Frog: I’ve been studying up on my genealogy.
Toad: Is that so? What have you discovered?
Frog: I’m a tad Polish.
My frustration levels are off the chart with my astronomy hobby. I just can’t seem to raise my capacity high enough to have a consistently positive outing. This is what I was afraid of when I bought the scope, and was the main reason I went with the scope I did — a Celestron NexStar 8SE. Designed as an “easy” entry scope, it comes with a bunch of computerized innards that basically allow you to point it at three bright stars, tell the computer in it where they are, the computer figures out which ones are which, and bob’s your uncle, the scope is fully aligned. On a stock alt-azimuth scope, there’s not much finesse for the user to worry about in the setup. Or so I thought.
However, early on, I was using it and I could find a few things once aligned, but not much that wasn’t already visible to the naked eye. I eventually figured out the problem was not a series of various options it could have been, it was narrowed to one. My alignment sucks (Finally learning with the Celestron NexStar 8SE).
So I came up with a workflow to increase the success factors and eliminate the idiot factors:
- Mount — basic setup, using vibration suppression pads and if I’m feeling particularly anal, a bubble level — most people using this scope skip the level as it “close enough” apparently that unless you’re on a hill, it should be irrelevant, but I have it on my list just to weed out a variable;
- Alignment control — using either phone/tablet connected to the wifi adapter or manually using the handset; and,
- Star selection — using a TelRad to get close to the star, and a 12mm red-illuminated reticle eyepiece for selection.
And it seemed to work (A sky tour with my new setup). Until it didn’t.
As I’ve mentioned, I was in a bit of a holding pattern on some things for awhile and I tried this year to get it going again (50by50: Re-start my astronomy hobby (#04)). But it wasn’t the full use yet. Then I went to the cottage and Luskville and both times the viewing sucked, but even with the haze, I couldn’t even get the scope to align anyways. I saw some stuff, but it was still frustrating.
So I’ve reached the knot before the end of my tether. I’m giving myself five more tries to get a solid positive experience using my scope and then I’m bailing. I’m spending too much time and money on a hobby I just get frustrated by. I would still go to star parties and look through other people’s scopes and support RASC + AstroPontiac, I’d just get rid of the scope and use any money likely on something like buying a good lens or two for my camera, switching my obsession time to photography. I might even do occasional astrophotography.
But before I pull that trigger, I’ll give it five tries, and I need a way to evaluate my experience more formally. Last night was a trial run that doesn’t count as one of the five, but I’ll evaluate it as if it did.
My evaluation criteria
I won’t assign any evaluation criteria to the mount setup as it really doesn’t have any variables. I take it out, I set it up, I might take a few extra seconds sometimes, but nothing that affects my enjoyment. That is more about the lugging from wherever I have to park to the spot where I set up!
The alignment control definitely needs to be evaluated. From the time I set up everything and actually start my alignment to the time I’m finished, I’m going to give myself up to five points. This should take less than five minutes in total, and it should relatively work the first time each time. But I’ll be generous to start — I’ll give myself ten minutes, and two tries at alignment. I’ve pretty much eliminated the wifi and the phone/tablet at this point. I don’t want to, as the visual control later of the scope would be ideal, but it can’t be part of my test. Too many wiggle factors in there that are just finicky aspects of the app and wifi link, not really about alignment. If I’m lucky enough to get my first alignment to work, and under five minutes, I’ll give myself a full 5 points. Second alignment OR under ten minutes, I drop to 4 points, and 3 points if it requires both of those. If it takes more than 2 tries, drop to 1 or 2 (depending on time). And if it isn’t done with my third alignment or takes longer than ten minutes, it’s zero. Either one and it’s zero.
Last night would be a clear zero if I was evaluating. I was on at least my third alignment if not fourth, and it took way longer than ten minutes. I was close to 30-45 minutes before I got it all worked out. But it did eventually work. It may not be a completely fair evaluation though as I literally was figuring some of the stuff out as I went, and that probably added 10-15 minutes, but I was still well over the 10 minutes required. I’m more optimistic for the next round, having figured a bunch of those things out and essentially eliminated the tablet and phone from the equation for now. I have way more control using the handset, and although in theory you can run both simultaneously, mine doesn’t seem to do that. A future problem to figure out, if I keep the hobby.
Alignment results would be next on my list. After I was up and running last night, I did a full star tour. A full-sky 90-minute-plus tour. And yes I saw lots of things. But on a regular basis, I said “show me X” and when it got there, there was nothing in the Field of View. Now I’m not looking for perfection, but I am doing this type of tour with a 32 mm Plossl. That’s pretty low power giving me a huge chunk of sky. The moon easily fits within that view, so it’s not like I’m aiming for pinpoint accuracy. But just as I mentioned in an earlier session when I found out that my alignment was way off with the Ring Nebula, I panned around the resulting area a little and found some of the items that should have been within the FoV initially. I am discounting ones where it was low in the horizon or it was a faint galaxy, since I’m viewing in the suburbs and it could be light pollution or haze at the horizon blocking my view. But there were some bright double stars that were nowhere near the centre of my go to option. I did find them, but the go to scope is supposed to eliminate the search and hunt aspect a lot more than it did.
