thingelstad

Jamie Thingelstad's personal website

Month: March 2005 (page 1 of 2)

Final Night at Star Hill

The weather in the mountains here is very erratic. On our final day at Star Hill we woke up to snow falling with high-winds and bright sun! Odd combinations. It was very windy, gusts over 40 mph the entire day and cloudy. The clouds departed as night approached but the wind did not, which made for a very cold night.

I met Phil at the observation deck at about 8:00 pm and there was no way I was going to do CCD shots tonight. It was just too cold, and Phil noted that the wind would certainly shake the telescope causing blurry images. So we just setup the camera tripod and I took wide-field pictures of the sky all night. No telescope viewing tonight.

The sky was great, however, the wind was problematic. As I took the pictures they looked really amazing on the view screen however when I downloaded them you could see the wind had shook the camera and the stars were blurry. Instead of the great pinpoints of light I had captured yesterday I was getting these blobs of light. In miniature the pictures look amazing, in full size they look blurry. Very disappointing. I took a 32-minute star trails picture that did come out pretty good, probably the best shot of the night. You can see the library and the dome in the bottom part of the picture.

We leave this morning for Santa Fe and bid farewell to the stargazing. I’m really glad we came here, even if the weather was not very accommodating. Mainly it was great to get 3-nights of personal attention on using telescopes and doing everything astronomy related with a pro like Phil. I now feel much more comfortable with my own telescope.

Stargazing Night Two

We spent the daylight hours today looking around northern New Mexico. We went in a big triangle from Las Vegas, NM to Taos, then over to Santa Fe and back. The day was peppered with two complications. First was altitude. With Tammy being pregnant she is not supposed to exceed 7,000 to 8,000 feet of elevation. If you are a low-lander as we are, going higher than this deprives you, and more importantly the baby, of much needed oxygen. We really don’t know more than this and as we drove to Taos crossing the Monte Cristo mountains and definitely higher than 8,000 feet we were worried. All is fine I’m sure, we only crossed the range for 20-30 minutes and then dropped back into normal levels. But, that doesn’t keep first time parents from worrying, worrying and worrying.

The other issue that introduced fun was the caked on mud from yesterdays experience getting stuck. The wheels on the right hand side of the car were way out of balance due to caked on mud and required a power hose and chiseling with a screwdriver to stop vibrating like crazy.

Taos was a cool city. I had the best quesadilla I’ve EVER had for lunch. Wow. The town square in Taos was interesting and had a number of galleries including a piece that we would have loved but for the price. We returned through Santa Fe, avoiding another crossing of the mountains. We also got to preview where we are staying when we head to Santa Fe in a couple days, and it looks great.

We returned to the Star Hill right at dusk. The sky looked really bad as we approached, very cloudy. But there was a break in the clouds as night came and we still got some good viewing, however it never got as good as last night. Phil met me on the observation deck and Tammy decided to stay back and read. She’s decided astronomy is not her hobby. “It’s just a bunch of stars!” she says. I told her how it’s so amazing that this star millions of light years away is throwing photons into space and then we’re here on earth capturing those photons into our eye! Isn’t that cool? She didn’t agree. :-)

[Tammy’s Comment: The quote that Jamie has me saying makes me sound a bit more shallow than I’d like. I’m not sure that I ever said those exact words anyway. Not that anyone cares but me, but I must clarify why I am not a telescope-liking gal. I thought that when you looked through a telescope, you would see what you see when you look at pictures that people have taken of the night sky. But, this is not the case. What you see instead is stuff that looks very similar to the stuff that you see when you look at the sky with your eyes. I understand that you are seeing different stuff, stuff that you can’t see with your naked eye, but it doesn’t look much different. Add to that the fact that it’s cold out and you just stand there and it takes awhile to get each thing into focus and once you finally do, it’s somewhat difficult to look through the eyepiece as you have to be at a very specific angle, and I much prefer just looking up at the sky. The only exception I would make is for the planets. You can see them when you look at the sky, but they look like stars. When you see them through the telescope they actually look like planets. They still don’t look as cool as they do in the pictures, but they look good enough that it’s worth looking through the telescope to see them.]

