Selling my gaming gear

A couple years ago I briefly got back into table top gaming, building up a Blood Bowl collection, and gathering up all my old RPG books and games from attic storage up in Vermont. It was a fun summer/fall, but less people got into it than I hoped, and at the end of the day it became another thing I had to organize (I have way too many things on that list). After a year boxed up it's time to let that hobby go to make space for a Solar Telescope.

I've started posting the Blood Bowl teams up on ebay (lots more to come, including some of the 1st ed stuff I bought back in the early 90s). There are also a whole bunch of 1st and 2nd ED AD&D books that I'll get around to posting over the next couple of weeks, and some other random bits of games. If any of that is of interest to anyone, feel free to let me know.

New Toy for the Telescope

This past weekend was the North East Astronomy Forum, which is one of the biggest Amateur Astronomy gatherings in the US, and definitely the biggest anywhere that I could get by car. A 2 day event with 140 vendors in Suffern NY.

My shopping list this year was limited, but the one thing I really needed was a new focuser. After wandering around and trying out various options for feel, I ended up picking up the moonlight 2 speed. An hour on Sunday morning to install it and recolumnate the telescope, and now I'm just waiting for the skies to clear so I can test it (the forecast looks like it will be a while until that happens).

Red is their signature color, and definitely makes my scope look like a transformer now.


Why Context is Important

Recently at work I got a question about tools that our project uses. I get these sorts of questions at various times somewhat regularly for a number of reasons. As a responsible answering party I asked what the context of the question was. And, this time got no response, which means that my answer was probably crap.

When someone asks you to explain the context of your question, they could very well be saying "go away, I don't want to deal with you". But just as frequently they could actually be trying to communicate with you and give you an answer that they know you'll get something out of. A snap answer is almost always wrong because the context and head space you came up with your question is going to be an entirely different head space that the person you are asking has been in all day/week/month or even forever. Communication, real communication, not waiting for your turn to speak, is what happens when two or more people extend their frame of reference to try to overlap so they can actually see what's going on in the other's head.

It frustrates me to give a useless, or worse, a bad answer because I couldn't draw out more information about the question. Fortunately it happens rarely enough that I still get riled up about it, like today.

Building an El Wire Sign

After both of our Astronomy outreach events at Vassar I've gotten comments from folks that we should have a sign out at the main street to direct people into the event (which also might bring in folks that didn't know about it.) This struck me as a great chance to look into using EL Wire.

EL Wire is what they used in the new Tron movie to make the distinctive look on people's clothing. In the old tron the glow was post processing, in the new one it was actually there. EL Wire only glows blue/green, but through the use of colored sheaths you can get different hues. EL Wire runs at 100 Volts, 1000 Hhz, though with such little amperage that you can make an inverter that supports about 3m of wire that will run off 2 AA batteries.

So I bought some EL Wire in "red" to see about making a sign. I got 2 9 ft lengths (which turned out to be a good guess on length) that already had inverters on them. With some scotch and electrical tape I did a quick test to see if I could write out STAR PARTY with an arrow.


I considered the test successful, so I decided the next step was to paint the plywood black, and instead of using masking, actually drill through the plywood to make the lines.

It turns out that there is enough friction to hold the straight lines without any worries, but the loops on the Rs, P, and S need some help, so scotch tape to the rescue there just to hold it in place.

The final result with the lights off an illuminated:

It's not so much red as orange, but as an indicator sign this should work out well for our events. It also made for a great little weekend project.

Saturn Watch

"Oh my god. I can see the Rings!"

-- 50 different people last night

Last night was awesome. Last night was the Mid-Hudson Astronomical Associations observing event at the Vassar Farm Preserve, titled Saturn Watch. This is the second public outreach event we've done at the Preserve, folking our wildly successful Observe the Moon Night back in September.

We had at least 10 telescopes on the fields brought by members, and at least 60 - 80 visitors there (as I keep hearing about the various groups of 5 - 10 that came, I'm starting to think that might actually be a low estimate). For nearly an hour I had a steady stream of folks coming to my scope to take a look at Saturn.

The first time you see Saturn through a telescope is a magical and visceral experience. That emotion was spilling out through out the field, as you could hear gasps and exclamations as they brought their eye up to the eyepiece.

Talking with folks through the evening, I answered questions about Saturn, telescopes, and astronomy in general. I also let everyone know about our other observing events throughout the year. I think we got at least 2 new members, and I know we managed to get a lot of kids excited about astronomy as well.

Now I'm eagerly looking forward to the North East Astronomy Forum, and the April star party.

What's Google doing: Castles and Moats

There was a really great piece this week on the freight train that is Android:

So here is the kicker. Android, as well as Chrome and Chrome OS for that matter, are not “products” in the classic business sense. They have no plan to become their own “economic castles.” Rather they are very expensive and very aggressive “moats,” funded by the height and magnitude of Google’s castle. Google’s aim is defensive not offensive. They are not trying to make a profit on Android or Chrome. They want to take any layer that lives between themselves and the consumer and make it free (or even less than free). Because these layers are basically software products with no variable costs, this is a very viable defensive strategy.

His final comment is spot on:

In Silicon Valley we like to make light of industries that are facing digital disruption such as newspapers, the record industry, and the movie industry, suggesting that their executives “just don’t get it.” Perhaps now we are witnessing the disruption of not just analog businesses, but also formerly interesting digital businesses as well.