As I set my goals for 2021, I’m using already-established headings that work well for me. This grouping is mostly about learning, regardless of the actual sub-headings.
The first category, learning, is the catch-all when I don’t have something else broken out. Way back when I was in Grade 6, I had a teacher introduce me to origami, and I’ve been fascinated ever since. I have books, instruction sets, links for online stuff, and I never get around to doing it. My goal for the year is to find ten things that I like to fold and can learn to do well. I’m hoping to try 50 or so designs, and there’s even a paper folding penguin I listed earlier under activities with Jacob. But I’ll settle for even being able to easily fold a penguin, a panda and a frog. I just have to be able to remember how to do them for the future when I’m sitting somewhere and bored.
I did a Writers Digest tutorial, and I would be open to doing other writing sessions. Not quite sure what those would be, there’s a set that are offered by two online people that I respect and admire but they run $300 per class. A little rich for what is mostly a hobby for me still. That may shift, as you’ll see in a future blog post, but for now, it’s a hobby.
I completed my Video Games course a few years ago, and a Meta-Literacy one last year. There’s an advanced metaliteracy but I have kind of lost interest. In the end, though, they were mostly tests to see if Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs) work for me, and they do. There are tons of courses on Coursera that I could do, including perhaps how to program an app. I’d love to make PolyWogg Trivia into a game app. Equally, I could consider a laundry list of “classes” from either Masterclass or The Great Courses.
I even have options in case I want to take an intro course in Psychology.
This category is both all-inclusive and greatly missing some key features. Let me explain.
If I start first with “image capture”, I do have some ideas for learning more. There is an option (in a non-COVID) world where a local photographer puts together photography shoots for budding photographers where he hires some models who are looking to build their portfolio, pays them in minimum cash and guaranteed professional shots from him, and also offers them any good shots from the amateurs. In exchange, the amateurs get great models, some guidance on the session for learning, and we pay the host. In other words, we pay to learn, he gets paid to teach and partially take photos of the models, and the models get some cash and a whack of free photos. Everybody wins. I want to do it, just for the experience really, even though it is not something that particularly interests me. I’d be willing to do photo shoots for friends for example, if they want some basic shots of their family in a park, whatever, just for free and fun, not something I’m looking to turn into a business. And in return, I get practice taking shots of people so that when I do want something really special, I’m already experienced.
I also have some links for free photography classes, some “tips” cards that I bought and want to put to use and design my own flash cards, a MOOC course to finish (National Geographic), summaries from a paid photography class through Henry’s, and I’m considering a potential new lens for wide-field astrophotography.
If I then move on to “image management”, I have my tool, Mylio, but I haven’t put all my photos into it yet. I’m still slowly integrating them as I process a given month, for example. While I have some 30K photos over 15 years, the extra challenges are old photos that are in photo albums to scan as well as managing photos that belong to my mother’s estate. I even have a few posts to do about past scans, like a birthday card collection. I’m not very good at editing though, and while I understand the basics, I’d love to learn the basics of photoshop techniques with programs like GIMP. I even have two images that I have to work with — one from my friend Roula and one of my wife Andrea on a merry-go-round. Both are great shots except for some stains in the photos that don’t look right. Someone with better expertise than me could process them in an instant…I took a few cracks over the years, but I have never quite nailed the technique.
Lastly, I have a grouping around “what do I do with my photos?”. The biggest thing is put them on my website but that’s something I track under my website commitments. It’s a huge commitment of time and energy, and it is what is “missing” under photography as it is more about the website than it is the photos. Instead, my activities are more around putting a backup copy on Amazon Prime (included in my membership), creating photobooks of special events and years (although Andrea is taking the lead on those), and putting a copy on an e-frame that I’ve never had setup properly. I’m also considering trying to make a video file for each year, the equivalent of a video photobook set to music, but I haven’t seen anything that inspires me for that yet. And I’ve considered but not yet implemented the possibility of uploading some of my pictures for sale on microstock sites. Long-term, I have to find options for storing the hard copies of some of the prints I have and disseminating old estate photo collections, but I also want to work on choosing high-quality shots that I can print on metal and put up around the house.
