Sunday, September 10, 2006

 

How Not to Spoil a Star Party

The Fall star party season will soon be in full swing for us Northern Hemisphere observers. Maybe now is a good time to reflect on not just what you should bring to a star party, but how you should act at one. Yeah, “How you gonna act?” How are you going to ensure you and the people around you have fun?

The key to behaving well at a star party? Remembering why you came. Sure, we go to star parties for dark skies, but that’s not the whole show. In fact, that’s not even a major part of it for many of us—most of the time, anyway. Yes, when you invest the family’s yearly vacation in something like the Texas Star Party, superb skies are perhaps a major part of the deal. But your average east-of-the-Mississippi regional star party? I suspect most of us have a club dark site comparable in sky-quality to what you'll find at many of these venues. No, when we go to one of these star parties, we’re going for the PEOPLE.

Yes, people. To hang out with our fellow amateurs, to renew acquaintances with the good folks we only see a time or two a year, and to hear what those more experienced than us have to say about our magnificent obsession. In short, we go to star parties to have fun with our friends old and new. With that in mind, the following are a few of my semi-random thoughts on the behavior of that that least shy of all beasts, Amateurus Star Partius North Americanus.

Star Party Choices: Since you’re mainly at a star party for the experience of being with a group of like-minded folks, don’t turn your nose up at a star party that’s got less than perfect skies. I’ve had a tremendous time, for example, at the Georgia Sky View. Sure, you’ve got that Atlanta light dome to the north, but you’d be surprised at what you can still see. And that other part of the star party "bargain" is well in force: wonderful people.

People: Since people are such a large part of the star party experience, are you mindful of the way you treat your fellow partiers? When somebody pulls up on the field right next to you and starts setting up, do you give ‘em a scowl that says, “I was saving that spot for a lawn chair,” or do you give ‘em a smile that says, “Howdy pardner, welcome! We’re gonna have a great time!”

Cabins: Along the same lines, do you treat the folks sharing a cabin with you with respect? Think back to the way you learned to live in a college dorm or military barracks. Feel hot? Ask your fellow residents before you open a window. Clean up after yourself, especially in the bathrooms; Uncle Rod ain’t your mama.

The Next Morning: Maybe you don't like to observe till dawn. Lots of us do. If you turn in early and thus awaken early, KEEP IT QUIET. Your friends are trying to sleep. You loudly humming the theme from Spongebob Squarepants is not going to help.

Pets: Some star parties permit them. Even if they do, leave Fido at home if possible. The observing field is no place for a dog. You know that no matter how carefully you watch him, Rover is going to leave a "surprise" on the field, start barking and keep on barking long enough to annoy everybody, and will inevitably frighten somebody or somebody's kid (I absolutely love all dogs—I do not believe there is any bad in them—but plenty of folks feel just the opposite). Since I hate to generalize, I'll say some dogs (and at least one prairie dog of my acquaintance) are wonderful and well-behaved at star parties, but this is the exception.

Chow: If meals are being served on site, don’t pitch a fit if they are not four star restaurant-quality. Think before you whine. Think about the challenge inherent in arranging for and serving 300 or so meals a day. Did you volunteer to help? Will you volunteer next year if you think you can do better?

Vendors: they usually travel a long way and invest a lot of their own money to be on-site at a star party. Do them and yourself a favor (if you want them back next year): BUY SOMETHING (do I really have to twist your arm on this?).

Speakers: Like the vendors, these folks, whether well-known authors and scientists or just your fellow club members with something to say, have come a long way and invested substantial time and resources to help YOU. Attend every presentation you can, and take a moment to thank the presenters.

Prizes: Yeah, everybody’s mouth waters over the raffle prizes. Remember the reason for ‘em, though. Their purpose is almost always to accrue money to help finance next year’s event. Look upon buying a ticket as "insurance" you’ll have another wonderful time next year. Don’t act poor-pitiful-me or bad mouth the star party staff if you don’t win that purty RCX.

Weather: Everybody talks about it; nobody does anything about it. If star party weather turns bad, many folks will not show. For some folks, even the threat of less than excellent weather will make 'em stay home. This is understandable. But, as above, observing is only a small part of the experience. Your attendance, rain or shine, clouds or no clouds, shows your support for the star party and helps ensure its continued good health. In fact, one of the best times I’ve ever had was sitting out on the field at the Deep South Regional Star Gaze in the middle of a torrential downpour, drinking Rebel Yell, and talking over the state of the Great American Telescope (you know what that is) with fellow members of the Yahoo SCT Users Group. That sure was a hell of a lot more fun than sitting home in front of the boob tube.

Yeah, people sure can be annoying; especially at star parties. My cure for the little annoyances other people always seem to inflict on me? Recognize the same annoying behavior in myself and resolve to do better.

Now, get out there and party!

Comments:
just a good life
 
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