4. April 2012 20:00
Goona take a sentimental journey
Goona set my heart at ease.
Goona make a sentimental journey
To renew old memories.
Doris Day, eh? I honestly didn't know that. I actually hear my mom singing it in my mind.
In some respects, Mom and I are very opposite people. She loved travel, I'd much rather stay at home. I love science and technology, she tolerated as little as was required to get what she wanted done. Put me near a beach and I head straight for the water while she stuck to the sand.
She directly gave me many of the passions I have in my life. An endless love of music. A rock solid sense of justice. Acceptance and welcoming of neighbours as friends.
The trip to Costa Rica was a gift for my daughter. I think we all wish that the two of them went together, but it didn't work out that way. What I'm finding so difficult upon our return is how emotionally charged the trip is now that it's over. Prior to the trip, it was easy to say that I was taking her in Mom's stead. Now it's really tough. As of today, officially, we went, had a great time, and that's the extent of it. Im not going to add any further explanation.
Earlier I mentioned the opportunity to see Southerly skies as my treat. I also talked a bit about being outside the hotel in San Jose, looking up, and not recognizing a single damned thing above me. That was pretty odd. But if you're reading this, you know me well enough to know I wasn't going to settle with a little stargazing befuddlement.
Near the end of the trip, at the JW Marriot along the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, I was able to find me a relatively dark corner just south of the hotel. It was far enough away from the trees I could get a view above me, far enough from the lights I got a fairly good view above me, not far enough from the road that someone spotted me and wondered what some idiot was doing with camera and binoculars pointed up in an obscure corner of the grounds.
I get the astronomy bug honestly from my dad. One of the very first things he taught me was the impact upon him when he was in Australia and he saw the Southern Cross.
I saw it myself. This genuinely was a life's ambition fulfilled.
One trip. So many generational ties. No wonder I get emotional.
This is the photo I took at 2:02 am on March 29, 2012. In celebration of that moment I release this image to the public domain. A copy of the full size of this image may be found here.
10. March 2012 21:31
Okay, it's time for the exciting part.
We've talked about the packing, the shots, the odds and sods along the way. Now I get to show off the cool stuff.
Every once in a while I get asked about which telescope I'd recommend for a budding astronomer. Generally people know that I love looking at the sky, I'm a geek, and therefore I have a lot of knowledge of the tools of the trade.
The truth is that I haven't owned my own telescope for many, many years. When I last had a telescope, it was much less capable than modern telescopes and wouldn't hold a candle to what's commonly available today.
When people ask what to get for a telescope, the first question is always, "What do you want to do with it?" A little backyard stargazing when the weather's nice? Learning the stars in the sky and the constellations and asterisms you can find? Collecting Messier objects through a single night of the year? Long exposure photographs of easily observable nebula? High definition photographs of the most distant galaxies we can observe in the universe?
Okay, for that last one, you'll want to buy the Hubble Space Telescope. It'll cost you a pretty penny, and you may be interested in picking up a space shuttle to go with it for servicing missions. The HST was launched on Endeavour, and subsequently serviced by Discovery, Columbia and Atlantis, so pretty much any shuttle will do. If you do purchase the HST and a shuttle to go with it, I'm calling shotgun right now.
Okay, so given a limited budget and being firmly grounded to locations with a breathable atmosphere contained within our solar system you're probably going to be looking at a more modest scope. I have my eyes on a nice Dobsonian telescope down the road with a camera mount when I have time to play with a little astrophotography for fun. I'm not in a rush, things are getting better each and every year and I want to be able to do it right when I can.
So for the short term, I'm keeping strictly within my budget and following my own advice. Don't start with a telescope at all! Begin with a good set of binoculars.
Looking at Jupiter through binoculars.
Jupiter on the left, Venus to the right.
Now, budget being the operative word, I haven't been able to go buy the binoculars I really want. They get costly in a hurry, I could have spent $700 to $1000 just for the binoculars and I really don't want to spend that much on a binoculars I'm taking on vacation for their very first outing. I'd hate to have them broken or stolen on their first trip out. On the other hand, I don't want something severely underpowered so I won't want to use them again at home.
