Sunday, July 10, 2016

 

Issue 501: “Lo, there shall be an ending…”


The time has come, my fellow Baby Boomers, for us to have a talk. A rather serious talk. Yes, we’ll be back to chasing Messiers next week, but this week we need to discuss weightier matters. Matters broached by my friend Barry Simon in a recent post on the Cloudy Nights Refractor Forum. The subject of Barry’s post was, to summarize and paraphrase, “What are we Boomers going to do with all our equipment, our telescopes, as we age and approach the final fade-out?”

That for me is an interesting and relevant topic and one I’ve been thinking about more than a little for the last year and a half.  It is also not one I find at all depressing...it's just life and the inevitable conclusion to that story. As we retire or at least proceed past middle age, it is something that demands our attention even if, like me, you are pretty sure your last page hasn't yet been written (or at least read by you).

Why am I thinking these (supposedly) gloomy thoughts? No, I am not planning on checking out anytime soon, but I have to admit I am definitely well into my spring semester. It's not like I'm approaching  final exam week yet, but I am at least coming up on midterms. It is time to ponder these sorts of questions. If there were a title I'd bestow upon my current mindset, it would be the title of this blog entry: "Lo, there shall be an ending." 

As a natural consequence of months I’ve spent ruminating on my life’s journey, the Universe, and my place in it, I began to consider one of my life’s big passions, astronomy. Which led to me thinking about all the astro-stuff I’ve accumulated, mostly over the last 30 years, thanks to that passion. Like Barry, I had begun wondering about and worrying about what the heck to do with it all.

Surveying my gear, I realized I'd become something of a telescope hoarder. I won't say "collector," because what I had was mostly (though not all) Fords and Chevys, Meades and Celestrons. Utilitarian telescopes I liked and used. Or liked, anyway. It became clear to me that over the last decade or two I had strayed from my long time precept that telescopes are tools, and that they had become an end in themselves.

In my late 40s I got into the habit acquiring stuff I did not need:  "Well, that's a nice C8. Be good to have a backup. And she is so pretty." Soon I had backups of backups. When I finally decided to take stock about a year ago, to take inventory of all my astro-stuff, I gotta tell you I was a bit shocked.

My shop/garage, “the Batcave,” was host to over 20 telescopes, several of them heavy or otherwise cantankerous to the point where I knew I would seldom (if ever again) use them. And there was another herd inside the house. It became clear to me this wasn’t a good thing for either my physical or mental health. 15 years ago I’d have reveled in it all. Not now.

My central concern was that the scopes, mounts, accessories, and all the rest of the stuff that was the result of 50 years as an amateur astronomer not be a problem for my wife, or my kids, or my friends when I shuffle off this mortal coil. Whether that be in 10 or 20 or even 30 years--or tomorrow. The approach I took was "Anything that doesn't get used has to GO," and I got work to reduce telescope headcount.

TELESCOPES TO GO

First on the chopping block were three standard C8s. I have a Celestron Edge 800 and that is the SCT I use when I use SCTs these days (I mostly do refractors of late for a variety of reasons), and I didn't need three standard C8s. Hell, nobody really needs three extra C8s. I had them because I could have them. All three went to good homes and brought in some money.

Next up was my beloved truss tube Dobsonian "Old Betsy,” a time-honored 12-inch I’ve had since the early 1990s. She was an older design truss and quite heavy for me in these days when I have a back that occasionally complains. I made a good deal on her with a young couple who were enthusiastic about astronomy. I really hated to let Bets go—so many pleasant memories of using her—but what good was she doing sitting on the floor of the Batcave rotting away month after month? And I still have those memories.

There was also my retro telescope, my Criterion RV-6 Dynascope Newtonian. If I'd bought this one back in the day, I'd have had a hard time parting with her, but she was given to me some years ago, so it was easier to let go. Beautiful primary, drive worked fine, amazing performer. I sold the RV-6 rather than giving her away in hopes that placing some monetary value on her would give the person who bought her the impetus to take care of and use her and that appears to have happened.

Then there was an assortment of other telescopes large and small—like my StarBlast—that went out the door too, to good homes. Despite my efforts, however, I’m not quite done selling and/or giving away just yet. There is still…

My carbon fiber C11 OTA. It has taken quite a while to get up the gumption to sell her. I can remember, when I got her just after the turn of the century, going around for days with my head in the clouds chanting, “I have a C11, I have a C11!” But I'm pretty sure I will part with her. She, Big Bertha, does me no good sitting in her case in a closet night after night when she could be making some younger amateur happy. She is just too heavy for me even now and that trumps everything else.

