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August 2006 President's Message
By: Barbara Toy
August 5, 2006 9:52PM PDT
Views: 9031

Some thoughts on weather, reminders re: meeting date changes and AstroImage 2006, a welcome to our new website tech, Rob Carr, and to our new Anza House Coordinators, Sandy and Steve Condrey, request for a volunteer to help with the refreshments for the general meetings, and a visit to the "How to Use Your Telescope" class.

President’s Message

By Barbara Toy


Well, we are certainly experiencing the full heat of summer – very notable out at Anza, particularly for those who attempt to do things outside during daylight hours.  The good news is that we haven’t had as much “June Gloom” as in the last couple years; the bad news is that June and July still brought us a lot of overcast skies from weather conditions other than the usual marine layer.  One reason for this is that the summer heat has generated some pretty intense thunderstorms as well as baking us, so don’t be surprised if you find ruts and other damage to the dirt roads out by our Anza site from summer rain, and don’t make yourself a target for lightening if you’re out there during a storm or while one is building up in the vicinity.


The fire season is also well underway, and, as I write this, there is a fire burning not far from the town of Anza itself – not a very big fire, but another reminder that the brush on the surrounding hills and on our site itself is highly flammable, and we could all too easily have another fire that could do a lot more damage to our site than the last one.  So, please make an extra effort whenever you visit the site to cut back any brush or weeds you see, especially any that is near any of the buildings or pads.  People did a good job of clearing sensitive areas in May and June, but we’ve had additional growth since then – any help you can give to keep the weeds under control is very much appreciated.


Reminder – The August General Meeting is the First, not the Second, Friday in August!


Just in case you see this before August 4th – that’s the date of our August meeting, not August 11, which would have been the usual date for it.  It’ll feature a special presentation by Joel Harris, Helen Mahoney and Doug Millar, and Dan Schechter, giving three different perspectives on viewing the total eclipse of the sun in the Mediterranean region last March.  It should be a great program, and I look forward to seeing you all there!


Another Reminder – AstroImage 2006 is August 11th and 12th!


There’s still a chance to attend AstroImage 2006 – assuming you’re reading this before August 11th, of course!  The price is higher after August 1 ($110 instead of $95), but it’s still a bargain, considering it gives you the chance to hear some of the most respected astroimagers around talk about aspects of the field that are uniquely theirs in addition to all of the other features of the conference.  So, if it’s before August 11 and you haven’t registered yet – grab this last chance to be a part of a conference you’ll remember with pleasure for a long, long time!


Good News – We Have a New Website Technician and an Anza House Coordinating Team!


We’ve been looking for someone to handle the technical side of the club’s website for quite some time.  There have been several different people who volunteered but then had to drop out of the position for various reasons – fortunately, Liam Kennedy has been willing to step in when urgent action was needed, but he no longer has the time to take care of the website on an ongoing basis. 


Well, I’m very happy to say that the search for our website technical person is now over.  Rob Carr has volunteered for that position, after spending time familiarizing himself with the website, and he has already been able to deal with a couple of technical issues that had been frustrating us.  The more visible one to most members was the rating system that was an automatic part of the program used for the website Image Album (these appeared as one to five stars below the pictures, which viewers were supposed to use to indicate how they rated the picture). 


Whatever the merits of the original concept, there was never any established set of criteria to be used in rating pictures, and no way to be sure that the ratings were applied fairly – and whether or not a particular picture received any rating at all was pretty arbitrary.  There was no oversight of the rating system at all, and so, unfortunately, there were people who used it for purposes that had nothing to do with the merits of any particular picture.  A number of times, unjustifiably low marks were given to certain pictures – whether it was intended as a joke or an insult, it wasn’t an appropriate use of the system.  Over time, there were enough abuses of the ratings that some people decided not to post pictures in the Image Album at all, which was a loss to all of us.  This became a significant issue for a number of people in the AstroImagers group, and was raised as a topic for discussion at on of their meetings.  After that discussion, I was asked if anything could be done about it, and I relayed the request to Rob.  In very short order, he figured out how to turn that part of the program off, and did so.  Even though I’ve heard some teasing comments about “losing our stars,” the overall response to the change has been positive, so we’ll be leaving that feature turned off – with thanks to Rob for providing this tidy solution.


