Observing Report - July 23, 2016

Tonight I went out to Boundary Bay with the Dob; it has been a long time since my last observing run. Here's what I saw:

  • Mars, with some detail -- probably Mare Acidalium & Siunus Meridiani. Held up well in the 6mm Radian, considering how low it was.

  • Saturn, with the Cassini Division easily visible. Also: Titan, Tethys, Dione and Rhea; couldn't pick out Enceladus.

  • M9, glob in Ophiucus, which seemed to be a bit lopsided. Hint of resolution.

  • M62, which has no hint of resolution at all. Quite low. Maybe a bit lopsided as well?

  • M24, which was nice in the 15x80 binos.

  • Beta Cephei and Delta Cephei, two very nice doubles. And of course, Delta Cephei is the prototype for Cepheid variables.

  • Gamma Cephei; unremarkaable to look at but it's 45 light years away (almost my age!) and has an exoplanet.

I looked for Pluto but couldn't get it; 12th mag was hard to see, let alone 14th, and the moon was just starting to shine in my face.

Showed a couple of folks sights through the telescope & answered their questions; saw an owl hunting.

Okay night. I was not feeling the enthusiasm tonight, though.

Tags: astronomy


  • The cloud sensor is behaving badly of late, refusing to post updates. I suspect it's overheating, but it's hard to get data when the thing is across town. I had set up an SSH tunnel back to home so I could connect to it, but did the classic fail when I tried to convert it from running in tmux to running under supervisord and it didn't work and now I can't get back in. Waiting to get back to my inlaws' so I can debug it more properly.

  • But while it was working, I got it logging to InfluxDB (running on my home server over) over said SSH tunnel. Pretty sweet! And it was not hard to import all the previous stats I had as well.

  • And so but InfluxDb was running in a Docker container on the home machine, along with Grafana. Which of course led to running Telegraf on a lot of things, and collectd where I couldn't (hello OpenWRT). Which now OMG the stats. And the annotations.

  • But holy crap, Docker and IPv6 is a giant whirlwind of not-done-yet.

  • Because the kids' old laptop was, frankly, shitty, we got them a new cheap laptop and I did some complicated surgery resulting in two swapped hard drives and a new install of Debian 8 on Zombie, my home server, which is now managed nearly entirely by Chef. This was a lot of trouble -- setting up everything under a medium-weight config mgt system like Chef, I mean -- but I think it was worth it.

  • I've got the first breadboarded version of an Arduino weather station going, currently logging stats to InfluxDB. It is (/me checks Grafana) (/me checks on Arduino serial port for transmitter because receiver serial port acting badly) 67% humidity, 19.1 deg C and 1011.5 hPa and falling.

Tags: astronomy arduino cloudsensor raspberrypi influxdb grafana telegraf chef

Cloud Sensor -- Field Deployment 1.0

Today was another visit to my in-laws for lunch, and we got the cloud sensor fully deployed for the first time! Check it out:

The enclosure is a plastic container, one of a set of 6 I got from London Drugs for $15. It's got clamps to keep the lid on tight, and a rubber gasket to keep water out. I cracked the lid of the first one I worked when I drilled a hole without proper support, but my father-in-law has a drill press (one of the many advantages of marrying well) and we were able to get a second container set up.

We drilled a hole in the top for the sensor can to poke through and sealed it with silicone. I thought that would hold it in place (ie, that it would act as a glue as well) but no dice. Instead, we placed the first container -- which is smaller and was designed to nest inside -- in there as well. It sat under the sensor and kept it in place. It took a little bit of arranging to route all the USB cables, but we got it sorted out in the end.

My father-in-law crafted a shelf for the container out of some cedar planking and some steel bits he had lying around. We screwed that to the patio, then the container to the shelf. Plug in the Raspberry Pi to a nearby outlet, and boom -- we had data!

...until yesterday at noon, that is; that's when the last update was posted. (I'm starting to regret not having set up an SSH tunnel back home.) I'm not sure at this point what happened, but overheating seems a reasonable guess. We made some holes on the bottom of the container for ventilation, but it's a concern. I think the Pi itself should be good for longer periods -- I had it running outside my house here for days in a row, just not inside the container. I'll have to power cycle it and see what happens.

On the data front, I realized a while back that the CSC is only updated twice a day...which means downloading every hour is overkill. The script still runs every few hours, but now it checks whether the newly-downloaded chart's checksum is the same as the previously-downloaded example; if it is, it throws it away. And I've got the analysis script set up to convert the colours of individual squares in the CSC into cloud coverage predictions. Next step is to figure out how to store this info so I can work on it. All in all, not a bad bit of progress.

