Well, here’s a fine mess!

I’ve been unable to observe the stars visually for some time as a result of Fuchs’ Dystrophy, and I’ve been considering other ways to look through my ‘scopes for quite a while. One of the main paths I’ve been following is that of Video Astronomy, which essentially involves pointing a low-light video camera through the ‘scope and directing the output to a TV screen. There are several companies serving this line of astronomy, but the company which has always appealed to me the most is Rock Mallin’s Mallincam. The problem I have always had with any of the videocams, from Mallin or anyone else, is that the pixel resolution of the cameras generally falls in the NTSC or PAL ranges – for NTSC that’s 640×480 – which is a little too low for my taste.

Recently Mallin came out with t;he Mallincam Universe, a 6.1 mp camera which has a lot in common with the DSLR cameras I have been using. Its sensor is roughly the same size, but the software supplied with the camera gives a near-video experience – not live, but close to it. So I bought one.

It’s been cold out there, though, and I generally don’t observe in the cold. First light consisted of a brief look through the camera, hooked up to a tiny SV70 scope mounted on a photographic tripod. I successfully viewed the Moon – wheeee! Then I retreated back indoors, chilled to the bone. Real observing would require a bigger scope on a real astronomical mount. And that’s when my troubles really began…

I admit, I was eager to get started. Temperatures were finally above zero. The night was clear, and though I hadn’t prepared much, I didn’t expect any problems. The mount was tried and true, the camera was new but performed well on first light, and I had watched a number of videos explaining what to do with the camera and software. All I had to do was point the camera at Orion and grab a view of M42. What could go wrong?

As it turned out, very little actually went wrong, but it went wrong in a big way. Possibly as a result of the cold (it cooled down rapidly after sunset) the mount began to report a lag in RA motion, and eventually stalled. I fiddled a little. I fiddled a lot. The mount seemed fine. The cables were firm in their sockets and I had almost 14V of power, more than enough I turned everything back on and went through the startup process. Suddenly the mount took off in one direction, and wouldn’t stop until I pulled the power. I now have a runaway motor. Oops!

That’s about a $250 fix (new motor), and I could have gone ahead with that, but instead I decided to buy a new and lighter mount and trade in the old one in its current condition. I wouldn’t get full trade-in, but I could accept a small loss somewhere above the cost of repair. While I was at it I would sidegrade the ‘scope – same aperture, but with a flatter field and the opportunity to use Hyperstar. I took down the scope and mount and set off to Khan’s in Toronto, where I had just bought the camera.

When I got there, I was told I would have to order a mount before their technician would look at the scope, or pay for a couple of hours of the technician’s time – about $180. Before committing to the trade-in I wanted to know what they considered the mount and scope were worth – it would have affected what I would purchase, so I couldn’t order ahead of time. Considering I had just spent a couple of grand in the store for the camera, I was seriously annoyed, and decided instead to fix the mount and buy a new scope somewhere else. I may still replace the new mount, but not at Khan’s, and I’ll sell the old mount elsewhere. Send me a note if you have any interest in a Losmandy G11 with Gemini I controller.

Right now, though, I’m left without a fully-working mount, so it’ll be a while before I post any review of the Mallincam Universe. Ain’t this a fine mess I’ve put myself in? Hrrrmph!

Revolution? Well, it certainly makes me want to hurl something!

I watched the first episode of this clunker, but couldn’t stomach any more. I keep seeing ads for it, though, claiming it as the hot new show of the season. Ugh.

Electricity is somehow suppressed. OK, doable with a great deal of effort over a limited area for a limited time. Let’s suppose that some additional tech has been created to extend the effect in both time and space with minimal energy. Electricity is the basis for much of current civilization, so civilization falls, millions die, and now it’s fifteen or so years later (so skipping all the tough bits during the Fall) and we’re in the rebuild phase.

Guns work, but they’re forbidden to the general populace. Yeah, I can see how that would have been trivial to impose on the US population. Nobody made guns before electricity… Oh, wait…

Guns work, but as far as I could determine, not steam engines, and not Diesel engines (currently most diesel uses electric glow plug ignition, but it’s not a requirement, just easier. For some reason a cool new bow type is needed – standard cross-bows, self-bows, reflex bows, and compound bows need not apply. Everyone seems to have become expert in the use of the sword – uh, hello, didn’t anyone watch Indy before the Fall? Guns beat swords just as Rock beats Scissors. Use swords if you have to, but if you have guns, shoot the swordsman before he gets close.

And about the trick device on which much of the story depends – a mcguffin which somehow makes it possible to use electricity. The device itself uses electricity, as best I can see, and so do the peripheral devices it enables. Somehow it shuts down completely, but then powers up again even tough electricity is being suppressed – i guess it works even before it is turned on. a working power supply after fifteen years of limited (probably No) recharges and replacements? Oh, just give up. The show is too stupid to watch further. At least Dies the Fire and the rest of the books in the Emberverse storyline call for a single point of suspension for your disbelief.

