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).