Tags: astronomy raspberrypi cloudsensor arduino

Cloud Sensor -- Alpha One Field Deployment

Today we visited my in-laws for our usual Sunday lunch, and I took along the cloud sensor to demonstrate for my father-in-law. He's a retired millwright with a strong sense of curiosity, so he enjoyed seeing it a lot. We set it up by a gazebo (?) he has in his back yard, with the Pi hanging from the wall and the sensor clipped to the roof:

Deployment Alpha One

After some clouds rolled out, it got seriously sunny. The data reflected that:


For the record, the ambient temperature is not really to be trusted. It kept reading in the mid-thirties, but a nearby thermometer showed nothing higher than 25 all day. And when the sensor is deployed here, it seems to register about a 10 degree higher temp for the sky; doubtless it's the combination of the wide FOV (90 degrees) and the narrow slice of the sky it can see from my front porch.

The day before I'd bought a plastic container to use as an enclosure, so we kicked around ideas about how to make it work. I'd picked it because the clipping lid seemed like it would keep out the weather quite well, especially since the lid completely overhangs the container -- but I'd forgotten to think about shedding water. The lid is recessed maybe half a centimetre, and any rain would just pool in there -- not what I want. We agreed that the enclosure definitely needs at least a flat roof, and ideally something rounded that would let rain roll off. A plastic bowl with a flat bottom would do the trick nicely.

So what worked well?

  • Wireless worked without a hitch -- very happy with this, as I wasn't sure it would reach from inside to the back yard
  • Data logging worked too, including status updates when rebooting
  • Good to kick around ideas
  • Got script working to analyze the CSC and turn it into hour-by-hour predictions; some initial ideas about how to store that data, and how to visualize that and logged temperature data

Needs work:

  • Enclosure
  • Committed API key to git without noticing; had to generate a new one

Next up:

  • Desolder header pins so eval board can be mounted with the sensor poking through the lid of whatever
  • New enclosure
  • Think about how to store CSC predictions

If you're interested:

Tags: astronomy raspberrypi cloudsensor arduino

Cloud Sensor -- We have data!

The MLX90614 eval board arrived at last. I managed to get the header pins soldered on without melting much, and hooked up to the Raspberry Pi. The default firmware logs the temperature in Fahrenheit to the serial port every tenth of a second, and I was able to read it out with screen without a problem.

Next up was adjusting the firmware slightly to slow it down a bit, write out ambient temperature as well, and to switch to Celsius. (Cue feeling bad about not using Kelvin.) That took all of ten minutes, so huzzah for that.

Finally, I set up an account at ThingSpeak.com (free as in beer, plus free as in freedom software, plus export of data whenever you like), and set up a stupid simple script to send data both to a CSV file and to, you know, the cloud. The result? SWEET, SWEET FREEDOM:


Clockwise from top left, that's: sky temperature (sensor pointing up), ambient temperature, and the delta (ambient - sky). It's interesting to see how smooth the ambient temp is compared to the sensor temp.

Oh, and here's a shot of how it looks sitting on top of the BBQ outside:

Pi and BBQ

Not at all weatherproof, of course, so that comes next. With the way I soldered the header pins on (all pointing up), that's going to be a challenge; I may de-solder them and have the top as bare as possible. That would let me (say) drill a hole in a Tupperware container, push the sensor through, then epoxy around it for waterproofing. As for the Pi...not too sure. I may try to mount it out of the weather, then run the sensor out under the sky.

Tags: astronomy arduino raspberrypi cloudsensor

Cloud Sensor -- First iteration

Since my last post, I've made a bit of progress:

  • I've ordered the Sunfounder Arduino starter kit, along with a Arduino Uno clone and a Mega clone (all arrived)

  • I've ordered the MLX90614 eval board plus a Redboard from Sparkfun (can't have too many Arduinos!) (arriving shortly)

  • I've done some initial playing around with the Arduinos and the accelerometer included in the Sunfounder kit, as a standin for the MLX90614. It amazes me how easy it is to get started with all of this...

  • I've grabbed one of the Raspberry Pis around the house and got it logging data over the USB serial port from the Arduino

  • Even got WiFi working on the Pi; it's an older one that doesn't have it built-in, but I've got an extra Asus N13 lying around that seems to work well

  • I've modified ttylog to include the date in its output; may not seem like much, but I'm no C programmer

Rough plan right now is:

  • Have the Arduino log once a second to the serial port; that's far too much data, but at least it'll be easy to see if it's working

  • Log that with ttylog; it'll be running under supervisor, and will log for an hour before exiting (and starting up again)

  • Once an hour, assuming WiFi works in its final location, try to rsync the log files home; if not working, pick up the log files manually

  • Put it all in a waterproof case of some sort, and find a place to plug it in at my in-laws (they've got a nice big yard)

Tags: astronomy arduino raspberrypi cloudsensor

On our way

Yesterday at work, I set up the live cast of the CRS-8 launch on the big TVs in the kitchen:

There were a lot of people watching with me. The footage from the rocket was absolutely amazing...but of course, the landing was spectacular. I found myself swearing with amazement, over and over again, I'm sure much to the amusement of my coworkers.

