The New Telescope

I finally got a new telescope. I had been itching to buy one for a while now. About a year ago I got the idea that it would be great to reboot my old astronomy hobby. As a kid, I was the proud owner of a decent 70mm refractor on an equatorial mount and tripod. I had spent hundreds of hours probably, scanning the skies, even in minus 25 degree weather, looking at the moon, planets, star-clusters … I had always felt a bit of disappointment at not being able to see nebulae or galaxies. Nevertheless, seeing Jupiter and his moons, or Saturn and its rings provided views I will never forget. The scope even had lunar and solar eyepieces (I had no idea the risk I was taking by looking at the sun with that sketchy filter) – I can’t for the life of me remember the brand of the scope, but it was pretty good. I had gotten it at Christmas, a gift from my mother who was keenly aware of my interest in science and nature.

I don’t even know what it was that has recently re-awakened my interest in the night sky. I think it was always there, but recently, I began thinking about it more and more. I think I also became aware, about a year ago, about a shop in town where they sell all kinds of telescopes (Focus Scientific – once I paid them a visit and saw all those telescopes, I knew what I had to do. Initially I had hoped to buy a big Newtonian on a Go-To equatorial mount such as the Celestron 8″ reflector on the Advanced VX mount, perhaps hook up my DSLR and do some astrophotography. However, I later decided to go with something a bit more affordable – for now, and settled for the Meade 10″ Lightbridge Plus Dobsonian. Astrophotography will have to wait a couple more years.

Setting up the scope took me about a half an hour. As luck would have it, the sky cleared, and I went out into the crisp March air for some views. Even though the moon was nearly full tonight, I still managed to see the Orion Nebula and The Pleiades. Of course, the moon stole the show.

I can’t wait for some clear dark skies, so that I can hunt for the Leo Triplet and the Whirlpool galaxy.

By the way, the moon photo was taken by carefully positioning the camera of my Samsung Galaxy S9+ against the eyepiece -the photo simply doesn’t do the live view justice, but it gives you an idea of the view.

Aquarium Snails

For her 6th birthday I got Sophia a 10 gallon tank and added 1 blue siamese fighting fish, 3 corydora and 4 neon tetras. Plus a couple of shrimp. And live plants.

And with the live plants, we later learned, came the progenitors of a vast, pesky population of snails – black bladder snails.

We’re not sure how the other fish feel about them either. Here are some pictures.

With some garlic, butter, and white wine perhaps?

Spike’s not impressed.

alsa-lib, alsa-plugins, Audacity and Youtube

I love to listen to great music loud in my car. But I don’t have Youtube (nor do I want it) in my car. So, my solution is to record great music off of youtube with a fantastic application called Audacity. I do this sometimes in the evenings, with nothing else to do around my house like laundry or dishes. I can sit down and find an 80’s smash hit that I haven’t heard in 20 years, record it via Audacity to MP3 and then put it on USB which I can play in my car. Here is the problem. This wonderful funtionality recently broke. Let me explain.

My home Desktop Operating-System is an Arch-based distro called Manjaro. I recently upgraded it the to most recent version, Manjaro 18.0 -codename Illyria- but to my dismay found I could no longer record from my browser to Audacity. A quick google-search revealed others who had the same problem. Two new packages in the most recent build of my OS were the culprits, namely, alsa-lib and alsa-plugins. (ALSA is ‘Advanced Linux Sound Architecture’) and along with Pulsaudio delivers audio functionality to the linux desktop. The new versions of these (alsa-lib-1.1.7-1 and alsa-plugins-1.1.7-3) broke Audacity’s ability to record audio!

I hummed and haaa’d. I fretted. I realized that I’d have to download the old versions of these from the Archlinux Package Archive, found here. (under /packages/a, of course).

Once downloaded, I installed them:

sudo pacman -U alsa-lib-1.1.6-1-x86_64.pkg.tar.xz


sudo pacman -U alsa-plugins-1.1.6-1-x86_64.pkg.tar.xz

Now, the only other thing that worried me was patching. The next time I went to install updates on my OS, I was going to run into the problem of pacman upgrading both of these again and breaking everything (possibly, if a new version hasn’t fixed the problem?)

Not to worry!

I added the following to /etc/pacman.conf

IgnorePkg = alsa-lib
IgnorePkg = alsa-plugins

And that’s it. Now pacman will ignore updates for those two packages. If only it was this easy for all operating-systems 😉

BTW, I thought I’d end this with a link to some truly great music that can be found on youtube.

click here

You’re welcome.

Pizza Sunday

It’s pretty easy to make the dough for the crust. The pizza stone I use to bake pizza on allows for a 16-inch pizza. To make the crust for a pizza this size, I use:

3 cups of white flour
a tablespoon of dry-active yeast
enough water
tiny pinch of sugar

I dilute the yeast in a coffee-mug of warm water. I add the little pinch of sugar. I blend this into the flour until it is well mixed, then turn it out onto my work surface. I work the dough until it’s smooth and consistent, then once this is done I flour my surface and work the dough into a nice ball. It then goes back into the mixing bowl where it rises for an hour and a half at least.
One of the hardest parts is rolling the dough out again into a nice even crust shape onto my pizza-stone, which I first sprinkle with flour and corn flour.
Once I’m happy with the shape of my pizza-crust I let it rise for another half-hour to an hour, depends how much time I have.
Finally, it’s pretty easy to add the toppings and bake it for 15 – 20 minutes at 400 degrees Fahrenheit. While it’s baking I shred the mozza, and then add that to the now baked pizza before throwing it back in the oven for another 5 minutes or so, until the cheese has melted just right.[foogallery id=”262″]

Oyster Mushrooms from Forest to Table

Saturday September 8th, I decided to head back to Gatineau Park with Sophia to see if we could find some of those amazing mushrooms we had spotted the previous weekend. This time, I brought my backpack and a couple of containers to stash mushrooms in if we found them. After doing some research after last weekends adventure, I had learned that some of the mushrooms we found were oyster mushrooms, while others were chanterelles and boletes. I was particularly excited to find chanterelles again, as I had never tried these. We searched and searched, but didn’t find any. We did find oyster mushrooms however. I’d say I ended up gathering close to a kilogram of these.
See the picture gallery in this post for these and the dinner I made with them after.

