My Sagan Collection

15 08 2010

This summer brought a miracle of good luck*  when I happened upon two nice collections of Sagan’s work in a silent auction.  I scored enough books that I’m slowly closing in on having his entire published works.

Hmmm, maybe I should alphabetize...

As I’ve written before, I’ve been reading Sagan since high school 20 years ago.  What I enjoy most is his ability to speak to a wide audience.  You can read Cosmos or Contact if you just want a light visual into who we are and how we fit in, while Demon Haunted World or Broca’s Brain can really push you to look within yourself to reflect on what *you* believe.  And, in most every thing, he put his unending belief that nuclear disarmament was vital to our survival as a species.  He’s right, y’know.

However, my collection is far from complete!  For those of you wondering what to get me this Carl Sagan Day (November 7th), I give you this list of wants:

–> Planets (1966)

–> Communication with Extraterrestrial Intelligence (1973)

–> Other Worlds (1975)

–> Murmurs of the Earth (1983)

–> Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors (1992)


–> Billions and Billions:Thoughts on Life and Death at the Brink of the Millennium (1997)

Of these books, I’m most ashamed that I don’t own the last one; seeing as how it was the last book he ever wrote.  I need to rectify that.

Oh, and if you’ll notice in the picture above, that is an actual paper-bound textbook for Cosmos!  It has 13 chapters that correspond to the 13 episodes, complete with assignments and study guides!  Awesome, huh?

*(irony intended)


Planetary grouping for the Perseids

10 08 2010

You can see by this image I stole from Sky & Telescope that we’re due for a really cool planetary grouping in the west over the next few days.  It’ll be a real challenge to pull Mercury out of the glare of the setting sun (if not impossible without binoculars), but see if you can spot the other three planets this week.  They’ll be approaching the horizon around 9:30, so you’ll have to look before then.

And be sure to catch Jupiter rising in the east around 10pm.  It’s the brightest thing in the sky from that time until dawn this week, so you can’t miss it!

After 10pm you can start looking for Perseids.  The peak is Thursday night/Friday morning, but you can catch elevated rates of meteors all week.  Perseids tend to be quite fast, and the brighter ones look yellow to me.  About a third of them will leave persistent trains, which can leave an indelible memory for any witness.  Remember, even though they can light up the sky and leave a brilliant streak across the heavens, they’re rarely larger than your fingernail.  And Perseids almost never make it to the ground.  Each one will burn up at least 25 miles over your head.  Amazing, huh?

Let me know if you see something spectacular!

Boring title.  Awesome topic!

Perseids 2010!

6 08 2010

The spectacular Perseids meteor shower is almost upon us!  This year the best rates for the American continent will occur on the morning of Friday, August 13.

Remember last year? I told you all about the really good rates, but even I didn’t go out for more than a casual look.  Most likely, neither did you.  We had a glaringly bright full moon that just made observing near impossible!  This year the rates are still high; and — good news, everyone! — there’s no moon to worry about.

The meteors within this shower were shed from comet Swift-Tuttle, which passes across Earth’s orbit every 135 years.  The last time it was here was 1993 when observers in Europe saw 200-500 meteors/hour!  We won’t get nearly that number this year, but the rates will still be substantial.  And with the peak occurring just two days after new moon, the only thing keeping you from seeing a smattering of your own Perseids will be the weather.

The Perseids will be falling all night with an expected rate of 60 meteors/hour.  Remember that as with most meteor showers, you will sometimes go for 5-10 min. without seeing a thing, then four or five will zip across the sky all at once!  As the evening turns toward deepest night, the rates will increase dramatically; and near dawn you can expect almost 120 meteors/hour.  Remember that the farther north you are, the higher the radiant will climb and the more you’ll be able to see.  But also the farther north you are, the sooner night turns into day.  So those living around 30 – 35 degrees north latitude (MY latitude!) probably get the best overall show.

So set aside some time Thursday night to relax outside with a reclining lawn chair and some bug repellent.  You don’t want another year getting by without watching this ancient event.  It’s really special.

