All posts by jrcrilly

I stopped doing the cruise ship astronomy presentations in 2014 due to insecurity about my health but things have improved a great deal and I started up again last year. I have switched to Royal Caribbean and am quite pleased with them so far; they have been my favorite cruise line for many years but I never hooked up with them for the enrichment programs before.

In November 2022 I did a gig on the Rhapsody of the Seas from Barcelona to Barbados. Had to dust off some old presentations and update them and added a new one or two as well. I enjoyed the presentations and they were well received. Better yet, we managed a stargazing session one night and it was terrific – the best sky I have experienced on a ship. The passengers loved it and so did I. I have booked the same trip on the Rhapsody for this November, though the itinerary is a little different and this one ends up in Ft. Lauderdale.

This year (2023), I went on the Ovation of the Seas in May. It was two voyages back to back; the first was Honolulu to Vancouver and the second was Vancouver to Seattle via Alaska’s Inner Passage. I added a new topic, the Aurora Borealis, for the Alaska leg of the trip. Never managed a stargazing session (I figure we get to do those about 50% of the time) but the presentations went well and were well received. The best part for me that I managed to stay healthy for the duration of the trips so I should be able to continue doing these for a while.

First light - RASA 11"
First light – RASA 11″

After five or six years of an empty observatory, I am finally getting some gear back in there. Everything is on the pier and all cables are run. As of last night, one camera is fully operational (ASI 071 Pro on a Celestron RASA 11″) and the AP-1200 mount has been drift aligned. I just got the stepper controller for the second telescope’s focuser (SBIG STT-8300 on a Meade 10″ F/8 ACF) running tonight so that will be in service next time I have some sky time out there.

Grabbed a quick test shot of M38 last night. Not surprisingly, I don’t remember everything I know about image processing! This one was a challenge to process anyway due to vignetting (a real challenge at F/2.2) and very short exposure time (5 frames of 2 minutes each). No light pollution filter, no flat frame correction, no guiding. It has been many years since I used a one shot color camera so that was a challenge as well.

Still, it was fun to put an image together again and it does verify that the RASA is working fine and collimation is decent.










W8TD has been off the air for decades except for some light use of VHF/UHF FM. I was inactive for a while but the final straw was my last relocation (20 years ago). I just never got around to erecting any antennas or setting up a station at the new location. It is a wonder that I remembered to renew my license the last time (and I have just renewed it again). I would have hated to see 50 years as a ham interrupted, even though I was inactive.

I have been pondering the possibility of getting back on the air for a few years. My tiny downtown lot put some barriers in my way. There isn’t much room for wire antennas or a tower, and municipal antenna height restrictions won’t permit a tower of the size I used to have. I do have an unused third floor in the house and an unused second floor in the garage so I considered indoor antennas. I still may add some small antennas up there at some point – maybe VHF/UHF and a 10M vertical. My prime interest has always been the lower bands, though, so that is what I have been trying to work out.

I finally decided to erect a very modest 30 foot tower near the center of the lot. I can stick a tribander on it, and also use it for a center support for 40M and 80M diploes. Today the base was poured so there is concrete (pun intended) progress on the project. The photo above foreshortens things a bit – the tower base is nearer the center of the 36X36X36 slab than it appears. I will add a bracket to the garage at about 20 feet up and the tower legs are on 16″ centers (similar in size to Rohn #45) so it should hold whatever I can get up there. I selected a Cushcraft A3-S for its unusually wide bandwidth and added the 40M kit to it. No 40M Yagi as I used to have up, but it will give a bit of directionality. As I no longer have access to climbing gear or a gin pole (or vigorous youth), I believe I will have to hire a crane or bucket truck to get the top section and beam up there.

