Saturday, March 31, 2007

Divorce Rates

I've long been under the impression, from watching the disasters going on around me, that a lot of divorces are driven, at their core, by economic pressures. The divorces that I have seen have often been of the following model:

1. Mom and Dad both work full-time.

2. Mom and Dad both come up exhausted.

3. Dad comes home, puts up his feet; Mom starts work on "the second shift": laundry, cleaning, dinner, helping kids with homework.

4. At the end of an exhausting day, Dad still wants a romantic interlude; Mom is too tired. Even in homes where Dad is doing his share of the responsibilities under #3, men and women are somewhat different. Men are usually not too tired for a romp between the sheets; women often are.

5. Eventually, the result of #4 is that, under the best of conditions, Dad meets some gal at work who isn't too tired, or Mom meets some guy who is willing to listen to her complaints about her life--at least long enough for the romp between the sheets that Dad isn't getting.

Eventually, the marriage breaks up.

I was reading a paper that my wife was grading that made the rather interesting claim that there's no correlation between divorce and income levels. This was rather startling to me--and apparently not true. I found quite a number of papers, from quite a range of years, that show that the lower your income level, the more likely that you are to get divorced:
Characterizing the situation as one of “not as much marriage” among disadvantaged people misses an important distinction. Tying the knot does not seem to be an issue: rather, the problem appears to be maintaining the union thereafter. Statistics from the 1995 National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG), as reported by Bramlett and Mosher (2002), demonstrate this distinction for a variety of individual and community-level indicators of disadvantage.

Through their early 30s, economically disadvantaged adults actually are more likely to marry than advantaged adults. The proportions ever married by age are shown in Exhibit 1 by education (top panel) and neighborhood income level (bottom panel). Fractions ever married are much higher among women with no more than a high school degree in the young adult years, but begin to narrow by age 30. By age 35, other statistics show that the fractions ever married are virtually the same across education groups (Ellwood and Jencks 2001, Tables A11-13). A similar story appears in comparisons by neighborhood income level (Exhibit 1, bottom panel). Through their 30s, women from the most affluent neighborhoods (e.g., in the upper 25 percent of median family incomes) are less likely than those from less affluent neighborhoods to have married. The differences here are somewhat narrower than for education while women are in their 20s, likely because education provides a direct indication of marriage postponement for the sake of college and career.

Looking at Exhibit 2, we see that at every level of education, blacks are substantially less likely to marry than whites or Hispanics. This finding reinforces the warning that differences across race — ethnicity groups may not be informative about differences based on economic status.

In contrast to getting married, the difficulty of staying married increases substantially with levels of economic disadvantage. The probability of splitting up in each year after first marriage is consistently higher for women with less, than for those with more, education (Exhibit 3, top panel) and for those from less, compared with more, affluent neighborhoods (bottom panel). The effect of neighborhood income level is especially large. For example, the probability of breaking up within 10 years of marriage is nearly twice as high for women from the bottom quarter (44 percent break-up) as for those from the top quarter (23 percent break-up) of neighborhoods ranked by median family income.

This paper
, like many others, shows that no-fault divorce laws increase divorce rates. (This has to be among the major "Duh!" discoveries of all time. That was the reason for no-fault divorce laws--to make it easier to get divorced!) As the abstract explains:
Also, education and income data from the United States Bureau of the Census and religiosity data from the Glenmary Research Center were used to assess the relation of education, median family income, and religiosity to the post-no-fault divorce rate. Results revealed that no-fault divorce law had a significant positive effect on the divorce rate across the 50 states. Of the moderators that we considered, median family income was the only significant predictor of the change in divorce rate; the adjusted post-no-fault divorce rate increased as median family income increased.
Interesting. My guess is that a lot of people who were reasonably comfortable to downright wealthy tolerated a marriage that wasn't completely happy because the alternative was seeing much of the shared wealth end up with the lawyers in a contested divorce. No-fault divorce reduced the financial pain, and thus made it a bit easier for people with money to say, "Okay, I've had enough. I'm outta here!"

This report claims:
The data in Table 1 show virtually no relationship between the number of hours the wife worked outside the home and the reported marital happiness of either the wife or the husband. There is no definitive evidence that the wife's working outside the home does affect marital quality, but these cross-sectional data do not prove that it does not.
I'm not quite sure what this saying. It almost sounds like a double negative to avoid admitting that there is some correlation, but it is a very small one. Perhaps there is some confounding relationship involved; maybe a lot of women who are staying at home to raise children are doing so because they have so little in the way of job skills that it doesn't make sense for them to work outside the home, and because these families have very high divorce rates because of low incomes, it is disguising such a connection.

I wish that I more time to read these studies and consider them in more detail; my wife and I are headed out for our 27th anniversary dinner onboard the Thunder Mountain Line, a train that will serve us dinner while we wind up through the forests north of here.

When In Doubt: Lie!

I've mentioned before fake hate crimes here--cases where someone claimed to have been a victim because their sexual orientation (and much more rarely, because of race) where it turned out that not only was the crime not based on bias--but the only crime was when the "victim" lied to the police about it. Here's another case where it isn't clear who told the lie, but the medical examiner and police concluded that he died of natural causes:
DETROIT (AP) — Police said Wednesday that an elderly gay man whose death became a national focus for gay rights advocates based on reports he had been fatally attacked because of his sexual orientation actually died of natural causes.

