Saturday, January 18, 2020


This will be my ninth year as a judge at the Austin Energy Regional Science Festival. I found this film shelved in the non-fiction videos at my neighborhood branch public library. It was a lot of fun to watch. However, any adventure story will draw criticism from those who truly live the facts. So, too, does the broad treatment of this 90-minute documentary fail to reveal important details. That all being as it may, National Geographic delivered a good overview of the kids, their parents, and teachers. Although generalizations must fail in the face of individual histories, the film does show how necessary factual truths about the sociology of science play out.

First of all, the kids are individuals with their own motivations. Deeper still, curiosity is a primary. Some people have more of it than others. That motivation is a door which opens from the inside. As Howard Roark told Peter Keating in Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead, in order to get things done for other people, you have to love the doing. Whether your goal is to mitigate the Zika virus or to build a flying wing—or to ship office supplies—the process itself must echo who you are on your own terms. 

Kashfia Rahman found no visibility in her school. They had three gyms and a weight room and football team with a 0-9 record. Still, it was the coach who helped her when no other teacher would. That is all the more disturbing because she had taken 2nd place at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair the year before. I sympathized and empathized. Austin, Texas, has a major university with Nobel laureates on the faculty, but they are hung like trophy heads in a man cave because this is a town with no science museum. 

2018 South by Southwest Film Festival Award
2018 Portland International Film Award
40th News and Documentary Emmy Award
Available from National Geographic here
Moreover, two years in a row, it was an honor and a privilege for me to identify and promote an entrant in Behavioral and Social Science who had to turn to the University for help with statistics because none of her math or science teachers would make time for her. Through UT, she found graduate students who were interested in her work and who tutored her in mathematics. 

I have seen that played out often. Talented students from rural schools do good work, but are not up to fifth place standards because they had no support at school or at home. No one would or could help them with the fit and finish and polish that let a good idea shine. 

That subplot does play out in this documentary. All of the ISEF participantss were driven by their own internal engines of creation. And I see that in every entrant here at the Austin Energy Regional Science Festival. But Jericho High School had nine exhibits at ISEF because they had one teacher, Dr. Serena McCalla, dedicated to science research. On the other hand, Robbie Barrat did not place at ISEF—though he achieved much just in qualifying—and he did not get accepted to any of the colleges he applied to. His high school math teacher was less concerned with his interest in number theory than in the fact that he was not doing his homework. However, Robbie was hired by a Silicon Valley firm specifically because of his ISEF presentation on number theory.

That is another story line that was missing. Here at the Austin Energy Regional Science Festival, we have many special awards. Given out by the military, the Society of Women Engineers, and others, they are independent of the official rules and standards. 

The documentary said nothing about the process of judging. The assumption that qualified working scientists objectively rate each competitor based on their presentation of their work is wrong on three premises. 

First, the kids do not know in advance what category will give them the best visibility for an award. Sciences overlap: biology with chemistry, chemistry with physics, physics with engineering. Where do you place a project in environmental engineering that centers on an optically-based automatic data device invented by the student? You do not know what kinds of “scientists” or “engineers” will see your work. 

On that score, the kids are pushing the limits of what we know. A working scientist or engineer knows their own field, but cannot know all of the event horizons that grab the interests of thousands of young geniuses. And they are geniuses, mostly because they are young. We know that about science and how it is practiced.

Second, judging is subjective. We follow a rubric. It is not all just willy-nilly touchy-feely, but the rubric is only a guide. Winners stand out. It is obvious by inspection. You know a good, solid experiment and presentation, and you know an exceptional one. That judgement does come from work experience, especially in STEM where everyone is smart, but some few are just a little smarter, work a little harder, worry a problem a little deeper. 

The arithmetic of judging winnows the best of the best into a winner-take-all competition. In a crowded field, a project will be narrowly surpassed by others just as good and maybe no better. Placed in a different category, someone who does not make fifth place might easily make third, second, or even first. Moreover, judging is subjective because it is a social event. I have lost a lot of arguments about the facts of behavioral science to people with better social presence. Places are awarded to exhibits that have strong advocates.

Third, the documentary gave the false impression that the canned speech is a key to success. We do not stand and listen to a child recite a memorized sound bite. As soon as the sing-song starts, we cut them off with a question. We receive their abstracts in advance. They set up their boards the night before and once they leave the hall, we walk the floor and spend long minutes with each exhibit. We read their field notes and their binders. We read their boards. We run our own database searches and do our own thinking and reflecting. And we talk it all out among ourselves and find consensus. But it starts with shutting the child up and asking them questions to see what they really know based on what they did.

The only study guide based on this film that I found online (from the Chicago International Film Festival here) seemed to me to have been written by someone who was trying hard to make science and science fairs interesting, rather than by someone who actually finds them rewarding. 
Among the very many resources online is this: “How to Answer the 5 Most Common Questions from a Science Fair Judge” (from Scientific American guest blogs). 


Saturday, January 11, 2020

The Madame Curie Complex

I relied on this book for facts about the women computers at the Harvard Observatory in the late 19thto mid-20th centuries. (The article was for the Sidereal Times newsletter of the Austin Astronomical Society here see p. 6-7. ) Despite the helpful inventories of names and thumbnail biographies about women in astronomy at Harvard and physics at Los Alamos, this book is largely what the author denies that it is: a victimology. And it is true that women have been victims of discrimination. Who has not? 

