Astro-Drummer

Archive for January, 2008

Another Clip – Test for Echo

by on Jan.22, 2008, under Drums

There are so many Rush songs that I enjoy playing. One of my favorite songs is Test for Echo from the self titled album. This song has a variety of styles which makes it a challenge to play. Watching the “A Work in Progress” DVD (when I still had good vision) did help in my practicing – and I practiced many months on this one song.

 Test for Echo

While there are a few mistakes in my interpretation, and the start was a bit tricky (there is no way to cue the iPod to a delayed start), I am very happy with this recording. I hope you find it enjoyable as well. The kit sounds are based on the Professor’s Pack from V Expressions Ltd.

Click here to hear the song – and thank you for listening. 

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Canon Binoculars

by on Jan.17, 2008, under Astronomy

Some time ago I bought Starry Night software through Orion Telescopes and they were nice enough to include a free pair of binoculars. They were a nice generic pair of 10 x 30’s that were good enough to view the Moon, star clusters and some of the more bright nebula and I was surprised to learn that I can actually see though them.

Readers of this blog already know that I have lost my central vision, and binoculars are able to allow me to enjoy the world around me. However, the free pair from Orion were rather bulky and I wanted a pair that are smaller. Plus the thing that really bugs me about binoculars is the movement – things can get rather shaky when using them for a long period of time.

I decided to invest in a pair of binocular that had Image Stabilizing technology and I settled on buying the Canon 10 x 30 IS. 

 Canon 10 x 30 IS

I received my binoculars from Amazon a couple of days ago and I started to use them right away. I must say, I was blown away by these $318 optical beauties. The Image Stabilizer works surpassingly well – reducing the shaking to a smooth glide. This model uses 2 AA batteries – which were included – to work the IS technology, which works by controlling the movement of the prism inside. It also included a neck strap, eyepiece covers and a nice carry bag. The size is perfect and the focusing is smooth and fast. Working the IS only requires holding down the button at the top. Optical quality is very good.

The only negative about these binoculars is in attaching the neck strap. There is not much room to feed the strap through the strap holders because they are too close to the body. But once attached, the strap feels very secure.

Using these babies allows me to enjoy the world around me, and I am able to see the ocean waves, the Moon, star clusters, and even a bit of the nebula of M42 in the constellation of Orion. I am also able to see the Andromeda galaxy.

So if you are like me and have lost your central vision, I would highly recommend these as optical aides. As for astronomical use, they make larger binoculars for that purpose; however, these work nicely. The optical quality is excellent, the size is very portable and the Image Stabilizer technology is wonderful. If you are looking for a good pair of binoculars, I would suggest you give these a try. You won’t be disappointed.

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Eyes of the Universe

by on Jan.12, 2008, under Astronomy

In keeping with the "astro" theme of the website, I though I would talk about vision and its use in astronomy. The running theme of this site is my lack of vision so naturally its a topic of interest to me anyway.

Centaurus A has always been one of my favorite looking galaxies. I remember seeing this photo in an old astronomy text in the 70’s – it was an image from the 200 inch Mount Palomar observatory. This galaxy is called an active galaxy – meaning that at its core is an active supermassive black hole that puts out a lot of electromagnetic energy, mostly in the non-visual spectrum.

We humans only see a very small chunk of the electromagnetic spectrum – visible light. This is of course ROYGBIV (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet). This is by far not the only sight available. Bats for example use a type of sonar so they "see" by sound.

It’s a highly effective means of getting around – especially in the dark.

Modern military and police technology allow us to see like reptiles do – in the infrared. This technology is called FLIR (forward looking infrared) and basically "sees" heat. The image below shows an F18 fighter jet testing its engine and shows the heat of the engine and the hotter exhaust.

Night vision is a fairly popular bit of technology that uses an infrared intensifier tube, but doesn’t produce an image like FLIR. Its mostly a technology that uses existing light and amplifies it.

Astronomy has some very cool toys that allow us to image in a wide variety of frequencies. It should be noted that while FLIR and night vision is helpful for us to see what we normally do not, these are not useful for astronomy use.

In the constellation Centaurus is the radio source Centaurus A. It’s an active galaxy that is more than meets the eye. Known as NGC 5128, this object was discovered in 1826 at Parramatta Observatory in Australia by James Dunlop. It was ignored for about 100 years as it was thought to be a nebula residing in our own galaxy. It wasn’t until 1949 that it was realized this was another galaxy. Radio observations at that time proved it was another galaxy, and one of the first radio galaxies ever discovered.

