May 30, 2011

Astronomizing Snowed Out

What? Snow on Memorial Day? Yup. Friday night began as sunny in town. But when I got out to Pine Mountain, the mountain sat in the shadows of evil. OK, not really, but it was definitely under a big black cloud. You can see it is darker than the rest of the landscape. Click on any photo for a larger view.

You can see the marked darkness on the mountain. Made me
think I was in a Tolkein fantasy or something.

Ran into my buds, the gangsta cows. At first I thought this
steer's tag read 666 and was amused as these are cattle of Millican Valley. Thus
noted in my post about X-Files and cattle mutilations. But it's 606.

Sunset. That's Black Butte in the distance. We think. We're not sure.
Hey, we're city people transplanted out here to the wilderness.

I got up to the summit, got out of my car, said hello to my friends then, "Is that a snowflake?"

"Why, yes it is."

It proceeded to blizzard on us. Here's proof.

So, we got no stargazing in on Friday night. Saturday was worse. I didn't even make it all the way up the mountain. It wasn't a wasted trip though as the scenery was just spectacular. As many evenings and nights as I've spent on Pine Mountain, I have never seen it like this. Because I work in the summers. SUMMER. There was no sign of summer either night.

Saturday night, the moutain was covered in white and
swallowed up by clouds.

Made for nada astronomizing, but some specatcular scenery.

This is where I should see the peak the observatory sits on. Should.

Winter wonderland May 28, 2011

So, you can see it starting to get snowier and I had 5 miles to go,
all uphill, climbing about 4,000 feet. I didn't get much farther
past this point. The road ceased to show through and I
don't have four-wheel drive. There are no guard rails and
plenty of ravines and cliffs. So, I turned around.

On the plus side, it was still daylight on the way home.
So I got to take photos on the way home, which I never
get to do since it's usually pitch black.

We're off to a shaky stargazing season. Hope next weekend is better. How was your weekend?

PS, Thanks to Orlando Ramos for the Versatile Blogger award. You rock, Orlando. If you haven't met him yet, pop over and say hello.

PPS, I'm still having commenting issues. I'm beginning to think it'll never get fixed. Siiigh.

May 27, 2011

The Closest Star

First off, if you haven't noticed or are not affected, Blogger is having sign-in issues for some users trying to leave comments. I'm one of those very fortunate affected users [yes, that was some sarcasm]. For some of you, there's just no way for me to comment until they fix the issue. If you don't allow name/URL in your comments, I can't comment at all, and if you don't have an e-mail linked to your blog profile, there's no way for me to get in touch with you. I hope Blogger fixes this glitch soon. It's driving me nuts. Yes, I tried the cleaning my cache thing. 4x. It didn't work.

Anyway, Libby, thanks for the shoutout on your blog. Such a fab addition to our corner of the blogosphere. So, right back at ya, Libby.

In other news, the doctor's office called yesterday. I don't have lyme's disease. Which means, I really was invaded by aliens then. What? See THIS POST.

This is opening weekend up at PMO. I'm excited about my fourth season as a star guide up at the observatory. I'm even happier that it's now official that I'll be here all summer and next summer. :D Yes, my life is no longer in flux. Happy dance over this way. Very happy dance.

To celebrate the holiday weekend, the start of summer here in the northern hemisphere, here are some sun-inspired videos I found.

The first was recently taken by the SOHO observatory. A comet hitting the Sun. This is pretty spectacular.

This one is a solar flare, which is just cool. Or, I should say 'hot'.

So, I'll be spending the weekend wrapped up in winter gear. Through June is usually the coldest up at the observatory. It sits at 6300 feet [Pine Mountain's summit is 6600], so it gets frigid once the sun sets. I'm usually outside with a smaller telescope. The constant wind makes it even colder. There's pretty much always wind. I'm a sick gal. I actually enjoy not feeling warm again until well into the next afternoon. It's very refreshing when it starts to heat up around here [usually after the 4th of July]. Orson Bradbury is excited, too [my telescope]. lol OK, not really. It's a telescope. It doesn't talk or anything. It'd be cool if it did.

Click on either photo to enlarge.

Looking toward the Cascades. Sunset at the summit.

My favorite photo of the Moon.
I took this last summer through my telescope.

Have any plans for the weekend?

