recycling waste using flies, and then turning the resulting maggots into chicken or fish food.  Jason Drew, the proponent of this technology, tells us how he went round the back of an abbatoir and found a lake of blood and millions of flies. And they were all buzzing in F minor.  ‘I know a lot about flies these days’, he says happily.  God bless you, Auntie Beeb, you made my day again.

Things to do when you can’t sleep: xx


xx :  Draw a map of South America on the ceiling

Not quite as eccentric as it sounds.  There has been a leak from some plumbing, now supposedly fixed, and I was wondering if it had been done properly – so I got up and drew a pencil line round the water stain to see if it was still getting bigger.  After I did it I noticed the continental appearance.  Since I was on the step ladder, I was rather tempted to carry on with the rest of the world, but so far I have restrained myself.

(I checked it tonight, and I don’t think the stain is still growing…)



No fun unless it is books.  Better when you don’t have to go out in the rain to find them.  Best fun when they are free.  I find Amazon enormously irritating, but must admit downloading old and sometimes obscure titles to the Kindle for nothing feels really good.  And because they are free, you can experiment with some of those authors you never quite fancied, as their hour may have come at last.  Now just go away world, I want to read for a month …

Qui s’excuse, s’accuse


So does that apply to apologists for third parties?  If it does, anyone reading Ranulph Fiennes’ book on Robert Falcon Scott would begin to smell a rat.  He is actively defending Scott’s character and judgement from the first pages.  Surely Scott’s behaviour must have been questionable to require so much justification?

You might think this unless, like me,  you had already read a book which preceded Fiennes’ biography, a double account of Scott and Amundson by Roland Huntford.  For the first chapter or two I thought that Huntford’s ability to be critical of an heroic icon was probably a good thing.  I became more disturbed as the chapters rolled by, ending up with a puzzled contempt for Huntford which I can’t remember feeling for any other supposedly respectable author.

Huntford hero-worships Amundsen, and has an extraordinary personal animus against Scott.  In fact, the head and front of Scott’s sins seems to be that he is not Amundsen.  Huntford is like a parent who openly favours one child and shows only spite for the other, who is always denigrated, not because he deserves reprehension but in order to justify the parental dislike.  Some of the allegations against Scott may be true; but that is almost irrelevant, as I came to believe that Huntford had no idea what was true or not, his judgement soured and in thrall to his personal prejudices.

So I read Fiennes as a corrective.  His prose is often lumpy, his defensiveness can be irritating, and his rants sometimes become hobby-horsical,  but if he is out to get anyone it is Huntford, who, quite frankly, has been asking for it.  And unlike Huntford, Fiennes is definitely entitled to interpret the experience of being hypothermic, frostbitten, starved, tied in desperate dependence to other fallible human beings, and watching death approach.