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: http://www.jthommes.com/Astro/IC1848--SH2-199.htm

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).  -- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Westerhout_5

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.  http://www.starrywonders.com/bicolortechniquenew.html

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 (InterExchange.org). 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.  http://bf-astro.com/non-linearCurves.htm

[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. -- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/H-infinity_methods_in_control_theory


Saturday, December 14, 2019

In Support of the Entry-Level Telescope

Hobbies are expensive. So are children. Here in Austin, Texas, the median wage for an automotive mechanic is $40,635 per year (Glassdoor) up to $25.02 per hour (Indeed). A carpenter makes between $19.26 and $19.96 per hour (Indeed). The feeling among many practiced amateurs is that a $129 telescope is a “hobby killer.” I believe that any telescope is better than none. Some caveats apply.

As finely manufactured and affordably priced as optics can be, there is a lowest rung below which toys are not worth the money. (See the previous post.) If you can afford $39 for your child right now, then you can afford $129 one year from now. All of the major manufacturers offer instruments in that price range. 
Entry Level Telescopes from Orion
Like scouting and sports, astronomy has to involve the family. Adult supervision, coaching, and patience must support a lot of practice. We accept it as intuitively obvious that basketballs, footballs, and baseballs are thrown differently. Telescopes are less user friendly. Once it is set, you should not need to hold it. You do not press your eye into it. Like shooting hoops, it takes some practice. 

Entry Level Telescopes from Meade
(Note: Meade has filed for bankruptcy protection
after losing an anti-trust lawsuit from Orion.)
It is also true that the telescope is a complex instrument. It is (1) an optical instrument, (2) in a mount, (3) on a tripod. Inexpensive telescopes usually have plastic mounts and gears. The motion is not smooth. It takes some finesse developed over time with practice to site and fix your targets. A small telescope will be pushed by a strong breeze. Some people recommend hanging a gallon of water from the tripod to provide inertia, but that is eight pounds of acting weight on a lightweight frame. I do not suggest it. 
Entry Level Telescopes from Celestron
Long after he discovered Pluto in 1930, Clyde Tombaugh used his own telescope to watch the Moon for hours, witnessing rare events on the surface, such as out-gassings and meteor strikes. It remains true that a 70-year old will sit for many hours longer than a 7-year old. Even so, you see 60 times more in five minutes than you do in five seconds. So, someone else has to stand around for five minutes. Investing those minutes comparing the sky to the pictures will go a long way to bringing a return on the investment in what is essentially a household capital good. 
National Geographic brand entry level telescopes.
Note that National Geographic is not the manufacturer.
The relevant questions are not so much about the optics – though there is that – as about who will use it, why, and for how long. Parents have no guarantees that their children will excel at science, mathematics, sports, music, fine arts, languages, machinery, cooking, or any other human endeavor. It might be nice if parents had the same passion for astronomy that makes them ruin little league sports by arguing with the field judge and taking a swing at the coach. 

Two summers ago, I bought a 70 mm (2-3/4 inch) National Geographic refractor that some neighbor kids wrecked for lack of supervision. I bought fittings at Home Depot and cleaned up the gears with alcohol and baby oil. It took some getting used to. But on January 6, 2018, I got up at 4:30 AM to view the Jupiter Mars Conjunction with it. Last night, I finally found the Andromeda Galaxy. That was tough. Even though I live in the city, a mile from a major shopping center, I could spot the Andromeda Galaxy naked eye and with binoculars. I have seen it with my 5-inch reflector. Looking through the National G 70 mm was like looking through a soda straw. I trued up the finder scope a couple of times, finally homing in on Sirius. Then I could sight M 31, the Andromeda Galaxy. It took about an hour. 

Viewing the Orion Nebula was much easier. It is a big, easy target. I started with the low power, wide view 32 mm eyepiece. With a 13 mm ocular that gives 53.8x, I could home in on the Trapezium group within the nebula. 

I began the night by sighting on the Pleiades. It was easy. However, the small aperture of the 3-inch objective cannot show the entire group, even at 21.8x, the lowest power from the 32 mm eye piece. But they were all there, the seven naked-eye stars and the rich field revealed by even a small telescope. The night was getting damp, so I took a look at the Moon with the 20 mm (32.5 x) “correcting” lens, and then packed up and came in.



As precision optics have become consumer goods and with the economy being positive, the general consensus among active amateur astronomers seems to be to be that small telescopes are hobby killers. Give a child a 3-inch refractor for Christmas and it will soon stand in a closet, unused because it is under-powered. The small aperture might accept the Moon at 40-power, but will not admit the Pleiades. You can see the big four Galilean moons of Jupiter, the rings, of Saturn, and the phases of Venus. But the instrument is wholly incapable of “deep sky” viewing beyond our solar system. I disagree. It is a poor workman who blames his tools. The killer of hobbies is not the affordable instrument but the lack of support and encouragement. That applies as well to the adult responding to a new interest as it does to the child in a family. 

I did not know the term “hobby killer” until it came up in a discussion among my local astronomy friends. Then I read it again on a discussion board I visit, The Sky Searchers (here)
This is a toy, not an instrument.
The box has no technical information,
just a cartoon image of a scientist.

“What can you see with that?” In the popular guide book, Turn Left at Orion, Dr. Guy Consolmagno (SJ) tells of being given a 3-inch refractor by a friend. By that time, he had earned his doctorate in planetary astronomy and taught at the Harvard College Observatory. But he did not own a telescope and, in fact, he did not know the sky the way an amateur does. From Ft. Lee, New Jersey, in the glare of New York City his friend (and later co-author), Dan Davis, showed him Albireo, a stunning pair, gold and blue, that appear to the naked eye as a single star. Beta Cygnus is the foot of the Northern Cross (or the head of the Swan). A 30-power telescope will do. 
Not half bad, but more useful for someone who
owns a larger scope and wants a "grab-n-go."

