Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Bad Weather in Boise, Big Bertha, & The House Project

I'm sorry for causing all this weird and unseasonable weather. The combination of buying Big Bertha and having a house built converged to produce astonishingly rainstorms (for this time of year) on Monday and Tuesday. In case you weren't aware of it: there's a well-known phenomenon in which buying a very large telescope causes torrential downpours; this is a variant of "wash you car, and it rains."

Having a house built almost certainly contributes to this. The concrete footings were supposed to be poured on Monday. They started pouring, and then it started pouring! Tuesday, they tried again--and the same thing happened! Maybe today they will be successful.

Other good news is that the operation that built the road, and excavated the building site, has spent less than $10,000 so far. The original estimate was $23,000! They still have to put gravel on the driveway, so there's still some more money to be spent, but this isn't a huge expenditure. The gravel is one of the last steps, so that big trucks and cranes going back and forth don't mess up the surface.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Doing My Part For The International Balance of Payments

I am getting ready to ship ScopeRoller products to a customer in Australia, and I have orders rolling in from U.S. customers. The first order was the only one a week ago yesterday. Then I had an inquiry on Monday. Then two orders on Wednesday. One order today. It seems likely that the orders from the Sky & Telescope New Products Showcase will be a bell curve distribution--but the question is, is Wednesday the top of the bell curve? Or the leading edge of the swell?

In any case, this is good news. I had ordered up a case of 21 5" casters a couple of months ago, and I was beginning to wonder if this was a mistake--if my grandkids were going to wonder what these were for. I am reaching the point where I need to order up more casters, and more UHMW for my machinist to turn! Yahoo!

Friday, June 24, 2005

Michael Yon's Reporting Is Astonishing

There is a very long report "The Battle for Mosul Part III" that I can't even begin to summarize. There is so much here that you aren't going to find out by watching television news, or reading the mainstream media. A couple of excerpts that I found especially interesting and descriptive:
During one late-night sweep in Isla Zeral, Lt. Dan Kearney entered a house where a man asked for help with his five-year-old daughter. She is five years old and her name is Rhma Taha Ahmed and she is afraid of the soldiers, but the father asks the Americans to slow down and look at his daughter. Rhma hid her face while her dad showed her fingers and toes to Lt. Kearney. Her nails were receded and there was blood-blistering, her fingers and toes were tones of red and purple. SFC Joel Lundak called a medic who checked Rhma's vital signs and said she seemed to have a heart condition.

Her father produced papers from a doctor, medical records of a sort, and the interpreter said the documents reported that Rhma has an inoperable congenital heart defect. She will die slowly and painfully. Lt. Kearney calls for Captain Paul Carron, the B company commander, who looks at Rhma and decides to do something. As it happens, a journalist named Sandra Jontz was riding along with Deuce-Four on this mission, and Sandra decides to do something, too. She snaps pictures and takes notes.


Today is the day Sandra Jontz's story about little Rhma and her heart condition will hit the streets. While a scandal-starved media is about to feast on the 7-course "desecration of the Quran" meal, Sandra Jontz's story is quietly tucked inside the latest edition of the Stars & Stripes. Despite her story being nearly hidden from view, it gets enough spotlight to generate offers of real support. When the story and photos run, medical professionals from coast to coast in America jump on it, offering to fund or provide free treatment.


The good news prompts a return visit to Rhma's house from CPT Paul Carron and his Bravo Company men; only now, instead of being afraid of the soldiers, she is merely shy, and her mother says that when the soldiers are away, Rhma says, "The Americans are going to take care of me."
For those who want to fantasize that the "insurgents" are Iraqi patriots:
Three Algerian homicidists arrive in Mosul. Two of them had flown from Tunis, Tunisia to Damascus, Syria. They kept the airplane ticket stubs, then made their way via the Jihadist equivalent of the underground railroad: walking through the Syrian countryside, hitching rides, taking buses, and staying at a series of safe houses which they are conscientious enough to document. They keep a diary. After about 30 days of adventure traveling, the three reach a safe house in Mosul.


It was just after midnight when the man who had said, "For me to give the locations of these two men would be treason"—led Deuce-Four to the house—"However, if death comes to greet you at your door, introduce him to your brother," where, SMASH, the soldiers rushed in. At first the Algerians were silent, their eyes noticeably bloodshot. They appeared sedated, reflexes on a time delay, as if they had just used opium. The three "martyrs" had been traveling for about thirty days before sneaking into Mosul. Since their arrival 48 hours earlier, apparently they had been hanging around, doing drugs, killing time, you know, just waiting to explode.


