The Joy of Discovery

There is great pleasure in discovering new things. Be it a new restaurant or café, a new author, a friend, learning something new or, as in my case, an old newspaper.

My girlfriend and I are currently in the seemingly endless process of house upkeep and maintenance. This Sisyphusian process often leads to all kinds of discoveries that are more often financially … how best to describe it? stressing.

The first discovery was that the house’s weeping tiles are non-existent. This is going to be a costly repair, thankfully my girlfriend and I see our roles as caretakers of the house rather than homeowners. It’s a mindset that really helps when living in a century home (that and the fact that the bank still owns more of the house than we do) and the ever-growing list of things to get done.

As one might imagine, after learning of the weeping tiles we made a few more discoveries: mice, pipes freeze in the winter, bricks need re-mortaring, and toilets constantly keep running.

Over the winter and the last few months, we have been slowly saving for the big fixes but have also been tackling some of them ourselves. We re-mortared the foundation outside and then came inside the basement to re-mortar from the inside as well.

We first had to take down the drywall and pull out the insulation and a good thing we did. The insulation was mildew covered and the drywall not far behind. Once all that was tossed, we discovered just how beautiful the basement looks with the exposed foundation. We are still not sure if we will put drywall back up, the idea of using the basement as a cold storage for wine, canning and preserves is rather tempting too both of us. Plus, the drywall would hide some of the amazing historical features of the house that are still visible.

The old coal shoot is still in place, along with the small furnace for heating. Hard to imagine that it is what kept the house warm at some point in history.

As we were finishing up and checking the bricks between the floor joists, I found a cavity and pulled out loose rubble and fill when something odd caught my eye: a lump of crumpled paper. At first, I thought it was likely homework that a former resident had hidden away to get out of doing it. Once I had it out and in my hands, I saw that it was an old newspaper.

Cautiously my girlfriend and I opened the paper. It revealed mouse chewed holes, but also some lovely looking ads and articles of the day. Once it was all laid out, we had a few pages of a 1924 Winnipeg Free Press! only ten years younger than the house itself. It’s a mystery how it ended up between the foundation walls, however, one ad in the paper that was still in okay condition made us smile.

The lithograph of a boy and father with paint brushes sat above an ad for paint. The wording emphasises the importance of upkeeping a house for maintaining its economic value and that regular painting is part of that maintenance. It goes on to wonder if the father will teach his son the importance of upkeep on the house and if the son too will buy paint when he is of age and has a house of his own.

We plan to frame the advert if we can. Not only does it represent the legacy of this century home (along with the coal shoot and old furnace), but it also embodies our idea of being caretakers. This house will outlive the both of us and there is a certain joy in knowing that we will also leave our mark on it and maybe leave a few mysteries to be found a hundred years from now.


Gears on the Brain

A couple of years ago I wrote about how failure is a learning opportunity. It is something I try to embrace as I learn new things and when I also fail to get things on the first go. Much like when I tried to fix the automatic mechanical pocket watch my partner got for me.

After it broke, she told me it was not all that expensive, which gave me the guilt-free pleasure of not only opening it up and poking around but also scratching a bucket list item off my list: learning about mechanical watches.

When the tools I had ordered arrived, I tore into the watch with delicate patience and glee. It was a marvel to take out the screws one by one, crown gear, balance wheel etc. I did my best to name and identify the parts, keeping them together as I had learned from various online videos.

The one thing I did not do was take pictures as I took the watch apart then cleaned the pieces. When it came time to put the whole thing back together I was left with a puzzle. It took me three days, but I was eventually able to piece it all back together between a combination of memory, logic and trial and error.

I was so excited to almost finish the project that I swapped in a right-hand screw for the left-hand screw that holds the crown gear. Then I lost the left-hand gear trying to put it in a right-hand threaded spot. I had sprung gears across the room several times during my tear down and put together, however this time I was not able to find it.

I eventually broke the right-hand screw out of the crown hear and decided to order a set of assorted screws for pocket watches. These came in a few months ago. I had been avoiding it in part because work was keeping me busy, but also I was still a little afraid of not being able to fix it.

With resigning from my work, I had some time between job hunting and writing to go get the screws and give it a go.  A couple of hours of tinkering and trying the various screws ended in me not getting any further ahead – none of them fit.