Not one of the professors who gave me the A grades that resulted in my summa cum laude baccalaureate would write a letter of recommendation for me for graduate school. They did not like my political views. As it was, I slipped in by taking a blended 500/400 class which put me in the graduate school while I was a senior. So, my MA in social science and BS in criminology are from the same alma mater, Eastern Michigan University.

The Madame Curie Complex:
The Hidden History of Women in Science
Feminist Press, 2001.
Des Jardins opens the book by telling of her failure to overcome math anxiety, even though she had been an arithmetic prodigy as a child. She opted out of calculus class in high school and never even considered majoring in biology in college, despite having an obvious passion for science. I understand. I should not have taken calculus and physics, but I did, for C+ grades in high school. In college, I failed Calculus I. I just took it over for a C+. Then, I earned an A in a short course in computer programming for calculus. I took freshman physics three times (at three different schools) until I got an A in it. I liked physics. It was just hard to do. So, I have no sympathy for Julie Des Jardins. I do respect her reporting—most of it.

Des Jardins never identifies the Madame Curie Complex. She does write around it. From that, her definition of the problem is that women are at once required to approach science as men would – cold, dispassionate, detached, working long hours—and yet are forced to accept their cultural roles as wives and mothers, keeping the home running for her husband and their children.  Moreover, women are expected to be passive in social settings, allowing administrators and peers and sometimes subordinates to exploit them. I would never argue against so obvious  a truth. 

I would put it in context. In Nelly Hanna's biography of Isma'il Abu Taqiyya, Making Big Money in 1600 (American University of Cairo Press, 1998) she tells of a Bosnian slave woman, living in Cairo, who sued in court three men who attempted to cut her out of a deal she brokered for her master. Hanna points out that no noble woman in London or Paris of 1600 could be a plaintiff in a court of law. It is not that women today would be better off under Islamic law. The salient fact is that by 1800, in the wake of the Enlightenment, the status of women in the industrialized nations was changing. In fact, everyone’s status was changing. Capitalism brought equality of opportunity.

She cites the opinions of Kant, Rousseau, Newton, Descartes, and Locke who claimed that women naturally lack the rational disinterest required of science. On the other hand, Herbert Spencer argued otherwise. But Spencer is disliked by academics. Some sociologists cite his later opinions after his intellectual prime, but they do so just to underscore the inherent injustice of capitalism. 
"... transgess the domestic sphere..."

The book is spiced throughout with the buzzwords of postmodernism. Des Jardins apparently failed to see the humor. Even as I agree the problems cited by Thomas Kuhn’s history of science, I would never “transgress the boundaries” of anything, nor give voice to nuance; and I would not privilege [as a verb] a sociological space. Calling the book a hidden history is another postmodernist strategy. Hidden by whom? Hidden from whom? And how was it so easy to uncover? Of necessity, the book is about some women in some science occupations. Des Jardin chose her narratives.

"... transgress the bounderies of female behavior..."
Des Jardins contrasts the stories of women torn between the male roles of physical science (often as underpaid helpers) and their social roles as wives and mothers with the narratives of Jane Goodall, Biruté Galdikas, and Diane Fossey who left traditional family and home life far behind to take on grueling, debilitating, dangerous work in isolation. Moreover, the “Trimates” owed their opportunities to Richard Leakey, a man who loved women. Perhaps he loved them in the collective abstract. He seemed to have loved several of them in the particular concrete. In any case, Leakey receives praise here pointedly not granted to Edward Pickering of the Harvard Observatory. Beginning in 1879, Pickering created jobs for women, some of whom published in peer reviewed journals. 

Explaining the works of the “Trimates” Des Jardin readily accepts the innocence of the apes. She does not identify the fact that they can be duplicitous. Deception may be an inborn strategy. Certainly, some apes give evidence of purposeful misdirection. Des Jardin does not follow that path. 

Des Jardin never states her premise. She never says clearly what she thinks the ideal social situation would be. Des Jardin apparently believes that a woman should not have children. Or if she does, someone else should raise them. She also seems to believe that if a woman chooses to raise her own children, she should be employed for wages and be promoted in salary whether or not she actually shows up in the laboratory or office. 

Des Jardin also does not identify what female traits she considers genetic, cultural, or chosen. Throughout, she calls women's work intuitive and collaborative. Echoing Evelyn Keller's biography of Barbara McClintock, women have a “feeling for the organism” even if the organism is a stellar nebula or an atomic nucleus. For her, it is unfair that women are forced to practice science in a dispassionate, objective, and, she insists, therefore manly mode. 

Des Jardin makes much of McClintock's seeming sexlessness. The same lack of physicality hallmarked Sir Isaac Newton, of course, but also other men. (See The Man Who Loved Only Numbers reviewed here.) Maybe she did not know about those men, or maybe she did not care, or maybe (I believe) those data contradicted her theory.