Oyster mushrooms are actually considered a superfood! see this article:

Oyster mushrooms with garlic and chives in a white-wine butter sauce.

Cleaned the mushrooms under water, then cut off the bottoms of their stalks which still had dirt attached. Dried them off with paper towel.

In a wok, melted about 4 tablespoons of butter, added the garlic and chives, salt and pepper.

Added the mushrooms and sautéed them with a splash (more like an ounce) of white wine. (some Portuguese vinho verde I had in the fridge).

Served these with a ribeye steak I grilled on the BBQ and fetuccini alfredo. (see pics)[foogallery id=”247″]

Some Mushrooms up in the Parc

Have a look at these mushrooms I took pictures of when Sophia and I hiked around Mount King in Gatineau Parc last weekend.

Can you identify some? Are they edible?[foogallery id=”233″]

I think I’ll go back again this coming weekend. If I find more of those chanterelles and oyster mushrooms, I might have to bring them home and cook them up.

Balcony Tomatoes

Here are some shots of the stuff growing on my balcony this summer.
Yes that’s a fig tree.

[foogallery id=”207″]

Is coffee hurting my elbows?

I started making some serious progress in regaining lost strength this past Spring, when I started up the gym again.
I think I overdid it, because by June my old friend tendonitis started creeping back in. At first it was a minor annoyance that I barely noticed, but after a while it grew into something that became a major detriment to my workouts. In June I also started a new job as a sysadmin at Bell Canada. What I had noticed is my lessened need for coffee. Doing my workouts in the morning seemed to get me going and kept me feeling awake throughout the day. Before long, I had reduced my coffee intake to one cup a week (an espresso) – whereas before I had been consuming 3- 4 coffees daily.

In July the tendonitis (tendonosis??) in my left elbow had gotten so bad again that I decided to take a break. This also coincided with a week-long visit from my mother. I started up my daily coffee habit again. In all, I took about 4 weeks off from the gym. I thought this was going to heal my pain, in fact, I think it did the opposite. To my utter disbelief, I actually developed tennis-elbow in my right arm! I’ve read a few articles online that all seem to hint at a connection between coffee and joint pain.

This morning, after 4 weeks off, I went to the gym. I have not had a coffee yet today. We’ll see how it goes.

The Gym

So I went to the a gym for the first time in 3 years, and it felt pretty good. I had been going to Goodlife Fitness on Queen St. in downtown Ottawa until about the fall of 2014. It’s a fancy gym, expensive, it’s big, and chic, and very metropolitan. There is a juice bar on site. And it’s crowded. One of the reasons I had joined in the first place was their “Open 24 Hours” policy, which I quickly discovered was a bold-faced lie. Being a single father to a small child, and working fulltime, it goes without saying that I wasn’t going to be able to go whenever; I would need something that was open, at times, very early in the morning, or late at night. Several times when I went later in the evening, I was turned away by their friendly staff, who claimed, each time, that the gym needed some kind of maintenance. Thanks for that $74.00 every two weeks sucker.
I had been a gym guy for years. At times I had gotten into pretty good shape, too. Lifting weights cleared my head. It relaxed me, it was my form of meditation. Now, with Goodlife, I felt like I had joined some weird crowded cult. Too many narcisists, too many yahoos. One of the last times I went, they had a DJ spinning abnoxious faux-house. Another time shortly thereafter, I wanted to go in an evening – no dice. “We’re closing early for maintenance” I was told. That was that. I cancelled my membership.
And now it’s been 3 years.
One day my co-worker Ryan told me about the YMCA, which, it turns out, has a location less than a block away from my office. Who knew? He’s since moved on and found a new job, but I’ve joined him down at the Y a couple times now on a guest pass and I like it. 3 years without going to the gym. I came out of there feeling energized, refreshed. Apparently the membership is quite affordable. So far I have found it clean, the equipment is good, it’s not crowded. No show-offs, no cheezy DJ’s. I think I am going to sign up.

Distro Shuffle. The perfect KDE Plasma

Over the last few weeks I’ve grown increasingly tired of Fedora. Sorry. Just too much breaking, too much instability. I miss Linux Mint. I fired up Linux Mint 18.3 KDE edition and did a clean install. To my dismay, I discovered that setting up a ‘Cisco Anyconnect Compatible VPN (openconnect)’ still doesn’t work. I had noticed this in the previous release of Mint. Ok, the usual googling around for 10 – 15 minutes didn’t yield much. There’s an Archlinux Forum post, a few Ubuntu forum discussions and not much in the way of success. Then I remembered that I had saved a text file in my Documents folder to note how I had fixed it the last time. Two packages that had to be installed:

sudo apt-get install network-manager-openvpn-gnome network-manager-openconnect

This fixed the problem. I can now connect to my office’s Cisco Anyconnect VPN service. I should note, and one thing I actually liked about Fedora, is that this worked out of the box. Why isn’t Mint packaging this by default? I also recently tried Manjaro-KDE and was pleasantly surprised that this just worked on that distro as well. I actually found lots I liked on Manjaro, except for the strange fact that I couldn’t get multiple monitors working. After much playing with xrandr and breaking xorg.conf, I still couldn’t get it. But that will be another post.