And I’ll digress for a moment. Yes, I’m hoping to get to the stage where I can sky hop at will, and find things without the Go To function. I even have my star charts, good apps, and the book Turn Left at Orion to help me do that. But I also need to be having some early success finding things that will keep my interest going. Most of what I have been finding so far is extremely disappointing, and if that was the only criteria, I’d swap out my big scope and just go with something that lets me look at the moon only for now. At least I can find that easily. So if your advice is to get rid of all that and just star hop, that’s not how I learn, and you missed the point entirely.
So I am going to give myself a very concrete test, and I don’t know if this is the right list or not, but I’ll give it a go. Once my alignment is complete, I’m going to try and find the following things in the sky using just the Go To settings, and see how I do with the result. A total of fifteen initial points, 0 if it doesn’t find it, half a point if it is in the outer 10% of the FoV, and a full point if it is clearly within the FoV with no edging problems. Here’s my list:
- The planets of the night (counted as 1 target) — Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune are all vaguely possible, but given my viewing times, it is more likely to be just the outer five (MaJuSaUrNe). The Sky Tour knows what is visible at that time, and to get the full point, the tour has to put all of them within my FoV. I’m being very generous with a 32mm search, if it doesn’t find them, alignment is way off.
- Stars (5 targets) — One of the few stars I can usually spot on my own is Arcturus, and often one of the ones I choose in my three-star alignment…if it doesn’t find THIS, the alignment is hopeless. I’ll also go for Almach (double star), Rasalgethi (double), Albireo (bright double), and I’ll try for Antares (although, like Arcturus, it is sometimes in my initial alignment).
- Galaxies or nebulae (5 targets) — Andromeda shows up as a faint smudgy, but at least it is there. I’ll throw in Hercules, M92, the Ring Nebula, and the Dumbbell Nebula.
- Clusters (4 targets) — The Double Cluster is an obvious if unexciting one, plus M29, M34, and the HorseShoe Cluster. I’d take Pleiades as well, but depends a bit on where I’m viewing from at the moment.
That gives me a possible 15 targets, and on the off-chance a couple of them are unavailable because of angles or time of viewing, I’ll consider adding Mizar and Alcor, Polaris, Gamma Ari or Gamma Cet, Kappa Bo, and Epsilon Bo up until I get to 15 targets.
How did I do last night against that list?
- Planets — Found Saturn, Uranus and Neptune, despite low visibility and haze for the last two — 1 point;
- Stars — Arcturus, Almach, Rasalgethi and Albireo were all visible, but the last two were on the outer edges of the FoV, and I had to replace Antares with Mizar, so three full points, plus two half points — 4 points;
- Galaxies — Andromeda was faint, as was Hercules, M92, and the Dumbbell. However, the first three were within the FoV for full points, Dumbbell was at the edge. I went for the Ring, and it was out of the FoV (I had to pan around to find it) — 3.5 points;
- Clusters — Double cluster was in FoV, as was M34, M29. The Horseshoe was almost out of the FoV — 3.5 points
I didn’t have to “substitute” for my evaluation but that’s also observational and design bias. I found these 15 targets last night with a “not great” alignment, so I kind of expect to always find them, and they only made my list because I *did* find them. But I don’t want these ones to overwhelm my score too much, so I’m going to divide by 3 when I’m done — 13-15 = five points, 10-12 = four points, 7-9 = three points; 4-6 = two points, 1-3 = one point;
But I also need a bit of challenge for stuff I didn’t already find. For that, I’m going to rely on Turn Left at Orion. For the current time frame, they recommend searching for:
- Any sky: Globular Cluster M13, M21;
- Dark sky: Globular Clusters M92, M5, M10, M12, M8 (Lagoon);
With seven targets, I figure I should be able to find three with the go to scope, no problem (well, other than seeing and angles) and I’m going to let it rise up to five points max. With last night’s alignment results, that probably would have been two points only.
So, that leaves me with:
- Alignment control – up to 5 points;
- Alignment results (normal) – up to 5 points;
- Alignment results (challenge) — up to 5 points;
I want to add two other elements here. I realize they are going to be slightly subjective, but I don’t see how I can leave them out.
The first is simple: Did I learn anything? If all I’m doing is hopping and hopping, and not really learning anything, what’s the point? Cute baubles to look at, but that’s it. That’s not necessarily about the scope though, that requires me to use other tools too. Last night, I wasn’t really doing that, just testing alignment, but I need to add it.
The last element is the most subjective of all: Did I enjoy it? If it isn’t fun, why bother? Right now, the frustration level is blocking most of my enjoyment. My sky tour last night was interesting, but with over 100 items searched for, most were not ones that I cared much about or felt really engaged with yet. Some people argue quite convincingly that you don’t feel the engagement if you’re using a Go To mount and letting the computer choose your destination, and I can see that. Eventually, I need to get to the stage where I’m planning an outing with a series of specific targets that I want to find. I kind of like the idea of 20 minutes of big ticket items for the night (planets, etc.), and then an hour of targeted searching for two or three main items to consider. Followed perhaps by another hour of wandering or some “challenge” items.