The owner of the house was a known mortar cell leader. The best thing about insurgent cell leaders is their meticulous record-keeping. No slaves to posterity, rather, their detailed notes of terrorist activities and videotapes of their operations, serve as proof for payment. Many insurgents simply work for hire. The man's diary contained entries dated all the way back to the fall of Baghdad—including their successful attacks against Iraqis and Americans, and also those that failed, carefully noting the reasons for the failures. Comparing the entries with actual SIGACTs would later verify the accuracy of this record, and seal the fate of Mosul's answer to Capone's bookkeeper.

No one had the time that night to scour the diary in Arabic, but had they read the entry for May 17th they would never have lowered their guns. For there it was, plain as the ink on the page:
May 17th: Praise Allah, 3 Algerians have come to my house today. 2 are willing to do whatever it takes and be martyrs. 1 is in search of his brother.
The four men had been taken into separate rooms. My neighbors, John Welch and Erik Ramirez, each took Algerians into rooms, while LTC Kurilla had the third. Two other soldiers stayed with the Iraqi cell leader. LTC Kurilla had one Algerian jacked up against a wall and began questioning him—the man was strangely and completely sedate, clearly under the influence of drugs. When he began talking, both interpreters noticed his foreign accent immediately and they started shouting to the Americans, "These men are foreigners!"

As if hit with buckets of ice water, all four men snapped to life and began struggling against the soldiers. The three Algerians went rabid, and the one with Ramirez slipped out the flex-cuffs Ramirez had just put on. Too close for rifles, this was hand-to-hand combat. The soldiers with the Iraqi man quickly subdued him, but the "martyrs" put up a better fight.

Ramirez is powerful, and threw his Algerian to the ground. The man continued to fight wildly until Ramirez's knee smashing the back of his skull knocked him out. The Algerian with Welch in the other room was not yet cuffed when he started to fight, but Welch knocked his man out with punches.

But the "martyr" that LTC Kurilla had jacked against the wall by the collar with his left hand, simply reached down with his mouth and grabbed a hunk of Kurilla's left forearm and began to rip as he punched at Kurilla, scraping his nose. Kurilla responded by punching him in the face three times and taking him to the ground.

Meanwhile, with Ramirez's guy unconscious, he rushed into the room where Kurilla was fighting and smashed the guy in the face three more times until he went limp. With the four captives in a more docile state, Deuce-Four headed back to base. All in all, the night was a pretty good haul. Nine raids and 13 catches, including the three Algerians, two of whom were willing to blow themselves up with a vest bomb or in a car bomb, not caring who they killed as long as they were able to use their bodies as instruments of death.
There is a powerful descripton of the death of an American soldier, because of our unwillingness to endanger women and children--unlike Michael Moore's heroes:
The danger American soldiers face on these raids is exacerbated by their great reluctance to use force when there are civilians around, compounded by the fact that there are children in nearly every home, including the homes of the insurgents. The average American soldier will do just about anything to avoid knowingly hurting a child, and will seldom even use flash-bangs (stun grenades) because of possible effects on children in the closed rooms.

Hot information comes in that a high value target is at a specific house nearby. There is radio chatter as the Battle Captain in the TOC communicates with the Recon platoon on a quick plan to hit the house and the one next to it. Within minutes, the Recon soldiers roll up to the homes, drop ramps, and burst into the bottom floor. They rush in and begin securing the rooms on the bottom floor, where they detain three men, while other Recon soldiers flow up the stairs.

Benjamin Morton is part of Recon's raiding patrol. He lives directly across from me on base. Everyone calls him "Rat" because he saves everything. Rat moves upstairs, training his rifle above him. Rat's the #1 man, in the most dangerous position. Two enemy men are hiding on the balcony, and one has an automatic weapon with a large drum of ammunition. As Rat comes round the corner, the insurgent sticks the weapon around the balcony corner and fires a long burst of about twenty rounds. Four bullets strike Ben Morton. His buddies come behind him and throw a flash-bang into the room, and return fire, catching a bed ablaze with tracers. They pull Rat out and call for medics. Despite everyone's valiant efforts, Benjamin Morton does not survive his wounds. Had they thrown grenades first, three women and four children would have died alongside the four men who were captured or killed that night. The men were elements of a car bomb cell.
Read it all. These segments were especially moving, but all of it is astonishingly well-written and informative.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

House Project: The Foundation Forms Are In

I drove up there this evening. Yesterday was unpleasantly warm, but today was wonderful. It was 83 degrees as I drove home from work, but it's a dry heat, and not at all unpleasant, especially with the top off the car and wind blowing through my hair. Driving to the property was even more lovely, with the sound of the engine, and my compilation CD of oldies.

