Wednesday, August 31, 2005

katrina victims - a place to stay

urging anyone with space available to help out those who have lost their home due to hurricane katrina and needs a place to stay.

while attention is understandably focused on those still in need of rescue, there must be many, many others who did manage to get out and need help. this posting is intended for all that have been displaced from their homes.

we just posted this on

katrina victims - a place to stay

Reply to:
Date: 2005-08-31, 7:13PM CDT

we live in an apartment building in the center of washington, d.c. we don't have a spare room, but we do have our living space available for someone who is in need of a place to stay. this offer is open to anyone who has been displaced from their home due to hurricane katrina.

mark & rebecca
cell# 202-487-8228
cell# 917-304-5021

letter to the new york times

While the Governor of Mississipi is understandably under very considerable stress following the devastation suffered in the wake of hurricane Katrina, it is not alright to compare hurricane damage to an atomic bomb dropped on the population of Hiroshima, Japan.

"It looks like Hiroshima is what it looks like," Gov. Haley Barbour said, describing parts of Harrison County, Miss. What it looks like is a hugely powerful hurricane accompanied by a very strong storm surge. The images ingrained in memory of Hiroshima that disturb us the most are the ones of people's indescribable agony that have suffered horrifc burns.

While the images coming out of the worst affected areas are very disturbing and emotionally charged, let us not compare natural disasters to the deadliest of man-made bombs. I'm sure any survivors of Hiroshima or their kin living in Mississippi would agree.

Speaking of World War II, I'm also surprised that Pres. Bush likens the war on terror to that of War II, saying both were launched by attacks on the U.S. killing thousands. Really? I thought it was Hitler's attack on Poland on Sept. 1st, 1939. Not Pearl Harbour! The war began in 1939, Mr. President. A fact known throughout Europe.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

homeland security... the sad reality for ordinary people

considering the enormous financial investment, the government's never-ending selling of security to the nation through the media, and massive planning in the event of a direct terrorist strike - just what do the authorities really think they can do should the terrible happen?

here's a case where the entire city of new orleans has been provided days ahead with up-to-the -minute information, meetings have been timetabled and kept, plans implemented, and actions taken.

Gov. Kathleen Blanco said Interstate 10, which was converted Saturday so that all lanes headed one-way out of town, was totally gridlocked....

should a real terrorist strike occur, the large masses of people affected will inevitably do what humans have always done and will always do in situations of mass disruption: PANIC.

do the authorities really expect to be able to effectively evacuate our cities in a sudden emergency? and if so how? because gridlock a day later is not gonna do it.

am i the only one is completely unconvinced? katrina promises to bring a lot more real terror than the citizens of new orleans may or may not have feared from any Al Qaeda plot.

sobering as it is, we can as easily put it down to luck, just as anything else, that we will not be counted among the unlucky ones.



this storm is bigger than a lot of countries.....
cannot see how this won't be anything other than devastating.

i hope the poor and the homeless (human beings without a lot in the first place) get to safe shelter and the superdome.

- and let's hope that's still standing after the hurricane....

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

manned mission to mars - a letter to nasa

Dear NASA,

In support of your mission to mars program, i have a suggestion that may greatly aid in the long-term development of a permanent base on the red planet.

Consider, if you will, one Mr. Wile E. Coyote. Fearless, possessing great adaptability, guile and cunning, he also recovers well from inadvertant and unfortunate misshap. Wile E. Coyote surely extols the great virtues that are evidently required for mankind to not only reach the red planet, but to enable NASA to surge again and recapture some its heyday glory of the sixties, when it held everyone's attention worldwide.

Mr. Coyote's pedigree speaks for itself. American as can be, highly adaptable, familiar with a hostile, desert terrain, he opitimises the great american adventurer. Plus, his undoubted experiences (alas, not all favourable..) with rocket propulsion systems, courtesy of the Acme Supply Co. make him an ideal candidate for the first manned mission to mars.

He is most eager to join NASA's elite staff.


Washington, D.C.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

big meadows and our new telescope

Big Meadows, Shenandoah National Park, VA.

August 3rd & 4th, 2005

Our very first real observing session with our new telescope!

Loaded up the Zip-Car with everything we needed (and a lot that we didn’t), and headed out west to the Blue Ridge Mountains. Leaving hot and hazy D.C. behind us, we couldn’t tell if the weather was going to be kind to us or not. Some two hours later we arrived at the Thornton Gap entrance to the Shenandoah, purchased a year-long National Parks pass for $50, and headed for Big Meadows. The observing area was easily seen upon arrival. On the same side of the road just past the large sign for Big Meadows, there is a small parking lot with a chain preventing access to non-authorised vehicles. The observing area had been recently mowed and a line of trees provided some relief against car headlights from the adjacent road (Skyline Drive).

