About two weeks ago, I started a new challenge for myself — to blog each day about forward-looking choices I was making. Things that involved some extra effort to “create my reality” beyond drifting through the day. I went for the Seinfeld method — how many days in a row could I keep the chain going — and I crashed at 8 days. On the ninth day, I made poor choices or let my scripts push me through the day. So what do I do with a broken chain? Start a new chain.
That new chain starts today, and I’m maintaining my numerical sequence (so today is #9) but I’ve added a “b” after it for my second series. Let’s see how far I get, particularly with holidays coming up. Will I still blog while I’m at the cottage?
I don’t know either, but today I was still at home, and I registered for a RASC Speaker Series presentation by Zoom from the President of the Vancouver Centre. He was billed as talking about how to get going in astronomy, navigate the sky, star hop, etc., but it really didn’t seem to be what he was talking about for most of the night.
I arrived a bit late to the call, and he was already in about 9 slides and talking about how you plan what you are going to see. He had talked already about learning the constellations of the sky, and he was demonstrating a table he had made that listed all the constellations you could see throughout the year and at what times of the day, if at all. The goal was to use this in an Excel spreadsheet so you could decide with a bit of sorting, which constellations to try for in any given month of the year, and prioritize those that were the best for seeing.
Other tools he showed were weather apps and light pollution maps, plus a chart to track moon rise/sets and how much viewing time you would have between astronomical twilight after sunset and astronomical twilight before sunrise.
Was it the best presentation ever? Not even close, to be honest, but that isn’t as harsh a criticism as you might think. There are a LOT of bits and pieces in there to share, and while the presenter has a background in education, I did not get a feeling that he had a set vision of what he wanted everyone to know at the end. I see this as a common failing in the explanations we give people on astro stuff as a community. We give them info, we do not set out to teach them how to think about things.
Let me digress for a moment. I see lots of people who are trying to help people understand how to get going with their new telescope. And the explanations are all over the place…start with the moon, start with manual sky charts, start with an app, etc. No one, well except maybe me, seems to look at those questions and say, “How can I teach this person in a way that they will get it logically and coherently in a way they will remember tomorrow?”.
When I explain similar stuff, I start with an explanation that they need to learn how to do three things. First, they need to set up their telescope physically, including aligning their finder tool to their scope. Second, they need to know how to navigate the sky to find key stars. Finally, they need to to align their scope to the sky and start observing. Step one gives them elements they need for step two. Step two gives them elements for step three. And step three adds some other elements to build on their learning. They can literally do step one only the first night and they’re golden for several outings. Then they can learn step 2 and do more. And finally, they can pull it all together for step 3.
I’m not some exceptional brainiac that figured this out where no one else could, more that most people don’t seem to think about how to explain it to others in a way that is easy to understand — and thus easy to replicate. I have a few pages on this site that explain some hot topics in astronomy, and other people have found them useful and then referred still others to my site for the same info. There are certainly people who are far more knowledgeable about the issues than I, yet people still come to my site to read my version.
And as I expand my offerings, some of it will cover the same ground that the guy did tonight. I need to see different ways of explaining the same material, even if I don’t completely agree with the methodology. Nor even some of the content. The speaker tonight has views about digital tools that border on Luddite in my view, but that’s also not uncommon in the community. Mostly it comes from people who learned a specific way and therefore think that is the best or only way everyone should learn too.
However, that didn’t stop me from posing questions in areas directly related to those beliefs to get the classicist answer. In particular, I’m facing a small dilemma on buying some binoculars for astronomy. I’ve held off for 7 years, and have finally decided I need a pair, particularly if I am going to to be writing about these topics, including binoculars. By coincidence, we went out as a family to see Comet Neowise the other night, and used some old binos that I had accumulated for a DIY project. They worked well enough, and convinced me even further to splurge on some new ones. And this was a perfect guy to ask about the functional differences between two common types. It’s clearly in his wheelhouse and his answer was perfect, exactly what I wanted to know. I almost wish he did his whole presentation about binoculars.
But in the end, the real point is that I could just drift along on my own, doing my own thing. Instead, I am choosing to learn more formally about astronomy through these presentations and to soak up all the perspectives.
I don’t have to do it, I choose to do it to expand my reality. Which is also why I am blogging about my choices.
So, what choices are you making to expand your reality?