"There's no evidence that an assault occurred," police spokesman James Tate said Wednesday.

The death of Andrew Anthos, 72, last month drew wide attention, and was cited on the floor of Congress by Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., as evidence of the need to extend hate crime legislation to gays.

But the Wayne County Medical Examiner's Office concluded that Anthos fell because he had an arthritic neck, and detectives were unable to find witnesses to a beating, police said.

"They determined that he died of natural causes," Tate told The Detroit News.

"So the case will be closed," homicide unit supervisor Lt. Linda Vertin told the Detroit Free Press.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Improving My Focus

I was hunting around looking for some way to improve the focus on my Pentax on Saturn, and I found this method of getting a sharp focus which is fiendishly clever--and I did not know about. You make what is called a Hartman Mask, which contains two holes the same size on opposite sides, and which goes over the front on your telescope. Aim it at a reasonably bright star, and out of focus, you will have two images of the star; in focus, and you have one. I'll make one and report back when next we get clear skies. Right now, we have a wind storm going on that is truly disturbing.
The Ford Pinto Exploding Gas Tank

It is conventional wisdom that the evil management sorts at Ford greedily decided to cheap out on the Ford Pinto's gas tank design because it was cheaper to pay for people killed and horribly burned than it was to make the car a dollar or so more expensive to build. So I was quite surprised to read this law review article by a UCLA law professor that indicates that the Pinto really wasn't particularly dangerous compared to other subcompact cars on the road at the time. Ford's attorneys presented evidence, and apparently the plaintiff's attorneys did not dispute that the Pinto was middle of the pack on this. See p. 1029, where the article shows fatality rates by various car models in deaths per million cars in operation in 1975 and 1976.

Interesting. Thanks to We Should Live for the pointer.
Please Tell Me This Is an ACLU False Front Organization...

The alternative is that there are people still trying to argue that the Bible teaches the Earth is the center of the universe:
What strikes you as being some thoughts that people would have if--in the short space of a few weeks--the universally held conviction that the Earth rotates on an "axis" daily and orbits the sun annually was exposed as an unscientific deception?

Keep in mind that a rotating, orbiting earth is not counted as a mere hypothesis or even a theory anywhere in the world today. Oh no. Rather, this concept is an unquestioned "truth"; an established "fact" in all books and other media everywhere, church media included.

Copernicanism, in short, is a concept that is protected in a bunker under a 50 foot thick ceiling of solid "scientific" concrete. It is meant to be impregnable. It is a concept that has become ensconced in men’s minds as the indestructible cornerstone of enlightened modern man’s knowledge. Virtually all people everywhere have been taught to believe--and do believe--that this concept is based on objective science and dispassionate secular reasoning, now long since freed from religious superstitions based on the Bible.

Indeed, it was this Copernican heliocentricity concept that gradually broke the back of Bible credibility as the source of Absolute Truth in Christendom. Once the Copernican Revolution had conquered the physical sciences of Astronomy and Physics and put down deep roots in Universities and lower schools everywhere, it was only a matter of time until the Biological sciences launched the Darwinian Revolution.

This embrace of Darwinism then quite predictably emboldened increasingly secular-minded mankind to further reject Biblical Absolutism and replace its teachings with yet more new "truths" in areas of learning having to do with economics and government. Thus was unsuccessful and floundering Marxism given new life. Marx openly tried to dedicate his own books to Darwin, exulting: "You have given me the basis for my system". Thus, the "Social Science" disciplines were born and began to make their contributions to the destruction of Bible credibility.
By the way, whoever the dimbulb responsible for this page better learn that Marx's collaborator was Frederick Engels, not "Friedrich Ingles."

Saturday, March 24, 2007

More Astrophotos

The nice thing about seeing these on the blog, is that unlike vacation pictures or baby pictures, you can just skip right over these, and you don't have to say things that you don't mean like, "Oh, how adorable she is," instead of what you are really thinking, "Is this the same species as we are?"

I still need to figure out how to get these a bit sharper. I'm not sure if the problem is that I am not precisely focused, or if the atmosphere is quivering too much.

This was shot at ASA 100, 1/90th second, prime focus:

Click to enlarge

This was shot at ASA 800, 1/15th second, with an 18mm eyepiece:

Click to enlarge

ASA 800, 1/20th second, 18mm eyepiece:

Click to enlarge

ASA 1600, 1/2 second, 9mm eyepiece:

Click to enlarge

ASA 1600, 1/2 second, 18mm eyepiece:

Click to enlarge

At least you can tell it is Saturn!

ASA 1600, 1 second, 7mm eyepiece:

Click to enlarge

This is the longest exposure that I am going to show you, 30 seconds, ASA 1600, prime focus, of the Orion Nebula (M42):

Click to enlarge

As you can see, there is still a little bit of a tracking problem. I have figured out how to make vernier adjustments to the polar alignment without the suffering involved in using the polar alignment scope. (Suffering, because you have to get down on your knees, then scrunch down even more, trying to look up the scope in th polar axis of the mount, towards Polaris.) I just need a bit more patience, and I will be able to share much longer exposures.