I'm fortunate enough that there are a string of evening ISS flyovers happening for me right now, and Heavens Above has tracking info for the Dragon as well. Sure enough, there was one tonight just before 10pm.

I went out to a local baseball field with 10x50 binoculars; nothing at all resembling a dark sky, but of course it was enough to catch the ISS as it rose. At first I thought it might be the Dragon -- it was faint and looked smaller through the binos than I've seen it previously. Of course, most times I see it much higher in the sky (and thus closer, larger & brighter). As it rose, it became apparent that it was indeed the ISS. It went slowly through the Pleiades (now that was pretty!) and right by Menkalinan (Beta Aurigae). But where was Dragon?

I stopped following the ISS with the binos and let it rise out of view -- and just a few seconds later, following almost exactly on the same track, a dim satellite came into view. Dragon! It was maybe two degrees further from the ISS than would fit in the FOV of the binos. I followed it along until nearly the zenith, then tried to catch it with the naked eye. Sure enough, there it was -- maybe 4th mag or so, much dimmer than the ISS but still visible. Although it was harder to see this way, it was so much more wonderful -- it was so obviously in pursuit of the ISS. It's amazing to see a supply ship on its way to a space station. I like living in the future.

Tags: spacex

Cloud sensor -- initial plans

So after doing some digging around, I think there's a simpler approach than using Peltier coolers, and that's using an IR temperature sensor. This guy has built his own using this approach, though he's using Arduino controllers to read them. That led me down the Arduino path, and after a lot of reading I think I've got an approach that might work.

Sparkfun sells the MLX90614 temperature sensor in a couple of different formats: bare sensor, or on an eval board. After reading that tutorial, my understanding is:

  • I can connect the evaluation board to an FTDI cable/breakout board, and hook that up via USB to the Pi. The default sketch in the evaluation board will give me temperatures in Fahrenheit once per second over a serial port. Later, I can change the sketch by using the Arduino IDE. Pro: Quick to start, USB is dirt simple, and I don't need a RedBoard or similar. Cons: Not as flexible as it would be if connected to RedBoard, since that would give it lots of expansion possibilities (humidity sensor, motion-activated potato cannon, etc.)

  • I can connect the evaluation board to the Pi via I2C. Can still reprogram the sketch later. Pro: Not really sure. Cons: Have to build my own I2C connector....not that hard, from what I can see, but I'm a newbie.

  • I can get the bare sensor (no eval board) and hook it up to the Pi via I2C. Pro: Unsure. Cons: Much more fiddly than anything I've tried before.

  • I can jump right in to Arduino and get an Inventor's Kit. I can use the bare sensor (as shown in the tutorial -- start on breadboard, package it up somehow when I'm confident it's working), or the eval board (doing something like [this example4), using I2C in both cases. Pro: Lots of room for expansion, Arduinos are fun, etc. Cons: Will take me a while to get up to speed.

Assuming I've got all that right...my inclination is to start with the FTDI breakout board and USB; that'll make the learning curve easier, and I can get the Inventor's kit later on.

I've asked on the SparkFun forum whether I've got all this right...time will tell. But getting quickly started with the USB seems like a good way to start.

Tags: astronomy raspberrypi cloudsensor arduino

Possible Raspberry Pi project

For a while now I've been wondering idly how I could measure cloudiness. My goal is to both track how cloudy it is now (and over time), and to compare actual cloudiness with predictions from ClearSkyChart.

A few days ago I came across an approach that I think might work. This person measured the current coming from a Peltier cooler when exposed to the night sky. The difference in temperature between the ground-facing side (warm) and the sky-facing side (cold) varied depending on whether it was cloudy (less difference in temp == less current) or not (greater difference in temp == more current). It occurred to me that I could use a Raspberry Pi I've got lying around to take that same approach.

Since then I've been browsing around, and here's what I've found:

I'm starting to think I've got a good approach here.

Tags: astronomy raspberrypi cloudsensor

Observing Report -- April 1, 2016

April 1 was a busy day: second day of the semi-annual OpenDNS Hackathon (Team Sales Grenade represent!), and Clara's and I's 10th Housiversary. But despite being tired, and the forecast going back and forth, I went out to Boundary Bay to tackle the Virgo galaxies again. In fact, it'd been so long since I'd been able to go out that I had the time to think hard about what I wanted to do. Here's what I came up with:

  • Compare the XT10i (10" push-to Dob) and the Meade LX10 (8" Schmidt-Cass). I haven't used the LX10 in a while, and maybe I need to think about passing it on to a new owner -- but I wanted a chance to evaluate each one first.

