What a Year

My last blog was February 9th, 2019. My intention of writing was to at least post a monthly blog entry of what’s in the sky how best to view them. I still have this grandeur plan to really start blogging about what I am looking at in the sky and what equipment I am using and to eventually work up to having a YouTube channel and an official Central Wyoming Astronomical Society vlog. But it seems month after month, I find myself exceedingly busy with life and I just never got the time to take my telescope out.

Since my last blog, I had a few life changing moments and some that were more of a distraction then life changing. Shortly after my first blog, I took the family to Italy and stopped in Iceland and France on the way. Iceland was incredible! Iceland easily goes into my top 3 favorite places on the planet. We were even there during a good chance to see the Northern Lights – although we only saw them for about 30 seconds because it was overcast the entire time. We did go to the Perlan Museum though which is a natural science museum and has a very cool planetarium inside. The only downside to Iceland is how expensive day to day provisions are. It’s cheap to get there but expensive to be there… they have to import everything.

After spending three days in Iceland, we headed to France which sadly is on my list of least favorite places. At least Paris is anyway. Maybe the rest of France is much different. Perhaps I am just not accustomed to such a large population, but it seems to me that the residents of Paris are the French equivalent of Americans, i.e., “we will not press one for French”. If you can’t speak perfect French, you get treated like the minority that you are. At least that was my impression. Disneyland however was really fun. And very entertaining to hear Mickey Mouse speak French.

We spent three days in Florence, four days in Rome, and one day in Tivoli. Florence was outstanding. There are so many highlights of my time in Florence but the one thing I had to see was the Museo di Galileo. It is a science museum with all sorts of exhibits from history’s scientists including Galileo’s equipment. I got to see the very same telescope Galileo used to make his discovery with Jupiter! Rome was also very awesome. I am glad I had the opportunity to go there, but Rome has far too many people for my comfort. Although being a civil engineer, I was determined to see the aqueducts and I got that chance. Romans didn’t invent hydraulic engineering but they certainly perfected it. The method of transporting water via open channels developed by Romans 2000 years ago are still used today.

In April, it was business as usual. Work, kids homework, family time, bedtime, repeat. I was hoping by May I would be setting my telescope up just about every weekend. But as it turned out the spring months through June were all very wet. It was either raining or cloudy and on the days that were clear, I had to work early the next morning. Then just as the weather was starting to look promising and the roads to my favorite dark sky spots dried up and got groomed, I ended up in the hospital with appendicitis. My wife and 2 children were in Nebraska visiting family and I was busy at work so I stayed behind… with the intention of doing some camping over the weekend. As it turns out, appendicitis forced the cancellation of that plan. Recovery more or less took the month of July. August would have been a great month but work was insanely busy. After August, the kids go back to school and strict bed times are put into place, which of course has really nothing to do with my own bed time but unless I leave from work and immediately set up my gear upon arrival to my home which is almost always impractical and eating dinner and helping clean up then spending time with the family before putting kids to bed… it’s well past 10pm before I could even start setting up my equipment. In short, life got in the way during September and October. Now we are into November and it finally gets dark enough early enough to allow at least weekend observations. I WILL take my telescope out at least once this year. My photography and processing skills have improved over last year so if all goes well, I should get better results with my favorite winter sky objects.

In October we found out we are having a third child. This will be our third and “probably” final one. Although if you ask my wife, she would have a definitive statement…. this WILL be our final one. I am very excited to be a third time father but the due date is June 2020… so basically I won’t be taking my telescope out next summer either. Perhaps in the meantime, I can think of ways of rebuilding the membership of the Central Wyoming Astronomical Society.

I know this blog entry has nothing to do with astronomy but I figured I would update the whole 5 followers that follow this blog… that is if they didn’t get bored and moved on. Well… until next time. Hopefully it won’t be another 9 months before I post again.

I Ditched Facebook and Started an Astronomy Blog.

Hello. My name is Alan and this is my blog. If you are reading this, welcome and thank you for reading. I am a 40 year old man with a passion for astrophotography and amateur astronomy. I own several telescopes and one really messed up mirror that someday I will have re-coated so I can build a telescope. I am the last remaining member of the Central Wyoming Astronomical Society so I guess that makes me the president, the outreach person, the treasurer, and now a blogger. The Central Wyoming Astronomical Society or CWAS for short was once a large group consisting of upwards of 30 members. This may seem small compared to other hobbyist clubs, but I assure you having 30 amateur astronomers in the same room is a riot… particularly if you like science fiction and mythology. However, over the years the club has dwindled and dwindled some more. The generation that came before me are all getting too old and tired to continue the hobby – some of them have passed on and my generation are too busy trying to make a living in this messed up world. This is not only a problem with my astronomy club but with astronomy clubs around the world. The older generation of amateur astronomers had no problems sitting at their telescope for hours searching for that 9th magnitude object under clear dark skies. We waited for hours if we needed to for the clouds to part so we could get a few minutes under the eyepiece. We had ancient film based cameras where we had to wait a week or longer to see if we had the right settings on the camera to capture the Orion Nebula. And in my case almost always had some flaw in the picture. Very few of my hundreds of pictures with my old 35mm film camera turned out. And while we were waiting for all the clouds to clear or the sun to finally set, we always had great conversations about our hobby. The younger generation I have found, have an addiction to instant gratification. Once they’ve seen a galaxy three million light years away… on their iPhones, they don’t really care about anything else. Saturn used to drop jaws when kids saw it for the first time. Almost always, the thought of seeing Saturn for first time was among the neatest things they have ever seen… it was Saturn that hooked me into this hobby and it was Comet Hale-Bopp that made me fall in love with it. The younger generation just now look at their phones and some space app that their friends maybe recommended and then they look at Jupiter or Saturn and move on… no questions asked.