I dug out the radios and set them up in a newly added room. The operating desk is a little crowded in the above photo so I have rearranged things a bit. The test equipment on the desk to the right has been relocated to a different desk across from that one and some of the radios will be moved onto the former test bench. I haven’t yet powered up the Collins gear to see if it survived the long storage. I will bring it up slowly on a variac when I do. I picked up the Yaesu when I first started thinking about getting back on so it is a current model and should have no issues. After I get the radios spread out onto two desks there will be room for microphones and keys and the other necessities, such as a rotator control.

The goal is to have something on the air in the next few weeks.

Concurrently, I am also working on getting the observatory back into operation after a several year hiatus. That will be the subject of the next post, and I hope to also have that operational in the next several weeks. Never a dull moment around here.


Finally received my scores for this year’s entries. Last year I submitted a couple of beers from what was on hand just to see what would happen. I was glad to receive feedback from the judges and was pleased enough to receive midrange scores despite the fact that neither placed or advanced to the finals. This year I submitted two of my favorite recipes (one of which had done very well in a regional competition) with higher hopes. Sadly, neither placed or advanced.  The scores were in the same range, too. Still, the judging comments should be useful when those arrive later.

The header image above shows the result of my NHC entries last year. Not very impressive, but gratifying nonetheless. I hadn’t brewed anything specifically for the event and just chose a couple of beers I had on hand to submit. I hope to do a little better this year, as I brewed a couple of my favorite recipes for this event. I don’t expect to place, but I do hope for significantly higher scores.

One is not my own recipe, but is a slightly modified version of a recipe I have brewed again and again. It is based upon a Russian Imperial stout by Annie Johnson. I like it too much to fiddle with the recipe  extensively but I did substitute Crisp Maris Otter malt for the original base grain of American pale ale malt. It is a big beer; uses 32 pounds of malted grains to make 10 gallons and comes out with over 10% abv. It has a big stout flavor, though (especially when brewed with the Maris Otter), and that balances the high abv. I call it Black Hole Russian imperial stout.

The other submission is my own recipe and is a more conservative beer. It is a chocolate porter, the result of many iterations in search of one that I can both enjoy and call my own. The chocolate flavor comes entirely from the grains selected; no chocolate, cocoa, or flavoring added. I’ll even share the secret that made this batch the final version: I replaced about half of the usual chocolate malt with chocolate rye malt. I don’t usually like the taste of rye malt. Fortunately, the roasting process that brings out the chocolate flavor tames the rye “twang” and yields a very smooth, sweet chocolate taste. I prefer it to the bitter flavors of the usual chocolate malts derived from barley. This Dark Nebula porter is around 7% abv and is another balanced brew.

The big issue now is whether they arrive in time to make the submission deadline. For whatever reason, I didn’t get around to shipping until Monday. The required arrival date in Chicago is today. They are scheduled to be there on time but we will see…

It has been too long since I have provided a brewing report. I have been active but haven’t been documenting or photographing the sessions. On Dec 31 I brewed ten gallons of my Imperial India pale Ale recipe (Galactic IIPA).As the recipe shows, it is a fairly large brew – about 30 pounds of malted grains and over a pound of hops.  I used the three vessel HERMS/RIMS rig I completed last Spring.


I divided the output into two fermenters. This keeps the weight of each down to manageable levels plus the smaller carboys fit well in my chilled fermentation chamber. I can get 5 such vessels in there at a time. After a week to ensure that primary fermentation is complete I will add the dry hops to the fermenters and let the process continue for another week. Then it will be ready to carbonate and keg or bottle.



Yet another diversion from the usual topics that appear here. These are the remnants (and my favorites) of a brief flurry of activity some years ago  in the area of antique spring-driven phonographs. They make a nice decoration for the office foyer, in my opinion. All are fully functional and I have a large selection of the required cylinders and Diamond Disc records. The three models here are representative of the three styles that interest me so I have no plans to accumulate any more.

The left-most unit is the Edison Standard, produced from 1898 to 1913 (the end of open horn player production). It was popular in the day and many exist.  It played 2 minute long wax cylinders. There were conversion kits available to convert it to later 4 minute wax cylinders, or to make the unit speed-selectable.

