August 2009

Doofus encounters memory foam

“Well,” said a friend upon watching the above video, “that’s one way to keep the cats off the bed!”

(We added a memory foam topper to our new king-sized futon bed. Hilarity, as you might have inferred, ensued.)

Upgrading to Snow Leopard


Just finished upgrading our three Intel Macs to Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard; the upgrade, as promised, has generated some real savings in disk space: the two iMacs got nearly an extra 12 gigabytes, my new MacBook Pro an extra eight. (Figuring out the difference is complicated by the fact that Snow Leopard uses a different definition of gigabyte than Leopard does — 1,000 megabytes instead of 1,024 — so I calculated this from the raw byte totals.)

The upgrade hasn’t been without a few glitches: some settings were mysteriously changed, and MobileMe syncs got a little screwy after the first computer was upgraded: for example, it wanted to make changes to my Keychain, which set off my alarms since I’d read this entry, so I disabled MobileMe keychain syncing for the time being. (Don’t mess with my passwords, computers.) But only minor stuff so far.

First impressions: Sky-Watcher HEQ5 Pro

So I now own a Sky-Watcher HEQ5 Pro equatorial mount; I ordered it earlier this month through Focus Scientific and picked it up on the 17th. I’ve had it out twice so far to run it through its paces, and I have to say I’m impressed.

Sky-Watcher HEQ5 Pro Compared to our Celestron NexStar 5 SE, this thing is built like a tank; the NexStar suddenly feels very flimsy. Definitely a step up in quality and robustness. It’s heavier, of course, and as such a bit harder to carry. Mounting my three-kilogram Equinox 80 refractor on it is almost an insult to its 14-kilogram capacity: I had to use only one of the two 5.1-kilogram counterweights, and to balance it I had to move it almost to the top of the counterweight shaft. Suffice to say the scope didn’t vibrate much.

I was concerned that there would be a problem when my full lunar imaging train was added — i.e., the scope, extension tube, Powermate and camera. Not so much with the mount, but with the scope’s bracket. I thought I would have to remove the bracket and make use of a standard Vixen-compatible dovetail and rings. Not so: the whole setup was still stable, and I was able to get a pretty good photo of the Moon on the second night of testing. Not that I need an equatorial mount for such short exposures, but its rocklike stability made it much easier to focus.

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Mac naming conventions


After Cheetah, Puma, Jaguar, Panther, Tiger, Leopard and Snow Leopard, is Apple on the verge of running out of cat names for OS X releases? There are only a few big cats left — Clouded Leopard, Cougar, and Lion — so before too long they’ll have to draw from the lesser cats: Bobcat, Caracal, Colocolo, Jaguarundi, Kodkod, Lynx, Margay, Ocelot, Oncilla, Serval, and a bunch of species named some variant of “cat” (e.g., Jungle Cat, Leopard Cat, Fishing Cat).

One imagines they’ll adopt a new naming convention before they have to resort to OS X 10.19 Rusty-spotted Cat.

Speaking of naming conventions, I’ve adopted one for my own Macs. (I had to call them something for networking purposes.) Big surprise: each of them has been named after a genus of snakes. I started with harmless snakes in the PowerPC era, and went to venomous species for the Intel changeover; I named laptops after smaller snakes:

  • iBook G3, 2001: Clonophis (a small North American snake)
  • iMac G4, 2003: Elaphe (rat snakes)
  • iMac Core Duo, 2006: Crotalus (rattlesnakes)
  • iMac Core 2 Duo, 2009: Lachesis (bushmasters)
  • MacBook Pro, 13-inch, 2009: Atropoides (jumping pit vipers)

(Now you know which computers to target when you hack into my network.)