May 25, 2011

Bring Popcorn, Going to the Moon in 1902

I am part of the affected group of bloggers having difficulty commenting. If you do not allow the name/URL option on your comments, I can't work around it to let you know I stopped by. But I'm not ignoring or neglecting you, my hands are tied until Blogger fixes me. They say soon ... but that was 3 days ago. Siiigh.

The first science fiction movie. A Trip to the Moon (French: Le Voyage dans la Lune) is a 1902 French black and white silent science fiction film. It is based loosely on : From the Earth to the Moon by Jules Verne and The First Men in the Moon by H. G. Wells.

The same stories the amusement, A Trip to the Moon, was based on. Prior to the ride opening in 1901, which I posted about HERE, there were some musicals and stage productions based on this same plot in the late 1880's.

The movie is now in the public domain. Want to see it? In total, it's 12 minutes. Go get your popcorn or whatever else you need to get comfortable.

Part One

Part Two

What's your favorite movie snack? I <3 popcorn.

May 23, 2011

Mary's Sci-Fi Adventures on Planet Earth: Alien Invasion

So, two weeks ago today I woke up with an itchy arm. There was a bump. Something had bit me. :-O I have no idea what. Since I have skin issues, I keep cortizone cream on hand. So, I put some on.

Husband later that night: What's that on your arm?

Me: Some bug bit me.

He throws some neosporin on it. "Doesn't look like a spider bite."

Good Husband. Doesn't want to freak me out. The only thing I hate as much as spiders is zombies. Ugh! A zombie spider would be really horrible.

Cut to Tuesday night. I put lotion on my elbows and notice a huge, red splotch on my arm where the bug bit me. It's hot and swollen. I can't really see it, so go ask husband, "What the heck is that?"

Husband: Get dressed, we're going to the emergency room.

Me: :-O

ER Doctor: It could be a spider bite.

Me: :-O

Husband: No, it's not a spider bite.

Good Husband.

So, the ER ends up giving me some Benedryl and antibiotics.

Cut to Thursday. Family on East Coast says: Did they test you for Lyme's disease?

Me: No.  -- I then Google photos of Lymes. :-O So, then I make a doctor's appointment to get tested.

I spend a week doped up on Benedryl then just can't take it any more. Despite how dopey it makes me, I don't sleep well on that stuff. Stop! Stop the Benedryl madness! :-O

Cut to Monday morning, one week later. The splotch is starting to itch. It's still bright red. The doctor tells me the test gives a lot of false positives and that lyme's isn't so common around here. Also, the antibiotics the hospital perscribed aren't strong enough to do anything if it is lymes.

Me: :-O

They give me a tetanus shot and the lyme's test. I await the results. :-O

Cut to Tuesday. Injection site is bright red and itchy. So I have two itchy, splotchy arms -- one more sore than the other. The one that got the shot.

Cut to Wednesday. Arm drama makes carpal tunnel flare up. :-O More on the bug bitten arm than the other. Probably from twisting it around to try and get a good look at the mysterious red splotch.

No one knows what's wrong with my arm. My conclusion using Spock's logic of that which seems improbable if not proven false is then probably true [well, something like that]: I've been invaded by aliens.

Moral of the story: Do NOT get bitten by mysterious bugs [which are NOT spiders] to which you are allergic to.

Yeah, yeah, go ahead and find my two weeks of bug terror amusing.

May 20, 2011

Query: What's Your Sign?

No, not a post on astrology. I know as much about it as writing a crackerjack query letter. Not a whole lot. Query letters is the Fantastic Friday Writers topic.

I've studied query letters. I'm working on one now. I do know it's about character, character, character -- telling the plot from the main character's perspective. It's supposed to pop and sizzle, sell your product and show a little voice. It has to do a whole dang lot in three little paragraphs. And, I do know to write it in third person present tense.

So, an author has to boil a novel down to the basics and keep it simple. Emphasizing what's most interesting and unique about the plot while couching it in the safety net of stories which have sold well in the genre. And again, from your main character's point of view. What's their story? That's what will sell your novel and hook readers.

The point is to lure the fish so they read your chapters or whatever you submitted, not to tell the entire story. But you also don't want to leave the agent hanging. So, no teasing. We must tell the agent how the story turns out in the end so he / she can see we know how to properly construct a novel.

The synopses goes a bit more into depth about the plot. Not much. Some agents request a one pager these days. If not specified, the norm is two pages these days. The synopses' purpose is to tell the main story. Again, no teasing. Spill the beans. Don't hold the best stuff back. The query letter is about marketing, marketing, marketing.

