Michael A. Covington    Michael A. Covington, Ph.D.
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Ichthys

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M66
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2021
April
14

A mall going downhill

Picture

Today was the first time I had gone mall-walking since before the March 11, 2020, lockdown. I actually set foot in the mall two Saturdays ago, but only to take some clothes to be altered; it was surprisingly crowded considering the lack of stores. Today it was almost empty, and I figured I couldn't catch COVID from people who aren't there. Anyhow, I'm 6 days past the second vaccination, and my susceptibility is perhaps 10% of what it used to be.

The only remaining anchor store is Belk's, and it had its upstairs mall entrance closed off (possibly creating a fire safety problem — no upstairs exit). About half of the storefronts are vacant. Small stores on the ground floor seem to attract most of the traffic.



COVID going up

Georgia's COVID case numbers have been going up gradually for a few days. (They dropped after the March 20 rise, but they've started rising again.) Of course, that tells us what the disease was doing about a fortnight ago, and we don't know whether it settled back down or grew exponentially after that. Time will tell. Vaccination should push it down soon.

The three of us received the second Pfizer vaccination on April 8, and I had 5 or almost 6 days of side effects (flu-like), probably worsened by working too hard on days 1 and 2 when I should have been resting. Sharon had a slightly easier time, and Melody, an easier time yet.

I can no longer post publicly on Facebook because of hecklers. People are angry at COVID and want to take it out on anybody who brings any information about it, even just relaying articles from very reliable sources. It is, shall we say, bad form to step into a conversation among scientists (in various fields, but all scientists) and say that statistics should not be used to make decisions. (What do you use, then?) I do not think this person would have done any such thing face-to-face.

2021
April
5

Back in the (iOptron GEM45) saddle

Picture

Here's the galaxy M66. I took this picture rather hastily this evening to test my iOptron GEM45 equatorial mount, which has just come back from repair. Stack of eight 2-minute exposures, Nikon D5500 H-alpha modified, ISO 200, Celestron 8 EdgeHD with f/7 reducer.

The GEM45 had been suffering a rather rare but spectacular electronic failure that made it oscillate about 5 arc-seconds back and forth at a rate of 1.5 times per second. This was due to a failure of the circuitry that microsteps the stepper motors, so that although the motor was still rotating at the correct rate, the rotation was uneven. I've heard of one or two other iOptron owners with the same problem, and my understanding is that iOptron has now made a change to the circuit design.

This same mount had been in the shop with excessive periodic gear error, or so I thought, but in fact I wonder if it was the same problem, or related to it. A fast oscillation, sampled at a rate that is almost but not quite commensurable with its frequency, can look like a slow oscillation.

Picture

Here is a badly composed photograph of my setup. I took this quick snapshot to keep a record of how to place the counterweights, and also because my iPhone marks each picture with the latitude and longitude, handy for documenting an observing site, though not necessary in my driveway.

2021
April
4

Feast day of the Resurrection of Our Lord

Make no mistake: if He rose at all
it was as His body;
if the cells’ dissolution did not reverse, the molecules reknit,
the amino acids rekindle,
the Church will fall.

It was not as the flowers,
each soft Spring recurrent;
it was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled
eyes of the eleven apostles;
it was as His flesh: ours.

The same hinged thumbs and toes
the same valved heart
that — pierced — died, withered, paused, and then
regathered out of enduring Might
new strength to enclose.

Let us not mock God with metaphor,
analogy, sidestepping, transcendence;
making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the
faded credulity of earlier ages:
let us walk through the door.

The stone is rolled back, not papier-mâché,
not a stone in a story,
but the vast rock of materiality that in the slow
grinding of time will eclipse for each of us
the wide light of day.

And if we will have an angel at the tomb,
make it a real angel,
weighty with Max Planck’s quanta, vivid with hair,
opaque in the dawn light, robed in real linen
spun on a definite loom.

Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
for our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are
embarrassed by the miracle,
and crushed by remonstrance.

John Updike, Seven Stanzas at Easter

2021
April
3

Life in and after wartime

Tomorrow Melody, Sharon, and I will experience a second Easter without being able to go to church. Although most churches have reopened with precautions, Melody is an extremely-high-risk patient, and we are not taking chances. As of April 22 we will all be fully vaccinated, and we can start to resume normal life, though not all of it will resume immediately. I hope that as the vaccine takes hold, the virus will die out or at least become uncommon.

When normal life resumes, what will it be like? What will be gone, not to come back?

Part of Georgia Square Mall, for one thing. I was there today, for the first time in slightly more than a year, and was sad at the number of stores that had closed. Of its four original anchor stores (Davison's/Macy's, Sears, J. C. Penney, and Belk's), only Belk's remains. In fact, for years my usual place to enter the mall was the easternmost point, the entrance to Penney's, and that is no longer possible. But the alteration place that I wanted to go to was open, operating normally, and some of my trousers will have shorter legs within ten days.

Another permanent change I will experience is that I won't be as attached to the University of Georgia. Although I can go to the libraries now, I have to wear a mask, which makes work difficult (my glasses fog up). More to the point, FormFree is occupying more of my time and has a new office building that will soon open, close to where I live. That's where I'll go when I don't want to work at home. I will probably find some way to get back to being involved with the University, though; I still have faculty privileges there.

