Wednesday, December 24, 2008


Christmas in Dixie

This ain’t gonna be no long-winded epistle, brothers and sisters. With bellies full of ham, turkey, goose, and Christmas cheer (did you know it comes in a Rebel Yell bottle?) who is in the mood for that? This here blog entry is my little Christmas card to y’all, nothing more; a brief outline of another Chaos Manor South Christmas combined with a little sentimental reminiscing. Oh, of course, I’m gonna tell y’all WHAT I GOT!

As I type, it’s Christmas Eve at Chaos Manor South. Darkness and quiet has descended upon the halls of the Old Manse. Along with torrential rain. Meaning the scopes are nestled all snug in their beds. For the 4th year in the row our traditional Christmas Eve look at M42 and the glories of the sword has been skunked. Ah, well. There’s always next year.

Otherwise it continues to be a glorious season, and your ol’ Unk is content to sit back tonight with a dollop of Yell and reminisce about holidays of yore—the glow brought on by lots of Italian restaurant food and wine from step-daughter Beth’s birthday fete (she is home from Yankeeland for the week) only enhances Your Old Uncle Rod’s naturally mellow mood. Cue the soundtrack from A Charlie Brown Christmas.

Reminiscences ? Christmas reminiscences? Strangely, equipment hound though your Ol’ Unk is reputed to be, most of my Christmas astro-memories have nothing at all to do with what I got any particular year. My big amateur astronomy purchases are almost always done in the spring or fall in preparation for the coming observing season. You still wanna play “wutyouget,” even if Unk don’t have a brand-spanking new umpty-inch compu-CAT to boast about? Well, as usual, Miss Dorothy laid a passel of astro-accessories and books at the foot of the tree.

Let’s start with a book. Astronomy books are popular for Christmas down here in The Swamp—the clear skies of November inevitably give way to storms long before the 25th of December. As y’all may know, Unk is a longtime and still-enthusiastic double star maven , and is proud to contribute a little of his middling expertise in the field to our homegrown pub (University of South Alabama), The Journal of Double Star Observatons. So, I was delighted, once the rest of the family finished their frenzied wrapping paper ripping, to find a copy of Bob Argyle’s Observing and Measuring Visual Double Stars lodged up against the tree-trunk. While this book is slanted toward those of us who’ve become serious about these delightful luminaries, there is somethin’ here for everybody, and there is even a cool accompanying CD containing the Washington Double Star Catalog and other Cool Stuff.

What else? As y’all have no doubt heard tell, Mr. SCT has been spending an increasing amount of time observing with a 12.5-inch Dobsonian. Why? It’s nice to take a break from the tech once in a while, and I must admit the deep sky puts on quite a show at f/4.8 with the help of a dadgummed Ethos or two. My time-honored Dob, Old Betsy, recently underwent a considerable refit, with me adding (with the help of ATM Pat Rochford) Sky Commander DSCs, a smaller secondary, a new secondary holder and secondary heater, and improved side bearings. I also upgraded the primary with Spectrum’s super-duper “Max-R” coatings. I am not exaggerating when I say the ol’ warhorse is performing like a brand new scope. Despite all these fixes, though, at October’s Chiefland Star Party it became abundantly clear there was still something Betsy lacked.

We got our share of rain at the CSP (as well as some beautiful skies), and it was soon obvious I needed a better scope cover than the Mylar Desert Storm one I’d been using for nigh on 10 years. This cover works great with my kitty-CATs. But it ain’t worth a hoot with a Dob. It will, you see, not fit over the rocker box when the tube is pointed much lower than vertical. And that is no good a-tall. For safety’s sake, a Dobsonian needs to be tilted over toward the horizontal so it will be free to “weathervane”—rotate freely in azimuth when a wind blows up. Leave one standing straight up, and an errant gust is likely to tip the whole derned scope over. What I resorted to Down Chiefland Way was covering the forward part of the scope, the truss and upper cage, with the Desert Storm cover, wrapping a tarp from the Chiefland Wally World around the rocker box, and securing that with bungie cords. Needless to say, that was a pain in the rear at 4am, and not as secure or waterproof as I’d a-liked.