Most folks, like yourself, only want to lay back and see how many they can count.  What a serious observer like me would do is take good notes and file a detailed report with one of the major meteor organizations.  (how nerdy am I?)  But there *is* a group in Britain trying to get the public to help them gather data by using Twitter.  I have a bit of a problem with this as I would prefer people to not take their eyes off the sky long enough to punch characters on their phones.  Also, unless your phone has a deep-red-only display, you’ll kill your night vision the moment you look at the screen.  But… maybe it’s a worthwhile effort.  And if we can get a bunch of people actually interested in looking beyond just the pretty and trying to contribute some real science — well, who am I to complain?

Here’s their warm-up video.  It’s a little on the “sensational” side, but awesomely entertaining!

[You gotta watch it fullscreen!]

Who cares about my garden?

28 07 2010

I’m going to be completely honest with you.  There is no way that I would ever read a blog post (or a magazine article or a newspaper fluff piece) about someone’s garden.  I don’t even want to hear about your garden! And with that, I don’t really want to bore you with any details about my garden. Except that my garden is doing awesome! Tell ya what… why don’t I just save all the pictures and personal details for a different page.

You’ll notice my page links at the top of this page now includes a new link.  This page has a few pics already, and that number will grow in the coming weeks.  I should’ve started this at the beginning of summer, but too late to worry about that now.

For those who regularly read blogs, I need some advice on how to do this.  At first I was just going to write a really long post that you would have to jump to from the main page.  But that would have to be done all at once and it was taking me too long to sort through my pictures and organize my thoughts already.  So then I figured a completely separate page would do better, but WordPress doesn’t allow individual posts on any page other than the main.  So now I’ve got this separate page created and a few items shown, but when I get ready to update in a couple of days (or hours, who knows?) how should I do that?  Do I put them at the bottom?  At the top?  Do I date all modifications?  How should I do this?  Does any body even care to see it?  Your input is most appreciated.

iPhone 4 Sentiments

20 07 2010

I feel the same as this guy.  I get tired of hearing people who want to spend lots of money on brand new technology complain about that technology.  I have a long-standing attitude toward all the cutting-edge stuff:  Wait until the bugs are worked out!  That means that I never buy a car the first year they come off the assembly line, I don’t use the newest version of Windoze until at least the release the first service pack, and I don’t buy a first-generation iAnything.  I guess I take much of this attitude after NASA, which until just a couple of years ago was still using 486 processors for most everything aboard the Space Station.  Tried and true technology is the way to go.

Unless, of course, I really want it.  :o)

SEPA wrap-up

4 07 2010

Heh.  So check me out.  I didn’t exactly blog every day like intended, but I wore myself out while I was there!  And then I dove straight into two weeks of professional development which, along with my garden and other chores, completely occupied my time.  Now I’m just finding it hard to get back into writing.  But, here we go…

The con was pretty wonderful.  Lots to eat.  Good people.  Some new things to see.  But what set this year’s trip apart from the others was the inclusion of my good friend, Jeremy Lusk, attending with me.  Jeremy has accepted a fellowship in another state in a doctorate program in physics, specializing in astronomy.  He’s very interested in education, so a trip to SEPA just seemed logical.  He made some solid contacts and by now should be blighted with the attraction to attend each year after this as well.

Some friends didn’t make it since this is an IPS year. IPS was in Egypt just last week, and since most folks can’t afford attending two cons in a single year, many opted to make that incredible trip and see Egypt through the eyes of an astronomer.  IPS occurs every other year, and 2012 brings it to Baton Rouge to a place I think many of you guys have visited before.  Cool, huh?  Jon Elvert & Mike Smail are regular attendees of SEPA (in fact, Jon is the past president), but only Jon attended SEPA this year (on account that he was the president).  I noticed a picture of Mike online attending IPS in Egypt.  Guess you should probably make an appearance if the next one is at your dome!