An 8-inch f/5 Dobsonian. This ultra portable 8 has, alas, a somewhat bum focuser that needs to be replaced before I sell her (one of JMI's ridiculously bad RCF focusers). Or I might just give her away to a good home crappy focuser included. She's a pretty, pretty telescope but simply doesn't get used. Like the 12-inch, she sits on the floor of the Batcave.

TELESCOPE KEEPERS

My Edge 800 SCT is in this category. I don't use her too much of late, but I'd like to keep my hand in in the SCT game for one thing. For another, when I need a little more image scale for pictures, she might serve me well. Like every other scope I own, however, she could go on the chopping block as the next few years roll by. I will always have a telescope and will always observe—well, as long as I am able—but not necessarily all or even any of these current keepers will be with me to the end. Well, actually one certainly will, tail-end Charlie below.

The SkyWatcher 120 Pro ED, “Hermione,” is maybe one of two or three of my remaining scopes that might be exempt from the above. She is light and she is very capable. She is today my most used telescope and I can’t ever see her becoming difficult for me to handle, even if I have to downsize her mount a little even from the Celestron VX. She shouldn't be any trouble for someone to sell or otherwise dispose of when I depart.

Big Ethel, a 6-inch f/8 achromatic refractor, is something of an aberration, a skylark of a telescope when I was, I thought, done with skylarking telescopes. I bought her from Barry and she was for sure something of an indulgence. I always wanted a freaking 6-inch refractor, you see. On the up side, she will not be as much of a hassle for someone to collect/transport, etc. when I am not around as the 12-inch Dobsonian would have been.

Zelda, a 10-inch GSO Dobsonian, is simple and sweet, and I intend to hold onto and use her as long as I am capable of using her. No batteries, no computers. This is what replaces the C11. With the 12 and (soon) the C11 gone, I want to have a little aperture for visual work. Unfortunately, the twinges my back is emitting of late indicate “as long as I am capable” may not be as long as I might wish. We’ll see.

My most used imaging scope today—and one of my most used telescopes for any purpose—is an 80mm fluorite William Optics Megrez II. I am pretty sure she’ll will be one of the two or three with me to the end. She can do a lot and is light enough that she is at least bearable even on a camera tripod.

If I will likely keep the 80,  I will surely keep the 66mm WO Patriot refractor. Not only is the Patriot a superb wide-field imager, she takes up virtually no room in storage, and I would have to be pretty far gone not to be able to use her at all. Also, I am constantly amazed at how much I can see with this wee telescope.

I have a Celestron 4-inch f/10 C102 that gets used frequently, so she’ll likely stay along with a 3-inch f/11 SkyWatcher achromat. Both are good for when I’m feeling lazy but still want to observe with something. Unfortunately, their grab ‘n go goodness is somewhat duplicated in more elegant fashion by the two William Optics refractors, so either or both of these might hit the road at some point.

Finally, there is one telescope that is a sure survivor, my Edmund Scientific Palomar Junior. This was my first scope. I will keep her to the end. After that she is on her own.

MOUNTS TO GO

The CG5 I used extensively for 10 years has found a new home. Funny thing? This inexpensive mount never failed me. Her gotos were always spot on and her tracking was more than good enough for me. Almost to the end she was out on dark observing fields grabbing Herschel 2500 objects.

Not gone yet, but destined to leave soon is a Synta Atlas EQ-6. This is not a bad mount. It just never gets used due to the fact that its payload and tracking capabilities are duplicated by my CGEM. The Atlas doesn’t take up a whole lotta space in the Batcave but, once again, why hold onto something that you just let sit and rot?

Several smaller mounts and accessories have also gone out the door. Stuff like EQ-1s and EQ-2s, wedges, tripods, etc., etc. None of this stuff has been missed or is likely to be. I also sold the fork/drive-base/wedge/tripod/case of the NexStar 11 when I removed the tube from the fork. I loved the setup and had used it for well over a decade, but it had become way too heavy and awkward for me.

MOUNT KEEPERS

In the short term, my CGEM is staying. It’s a good mount that makes my modest imaging programs easy. However, as soon as I get to the point where I am afraid, really afraid, to mount the head on the tripod, it will have to go. If my current back problems do not abate, that will be sooner rather than later. Why do I have a CGEM as well as an EQ-6? Never could get friendly with the EQ-6 HC and was never impressed by the EQ-6’s goto accuracy, even with EQMOD.

