My Personal Planetarium

Back at the end of September, I splurged and picked up a Celestron SkyScout Personal Planetarium through Amazon.

This gadget is amazing! Once its GPS acquires your position it can either direct you to pretty much any celestial body you are interested in or you can point it at anything you see in the sky and it will tell you what it is and provide you with all manner of interesting info about it such as magnitude, composition, distance even lore concerning the object. For many items you can even listen to the description through the provided ear buds.

I had an initial issue where the unit simply would not acquire the satellites necessary to allow for a GPS fix. But updating the unit’s firmware (with the tool on the included CD) corrected this issue and allowed for rapid GPS position acquisition from then on.

My Personal PlanetariumAt left is everything you get in the box.

Note that this is not a magnifying tool. The lens on it is strictly for directing you to an object (via little arrows around the circumference of the lens) or to allow you to center an object and then press the “Identify” button.

I’ve been using this lately with a pair of Canon 15×50 IS Binoculars that I picked up a few years ago and the two make a terrific team.

The light pollution in my area is such that even the major constellations always seem to be incomplete and I tend to have trouble identifying what should be relatively simple objects. I have used various PDA-based star charts and they’ve been moderately successful in guiding me. But personal planetarium is like having a seasoned astronomy veteran next to you pointing the way to the objects you’re interested in observing.

It even has a “tonight’s highlights” feature to help you get rolling.

I’m hoping to try my hand at a “Messier Marathon” in the next couple of weeks.

Email to “The Skeptic’s Guide to The Universe” – FMRI

I haven’t had a chance to try to figure this out myself, but I recently posed the following question to “The Skeptic’s Guide to The Universe” to see if they could enlighten me.

The item they were discussing was the announcement that scientists could now, for all intents and purposes, image things that were viewed by test subjects using FMRI (Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging).

Hi Guys (and Gal),

There is not much that I can say that hasn’t been said already about your awesome efforts in, not only maintaining a weekly schedule for this podcast, but also in constantly keeping it fresh and interesting. But I’ll add my voice to the many others who appreciate it and look forward to the fruits of your labor each week!

My question is regarding FMRI. Steve was emphasizing the fact that what you’re viewing is actually just blood flow and from that you infer greater or lesser brain activity in certain brain regions. What actually drives the change in blood flow? Neurons consume oxygen and glucose and release carbon dioxide and waste products, does the presence of the waste products (or the lack of presence of the fuels) cause the arteries to dilate? Or is the parasympathetic nervous system somehow in lockstep with the brain’s neurons and controlling arterial volume in response to, say, neuronal activity?
From my rather fuzzy perspective it seems that FMRI may actually be two rather than one inference away from the actual brain activity and, as such, would be a pretty crude approach to determining what is actually happening in there.

Is there any promising research that you know of that could allow direct detection of actual brain activity at the neuron level (i.e. detect adp/atp ratios or detect electrical activity at the cellular level)?

Looking forward to your insights,


Visit me at

“It is easier to have a strong opinion when you lack information.”
– Michael Crichton

Closet Cleaning

If you’ll recall, due to some changes in my lifestyle, I’ve lost a bit of weight recently (about 22 lbs so far). As a result I’ve found that many of my clothes no longer fit very well.

Also, my closet has been mysteriously filling up over the past decade or so and was sorely in need of a review. Michelle and I tackled the closet on Christmas day. We went and hauled everything out with the rule that only used / useful items go back in.

Closet Cleaning - Shirts and Dress slacksI can’t believe I didn’t think to take pictures until the closet was empty, but I *did* take some shots of all of the stuff that was in the closet once I had it all spread over the bedroom.

My first thought, on surveying the mountain of clothes was “How does someone who seldom sets foot in a store and NEVER buys clothes amass so many shirts, pants and associated stuff?”.

Closet Cleaning - Shirts and SlacksIt turns out that Michelle has been diligently purchasing updated and properly sized clothes for me all these years and just putting them into the rotation. I am completely blown away by the number of shirts that I have. Nearly 4 years ago I posted a mini-poll asking people how many shirts they have, I now have AT LEAST 25% more shirts than back then (now about 110). That doesn’t even count t-shirts in my drawers for exercising and just schlepping around.

The local goodwill should be happy. Nearly all of the clothes that I’m about to take over to them are pristine. They’re simply way to big for me now.