Friday, March 23, 2007


One of the astronomy mailing lists pointed me to this funny French insurance commercial. Careful with those big lenses!

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Chisholm v. Georgia (1793)

Professor Randy Barnett has a paper about Chisholm v. Georgia (1793), the Eleventh Amendment, and the definition of "sovereignty" that he is circulating for comments; he blogs about it here.

First, a little background on Chisholm v. Georgia (1793). Chisholm was the executor of an estate of a man who had supplied Georgia with goods during the Revolutionary War--and who had never been paid. Chisholm sued the state of Georgia in federal court for payment. Georgia did not want to pay (I'm not sure why), and denied that the federal courts had any jurisdiction in such a matter. U.S. Attorney-General Randolph argued in Chisholm's behalf.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled otherwise, deciding the case in Chisholm's favor. This being an early decision, much of the form that you may be used to in reading Supreme Court decisions isn't there; it is actually pretty confusing.

There was a pretty dramatic negative reaction in Congress to this. A corrective amendment to the Constitution was passed by 2/3 of both houses of Congress on March 4, 1794 and ratified by 3/4 of the states February 7, 1795--astonishingly quickly, suggesting that it enjoyed very broad support. The text of the Eleventh Amendment:
The Judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by Citizens of another State, or by Citizens or Subjects of any Foreign State.
Barnett's paper makes several points that are quite interesting--and one that just strikes me as wrong. One of Barnett's claims is that Justice Wilson's opinion held that states enjoyed no sovereignty (in the "we're immune from suit unless we give you permission to sue us" sense). This is true; Wilson's argument definitely denies that a state is free to do as it wishes. Randolph, while refusing to deny that states enjoy sovereignty:
I acknowledge, and shall always contend, that the States are sovereignties.
But Randolph also pointed out that they were not completely sovereign under the Constitution, since there were a number of powers that they gave up as a condition of ratifying the Constitution of 1787:
I resort, therefore, to the body of it; which shows that there may be various actions of States which are to be annulled. If, for example, a State shall suspend the priviledge of a writ of habeas corpus, unless when in cases of rebellion or invasion the public safety may require it; should pass a bill of attainder or ex post facto law; should enter into any treaty, alliance, or confederation; should grant letters of marque and reprisal; should coin money; should emit bills of credit; should make any thing but gold and silver coin a tender in payment of debts, should pass a [2 U.S. 419, 422] law impairing the obligation of contracts; should, without the consent of Congress, lay imposts or duties on imports or exports, with certain exceptions; should, without the consent of Congress, lay any duty on tonnage, or keep troops or ships of war in time of peace; these are expressly prohibited by the Constitution; and thus is announced to the world the probability, but certainly the apprehension, that States may injure individuals in their property, their liberty, and their lives; may oppress sister States; and may act in derogation of the general sovereignty.
But a theme that appears in both U.S. Attorney-General Randolph's argument, and Wilson's opinion, emphasizes the injustice of allowing a state to welsh on a contract. Randolph observes:
Are States then to enjoy the high priviledge of acting thus eminently wrong, without controul; or does a remedy exist? The love of morality would lead us to wish that some check should be found; if the evil, which flows from it, be not too great for the good contemplated.
Wilson's decision also points out the importance of contract:
Is there any part of this description, which intimates, in the remotest manner, that a State, any more than the men who compose it, ought not to do justice and fulfil engagements? It will not be pretended that there is. If justice is not done; if engagements are not fulfilled; is it upon general principles of right, less proper, in the case of a great number, than in the case of an individual, to secure, by compulsion, that, which will not be voluntarily performed?
Where Professor Barnett goes off the rails is his assertion that Wilson's argument that:
Let a State be considered as subordinate to the People: But let every thing else be subordinate to the State.
indicates a libertarian understanding of individual rights relative to the state. Wilson's rhetoric emphasizing that states are not sovereign, but to see this as evidence that Justice Wilson and other Framers regarded individual rights as taking precedence over legislative authority in the states is an extraordinary stretch. State government during the early Republic period adopt all sorts of antilibertarian laws. When such laws are overturned, it is not based on this free floating libertarian presumption that Barnett keeps finding where ever he looks, but on specific provisions of either state constitutions, or the federal constitution.

Sunday, March 18, 2007


A reader sent me this. If you have ever spent much time working with tools, you will appreciate the validity of this! Note: the gratuitous remarks about women today may well have been true 20 years ago; today, equality of sexes means that there are plenty of men who use tools in these ways!


DRILL PRESS: A tall upright machine useful for suddenly snatching flat metal bar stock out of your hands so that it smacks you in the chest and flings your beer across the room, splattering it against that freshly-stained heirloom piece you were drying.

WIRE WHEEL: Cleans paint off bolts and then throws them somewhere under the workbench at the speed of light. Also removes fingerprints and hard-earned guitar calluses from fingers in about the time it takes you to say, "Son of aĆ¢?¦.."

ELECTRIC HAND DRILL: Normally used for spinning pop rivets in their holes until you die of old age.

SKIL SAW: A portable cutting tool used to make studs too short.