Here are some pictures of the forms (remember that in most browsers, you can right-click on the picture and say "View Image" to blow the picture up to full size):

Here's the equipment of the company that set up the forms, and I guess is going to pour the concrete. (Do I get a discount for featuring their company name and phone number? I guess not!)

It is going to take a long time for me to get bored with this view to the north:

In spite of a lot of pretty hot days, and no recent rain, the hills remain green:

Just Like You and I...Except For Who They Love

From the San Francisco Chronicle:
This Sunday in a Wells Fargo bank parking lot near San Francisco's City Hall, August Knight will demonstrate for any adult who cares to stop by what it's like to be flogged -- and enjoy it.

An Oakland hairstylist by day and co-owner of a South of Market dungeon popular with the whip-cracking crowd by night, Knight, 46, is an ambassador of kink. She and about 70 other volunteers will staff Leather Alley, one of the fastest-growing niches at the annual San Francisco Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Pride Parade and Celebration.

On a splash of asphalt on Grove Street will bloom a place for what leather aficionados call "vanilla" types -- i.e., everyone else -- to learn about flogging, spanking, boot blacking and other staples of the subculture known as BDSM (a condensed acronym for bondage and discipline, dominance and submission and sadomasochism). The "ambassadors" will answer all their questions.


Since the demonstrations are rated at least PG-13, they are staged behind a curtain that is parted only for those over 18. But they will be miked this year, so demonstrators can tell the audience what they're feeling throughout the experience, and afterward.

Organizers and participants say the growth of Leather Alley since its pride debut a decade ago mirrors the evolution of BDSM culture here and elsewhere. While pride celebrations in other cities offer similar displays, San Francisco's is believed to be among the largest and most diverse.

In 1995, Leather Alley was just a 10-by-10-foot booth run by a few friends -- and most participants were gay men. This year, the Alley will feature two dozen leather and BDSM organizations and a dozen booths and canopies. Now, organizers say, just 60 percent of Leather Alley's visitors are men, and 30 percent are straight.

Though statistics are few and far between, a 1990 Kinsey Report study estimated that between 5 percent and 10 percent of Americans dabble in the leather arts -- everything from lightly restraining their partners to a bedpost to a little fantasy role-playing to building a leather sling in the den. Then there's boot blacking -- where one is sexually titillated by polishing boots and other leatherwear.
Yeah, yeah, I know, there are straight people into this sort of thing, and I would guess that most gay people are not. But tell me, those of you who insist that there is no connection between sexual orientation and childhood sexual abuse: do you suppose that it is just a coincidence that this crowd for whom pain, humiliation, and sexual pleasure are so intimately connected is disproportionately homosexual? Can you see why someone whose first sexual experiences involved force, pain, coercion--and yet might also have experienced some level of sexual arousal (as sometimes happens during rape), might end up identifying sex with pain and humiliation as an adult?

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

The House Project

We went up there last night, to see how the project was progressing. It was hot and muggy in Boise--but quite pleasant at the property, perhaps 75 degrees, and the wind was blowing.

The culvert (the little pipe that lets water pass under our driveway at the edge of our property) is in:

It was actually dusk when we arrived, so I brightened up some of these pictures to make them more enjoyable. The excavations seem to be complete, with sticks in the ground. That house up the hill, next to the airstrip is actually huge. It is what I would have built if I were as rich as most people I used to work with. (Sniff, sniff, try not to sound too envious.) Apparently the forms will be put in place by the concrete guys:

This is looking south, towards the neighbor's house we want to hide by moving that mountain of dirt on the right into a berm:

There are some big basalt boulders left. This was about 18 inches or more across. I didn't try picking it up:

The next picture may still be loading, if you have a slow connection. I didn't want to shrink this image down, because it came out rather well, of the Moon rising over Bogus Basin ski resort. This was shot with an HP Photosmart 812--a completely inadequate camera for this sort of thing, but you can still make out some detail:

Looking north down the Payette River, into Horseshoe Bend. This is the view from the master bedroom, the family room, the kitchen, and probably the observatory for Big Bertha:

Another shot of the Moon, a little later:

Some of our neighbors don't seem to believe in leash law. (Yes, those are horses.)