There is no reason I can think of to dispense with my SkyWatcher AZ-4 alt-azimuth mount. Not the greatest thing in the world, but it works, even with the Edge 800. If you want real grab 'n go, you want some kind of an undriven alt-az mount like this—especially one that’s so light and small.

And that leaves my Celestron AVX. I presume I'll use it till it (or me) fails. Far lighter than the CGEM, but still capable of taking nice pictures if you keep the focal length of the telescope reasonable. I believe I’d have to get close to being too decrepit to dare get out on an observing field at night before I’d have to give up the VX.

The astro-junk I’ve accumulated over the last half century includes more than just scopes and mounts, of course. I divested myself of my collection of decades worth of Sky & Telescope and Astronomy magazines some time back. As soon as the S&T DVDs came out, I put a huge pile of magazines on the curb (nobody, and I do mean nobody wanted them, alas). They really weren't a very practical reference tool—not like the DVDs. I kept a few from the 1960s and those I appear in and that was it. Astronomy? I still like the magazine, but I rarely open a back issue so there was no reason to keep them. Every copy of Astronomy I had went away.

Other stuff? Selling and giving away telescopes has gone a long way toward thinning the eyepiece/accessory herd as well. "Have fun with your new scope and take some nice free Kellners and Plossls with you."

So, there’s still some gear that needs to be OUTA HERE, and especially the C11 and Atlas, but even with a ways to go it has been absolutely FREEING to get rid of all that stuff. Those unused telescopes were actually stressing me out rather than making me happy. I'd walk past Old Betsy in the Batcave and think, "I've really GOT TO drag her out tonight" even if I didn't want to. As I said, in the beginning, I believe the last page of my story hasn't been written yet, but slowly, ever so slowly, beginning to make preparations for the last chapter and beyond—whatever that turns out to be—feels good.

Is this really the end of my gear lust? Will I give in and get back on the equipment train? I don’t think so. I have rules now.  I began with "Nothing comes in unless something goes out." I upped that to, "Nothing comes in unless several somethings go out," but even that didn't seem enough.  Today it's "Nothing comes in unless you have sold or given away EVERYTHING. Unless you absolutely, positively have NOTHING, not even a Short Tube 80, to star gaze with." Will I stick to that? I seem to be sticking with it so far.

I will say that if the VX mount went up in smoke tomorrow, I'd have to replace that with another VX or a similar mount, even if I still have the CGEM when that happens. As above, the CGEM is borderline heavy for me right now, and I really need a GEM in the VX's weight class. Actually, maybe that is about all I need mount-wise. If the VX is like the CG5, which is still going more than ten years down the road, this is not likely to be a problem anytime soon, thankfully.

Beyond the reduction of my stress level, I feel relieved to be working not to leave a mess or trouble behind. Oh, don’t get dewy-eyed on me, friends.  I am in good health and I plan to be observing for quite a few years yet. That's what I plan, anyhow, but you have to keep sight of the truth. And the truth, the ground truth, is in this old adage: "When your number's up, you gotta go." Don't want to cast a pall over the proceedings, but let's face it, Boomers...our numbers could be up tomorrow. I can't put it any more succinctly than that.

Whatever happens, amateur astronomy and, particularly, the last thirty years of it has been quite a ride. Wouldn't trade those years for anything—well, that's not quite true. Not quite anything. But it has been fun. I loved almost every minute of it, though I must admit I view our avocation a little differently now.

Biggest change in my thinking of late?  What I value most at this time is not the gear I’ve owned or the sights of I’ve seen or the pictures I’ve taken, but the friendships I’ve made in our hobby. The most valuable thing about the process I’ve outlined here is that it is (in part) responsible for an epiphany. The epiphany that what matters isn’t stuff, but the people you love and the people who love you. Nothing else matters, friends.

Comments:
There was a boy
A very strange, enchanted boy
They say he wandered very far
Very far, over land and sea
A little shy and sad of eye
But very wise was he

And then one day,
One magic day he passed my way
While we spoke of many things
Fools and Kings
This he said to me:

"The greatest thing you'll ever learn
Is just to love and be loved in return".

