Michael A. Covington    Michael A. Covington, Ph.D.
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Traquenard, par Marquay
Moon (Mare Crisium)
Moon (Eclipse)
M33 (Triangulum Galaxy)
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Traquenard, par Marquay


Hear now of the latest excessively romantic thing I have done for my beloved Melody.

When she was 15, on a school trip to Paris, she bought a bottle of perfume like the one shown here, "from a little hole-in-the-wall parfumerie." She was still using it when we started dating a couple of years later. I liked it, complimented her on it, asked what it was called, and tried to find some for her when I went to Paris myself in 1978, but the shopgirl at La Samaritaine didn't recognize the name.

Fast-forward to 2021. From an eBay seller I've obtained a factory-fresh bottle of Traquenard, which I presented to Melody this afternoon. It was sealed and had kept well. I had totally forgotten the scent until I smelled it again (on Melody, of course). It is subtle, more spicy than floral, and in fact is distantly reminiscent of the Royal Copenhagen men's cologne that I tried briefly in the 1980s.

The other day it was "(musical) suites for the sweet" (Bach, on the CD player in her car). Today, "scent for the sensible."

Note added April 2022: Traquenard is no longer made, but with the help of a local parfumier, Melody has identified a close equivalent, Popy Moreni, by Fragrance Plus, Paris. It is an amber liquid with a spicy scent, not to be confused with "Popy by Popy Moreni," which is a green liquid with a floral scent.


An unconventional but happy Thanksgiving

We know we're no ordinary people, but we didn't have turkey for Thanksgiving this year. (We did have some, shared by Melody's mother and sister, a few days ago, complete with stuffing and cranberry relish.) Today we enjoyed being left alone. It's rare that I get a day completely off work that is also not tied up with family or household responsibilities, but today all three of us had a day of leisure. I tinkered with telescopes and accessories, and in the evening Melody cooked her own variety of shepherd's pie, with ground chicken (chicken-herder's pie, we sometimes call it).

We have much to be thankful for. We are on the trail of getting Sharon over her long-term health problem. Melody is doing well, and I'm prospering in my second (third?) career. COVID is, in Georgia, presently at a very low level, but it's probably coming back in the winter — we are going to have a series of waves, each of which should be less destructive than the last.

Amid political controversy and consciousness-raising, I want to make sure my fellow Americans (indeed, my fellow humans) understand clearly that we can celebrate Thanksgiving without getting entangled in controversies about what really happened between the Mayflower Pilgrims and the natives in the 1620s or any other time. They didn't invent Thanksgiving. It is a harvest festival such as Europe has had for a long time. The Mayflower Pilgrims and Lincoln had roles in placing it on a specific date in the United States, but thanksgiving is a much broader concept. Happy Thanksgiving, all!


Deep partial lunar eclipse


Observing this morning's eclipse was a special occasion because Melody observed it with me. Thanks to her recent cataract surgery, she was able to make very good use of binoculars. We got up at 3:45 a.m. and sat on the patio, in pajamas with coats, in 40-degree weather. The sky was clear, and we got a very fine view of Orion and Taurus with the moon just below the Pleiades.

Because the moon was low in the west, I couldn't set up a telescope in any of the usual positions in the driveway, so I used a 200-mm telephoto lens and a fixed tripod. The full setup consisted of a Nikon D5300 (unmodified) set to ISO 400 and an Askar 200-mm f/4 lens at f/4. I took fifteen 1/4-second exposures in rapid succession and stacked them (a roundabout process: the NEF files were deBayered and made into a SER video file with PIPP, then stacked with AutoStakkert, then gamma-corrected and sharpened with PixInsight). The result, I think, isn't bad at all.

I got a preliminary version of the picture onto Facebook in 30 minutes and was gratified that the first "like" came from Pat Quarterman, an astronomy buddy from Valdosta half a century ago, and soon afterward, I got a "like" from China, from Michael Fong of Askar (SharpStar), maker of the lens.

The press has been touting this as the "longest partial lunar eclipse" in a very long time. I think that's misleading because if it were a tiny bit longer, it would be a total eclipse, and those are common. It's as long as an eclipse can be without being total. That doesn't make it a once-in-a-lifetime sight. It's like driving 54.99 miles per hour and bragging that you are the fastest driver who is going less than 55.



Twenty years ago today, Melody underwent complicated heart surgery that she almost did not survive. It was an aortic valve replacement with several complications, including a 6-cm aneurysm and a problem reattaching the coronary arteries. If her surgeon had been slightly less determined, I would not have gotten to bring her home.