We checked into Big Meadows Lodge to discover that they’d put us in a cabin as far away from vehicle access as possible. This was after we’d informed them that we would be arriving with telescope and equipment in the comments section when we booked online. Conclusion: comments section utterly useless and talking with someone over the telephone advisable. Changed rooms and got a decent little twin-bed room with easy access to the car.

Parked the car in the parking lot at 7pm, set up the ‘scope toward the western end of the observing field, put some tarp down, set up a fold-away table and sleeping bags to lie down on and waited for the sun to go down. Setting up at this time of day means there’s a good number of park visitors parked in the lot and walking the meadows looking for the numerous deer that appear at sunset (and sunrise). Quite a few people came over to chat and to have a look at what we were doing. This was very pleasant, and once I had explained that we were complete novices and this was our first time with our telescope, people seemed very eager to talk about what we could see. Most were aware of Mars due to newspaper articles, and were equally unenthusiastic that it wouldn’t be visible until the early hours of the morning. As I (good-naturedly) explained to one lady who complained that it was way past her bed-time: “Well; Mars doesn’t really care what time you go to bed”.

In the western part of the sky, Venus and Jupiter quickly popped into view soon after the Sun set. Those that were there were all very impressed by the views of Jupiter and her 4 visible moons. Wow! Was the most often heard phrase, and I felt very happy to be able to explain a little about what we were looking at and a little about what we hoped to see later on. Soon we were left on our own and I tried to get a GPS fix. No luck. I put this down to operator error and tried again. Went through the Autostar menu and instruction manual to no avail. Our first night would be manual operation only. A little frustrated but not downhearted, we accepted our situation with a resolve to get everything working properly the next evening, weather permitting.

Dew. Thank goodness we bought a dew heater. Within a few hours, everything started to acquire a damp film. First lesson learned; once unpacked, put everything back in the car that you don’t need. We’re rookies, but coping reasonably well. The inky-blue sky soon deepened its colour around us and the dust lanes of the Milky Way became visible long before the sky became truly dark. Amazing. At this point I forgot my frustrations with the lack of alignment and GOTO and just started pointing the telescope at a few bright deep sky objects. Armed with a planisphere, a star chart, and a little knowledge of the night sky, we began observing.

M13 in Hercules looked magnificent. Easily visible as a naked-eye smudge, the first deep sky view through the 8” LX200GPS was reassuringly impressive. All doubts about being able to find anything without GOTO were dispelled with our first view of this incredible sight. Next was Andromeda. Hard to discern any detail, nonetheless, the nucleus soon appeared in the eyepiece. Later on, when she was much higher in the sky, I discerned much more detail. Again, a naked eye smudge became so much more when viewed a decent instrument under a dark sky. Despite concerted efforts, we were unable to manually find M57, the Ring Nebula and also the Dumbbell, M102. Both were mentally put on my must find list for the next evening’s observing.

Most of the evening was spent just laying on our backs looking directly up at the Milky Way. No need for a telescope, there was something enormously satisfying at just looking up and marveling at the naked-eye detail of the dust lanes and the grand vista of the overhead sky. One very pleasant surprise was the sheer number of shooting stars we observed after midnight. Without keeping count, I estimate that we saw between 30 and 40, with at least 10 being of the “wow! See that?” variety. Warm clothing, decent footwear and lightweight weatherproof jackets are also highly recommended, even in early August as the temperature can fall quite quickly and dew forms.

To the east, Mars began her climb in the night sky in the early hours of the next day. By 4am, she was higher in the sky than I remembered her two years ago and gave very pleasing views. Lack of good eyepieces meant we were restricted in upping the power, but nonetheless, we still saw some dark detail.