The middle unit is an Amberola 30. It played 4 minute cylinders made from a phenolic compound, much more durable and stable than the previous wax cylinders. These models also incorporated an internal horn for sound reproduction and thus had a neater appearance. The Amberola machines and cylinders were produced from 1911 through 1925 or so. The Amberola 30 was introduced in 1915. The model number reflected its $30 price. A better model, the Amberola 50, was offered at (you guessed it) $50.

The rightmost unit is a C19 Chippendale machine from 1919. The Diamond Disc series overlapped the Amberolas but were more expensive and capable of superior sound reproduction compared to the cylinder machines. The C19 was an updated version of the previous C-250 (the “250” representing the retail price of $250). It had the same mechanical components but the lower part of the cabinet contained a record rack.  This is the only one here of which I know the provenance. It belonged to my  grandfather when it was new, then to my father.

The Diamond disc series is very different from competing phonographs such as the Victrolas. Edison was aggressive about obtaining and enforcing patents on products like this, so when others wanted to produce phonographs they had to invent an entirely different method of recording and reproducing the sound. Edison’s machines recovered audio recorded at the base of the groove, making the stylus move up and down to follow it. That was protected by patent. Victrola thus had to incorporate a scheme in which the sound was recorded in the sides of the groove, so the stylus wiggled back and forth. The sideways “wiggle” method was never protected effectively so everyone but Edison used it. Probably because of that, it was the system that survived and is used today. Stereo records use both methods, one for each channel.

You can tell at a glance which system a vintage phonograph uses by looking at the housing on the end of the tone arm. If the housing containing the diaphragm is horizontal (as in the photo above), it is a Diamond Disc player. If the diaphragm is in the vertical plane, it is the other scheme. As the name implies, the DD machines used a lifetime diamond stylus. This was possible because the stylus was driven across the record by a gear drive rather than being dragged across the record by the spiral grooves The other players all relied on the groove to drag the tone arm across and thus needed to use soft needles to reduce record wear. Their styli would last for tens (but not hundreds) of plays. You can tell the records apart because the DD records are nearly 1/2″ thick. The Victrolas and counterparts used platters the same thickness as “modern” records.



It seems as though there should be something between the Zymatic (compact, highly automated, 2.5-3 gallon batches) and my three vessel HERMS/RIMS setup (large, slightly automated, 10 gallon batches). Actually, there is, and has been for a while. Those crafty brewers down under, who originated the single vessel brew-in-bag concept, inspired Imake of New Zealand’s all in one Grainfather brew-in-a-basket system a few years ago.

It strikes a happy medium for many. It easily manages the 5 gallon batch size that is common in the US, and also the 6 gallon brews that are the usual in Australia and New Zealand. It has about the same level of automation as my three vessel setup but fewer switches and buttons to manage. It also fits pretty well into my kitchen so I can stay indoors when the weather isn’t cooperating and operates from a standard 120VAC, 15A GFCI outlet.

This just a glance at the product after the first brewing session. I will probably do a more thorough review after a few more brews. As easy as it is to use, that probably won’t take long.

The brief report is: we brewed a milk stout with pumpkin spices and with roasted pumpkin rind in the mash. Using the Beersmith Grainfather profile, gravities and volumes were dead on. Operation was simple, and cleanup fast and easy. It offers the simplicity of brew in a bag without the bag to dump and launder. Looks fine, so far!


After several uncomfortable brew sessions on hot, sticky days I plan to be more careful about hot weather brewing in the future. It makes more sense to stay inside where it is air conditioned and brew on the Zymatic on such days. Nonetheless, this brew was scheduled a while ago and will go forward tomorrow despite predictions of 89 degrees and 80% humidity. The result will be 10 gallons of my galactic american pale ale plus lots of sweat. As shown in the photo above, I have mounted the controller onto its own wheeled platform. I can now move everything around in search of a cooler spot rather than being tethered to the previously wall-mounted control box. I will try to remember to take photos during the session; if I get anything good they will appear here.