Google Sky hits the streets

August 22nd, 2007 by webmaster

Adding to its popular Google Earth, the search engine and software giant has turned its gaze skyward with Google Sky. Accessed from within the Google Earth desktop application, Sky allows users to peruse the night sky, identify stars, constellations, and a variety of deep sky objects. An information bubble pops up when you mouse over any object, and for many of the identified objects a telescopic image is available.

Although this feature is in its infancy and is not (yet?) a threat to applications such as Starry Night and The Sky, it is nevertheless more than just a fun distraction. A variety of features (particularly the Layers) make it a useful resource for amateur astronomers, and its ease of use and free availability make it attractive for students and educators - many of whom already make use of Google Earth.

From the perspective of both an astronomer and an educator, any free tool that helps people learn astronomy and spread an appreciation of the night sky is a worthy one. Go check it out.

Of course, I should also mention, that for those who don’t want to download and install Google Earth, there is still the earlier, but less well known,


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DSI - Get ‘em while they’re hot

August 17th, 2007 by webmaster

The Meade DSI was introduced a few years back, and brought affordable, long exposure prime focus CCD imaging to the masses. Available in colour or monochrome, they had an immediate impact on the amateur astrophotography community.

Well, the DSI is being replaced with the DSI-II, and the old stock is being dumped at prices well below cost. In fact, the Monochrome with filters model, formerly about $600, is going for less than I happily paid for a used one, without filters, just a year ago.

So they are not the latest and greatest, if you want to get into CCD imaging on the cheap, or if you need a guide camera, don’t miss this opportunity to pick one up. Many major astro-retailers in Canada and the US are carrying them at this price, so you should be able to find one near you, or order one online.

And yes, I couldn’t resist, I bought another one. 

Happy imaging!


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Windows Vista - not ready for prime time!

August 14th, 2007 by webmaster

I will be the first to admint that Vista is pretty. But beyond that, I have nothing nice to say. I didn’t want to get Vista, but I had no choice. you see, my previous machine died, and still being under warrantee, it was replaced. With a new one. With Vista.

Now, the specs on the new machine put my old one to shame, and yet Vista was like molasses - slow to load, slow to switch users - and despite 1 gig of RAM (which on an XP box would be great), it seemed like most of the memory was used up just running the OS. Despite the MS hype that Vista is the most robust and stable Windows version yet, my machine would freeze fairly frequently, and I would get bluescreened at least twice a week. Then one day, while my eight year old daughter was playing one of her games, the machine froze, and would not respond to anything. No big deal, thought I, I will just reboot.


On startup it went to the Startup Repair utility, which then tells me it can’t repair the problem. So a machine that is 2 months old is killed by a kid’s game. Now, with XP, I would use the Recovery Console to see if I could fix it - but guess what? No recovery console! According to the Acer tech support, my only recourse was a recover re-install. Wipe the drive clean along with two month’s work. I don’t think so.

Fortunately, I was able to download a Knoppix CD image on another machine and burn a Knoppix boot disk (if you don’t know about Knoppix, check it out at which could read my NTFS drives and rescue my important files. With that done I was free to reinstall the OS - but frankly I don’t want to go through this again. So I am installing XP instead.

Maybe I will try Vista again some day - but I will wait for SP2, when hopefully it will be ready for prime time. But for now, let’s just say “friends don’t let friends use Vista”.

Posted in Big Ideas | No Comments »