She does praise Richard Leakey for taking over household duties so that his wife could write and publish. I agree that marriage is the kind of relationship where 50-50 is the failure mode because both partners need to give 100%. I never expected either wife (serially, not in parallel; please) to be the downstairs staff. Through the ‘eighties and into the ‘nineties, I was Mr. Mom. “He washes dishes. He washes clothes. He’s so ambitious, he even sews. But no regrets, folks. That’s what he gets, folks, for making whoopee.”  That song was written in 1928. The times they were a-changin’ …

I heard Isaac Asimov speak at MIT on my spring break from the College of Charleston, March 21, 1968, on “The Coming Disappearance of Women.” He said that he could have called it “The Coming Disappearance of Men” but likely no one would have been interested enough to show up. When he called the typewriter a great liberator, he was  booed. The women who were displeased did not want to be kept down as secretaries. And he agreed. But he pointed out that office work requires few muscles and a lot of brains. Women would seem to have an advantage.

Des Jardin does not appreciate the fact that while the women of the Harvard Observatory worked in their offices and sometimes from their own homes, the men were on frozen mountaintops. Someone had to take those astronomical photographs. Men are just natural born hearty and hale hunters. Send them. No one then cared about the inequality of sex roles when the men’s nuts were freezing. Today, of course, arctic gear comes in all shapes and sizes. So, everyone gets to go. 


Monday, January 6, 2020

Amateur Astronomy for Pay

Technically, of course, if you are getting paid, then you are not an amateur. At least, that is how the International Olympic Committee used to view the matter, certainly when they took away Jim Thorpe’s medals because he played minor league baseball while in college—though baseball was not an Olympic sport until 1992. Here, the assumption is that you have some other employment or are retired, and for you, astronomy is a pastime. How can you get paid for it?

One of the active members of our local club is a very accomplished photographer. He displays at periodic arts and crafts shows. Astronomical photographs seem to be easy retail sales. The trick is in the printing and mounting and you can find advice online about on that. Tourist-oriented shops or book retailers in your area could be outlets, also. However, most of them will want your work on consignment and typically you take the loss if the item is damaged, or stolen. 

Moon of Jupiter casts its shadow on the planet.
Rob prints his processed images on metal.
I own two.
I know Ron from our local astronomy club.
My wife knows him from a local software club.
Still, because astronomical photographs are compelling, this could be a market for someone who enjoys marketing. Selling online with your own website and through other big outlet sites is always an option. It still requires payment services, packing, and shipping, and customer service and all that.

Astronomers rely on two broad families of software: planetarium and image processing. In the first category, several commercial products such as Starry Night are well known and compete against free software such as Stellarium and Celestia. But with software, creators are passionate about their better idea. Image processing software includes AstroPix and StarTools among others. Again, for those who love to code, the fact that others already have done it is no barrier. (See the earlier post, Ruby Methods the Ruby Way, here.)
Free Astronomy Planetarium Software
Matthew McCool  Southern Polytechnic 
SU E-mail: 
posted at the University of Texas Astronomy here:
You can write for publication. The channels are narrow and shallow. In the USA we have two paying magazine, Astronomy and Sky & Telescope. Both are mostly written by their own fulltime staffs. They do accept submissions, subject to a lot of restrictions. Both magazines tell authors to query first. For Astronomy, I found the Guidelines by putting Guidelines in the Search box. (I could not find it as a tab, menu item or link off the homepage.) 

They say (in part): “Most of the articles used in the magazine are commissioned by our editors. Occasionally, we do publish unsolicited material. To query us on an article idea, send a letter or an outline that describes the piece. If you have not been published in Astronomy, please send writing samples along with your letter. All submissions must include a typed, double-spaced printout. These materials will not be returned to you. You will receive a written response indicating whether or not your article has been accepted for publication.”

Sky & Telescope is more user-friendly. The guidelines for contributors is a labeled link at the bottom of the home page. Sky & Tel says (in part): “About half the material in each monthly issue of Sky & Telescope is written by our editors and regular contributors. The rest is authored by science journalists, research astronomers, historians, and accomplished amateur astronomers from all nations and diverse cultures. Many authors write for us again and again, but we're always looking for new writers eager to share their enthusiasm, talent, and expertise with our readers.”

(Just to note: I have not submitted any queries to either magazine. I am not far enough along in my knowledge base. I have been granted literary awards by the American Numismatic Association, but in those cases, I report on the works of others, not original discoveries. So, that would be my intentions here as well.) 
Cary Jacobs (Kent, UK) acrylic on canvas
advertised on The Sky Searchers dot com
under Vendors
If you like buying and selling, astronomy is a hobby that depends on expensive equipment. I will caution that buying and selling is an activity in its own right. In the five years from 1977 to 1982, computer retailers learned that a successful track record in refrigerator sales is a better predictor of success than knowledge of computers. If you do not enjoy trading, knowledge of astronomy will not provide the skills. Those skills can be learned, but it is learning by trial and error which can be expensive.

Just a side note:  Shipping can be expensive as well. A friend from my local club assured me that his telescope is portable because it weighs only 50 lbs. When I wanted to borrow a scope from the club, the equipment chair cautioned me that the optical assembly alone weighs about 60 lbs. That is something of an upper limit for a hobby scope, but a factor to consider. Eyepieces, lenses, mirrors, finders, filters, and such are much smaller and easier to take to FedEx, UPS, or the USPS.  

