The last two moonless nights have been perfect for Mars-watching.

Yesterday morning at 3 AM, the red planet was a huge dollop of peach ice cream in the southern sky.  This morning I got up at 2 AM to view Mars again.  Both times, telescope observation revealed very little.  There were more features visible a few weeks ago, including a polar ice cap.  Apparently there have been dust storms.  Also, the planet is hanging lower and lower in the sky, leading to ever-blurrier images.

Still, at 200× and 250× magnification, the disk was large and orange in my eyepiece. Right now, the planet is within two arcseconds of its maximum expected diameter at perihelion. That in turn will be .8″ smaller than its all-time maximum of 2003.  A noticeable difference, but quite a small one.

This morning, I estimated brightness of -3; Stellarium assures me that it’s actually -2.47.

Other destinations this morning:  M31 (that’s the Andromeda Galaxy); γ Andromedae (also known as Almaak, the gorgeous orange-blue binary); the Double Cluster in Perseus; the Garnet Star (in my personal mythology, a symbol of the Adirondacks, with the largest garnet deposits on earth)…I also spent time just gazing at the Milky Way, which is regrettably dim nowadays, thanks to light pollution.

Don’t just talk about “loving science.” Do something about it.  Get a telescope.  The patience it will take to actually be able to see M31 with the naked eye and get it in the eyepiece–to be able to swap eyepieces without moving the tube–to collimate the finder–to choose and use filters–to recognize constellations visually–to go back, night after night, to the same sky and get more and more comfortable–even to look through the eyepiece correctly–takes a lot of patience.

I know it’s easier to blurt political opinions–plus, you get a nice jazzy jolt of dopamine–but skywatching is better for you, more honest, and less obnoxious to society at large. Shut your mouth, belly up to the eyepiece, turn the RA handle the right way, and keep both eyes open.


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Kansas City

I’ve just gotten back from Kansas City, Missouri.

The occasion:  the 2018 biennial national convention of the American Guild of Organists.

It was a wonderful convention.

Highlights are numerous, but include Todd Wilson’s recital at the Community of Christ (Reformed Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints) Temple in Independence, Missouri…. James Higdon’s recital at KU in Lawrence, Kansas, followed by Edoardo Bellotti’s masterclass on the same campus…. the opening and closing concerts at the amazing Kauffman Center in downtown KC….

…and for some brilliant and insightful workshops, especially the one on Langlais.

…and yes, the gazpacho at Unforked in the Crown Center.  Incredible stuff.  I could have cried when I got to the bottom of my bowl.

…and the chance to meet so many colleagues, younger and older than myself, who have an interest in certification.  I was deeply honored to be able to encourage several of them to take the plunge.  I was just as honored to meet some long-time leadership and role models.

…and the two continental breakfasts I was honored to host, for certificated members and for professors of organ.

…and the reception for Indiana alumni.  Best refreshments ever!

…and for the amazing BBQ dinner on Wednesday, and the astounding Art Deco majesty of the Music Hall.  Not for nothing is KC called the Paris of the Plains.

…and for the honor of speaking at the national meeting, albeit under difficult circumstances–the scheduled speaker, my “boss” in the Guild and a good friend and colleague, was called home very suddenly.  I was glad to step in but would of course have greatly preferred, for his sake, that the necessity hadn’t arisen.

…and for the pleasure of speaking with music publishers from the US and abroad, including the nice folks at Carus, Bärenreiter and Breitkopf und Härtel, and the great vintage bins, and the carillon guy (I loved trying out the digital carillon!), and the many other booths and vendors.

…and for the St. Cecilia Reception after the closing ceremony.  What a delicious spread that was!  (I mean, really:  free wine, not to mention fig-jam-and-brie crostini, deviled eggs, crab cakes, and chicken-dijon puff pastries, and WHITE CHOCOLATE LEMON COOKIES.  I only skipped the deviled eggs because, by definition, my church makes the best on earth.)

…and for the pleasure of some excellent company at the KC airport.

A slight drawback was a substantial layover in Philadelphia on the way home, involving me in no little expense for a dinner in the airport.  Still, what the hell.