Arab astronauts

Jonathon Narvey uses South Korea as a template for progress in the Middle East; among other things, he tries to make a point about space programs:

In 1950, this tiny country [South Korea] was broken, worse off even than the Arab Middle East of the time.
Sixty years later, South Korea is the 15th largest economy in the world, with an entrenched democratic political system and, despite the temporary setback of this week, an active space program. …
But back in the Middle East, all of the Arab states, comprising a far larger population and geographic area than South Korea, have a combined GDP less than the country of Spain (at one time a Muslim outpost in Europe). Space program? The closest thing to an Arab astronaut we might see in the next while could only be a Hamas suicide bomber strapped to an augmented Ashoura rocket.

Now that last sentence is a bit unkind — particularly since a cursory check online reveals at least two Arabs to have flown in space (a good place to look is Space Facts’s biographies of international astronauts).

  1. In June 1985, Sultan bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud of Saudi Arabia flew as a payload specialist on STS 51-G, the fifth flight of Discovery; his backup, Abdulmohsen Al-Bassam, never flew in space.
  2. The Soviet Union’s Intercosmos program allowed a Syrian cosmonaut, Muhammad Faris, to travel to the Mir space station in July 1987 aboard Soyuz TM-3, returning on Soyuz TM-2. His backup, Munir Habib, never flew in space either.

Admittedly, they went to space through the benevolence of their Cold War patrons, but Arabs have been to space. Meanwhile, the first South Korean in space, Yi So-yeon, flew to the International Space Station only last year, in April 2008.

(Interestingly, the Intercosmos program also generated a cosmonaut from Afghanistan: Abdul Ahad Mohmand, who spent nine days on Mir in August and September 1988. The first Iranian in space, Anousheh Ansari, flew as a space tourist in September 2006; her family emigrated to the U.S. while she was still a teeenager. Neither Afghanistan nor Iran are Arab or part of the Middle East, but it’s not like those two countries aren’t conflated with it all the time.)

The consequence of a short summer

Healthwise, it’s been a tough summer. Those of you in the Ottawa area will ask, “What summer?” That’s exactly the problem.

Those of you familiar with my condition know that, like many people with rheumatic conditions, I do worse in the spring and fall and better in the summer and winter: it’s the transitions that kill me. (For those of you just tuning in, I’ve had ankylosing spondylitis since 1997.) This year, the transitions have been lengthened dramatically; we’ve had very little hot, summer weather and quite a bit of cooler, wetter weather. For me, spring lasted until early July; the fall started early last week, when I went back into flare. (I’m still in flare now, and it’s a doozy; I’ve been missing work.) All told, I’ve had about six weeks of summer in the rheumatic sense — i.e., warm and relatively pain- and inflammation-free. If I’m right about this, the fall is going to be brutal.

I’ve also considered the possibility that the disease is getting worse, or that my drugs are getting less effective at dealing with it. But it’s very difficult to compare pain and stiffness levels; there are too many other variables to take into account, and memory is not reliable with respect to past pain. It’s quite likely that it has often been this difficult. It was probably easier not to notice when I wasn’t working a day job.

How to connect a camera to a telescope

T-ring and T-adapters

I recently had someone ask me how to connect a camera to a telescope. I answered him by e-mail, but then I thought that it would be a good subject for a blog entry. Fortunately, taking photos through a telescope is not at all difficult, but it does involve a couple of pieces of equipment that photographers may not be familiar with.

First, some definitions. There are several ways to attach a camera to a telescope. Prime focus attaches the camera directly to the telescope, turning the telescope into a great big camera lens. Afocal photography positions the camera, with its lens attached, at the eyepiece; this is done either freehand (holding the camera up to the eyepiece), through an adapter that connects the eyepiece to the camera, or through a mount that holds the camera in place in front of the eyepiece. Finally, eyepiece projection keeps the telescope eyepiece but removes the camera lens: the eyepiece projects the image directly onto the camera’s sensor; an adapter like this one connects the two.