A couple of years ago, I bought a used National Geographic brand 2-3/4  inch refractor from a neighbor. It was missing most of its parts-the eyepieces, the tray, the cell phone mount, even the handle for the altitude control. I made sure that the objective lens was good and that it worked with the Celestron lens and filter kit that so many of us own. I bought other machine fittings at Home Depot. It took some getting used to but it has been my primary viewing instrument for a year. 
Three toys in one box.
Buy either a better microscope or a better telescope
for the same net price of the package.
(If your child is already a bird watcher, then a good pair of field glasses 

costs about the same as this set of toys.
(My 5-inch reflector is packed away in the garage. It, too, is probably considered a “hobby killer” by those who argue that the 8-inch dobsonian “light bucket” is the very least any serious amateur will settle for.) 

The story behind the National G refractor is that it was a Christmas present, from an uncle. By July when I bought it, the kids had wrecked it. Sadly, their father earned a BS degree and worked in a highly technical field. He never went out with them. I know that because the finder scope is a “red dot” LED and the little plastic insulator tab was still between the battery and the contact. It was not the telescope that killed the hobby for the kids: for them, astronomy was stillborn for the lack of adult supervision.
1950s classicTasco 30x30 (30 mm 30 power) tabletop telescope.
Any telescope is better than no telescope.
A child can tell the difference between an instrument and a toy.
My first telescope was a Tasco 30 mm (1 ½  inch) bird-watcher. I got it for Christmas shortly after I turned nine. I might have viewed the Moon a couple of times. I might have tried it on Venus. Mostly, I used it to look across the backyards to see if my friends were out playing. The next summer, out in the backyard, one of our neighbors, a young doctor, pointed to a bright star. “I think that’s a planet,” he said. At his suggestion, I got the telescope. He lined it up and declared, “Saturn.” He turned it over to me and with a little adjustment, there it was: Saturn. 

About the minimum for a serious beginner -- assuming
that your family can afford $700 for one gift for one child.
But if you can afford $700 right now for yourself, then you can 
afford $1500 a little later. The sky is the limit.
A year later, my next telescope was a 4-inch reflector. I viewed the Moon often, and probably Jupiter, Saturn, and Venus a few times. I never saw the Orion Nebula, though I could have had anyone told me it was possible. 

I used my Tasco microscope far more often. I viewed salt, sugar, pepper, pollen, textiles, strings and threads. I stuck myself in the finger for blood. It was indoor work, easy to set up any time, day or night. Many of our neighbors were doctors. Our home was only a mile from the steel mills, but only a block from City Hospital. Interns and residents rented from us and our neighbors. When I was 13 the lab technicians went on strike and one of the doctors brought me in to cut open mice. 

But I still went to the planetarium at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, (https://www.cmnh.org) sometimes five or six Sundays in a row. I could get there on my own, two buses across town. My mom bought me a membership. The planetarium, not the telescope, was my window to the universe.
Even the people with the big dobsonian "light buckets"
rely on this basic $169 kit.
Other people will spend that much on a single lens.
It was part of my life until I got married and moved from Cleveland. Years later, I took my daughter to the Michigan State University planetarium. By then, I had taken college classes in astronomy, but mathematical astronomy and orbit plotting. I was approved to use the Clyde Tombaugh Observatory at New Mexico State University. However, in Michigan, the Lansing Community College telescope was only a few blocks from the state Capitol, which was lit up every night. I did visit the MSU observatory a couple of times with an astronomer I met. Still, for myself, I found a thrill in understanding the physics and mathematics of the six elements of orbit. 

In recent years, I have de-acquisitioned many books, given to the library or the Goodwill or the prisons, but I still have Mathematical Astronomy with a Pocket Calculator by Aubrey Jones (John Wiley & Sons, 1978). I do not use it, but it still means a lot to me. When I hear about gravitational waves from a neutron star orbiting a black hole (read here), I understand more than what is being said.
At a public star party, I cautioned against buying a telescope
too big to haul outdoors.
"My 10-inch dobsonian only weighs 50 pounds,"
countered a club member.
"So does that kid," I replied.
For myself, I believe that the “hobby killers” are those who assume that they practice the hobby The One Right Way. I learned of this fallacy from numismatics. Clifford Mishler, formerly president of Krause Publications and then the ANA, gave a stump speech on collecting and collectors. Krause served numismatics, but also antique cars and much else. In mainstream American numismatics some people would respond to others with “How can you collect that junk?” and be referring to ancient coins, medieval coins, paper money, stock certificates, coal mine tokens, or whatever else was not Pre-World War Two U.S. Federal coinage. Mishler explained that all collectors share the same passions for completeness, rarity, condition, and value. In the judged exhibits at ANA conventions, we do not grant prizes to display cases without narratives that surpass museum quality. Anyone with money can walk any convention floor and buy astounding rarities. If you do not know and understand the histories of the material objects, then you are not a collector – and surely not a numismatist: you are an accumulator.
It looks pretty but it ain't easy. 
It is a long exposure under a dark sky, 
taken by someone with learned skill.
(www.space.com for November 21, 2018)
In astronomy, we have no insulting soubriquets such as “star gazer” for those who spend a lot of time and money chasing rare sites they do not understand.

And a lot is to be said for observational astronomy. It is nice to know that the universe is as described. The Moon has craters; Venus has phases; Orion marks a kind of nursery or hatchery or incubator for stars. Look into Virgo and you can see galaxies.