Archive for January, 2011

By Mike Hubbartt, © Copyright 2011, All Rights Reserved.

Product: RedShift 7 Advanced
Vendor: United Soft Media (
Price: $79.90/£49.90 (Boxed), $59.95 (download)
Supported OS: Windows 7/Vista/XP/2000

Ted Bade and I are both amateur astronomers. We’ve both used a lot of commercial and open source products for different operating systems – some which we cover on this site (Starry Night Pro, Voyager, etc) – and since Ted reviewed RedShift for the iPhone/iPad, we felt I should take a look at the version of the product for Windows: RedShift 7 Advanced.

I contacted the product vendor and they were happy to provide a download of the software to evaluate, so let’s get started with the evaluation.

Using the Software

I downloaded and installed the product on the Windows XP partition of my 2.26 GHz dual core Intel processor Macbook (~ 14 months old) which has a 250 GB hard drive and 2 GB RAM. No problems during either phase of this process. The software was installed in the C:\Program Files\Maris Technologies folder.

I began by checking out the UI. First of all I like the Getting Started screen:

This is ideal for the first time user. I checked out all of the tabs to learn how to use the software. Very nice.

Next I decided to take some of the many guided tours included with the software. The tours were good, but the quality of the planets and moons was not what I expected. I poked around and found a few options that looked like they could help (‘Extras/Enable OpenGL’, ‘View/Surface Features/Planets’ and ‘View/Surface Features/Moon’), so I enabled them, then restarted the software and took a few additional guided tours. Now I saw a nice improvement when I took the tour of the 5 main Jupiter moons.

This is the screen shot I took using RedShift 7, which shows Jupiter and 5 of the largest moons. I like the perspective as the orbits are clear and the information (in the box at the top right of the screen) was interesting. Only comment – the text appears center-justified.

Callisto – one of the larger moons of Jupiter, Callisto has been viewed as a potential landing site for a Jupiter system exploratory mission. Callisto is further away from Jupiter, so the closer and larger moon might be a better landing site.

Ganymede – probably my favorite Jupiter moon. This moon is bigger than Mercury, and it was the site of Robert Heinlein’s ‘Farmer in the Sky’ science fiction story about future colonizing efforts of humanity. This moon is closer to Jupiter, but the radiation levels there may be higher than on a moon that is further away.

Next, I checked out some of the space flight tours. I took the Mars tour and liked the quality of the image of the surface of Mars:

The next tour I checked out was Cassini, which was interesting as it was a 6 part tour which shows each phase of the complex flight the probe took. The probe had a complicated route to Saturn. It made several near planet passes to gain speed: twice by Venus, once by Earth, and once by Jupiter (mostly for course correction than for speed) before arriving at Saturn. This was an important mission as we took many great pictures of Saturn and the moon Titan. I would’ve liked to see some mention that the Cassini mission has been extended far beyond the planned life of the mission – this is interesting information and relevant to astronomy students.

I then ran the tour ‘Guided Tours/The Essentials/A comet plunges to its death’ which is a re-enactment of comet Shoemaker-Levy 9, which broke up and the chunks plunged into the atmosphere of Jupiter. The impacts were clear and RedShift has some of the images of those impacts.

There are also spaceflights for Yuri Gagarin (first human to orbit our planet in 1961), Apollo 13 (ill-fated and near disasterous trip to the moon in 1969), Voyager 2 (deep space probe launched in 1977), Galileo (Jupiter mission – launched in 1989 and sent into Jupiter atmosphere in 2003), the Mars Express, and the MER Opportunity and Spirit missions. The Mars Express mission was the ESA’s first Mars mission and it is still active today (January, 2011). The Opportunity and Spirit rovers were sent to roam over the surface of Mars and take pictures. Both are still on Mars, however the Spirit rover stopped responding to NASA after a short while, but the Opportunity rover is still active and is currently parked at the Santa Maria Crater (January, 2011), where it is taking some revealing images.