PLIERS: Used to round off bolt heads. Sometimes used in the creation of blood-blisters. The most often used tool by all women.

BELT SANDER: An electric sanding tool commonly used to convert minor touch-up jobs into major refinishing jobs.

HACKSAW: One of a family of cutting tools built on the Ouija board principle. It transforms human energy into a crooked, unpredictable motion, and the more you attempt to influence its course, the more dismal your future becomes.

VISE-GRIPS: Generally used after pliers to completely round off bolt heads. If nothing else is available, they can also be used to transfer intense welding heat to the palm of your hand.

WELDING GLOVES: Heavy duty leather gloves used to prolong the conduction of intense welding heat to the palm of your hand.

OXYACETYLENE TORCH: Used almost entirely for lighting various flammable objects in your shop on fire. Also handy for igniting the grease inside the wheel hub you want the bearing race out of.

WHITWORTH SOCKETS: Once used for working on older British cars and motorcycles, they are now used mainly for impersonating that 9/16 or 1/2 inch socket you've been searching for the last 45 minutes.

TABLE SAW: A large stationary power tool commonly used to launch wood projectiles for testing wall integrity.

HYDRAULIC FLOOR JACK: Used for lowering an automobile to the ground after you have installed your new brake hose, trapping the jack handle firmly under the bumper.

EIGHT-FOOT LONG YELLOW PINE 2X4: Used for levering an automobile upward off of a trapped hydraulic jack handle.

TWEEZERS: A tool for removing wood splinters and wire wheel wires.

E-Z OUT BOLT AND STUD EXTRACTOR: A tool ten times harder than any known drill bit that snaps neatly off in bolt holes thereby ending any possible future use.

RADIAL ARM SAW: A large stationary power saw primarily used by most shops to scare neophytes into choosing another line of work.

TWO-TON ENGINE HOIST: A tool for testing the maximum tensile strength of everything you forgot to disconnect.

CRAFTSMAN 1/2 x 24-INCH SCREWDRIVER: A very large pry bar that inexplicably has an accurately machined screwdriver tip on the end opposite the handle.


TROUBLE LIGHT: The home mechanic's own tanning booth. Sometimes called a drop light, it is a good source of vitamin D, "the sunshine vitamin," which is not otherwise found under cars at night. Health benefits aside, its main purpose to consume 40-watt light bulbs at about thesame rate that 105mm howitzer shells might be used during, say, the first few hours of the Battle of the Bulge. More often dark than light, its name is somewhat misleading.

PHILLIPS SCREWDRIVER: Normally used to stab the vacuum seals under lids and for opening old-style paper-and-tin oil cans and splashing oil on your shirt; but can also be used, as the name implies, to strip out Phillips screw heads. Women excel at using this tool.

STRAIGHT SCREWDRIVER: A tool for opening paint cans. Sometimes used to convert common slotted screws into non-removable screws.

AIR COMPRESSOR: A machine that takes energy produced in a coal-burning power plant 200 miles away and ransforms it into compressed air that travels by hose to a Chicago Pneumatic impact wrench that grips rusty bolts which were last overtightened 30 years ago by someone at Ford, and instantly rounds off their heads. Also used to quickly snap off lug nuts.

PRY BAR: A tool used to crumple the metal surrounding that clip or bracket you needed to remove in order to replace a 50 cent part.

HOSE CUTTER: A tool used to make hoses too short.

HAMMER: Originally employed as a weapon of war, the hammer nowadays is used as a kind of divining rod to locate the most expensive parts adjacent the object we are trying to hit. Women primarily use it to make gaping holes in walls when hanging pictures.

MECHANIC'S KNIFE: Used to open and slice through the contents of cardboard cartons delivered to your front door; works particularly well on contents such as seats, vinyl records, liquids in plastic bottles, collector magazines, refund checks, and rubber or plastic parts. Especially useful for slicing work clothes, but only while in use.

DAMMIT TOOL: Any handy tool that you grab and throw across the garage while yelling "DAMMIT" at the top of your lungs. It is also, most often, the next tool that you will need.
UPDATE: I always wonder if these clever pieces of writing circulating around the Internet are violating copyright. A reader informs me that "from a piece by Peter Egan, first published in Cycle about 20 years ago. You can get a printed copy in his first compendium, "Side Glances", like I did, for about $20." If Mr. Egan or his copyright holder wants this taken down, I'll do it promptly. Alternatively, they might regard this as a free advertisement for the book!

Another reader has an addition to the list:
4 1/2 inch angle grinder- cauterizes as it maims.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Focus Is Everything

I believe that I have the exposure period figured out for Saturn, and the magnification. I just need to get the focus right. This is cropped, so the image was actually pretty tiny, 1/3 second exposure, ASA 1600:

I think I need to focus on something bright and easy, like the Moon, and then mark that location on the eyepiece tube.

Thursday, March 15, 2007


I am still not quite there, but I'm getting closer. These were prime focus photographs (using the 8" f/7 as the lens, so to speak). As should be obvious from the first photograph, I have not yet mastered getting my mount aimed exactly at true north. I may also have to take these pictures in raw mode so that I can fiddle with the noise settings to get a blacker sky. I've cut down the pictures a bit so that they don't take so long to download--and it is not like they are exactly worth a long download at this point!