Phil set up a sidereal camera mount and I took a number of shots with my camera, no telescope involved. I captured a few constellations with 4 to 8 minute exposures. It’s stunning what you can get just by pointing a camera in the sky and leaving the shutter open. Mostly I used my 14mm full-frame fish-eye which did great. I also captured Jupiter and it’s moons using a 100mm telephoto. We decided not to do the CCD and stuck with the smaller 12″ SCT instead of the 16″ on the count of the clouds. We’ll try tomorrow night for the larger scope. I think I may just skip the CCD and use my camera with a T-mount instead. The CCD imager is pretty touchy, requires a ton of time for focusing and then must be hooked up to a laptop. Much easier to just put my camera on the telescope. Of course all of that depends on me finding a T-adapter in Santa Fe which may be trickier than I would like.

The first image above is of Orion with the Milky Way band in the background. The second picture is of the bucket of the big dipper.

To Infinity And Beyond

We just finished our first night of viewing at Star Hill. Phil, the owner of Star Hill spent the night with us on the observation deck. We had the Meade LX200GPS 12″ for the evening.

Star Hill is located north of Las Vegas, NM. To say it is off the beaten path is an understatement. You spend the final 2.8 miles getting to Star Hill on a dirt road that is extremely rutted and in our case very muddy from recent snow. They had 3 feet of snow two weeks ago and while almost all of it melted there is a lot of standing water. If not for the all-wheel drive in the Audi there is no way we would have made it. As it was we came extremely close to getting stuck. All four wheels spinning, mud flying onto the hood at one point — not the type of driving you do on a regular basis.

We met Phil at the observation deck at 7:30 PM. I went down first since Tammy was still getting things situated in the cabin. The first thing I noticed was the carpet of stars when I looked up. Living in the city we forget what is right there above us. At the Star Hill there are no lights, except the red porch lights on the cabins, and tonight not a cloud in the sky. Star Hill is at 7,200 feet of elevation which is great for observing, the higher the better. We had around 90 minutes until moon-rise which would wash out all but the brightest objects. In the darkest of the evening around 8:00 PM you could see clearly with the naked eye the Milky Way band. At one point in the evening while staring up I saw a satellite fly through it’s orbit, again just with the naked eye.

We spent the evening with different stars. We visited the Orion Nebulae, a couple of different star clusters, got a view of Saturn that was stunning. Phil dropped in a 9mm eyepiece (resulting in over 32x magnification) with Saturn and you could even make out some of the Cassini rings, and around it you could see some of it’s moons. I wondered which one was Titan. It’s mind-blowing that we have a spacecraft on the surface! We checked out some binary stars (star pairs that orbit each other) and also looked at a number of other galaxies.

Phil and I chatted about astronomy and Tammy ducked into the library that is off the observation deck. The library is heated, which is why Tammy was going in there, and also has a PC with software to help with star maps and a ton of books. Phil has been doing astronomy for decades and has run the Star Hill for two of those decades. He has more knowledge of astronomy in his little finger than I have all in so I try to learn some things and not sound like too big of an idiot. He’s patient.

We waited for a bit, checking out other stars, for Jupiter to rise where we could see it. The Moon was quickly beating Jupiter to rise but Jupiter is bright enough that we could see it clearly even with the moon-rise. The view of Jupiter in the eyepiece was amazing. You could clearly make out the bands of Jupiter and even see a handful of it’s moons in the view.

We called it a night around 9:30 PM and returned to the cabin to play some Boggle before going to sleep. I think Boggle has to be my favorite game, anyway. The temperature had dropped to freezing, we’ll wear warmer clothes tomorrow. We have the 16″ SCT reserved tomorrow along with the SBIG CCD camera. I’m hopeful to get a couple of pictures through the 16″ to commemorate our visit. This will only be feasible with the help of Phil since astrophotography is daunting to even advanced amateurs, which I am not. I’m also going to try to get some shots of the Milky Way band with my SLR.

Getting There

We drove yesterday for just under 14 hours to get to Denver. We had driven this route before and we both swore we did in in just over 12 hours but there seems to be no way that that could be the case. We arrived in Denver around 9pm and made our way to the Cherry Creek North area. We discovered this area when we were here on our honeymoon and really liked it. Right now we are just on a quick rest stop though, spending the night and then heading this morning to our farthest destination in New Mexico at the Star Hill Inn. Another five hours of driving, plus or minus, in for us today.

