I Don’t Know How Long It Will Last

I’ve started writing again on my “Paulietics” blog after over a year’s hiatus.

Be very forewarned – it’s all about the nasty shit going on in politics these days (I’m against it) and I swear a lot. I mean, like, A LOT!

I also try to occasionally be clever and make fun of the shit as opposed to simply screaming into the void. Maybe that’s working, maybe not.

Hey, look at the bright side! If I’m screaming obscenities about politics over there, I’m not doing here! So stay here for the goofy stories, pictures, space stuff, travel pictures, and so on! Go there for the vitriol, bile, and hatred!

So very, very much hatred…

Treason’s Greetings!

There’s Been A Theme For The Last Few Days

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What I Left Behind – Sticks

No pictures for this one – I remember it was dark, reasonably early in the process, before the truly major panic mode set in, when I still thought that I had time to sort and save instead of cull and trash. This was one of the moments when I realized that I didn’t.

Out on the back porch, which had become something of a dumping ground for yard equipment and old pet stuff and a couple of dead barbecues and so on, I found a dozen or so wooden dowels. They were all 36″ long, about 1″ in diameter (maybe only 3/4″), all dirty, all very old. Replacing them if I needed to would probably cost me $1 each at Home Depot.

Wooden. Dowels.

One might think that they were there as debris, their origination and original purpose forgotten. How insignificant they were, how worn, how used, how old! Just some crap that for whatever reason I hadn’t bothered to throw out years ago, right?

One couldn’t be more wrong.

When I was an undergraduate studying physics at UC Irvine in 1977 or 1978 I had to take some “breadth” requirement classes. History. Art. Economics. English. Literature. Something other than math and physics and computer programming. I picked art.

Art 101 A-B-C at UC Irvine was not your typical class. UCI was (and still is) world renowned for modern art, avante garde art, performance art. I was expecting painting, drawing, sculpture, photography, that sort of thing. I got performance art (and a little bit of painting, drawing, sculpture, etc).

At the first session of class I got the usual information about how the class would be run. We would meet three days a week and do various things in class, while we would also have a weekly project to work on by ourselves outside of class. The first week’s project – “Take sticks and strings – make art.”

Let us pause to look at our 21 year old physics major who is expecting and used to assignments such as, “Read Chapter Five and do problems 10 through 25.” There’s some confusion, some ambiguity, some anxiety here.

WTF does “take sticks and strings – make art” mean??!!

I couldn’t get an answer to save my life. The teacher, Jerry Green, looked like he was ready to bust out laughing in my face the more I protested and asked questions and tried to pin him down. “Take sticks and strings – make art.” That was it. It was all in there. Figure it out.

The most I got from him was “something between toothpicks and telephone poles, thread and the ropes they use to tie a supertanker to the docs – make art.”

That wasn’t helpful.

In desperation, the day before it was due, I went to the hardware store (I don’t even remember if there were Home Depot stores that far back) and got about two dozen 36″ wooden dowels and a big ball of heavy-duty twine. I went early to the art department campus and outside of the classroom I started tying knots on a light pole there, then suspending the sticks. Sort of like a big spider web, almost random, not real stable, not really blowing in the breeze, some of the sticks tied together so that they made a bit of a 3-D form around the light pole.

It was a “thing.” It mean nothing, there was no symbolism, it was just a stupid thing that I did out of desperation and panic to fit the instructions I had been given. I hated it. I hated the class.

Jerry loved it.

It’s late, I’ll talk more about the art class tomorrow. But those sticks that I found in my back yard two months ago? The ones that were filthy because they’d been used to hold up plants and muck out drains and all sorts of dirty, disposable jobs over the intervening 40 years or so?

Those were the dowels I had bought for that class.

One by one I snapped them in half. It wasn’t hard, most were already rotted through or cracked. I tossed them into the trash and moved on. It didn’t take five minutes.

That’s one of the things I left behind in this move.

A dozen or so 36″ wooden dowels.

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Venus & Luna Part Ways (For This Month)

Two days ago the moon was about a hand’s-width below Venus at Sunset.

Yesterday they were right next to each other.


It’s almost like the Earth isn’t flat, space is really really big and ruled by laws of physics that we can figure out, and that if you use that really fancy math (using ALL of your toes and fingers, and maybe some of your friends’ as well) you could predict this.

Who’d a thunk it?

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Conjunction Sunset – July 15th

As I “warned” you last night, tonight Venus and the Moon were at conjunction in the sunset skies. (I realize I keep using terms that might not be familiar to some folks – a “conjunction” is just when two celestial objects come close to one another from our point of view as one or both of them are moving about in their orbits.)

