May 25, 2013 § 2 Comments
From now through early June a beautiful dance of three planets will play out low in the western sky 30 or 40 minutes after sunset. Last evening we drove up on the hill to observe the beginning of the show. Venus, the lowest, but also the brightest was the first to appear, soon followed by Jupiter to the upper left, and finally the much dimmer Mercury, up and to the right from Venus. Their positions will change quite dramatically each evening over the upcoming week.
These planetary gathering are alway quite beautiful. They are only any more so when they are joined by a crescent moon. That will happen with this trio on June 9th and 10th but by then Jupiter will be very low in the afterglow of the passing day. By watching the entire sequence you can begin to get a feel for the orbital paths of the two inner planets but also the effect that our own planet’s motion has on their positions. The motion of Jupiter during this display is almost entirely do to the Earth’s motion with Jupiter far out beyond the Sun.
No telescope or binoculars is needed. Neither is a dark sky location. Take a look on a couple of evenings…
March 27, 2013 § 4 Comments
It is lambing time here on the farm. Regular readers will know that my wife has a flock of sheep and that while I am not a farmer, I do try to help out when asked. I was asked this morning…
Last summer some time she had purchased a creep feeder at a sheep farming show or something. A creep feeder is a feeder which allows only lambs to access the feed so they are not pushed aside by the larger animals. This particular feeder was made of sheet metal and was unassembled. Assembly is one of the things I can usually do.
She presented me with the assembly instructions and a zip-lock sandwich bag full of assorted nuts, bolts, and washers. The instructions were photocopied; handwritten and sketched. It looked pretty straightforward…two sides, a back, a front, and a cover. Just bolt them together. So after lunch she went out to the barn to get it out and I went to get some wrenches.
The first step was to bolt the two sides to the back. Four bolts and the first step was done! The second step was to bolt the front, the creep panel, to the sides. I installed all four bolts and had two tightened when I noticed something sticking out of the lower part of the back panel. What was that? I looked at the sketch again. It showed a pin where the spring that held the cover on would attach. Shoot! I had put the back panel on upside down. Ok, it’s only four bolts. I finished attaching the creep panel, removed the back panel and flipped it over so the pin was on top; tightened up the four bolts.
The next step was to install the feed pan from the top. Easy enough. I pressed it into place and went to step four, to bolt the internal divider to the sides. As I maneuvered it into place something was not quite right. The way it was, a lot of feed was going to be wasted because there was a big gap between the feed pan and the back of the feeder. Ahhhh shoot! I had put the back panel on inside out! I think that I have now exhausted all of the possible ways to attach that back panel…except the correct one. I removed the internal divider and the feed pan and then proceeded to remove the four bolts and back panel again. I turned it around and re-attached it again. The feed pan, internal divider, and cover now assembled without additional problems.
In my defense, I had never seen one of these feeders fully assembled. The two sides had the smooth sheet metal side pointed out. Why wouldn’t the back match them? In the manufacturer’s defense, when I looked closely after the fact, the sketch did show the panel oriented correctly. A note emphasizing the importance of correct orientation would have helped.
Poka-yoke is a Japanese term, roughly translated as “mistake proofing”, that refers to any method or mechanism that helps to avoid human errors in manufacturing and other activities. In the case of the creep feeder, a well-placed pin in one of the sides and a mating hole in the back panel would have saved me two mistaken assemblies. Poka-yoke is one of those funny, Japanese expressions that some Americans like to make fun of.
I wish they would take it seriously…
March 19, 2013 § Leave a Comment
Finally, our persistence in pursuing Pan-STARRS has payed off! The excitement is back to 100%.
At some point this afternoon the sun briefly made an appearance but retreated as a few more snow flakes blew in. By suppertime the cloudiness had at least broken up. We started to think that tonight might give us another chance to see this most recent visitor from the far reaches of the solar system. By 7:45 there was still some serious cloudiness in the west but we bundled up and gathered our gear for another cold evening on the hill.
We looked and then we waited. Then repeated the cycle several times. It cleared off very nicely! Still we couldn’t see this little comet. It was bitterly cold again. The temperature was only 30 degrees but the wind was fairly stiff and out of the west…blowing right in our faces. Leah finally asked if I was sure we were looking in the right area. The chart I had from Sky and Telescope seemed fairly straightforward but the sky had darkened and cleared enough for me to start sweeping for it. I quickly found it higher and much further north than we had been looking. Either my compass is broken or the chart is not that accurate.
What a beautiful little comet! I could never see it without binoculars but it was quite easy with them, once we knew where to point them. We looked at it until we couldn’t take the cold any longer and headed back down to the house. After I put the car away we went up in the east field a little way and could see it from there too.
We’ll keep watching it now as it fades away back into deep space whenever we get another clear evening.
March 15, 2013 § 4 Comments
When I got my 2013 Astronomical Calendar by Guy Ottewell last December, I was excited to see that there was a possibility of two Great Comets this year. My excitement subsided by about 60% when I noticed that the first was in March and the second was in late November and early December. Then it dropped another 30% when I noticed that both would be near the sun during the best viewing windows.
Excitement. Here in Ohio those months are among the cloudiest in our cloudy climate…excitement x 0.40. I never saw the last Great Sun Grazer, Ikeya-Seki, in 1965. I think it might have been a September comet (somebody chime in if that’s not right) which might be one of our least cloudy months…(excitement x 0.40) * 0.70. Those two realities placed my prospects for seeing these comets fairly low to begin with; I also understand that the magnitude projections for newly discovered comets are almost always very optimistic.