Last night, I enjoyed seeing Andromeda, Hercules, M92, and the Dumbbell Nebula, although all of them looked mostly like a faint smudgy for the conditions and location. And some of those are the big disappointments I have felt when viewing and searching — I am not seeing the galaxy and nebula formations as anything BUT a smudgy. A dark sky is supposed to fix that, but I have never had a good enough alignment process to make a hour plus drive to a real dark sky setup. I did see the Ring Nebula, although it wasn’t anywhere near as detailed as I was hoping. Viewing and location prevented that. Plus it wasn’t in my alignment when I did it, so was more luck than anything. I just knew what it looked like, and knew the scope’s internal alignment sometimes had problems with it, so decided to pan around a bit until I found it.
I was disappointed with the Double Cluster, M34, and M29. I just wasn’t seeing the star wells I have seen before in other scopes, so they didn’t seem like much from the suburbs. The Horseshoe Cluster was clear though, and I liked it quite alot. I will be memorizing its location for the future.
I enjoyed the regular double stars — Almach, Gamma Ari, Polaris — but I preferred the colours and brightness for Gamma Cet, Kappa Bo, Epsilon Bo, Rasalgethi and Albireo. I didn’t spend a lot of time on Gamma Cet or Epsilon Bo, so didn’t finally resolve them, but they’re on my list for a revisit.
If I was to rate my viewing enjoyment last night, I would give it 2/5. It was okay, not spectacular. But then again, I was also still frustrated, some things weren’t showing up in alignment, there was haze, etc. I hope that number will go up in the future, or as I said, why am I bothering?
Which leaves me with a final point total for my evaluation of 25 points. With five nights to try it, that’s a potential 125 points. What’s my threshold for continuing? Eighty points. That’s about 64%, not that high a threshold, but we’ll see how it goes. A rough estimate for last night would have put me at 0 for alignment control, 4 for normal alignment (normal), 0 for challenge alignment (not rated), 0 for learning (not rated), 2 for enjoyment for a total of 6 out of a possible 15 (40%). Which is why I’m not counting it as a formal test. I was still working out bugs.
On with my real test though, now that I have the criteria mostly mapped out. And I have to reduce my stress and frustration. Ultimately, the worst case scenario is I have more time for photography.
Last weekend, I was beset with lousy viewing due to low lying haze. Despite a fantastic forecast, I had haze going up to around 20-30 degrees above the horizon, so much so that Jupiter was nothing more than a round orange-y blob in the scope. We saw Arcturus and Antares, and a low-quality sight of Saturn, but I couldn’t get the scope to align. No biggie, I was also having power problems, and I thought that was the cause.
Last night though I headed off to the AstroPontiac viewing site. My friend Stephan is spearheading the initiative to bring a dark sky viewing site to the area, and he has been working on it for just over 7 years. I’m on the board and manage the website, but the yeoman duties fall to him for most of it. The site is next to Gatineau Park’s Luskville Waterfall Trail (sentier de les chutes de Luskville), and it is relatively stunning. With the hill behind you to the N and NE, you have a relatively open vista to the SE, S and W. The field was recently cut down to size for the flora, and a bunch of us set up.
Or more accurately, they set up. I have no idea what I was actually doing.
Viewing initially wasn’t promising, as the same haze that plagued me last weekend is still hanging around at dusk and into the evening. Like a low lying fog that just permeates the horizon. Jupiter was well hidden. Some people found Saturn, but I never got that far.
I started off with my basic setup — I put my mount together, set it up taller than I have been lately as I expected to be looking at some items higher in the sky so I knew I would need a bit more height to give me room to get underneath, and I set it up on the vibration suppression pads. I probably don’t need them a lot, but they also serve to help level the mount and stop the legs from sinking into the dirt. Added my scope, all looking good. Plugged in my Celestron tank, had power, connected the handset, all good to go.
My first attempt at an alignment was the standard 3-star approach. Now, by default, it thinks I’m in Ottawa, and since the city lookup isn’t that robust to include somewhere like Luskville, I just left it as is. I was having trouble doing some of the search-and-find for alignment for three good stars as my TelRad was fogging up. But I managed to work my way through it. And it came back and told me “success”. So I told it to show me Saturn.
If Saturn was anywhere near where it told me it was, I couldn’t see it. I panned around a bit in low magnification but it wasn’t anywhere nearby. Tried a couple more automated “go to” destinations, and nada. Not correctly aligned.
Tried alignment again, but it failed this time.
Tried it again, this time using the wifi attached connected to my phone. But for some reason, the phone app wouldn’t let me control the scope.
Tried it again, this time with my tablet. Same problem, no control once connected.
I tried a bunch of different configs, no dice with the wifi.
So I reverted to “custom site” which allows me to put in the actual longitude and latitude before doing the 3-star selection. At this point, I’d probably been at it for about 90 minutes with no joy in Mudville, errr, Luskville. But manually putting in the coordinates should avoid all of that. Entered time, date, updated a few things, chose three stars, told it to align, it whirred.
So I decided to try simple star-hopping. Except my stupid TelRad was still fogging up. I couldn’t move to the next star as I couldn’t SEE the next star to get to it. Heck I could barely get to the first star reliably, and I was starting with the Dipper!
