Sunday, January 28, 2018

A Demonstration of Astronomy on the Cheap!

I don't yet have a fancy telescope that can track stars and take long exposures of them. But the moon is a different story!

That photo was taken from my hometown, in the midst of real light pollution, and with a street light across the road. As for the technical details:

Taken on January 28, 2018, with the moon at about 92% full
Telescope: Orion SkyScanner 100 telescope ($95)
Camera: Taken with iPod Touch, 6th Generation
Software: NightCap Camera ($1.99)
Settings (in NightCap): ISO 30, Shutter 1/150, Zoom factor 1.8

I plan eventually to get a decent refractor scope with tracking capability to minimize the "smearing" of images caused, of course, by the earth's rotation during time-lapse pictures.

Added Photo 1/31/2018:

I took this one last night when I set up my gear preparing for the eclipse this morning. You can see some clouds swirling around the moon... and it got MUCH worse. This morning, during the eclipse, our valley was totally covered with clouds. 😒

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Why I Think Global Warming Is a Fraud: How Do You Measure a Planet’s Temperature?

When astronomers measure the temperature of a planet, they have both an advantage and a disadvantage over meteorologists here on Earth. Their instruments can acquire data from nearly 50% of a planet’s surface at a time… but they cannot measure that temperature as accurately as someone on that surface might be able to at a specific location. In other words, astronomers can only measure the average temperature of the portion of the planet that their instruments can "see." And until satellites were first used in 1979 meteorologists here on Earth had to measure the temperature at multiple points and mathematically average them.

How Accurate Was the Global Record Before Satellites?

The first continual instrumental record of temperature in the world is the Central England Temperature record, started in 1659. During the mid-19th century the measuring and recording of temperatures spread to other locations, but not until 1873 with the foundation of the International Meteorological Organization that people began to try and take the temperature in the same way.

But note that these temperature readings were limited mostly to urban locations in Europe and North America until after World War II. And that they were not monitored for changes to the environment of the thermometers, such as the introduction of asphalt roadways and parking lots. Or the introduction of new heat sources, like nearby mechanical equipment.

At no point was there any real attempt to set up a regular network of automated thermometers at set distances apart over the entire planet. The expense would have been immense and the technical difficulties, such as placing devices in high mountainous areas or positioning them on the open seas, insurmountable.

Other Attempts to Establish a Global Record

Lacking direct measurements hasn’t been a barrier to some. They have chosen to infer temperatures through such means as ice cores from Antarctica or variations in the thickness of tree rings. Yet how accurate can those be? What assumptions are they making?

What Satellite Measurements Show

Since 1979 the satellite data does show a warming trend of 0.114 degrees Celsius (0.2052 degrees Fahrenheit) per decade. If it continues for a full century, that would be 1.14 degrees Celsius (2.052 degrees Fahrenheit)! But is that truly significant?

That raises yet another question for me: measurement error. In my college physics classes we were cautioned about relying too much on apparently precise measurements. To quote Wikipedia:

Observational error (or measurement error) is the difference between a measured value of a quantity and its true value. In statistics, an error is not a "mistake." Variability is an inherent part of the results of measurements and of the measurement process.

A simpler way to put it is that we cannot be certain that any measurement is as accurate as multiple digits after a decimal point imply. Before digital calculators became common and affordable, most calculations were performed with slide rules. We assumed that there were perhaps 3 significant digits in each calculation we made, and only 3 or 4 in the final result. Now we can quickly add together hundreds of values from thermometers and find their average, with results like 72.36426229… But the fact is that those initial values were probably recorded as whole numbers and that final calculation should be rounded to 72. Reporting those extra digits give a false impression of accuracy that’s not supported by the instruments used.

Confirmation bias also plays a role in this situation where we emotional, semi-rational humans unconsciously look for reasons to put more emphasis on data that support our beliefs and, of course, to reject data that conflict with them.

My Bottom Line

I believe that many who are accepting the global warming hoax are often ignorant of how the data is being collected and reported by researchers. I think those who know better are guilty of knowingly violating the rules and standards of data collection in order to gain power or financial rewards.

Simply put: The truth is not in them.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Before Buying a Telescope

I’m certain that the total solar eclipse of 2017 will have tempted many in the US to have invested in telescopes. That’s wonderful for two reasons:
  1. Seeing the stars and planets through your own telescope is fun!
  2. There will soon be some amazing deals available for used telescopes in most parts of the country.

