Archive for the ‘Housekeeping’ Category


Dammit, WordPress

April 17, 2017

GRRRR. In the good old days, when I loaded an image into a post draft, the default setting was that the image display at column width but be linked to the full-size image file. Hence statements like “click through for the full-size image” in many of my posts.

To my dismay, I only just discovered that sometime in November, 2015, WordPress stopped having that be the default. Since then, the default setting has been for the image file to link to nothing. So all of my “click through for the full-size image” directions have been pointless since mid-November, 2015, because clicking on the images caused nothing to happen – they weren’t links.

I am fixing this now, but it’s going slowly, because I have to open up every post, click on each image to edit it, and set the image link from ‘none’ to ‘media file’. And I have about a year and a half of posts that require this treatment, and life has not stopped to allow me to tune up old blog posts. So I’m working through them while I’m watching TV or stuck on conference calls, etc.

In the meantime, if you click on an old image and nothing happens, try right-clicking and opening in a new tab. The URL will go to an image file with “?w=450&h=338” (or whatever the dimensions are) tacked on after the end of the filename. Delete the question mark and the width and height limitations and the images will display at full size. It’s stupid and time-consuming, but it works.

Why anyone thought making this change and not warning bloggers was a good idea is quite beyond me. On one hand, I don’t have a ton of room to complain, since WordPress offers such a powerful and flexible platform for free. On the other hand, WordPress brags about running 27% of the internet (you see this on the login page right now), so it’s maybe not asking too much that they not break stuff that used to Just Work.

Update: everything newer than February 7 of this year is fixed. Just 15 months to go!


I’m the jerk

October 8, 2013


For various complicated reasons, I had to take a cab home from work tonight. The cabbie mentioned that we were supposed to get rain soon. I took this as good news: even the cacti in my front flowerbed are looking a bit peakid, and the SoCal skies are always cleaner and more transparent after a rain. I asked when the rain was due, and he said maybe as early as tonight. That is not fantastic news, because I had hoped to watch Algol go through its minimum tonight and thus check off the 100th item on the AL Urban Observing Club.

When I got home, I learned why the rain is coming in tonight. A long skinny box from Oceanside Photo & Telescope was waiting for me. In other words, the New Scope Curse has struck again. So if you’re a SoCal stargazer and you’re wondering why, after a fortnight of  clear skies, we’re having rain: I’m the jerk.

I have some catching up to do here, but not a ton. Basically since March I have been out of stargazing, except for a quick peek or outreach here and there. In addition to teaching, which goes on every year, I’ve been shepherding a record number of papers (for me) through the publication process, writing a book, and gearing up for my tenure application. To be honest, it hasn’t been super fun. Like Bilbo, I feel thin, like jam scraped over too much toast. The lack of stargazing is just a symptom of that larger problem.

But things are looking up, metaphorically and literally. I will be in the anatomy lab until the last week of this month, but I have given my last lecture and written my last exam question for this year. My tenure application is almost done, and so is the book, which is good, since the former is a little past due and the latter is due at the end of this month.

And I have rediscovered something that I had forgotten for too long, which is that stargazing is therapy for me. In the middle of town, it puts me in touch with nature; in a career that keeps me on the computer for most of the day, it gets me off the grid (even if only by twenty feet); amidst the crowds and busyness of life it is a little space in which to be alone and at peace. I need to remember that, at least for me, a telescope is a device for seeing farther both inwardly and out.

I will have more to say soon about my return to stargazing and the contents of that preciptation-precipitating box. For now, I am just glad to be back.

The photo at the top is from our Arizona vacation in May, on the Sunset Crater/Wupatki Ruins loop road. That’s 300-million-year-old limestone on the right and probably 300-year-old basalt on the left. In fact, the likelihood of this road being destroyed by a future lava flow is pretty good. I’m still a fan.


