fivemack: (Default)
I have a self-image as the kind of person who always has a book on the go and who reads at a ridiculous rate - I told Goodreads '52 a year' and thought that wouldn't be difficult.

I just finished number 19, which was Aliette de Bodard's _House of Binding Thorns_, featuring the cold shabby struggle between a Paris of fallen angels and a Seine of displaced Vietnamese dragons; this was one where I would read a chapter at the end of the day and drift off to sleep. It's the first book I finished in July. It's good, if you read _House of Shattered Wings_ you'll like it, it may be the only fantasy I've read with one of the protagonists pregnant.

It may simply be that I'm not on as many trains by myself; I don't think the lack of novel-reading coincides with having an Economist subscription, though that has meant my Sunday afternoons include two hours of sitting in a comfy chair with an ever-refilled mug of hot water reading quite dense reporting.

Trying some non-fiction (_The Box_, on Kindle, about how container shipping changed the world, _Sabres of Paradise_, in a physical hardback, about the Russian conquest of the Caucasus) next. It is sad that I am wary of reading _Sabres of Paradise_ on public transport because it is a thick black book with Arabic letters in gold on the front.
fivemack: (Default)
Look, it's a teeny fuzzy space-station-shaped blob. Nice bright pass tonight 2137 (slightly better one 2044 tomorrow, then the next really good evening passes are end-May start-June). Pass information at Heavens Above - that page is for Cambridge, the timings will be meaningfully different if you're as little as a hundred miles away.

International Space Station

To get even that bad a picture requires a lens significantly bigger than my forearm:

fivemack: (Default)
Everyone else has been moving across, so I might as well join them; the LJ import is sitting there in its queue, and really I should once in a while try writing something longer than two sentences of Facebook post illustrated with a photo.
fivemack: (iguana)
Screen Shot 2017-01-01 at 21.55.03

"Tax" appears tiny because this is made from the spreadsheet of transactions on my bank account, and income tax gets deducted before the money gets to the bank account, so it's only council tax. The TV license counts as a utility. Babbage the kitten (who I think will become 'CAT' on next year's pie chart) required quite expensive dentistry this year.
fivemack: (iguana)
Expenditure in 2015

(compare 2014 and 2013)

It was an odd-numbered year so I bought several computers; I bought an elaborate telephoto lens, a new giant pink iPhone, and a couple of pieces of beautiful art at Eastercon; I had quite a lot of work done to the house, and I have paid in full in advance for a very exciting holiday in March 2016, going to a small island fifty minutes by puddle-jumper from Manado (which is the capital of North Sulawesi province in Indonesia, three hours by A320 from Singapore) to see the total eclipse of the sun.

The kitten is a new category of expenditure, but it is not a very hungry kitten and it has been a thoroughly healthy kitten so it's quite a small new category of expenditure and you can scarcely see its pie-chart segment.
fivemack: (iguana)
The partially- and totally-eclipsed moons do not in any useful respect resemble a duck. Which is a pity, since I know that I have the kit to take quite good pictures of ducks.

Photos below may be a bit wide for your friends-page )
fivemack: (iguana)
These are all from my recent trip to the mountains near Cortina d'Ampezzo; I took the top one, the other three were taken by other people on the trip, one of whom was a designer from Dyson with a fancy retro camera (Fuji X100S) and a really good eye. You will already have seen them on my Facebook but I appreciate some people do not Facebook.



fivemack: (Default)
I know several of my friends are coming over to Amsterdam for this; I've been to it today and might as well report.

First observation: the ship switches to Dutch time at about midnight, Dutch time is an hour ahead of UK time, and so you may be perturbed when the unsilenceable speaker in the cabin ceiling announces at a time you believe to be 5:30 that we will be landing in 90 minutes.

The event is behind the central station and thoroughly signposted from within the station.

The main area, with the tall ships you can visit, is the 'orange route'. This goes round two long sides and one short side of the old docks, it's a five-mile walk, and as far as I can tell at the end you have to retrace your footsteps five miles back to Amaterdam Central Station. Two of the more exciting attractions - the modern submarine Bruinvis and the current Dutch Navy flagship de Rutyers - are right at the far end. The submarine stops accepting visitors at 4pm, the flagship at 4:30; today I missed both.

You might be better off taking a tour of the ships from the water: you can buy a timed e-ticket from under 'sail', it's €20 for adults, €10 for children, €0 for small children. This tour puts you in the procession of ships that go round the dock: if you're walking, the walk goes clockwise and the procession goes clockwise and so often you'll keep up with the same processing boat for some time.

The first couple of visitable ships have long queues, the queues are much shorter for later ones. I would recommend the Ecuadorian ship Guayas, the enormous Staatsraad Lemkuh, and (on the second half of the circuit) the small but perfectly-formed Australian Young Endeavour, the unpronounceable Polish Dar Młodzieży, and right at the end the French Belem which used to be the private yacht of the Duke of Westminster and later of the Guinness dynasty. The Chilean Esmerelada is so near the start as to have a long queue, and has a slightly unreconstructed tone to it with "Victory or Death" and "la razon o la fuerza" mottos everywhere.