I think if someone had offered me a nickel to not have to pack everything back up, I would have chucked the entire hobby right there. It’s almost adding insult to injury when after failing spectacularly for two hours, you still have to spend fifteen minutes taking everything down and putting it gently into the car. I understand why some golfers throw their clubs into rivers and lakes, that’s what I’m saying.
I’m officially starting a count-down clock. Five more attempts, then I give up completely and take up knitting. I might not be any better at knitting, but at least I can do that in my basement while I watch TV.
I posted awhile ago about restarting my hobby (50by50: Re-start my astronomy hobby (#04)), and some other posts over the last couple of years about trying to figure out proper alignments and use of my Celestron 8SE scope. This past weekend, we were heading to my wife’s family’s cottage near Fenelon Falls and Bobcaygeon, and I was debating whether or not to take the scope. Their property has a lot of trees so Eastern views are out, but if I put my scope next to the lake, I have a pretty good SW view.
I hemmed, I hawed. Then I pulled up the Clear Sky Chart for Fenelon Falls (who knew there was even one for the area?), and the decision was made — every indicator for Saturday night was off the charts. I’m usually doing viewing in the Ottawa area and lucky to get medium predictions for quality (3/5), while the one for Saturday in Fenelon had 4s and even 5s! I wasn’t organized to take all my stuff with me, but how could I not? It delayed our departure by half an hour as I crammed every thing in after finding it all, and we went.
About 5:00 p.m. on Saturday, I started setting up the scope with my solar filter. It was fun to see the sun spots, and Jacob and Andrea saw them too. I confess, though, that sun spots are not the most exciting thing to see. Andrea’s father and aunt took a peek, as did her uncle.
As night fell, I was a bit excited. I was debating using the built-in settings or the wifi adapter that connects to my phone or tablet, all exciting options.
Right up until my Celestron power source died. Not for any other reason than the fact that I wasn’t planning on going, grabbed it and didn’t grab the charger, and there wasn’t much left to power the scope. I ended up putting the mini tank away, popping open the mount and inserting 8 batteries for the night. Not the best of solutions, but it works. Back in business.
Except my phone wasn’t fully charged either — one of the downsides of being in a remote area with dark skies is your little phone may not connect, and if it’s like mine, and trying to repeatedly connect without success, it eventually dies during the day. Tried running my tablet app, couldn’t connect, and then it said my app wasn’t valid. It is, and I reinstalled it later just fine, but wouldn’t work.
So I tried the hand set alignment, and it failed, but I expected that. On to regular star hopping.
Except I was not very enthusiastic. That amazing clear night that was forecast? Total crap. There was haze EVERYWHERE. Maybe drifting from BC, but looked more like heat hazes. Definitely in the west up almost 20-30 degrees and even Saturn and Jupiter were hazy. I showed off Saturn and Jupiter to Andrea and Jacob, and they were far cries from what we had seen even in June. I showed Andrea’s mom and aunt Saturn, but it wasn’t awesome. I did manage to show Arcturus and Antares, even if I couldn’t remember their names at the time, and they loved them because they actually were twinkling.
It quieted down, I was left to my own devices. So I pulled up a planetarium app, found the names for Antares and Arcturus. Looked at them again. And then I started looking for Messier objects, which I almost never have much luck with on my own. Just not organized enough to figure it out, and although I have a Go To scope, that’s kind of cheating.
But I surprised myself. I found M3. While it may be a nice globular cluster that seems super bright when you look at it on pages on the internet, it always looks like a light faint smudgy to me. Still, I found it, on my own, didn’t use my go to function, just star hopped to it. I was a bit “lucky” more than skilled, but hey, it counts. 🙂
Not the night I was expecting, and my backup batteries died shortly thereafter, but fun nevertheless.
Anyone visiting my blog, or following me on Twitter, or even just (gasp!) knowing me in person knows pretty fast that I like serialized story telling — movies with sequels, books in series, and of course, TV shows. Just under two years ago, I decided it was time to cut the cord (Cutting the cord – Conclusion). It was a huge decision for me. I was a slave to my corporate overlords for media consumption for home telephone, cell phone, internet, mobile data, TV, etc. And it was costing me a small fortune, even with bundling. I made a huge change. But every few months, I get an itch to have MORE choice that would stop me from having to make such all-or-nothing types of decisions.
And then today, I tripped over an article at How-To Geek entitled simply “The Cheapest Way to Stream TV: Rotate Your Subscriptions”. I don’t want to bury the proverbial lede too far so let me state clearly that the article basically asks why pay for multiple streaming options all year round when you could have one or two “base” subscriptions and just pick up a few of the others if/when there is something worth watching on that network. Like Game of Thrones, for example. [Source: The Cheapest Way to Stream TV: Rotate Your Subscriptions].
Is that why I was gobsmacked? No. It was because his matter of fact way of explaining the options he has to draw upon is simply not even remotely close to what we (don’t) have available in Canada.
For a basic streaming package, he uses Netflix and Hulu for a total of $22 a month. Let’s start with Netflix.
We do have Netflix Canada, so sounds good, right? Except we don’t have the same content as regular Netflix. They have first run TV shows added due to deals with networks. Very few of those shows make it to Netflix Canada until the next season. Current year? Not available in Canada.