This is the Orion Nebula (M42), 40 second exposure, ASA 1600:

Click to enlarge

This is Saturn, a bit overexposed at 4 seconds, ASA 1600--but the result is that while the planet and rings are lost in the glare, you can see several of Saturn's larger satellites:

Click to enlarge

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

More Fun With Wasps

We had two in the master bathroom--so the assumption is that some of them got into the crawlspace above the house, and found an opening into the ductwork. It can't be a large opening, or we would have had more than two.

So we set off two bug bombs in the crawlspace.

No more in the house--but they are beginning to fly around outside. There's no visible nest--so we decide to seal off a couple of holes at the end of the house where the satellite dish cables enter the house.

Yesterday, my wife was out on a bug hunt, spraying them out of the air with an aerosol wasp killer--and she sees a couple of them crawl out of these gaps:

Click to enlarge

It turns out that the siding, presumably for appearance reasons, is scalloped at the top--and where it meets the vertical pieces, there is a triangular gap about .8" high, and .25" at the top end of the triangle.

We have also noticed a number of other gaps around the house where the builder didn't caulk over some sizable openings. Some of the larger ones we have carefully cut trim pieces to cover, and we have caulked the smaller ones. But these gaps in the siding--there's a lot of them.

One possibility is to use 1/4" and 3/16" dowel rods, inserted into the gap, so they aren't visible except by getting parallel to the wall. These will leave so little space that the wasps can't get in or out. I might squirt a small quantity of clear caulk in as well, to make sure that no other bugs can get in or out.
Mountain Blue Bird & Why I Need a Better Long Telephoto Lens

My wife called me to the window yesterday with great excitement; at first she wondered if she was hallucinating because of how blue the birds were that she saw outside. Remember that being from California, any brightly colored bird is either an escaped pet, or works for Disney. But this bird was intensely blue!

Click to enlarge

Now, you are saying, "Why is Clayton's fancy camera taking such a bad picture?" The answer is that I was using an older 85-205mm zoom lens that I had received when I bought my first SLR, a Pentax ME Super, some years ago. It doesn't have autofocus--hence the bird is intensely blue, but not very sharp--and I don't think it is the highest quality glass, because of the chromatic aberration that you can see when you run it up to the highest magnification.

I really need to get a good autofocus lens for the Pentax K10D. There are 18-200mm zooms available, and even 18-300mm. The trade-off, as usual, is price and weight. On the other hand, if you have an 18-300mm zoom, you don't need to carry a bunch of other lens with you, and that's worth quite a bit right there.

Monday, March 12, 2007

How Can You Tell That You Are a Serious Telescope Geek?

When you mark on your calendar that the Travel Channel series Made in America has an episode where they visit the Astro-Physics manufacturing plant in Illinois.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Brass Compression Rings

What, you ask, is a brass compression ring? My first telescope eyepiece focuser was a cheap Edmunds rack-and-pinion unit that was a press fit. To put an eyepiece into the focuser, you pressed it in, and the split in the upper part of the focuser tube spread just enough to hold the eyepiece. This wasn't ideal, because it tended to scratch the eyepiece barrel, and the force required often moved the telescope.

My first focuser upgrade was to a University Optics focuser that used a set screw in the side of the focuser tube to hold the eyepiece. Typically these were a 4-40 set screw that grabbed the side of the eyepiece barrel. They were zero effort to insert and remove (once you loosened the screw), but the set screw approach had two annoying side effects: the set screw, being steel, often scratched the finish of the eyepiece barrel; because the friction holding the eyepiece in place is exerted over a very small contact patch, very, very heavy eyepieces, or camera assemblies, might not be held in as tightly as they should.

And so, a few years ago, I started to see focusers that offered a "brass compression ring" instead. What was it? I thought that you turned something on the outside of the focuser tube, and it squeezed down against the eyepiece barrel. Nope!

Instead, you still have a set screw (or perhaps two of them) on the outside of the focuser tube, but instead of directly squeezing on the eyepiece barrel in just one spot, the set screw (or screws) press down on a piece of brass that sets in a channel inside the focuser tube. The brass started out straight, and was bent to fit into the channel. It is not a complete ring; perhaps it is an 1/8" or 1/4" short of making a complete circle inside the channel.

The brass ring's desire to straighten out again prevents it from easily slipping out of the channel. When you put pressure on the brass ring with a set screw, the set screw presses the brass ring against the eyepiece barrel--and because of the confining channel, the ring is pressing against the eyepiece barrel across a big chunk of the circumference of the eyepiece barrel.

Because the pressure is spread out across perhaps 1/4" by 2" of area, you don't have a single point that cuts through the chrome surface of the eyepiece barrel. Because the total contact area is substantially larger than a single set screw (even though the pressure per square inch is less), a brass compression ring can exert more force to hold an eyepiece in place than a single 4-40 set screw.

Anyway, why am I yammering on about brass compression rings? One of my customers has a very high end Takahashi mount, and he doesn't want the 1/4"-20 bolts that hold the ScopeRoller caster assembly onto the legs to scratch up the surface. My solution? I'm going to bore a channel perhaps 1/8" or 1/4" deep inside of the sleeve that goes over the leg, and put a brass compression ring in that channel. The 1/4"-20 screws will not be directly impinging on the legs. Instead, the brass compression ring (which is softer than steel) will be doing the pressing.