We have also been looking for a new Anza House Coordinator since Tim Hunt moved to Tennessee.  This is the person who takes care of getting supplies for Anza House, picks up the money from the overnight stays for Charlie Oostdyk, takes care of basic cleaning (hopefully with help from other volunteers – the position, after all, is “Coordinator,” not “Maid Service”), and otherwise keeps Anza House running smoothly.


Sandy and Steve Condrey have now generously volunteered to take on this position, in addition to Steve’s other responsibilities as the editor of the Sirius Astronomer and as a Trustee on the Board.  I had noticed that, when Steve joined the Board, we benefited by getting two participants instead of just one, as Sandy comes to the Board meetings with him and has given us the benefit of her comments on a number of different topics that have come before the Board.  The Condreys have now taken on the job of Anza House Coordinator as a team, which I hope will make the job easier for them, and it will certainly benefit all of us who use the Anza Site.


Our profound thanks to Rob, Steve and Sandy for taking on these positions!


…But Now We Need a Refreshment Person for the General Meetings…


Leonard Stein has handled making the coffee, getting the other drinks, ice and donuts, and running the refreshment table at the general meetings for years now.  Unfortunately, he’s now finding it too hard physically to handle the job, particularly carrying the coffeepots full of water from where he fills them to the area of the refreshment table.  He has therefore reluctantly concluded that it’s time to turn that position over to someone else.  However, he tells me he’s still willing to help out, especially while the new person gets familiar with what’s involved.


If you can help us out in this position, we’d be very grateful.  If you’re interested in the position, please contact me.  If you want more information on what’s involved, you can email me with your questions, or plan to talk to Leonard about them at the August General Meeting (which is August 4 – see above).


The July “How to Use Your Telescope” Class Revisited…


First some background – we set up our first “How to Use Your Telescope” class after Christmas about three years ago, and it was such a success that Antonio Miro, who taught the Beginners Class at that time, decided to incorporate it as a regular feature of the Beginners Class.  We now do these particular classes twice a year, currently on the first Friday of January and of July.  Those dates aren’t set as arbitrarily as it might seem – our Beginners Class is a six-session cycle, with one cycle each year starting in September and the other in March.  The “How to Use Your Telescope” classes are set as the fifth session of each cycle.  We like having one in January, which is convenient for people who get telescopes for Christmas and need some help setting them up and using them.  The July session seems to attract more people who have had their telescopes for a while but don’t use them, generally because they ran into problems, got frustrated, and put the telescope away until they had more time to figure it out but never got around to it.  The goal of this particular class is to help people through those initial frustrations so they will be more likely to continue using their telescopes to see the wonders of the surrounding universe for themselves.


The basic format of these classes hasn’t changed much from our first session – we get the word about the class out to the telescope-owning public through flyers distributed through local telescope vendors (Oceanside Photo and Telescope, Scope City and the Discovery Stores have been very helpful in getting the word out for all of our Telescope classes, and Samy’s Camera, which recently became a Meade vendor, also agreed to distribute them for the most recent class), through the Santa Ana Register’s regular calendar notices, through the club’s website, and through the Beginners Class itself.  People with telescopes who need some help with them then bring them to the class, and we have a crew of volunteers from the club who work one-on-one with them to help them set up, align their scopes, and find some objects.  The club’s GoTo Group has been very generous in making this class a regular group function, and we also get volunteers from Jim Benet’s Outreach group as well as some other club members.  The Beginners Class meets in the classroom behind the main buildings of the Centennial Heritage Museum, and we usually hold the Telescope classes in the parking area in front of the classroom; the classroom is available if someone needs to do something that requires tables or more light, such as assembling a telescope or attempting a repair, and we’ve even had a surprisingly successful Telescope class inside the classroom when it was raining.