Cross multiple genres? Pick the main genre. Which subgenre sells best in your genre for your market? Yeah, know who you're writing for and selling to. It makes a difference. Subgenres change in popularity in different countries. For instance, space opera and steampunk are popular in the US. In the UK, hard sci-fi is more popular. In Australia, epic fantasy sells better.

I know more about writing query letters for short stories. Simple:

Dear Editor:

For your consideration is "Title", a xxx word genre story.

A paragraph on any writing credits. Stick to professional credits. They don't care about those that aren't professional credits. You can put all that extraneous info on your website and direct them to it for more detail.

Say thanks for their time. Sign off and use your legal name not your pen name. Be professional. If electronic submission, put your legal name then your address, phone, email, web site, etc ... under your legal name. Your pen name goes under the title on the short story. They get that the legal name and byline aren't always the same. You don't have to point it out.

Attach the short story in the requested format. Some ask for bios and the like. Keep a bio short and simple. It's something us authors should work on and keep in stock and updated. Don't drone on and on.

Give the publisher / editor what they ask for. Overall, it's a much simpler process than a query for a novel.

A few publications want a query without the short story. Then you're writing a pitch. It's much easier to pare down a short story to a few sentences than a novel. In my opinion.

Will let you know when I ace the novel query letter. Will let ya know.

Want to share what you've learned? We'd all love to hear about it.

Read what other Fantastic Friday Writers have to say on query letters:

May 18, 2011

Step Right Up

Recent releases by friends around the blogosphere:


The memoir of a woman who planned on her marriage lasting forever. When Ann marries Larry in September of 1961, she is certain he will be that eternal companion. Eleven years later, she is devastated to learn that he has been having affairs with men. She wants to help him. She wants to save her marriage. However, powerful emotions pull Larry away from his family, and eight years later their marriage ends. As a single parent, Ann is now faced with four grieving children who do not want to leave their father and their home in Utah Valley. But Ann needs to start a new life in a new place. In the beautiful Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, Ann at last makes peace with the past.

Released May 15th. Go HERE to purchase. Visit Ann at her blog: Ann Best, Memoir Author

Spirit of the Lake by Paty Jager

A brutal attack leaves Dove, a Nimiipuu maiden, pregnant and alone. Her tribe refuses to hear the truth-that the White man who took her body also plans to take their land. She walks into the lake to end both her life and her despair. Wewukiye, the lake spirit, uses his human form to save Dove from drowning. Learning the reason she longs to end her mortal existence, he vows to care for her until she gives birth. Together, they will restore her place in her tribe and prove the White man is not the Nimiipuu's friend. But to help her he must keep his spirit identity hidden. As Dove and Wewukiye pursue their quest for justice, Dove reveals spiritual abilities yet unknown in her people, ensnaring Wewukiye's respect and awe. But can love between a mortal and a spirit grow without consequences?

Release: May 18. See PATY"S BLOG

Flash Gold by Lindsay Buroker

Eighteen-year-old Kali McAlister enters her steam-powered "dogless sled" in a race, intending to win the thousand-dollar prize and escape remote Moose Hollow forever. The problem? Fortune seekers and airship pirates are after her for the secret to flash gold, her late father's alchemical masterpiece.

With her modified rifle and a pocketful of home-made smoke bombs, Kali wouldn't normally hide from a confrontation, but taking on a whole airship single-handedly is a daunting task. Unfortunately, the other racers won't assist her--they're too busy scheming ways to sabotage her unorthodox sled.

When a sword-slinging stranger shows up, wanting to hire on as her protector, she's sure he has ulterior motives, but he's the only one interested in helping her. The question is...why?

Lindsay gives self-publishing a good name. Available now on Amazon  You can also find Lindsay on Smashwords and B&N. For details and to keep up with Lindsay, visit her blog E-Book Endeavors.

Woot woot! Congrats to you all. Round of applause. If you have a release coming up, let me know. I'd be happy to give you a plug.

May 16, 2011

Laughter is the Best Medicine

I heard this joke a few summers ago at the observatory from one of our visitors.

What did the dalai lama say
to the hot dog vendor?


Make me one with everything.

Hosted by Leigh T. Moore of That's Write and Lydia K of The Word is my Oyster.

May 13, 2011

Shake it Up

Blogger fell off a cliff I guess. :-O So, this was delayed, but that's OK. On with the show ...

