Archive for February, 2010

O.K. this is a continuation of the attempt to add a third monitor to my system saga.  Let’s recap how we got to the present state.  Bought an ATI Radeon 5770 card as it said it supported 3 monitors – great!  Not so great – for the 3rd monitor you need a display port adapter to link in to the 3 rd monitor (see the small print right down the bottom of the page).  O.K. fine I’ll buy one.  Not in the U.K. at the beginning of 2010 – end of 2009 you won’t.  However, looking at the web again in Feb 2010 I saw that Overclockers U.K. had some in (made by Sapphire) – brilliant – bought one.  Fitted to system and fired everything up – still the third monitor isn’t seen – why not?  Because the ATI Eyefinity software that allows you to see 3 monitors doesn’t run on Windows XP – what do I run?  Windows XP of course.

I am still not beaten 🙂  I knew of some software called Ultramon that works on Windows XP and is meant for multiple monitors.  Great!  And there’s a 30-day free trial to go with it – even better!!  Fired this up yesterday and – still only see 2 monitors 🙁  Clearly some way back in the software chain there is still a Windows XP/ATI Eyefinity problem lurking and Ultramon doesn’t short-circuit the problem for me as I hoped (against hope) that it would.  Or perhaps it’s simply a Windows XP problem as it only shows 2 displays in the “Display Settings” menu, whereas ATI Catalyst Centre does actually show 3 monitors, even if one of them is always “greyed out”.  Damn – I really thought I had it beat that time.

O.K. so I’m going for the ultimate fall-back position – I’ve just ordered a new motherboard from Novatech that has two PCI Express graphics slots so I can run two cards simultaneously, and therefore (theoretically) run up to 4 monitors.  I’ll keep you informed as to what happens in the next battle to add one lousy monitor to my system.

I am going to win this one – or empty my Bank account trying!

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Towards the end of last year I was getting more than a bit annoyed about the lack of 3 monitor control with the ATI Radeon 5770 card.  To refresh your memory in the large print in the spec towards the top it said 3 monitor support, and in tiny print towards the bottom it said that for a 3rd monitor you needed a display port connector.  I then found (at the time) that I couldn’t get a display port connector in the U.K.  Well I recently did a new search and those brilliant Overclocker U.K. boys had them in stock – whoopee!!  Ordered one and got it today – all excited.  O.K. download the latest ATI Catalyst Control Centre and driver software and away we go.  Hmm, strange, still seem to be only able to see and run two monitors – but I can at least run the display port monitor as one of the two – so I know the hardware is all fine.  So what now?  Play around for about an hour getting nowhere and go to Google to see if I can find out what the problem is NOW.  Oh, great – this is a real good’un – didn’t see this one highlighted on the box either (although it does make an appearance IF you know what you’re looking for and type in the problem).  What am I prattling on about?  Well dear little Eyefinity – the ATI software that runs multiple (more than 2) screens – wait for it – does not work with XP!!  What am I running my main machine on?  XP.  What is my copy of PhotoShop CS3 up and configured for along with all my other critical software?  XP!!  I was highly unimpressed about the display port fiasco – guess what I think about ATI now 🙂

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Pulled up EPOD (Earth Science Picture of the Day) a couple of minutes ago and unexpectedly found the NFO image of NGC1333 looking back at me.  It really is a stunning region of space and the eerie-looking dust clouds gives the image a really sinister appearance.  Thank you Jim for putting this one up today – I think it is one of our very best so far.

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Lovely clear night last night, and perfect for trying to capture the asteroid Vesta now leaving the head of Leo.  46 subs at 200-seconds per sub with the C11 and Hyperstar III – image captured and processed by Greg Parker at the New Forest Observatory.  The brightest star to the left of the image is Algieba in the head of Leo.

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If it stays clear for long enough, and I’m imaging in the right place – then tomorrow sometime I should be posting up an image of the asteroid Vesta which is passing the star Algieba in the constellation Leo right now.  Apparently it is only moving about 1 arcminute every couple of hours so I will need to try and get at least 4-hours on this one if possible.  I started at 9:50 p.m. and I’ll go on for as long as possible 🙂

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Star Vistas is now below $7!  Even with postage from the States, you can now get Star Vistas for less than half the U.K. Amazon price – extraordinary!

