October 2009

Ares I-X

Ares I-X

NASA’s Ares I-X rocket on Launch Pad 39b at the Kennedy Space Center on Monday, Oct. 26, 2009. It launched Wednesday morning. Photo credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls.

The engineering test flight Ares I-X took place Wednesday morning. A lot of us were excited to see it, though real Ares launches are still years off. More on that in a moment. Meanwhile, here are collections of photos:

The fact that Ares and the Constellation program are still years away from operational status, despite the fact that the Shuttle fleet they’re designed to replace is supposed to be retired next year, is a basic problem of resources: NASA doesn’t have the funds to develop new space hardware and use existing space hardware at the same time, and developing new space hardware doesn’t exactly happen overnight. (Consider that there was only one U.S. spaceflight between Skylab 4 in 1973-74 and STS-1 in 1981 — a period of seven years. That was the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project, which used surplus Apollo hardware.) We’re in for a long drought in U.S. manned spaceflight.

Actually, sometimes they do bite


So last night, our male Okeetee corn snake decided, while being handled as his cage was being changed, that Jennifer’s hand looked awfully delicious …

What you see above is a feeding bite: he clamped on and did not let go. (Not voluntarily, anyway — it took some doing.) A defensive bite would have been a quick jab-and-release.

He did manage to draw blood, but as wounds go, this was pretty superficial — to the point where my first response to Jen’s announcement that he was biting her was to run and grab the camera. I know: I’m a real sweetheart. But if that doesn’t put a bite from a nonvenomous snake into perspective, I don’t know what will.

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Better photos, worse photos

Doofus 1

Here’s a picture of Doofus, taken while I was messing around with my new lens. Not that the AF Nikkor 85mm f/1.8D is itself new per se: it first came out in 1988, and is old enough that its instruction sheet refers only to film cameras. But it’s relatively inexpensive (and even at that I got a reasonably good deal on a new lens via eBay) and it generates really good results. I’ve been thinking about a new lens for a while, but it’s taken me a while to make up my mind about which one to get first. Looking forward to taking pictures of something other than our cats with it.

Meanwhile, I’ve also been using the Canon PowerShot SD 780 IS (see previous entry), and not always when I should — i.e., at home, indoors, without a flash, in low light. Let me tell you: four years shooting nothing but digital SLRs really makes you forget how much noise is in an image generated by a compact camera with a tiny sensor in low light with high ISOs. Really, it’s an outdoor camera. I have to remind myself of that.

A small snake scare

Those of you who follow me on Twitter or Facebook will know that we had a bit of a scare last week with one of our snakes: our female Red-sided Garter Snake — one of the litter of 42 born in June 2002 — threw up her meal on Wednesday night and was looking very poorly on Thursday: limp, listless and very unresponsive when handled. We separated her from her cagemate (a female Blue-striped Garter Snake) and waited to see what would happen. (Frankly, we had no idea what, if anything, was wrong with her. Throw-ups happen, but we’d never seen a snake go downhill like that after one.) Fortunately, she looked much better on Friday, and by the time we got back from our weekend trip to Toronto earlier this evening, she was back to her old self — which is to say, like her siblings (we still have two of her brothers), very active and very curious.

Any snake, so long as it’s black

Black is beautiful — especially when it comes to our animals. So many people have a special fondness for black animals — black cats, black Labs, black horses (why else would two major children’s book series about horses be about black horses?) — and snakes are no exception. Check a reptile discussion board, and sooner or later you’ll find someone who’s looking for a solid black snake; earlier this year, one of my friends went positively gaga over the notion of laying hands on a black snake. This entry is for them: I’m going to go over the black snakes most commonly seen in the pet trade.

As far as black snakes are concerned, the gold standard is, without question, the Eastern Indigo Snake (Drymarchon corais couperi). A big, heavy-bodied snake with glossy, iridescent scales, the eastern indigo is the largest snake north of Mexico. While they will generally gobble down anything they can, they’re surprisingly docile with human beings, so much so that they have a reputation for being one of the tamest snakes in the world. (On the other hand, I’m told that an indigo bite, on those rare occasions it does occur, is unforgettable. Indigos aren’t constrictors; they bite hard.)

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If I had to choose one telescope

A question via Flickr:

If someone put a gun to your head and said, “choose a scope to use forever, the Equinox 80 or the NexStar 5,” which would it be? (I know they both have their own purposes, i.e., gazing or astrophotography, but I’m stuck with which one to buy!) So which would you use forever if you had no choice?

