President’s Message – November 2007

Posted On November 1, 2007

By Barbara Toy

We’re heading full-tilt into the (mercifully short) annual election season at OCA – so get your nominations in! If you want to run for a Trustee or officer position, you can be nominated at the November general meeting, or you can email Bob Buchheim ( or me ( before the meeting and we will be happy to nominate you. The deadline for nominations for the 2008 Board is the November general meeting, and the ballot will be finalized shortly after that. We will be posting it for download from the website, and sending copies in the December issue of the Sirius Astronomer (not the January issue as in years past). Copies will also be available at the January meeting as usual, with envelopes, so you can cast your ballot at the meeting if you haven’t already mailed it, even if you didn’t remember to bring a copy with you to the meeting.

I’m happy to report that Bob Evans has agreed to run the election again, as he has for many years now. This includes authenticating the ballots and counting the votes, which can take a lot of time. We are very grateful that he is still willing to do this for us – as one of the current officers, I can assure you that it’s a real comfort knowing that this will be handled with Bob’s usual care and efficiency!

The full instructions for voting will be on the ballot, and you can vote by mailing your completed ballot to Bob Evans at the address on the ballot or by putting the completed ballot (in an envelope) in the ballot box at the January meeting. Please be sure to put your name on the outside of the envelope containing your ballot so Bob can verify that the ballot comes from a member in good standing and that only one ballot per member is cast.

Some Tips for Meeting People in The Club…

Maybe you're new to the OCA, and you’ve come to some of our general meetings and found a sea of unfamiliar faces that left you wondering how you could actually meet and get to know any of these people. Maybe you're not getting to know as many people as you'd like, though you've been in the club awhile. Or maybe you've been a long-time member, and you notice a lot of new people around you don’t know but you’d like to. We have a lot of advantages as a big club with a lot going on, but sometimes it can be hard to hook up with other compatible members. For all of you who want to connect with more people in the club, here are some tips that I hope you’ll find helpful.

Our Email Groups

The easiest way to get to know people is to join one or more of our e-mail groups. One of our two largest email groups is for general astronomy interests and club matters, The other big group is for people who are interested in various aspects of imaging, including such necessary areas as the fine points of mounts and telescopes as well as cameras, If you're interested in dark sky and light pollution issues, should be on your list, as well. If you're interested in doing scientific research, consider joining our science e-mail group, There is no limit – you can join them all, if you’d like.

Besides giving you a great way to get questions answered, learn more about areas of interest to you, and keep tabs on what’s going on, the e-mail groups make it easy for you get a feel for the personalities and interests of different people on the list. If you join in the discussions, you’ll also give others on the list a chance to know who you are and what you’re interested in. All of this helps when you see these people at meetings, star parties or other events – it's much easier to strike up a conversation with someone when you've exchanged a few e-mails on topics of mutual interest or concern, and it’s much easier to feel part of the overall group when you recognize names and have an understanding of how those people fit in from what you’ve seen in email exchanges.

The Outreach Program

Another low-stress way of getting to know people in the club is to volunteer for the outreach program. This is run by Jim Benet (, and our main activity is bringing telescopes and other equipment out to various schools and parks for viewing events. The idea is to let people who otherwise wouldn’t have a chance to see celestial objects with their own eyes look through your telescope or binoculars, and see for themselves what's up there. It's a great way to help people get turned on to science and to help counteract some of the pseudoscience that’s all around us. In other words, it's a fun and useful activity in its own right, but it also gives you a wonderful opportunity to meet other club members. To join in, check for upcoming outreach events on the club’s website calendar or get on Jim Benet’s email list for upcoming events, decide on which ones you’d like to go to, and let Jim know you plan to come so he has an idea of how many volunteers to expect (you can still go even if you haven’t notified him, but it makes his life easier if you do).

Usually, the volunteers for each event try to get to the outreach site half an hour or more before the viewing starts, and there is a certain amount of visiting back-and-forth as people are setting up their equipment. In my experience, people go out of their way to greet newcomers and to help them out with any questions they might have about the proceedings. Jim attends almost all of the outreaches, and, if you haven’t yet met him in person at the time of your first outreach, that's a great time for you introduce yourself. When things get going, usually everyone is too busy with their particular line of viewers to do more than check now and then to see who is on which object, but once the viewing is over and people are starting to break down their equipment, there’s a lot more visiting between the volunteers. By the time you've been to two or three events, you'll feel like an old-timer with war stories of your own to tell and you’ll be very much a member of the group. It's a great way to have some feel-good experiences as well as meet some great people.

Special-Interest Groups

We currently have four formal special-interest groups (“SIGs”) in the club. These are smaller groups of club members that center around particular interests. There’s a lot of interaction between the members in all of these groups, which makes it easier to get to know people. It’s also easier to notice new people in these smaller groups, and all of the SIGs do their best to make newcomers feel welcome. Coming to SIG meetings doesn't bind you to anything, and it would be well worth your time to attend some meetings of all of the groups, to find out which ones fit your interests best. If you feel shy about going to any of these for the first time, contact the person who chairs or coordinates that group (they are all listed on the website and on the back of the Sirius Astronomer) to help you through any awkwardness.

If you've been to some of our general meetings, you'll probably see familiar faces at any of the SIG meetings, as many people who are active in the general meetings are also members of one or more of these groups – including me. Since everyone is there because of a common interest in a particular area, it’s a lot easier to have interesting conversations with people at these meetings than it would be if you were at a social party of people you don’t know well, even if everyone is a complete stranger to you.