Last week, one of my crit partners asked me out on a writing date. I went for the social interaction, skeptical I'd get much of anything done.

Wrong. The change of location, routine, computer and usual accoutrements did me good. A scene I struggled with finally unfolded in a way which flowed and worked. It really surprised me as to how much I got done.

There amid all that noise and clamor, I became very productive. Maybe because of no free wi-fi, so no internet distractions. So, having nothing else to do but hunker down and work, I did. The change of scene worked wonderfully for me. Or maybe it was the yummy organic, decaf, nonfat mocha.

I have my scheduled writing time and I'm pretty self-disciplined, but the change of pace was refreshing and invigorating. Stuck? Block? Try a change of scene.

I've been revising my first novel again. I did a speedy revision in January / February, then I slowed down and started over. My biggest issue with it has been the beginning. I knew it didn't match the rest of the story. They fit together logically, it's just that the beginning wasn't as dynamic. Wasn't as exciting as I wanted it to be. So, I started playing around with new chapter ones. I wrote about seven different ones since January, knowing I was getting closer and it was improving but it still wasn't where it needed to be. Each one then required revising the other opening chapters. Gah! I was starting to feel stuck on a merry-go-round.

A few weeks ago I gave my crit group a new chapter one, which they liked. It gave one partner an inkling of inspiration to where she said to me, "Why don't you try X?"

I had considered X before, but it took the beginning farther back in time. But I kept an open mind and considered it. I had some issues with X, so we discussed how to make it work. Together, we came up with a solution. Then I went home and wrote the new chapter one as an experiement. I sent it back to my crit group with the former chapter one revised as chapter two. They didn't like it. They loved it. Ya know, so do I. Finally!

Beginnings are tricky. I see now I was looking at it wrong. The right point wasn't the incident that sent the plot into action, it was the point which changed life as she knew it for my main character. Which was earlier in the story than where I'd been trying to start from. Who knew? Anyway, it gave me a lot of insight as to finding the right start on any project. I wrote more on beginnings HERE.

Not only does the beginning have me more jazzed, so does the rest of the story. Has me pumped and excited.

I've found watching Babylon 5 while working on the revision inspiring, too. Watching great space opera while working on space opera is a win-win. No, I don't copy any of their story ideas, but the way they constructed the series to keep getting bigger, richer and more dramatic, and how everything impacts everything else, is what inspires me. I'm not actually writing as I watch, but when I'm writing and feel I need some inspiration I think about the show and what it might do if in the spot in my story. It helps.

My crit group is convinced I'll get requests for the full manuscript now and sell this book because of the revisions. It'd be great if their prediction comes true. I daydream that if it ever does, I'll spend at least an hour jumping around the house screaming my head off.

I'm pretty excited about how this latest draft is turning out. Even after reading this work a few million times, I now enjoy reading it again. It seems less like a chore. It's like a whole new story. Well, in many ways it is. Sometimes I'm not sure what's in it any more. If I had intensive changes to get through yet, I'd opt to take a break from it at this point to clear my head. But what's left just needs polishing and changes to keep it tracking with all the changes that come before it now. I tied up all the loose threads two revisions ago. Now its just a matter of adding details I want to focus on and fluffing things out, and deleting those that no longer work or fit.

The main plot of the story never changed. It's all the myriad details. They make a difference. I shook them up. A lot.

I'll be done with the revision soon and I've started working on a new query letter for this novel. Another aspect which is tricky to get right. Eventually I will though, because I won't give up until I do.

So, I shook up my routine and I shook up the beginning of my novel. Shake ups can be great. Have you tried one?

Reminder that Monday is the Laughter is the Best Medicine blogfest. See Leigh or Lydia to sign up.

May 11, 2011

A Trip to the Moon in 1901

Got a new bee in my bonnet for a new project, which required some research into setting. I debated between my current hometown and my original hometown. Eventually, the original -- Buffalo, NY -- murmurred louder.

Delving into Buffalo's history, was an interesting trip. So many gems in there I never knew about. One jewel I stumbled upon was the 1901 Pan Amerian Exposition, best known for the assassination of President McKinley in September 1901. Clicking on photos will enlarge most.

The exhibit which really caught my eye was "A Trip to the Moon". I suppose, that's not so surprising. I was so curious to learn more about it. Luckily for me, my brother is a historian and wrote a paper on the exposition, so was able to send me a few links to sate my curiosity. I snuffled around some more and found an account of what the attraction was really like. Photos taken from:

Frederick Thompson created the amusmement "A Trip to the Moon" in an eighty-foot-high building.