Of course, along with ordering some 3" Delrin stock tomorrow (why aren't these ever a size that I already have around?), I have to go brass hunting.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Clear Skies!

The 8" f/7 reflector is out cooling right now--I'm going to try and take some astrophotographs of the Orion Nebula (M42) in another 20 or 30 minutes.

UPDATE: And by the time the mirror had cooled...the clouds were coming in.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Clear Skies Didn't Last

A bit after sunset, I was able to get Big Bertha collimated and aimed at Saturn--and the new focuser really makes a difference. The fine focus knob let me bring Saturn in to a very sharp focus at 222x. It still isn't quite as sharp as the 5" refractor, because fundamentally, Big Bertha's mirror is only so-so, but still, I could see at least one cloud band on the planet itself. Cassini's Division was only visible at the ansae of the rings, partly because Saturn was still not terribly high in the sky.

Then the clouds came in. Maybe I'll get lucky tonight.

Sunday, March 4, 2007

This Really Is a Revolution

If, in 1977, you had told me that I would someday seriously consider a Cadillac, I would have thought you were nuts. Cadillacs were everything that I found detestable in automobiles: softly sprung behemoths designed to isolate the driver from the outside world, too large and inefficient to justify the reasonably good acceleration (at least, in a straight line) that their engines could offer. They were popular among certain status seeking ethnic groups where I grew up as a way of saying, "Hey! I've made it! I'm rich enough to buy a top of the line car!" Consequently, when I was in high school, Cadillacs were variously called (by others, not by me) a "Jew Canoe" or "Kosher Cruiser" or, with lowered suspension and the stereo turned up too loud, "Pimpmobile."

But General Motors seems to have learned a few lessons over the last few years--and Cadillac is part of the revolution. This review of the 2005 Cadillac STS will shock people that haven't been paying attention:
Cadillac's latest effort, the rear-wheel-drive STS luxury sport sedan, is looking to woo customers away from the Lexus LS 430, Mercedes-Benz E-Class and BMW 5 Series. And it has the hardware to do so. It looks good on paper and, more importantly, it feels good on the road. It's all here, and it's wrapped up in signature styling that unabashedly states, "I'm a Cadillac, and proud of it."

It Can Dance if It Wants to

If you still think a Cadillac handles like an ocean-going vessel, you're living in the past. The 2005 Cadillac STS comes with an independent, sport-tuned suspension with performance shocks and automatic rear leveling.

Our test car had the optional Magnetic Ride (MR) suspension, which is included in the Premium Luxury Group and the Luxury Group option packages, both of which list for over $8,000. It offers two modes, Touring and Performance, and works by automatically changing the damping force by electrically charging particles in the shocks' hydraulic fluid. When charged, the fluid's viscosity increases and firms up the suspension, when discharged the viscosity decreases and softens the ride.

In practice, it's all transparent and it works. Attack your favorite road and MR tightens up the STS' shocks instantly to provide more response.

Initially, we left the STS in the Touring mode, which provides a cushy ride and composed handling. The Cadillac STS dives into the turns with unwavering composure and never felt sprung too softly.

We even tested the STS at the track in this mode, where it posted an impressive 61.5 mph speed through the slalom, falling between an E500 (59.9 mph) and a BMW 530i (63.9 mph).

We assume an STS fitted with the optional Performance Handling package, which is essentially 18-inch wheels and high-performance tires, would handle even better.
Or this Canadian review of the 2006 STS V6:
The most important point of departure in today's STS is its rear-wheel-drive, or all-wheel-drive configuration. Gone is the front-wheel-drive format that led the previous gen STS, and I couldn't be happier. Along with sending power to the "correct wheels," GM engineered a very rigid body structure for the latest STS. When encountering beat-up pavement, the solidity of the car's unibody construction becomes immediately noticeable thanks to the absence of suspension noise, body-flex and cabin shudder. The fully independent arrangement smoothly absorbs bumps and potholes while keeping the vehicle stable and connected to the road. There is no float or excessive rebound to suggest the chassis under foot is anything but sound. The placid, but well-controlled ride of the STS enhances the sense of relaxation that comes with driving a refined luxury car.

That refinement carries over to the sedan's V6 powerplant as well. Now before I go further, let me say that I have never been fond of the V6 engines found beneath most domestic hoods. In my view they seldom match the "silkiness" I so admire in Acura and Audi products among others. But stop the presses; Cadillac has altered my perception of reality. The 3.6-litre (217 cu in), 255-horsepower V6 in the STS stands shoulder to shoulder - or should that read air cleaner to air cleaner - with the best the aforementioned marques have to offer.

