Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Wonderful Astro Photos! And the Geminids are coming!

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Wally Pacholka is an amazing photographer marrying spectacular landscapes with starscapes that a city dweller can only dream of.  His pictures have made NASA's APOD (Astronomy Photograph of the Day) a remarkable 40 times!
He has been gracious enough to permit me to use some of his photos for this blog. Among my favorites are Mars and Orion over Monument Valley and The Milky Way from False Kiva.

Wally recently reminded me that one of the great annual meteor showers is about due.  These events are best seen with friends and without a telescope.

And if you happen to be looking for a Christmas present, high quality prints of his work can be found at AstroPics.

All I can say is keep up the stellar work Wally!

Friday, November 30, 2012

The Ode To Movember

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In honour of all the people that support Movember's efforts for mens' health!

The Ode to Movember

A few years ago some lads from down under,
started a movement that's now really a wonder.

To raise funds for cancer and other good causes
was the goal of these men from the land of the Auses.

A symbol was needed that men could wear proudly,
to shout their support both clearly and loudly.

Small at the first when it started down under
yet soon it had spread faster than thunder.

The first week is frightening with many new staches,
appearing on faces like childhood rashes.

Peach fuzz, and stubble, and whiskers, and more
are growing on faces as if shaving's a chore.

In Week two the whiskers continue to sprout
and bystanders now can be in no doubt.

Mo sistas support us while growing our staches
and occasionally don staches with glasses.

Week three is full of tickles and itches
pledges come in and so do the pitches.

In week four bro thoughts turn toward grooming
now that the end of Movember is looming.

There are Zappas, and Magnums, and Grouchos, and Dalis,
and Addams, and Clouseaus, and Smokeys, and Lannys.

The end now approaches with every stache measured
the donations pour in and truly are treasured.

By the first of December it’s time for a shear
so the lads can recoup and grow one next year.

Follow the link in the title to find your local Movember movement.
My Movember page can be found at

Thursday, November 11, 2010

A Crater to Remember

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Today, Remembrance Day, we take a moment to remember and thank all of our Veterans, the fallen, and today's Peacekeepers, for their effort and sacrifice to uphold our way of life and protect the freedoms and principles we enjoy.

Generally, when we think of a Crater on our Planet, we think of the scars left by meteor impacts on the Earth. Lochnagar Crater is not a meteor impact. It is a lingering scar left by a nearly century old war and the grave marker of untold hundreds of soldiers from WW1.

Aerial Views of Lochnagar Crater
Lochnagar Crater website - Street View/Photos - zoomable map/satellite

At 7:28am on July 1st, 1916 the Battle of the Somme started with explosion of 17 massive 'mines' underneath enemy territory. Lochnagar was the largest of these. It remains "The largest crater ever made by man in anger".

Created by Allied mining and demolition experts over several months, the mine was packed with 27,216 kilograms of explosives, set in two charges 18 metres apart and 16 metres below ground. The explosion obliterated between 91 and 122 metres of the German dug-outs, thought to have been full of German troops. Debris was reported to have been thrown 1200 metres (4000 ft) into the air. At the time, the blast was loudest man made sound in history.

The total casualties of the Somme Battles are staggering and unthinkable today. Nearly 1 million men! The total dead and wounded, the Allies almost 624,000 including over 24,000 Canadians and the Germans with another 465,000.

Such are the horrors of war. As German Officer Friedrich Steinbrecher once wrote: "Somme. The history of the world cannot contain a more ghastly word."

Thanks to Richard Dunning for his support of this important historical site.

Hat Tip to Ray Khan for finding this.


Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Scout's Canada wins $100,000 funding from Pepsi's Refresh Everything Project

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The votes are in and Scout's Canada "Send more children and youth across Canada to Scout Summer Camps" pulled into first place after an 11th hour surge.

Thanks to everyone who voted on this!

Click here for the full list of finalists.

BTW The refresh project continues with more funding. Check it out there may be other worthy causes worth your vote.

New home for the 433rd!

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Our old home of 40 years at St Luke’s United Church at 516 The Kingsway closed in June 2010. We’d like to thank the congregation who sponsored us through all those years.

Beginning in September 2010, the 433rd has relocated to Islington United Church (at 25 Burnhamthorpe Road just north of Dundas Street). IUC has graciously offered to sponsor our group continuing their 50 year commitment to Scouting. We were fortunate to find a congregation with such a strong commitment and excellent facilities that include two halls.

Thanks to everyone at Islington United Church!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Scouts Canada and Canadian Youth need YOUR help!

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It will only take a few minutes of your time to:
  1. Go here -
  2. Register once
  3. Please vote everyday!
  4. Help get the word out via email,  twitter, facebook, or any other tools you have.
Copy the originator when you forward this to let them know you’ve made a difference!

