East Veil Nebula

I switched the observatory camera from the original CCD SBIG ST-10XME to my modified CMOS Canon 500D/T1i. Replacing the observatory camera was more work, of course, than envisioned. The Canon sensor is set back compared to the SBIG and there was not room for the TEC-140 telescope to get focused. Jeff Dickerman, the super helpful president at Optec, made me a new adapter to go with another receiver that shortened the camera train enough to get easily into focus. I then rediscovered (I had forgotten but found my own forum entry) that CCDAutoPIlot had to turn off the feature on TheSkyX that would record both RAW and FITS files and records only the FITS files. It turns out the DeepSkyStacker can work with FITS and convert the RAW files that create them in color. But I had over time come up with a dark library in RAW frames for the Canon so I could temperature match with the light frames. I don’t have such with FITS files. But if I want to use the observatory automation of CCDAutoPilot, which I do, I will need a new FITS library at a range of temperatures to do it right.

Then I had trouble with setting exposure with CCDAutoPilot on the Canon images. I’m telling a lot of technical info here, but it took a lot of wrestling directly with complex technology to get through all the unforeseen obstacles. The Canon CMOS sensor uses a 2X2 Bayer matrix to record color. Two cells of the matrix are green, the other two are red and blue each. CCD’s, like my SBIG camera,have individual sensors not organized in a matrix. In something to do with the CMOS Bayer matrix, CCDAutoPilot only sees one cell as exposed, and it was saturated, while the other three were only about one-fifth exposed. It averages them in a meaningless way and it seems hit or miss if CCDAutoPilot can get the exposure close enough to get flats. Sometimes it gives up, sometime it settles on something. Focusing is tough too, as is plate solving. CCDAutoPilot did not have a solution as you can see on their forum here, but John Smith there encouraged me to investigate on my own further. You are getting in pretty deep when the software designer basically says good luck.

Weirdly, after all that, I did come up with the image below.

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What is the next move?

Ruth Bader Ginsburg has died. It is a fantastic loss to the country. The timing of her loss, of course, could be catastrophic. Evil is often fortunate.

There is no bottom for Republican senators. They will use Republican State AG’s to contest the election, appoint a radical right justice, and decide at the now corrupt Supreme Court to appoint Trump no matter what the legitimate vote count. A power hungry, racist minority will rule and democracy will be dead in the U.S.

How can we counter such a cynical ploy? Will marching in the street be enough?

Trifid Nebula, Star Factory

The Trifid Nebula is one of the most popular objects to be viewed and photographed by amateurs like me, but if you are in mid North America you have to be quick, it isn’t up for long. In mid-August it doesn’t get fully dark where my observatory is in Torrey, Utah until 10 PM. At that time the nebula is due south, right at the meridian, and at its highest point in the sky for the night at a low 26 degrees altitude (90 degrees is straight up). Boulder Mountain is south of Torrey and it is as dark as it gets in that direction, so it is a good place and time to photograph the object. But by 1 AM the Trifid is getting below 20 degrees altitude, getting close to the mountain and running into too much atmospheric interference near the horizon. The trick is to get some moonless, cloudless nights at these few critical hours. Mid-August worked out this year.

Deep-sky object, Trifid Nebula
Trifid Nebula in Sagittarius, HαRGB, August 2020
Sky plot
Just above the “teapot,” the field radius of the attached image = 0.5 degrees

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Butterfly wings and change

It is obvious that one butterfly flapping its wings somewhere on the planet is not going to change the weather. Such a thing is the proverbial gnat fart in a hurricane. That is how I feel when it comes to boycotting the big tech companies like Facebook, Amazon and Google.  What is my tiny effort going to do against their immense wealth and power?

But their immense wealth and power is the problem. Amazon is choking out America’s bookstores, publishers and retailers. Yes, they make lower prices for consumers but thinkers like writer, attorney and professor at Columbia Law School Tim Wu and Rhode Island Congressman David Cicilline, Chairman of the Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial and Administrative Law, know that there is more to the dangers of monopoly power than price. This old investment professional is worried that there are only about half as many public small-cap companies as there were twenty years ago. I am worried that Google and Facebook are almost completely choking out journalism and the democratically critical Fourth Estate. Economy like ecology like democracy requires diversity to thrive and survive. We are starting to recognize that all this free and cheap internet service like Google, Facebook and Amazon offer is actually very expensive and diminishing. Continue reading

IC 4601 in Scorpius

I’m working on weaning myself as much as practical from social media. I have previously written how the largest corporations today, primarily all internet related, are dangerously sucking all the oxygen out of the economy. I don’t want to be a part of that travesty if I can help it.

I have been posting my astrophotos on Facebook where I get by far the most response. But I want to lay lower playing that game. I have ad blockers and add-ins that keep me from being tracked, but I want to spend less and less actual time there. I also use DuckDuckGo to search instead of Google, have dropped my Amazon Prime, and the only Apple product I use is an old iPad to stream Spotify. It’s a start.

As part of that start I want to post my astrophotos here instead of Facebook. I may not get as much attention. I hope to be grown up enough to be fine with that.

Here is one of my latest images. You can click on it to go to my astrophoto gallery on this same website to see a larger version and to find brief technical information about how it was acquired.