I am sad that I could not get the watch working again but am, as always, gleeful at the fun and learning I had during the process. Although I am not likely to get the watch fixed (a blog on repairing watches did warn me I was likely to break the first one I tried to fix) it has gotten my brain wondering about gears and gear ratios. I’m thinking I need to explore them further.

Stay tuned.


Review of John Read’s 50 Things to See on the Moon

John Read sent me a copy of his latest book 50 Things to See on the Moon. I much enjoyed his last book, 50 things to See with a Telescope – KIDS and his new book does not disappoint.

Once again Read takes us through the basics of terminology and instruments that you need to observe the Moon. From there he walks through the 50 targets on the surface starting at the New Moon phase and picking out targets as the Moon’s shadow gives way to the growing lit surface of the Moon. By the time of the Full Moon, Read has walked us through his various targets.

Read supplies readers with views of his targets not only as seen with our eyes or binoculars, but also how the targets look when looking through different telescopes that can flip or rotate the image. This is something I have found useful when taking his book out under the Moon to explore.

Read also brings the Moon to life through interesting facts about how the craters or features got their names, how features were formed or about the many and various moon missions that have taken place. He also brings his wealth of experience and tricks and tips to make the experience fun and enjoyable. I have already found his approach of using a series of craters that form an L to remember that the L is for “landed” and points in the direction of the location of the Apollo 11 landing site.

Given that the book is again geared at new initiates to Moon gazing and likely a younger audience, there are at times technical terms or wording that is cumbersome, such as “Image of the same region on three subsequent nights.” instead of perhaps my personal choice of “Image of the same area over three nights.” This aside, the guide is accessible to both children and adults and makes for a great addition to any amateur astronomer’s library. I know I will be pulling it out again soon to go Moon gazing.

The Darkest Black

Image of the black hole at the centre of M87 Image from: Akiyama, K., Alberdi, A., Alef, W., Asada, K., Azulay, R., Baczko, A.-K., … Ziurys, L. (2019). First M87 Event Horizon Telescope Results. II. Array and Instrumentation. The Astrophysical Journal, 875(1), L2.

On April 10th The Event Horizon Telescope Collaborative released an image so exciting that I, like my parents with the Moon landing, will remember where I was and what I was doing when I saw it – which happened to be on my partner’s stationary bike in our garage watching the YouTube broadcast on my smartphone.

The image that popped up on the screen before me was a ring of orange hues, weighted and thicker towards the bottom left. A dark, gaping, empty, expanse of black sat inside the ring. I was looking at a black hole and the shadow its event horizon. The orange hues were ionized gasses dizzyingly swirling around it at speeds a fraction of the speed of light; sending out their blazingly hot swansong before crossing a frontier into an area of space so unknown we can only conjecture at what is behind the veil of the event horizon.

The light from that gas travelled incredible distances of time and space before reaching not our eyes, but a group of radio telescopes spanning the globe, interconnected through an ambitious and creative collaborate effort. The end result of which is nothing short of breathtaking.

Being so enthralled in the image, I missed a good portion of what the researchers announced about their findings so far. To get an idea, I turned to the five articles that were published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters and thumbed through them. Between the formulas, diagrams and interpretations, I quickly saw the incredible amount of collaboration and work that went into capturing and processing the images taken between April 4 and 11, 2017. Numerous radio telescopes across the Earth all had to simultaneously have good weather, the petabytes of data that had to be transferred, standardized, aligned and consolidated. New algorithms were created, faster data processing were invented and countless hours spent to produce an image of a dark region in space, the shadow of the black hole, at the centre of M87 that spans 19 to 38 microarcseconds!

If you are like me, you want to know how much that is in light years not arcseconds and you’re not worried about the margins of error. Let us have a little fun and work that out for ourselves. We’ll need a few things: the small angle formula, the distance to M87 and a calculator.

The small angle formula (SAF) is: arcseconds = 206,265(diameter of object/ distance to object)

The distance to M87 is about 53.5 million Light Years

Let us take the upper end of the measurement because who really wants a small shadow? 38 microarcseconds become … 3.8 x 10^-5 arcseconds.

We want the diameter of the shadow, that means we rewrite the SAF to become diameter of object = (distance to object x arcseconds)/206,265 then plug in the numbers.

diameter = (53,500,000 x 0.000,038)/206,265

We get around 0.01 light years which we can convert into km by multiplying by 9.5 x 10^12 … and voila! 9.5 x 10^10 km or 95 billion km! Not bad for a shadow.