Monday, 19 December 2016

Toomas Karmo: Christmas preparations nearly complete

A screenshot from one of my four Debian GNU/Linux desktops. Anticlockwise, from top left: operations clocks (as always, in green for the local civil time, and in red for UTC); a closeup view of my big mountain of Christmas presents, awaiting distribution later this week; a more remote view of the same, showing the minimalist, Paris-or-Manhattan, nominal Christmas tree, or rather Christmas shrub, which until Epiphany decorates my snug book-lined parlour; a shot of flamed plum pudding, from; an excerpt from Dickens's description of plum pudding in the Cratchit family, in a "glass teleteype", or Debian GNU/Linux /usr/bin/xterm window; the Cratchits as realized in a stage play, from; the David Dunlap Observatory 1.88-metre telescope dome, from back when life was normal, in the sense that astrophysics research was proceeding at the spectrograph (from some winter in perhaps the 1980s or 1990s). As with all my top-of-blog-entry images, an enlarged view can in most or all graphic Web browsers be had by left-clicking. 

Revision history:
  • 20161220T0122Z/version 2.0.0: Kmo added caption under image, plus a few paragraphs of text also under the caption. Kmo reserved the right to make minor, nonsubstantive, purely cosmetic, tweaks, as here-undocumented versions 2.0.1, 2.0.2, 2.0.3, ... . 
  • 20161220T1902Zapprox/version 1.0.0: Kmo uploaded image without significant accompanying text. 

The winter scene from the David Dunlap Observatory, just beside the operations clocks in this image, recalls our last DDO staff Christmas party, held in a Richmond Hill Hungarian restaurant in the December of 2007. For our bittersweet occasion, I composed a variant on Irving Berlin, and the twenty or thirty of us around that long table sang it. 

I will have to reproduce the words now from memory. 

The phrase "guiding star" is a reference less to the Magi than to an aspect of operations in the 1.88-metre telescope dome: it is necessary to "guide" on a star of interest, continually tweaking the motor controls in the warmroom, to ensure that starlight at all times proceeds correctly through the (in our operations, generally 303-micron-wide) spectrograph slit: 

I'm dreaming of the stars this Christmas

Just like the ones we've come to know, 

Where the treetops glisten, and children listen

To hear wildlife in our snow. 

I'm dreaming of the stars this Christmas

With every Christmas card I write: 

May your days be merry and bright, 

And may you find your guiding star tonight.  


What can possibly be diuvulged about Christmas preparations? This year I have the good fortune to be shopping for a rather large crowd - essentially (leaving aside a couple of people in peripheral positions) four adults, plus four children aged 5-or-so, 8-or-so, 9, and 11.

Of the four children, I deem at least two to be "Corresponding Members" of a "Section" in that  figment of my overheated imagination which is the Nikolai Ivanovitch Lobachevsky Institute of Socialist Mathematics. As good luck would have it, these two children not only live under dark skies but also have have ready access to their late great-grandfather's 10-centimetre refractor. 

Much support is needed. I have accordingly obtained for our "Section" a second-hand copy of the Dickinson-Dyer Backyard Astronomer's Guide, adding to this  my spare copy of the 2017 Royal Astronomical Society of Canada Observer's Handbook. (Being a contributing author, I get sent a copy over and above the copy that I receive in the normal course of events qua rank-and-file RASC member.) 

This leaves, however, the problem of detailed star maps, left pretty much unaddressed both by Dickinson-Dyer and by the Handbook. We need not only to learn the constellations, but within the constellations to do as much as we can to learn off by heart the Bayer designations of stars (memorizing, for instance, the sequence "zeta-epsilon-delta" for the stars in Orion's belt, appearing in the northern hemisphere from left to right, and "theta-beta-alpha-gamma-delta-epsilon-iota" for the stars in Corona Borealis: it is appropriate to mumble to oneself, on inspecting these two respective things, "zed" and "th-BAG-dei"). 

Perhaps the best tool for learning Bayer designations is the sequence of naked-eye sky charts (with constellations duly Bayer-labelled, and with unusually and exceptionally intelligent connecting lines added, to jog the visual memory in just the right way) which appeared in Sky and Telescope up to perhaps around 1995. These charts were the work of planetarium lecturer George Lovi. As good luck would have it, my book-lined parlour has among its treasures a couple of document cases with old numbers of Sky and Telescope.

My plan is accordingly to complete Christmas preparations by taking appropriate photocopies and putting them into a special bundle for the Lobachevsky Institute. The slip of calligraphy-grade paper visible on top of my Sky and Telescope number in my photos is already inscribed, in anticipation of tomorrow's work at the copy shop, in part as follows: In support of astronomical operations at the Nikolai Ivanovitch Lobachevsky Institute of Socialist Mathematics, Ottawa Valley Section, with particular reference to the concrete operational requirements of Agents E and R

Perhaps it will later be possible to chronicle on this blog the various kinds of progress being made by the Ottawa Valley Section. 

[This is the end of the blog posting.] 

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