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O.K. so while I’m at it I might as well rant a bit about global warming too – at least it’s slightly less removed from deep-sky imaging than the topic below.

Whilst the “experts” continue to debate whether climate change/global warming is actually happening (or not) I still see the atmospheric CO2 concentration continuing to rise up an exponential curve.  So I really don’t care about “experts” arguing over fine details about what’s happening (or not) and the supposed timescales involved – I can see where we are currently (CO2-wise) and I can see that there’s been nothing like it before in human history.

In World War II people were asked to hand in their iron railings and Aluminium pots and pans for the War effort, which of course they gladly did.  Did these offerings actually go into making tanks and airplanes?  Well actually no, but it did make the people think they were helping.

Similarly we now have “energy saving” lightbulbs to help us out with our current predicament – you know, the ones that contain Mercury, but it doesn’t say so on the packet contrary to any other product on the market that contains a dangerous substance.  So at least we can now all rest safely in our beds knowing we have done our bit to slow down and even (dare I say) reverse Global Warming 🙂

Google “Atmospheric CO2 concentrations” and see for yourself – what do you see?

I believe Carl Sagan was the first to write about Venus and how it had become a “hell” due to a “runaway greenhouse effect” – basically the CO2 level had reached such a high concentration in the Venusian atmosphere that it efficiently and effectively  trapped thermal radiation causing the planet’s surface to reach hellish temperatures.

Now look again at the Earth’s CO2 concentration and see how it is increasing exponentially with absolutely no sign of any flattening, drop-off or reduction at all.  What does this suggest to you?  To me it suggests we’ve already had it, also that our Governments know we’ve already had it, and there’s absolutely nothing that they or we can do about it.

Remember the 3-day week when power was only fed to Industry for 3 days in any week.  We were advised (of course) to conserve energy as much as possible during this time.  Another tactic would have been to turn on every energy-consuming device at your disposal to bring the already unpleasant situation to a more rapid conclusion.

So – with the current exponential rise in atmospheric CO2 concentration what will be your tactic?  A house full of mercury-containing “energy-saving” light bulbs, or several 500W quartz halogens in every room, or something else perhaps?

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Unfortunately the aging grey cells have been triggered into mild action having written about Prof. P. T. Landsberg and the University of Sussex.  This is a long way from deep-sky imaging, but this is my blog and I can write what I like – especially at age 55 (56 approaching rapidly), on a particularly miserable day, and me in a particularly grumpy mood.  I would like to bring to your attention a most amazing con, almost at the same level as decimalisation.  In fact I’ll start with decimalisation as this one seems to have passed most Brits by entirely.

From 1966 until 1968 I was extremely fortunate to have lived in New Zealand.  I spent virtually all my time on the beach either fishing, spear-fishing or surfing, I didn’t go to school much, got into all sorts of trouble and basically had a wonderful two years.  However – while I was out there, New Zealand went decimal – and even your average dopey Kiwi seemed to realise almost immediately where this was leading.   So the New Zealand Pound and Pence system (same as the U.K. system) went to the NZ Dollar with 100 Cents to the Dollar (again, similar change to the UK except they still called the unit a Pound).  New Zealand also had the half Cent (the closest thing to the old Penny, but still out by 20% in guess who’s favour?) and just as in the U.K. this was also the first coin casualty not very many months down the road after decimalisation – in other words the Government had effectively managed to halve the value of the currency overnight without anyone batting an eyelid.  Except the Kiwis did bat an eyelid – they were perfectly aware of what was going on, especially as on the day of the change items in the shops which cost pence were suddenly seen to have the same value in cents (just as in the U.K. if you can remember back that far) – and they were furious.  There was a helluva stink for well over a year, but of course it eventually did die down and everyone grudgingly accepted that the pound in their pocket was now worth 50 cents (or 50 pence).  My parents & I watched in detached cynicism when back in the U.K. and just 3 years after we had returned, the same con was pulled, with much less public outrage – but I digress.

I really want to talk about Universities, U.K. Universities in particular (and also Industry), and the Government’s most brass-necked con to date.