Lecturing for pay is possible. Our local astronomy club does get requests from hotels, resorts, and similar venues to provide guest lecturers for special events. They offer (modest) honoraria that cover time and expenses. 

You could always do your own advertising and market your own presentation services. However, as with sales, if you do not already enjoy public speaking, knowledge of astronomy will not carry you through. It is learnable. Toastmasters International is a popular engagement for those who want to learn public speaking. I will say that my wife tried it when her information systems employer wanted her to make videos. Instead, she took 18 weeks of improv training at a local theater. She got over the fear of presentation but does not volunteer for it. I do. 


Sunday, January 5, 2020

Astrophotography and Me

It is not easy. I spent three hours over three nights trying to figure it out. The theory is clear and I have the equipment. What I lack is The Knack: I do not enjoy fussing with the fine details of sensitive equipment. On the other hand, not only do I change the sparkplugs, I made an induction coil for a magneto when I dropped the original into the suspension frame somewhere, which is another clue. I found it a couple of years later, when replacing the water pump, which took two tries over two days. Astrophotography does not go that well for me.

Entry-level and beginner telescopes often come with cellphone mounts. Everyone has cellphones. They take pictures that would have astounded professional astronomers of 100 years ago. That is also true of our telescopes. Transported by time machine to 1920, a ten-inch dobsonian “light bucket” costing a week’s wages today would have been the envy of professionals back then. The two telescopes that I own would be called “hobby killers” by advanced amateurs. But it is a poor workman who blames his tools. 

For my birthday, I asked for a NexYZ 3-axis cellphone mount. It is the top of the line. The simple mounts retail for $9.95 and up. This was $59.95. It is a nice little gizmo. My cellphone is an iPhone 5, admittedly a bit old and underpowered. It is not very smart. I could download an app for it to enable or enhance astrophotography, but I am not trusting about apps on my phone. My telescope is a 70 mm National Geographic refractor. 

The first night, back in early December, I went to a nearby field and sighted on Jupiter and Saturn. Seeing them through the telescope, I could not get them in the camera. I eventually tried a street lamp as a target but the camera kept insisting on showing a large white circle. That was the first hour.

With the Moon at first quarter on the 2nd I went out to try again. While the sun was still up, I took everything into the backyard and made sure of my  equipment and set-up. I clamped the NexYZ and cellphone to the 32 mm eyepiece, and inside I sighted across the kitchen to a living room lamp. Then I went outside. I got the Moon. But not in focus. I did find the “iris” control for my phone and brushed the little sun icon down and down. 
03 January 2020 about 1900 hours
iPhone 5 and National Geography 70 mm
with 32 mm eyepiece
The third night went better and I found out what the three colored circles are for. Of the eight snapshots two were usable. Last night, I went out again and got one more out of six. However, the moon filter did not help and I still had to close the “iris” all the way. I also failed to get the Barlow lens to work for the camera. (It works fine for me.)

04 January 2020 about 1900 hours
iPhone 5 and National Geography 70 mm
with 32 mm eyepiece and Moon filter
All of the work was done with the 32mm eyepiece. I already know that the 20mm correcting ocular does not sit well in the eyepiece tube of this telescope. It is fine in my larger 5¼ inch (130 mm) Celestron reflector. Even though I planned to, I did not try the 17mm lens. I had enough.

I enjoy viewing the night sky. I like even better knowing what I am looking at. So, for me, reading astronomy provides the background for understanding what I see. I am happy that other people take nice pictures.

That said, I am not sure that I am happy with all of their manipulated images using Photoshop, PixInsight, and other software. I had a graduate class in geographic information systems. Using ERDAS, ArcGIS, and other software, information can be delivered via false color images, for example to show temperatures recorded by sensors. I am not sure that this is what hobbyists seek. At best, they manipulate electronic records to recreate what the eye provides naturally. At worst, they are destroying the actual record and delivering doctored data. 
ArcGIS image from GEOG 579 laboratory class
 Eastern Michigan University Winter 2010.

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

“Star Trek: Discovery” and the Conflict of Values

Star Trek: Discovery is an adventure story about conflicts of values. The characters act purposefully and in accordance with their values to achieve their goals. Following the theory of aesthetics proposed by Ayn Rand, I found that the storyline of the first year of this television series maintained an integrated plot, a well-defined theme, and a substantiated plot-theme. 

Rand defined plot as “a purposeful progression of logically connected events leading to the resolution of a climax.” (The Romantic Manifesto, Signet edition, page 47). The plot of Star Trek: Discovery is the story of a war of attrition between the Klingon Empire and the United Federation of Planets. 

Rand defined a theme as “the summation of a novel’s abstract meaning.” For Rand, the theme of Atlas Shrugged was “the role of the mind in man’s existence.” She identified the theme of Les Miseables as the injustice of society toward its lower classes. The theme of Gone with the Wind was the impact of the Civil War on Southern society. (Page 46). I found the theme of Star Trek: Discovery to be the role of values in choosing our actions. In that, I also found the series to be strongly and consistently within the Romantic tradition defined by Ayn Rand.

