Hey, I figured Something Out!

No; don’t laugh. I don’t mean I figured out how to tie my shoe or hit a forehand. I mean I think I discovered something that no one has though of before. At least, I’ve read a lot on this subject and I’ve never seen this mentioned by anyone else.

As you know from a previous post, I make telescopes. Because of the sensitivity of the particular lens I used for this one, I made both the objective mounting cell and the diagonal mirror collimatable. This allows me to adjust all the parts so that their optical axes are aligned precisely and I can see the sharpest possible images.

Most telescopes allow such adjustments, and there are lots and lots of instructions out there that tell how to collimate a telescope. If you’re so inclined, you can purchase gadgets ranging from a simple cylinder with a peephole and a crosshair to a complicated laser projector to help you collimate more easily and precisely. But how do you know when to collimate?

Poor collimation causes imperfect images in the eyepiece, and it can keep you from seeing objects that are as small and faint as you should. But there are plenty of reasons that your views may appear less-than-sharp, and most have nothing to do with optical alignment. Most often, turbulence at some layer of the atmosphere bends the light from the object and distorts the view. This is known as bad seeing. But maybe you have eyestrain; maybe you had beer with dinner and your optic muscles are too relaxed to focus well; maybe your telescope and eyepiece haven’t cooled down yet. Without being sure, should you pull out your collimation tools and take time tinkering that could be spent actually looking at the universe, even though it’s not tack-sharp?

The other night, I (to my knowledge) invented what I’m calling the Curmudgeon Test. When I pointed the red-dot rifle sight I use as a finder, I noticed that the star I sought was off to the side of the view in the main scope. That can happen. Who can always point within a fraction of a degree to a star? This particular star was a close double that I have, in the past, been able to see as two distinct stars. But this time, try as I might, I could not see them. I put it down to atmospheric turbulence and moved on. Saturn was up next, and once again the image was offset in the main scope after I lined up my finder carefully. I then had a hard time seeing details on the planet that I usually can. Well, it’s not a good night for high-power, finely-detailed observations, I thought, and sought out a galaxy instead. Bad seeing matters less on diffuse objects. I pointed the telescope to a nearby star to begin the step-by-step hop to the galaxy, and, wouldn’t you know it, the star was off-center in the eyepiece. But all of a sudden, the scales fell from my eyes as I realized that each object had been displaced by the same amount in the same direction!

This was no random error; the finder and the telescope were not pointing at the same spot in the sky. It could have been that the finder was mis-aligned, but I quickly ruled that out because it fastens securely to the telescope and is placed such that it never gets knocked around once set. This left collimation as the likely culprit. Even a small bump when putting away a telescope or shifting lawn equipment next to it in the shed can move a lens or mirror system enough that its axes no longer align. And when that lens or mirror tilts, it moves the image it produces in a corresponding direction. I checked it and, sure enough, the lens was canted slightly in the exact direction each star was off-center. With a couple of turns of a screw, I was back in business. To my relief, I noted that all of the details I had been missing were suddenly visible and sharp. The rest of the night was a true pleasure.

So, here is the test: If your telescope images are consistently displaced from those in a previously-aligned finder, check the collimation. Otherwise, don’t sweat it and look at something else, or try another night.

But at least you’ll know.

P. S. Only align your finder with a telescope in perfect collimation. Otherwise the world will little note nor long remember what I’ve said here today.

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My Secret Advantage

I know you’re probably getting tired of my writing about bicycling by now. But it is summer, the best time to indulge in the sport, and the Tour de France is still running. It’s on my mind for the time being.

So there.

The other day while I was out riding, my back wheel did not feel quite right. There seemed to be a periodic thump that I felt more than I heard. Sometimes this means a tire is losing air and becoming flat; sometimes it means the tire is not seated on the rim properly, and therefore has a low spot. I stopped briefly and checked the air pressure, which turned out to be fine. I spun the wheel, but did not immediately notice anything out-of-the-ordinary. I convinced myself that I was imagining the whole thing.