I went to the University of Sussex to study Physics, Mathematics and Astronomy from 1975 – 1978.  For the two previous years (1973 – 1975) I worked at the Culham Laboratory in Oxford and also managed to get an H.N.C. in Applied Physics with Distinctions (day release) at Oxford Polytechnic – now called Oxford Brookes University.  My Dad had been retired for 10 years when I went to Sussex, so although I was eligible for a grant, Dad was expected to pay something (I think it was around £100 per year) as his pension was above the minimum that allowed me a full grant.  I didn’t take the £100 of course and found that the student grant paid for my food, lodgings, books and clothes quite adequately for the 3 years.  There are two things in this paragraph (at least) which have long gone of course – student grants, and Polytechnics.

Up until last year the big Government push was to try and get 50% of school leavers to attend University – and why not?  The second great con was already in full flow.  Not only had the student grant long gone, but students (or their parents) were now expected to pay fees in order to attend University at all.  What a great wheeze!  Not only do you push up the number of students that qualify to go to University (by dumbing down the “A”-levels*) you then add a double-whammy by charging them to go there as well – and once again, just as with decimalisation, there is very little in the way of public outrage – amazing!  Oh, and another thing, you don’t have sufficient jobs for the fresh out of school kids to go to either, so rather than have them wandering the streets or go on the dole – what do you do?

Under present-day conditions I would not have gone to University, I would not want to create such debt and future uncertainty for myself – and as a consequence the University system would not have spat out someone who ended up with a First Class Honours Degree.  But then again – this has nothing at all to do with higher education, this is simply about money.  And the Polytechnics?  Well, those that survived became Universities, and a vital stratum of our education system was wiped out almost overnight – but as stated before, this has nothing to do with higher education, this is simply about money.  The Polytechnics had a vital role to play in higher education, providing high quality teaching to youngsters (and the not so young) in Industry amongst other things.  As you know, the Polytechnics were swallowed up into the University system where they now had to compete for the same pot of students that were preparing for University courses (the jobs in Industry for the young were fast disappearing anyway, as was Industry itself) and the Polytechnics also had to compete against the Universities for grant income – the dice were heavily loaded against the Polytechnics!  Yet, thankfully many survived, and Oxford Brookes University at least is still going.

Last year in case you didn’t notice the Bankers’ basically bankrupted the country and as a result, this year the Government plans to cut over £900 million from the University sector, oh and by the way they won’t be shouting quite so loudly for 50% of school leavers to attend University while we attempt to ride out this little glitch.  Two things you should note here.  As it took over well over 10 years of complete incompetence and mismanagement to get into this dire situation, we aren’t going to recover from it in one or two.  Secondly I note that those responsible for our demise are still receiving nice bonuses as we apparently don’t wish to lose these financial genii to institutions abroad.  Excuse me?  Would any decent financial institution abroad want to employ the people who just brought this country to its knees?  Why?

The rot set in a number of years ago when another economic genius (or genii) thought that we could simply computerise our society and as a consequence there would be no need for a manufacturing Industry.  The second brilliant thought that arose at the same time was that the country could make virtually all its income from the City – though how you make money by passing a finite pot of cash around the place is beyond my economic comprehension – well, no it isn’t, the fact is you don’t of course.  To make money you need to manufacture and sell something and that’s where our rapidly disappearing Industry comes in.  Oh no – it’s not just hardware that you can sell, the die hards chime in – we can sell software too, all you need is a computer on your desk.  Well yes, I guess India is already very well aware of that and doing quite nicely thank you –  and for a number of reasons we simply won’t be able to compete.  And in the meantime all the REAL stuff, which sells and makes money, is being manufactured in China and the Far East.  So when we arrive at the logical end state of no manufacturing Industry worth talking about existing in this country any more – what do you think will happen to the price of goods coming in from the Far East?

*I have a 23 year old son who has gone through the school and University system, so I am more than aware of the current state of our educational system.  For all the time he attended school he did not have 2 consecutive years of stability – something changed – whether it be the exams they were expected to take, or the subjects (or both), SOMETHING was always changing.  No stability, no cohesiveness, just barely controlled chaos.  And as for the standard of “A” levels being as high as they have ever been, well I guess that has everything to do with what you understand by the word standard.  What I can say is that the LEVEL of understanding required to get a good “A” level grade during my son’s time was nowhere near the level required in my time.  But then again, the level of mathematics teaching in MY time for those of school leaving age was similarly lower than those students who had completed their education decades earlier – so this is just a continuing downward trend, and nothing new.