Take Hulu or Hulu Plus. Another great basic streaming option. Lots of first-run series matching regular network broadcast schedules. Which is industry speak for saying when it airs on CBS or NBC or ABC or Fox, it shows up either same day or same week on Hulu. You don’t get EVERYTHING, but you get a heck of a lot. Great, sign me up for $12 a month! Oh, wait, not available in Canada. At least not legally. Lots of people are buying Hulu gift cards on eBay, and I’ve looked at it long enough to figure out it would cost me $20 to try it. Maybe it works, maybe it doesn’t. Still pretty shady though, on the black side of the grey zone of legality (yes, it completely violates their terms of service, but that’s not “law”, that’s a company’s ToS, not far off from removing mattress tags). Don’t get me wrong, there are very STRONG advocates that will and have told me that’s the slippery slope to cable Armageddon, although they haven’t yet told me why that’s a bad thing. But I digress.
We do have four other options in Canada to get basic service.
One option is to go with Crave TV. It’s meant to be like Netflix or Hulu, except its “first-run” show complement is somewhere around new episodes of The Beachcombers (for non-Canadian readers, it’s a home-grown show that has been off the air for years). If Netflix was Tier 1, Crave TV would clock in around Tier 3 or 4.
We do have Amazon Prime now, isn’t that exciting? Well, not really, as we don’t get the cable options in it, just the Prime shows. Another “Netflix-lite” style of Amazon Prime. No one would pay for it separately i.e. if it wasn’t included with the free shipping account we did pay for earlier.
A third option, although kind of defeats the whole purpose, would be to get basic cable or a satellite dish. The regulatory board forced Bell and Rogers and others to offer a “skinny” package of a handful of basic channels for $25, which is better than paying 50 or 100 bucks a month, but they also ding you with their add on costs for equipment and any “extras” like sports. Or in one case, a remote to work the set top box.
The final option sounds close to the article’s options: VMedia and it’s wannabe clone Zazeen TV. Less than the cable providers, more flex, and all through streaming. Sounds great, right? Well except they can only do it if you are connected with encryption boxes to their networks. Think of it kind of like people running a bar and having a whole bunch of licensing problems about what they can and can’t offer — so they skirt the rules by creating a “club” instead that you pay a nightly membership fee to enter. Problem solved, they’re not a bar open to the public, they’re a private club. Well, VMedia and Zazeen have special boxes that let you connect to their streams so it isn’t “open streaming” and they’re not broadcasters, so they bypass a bunch of the rules. Except to have that club status, you have to use their internet. And both their internet and their TV options are flaky for service. A friend’s husband is a sports nerd, and he had VMedia. It was so flaky that on the night of a big game, he went to the local bar to watch rather than stay home because he didn’t want to risk missing it. After he paid for the package so he could watch it at home.
Yet when VMedia and Zazeen tried to ditch the encryption boxes and offer pure streaming (they don’t like them any more than the customers do), Bell and Rogers smacked them with legal proceedings and roomfuls of lawyers that they couldn’t afford to fight. So they folded their streaming-only tents and went back to the encryption boxes.
You can also do over the air (OTA) antennas, but not really the same technology. Still, an option in some cities.
After that, even though I can’t match his streaming options, and certainly nowhere near the price / options / reliability intersection point, things screech to a halt.
HBO Now? Nope, not in Canada.
Sling? Nope, not in Canada.
CBS All Access? Surely you jest.
But wait, you do have options. Like Microsoft / XBox or iTunes season subscriptions to shows, or Google purchases. No worries, just $15-20. Per season. Per show. Yikes. A viable option if you only want one show though.
So I love the article, even if I can’t do any of it.
Now if only the CRTC board would read the same article and say, “Hey, why can’t we do that in Canada?” rather than having so many people switch to Kodi, one of the few options to still get first-run shows after you cut the cable cord. Canadians are still willing to pay, it’s not that we suddenly embraced a pirate lifestyle like a virus, we just want a service that can give us what everyone already has for options in the U.S.
Someone on the Lost Ottawa page on Facebook posted a pic of her old learner’s permit / 365 in Ontario (your learner’s permit was based on a writing test and was good for one year i.e. 365 days, hence the name) and it got me thinking about my own experience of learning to drive.
When I was in high school, I didn’t have a big desire to drive. Partly because I never needed to — my brother was six years older, and if I went anywhere without my parents, it was likely with him. Plus, most of the time, we could just ride our bikes wherever we wanted to go. And there was an element that while we had two cars, my brother had first dibs ahead of me anyway, so I wouldn’t have likely been able to borrow it very often anyway. And to be honest, I couldn’t care less about cars for the look and feel. Sure, I like the look of some, particularly a few you see in the old car shows, but the real specs or the history rarely excite me. Even now, I’m not looking for a car with a big engine or sleek styling. Decent transportation, some cargo room, a bit of power to pass people on the highway, and I’m more than satisfied. So I wasn’t the typical teen clamouring for his license.
When I was about to graduate though, and dating a girl who lived a bit outside my main neighbourhood, a car started to look a lot more useful for going out to the cottage or even just getting to different movie theatres or restaurants. Get your mind out of the gutter, it was about transportation. She was taking lessons, and her brother got his license, so it just seemed natural to go ahead and get mine. May of 1987, a few weeks before my 19th birthday.