Adm. Katrina Cornwell takes the Captain's chair.
(I always find ambiguous command to be problematic.)
The concept of a plot-theme is unusual (if not unique to Rand). In The Romantic Manifesto, she wrote: “It is the first step in the translation of an abstract theme into a story without which the plot would be impossible. A “plot-theme” is the central conflict or “situation” of a story—a conflict in terms of action, corresponding to the theme and complex enough to create a purposeful progression of events. The theme of a novel is the core of its abstract meaning—the plot-theme is the core of its events. … The theme of Gone with the Wind is: “The impact of the Civil War on Southern society.” The plot-theme is: “The romantic conflict of a woman who loves a man representing the old order and is loved by another man, representing the new.” (page 51-52). 

I identify the plot-theme of ST:Discovery to be the experiential path of a woman who must identify the nature and extent of her own values.

Rand defines Romanticism as “a category of art based on the premise that man possesses the faculty of volition.” (“What is Romanticism?” pages 64-87) Bootleg Romanticism is popular fiction that implicitly accepts that premise, rather than explicitly. She put the early James Bond novels in that genre. She was also a fan of Star Trek: Original Series; and Gene Roddenberry was an admirer of her works. 
Emperor Philippa Augustus Georgio confronts Vulcan ambassador Sarek.
She is about to don the persona of her alter ego
the late Captain Philippa Georgio.
Cdr. Burnham and Adm. Cornwell watch.
It is important to understand the distinction between Rand’s own works and those she enjoyed. Her novels dramatized political conflicts. Others in that vein that she recommended to her admirers included the works of Allen Drury, such as Advice and Consent. Rand insisted that art is an end in itself. It exists to provide personal enjoyment. (page 14). So, whatever the conflicts of values acted out by the characters, we do not judge the value of the work itself by the specific political statements of the actors. Rand was a great fan of Victor Hugo. She wrote an Introduction to a Bantam Books edition of Ninety-three in 1962. The conflict of values and the integration of plot and theme center on the French Revolution.  However, Rand insists:

“The fact is that Ninety-three is not a novel about the French Revolution. To a Romanticist, the background is a background, not a theme. His vision is always focused on man –on the fundamentals of man’s nature, on those problems and those aspects of character which apply to any age and any country. The theme of Ninety-three—which is played in brilliantly unexpected variations in all the key incidents of the story, and which is the motive power of all the characters and events, integrating them into an inevitable progression toward a magnificent climax---is: man’s loyalty to values.” (p. 121)

I point out that in other writing, Ayn Rand was clear in her condemnation of the Southern culture of agrarianism in general and its basis on slavery in particular. But that had nothing to do with the artistic merits of Gone with the Wind. Similarly, Rand’s admiration for Crime and Punishment was not an endorsement of the police of imperial Russia. Today, many who claim to be admirers of Rand’s fiction confuse aesthetics with politics and economics. It can be interesting to discuss the extent to which science fiction writers who claim special imagination fail to envision any utopia more innovative than open-handed socialism. On that basis, the Star Trek franchise has been criticized by libertarians  But such complaints are wholly outside the realm of aesthetics. 

Star Trek: Discovery delivers a complex drama in which the values of the characters define the set and setting of conflict. Moreover, the integration of plot and theme provide a grand stage on which to see the consequences of values in the choices of action. 

In previous instantiations of Star Trek, the Klingons are just warriors. They have the pride of the honor and action evidenced by our own police and military in The Guardian Ethos, but their ideologies, such as they may be, are never clearly defined. Here they are. T’Kuvma’s opening speech is complete, succinct, and unequivocal. Moreover, that ideological framework is quickly betrayed and abandoned as a new leader arises. That results in internecine warfare at the expense of the Federation which finds itself fighting 24 separate wars, and is soon on the verge of annihilation. Peace is established (at once ironically and yet integrally) when that ideology is re-ignited by a true follower of T’Kuvma. 
In the mirror universe's agonizer booth, to be tortured to death,
Cpt. Gabriel Lorca has this planned carefully.
Cinema writing for the big screen and television has replaced the novel. TV writing today is much evolved over the work of Ayn Rand’s day. Unlike ST:OS and like most modern dramatic series Discovery follows a “story arc” a uniting narrative of action that plays out over many episodes. Here, that arc is the duplicity of Captain Gabriel Lorca. As the end approaches, we must condemn him. We can see even his best actions in a new (and worse) light. But his competence as a leader is never in question. Aligned to his values, his actions are purposeful, consistent, and thoughtful. We just reject his values. But he has them. And he knows what they are.

It is our viewpoint character, Commander Michael Burnham, who must confront hers. She is never without values. She is passionately committed to them and firm in her perception of them. The voyage of discovery she makes—hence, Star Trek: Discovery—is learning to understand the full range, depth, and meaning of those values. 