Nationally, I hope a certain fear of crowdedness remains with us. Overly crowded places aren't sanitary. In particular, I hope the airlines adapt to packing passengers less densely. Seats have been getting narrower and rows have been getting closer together for the forty years that I've been flying on jet airliners. Reduce the pressure, please.

I wonder what will have happened to people's social skills. Constant social contact via Facebook and e-mail is not the same as seeing people face-to-face. The pace is different. Online communication consists of requests for attention and immediate responses. The timing is altogether different, and so is the nature of the interaction. I will probably find that I have become more reclusive; a lot of other people will probably have the same experience.



Overwork?

I'm taking a restful weekend because I realized I was overworking myself, not just with paid work, but also with personal projects. I'm right here at home, and everything beckons for me to do it. Normally — since I started spending a lot of my free time out of the house as a high school student — the place where I am determines what I can do there. I don't do everything everywhere; changes of location help manage the demands on my attention. Not any more.

I am beginning to understand why, three or four generations back, American farmers were so insistent on observing Sunday as a day of rest. They, like me, worked at home. Without space to divide labor from rest (and to separate labors of different kinds), they had to use time. Thus, also, rituals like Monday washday.

2021
April
1

50 years ago today: To Washington by train

[Revised and extended.]

OK, here's another of the 50th anniversaries that are starting to come up...

Half a century ago today, April 1, 1971, I went to Washington, D.C., with a small group of Valwood students, led by our English teacher, Jo Hodges, with whom I am still in touch via Facebook.

We went by train, and it was before Amtrak. We rode in a coach car all night rather than using a sleeping car. The journey took from about 4 p.m. to 8 a.m. (Valdosta to Union Station). The railroad was called the Seaboard Coast Line, and the train was, as best I recall, the Champion. If I remember correctly, we were on a train that started in New Orleans, passed through Valdosta, and joined another train in Savannah for the trip north. That meant that in Washington, heading back home, it was important to get into a car that was going to split off and go west rather than south at Savannah.

For what it's worth, this train route preserved what used to be a strong connection between Valdosta and New Orleans. A century earlier, Atlanta wasn't very big, Valdosta was not in its sphere of influence, and many Valdostans viewed New Orleans as the nearest big city.

In Washington we did the usual things; I was particularly impressed by the Capitol's elaborately decorated corridors and by the Smithsonian Institution, particularly the Museum of History and Technology. My reading matter for the long ride back came from the Air and Space Museum (then downtown) — Eddington's The Expanding Universe and a book called Survival in Space by two Soviet cosmonauts. And on either this trip or a slightly later one, I'm not sure which, I remember going to the Smithsonian "Castle," seeing a small exhibit on the history of the institution itself, and thinking, if I could have put the thoughts into words, "This is academia. This is what I will spend my life being part of."

This was my first trip outside the tri-state area (Georgia, Florida, Alabama) and my first trip to places of international rather than just regional importance. Within three years I had been to Washington three more times, had been camping in Mexico, and had been around the world. I was a seasoned traveler by the end of 1973, but certainly not at the beginning of 1971. It was a real change in my perspective — I didn't just go to important places, I felt I had a right and an opportunity to be involved in important things.

Interestingly, that same year, maybe even that same week, Melody was on a school trip to Washington by train, from a completely different school in Atlanta. For all we know, we may have passed each other unknowingly in the crowds.



Craftsman lives —
and their #1 Phillips screwdrivers are bigger

While building the dew heater controller, I had a hard time tightening its case screws and concluded that my Craftsman #1 Phillips screwdriver, vintage 1985 or so, was worn out. It certainly was showing visible wear, but the main symptom is that it seemed too small. The screws definitely didn't need a #2; I checked.

Now that Sears is gone, Lowe's is the Craftsman dealer, and I went there today to exchange the screwdriver under its lifetime warranty. They gave me a new screwdriver, and guess what? It was bigger. Definitely labeled #1 just like the previous one, it nonetheless had a bigger tip and even a bigger shaft. And it's a perfect fit to the screws in the dew heater controller enclosure.

I don't know if industry standards have changed, or what.

[Note added:] Mystery solved. There is a new standard. It's DIN 5260/ISO 8764-1, designed as a compromise between classic Phillips and a tighter-fitting Japanese rival.

I remember noticing years ago that Japanese Phillips-head screws, which were often marked with a dot, worked better with an Asian-made (Vessel brand) screwdriver that I had bought in Canada, than with a regular #2 Phillips.

They were in fact JIS, not Phillips. And in fact the difference between Phillips and JIS seems to be greater in size #1 than size #2.

I had also begun to notice that newer Phillips screwdrivers and screwdriver bits were a little more rectilinear in design, and tighter-fitting in the screw, than older ones. That's the new standard at work. (Or maybe, also, manufacturing. Maybe older, cheaper manufacturing methods made the tip of the screwdriver more curved and loose-fitting than it should be. I don't know.)

I am guessing that Craftsman is following the new standard rather than the classic Phillips design. That's fine; it still fits Phillips screws and is in fact slightly tighter, which is a good thing.


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