Here's an overview of our SIGs, in alphabetical order:


This is the largest of our special-interest groups, and it is for people who have any interest in any type of imaging. The group includes complete beginners through advanced imagers, and equipment used includes all of the major types of cameras on the market (including webcams, DSLRs and various film cameras, as well as all kinds of CCD cameras). Meetings are on the third Tuesday of the month, at the conference room at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher in Irvine. We usually have around 15 to 30 people at the meetings, and there are generally two to three breaks for socializing in each meeting – a very pleasant mix of formal and informal activities. I wrote about the AstroImage SIG last month, so please check the October President’s Message for more information about the group. There’s one big change since last month, however – we are very happy to welcome Tom Kucharski as the new chair of the group!


People who come to the Astrophysics SIG are interested in the "why" of astronomy. Our meetings center around video lectures from recognized experts in different areas. We are currently going through the most recent set of astronomy lectures from Dr. Alex Filippenko, astronomer and professor at UC Berkeley. We usually have a general discussion session before the first video, on discoveries and other items of interest in the news or to one or another of the members or recent talks people have gone to, and Don Lynn (who does the monthly AstroSpace Update column in the Sirius Astronomer and is also our main expert for “Ask an Astronomer”) normally shares the most recent pictures he has downloaded from NASA and other websites, with explanations of their significance. We watch one or two lectures per meeting, depending on the time, with a period in between and at the end for discussion of topics raised in the lectures and in general socializing. It's the best type of seminar, where the “students” choose the curriculum and the lecturers based on what they are genuinely interested in.

The meetings are on the third Friday of each month at 7:30 p.m., though the December meeting has been cancelled because it’s so close to Christmas. We meet on the ground floor of the carriage house at the Centennial Heritage Museum on Harvard in Santa Ana, and regardless of the amount of knowledge you may already have about the universe around us and how it works, you will be very welcome.

EOA/Mocat project:

The main current activity of the Electronically Oriented Astronomers (EOA) is the club's remote controlled telescope project, known for historical reasons as the “Mocat.” The current Mocat telescope is a 12-inch LX200 GPS that was donated by John Hoot, which is located in the small flat-topped clamshell-style observatory just to the west of Anza house.

In the original concept, the “remote controlled telescope” was to going to be controlled from the computer room in Anza house over a hard wire connection to the observatory. Changes in technology have allowed us to expand beyond this, and JV Howell and Gene Kent (who are currently doing most of the field work on the project) have been able to control the telescope over the Anza network from the living room area in Anza House using a laptop. Besides showing people in Anza House what the Mocat is looking at during star parties and other events, this could be used for classes, scouts and other groups at Anza, and by members with physical limitations that make it hard for them to do direct observing themselves. Even more exciting is the very real possibility of controlling it from off-site over the Internet, so we could have classes or other groups control it as part of our outreach program (a concept similar to the Telescopes In Education program that used to be run from Mt. Wilson), and even have groups in other countries use it. One member of the EOA recently moved back to Pakistan, and we are hoping that we will soon have a session where he controls the telescope from Islamabad and uses it to demonstrate some of the wonders of the night sky to students or other interested people there.

Although it has not been well publicized within the club, this is a challenging project with a lot potential benefits to the club and to people outside the club, as well. The core group that is currently working on this is only six to eight people, so you would have an easy time getting to know everybody. The group’s regular meeting is on the fourth Wednesday of the month at Coco’s on Holt at Newport Ave. in Tustin at 7:30 p.m., to go over developments with equipment and other aspects of the project, discuss what needs to be done, and so on, as well as socialize and have a good dinner. If you have any interest in helping to get a remote-controlled telescope working reliably, or in using it – do come to our next meeting!

GoTo Group:

This started as the “ETX Group,” which was a bunch of people who had ETX telescopes and wanted to share information and help each other improve the performance of their telescopes. Many of the original members are now using other types of GoTo telescopes, and because of that and interest from people with other makes of scope, we became the more general “GoTo Group.” Anyone who is interested in GoTo telescopes is welcome, whether or not they actually own one, and the group is particularly good for people with new GoTo scopes who need some help learning to use them.

The meetings tend to be set more sporadically than the other SIGs. They are set about other month, usually on a Monday evening early in the month, and the chair, Mike Bertin, also comes up with a topic of interest for each of the meetings. Since the meetings are usually held at Craig Bobchin's house, we don’t make the address available on our website; if you are interested in coming, please contact Mike Bertin (, 949-786-9450) or Craig Bobchin (, 714-721-3273) for the address and directions.

We start the meetings with a session in the house, discussing the topic of the day, seeing demonstrations of equipment or techniques, getting to know new people and discussing matters of general interest. This is usually followed by a mini-star party in Craig’s backyard, if the weather allows. We generally have 10 to 20 people at the meetings, and the group sometimes has special events, such as the overnight party Craig hosted to view the recent lunar eclipse. The group also helps out with but the "How To Use Your Telescope" session of the Beginners Class in January and July, which allows us to help even more people get comfortable enough with their new scopes that they’ll actually use them.

In Closing

These are just a few of the options for getting to know people in the club – I didn’t talk all about star parties or the general meetings, which give you other opportunities. I hope you’ll give these a try – if you do, you’ll most likely find that you’re learning a lot more about astronomy and equipment than you did before, learning it a lot faster, and also meeting a bunch of really great fellow members.

© Barbara Toy, October 2007