Well, the March window for viewing the first Great Comet of 2013, PanSTARRS, has arrived. Even before it was visible in the northern hemisphere it became apparent that it would never reach its expected magnitude of 0 but rather something closer to 3…that amounts to only about 6% as bright as originally expected. The comet is low in the still bright western sky 30 or 40 minutes after sunset. It is now being described as a great ‘binocular’ comet. We looked for it on March 9th. It had been clear during the day but there were clouds low on the horizon at sunset. On March 13 I got an email from my son in Maryland with a photograph, taken by one of his co-workers the evening before, showing the comet and a very thin crescent Moon framed by clouds. On March 14th he sent me another email with an attached photograph taken the evening before in Decatur, IL showing the comet in a clear sky. It has been cloudy here.
Yesterday, though, it was sunny. There were fair weather cumulus clouds in the afternoon but those often dissipate in the evening so we would have another chance. Evening arrived. We gathered up our binoculars and headed for our viewing spot. The sunset was beautiful, unfortunately because of the chaotic swirl of clouds rather than its clarity. We patiently waited for the clouds to clear away. By 8:30 we gave up, both of us chilled to the bone by the cold wind. By 9:45 the moon was setting in clear skies.
Have I written off the first Great Comet of 2013? Not at all! We don’t have much clear weather in our forecast for the next week but we’ll be alert for another chance to look for Comet Pan-STARRS.
February 1, 2013 § Leave a Comment
An old country cemetery is a study in impermanence. The simple wooden coffins rot away causing the ground above them to collapse. The stone markers, no longer evenly supported, topple over . Even the stone itself weathers away in the elements.
January 29, 2013 § 6 Comments
Readers of The Quiet Way know that, among a lot of other things, I have a deep appreciation for the passage of time. In addition, many of my black and white photographs, some of which are posted on my photoblog, Lightmonkey Dreams, tend toward darker tones often associated with melancholy…or worse. My themes have included decay, impermanence in nature, old buildings and architectural detail, earlier cultures that have passed away, and the spiritual life. These do not strike me as popular subjects in modern day America although I do run across similar musings on some of the blogs I follow. So I was surprised and pleased to find that the Japanese have a term for this kind of pursuit…wabi sabi.
While I have read some of the recent books of Thích Nhất Hạnh on meditation and portions of the Tao Te Ching, Buddhism and other eastern religions are not my tradition and I don’t claim any knowledge of them. I don’t read or speak any eastern language so I can only relate to these religious ideas dimly through interpretations given by others, but I find some of the ideas and practice not only intriguing but sadly missing in my own faith traditions. The exception might be the tradition of silence of my Quaker ancestors.
One of the books I read said that many Buddhist ideas cannot be readily defined let alone translated into western languages. The only way to learn them is through practice; and you never really ever are done. Wabi Sabi is one of those ideas but I think that I glimpse enough what it means for me to internalize it in some kind of western interpretation (or maybe corruption).
So here are some components of wabi sabi that I relate to:
- an appreciation of nature, its patterns in time and space
- an appreciation of the profound mystery of things
- a sudden appreciation for or awareness of, the way things are
We spend our western days fleeing from most of these things…to put them all into one idea is frightening! We tweet, text, and facebook to try to avoid loneliness and solitude. We fill our time with big screen tvs, tablet computers, movies, and football games instead of sitting in a woods, a desert, or on the shore of a lake, mindful of the deep mystery of the world around us. You get the idea.
I am happy to have found this concept of wabi sabi. I don’t find it frightening. (Postscript: I also don’t find in it any notes of wretchedness, despair, or hopelessness as some might read into it) Rather it has given structure to the ideas that I have thought about for many years. I am looking forward to a future pursuing wabi sabi.
January 21, 2013 § Leave a Comment
The company that operates the oil well on our farm has been doing a lot of work on it for the past few months. Last month they moved a lot of heavy equipment up and down our lane so they hauled a nice load of crushed limestone in when they were finished. It was the nicest our lane had looked for a long time. Two days later we got several inches of wet snow on top of the unfrozen ground. Although I knew what was going to happen, I went out to plow the snow off the lane. It happened…
The heavy wet snow pulled the blade down into it. As soon as the blade got down into the freshly spread stone, it pulled even deeper, down into the moist base underneath. I tried going more slowly. I tried adjusting the blade depth manually. Nothing worked. All of that beautiful stone was soon deposited along the side of the lane in big piles of snow.
It happens every winter. The stone is plowed off into the grass. I try raking it back onto the lane. That doesn’t work very well so I try shoveling it…ditto. So it sits there until the grass begins to grow. Then I mow through it, cringing at the beating the blades are taking as the stones go flying. But this year there is a lot more stone than usual.
The cold weather was short lived. The snow melted leaving big piles of stone. What to do? I woke up one morning last week with an idea. Several years ago my wife went to Honduras with a group from our church to work on a project with a local Honduran church. They used a digging hoe called an azada. She was so impressed by its utility that she bought one and brought it home in her checked bag. An Amish friend made a new handle for it and she was in business. It seemed like it might be the perfect tool to get the stone back on the lane.
It was! I spent half an hour or so using it on our yard. While it didn’t get all of the stone, it removed more than any other tool I had tried. The next day I worked an hour at the bottom of the lane where I had done the most damage.
Here is the problem in the yard:
Here is the result of a couple of pulls on the azada:
Now only an eighth of a mile to go.
I need to restrain my enthusiasm for a month or two until the threat of snow is gone…