My choice was the Nikon Action Zoon 10-22x50 CF binoculars. They'll work well for looking at wildlife on vacation and for light gathering at night while I'm in the tropics. It's amazing how much better I can see stars looking through them. I'm hoping they'll help me view the Large Magellanic Cloud while I'm down there. The zoom feature is nice to help orient myself in the sky and then zoom in for a better look at specific features.
It's a small thing, but something I'm very much looking forward to both in the short term and in the future at home. Given more cash and less concern about travelling with them, I would have preferred to hold out for a set of high quality binoculars designed specifically for astronomy, but we have to balance life after all.
I'm starting to feel excited about spending time with my daughter and making the most of a lousy situation.
2. March 2012 21:46
I'm really burnt out.
I can feel the restlessness. The lack of clarity and concentration. The short temper and intolerance for other people's stupidity.
I'm really, really burnt out.
Yeah, you've sent me an email lately and I haven't responded. I've got somewhere around 600 emails piled up right now, about half of which I actually WANT to read and maybe a third I want to scan through. Of the half I want to read, I've probably got about a third of those I want to reply to. Don't hold your breath if you've been waiting.
I have absolutely no desire to go to another meeting. I've been to so many unproductive meetings over the past couple months I'm sick of 'em all. I dread March 13th -- I have three meetings scheduled for that night, one starting at 6:30 pm and the other two starting at 7:00 pm. Here's a surprise: I'm not going to two of them. I think I've mostly settled on which one I'm going to attend. I'm sure my choice is going to disappoint some people - well, I simply can't do everything.
I want to sit down and read and teach myself new things and my focus is...
I procrastinate on things I really want to get accomplished and off my plate. On the other hand, I have managed to get a lot of little things done as I go.
I don't even have my usual spewage of nonsensical attempts at humour I normally tweet to my adoring public (and the other 1220 or so of you who clicked "follow" entirely by accident).
What is it normal people do right about now? That thing that happens when cabin fever sets in so bad you start looking for any excuse to escape those four padded walls around you? That time when the curling playoffs have ended and the hockey playoffs have yet to begin?
Today, the day has come where it is time for me to swing my mind forward and begin thinking about -- a vacation.
Not one of those "stay-at-home-and-file-paperwork" vacations. Not one of those "go-camping-for-a-week-and-try-to-smell-like-the-forest" vacations. An honest to ghod, get thine self out from the ordinary and do something different vacation. I have never been on an actual vacation like this. Maybe a family vacation when I was younger. Certainly nothing remotely like this as an adult.
My mom planned a special trip to take my daughter to Costa Rica. I don't really have a desire to travel the world, but the responsibility fell on me to take my daughter down there in my mom's absence. My job is to make sure that she has a good time.
My joy, however, is going to be something quite different.
Tonight I opened up Stellarium and did something I have never done before. I set my location to San Jose, Costa Rica. I let time progress beginning at sunset and proceeding through the night. My dear friend and protector Orion did not stroll just above the horizon but rose high into the sky - practically at zenith given how much trouble I had moving the mouse without having the sky spin around the pointer. Constellations I only barely remember as names that skim along the very edge of the horizon instead popped glaringly into view. Fornax, Columba, Pyxis, Antlia. They're just names to me. I don't really know any of their stories or details.
I discovered new names I did not recognize at all. I'm sure I've seen them before in star maps, but they have no meaning to me. Horologium, Reticulum, Pictor, Carina. The Southern Pleiades? How fascinating!
I had a realization tonight. In about three weeks I'll be fulfilling a dream. A little after sunset, I'll be looking straight to the south and trying to find the constellation Dorado. Just beneath it, if the skies are dark and the weather cooperates, I'll look for a little puffy cloud. A galaxy, a companion to our own, a member of our cluster. The Large Magellanic Cloud. I won't be able to see the Small Magellanic Cloud, it will have set before the sun.
Some time around midnight I'll look to the south and see Crux - the Southern Cross. My father talked about seeing Crux when he lived in Australia. I never believed I'd see it with my own eyes. It's almost a certainty that I'll see it at some point.
My daughter's gift is a trip to a foreign land. My gift is a trip to foreign skies. May they be cloudless and dark.