MethodEquipment (not including adapters)
Prime focus  telescope → camera
Afocaltelescope → eyepiece → lens → camera
Projectiontelescope → eyepiece → camera

(A good discussion of these different methods can be found in Michael A. Covington’s Digital SLR Astrophotography:,

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Star trails over Shawville

Star trails over Shawville

Tonight I made my first attempt at photographing star trails, and I think it turned out reasonably well. I was kind of hoping that since I was shooting during the purported peak of the Perseid meteor shower and pointing my camera at the shower’s radiant, I might catch a few meteors streaking a straight line across the camera’s field of view. Alas, none was bright enough to leave a mark on my camera’s sensor. Not that I’m disappointed with the result by any means, though it did take a bit of work to get it (26 manually timed exposures layered in Photoshop, all of which taking place past my bedtime on a work night).

Civilization for the iPhone and iPod touch

Somehow I missed the news that a version of Civilization was coming to the iPhone/iPod touch platform. Now it’s here; Macworld’s iPhone Central has a review. I’m going to have to look into this — especially since it’s half price for the first 48 hours after its release — and then kiss all productivity (and battery life) goodbye.

So much for my self-restraint

Remember how I said that my unstoppable self-restraint prevented me from getting, among other things, a MacBook Pro unless a scenario that justified buying it came to pass?

Well, heh. Funny thing happened. It came to pass. I now have a 13-inch MacBook Pro. Because it’s a secondary computer — I still have this very nice and current 24-inch iMac, after all — it’s the lower-end version (2.26 GHz, 2 GB RAM, 160 GB HD). Now for the justification:

There have been plenty of times when I’ve been away from home but need access not only to my regular files, but to my regular applications — a thumb drive just isn’t enough. While I could whip up a blog entry or essay from just about any machine, anywhere, there are things I can’t easily do from a friend’s or work computer: process images, edit files on my server, organize my notes. Working on two computers will have its challenges, so I’ve reupped with MobileMe (I let my .Mac membership lapse) and am putting all my important files on the iDisk, to sync between both machines (they’ll also be available on my iPod touch, thanks to its iDisk application). I’m also moving my notes back to Yojimbo (previously), which also syncs between machines. I still have to figure out the best way to deal with my 300+ RSS feeds.

There will be other uses. If I install Windows on a partition (e.g., Boot Camp, Parallels or VMWare), I can use this thing for astrophotography. The battery life is certainly impressive from what I can tell so far: the computer will almost certainly last longer in the field than I will. And I’m giving a number of grammar and writing workshops at work: while I could use a whiteboard, or just gesticulate wildly in my usual idiom, or even use a work laptop, there’s something to be said for wowing them with a little Keynote action.

Now that’s enough rationalizing. I must go back and stare at this thing and go squee.

Turtle poacher sentenced

A Scarborough man with 13 prior convictions under the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act — he still owes $27,000 in fines — has been sentenced to 106 days in jail for turtle poaching. In 2007, wildlife officers nabbed Pak Sun Chung with 26 Blanding’s Turtles and a Spotted Turtle near Sarnia; he’d caught them at the nearby Walpole Island First Nation. “It was unclear,” says the Toronto Star’s Iain Marlow, “whether the animals were destined for the underground pet or restaurant trades.” It’s unclear to me whether that level of chronic poaching has any real economic motive or business plan behind it — it feels like the wildlife equivalent of shoplifting.

My new glasses

New glasses So I finally picked up my new glasses a week ago today, my first new pair in — get this — 15 years. My old glasses were so old, uncomfortable, out-of-prescription and unfashionable that I was embarrassed to wear them unless absolutely necessary (i.e., when driving). These ones are smaller and considerably more up-to-date (dig the half frames), but it’s taken some time to get used to them: in terms of the new prescription, which is considerably stronger; in terms of how I look in them, which is quite different; and in that I’m trying to wear them all the time. Fortunately, disinterested observers seem to agree that I look good in them, but I imagine that damn near anything would look good in comparison; the old ones were pretty bad by now.