This morning at church I played all organ pieces that I have only just encountered this week.  They included pieces by John S. Dixon, Al Fedak, and…wait for it…

no, really, wait…

Emperor Ferdinand III of Austria.

I love this industry.

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Corporate Stalkers

I got a postcard the other day.  It came to my own mailbox, with my name and address on it.  It was from a company that wanted to sell me T-shirts with my last name on them, and with an astronomy theme.

“HALL OBSERVATORY,” they said.

The phrase I have used here, tongue in cheek, to describe my patio.

Now, for years I’ve been told that “personally identifiable information” isn’t being used for marketing purposes.

My address isn’t on this blog anywhere, nor have I given any hints about it. (The stars I have mentioned are visible from the entire continental United States.)

So how does a T-shirt printing company offer me a T-shirt with my name and one of my interests on it, to my home address?

Because personally-identifiable information is being bought and sold online.

Let’s see. I bought my first telescope on Amazon.  Did Amazon sell my personal information to this outfit?

As to the T-shirt, thanks but no thanks.  It’s cute, actually, but I won’t patronize this company on principle.  Nor will I give it even a negative shout-out here.

If you get a postcard like that, rip it up.  You already know your last name.

My last name is four letters long.  So is the word I have in mind to say to Amazon right now.  Followed by “you.”



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My Wonderful Committee

Just back from two days in the city working with the Committee on Professional Certification, which I’ve chaired for three years now.  The current makeup of the committee is wonderful–a mix of talents and perspectives that blends together into a symphony.  There was dialogue, there were questions, there were what-if proposals, there was a shared dinner, and there was good hard work grading the upper-level Guild exams.

The exam results are due to be released later today.  Sit tight, and best of luck.  Know that the committee that evaluated your work holds you in the highest regard.


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The Stars Last Night

Make that two nights ago…I’m losing track…

Anyway, Lyra was up early, while the sky was still aglow with  solstitial sunset.

I resolved Epsilon Lyrae, the famous double-double, as well as Sheliak and the nearby Ring Nebula.

Vega is dazzlingly bright, a blue-white fireball in the eyepiece.  Roughly double the sun’s size but many times more luminous.  It lives only 25 light years away.

Jupiter was really nice, two of the moons on one side and two on the other in a nearly perfect line.  I remember their order, Io, Europa, Ganymede, Callisto, with the mnemonic “Internet Eventually Goes Crazy.”

The sky curdled overnight and I got the scope in just ahead of the rain.  Obviously, no Mars.  Right now it looks promising so I may just try again.

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Why I Love the Country

This is why.

Just now, for the first time in my life, I was approached by a pair of yearling deer.  They were as gentle as could be… big soft eyes with pretty eyelashes… lovely ears… curious and polite… quite tame… it was their idea to say hello, and I wasn’t about to refuse them.

This, after a dinner of grilled bratwurst and salad and a cordial shared with a wonderful neighbor.

The telescope is still outside and I will be having another go at Mars in the wee hours.

So much to be thankful for!

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It’s a Cheetah

This is the single best article on “giftedness” that I’ve ever read.

Have a great day!

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Mars etc.

I was up before 2:30 this morning to have a look at Mars, which is drawing ever nearer.  This July marks its closest approach since the spectacular event of 2003.

The red planet was hiding behind dense foliage, so I started with Saturn, which looked beautiful and sported a moon or two.  I said hello to the Summer Triangle and some constellations I haven’t seen in a while–Lacerta, Delphinus, Sagitta, Equuleus, and other lesser-known celestial configurations.

The light pollution gave way to a long pre-dawn, but Mars finally cleared the trees and I pushed the telescope to 250× magnification.  Sure enough, though the polar cap wasn’t (yet) visible, I could see some dim features, if just barely.

While pausing in my viewing, I looked up just as an enormous meteor streaked overhead.  I haven’t seen one as colorful and prolonged since childhood–that amazing August in 1960-something on the beach in Madison, CT during the height of the Perseids.

