Archive for January 2010

Observing Report 29th-30th January 2010 (Mars just after Opposition)

Posted by on January 31st 2010 in Astrostuff, Observing Reports

The original plan was to observe Mars on the 27th, the night of its closest approach to Earth (the closest approach distance was 0.664 AU (99.33 million km), giving Mars an apparent diameter of 14.105") but the skies were cloudy so the deal was off. Instead, I had to be content with observing just after opposition on the 29th when the skies were nice and clear, the reflected light-pollution was minimal and the seeing was good. The only downside was that the Moon was almost full and visually quite close to Mars, so the sky wasn't as dark as usual. It was damned cold here, but I wasn't about to let the falling temperatures get in the way of seeing Mars at such close quarters.

Before opening the obsy roof I had to put the fan-heater on for a few minutes to warm up the mount as it had been iced-up for a couple of days and it doesn't like starting in the cold (ice in the gears isn't a good thing). After that it was a doddle, except for the frost that formed on everything unheated. The scope was soon pointing at Mars and I cranked-up the new camera.

This time I was trying something different - using RGB filters and a mono camera. This meant grabbing filtered avi data-runs for each of the three colour-channels and another for the luminance-channel... all within a four(ish)-minute period so as to minimise any image-blurring due to Mars' rotation. After a few failed attempts I managed to get the suss on it, and after that the data-sets were quite easy to get, if a tad rushed.

Soon it was time to move on. I had a good look at the Moon but didn't think it merited any camera-work, as the surface-contrast was low due to the face-on illumination. Still, it was fun trying to find the Apollo landing areas. Next time out I might try for some images of them, just for the hell of it.

After an hour indoors to warm up, I went back out and slewed the scope around to Saturn. This time the rings were more open so I grabbed some filtered avi data, but yet again it didn't turn out well due to the planet being so low above the horizon. I'll probably process the data anyway, but if they're crap I'll just bin 'em.

After another hour or so of watching Saturn the temperature had fallen to -7C. The mount was struggling, no doubt due to the cold thickening the grease inside, so I ended the session, closed the obsy roof and put the fan-heater back on to get rid of the ice.

Anyway, this is the result:

Not bad for my first attempt at this method, eh?

Again, you'll have to wait for me to find time to process the Saturn data.

Quechua Trews – initial review

Posted by on January 23rd 2010 in My reviews, Shiny new kit

My used-and-abused Lowe Alpine 3xDry Schoeller Extreme Dryskin trews from TKMaxx are still going strong. They've been my default trews in all conditions, as they're warm in the winter yet cool in the summer, and they have great wind-proof qualities. I've proofed them with TX.Direct and they shed rain really well. However, there are times when they don't quite fit the bill. Although the fabric is tough and durable, and cut is "technical", they're a tad lacking in finesse - there are no venting options, no ankle-closure options, no "keepie-uppie" options. I needed to find something a bit more... versatile... and cheap!

That's where Elaina came to the rescue. Her post mentioned some suitable-sounding trews and soon we (me and the family, not me and Elaina) were racing off to the Nottingham branch of Decathlon. The men's version of their Quechua Bionnassay trews were duly tried on by me, bought by Chris and stashed away as a Christmas pressie. Since unwrapping them I've worn them most days in the worst lowland weather that we've had, and they've been great. I've no doubt that they will perform well when they eventually escape to the hills.


So, what do you get for under 40 notes?