We are heading shortly to the Eggshell restaurant for breakfast and then head out of town. Yesterday’s massive bout of driving had the positive side of giving plenty of opportunity to play Road Sign Math. Amazingly, we only grabbed two valid winners, I’ll post them later. Road Sign Math is a lot harder than it seems at first glance. I hope to find a winner in each state we visit.

Haiku

Driving with numbers
Patterns surround us, flowing
Enjoy Road Sign Math

The Children's Blizzard

I just finished reading David Laskin’s The Children’s Blizzard. If you grew up in the upper-midwest like I did you will find it enjoyable and interesting in a way that readers from other locales, at least in my opinion, will not be able to connect with.

First off, you need to read this book in the winter. Winter is leaving us now so if you are just finding out about it and really want to read it either do so quickly or put it on your list for January of 2006. Reading this book in the sunny days of summer would take an edge, a bitter reminder, away from the story. Secondly, I would suggest reading it in the winter and in a nice warm room with a good blanket. As you read about one of the worst blizzards in the history of the plains and the death that was left behind you would be well served by being nice and warm.

While reading The Children’s Blizzard I kept on thinking back to reading Young Men and Fire by Norman MacLean. Both authors seem to have an ability to describe the most mundane details or dry topics in a way that genuinely captures your interest. They share the ability to write pages of text regarding developing weather conditions that somehow grab the reader. Similar to Children’s Blizzard, Young Men and Fire is best read in the right place. For me, it was largely in a tent while camping in the woods. Perfect.

The similarities for me didn’t stop there. Both of these books recount a tragic event. Both of them describe events that only happened because of amazingly rare and unlikely combinations of events. Both of them go into amazing detail on the events that happened just before and just after the event. Both of them are very well written. Both of them leave you feeling pretty lucky.

Children’s Blizzard is about the worst blizzard to ever hit the plains. It struck in January 12 of 1888. It is called the Children’s Blizzard because it struck across the majority of the plains in the middle of a day that started in the 20s to 40s. Hundreds of children in country schoolhouses in Dakota and the rest of the plains were forced out into the blizzard. Hundreds of those same children died in a storm that was so intense that it dropped the temperature 40 degrees in 4 hours and had steady winds in excess of 50 miles per hour. A storm so intense that some cattle suffocated to death because the snow filled in their nostrils and they were unable to breath!

I found it surprising that I had never heard of this storm. Hundreds of children died in the storm and hundreds died after due to complications from amputation and other “treatments” for problems from the storm. Fathers died while holding their child, the child surviving the night because of the weather-break provided by their dead fathers body. This is brutal stuff and I had never heard of it. Granted this is 100 years ago but this is a big thing and should still reverberate in the culture of places like North Dakota where I grew up. At the end the book goes into a bit of why this tragic event was forgotten in practically one generation. I’ll leave it for you to read and get all the details.

Grab a copy of this book. Light a fire and enjoy life on the “modern prairie”. Be happy you don’t live in a “soddie”.

Dead iMac G5

On Monday of this week I woke up and as I usually do after getting ready for the day went to sit down at the iMac that is off of our kitchen to check on email, visit some websites for news, etc. When I sat down I noticed that the iMac was off which seemed very strange. We don’t turn our computers off and on top of that I had just two days prior put a UPS on this computer so a power blip shouldn’t have had any affect.

Not sure what was going on I hit the power button and the power indicator would light up for a fraction of a second and then turn off. Tried again, same thing. I wondered if this UPS was a problem so I plugged it straight into the wall, no go. This is not good but luckily it’s still on warranty.

I did some searches and it seems like a failed power supply in a iMac G5 isn’t terribly rare. At least it’s common enough that Apple has posted instructions for diagnosing this on your own. I followed the instructions and verified that I needed to take it to an Apple shop and get fixed.

I dropped it off at FirstTech that afternoon over lunch and they called back that very afternoon to verify the power supply was dead. Here is the classic part. Apple doesn’t have any of these. Oh, and they don’t know when they will get any in. So, I called just yesterday and the status is still the same. My wonderful, fancy and expensive G5 sits on a shelf awaiting a new power supply from Apple. They have no ETA.

Why is it that Apple cannot figure out supply chains? They never have parts or enough of anything it seems. This has been a problem for them for years and years. Oh well, someday I will get my Mac back.