If I had to choose a telescope to use forever, it would probably be neither of these two telescopes, which are relatively inexpensive. If I won the lottery, one of the first things I would do is go out and buy a Tele Vue NP127is. Or an Obsession 18. Or, you know, both, because I just won the lottery. (This exercise is rendered substantially academic by the fact that I don’t buy lottery tickets.)

But if I was forced to choose between the two telescopes I have right now, I’d have to say that in all ways except aperture and price, the Equinox 80 is a better telescope than the NexStar 5 SE. But aperture and price aren’t nothing.

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A note on DFL

Despite the fact that it generated little notice during the 2008 Beijing Games, it’s looking increasingly likely that DFL will return for the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver and Whistler. Among other things, the opportunity to take pot shots at my country while it’s hosting the Olympics may turn out to be too much for me to resist.

In the meantime, I’ve been posting Olympics-related news and snark on the DFL Twitter feed (which not very many people subscribe to).

A new macro lens for DX cameras

AF-S DX Micro Nikkor 85mm f/3.5G ED VR A new lens announced today (alongside the Nikon D3s) is confounding my lens purchasing plans. The AF-S DX Micro Nikkor 85mm f/3.5G ED VR (Amazon) is a macro lens for Nikon DX-sensor cameras. It looks like it’ll be cheaper than the full-frame 105mm f/2.8 macro lens I had been considering, which is a definite plus; on the other hand, at f/3.5 it would not be as useful for non-macro purposes (i.e., astrophotography and portraits). I’m sure I’ll have plenty of time to investigate and ponder: it won’t be available until December, and I won’t really need a macro lens until the spring.

The second-best camera

The best camera is the one that’s with you, says photographer Chase Jarvis. He’s talking about the iPhone’s built-in camera. The point being, if you have your iPhone with you at all times, you have a camera with you at all times, and while the quality of the iPhone’s camera may be several orders of magnitude less than a digital SLR, you didn’t bring that big, bulky camera with you, now, did you?

Trouble is, I can’t justify owning an iPhone, and I’ve been unimpressed with the other camera phones that were available when I was shopping for a mobile phone. I can hardly take my Nikon D90 with me everywhere I go; I’m too weighted down as it is. To be honest, I was kind of hoping that the iPod touch would get a camera this year, but it didn’t (for one thing, it’s too thin for the iPhone’s camera).

Canon PowerShot SD780 Instead, I settled on the Canon SD780 (Amazon), a tiny compact point-and-shoot camera. (Fortuitously, Henry’s has it on sale this week.) I’m sure I’m going to find its limitations annoying (“what do you mean there’s no aperture-priority mode?”), but it’s so small I’m liable to lose it in my pants pocket. Which is to say that if I stumble across something photo-worthy, I’m going to have this camera on me — and a photo taken with an inexpensive camera with a tiny sensor is better than no photo at all.

Best Wikipedia entry EVAR


The next time you see a Wikipedia editor remove an entry for non-noteworthiness, point that editor to this entry, which epitomizes everything that is awesome and everything that is sucky about Wikipedia at the same time. An entry that lists the movies that use the word “fuck” the most times —what is that doing there?! Not only that, but check this out: there’s a graph. There’s a fucking graph! (Um, pun intended. I guess.)

A health update

Taking acetaminophen on top of naproxen (see previous entry) is having some effect. It isn’t making the flare go away, nor is it reducing the inflammation. But, to use a metaphor, if my pain was a particularly noisy neighbour, what acetaminophen does is add a layer or two of soundproofing: it doesn’t make the noise go away, but it does make it harder to hear and easier to bear. I’m functional, if nothing else, even though the current flare continues unabated.

I finally got a tetanus vaccine this morning, a mere six years after my doctor asked me to get one. Let me tell you, getting a vaccine is bloody difficult in this province. Doctors don’t administer them in their offices; instead, you’re supposed to go to a CLSC. Except that Shawville doesn’t have a CLSC, because it has a hospital — and the hospital won’t administer a tetanus vaccine unless you’ve gone and done something that requires it now. The nearest CLSCs are in Bryson and Quyon — 15 and 22 kilometres away, respectively — and they only do vaccinations on days when I’m at work. Grumble, frustration. In the end, I got the jab from the nurse at Jennifer’s school. To have the health care system make so difficult something that my doctor has been insisting on for years is downright surreal.