[Incidentally, this habit is probably left over from my early adult years, the ones during and right after college, when I  would not have had the money to fix whatever went wrong anyway. In terms of effects on me, this produced some rather intriguing knowledge: I now know it’s theoretically possible to put 211,000 miles on a set of rear car tires, as long as the car is front-wheel-drive, and I know what it sounds like when my car’s brake shoes no longer exist and the attachment bolts are creating the friction to stop the car.]

Anyway, when I got home, I investigated more thoroughly and observed this:

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Hmm…that’s not good. Take a closer look:

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Over time, the friction from the brake pads had almost worn through the aluminum. It didn’t look any better from another angle:

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So, with the sidewall broken through, the tension from the spoke was cracking the inner part of the wheel. [I know Leonard Zinn must have a more exact name for it.]

I probably should not have felt a thrill at this point, but the wheel had not collapsed on the ride home, what with 35 other spokes holding it together. I had read in maintenance guides that rim wear was potentially dangerous, and now I had seen firsthand how the situation played out and how long it had taken.

But, wait a minute. Exactly how long had it taken? Knowledgeable riders will gain some insight from the label:

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That’s right. Until yesterday I was riding on an MA 40. I know I had this wheel built before I graduated from college, and that was 1992. So that’s at least 23 years, and I rode it anywhere from 1,000 to 4,000 miles each year, depending on whether my interest in training was at a low or high point. I guess I really have not changed since my starving student days. I mean that rim owed me absolutely nothing. It gave me everything it had to give. Greater love hath no component that to give its life for the rider.

This got me to thinking: that’s value. I know that there is no modern carbon fiber rim that will last anywhere near that long. And those things cost thousands of dollars. “SO WHAT?” you’re saying. “My carbon wheels make me go fast. And next year I’ll buy new ones that will make me go even faster!”

Are you sure? Let’s examine that a bit more deeply. To do so, I’ll take you on a tour of the bike that I ride the most.

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A friend gave me this bike when his parents were cleaning out their garage. It has no brand name anywhere on it, but, based on some similarities to another frame I own, I believe it to be a St. Etienne. According to guru Sheldon Brown, this was a middle-of-the-road brand imported into the United States during the “bicycle boom” of the 1970s. It was built in 1973, and I guarantee that “TYPE TOUR DE FRANCE,” on the top tube decal, had nothing to do with racing. This is a lugged steel frame, with 72 degree head and seat tube angles. As you may know, this means a super-comfortable ride, because the shallow angles and steel tubing absorb much more road shock than anything made today. I have changed some of the components to give even more comfort.

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Of course a bike like this deserves a real leather saddle, which has slowly molded to fit me perfectly, just like a favorite baseball glove. (By the way, the seatpost and rails are steel, too.)

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Those are moustache-shaped handlebars which put your hands and arms in the best possible position for climbing. And, in case you haven’t guessed already, they’re made of steel! Why bother with a suspension fork or stem?

[Some of you may have noticed that I made my own bar-end shifter out of a clamp-on set:

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Yes, I am the world’s cheapest human being, a topic I ‘ll explore much more in future posts.]

When I received it, this bike had cottered cranks, which I find cool, but the bottom bracket shell threads were damaged. I replaced the bottom bracket with a threadless one and put on- wait for it-

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steel cranks! [In case you’re wondering about my abnormal obsession with all things ferrous, bike manufacturers these days boast about how they design carbon fiber frames to be “vertically compliant,” meaning somewhat flexible, for the comfort of the rider. Steel has been used for bicycles for at least 150 years, and it already had that quality.]

To top it all off, I attached

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full fenders, because it rains and snows a lot where I live.

Finally, I always carry a

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full-size frame pump, because nothing else works as well.