In part I blame Facebook and all other social media sites. The worlds greatest time waster… why learn about something bigger than anything you could possibly imagine when you can get on Facebook and see yet another funny cat video or take another personality quiz… seriously how many do you have to take?

When I joined the astronomy club back in 2001, smart phones were not in existence; I owned the Nokia 5110 which was a pretty basic cell phone. It could make phone calls and send incredibly basic text messages. Short hand cell phone language we have all come to understand like “lol” and “roflmao” or “ttyl” didn’t exist. DVD players were still hundreds of dollars and the selection of movies occupied a single end cap shelf at department stores. Music stores still existed. Digital single lens reflex cameras existed but they certainly were not mainstream. The memory cards costed a fortune and the quality of images were no where close to film based cameras. Photoshop existed but it wasn’t until 2003 when amateur astronomers discovered how useful it really was. The worst Star Wars movie ever made – Episode 2: Attack of the Clones was still in development and social media wasn’t as popular as it is now. Facebook didn’t even exist then because Mark Zuckerberg was still in high school.

Back then my chosen method of reaching out to people who might be interested in the night sky was through the local newspaper. Sometimes it was successful and other times it was not. We would advertise at the local planetarium which was and still is owned and operated by the county school district. It was a good system, we helped the planetarium with telescope operation and the planetarium let us use their facility for monthly club meetings. And then came along Facebook. At first it looked like a really cool way of reaching out to people. The share function was a big deal for me because that meant that if one person was interested in the night sky, that person might share the post to their friends and their friends to their friends and so on. And if I could grab the attention of those that showed up to sidewalk astronomy, that was success in my mind. Facebook undoubtedly served its purpose with respect to reaching out to the public. So you may ask, “Why did you quit then?”

The slow death of Facebook for me started with Apples latest iOS update. I have two small children who spend a good amount of time on YouTube watching Ryan’s Toy Review or Blippie and his silly educational videos or some other less desirable video designed for the sole purpose of wasting time. So when Apple released their latest iOS, I decided to monitor just how much TV and internet videos they were watching. It was painful to see… I swore I was never going to be that parent who would let the TV be a babysitter, and I still don’t. However, it turns out YouTube is. After this little revelation I decided to monitor my own time on useless websites and was equally distressed at the findings… on average I was spending five hours and forty minutes staring at my iPhone! More than half of that was on social media. I immediately started setting time limits for myself and my kids on digital media, I was a serious couch potato in my early teenager years and I refuse to let my kids become what I was. The nails for the coffin started arriving when Facebook started getting caught in privacy scandals. From allowing my personal information to be used for political gain or finding out that that last personality quiz had far more nefarious purposes than telling me I was an introvert. I never took that quiz and I am glad I didn’t but combined with the scandals and incredibly fake news spread by unreliable news sources and conspiracy theorists, it all started piling up. The final nail in the coffin was the scandal Facebook is currently defending themselves against because they paid teenagers some as young as thirteen years old a measly $20 to have complete and total access to their phones or mobile devices. Every picture, every video, every song, every app, every private message… all so they could make a few million dollars selling that data to companies. This in my mind is so far beyond acceptable I decided to delete my Facebook book account and all other social media accounts… Twitter. Facebook, Reddit, Instagram, Snapchat… all gone. The only people that should have that kind of access to children’s mobile devices, are the parents who bought them.

I will miss some of the cooler aspects of these platforms, Reddit in particular as there was a really cool sub that I subscribed to call “Exposure Porn”, which despite the name was not dirty. It was a photography forum which users would upload extended exposures of different forms of light. But really at the end of the day all of these platforms are just toxic environments and heaven for those that want to steal your personal information.

This is my very first official blog so please be patient with me as I hone my blogging skills. The idea of a blog is much different than Facebook. Trying to keep a blog interesting can be difficult for some people, myself included as I am not much of a creative writing type of person. All if the writing I do in a professional setting is all technical writing. Most if not all the writing I did on Facebook was directions on how to find a comet or images of something I took through my telescope. But with this blog I want to try something new. I want to try to express the feelings of astronomy as well as tips and tricks. I want this blog to be both educational and emotional. Do you know the feeling you get when you walk into a planetarium and they gave that groovy yet relaxing futuristic music playing? And when they turn off the lights and all the stars come up on the dome you get the tingling feeling crawl up your spine? When you read this blog I want you to have the same feeling. I want you to have the same feeling I do after finally getting that perfect shot or finally after hours of waiting and half asleep, getting to see that meteor shower that everyone else lost the patience for.

I hope this blog can deliver and who knows… maybe it will inspire the next generation to do something other than ruin a pizza by making the crust out of cauliflower and watching funny cat videos on a Facebook.

Thanks for reading my first blog and here’s to clear skies and warm nights.

Alan C.