This one visibly combusted, shed little flaming bits, trailed smoke, and broke apart.  It traveled in an almost leisurely way.  It wasn’t a distant, evanescent streak, but an authentic encounter between outer space and the atmosphere.  Spectacular, and a little scary.  It flew almost due south to due north–perhaps SSW to NNE.

It was only one this time, but it certainly reminded me of the spectacular show of many years ago, as I lay beside my parents on a pebbly Connecticut beach and watched similar pebbles burn up in the clouds.

Posted in Astronomy, Country | Comments Off on Mars etc.

Facebook and Friendship

As time passes, I become happier with my decision to forsake Facebook.  Today’s news involves deep privacy breaches, about which Zuckerberg apparently lied to Congress.

Zuckerberg’s agenda was never to “bring people together.” In any case, experience teaches that a sheer volume of conversations serves no useful purpose.  His agenda is to harvest and sell personal data to advertisers.  One person, two persons…one dollar, two dollars.

That’s not my main point, however.

My point is how Facebook damages the normal flow of human relationships.

We have, or should have, friends at every point in our life.  It is natural and normal for these friendships to have a lifespan.  We meet, we get acquainted, we become good friends, and then, perhaps, life takes us in different directions and we let go.

There’s a picture of me on the day of my “graduation” from kindergarten.  I still remember that I was very emotional that day.  In the picture I am sitting beside another boy in the class.  Apparently we were the best of pals.  I cannot remember him, or his name, or anything about him.  Life took us in different directions and although the good will presumably did not die, the practical relationship did.

In grammar school in New York City, I had a best friend.  He is now in the public eye.  After that dreadful move to the dismal Long Island suburbs, he and I lost touch.  To this day I think of him kindly, though a reunion is impractical.  In any case my motives would be suspect (though they shouldn’t be).

On Long Island I managed to fall in with some other boys, all typically cocky and ambivalent in the Long Island style.  I lost touch with them, painlessly and permanently, after eighth grade.

Fast forward to the University of Chicago, where some of my circle of friends have gone on to impressive things, though the one I considered the smartest has essentially failed to launch.  They were good for coffee and though they held me in amused contempt for my religious faith, it was fun to spar with them.

The friendships ran a bit deeper than that:  there were times when we helped each other out.  I won’t dismiss them entirely as “feigning,” in Shakespeare’s word.

But when I came to Facebook, of course I had to “friend” all of them, in the typical Facebook psychological trap.  (Hey, they’re your friends!)  We hadn’t been in touch in well over a decade. I felt had fallen into a time warp.

I had no further desire for hostility veiled as banter.  Nobody was going to help anybody move.  Perhaps I was just older and less interested in putting up with BS.  This aspect got in the way of the memories of good times at Tipsuda in Hyde Park–our Thai place.

You can’t share chicken green curry on the internet.

Those friendships, whatever value they may have had, were now over.  Not hatefully, not despitefully, not in a quarrel, not in a conflagration of burned bridges:  but still over.  My lingering glow of good will was gradually extinguished by the forced continuance of digital intimacy.

I think of The Hunger.

Meanwhile, somewhere in a secluded compound in America, Zuckerberg’s mind keeps turning in its montonous groove:  one dollar, two dollars…

I have to add this before I close.  There are some friends you keep for life.  If you’re lucky, you marry one of them and stick close to the rest.

Posted in Famous Bastards, Friends, The Lapping Shore of Psycholand | Comments Off on Facebook and Friendship

As May Ends

There have been many rainy days, and I’m told more are to come.  This morning is perfect.  It’s summery, sunny, a little humid, the kind of morning where gardening is a pleasure.

The irises are doing great (except one that has somehow gotten trampled, all the way at the back of the garden bed).

The garden had a late start this year, just like it did last year, but is catching up fast.

Yesterday’s smoked spare ribs came out beautifully–literally falling off the bone.  They were well paired with a homemade, from-scratch potato salad (flavored with mustard, mayonnaise, parsley flakes and caraway seeds).

I’ve gotten the hang of BBQ.  Not too much wood, and not too much charcoal.

Posted in Americana, Flowers and Gardens, Food, Gardening, Seasons of the Year | Comments Off on As May Ends