Friday, June 6, 2014

Viewing the International Space Station (ISS)

A few nights ago I was lying out on the parking lot behind my house, when a woman walked by.

“Are you okay?” she asked.

“Oh, yes, I’m just looking for the space station.”

“The what?”

“The International Space Station.  It should be coming by any minute now.”

“Oka-ay.  I just wanted to make sure you were all right.”

“Oh yes, I’m perfectly fine.  I do this all the time.”

Somehow I’m afraid she didn’t believe me.  I think she had visions of someone waiting for a space ship to come and beam them up for an alien encounter.

A couple of nights later I had three friends out there with me.  This time we had lawn chairs, bug spray and everything.  I kept hoping that same lady would walk by.  We could have come up with a great story!

It may seem crazy, but there’s just something about watching that bright speck speeding across the night sky.  It’s usually the brightest thing in the night sky, except for the moon (and those ubiquitous airplanes).  And I can’t resist the urge to wave at the astronauts in “outer space.”

Viewing the International Space Station (ISS) isn’t as mysterious or difficult as you might think.  All you need is a clear night and an unobstructed view of the sky.  You do not need to go out in the country.  I’ve seen the ISS from a brightly lit downtown parking lot. Of course it helps to know exactly when and where to look.

I use the site Heavens Above. It’s very important to enter your location at the website. If you do not put in your observing location, the website defaults to Greenwich, England.  Just click on Change your Observing Location, put in the correct spot, scroll to the bottom and make sure the time zone is correct, and then click Update. You can also register, so it keeps your location. I registered (it’s free), so I’m always logged in.

After you click Update, you should be back to the home page.  Click on ISS.  You will get a list of the upcoming visible passes. Sometimes there aren’t any upcoming visible passes in your area.  Other times there will be several a day.  Click on the date to see all the information.

The map may seem a little strange, but keep in mind that it's meant to be observed lying down and holding it above you.  If you look at it that way, it makes perfect sense.

Pay special attention to the Brightness.  The LOWER the number, the brighter it will be.  I prefer to watch when it is below zero. 

Lie down about five minutes before the start time to allow your eyes to get used to the dark.  Then fix your gaze on the area of the sky indicated.  The ISS always travels from west to east, but sometimes it is directly overhead, while other times it will be closer to the horizon.  You will probably not see the ISS rise above the horizon.  Rather it will gradually become visible during the pass.  Look for a very bright star moving across the sky.  It’s always exciting the first time you see it.

Another website that is helpful is Spot the Station. Run by NASA, this site also gives viewing times, and you can even sign up to get emails whenever the ISS is visible in your area.  However, I find that it isn’t as reliable as Heavens Above.

Nope, there will not be any alien abductions, but it’s still fun to spot an actual spaceship!

Happy sky gazing!

Friday, May 23, 2014

The New Scrabble Word (or how a snarky Facebook comment got me 15 minutes of fame)

I usually try to keep things positive and light-hearted on Facebook.  No heavy drama, no put-downs, and definitely no arguments. But once in a while something sets me off, and I have to respond. Such was the case when the Hasbro Game Night Facebook page announced a “Face off” for fans to choose a new word to be added to the official Scrabble Players dictionary, which is the ultimate authority on allowable words in Scrabble.

They had narrowed it down to 16 words, and the fans would vote off until there was only one word left.  There were some interesting words on the list, but most avid Scrabble players agreed that the contest would end up as a face-off between the words EW and ZEN.  These are two words that Scrabble players want to use all the time.  Two-letter words like EW are priceless for connecting two words.  And ZEN is a great way to use that Z.  I was cheering for EW.

But something strange was happening.  The word GEOCACHE kept winning the face-offs.  When it won against BITCOIN, I wasn’t too surprised, but when it won against COSPLAY, I was confused.  COSPLAY would be a great word to use in Scrabble because it has an S that can join on to many other words, and because it has 6 letters.  GEOCACHE? No Scrabble player would vote for an 8-letter word with two C’s.  When would we ever use such a word?