Exhausted, yet happy, we packed up our dew-soaked belongings and trudged back to the car. Our summing of our very first night under the stars with “uhuru”, our new telescope – THAT WAS GREAT! :)

Night 2:

After a (hot) midday short trail to take a look at the highest point in the Shenandoah where Peregrine Falcons nested and soared nearby, we set up the telescope at the same spot at the observing site at around 7pm. If anything, the sky was clearer than the previous night and the air felt less humid and cooler. Set up this time went without a hitch and after going through the Autostar menu, we at last managed to obtain a GPS fix. Auto Align went pretty easily, with only a little bit of help centering on Arcturus and Spica. Soon after sunset, Jupiter gave very pleasing views. This time, we had a few more interested parties and again, everyone was wowed by the fact they could see the cloud belts of Jupiter as well as her 4 main moons. And again, as soon as it got a little dark, everyone disappeared. Without doubt, the seeing tonight was going to better and also, it looked like the dreaded dew was going to hold off. On our own and with the ‘scope set up and GOTO working as it should, the evening promised to repay our frustration of the previous evening. Without going into everything we targeted, I will list the following as being especially rewarding: M57, the Ring Nebula, M27, the Dumbbell, M13, in Hercules, M33 the Pinwheel, and M31, Andromeda. After prolonged viewing, I could at last make out some structure other than the nucleus in this huge smudge.

Some of the earlier visitors returned as they had promised later in the evening and we let the 6 or 7 people lay down on our tarp and sleeping bags to get a non neck-breaking good look at the Milky Way, while I found a few objects, mainly the Ring Nebula and M13 for everyone to take a turn with the telescope. I did find myself bombarded with an array of questions about the night sky. Luckily, I was also able to at least offer a reasonable explanation to most of them. The one thing that stood out was the concept of distances of space. Most had no idea of light taking time to reach our eyes and none knew of our position in the Milky Way or what indeed just were the dust lanes that filled the sky overhead. Glad that I have been studying from a number of astronomical textbooks over the past couple of years, I felt very happy to be able to be a bit of an educator, while trying very hard not to get too hung up on the physics (which, for me, is really still very hard going at anything other than a popularist level). Most of our new-found visitors stayed a fair while, seemingly content to just be around others, the telescope, and the outstanding views as I gave my little lectures.

Eventually, it was just down to myself and Rebecca and two girls we had met earlier (we later learned that they had started a business cleaning barnacles off of boats…..) who wanted to see Mars. They had also managed to lose their car key nearby in the grass in the process of joining us! By the time Mars rose high enough in the sky to take a good look at, they had both fallen asleep and would remain so for the remainder of the night. Eventually, Rebecca too succumbed to the sleep monster and I was left alone, slewing “uhuru” in a search for Messier objects. After a while, I had no option but to find a sliver of a gap on the tarp and try and get a bit of sleep. Within minutes of dozing off, I awoke to a very strange sound of non-human heavy breathing and rustling. This is not a sound I’m normally accustomed to in our 5th floor apartment in the middle of D.C. I got up and turned the red LED flashlight on to a low setting. This woke Rebecca and I calmly announced “we’ve got company…”About 3 feet directly in front of us, a doe was looking straight at me. To the side, another (presumably) deer could be heard approaching. A fantastic experience for us city dwellers. Five minutes later, they were gone. By dawn, I awoke and started to pack up the ‘scope. A track was clearly visible where the deer had come right up to where we were sleeping.

Within minutes, the others stirred and after half an hour of packing up all our stuff and Sonia, much to my amazement, managing to find her car key, we headed off to the Wayside Grill, just across the road, next to the entrance for breakfast and hot coffee. When we pulled into the parking lot and headed for the front door, we saw the sign: 9am – 8pm. It was 7:30am. We were starving. Hot coffee, hot food; nothing less would do. To the lodge! The benefits of staying somewhere where breakfast was being served came home real good as we pulled into the car park.

Ah; civilisation.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005


as i see it, raffy's either stupid or a liar. i don't really like either of these options, being a long-time raffy fan, but in the face of the positive testing, it's hard to arrive at any other conclusion. How do you test positive for a banned steroid?

while my personal thoughts must mean nothing to him, i'm sure that those of his family, his friends, his major league peers, those in congress who heard him testify, and last but not least, his fellow orioles team mates do. this reeks of clinton's line when confronted with monica, doesn't it?

as my girlfriend put it: "it's the american way". how sad.

while he can presumably do little to discount the evidence, he can stand up like a man, tell the truth, let everybody know just what he did take that would test positive, admit what he's done, and then retire. that way, raffy will leave the game not quite the sad, desperate hypocrite he appears now. 10 game suspension? major league baseball should take a leaf out of professional cycling's book.

off to the mountains!

yep. gonna leave the heat and humidity of d.c behind and head off to the shenandoah mountains for a few of days. taking the telescope of course, so this will be our first time under a decently dark sky to do some observing. we're staying in a lodge at 3,000 feet, so hopefully it will be less than 90 degrees. can't wait to see the milky way and a few other galaxies.