Sunday, February 16, 2020

World War II Victory Dinner and Dance

Once again, the Texas Military Forces Museum and the Texas Military Forces Historical Foundation hosted their annual Valentine's Day Sweetheart Dance featuring the Sentimental Journey swing band with their front singers, the Memphis Belles. 

Just about all of the music was from the 1940s:
foxtrot, swing, jitterbug, and jive--and a waltz or two.
Sentimental Journey and Memphis Belles
play the Dorsey brothers, Glenn Miller, Harry James,
and Woody Herman, among others.
"Oh, Johnny" is a standard.

In addition to the photobooth, the dinner features
a silent auction. I won a 50-round blank fire with a
Thompson submachine gun.
Previously on Necessary Facts


Saturday, February 15, 2020

TECHNICAL WRITING: COMPLAINING AND EXPLAINING

“Never complain. Never explain.” is the unofficial motto of the British royal family. It expresses the stiff upper lip attitude which is stereotypical of the people of modern England. I am not sure how much of that we Americans inherited. The continent was settled (invaded) by malcontents who formalized the political structure of their society with a revolution, opening the land to others of their kind. So, we tend to complain a lot and explain even more, whether anyone wants to listen or not. 

Two years ago, my colleague, CJ, posted a comment in response to The Origins of Technical Writing.”  I tend not to reply to comments, but I am working my way through the same sort of resistance on my present assignment.  CJ wrote: 
“I have a somewhat negative view of tech writing because they seem to just restate things verbosely. Sometimes there's a a button labelled Var Osc Mode. I look in the manual, and they've padded it: "The Var Osc Mode control toggles variable oscillator mode. " It's unlikely anyone who understands exactly what that means would not have understood by reading the button.” -- CJ December 18, 2017 at 7:08 AM
First, you never know who will be using your work and reading your explanations. That is why Scientific American follows the same inverted pyramid structure as The New York Times. The “5Ws and an H” provide an easy framework for the opening paragraph. From there, you have to explain from broad, general truths, down to the supportive details. When I write, whether it is about machinery, software, state government agency policies, numismatics, or astronomy, I want the reader to care about the consequences of this new information. 
 Second, you do not know how your invention will be applied, or how the reader intends to adapt the information. One of the consequences of technical progress is that scientific theories, new discoveries, and innovations find novel practices. Time-traveling back to 1920, how would you explain to an astronomer from Harvard that today's markets provide computer controlled telescopes to hobbyists for less than the relative cost of a trip in that time across the Atlantic by ship? The hobbyist astronomer today is not necessarily a computer programmer. 

Similarly, the clever search algorithm committed to Github could be used by a lawyer for a music publisher needing to search for studio performers who are owed royalty payments. The 21st century lawyer may well have learned programming in some earlier education, but without good internal documentation your routines will not become her methods.

Third, you do not know how your reader came to your language. English is the universal second language of Earth. I believe that by the middle of the century, Indian English will surpass the American vernacular in global popularity and therefore, ultimately, in technical writing. In the meantime, my focus is on North American English. I think about my readers who are immigrants from India, China, and Mexico. I write in the language they hear at work, on TV, and on the street. (See, Spoken American Grammar here.) However, my work is always grammatically correct because grammar provides the rules of language; and language determines how we think.

Fourth, you do not know the literacy level of your reader. English pushes the limits of vocabulary at almost one million words, having absorbed mulligatawny, moccasin, mullah, and mutton. I change the engineer’s “utilize” to everyone’s “use.” My worry is for the motivated but underpaid lone operator on a midnight shift. The engineer who knows how the Var Osc Mode functions is home asleep, enjoying the privileges of their false class consciousness as a white collar employee while someone else is on the front line and in the trench with a machine in a variably oscillating failure mode.

The reason that my user manual only defines var osc mode as “variable oscillating mode” and says nothing more is that the engineer does not consider it important enough to make time for me. I try to interview subject matter experts. They claim to be too busy. I recently had one engineer flat out refuse to put in writing what he just told me verbally, expecting me to have instantly memorized the pearls he was tossing. 