Lost astronomy notebook

September 2, 2012

This is a crazy longshot, but: I lost my astronomy notebook at Palomar Observatory today. It’s a black 8×5 hardbound notebook, grid-ruled, has an elastic band to hold it shut, and is filled with observing notes up front and hand-drawn maps in back. I left it on top of my car when I left this afternoon (Sunday, Sept. 2). It might have fallen off the car in the parking lot, or half a mile down the road, so this is probably an exercise in futility. Nevertheless, if anyone finds it, I would be happy to reimburse you for your time, trouble, and the postage to return it.

Next up: a post about the actual visit to the observatory.


Deep sky objects from Burnham’s Celestial Handbook now on the sidebar

July 17, 2012

Just a heads up, since new blog posts are probably more attention-getting than new pages: thanks to the kind offices of a fellow Cloudy Nights forum member and his friend, a list of the DSOs from the monumental Burnham’s Celestial Handbook is now available on the sidebar. That’s 1160 objects north of -30 declination (plus 6 Messiers that are just south of the cutoff)–out of the total of 1880 listed in all three volumes–plenty of goodies to keep a deep sky fanatic busy for a long time. Go check it out.


Worth reading: Uncle Rod’s grab-n-go shootout

June 22, 2012

Hi folks,

I’ve been too busy to post lately, thanks to day-job work and a research trip to New York. But life continues apace elsewhere in the astroblogosphere, including at Uncle Rod’s Astro Blog, where astronomical observer, speaker, and writer Rod Mollise just posted an excellent head-to-head comparo between his Short Tube 80 refractor and StarBlast 4.5 reflector. Getting a handle on the performance of small telescopes is a topic near and dear to my heart, so get on over there for a well-written post packed with genuinely useful information.

Hopefully I’ll find time soon to get something up. In the meantime, clear skies!


Going dark for a while

March 27, 2012

Hey folks,

I am sorry to say that I will probably be around much less frequently for the next two or three months. I have severely overcommitted myself this spring and for the next few weeks I have to pay a succession of pipers. I hope I can find little spaces here and there to post. I will certainly try, but no promises.

In the meantime, I’m happy to see that comment-thread conversations are rolling along just fine without me. I hate to take off when it feels like things are really hopping around here, but that’s the shape of life right now.

Before I go, here’s how David DeLano put his GalileoScope on his SkyWatcher 114N OTA as a superfinder, which itself has a red-dot finder. David was already working on this before I posted about homebrew finders, so I can’t claim any inspirational credit, it’s just a nice example using, in this case, some commercial rings David found on sale.

See you in the future!


Back in the saddle again

March 18, 2011

London and my telescope looking forward to seeing the stars.


After a fairly epic run of observations in November, crowned by the All-Arizona Star Party, I hardly knocked the dust off my scopes from Thanksgiving until early March. But I recently broke the seal: last Thursday, the 10th, I took a telescope downtown and did some sidewalk astronomy. Then on Saturday the 12th I went camping with London at the Salton Sea, and stayed up until about 4:00 AM stargazing. It’s good to be back.

Several factors have contributed to my slow start in astronomy this year. It’s winter, so it’s cold (by SoCal standards) and occasionally cloudy or rainy. But that’s not much of an excuse. Last year I rocked through most of the Messier, Binocular Messier, and Binocular Deep Sky observing programs in January, February, and March, taking advantage of skies swept mostly clear of haze and smog by the winter weather. So questionable weather might not be a good excuse not  to observe, but it’s one I’ve used anyway.

The main factor is that my attention and enthusiasm has been elsewhere, on dinosaurs. It’s been a productive spring for me, with several articles, both technical and popular, either published or accepted for publication (please visit my paleo blog, SV-POW!, for the full scoop on those). It’s not that paleontology and astronomy can’t coexist–for example, last fall I managed to keep up an active observing schedule while also being professionally productive. But to be honest paleontology does siphon off some of my enthusiasm for my other pursuits, including astronomy.