Then GEOCACHE went up against EW.  Surely EW would win.  It was a much more logical choice.  But when people started furiously voting for GEOCACHE, I grew suspicious.  So I did a little sleuthing, and I discovered a message on the forum urging people to visit the Hasbro Game Night Facebook page and vote for geocache to win the contest.  It turns out there were Twitter messages on it too.

I was livid.  Here Scrabble fans had an opportunity to choose a new word for the official dictionary, and this opportunity was being hijacked by some geocachers who just wanted to spread awareness of their hobby.
Now I’ve done geocaching, and I agree that it’s a great hobby. I’m all for spreading the word about great activities or things you love.  But it’s not acceptable to spread the word about your hobby by messing things up for another hobby that people love.

So I went against my “no drama” policy and started complaining. I posted the link to the forum post and requested that they disqualify the word GEOCACHE. I went onto the geocaching forum and pleaded with cachers to “stop spamming the contest.”

But GEOCACHE won that round and went up against ZEN for the final.  The final?  Seriously?  How could such a ridiculous word win the contest?  It became obvious that people were voting for GEOCACHE just to get out the word about their hobby.  But they tried to give reasons for voting for the word, such as “Think of all the words you can add to it.”  I responded with comments like, “I don’t think you actually play Scrabble.”

But GEOCACHE won the contest.  The Facebook page announced it by saying. “You voted for it. Don't blame us if your opponent beats you with it.” I responded with: “Too bad that this contest was taken over by people with an agenda other than playing Scrabble. Hopefully there will be other revisions that make more sense.”

And then it happened:  I got Facebook hate comments: “That is the stupidest comment I read on here,” and “Are you really that naive to think that people have never asked people to vote a certain way before? If so, step away from the Scrabble board and go see the real world.”

At first I was upset.  I want everyone to like me.  And here were people—albeit total strangers who didn’t have a clue—who were calling me stupid and na├»ve and saying I wasn’t aware of the real world.  But after a bit, I was amused.  Anyone who knows me realizes that those comments are far off from reality. And there is a sort of badge of honor to getting an insult on Facebook.

But it was my last comment that got me my fame: “And no opponent is going to beat me with it because I can probably count on one hand the times someone played an 8-letter word. Most bingos are 7-letter words that are connected to other words with an S or by a two-letter joiner (such as EW).”
I was looking for news articles about the new word (Yep, I was a bit obsessed) and came across this article on the Time magazine page.  And there it was:
In fact, some might say it will be easier to find “caches” than to find a place to put down “geocache” on the Scrabble board because it’s an eight-letter word. On the Hasbro Game Night Facebook page, players are complaining in the comments section, arguing “Most bingos are 7-letter words that are connected to other words with an S or by a two-letter joiner (such as EW)” and “When will we ever need to use that one- always try to use ZEN and EW- many more opportunities for that to happen.”
Ha – I was quoted in Time magazine, but they didn’t even use my name.

And in case you’re wondering, my ire has died down.  (Yes, I have played IRE in Scrabble.) I realized that this contest was not really about adding a word, but about getting publicity for Scrabble, for the Hasbro Game Night Facebook page, and—in the end—for geocaching.  And it achieved that purpose.  Also, what most people don’t realize is that many, many more words will be added to the new edition of the official Scrabble dictionary, scheduled to be published this fall.  I’m hoping those responsible for the decisions will do the right thing and add EW and ZEN.  

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Recycled Art and a fun library in Beatrice, Nebraska

On Sunday, I went with my friend, J. Pario of Painting on the Ceiling to see the recycled art exhibit that featured some of her work.  I love the idea of recycled art.   I love this tree mosaic she made out of pieces she had cut from Christmas cards and other pieces.

Here's the artist herself, with some of her work:

I like the idea of working with fused plastic

And then there is plarn.  I don't think I'll ever have the patience for that, but it certainly is interesting:

The show was held in a library, which was quite large for a small-town library.  I found a quiet spot to read:

Yes, that IS a bathtub!