Ironically, some of the clothes I’m keeping are ones that were too small for me but I hadn’t reviewed my closet to discard them. Thankfully, men’s fashions are such that pretty much anything I wore a decade a go can still be worn today. 🙂

I now have:

  • about a dozen Office shirts
  • another dozen Office / casual shirts (can wear to office on “Jeans” day or similar)
  • about a dozen leisure / sports shirts (golf, cycling)
  • half a dozen pair of jeans
  • nearly a dozen office pants
  • nearly a dozen blazers

all of which actually fit me and are in good shape.

I also have left exactly one dozen pair of shoes / sandals / boots.

Gone are the sweaters and hoodies that I’ve received over the years from well meaning relatives and software vendors. Also, I finally parted with many of the shirts from my triathlon and running days. They’ve been worn many, many times while exercising and, while comfortable, were just plumb worn out.

Rebel SwimmingI also bid farewell, finally, to my venerable Rebel Swimming hoodie that I picked up back in high school over a quarter of a century ago.

Some things I won’t be using for a while (if ever) still remain. I have summer and winter trench coats that are in perfect condition, I also have three dozen ties that are still absolutely fine (we got rid of the worn and silly ones). The cane still remains, hopefully it won’t be needed for another half century or so but it’s still perfectly fine.

Closet Cleaning - The new and improved closetCloset Cleaning - The new and improved closetIt’s a good feeling to move into the new year with that closet tidied up.

Click Here to see all the pictures

Maybe you’ll feel better about the junk you’ve got hanging around
when you see how much stuff I had to go through in clearing out my

Canada Life - 150 Year towel-in-a-bag souveneirOh, is anybody out there interested in a Canada Life 150 Year celebration towel/bag thingy? It’s a towel with an attached pouch into which the towel folds (see left). Let me know.

The garage is the next big task. Things have been accumulating on my workbench for years now as I’ve simply had far more things that I want to do than time to do it and stuff just accumulates when you don’t deal with it.

Kill A Watt EZ P4460 – Entertainment Center

Home Entertainment center As I mentioned before, my 12 year old TV consumes far less power than I expected. My whole system is rather dated. I was originally going to replace my TV on a 10 year horizon but the widescreen/flatpanel TV market was in such a state of flux a couple of years ago that I decided to wait it out a bit until LCD technology was a bit more mature and the whole widescreen thing was more mainstream and affordable.

I’d say that the past month and a half had fairly typical viewing by Michelle and I. We were out of the country for a few days. We’ve begun using Netflix so our DVD viewing is up a bit. But ups and down on viewing are just a normal part of life.

My total system is as follows:

  • Hitachi 50FX19K rear projection TV
  • Panasonic DVD-RP62 DVD player
  • Hitachi FX-613 VHS VCR
  • Phillips DSR708 Tivo

All of this is plugged into an APC BACK UPS ES 725 that keeps everything on an even keel even with Georgia’s terrible electrical power management.

The VCR, while admittedly not exactly the hotspot of the entertainment system was used to watch at least one full length movie while monitoring the energy consumption.


Elapsed time: 1083 hrs (about 45 days)
Measured Minimum Consumption (Watts): 52
Measured Maximum Consumption (Watts): 200
Measured Consumption (Amps): ? <–Sorry forgot to note this.
KWH: 76
Cost –
     Actual (for duration of test): $8.05
     Daily: $0.17
     Weekly: $1.24
     Monthly: $5.34
     Annual: $65.00

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to you all!

Happy HolidaysMichelle and I want to take this opportunity to wish you well during this most festive time of year.

Here’s hoping that the new year has all of our retirement and other investment accounts recovering and our federal government’s hands removed from our pockets!

Let 2009 be your most successful year, a foundation from which your future successes will launch in ever growing multitudes.

Be happy and well.

Ritter’s Restaurant in Marietta

Ritter’s is an excellent restaurant that has great food but seems a bit confused about its identity. I sent the following letter to them after receiving one of their emails again offering that theirs is the place to bring the whole family.

I am pretty sure that I am not alone in wishing for more adult-ambience in my dining choices. It used to be that you simply went to a pricier restaurant and you could get what I’m looking for. However, it seems too many people have more money than propriety these days and don’t seem to understand that, once the food is eaten, their kids are simply bored stiff waiting for the old people to finish yakking and drinking. The only thing to do is to start making a fuss or playing.

