November 2012

I started my blog back in December 2010 and it's still going strong. I've posted at least once post a month since then, so feel free to browse through the archives.

Leonid Meteor Shower at Kielder in November 2012

Last weekend a few members from The York Astronomical Society travelled up north to Kielder Observatory for the peak of the Leonid Meteor Shower.

As soon as I arrived at the observatory I got my camera out and started taking photographs of the night sky. While it may not have been the clearest I’ve ever seen the sky at Kielder, it certainly was more impressive than the recent Autumn Star Camp which ended up being a bit of a washout.

Gary Fildes had a quick chat to us before we all set off to look through the instruments – including their 14″ Meade LX200 and 20″ Split Ring Equatorial telescopes. Both of which provided very impressive views of various deep sky objects including Jupiter and Andromeda.

Talking of Andromeda, I had to do my usual dark sky test to see how well it came out in a 30 second photograph using my Canon 7D. As you can see, there are a lot of stars in this photo.

As per usual I pointed my camera around Cassiopeia to get a nice picture of the Milky Way including Andromeda to the right.

As you can see, Andromeda is visible even when zoomed out, and at full size you can make out even more detail than previous attempts back home in Thorner or light polluted Scarborough.

I just goes to show how impressive the dark skies at Kielder Observatory really are. You can also see the full resolution photographs on Flickr.

Microsoft Touch Mouse

Last week a couple of us in the office decided to treat ourselves to a Microsoft Touch Mouse each – mostly because they were on special offer on Amazon.

So far, I really like it. Like the last few Microsoft mice I’ve had, it’s optical, wireless and uses BlueTrack optical technology. The difference is that this time the whole front of the mouse is touch sensitive.

Scrolling content in Windows 8 is just as smooth as you’d expect, and there are additional gestures to make using the touch-centric operating system faster to use with a mouse:

  • Two fingers up and down – show and hide the app bar
  • Two fingers from the left – switch application
  • Two fingers from the right – show the charms
  • Three fingers up and down – zoom in and out
  • Thumb up and down – backwards and forwards

It’s a little larger than the Arc Touch Mouse that I used up until now, which is probably a good thing for everyday use in the office but it is not quite as compact in my work bag.

The extra weight means there is no chance of accidentally moving the cursor while using it like a touchpad for scrolling through content. Overall I’m quite pleased with the results, and I’ve even got used to the (optional) reverse scrolling.

Pros

  • Great size and weight
  • High build quality
  • Fantastic gestures on Windows 8

Cons

  • Horrible Exposé-like interface on Windows 7
  • You have to lift your left finger to right click (like a Magic Mouse)
  • No middle click at all (like a Magic Mouse)

Two Weeks with Microsoft Surface

Two weeks ago I finally got my Microsoft Surface for Windows RT. On the run up to the launch of the first Surface device, I started to think about if I’d actually be able to use the Surface for Windows Pro as my only computer as I had planned.

The trouble is that the form factor is not a laptop replacement, it’s a tablet which has a ‘ready to work’ mode which can be used easily on a desk. A laptop has a stable base and a screen which can be tilted to any angle – so getting real work done is still doable on your lap. I don’t have a desk at home, just a coffee table, so when I want to write some code or a long blog post – I tend to sit cross-legged on the sofa and type away. This is quite tricky to do with the form-factor that Microsoft has chosen for the first two Surface devices.

As a first time tablet owner there are a huge amount of benefits which are more related to the form-factor rather than the individual device, but for me having the Microsoft Surface has been a really fantastic and new experience.

Being able to surf the web and use application while laying down or standing up are pretty obvious, but there are more subtle benefits like being able to take it to work every day without my bag getting really heavy. Plus it’s always nice to have all your personal stuff available to use at lunch time, including emails and OneNote notebooks.

In the first two weeks have found a few suggestions for improvements to the design of the hardware:

  • The keyboard case should really have a magnetic grasp
  • Power Cable is a little short (though it can be extended)
  • Windows Phone earphones don’t work as expected (see below)

These improvements aside, the Surface has already proven to be a fantastic companion device, and due to the nature of the keyboard and kickstand design it has become my go-to device for email and instant messaging. In the last two weeks my MacBook has spent most of its time in a draw while the Surface has been my primary machine for personal use.

As someone who is a Windows developer and lives in a Microsoft ecosystem (Office 365, SkyDrive, Xbox etc.) it’s the ideal tablet for me, and I’m really pleased I got it.

Now if only I could find a Windows 8 laptop to replace my ageing MacBook and I’ll be sorted.

Update

I’m not sure if it was a firmware update, or just me not being able to test properly – but it seems like the Surface RT now supports Windows Phone earphones as expected. The microphone now works!

Uni Sign Pens

Last time I ordered some Japanese pens from JetPens I got myself two Uni Sign Pens – red and black with the fine tip.

For a while I had been using Uni Brush Pens for making notes on A4 paper, however after prolonged use the tips start to get softer. The Sign pen has a much smaller tip and gives a thinner and much more uniform line while keeping the text nice and bold.

I find the pigment ink to be very good too, and it doesn’t bleed or go through a Moleskine notebook. Though I was disappointed to find that they’d printed the barcode on an otherwise very attractive gold-trimmed barrel.

Pros

  • Feels really good to write on both A4 and Moleskine
  • Thick uniform lines
  • Great ink

Cons

  • Why would you put a barcode on the barrel?

Scarborough Astronomy in November 2012

At the weekend myself and a few other members of The York Astronomical Society journeyed over to Scarborough for an evening of astronomy and good times. As well as looking through my friend’s telescopes – I also positioned my camera skyward to see what the dark skies of suburban Scarborough had in store for me.

As you can see there are still a large amount of stars that are visible by using a 30 second exposure, even tough there is a distinct orange glow when compared to roughly the same photographs taken from the dark skies of Thorner – my home village.

With Andromeda being my new favourite benchmark for dark skies, I performed my usual routine of pointing my camera towards the bright stars of Cassiopeia – here marked with the green lines. Andromeda is just to the right located inside the green circle.

In the full resolution picture you can see that Andromeda is clearly more than just a regular field star, even with the increased amounts of light pollution when compared to the streetlight-free Thorner image below.

I think this really goes to show the difference that street lights and other forms of light pollution has on astrophotography. Thankfully, it’s dark enough back home for me not to need an expensive filter for my camera.