I found a description of what the ride was like at:

The theater was outfitted like a cigar-shaped ship with red canvas wings and seats like those on a steamer ship. The theater simulated flight by rocking and moving, and the stage was set up as if the passengers looked through a ship's rails. Clouds floated by, until the "ship" soared over a model of Buffalo, complete with the exposition, lights and Niagara Falls. The city fell away and the whole Earth came into view until it shrank into a dot.

I'm really curious as to what they thought Earth looked like from space in 1901. I wasn't able to find anything on that. Boo.

Once the Luna landed, the passengers walked off the spaceship and were greeted in a crater by "Selenites" to the City of the Moon, consisting of shops and mooncraft demonstration.

Hmmm. Wonder what mooncrafts would be. Green cheese mining?

The first electrical and mechanical space 'ride'. Some of the over 400,000 people to take the trip to the Moon at the Pan Am Exposition were President William McKinley and Thomas A. Edison.

A photo of the midway at the 1901 Pan American Exposition.
Photo provided by the Library of Congress.
Time travel. Isn't is fabulous?

Another photo of the midway.
Source: Library of Congress

When the Pan American Exposition closed, Thompson moved his show to Coney Island where it became the centerpiece of Luna Park.

An artist's rendering of the inside of A Trip to the Moon at Coney Island. Credit: There's also a more detailed description of the amusement at the link.

So, I haven't used this in my new WIP, but it does inspire me. I'll tuck it away for later. Run into anything in your research lately which wowed you? Take any research side trips?

Here's another fascinating side trip. Time travel. Movies taken of the Pan American Exposition by Thomas Edison's company. Yes, actual movies. You can travel back to 1901.

May 9, 2011

Greatest Sci-Fi of All, Laughter & Games Blogfests, Message from Blair Underwood

My Website: Please participate.

Go visit

In the previous poll, Pluto remains the 9th planet won.

New poll up: Favorite all-time space opera on television. It's a tough choice. You can vote more than once though, about once every hour. Poll

In the previous discussion, the most wanted super power was teleportation.

The new discussion question -- How do you prefer to get your sci-fi / fantasy fix? Click the yellow 'discussion' under the answers to participate. Discussion

Under Writers Desk, I wrote a new article on beginnings. They're tricky things. As tricky to get right as a query letter. Read it HERE.

Upcoming blogfests.

The fabulous Leigh T. Moore of That's Write and the equally fabulous Lydia K of The Word is My Oyster are hosting the blogfest, Laughter is the Best Medicine, on Monday, May 16th. It's simple. Post a joke. For more details and to sign up, go here: That's Write or The World is My Oyster

On June 6th, the fantastic Alex J. Cavanaugh is hosting the It's All Fun & Games Blogfest. For more details and to sign up, go here: Alex J. Cavanaugh

Blogfests are great ways to connect with other writers and make new friends.

Blair Underwood asks if you'd like to see another season of The Event, to please contact Vernon Sanders at NBC.

If you'd like to see another season of "The Event," please show your love by sending your shout outs to Vernon Sanders, Executive Vice President of Current Programming for NBC/Universal Media Studios. They need to hear from us, so they know you're out there! Mail letters to: NBC/Universal Media Studio c/o Vernon Sanders 100 Universal City Plaza Building 1320 Suite 4M Universal City, CA 91608

source: twitter / FB
I confess to missing the last few episodes of The Event due to Syfy moving SGU's final episodes to the same time slot. I'll get caught up on it though, because I've enjoyed The Event so far.
The Event is currently airing 9:00 p.m., Mondays on NBC.

Have any news to share?

May 6, 2011

An Alien by Any Other Name

Names and what they mean is the topic of the Fantastic Friday Writers.

How do you pick a name?

Writing name. Are you using your legal name or a pen name? How did you choose?

M. Pax -- Mary Pax was the name given to me at birth. Pax means peace in Latin, only my name isn't Latin. Turns out its derived from Swedish -- Paks and means something like merchant. The name got changed many centuries ago [at least seven] when the family moved to Germany.

Why the initial? I wanted to make a neutral first impression on the book shelf. I don't keep my first name a secret though.

The nice short name will be easy on my carpal tunnel if I ever have to sign a lot of books. I debated using more of a pen name based on my grandmothers' maiden names. Maybe someday I will if I switch genres or something.