  • A fabric that's very similar to Schoeller, but without the textured inner surface of the high-grade stuff. It's tough and durable, with just the right amount of stretch. It's billed as "Splash proof but not waterproof, not suitable for rainy weather", but when treated with TX.Direct it's got good waterproof qualities. All zips are dependable YKKs. The stitch-work isn't the neatest in the world but it's safe and strong.
  • A part-elasticated waistband with popper and fly. There's also a triple-elasticated velcro-adjustable shoulder strap which fits onto loops on the waistband, and which is easily detached. If you've got a short torso you might want to reposition the velcro on the front and cut off the excess straps. The website pics show what appear to be belt-loops but they aren't on the trews that I have.
  • Two decent-sized fleecy-lined (not net-lined as per the website spec) hand-warmer pockets and an unlined upper-leg pocket. All three have water-resistant zips.
  • Good-sized and well-positioned mesh thigh vents, closed/opened with water-resistant zips.
  • Shaped single-layer knee-sections to allow good articulation. Not reinforced as stated in the website spec.
  • Well-protected ankle areas thanks to large patches of reinforced heavy-duty fabric.
  • Ankle closures - zipped with velcro tabs. The fixed velcro needs to be longer to allow the tab to be pulled further around the ankle.
  • Zip-off internal gaiters with water-resistant lower and high-stretch upper sections, closed with a velcro strip. The hem is elasticated and lined with a grip-strip, has a two-position popper and a lace-hook for keeping them snug against whatever footwear you're wearing. The lace-hook webbing needs to extend beyond the hook to give something to grip while wearing gloves, I'll probably add some sort of puller to it sometime soon. The fixing zips are baffled so there's no zip-chafing when wearing these trews without the gaiters. Contrary to the website spec there are no under-shoe straps, which is no big deal for me as I hate the things.
  • A good fit. Yes, I know that we all have different body-shapes, but there's no denying that the waist/leg-length ratio of these trews is biased in favour of the taller figure. I've had a look at the way they're put together and reckon that it would be possible to lose a couple of inches off the length between the knee-sections and the tops of the ankle-sections, if necessary, but so far I've not felt the need to shorten them.


So, they're similar to what the ad promises, but there are quite a few differences. I knew what I was going to get, having seen them prior to purchase, but I would imagine that some folk who mail-order them might be puzzled.

Performance-wise they do well. Windproof, snow- and shower-proof as bought, waterproof when treated, and the vents actually work. They are comfortable to wear, stretching and bending in just the right places with no chafing. The shoulder-straps are effective and fit well, and the fit to footwear is adjustable and secure. Weight-wise they're middling - the dry component weights are as follows: trews 666g, shoulder-straps 76g, internal gaiters 43g each, giving a total of 828g. For the domestically-capable, they wash at 30C, dry on a cool tumble and, if you're odd enough to like pin-sharp creases in yer trews, can be ironed on a low setting.


These pics should be fairly self-explanatory. Click them to see bigger versions:



Posted by on January 19th 2010 in In the News, Pics

It took me a while to find it:

Thanks, Jonathan.

Blogroll update

Posted by on January 15th 2010 in Blog on Blog, Blog on Site, Blogroll, Site update, Thanks
Tags: ,

This post by Martin prompted me to update my "GOTO" blogrolls to include a few more blogs and sites that I've bookmarked over the last few weeks.


Links added so far this year include:


They take the total to over 200 links, all supplied free-of-charge, none of them conditional on the target site having a reciprocal link.

I think I'll be having a links sort-out sometime soon - some of the dropdowns are dropping down a bit too much, so they need recategorising rather than culling. If you've any suggestions as to how to do this in a meaningful and useful way, feel free to let me know.

Anyway, feel free to have a mooch through the links - there may be a few that you've not seen before. If you find any errors or omissions, just holler and I'll get it sorted out.

Thanks for the heads-up, Martin 😎

At the Sign of The Prancing Pony

Posted by on January 14th 2010 in A bit of a rant, Rambling on...

I went into Lloyds Bank today to close my 34ish-year old account, considering it to be no longer needed as for the last few years I've entrusted my spondulix to a building society with better rates, more flexible conditions and excellent customer service.

I'd just about forgiven the bank for their refusal to give me a the benefits of a student account way back in the 80s (which meant that I had NO overdraft facility at all, unlike my peers), but I never did figure how they worked out their overdraft allowances. While I was earning a good salary I was allowed a maximum of £300 overdraft, but when I was made redundant back in 2002 and had no income whatsoever they immediately offered to increase my overdraft facility to £4k! WTF???

Anyway, of late their service had slipped too far behind that of other similar services, and I'd had enough.

