Over the past week, during clear pre-dawn skies, I got a bit obsessed with the trio of Venus, Jupiter, and Mars rising in the east, and have been trying to find a way to take a picture. Not easy, since I’m working with my phone – which has a pretty nice camera, actually, but isn’t geared for long, timed exposures.
This morning, I managed the best shot of the week – not super-impressive, by any means, but I’m happy with it for now:
Venus is the brightest, up there at the top, and Jupiter’s the second-brightest. You have to look just a bit above Jupiter, and ever-so slightly to the right – say, one minute past midnight on a clock face – to see Mars, but it’s there.
So: Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Earth (which totally counts because you can see the trees and clouds) – four planets. Why the asterisk in the post title? You’ll have to trust me and Google Sky on this one, but lost in the light saturation needed to capture the planets was a pretty old, rising crescent moon, just above the treetops left of center. And as it happens, Mercury is right alongside that moon:
(Image from EarthSky.org – which has a really nice guide to this month’s morning sky.)
Which means that from a certain point of view, I woke early up this morning was rewarded with the chance to take a picture of more than half our solar system. Which is pretty cool.
Picked this up from the used book sale shelves at the North Canton Public Library:
Copyright 1957. Reminds me very much of the sort of books I’d occasionally receive from my dad or uncles, passed down from when they were kids, or that I’d check out from the Carnegie Public Library in Upper Sandusky when we’d visit my grandparents.
I really have a thing for science fact and science fiction artwork from the ’50s and ’60s, and this also reminded me how much I loved reading this kind of educational series book. (I had a bunch of much slimmer books that were newer and aimed at younger readers, but for the life of me, I can’t manage to cobble together an accurate enough web search to find photos of them. They had red borders and usually single-word titles like “Fire” and “Dinosaurs.”)
Here’s the “Real Book” cover art beneath the Prehistoric Life jacket:
And here’s the endpaper art, which gets bonus points for including three creatures and one plant which I’ve dug up in fossil form right here in Ohio:
And kudos to author Dorothy Shuttlesworth and illustrator Matthew Kalmenoff, who seem like they had awfully cool jobs combining art, science, and education.
Super retro bonus find: Tucked within the pages of the book, one totally authentic souvenir reproduction of the Gettysburg Address.
It’s a small, blurry photo because it wouldn’t fit on the scanner, and I didn’t want to mash it, but you can see a better example on the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency website.
I’ll admit when I first found it, I thought, “Cool! Old letter!” only to be disappointed a second later, when I saw that the text was the Gettysburg Address. (I really would have loved to find an old, everyday personal note. That kind of thing really sets my mind running.) But then this thing sparked some personal nostalgia from the time we took a family trip to Colonial Williamsburg when I was a kid, and my parents bought me a souvenir set of reproductions that included similarly-antiqued editions of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.
Verdict: Two bucks well spent, especially since it goes to the library.
This was our first time touching the Pacific Ocean, and seeing seals and sea lions just out on the rocks and swimming in the surf, and even now, more than four months later, I get a little goosebumpy remembering that feeling of excitement and being far from home, surrounded by the unfamiliar and the breathtaking, and even the ordinary things feeling new and adventuresome.
I shot some video on the Flip, too (Though mine’s an older model, I still love its convenience and ease of use.), including this bit of the seals sunning and barking.
I had also all but forgotten this clip I shot of some tiny crabs in the tide pools – the photos I took didn’t come out too well (I hadn’t yet realized my Droid’s camera had a ‘macro’ setting), and while the picture on the video isn’t the greatest, either, what I was really after with the Flip was this creepycool clicking noise they were making down there in the crevices:
(That “snapkracklepop” Rice Krispies sort of sound? That’s it.)
I found out yesterday that my childhood friend Mike Darrow died recently.
My family had just moved to Lake Township in the summer of 1976, so when I started first grade, I didn’t know any kids other than the handful who lived on my own street. Mike was one of the first friends I made at my new school and remained one of my very best friends for the next four years or so.
He taught me how to play chess – and I never beat him.
He showed me how to recognize the monarch butterfly caterpillars munching on milkweed plants in the field at the end of our street, and how to identify their cocoons.