Now, forgive me for the negativity expressed in that second reason, but during the past year I’ve discovered that too many of us who impulsively bought telescopes have learned some hard lessons… and I wish I could have read the advice I’m about to give here before I invested in my telescope.

How often will you be able to use a telescope?

We often joke about the many treadmills and exercise bikes being used as clothing racks. Too many telescopes are doomed to join them. Why? Because of the weather!

Before investing in a telescope you need to come to grips with your local night sky. Telescopes can be fitted with special filters to block out much of urban light pollution, but nothing enables them to show you the night sky if it’s cloudy. I recommend that you first pay attention to how often your sky is relatively clear at night, especially during the hours that you’d want to be viewing the heavens. You might even start a calendar of clear nights that you’re having either where you live or where you might expect to drive to.

Where I live, since I bought my telescope last March, we’ve had 33 clear nights during those 286 days, which averages to about 1 in 9 nights. And given that sometimes there will be 2 or 3 good nights in a row, sometimes there will be 2 or 3 weeks without any good nights at all. Of course, now that we’re into winter there will probably be more good nights for viewing, but less time each night before hypothermia sets in…

What do you expect to see with a telescope?

The first thing you need to know is that it’s not the telescope that determines what you’ll see in the night sky, it’s your eyes. Human eyes work best with strong lighting; we can see more colors and for farther distances during a bright, sunny day than we can on a cloudy day or at night.

This means our eyes simply cannot see the colors through a telescope that pictures in magazines show us. Those are time-lapsed photos, taken with long exposure times with telescopes that track their targets across the sky. Those images are then manipulated with special software to bring out the colors that you’d see if you were much, much closer to those objects. Often special filters are also used to bring out particular colors produced by gases in the nebulae or other objects.

For example, here’s the Orion Nebula as seen with your eye through a telescope:

And here’s the same nebula as shot by an amateur with astrophotographic equipment and manipulated with software to provide color:

Beautiful, high quality images can be obtained with amateur-level equipment, but it will take both money and effort to get there.

What’s the best way to start out?

Binoculars, when used with a good tripod, are an inexpensive way of getting into astronomy. Good quality binoculars cost far less than a good quality telescope—all you need to add is a tripod (and an adapter) to stabilize the binoculars.

Do look for a pair with 10x to 20x magnification and have apertures of at least 50 mm (that would be written for example as 10x50). Some advantages to starting with binoculars:
  • They are portable and easy to handle
  • The image will look “correct” which makes it easier to find what you’re looking for
  • A $100 pair can deliver images rivaling those seen through much more expensive telescopes
  • They can also be used during the day for other purposes

So, which telescope should you buy?

Beginning astronomers often start out wanting just to see what’s up there. Eventually, though, they start wanting to share what they’re seeing by videoing or taking pictures. Both are fun, but the equipment required for each task differs in some important respects—there’s no such thing as the “perfect telescope” that can do everything very well.

Warning: Be prepared to ignore ads hyping 600-power telescopes (or even higher!). Why? Because from the surface of the earth you can’t use super-high-power telescopes and see anything worth seeing!

1.      Stars twinkle. Through our atmosphere, stars do seem to twinkle, to move about slightly, because our air is often turbulent. That’s why the most powerful telescopes are built for observatories on mountains like Mauna Kea in Hawaii, at 4,205 meters (13,796 feet). And those telescopes use advanced technologies with lasers and computer-controlled mosaic mirrors to minimize the effect of turbulence in the atmosphere above that altitude!

2.      Objects in the sky move, right? Well, you were told in school they appear to move because this old Earth is spinning—and that is true. So, when you magnify the image that apparent movement is also magnified and you end up having to keep the telescope moving to allow for it. In other words, if it takes 100 seconds for the moon to drift out of view at 20x magnification, it would drift out of view in just 20 seconds at 100x magnification.

3.      Much of what you’ll want to see doesn’t require much magnification anyway. For example, the Andromeda Galaxy stretches almost 6 times the width of the full moon (178 arc-minutes vs 30 arc-minutes).

Frankly, any resolving power over 300x will be wasted except on the clearest nights with extremely calm air.

Light matters!

With a telescope, what really matters is the amount of light that reaches your eye or camera. That’s the secret to seeing things many, many light years away. There are two ways to get more light to the eyepiece:

1.      Aperture—how much light is entering the telescope is usually a function of its diameter. Generally speaking, an 8 inch aperture telescope delivers about 4 times as much light to your eye or camera as a 4-inch one… and about 800 times as much light than normally reaches the typical 7 millimeter pupil of the human eye!