Sooooo, lots of people who know nothing about astronomy think I’m some expert. I’m not. My astro hobby is a bit of a maelstrom of potential, possibilities, impostor syndrome and failure. I have a lot of information across a spectrum of topics that lets me understand the basics of most astro topics, but not in any great depth. And while I am not entirely sure this is the best way to group this section (hence the impostor syndrome), let’s start with “understanding my own telescope”.
The first five years of ownership taught me a pretty good set of lessons in what not to do and how to avoid it in the future. I am now a regular online advisor for newbies on my type of scopes, including experiences, options, etc. My blog post about my alignment process is one of the most viewed pages on my site, second only to my HR guide. But even with my scope, I don’t have everything tweaked properly. I’ve read an after-market owner’s guide, and there are 14 telescope tweaks that I want to try to my setup to see if it improves operations. Some may do nothing at all; others may give me a slight gain in performance. I just want to try them so I know that I’ve done everything to get every last ounce of performance from my scope.
The next area is not so much about the scope itself as learning more about the history of telescopes and astronomy. I’ve started a project whereby I’m going to read all the back issues of Sky and Telescope all the way back to the 1940s. I have already read one year, and I plan to do the others, just got a little side-tracked with a basement reorg. As I go, I’ll write up reviews for my blog and the local astro newsletter.
In a similar vein to my setup for my scope, I also want to look at setup for binoculars. I bought a pair, and they work well for me, but I want to get used to using them. I want to do a deeper-dive so that I could teach someone else if I had to do so. Which is a major part of the theme for this section that I’ll come back to…the idea of teaching myself so I can teach others.
I have a cheap telescope that I got for free and some parts from binos to make some custom eyepieces. It’s part of my “creative / crafting / maker” heading that appears spread out through my list between stuff I do myself, stuff with Andrea, stuff with Jacob and potentially stuff with outside people. I would like to make a maglite to replace a green laser pen option to see how viable I can make one. I also have two old battery supplies I’d like to repair and upgrade.
But as I said, part of my interest is teaching it to others as part of my volunteering duties below. And while it is a chicken/egg situation of which came first, I realized that one thing I bring to astronomy that a lot of experts don’t is an ability to help newbies understand the basics. I’m pretty good at taking complex subjects, boiling them down to their essentials, explaining them in plain language, and onboarding people to a new subject in a way that gives them a good base for future understanding. In effect, I can frame their entry into the world of astronomy in a positive way. My blog post about alignment proves that, it is highly popular despite there being way better experts out there and I’ve done almost no promotion of the page. I wrote it, I shared the links in a couple of fora, people liked it and continue to share it, while my hit count grows. People regularly email me to say “Finally! An explanation that made sense and that ACTUALLY HELPED me”. And they’re off to the races again.
I have done that for an HR guide about federal government competitions, and now I want to do it for astronomy. I am going to write a PolyWogg Guide to Astronomy. Unlike my HR guide, where there are few natural competitors, it is the height of arrogance to think I’m going to offer something better than some of the giants in astronomy writing for amateurs learning how to work a scope and see the cosmos. And yet. I’ve already written some parts of it, and I’m taking a similar approach to my scope. Testing it out, figuring out what works, coming up with a good workflow, and then finding a way to explain that workflow in a manner that makes sense to people in context. The biggest section that I’m going to work on early, and that will reinforce some of the volunteer work, is a guide to choosing a telescope. There are tons of online resources I can use to help build that guide, some of that not even “bad”, just not the way I would explain it. I have materials from an online virtual astronomy course, and I took a course in astrophotography, I have multiple adapters for connecting a smartphone to a scope. I even have an adapter that will let me attach a point-and-shoot camera to my scope. But I also have materials from RASC itself including target lists, a new yearly Almanac, the 2020 Observer’s Handbook, and a guide to native peoples’ constellations. Plus, for the year? Jacob and I are going to do the Explore the Universe kit from RASC. I might even be able to get Andrea to join in. All grist for the learning and writing mill.
