Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Planetary Pairing on Friday

If you are a morning person, you're in luck. The planets Jupiter and Venus are putting on a great show in the pre-dawn sky.

Back two weeks ago, when I took Sandra to the airport for the early morning American Eagle flight to San Juan, Venus was well up in the eastern sky and Jupiter was shining a little above the horizon. Venus has been dropping towards the horizon rather quickly and now the two planets are close together.

They will be at their closest on Friday morning. This week, I've seen them as early as 5:45 am and as "late" as 6:15. I suspect that they would still be visible at 6:30, so you don't have to get up super early to spot them.

On Sunday morning, Venus will be a little below Jupiter and the waning crescent Moon will join them to make a nice little triangle in the sky. I'm hoping for clear skies this weekend so I can enjoy the free show.

Speaking of clear skies, it was exceptionally clear last night and Pierre and I got in some great binocular observing from about 9 pm to 11 pm. We went to a little parking area just north of 1000 steps to get away from the lights of Hato and Sabadeco and were treated to views of a myriad of jewel like stars set in an inky black sky. We had a couple star atlases with us to guide the way, and star clusters and galaxies would just pop into view in the big binos. The Milky Way passed directly overhead and was very clear to the naked eye.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Friendly Flamingo

After work, back on Jan. 10, I headed outside to the "stink pond" located to the east of the TWR offices, to see if I could capture some Flamingo reflections in the calm water. I didn't get the picture I wanted to get, and I may have to wait until next fall, when the winds die down again.
But after I had been crouching down behind a big boulder at the water's edge for what seemed like forever, this friendly flamingo meandered right by me.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Surprise Visit

One of Sandra's childhood friends, Pam Hogan, paid us a surprise visit here on Bonaire a week or so ago. I was "acting Director for a day" at TWR and couldn't break an appointment at the office that day, but Sandra was able to zoom around the island with Pam and her husband, Doug. Besides going around the north end of the island, they visited Pam's old stomping grounds in Belnem. It has changed so much, that they had a bit of difficulty identifying her old house on the seashore.

Pam and Doug have been to Bonaire a few times over the years. This time they arrived on a cruise ship for the day.

A week after Doug and Pam's visit, we received a Christmas card from Pam's parents, Denny and Pat Hogan, which mentioned that the kids might be coming! We got a ton of Christmas cards in January this year, which come to think of it, is pretty normal for us.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Computer Capers

Back about 10 years ago, Jeff and Glenda Haarer lived just down the street from us in Hato. Then they moved to Miami to help set up that TWR office. And now they are living in the Cary, NC area. Joe Barker and I take care of the day to day computer and network stuff here on Bonaire, but when there is serious work to be done, Jeff is our main IT guy. It is amazing what he can do with our Bonaire systems, through our secure tunnel to the Cary office.
Once in a while, some hands on attention is needed, so Jeff and company took advantage of the American Airlines fall fare sale and came to Bonaire last fall.
As you can see, everyone got into the act. They also had a great time visiting their old stomping grounds and seeing long lost friends.
Although Glenda is conspicuously absent from these photos, she did appear in this one from my Dec. 9 post.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Cluster Maps Display Refreshed

If you scroll down the right side of this blog, you'll see a small map of the world with lots of red dots on it. The dots represent visitors to this blog. The more visitors from a given location, the bigger the dot.

I've had this map on my blog for a year now, so the map host has archived all the accumulated dots, and reset the display. New dots representing visitors since Jan 17 are now appearing every couple days.

You can click on the small map to see it bigger. Once you have the big map, you can click on a link to a finer dot resolution version, or you can click on a link to a small version of the archived map with its multitude of dots accumulated during the first year.

Iridium Flare on Bonaire Tue. am

This post will only be useful to a very limited group of people. Namely people living on Bonaire who know where the stars Alpha and Beta Centaurus are in the sky.
Tuesday morning, Jan. 22, an Iridium satellite will do its "flare" thing to the left of the Southern Cross, smack dab in between Alpha and Beta Centaurus.
From Hato, the satellite will be shining at magnitude -4.5 or so for a few seconds. This is very bright. From further south on Bonaire, it will be less bright. If you are up north, it might be brighter.
The event will happen at 05:25:57, as seen from Hato. The time will be slightly different as seen from other places on the island.
I'm usually very reluctant to get up early to see star stuff, but I might just wake up for this one, because of where it is.