You will no longer be surprised to learn that I was muttering about getting new glasses two years ago. It does seem to take me a while to look after the personal shite.

Previously: Eyes and eyeglasses.

Three views of the Moon

The skies were finally clear enough for astronomy last night, but with the Moon almost full, it was too bright to do any observing or tripod-based astrophotography of anything but the Moon (or Jupiter, which was up later, but by then the skies were hazy). So I photographed the Moon again. But this time I tried a few new things with my lunar photos.

The Moon (Aug. 2, 2009)
The Moon in colour (Aug. 2, 2009)
The Moon in B&W (Aug. 2, 2009)

For one thing, I increased the image’s sharpness. This is apparently considered essential in lunar photography: it really draws out the Moon’s topography. In Photoshop the tool to use would be Unsharp Mask, and when I was farting around in Photoshop CS4 yesterday (the way I learn things), I tried this out on some of my old lunar photos. But in the end I made use of the Definition slider in Aperture, which achieves similar results. The final image (top right), with Definition set to maximum, is indeed a good deal sharper than the original, without too much contrast or too many artifacts.

Once work on that photo was complete, I produced two variants, each of which with only one setting changed. In the second image (middle right), I pumped up the saturation — or rather, I maxed out the Vibrancy slider in Aperture. Vibrancy has been described as Aperture’s “smart saturation.” The end result is similar to my photo of March 9 (which also made use of Vibrancy), enhancing the Moon’s subtle colours.

The drawback is that colour fringing is also enhanced (see the north-to-northeast edge of the Moon), an effect of shooting through a refractor rather than a reflector. My apochromatic refractor is a great telescope, but it’s still an inexpensive doublet (it cost me $680 last fall, but the price has since gone up and it now runs around $830 Canadian; Orion’s EON 80mm ED is the same scope). When dealing with a bright object like the Moon, there’s going to be a touch of chromatic aberration. If I want none at all, I’m going to have to shell out serious coin for a much more expensive refractor, or shoot through a reflector or catadioptric telescope.

But I digress. The third image (bottom right) gets around the chromatic aberration by going monochrome — using only the red channel. Refractors’ chromatic aberration occurs because different colours have different focal points; since blue is the colour that has trouble reaching focus, going to just the red channel should get the sharpest image possible, I think. Besides, I like using single colour channels for black and white photography: it yields interesting results.

(You’ll have to click through to get a better look at these images; you won’t be able to tell very much from these thumbnails.)

The Pontiac Liberal nomination race is on

Reported candidates for the Pontiac Liberal nomination: Cindy Duncan McMillan, Greg Fergus, Georges Lafontaine

I’ve been trying to get a handle on the race for the federal Liberal nomination for the Pontiac, the face of which has apparently been changing rapidly over the past month. At the moment, it looks like there are three candidates for the nomination, the meeting for which will be held on September 13:

  1. Cindy Duncan McMillan, who was the Liberal candidate the last time, winning 24.2 percent of the vote;
  2. Greg Fergus, an Aylmer resident and former national director of the party; and
  3. Georges Lafontaine, a writer and former political assistant who is currently working for the Anishnabeg tribal council in Maniwaki.

For a while it appeared that former M.P. Robert Bertrand was interested in the nomination, but it appears that he has ruled himself out this time. Bertrand’s absence from the race is a pity, because I rather like the guy.

News coverage: The Low Down to Hull and Back News covered the nomination race when it was just Duncan McMillan versus Fergus. Coverage of Lafontaine’s candidacy seems to be limited to the French-language media: Info07, Le Droit. The Equity ran a story and an editorial when Bertrand was floating the idea of another candidacy; they’ve been reprinted on Fergus’s website.

(Only Fergus has a website for his nomination campaign; above, I’ve linked to Duncan McMillan’s campaign site for last year’s federal election and Lafontaine’s Wikipedia entry, for lack of anything else to link to.)