  • VIRGO GALAXIES MOTHERFUCKER. Seriously, every spring it seems like there's a 90% chance I'll wake up one day and say "Crap, there goes Virgo...maybe next year." I really wanted to see Markarian's Chain, and between the trees on the horizon and light pollution at my usual location (suburban park), I figured this was my chance this year.

  • A fun, long night observing. Later the better, amirite?

  • Didn't have this on the list but should've: I broke down recently and bought a Televue 6mm Radian. It was time to try it out.

I arrived about 8.20pm and started getting set up. I had a nice talk with a birdwatcher while waiting for darkness to fall; he told me that the big hawklike birds I'd spotted on the drive in were almost certainly juvenile bald eagles, and I showed him Jupiter. We were both happy.

Comparison first: I looked at M42, both when the sky was still light (who can wait to look at M42?) and when it was darker, and Jupiter. M42 was much brighter than the Meade. This shouldn't surprise me, since the Dob gathers ~ 1.5x more light than the Meade (not even thinking about the central obstruction)...but I was. It made the difference between seeing subtle details in M42 quite easily (or is that a contradiction? whatever) with direct vision, and only being able to see them with effort and averted vision. M43 was also a DV object, though faint, in the Dob. Not only that, with the 6mm Radian in the Dob I was able to resolve the E component of the Trap. The Meade, though, showed no sign of the E with the Radian.

This brings up something about the Meade: higher magnifications just leave things fuzzy, with a real loss of contrast and an inability to focus cleanly. I have adjusted collimation once before, but my impression is that Cats are meant to hold collimation much longer -- I'm not sure what's going on here.

This became quite apparent with Jupiter. The 6mm was high mag on the Dob, to be sure, but it held -- moments of clarity with the zones & belts (swear I saw some kind of triple banding on the South Equatorial Belt), and Callisto and Ganymede clearly resolved as disks -- tiny, but disks nonetheless. The Meade showed markedly less contrast (central obstruction?) and as mentioned didn't hold up to the increased magnification. Backing off to the 12mm helped, but focus was still hard and the contrast was still noticeably less.

Objections, accusations & fixmes:

  • Having tracking is nice -- very nice. So is the fine adjustment. There's no question that the bump-bump-bump in the Dob can be a pain, particularly when swapping in a higher-powered eyepiece -- it's easy to lose your target and have to back out to find it again.

  • I really should look into the collimation.

Two objects obviously isn't enough to do a thorough comparison. But...I didn't feel the need to keep going. I stuck with the Dob the rest of the night and don't regret it at all. The extra aperture does wonders, and despite being fast held up to the added magnification of the Radian well.

Speaking of which...OMG this eyepiece is wonderful. Comparing it to the 6mm Expanse I've got, it's got practically zero CA, and resolution of stars is pin-fucking-point. It's amazing. Eye placement is a bit of a problem -- kidney-beaning happens pretty easily if you shift your head to the wrong place -- but by the end of the night I was pretty comfortable with it. It is very, very nice, and I'm pretty sure I'm going to be spoiled for other eyepieces.

So -- settled on the Dob, and I like the Radian. What else did I do?

First off, I observed the ISS through the Dob for the first time. It did a flyby low in the sky (right by Sirius) early in the night, and I was able to follow it relatively easily with the 17mm (1.2 degree FOV). And WOW -- WOW. Detail was apparent -- this was very obviously an H-shaped object. The stars flying by as I followed it gave a wonderful impression of its speed -- it was amazing to see it zoom across the sky like this. And on top of everything else, it went right by Jupiter -- within an eyepiece view of it. Truly amazing.

I went to M81 and M82, which were way high up in the sky. (I tripped over another faint fuzzy getting here -- I'm guessing one of NGC 3307 or NGC 2976.) It was interesting to compare the view with last week's session in the park; the 6mm showed detail in M82 that I simply wasn't able to see previously. I tried sketching it and am not happy with the results, but it was a good exercise in bringing out what I could see: two knots of brightness near the center of the galaxy, with maybe a dark lane between them -- something like what was sketched here or here. It's 12 million light years away, and is 5x more luminous than my own galaxy. I love this hobby.

M51, by contrast, was hard to find (the Intelliscope was a little off in this area of the sky), and didn't show much detail at all. I saw two faint but distinct blobs, with maybe a hint of a larger area of fuzziness around the larger galaxy. I certainly didn't see any connection between the two.

I decided it was time to head over to Markarian's Chain. The Intelliscope took me there without any problem. Following along with both Turn Left At Orion (God, I love that book) and a photo I'd printed out from Cartes du Ciel, I was able to pick up a lot with just the 17mm (71X). M84 and M86 were obvious; NGC 4438 and NGC 4435 took a bit more effort, but not much. I also saw NGC 4461, NGC 4473 and NGC 4477, to give me the tail (?) of the chain. NGC 4458 came out, but only with averted vision. By putting in the Radian and then using AV and jiggling the scope, I was able to pick up NGC 4388 -- a thin slash, and obviously elongated. I might have picked up NGC 4413 with AV, but can't say for sure. I couldn't find any sign of NGC 4402 or NGC 4387. I sketched it all -- not a great sketch, but a great souvenir.

