Astronomy makes a good winter hobby

While I love the snow part of winter (which we don't get nearly enough of down here in in Poughkeepsie), I used to hate the dark part of winter.  The Sun setting at 4:45 in December is sort of depressing.

I say I used to, because now I'm eager for sundown, as it means I can grab the binoculars or the telescope and wander outside.  Now, a 6 pm sunset in October is great.

This American Economy

I love this American Life.  While not every episode is genius, the non genius episodes are good, and the genius ones are the most amazing radio you'll ever listen to.

This past week they did an episode called Another Frightening Show About the Economy, which was a follow up (in some ways) to The Giant Pool of Money, which explained the sub-prime crisis through really compelling story telling.  You can listen to both of them online for free, which I highly recommend that you do.  Nothing I've read or heard so far during the financial mess explains it nearly so well, or is so riveting.

I'm looking at you,

This comics comes timely as I attempted to figure out how to make work on Linux this weekend, and gave up.  I don't get why vendors don't switch from DRM to watermarking (like a lot of people doing eBooks now).  Watermarking makes your customers part of your enforcement, as their name gets badly spread around if their files get out in bittorrents, and it doesn't prevent your customers from using their purchased items in all the legitimate ways they want.

A view of Astronomy in 1970

Tonight we were at the library, as I needed to pick up an inter library loan book. As per usual they had a table of old books for sale, which I was flipping through.

One of those books was "Astronomy", published some time in the early 1970s. Towards the center were some really fuzzy pictures of Mars and Saturn. And it occurred to me. This was prior to the Viking missions, and the Voyager missions. In 1970 our understanding of even our own solar system was incredible elementary.

As I now look at beautiful images taken by Hubble over the last decade, it's hard to believe how recent all this knowledge really is, and how much more we are sure to discover.

Update on Amateur Astronomy Hour

2 months ago I bought a telescope.  I've wanted one for years, and finally broke down and did it while they were on sale at Orion.  It arrived about 6 weeks ago, and I've had about a dozen good observing days since.

Previously I spent some time finding Nebula, double stars, and galaxies.  Last night I decided to check out something different, stellar clusters.  It turns out there are 1/2 dozen different stellar clusters in and around the constellation of Cassiopeia, and I found most of them last night.  While the most famous is M103, as that's in the messier catalog, the double cluster was the most spectacular.

There is something about a stellar cluster and it's dense packing of starts that gives you the sense that the stars are just spilling out of a rift in space.  The pictures don't do them justice, they are just breath taking in the scope.  The detail and depth of the clusters is amazing, even in slightly too bright sky last night (the moon was 1/2 full and setting at the time).  I can't wait to check them out once the moon cycle passes and we get back to really dark skies.

M103 - open cluster in cassiopeia

NGC 869 & 884 - double cluster in perseus

gcolor2 - just the application I was looking for

I was working on the MHVLUG wiki, and needed to find a good color of orange.  Typically I just launch gimp, and use the color wheel in there.  But I stopped this time, and did this instead:

apt-cache search color picker

which returned 3 results, including gcolor2.

First off, this is exactly the application I needed.  It launches fast, and just gives me a color wheel to pick colors.  But, it turns out it has something else that's great.

You see that little eye dropper?  You can click it and then click any pixel on your computer, and it will give you the RGB color of that pixel.  It doesn't need to be anything special, as it's pulling directly from the xbuffer.  So handy.  I can't believe I didn't know this existed until now.

Learning to Love Mediawiki

Mediawiki is the engine that powers Wikipedia.  While that gives it lots of props, it is writen in php, which has historically had security issues.  Over time, I've gotten over my php alergy, mostly because WordPress is just too damn good (and what runs this site).

Over the past year I've fallen into running 3 media wiki instances... and I'm impressed.  So, I made converting from MoinMoin to Mediawiki as my Linux Fest project yesterday.  2 hours to port our theme, an hour to figure out how to export / import all our content, a couple of hours tracking down how to get short urls to work right, then an hour or two of deleting pages that probably shouldn't have transfered in the first place, and we're done!

I'm very happy with the new site, especially after adding plugins that do callendar and maps.  I'm hoping that over the next month we can migrate everything else and get rid of the old site entirely.

It's also amazing how much more you use software you really love.  I'm definitely a fan of mediawiki at this point, and being able to use things I learn in one instance on other instances is really handy.