Archive for July 2008

Playing catch-up

The blog's now well out-of-date, so it's time to do a bit of catching up. Luckily for you lot, I'm not a stats-whore, so I'll keep things brief and cram everything into one or two posts so that there's not a pile of individual entries to wade through. Now, where to begin...?

  • After a weekend-long posting-restriction imposed by the SGL forum admin, on Monday July 14th I was banned. And yes, the ban is justified. After some unjustified comments made by some of the admin, I reacted, broke the rules and got what I deserved. My crime was to react by removing the content from some of my posts. Just mine. No posts by other members were edited by me. The official version is different, and sounds much more sinister - according to the ban screen, I am banned for "attempting to corrupt the SGL database", which is a bit like saying that I've attempted to eradicate all life from the planet just because I swatted an annoying fly in our kitchen. Luckily, there's no sign that I'll be extradited to spend the rest of my days confined to the Guantanamo Bay facility. Anyway, I deserved the ban, and I don't much care that it'll never be lifted, but at least I'll no longer be hassled by some admins who think themselves beyond reproach and who think that they never have to apologise for anything, even when they have been proved wrong. It's sad that they get the good admins (who are in the majority) a bad press.
  • Talking of things astronomical, I had a bit of a panic a while back when one of the scope mount's tracking-motors packed in. After an online chat with the retailer, arrangements were made for the defective items to be investigated and replaced. Everything's now fixed and working fine, thanks to the great customer service provided by Adam at Rother Valley Optics (retailer) and by Optical Vision Ltd. (importer).
  • There was a clear night here a week or so ago, so I set up the scope to test out the replacement motors and to let the kids have a good look at Jupiter. They were suitably impressed with the view, seeing clearly-defined cloud-bands on the planet and seeing all four of the largest moons (Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto - the Galilean satellites, after Galileo Galilei who discovered them in 1610). After sending the kids to bed, I returned to the scope and had a reasonable visual observing session, finding M8, NGC 6530, M20, M22, Cr 399, NGC 6822 and a few others. The ISS passed over twice during the session, and there were a few meteors around. I didn't set up for imaging, so there are no pics. Since then, it's been cloudy almost every night.
  • Regarding other outdoors activities, there's precious little to report. I missed out on the Outdoors Bloggers' Dartmoor Meet because it was the weekend of my birthday and I didn't feel that it would have been right to bugger off for the weekend. Suffice to say that I got loads of nice pressies. :mrgreen:
  • I managed to fit in a drinking session with my friend Dave, who's a casualty of the recent round of redundancies at Thwaites Dumpers. He's taking it well, but there are a few folk I know from there who've been hit hard by the job cuts. I hope that they all get sorted out soon.
  • Gear-wise, I've been quite reserved about splashing the cash. I supplemented the money that I received as birthday presents in order to buy a SkyWatcher Auto Focuser from Steve at FLO, so that I don't have to faff about twiddling the knob by hand (go on, you make the puns). Even though it's not really auto (it's a motor with a control-box on a curly lead), it's a great bit of kit. Fed up with buying numerous adapters for allowing all sorts of electrical gadgets to be powered or charged in the car, we got a power-inverter so that we can just use the standard mains chargers/transformers instead. I should have bought one of these years ago - I must have spent a small fortune on car-adapters in the last few years. We had a day shopping at Go Outdoors and I didn't get any outdoors gear for myself - that must be some sort of record! Mind you, we spent a small fortune kitting out the other three for our summer holiday.
  • Blog-wise, there have been a few changes here. A few more plugins have been added, if you're interested they're listed at The blogrolls have been updated - quite a few additions, some moves and a few deletions - if you spot any cock-ups, please feel free to let me know. I've a few more changes in the pipe-line, but I'll tell you about them another time.

Well, that's all for now. There's more, but it'll have to wait for later.

Long time no see

Posted by on July 27th 2008 in Illness and injury, Rambling on...

My blogging and other computer-based activities have been much-reduced of late due to RSI, possibly CTS. It's getting better now - the "pins & needles" feeling in the forearm has abated, and the thumbnail has started to grow again after becoming partially detatched. Even so, there's still occasional numbness in the thumb and index finger of my right hand, so I'll be taking it easy for the next few days. There's plenty to catch up with, so I'll post when I can.


Reservoir dog

Posted by on July 8th 2008 in Making stuff, Shiny new kit, Thanks

The first prototype fuel tank is now undergoing leak-testing.