I swapped in my 30mm Antares Erfle for a broader view (40X, 1.85 degrees). M84 and 86 were there, of course; 4438 and 4435 were ghostly and barely visible. (Thin, patchy clouds were starting to roll through, so that may have contributed to their faintness here.) 4461 was only visible with AV, and 4458 not at all; 4473 was an easy catch The FOV stretched from M84 all the way over to 4473 in one go -- five galaxies (may have been more, but my notes don't record it; must revisit this again) all in one look, 50-60 million light years away. Amazing.

I switched up to M87 for a closer look; since tripping over it in 2013, I've had a chart from Cartes du Ciel ready for a return visit. M87 was obvious, of course, but so was NGC 4478 in the 17mm. Throwing in the 6mm Radian brought out NGC 4476 was well; after that, I tried for it in the 17mm again, but couldn't see it.

M89 was an easy find, just by panning over. M90 was easy as well, but very faint.

Over to M66 and M67, which surprised me with how obvious they were -- they've given me problems in the past (though not at Boundary Bay...I need to re-read my posts more often). NGC 3628 was barely visible in the 18mm -- very faint. But hey, got the triplet!

At this point I decided to pull out the list of Messiers I haven't observed yet, and start going through them. I got to M105 without problems and picked up NGC 3384 as well; no sign of 3389. I sketched them and used my new blending stump. (Everything I sketch is now a faint, featureless blur.) M95 and M96 were nearby, so why not? They were both obvious in the 17mm.

Back over to M49 -- quite obvious. I picked up NGC 4469 (though it was quite faint) and NGC 4526; no sign of 4535.

M53 was a change -- a glob rather than a faint fuzzy. Not that I could tell it from a faint fuzzy in the 12mm -- there was maybe a hint of resolution with AV, but honestly it felt like another Virgo elliptical. But oh, when I put in the 6mm, there was that beautiful sparkling around the edges that I love in globs. It looked like maybe there was a brighter star, or a detached section, in the NE corner.

I switched back to Jupiter, briefly trying the 6mm with the TeleVue Barlow. It was too much; Jupiter wouldn't come into focus, but Ganymede and Callisto seemed to be obvious disks.

One more before packing up: either M61 or M64. I labelled it in my notebook as 61, but the sketch I did resembles 64, the Black Eye Galaxy, more -- and it was on a page in TL@O that I was looking at earlier.

Obviously I was getting quite tired. Clouds were starting to seriously roll in, and I decided to pack it in at 1.20am; an hour later, I was home, reviewing my notes and nodding off on the couch.


  • I'm really, really glad I went out. The forecast had been all over the map all week, and I wasn't sure it would be worth going out. But the clouds held out 'til about 1am, and it was an amazingly fun night.

  • I don't think I want to hang on to the Meade; it's time to pass it on to someone else. I'm sure I'll reconsider a Cat at some point in the future, but for right now I'm happy with the Dob. (Might trade for a refractor...we'll see.)

  • OMG the Radian. That is one sweet eyepiece. I stuck to that, the 17mm and the 30mm Erfle pretty much the whole night.

  • Met all my goals, hurrah!

  • New Messiers: M49, M53, M61, M90, M95, M96 and M105. Total is now 78.

  • Having the printed charts from Cartes du Ciel really, really helps. The best part is being able to download photos from the ESO's Digital Sky Survey; this helps immensely when looking at a particular area -- 1 x 2 degrees, say, or 2 x 2.5. Even with the C-series of the TriAtlas pages for (say) the Virgo cluster, it is just immensely crowded, and really hard to pick out everything I can see in the eyepice. I love the Triatlas series -- I've got the B series and bring it with me when I observe. But I would seriously consider bringing along a cheap laptop (this Chromebook, say), and using it out in the field to fetch images for things I'm looking at. Hm. Hmmmmmmmmmmmmm.

All in all, a fun, fun night. I'm immensely happy with how this all worked out.

Tags: astronomy housiversary

What I Saw

Last night, I didn't sleep well; this morning, I decided to change my usual routine and go for a walk around Queen's Park. Here's what I saw:

  • twilight
  • a racoon climb a try to get away from me
  • a jogger
  • a construction worker heading to the SkyTrain
  • the FOV of the Kepler Telescope
  • two planets: Mars and Saturn
  • the moon, half lit
  • Antares and Arcturus, two names I always get mixed up
  • Spica
  • M11
  • the plane of the galaxy
  • the plane of the ecliptic

Not bad for a 3km walk.