The operation of this mill is polished and unobtrusive until the right foot sinks, at which point an exhilarating high-performance growl imparts a sophisticated exhaust note. And there is plenty of punch on-tap to accompany the ear candy, as the engine delivers its maximum torque of 252 pound-feet at 3,200 rpm. En route to its 6,500 rpm redline, the power output remains steady as the 5-speed STS autobox smoothly switches cogs. Should the desire arise, a manual-mode allows greater humanoid input into the shifting process, but lest we forget, this is not the hot V8 edition of Cadillac's midsize 4-door. Nevertheless, a zero to 100 km/h time of only 7.1 seconds is achievable, and that's very commendable for a V6-powered sedan tipping the scales at 1,750 kg (3,857 lbs).
Or this review of the 2006 CTS-V (the more compact sedan):
It seems a particularly wicked act to shoehorn a six-liter Corvette engine into a Cadillac CTS, so where better to put this high roller through its paces than in the original Sin City - Las Vegas.

Over 1,000-or-so miles covered in Caddy's uber-powered CTS-V from our base in LA, I'd wager that about 800 were driven pretty softly on freeways or in traffic, with the rest spent pushing the car to its limits, and indeed the speed limit, on straight, desert roads alongside the 1-15.

And the ease with which the CTS-V negotiated both driving conditions explains why this car beats a significant proportion of the competition in the performance-sedan sector - foot-down, the V can compete with either BMW's M3 or Volvo's S60 R but, in slow-moving traffic, the CTS-V does not struggle like a puppy on a short lead, gasping for space to run. Even in the manual variant which I took out to test through the gears, it proved a pleasure to drive in the slow stuff.


But such is the acceleration on tap - it boasts a massive 400hp at 6500rpm - that hitting the tachometer's red section on any public road proved almost impossible - the CTS-V is just too quick. Outstanding performance figures include sub-five seconds to hit 60mph, a 0-100mph time of 12.8 seconds, and a quarter mile of about 13 seconds, the later two figures according to the Cadillac owners' forum - I didn't, after all, wish to attract the attention of Nevada's highway patrol.

But the V got us to Vegas in a shade under four hours, in a comfortable and luxurious manner that befitted such a prestigious marque. Noticeably, the ride is super firm - in contrast to Caddys of old and as expected in a performance car - but never to the point that the stiffness of the Sigma chassis bit into the driving experience. Also noticeable was its firm sports suspension system, perfected on Germany's Nurburgring racetrack.
Unfortunately, the CTS or CTS-V don't have all wheel drive (yet--but in 2008), so there's no chance of finding a used CTS that could deal with my snow problem. I'm not sure that I would be willing to spend the money for a used STS with AWD.

Unfortunately, the 2007 CTS-V only comes with a six-speed manual transmission--an automatic isn't even available. Hmmm. As much as it would be nice to have the power of the Corvette engine, I'm not sure that I want it that badly.
Winter is Almost Over!

It was in the 40s today, intermittent sunshine (although not clear enough skies to roll out the telescope this evening), and the Corvette could easily get in and out if I needed it to today. I think I can delay action on 4WD/AWD at least until the fall.

I have this fantasy, you see. The fantasy is that Armed America sells 100,000 copies, and instead of buying a slightly used Subaru or Jeep Cherokee as a winter-only car--I buy the new 2008 Cadillac CTS-V AWD as a four season replacement for the Corvette. Rumor is that it will use the 500 hp Z06 Corvette engine, but even if it was the 400 hp engine from the standard Corvette, that would be okay.

Saturday, March 3, 2007

The U.S. Army's Ordnance Museum at Aberdeen Proving Grounds, Maryland

I stopped in there on my way from Philadelphia to Baltimore--and it was well worth the trip. Sorry about the picture quality--I was using the cheap Photosmart E427, and under low light conditions, when you aren't close enough for the flash to fully illuminate the target, the results are something a bit disappointing.

I would have to say that this is the dumbest idea in the history of warfare--the nuclear mortar.

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Here's the explanatory display:

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I just love the warning labels on the warhead:

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Yes, I suppose that you would handle with care!

I think that I have mentioned the Liberator single shot pistol before--one of those ideas that sounds like something out of a gun nut fantasy--drop cheap, single shot pistols over France, and the Resistance will use them to kill a German soldier, take his rifle or submachine gun, and repeat.

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In practice, it didn't work this way. The barrels weren't rifled, so they were very inaccurate, and the French Resistance was courageous--not stupid! It wasn't easy to get close enough to a single German soldier to kill him with one of these, and if there were two German soldiers, shooting the first just got you killed by the second, while you were frantically trying to reload.

Here's the infamously ugly M3 grease gun. These were made by GM's Guide Lamp Division during World War II because they were largely metal stampings--something that Guide Lamp Division knew how to do well.

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It isn't apparent from the picture, but one of the barrels is the curved version, intended for shooting around corners, or from inside tanks without sticking your head up. I didn't realize until I saw this display that it wasn't just the Germans who came up with ideas this strange.

This picture looks like a bunch of older rifles, right?

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Except in person, you can see that these are huge rifles, rather like the Barrett Light .50 of their day.

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A point that doesn't get made enough is that the American System (as it was known in Britain, ironically, since we only improved on the British System) or sometimes the Armory Practice, plays a major part in creating the modern world of inexpensive, high quality mass produced stuff. I was pleased to see the Ordnance Museum display on this point:

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Not quite as silly as the nuclear mortar, is the Atomic Cannon:

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They have an astonishing number of tanks and similar armored vehicles outside in all directions, but it was cold, covered in snow, and in places, slippery with ice, so I didn't walk out there.