Characters and Unique Words

Do you select names with particular meanings? In my first novel, I did. For the most part. Most of the first names have intentional meanings. A lot of the alien words, etc ... are based on Sumerian and Akkadian [the language of the Babylonians]. What I named my ships has meaning, too. I enjoyed deriving words from those old languages. Why not exact? Because languages change over time. It's not a static thing. Try reading the original Beowulf, which is in English, and you'll see how true that is. You don't even need to go back that far. Watch an old movie from the 30's or 40's. They use words we no longer use and have different expressions.

My first novel [series] has a lot of layering and a lot of it subtle. So, names and meanings are not anything I hit the reader over the head with. Maybe they'll figure it out, maybe they won't. Doesn't affect the story if they don't. Makes it richer if they do.

In the second novel ... not so much. Not in my short stories either. It's what sounded good and what seemed to fit. I make sure I can pronounce the names and unique words. If I can't, I'll choose another. That happened with a major character. Can't recall which one at this point, but I remember hashing out plot with the husband unit and not being able to pronounce the name the way I heard it in my head. So, it had to go.

Titles don't usually come easily to me. Some I really struggle over. My first novel, after a lot of thought then a lot of searching, the title came from a line of Sumerian poetry. I followed Heinlein with that as he used lines of poetry as titles. The second novel's title was there from the start, but that's a rarity. I often ask my critique group to help me with titles.

How about you? Do you struggle with naming things and / or titles, or does it come easy?

See what other Fantastic Friday Writers have to say about Names and What they Mean.

May 4, 2011

Falling Nova Torchwood4

I saw a commercial recently for the highly anticipated Terra Nova, airing on Fox this fall in the US. I was intrigued by the time travel then hooked by the man-eating dinosaurs. I've always said any show could be improved by the addition of giant murderous reptiles. Guess somebody heard me. It looks awesome. I hope it'll be good as the tease. Anyway, here's the trailer:

Which reminds me, I forgot a villain in my Wicked, Ode to the Villain, post last week. The T Rex in Jurassic Park. She was awesome.

Coming this summer on TNT in the US is Falling Skies. You can watch the first five minutes. I found it pretty intense. Begins June 19th.

Falling Skies: First Five

I'm sad we don't get the Starz channel. This July 8, it premieres Torchwood 4. It'll be airing simultaneously on BBC in the UK. I will be eagerly awaiting the release of the dvds. I know some people really hated the third season, Children of the Earth, but I loved it. This series is unexpected, which keeps the suspense high. You really have no idea where it's going or what the outcome is going to be, because Torchwood doesn't play it safe. That's my favorite thing about it.

For those not in the know, Torchwood is an anagram of Doctor Who. Torchwood is a Doctor Who spin-of that started life on the BBC. The series stars John Barrowman as Captain Jack Harkness, who runs a branch of the Torchwood Institute out of Cardiff in Wales. Torchwood is a clandestine organization that counters threats to Earth. Miracle Day, season 4, is a co-production between BBC Wales, BBC Worldwide and Starz.

Season 4 looks to being broader in scope with a more global flavor. A revamped Torchwood team stops off in Los Angeles and possibly other international locations.

"The theme is something that's going to affect... and touch everybody," star Eva Myles [plays Gwen Cooper] recently told DigitalSpy. "Everybody's going to relate [to it]."

Showrunner Russell T. Davies gave more away at the Television Critics Association in January.

"[T]he premise is a miracle that happens to the world. It’s as simple as this, that one day on Earth no one dies. Not a single person on Earth dies. The next day no one dies. The next day no one dies and on and on and on. Now, the sixth day, the old stay old and keep getting older. The dying keep dying, but no one quite dies. The possibility of death ceases to exist."

Cast additions for the new series  include Mekhi Phifer, Alexa Havins, and Bill Pullman, and will be more US-oriented than previous seasons.

Two upcoming shows that seem promising. And one I will look forward to coming out on dvd. Still no space opera on the horizon that I see. Dinosaurs and alien wars will do in the meantime. And some Jack Harkness.

The final episode of Stargate Universe airs Monday, May 9th at 9:00 p.m. on Syfy.

So what do you think?

May 2, 2011

Observatory Opens Later this Month. Yay!