I was surprised at some missions that were missing, like the Apollo 11 and the New Horizons missions. Apollo 11 was the first manned landing on the moon and is much a landmark as Yuri Gagarin’s first mission into space. New Horizons is on the way to Pluto and the Kuiper belt, which as also huge.

I only had one bad experience using this software. Three times when I was working with guided tours, RedShift 7 crashed with the following error message:

I am running with the most current Windows XP updates on my Macbook dual core CPU laptop. If anyone else sees this error, please contact United Soft Media so they have more information to use to address this problem. This is not a show stopper, and it may not be a problem for other versions of Windows.


I enjoyed using RedShift 7 Advanced. The guided tours are very useful, although a few seemed to take longer than I’d prefer. After getting comfortable with the user interface, I enjoyed using this software.  There is good information, although it would be nice to see more information. I love how the company website is positively loaded with astronomy-related content, which is available to people that don’t have RedShift.


  • Number of supported versions of Windows – good to see they still support Windows 2000 users, as well as Windows 7.
  • The price is right. A good value for the low-cost of the software, especially the download version.
  • The installed software didn’t kill my drive space. It only took 1.24 GB of space, which is pretty low when compared to other astronomy products.
  • Getting Started screen, which has many features new users will want to access immediately to learn how to use the software.
  • An excellent website to support the product, as well as provide a tremendous amount of astronomy-related content.
  • Guided Tours – very nice. A lot of them to help build interest in astronomy.
  • Number of configurable options – very good. It is useful to be able to specify actions to occur at start-up or when exiting the program. I wish more vendors did this, as most serious users want to have as much control of their environments as possible.
  • Telescope Control support – a must for serious users.

Areas for Improvement

  • The company needs to find and fix the uncaught exception that caused the software to crash 3 times over the months I was evaluating RedShift.
  • Some of the UI controls had an old school feel to them. They did function, but were not as modern as some other astronomy packages I’ve used. I’d love to see the UI updated in the next major release of the product.
  • I had to enable the software to use OpenGL for video, as well as turn on surface features for planets and moons. Both of these affected the quality of the software images and I’d rather be asked at first launch if I want those features enabled, instead of finding them after I look at the software. Initially I was not impressed by the quality of the images, but after enabling these features I was much happier.
  • I liked the tours, but some seemed to go without a lot happening. A nice sound track or slide show with thumbnails of the tour subject would make these more interesting. I’d also like to see planetary tours similar to what is done at, which are very informative and visually interesting.
  • Many good space flights/missions, but not the Apollo 11 or the New Horizons missions.


A good value and recommended for astronomy students of any level. The tours are a nice touch for students just learning about the missions and the planets and stars, as well as for older folk wanting to recall the things that so captivated television audiences in the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, and 00s.

By Harry {doc} Babad, © Copyright 2011, All Rights Reserved. 


The materials I share in the articles that follow come from the various weekly science and environmental newsletters, as well as blogs to which I subscribe. I also acknowledge and cite items from public interest groups such as Greenpeace and the Union of Concerned Scientists, but only when they provide references I can check.

Article selection (my article – my choice} are obviously and admittedly biased by my training, experience and at rare times my emotional and philosophical intuitive views of what works and what will not… But if you have a topic I neglect, send me feedback and I’ll give it a shot.

Since my tidbits are only a partial look at the original article, click on through the provided link if you want more details, as well as other references on the same topic(s). Doc.

Titles, As Usual, in No Formal Order, The New Snippets

  • Power Equivalent of 1 Pellet of Uranium Fuel — A Teaser
  • Nothing in Washington DC Generates this much Energy
  • Did You Think Renewable Power Is Sustainable? Think again…
  • How Green is Your Real (or Fake) Christmas Tree? — You Might Be Surprised
  • Electric Cars Get Charged for Battle – The Tesla Sedan, Nissan Leaf, Toyota Electrical Vehicles Suite and the Chevy Volt… More to come!
  • The Apple iPad – Oh You of Little imagination faith in the creativity of the rest of us
  • Rice Husks Into Electricity — A Light in India
  • It’s all About Civility and Attitude – Questioning climate change vs. challenging nuclear power – A tidbit in passing.