More on the project.  Pepsi is giving away 10 grants ranging from $5,000 to $100,000.  You can vote once per day for each grant.  There are lots of good causes worth supporting.  Many benefit kids. Check out the leader board for more.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

4th Glasgow Scout Group Web Site

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It's been awhile since I wrote on the topic of ScoutBlogs.  I recently came across a blog cluster setup by the 4th Glasgow Scout Group.  The reason I'd like to bring your attention to it is that the 4th has put together a first class scout web site using what largely looks like free social networking tools and free hosting.
  • The blogs are hosted by Google (Blogger) and are likely classified as not-for-profit
  • Each section has it's own blog on blogger (Beavers, Cubs, Scouts, and Leaders)
  • There is a single look and feel to the site - all sections are tied together in a common header and transition is seamless.
  • They take advantage of other free tools like Google Calendars to showcase events and gmail for communication
Using the same concept of a blog cluster a group could even have some private sections.

Well done 4th!

Check them out at The 4th Glasgow Scout Group.
And check out my other ScoutBlogs and ScoutReach articles.

I just have one question for the 4th, what character in the Jungle Book is known as SPUD?   :)

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

433rd Spring Events Update

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Spring events are now posted for the 433rd groups:

Thursday, January 21, 2010

ASX Expanding Canada's Frontiers 7 - Jan 29th @6:30pm Toronto

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The Astronomy and Space Exploration Society (ASX) is holding the 7th annual "Expanding Canada's Frontiers" Symposium.

Where: Convocation Hall, University of Toronto
When: Friday, January 29, 2009, 6:30 PM (Doors open at 5:30 PM, Reception at 10:00 PM)

For more information and registration click here.  Students with ID are free.  Public admission is $20 and can also be purchased from UofT here.

  • Prof. Peter Schultz (Brown), co-investigator of NASA's LCROSS, discussing his analysis of this mission and finding water on the Moon. 
  • Prof. Sara Seager (MIT), discussing the latest detections and theory of exoplanet properties. 
  • Dr. Firouz Naderi (NASA JPL), discussing perspectives on future robotic exploration. 
  • Dr. Narendra Bhandari (ISRO), discussing Chandrayaan-1 results and India's vision for space.

h/t Ray Khan

Sunday, January 17, 2010

2010 Tri-Area Scouting Hobby Show

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Read all about on the 433rd Blog!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

It's trashscope season again - don't be fooled

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Even if I don't pay attention to anything else, I'll always know that the holidays are around the corner when the trashscopes come out.
  • What's a trashscope? It's a mass market telescope that over promises and under delivers.
  • How to recognize one? If you walk into a store that normally doesn't sell telescopes and there's one on display it's probably junk. That includes big box stores, camera stores, educational stores, drug stores, and department stores.
But what can you get for that budding young stargazer? How will you know what to buy? Here's some guidance:
  • Consider a good pair of binoculars and a companion book on stargazing. Your first telescope provides some guidance here. The right kind of binoculars will have a lot to offer including portability, ease of use, wide field of view, and they can be used for far more than just stargazing.
  • If you have your heart set on seeing the rings of Saturn you'll need a telescope. But before you buy take some time to learn about telescopes. Read Avoiding the Christmas trash-Telescope Blues or check out this series of short videos over at the One Minute Astronomer on How to Choose a Telescope.

Why do people buy trashscopes? Basically it comes down to the fact that most people aren't familiar with telescopes. Things about telescopes that you might think are important aren't and get over sold. As a result people can be easily mislead. High magnification, large numbers of eyepieces, large and beautiful pictures of galaxies and planets on the box are the hallmarks of this deception.

When it comes to the familiar people are more apt to spot things that look too good to be true. Consider buying a car. If you were to walk into a store and saw a car that promised to carry 10 people, out accelerate a dragster, out maneuver a Ferrari, use less gas than a hybrid, and cost only a bit more than a bicycle - you wouldn't be fooled. So the way to get a scope that you will enjoy is to learn a few basics and to remember that a telescope is no different than any other hobby item. You get what you pay for.

Please take a few moments read the articles and check out the the videos above. And when you're done visit a telescope store or find a star party and talk to the people there.

If you are looking for an inexpensive starter scope, consider the modest Celestron First Scope. It costs less than a typical trashscope and will perform much better. And if you do get the astronomy bug, remember it's called the First Scope for a reason - there will be a second once you know what you want. And if you don't get the bug, it will provide hours of casual stargazing fun.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Review: National Geographic Backyard Guide to the Night Sky

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This summer I received a copy of a new astronomy book to review: National Geographic's Backyard Guide to the Night Sky by Howard Schneider (ISBN 978-1-4262-0281-0, trade paper version, list price US $21.95 / Can $26.00).