One summer, we spent a week away from our parents at Camp Tippecanoe, hiking and swimming and making fun of girls and trying to catch snakes and salamanders.
Mike was also probably the most fearless and independent kid I knew, but not at all in a show-off way. It was just that nothing – heights, snakes, spiders, darkness – seemed to rattle him. Once, while we were visiting Mohican State Park (I think) with his parents, Mike spotted a couple climbable trees at the river’s edge: They were on opposite banks, but their branches meshed in an arch over the water, and Mike just knew he could scale one and descend the other, safely crossing the river.
And he was right.
On another state park trip, we watched him inch ever so patiently onto a teetering, half-submerged log along a lake shore, trying to catch a turtle sunning itself way out on the far branches.
He’s all through Collect All 21, of course, one of the very few kids whose enthusiasm for Star Wars reached the same insane level as mine. Mike was the inspiration for invisible alien saxophone playing, playground Hoth re-creations, and the use of “Deese!” as an enthusiastic exclamation short for “Decent!”
There really is something incredible and impactful about an elementary-school friendship, I think, even if it doesn’t last or evolve, simply because for many of us, these are the times when we take those first steps into discovering who we are and what gets us hyper and what bores us and what we think is hilarious and what keeps us up late at night wondering.
Somewhere in the years between The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, Mike and I grew apart. It wasn’t until late in high school that I really talked to him again. Fittingly, it was over Star Wars: He had figured out how to grab screen captures from a VCR onto the fancy new Apple Macintoshes in the art room mezzanine, and we spent a few afternoons watching the trilogy and collecting images from my cable-recorded VHS tape.
Two decades later, in the summer of 2008, I wanted to give Mike a copy of Collect All 21, and thanks to his sister, we met up at a local Borders. We spent almost three hours talking about science fiction and Japanese stories and giant robots and cartoons and literature and fossil hunting and exploring the woods and swamps near his house when we were kids.
That afternoon led to this surprise not long afterward, and another geeky phone call, which was the last time I spoke with him.
In the big picture, I knew Mike for something like barely 11 percent of his whole life, mostly an awfully long time ago in a haze of sunny days and field hikes and spaceships and sleepovers and action figures.
And though my memories are undoubtedly imperfect, I’m glad they’re still here. And I’m lucky I had a friend like Mike who made them happen.
Kelsey and I went up to Cleveland on Tuesday for a screening of the new IMAX movie Hubble – our review is over at GeekDad – at the Great Lakes Science Center.
Tuesday had one of those late-winter afternoons that practically defines the way Northeast Ohio bridges the seasons this time of year: Blazingly sunny, so that driving in the car is definitely a no-jacket affair, but chilly enough that even with a coat, you didn’t want to be walking around outside for very long at a time, especially in the shade.
Lots of ice still out there on Lake Erie, though, and I’d be surprised if there’s not still one more half-decent snow coming. (Every year since I’ve been back in Ohio, I think, we’ve had at least one early spring snowstorm, most memorably back in 2005, when Jim and I were on our way back from Star Wars Celebration III on April 24 – it was the first snow he’d seen in years.)
I shot a couple pictures from the science center’s atrium just because I liked the way the Rock Hall looked next to the ice chunks and the sky, and even though I also managed to capture the streaks on the glass, I thought the way the giant windows framed the scene was cool, too:
And even though we’ve been up to the science center before, I noticed this for the first time:
Check it out – those are Galoob Micro Machines!
On the way home, among other things, we talked about Hubble, which includes an amazing trip into the heart of the Orion Nebula.
Last night, the sky was clear enough for me to set up the library telescope again, and familiar as that blue-white wisp was through the eyepiece, there was still just a bit more wonder in there.
I finally got around to borrowing the telescope the North Canton Public Library loans out, and spent a little more than an hour outside last night just wandering comfortable territory and taking in easily-spotted stuff: the Great Nebula in Orion, Sirius, Mars, and the Pleiades, just before they sank over the rooftop to the west.
The telescope is an Orion StarBlast 4.5-inch reflector – and for an uber-amateur like me, it’s just about perfect: compact and stable and portable and really simple to use.