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Power Equivalent of 1 Pellet of Uranium Fuel — A Teaser

Nothing in Washington DC

Generates This Much Energy

Reliable and Affordable Energy,

Nuclear Energy Institute, 2010;

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Did You Think Renewable Power Is Sustainable? Think again…
I ran across this article in my archive files, and found it refreshing relevant to todays discussion on energy sustainability.

“Sustainability” is a buzzword these days. It is a term used often and eagerly, especially by opponents of nuclear power and proponents of renewable alternatives. There is an assumption to there that if something is renewable it is also automatically sustainable. There is also an assumption that nuclear power is not sustainable. How surprised people get when they find out that the exact opposite is true…

Let’s take a step back and for once examine what we actually mean by the concept of sustainability. In this article, we will be focusing on sustainable power production.

According to Wikipedia, in part, sustainability (e.g., “maintain”, “support”, or “endure”) is the capacity to endure. There are two major ways of reducing negative human impact and enhancing ecosystem services. The first is environmental management; this approach is based largely on information gained from earth science, environmental science, and conservation biology. The second approach is management of human consumption of resources, which is based largely on information gained from economics.

Sustainability interfaces with economics through the social and ecological consequences of economic activity. Sustainability economics involves ecological economics where social, cultural, health-related and monetary/financial aspects are integrated. Moving towards sustainability is also a social challenge that entails international and national law, urban planning and transport, local and individual lifestyles and ethical consumerism. Ways of living more sustainably can take many forms from reorganizing living conditions (e.g., sustainable cities), reappraising economic sectors (green building, sustainable agriculture), using science to develop new technologies (green technologies, renewable energy), to adjustments in individual lifestyles that conserve natural resources.
See Wikipedia

Renewable energy is energy, which comes from natural resources such as sunlight, wind, rain, tides, and geothermal heat, which are renewable (naturally replenished) at least over the lifetimes of human existence.
See Wikipedia

Sustainable energy is the provision of energy that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs. Sustainable energy sources are most often regarded as including all renewable sources, such as plant matter, solar power, wind power, wave power, geothermal power and tidal power. It usually sometimes includes technologies that improve energy efficiency. Conventional fission power, as many believe it to be, is sometimes referred to as sustainable, but is controversial politically due to misinformation and concerns about peak uranium, radioactive waste disposal and the risks of disaster due to accident, terrorism, or natural disaster.
See Wikipedia

There seems to be a vague notion out there that something that is sustainable we can start using now and then keep using forever, or that something that is sustainable never consumes any resources. Well even by this faulty definition, renewables are not sustainable. This s because solar panels are not built from sunshine, nor are wind turbines built from a stiff afternoon breeze. You build them from consumable materials such as steel, copper, neodymium, gallium, arsenic, indium and other sometimes not too common materials. Also they have a finite life span after which they must be torn down and replaced. This means that solar and wind power does consume resources and in the end cannot be used forever.

But that is not the definition of sustainable, so let’s move on.

What is sustainability? — “Sustainable development” was defined by the Brundtland-commission report “Our common future“ in June 1987 as:

…Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

Now let’s look at this idea more closely. Does it say anything about renewables, using the same things forever, or even that using fossil fuels would be a bad thing? No it does not. The report doesn’t even say we cannot deplete a resource.

For non-renewable resources, like fossil fuels and minerals, their use reduces the stock available for future generations. But this does not mean that such resources should not be used. However, general the rate of depletion should take into account the criticality of that resource, the availability of technologies for minimizing depletion, and the likelihood of substitutes being available. [E.g., oil /methane for petrochemical feedstock, not transportation.]