Recently, one of our field service engineers used MS Word Track Changes to make extensive notes in the margin. I thought that he could have just as easily put them into the body of the document in the first place. But the formatting failed when I cut-and-pasted them in. The previous engineer who designed the form must have invested many hours in tweaking MS-Word to get this to print out the way he wanted. It does look nice, printed on A4 paper. But it is unsupportable. The overbuilt formatting in the table cells is hard to use, hard to maintain, and hard to change. And in America, we use 8 ½ x 11 paper. That speaks to my role designing forms. 

The other side of that coin comes from the people who never got over the typewriter. They try to line up text using the spaces and tabs. I create a table and then turn the borders invisible. It looks nice; and it is easy to maintain. 

Moreover, our on-site technicians are as likely to use a tablet or a phone, rather than a desktop computer. I have been aware of that since 1990 when I published an article in Credit Union News about new platforms for computing. Hughes Aircraft was experimenting with a 1-inch screen worn on a headband. The little box projected a standard page. It would enable a technician to bring a service manual into a turbine engine without actually dragging a rack of manuals into the engine.

I came to technical writing by way of computer programming. I was on a database project at General Motors; and no one wanted to write the user manual. Having sold two small books and half a dozen magazine articles, I gave it a try. 

I never left programming completely. All computing is programming, even for Facebook. Through the 1980s, I tweaked the codes in WordPerfect and learned to set type with Donald Knuth’s TeX/LaTeX. TeX became SGML, the Standard Generalized Mark-up Language. SGML became HTML; and now we have XML, the eXtensible Markup Language, leading to YAML (yet another…). Most of the computer people I socialize with think that CSS is Cross-site scripting. But in my work, it is Cascading Style Sheets. We do not have them in MS-Word, but the concept is helpful when thinking about documentation across manuals and departments.

I can make MS-Word sit up and bark. And it’s a good thing that I can because the cliché that I hear when I try to explain how many extra hours, days, or months something will take is: “That’s OK. We have a budget for manpower, but we do not have any extra money for software.” 

What really do I get paid for is the Index. Back in 1966, when Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, was released, I understood and appreciated the fact that the Index was written by a philosopher (Allan Gotthelf) following the epistemology of Objectivism. I have three copies of Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology. Over the decades of my productive working life, I have worn them out by reading them and marking them up. 

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Thursday, February 13, 2020

New Plate and Stickers

Having retired from the Texas State Guard, the time came to change the messages on my car.

The State of Texas grants a long list of specialty plates for those who have served. Federal military veterans from all branches can display their highest honors with Bronze Star and Purple Heart among many others. Disabled veterans have their own serial numbers (DV-) as well as the message.

I designed and paid for the central bumper sticker:
ANOTHER DAY IN PARADISE
LIVING THE DREAM
SERVING TEXAS
I had a hundred run off and then distributed some to my buddies in the TXSG, donating the bulk of the inventory to our "Country Store" retail operation run by the T-4 (Logistics) shop.

The Barlett for President sticker came from a West Wing fan site, of course. I wish that I lived in that universe. We were enthralled by the characters who were working the most important jobs of their lives. Even most of the Republicans were admirable.




My goal here is to change the messages periodically. In the waiting file, I have "Who is John Galt" and " I (heart) Capitalism" among others.

The new license plate is a chemical formula for urea. It can be NH2-CO-NH2 or CO(NH2)2 or other representations. In 1828, urea was the first organic compound made in a laboratory entirely from inorganic components. (See Wikipedia here.) Among other achievements, its synthesis supposedly disproved the theory of vitalism. Vitalism posits that "life" is an ineffable and irreducible quality. I am not sure that I accept that, but I am sure that organic compounds can be found in stellar nebulae. I do not know how strings of hydrocarbons become living organisms. The empirical evidence is nonetheless unarguable.

To the right of Question Authority is "What do you geek?" It was a campaign from the City of Austin Public Library last year to promote a wide range of interesting and curious passions from a diverse array of representational patrons. (They were real people. I am just not sure that they were truly library patrons rather than professional models.) It now eclipses the little square which read "Bring them Back Alive" (a promotion of the American Automobile Association) though in Hungarian. The AAA gave them out in many languages.