I had my 365 for a few months, and did some practice here and there. I had driven a bit before the permit too, but always out at the lake on private property. No real roads, which was fine with me as we always had big cars and the roads were dirt, bordered by large ditches. Once I had my 365, my parents let me drive on the backroads to get used to driving, initially to the store and back, and over time, I was allowed to drive further and further.
City driving was another ballgame. Everybody was busy, so I rarely got to practice. A few weeks before the test, I got my Dad to take me out a few times, which I found nerve-wracking. He wasn’t super critical or anything, I just didn’t want to screw up.
And while I was learning to drive, I was often driving a big huge Buick or a station wagon or a full-size Malibu. Big vehicles. We had Comets and Mavericks before that, and I would love to have done my test in one of those, but they were long off the scene before I was doing my test. The night before the test, it was time to try…dun dun dun…parallel parking.
So my Dad took me downtown Peterborough. For those of you who have been to Peterpatch, you know that the main part of downtown is about 8 blocks long, with two one-way arteries — George Street running south and Water Street running North. So we went to George Street and started practicing. With the street four lanes wide, I wasn’t blocking traffic while I was practicing, easy for them to go around, and guaranteed cars already parked on the street to park near. Plus there were lots of cross streets with cars parked, particularly up around Brock Street, i.e. all good locations to practice.
I was a bit nervous about this part. I knew some people who had done their test years before and failed the parallel parking aspect, and had to redo the test. I knew too that recently some people had passed their tests without even having to try parallel parking. It wasn’t clear that I would have to do it, but just in case, I needed obviously to practice. With a giant Buick. Fun times.
I wish I knew then about the technique people teach now of pulling up alongside, turning hard until you’re diagonal with the license plate, and then cutting back in. Nope, just angle as best you can.
And I got it on the first try. I even impressed my Dad.
Three more tries, and Dad was bored. So we went home. That was my training.
I wasn’t sure what to expect for the test, it had been a few years since my brother had done his test, and like I said, I wasn’t really in a group of people bucking for their licenses at school, so no “common” reference point. I expected it to be a little more rigorous than my father’s test back in the war. At the time he did his test, you could drive with your confirmation to the testing centre for the actual test.
The testing centre was located in downtown Peterborough and so the guy told him to pick him up on the corner of x and y at 4:00 sharp. The guy got in, had my father drive a block and take one turn, another block for another turn, and a third block for a third turn. Basically he had him go around the block and stop next to a pub. He said, “Okay, you can drive, pick up your license tomorrow” and then he went into the pub. That was it.
Fortunately for all of us, it was a little more rigorous than that by my time.
For the test, I seem to recall borrowing my sister-in-law’s car, although I don’t really remember precisely. I just remember whatever car I used was smaller than the big ones that I had been driving. The tester had me drive down some side streets, take a few turns in a large neighbourhood, pull out onto a four-lane street with a series of stop lights, pass through a couple of busy intersections, a few more turns, and we were back at the testing centre, about 15 minutes duration. He said I took left turns a little sharp, and right turns a little wide, the same thing my Dad had said the night before, but it was all good. No parallel parking required, I just had to park it in a spot at the testing centre. All done. Passed the first time.
It’s interesting…I wasn’t very nervous learning to drive except for the size of our car. The big Buick just took up so much of the road that meeting anyone on the dirt roads scared the crap out of me, having to get over. But the part that was really interesting was a couple of people I talked to AFTER the test. They were really scared when they were learning because they have never driven ANYTHING in their life.
Huh? I had never really thought about it. I had driven bicycles, mopeds, motorcycles, ATVs, quads, different types of boats, and snowmobiles. Probably a couple of other things I can’t even think of off-hand, like go-karts. So, sure, it was bigger, but moving up wasn’t that scary, except for the size of our particular car. But for people who had NEVER driven anything in their life before? Not even a bicycle in the one guy’s case? Unfathomable to me.
Anyway, that’s my story. What’s yours?
PLOT OR PREMISETen Big Ones (St. Martin’s Press, 2010, ISBN/ASIN: B00179FNRI, Plum (10)) is the tenth outing in the Plum series, and this one has Stephanie starting a mini-war with a gang after she sees one of them committing a robbery.
WHAT I LIKED
Hijackers of chip trucks, Sally Sweet still in a dress, and school buses all show up to enliven the plot.
WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE
The whole shower thing for Valerie gets old real fast, adding nothing to the story. And I don’t really care about wannabe gang kingpins.
THE BOTTOM LINE / TWEET
Not bad, good ending
Legend: 1/5 Finished 2/5 Not bad 3/5 Good 4/5 Enjoyable 5/5 Excellent
I received no compensation, not even a free copy, in exchange for this review. I am not personal friends with the author, nor do I follow her on social media.
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I have never got into podcasts, partly perhaps as I don’t have a good setup for it. I don’t listen to a lot of music on a daily basis, either, other than the radio, for the same reason. Yeah, sure, I have a smart phone, an MP3 player, and a tablet, all of it which I can theoretically set up with music and regular podcasts for listening in the car, etc. But I’ve never set all my pieces up to do that easily, which just presents friction to the transaction. I don’t do audiobooks, I rarely watch TED talks, I didn’t put french lessons on my various gadgets to use in for the car. I’ve had plans to get all the music going for some time now, and it is at least organized. But I haven’t decided between Spotify, iTunes, Google Play Music, etc. let alone podcast options.