My probably favorite moment was getting to play play with a Theremin.  Not a very easy instrument to handle, even though it can only play one note at a time!  I feel so much joy even now when I think about getting to use my own hands (and Jeremy might tell you — most of my body) to wrangle something that resembled a tune from that beast.  I wish I had some video of my two minutes of glory for you, but alas, the people looking on were much more into pointing and laughing than trying to hold their video recorders steady.  You will simply have to imagine how totally hard core I looked in coaxing that last, deep, low note from the machine.  Think about how Luke Skywalker looked in that epic Star Wars poster with his saber lofted on high, and his hot sister hanging on his leg.  Wait, what?

I got to see two new programs made by some friends of mine in their entirety — SpacePark360 by Matt, Jason, and Michael of Dome3D and Natural Selection by Robin Sip of Mirage3D.  Both were excellent.  In fact, I lost my preliminary copy of Natural Selection and was quite upset because I wanted my family to watch it so bad.  After a week went by I decided it was just gone and I’d grab another copy next year.  However, I stumbled across it between my truck seats yesterday as I was headed out to Jeremy’s wedding.  Hoo-zah!  I excitedly showed it to them last night, but I’ve discovered it’s just not the same without that immersive dome around you.  Thhhbbbt!  And I wouldn’t even try to show SpacePark360 on anything other than a dome.  It’s all about effect, baby!

And the rest of the details are simply that — details.  The day-to-day excitement seemed continuous and most of my memories now consist of the moments I got to spend with my friends and colleagues rather than any specific event.   With my post-SEPA workshops out of the way I now turn my full attention to my summer break, which has now officially been going for a week.  Hope your summer outlook is as good as mine.

SEPA is coming!

5 06 2010

If I could go to any con I could it would be.. well, it would be the San Diego Comicon!  But then the next con would be… okay, it would be the Atlanta DragonCon.  But somewhere on that list is definitely SEPA con!  SEPA stands for the South Eastern Planetarium Association.  And even though I don’t have a planetarium to call my own anymore, they still let me be a part.  ‘Cause it’s all about what I bring to the table, man!  I just love all the people, the programs, and even the workshops that are packed into the five days the con runs.

And this year the theme is something close to my heart — Storytelling!  I take seriously the role storytelling plays in education.  It is the most primitive form of teaching from the beginnings of our species.  A well-told story doesn’t just educate, it rips open the mind’s creativity and passion.  It makes the hard-coded, bulleted lists of our seemingly random informational bits a cohesive tapestry of flowing imagery that makes the bits make sense.  It compels us to educate ourselves.  (Wow, suddenly I’m inspired to write up a speech about how I feel about all that.  hmmmm.)

The workshops, the presentations, and the special speakers are all just fantastic.  (Especially the special speakers.  This year we are honored to have Dava Sobel hanging out — woo hoo!) But that’s not the whole reason why I’m so excited.  I’m excited over the unveiling of new technologies in the realm of full-dome theater!  Every year the advances made leapfrog the year before.  Two years ago I was stunned by the introduction of the Super Megastar II.  Last year it was the ease of Sky-Skan’s proprietary software to place and then color-code lists of asteroids into a star field (okay, that doesn’t sound impressive at all.  This is why one has to make the journey to actually see this stuff for himself!)  So this year who knows what will emerge.  I’ve heard that Evans & Sutherland are supposed to really wow us with a new demo.  I await with baited breath…

Also this year I’ll be joined by Jeremy Lusk, making us the only two participants from Arkansas — instead of the usual one participant.  All together there will be representatives from six countries and thirty-two states.  I know most of those by name, and I think most of those would recognize me.  It’s wonderful working in a field where you truly feel part of a larger good.  Where the goals of the collective are to better each other.  The methods I learn, the techniques I pick up, the stories my companions tell always inspire me to return to my job …and try very hard to inspire others.

But, as with all cons, the real stuff comes after 11pm, when everyone is relaxed and can just talk about what they truly enjoy, which is working in this educational field that brings new challenges every day.  There’s where the real inspiration is.  The after-hours camaraderie is where the lasting friendships happen.  And those are the moments I remember best every year.

I’ll keep the blog updated daily next week.