The appraisal came in--$282,000. This is a bit lower than I expected (although about $20,000 more than we will spend on land, improvements, and house), partly because two nearby houses were sold at foreclosure--and one of them, as far as I was concerned, should probably have been bulldozed, and a new house built. This is enough that I won't have to come up with any money out of pocket to keep it at an 80% LTV (Loan to Value) to avoid paying Private Mortgage Insurance. The low appraisal may actually be an advantage, if Boise County uses the same comparables to figure the taxes.

We need to go out and sign some paperwork for the power line easement for Idaho Power tomorrow--and because the mortgage company isn't quite done with their paperwork, we need to write a $2398 check to get Idaho Power to schedule a date to drop the 12.5 kV line into the power trench, and plant the transformer next to the house. I expect that this is the only check that I will be writing throughout this entire process. (This is also about $1500 less than the initial estimates, so I am reasonably happy.)
"U.S. Radicals"

Here's an important news story, and one that contains some important and disturbing information--but look at the way in which AFP wire service has used derogatory and I would even say misleading language:
US radicals blow their tops over volcano movie as Darwinism debate rages

Pressure from ultraconservative religious groups has prompted some theaters equipped with the high quality panoramic IMAX screens to cancel showings of several movies which refer to Charles Darwin's theory of evolution.

Some politically powerful religious groups dismiss the theory, despite its widespread acceptance throughout the rest of the world.
"Radicals"? "Ultraconservative"? My experience is that Creationists are generally not really any more conservative (in a political sense) than the rest of the population. In any case, these terms are quite derogatory.

Even worse, the actual content of the news story doesn't fit this lead:
Since the beginning of this year, numerous movie theaters in highly religious states in the US south have refused to show documentary films like "Cosmic Voyage," "Volcanos of the Deep Sea" and "Galapagos" named after the islands Darwin used to showcase his theory.

The films crimes? Mentioning the idea that the Universe is the product of a "Big Bang" explosion or that the origin of life is in the oceans.

"Volcanos of the Deep Sea" has prompted some radical religious conservatives to blow their own tops.


Earlier this year, the Museum of Science and History of Fort Worth, Texas, refused to show the volcano film after a screening for a test audience.

"At the time, we had better choices that scored better in our screening tests," said Margaret Ritsch, the museum's Director of Public Affairs.

She admitted, however, that some people had made comments about the theory of evolution.
Maybe there are "ultraconservative" organizations behind this, but the news story doesn't report that. It suggests that the Museum of Science and History responded to test audience dislike--some of which included Creationist criticism.
Blocking scientific movies from IMAX theaters is only one part of the creationists' agenda; they also promote their own films that document their theory of a cosmos-crafting higher intelligence.

"The Privileged Planet: The Search for Purpose in the Universe," is one such film, based on work by University of Iowa astronomy professor Guillermo Gonzalez.

Stirring outrage from the scientific community, the Museum of Natural History at Washington's world-famed Smithsonian Institution agreed to show the movie.
Ah, so evolutionists are upset that their point of view is not being shown in some IMAX theaters (and I agree that this is wrong), but they are upset that an opposing point of view is being shown at the Museum of Natural History.

One of the signs that you don't really believe that your position is strong enough to win the debate is that you don't want the other side's position given an equal opportunity. I would love for all sides (atheistic evolutionists; theistic evolutionists; Young Earthers; Old Earther Creationists; Intelligent Design advocates) to participate. I don't expect that a fair and open debate is going to win many people to the Young Earth position. I think that the Intelligent Design advocates will persuade many people to avoid getting too arrogantly certain about atheistic evolution. Above all, all sides need to recognize the importance of remaining open to careful examination of their assumptions, and the value of serious and intelligent criticism.
Interesting Last Names

There are last names that are amusing, when you look at the person's occupation: Cardinal Sin of the Philipines. There is a Doctor Docter (a physician) here in Boise, and the superintendent of public schools in Los Angeles was also named Doctor; because he had an Ed.D., he was addressed as Dr. Doctor.

There are names that make you wonder if someone's parents were having just a little too much fun. A friend reports that when he first moved to San Francisco, there was a Dr. Victor Frankenstein in the phone book. (No word on what his specialty was.)

There are names that just make us laugh, because they sound funny--and we wonder, would a certain fellow have risen to chancellor of Germany if his father had kept his birth name of Schickelgruber? Somehow, "Heil Schickelgruber" makes me want to laugh.