Observing Report -- March 25, 2016

OMG, at last a clear night! It has been a ridiculously long time since I went out with the scope -- October 3, in fact, when I went to Seymour Mountain. I've set up on the front porch a few times, but it was really, really nice to be able to go out. Even if it's just to the local park, it's an enormous difference from the house, and wonderful because of that.

So yeah, out to the park with the wheels for the first time. They worked wonderfully, and I was able to zip around with very little difficulty. It would have been nice to have some kind of clip for the dust cover, and handles on the side of the scope would also be good -- but other than that, everything is very, very nice.

So how was the observing? In one sense, something of a failure; I came up with a big list of targets and barely hit any of them. But for having fun, it was great.

  • Jupiter and its moons were wonderful to see. Even when clouds well, high haze rolled in, it was still worth looking because of hte steadiness of the view. This is the first time I've ever seen the moons as disks, not points -- and I swear, at times Callisto looked grey and mottled. Wonderful.

  • 200X was not out of line when it was still; neither was 400X. But the 6mm I've got one of the Owl line is definitely on its way out; too much CA. Even if it's got a narrower FOV, a 6mm Plossl is in my future.

  • Dialed in M51, but between a suburban location and haze all I saw were two disconnected, extremely faint points of light.

  • M81 and M82, though, were great. Faint but obvious, and I was able to see them both in one FOV with the 18mm eyepiece. I might have seen a dust lane in M82 before the clouds rolled in?

All in all, a great time.

Tags: astronomy

I feel sick

The Trump is at it again:

During the past week, in a series of interviews and events, Trump has articulated a loose, but expansive set of principles that, if enacted, would mark a fundamental shift in the strategy the Obama administration has employed to fight violent extremism. In addition to arguing in favour of reinstating waterboarding, a technique that mimics the sensation of drowning, and "much more than that," Trump has advocated the killing of militants' wives and children, which appears in violation of international law.

"We have to play the game the way they’re playing the game," Trump said in an interview on CBS’s "Face the Nation" Sunday, one day after he told an audience in Florida that he would fight to expand and broaden the laws that regulate interrogation.

"I would like to strengthen the laws," he added Sunday, "so that we can better compete."


Former CIA Director Michael Hayden and others also have weighed in, saying military officials would refuse to carry out any Trump order that violated the law.

During the last GOP debate, Trump insisted that U.S. military officials would obey any orders he gave them, saying, "They're not going to refuse me. Believe me."

So help me, I'm left wondering which would be worse: a Trump presidency, or a military coup against a Trump presidency.

Tags: politics

Watch All The Movies, Part 8:Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet

"Voyage to the Prehistoric Planet" is a Roger Corman-produced remix of a Soviet Union film; given the times, I'm really quite curious how this happened. Basil Rathbone and Faith Domergue make an appearance, but other than them it's five Soviet actors and a robot that (as my wife pointed out) sounds like David Byrne does in "Burning Down The House".

I'm just going to come out and say that this is a much, much better review than anything I can write.

Tags: watchallthemovies

Awkward times

Tonight was Eli's last soccer practice of the season, and the coach declared that it was going to be Kids vs. Parents. Clara has writing class this week, so I went along; I took Arlo with me, who had homework to do. We sat on the front steps of the school by the soccer field, staring at math problems and waiting for the game to start, then joined in when it became apparent that all the other parents were eager to go.

The kids had fun, but I was out of my element. Not just because it was sports but because many of the parents were really good at soccer and really cared. (That's not a dig; I care about Emacs and rocket ships, so what the hell do I know?) I found myself looking around, staring at the sky (cloudy but maybe there would be some stars? nope) and checking out in a way I've recognized in myself since I was 18, and see a little bit of in Arlo.

Eventually it was over; I let in the winning goal, and the kids won. The parents talked about strategies for next time, and promised to see each other at the pizza party on Sunday. I'll be there; and doubtless I'll be looking around, seeing what there is to look at.

Tags: geekdad

I'm in Emacs! (Kinda...)

About a year ago I read Lars Ingrebritsen's blog post welcoming new Emacs developers, which gave step-by-step instructions on submitting Emacs patches, and decided to give it a go. I tackled bug #96, seven years old at that point, which asked for the grep commands to prompt to save buffers before running. A bit of digging around showed that there was a function ready for copy-pasta, so I submitted it. I got asked for a couple of improvements, which I'm ashamed to say I never submitted, and after a while it dropped off my radar.

Well, what do I find in my mailbox today but a note from Lars his own bad self saying that the patch had been committed (Github mirror; easier to link to than the official repo), along with the improvements requested. So, in a minor and somewhat undeserved way, I've added a small brick to that edifice of human knowledge, Emacs. (It would be possible for me to be more grandiose, but not easy.)

Tags: emacs

Watch All The Movies, Part 7:Three The Hard Way

"Three The Hard Way" is a 1974 film that came in a four-pack of "Urban Action" films. I've watched the other three already, and of all the cheap films I've bought these are the ones I've enjoyed the most.

