Bulldozer Camp

Diann was cruising the internet tonight and found this: Bulldozer Camp.  A place where you can go and play with real, full-size bulldozers.  Wow.  In scenic Pomeroy, WA.s

Hopefully, she didn’t find that while looking up gift ideas for me.

Worst geography lesson ever

I turned on the TV tonight, and the Guinness World Records: Top 100 show happened to be on.  As I turned it on, record #62 came up: fastest flying manmade object.  They claim it was the SR-71 Blackbird at 2200mph.  I can’t help but think of the X-15, breaking 4,519mph.

Anyhow, that nitpick aside, they tried to give the viewer a general understanding of just how fast Mach 3 is, they said it could go from LA to New York in 1.5 hours.  That’s fine, but this was the graphic they used:

Bad Graphic

It’s so bad I had to get out Diann’s camera and snap a picture.  I’m trying to come up with something sufficiently snarky to say about this, but I think the image speaks for itself.  At least they got New York approximately right.

Looking back, I do find it ironic that just below the words "Los Angeles" is the little advertisement for NBC’s new show Lipstick Jungle.  Special.

New Telescope Parts

It’s 24.5°F outside, which means I must have spent the last three hours outdoors with the telescope.  I can’t determine if the cold makes me go outside, or if it’s cold because I go outside.  🙂

I received a small shipment of parts from Anacortes Telescope today, which brought me parts to be able to mount my digital camera to the telescope.  I will say that my major lesson learned is that focusing is a bear.

image I went straight for M42, and couldn’t see it at all through the viewfinder in the camera.  This made focusing a challenge.  I would take a 5 second exposure, review the results, tweak the focus, and repeat.  After about 20 minutes, I got some decent pictures, but nothing great.  You can clearly see the dust cloud from the nebula, though, as well as the Trapezium cluster. 

After a while, I pointed the scope at Rigel and was able to focus the camera relatively well.  I’ve noticed some problems with the Meade T-Adapter for the LX50, though, and it results in the camera not sitting straight on the back of the telescope.  This means that the film plane in the camera isn’t sitting straight, which results in fairly bad focus overall.  I’ve got some ideas on how to solve this, and will work on that the next time the clouds are clear.  Of course, now that I’m sitting inside in the warmth with the telescope, I realize I forgot to attach the f/6.3 reducer to the telescope, which may have grabbed me some better photos.  Oh well, there’s always next time!

I spent the next hour or so trying to see M31, the great Andromeda Galaxy.  I could just make it out in the sky with my eyes if I could keep the streetlights out of my view, but I couldn’t get the telescope on it because the streetlights were interfering with my spotting scope.  No such luck.

Not much else exciting in the sky tonight, so I packed it up around 10:30pm.

Looking Up

26°F outside tonight, but still no clouds.  Amazing.

Our friends Boaz and Charlotte came over tonight for the purpose of moon/stargazing.  Out came the LX50 again.

Spotting scope got quickly tuned in using a very twinkling Sirius low in the sky, and then we turned our gaze back to M42 in Orion.  I used the spotting scope to point at Orion’s sword, looked through the eyepiece, and focused.  Without budging the telescope, I was focused on the trapezium cluster.  Full moon tonight, so we could only make out 4 of the stars – but we could clearly see the M42 nebula clouds surrounding it.  We ended up going back to look at M42 several times through the course of the night.  It’s really amazing to look at something 1300 light years away and be able to see "detail" in it.

We also took a glance at the Pleiades again, as well as some more viewing of Orion’s various well-known stars: Betelgeuse and Rigel.  We ended the night wondering if a reddish object was Aldebaran or Mars, as these two bodies were fairly close to each other tonight.  I slewed the telescope over, and threw on the 26mm eyepiece (widest angle I have).  It was definitely not a point, but clearly a disc.  The 9mm eyepiece confirmed what I expected: Mars.

Telescoping in January, again!

Seattle’s getting some bizarre weather this month.  The other day, I was able to drag out the little telescope (Meade ETX90) and tonight the clouds cleared again.

image Today, I yanked out the big scope (Meade LX50).  It’s 28°F outside again, and I spent the first hour and a half or so setting up the scope.  I haven’t really had a good chance to use this telescope yet, so it took me a while to figure out what went where, and what parts I was missing and needed to search the house for.