A few years ago the third of my 3 brothers left for life on the other side of the World – saying as he went (in the local newspaper) – “Last one out please turn off the lights”.  He was quite correct in his observation.  Decades of mismanagement in both Government and Finance have created the current dismal situation.  We are broken, and we will not be fixed by creating yet another layer of paperwork with a long list of “target outcomes” – it doesn’t work like that, it never has worked like that and it never will work like that.

End of rant.

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I have just heard some very sad news – Professor Peter T Landsberg has died over this weekend 🙁  Landsberg is a name you will be familiar with if you have studied Thermodynamics (Entropy), Quantum Mechanics, or Time to any extent.  I can vividly recall picking up a book in the Sussex University Bookshop called “The Enigma of Time” by P T Landsberg and buying it on the spot.  Two strange things as I write this, one I also recall being very surprised to read on the back cover that Peter was at the University of Southampton.  I had taken a first degree in Physics, Maths and Astronomy between 1975 and 1978 at the University of Sussex and I was familiar with the name Landsberg in the field of Quantum Mechanics and for some reason I expected him to be somewhere like Caltech where you would find the likes of Feynman – strange!  What’s even more strange is that I see the publication date for the paperback edition of “The Enigma of Time” is 1984 – yet I had left Sussex some 6 years earlier.  I would have sworn that I bought the book during my Undergraduate studies – clearly I didn’t – and I have no recollection of going back to the bookshop in 1984, and have no idea why I would have done so.  Already the memories are muddled!!

Fast forward 20-odd years and I find myself at the University of Southampton starting as a junior lecturer in Electronics – I am in the land of Peter Landsberg!  I didn’t think this at the time, I had forgotten all about the above, and it was several years before I realised Peter was at Southampton and it was probably seeing him in the Staff Club that triggered all the long-lost memories.  I got to know Peter a little, and we even had a few meetings with another Prof. from Physics about the Fundamentals of Quantum Mechanics – great times!!  However, around this time I also got involved with a spin-out company and I lost contact with Peter, and much else that was pleasant in life to be honest for 3 long years.

Peter was a most unassuming character – unbelievably sharp in mind (and body) well into his 70s.  Peter used to keep very quiet about his age, all he would say was that he was “very old” 🙂  However, I have a paper from Mathematics TODAY entitled “An Interview with Peter T. Landsberg C. Math FIMA on the Occasion of his 80th Birthday” and the paper is dated October 2002, so Peter was born some time during 1922.  Peter met Einstein and David Bohm and had a great many adventures in his life including being robbed on a Cuban beach (he was attending a Conference in Cuba) and being left with only his swimming trunks to get back to the hotel some distance away.  I was invited to his house for a party and met his wife Sylvia and my wife and I signed the Guest Book as we left and noted the many very prominent people who had crossed the Landsberg threshold.  Peter was a Genius – a title he would not have liked at all – but tough, he was one.  He was also a great humanist having left Germany in rather difficult times (especially for a Landsberg!) much to our benefit.

I see that I had sufficient presence of mind to get Peter to sign my copy of “The Enigma of Time” in 1992, I also have a signed copy of his book “Seeking Ultimates” dated 10th December 1999 – so there are a couple of things I have in addition to my memories to remember this great man by.  Finally, during my period in exile when I was at the spin out company I must have returned to the University Staff Club for lunch, and fortunately I had my camera with me as Peter was in as well.  So my most treasured Peter T Landsberg possession is reproduced below –  I will sorely miss the chance to sit down and discuss Physics with such a pleasant and learned man ever again.  So long Peter – it was an honour and a pleasure to have met you.

Postscript: I just recalled as I was finishing writing this entry that I had offered to write Peter’s Biography.  Peter was in agreement with the project but suggested, in his usual way, that perhaps the Publishers would not actually be at all interested in his Biography.  I wrote to a number of Publishers discussing the project – and Peter was unfortunately correct – there was no interest.  And so the World has lost a remarkable piece of history as well as a great human being.

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Several clear nights in a row recently and I concentrated on just one beautiful region – IC2169 and surroundings in Monoceros.  This reflection nebula lies just to the right of the cone nebula, in fact the red emission nebulosity over to the left is part of the cone nebula complex.  Towards the lower left is a beautiful golden open cluster – OCL494 or Trumpler 5.  9 hours in total using 4-minute subs and processed by Noel in Florida.

Clearly another landmark image for Star Vistas II 🙂

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