Archive for November, 2008


Black Friday

November 29, 2008

Slow today, sadly.  Past Black Fridays have been the busiest day of the entire year, with full capacities for nearly all showtimes.

For my afternoon show, typically the busiest of any day, holiday, weekend or otherwise, I didn’t even make one-third of theater capacity.  It picked up a bit throughout the day, but I didn’t fill the theater for a single show.

I hope it’s not emblematic of a trend.


Turkey, etc.

November 27, 2008

img_3139MJ (and daddy) love Mama’s turkey.

Speaking of turkey, an oldie but goodie from

Turkey does contain tryptophan, an amino acid which is a natural sedative.  But tryptophan doesn’t act on the brain unless it is taken on an empty stomach with no protien present, and the amount gobbled even during a holiday feast is generally too small to have an appreciable effect.

…experts say the average serving of chicken or ground beef contains as much tryptophan as a serving of turkey does.

Regardless, we all took a nice long poultry-nap, and will go over to Meme’s soon for pumpkin pie.

Black Friday starts the holiday season at the Blank Blank Planetarium; I’ll be happy to shelve the shows we’ve been playing, since I’ve seen them both an estimated 400,000* times or so.

*Number severly exagerrated for effect.


Space Trip Inside of the Solar System

November 25, 2008

Still getting over this sickness junk.  I’m feeling much better, but have some sort of gunk in my throat making it difficult to breathe and eat, two of my favorite pastimes.

Normally I’m off on Mondays (it’s the museum curse–a Tuesday through Saturday schedule) but I went in today to meet Nick from Spectra Physics and Mark Z. from AVI to get the core and optics on my laser replaced.

My friends think it’s hilarious when something in the planetarium breaks, as I usually end up spouting off some Star-Trek-esque technobabble.  For instance, earlier this year when our star projector went south, I said to my friend Tony, “The infrared reticule sensor on the latitude axis control card blew a potentiometer, and it won’t zero out.”

Fancy words for, “It busted, bad.”

Luckily, the laser wasn’t busted, just drooping a bit on power, so Mark and Nick, two severly cool dudes, replaced the core and optics, and rebalanced the head so now I have nice pretty colors at retina-searing brightness gracing my dome once more.

Mark, who is an ol-skool laserist cat who rocked out Floyd and Zeppelin shows manually back in the day (I have it easy, I just load a couple of files and press play), was talking up Konica Minolta’s newish full-dome systems, which I didn’t know much about, so I came home and looked it up.

Peep the Super-MEDIAGLOBE, in all its minature kick-buttitude:


Projects 360-degree full-dome images AND filters 99.9% of particulates from your tap water.

That thing is a full-dome projector.  (It’s apparently bigger than it appears to be in this photograph.)  Leave it to the Japanese to build a machine that looks like it should sprout arms and a cutesy happy face, and walk around serving drinks.  It looks like you could pour dirty water in the top and get a pitcher of clean, clear H20 from a ergonomic tap neatly concealed behind a tiny trap door.

But seriously: 10,000 to 1 contrast.  Ten thousand to one.  That’s freaking amazing.  It’s all in the lens, apparently, and if there’s one thing Konica Minolta knows how to do, it’s make lenses.

Check out K-M’s planetarium info pages for some great examples of not-so-clean and clear English translation.  AVI does U.S. distribution for them, and there’s a good image of their user interface there.  Snazzy.  I’ll take one please.


The sound of me not speaking

November 22, 2008

Had a bad cold all week.  Voice almost totally gone this morning.

Probably didn’t help that thanks to a scheduling error, I had three back-to-back programs yesterday morning, and basically spent 10am to 1:30pm talking nonstop to elementary school visitors.

Luckily, today there was an extra staffperson that could cover my schedule, and so I ran a quick revision of the holiday show then cut out for half a comp day.  It’s nice to be able to do that, and even though our public shows are fully automated (except for the intro speil) I was happy to be able to come home and rest.

But it brings up an issue that I’ve gone back and forth on since getting into the planetarium field: how much of a planetarium program should be automated, and how much should be live, given by a presenter? Read the rest of this entry ?