Like most DIY gadgets, it's a doddle to make if you've access to all the bits and the kit to put them together. I'll take this opportunity to thank my good friend Nick, who lets me use his business premises and kit whenever I ask, in return for beer. Cheers, Nick!

The ingredients are as follows:

  • 1-off 185g tin of tuna flakes (this size will hold 200ml of fuel)
  • 1-off M8 rivnut and installing-tool
  • 1-off 11mm steel washer
  • 1-off M8 bolt (this prototype uses a steel bolt, I'm trying to scrounge a suitable plastic one)
  • Some solvent-resistant plastic film to make 2-off 11mm and 1-off 8mm sealing-rings (I used the flexible pouring-spout from a drum of thinners)

The method is as follows:

  • Remove the label from the tin
  • Use a trepanning drill-bit to make an 11mm diameter hole in the side of the tin. Standard-tipped HSS drill-bits mangle the tin
  • Remove the tuna, a straw's good for this. This is the most time-consuming part of the job.
  • If you don't mind the taste of swarf, eat the tuna
  • Wash out the tin
  • Put an 11mm sealing-ring, then the washer, then another 11mm sealing-ring onto the shank of the rivnut
  • Push this lot into the hole then use the installing-tool to fix the rivnut and bits into the hole
  • Fit the 8mm sealing-ring to the bolt to make a plug
  • Fill, seal and test

The good news is that you can't just pour out the contents - you have to gently squeeze together the top and bottom of the tin to pump out the fluid. Short controlled bursts, as the saying goes.

The bad news is that you can't get the last few dregs (approx 10ml) out of the tin, due to the depth to which the rivnut is inserted.


Right, now you've stopped laughing, here's what it looks like:

I'll let you know the test-results as and when. So far, it's looking OK.


Posted by on July 6th 2008 in In the garden, Pics

Here's a pic of one of our resident wild creatures. Seems like he's got a liking for gammon rind, as well as a body-clock that's well out of sync with the rest of his mates. Click on him to see the full picture.


Just testing UMapper

Posted by on July 3rd 2008 in Maps, Rambling on...

I've been playing around with UMapper, another nice map-making service. It says that it's "the first universal web-based map-layering engine", and they claim that it's good for Blogger and WordPress, amongst other blog services. You get the choice of Google Maps, Microsoft Virtual Earth or OpenStreet. I've had a go with the WordPress plug-in version and made this without having to leave the WP admin area:


[umap id="1747" size="l" alignment="center"]


STOP PRESS! July 23rd 2008: Version 1.2.0 of the UMapper plugin was released, but it broke the blog when I updated to it, preventing me accessing any of the blog admin. I had to delete the plugin files and reinstall version 1.1.8.

STOP PRESS! July 25th 2008: Version 1.3.2 of the UMapper plugin was released, but it broke the blog when I updated to it, preventing me accessing any of the blog admin, and giving the following error-messgae: Fatal error: Cannot redeclare media_admin_css() (previously declared in /home/beardedg/public_html/wp-content/plugins/umapper/Umapper.php:140) in /home/beardedg/public_html/wp-admin/includes/media.php on line 198. I had to delete the plugin files and reinstall version 1.1.8 again.

STOP PRESS! July 27th 2008: Version 1.3.6 of the UMapper plugin was released, but it broke the blog when I updated to it, preventing me accessing any of the blog admin, and giving the following error-messgae: Fatal error: Cannot redeclare media_admin_css() (previously declared in /home/beardedg/public_html/wp-content/plugins/umapper/Umapper.php:140) in /home/beardedg/public_html/wp-admin/includes/media.php on line 198. I had to delete the plugin files and reinstall version 1.1.8 yet again.

STOP PRESS! July 28th 2008: Version 1.3.71 of the UMapper plugin was released, and it installs but doesn't work right yet (nothing happens when I click on the "Add UMapper Map" icon in the write post admin screen). Many thanks to Vic for the info about the update.

STOP PRESS! July 28th 2008: Cleared the cache and rebooted, all's working now. Happiness is restored. :grin:

Observing Report 30 June/1 July 2008 (The bonus-ball)

Posted by on July 2nd 2008 in Observing Reports

Well, after many weeks of varied weather and cloudy nights, on Sunday evening the skies cleared and I went out for a quick spotting session to help plan what to view on Monday night, which was also forecast to be clear. I'm still not ready to start imaging DSOs yet, so I figured that some widefield observing and some Jupiter imaging would be reasonable objectives. Jupiter's the brightest object in the southern sky at the moment, but it only reaches 12° elevation when it passes through my "window of opportunity", so in order to view it from my garden I would have to finish decimating the overgrown privet hedge that blocks the prospect southwards. That was the job for Monday.