Oh yeah, that’s right…. The claim is that this turkey is original in concept. S. M. Stirling got there earlier, and did it better, and before him there were other yarns with the same concept (I remember one in which an alien culture imposes the effect in order to give Man more time to develop effective social sciences, only to have it backfire when Man does that better than they do….).

Somebody, please. Pull the plug on this show!

Data recovery – when should I give up? A learning experience in progress

My daughter’s laptop decided a week or two ago that it was a good day to die, and so its hard drive refused to mount. The symptoms were basically those of a startup file problem, so I hoped to be able to refresh the system and move on, but unfortunately it soon became apparent that the hardware itself was at fault – and there was no backup available.

In the past I’ve run a disk utility against errant drives and salvaged what I could, but my usual utilities were unable to get the drive to mount, so that approach was a no-go. I decided instead to try a program new to me which has received good reviews, Data Rescue 3. I ran a demo version briefly to see if it could recover anything, and managed to pull a small file out of the drive. On the strength of that I purchased the full package and aimed it at the failed drive, trying to get a clone of the entire disk, warts and all.

The software immediately reported it had found a problem – slow reads – which suggested the drive was about to fail. OK, I knew that, but at least the software knew something was wrong, and I told it to keep going. About 24 hours later it had processed slightly over 75% of the drive, but somehow, magically, the disk appeared to have mounted – though a system message told me that the system software – not Data Rescue – couldn’t repair the disk, and that I should immediately try to recover as many files as possible. So I did.

The disk directory opened up, and I tried to copy a folder. The system tried to copy, but couldn’t get a handle on the files to be copied – the disk was just in too bad a condition. Oh well, I’d just have to work through Data Rescue. Which was no longer reporting any progress.

Perhaps it was in the middle of a very slow read.

I waited, but the block count which is the underlying progress indication remained unchanged. I waited some more, but there was still no progress. I cancelled the program, but it refused to quit, kept going even though no progress was being reported, and the lights on the recovery drive continued to flash – which should have been a clue. Figuring Data Rescue had simply crashed, I forced the program to quit and tried to restart it. It refused to start, telling me that background activities were still going, and I should try to log out and log back in. Instead, I restarted the system – my second mistake – and fired up Data Rescue again. Wait – where was the 75% of the disk I had already recovered? Evidently in abandoning the process I had left the disk image incomplete, and my system had deleted it, recovering the space on the recovery drive. And so, I made my third mistake, and told Data Rescue to begin again. What I should have done was undeleted the previous disk image first, and tried to recover files from that, but by starting over I over-wrote the previous disk image, making recovery from that image impossible. And the new image is being created from a disk which has had more time to go bad – dying even as Data Rescue was working on it – and no longer contained as much good data as before.

So far, after three days of work, Data Rescue has been able to recover only 30 Gb of “good” disk space – which does not mean good files! – and has slowed down dramatically after getting only 28% through the recovery process. It now projects that it will be weeks, if not months, before the disk is fully processed, and I am considering stopping the cloning and working on what currently survives to recover what I can.

Lessons learned: don’t mess with a disk while recovery is underway; try to recover from partial copies if that’s all that remains; and – for my daughter – back up regularly. In which regard, I will say that I myself do backups, but if the backup and original drives fail together, I’m still dead in the water – so I should review my processes.

New headers


New header pix! Headers are chosen randomly from images captured in 2010 in and around Durham and Newcastle (UK, not Canada).

Too many times and places

That’s such a strong word.
I mean, my goodness,
not a word I’d use,
and it’s hardly
my place to say.
They are, after all,
the government.
I’d blame the troublemakers,
the agitators.
Stirring up women and children,
demonstrating in the streets —
What, really, all dead?
Well, well, I don’t know….
But it’s such a strong word.


Here is my still centre,
Calm point within the storm.
Here is my place,
Holding and held,
Loving and beloved.
Here is my heart,
Here is my wellspring,
Here you are.

OK, it’s been a day….

The old blog turns out to have an incompatible data structure with the new blog, so first I have to upgrade the old blog, then export the content, port it to the new servers, and then import to the new blog. That’s going to take longer than anticipated (and it’s not as though I updated on a regular basis, though I had promised to be a little more active just recently).

Patience, Grasshopper.

…..and a week later, images are still outstanding, but text is up!

Tick tick….

I have theoretically switched over to my new ISP, but so far everything is still being directed by DNS to my old location. Supposedly it will take 24 to 72 hours to propagate the change, so I suppose we’re still within bounds,but I ambeginning to wonder whether my former dns provider is supposed to transfer control or there is some further action I am supposed to take, such as confirming that the transfer is legitimate. Time will tell. That, or an additional bill will show up in my mailbox.