There are names that just make you scratch your head, and ask, "How in the heck did one of your ancestors get that name?" For example, Priscilla Feral is "President, Friends of Animals." If you don't see the humor: "feral" refers to domesticated animals that have returned to the wild.

Yesterday, as I wandering the halls at my employer, I saw a nameplate that indicated this guy's last name was "Human." Whoa! How did that happen? It sounds like the name that you might get if you lived on a planet where the distribution of sentient beings was like the saloon scene in the first Star Wars movie.

UPDATE: A reader shared the following:
When I first found out about zabasearch, I started typing names in. My personal favorite result:

There was an "Elvis Presley" listed as living at the corporate headquarters of Genentech here in the bay area. (maybe a clone?)

On a more disturbing note, there was an "Adolpho Hitler" somewhere in Maine; his birthday was listed as 1912. I figure it's either a white supremacist that changed his name at some point, or a very stubborn man. (Could be a fake name for getting 12 records for a penny from BMI, I suppose; one never knows where the data comes from.)
UPDATE 2: Another reader reports:
Lakewood NJ Police dept has (or had, its been 8 years) a Sgt. Justice on the force. The big question then was if he were promoted to Capt, would he get a cape too.
UPDATE 3: Everyone has an example of this! Another reader:
The last time that I saw Sarah Dockter, she was talking about working on her Ph.D., but the one that takes the cake in my book was a grad student at MIT who was also a teaching assistant there in the 1980s. His name was "Simian Grader." Oh, old pal Jennifer Hoff married her
long-time pal Michael Beatin. The wedding nuptial in the Los Altos Town Crier read "Beatin-Hoff." I just found it, and now it has a comma.
Say the two names quickly, and go like on the H.

Monday, June 20, 2005

August Sky & Telescope New Products Showcase

I understood that they were going to be including the products that I sell in that, and Saturday, I received an email from a reader asking for ordering instructions. This must be one of the first readers to receive his copy, so I can only hope that this is the beginning of an avalanche of inquiries that will keep me busy filling orders.

UPDATE: And an order on Monday, also.
House Building Project

Part of why our builder is willing to do this house for us on a cost plus basis (his cost plus 10% profit, which comes to about $79 per square foot) is that we are doing a lot of the legwork in selecting fixtures, cabinets, etc. Today we spent at Franklin Building Supply, picking out kitchen and bathroom cabinets, windows, interior and exterior doors.

Previously we picked lighting fixtures, switches (including motion detector wall switches) at Grover's and flooring at a floor coverings place whose name I have forgotten.

What is very interesting is how rapidly you can spend a lot of money to get very little advantage. The tile that my wife picked out? The retail price is $0.99 per square foot (I think our builder pays about 30% less). I can't say that the $5.99 per square foot tile was dramatically better looking, nor did it feel dramatically more durable.

We considered wood interior doors today--but when Rhonda found out that wood doors were in the $275-$550 range, while painted doors were about $70--she immediately decided that they didn't look that good. There are eight interior doors in the house--figure going to wood would add about $2400 to the cost. In addition, once you have wood doors, you want the moldings around them to be wood--and that adds up quickly as well.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

The House Project

Okay, these drawings aren't quite up to date--there are some steps to be changed to ramps, a few more windows to add, the master bathroom wall has to move a foot or two to put in dual sinks--but we are getting there. (Also, for those who have dark plans for me--this doesn't show the boobytraps, trapdoors, the dungeon, or the minefield.)

Here's the floor plan.

Bere's the exteriors.

Here's one view of the four foot trench so that Idaho Power can run conduit from the pole to the transformer.

Here you can see the excavation to put the footings in place.

My wife looking with distress at the amount of (temporary) devastation done to the wildflowers by all the digging.

Another view across the digging where the forms will go for the foundation.

More of the power trench.

Wild flowers on and near our property. We'll have names for them soon, and I'll update these pictures when we do.

Oh yeah, the Equinox we bought to get back and forth in winter.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Big Bertha Needs A Better Atmosphere

I spent a bit of time with it last night, and this evening. (For once, we have clear skies.) I still think that the mirror is less than perfect (even with the turned-down edge masked off), but I think the limiting factor is now atmospheric turbulence more than anything else. I say that because for very brief periods of time, I can see a lot of detail in Jupiter's cloud bands at 222x.