Monday evening arrived and things didn't look promising - plenty of high cloud was obscuring the sky, and I figured that if I couldn't get a consistent view of Polaris, I would have to abandon the session, as the scope's alignment routine depends on getting the mount aligned with the pole.

I was just about to give up when the clouds parted and the stars shone forth. I had about an hour before Jupiter was due to swing into view, so I took my time with the mount-alignment, ensuring that everything was set up as near to perfect as possible, then it was time to see the sights.

First up was a view of M8 (Messier 8, the Lagoon Nebula) in Sagittarius, before it went out of sight. Pretty impressive, I reckon. I could have tried to image it, but it escaped behind the house next door.

Next I decided that it was time to get the scope pointing at Jupiter, which was due to hit my field of view within the next 30 minutes. That set, I went in for a cuppa.

When I came back out, Jupiter was dead-centre in the eyepiece with some of the moons lined up like a string of pearls either side of the planet. Io was just grazing the edge of the disc, and later there was the shadow of Io on the face of the parent planet. Nice.

Soon the webcam was in place and it was taking 100-second .avi movies of the planet. I had zoomed right in with the 8mm setting on the eyepiece, this gave a magnification of x125, and I was projecting the image onto the webcam chip about 70mm away. This gave a large image but because the planet was so low, it appeared just above the rooftops, and the heat from them was causing a lot of shimmering. Short exposures would be needed, so I settled for 15 fps. The .avis were processed later, and the best image produced from them so far is this:


Jupiter, with a hint of Great Red Spot (lower-left) and the shadow of Io (upper-left)

After that, I put away the webcam and attached the Nikon D50 instead, still using the eyepiece-projection method, and rattled off a selection of wider-field shots of the planet with some of its moons. I had to use longer exposures to get the moons, and shorter ones to get Jupiter, so the images produced are composites. The best one of these is:

Left to right: Europa, Ganymede, Jupiter, Callisto.
Io is in transit across the face of Jupiter, but it's lost in the background.
The object in the top-right corner is a star.

After a couple of hours of this, Jupiter passed out of sight so it was time to look at something else before the skies became too light. I had a look at Winstars and figured that Neptune, a planet reluctant to appear before us, might be in shot after a short wait. I slewed the scope to point at it but it was behind some trees. No matter, it was time for another brew anyway.

Neptune's not visible to the naked eye, so I had a look for it through my trusty binoculars. I found the row of three stars that currently acts as a marker for locating the planet, and, by using averted vision, could just make out a very faint dot of light where Neptune should be. Encouraged by this, I waited until the area was in sight, and took a short series of zoomed-in long exposures of the seemingly-empty area of blackness, hoping that the results would be in focus (none of the marker stars were bright enough to show up in the viewfinder, it was hit-and-hope stuff). I had to stop soon, though, as the sky was just too light, and the morning dew was beginning to form on the optics. The session was over, and I was convinced that I had failed to capitalise on this unplanned opportunity.

I packed away and headed inside to warm up. While swilling down a hot cuppa, I had a quick look at the pics that might have included Neptune, and there it was, a small blue fuzzy ball! It needed a lot of processing to get rid of the noise and other defects caused by the optics and the atmospheric conditions, but I ended up with this, and I'm right chuffed about it:

Neptune (the tiny blue thingy to the right of centre), and 2 of the 3 marker-stars.


Next time out, I'll try for a better picture. It'll be easier now that I know where to look and what camera settings to use.

Cloudy again

Posted by on July 2nd 2008 in Just for fun

Chasrle from Gyrovagus popped up on the OBF and told us about Wordle, "a toy for generating “word clouds” from text that you provide".

Interesting stuff. Cheers for that, Chasrle.

Bandit at two o’clock

Posted by on July 1st 2008 in Just for fun

The afternoon peace was shattered by the distinctive sound of a Chinook circling above the village.

By comparison, the giant mutant bee in hot pursuit was the epitome of stealth, swooping down from the cloud-cover, closing in fast on its prey.

We'll probably never know the outcome of this encounter, but bearing in mind the track-record of the mechanical monster, my money's on the insect.

OK, one last time. These are small... but the ones out there are far away. Small... far away... ah forget it!


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