We are no longer on the eve of battle.
Even so, I come to ask myself the same question that young soldier asked the general all those years ago: "How do I defeat fear?" The general's answer: the only way to defeat fear is to tell it, “No.”
No. We will not take shortcuts on the path to righteousness.
No. We will not break the rules that protect us from our basest instincts.
No. We will not allow desperation to destroy moral authority.
I am guilty of all these things.
Some say that in life, there are no second chances. Experience tells me that this is true. But we can only look forward. We have to be torchbearers, casting the light so we may see our path to lasting peace. We will continue exploring, discovering new worlds, new civilizations.
Yes. That is the United Federation of Planets.
Cmdr. Michael Burnham's values are internally conflicted
because they derive both from her (adopted) Vulcan heritage
and her (achieved) Starfleet rank.
Does the show have flaws? Of course it does. I suggest that anyone who can do better should write their own novels and produce their own cinemas to demonstrate how it should be done (in their opinion). It is easy to criticize. Myself, with my limited training and experience in security and the military, I would never send the captain into hand-to-hand combat on an enemy vessel, no matter how convenient that is for Star Trek. But I did not write it. I write other stuff.


Saturday, December 28, 2019

Astrophotography: What He Meant by What He Said

Having retired from the Texas State Guard and leaving numismatics to take second place, I have been giving more attention to astronomy. I participate in The Sky Searchers discussion forum for amateur astronomy. The moderators launched this after their first site, The International Astronomy Forum, was overwhelmed by malicious software seeking user information (“malware bots”). After a few posts in the original forum five years ago, I left it and only returned to the new forum in November. 

One aspect of a hobby is that the learning is often informal. Even though astronomy is taught in college, how it is practiced by those who earn their living in other areas brings a lot of jargon. Numismatics is like that, also. I just earned my 25-year pin from the ANA, but also just figured out that on discussion boards, LCS stands for “local coin store.” 

Earlier this week, on the Sky Searchers, I read a post that sent me on a five-hour homework assignment  It started here:
Contact: jmt92130
Soul Nebula - bicolor with RGB Stars
Post  by jmt92130 » Sun Dec 22, 2019 6:43 pm

Thumbnail image
Image title: IC 1848 / Sh2-199 in Cassiopeia
Link to Image:

Here is a bicolor narrow band image of the [sic] The "Soul Nebula" (IC 1848, Sh2-199). The full IC 1848 (cluster plus nebulosity) seems to be a widely studied star forming region - the Simbad database turns up many young stellar objects and candidate YSO's. There are three Collinder clusters, several LBNs, and several Sharpless objects in this image field. 

The narrow band integrated images (Ha and OIII) were converted to starless and combined with pixel-math. Stars were processed with RGB data and later combined with the narrow band result using pixel math. 

Image and details are accessed from the link below. The annotated image can be linked from the main image page but I have also provided a link below for convenience. The full size image (2.4 arcsec/pix) can be accessed from the image webpage links

Decryption by Michael E. Marotta
The SkySearchers username mikemarotta
(jmt92130’s original comments are in Helvetica. Explanations are in Georgia. Citations follow quotations.)

Jmt92130 wrote: The Soul Nebula

The Heart and Soul nebulae are seen in this infrared mosaic from NASA's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer, or WISE. The image covers an area of the sky over ten times as wide as the full moon and eight times as high (5.5 x 3.9 degrees) in the constellation Cassiopeia.
Located about 6,000 light-years from Earth, the Heart and Soul nebulae form a vast star-forming complex that makes up part of the Perseus spiral arm of our Milky Way galaxy. The nebula to the right is the Heart, designated IC 1805 and named after its resemblance to a human heart. To the left is the Soul nebula, also known as the Embryo nebula, IC 1848 or W5. The Perseus arm lies further from the center of the Milky Way than the arm that contains our sun. The Heart and Soul nebulae stretch out nearly 580 light-years across, covering a small portion of the diameter of the Milky Way, which is roughly 100,000 light-years across. 
The two nebulae are both massive star-making factories, marked by giant bubbles that were blown into surrounding dust by radiation and winds from the stars. WISE's infrared vision allows it to see into the cooler and dustier crevices of clouds like these, where gas and dust are just beginning to collect into new stars. These stars are less than a few million of years old -- youngsters in comparison to stars like the sun, which is nearly 5 billion years old.
Also visible near the bottom of this image are two galaxies, Maffei 1 and Maffei 2. Both galaxies contain billions of stars and, at about 10 million light-years away, are well outside our Milky Way yet relatively close compared to most galaxies. Maffei 1 is the bluish elliptical object and Maffei 2 is the spiral galaxy.
All four infrared detectors aboard WISE were used to make this image. Color is representational: blue and cyan represent infrared light at wavelengths of 3.4 and 4.6 microns, which is dominated by light from stars. Green and red represent light at 12 and 22 microns, which is mostly light from warm dust.

Westerhout 5 (Sharpless 2-199, LBN 667, Soul Nebula) is an emission nebula located in Cassiopeia. Several small open clusters are embedded in the nebula: CR 34, 632, and 634[citation needed] (in the head) and IC 1848 (in the body).  --

jmt92130 wrote: (IC 1848, Sh2-199).
IC — Index Catalogue
IC I — Index Catalogue I
IC II — Index Catalogue II
The first major update to the NGC is the Index Catalogue of Nebulae and Clusters of Stars (abbreviated as IC), published in two parts by Dreyer in 1895 (IC I,[5] containing 1,520 objects) and 1908 (IC II,[6] containing 3,866 objects). It serves as a supplement to the NGC, and contains an additional 5,386 objects, collectively known as the IC objects. It summarizes the discoveries of galaxies, clusters and nebulae between 1888 and 1907, most of them made possible by photography. A list of corrections to the IC was published in 1912.[7]

(My turn to apologize: I already knew that NGC is the New General Catalog, a 19th century compilation of sky objects.). 