Sustainability Means — We have needs, and we must meet them. The future generations will also have needs, and we must not do anything that prevents them from getting these needs met. KISS, but alas politics and greed often defeats logic.

People talking about sustainable development often talk about the future. But what they keep forgetting is that development that does not tend to the needs of the present as well, is not sustainable. Sustainable development must meet both current and future needs, Posted February 14, 2009

Check out the link below and follow the author’s rationale on how sustainability could perhaps be applied to or real world choices. The author discusses the sustainability of wind and solar power, the use of biofuels, and nuclear power. Although written in 2009, passing events of strengthened the case for some of these alternatives and weakened other. At the very least in the presence of a level unsubsidized playing field where governments try to choose winner to support heir economic and political needs, recent energy saviors ‘the heroes of wind, solar and biofuel from corn’ have begun to look lightly tarnished.

From The “Nuclear Power/Yes Please” Blog, posted February 14, 2009.

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How Green is Your Real (or Fake) Christmas Tree? — You Might Be Surprised

Having just written the last check, a credit card bill, to cover our less than extravagant holiday season, coupled with four December-January birthdays, I feel both a bit green (around the gills) and nostalgic. Over the years, mostly because that what our kids wanted, we granted them a Chanukah bush. My lady who loves themed ornament enjoyed collecting, silver/white ornaments, or birds, Judeica, Japanese themed, and music… variations) over the years. We’d tried a live tree (it died) and an occasional several medium priced artificial tree (ugly and never reused) and unclipped noble fir trees (recycled to by the city). That’s why the following article caught my fancy.

When it comes to Christmas trees, Americans increasingly prefer plastic pines over the real thing. Sales of fake trees are expected to approach 13 million this year, a record, as quality improves and they get more convenient, with features like built-in lights and easy collapsibility. All told, well over 50 million artificial Christmas trees will grace living rooms and dens this season, according to the industry’s main trade group, compared to about 30 million real trees.

Kim Jones, who was shopping for a tree at a Target store in Brooklyn this week, was convinced that she was doing the planet a favor by buying a $200 fake balsam fir made in China instead of buying a carbon-sipping pine that had been cut down for one season’s revelry. “I’m very environmentally conscious,” Ms. Jones said. “I’ll keep it for 10 years, and that’s 10 trees that won’t be cut down.”

But Ms. Jones and the millions of others buying fake trees might not be doing the environment any favors. In the most definitive study of the perennial real vs. fake question, an environmental consulting firm in Montreal found that an artificial tree would have to be reused for more than 20 years to be greener than buying a fresh-cut tree annually. The calculations included greenhouse gas emissions, use of resources and human health impacts.

Yet the trade-offs are not immediately apparent to consumers and even some tree growers. “The natural tree is a better option,” said Jean-Sebastien Trudel, founder of the firm, Ellipsos, which released the independent, study last year.

The annual carbon emissions associated with using a real tree every year were just one-third of those created by an artificial tree over a typical six-year lifespan. Most fake trees also contain polyvinyl chloride, or PVC, which produces carcinogens during manufacturing and disposal. Ellipsos specifically studied the market for Christmas trees bought in Montreal and either grown in Quebec or manufactured in China. Mr. Trudel said the results would most likely differ for other cities and regions. Excessive driving by consumers to purchase real trees could tip the scales back in favor of artificial trees, at least in terms of carbon emissions. (…A part of the life cycle ‘costs’)

Over all, the study found that the environmental impact of real Christmas trees was quite small, and significantly less than that of artificial trees — a conclusion shared by environmental groups and some scientists. Click the link and read on.

“You’re not doing any harm by cutting down a Christmas tree,” said Clint Springer, a botanist and professor of biology at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia. “A lot of people think artificial is better because you’re preserving the life of a tree. But in this case, you’ve got a crop that’s being raised for just that purpose.”

Here in the Pacific Northwest, in our community, there’s a holiday tree lot in almost every strip mall, and an hours drive or less gets you to a ‘cut your own’ farm. In New York or other major urban area, the pro’s and cons are a bit more complex.