What to do? I noticed one of the Dobsonians set up nearby was sporting a right nice cover. One that was shaped so as to slide over the truss and upper cage, over the rocker box, and be fastened with a drawstring under the ground board with the scope near-horizontal. Now yer talking! Closer examination revealed that it was made of what appeared to be waterproofed fabric, Nylon, looked like. Who made the thing? I spied a nice embroidered AstroSystems logo on the upper end. When I got home, a visit to the AstroSystems website filled-in the details: their cover is indeed Nylon, but with a Polyurethane inner lining and an outside sprayed with water-repellent stuff. A little more browsing of the webpage and a little wheedling with Miss D.: “Guess what you can get me for Christmas, Honey” and an AstroSystems scope cover was on its way.

I was amazed that, at this time of the year, Randy Cunningham and Co. still managed to get me my cover in a little over a week. Naturally, I had to give the thing a good check-out (indoors) before handing it over to Dorothy for wrapping. I was even more impressed than I had been at CSP. In addition to the very well made and generously sized cover (I ordered the 14.5-inch model in order to accommodate my many finders, Telrads, etc.), a secondary cover was included in the package (I will probably continue to use Crown Royal bags ‘cause that gives me an excuse to drink the stuff every once in a while) as was a strap for fastening a weight to the upper cage for added stability in windy conditions. Finally, there was a nice fabric bag to hold the whole shebang. I hope to try ‘er out for real in a few weeks and will let y’all know how it works out, but it looks to me like my Dob cover problems are finally over.

You may not believe it, but after all these years I still do not have a motorized focus for my main C8, Celeste. Make that did not. A good cover for Old Betsy was one of the few things in the “put off buyin’” category I could think of, and a C8 focus motor was anudder. Sure, I’ve got used to focusing manually over the years, and know how to exercise a light touch, but I’ll admit I’ve had more than one image ruined by my “good enough” focusing. It’s hard to get things just right when every adjustment brings on The Shakes.

Who makes motorized focusers for SCTs these days? A number of outfits do, but, as always when thinking about gadgets like this, one name entered my mind: Jim’s Mobile. I’ve been buying stuff from JMI for at least twenty years, and it just seemed natural to order their famous C8 Motofocus. It arrived promptly, and, like the Motodec unit I’ve been using for a decade and a half, is well made, easy to install, and included a nice hand control. Hell, Jim even puts batteries in the little HC for ya. I think I am gonna like the modern way of focusing, and will report back as soon as I can get a CAT out onto my club field.

But all the above good stuff was this year. What about them Christmas astro-memories I was going on about earlier? Well, like I said, it’s the skies not the stuff that seems to stick in my mind. Like the times I’ve stood out under a pitch black sky (well, kinda, we are talking about Chaos Manor South’s backyard) under the glittering diamond-hard stars of winter and drank-in the majesty of the celestial hunter. Our Christmas Eve look at M42 is a tradition I started soon after Miss D. and I married 15 years ago (seems just like yesterday). We don’t haul out a big gun; maybe just a Short Tube 80 or the StarBlast, and we spend about as much time looking at The Sword with our unaided eyes as we do with the scope. Naw, it don’t look like it does in Bubba’s 25-incher from the pitch-black skies of Houndog Holler, but that don’t matter. We admire it still, sip a little eggnog, reminisce about our wonderful past Christmases together, and before we know it, Christmas Eve has ended and another Christmas has begun.

You know what campers? I think I got everything I wanted this time. Well, almost; I didn’t get that world peace I ask for each and every 25th. I did get another wonderful year in this wonderful avocation, another year with my wonderful wife, and another year of wonderful friends like each and every one of y’all. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year (as well as a Happy Hanukkah, a Glorious Eid al-Adha, a beautiful Winter Solstice, or whatever floats your boat). I think it is gonna be a good year, no matter what the consarned Dow Jones does. See y’all again on the cotton-pickin’ first of January!

Merry Christmas Rod. Keep your quill inked...and your scopes running

Matthew Ota
Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!

Rod, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you too. Many thanks for writing such interesting (and somewhat enchanting) articles in the blog :-)
Merry Christmas to you and yours, Unc.
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