Even at 400x on the Moon, the image is adequately sharp. (Not crisp like my 5" refractor or my 8" reflector, but not bad.) At least some of the problem is atmospheric turbulence, although if I go up to 500x, the Moon gets fuzzy in a repeatable way that suggests the problem is the mirror, not the atmosphere.

An interesting aspect of the problems with Jupiter above 222x is that Jupiter is a relatively low contrast target compared to the Moon, and Jupiter's bright features are so bright that they tend to wash out the darker cloud bands. I tried using a Moon filter (which takes away 87% of the light), and that seems to help. Various color filters seem to help--it might be worth finding 50% and 30% neutral filters, and see if the trick here to turn down the brightness.

One way of reducing brightness is more magnification (it spreads the available light out over a larger area), but then the intrinsic limitations of the mirror and atmospheric start to overwhelm whatever gain I get from reducing area brightness.

I need to do the following tasks:

1. Get Big Bertha to a low turbulence sky (where my new house is going).

2. Find a couple of neutral eyepiece filters less drastic than the Moon filter.

3. Accept the fact that because of the Dobsonian mount, I wouldn't be using above 400x on this beast very often, anyway.

4. Do a side-by-side test of Big Bertha and my 8" f/7 reflector. Optical theory says that a 17.5" reflector should show more than twice the detail at 200x of an 8" reflector, assuming that the two optical systems are of comparable quality. (Resolution is directly related to diameter of the primary.) My own impression is that this is the case--that Big Bertha is showing me more detail. But I do need to do a side-by-side to make sure of this.
House Project: Ramps, Not Steps

I just finished talking to my builder. He says that using ramps instead of steps at the entrances isn't any real difference in cost--so I think we are going to do that. We aren't building the house with the goal of wheelchair accessible, but we are trying to minimize the costs if a subsequent buyer needs that, as well as making it easier to roll furniture in and out on refrigerator dollies.

My builder tells me that as wheelchairs have become more streamlined, there is less and less work required to make a home wheelchair accessible. If we do the ramps for the front door, and the sliding glass doors off the master bedroom and the family room, that's the biggest chunk of the expense.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Humor From 1837

It has been a common practice for some decades for people in the process of legal separation to put, "Not responsible for any debts but my own" ads in local newspapers. I don't know what the exact legal power of these ads are, but here's an amusing variant from the nineteenth century. From the May 12, 1837 North Alabamian, p. 1:
Honest Caution.--The following advertisement appeared in a Savannah Journal:

All persons are not only warned, but absolutely forbid, to give me credit on any pretence whatsoever; as from this day forward I shall not pay any debts contracted by myself--so help me God. JOHN HEWIT.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Water Delivery Calculations

A few days back I asked for suggestions on how to calculate water delivery based on pipe size and elevation. A lot of people sent suggestions, some more precisely suited to my needs than others. gave a very detailed answer, here. I have confidence that even with five feet of elevation, and a two inch water line, my 1400 gallon water tank will give me enough gallons per minute to keep the pressurization tank filled.

I ran up to the property today at lunch, to see if progress is continuing. They have excavated the back a bit more, because we needed it to get the foundation in.

Here's the cistern, which arrived just as I was leaving.

It was lighter than it looked--three of us managed to slide it off the trailer without any great effort--and yet seemed very durable.

Here's the view from my back yard.

Thursday, June 9, 2005

Big Bertha, Turned Edge, Maternal Duck

The skies finally cleared long enough to do some testing of Big Bertha with a black ring about 1.5" diameter, to test whether the problem is a turned edge to the primary mirror.

This indeed appears to be part of the problem. The "two focal lengths" problem seems to be mostly gone, and the image is crisp at a higher power than it was before. The star test diffraction rings are a lot more even than they were before, and the very bright outer ring typical of a turned edge is gone.

Still, the image of Jupiter wasn't particularly crisp at 156x, and contrast was lousy. Perhaps viewing conditions weren't so good. I am at least pretty sure that the major problem is not the size of the secondary mirror. When I put an off-axis aperture mask on the telescope, it doesn't make any appreciable improvement--unlike the situation before I put the black ring on the primary mirror.

I will make a little more of an effort when I have a clear and stable night, and no need to go to bed for work the next morning--and I don't have to deal with a territorial, maternal duck. (The duck has decided to lay eggs under the tarp that covers up the scope. I haven't figured out how to explain to her that these eggs are never going to hatch, and since I move them to the trash every evening, she gets rather upset with me.) If this doesn't clean the image up, the next step is to send it off for interferometry testing, and perhaps refiguring.