Part of the fun for the volunteers who help out at these classes is that we never know exactly what telescopes people will bring – there are usually a number of popular “goto” scopes (Meade ETXs, Celestron NexStars, and Newtonians or refractors that use the same control systems are the most common), a few Dobsonians, some scopes on equatorial mounts (some motorized, some not), sometimes some bigger scopes (we had a couple 10-inch LX200s, including a GPS model shortly after they were introduced), and sometimes examples of inexpensive “department store” types of scope that will always be frustratingly unsteady and hard to view through no matter how carefully they are set up.  One couple brought one of the “department store” types to one of our earlier sessions, and after two or three volunteers worked with them on it and after they had a chance to see some of the other scopes in action, they told us that they’d decided to take the telescope back to where they’d bought it and get a better scope – that, from our point of view, was an excellent result and one that made it a lot more likely they’d continue viewing.  The more usual result of our efforts is that people have a better understanding of how to use the telescope they brought and (in many cases) a more realistic idea of what they can expect from it – and those of us helping them usually learn (or relearn) things as well.


No matter how many of these classes we do, there are always surprises.  Our class in July presented us with a bigger surprise than usual – it turned out that there was a large wedding going on at the museum when we arrived.  Weddings are a major source of funding for the museum, but they are generally on Saturdays.  There have been times when there were wedding rehearsals going on while we’ve had the Beginners Class, but this was the first time we had seen a Friday night wedding there.


Because of the wedding, there were more cars in the parking area than usual, even though the wedding guests all parked in a different lot, and there was a large catering truck blocking the road that circles around the parking area (which is dirt covered with wood chips).  All this meant that we were far more restricted in where we could have people set up than usual.  The nice thing is that everyone adjusted remarkably well – most of the scopes that people brought this time were smaller GoTo scopes that were very portable, and they just carried them over to where everyone was gathering near the classroom.  While we were still figuring out where we were going to have people set up, some of the volunteers gave impromptu presentations that were very well received by the people attending.  I noticed Don McClelland giving them the basics and fielding a lot of questions, and Steve Short talked to them about the Black Star Canyon star parties and general star party basics, and other volunteers seemed to be chiming in at various times.  That proved to be a good way to get people oriented, and got the session off to a good start in spite of the disruptions in our original plans because of the wedding.


I don’t know if the people attending the wedding were ever really aware of our activities, but their caterers were.  They were working hard most of the evening, but found time to come over and check out the scopes and look at a few objects – and they shared the leftover cake with us (I’m told it was excellent).  The people who brought their telescopes all said they’d learned a lot about how to use them and what they could reasonably see with them, several were given ideas on what they should do to make their scopes easier to use, and it seemed that a number of them were planning to bring their scopes out to one of our star parties so they could do some viewing under darker skies (and get more help if they needed it).  All in all, it was a very successful, fun and interesting evening, and showed the benefits of approaching these events with flexibility – which our volunteers do really well!


In Closing


The summers seem to be attracting more great astronomical activities as time goes on – I hope a lot of you were able to make it to OPT’s “Southern California Astronomy Exposition” during the final two weeks of July.  And there are the star parties (we have two at Anza in August, the 19th and the 26th, as New Moon is on a Wednesday), outreach events at different parks around Orange County, lectures, and so on – whatever your particular interests in our hobby, I hope you’re finding a lot of ways to enjoy it as the summer speeds by!  And, if you happen to be at loose ends looking for something fun and a bit out of the ordinary to do for August 19, September 16, or October 21, Explore the Stars (the outreach program at Palomar Mountain) is alive and well and could use more volunteers!


                                                                                                                        © Barbara Toy, July 2006

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