The Sharpless catalog is a list of 313 H II regions (emission nebulae) intended to be comprehensive north of declination −27°. (It does include some nebulae south of that declination as well.) The first edition was published in 1953 with 142 objects (Sh1), and the second and final version was published by US astronomer Stewart Sharpless in 1959 with 312 objects. Sharpless also includes some planetary nebulae and supernova remnants, in addition to H II regions.[1]

jmt92130 wrote: Simbad database

The SIMBAD astronomical database provides basic data, cross-identifications, bibliography and measurements for astronomical objects outside the solar system.
SIMBAD can be queried by object name, coordinates and various criteria. Lists of objects and scripts can be submitted.
Links to some other on-line services are also provided.

Simbad contains on 2019.12.28
10,905,523      objects
35,587,649      identifiers
365,712           bibliographic references
20,522,365      citations of objects in papers

If the Simbad database was helpful for your research work,
the following acknowledgment would be appreciated:
This research has made use of the SIMBAD database,
operated at CDS, Strasbourg, France 
2000,A&AS,143,9 , "The SIMBAD astronomical database", Wenger et al.

jmt92130 wrote: Collinder clusters

In astronomy, the Collinder catalog is a catalog of 471 open clusters by Swedish astronomer Per Collinder. It was published in 1931 as an appendix to Collinder's paper On structural properties of open galactic clusters and their spatial distribution.[1] Catalog objects are denoted by Collinder, e.g. "Collinder 399". Dated prefixes include as Col + catalog number, or Cr + catalog number, e.g. "Cr 399".[2]

The Collinder catalog was published originally in the Annals of the Observatory of Lund.

Jmt92130 wrote: several LBNs,
Lynds' Catalogue of Bright Nebulae is an astronomical catalogue of bright nebulae.

Objects listed in the catalogue are numbered with the prefix LBN (not to be confused with LDN, or Lynds' Catalogue of Dark Nebulae), though, many entries also have other designations, for example, LBN 974, the Orion Nebula is also known as M42 and NGC 1976.

It was originally compiled in the 1960s by Beverly Lynds.[1] Objects in the catalogue include (among other things) the coordinates of nebulae, brightness from 1-6 (with 1 being the brightness), colour and size and cross-references to other astronomical catalogues if listed elsewhere.[2]

The Lynds' Catalog of Bright Nebulae lists the coordinates of the center of the cloud, the dimensions of the nebulae as measured on the photograph on which it appeared at its brightest, the area of nebulosity in square degrees, color as compared between the blue and red Palomar plates, a brightness index on a scale from 1 to 6, an identification number that indicates the complexity of the nebulosity, and a cross reference to NGC (Cat. <VII.1>), Index Catalogue (IC), Sharpless (1959) Catalogue of HII Regions (Cat. <VII/20>), Cederblad (1956) Catalogue of Diffuse Galactic Nebulae, and Dorschner and Gurtler (1963).
jmt92130 wrote: Sharpless objects
See above Sharpless Catalog.

jmt92130 wrote: The narrow band integrated images (Ha and OIII)

[MEM -- O III is an astronomical term for what chemists and others call O++ doubly ionized oxygen. (It was originally thought to be evidence of a new element, dubbed “nebulium.”)]

Viewed in a narrow slice of the spectrum centered in the ruby-red H-alpha line, the Sun throbs with activity.
H-alpha filters work by rejecting all but the narrow sliver of H-alpha light.
H-alpha (Hα) is a specific deep-red visible spectral line in the Balmer series with a wavelength of 656.28 nm in air; it occurs when a hydrogen electron falls from its third to second lowest energy level. H-alpha light is the brightest hydrogen line in the visible spectral range. It is important to astronomers as it is emitted by many emission nebulae and can be used to observe features in the Sun's atmosphere, including solar prominences and the chromosphere.

jmt92130 wrote: pixel-math. 
PixInsight's PixelMath performs a series of pixel-level arithmetic and logical operations between images.

Pleiades Astrophoto is a software development company based in Spain, Europe. We work to provide cutting edge image processing and analysis tools for a broad range of technical imaging applications. We design and implement novel paradigms and innovative methodologies.
PixInsight is our main development project.

jmt92130 wrote: … bicolor… 
Modified Bicolor Technique for combining Ha and OIII images
All Images and Content  Copyright Steve Cannistra unless otherwise noted.
Brief overview:  Ha is used for the R channel, and OIII is used for the B channel.  The synthetic green channel is created by multiplying the OIII layer with the Ha layer.  Construction of the color composite is done using the layer method in Photoshop CS and should be followed exactly as described for best results.