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Oh, and here's the big brother to the Atomic Cannon, and it looks the part:

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Friday, March 2, 2007

A Little More About Gore's Purchases of Environmental Indulgences

It turns out that the "carbon credits" that Gore is buying to offset his global warming sins are sold by...Al Gore:
In its original story, The Tennessean newspaper in Nashville reported that Gore buys “carbon offsets” to compensate for his home’s use of energy from carbon-based fuels. What is a “carbon offset,” exactly? Essentially, it’s a payment someone makes to an environmentally friendly entity to compensate for personally using non-green energy.

As Wikipedia explains, a carbon offset “is a service that tries to reduce the net carbon emissions of individuals or organizations indirectly, through proxies who reduce their emissions and/or increase their absorption of greenhouse gases.” Wikipedia goes on to explain that “a wide variety of offset actions are available; tree planting is the most common. Renewable energy and energy conservation offsets are also popular, including emissions trading credits.”

So far, so good. So, where does Gore buy his ‘carbon offsets’? According to The Tennessean newspaper’s report, Gore buys his carbon offsets through Generation Investment Management. a company he co-founded and serves as chairman:

Gore helped found Generation Investment Management, through which he and others pay for offsets. The firm invests the money in solar, wind and other projects that reduce energy consumption around the globe…

As co-founder and chairman of the firm Gore presumably draws an income or will make money as its investments prosper. In other words, he “buys” his “carbon offsets” from himself, through a transaction designed to boost his own investments and return a profit to himself. To be blunt, Gore doesn’t buy “carbon offsets” through Generation Investment Management - he buys stocks.
How interesting--he runs a company that sells carbon credits to other sinners--while telling everyone what sinners they are. And all this time, I just assumed that Gore was peddling his snake oil about what ecosinners we are because he wanted to be President. Maybe he just wants to be rich!

It is as if Pope Leo X, who sold papal indulgences to build St. Peter's in Rome, had been out whoring every night, paid money to the Catholic Church to wipe away his sins--and then took a salary to go out and preach about why all the sinners in Christendom needed to buy papal indulgences. Most people would recognize that there is a conflict of interest going on there.

I think it may have been Peter Benchley who described what happened in a class he took at Harvard as an undergraduate where he was confronted by a final exam question for which he was completely unprepared--about the Cod War. Since he could not remember anything about it, he decided that instead of writing about it from the perspective of the two nations involved, he would write about it from the perspective of the cods. The professor was greatly amused, but gave him an "F" anyway.

Anyway, I must admit to being very impressed with these examples below of students who, when suffering a complete inability to remember how to solve these problems, got "creative":

Now, this one I must have learned how to solve in the permutations and combinations section of first year calculus at USC. To solve it for some fixed value of n is easy (although perhaps tedious for n > 5)--but the general solution I can't remember at all--and this "expansion" of (a + b) to n power is about all I could do off the top of my head now:

This one--well, they did say, "find X" not "find the value of X" didn't they?

I worked somewhere once where this was close to being the right answer:

No explanation required:

If you took calculus, you'll understand the wit of the student's "counterproblem":

In physics, you learn the principles with frictionless surfaces, dimensionless points, and lines that go to infinity. Why not introduce an elephant into the problem?

Clearly, the professor didn't understand the significance of the elephant on the ramp.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

I Can't Claim To Be Surprised

The guy being held on kidnapping and child molestation charges for kidnapping little boys in Missouri now has another set of charges to deal with:
ST. LOUIS (AP) -- A Missouri man accused of kidnapping and molesting two boys was indicted Thursday on federal charges he took pornographic pictures and videos of one of the youngsters. The indictment marked the first federal charges against Michael Devlin, 41, a former pizzeria manager from the St. Louis suburbs.
Devlin is charged with kidnapping and other offenses in the 2002 abduction of Shawn Hornbeck, who is now 15, and the January abduction of 13-year-old Ben Ownby. Both boys were found in Devlin's apartment Jan. 12.

U.S. Attorney Catherine Hanaway said the six-count indictment alleges Devlin photographed and videotaped a minor engaged in sexually explicit acts between 2002 and this year. Two other counts allege he took the minor to Illinois and Arizona with the intent to engage in sexual assault.
I've definitely changed my stance over the years. I used to think that the most effective strategy for dealing with this sort of material was to leave it legal so that sellers couldn't use the Fifth Amendment as a way to refuse answering questions concerning from whom they received it. Prosecution of producers could then be based on the abuse of the children, rather than the production of the trash.

The Internet has changed the situation on this strategy, because it has made it possible for such materials to be produced anywhere and distributed anywhere--and with sufficient anonymity that a distributor could honestly say, "I have no idea." Increasingly, I am comfortable with the idea that making child pornography criminal is a way to tell those who find such materials exciting or interesting that they are sick, and there is no place in our society (except in a prison cell) for people like them. It's a moral statement of repulsion and disgust, and a way to tell such a person, "Back into the closet. We can't make you go away until you actually break the law, but your interests are filth, and we do not want you to ever think of this material as anything else."