Nearly full moon tonight, so most of the viewing wasn’t that great, but I did get a good close-up look at the Pleiades (M45), a fair amount of the moon, and a brief stab at Mars.  I need to get the spotting scope tuned in better before I do any significant viewing.

Cold and on the ground

According to Weather Underground, it’s currently 28°F outside.  It snowed a fair amount last night, and now the snow that thawed most of the day is turning to ice.  It’s been interesting watching people try to drive up the hill into our neighborhood.

I heard tires spinning about 2 hours ago, so I decided to peek outside.  Turns out that someone had abandoned their car a while back and was now trying to get it out of the middle of the road.  Fun stuff.  I then noticed that the moon was out, and Orion was out.  The ever-present winter clouds had pulled back.  This means two things: it’s gonna be cold tonight, and I had a great opportunity to take some pictures.

DSC_4760 (2)I grabbed the camera, threw on the 70-300mm lens, and unpacked the tripod.  It was in one of the few boxes that we decided not to unpack.  Out I went, shooting pictures of the moon and Orion with varying degrees of success.

The moon is easy enough to capture. It’s actually really bright – since the sun is reflecting off the moon, it’s actually nearly as bright as the surface of the earth would be.  The rough rule of thumb for moon photography is an aperture of f/8 at 1/125th second exposure.  I took the picture at right at f/8 and 1/100th second at ISO200.  A 300mm camera just captures enough detail to start identifying craters, but a tripod is an absolute necessity.

DSC_4748 Enough with moons: how about stars?  Orion was out, so I pointed my lens that way.  My 70-300mm lens worked again here, just barely fitting Orion into the view at 70mm.  My best picture came out at ISO800 at f/4 with a 13 second exposure.  Unfortunately, there seems to be a big dust bunny on my Nikon’s sensor that I need to clean, but otherwise I’m very pleased with the photo.  Even at the scaled down version here, Orion’s belt, Betelgeuse, and Rigel are easy to make out.  Looking at the full-size picture (click the photo to see it), you can actually make out the Orion Nebula (M42) and some binary star systems at the bottom of the photo.

I decided at this point to drag out the small telescope, a Meade ETX-90.  Using eyepieces between 26mm and 9mm, I watched the moon move around the sky for about a half-hour before I turned towards Orion.  Since I was laying on the ground looking through the scope (no tripod for this one, sadly), it took me quite a while to find anything related to Orion – but eventually, I found what I was looking for: M42.  With the ETX-90, I couldn’t make out the vivid colors of the nebula, but I could make out 5 stars of the trapezium cluster with some of the tell-tale nebula clouds around them.

Unfortunately, about that time our local clouds decided to crowd back in, and that killed my viewing for the night.  Next time it’s this clear at night, I’m going straight for the big telescope.

Review: Lucky Strike Lanes

image A few friends and I had been anxiously awaiting the grand opening of the Lucky Strike Lanes in Bellevue since it was first reported in the Downtown Bellevue blog.   As the signs started to emerge, we told ourselves that we’d go check it out when it first opened.

And then, the perfect storm.  (yes, I know I’m violating the list of overused words and phrases for 2007)  It turns out that Lucky Strike would finally open on December 30, 2007, and my birthday was just around the corner.  After much back and forth on the phone, Diann finally got ahold of someone at Lucky Strike.

Unfortunately, they wouldn’t do advance lane reservations, but they would be happy to sell us one of their party packages.  Unfortunately, the party packages cost about $60 per person for two hours of bowling, a few alcoholic drinks, and a few appetizers.  No thanks.  We decided to try our luck just showing up on Thursday night and getting a lane.

Fate would intervene: on Monday, we got a call that they were re-closing because of "training issues", and wouldn’t be opening until Sunday, January 6.  They knew we were coming there for an informal birthday party, so they asked if there was anything they could do to have us reschedule.  We asked again about a lane reservation.  No joy.

After these first two strikes (get it?), we gave them a shot anyway.  We showed up late afternoon on the 6th with 6 friends to go bowling.

What did we think?  An overwhelming "meh".