The visible image of this galaxy is striking without revealing what is unseen. The dust band with its elliptical shape is actually the result of a galaxy merger between a small spiral galaxy and an elliptical galaxy.

All of the excess debris from two galaxies provides the "food" for the supermassive black hole. In 1969, x-ray emissions were detected by sounding rockets and a 1971 view using the UHURU satellite confirmed the x-ray source. This was the first indication of the black hole.

An interesting event occurred in May of 1986, a supernova in Centaurus A – supernova 1986G. In the image above, it’s the green star on the lower left part of the dust lane.

Radio telescopes are great for mapping out the extent of emission from the black hole. The Very Long Baseline Interferometer in Australia made the most accurate mapping of this emission.

The radio image of this galaxy is radically different from the optical image. The Hubble Space Telescope provided some breathtaking views of the galaxy in 1997. This image mosaic shows the core of the galaxy, a pretty close up view given the narrow field of view of the telescope.

Currently astronomers have what I like to call the dynamic trio of space telescopes: The Hubble Space Telescope, the Chandra x-ray Telescope and the Spitzer Infrared Space Telescope. Couple this with a radio telescope and we have four different views of Centaurus A. The optical views are obvious. The Chandra provides high energy x-ray views which indicate extremely hot energy sources. For example, material being pulled in by the supermassive black hole is compressed so much that temperatures reach extremely high levels. These produce x-rays. The Spitzer space telescope is sensitive to the infrared. A large part of our Universe puts out energy in this wavelength and this telescopes proves excellent for seeing though dusty regions – like seeing through the dust band of Centaurus A.

Put it all together and we get a complete picture of just how active and vast Centaurus A truly is. It’s a far cry from the optical picture alone. The bottom line is there is so much more to our Universe than meets our eye – even if I cannot see it.

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Create Your Own South Park Character

by on Jan.08, 2008, under Humor

The South Park website has a fun little tool to create your own character avatar. All the famous choices are there, and there are a nice variety of styles to choose from. For me, I like wearing neutral colors and a hat – and I also wear round sunglasses. And naturally I wear a V-drums t-shirt – something I added with PhotoShop. Enjoy…

My South Park Character 

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My Eyesight

by on Jan.02, 2008, under Personal

Every now and then I get really depressed about being legally blind. I usually pull through OK, but I figured this time I would write about it. Sometimes sharing these feelings can help quite a bit – even if its written down.

It all started in March of last year when my right eye suddenly went bad – to 20/200. A few months later, my left eye went. Things were looking good when in July the vision improved in the left eye, but then it went down to 20/400 in late August. I had to retire from work in September. For 18 years I have been doing what I love, and to be away from that is a shock.

The doctors are stumped as to why this has happened, and its suspected that I have a rare condition called Macular Serpiginous. Unfortunately there is no treatment for this, and my vision could decrease a bit more in the future.

Its amazing to me how much we rely on vision. And usually its the little things that we don’t think about. For example, I cannot cut my own fingernails. Shaving is a challenge so I use an electric razor to avoid cutting myself. I can’t read the labels on CD’s or DVD’s – in fact I can’t read at all unless I use a 8x photo loupe and that is one word at a time. My 32″ TV sits on the coffee table so I can watch it. I can’t read what I write.

Some of the more major things – like I can’t drive. If a car is 4 car lengths ahead, the car disappears in my blind spot. I cannot recognize faces more than 8 feet away, and I cannot see facial expressions more than 5 feet away. I have to use the zoom feature in OS X to use the computer, and I have to use the 30″ monitor. Even then, I can only use the computer about 10 minutes at a time because of eye strain.

And the one thing I did not realize would be an issue is glare. In the bright sun, I have to use a hat and sunglasses because its too bright. And when the sun is low in the sky, the glare is at at worst.

So you know why this is so depressing!

The good thing is that I can play the drums. While I have a hard time seeing the tips on the sticks (I hit the rim every now and then, or miss the cymbal), practicing more can help me know where everything on the kit is located. I rely on V Expressions Ltd. for sounds since its hard to see the LCD panel on my Roland TD-20. This keeps me happy, and busy. Then there is this site and Astronomy Online.

The only thing I can say to the readers out there is to take care of your eyes. If you have high blood pressure or diabetes, see your eye doctor. If you have a family history of degenerative eye conditions and you are near the age of 50, see your eye doctor. Type A personalities under too much stress can get something called Central Serous Retinopathy. And most important, try not to rub your eyes too hard – treat them like robins eggs. Any sudden changes to your eyesight should not be ignored.

I feel better now. Thanks for reading this.

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