2.      Time—focusing on an image over time allows more light to strike the photoreceptors in a camera. In the olden days astronomers used photographic plates or film to produce their images. Today cameras take multiple images of a few seconds each and then use software to “stack” them.

Kinds of telescopes

Basically there are two kinds of optical telescopes:
  • Refractors are the type of telescopes we’re most familiar with in films and television, in which the focusing of the light is accomplished through multiple lenses and, sometimes, prisms.
  • Reflectors use mirrors to focus and bounce the light to the eyepiece.

Both refractors and reflectors have their strong points and are worthy of consideration.

What do you want to do with a telescope?

Answering this question will help you decide whether you want to spend a lot of dollars on a computerized telescope that does much of the work for you or just start with a small telescope and explore the night sky on your own, perhaps aided by a good book that will help you learn the stars and constellations. Some telescopes are better for astrophotography, others for just plain seeing what’s up there. You may even want to buy separate telescopes for specific purposes.

I strongly recommend that you visit friends who have telescopes or attend a few public “star party” hosted by local astronomy clubs. Look through their telescopes and pester them with questions until you’re comfortable that you can decide which sort of telescope you’ll want.

Whatever route you choose, welcome to the universe!

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Fake News, Confirmation Bias, and George Carlin

The big story last week among my liberal friends was the announcement that the Trump administration had banned the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) from using “7 words” in sending its budget requests to Congress. They gleefully linked to a single report in the Washington Post:

It states that “Policy analysts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta were told of the list of forbidden words at a meeting Thursday with senior CDC officials who oversee the budget, according to an analyst who took part in the 90-minute briefing.” Note that no one person is named as the source of that advice. Yet my friends immediately denounced the Trump administration as being responsible. Since that report came out many have commented on it, assuming it to be further proof that the Trump administration lives down to Hillary’s “basket of deplorables” label.

The problem, of course, is that the adults in charge of the CDC have denounced the report and denied having created the list. None of the articles since have established “guilt” amongst the Trump administrators. So, this “breaking news” has lasted less than a week as a real news report but continues to provide fodder for those wanting to assign evil motives to Trump.

So, is this an example of “fake news?” For those who care about truth over politics, yes! The report was factual as far as it went, but it didn’t really establish who had created the list or how they had gone about the task. For those who are motivated by politics above all else, it fits their confirmation bias perfectly, confirming that Trump’s people are anti-science and crazed religious zealots.

My Theory

I suspect the ghost of George Carlin had more to do with the list than anyone in the Trump administration. The late comedian and social critic was known for many brilliant and funny routines, but especially for his “The Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television.”

First, note that both lists consist of seven words or phrases. Then consider the ages of the mid-level administrators at the CDC and their educational backgrounds. Finally, what are their political leanings most likely to be?

In most bureaucracies today mid-level managers tend to range from about 30 to 60 years in age. Most of them would have been in college during Carlin’s most active years on television (1970s to early 2000s) and certainly would have seen his Seven Words. Being of college age, which coincides with the ages during which young people are most certain they know everything worth knowing (and that their parents are obviously clueless about), they would certainly have picked up on Carlin’s nihilistic attitudes. And I do believe that at the core of their current belief system is the absolute certainty that Trump supporters are knuckle-dragging, anti-science deplorables.

Given that background, how likely is it that one or more administrators at the CDC would have started, as a joke, their own lists of The Seven Words You Can Never Say to a Trump Supporter? And that the List evolved into The Seven Words You Can Never Say to Congress?

I believe that’s the reason that the story hasn’t had “legs” and evolved into a witch hunt for a guilty party in the Trump administration. There is no “there” there. But… we haven’t yet heard from Robert Mueller.

Monday, November 27, 2017

I Give Up!

Even though I have never been politically correct, I have tried to be polite. I'm losing patience now with the PC crowd because they've clearly lost their minds!


Reading the article led me to claims that "Diversity Is Our Strength!" Rational thinking clearly is no longer required to be accepted as an adult in the PC quarters; reciting the mantra of the day has taken its place.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

The Ultimate Source of Stress Today

There are more sources of stress today than one can count. Seriously! Many have existed throughout the human experience, such as drought, famine, disease, war, etc. Some are relatively newer than those, like traffic jams, utility bills, and dropped cellular connections. Today I want to talk about one that has only recently been recognized for the pernicious, ever-present stresser that it is:


I'm not just talking about the ones we find in governments at every level because they also exist in other organizations. Every business, both profit and non-profit, develops a bureaucracy of its own once it reaches the size where it must divide itself into departments with specialized purposes and forms for everyone to fill out.