So I have every possible component made of steel [except for the wheels, of course, because they don’t stop the bike well if they are at all wet], and I have the luxury of a leather saddle, 28mm tires, fenders, and a full-size pump. Imagine how comfortable I stay on long training rides! That means more miles under my belt. And think about how much stronger I become while pedaling this 25.5 lb. (without water bottles) machine up the hilly terrain around here. [As an added advantage, it’s so ugly and beaten-up that I never worry about riding it in bad weather or locking it in a city.]

Meanwhile, you’re training on your ultralight, harshly-riding racing setup. Your speed might be maxed out. If I ever feel motivated to race again, I’ll use

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my 19 lb. bike with 74 degree angles and tubular wheels. It’s probably still a lot heavier that what you’re riding, but to me it will feel insubstantial.

Whenever other cyclists see me on my purple monstrosity, they feel the need to comment on my “commuter” bike, and show off their race-worthy machines. They should remember, though, it’s the engine that matters. I might just be faster after all.

Words Matter

Before you spend any more of your valuable time reading, I thought I should let you know what you’re in for. Should you commit yourself? Should I be committed? Only you, Dear Reader,

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Reader: Who are you?

F. C.: I have a life that I was about to call normal, but then I remembered that many people consider that word insulting, even oppressive. Perhaps I’ll go with not-at-all-extraordinary.

I have a job that makes me middle-class. I live in a house that the bank owns for the next twenty years. It is located in a rural area with easy access to a major city. Dogs and cats share my house.

 

 

Abigail Adams Meyers

 

Katze

 

 

I own an automobile. I probably don’t clean it, or my house, as often as I should. I eat meat, but I love a good vegetarian lasagne. I drink beer and I drink wine. See? Nothing special.

Reader: So why are you writing this?

F. C.: Well, I am somewhat different. I have way more hobbies than I have time for if I want to keep my job and get some sleep. And, as anybody with hobbies knows, they make you look at things in ways you would never imagine if you didn’t do them. It makes you understand nuances of things far beyond the surface level. For example, have you ever used a pen because it had a nifty way to fill itself with ink?

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Have you ever worn a watch because a famous Cosmonaut wore the same model in orbit?

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I’ve done both.

All this means I think about things in ways that make people roll their eyes and pat me on the head. I just want to share my thoughts about some of the things I think about. My job involves public speaking, and I would not have kept it if I could not make audiences care about what I was saying at least a little bit. So I thought I would try public writing.

Reader: That sounds reasonable. But why “Curmudgeon?” Isn’t that a nasty, grouchy person?

F. C.: Ah, that’s the key. Some things do make me grouchy, and that usually happens when I get the impression that people are not thinking. Sometimes they do or say something just because everyone else does. Sometimes they don’t value a thing because they have not stopped to consider how beautiful it is. Sometimes they assume that change is always good and progress is always positive. Sometimes I just play Devil’s advocate to move people out of their comfort zones and see if they have reasons for what they say or do.

My best friend at work refers to us as the Curmudgeons’ Club. Once, after a typically hard day, he asked me, “Want to hear today’s absurdity?” At that moment, the idea for this series crystallized.

Reader: Sounds interesting. Can you give me an example?

F. C.: Sure. Words matter, and I refuse to use a word just because it has become commonplace. Words feel certain ways when spoken.

 

This is why I hate the word “blog.” Its unabbreviated version, web log, makes sense. You keep a log of your thoughts on the Web. In my mind, the stress falls on “web.” It’s what makes this log different from all other logs. But “blog” is one of the ugliest contractions ever contracted. It sounds like a trudging, heavy, wearying journey. It feels dark, cold, rainy, muddy, and dirty, just like the Anglo-Saxon world conjured up by a good translation of Beowulf. 

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It is a name for a task that you have to do, and dread, rather than one you want to do, and enjoy. One man’s “blogger” is another man’s “on-line essayist.” The world may insist on calling me the former, but I’ll always think of myself as the latter.

Reader: Damn, dude.

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