Bring loads of water: if you can, bring a picnic. There are loads of food and drink stalls, but the standard pricing is €2.50 for a small drink.
fivemack: (iguana)
This is another spiral galaxy, just short of edge-on to us, with a very prettily-placed band of dust in the plane of the galaxy - you can see that the nucleus is on the top side.

Tends to be called the Sombrero galaxy. Combination (using software I've just written) of five 90-second exposures; the purple colour cast is an artefact of pulling the levels up to show the faintest stars.


Messier 82

May. 30th, 2015 06:07 pm
fivemack: (iguana)
This is a starburst galaxy in Ursa Major; it's a spiral galaxy, viewed edge-on, with an enormous cloud of dust in front of it.

Sum of two 90-second exposures at ISO 1600 with 2250mm-focal-length f/4.5 giant telescope; I took five, but for three of them the wind was blowing hard enough to disrupt the telescope guiding and distort the bright stars into unusably strange shapes.

The apparently odd-shaped star in the top left is HD85161, which does have a companion star in the position that appears on this picture. It's surprisingly hard to find on-line star catalogues comprehensive enough to tell me how bright the faintest stars appearing in this picture are; ones which are over-exposed to the point of saturating at the centre are around magnitude eleven (IE a hundred times too faint to be seen with the naked eye), which makes sense since the big telescope collects about ten thousand times as much light as the naked eye does.

fivemack: (iguana)
This is the twenty-inch Newtonian reflector at the Centre for Observational Astronomy in the Algarve, where I have just spent five nights


And this is roughly what you get if you point it into the middle of the Virgo galaxy cluster, attach my nice camera, leave the shutter open for 90 seconds at ISO1600, and tidy up a bit in Photoshop afterwards.


I think there are six and a half galaxies visible here; M84 and M86 are the big ellipticals top and bottom respectively, NGC4387 is the little one in the middle, NGC4388 is the interestingly-shaped one on the right, NGC4402 is the dim fuzzy one on the bottom left, IC3303 is the teeny faint one you get to if you start at M86, go to 4387 and keep going, NGC4413 is the half-cut-off one right at the bottom on the right. I'm not at all sure what the name of the tiny companion galaxy about a centimetre at clock-7:30 from M86 is.
fivemack: (iguana)
The total amount Race For Life has ever raised would pay the NHS's drugs bill for a fortnight.

The total amount Comic Relief has raised in thirty years would pay Britain's housing benefit for three weeks.

The total amount ever raised by the Disaster Emergency Committee is about a month's budget for the DFID.

Those are the kind of statistics it's worth having in mind when listening to talk of the Big Society; replacing single specialised pieces of taxpayer funding would require initiatives as big as the biggest ones we have. There's not the slightest hope of reliably getting three times as much donated annually to the task of funding the library service as was donated to the relief efforts for the 2004 tsunami, and that's what libraries in the UK cost.
fivemack: (iguana)

This is in all absolute senses a series of awful pictures; on the other hand, it is a series of pictures, from my back garden with my birding-lens, of a moving object about the size of a 747 located two hundred miles away.

Holding a 3kg camera-and-lens combination at arm's length for five minutes is an excellent exercise for the bicep; focussing the blasted thing on the other hand, even with the stars as convenient point sources, is an exercise in frustration.
fivemack: (iguana)

Same lens as the moon picture; Orion Optics full-aperture solar filter. Pointing a very long lens hand-held at the sun while holding the filter on with the other hand is not as completely trivial as you would expect - you move until the shadow is minimal, and then squint a lot.
fivemack: (iguana)

It's near-enough full moon, so the rays from the craters are particularly visible; click on the image to get a bigger version with labels. The moon looks about as big as a shelduck two hundred feet away, so I'm expecting to get some quite nice pictures when I have spare time on a sunny weekend and go over to Fen Drayton lakes.
fivemack: (iguana)
What are the best surviving Roman sites in Asia Minor?

I've seen Ephesus and Aspendos suggested (along with an indication that there is at least one interesting city in Tunisia if I want to go to that end of the empire instead: Leptis Magna is the great site in that part of the world but it seems likely to be quite a while before contemporary geopolitics clear up enough for a visit); aside from the amazing cistern I was surprised how little Constantinople was left in Istanbul.
fivemack: (iguana)


This is a Nativity scene displayed in the Palace Chapel of the Royal Palace at Naples. The Christ-child can be seen down and to the left of the yellow angel, or up and to the right of the large group of Moorish musicians (wearing scarlet, just to the right of the leftmost camel), barely visible above a sheep.

Click to zoom in; the image spans nicely across two HD monitors, or you can pan around it on a normal computer.
fivemack: (iguana)

From the Palazzo Real in Naples

July 2017

161718 19202122


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