A slightly larger observatory

DDO with the dome closed

DDO with the dome turned to the side

Along with a number of other NYAA members I visited the David Dunlap Observatory last night. Things have changed since I worked there in the summer of ’71 (if nothing else, the dome is now white, rather than the green I remember), with a lot more electronics than at that time. Still, once observing begins, it looks much the same as it did then.

Setting up to view Jupiter

Canon 20D 17-85mm @ 17mm f/4, 4 seconds (and handheld!)

(Above) Setting up to view Jupiter. The bright star is Arcturus (other, fainter stars (to about mag.4.5) may also be discerned in the original image).

The 80-ton dome is motorised, but it’s not automatic – an alarm beeps when it needs to be turned. The Pyrex [first use of Pyrex for a major instrument] mirror itself weighs 2 tons, and is 12 inches thick and 74 inches across — but with only 72 inches aluminised it is termed a 72-inch instrument rather than a 74-inch.

The Newtonian prime focus (at f/5) is no longer used – just about all work is done via the spectrograph at the Cassegrain f/18 focus – so we all climbed up a ladder to view Jupiter through the spectrograph eyepiece (which I think picks off the light from a side mirror for tracking purposes. I tried to grab an afocal pic, but Jupiter was bright enough through the eyepiece to project an image, and my first guess at an exposure wasn’t too great. I went back through the queue again to try a shorter exposure, with this result:

Jupiter through the 72 inch

Canon 20D, 1/250s handheld to eyepiece
— I may revisit this to improve the image

The visual experience was considerably better (and brighter!), though I suspect with a little more preparation a decent image capture could have been achieved.

Much Ado about Nothing Special

I was at the Apple Store with my wife and daughter bright and early for the opening at 9.30 this morning — actually we were there for 9.20 — but as more or less anticipated the crowds were shocking and awesome enough to deter us from trying to get in right away. A little after we decided to leave we bumped into a man in a grey suit who admired our t-shirts (“Sorry, I don’t do Windows” and “Macintosh — the power to crush the other kids”) and told us he had been first into the store that morning. He also told us he had been waiting in line since 9.00 on Tuesday. AM or PM doesn’t really matter, you have to be, um, intense to wait in line for a store opening for that length of time.

We came back around 5 pm to look around, and while there was still a line-up to get in, it was no more than a couple of minutes. Daniella was suitably impressed by the Mac mini, and I may be able to pick one up. I’ll have to make a decision on the laptop soon, though, since it is starting to exhibit display problems. It’s still under AppleCare, so it’ll be fixed up to perfection, but it’s a Sign that I need to move on to a later model. (There was a similar Sign a while back for the Quicksilver desktop G4, but I drove right past it — but Real Soon Now, I’ll have to do something about that, too.) I took a couple of pictures and I’ll post them a little later when I have had time to offload and compress them.

Update Just the one picture.

Looking toward Sears

The line snaked outside from the Sears store, then ran about half a mile around the outside of the building.

A hazy moon

Last night I stepped out under a clear sky and opened up the SkyShed. By the time I walked the roof to the open rest and turned around, the sky was beginning to haze over, and occasional clouds were visible. I persevered, and things got no worse as the evening progressed. With the moon high in the sky glowing off the clouds and haze there was little to see beyond the moon itself and Jupiter hovering nearby. I tried to run the magnification to extreme values, but beyond 230x or so there was little hope of seeing anything. However, the view of Io passing behind Jupiter about 9.30 EDT was good, and I watched this for some time before Io was occulted. I managed to push my system into a cold start — again! — so moving to other objects was more than a little hit or miss. At one point I punched in to see Saturn, and the scope wound up pointing straight down! When I tried to go back to the Moon the scope still behaved strangely, and I found it easiest to park the scope and restart the entire system (with another cold start, but this time intentionally). The second time was the charm, and I was able to return to views of Jupiter and the Moon with relative ease.

Tonight is expected to be cloudy, but later the weather should improve – the Clear Sky site is predicting decent conditions for a little after 1 am. I’ll post afterwards if it works (unless I zonk out first, which I’ve been doing with some regularity recently).

Update: Gotta love the Attila Danko’s work! The Clear Sky Clock was bang on for my location (close enough, anyway). The sky was cloudy for the entire evening, right up to when I got ready for bed (work in the morning!). At 1.15 I woke up and checked the sky, and, as predicted, it was completely clear. Unfortunately I was (again as expected) in poor shape for observing with the ‘scope, but I did spend an enjoyable few minutes roaming round the sky with a pair of binoculars before trotting back inside to sleep. It’s a long weekend, and the clock shows good skies for both tonight and tomorrow!