November 19, 2008

Speaking of Endeavour…

Frankly, I’m surprised that this doesn’t happen more often:

Things didn’t go quite according to plan for astronaut Heide Stefanyshyn-Piper during her spacewalk outside the International Space Station on Tuesday.

First, a grease gun inside her tool bag leaked, coating everything inside with a film of lubricant. While she was trying to clean it up in the absence of gravity, the whole bag floated away.

Of course it slipped out of her hands–it was coated in a film of NASA-grade lubricant!  Hope they don’t dock her pay.

Also funny:

Mission controllers were also tracking the lost bag, which they say is floating well clear of the station and drifting further away.

Sounds like a job they probably shrug off on the newbies.

“Cool, you work for NASA, what do you do?”

“I monitor and observe the orbital paths of tools dropped by astronauts.”



Not your father’s Bowflex

November 19, 2008

It’s been glibly remarked that the Space Shuttle is the world’s most expensive delivery van.  This week, it’s partially true: Endeavour is taking a new workout machine to the ISS, as shown in this unusually detailed CNN report:

The advanced Resistive Exercise Device, aRED for short, functions like a weight machine in a gym on Earth, except it has no conventional weights. Instead, it has vacuum cylinders — canisters with air that have had a vacuum applied — that provide concentric workloads up to 600 pounds, NASA says.

Obviously, working out in space is very important, as the article says, but I have to wonder… how in the heck are they going to ge that thing aboard?  Just look at that picture, it’s HUGE.  I’m guessing it’s in pieces, and they’ll float ’em through the dock and then assemble it (I wonder which astronaut drew the short straw for THAT task…  You think these things are hard to put together on earth, just imagine what one is like in microgravity).

One thing that caught my eye was this little throwaway line:

Between the vacuum cans and the bar, there are small flywheels that spin in opposite directions, creating an artificial gravity when someone lifts the bar.

A-say what now?!  Artificial gravity?!  I’m guessing that this means that it pushes “down” against the user, essentially pulling toward the user’s feet with an Earth-like gravity.  How cool is that?

Also going to the ISS, a new-style Water Recovery System that will now recycle the crew’s urine into drinking water.

P + WRS = H20(ok)

P + WRS = H20(ok)

Look at it: also HUGE.  Two full double-wide rack-units worth of pee-transforming mechanical goodness.

But really, I think if you’re going to have something that’s recycling your bodily wastewater, you want it to look like this: big cylinders and tubes and pipes and buttons…  If it was just one tiny little self-contained solid-state machine that you could carry in your pocket, wouldn’t you be suspect of its results?



November 14, 2008

Doc Philly P’s got the skinny on a couple of supremely cool images re: extrasolar planets, including the very first actual optical image of one (shot by the almighty HST, natch).  The always enthusiastic BA is downright ecstatic about these files, and rightly so–this is huge.  That Eye of Sauron-esque Hubble shot shows an actual planet around another star.  And we took a picture of it. That’s astoundingly fantastic.

Last year at the Blank Blank Planetarium, we ran a program called Light Years from Andromeda, a fantastic canned show about intergalactic distances and light speed benchmarking, made by producing powerhouse team Mark and Carolyn Petersen of Loch Ness Productions–see it if you can, it’s narrated by Lieutenant Michael Worf.

I mean, Michael Dorn.

Son of Mogh.

Anyhoo, I ran a short demo with the show about astronomical mysteries and the science that solved them (in a lame attempt to cash in on the CSI craze), and one of the points I referred to was solar wobble, which indicates the presence of a large, nearby planet.

This prompted a handful of questions about extrasolar planets, and I thought to myself, “Self, you better study up on XSPs so you can answer these questions better in the future.”  So I did.  And waaaay back then in early 2007, the number of confirmed extrasolar planets was in the 60s.

Today, it’s 326.

Imagine what it will be in a year, in five years, in 20 years…  As our telescopes get better, our computers get faster, and scientists get cleverer, that number is going to grow, astronomically.  (Yeah, I went there.)

Pretty soon the public will start demanding that we name these new planets.

I suggest Star Wars characters.  Or Harry Potter.  Either is good, really.