I tried to do a little more targeted observing and see if I could find star clusters and things in Cassiopeia, but the battery in the red-dot viewfinder ran low, and I wasn’t really in the best location, with the constellation low over the neighbor’s house in a smudge of streetlight reflection. Still, even though the Milky Way wasn’t apparent to the naked eye, it was there in the telescope like I’d never seen it before. I just sort of gently swept my aim back and forth – I landed on something neat up between Orion’s club and Gemini, but honestly, that area’s so rich with stuff I couldn’t tell you what it was, even though I tried to pinpoint it by memory after I’d gone inside. I even managed to catch a satellite crossing the telescope field at one point.
I’ve got the telescope for the next two weeks – fingers crossed for clear skies during a planned visit to my mom’s house, which is a good 20 miles from any significant city lights – and now that I’ve got that first impatient night out of the way, I’ll do some better planning and try to pick out some things I’ve never seen before.
Of course, even the familiar remains fantastic: This morning, I couldn’t resist checking out the waning crescent moon before the sun was fully up.
I have a post up at GeekDad this morning about the Solar Stormwatch project, and it took me back to the very first guest post I did for the site almost a year ago, “So, How Many Galaxies Have You Classified This Week?”
When that post went up last April 4, Jenn and Kelsey and I were in Florida, staying with our good friend Jim. It had been about two weeks since I’d lost my job as a news reporter and blogger, and though I was working hard to make contacts and get freelance assignments, things were off to a slow start.
Having been a fan of GeekDad since Wired launched the site, I sent a note to editor Ken Denmead, who suggested I write something up. Since I had just found Galaxy Zoo a few days earlier, I made it my topic.
I remember sitting at Jim’s living room table using the laptop on a quiet morning – I don’t recall if Ken sent me a “Hey, your post is up” email or if I was just obsessively checking GeekDad to see if they’d used it – and there it was.
Quite the encouraging spark: It was the first time post-layoff that I saw my name attached to a piece published outside my former workplace, and it was on Wired. GeekDad accepted another guest post later that month, and I came on board as a full-fledged contributor in May, just in time for Penguicon 7.0.
It’s been a year of learning and building and often struggling with this stay-at-home writing career, and though GeekDad has played a small role financially, it has meant an awful lot to me: Though I’m not the most prolific writer there, I have a ridiculous amount of fun writing for GeekDad, and the group of contributors I have come to know online over the past year is just an amazing, enthusiastic, supportive bunch.
I’ve gotten to talk with people like Bonnie Burton and Jim C. Hines and Tim Kehoe and I mean, holy crap, this month I’m going to be on a PAX East GeekDad Panel, which aside from being awesome in itself, means I get to finally meet and thank a few of my fellow GeekDads in person.
They are a solar storm of fantastic.
Though I made a brief note when this was initially approved and there has been some related Twitter chatter, I wanted to hold off on mentioning anything more about it until there was an official public announcement. So, check out this morning’s post over at Wired – Please Join GeekDad at PAX East 2010!
Boston. March 26-28. Be there, because This. Is Going. To. ROCK. \m/
Even with the 11- to 12-hour drive involved, I jumped at this as soon as GeekDad Assistant Editor and Frakking Genius Matt Blum put forth the proposal. And I can make it a totally budget-friendly trip since I’ve got a place to crash nearby, essentially making my costs for the weekend gas and food – and I’ve got no problem whatsoever packing myself a cooler loaded with bread and PB&J.
I absolutely cannot wait to meet and hang out with my fellow panelists and GeekDad writers, in whose mighty company I hope I shall not feel ashamed: Dave Banks, Natania Barron, Matt Blum, Doug Cornelius, Michael Harrison and Corrina Lawson. Sitting down and talking geek stuff and parenting with this crew is just so incredibly loaded with Potential Awesome.
(Penny Arcade? Of course the strip has addressed some of the issues of being a geek parent –just last month, in fact!)
And despite not considering myself a hardcore gamer, I have long been envious of those attending past Penny Arcade Expos out west, because it has always sounded like just a crazy fun nerdfest. While the official Pax East site doesn’t have a schedule up yet, I did find a few unofficial compilations of just some of the stuff that should be going on, like this one, which mentions among others Bill Amend of Foxtrot(!!!) and writer Lev Grossman.