jmt92130 wrote: RGB data 
[MEM - Red-Green-Blue Image processing in both astrophotography and Earth-based geographic information systems (GIS) rely on a well-developed theory and technology based in the physiology of sight and the physics of light. (I completed my MA in social science with two graduate classes in geographic information systems, then worked the following summer as a contractor, writing laboratory learning instructions.) Another system common in our office printers is CMYK: Cyan Magenta Yellow Black. Recall that the primary (“rainbow”) colors are Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, and Violet. The primary pigments (paints, crayons) are red, yellow, and blue. Pigments reflect one color and absorb all others. We get green pigment by mixing yellow and blue. In color processing from light in RGB, yellow comes from mixing 100% Red with 100% Green.]

jmt92130 wrote: Image and details are accessed from the link below. 
Following that link led to this summary:
Scope: FSQ-106N at f/5, Location: DAA Observatory, Shelter Valley, CA, 31 July and 7 August 2019,  Camera: Atik 383L (Astronomik Gen 2  Ha OIII LRGB Filters)
Exposure: 12 x 8 min  (1x1 bin)  UV/IR block Lum filter, 24 x 10 min (1x1 bin) Ha filter, 18 x 10 min (2x2 bin) OIII  filter, 8 x 4 min (2x2 bin) each RGB filters.

Processing: Data Collection -  Sequence Generator Pro (as FITs).  Subframe calibration and registration - PixInsight. Subframe integration (Median combine -  Winsorized Sigma Clipping) - PixInsight.  Non-linear stretching, normalization and gradient removal - PixInsight.  Generation of starless nebulosity images - starnet++.  Starless color mapping and LRGB stars color mapping - PixInsight. Stars and Starless combine - PixInsight. Final finishing  - Photoshop.  RGB calibration - eXcalibrator. Annotation - PixInsight, Aladin (Simbad and NED), and PhotoShop. This image is a modified HOO narrow band mapping with RGB stars.  Images processed at 3354 x 2529 resolution. Final Image size is approximately  3000x2250.

jmt92130 wrote:  Scope: FSQ-106N at f/5, 
Takahashi FSQ-106EDX4 f/5 Petzval Refracting OTA Telescope

88mm medium format sized image circle
ED Glass Elements
178mm of back focus 
4-Inch heavy duty focuser with anti-torquing draw tube
Airline Portable smaller than 17-inches with dew shield retracted
Multiple focal reducer options available that can make the scope as fast as f/3
Tele-extender available that makes the focal length 850mm

jmt92130 wrote: Location: DAA Observatory, Shelter Valley, CA,
(Desert Astronomy Association - DAA)
Desert Astronomy Association Observatory Campus
March 1, 2019      
DAA is a small association of astronomers who have established an astronomy campus in the East San Diego County high desert area. DAA location is in a small privately held community property in the middle of the Anza Borrego Desert State Park. The park is the largest in California at 585,930 acres and listed in the top ten state parks in the United States ( The skies are reasonably dark (Bortle 3) at the DAA location. A Dark Sky community (Borrego Springs, Bortle 4) is located about 15 miles away and is also surrounded by the state park.

jmt92130 wrote: Camera: Atik 383L (Astronomik Gen 2… 
The Atik 383L + features the Kodak KAF-8300 CCD with a huge number of good-sized pixels. This sensor has redefined mid-range astro-imaging, making multi-megapixel cooled cameras much more accessible. Atik prides itself on providing cameras offering the very highest deep sky imaging quality at a reasonable cost.

CCD is a charge-coupled device, a semi-conductor chip. 

jmt92130 wrote: LRGB Filters
Luminance, Red, Green and Blue filters.
[MEM - Luminance filters just block all white light unselectively. The common “moon filter” is an example of that. We use them on our telescopes to reduce the brightness of a full moon.] 

jmt92130 wrote:  Winsorized Sigma Clipping
Winsorizing or winsorization is the transformation of statistics by limiting extreme values in the statistical data to reduce the effect of possibly spurious outliers. It is named after the engineer-turned-biostatistician Charles P. Winsor (1895–1951). The effect is the same as clipping in signal processing.

Suppose you have a set of data. Compute its median m and its standard deviation sigma. Keep only the data that falls in the range (m-a*sigma,m+a*sigma) for some value of a, and discard everything else. This is one iteration of sigma clipping. Continue to iterate a predetermined number of times, and/or stop when the relative reduction in the value of sigma is small.

Sigma clipping is geared toward removing outliers, to allow for a more robust (i.e. resistant to outliers) estimation of, say, the mean of the distribution. So it's applicable to data where you expect to find outliers.

jmt92130 wrote:  non-linear stretching, normalization and gradient removal

Non linear stretching is the work horse for producing "pretty pictures" with astrophotography.  This process completely destroys the data for any scientific use and is frowned upon by some purists.  However, this is the only way to simultaneously show the faint and bright detail. Here's how to do it.

[MEM - Normalization and gradient removal are manipulations that take out extreme data, such as objects that are much brighter than others nearby.] 

jmt92130 wrote: HOO narrow band

HOO is really H-sub infinity.
H∞ techniques have the advantage over classical control techniques in that they are readily applicable to problems involving multivariate systems with cross-coupling between channels; disadvantages of H∞ techniques include the level of mathematical understanding needed to apply them successfully and the need for a reasonably good model of the system to be controlled. --