Make Minnetonka Bicycle Friendly

I recently received a flier from the League of American Bicyclists regarding the Bicycling Friendly Community campaign they run. I’ve been a member of LAB for years and plan to continue. I’m a member of many bicycling organizations but LAB is unique and in many ways the most important. The other organizations focus on rides and trails mostly while LAB focuses on Washington DC and policy. They are our voice (I’ll use the word lobbyist trying to forget the slimy implications) for cycling in America. In addition to getting some additional funding from me for this program, I decided to do a little grass-roots advocacy of my own. The letter below is to the Mayor of Minnetonka.

Mayor Anderson,

I will keep this brief since I’m sure you are very busy. I live in Minnetonka and am also a cycling enthusiast. In addition to being a member of the Twin Cities Bicycling Club I’m also a member of the national organization League of American Bicyclists (LAB). I love cycling in all of it’s modes whether for competitive racing, recreational riding for fitness or just commuting to work. The bike is an amazingly elegant machine.

I’m writing to you because I recently became aware of the LAB program Bicycling Friendly Communities. This program is an awards program that recognizes cities that actively support bicycling. I looked over the list of communities in the program and was surprised to not see Minnesota anywhere in the list (click here for list). We have a surprisingly strong cycling community in Minnesota given our winters and have a history of advocacy, in fact leading the country in miles of bicycle trails!

This brings me to the point of my letter. I would like to encourage you to nominate Minnetonka to become a Bicycling Friendly Community and be the first in Minnesota to achieve at least a bronze specification. I think it would be a reinforcement of the already strong bicycling program the city has as well as a road to additional ways to bring cycling into our community.

Sincerely,

Jamie Thingelstad

Gettin' Jiggy With Power

Our power service is horrible (example, another). There is just no way around it. We seem to get regular undervoltage events and the occassional power cycle on a regular basis. Every once in a while for fun we get thrown a multi-hour outage as well. What a blast! For a computer geek like myself, this is nerve racking. I had some new UPS units on my Amazon wish list for a long time but it seems nobody thinks that is a fun present.

I hadn’t “right-sized” my UPS for my server for years. During that time I went from a simple tower with a couple of drives to my terabyte server with 10 platters spinning at all times. The Back-UPS Pro 650 I had on it was completely inadequate and to make it even better a couple months ago the battery had given up the ghost so there was NO battery power at all. I issued a self-test one day on accident which resulted in an immediate reboot!

I upgraded my server setup to a Smart-UPS 1500VA RM model. I chose the rackmount model because I plan in the coming weeks to buy a half-rack for my server gear in the laundry room to get it all organized and setup nice. Great UPS. Got a little nervous first time I plugged it in. This thing has much more robust circuitry than any other UPS I have so it makes a lot of “electrical noises”.

I also solved the problem for my home theatre PC and the two TiVos. Now we will not miss our favorite satellite content even if the power is down for a bit! :-) I got a Back-UPS RS 1000VA for this stuff. My only dissapointment here is that it seems that the Back-UPS RS line only works with PowerChute Personal Edition so I cannot tie it into the main PowerChute Console and manage everything from one place. Maybe they will change that in a future release of the software.

I got a new battery for my old Back-UPS Pro 650VA and that is now running my office and moved the absolutely lame Back-UPS 350VA that I had here to my iMac G5. Every computer is now on it’s own UPS. Yeah!

Customer Service

I just had one of those amazingly rare situations of having great customer service, with a bank no less! The second part of this sounds funny since I live, eat and breath technology but this whole experience was great.

I reconcile my bank accounts essentially daily in Quicken. I’ve done this forever (or at least over 6 years which is mostly forever). I saw on Friday that a check cleared for our plumber (see related story) for $158.95 but I had entered $138.95 in the register. Something was amiss!

So, first I logged into USBank.com and used the nifty feature where I can see an image of each check processed. I looked at this check and right away saw the issue, I had written the 3 somewhat sloppy and you could mistake it for a 5, but the long-hand version clearly said “thirty”. I called up USBank and entered my information to get to a customer service person. After getting the person on the line she brought up the check on her system. We both agreed on the error and she applied a credit.

Here is the part that just shocked me. She told me to refresh my screen and I would see the correction. I was taken aback. Surely the USBank.com site runs on some daily dump of data. There’s no way this is all tied right into the main transaction system for the bank! No way. I hit refresh and right there was my credit.

I wish all my transactions were this simple. I left with an immediate solution, I was empowered to verify the situation without even calling them and I and the customer service person were looking at the same information. Kudos USBank!

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