I’ve already got my T-shirt packed.
I have a post up at GeekDad about a very cool Robert Krulwich NPR piece from earlier this week about an experiment testing to see if ants can count. (For some reason, the video embedding is glitchy, so here’s a link to the National Public Radio story itself, too.)
I’ve had this July 21, 1969 edition of The Columbus Evening Dispatch since I was a kid. I think my grandma gave it to me when my Star Wars fandom gave birth to my fascination with real-life space travel and astronomy.
While I was getting the paper out for a revisit around the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, though, I also found part of an amazing Detroit Free Press special section dated Sunday, July 13, 1969. Its full-color front and back pages – I only have the outermost pages which wrapped the section: 1,2, 15 and 16 – blew me away, and I can’t’ imagine what this must have cost to produce 40 years ago, especially since even when I was growing up in the 1970s and early 80s, seeing a color photo in a newspaper was still a relatively rare and eye-catching thing.
I don’t know how or why this Detroit paper made it into our collection: All the rest of the old newspapers are either copies of The Daily Chief-Union, published in Upper Sandusky, Ohio, where my parents grew up, or The Dispatch out of Columbus, where most people in Upper turned for the big-city news. (Neil Armstrong, in fact, spent part of his childhood living in Upper Sandusky, and the small church some of my family attends has a plaque outside its front door noting that it’s where he was confirmed.)
I absolutely love this artist’s conception of the lander
and the Earthrise and the command module orbiting overhead, and I hope the original’s got a nice place on an enthusiastic owner’s wall someplace, because it’s just stunning. (I’m also absolutely baffled that there’s no credit on the illustration: The creator’s signature is in the lower right corner of the painting, but I can’t make it out, other than to guess that it looks like A_____ L____, or maybe M___ L____.) The post header I’ve used comes from the long caption beneath the painting, which begins:
Frail man sails a silvery bug into space this week, riding his faith and audacity across 240,000 dark and empty miles to leave his footprints on the moon.
The entire front page piece – “This Trip’s Dark, New Perils” – is basically a What Could Go Wrong story by Gary Blonston and Boyce Rensberger, detailing some of the awful possibilities:
High above the moon’s surface, astronaut Mike Collins will circle in the command module, waiting for rendezvous. He will be able to talk to Armstrong and Aldrin,to see their ship, to hear a distress call if that call should come, but no more. When the lunar module Eagle drops within 35,000 feet of the moon, Collins cannot follow. It is impossible for him to land.
Collins has talked about that only briefly. Quietly, clinically, he explained to Life Magazine:
“If they have difficulty on the surface of the moon, there is nothing I can do about it. So I guess the question that everyone has in the back of his mind is how do I feel about having to leave them on the lunar surface.
I don’t think that will happen and if it did I would do everything I could to help them, but they know and I know and Mission Control knows that there are certain categories of malfunctions where I just simply light the motor and come home without them.”
The statement is too chilling to contemplate for long. A quarter-million miles away, two men – two friends – ask help from the surface they will never leave…
Page two is taken up by a long, anecdote-driven Neil Armstrong profile. The two stories on page 15 are Blonston’s first-person account of watching a Saturn V rocket launch and a less-than-flattering look at NASA’s societal impact on Cocoa Beach, Florida. There’s also a drawing of the region showing the best sites for watching the launch which I think is kind of neat and reminds me of living in Orlando and driving down Route 50 to Titusville to watch space shuttle takeoffs.
The back page offers another burst of color in four moon photos, the largest a red-filtered Apollo image, labeled with phrases like “Where The Sun Spills Raw Heat” and “Eerie, barren folds of mountainous terrain undulate to the horizon of the moon, dead and stark and hot with lunar daylight.”
I wish I had the rest of this section, but discovering these four pages alone, along with the coverage of the first landing’s anniversary – has really stirred up some wonder.
The Apollo 11 landing happened a year and a half before I was born. Apollo 17, NASA’s last lunar landing trip, concluded when I was barely two, which means I have no memories at all of the moon mission years.
I wish I did.