Backyard observatory deep space object photo

IC 4601 in Scorpius, June and July 2020

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We are serfs

Screenshot_2020-07-15 iShares Core S P Small-Cap ETF (IJR) Stock Price, Quote, History News - Yahoo Finance

This year-to-date stock index performance chart exemplifies a key aspect to the illness in our country. IXIC is the NASDAQ which is primarily influenced by the household name big tech stocks. SPY is the S&P 500. IJR is a small-cap index. Year-to-date the NASDAQ is up 17 percent, the S&P 500 is flat, and small stocks are down 17%. That is a crazy gap.

The big tech stocks in the NASDAQ, like Amazon, Google, Apple and Microsoft are the mega corporations that are wrecking Main Street and its mom and pop retail, that are decimating newspapers and journalism, that are publishing the Russian bots and creating the echo chambers of hate and divide that brings the U.S. to the brink of civil war. It is their massive, mountainous, tectonic market capitalizations that give to the large techs corrupt Citizens United power with assets greater than most countries and our nation’s steering wheel to the oligarchs that own most of their stock.

In my investment management career (ending with the previous century) we talked about performance gaps in basis points. A hundred basis points is one percent. A performance gap of say 80 basis points was notable. No one ever talked about six month gaps of 3,700 basis points. Such a thing never happened. (Today is a good day for small-cap stocks. It was more like 4,000 basis points yesterday.)

If this gap doesn’t close we are all serfs. Ill informed serfs. Chained to our phones, mind numb, and poor. Serfs to un-democratic corporations. Mere zombie consumers to be played.

I post this as a reminder to myself to back off of social media, to buy local, to read print and support my local newspapers. To support Torrey House Press and the power of story to change culture. And vote Democratic like our soul depends on it.

Let Trump shoot himself in the foot?

In general I think of my blog as a place to talk about conservation and dark skies and to showcase my astrophotography. But I want to keep jotting down a few notes for posterity on my thoughts about the pandemic.

coffins

A burial in New Jersey last week. Todd Heisler/The New York Times

Trump and the GOP are pushing re-opening. The case and death curves are now flat to slightly down. With reopening they are not likely to go much lower. A vaccine is a year or more away. There is negligible immunity built up. The disease is out there now more than ever. We are run my a mafia crime family and there have been no preparations for a national plan to test, trace and contain. Yesterday I predicted 250,000 deaths by Election Day on Facebook. I am probably low. That would be at 1,000 deaths per day for the next 180 days added to the current 70,000 dead. We are still seeing nearly twice that daily death rate. Continue reading

In wildness is the preservation . . .

We are sick and Nature is in charge. Is her wildness also our preservation?

It is not quite five in the morning and a rose colored light is starting to fill the room. I’m in Cooke City, Montana in early June 2013 with Torrey House Press publisher Kirsten Johanna Allen in bed beside me and THP author Susan Imhoff Bird asleep in the other room. The cabin is ancient and in poor repair, the bed is lumpy. We are in Yellowstone to start research on Susan’s book Howl, of Woman and Wolf and I am wide awake. I have a question on my mind. What the hell did Thoreau mean, exactly, when he said, “In wildness is the preservation of the world?”

P1010395.JPG

Cooke City in a June dawn.

Next door to the cabin is a coffee shop that makes its own baked goods. The proprietor opens the door at 5:00 because she is there with her ovens preparing for the day and I know they have internet. I get dressed, grab coat, hat and iPad and head over. There is still snow in the crevices of the craggy peaks surrounding the town, just visible in first light. Wispy clouds are pink and orange. The warm smells of hot coffee and bear claws great me along with the proprietor at the cafe. She’s my age with blonde hair pulled up loosely on top of her head, busy with her baking trays. A steaming cup next to the iPad and I log on, type in my question to the oracle that is Google Search. To connect to that question, in this place, with such comfort and beauty around me and a day of wolf watching ahead is vaguely thrilling. Continue reading

In spite of Trump, the COVID-19 curve is being flattened. And Trump will be re-elected.

Republicans will successfully frame and spin the relatively benign outcome.

Trump, who rarely speaks truth, is right when he says there are a lot of deaths every year from the flu. This season the Center of Disease Control estimates that, as of mid-March, between 29,000 and 59,000 have died due to influenza illnesses. Globally the World Health Organization estimates that the flu kills 290,000 to 650,000 people per year. In comparison, as of April 8, The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington forecasts there will be 60,000 deaths caused by (the first wave of ?) the COVID disease in the U.S. In Utah there are 13 deaths so far. Experiencing no more additional deaths than occur in a flu season will be a sort of success compared to how bad it might have been. It will be much worse than necessary, yet Democrats will fail to frame it as such. Continue reading

How Biden could be America’s best prez ever

I am hopeful and confident that Joe Biden can and will win the election this fall. I am gratified he has indicated he will choose a female vice-president. I am concerned, however, at Joe’s age. At almost 64 years old myself, I am not anti-geezer, but Joe will be 82 by a second term and that is getting just too old for the demands of the highest office in the land.

Image result for kamala harris with joe biden

How to gain the first female president.

My wife, Kirsten Johanna Allen, has a great idea that I have not otherwise heard being bantered about. Joe could guide the country through recovery of both our health and wealth for three years and then resign making, say, Kamala Harris president and putting her in place to run in the next election as the incumbent.

In this era of pandemic, with local earthquakes thrown in, the thought almost makes me optimistic. We may just save our democracy yet.