We have always celebrated November 14 as a day of thanksgiving for Melody's survival and recovery. We call it "Heart-feast" alluding to Samuel Pepys' "Stone-feast."

The previous week, we had had our best vacation ever — I splurged and took Melody along on a business trip to Cambridge, England, and shared with her the places I had been while we had been separated, studying at different universities, during the second year of our courtship (1977-78).

And a few days after the surgery, the Leonid meteor shower put on a once-in-a-lifetime show, a real meteor storm, which I got to watch from home. Of course, I couldn't share that with Melody, but incredibly, a year later the Leonids did the same thing again, and I was able to show Melody a meteor storm after all. Most people never live to see one.


A walk through M33

Bronchitis and bad weather took a heavy toll, and I went three months without taking a good deep-sky astrophotograph. On Monday night I finally got the telescope set up and got this picture — intended just as a quick experiment to make sure the equipment still worked — but it turned out well.

Click here to view enlarged

This is a stack of 18 2-minute exposures with a Celestron C8 EdgeHD, f/7 reducer, and Nikon D5500 (H-alpha modified) camera body at ISO 200, on my iOptron GEM45 mount.

You're looking at the Triangulum Galaxy (M33), and the picture shows a lot of detail in the galaxy. You can see clouds of stars, dark lanes of dust, and red hydrogen nebulae. The stars are all in the foreground (our own galaxy), as far as I can tell, although it's possible that a few of the stars in the distant galaxy may be visible as very faint stars in the picture.


Three mediocre astrophotos

The air wasn't particularly steady, but the thin crescent moon, Venus, and Jupiter were all visible from my driveway this evening during twilight. I seldom get to photograph Venus or the thin crescent moon because I have tall trees in the west. So here's what I got.




Not the scofflaws they seem

Since the early days of the COVID pandemic, I've been seeing signs like these all around Athens. I've even seen one on a church.


That sounds boorish, doesn't it? Not consenting to the enforcement of local laws?

But in fact it's all on the up-and-up. Athens' COVID ordinance includes a provision that many kinds of businesses can post a sign like this. What it means is that the policy on masks inside the establishment is set and enforced by the property owner, not by the city. Click here for one recent version of the ordinance.

If it had been up to me, I think I would have chosen the prescribed wording to make it sound less like scoffing at the law. Perhaps "This establishment hereby exercises its option to set and enforce its own policy regarding face coverings."


A glimpse of 1824


This glimpse of the early 1800s caught my eye the other day. In recent years, the University has repainted its oldest buildings from the white that became universal in the 1920s back into more authentic colors. This is Demosthenian Hall, 1824. (I know those aren't 19th-century downspouts, but you can't have everything.)

Before you panic about inflation


Before you panic about inflation, realize that some of what's making the headlines today is old news. If you look at year-over-year figures, you'll see a high inflation rate because there was quite a dip in mid-2020. But if you look at the overall inflation rate, you'll see that it's not far from the normal 2% rate. The recovery from a dip is not the same as a new, permanently higher rate.

If you don't understand why the normal rate is 2% rather than 0%, click here. There are 2 main reasons: we don't want it ever to go negative, which is ruinous for retailers and debtors; and there is reason to think the CPI reads high, so that if the actual price level is constant, the CPI shows slight inflation because it doesn't take into account the way people shift their spending away from things that are becoming more expensive and toward things that are becoming more affordable. More telephone calls and fewer suits and ties, for instance, than 50 or even 10 years ago.

The chart is from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.

COVID progress report


I hope the fourth wave of COVID in Georgia is almost gone and won't come back. We can't be sure. Most of the United States has a graph similar to this one for Georgia, but some states are hot spots, notably California.

I never had COVID, but in early September I came down with a chronic sinus infection that is just now resolving; it gave me bronchitis and wore me down for weeks. I could still work most of the time, but not with a full energy level. More importantly, I was coughing, and people who cough aren't welcome in public places during the pandemic. A second wave of it hit me at the end of October, and this time Melody and Sharon also got it. It's bacterial, and fortunately, this time all of us got suitable antibiotics (which I had failed to do in early September because we were at the peak of a COVID surge and I couldn't get into the urgent care center). So I'm an indirect victim of COVID; I didn't get the disease, but I was harmed by the shortage of medical care that it caused.

In just a few days, we should be close to living a normal life. Like many other people, I'm going to keep wearing a mask in places where I'm close to substantial numbers of strangers.

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