There is also an element of simple exhaustion. At the beginning of 2010, I made a resolution to finish three of the Astronomical League’s observing clubs–the Galileo, Lunar II, and Messier Clubs. In the actual event, I didn’t finish Galileo or Lunar II, but I did finish the Messier Club and five others (Bino Messier, Bino Deep Sky, Southern Sky Telescopic, Southern Sky Binocular, and Caldwell), and made observations toward several more. Don’t get me wrong, I had a ton of fun working on all of those programs, but it’s possible to wear yourself out even doing something you love. This year I intend to take a more measured, less frenetic approach to observing.

One new development ought to help with that: tonight I was elected as president of the Pomona Valley Amateur Astronomers (if it’s not clear how that will help me be less frenetic, just read on). Our previous president, Ron Hoekwater, had bowed out at the end of his eighth term last fall, and since then our Vice President, Joe Hillberg, had been filling in for him in emceeing the monthly meetings and so on. Some of the board members approached me to see if I’d be willing to take on the job, and I thought it sounded like an interesting challenge and a way to give back to the club. As I told everyone at tonight’s meeting, regular elections are coming up in July, so if people aren’t happy with me they won’t have to suffer for long.

One of the duties that comes with the office is writing a president’s message for Nightwatch, our club’s monthly newsletter (archived online here). I’m looking forward to this. One of the things I’ve wanted to try–but never had the impetus to actually implement–is doing a regular calendar of astronomical events. My plan is to include at least a short astro calendar with my monthly message in Nightwatch, covering moon phases, the locations of the planets, meteor showers, and so on. Hopefully doing the calendar will help me get out and keep some kind of regular, sustainable observing schedule. I’ll also post the calendar here, so the blog will hopefully be fed on a more regular basis. Stay tuned.


Somewhere else in space, somewhen else in time

February 20, 2011

You may rightly be wondering if I am EVER going to blog about astronomy again.

I will.

You may also rightly be wondering what’s been keeping me from blogging about astronomy for the last while.

The answer is, dinosaurs. All will become clear very soon.

Bonus points if you recognize the post title–without any help from Google.



November 27, 2010

I have too many blogs, and I have discovered through experience that I am not going to feed them all. So I’m concatenating. From now on all my paleontology-related stuff is going on SV-POW!, and all my non-paleo stuff is going here, and my other blogs will languish. That will probably mean a lot more non-astronomy posts in the future, including the very near future. Stay tuned!


Going on hiatus

April 29, 2010

I have about a trillion things I would like to blog about here–Mercury, Venus, Saturn, the return of the summer constellations–but I’m not going to get to any of those things today, or anytime soon. I have a lot of end of the academic year activities coming up and some papers I desperately need to finish writing, and amidst all this meatspace busyness I’ve decided to give myself some time off from bitspace. The whole month of May, in fact.

If you get here while I’m gone and need something to do, print out this month’s Evening Sky Map, grab some binoculars, and go see the universe. If you get through with the ESM target list and need more, there is a great set of free star charts here and links to observing projects on the sidebar. If it’s cloudy where you’re at, the stars are always twinkling in Stellarium. If you’re thinking about buying a telescope, good for you–just read this first.

Before I take off, here are a couple of cool pictures. First, a picture of Palomar Observatory Public Affairs Coordinator Scott Kardel with the 200-inch (5 meter) Hale telescope, from his website:

The 200-inch was the world’s largest telescope from 1948 to 1975, and the largest useful telescope from 1948 to 1993, when it was eclipsed by the first of the 10-meter Keck telescopes. (The 6-meter Soviet BTA-6, which reigned as “world’s largest” from 1975-1993, was more of a publicity stunt than a functional intrument.)

Now CalTech, the University of California, and a consortium of Canadian, Japanese, and Chinese universities and observatories are building the Thirty Meter Telescope. That’s right: a reflecting telescope with a segmented primary mirror almost 100 feet across. I’m a sucker for pictures of colossal telescopes looming over puny humans (like, er, this one: world’s largest from 1908-1917), so I almost swooned when I saw this digital rendering on the TMT site:

This looks like science fiction, but it’s not. They’re going to start building the TMT this year, with first light planned for 2018. Hang on–the known universe is about to expand again.

See you in June.