I do have Media Monkey Gold running pretty well on my desktop now, and it will likely be my media manager for the future. Some quirks to work out still, and one of them was podcasts. MMG has some ones already linked by default, and today I figured out how to go into iTunes, find the link, copy it into MMG, and bob’s your uncle, I seem to be able to do this with any iTunes podcast easily. If it isn’t in iTunes, I’ll figure it out later.
Because, from time to time, I do see reviews of new podcasts that people are super excited by, and I think, “Hmm, sounds interesting.” I particularly like the idea of small size snippets of experts sharing info. Or a small insight into a world that I don’t inhabit myself — a scientist, a doctor, a rapper, an actor, etc.
When I saw the latest review of a new podcast called Sincerely, X, I was a bit skeptical. Oooh, how exciting, people talking about things too difficult to share, and so they are sharing their stories anonymously. Not. More likely to be people sharing made-up stories that they heard from a friend of a friend who knew someone who once talked to someone who was a roadie for a small band, and sharing it all for the titillation factor. Which would normally mean that I would just skip it entirely, just as I skip the chat groups that do the same thing or the various websites with a high Kardashian-factor of TMI and ego.
Except for one thing. This one was by TED Talks. And TED Talks have street cred. Most of their stuff, albeit not all, is pretty damn good. A free, open form of the The Learning Company / Great Courses approach of getting really knowledgeable and engaging people to talk about something important to them. So perhaps, just maybe, the TED talks might have a format that would work. And I love their intro. A safe space to talk about things that you can’t discuss publicly. Substance over style. Intimate inspirations. Ideas over identity. Pretty compelling description.
Episode 1 is, in my view, a poor start. It is called Dr. Burnout, and the idea behind her anonymous talk is that doctors get burned out, they stop seeing patients as people, they go on autopilot, and they stop engaging. Don’t get me wrong, I think the topic could be awesome, and if she put a panel together of five or six doctors talking about their experiences where they “check out” themselves, how they feel about it, what they do about it, how they reengage or not, all of that could be good. But the speaker’s example of this is a man who was very sick, in her hospital, he wanted to leave, and she didn’t try to talk him out of it. Two days later he was dead of an internal bleed after being readmitted to the ICU. This person is showing so many signs in her presentation of post-facto-over-rationalization that it is amazing that she apparently got help from someone (therapist perhaps?) and they didn’t call her on her BS. She says, quite bluntly, that the person died of internal bleeding and if only he had stayed at the hospital, she would have caught it, no problem, he’d still be alive. Really? Would she be able to say that in front of a group of other doctors? Probably not, because everyone would tell her she doesn’t know that, and guess what, lots of things don’t present with irascible patients because the patient’s personality gets in the way of helping them. Sometimes they’re just asshats, sometimes they’re asshats because of fear, and sometimes they’re asshats because of internal pain they can’t artculate around the asshattery. There were at least five times in her talk where my BS meter went on overload, often for her sweeping generalizations. Things she WANTS to believe are true, because they make her talk more impactful if you ASSUME they are universally true.
Here’s my take. She was burned out, sure. She was looking for a change. And she saw a jerk of a patient, felt guilty she didn’t try harder after he died, and now wants to use that guilt to rationalize a large-scale change in her life. She could read Jeffrey Kottler’s “Change” and see a lot of similarities in her reaction, not to the event which is hardly uncommon but in her way of interpreting what it meant. And as with a lot of large-scale change that you aren’t quite secure about, or where the change leads the person to become a large-scale advocate, there is an internal need to make it bigger than she is, a start of a movement to talk about burnout. Selling it to herself as much as selling it to others. If that’s her catalyst, it’s pretty weak.
I feel like the TED Talks people who helped her think about it really didn’t narrow the focus, and there are likely more people out there with REAL burnout impacts that would be more helpful to hear about than this one. A swing and a miss for me. (1/5)
Episode 2 is called Pepper Spray and is about a woman having a horrible, no good, very bad day, at least in her own perception. She is clearly having the symptoms of a panic attack, which escalates when people treat her poorly in a retail environment. Up until the end of the “snapping event”, including a description of a person who helped de-escalate the situation, the podcast is awesome. When she gets to a part explaining the causes and triggers, and what it means beyond that, the podcast starts to slip. She tries to argue that she is not excusing the behaviour, but yet she tosses out four or five reasons why she isn’t responsible. The “insight” into the experience is great, her “solutions” for others are not (3/5).