Three The Hard Way

For an entertaining film, the plot is pretty dark: a group of white supremicists have come up with a plague that kills black people. Before they can unleash it, though, three supremely bad-ass brothers are on the case: a record producer producer, a Chicago businessman, and a kung-fu master. (They're also backed up, at least for one scene by three equally bad-ass sisters who for some reason enjoy torturing bad guys while topless.) There are explosions, really odd slo-mo kung fu puctuated by drawn-out groans, gun fights, crooked cops, and bad guys who sneaking into a hospital room to kill a witness using a cherry picker. (Er, the sneaking is done with the cherry picker, not the killing.)

This movie is way, way above the others I've watched so far. It may be cheesy and full of it's time, but it's well made and entertaining. It had a budget and it shows.

Random things:

  • There's a long, drawn-out Wikipedia article on the film, its stars, its director, and its role in black cinema.
  • The number of machine-gun wielding bad guys taken out by wonderfully accurate pistol shots is, um, suspicious.
  • All the 70s action film cliches are here: kung fu, vehicles that catch on fire and explode for no discernable reason, dynamite, stunt men wearing what look like parkas as they catch fire and roll around on the ground, cars rolling off cliffs, shrieks and cries of people falling off roofs...about the only thing not here is quicksand.
  • The racists celebrate the (supposed) success of their plan by throwing a party, which features Budweiser, waltzes and buffets (ambrosia salad has a starring role). Speaking as a white person, I can attest to the accuracy of this depiction.
  • I started this movie last week, then put it aside in favour of more sleep; thus, it's a coincidence that I'm finishing this on the night of the 2016 Oscars. Not sure what to make of that, but there you go.

Tags: watchallthemovies

Watch All The Movies, Part 6:This Is Channel Zero

I picked this up years ago at, I think, HMV in Vancouver back when there were still record stores (ask your parents); apparently the release date was 1997. It was a "video magazine", and I've got it on the original VHS, baby. It starts with a (sigh) couple of bicycle couriers robbing a office that apparently is run by A LARGE AND EVIL MULTI-NATIONAL CORPORATION:


The half-time show, "99 Year Phone Call", is a, um, performance piece? --wait, sorry, "post-modern culture jam" about the Y2K bug as a metaphor for, uh, fear and video editing and stuff; it's like watching a community theatre production of a William Gibson novel.

But these are the easy targets. There are a lot of interviews with people discussing corporate ownership of media, economic fairness and the FCC (among lots of other things). It wanders, but I suppose reflects the magazine format. Overall, a lot of this reminds me of the essays I wrote for English class in high school: they wander, they dance around, and they bring up lots of questions, but come to few conclusions. They don't like TV, but maybe it can be used as a way to, you know, liberate the people. (That is, as long as they believe the right things....one of the talking heads points out that giving people video cameras to make their own media is all well and good, but they're likely to only remake what they've already seen.) There are lots of Chomsky and MacLuhan quotes, painful-to-watch skits (op cit.), and gratuitous scrolling text, jump cuts and repetition of the words "control", "corporations" and "governments."

I would have been all over this once upon a time. (Obviously not enough to actually watch this, since I never made it past the first twenty minutes until now...) I'm still broadly sympathetic to the concerns outlined here. But I have such little patience anymore for the cliches they wallow in, and the lack of citations for anything they assert. (Yes, I know it's video. I don't care: sources or GTFO.)

Amusingly, the name Channel Zero is now being used by a Canadian media company that owns Bloomberg TV Canada and several adult film channels. Also, at least a few of the people involved in this are listed in LinkedIn.

Like so much of what I suspect I'll end up watching this year, it's available on archive.org

Tags: watchallthemovies

Watch All The Movies, Part 5:Bloodlust

This week's movie is 1961's "Bloodlust", written/directed/produced by Ralph Brooke. It's yet another adaptation of "The Most Dangerous Game" by Richard Connell, which is the great-grandaddy of all those hunting humans tropes.

Four young people, while out on a boat, go to an island they shouldn't; one falls into a pit, and they're rescued by Dr. Balleau, the be-goateed, be-smoking-jacketed owner of the island, and his be-striped-shirted henchmen (who resemble rather tough French mimes). Back at his mansion he explains that he's developed a taste for trophy hunting, and brings exotic animals to the island with his pots of cash.

But are animals enough? No, they are not. Case in point: his wife and a drunken friend make an appearance during this explanation, and of course it turns out that they're having an affair. Knowing that their host knows that they know he knows they know, they decide to help the kids escape. Hijinks (by which I mean MAN HUNTING) ensue, but not before Dr. Balleau displays -- rather ostentatiously, I might add -- his human trophies, set up in an underground cave, to his horrified visitors. They get a chance to leave the island...if they can avoid being MAN HUNTED by Dr. Balleau. I won't spoil the ending, but that's because I did not finish it. Sue me.

