Monday, December 01, 2008

When I got home tonight about 5pm, I noticed the New Moon with Jupiter about 2 degrees away. I'd been expecting the Moon to be near Jupiter and Venus when it reappeared this month, and was impressed by how close it was to Jupiter.

But I was puzzled by the fact that I couldn't see Venus anywhere. I assumed it was behind a cloud or the houses, and went up to the end of the garden anyway to see how the Moon and Jupiter looked in binoculars.

Leaning against the shed I had a good look at the Moon with Earthshine, and tried to make an accurate guess at the distance to Jupiter - about 4 Moon widths or 2 degrees.

Then I inspected the craters on the lower limb of the Moon, which were in sharp relief because of the angle of the sunlight. Suddenly my attention was caught by a bright spot at about 4 o'clock on the edge of the Moon. 'Hmm, ' I thought, that'll be the side wall of a big crater catching the sunlight. Impressive.'

The spot got brighter and brighter until I was reminded of pictures of the 'diamond ring' effect during solar eclipses. And then (about 5.20pm) I realised that the Moon was actually moving clear of the spot, which of course was the missing Venus appearing from behind the Moon.

All unawares I'd been watching a lunar occultation of Venus, which I'd had no idea would be happening. One of the most beautiful and impressive astronomical sights I've seen.

I've had help many times from the library angel, but it's not so often that I'm blessed by assistance from Urania, the muse of astronomy.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

After my recent trip to Great Haywood to visit locations from the Book of Lost Tales, I was interested to read this brief account of accompanying an Arthur Ransome fan on a trip to photograph the Beach End Buoy - except that apparently Ransome mixed the buoy up with another one. You'd expect him to be able to tell a port hand buoy from a starboard hand one.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

I found myself glad today that I'd taken care to create a Lynx-friendly no-frames version of my old 1998 'home page'. It turns out that the Wayback Machine's crawler didn't archive my framed pages, but it faithfully followed the text-only links.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Targets that I haven't already got are becoming ever harder to find - on today's trip I had to be content with Slipback and a battered copy of Time Lord, the 90s Doctor Who RPG by Ian Marsh. I'd downloaded the text of the rules in my early internet days in 1996, but it's nice to have the book (and for only £2).

As you'd expect from Ian Marsh - a contributor to White Dwarf back in the 80s when it was good - the game has some interesting features, not least the attribute scale which is roughly exponential. Intelligence for example goes from 1 to 8, 1 being sentience and 8 being the level displayed by the Great Intelligence.

I also got Blood Harvest by Terrance Dicks. I didn't think much of Last Of The Gaderene, the only other NA/MA that I've read, so I'm trying again with a trusted author.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

A fairly poor new Viz (180) yesterday - I noticed that the Framley Examiner boys (who write the filler material these days) are putting their old grammar school teachers' names into the copy again. Generally that's a reliable index of shitness in the modern Viz.

It's deeply regrettable that they were brought in to do Viz - as if, after Eric Morecambe died, the Morecambe and Wise show had been taken over by Cannon and Ball.

One exception to the mediocrity this issue was Major Misunderstanding. Since he first appeared about 60 issues ago, he's mistaken a wide range of everyday activities for criminality or political protest: a woman who asks him for directions is rebuked for plying her trade as a prostitute, a mop leaning against the wall in a public toilet is rebuked for cottaging, a man with a sandwich board is accused of being an unrealistic pacifist and a group of monks are treated to a defiant tirade against hooded teenagers.

But this time, the Major encounters a Gay Pride march. Fired with enthusiasm, he commends the marchers for taking a stand against Brussels bureaucrats, gives them a rousing speech and sets off with them, marching at the head of the parade.

I'm happy to have waited 6 years for a punchline like that: as well as finally providing us with a twist, it also gives the Major a bit of dignity. For once his indignation is harnessed to a noble cause, even if it isn't the one he thinks it is.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Limit of navigation

Further adventures in my pursuit of the 'limit of navigation' in the southern night sky.

Theoretically, from my back garden at 52 deg N, I should be able to see a star with declination 38 S when it is due South in the sky.

In practice of course, horizon haze, horizon obstructions (houses etc) and tossers with security lights mean that you may not be able to see that far down - in my experience you're doing well to see to within 5-8 degrees of the horizon, which puts the limit of navigation at 30 S - 33 S.

So last night I was pleased not only to see Fomalhaut easily visible at 29 1/2 S, but scanning with binoculars I found delta PsA below it at 32 1/2 S. I've seen that far before, at another site, in Sagittarius, but in fact at 32 deg 32 min South, this star just crosses the previous limit.

I also had a good look for gamma PsA (20 arcmin further south) but sadly it was hidden behind chimney pots.

In my world of binocular back-garden astronomy, spotting a 4th magnitude star less than 6 deg from the horizon is a real triumph.