Episode 3 is called Ex-Con and is about a prisoner’s experience with other prisoners. The fact that he was a hedge-fund manager, who ended up slipping up with a small change that spiraled into a “deep hole of deception” yet received a sentence of seven years, indicates that there is a lot of context missing. But it doesn’t matter, as it is not his message. His premise is that there are lots of people in jail who represent wasted capital because he saw some people in jail who were brilliant, resourceful, and ingenuous. They all wanted an opportunity, with the view that if they got a shot, they’d make the most of it. Of course, his big theory is muted a bit — without the conscious awareness — because he had a bonding moment with a young black man who asked him how he ended up there, an educated white man with resources, i.e. if the white guy had all the opportunities ended up there, then how accurate is the view that the big “solution” is to give the others an opportunity? Nevertheless he notes that there is an opportunity for “nano-degrees” while in jail and that they should be planning for the day of release from the date of incarceration. It’s not revolutionary, but it is well-articulated. However, there is very little reason for it to be anonymous. If he is the “poster child” for rehab, then why is he anonymous? That isn’t clear, but it’s still a decent interview. (3/5)
Episode 4 is called Sad in Silicon Valley and is about a serial entrepreneur who went to sleep a successful CEO and woke up three days later a mental health patient. Severe depression and anxiety. Separate from his individual challenge, his talk is mostly about the experience of finding and accessing mental health services — psychiatrist vs. pscyhologist, individual or group therapy, etc. $300K and ten years worth of mental health services later, and he still didn’t know what was wrong with himself. He was looking for a cure, and mostly he just saw self-reported symptoms and non-evidence based methods of treatments. For the speaker, better services in mental health face three big barriers — cost, access and privacy — and he thinks Silicon Valley could help provide disruption to the industry using big data and evidence. While he talks about some new ideas with social media, online video chats, apps like Headspace, and e-monitoring of brain states, there is little in the way of concrete proposals to disrupt the industry. Mostly it is just him saying tech should be able to help. A great idea, but with a lot of padding at the end, mostly around pop psych interpretations of addiction to technology and avoiding over-reliance (4/5).
Episode 5 is called Equality Executive and is about how the need for gender equality in industry has been recognized for over 25 years yet without any change in numbers in the actual boardrooms. For the speaker, productivity and profit as a business imperative is clearly represented by the evidence — lots of studies have shown that having women in C-suites leads to more profit. For her, the reasons why it hasn’t happened is three-fold — no metrics or framework to fix it, just good intentions…real change requires real commitment with real consequences for failure to deliver; it’s not HR who will provide the solution, as they want the current culture to remain stable, not create disruption; and failing to address unconscious or invisible bias and assumptions. I’m less confident when it comes to the situation of Millenials, as she argues that they aren’t prepared to fight productively for what they want (like Baby Boomer women supposedly were), so they just leave instead. From an interesting angle, I really like the reason why she doesn’t want to do it publicly but only anonymously — if she does it publicly, she thinks people will think she wants to sell people a solution, i.e. she’s marketing her business, so she de-coupled it in order to keep it pure and not tainted by the idea of commercial self-interest. It’s the only one to date that really needs to be anonymous, or at least has a reason that seems plausible and justifiable. It’s not perfect, a little too much “problem”, not enough clarity around the “how” of the solutions, but it’s pretty well done. (5/5)
Episode 6 is called Rescued by Ritual, and is the one that caught my interest, and justified the investment in figuring out how to access podcasts now rather than later. It is nominally about a woman leaving a violent relationship, the path to healing that she followed, and her doctor now advocating it as a best practice to be followed by others. I am a great believer in rituals to cement change, kind of as described in different terms in Jeffrey Kottler’s book “Change”, so I was interested in the premise of this episode. Unfortunately, the first 12 minutes are not about the ritual but rather about her back story, none of which is particularly different from traditional abuse stories. I confess I was looking for the actual ritual part to be a little more “external” instead of simple internal mindfulness. Essentially she focuses on someone she “loves”, and with that person in mind, focuses on the love she feels for them, directing as much energy as possible into that feeling. This is a bit different, but not terribly so, from the ritual of being mindful of gratitude each day — the old “count your blessings” adage on steroids — except it makes it all encompassing as a thought. Meditating on love, so to speak. Positive, sure, but it didn’t strike me as revolutionary. (2/5)
So I tried the podcast, and I’m glad it was enough of a draw to figure out a good approach to podcasts. I liked the rationale of the Equality Executive, the initial premise of the ex-con rehab story, and the opening story of the pepper spray story. But I don’t feel like I got much from the six podcasts, and it isn’t compelling enough to continue. I’m out.
PLOT OR PREMISETo the Nines (St. Martin’s Press, 2003, ISBN/ASIN: 978-0312991463, Plum (9)) is the ninth outing in the bounty hunter on LSD series, starring Stephanie Plum, Jersey girl. This one has Plum chasing an immigrant on a work visa bond, all the way from Jersey to Vegas.
WHAT I LIKED
The girls’ trip to Vegas was awesome with Connie along, and Stephanie’s random wiping out of RangerMan employees is kind of epic.
WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE
The “there’s a psycho stalking me” subplot gets old pretty fast, and she’s done it in at least four of the books so far. This one is actually menacing for a change, but that’s about it, and the plot with Singh as immigrant is kind of bland. However, the main plot for the story is revealed only by happenstance, and that’s a giant no-no for me. Almost no way to figure it out until some random tertiary character reveals it all at once. Sloppy plotting.
THE BOTTOM LINE / TWEET
Fun secondary characters but sloppy plotting
Legend: 1/5 Finished 2/5 Not bad 3/5 Good 4/5 Enjoyable 5/5 Excellent
I received no compensation, not even a free copy, in exchange for this review. I am not personal friends with the author, nor do I follow her on social media.
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