The noted philosopher Hannah Arendt ( was an expert on totalitarianism, having escaped Germany during the Holocaust. Here in America she became the first female lecturer at Princeton and wrote extensively on the power and psychology of violence.

She predicted there would soon be a great increase of domestic violence and social unrest in modern societies for a particular reason: bureaucracies.

How could that be? Don't they exist to help businesses and governments to function smoothly and efficiently? How could anyone blame everything from road rage to mass shootings on the very organizations that make modern life possible?

Well, let's start off with what the word means: government by bureaus. That's pretty obvious, right? But what does the word "bureau" mean? It turns out that the original French word means "writing desk." Yep, it's government run by people at writing desks. What do they do? They make you fill out forms which they process, file away, or send on to other desk jockeys. They enforce the policies and rules that their bureau creates. If you can't document that your situation qualifies for their aid, you're out of luck.

As Hannah Arendt wrote, "The greater the bureaucratization of public life, the greater will be the attraction of violence. In a fully developed bureaucracy there is nobody left with whom one could argue, to whom one could present grievances, on whom the pressures of power could be exerted. Bureaucracy is the form of government in which everybody is deprived of political freedom, of the power to act; for the rule by Nobody is not no-rule, and where all are equally powerless we have a tyranny without a tyrant."

That lack of accountability on the part of our rulers, for that's what bureaucrats have become, leaves us without reasonable recourse when their decisions deprive us of our freedom, our income, perhaps our homes. And what makes it doubly frustrating is that they are insulated from the results of their actions. As bad as it was for the victims of Nazism, where the guilty were "only following orders" and had to wait for the war to end for any justice, today it's worse in that guilty bureaucrats are almost never held accountable.

Most of the time the guilty are blissfully unaware of how their decisions are inconveniencing, disturbing, or even killing people. Consider the career officers in the Food and Drug Administration... If they approve a drug that harms perhaps a few hundred people (and the press finds out!), their careers will be over... but if they withhold approval no one is likely to note the thousands that will continue to die for lack of that medicine.

Of course, the largest bureaucracy we have to deal with in the US is that which Congress has created and funded with our tax dollars. While a certain amount of bureaucracy is necessary to enforce and uphold the laws Congress creates, the real danger is that Congress has abdicated much of its power to those bureaucracies! One of the most egregious example is "Obamacare" which has at least 200 points at which the Secretary of Health (a bureaucrat with a huge bureaucracy to lead) gets to create the rules and regulations that we must live under.

The only solution is to elect legislators who will rein in the organizations that Congress has created and abdicated their powers to. If the candidates we put into office fails to act, we need to replace those people, and each and every successor, until we get ones who will uphold their oath of office and quit spending their time fundraising and planning their next campaign.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Who Do College Speakers Need Protection From?

During the past few months several prominent authors and columnists have been invited to speak on college campuses... then dis-invited them, citing security concerns. So, why can't the schools provide adequate security? Just who is threatening violence? What is their justification?

From my perspective in the mountains of Utah, it looks like the schools are kowtowing to radicals among their students and faculty. On various occasions the administrators have told area law enforcement to stay away, to let the barbarians break windows and burn things.

What most of us don't know is how many times this has happened at colleges and universities throughout history. It didn't begin with the election of Donald J Trump. It didn't start with the Vietnam War. One of the earliest occurrences in the US happened at Thomas Jefferson's pride and joy, the University of Virginia.

According to an article by Carlos Santos in the Virginia Magazine, in 1825 "Jefferson, a scant seven months after the school had opened, had called the students to the Rotunda to chastise them for their egregious behavior, which he termed 'vicious irregularities,' after the hooliganism had escalated into the school's first riot. The students were hostile. His professors were threatening to quit. Jefferson's enemies, and they were legion, were ready to pounce and shutter the school they considered a godless playground of the rich."

See for more details and accounts both of this event and of riots at Yale and Harvard. Then there was the time a University of Virginia professor was murdered...

So, my points are these:

  • Colleges and universities have a long history of failing to demand and get civilized behavior from their students.
  • This has resulted in students taking over buildings and assaulting people with no consequences. 
  • Many of their faculty members, once radical students themselves, side with the young hooligans "on principle."
  • These attitudes have led to many dysfunctional approaches to problems in academia, including pampered students who face no punishment or notoriety for their criminal behavior.
None of this will end until and unless those who reflexively contribute to their various alma maters decide to quit feeding the beast. Money talks, and the lack of money talks even louder!