Monday, January 14, 2008

A Great Geeky Gadget

When my dad visited us last November, he brought us a fun gadget that is showing us how to save money on our electricity bill each month. It is the "Kill A Watt" power meter from P3 International.

We just plug the small Kill A Watt unit into a wall outlet and then plug our other stuff into it. It then tells us all about the energy consumption. It displays the line voltage and frequency, as well as information about how much power your appliance is using. There are readouts of amps, Volt Amps, Watts, as well as the power factor. If you leave something plugged in for a while, it also will tell you how many KWH the item has consumed during that time period.

We always notice that our electricity bill goes up in December and figured it was those pretty Christmas lights. This year I was able to see exactly how much power each string of lights was consuming. It's a lot of fun, and educational too.

One thing we learned is that our Laptop Computer uses less power while it is running than our desktop computer/dual CRT monitors/big Cambridge Soundworks speakers use even when they are turned "off." So now, when I'm not using the desktop computer system, we switch it all really and truly OFF at the wall! Equally amazing was how much power that whole conglomeration consumes when I'm actually working on the computer. When that desktop computer dies, it will be replaced by a (powerful) laptop for sure.

Here is an article on MSN about the Kill A Watt meter and another user's experiences. We just looked at a bill from WEB, the Bonaire power company, and our electricity costs about 40 cents US per KWH these days. So really turning off our desktop computer will save us about four times a much as that guy in the article reports.

The next thing I'm going to check is the power strip that our TV, home theater receiver, sub woofer, DVD player, wireless router, etc. are all plugged into. Depending on what kind of readings I see on the Kill A Watt meter, I may separate those devices onto two power strips. The cable modem, wireless router, and maybe the TV could stay powered up so they don' t "loose their brain" and the other stuff will get switched truly off.

We, of course, use fluorescent lights on the ceilings and in all our lamps. I'm also experimenting with a couple state of the art LED lights that screw into a regular light socket. They don't seem bright enough for prime time, but work great for background lighting, and the Kill A Watt says that they must be sipping their electricity through a really small straw.

Big Binos

I enjoyed a new astronomy experience last week. Our down the street neighbor, Pierre, brought over some giant binoculars and an innovative mount that held them steady as we looked at the stars. In this picture, Pierre is checking out Comet Tuttle.

Most experienced observers agree that binoculars are a better tool for beginning stargazers than a telescope. They are easy to transport, set up, and use; which translates into getting out under the stars more often.

Pierre used his binoculars for two years, here on Bonaire, before transitioning to a telescope. I spent my first year on Bonaire learning the constellations with my naked eye, and then a whole year observing with 10x50 binoculars, before getting my first telescope.

I think that the new computerized telescopes that find their way around the sky on their own make it less likely that new astronomy buffs will "pay their dues" with binoculars. But I suspect that it is still a good idea to begin with binoculars, because one will never "outgrow" them. You see, even experienced observers still enjoy scanning the sky with a good pair of binocs.

What I saw in Pierre's binoculars the other night was every bit as interesting and enjoyable as anything I've ever seen in a telescope. We're planning to do some more binocular observing as soon as the moon goes away. I can't wait.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Midnight Madness

If you've never been on Bonaire on New Year's eve. you are missing something truly amazing. People are shooting off fireworks the whole evening. But at midnight the explosions multiply and blur together into a island wide roar. Shortly before midnight, I went to one of the dirt roads part way up the hill between the WEB power plant and Republik. There were full-on professional quality fireworks bursting everywhere I looked: to the North in Hato, to the West along hotel row, to the south downtown, and to the east in Republik. Now I like fiddling around with audio systems, heck it's job related, but I think one would have a tough time reproducing the auditory and physical impact of what I experienced that night.
And then there were the pretty colors and shapes. It's a real feast for the senses, assuming that you have nerves of steel. Our dogs don't like New Years Eve at all. They spent most of the night indoors, slightly sedated, watching TV with Sandra.
I was out in the back yard taking pictures of the stars, because it just happened to be a nice clear moonless night. I also got to enjoy the fireworks bursting all around me!
Above is a picture of the galaxy, M33, located towards the bottom of the picture, left of center; as well as Comet Tuttle, in the upper part of the picture left of center. Comet Tuttle is getting a little brighter each night, but it is still pretty dim. The comet was right by M33 the previous night, but we were completely clouded out here on Bonaire.
This picture of comet Holmes is at the same scale as the one of Tuttle and M33, so you can see how much bigger Holmes appears.