Author Archives: Mark Bailey

About Mark Bailey

I am the founder and board member of Torrey House Press, a book publisher promoting conservation through literature and proprietor of the Torrey House - Alpenglow Observatory. I am also a director at Western Watersheds Project.

Moral Irony

As a moral statement I have chosen to quit using big social media and big tech. The irony is that my tiny boycott against the bigs costs only me.

I have closed all my social media accounts in part because:

  • they spread disinformation and lies for immense profit,
  • they are purposefully addictive (the above works),
  • they are economically way too big and suppress vital competition,
  • they are politically biased (the right embraces lying and conspiracy much more than the left), and
  • they cause great anxiety.

It is ironic that without social media I have no platform to voice my stance. I have less than a handful of followers on this otherwise nifty blog and website. If I want more followers I am advised that I have to use social media to get them.

What you do is important to the cosmos.
What you do and think affects the Cosmos.

It also costs me money to be virtuous. Particularly regarding big tech. Books for instance, of which I buy many, cost more and take longer to get here when I don’t use Amazon. It takes longer and costs more to go to the hardware store for almost anything. Camera supplies and equipment costs more and do not just show up on my step. Supporting and subscribing to print media is expensive.

But if you ask me if it is worth several hundred dollars a year or so along with more time to shop locally my quick reaction is sure. That does not sound like all too much. As a guy who retired too young, and then personally financed Torrey House Press for too long (another moral cause), I don’t have money to spare but I will vote with what I have and spend it locally anyway.

I have to look myself in the mirror even if no one else can see me. Yet, like the falling tree in the forest, am I being moral if no one hears me? If I am merely holding my ground with a small voice in a big void, is that not enough?

The GOP – Liars and Deniers

Utah is turning blue.

Most Republicans, particularly in Utah, have locked themselves inseparably to Trump. I can remember as far back as the 90’s that as a businessman I was disgusted by Trump. He made business people look bad by calling himself one. I have long been a fan of political scientist Fareed Zakaria and completely agreed with him that Trump’s sole qualification for president was that he was a bullshit artist. Now, after suffering as a patriot and American with that conman mobster as president, I believe Trump is the most despicable, immoral person, public or otherwise, that I know of. And Utah Republicans can’t get enough of him. It is costing them.

Contagious thief without a mask. He lies that the Supreme Court rushed appointment is not about politics.

In the Salt Lake Tribune today there is a long article about how many Republicans, particularly in Utah County, refuse to be tested for COVID-19 or to wear a mask. Mike Lee, who inexplicably has finagled his way to the eminent job of U.S. Senator, tested positive to COVID-19 just over a week ago and now is at the rushed hearing to pack the Supreme Court, in person, without a mask. Lee is from Utah County. I don’t know how or why not wearing a mask is allowed by the Republican Senate, particularly for an infected person, but I expect negative consequences for their gross neglect – for Republicans.

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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’s and there was not enough range 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 online 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, the creator of the software, encouraged me to investigate on my own further. You are getting in pretty deep when the software designer basically gives up and 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