Tonight I brought the telescope out into the front yard for the first time at the new house.

We’re having that good LA “heat wave” weather where it’s pretty much clear as a bell, no coastal clouds this early in the evening, and no brush fires (yet!) filling the skies with smoke.

Even I was surprised at how soon after sunset you could see both the crescent moon and Venus.

As it started to get dark, I was hoping that some of our new neighbors might mosey by to see what the new weirdo on the block had in his driveway. Sadly, none did.

The close conjunction was stunning to see with the naked eye. Through the telescope Venus was a bit over half illuminated, where the moon looked as amazing as always. With the terminator (the line between night and day) so close to the limb of the moon, the contrasts and shadows really bring out a lot of detail and depth.

Through the telephoto lens (a Tamron 70-300 zoom on a Canon Rebel xTi) you could see both the moon and Venus together. Exposures were a pain because that thin slice of the moon is so bright compared to everything else, but you can see a touch of detail.

I also looked at Jupiter and its moons, and tried briefly (in vain) to find a couple Messier galaxies in the haze near the moon and the horizon. Then one of the local neighborhood cats stopped by, mainly I suspect to see if I had any food. I didn’t, it left, and the mosquitoes came.

Before I packed up I decided to try again to see if I could just hold the iPhone camera up to the lens of the telescope and take a picture. What’s the worst that could happen?

Turns out that can work okay!

Tomorrow night the moon will be well above Venus. Next month when the meet again Venus will have started back toward the Sun and when the Moon is near they’ll be barely above the horizon less than an hour after sunset. There may be very little to be seen from here due to that big peak over there. We’ll see.

I hope you got to see the conjunction tonight! If you didn’t and you have a chance, go see it tomorrow, even if the Moon will have moved up away from Venus a bit. It will still look brilliant and awesome!


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Venus & Luna Are At It Again!

Those two! Talk about your monthly meetups! It’s almost like it was foretold in the stars or something.

Star crossed lovers! (HAH!)

Sorry. (David Attenborough voiceover: “He was NOT sorry.”)

Ahem. Where were we? Oh, yes…

The moon having gone around a full month since last month’s encounter, and Venus still being big and bright in the sunset sky, and all of them staying more or less on or near the ecliptic since there’s that whole physics and Newtonian mechanics and Kelperian orbits thing going on, the two very bright and very pretty planetary bodies are converging into a conjunction once again.

By the time that I got out there, the moon was very near the horizon, it was getting nice and dark, and this is a pretty decent representation of what it looked like to the naked eye. Except, of course, to the naked eye it was AWESOME!

If all you do is glance at the moon, you see the crescent.

With a decent telephoto lens, as seen above, you can see some detail and craters, particularly along the terminator line.

But if you take your time and let your eyes adjust to the darkness, you can see quite a bit of detail on the “dark” surface of the moon, illuminated by sunlight reflected off of the Earth and then back to your eyes. It’s called “Earthshine.”

(Someday I’ll figure out how to get rid of that annoying internal reflection that mirrors any bright object in an otherwise dim picture – but this is not that day.)

Now that I’ve found that tripod that I was bitching about all through June, I can take longer exposures without a lot of blurring. Sort of like this one, which might be already one of my favorite picture I’ve ever taken:

Click on it to view it in full screen. It’s not überfantastic or likely to get me invited to work at NASA or JPL next week (although if any offers come in I’m more than ready to discuss them!) but even with simple 2.5 second exposure on a tripod, a number of bright stars started showing up in the image.

So I went hunting and web surfing to ID some of them.

The bright star midway between Venus and the Moon is Regulus, or Alpha Leonis. “Alpha Leonis” means it’s the brightest star in the constellation Leo. (The second brightest would be Beta Leonis, the third brightest would be Gamma Leonis, and so on.) Regulus is about 77 light years away and is at least a quadruple-star system.

I’ve also tagged (hopefully correctly, but if you lose Final Jeopardy betting on my accuracy it’s your own damn fault) Eta (η) Leonis, Gamma (γ) Leonis, Epsilon (ε) Leonis, and Rho (ρ) Leonis. (This also just gave me a really good excuse to spend the last half hour teaching myself how to enter those Greek letters as HTML code into my WordPress document, which is probably not nearly as much of a “waste of time” as my anal brain would like to be telling me it is. “Play” – I recommend it!)

You’ll notice that some of these stars also have other names. For example, Gamma (γ) Leonis is also known (“commonly” or not) as Algieba. Many star names of today come from Arabic since Arabic astronomers dominated the field while Europe was in the Dark Ages for a few hundred years. Other civilizations have all had their own names for all of the bright stars (Algieba was known in Chinese as 軒轅十二 , i.e., the Twelfth Star of Xuanyuan, who was some Chinese deity dude) but most of the Arabic names have stuck.

