Looking to the Sky…

It’s been a while since I used my telescope, and with Jupiter, the Moon and Venus so near to each other in the evening sky, I thought it was time to dust it off.  I was quite keen to get out and do some observing, so I set up the telescope before sunset, and made sure it was collimated. Thank goodness for laser collimators, as I got the scope collimated in 10 minutes, as opposed to the good half hour it used to take me.

Once the sky was dark enough to see the brighter stars I set up the scope, and had a look at the crescent moon.  I always enjoy looking at the different phases of the moon, as there is always something interesting to see, particularly on the edge of the light and dark parts of the moon, when the details of the mountains and craters are most obvious.  I turned the scope to Venus next, and enjoyed the view of its crescent phase as well.

For me, though, the highlight was the chance to see Jupiter.  Jupiter is definitely one of my favourites to observe, and while I don’t have an eyepiece with enough magnification to see a lot of surface detail, the ever-changing positions of the Galilean moons is always rewarding.  The other rewarding aspect of astronomy is seeing other people’s reactions when they see something for the first time.

Last night it was my wife and mother-in-law having their first experience.  My wife has done a bit of observing with me, but she’s not had a chance to see Venus with a pronounced crescent phase, nor has she seen Jupiter.  Both of them found the sight of the moon amazing, and loved Jupiter and Venus too.  I still haven’t found anything to show my wife which will replace Saturn as her favourite thing to view, though.

As the evening darkened I decided to see if I could get a photo of the moon through the scope.  After much messing around I managed to get my phone camera lined up with the eyepiece, and snapped a few shots.  I was quite happy with the result, to be honest.  They’re not the greatest shots, being blurred from my hand movements, but there’s still a nice amount of detail.

Clearly if I want to do more of this sort of thing I’ll need a way of attaching a camera to the scope.  A bit of messing around this afternoon suggests it might be possible to rig up a mount strong enough to hold a small compact digital camera.  While I won’t be photographing deep sky objects with such a set up, it will be more than enough to get some half decent shots of the moon, and maybe planets.

Crescent Moon
Crescent moon, captured on iPhone 6 camera using eyepiece projection.

It’s Never Too Late

Three weeks ago I wanted a small app to simulate rolling dice on my computer.  Unfortunately the few apps for Mac OS that I could find didn’t really do what I wanted them to do.  So, rather than admit defeat and just roll a handful of actual dice, I decided to learn how to write software for Mac.

I had a bit of a chuckle to myself over that, because I had the same thought 18 years ago, when I was studying at Uni.  Back then I was studying electronics, but had several subjects devoted to programming, and I wanted to be able to write software for the Mac.  I even went so far as to outlay a large (for a uni student) chunk of cash on a software development package.

The reason I found it funny was that back then I struggled to find the resources to learn the ins and outs of programming for the Mac, and never actually managed to write any software.  Now, however, it’s completely different.  It’s possible to get everything needed for Mac software development for free, including some very good tutorials.  I think I spent 3 or 4 days learning how to use Apple’s new language, Swift, followed by a couple of days building my first app.

Now, I won’t claim to be any sort of expert, and I’m pretty sure that the code I’ve written could be improved, but I’m pretty happy.  I’ve managed to achieve something that I’ve wanted to do for many years.  I might even be able to make some software that someone else finds useful.

Rolling the Dice

Last night was a momentous occasion for me.  After a break of over a year, I’ve been able to start up an RPG campaign.  I made the decision a month or so back to start up a campaign, and the lure of the Warhammer 40k setting was too great.  Dark Heresy beat Pathfinder as system of choice, not only because I have experience GMing Dark Heresy already, but because I absolutely love the 40k universe.

I’m not sure exactly what it is about the 40k setting, to be honest.  Possibly it’s familiarity from years of playing 40k and absorbing the background material, possibly it’s the dark, grim nature of the setting, but I just keep getting drawn back to it.  I was made aware of the second edition of Dark Heresy around the time when I was looking to start up a campaign, and having looked at the radically over-hauled rules, and the new background material, I decided pretty much there and then to run with it.

Actually running the session last night was an eye opener.  It’s been that long since I GMed a game I found myself being very rusty.  I also found my train of thought getting derailed quite easily, probably a sided effect of last year’s drama.  I certainly felt like it was hard work, and rather harder than I expected.

Still, at the end of the night, everyone seemed to have fun, which is the most important thing.  Now comes the hard part, thinking up nasty things to do to their characters.  Part of the appeal of the new edition’s background is the larger emphasis on nasty stuff happening.  I think the hardest bit will be narrowing down exactly what nasty stuff will happen…