The Awl linked to this list of things that are 20 years old and things that are 40 years old. I was actually thinking about Nevermind the other day and realized that it was indeed 20 years old. Sheesh.

What got me here though was that it points out that the way I think of things from the early 70s, i.e., things that pre-date me by 5-10 years, is the way that high schoolers today think about Nevermind and things of that time. Some salient examples for me are Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory or Dirty Harry. I like them. They don’t seem “old” per se, but they do have a certain 70s quality that makes them feel definitively older than me. By the time I was paying attention, movies didn’t really look like that anymore. Nevermind, by counterexample, is something that blew up when I was in 9th grade. I was fully and totally aware of it happening. So it will always seem modern to me.

But today’s 16-year-old thinks of Nevermind the way I think of Willy Wonka. Great, sure (at least they better think that, lousy kids), but old. Pop culture references to it seem as important to them as Animal House references do to me, which is to say, dated and irrelevant. Ouch. And it will only get worse, of course. It’s not that I’m feeling down about being old, although I’m getting more and more aware of time passing. I distinctly remember when my Mom went to her 20 year high school reunion. My sister and I were I guess like 11 and 13, respectively. Seemed like something that adults went to, and I would never get there, or it would just seem so different. Well, my 20-year reunion will be in four years. (Not that I’m going, but still.) (And that’s another thing. When I was in high school, I absolutely would have thought I was going to go to future reunions.)

I read this Slate article about the Choose Your Own Adventure series, which was interesting enough if you grew up reading this books. But more interestingly, it led me to a few internet treasures. First, this totally obsessive infographic breakdown of a few books in the series, with several observations about how the number of endings changed over time*. Second, this gamebook information repository. That, in turn, led me to something really fabulous: Project Aon.

*It’s a pretty long discussion (and white text on a black background, which I absolutely can’t read for more than a couple of minutes before my eyes feel like they’re about to melt) so I may have missed it if the author mentioned this, but my thought about the decline in the number endings was pretty straightforward: as a kid, I actually didn’t want a lot of endings. The early books get tiresome because there’s an ending every few pages. The later books, with much longer, more elaborate stories, were more satisfying to read. I guess the authors agreed because they got tired of coming up with 30+ endings per book, per the Slate article.

So among the vast realms of CYOA-style books was this one role-playing type of series called Lone Wolf. You got to sort of customize your character and you’d have supplies, and you’d have to make sure you had some food and a good weapon. You developed the character more as the series went along, gaining experience and new items. You’d get into battles too, and you had to be careful because you could indeed die, and it felt like a much more serious death than in a standard CYOA, since you’d invested in this character a lot more. Anyway, I always liked these and always wanted to get to work my way through the whole series.

Uh, then like twenty years passed. So now I’m probably never going to pick these books up again, but the whole point of this is that Project Aon has digitized all of the original books and many of the subsequent ones (which I didn’t even know existed!) with the full blessing of the author. So if I DID ever seriously want to reread these things…

Man, yesterday’s post was boring. How can I talk for that long about this telescope and have it be that boring? (He asks, knowing full well what the answer is.)

So here’s something. I was thinking about a ’50s sci-fi/monster movie centered around the concept of the “bejeesus.” The setup is that the main character, as a child, literally gets the bejeesus scared out of him, so he has to spend the rest of his life without it. Only legend has it that once it’s gone, if you’re scared that badly again, you die. So the bejeesus is like an extra guy, and you can get damaged that one time, but then that’s it. Of course this poor dude keeps getting into tense situations.

And now, there’s a murderer on the loose…

Of course I’ll still have the telescope after this (this is a “lifetime telescope” after all) but I imagine this will be the last chapter in the “I finally get a telescope and must share every obsessive detail” part of the story.

So after Thursday’s initial test drive, Saturday was a chance to take another crack at a nice clear night, with as much prep and observing time as I wanted, complete with learning how to use the Intelliscope computer. Although it was clear, the moon was out and at first quarter, and very bright in the early evening when I’d be out, so I did have to contend with that. Just so you understand, the moon is awful pretty and all, but it is ungodly bright compared to everything around it and more or less washes out almost anything nearby that you want to look at with a telescope. I also had a good chance to play with the Starry Night software the telescope comes with. It’s a little clunky usability-wise but still pretty fun to play with. It’s easy to see what’s coming up in future weeks and months and years. I even fast-forwarded to August 21, 2017, and got a preview of the solar eclipse scheduled for that day.

Anyway, my primary goal was to get a shot at observing Jupiter, which is visible at the moment, but only just barely, as it can be seen very low in the southwest just after sunset. From my backyard, it was low enough to have trees as a problem, and the later I would be able to get outside to observe it the worse it would be. It will only start lower each night too, until the fall, when it will start rising at night again.  So this was my last shot for a while. I got the telescope set up early, before sunset, and hung around with K trying to figure out how to time dinner while waiting for it to get dark enough. In the end I just barely got to see it. I did get a quick look, mostly like a sneak preview of things to come, but it was too low to really be an easy target and further, we ended up having some dinner-making hijinks that kept me preoccupied (the short version of the story is: recipes from Cook’s Illustrated are wonderful but insanely precise in their timing and required attention). Oh well. I’ll have a better chance in the fall when it rises again.

I got back out later on in the evening after it was fully dark and no food was burning on the stove, and had some quality time with the scope. K came out for a while too, and I got to show her some good things, but we were mostly thwarted by bright moonlight washing out some of the dimmer things to see. Plus there are no planets up right now so all in all it wasn’t a great night for showing off, so she went back into the warm house while I tinkered.