Update Oct 23rd: Going out a little later last night, could easily see delta and gamma. Gamma takes me to 32 deg 52 S.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

One of my favourite books is The Lost Weekend, which I thoroughly recommend to anyone who isn't an addict and wants to know what addiction feels like.

The best chapter describes how the protagonist, Don Birnam, staggers up 2nd Avenue in Manhattan, desperately trying to find a pawnshop at which he can convert his typewriter into whisky money. But they're all closed: and after an epic journey he realises that this is because it's Yom Kippur (presumably it was a given that all pawnshops were run by Jewish people in that time and place).

However, the action of the novel is stated to take place in early October 1936 (either from Thursday 1st-Tuesday 6th, or Thursday 8th-Tuesday 13th). But I have it on good authority that Yom Kippur fell on September 26th in 1936.

(Don manages to stagger back home again down 1st Avenue. In the end he borrows the money from the supermarket manager).

Friday, August 22, 2008

Mixed-up confwhosion

I've been a DW fan for a long time - and indeed it must be 30 years since I first borrowed Doctor Who and the Cave Monsters from the library - but there are some stories which I'll still be mixing up after another 30 years.

The Mind Robber and The Celestial Toymaker - the TARDIS materialises nowhere, and the Doctor has to do stuff while his companions are harassed by fictional characters.

The Reign of Terror and The Massacre. It's France, it's the past and the companions are locked in cells while the Doctor pretends to be one of the chief French guys.

The Ark and The Space Museum. Trying to explain these to me is like Father Ted trying to explain perspective to the stupid priest. 'Do you see Shallow, in this story they have jumped a time track, but in that story they just come back to the same place in the future.' 'Er...'

The Mind of Evil and The Sea Devils. Pert, the Master, Jo and a prison.

The Sunmakers and Underworld. Lots of corridors and tunnels, and both a dramatic decline in quality from the rest of the season.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Thinking about Bilbo's domestic arrangements again: in The Hobbit he appears to do all his own housework. When the dwarves turn up for tea, he has to serve the food (and he's baked the cakes himself too) as well as washing up next day (lighting fires and boiling water in the process), and then he cleans the dining-room into the bargain.

Doesn't he keep any servants? Or were Wednesday and Thursday their days off? In the days before washing machines and vacuum cleaners, housework was a serious business. With a huge hole like Bag End to keep in order, it's a wonder Bilbo had time to go off for walks in the Country Round at all.

Of course, Holman Greenhand (and his apprentice Hamfast Gamgee) did the garden for him. And perhaps Frodo was displeased to find, when Bilbo adopted him as his heir and brought him to Bag End, that he had to pitch in with the housework; certainly when he moved to Crickhollow, Sam went with him 'to do for him', ie to keep house as well as just looking after the garden.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

A fine haul of Targets from the second-hand bookshops today - Time and the Rani, Silver Nemesis, Happiness Patrol and Unearthly Child. That gives me, at one stroke, 100% Hart and Slyv coverage, and only 17 more books to go.

And Happiness Patrol completes the McCoy magical realist trilogy, which will be ample compensation for having paid actual money for Silver Nemesis.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Quick as a flash

Thinking today about the infamous pro-war-crimes Afghanistan episode of South Park, with its message that if you aren't cheering for the team you should get out of the stadium.

It occurs to me I know what Butters would say to that. 'Just what team is this anyway?' Team Torture?

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

So it's come to this 2 - overheard in a corridor

'And the most disturbing thing is, she's got a picture of Ted Heath on the wall, because he was instrumental in getting us into the EU...'

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

When I first moved into my house, I noticed that the previous people had erected an extra TV aerial on a tall metal mast on the back part of the building. I don't use it, so the socket inside the house isn't connected to anything.

Naturally that suggested to me that I should make a crude field strength measurement by touching one multimeter probe to my hand, and the other to the centre pin of the socket. Indeed I did this on several occasions and generally found an AC voltage of about 1.9V .

Last night I was woken up at 2.30 by a massive thunderstorm, and immediately had the idea of measuring the voltage and seeing if it was different. I judged that I was unlikely to be killed as the mast is by no means the tallest metal object within a radius of its own height (also, if it was struck, I'd probably be killed by falling masonry even if I wasn't holding a metal probe connected directly to the aerial).

I was pleased to find that the voltage was indeed slightly higher - 2.6V .

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

On the bus on the way home today I started wondering how Bilbo Baggins made a living before he brought back the treasure from the Lonely Mountain. If he inherited money from Bungo and Belladonna, how did they get it? Did they live on investments? Did hobbits have banks which paid interest? Or were the Bagginses collecting rents from the tenants of Bagshot Row and Farmer Cotton?

And in the picture of the hall at Bag End in The Hobbit, a barometer is clearly visible. Was that of Dwarf or Dale manufacture I wonder? Were such items widely available in the Shire, or does the picture depict the hall after the Quest of Erebor?

Thursday, February 07, 2008

The submarine cable failures are coincidental, enhanced by selective reporting.

But I prefer a more alarmist explanation.