I wish I could just advocate for more common sense / consideration, but these parents obviously lack those capacities. Maybe by expressing some concern to the restaurant owners we can sway them into encouraging a certain atmosphere or, at the very least, they can guide their staff to perhaps group different kinds of parties to different parts of the restaurant?
Maybe couples are generally seated over there, larger parties over there, and maybe families over there?

Anyway, here’s the email I sent:

Hi There,

Just a bit of feedback from a confused customer.

First, let me say that I love the food. Ritter’s offerings are always top notch. My favorite is the Filet Mignon which is always cooked perfectly.

And the martinis are excellent as well.

The décor and layout of Ritter’s is also very appealing, not too dark, not too flashy, exactly what I want for a pleasant night out.

Now my confusion, from my perspective Ritter’s is a fine dining establishment. A little upscale and perfect for a quiet, pleasant night out with my wife.

But it seems that the ads that are sent out are always trying to position Ritter’s as a family place where folks can bring the kids.

It seems to me that the “Paper Mill Grill” is a bit rowdier and caters more toward children (louder ambience, more rustic décor).

If I were looking to take the kids someplace I think maybe it would be Paper Mill Grill or maybe I would just recognize that, once fed, they get bored easily and I need to take them someplace with lots to keep them occupied while the adults finish their meals.

Once the decision is made to head out for an enjoyable evening sans kids, I find myself looking for places that cater to an adult-to-adult atmosphere.

But the message I get from Ritter’s is very mixed. One of the last times I ate there, the Maitre’De decided it was a good idea to alternate couples’ tables with family tables. The adults at the family tables were clearly embarrassed as they could tell how their little one’s activities were impinging on the couples while the couples were obviously not super thrilled that their quiet night out was now just another “finish eating and let’s go” experience.

I thought you might appreciate a perspective from one of your patron’s point of view.


Am I completely out to lunch on this?

Catmas picture…

Michelle and I decided that it might be nice to have a picture of us, our 35(!) year old Christmas tree and the two cats.

Yeah, I we probably need some practice working with posed cat pictures. But I thought it looked funny, so I made an animated GIF of most of the attempts so you can see and have a laugh.

If you hold out to the end (only 52 pictures) you’ll see Maverick reappear for a single frame…

Click Here to see the picture
Continue reading Catmas picture…

The Christmas Season

John Snider over at “American Freethought“, source of a podcast I very much enjoy, posted a message asking how folks deal with the holidays. i.e. do we avoid all things “Christmas” or go with the flow…

Here is my response:

Hi John,

I enjoy the whole of the winter holiday season. There seems so little left of religiosity by the time both the religions and the merchandisers get through with it that there isn’t very much to take exception to.

The Christmas music is pleasant, I enjoy gift giving (and receiving), I love seeing my family and having an excuse to see my friends even more often than usual under festive circumstances.

My friends know me as an avowed atheist and we are all respectful of each other as there are some quite religious folks numbered among them. We have occasional spirited debates but they aren’t at all stressful for me and, I earnestly believe, they are informative for my sparring partner(s).

It’s hard to get upset over the quaint rituals of outdated 2000 year old bronze-age sky god ramblings or with their reinvention as marketing tools that, as a byproduct, give this time of year it’s uniqueness…


Quotes – 01

“It is easier to have a strong opinion when you lack information.”

– Michael Crichton

I was listening to a 2003 interview with Mr. Crichton on the “Tech Nation” podcast and he was describing a time shortly after he had written the book “Rising Sun”. There were several members on a board on which he served who were threatening to quit the board if he did not resign since Michael was obviously a racist. On being asked, none of the objecting board members had actually read the book, they had just heard that it was a racist tome.

It’s pretty obvious that, far from making decisions and issues simpler, more knowledge, more information can tease out even more issues that take you from an apparently black and white situation of an idealised fantasy world to the omnipresent gray that represents the real world.

So beware of people who tell you with confidence that their pat, simple answer is the only right way to go. They either do not know what they are talking about, they are ignoring large aspects of the situation or they are lying to you.

It is OK to have an informed opinion, but there is no opinion that is valid out of context. Be sure you understand that context.