--Eden Ahbez
 
I have been thinning the herd for some time now, losing two big dobs after getting a Mallincam. I just never seemed to use my Lunt solar scope much either so I sold it to fund a modified DSLR which I use frequently now. I unloaded 25X100 binos as they gathered dust too. My C11 is my most used scope and having it permanently mounted in the backyard helps. I unloaded CCD cameras and I think the Mallincam is next to go as the DSLR and Astro Toaster is supplanting it and our club has one anyway. There remains a lot of stuff like eyepieces, filters, adapters OAG, Barlows, etc. that are still needed. When I can no longer look after my yard and have to move I will be down to my great C6 and a lightweight goto mount. I have determined in my will where the rest of my remaining equipment will go as it could be tomorrow! I find I don't do a lot of visual outside of solar system objects and some double stars. When I do I still want some aperture. ....Dwight
 
I am following the same path, sold/gave away lot duplicate and triplicate camera gear recently. Three weeks after using your advice decided on keeping my LXD75 with the C8 for yard stack and shoot imaging. But I have two other scopes and one was not getting used. I sold my Orange C5 much to my surprise. My US made rubber C90 is so useful as a spotter and small scope on the SLT (and it was my first scope)made it the right choice. I always dreamed of a big scope, but after seeing how many folks in the club gave them up in their 60's, I knew I had reached an age where it just wasn't a good idea.

A C8 on a small goto gem for me has been the very best scope - and of such little value I will just have my wife or executor donate it and the C90 to the club.

The C90 was a great surprise. Everyone said even with Starbright they were junk. Funny thing with a good diagonal and a set of Ultimas I came to realize that once cooled down it was a very good travel scope - sharp and 200X capable on planets.

Over the last 20/15 years my C8 and C90 have gained my respect and thanks for the things they have shown me.
 
I have managed (to the amazement of my long suffering wife) to down-size to 2 scopes! My much beloved Starmaster 14.5 Dob w/ a superb Zambuto mirror (it continues to give fantastic views!), and a Celestron 9.25 GPS (I sold my 11" GPS after 10 years of use and IMMEDIATELY regretted it, so replaced it with the smaller 9.25). Star Parties and visits to dark sites are always with the dob, while numerous public events are invariably with the SCT with crowd friendly bio-viewers. I have paired down my eyepiece collection, but must admit that I have eyepieces that I "love" but seldom get used. I can honestly spend a whole evening with a 31 Nagler, 17 Nagler, and 13 and 8 Ethos, but I have yet to downsize in eyepieces....
 
Good discussion, Rod.

Your best point, I think, is the one about charging something for your obsolete goods. I gave a great 8-inch Meade reflector to a neighbor who was thrilled to have it--at first. When it became clear the pedestal base was heavy, he never used it again, to my knowledge. I'm sure he'd have re-thought that decision if he'd had an investment in it. Wish I had found a science teacher that would have put it to better use.

 
I hear you, Rod. I'm starting to get that overwhelmed feeling myself. I've been going through a reverse aperture fever phase as the years go by.

John O'Hara
Oil City, PA
 
How much are you looking to part with the EQ-6 for Mr. Rod? I'm in the "Possum Swamp"area.
 
It is prudent for us to get wills drawn up in order to have some control over our assets after we die. For us, our telescope(s) are our most prized posessions. Bequeathing your telescope to a deserving person or organization will make it more meaningful to you.


 
Hi Jeff:

I haven't really put a dollar amount on the old EQ-6 yet. Shoot me an email or FB message some time. No hurry.
 
For me, the " gathering gloom" is not so much about shedding equipment, as what I think of as a "realization of lasts". There are upcoming astronomical events that will be the last of their kind for me. For instance, the 2017 solar eclipse will be my last best chance to see such a spectacle (I know there is one in '22 but it's in April and in Cleveland, I.e. Very poor weather prospects.). Then there is the Mars opposition in 2018- the best of the next few ones I'm likely to live to enjoy. The next time Saturns rings are completely open will be the final time I am likely to see them that way. You get the point. With the exception of the solar eclipse, I have seen such things before, nice Mars oppositions, great comets like Hyakataki and Halle-Bopp, the asteroid impact on Jupiter ect., but it saddens me to think of what I will miss. And so now the hobby is about relishing the final acts.
 
Back issues are serious business. Rarely do they get better. They get worse. I suffer from degenerative cisk disease in the lumbar region. I am payinig the price of working behind a computer as a designer for 25 years.

I will soon have to part with my 10 inch fork mounted SCT. It is inevitable. I will not be able to pick it up anymore.

That is life.
 
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