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Centralization and the Inverse Square Law
Politics and the Inverse Square Law
Gregory M. Browne's Necessary Factual Truths
The Problem of Induction: Karl Popper and His Enemies

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

A Good Place with Inadequate Philosophy

We enjoyed The Good Place. We watched it on disc and look forward to the release of Season 4. The show’s chatty dialogs on moral philosophy were pleasant and satisfying. The characters were engaging. We cared about what happened to them. It would be nice if The Good Place brought philosophy into the cultural mainstream something like what Star Trek’s original series did for science fiction. Like ST:OS, The Good Place had its flaws. 
Although the show namedrops several moral theories, it reverts back to Platonic altruism: your actions can be judged good if and only if (1) the goal is to benefit others and (2) you are not invested in the consequences to yourself.  
“Todd May and Pamela Hieronymi [are] the show’s philosophical advisors. While The Good Place hewed to the demands of a network sitcom—there was hugging and learning and quite a few jokes about farts—it also centered an ongoing debate about moral philosophy, from Aristotle up to the present day, and May and Hieronymi made sure the show stayed true to its grander ideals. Hieronymi, a professor at UCLA, introduced creator Mike Schur to T.M. Scanlon’s What We Owe to Each Other, which would become an onscreen bible for the show’s in-house philosopher, Chidi Anagonye. May, who teaches at Clemson, starred in a series of short videos explaining concepts like existentialism, utilitarianism, and deontology…” (Slate, 03 Feb 2020 here.
In addition to Aristotle’s virtue ethics, the show tossed out references to consequentialism and Scanlon’s contractarian  theory. Egoism did  not even get a nod. More deeply, the intention seemed to be to find one absolute standard for all contexts. Although I personally subscribe to Randian Objectivism as the best solution, always bringing all decisions to what is best for me, the fact remains that secondary theories such as contractarianism are useful and important. It depends on the context. And secondary theories can reflect back on primary considerations. It is not generally in your self-interest to habitually break your promises—unless you want to end your life as a hermit, even within a metropolis. 

My first class in criminal justice at Washtenaw Community College in 2005 was Ethics in Law Enforcement. Our professor was Ruth A. Walsh. Once the term was under way, we were given challenges to write about. Ms. Walsh expected us to apply all of the theories we were learning in order to analyze each problem from several viewpoints. Later, at Eastern Michigan University, working on my bachelor’s I tallied about 50 different theories to explain crime. That holistic approach to challenges in morality came in handy in my last class in graduate school (2010), Ethics in Physics.

I accepted that as a validation of the operation of necessary factual truths. At least 300 proofs of the Pythagorean theorem have been published. If an action is moral, then it can probably be justified not only by egoism, but by Kantian deontology, utilitarianism, pragmatism, and other constructs. If attempting that leads to contradictions, then one or more theories would be false on that point. In other words, moral theories are tools. You need to use the right tool for the right job. Do not use your screwdriver for a chisel. You would not use vector algebra to make change at the supermarket checkout, projecting quantities on a plane that reduces the unit vectors to zeroes, leaving only a one dimensional scalar. Just count the coins. 


Can you save the whales? Should you bother? The inverse square law says that I cannot be very effective at that (here). On the other hand, I recently twice spent $20 on five boxes of Girl Scout cookies for the office. Not only does bringing cookies make me popular with my colleagues, but the money supports a local organization that I approve of. And the acts had a contractarian aspect: my first wife was a Girl Scout; and she taught me to always leave a place better than you found it. That lesson prepared me to engage the same behavior when, as a member of the Texas State Guard, I was part of a group using the barracks of the Texas Department of Public Safety, the Texas Army National Guard, and Sea Star Base Galveston.

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Modes of Survival 

Saturday, January 18, 2020

SCIENCE FAIR: A NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC FILM

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. 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 lost 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). 

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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. 

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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.
astro@RobPettengill.org
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: mmccool@spsu.edu 
posted at the University of Texas Astronomy here: http://outreach.as.utexas.edu/marykay/highschool/07_21.pdf
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. 

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