The customer-care woman didn't try to talk me out of the closure, which was a relief. After the standard ID process was over, she worked out the interest and told me the final balance of my account. Then she told me to use my Visa card to withdraw the cash from the cashier. Now I didn't want to carry several hundred quid around in my pockets, so I asked for the balance to be transferred to my building society account. It could be done, I was told, but it would have to be a CHAPS payment and I'd have to pay £30 for it. I could have a bank-cheque, but that would cost too. Yes, I'd have to pay to move my own money. I declined.

Having not used the account for several years, I couldn't remember the bank Visa card PIN number anyway. The only way forward was for me to produce extra ID and use the old-fashioned bank-slip method to get the money from the cashier. I produced my passport and the process continued as the woman went off to the tills, signed bank-slip in hand.

Five minutes later she reappeared with a wad of notes and some small change, declaring it to be the full closure balance of my account. Without even counting it out for me, she stuffed it all into a plain white letter envelope which was obviously a used reject as it was tatty and wouldn't seal. It had to be double-folded to stop the cash from falling out. This shoddy package, and a receipt, was given to me and the deal was done, or so she thought. I made a point of opening the package and counting out the contents for myself, it took seconds and should have been done by her, but what the hell, I was almost free!

As I turned to leave, she asked me why I didn't want to continue banking with them.


Crap customer service?

Poor treatment in the past?

Or the fact that the total interest earned amounted to less than one penny for each year the account had been open?

All three, obviously.

Winter Migration

Posted by on January 13th 2010 in Blog on Blog

Looks like the Fieldfares have now started to colonise the blogosphere:



At this rate, they'll be ousting the Robins as the most-featured (feathered) blog-birds.


Posted by on January 12th 2010 in Great Escapes, Illness and injury

I had expectations of getting up to The Lakes to play in the snow this coming weekend, but like many others I've been struck down with the lurgy. Standard remedies aren't touching it, so I may have to resort to hearty measures of hot Port and Southern Comfort in order to boost my vitamin C intake. That, combined with liberal helpings of Chris's mega-chunky leek & potato soup with added onions, should keep the internal fire stoked to combat the bugs.

As I've said before, the winter kit's been packed and ready for the off since early November. At this rate I'll have to unpack it again and replace all of the stuff that's gone out of fashion.

A traveller through the fields

Posted by on January 10th 2010 in In the garden, Pics, Weather

We have a couple of families of Song Thrushes in our garden all year, they're always pottering about on the ground, hunting snails and thrashing them against stones to get to their juicy innards.

In times of lasting snow-cover, however, their relatives come to visit, and they come in flocks of 20 or so. The hassle of hopping around looking for ground-based meals is not for them - they're a lot more acrobatic and they use this talent to raid whatever they can find in the fruit-trees...


The visitors are mainly Fieldfares, although there are a few Redwings tagging along.

All three species mentioned are on the RSPB Red List, and all three belong to the same genus: Turdus.

It seems a shame that these likeable little birds have been given such a crappy-sounding Latin moniker.

0.5 mph

Posted by on January 9th 2010 in Pics, Rambling on..., Shiny new kit, Weather

Geoff called in on Wednesday, he had no work on but couldn't stay at his place because his wife was working from home due to the snow. By strange chance, I was in the same boat, but I aced him by virtue of the fact that my girls were both off school due to snivelly colds, AND Chris was working from home due to the snow.

After a cuppa we both managed to "remember" that we had parcels that needed taking to the post office. Rather too conveniently I was then asked to buy and deliver a paper for the Outlaws and to return with some milk. Naturally, I grabbed the chance to get some fresh air and to try out the new Quechua Bionnassay Trousers that Chris gave to me for Christmas.

We only did a short loop around the village, but after delivering the paper and sending the mail we got sidetracked and somehow ended up in The Anchor. We managed to take four hours to walk the loop, which is less than a couple of miles. Now how did that happen?

Of course, there are some mandatory clickable snow-based pics...






As you can see, we've not had much snow here although there are places within ten miles where they've had over ten times as much.

As for the new trews, they were great. I'll concoct some sort of initial review after a few more days of use.

Found – in the Alfalfa fields of Pomona!

Posted by on January 9th 2010 in In the News, Shiny new kit

Released at last on Region 2 DVD on 28/12/2009, available at Amazon for less than a tenner...

It's been a long wait, I'm sure it will have been worthwhile.

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