Lucky Strike is clearly marketed as a "hip" bowling alley.  Yeah, I know that seems like an anomaly.  Lucky Strike does a decent job here, but we all hated the layout.  There are three primary rooms: the bowling lanes, the pool hall, and the bar.  The bowling lanes reminded us all of our college student center bowling alleys.  This was telling, especially considering out of the 6 of us there we had 5 different colleges from around the country represented.  Apparently there’s nothing really swanky about the bowling area, but I did like the couches they had along the back wall. 

We didn’t venture into the pool hall or the bar, but the bar looked impressive from a distance.

On the whole, yowza it’s expensive.  The only reasonable time to go bowling here is during the weekdays in the middle of the day.  The screenshot on the right is from their website – sadly, it’s all Flash, and I can’t give you a direct link to the pricing.  Yes, we reluctantly paid $35/hour for a single bowling lane, in addition to $4.50/person for shoe rentals.  Luckily, the party was at 3:00pm, and we left at 5:00pm.  Otherwise, we’d be shouldering $65/hour for a lane.  We didn’t order food, so I don’t know how the food pricing was.  Booze pricing was reasonable, but as one of our friends said, "considering they’re raping you everywhere else…".

Staff / Training
I mentioned earlier that they had to close for a few days after their initial opening to re-train their staff.  I’d recommend they re-close again. 

The gentleman checking us into the bowling alley punched Diann & my names into the scoring system, and then couldn’t figure out how to explain to us how to add additional bowlers to the screen as our friends would arrive.  He just asked me to come find him, and he’d get someone to help me with that when the time came.  It doesn’t take a lot to figure out how to operate the scoring system in a bowling alley, and I was able to add our own friends.

The problems didn’t end there: Diann & I asked our waitress what beers they had on-hand.  She spent a few minutes trying to pull those memories from somewhere in the depths of her brain, and we finally asked for a pitcher of Mac & Jacks, a fantastic local microbrew.  She came back to let us know they don’t serve Mac & Jacks, so we asked for Alaskan Amber instead.  She said she’d have to see ID for everyone in our group before serving us a pitcher, and since Diann & I were the only ones there, we couldn’t get one.  I asked if we could get  pitcher and just two glasses, and she was ok with that.  She came back to let us know they don’t serve pitchers.  She finally brought us two glasses of beer.  Every time a new person arrived in our group, she had a heck of a time reciting what beers they had on hand.

Look, if you’re a waitress, and you work in a bowling alley: you should know what beer you have available.

Like I said above, an overwhelming "meh".  I might come off as sounding a bit harsh, but, let’s be honest, when you’re paying this much for bowling, it should be a fanstastic experience.  I had high hopes for Lucky Strike, as the nightlife in Bellevue isn’t that great and I was hoping that they could kick it up a notch.  Between the Parlor upstairs in Lincoln Square and Lucky Strike downstairs, it should have been a great combo.

Honestly, at the price point they’re at, I don’t expect to see how they can hold out.  I’d rather go bowling at Tech City Bowl in Kirkland.  Tech City is definitely not swank, but it’s cheaper bowling and well-priced drinks.  Lucky Strike has none of that in its favor.

In my book, unfortunately, Lucky Strike is a strike-out, and I don’t mean that in the bowling sense.

Digital bits vs. Physical bits

A lot is said in the world of DRM arguments, and I’ve posted my thoughts on it in the past (I’m generally against the way DRM is applied much of the time, but I do understand the business case for DRM).

The Hacking Netflix blog (great reading) posted this article today that talked about the process to reset your DRM store in Windows, and how it may affect your previously licensed stuff.  It talks about the need to backup your existing DRM content:

There is a procedure to backup and restore your media licenses, but when’s the last time you thought to backup that movie you downloaded? Why is the burden on the consumer to do this?

Woah, there.  Why is the burden on the consumer to do this?  I’d argue that it’s for the same reason the burden is on you to back up physical media you bought.  You can’t go to Wal-Mart/Target/<insert your favorite store here> tell them you lost a copy of a movie, and expect them to give you a new copy.

(Yeah, yeah, I’m not going to espouse on the legal ramifications or legality of people backing up their own physical media).