Robert Reed, better known as the father from the original "Brady Bunch" series, plays one of the kids trapped the island. Wilton Graff played the be-smoking-jacketed hunter of humans; he did a crapton of TV roles as a character actor. Ralph Brooke did more than a dozen bit parts in movies, mostly uncredited, in 1945-1946; after that, he broke into B movies as a writer, producer, production manager, and finally director...then died at the age of 43, just two years after "Bloodlust" was released.

The DVD is from the good folks at Digiview Productions, which has a Tripod fan page (remember Tripod?) and a slightly more informative page on Wikia. Like a lot of other budget DVD producers, they released a lot of movies that were in the public domain...but they screwed up, and released a copy of the 1954 animated version of "Animal Farm", which was not in the public domain. They got sued, lost and promptly filed for bankruptcy.

Like I said, I didn't finish this -- but that's not reason for you not to give it a try! The Internet Archive has generously made this available to you; they do lots of good things, so please consider making a donation to support them.)

Tags: watchallthemovies

Watch All The Movies, Part 4: Ants

This week's feature is "Ants", a 70s movie-of-the-week:


It had that feel when it started up...the music (that SEVENTIES OMINOUS SYNTH haunts me from my childhood. I'm not kidding about that. There was a movie I saw when I was a kid about mind-controlled people that I thought starred Michael York but now I can't track down; anyway, it was freaky as hell and had THAT SEVENTIES SYNTH. ...Wait, where was I? Right...the music), sure, but also Suzanne Somers, who I don't think I've ever seen outside of televsion. It's also got Brian Dennehy, Myrna Loy (!) and Brian Casey, a character actor I recognize from about a thousand different angry-figure-of-authority roles.

The movie leads off with a hard-working construction worker, working on an expansion to a century-old resort hotel, getting attacked by ants that are drunk on industrial-strength pesticides. ("Modern poisons are so complicated," sighs a lab worker.)Then there's the hitchiker sleeping rough on a nearby beach, who convinces the blond, muscled lifeguard to let her grab a quick shower. Then there's the hotel owner who doesn't want to sell the hotel, being pursued by the greedy developer who wants to knock the place down to build a casino. Then there's the uppity hotel manager who likes rough trade with the bearded construction foreman, who in turn is trying to figure out why his employee died. Then the super-ants come back, attacking a tow-headed kid who's collecting bottles for the money, because he needs to take care of his divorced mom; they jump him in a dumpster (no, really). I think the only plot element missed was a hooker with a heart of gold.

The ants go FULL-ON METAL ATTACK at this point ("The ants are climbing fast! Call the police, the fire department, anybody! We need as much help as we can get!"). Suzanne Somers gets eaten by ants, or something. Everyone holes up on the top floor of the hotel, while the lab tech advises them to dig a trench, fill it with gasoline and ignite it ("Containment by fire! Tell them I'm on my way!"). Brian Dennehy finally shows up as the local fire chief who bears the terrible responsibility of LARPing Leiningen Versus the Ants while horrified townspeople watch.

The finale: we're down to the last three survivors (two good buys and one bad guy, so you know who's gonna flip out). They're holed up in the attic of the hotel, staying perfectly still and trying not to provoke the ants. ("They're basically non-aggressive!" says the lab tech over a radio. That's right, it's just like every airplane disaster movie ever, and they're being talked down to the ground.) In order to keep still, no matter how much the ants climb over them, they breathe through rolled up cones of wallpaper held to their mouths. It looks for all the world like they're smoking the world's biggest, most amateurishly-made joints, particularly when the room is flooded with insecticide by hazmat-suit wearing rescuers.

The executive producer was Alan Landsburg, who not only had > 50 movies-of-the-week to his name, but produced a biography of the Kennedys that got a standing ovation at the '64 Democratic National Convention. Interesting career path....

The DVD was made by Direct Source Special Products, which a) sounds like either a mail-order sex toy business or a CIA front, and b) apparently went bankrupt in 2009. Court paperwork offers this snapshot:

The Company's business consists primarily in selling and distributing music CDs, DVDs and videos and focuses on a market niche within the music industry selling as well as repackaging low or modest priced motion pictures and non major labels music discs. In the past year, the Company has experienced a sharp and long term decline of their sales and reported significant losses. Management attributes this declient in sales volume to various factors, in particular to both legal and illegal downloads of music and movies....

Fifteen employees were laid off, and the company "pursued negotiation efforts to recover inventory located in the United States". Guess selling Kids Mix Sing The Hits of Elvis wasn't viable in the long run.

This film was also known as "It Happaned At Lakewood Manor" and was filmed in Qualicum Beach, BC. (I look forward to a future pilgrimage to Qualicum College, which stands in for the resort hotel.) Huzzah for the BC Film Credit!

Tags: watchallthemovies