You’ll also see a couple of stars named “HR 3980” and “HR 4035” – these are stars which didn’t rate Arabic or Chinese or Greek names, so instead they’re stuck with boring, precise, antiseptic names from our modern society. (As I’m typing this, Thomas Dolby’s “She Blinded Me With Science” is playing on the Saturday Night Safety Dance – “Science! Science! Science!” from the extended play disco version is probably an appropriate response to “HR 3980.”) When you see a stellar designation like this it will refer to a catalog of some sort, in this case the Harvard Revised Photometry Catalogue. (“Science! Science! Science!”)

Keep an eye on the sunset sky over the next couple of nights, tomorrow night in particular! Tomorrow night the moon will be very close to Venus and


(Okay, yeah, I had to go do a quick search to see what the HTML code for that is as well. Let the “screwing with the way the web site looks” begin!!)


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Silly Twitter Ads

On the one hand, it’s sort of impressive (in a Big Brother’s watching, creepy sort of way, but I completely understand how it’s done and there’s potentially as much good as evil, so I’ll let it stand) how Twitter is able to track where you are and insert ads based on that.

For example, when I went to visit the Norfolk / Virginia Beach area at the beginning of June I started to immediately get ads in my Twitter feed for businesses in the northeast Virginia area. (The Twitter app saw what network I was connected to, communicated that back to the mother ship, and Mother started feeding ads for that area – simple.)

At risk of giving them ideas though, I have to wonder at the TYPE of ads I got. Almost all of them were for things like car dealerships, utilities, industrial consultants, and so on. With all of the data they have, why aren’t they about 99.9% sure that I live in Southern California? (I mean, simply based on where I’m always connected from, down to the cell tower(s) nearest my home and office.) And if that’s the case and I suddenly vanish for five hours and then show up in Virginia, how hard is it to figure out that I’m travelling? It’s probably irrelevant for a first cut analysis to know if I’m travelling for business or pleasure.

If you know I’m travelling, why would I want a utility company? Or a car dealership? Or a light industrial park real estate ad? How about restaurants? Tourist traps? Theaters?

As invasive and even more creepy as that might be, it might actually be useful.

But then, here I am back at home, well over a month later, and I’m still getting ads like this:

DelMarVa Power?!

Sure, I would love to save energy and money. But for this ad to have anything to do with my reality I would have to have be spending at least $0.01 on power or gas or water or some sort of utility in the Delaware – Maryland – Virginia area.

To repeat, I’ve been back in Los Angeles for over a month.

For an app that has functions that can be really clever, this one can be pretty freakin’ stupid at the same time!

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What I Left Behind – Kids’ Toys

Two days ago I started to talk about how the heavy-duty emotional baggage of the recent move wasn’t in the house, as I had expected, but in many of the items that I found myself throwing away as I was forced to get brutal about what to keep and what to toss.

Another example was the kids’ toys.

There were a lot of decapitated dolls, broken trucks, and miscellaneous games pieces and bits with no indication that there was actually an entire game anywhere in sight. All of that got tossed immediately.

There were many children’s books, some of which got saved, most of which were in various stages of tatters and disintegration. The hardest to dump were some that I remember fondly but had gotten wet or moldy or someplace in the garage where critters used them for nesting material.

There were plenty of toddler and infant toys that were in perfectly good working order, but I couldn’t find any place that would take them for donations. Those plastic balls with the different shaped holes that you put the different shaped blocks in? No takers. The toy cash register? Nope. The wooden rack with the rows of spinning wooden tiles with pictures on them? Ditto.

Things like the wooden blocks had long since been relegated to “stuff for the grand kids (someday)” or “substitute doorstop” status. The nice four piece Christmas train still rolled along just fine, but there was no place for it to go except the trash bin.

I remember getting these cardboard blocks when the kids were all very small in a Christmas where the budget was tight. I ordered them online and they were delivered about two days before Christmas. I didn’t realize they had to be assembled – each one had to be punched out of the big cardboard sheet and then folded like a giant piece of origami. It took six or seven minutes to assemble each block and I had ordered the BIG package of something like 100+ blocks. You do the math. I was up until about 5:00 AM putting them all together and then getting rid of all of the evidence of assembly.

On the other hand, we used the crap out of those blocks, as you can see. Forts were made, walls were designed for destruction, supports were made for bridges of Hot Wheel tracks…

And in a house half the size of our old one, the kids all long grown and gone, the deadline from Hell looming to get out of the house…

If and when any grand kids show up, maybe I’ll order some new ones and stay up all night assembling them for the next generation.

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