Apple Yorkdale

Conflicting dates for the local Apple Store opening in Yorkdale. According to ifoAppleStore the store will open at 9.30 am on Saturday 21 May – a long weekend in Canada. Earlier the same site reported that 4 June was the date posted at the store itself. Supposedly the 21 May date is solid, and Apple will be giving out 1500 commemorative t-shirts. Oh, and thanks to MacSurfer for the pointer to ifoAppleStore.

This may hurt…

Browsing the company intranet this morning brought up a link to a corporate intranet blog site. I registered and posted right away!

It’s not a WordPress site, but is instead based around a wiki core. I’ve no objection to that per se, but formatting is a lot harder and more disruptive to the thought flow than on WordPress. Meanwhile, one concern I have is that this could get to be a distraction I don’t need. With a plethora of choices before us it gets harder and harder [for me, anyway] to stick to one line of development — I think we’re all turning into ADD-afflicted droids. Hummingbirds flit from flower to flower, but at least they’re always after one product. I just hope I can maintain concentration enough to actually get something done!


Over the past few weeks I’ve had to hit the power switch on my system a couple of times because it was totally unresponsive to keyboard activity. That’s something I haven’t had to do for years, so sometime fairly recently I’ve introduced an instability into the mix. I’ve done a few things recently to the hardware – swapping a DVR-109 for the DVR-103, adding a 160 Gb hard drive for backup purposes, but I think the instability predates that – though it certainly is after I installed Mac OS X 10.4 on one of the system drives (the regular system is still 10.3.9). Mail.app is implicated, since — so far — it only seems to be happening when I leave Mail running. Since the screen saver kicks in by the time things go toes up I can’t see what happens beforehand – maybe there’s a dialog box which appears and locks up, but I can’t see it. If I could get this to happen reliably I’d turn off the screen saver and see if there was a message on the screen, but so far I haven’t been able to figure out anything which might trigger it and I’m reluctant to leave the screen saver off for long periods of time. Who knows – the screen save might be the culprit!

Any reader with suggestions is requested to leave a comment.

Thanks to the good guys at lunarsoft.com!

I’ve been using the CosmoSaver screen saver from lunarsoft.com for a while now, and it’s been great, showing a view from nearby every planet and moonlet in the Solar System in as much detail as is available. With the muddle installing Mac OS X 10.4 and getting it to work with my network setup I managed to trash the preferences for the software and when the screen saver kicked in it started asking for registration all over again. Too bad last August’s drive crash was so total, or I would have had a copy of the numbers in my mail box. I checked my system log — hardcopy system log, that is — and I had forgotten to write it down (as a matter of fact, there are other registration numbers I need to record. Oops!).

I wrote to the lunarsoft support address to explain the situation. I more than halfway expected to be told to re-register — this is, after all, a $9.95 product — but by return email they sent me the replacement number. Good policy for a really good product!

Weekend Conflicts

This Sunday is Mother’s Day here in North America. Now, everyone in the family concedes it’s a commercial come-on, a trap to get us to buy stuff, but despite that knowledge everyone in the family succumbs to the hype. So this weekend I have to pay attention to the various mother figures in my life. At the same time, there’s a good chance that this will be a weekend where Saturday night will be moderately clear and I don’t have mandatory commitments (i.e., taxes) to consider. It appears as though I’m going to be just a tad sleepy on Sunday morning. Could be a risky situation!

A mixed bag of tigers – Mac OS X 10.4

I picked up Mac OS X 10.4 on Friday and installed it on my iBook. Since then my iBook can’t maintain a network connection, and I have’t a clue what’s going on with it. I tried a clean install on my Quicksilver G4 machine – my home server – using a 40 Gb drive which doesn’t get much use otherwise, and it works fine, but as far as I’m concerned the iBook has been hosed by the Update process. I’m sticking with Mac OS 10.3.9 on the main drive of the Quicksilver, and I won’t switch until I figure out a reliable way of doing the Upgrade. The iBook will get a clean install at some point and we’ll see if that does the trick.

While working with the 40Gb installed version, I found I couldn’t stand Dashboard – no useful function for my particular workflow – but that Spotlight, once the indexing was done, was quite handy. Mail is changed somewhat for the worse – I got used to the interface working a particular way, and they pulled the rug out from under me. They still haven’t given us the option of top- or bottom-posting, Virex is dead (I need it to reduce the risk of inadvertently passing on a PC virus), and the supposed improvements in Safari haven’t really caught my eye so far. Once I manage to install 10.4 and run it full-time I should have a better few of what’s good and bad about the update.

Update: I found that replacing the ipfw rules with BrickHouse firewall rules enabled the iBook to access the net reliably. According to the firewall logs, frag packets were being blocked, so the connections would not go through when the packets were frag’d. Now, if I could just figure out what that means…. In the meantime, I’d prefer to have the default firewall setup in place rather than the more elaborate BrickHouse settings, so I still have some work to do., figuring out why the same settings on my desktop work while the iBook fails. Hmm. something to do with the Airport connection, perhaps?