First Impressions
  • My copy had a substantial heft and feel as well as a quality glossy cover. It is everything I would expect from National Geographic.
  • It's well organized with margin notes that include useful URLs, side bars and boxes with sky facts and lore.
  • The compact size and binding don't facilitate using the seasonal sky charts in the field. I'd be concerned about the binding not really being intended to fold flat.  On the plus side, the portability makes it far more likely to be used than sit on a shelf.
  • The subject matter covered goes well beyond the role of a beginner stargazing book. The bool provides mythological, scientific, and historical back stories.  It also touches on the relationship between the science of astronomy and the nonsense of astrology.  A number of advanced topics like star formation are also introdced.
  • The information for the beginning stargazer is solid.

The well structured content provides multiple views and perspectives on virtually every page. The main text is organized into Chapters and Features which I've listed below.

  1. Sky Watching Basics
  2. The Atmosphere
  3. The Sun
  4. The Moon
  5. The Planets
  6. Stars and Constellations
  7. Four Seasons of the Sky
  8. Constellations
  9. Comets and Meteors
  10. Deep Space

  1. What am I looking at?
  2. Five Coolest Things in the Sky
  3. All about Eclipses ♦ Solar Eclipses ♦ Lunar Eclipses
  4. Identified Flying Objects ♦ Satellites in Orbit ♦ Space Junk
  5. Photographing the Night Sky ♦ Equipment ♦ Simple Techniques
  6. Five Key Star Patterns ♦ Winter and Spring ♦ Summer and Autumn
  7. Southern Skies
  8. A Guide to Telescopes ♦ Types of Telescopes ♦ Using Your Telescope

Digging Deeper

The book really isn't intended to be read cover to cover as the structure is more suited for reference purposes.  However, there are a couple of places where the reader should look at the material in order such as the introduction and first chapter on Sky Watching Basics.  One of the most fun things to do with beginners on a hike is to find a dry field (or take ground cover) and lay out looking up while your eyes adapt to the dark!

The text is well written with excellent photos and graphics. A couple of the artist impressions, like the view of Saturn and it's rings from Pluto, are fanciful but this kind of artistic license is not unexpected or uncommon.

The feature on space junk, satellites, and IFOs is welcome in a introductory guide as they are often overlooked.  Also the advice on telescopes is solid.

The skies of the southern hemisphere are underrepresented.  Southern skies contain some magnificent wonders including two of the closest galaxies. The feature helps but I would definitely want more if I lived there or was planning a trip.

A few more diagrams in some places would help. I recall reading  that globular clusters were located toward the center of our galaxy. I took a momentary double check as I'm used to thinking of them being in the galactic halo (surrounding the central bulge of our galaxy). Both statements are true.

The sections on star lore are entertaining and useful but can be confusing; especially those involving the relationships and relatives of Poseidon that give the back story to several of the northern constellations. That's not the writers fault but rather stems from the fact that the family trees of the classical Greek Gods far more resemble hedgerows of Gordian Knots than anything tree-like.

The science facts are well researched with few errors.  My errata follows.
  • I noticed a typo in the distance to the Whirlpool galaxy (M51).  Galaxies are almost always millions of light years distant.  This led me to find and correct a contradiction in the Wikipedia article on M51.
  • The back story on the discovery of planets at one point mentions that the orbit and location of Uranus was predicted. Elsewhere the book correctly points out that this was Neptune.
  • The distance to Betelgeuse used in the book was current until 2008 when new measurements revised the distance and size of this red super giant upward by almost 50%. 
  • The sections on constellations are well conceived but suffered from small annoyances. The largest was that some of the more interesting stars/objects, such as Stephan's Quintet, discussed in the section weren't always on the constellation charts.  A smaller annoyance was switching between the use of Greek letter names and symbols in the text and charts.  A beginner may know alpha (α), and beta (β), but will certainly have troubles much beyond that.

I do hope that National Geographic publishes errata and has another editorial pass before any second edition.  And while I'm at it, a fold flat edition or an accompanying set of fold flat charts would be a bonus.


The Backyard Guide to the Night Sky is an excellent addition or starter for the library of anyone interested in astronomy or stargazing.

While there are books that do a better job focusing just on stargazing, the  Backyard Guide to the Night Sky goes beyond the basics of stargazing and provides a wealth of information to foster the interest of any budding astronomer.

In practical terms, the book is an excellent general reference for stargazers and those interested in astronomy. And while a second more accurate set of charts (or a goto telescope) will eventually be needed to find some of the more interesting objects described, the beginner won't need these immediately.

In addition to the firm cover version, the book is also available in hardcover and deluxe versions. Try any of National Geographic, Chapters Indigo, or Amazon.

All images in this article provided by National Geographic and used with permission. Images may not be used without the written permission of National Geographic and subject to specific restrictions.

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Saturday, October 31, 2009

Carnival Quintette 122, 123, 124, 125 and 126

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Here are five, count em, five Carnivals (sorry I've been busy folks) ...

So are any of you named Stephan or come from a star in Pegasus?

What would you all look like from HD 92083b?