This past Friday, we had our orientation meeting up at Pine Mountain Observatory. It wasn't warm down in Bend. It was less warm at 6300 feet. Yet it didn't matter. I hadn't been up there since we closed end of last September, so I was excited to get back up there. This will be my fourth summer working as a star guide at PMO. Not only is it my favorite place on Earth, it's also one of my most favorite things to do -- work up at PMO.

We officially open to the public Memorial Day weekend. We put on shows every Friday and Saturday night through the last weekend in September. I'm usually outside with a smaller telescope. Sometimes I have help out there, sometimes I don't. Sometimes I get to operate the 24.

Memorial Day and June are usually the coldest nights up there. Last year in June, we were always below freezing once the sun set. Brrrr. There were a few nights we just had to tell the public we were done outside due to excessive shivering and the like. The wind is almost always blowing at 6300 feet and after a few hours, I turn to ice no matter how bundled up I am. The 24 operator has it better in the dome. So, even if we quit outside, the big telescope is still going until our last guest goes home. Later, if we're not frozen solid yet and want to look at some objects.

It didn't start to warm up until mid July, but we had a lot of clear nights last summer. Hope we get a lot this year as two years ago we only got a handful.

The cold nights are all right. Means smaller crowds early in the season, which lets us get our bearings and spiels together after eight months off. And the sky is continuously shifting. It looks completely different in May than it does at end of September.

Click on any photo for a larger view.

Pine Mountain in the distance. The mountain is 30 miles east of Bend. Even from that far away, the patches of snow remaining are visible.

Sign says we're closed.

This part of the road is 5 miles. After the 3rd cattle guard, it's Deschutes National Forest and starts to climb upwards. Pine Mountain has multiple peaks. The observatory sits just below the patch of snow on the left side of the road. The other peak on the right is where the hang gliders jump off of.

Now inside the Deschutes National Forest and the road starts going up. This part is 3 miles. They're doing logging this year, so beware the falling trees and loggers running you off the road.

If you enlarge this photo, you can see a protrusion at the top which is what I call a yeti house [mentioned numerous times on this blog]. This photo was taken at about 4,000 feet as the road winds up.

I'm just glad the road was clear. I don't have 4 wheel drive. There are no guard rails.

This is the dome for the 24 inch telescope open to the public through the summer. It was undergoing some repairs, so we didn't get to do any star gazing through a telescope. :-( Oh well, it was dang cold. Was under 20 degrees once it was fully dark.

The smaller dome houses a 14 inch scope with a fancy new camera. We might get trained on it this year. Al will probably end up doing research on it as the 32 inch scope [in the larger dome] has to undergo some repairs. The 32 is normally the research telescope for the University of Oregon.

Inside the 32. My astronomy pals and a new recruit who we hope joins us this year. The past few years, the staff for public viewing has been down to 4 of us -- Kent, Eric, Gary and I. Al is in the plaid. The 32 doesn't use eyepieces. It's hooked up to a computer and takes photos. The U of O has been doing low luminosity galaxy studies in the recent past. You can read about what Pine Mountain Observatory is best known for here:

Sunset. Aaah. I've missed this view. They cut down a lot of trees, which will increase our visibility with the telescopes. They claim more trees are going. If so, we'll get clearer views of Saggitarius and Scorpius this year. We'll probably get to see the tail. Cool.

The spread of starry sky at a higher elevation out on the edge of nowhere is absolutely fantastic. It's something I never get tired of looking at with a telescope or without a telescope. There's a picnic table out in front of the 24 and I love to lie on my back on it, before the crowds come up from the tent, and just look at the sky. Or after they go home. I watch the stars and the planets and the periodic meteors and the satellites. There are 6-10 meteors every hour. Altogether, it puts on an amazing show.

Didn't see any strange lights or yeti or cougar or any other wild life. The loggers probably scared them all off.

PMO is how I spend my summers. Out in the wilds under the stars, teaching people about the skies and how to use a telescope and star charts. It's a blast, especially when I can fulfill people's dreams.

"It's been my lifelong dream to see a nebula, Mary."

"How'd you like to see four?"

"Now I can die happy."

Robert was only 9. I told him he needed a new lifelong dream. "You can't be done yet, Robert."

Last year I taught a five-year-old girl how to use my telescope. She screamed with glee every time she pointed it. "Come see my star. Come see my star." Perhaps she'll grow up to be the next Marie Curie.

Just getting to spend time at such an amazing place is enough, but doling out dreams and passion makes it even better.