Still, it does an adequate job at low power. The Ring Nebula (M57) is pretty cool at 156x (since it is intrinsically a fuzzy object anyway), and even at 221x, it still is pretty decent. I suspect that if I can get this under a dark sky, it will do a nice job on the Whirlpool Galaxy (M51), and Andromeda (M31).

Oh well, it only cost me $625. If I have to put another $500 into refiguring the mirror, it will still be a bargain.

Wednesday, June 8, 2005

House Project: Emergency Water Pressure

I think instead of relying on the ability to get gravity-fed water pressure from the cistern, it makes more sense to have the power panel include a plug for running an emergency generator. The scenarios that concern me about loss of electricity are:

1. Forest fire somewhere takes out power lines. This might be a couple of days without power.

2. Severe winter storm takes down a power line. This might be a few hours.

Having an emergency generator lets us flip the switch to disconnect from the grid, turn on the generator, and have enough power to run lights, well pump, and pressurization tank. The builder has built a house before that used a propane-fired generator as backup power to the solar cells and batteries, so he has done this before.

Tuesday, June 7, 2005

Water Pressure Physics Problem--And Lessons Learned On The House Project

It turns out that the cost of the 290 foot well came to about $9200--$19 per foot to drill, and then $11 a foot for steel casing in the first 127 feet (to prevent wall collapse into the well) and then perforated pipe for the rest of the length, so that all water coming out of this 163 foot layer of sandstone ends up in the well.

Now comes the next set of learning experiences. What my builder calls the "Dinosaur" method is to put a pressurization tank in the garage. (I think he enjoys working with me because I keep looking for a cheaper, more elegant, or simpler way to do things--and I think he hopes to pour some of this learning into future houses.) The water coming from the well pump fills this tank, and then shuts down until there is more demand for water. Pressurization tanks require electricity, and usually store about 120 gallons--although only 30 gallons are available on immediate demand. (I'm not clear on exactly why this is.)

There are many types of well pumps, but deep submersibles are what we need in this application. The hot new fad is variable speed well pumps, and Grundfos, a German company, apparently makes the Mercedes of variable speed well pumps (with a Mercedes price tag--$1900). The traditional well pump is constant speed, and for our needs, under $500.

So why would you want a variable speed pump? Every time you fill the pressurization tank, it turns off the pump. When the pressurization tank needs more water, it turns the pump back on again. Apparently, turning on a pump is the greatest strain; the more times a day that a pump gets turned on, the more quickly it will wear out.

A variable speed well pump adjusts its speed for demand, so it is often turning at very low speed, pumping a very small amount of water; as demand increases, speed increases as well, and it pumps more water. With the traditional model--a small pressurization tank--this may be the difference between turning on the pump 20 times a day, and turning it on once or twice a day. I would also expect that at low speeds the variable speed pump draws less power than at high speeds.

Anyway, one of my goals for this property was to have a large water storage tank. The original hope was to have it high enough up the hill to skip the pressurization tank, as well as to keep a water supply adequate for fire suppression in the event we lost electric power.

It turns out that every 2.31 feet of elevation gives you one PSI water pressure. Alas, the top of the hill is only about 35 feet above the house floor level, so this wouldn't be enough pressure.

Instead of pumping water from the well to a pressurization tank--and having to confront the variable speed versus constant speed well pump choice--we may just pump it to an 800 gallon water tank, a few feet up the hill. This gives us our fire suppression water supply. It also means that even without electricity, water will still flow (and apparently, through the pressurization tank). It won't fill the toilets very fast at 5 PSI, but you can at least flush, take a bath, wash dishes by hand in the sink, hose down the house and surrounding property in the event of a forest fire, and have drinking water.

Best of all, the primary reason for a variable speed well pump goes away. We have the constant speed well pump stop when the 800 gallon water tank is full; we have it turn on when the tank is down to 600 gallons. The five gallon per minute pump runs for 40 minutes to fill the tank, and then shuts off. Since a typical house consumes 300 gallons per day, this means the pump cycles about 1.5 times a day--a bit more in summer, and a bit less in winter. We may change the settings to keep the water tank at 700 gallons in summer, and perhaps less in winter, when fire hazard isn't such an issue.

With a little care, it is cheaper to have an 800 gallon water tank than to spend the extra $1500 for a variable speed well pump.