One goal, to learn to use the computer, was met. It’s actually a pretty clever little device and not at all hard to use once you get the hang of it. Biggest issue at this point is that simply sticking it to the base with velcro is not a great solution. The velcro comes off and the cord gets tangled. It’s certainly workable, but maybe a holster and a wireless link would be ideal (it just so happens they sell a holster – thanks, Orion, for not including the actual useful part in my $1300 purchase – but the wireless link is probably asking for a pretty huge step up that would probably just be overkill). It generally worked fine though in its primary mission, though, which was to tell me where stuff was. I’m not sold on its ID function thus far, though I’ll play with that more. The idea is that you can point at anything in the sky and it will identify it. I’m not sure it was working, and anyway it relies on the object being one of the things in its database. Considering there are millions and millions of things in the sky, but only thousands and thousands of things in the database, you’re going to have a lot of misses. One nice feature was the Tour: I took the February Tour, which hit on most of the highlights. It has a pre-programmed tour for each month where it cycles you through some interesting things to see. It focused on a few star clusters and nebulae, although the nebulae were generally not visible with the ambient light.

So at two observing nights completed, I’m happy with the scope. I’m learning (or re-learning) a lot about the sky and using a telescope and what it’s like to have access to a nice toy like this. I think I got a good scope for me overall – I could have saved some money, but I think I would have probably just been wishing I’d have gotten more had I gone with a smaller device. Unfortunately I have been spoiled by some very nice telescopes and observing opportunities in my life. But I think this will keep me happy. I traded some features like easy setup and a tracking motor for a larger mirror, but I think that’s really what I care about the most, so I am pleased. Mostly at this point, I *love* feeling in touch with what’s going on in the sky again: having a sense of what phase the moon is in, where planets are, what constellations are visible, and when all that will change, and having a good tool to witness it.

Last point of discussion: my backyard. Is this really going to work for most observing? With some qualifications, I say yes. Now, it’s not great. B-/C+ probably.


  • It’s MY yard, and right outside my door, and near my kitchen where I have snacks. For a telescope as big as this one, convenient location wins.
  • Best view is to the south, which is really where you want to be looking anyway.
  • If I get the telescope in the right spot in the backyard, I have privacy and no visible streetlights (though they are around and do contribute to some light pollution, certainly–I just can’t see the bulbs).


  • Downtown is also to the south, so there’s a fair amount of ambient light low in the sky.
  • Very limited view to the north or west, thanks to tall trees.

In short, I could be doing a lot worse for backyard observing, but I could also be doing a lot better, and once in a while I’m going to be forced to drive somewhere darker or with a more complete view of the sky.

Anyway, I’m excited for a lot of upcoming observing. Saturn will be visible in the early evening hours before too long, and this first year with the telescope should be a lot of fun as I get to plan to see all the major hits as they cycle through the sky during the year.

Telescope obtained and assembled, and now used a few times.

Telescope parts


Finished telescope


Assembly took all evening Monday and some additional time Tuesday. The implication being: if you expected to open the box, attach it to the tripod and get right outside with it, this would not be the telescope for you. No, this took about four total hours of assembly time. All in all it wasn’t that difficult or confusing. I actually enjoyed doing it. But, that’s the kind of person I am. I sometimes think I should have a business where I assemble people’s furniture for them because I believe that I dislike doing that less than others. (It’s probably not viable because I’d have to charge enough to make it worth my own time, which would subsequently raise the total cost of the item up to where it would make more sense for people to just buy some higher-quality, already-assembled furniture. Anyway.) So of course I naturally had the thought that I should contract out to build people’s telescopes for them, but that also fails as a business model because the kind of people that buy $1300 telescopes are the kind of people that like to do the building themselves. (They are also generally the kind of people that think it might be awesome to buy a Klingon Empire flag and attach it to their house.) Like me.

We’re in the middle of a really clear stretch of weather so I got to exercise my obsession immediately. Thursday I got it out despite having no idea how to use the computer control. My feeling was, I still know how to point a telescope at stuff. The moon was really nice. Bright enough through the telescope to wash out your retinas and ruin any darkness adjustments your eyes have made to that point. But really nice look at crater details and such. I got K out to have a look, though I failed to show her the view through the more powerful eyepiece. She went back in because it was cold, but I stayed out to check out the Orion Nebula and a few stars (i.e., things I could find with the naked eye). I tried to figure out how to use the computer but that turned out to be pretty amusing for the computer, I’m sure. Definitely need to read the manual. So all told, I wasn’t out too long, but it was productive and a nice first run.

Things I learned:

  • This telescope is heavy. To get it outside I can either break it down properly and haul it out in four components, or take a shortcut and just do two heavy ones. Of course I did the latter just to prove how manly I am and do things the brute force way rather than the smart easy way, but now that there are no questions about my mettle I’ll probably try to make a habit of doing it the smart easy way from now on.
  • Clomping around and hauling large telescope pieces out a door I usually don’t use scares the hell out of the cats.
  • The finder scope requires a bit of alignment but that’s pretty easy to do.
  • It’s fairly straightforward to find visibly bright objects in the sky without computer aid. If I wanted to take the time to find things manually I could do that. Maybe for fun, on occasion. (Yes, I sad “fun.”)
  • My scope is well-designed for hand-slewing. It smoothly moves around with moderate force and will stay stable as long as you don’t bump it. However, I’m already missing a motor control that will keep objects in the field of view automatically.
  • My backyard is not the greatest for astronomical observing, but it’s certainly workable. More discussion on this later.
  • The attached computer will take at least some rudimentary education to learn to use, rather than just my trying to figure it out on the fly.

I got out again for a longer observing session last night. Will post that update soon.