But I have other projects or activities in mind. I started working on an astrolog that can run on my phone, and it will take some time to finish and get in the right format. I’d love to make it a full app, but that’s beyond my abilities so far. For the astrophotography side, I’m hoping to take some photos of the moon, planets, DSOs, and constellations. Maybe even some sets worth sharing. In terms of milestones, people often recommend doing a Messier marathon at least once in your life — every Messier object (110 of them) in one night. At least, all the ones you can see that night. This is often combined with an “all-night session“, and that’s on my list too. It would be nice to hit the astronomy lottery and combine both with an astro-themed trip somewhere like a dark-sky site.
My volunteer work falls into three simple headings: astronomy, computers, and GCWCC.
For astronomy, I am a member of the Ottawa Centre of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, and I help out with the club. For the last three years, I’ve been the star party coordinator. Except this past year, I had almost nothing to do. There WAS no star party option. And while I fully intended to give it up for 2021, there’s no one stepping forward to take on the role. Which likely would be the case until we open up again, why would anyone volunteer to do something that can’t happen and if it does, where they may not be comfortable saying yes in advance? Soooo, I’m likely to suggest that I’ll keep the title / role until we get going again. For most of 2021, there won’t be much to do.
In the same vein, I stepped up to take on one of the roles in the Centre as the Ottawa representative to the National Council. Again, it isn’t an onerous role again, attending virtual meetings four times a year and conveying views back and forth, and if / when they hold an annual in-person general meeting somewhere in Canada, probably attending. I can be down with that I guess. Oh, and part of that duty is to feed into manuals, guides, handbooks, etc. for the administration of the club so I’ll likely draft some text regarding two of their publications. I also attend the bi-monthly Ottawa Centre Council meetings as well as the monthly meetings.
And there is a weird role which is they need someone to audit the Centre’s books once a year. Since I’m not an elected member of council, and thus not a voting member for spending decisions, there’s no conflict of interest for me to audit the books for the year. And they don’t need a formal accountant to do it, just someone who can exercise due diligence. Okay, I can do that, I suppose.
However, I have recently inherited a much bigger project. One of our project partners reached out to us and piggybacked / dovetailed with some ideas we already had about teaching people how to use different types of scopes. They want a video on how to use a new scope that they got, and so I’m going to produce it with some other people in the Centre. Yay us. The first one has a bit of a deadline while the others can take all year, if we want.
Continuing the astronomy theme, I am a member of the Board for Astropontiac and I maintain the website. Like RASC, there’s not much happening in a lockdown world, but my role will continue. Pretty low demands, 99% of the time.
Beyond that, I’m wrapping up my involvement last year in the Government of Canada Workplace Charitable Campaign as one of the co-coordinators for our branch of 600 people. I’m running a trivia game on January 21st, working on a report, and other than that, I’m pretty much done.
In checking my to do list, I realized that I still have administrative access to an old website that I was helping with web duties for at one point. I’m not sure they’re even using the site anymore, but I feel like I should make sure SOMEONE has admin access before I delete myself completely. I asked at one point previously and never heard back, so maybe it’s moot. But I need to close that out.
What am I going to do in January?
So that’s my big list for the year. What am I going to include for January?
- Integrate photos in Mylio
- Develop outline for PW Guide to Astronomy
- Read and write about one year of Sky and Telescope
- Plan year for Explore the Universe, Almanac, and Observer’s Handbook
- RASC monthly meeting
- RASC Ottawa Council meeting
- RASC Ottawa auditor download
- RASC Ottawa SPC confirmation
- RASC Ottawa video
- GCWCC trivia
- GCWCC report
Do you have any plans this year for learning or volunteering?