There is one annoying plumbing problem that we still need to solve. How many gallons a minute will a 1.25" water pipe move with a particular pressure at the input? The concern here is that the water tank needs to refill the pressurization tank--and hopefully, refill it fast enough that even if two people are taking showers, and the dishwasher is running, that we won't run out of water in the pressurization tank in less than 15 minutes.

I've searched around the web for a formula--because it seems like it ought to be simple--but all the pages that I have read either give formulas based on water velocity, or assert that the problem can't be simplified this much.

So, if you know how to calculate from an input PSI, and a pipe diameter, how gallons per minute will be transported, please let me know immediately. This may determine how high up the hill we have to put the water tank.

UPDATE: I seem to have found the solution--or rather, a friend of mine with a Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering pointed me to this page. It would appear that if I have the units right, that five feet of water drop through a 1.25" pipe will flow about 42 gallons per minute--more than enough to keep the pressurization tank happy.

The formal term for a government approved water tank is a "cistern." The 500 gallon cistern is $591; the 1400 gallon cistern is $1036. This is a no-brainer--we'll spend the extra $400+ and have enough water capacity to solve any fire problem, take us through many days of interrupted electricity, and enough water that if Rhonda decides she wants the fountain in the middle of the circular driveway, we'll have the water to do it.

Saturday, June 4, 2005

Big Bertha

Okay, I pulled Big Bertha out this evening. The Foucault testing has not gone well, so I decided to try some star testing.

It would appear that the problem is a turned edge--meaning that the outer edge of the mirror is a bit flatter than it should be. This would explain why the image is less sharp than it should be, and the problem becomes more severe as the magnification goes up. It would also explain why stopping the mirror down seems to improve the image quality.

Finally, an interesting point: if I remove the aperture mask, the focal point changes slightly. This is not surprising; the turned edge has a very slightly longer focal length than it should, and trying to get a crisp focus on the entire image is going to be difficult--and it will be a slightly longer focal length than the stopped down mirror.

I guess the next step is to put a mask on the mirror face itself, and see how much of the edge needs to be masked. If this seems to help substantially, it may be worthwhile spending some money getting the mirror tested and refigured.

The good news, however, is that at low magnification, it works well. One of the few planetary nebulae that I can consistently find, even under light polluted skies, is M57, the Ring Nebula. It sits between the two stars at the south end of the constellation Lyra.

With my 8" reflector, M57 is visible, but faint. At 57x, it is bright but small. At 114x, it is larger, but hard to see, because the faint image is now spread over four times the area.

With Big Bertha, I am gathering more than four times the light--and at 78x, it is bright and not particular small. At 111x, it is pretty big, and still quite bright. Very nice.

Friday, June 3, 2005

The House Project

The Well

When last I blogged about the house project, the well driller had hit water at 127 feet. It turned out that his initial estimate of five gallons per minute was a little optimistic, so he kept drilling to try and get a better flow rate. At 290 feet, he was still only getting ten gallons a minute. (I'm not sure that the last ninety feet really got us enough of a gain to justify the extra $1700.)

Anyway, we have a well, and ten gallons a minute is 600 gallons per hour--this should be more than enough. The next step is to get a pump installed, and to solve the water tank/pressurization tank question.

You see, a house needs about forty to fifty PSI water pressure to work correctly. Normally, a house with a well solves this problem with a pressurization tank, which holds tens of gallons to as much as 125 gallons. I had hoped to use a large (1000 gallons) water storage tank to accomplish the same ends, because every 2.3 feet of elevation gives you one PSI. Unfortunately, from the house to the top of my property only turned out to be about 37 feet, so the water storage tank wouldn't be enough to provide enough pressure.

It would still be nice to have all that water available in the event that a brush fire came through and we lost electric power, so we are looking into having both a pressurization tank and a large water storage tank as well. We might not go quite as high up the hill for the storage tank, but even being able to run low pressure water down the hillside and across the roof would be comforting if there was a brush fire in the area.

The Foundation

My wife and I met with the contractor yesterday to put stakes in the ground at the corners of the house, so that he can get started with pouring foundations. First, however, he has decided that we need another ten feet excavated into the mountain so that he doesn't have to dig a lot deeper into the ground for the foundation.

Colors, Fixtures, Floor Covering

I can see why building a house often causes divorce! We have been spending time picking out flooring, lighting fixtures, and discussing color schemes. Fortunately, my wife and I do not have strongly differing tastes in this area (and where we do, I don't care enough to argue with her about it).