Astronomy Photos in May 2012

Last weekend I went to see the York Astronomical Society to hang out and do some astronomy. This time of year the days are starting to get long and it doesn’t get dark until very late, but there are still plenty of things to see.

Here’s Venus just poking out near where the Sun had set. It’s much dimmer than it was a couple of months ago, due the amount of sun light that’s actually reflecting from the surface.

You can even make out the crescent shape of Venus with this photograph, though it looked much better through a telescope.

I also took my first ever photographs (and video) of the Sun through a telescope.

Plane Crossing The Sun

Last weekend I had my first play with taking photographs of our closest star through fellow astronomer Martin Whipp’s telescope *. After I’d taken a load of photographs I thought I’d just start off a video and see what happens.

Coincidentally an aeroplane ‘photobombed‘ the shot by flying between me and the Sun. Here it is slowed down to one quarter speed. Pretty cool, right?

This video has gone!

* Never point any kind of optical equipment at the sun unless you have a special filter! It’s very dangerous and could damage your camera, or worse – your eyes.

Using the Xbox 360

I recently decided to get an Xbox 360 to replace my ageing desktop computer, and here are my initial thoughts after running with it for a couple of weeks.

Music and Video

The main reason I got the Xbox 360 is not for games, its primary purpose is to replace my old desktop computer with a new way to access entertainment:

  • Streaming music from my laptop using the built in Xbox media player
  • Zune Music and Video through Zune Pass
  • Lovefilm streaming for films and TV shows
  • iPlayer and 4oD for on demand television

Watching programs like Red Dwarf on Lovefilm has been very cool, as well as using Zune Pass to quickly find new albums and music videos. It’s generally a lot nicer to be able to run these entertainment experiences on the Xbox verses the PC.

Installing and Playing games

One of the things that the Xbox lets me do is install games directly onto the system – much like you can on a PC. This means that the software can load faster and the machine itself can be a lot quieter, as it does not need to spin up the optical media to load assets. I got the Xbox 360 256 GB * which is the newer Xbox 360 S design. This is already pretty quiet, so having a game installed like this makes the whole experience a lot nicer for a living room. As playing each game has its own personality, so I won’t be going into any at this point. In this case I’m going to focus on more of the interface and apps.

The ‘Metro’ Dashboard

Yup, Microsoft are making some amazing strides in their user interface unification. By crafting all of their major operating systems on the new Metro design language, they’re creating a consistent experience for users to interact with their electronics. The Xbox 360’s latest dashboard update included a large amount of these Metro principles – though I believe the transformation is not yet complete (at time of writing, naturally). This is due to the ‘Metro style‘ philosophy only going as far as the design language of the main home screen, most of the operating system is the same as it was before, including the pop-up ‘Blade style’ guide, to ‘NXE style’ menus.

Launching and running other Apps

Apps like Facebook and Twitter are lacking the integration that applications like Windows Phone and Windows 8 are capable of. You don’t notice so much with single tasked apps like iPlayer because the main focus is to single task – watching something. Social applications require more multitasking. I would love to see Facebook chat work like the Messenger integration, and the ability to pin apps (or deep links from apps) directly to the dashboard is a must.

* Note that they refer to the consoles by size now, rather than calling one Arcade or Elite like they did with the early Xbox 360 units. That’s better if you ask me.