However both lover of natural and artificial tree both agree, said that neither kind of tree had much of an impact on the environment — “especially when compared to something that most of us do every day, like drive a car.” On that point, Mr. Trudel of Ellipsos agrees. “When you really consider it, if you exchange a couple of days of commuting by car with carpooling or riding a bicycle, you’ll completely overcompensate for whatever the impact of the tree is,” he said. “It’s not such a big deal. Enjoy your tree, whichever one you prefer.”

By John Collins Rudolf New York Times, December 2010

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Electric Cars Get Charged for Battle – The Tesla Sedan, Nissan Leaf, Toyota Electrical Vehicles Suite and the Chevy Volt… More to come!

Most of the drivers on the 101 Freeway in Marin County, Calif., on this foggy December morning are oblivious to the black snub-nosed car gliding along beside them. Every so often, however, someone does a double take, gives a thumbs-up, or snaps a cell phone picture, because the car in the next lane is one they’ve never seen before: a Nissan Leaf, the world’s first affordable, mass-produced electric vehicle, or EV. This particular Leaf happens to be No. 1: The very first sold anywhere. At the wheel is Olivier Chalouhi, who took delivery an hour before amid some impressive hoopla at a Nissan dealership in Petaluma. Now, driving south to San Francisco with Nissan (NSNAY) Americas Chairman Carlos Tavares riding shotgun, Chalouhi, a 31-year-oldWeb entrepreneur, is explaining how he came to be the first person to buy this car. His voice is soft but easy to hear from the backseat because, with no internal combustion engine, the Leaf (nationally about $25,000 after a $7,500 federal tax credit) is eerily quiet, almost as cocoon-like as Nissan’s $50,000-plus Infiniti M.

“It all started,” Chalouhi says, “when I saw an ad for the Chevy Volt.” The Volt, which started shipping to dealers in mid-December, is the Leaf’s chief competitor in the green-car sweepstakes. It runs for about 40 miles on an electric charge before a small gasoline engine kicks in to recharge the battery. That gives the Volt more than 350miles of range—unlike the Leaf, which runs for 60 to 100 miles, varying with weather and terrain and driving style, before needing a recharge that can take 30 minutes to 7hours, depending on the strength of the charger. The Volt’s gasoline engine makes it less attractive to some eco-minded consumers like Chalouhi. “In all the articles I read about the Volt, the Leaf was discussed as well,” he says. “As soon as I found out about he Leaf, I forgot about the Volt. The Volt wasn’t going to project the image I wanted. It has a tailpipe.”

The energy chain is more complicated than that—the electricity powering a Leaf mayor may not come from low-emission sources—but right now it’s time to enjoy the ride. Chalouhi turns off the highway and guns the car up a steep, winding road in the Marin Headlands overlooking San Francisco Bay. The Leaf is surprisingly agile and sure-footed; its electric motor has plenty of pep, and 600 pounds of laminated lithium-ion batteries below the floorboards help it hug the road. Chalouhi is having fun with the tight turns heading into the hills, where Nissan has stationed a media team to capture the moment with some suitably dramatic images. Alas, the Golden Gate Bridge is hiding behind the fog, making the glamour shot impossible, so Chalouhi guides the car back down toward the 101 while a product manager, Paul Hawson, briefs him on the next photo-op, at City Hall in San Francisco. “At the end of the ceremony,” Hawson says, “you and Mr. Tavares will go to the car and plug-in the charger together.”

Inside the green car community—the world of academics, analysts, policymakers, and environmentalists who spend their days worrying about transportation emissions—there’s also a lively debate about which kind of low-emissions car is greenest. The Leaf produces zero emissions, and according to numerous studies touted by Nissan, even if the electricity that powers it comes from a coal-fired plant, its carbon footprint is smaller than that of an average gasoline-powered car. If its electricity comes from solar, wind, hydro or nuclear power, then the Leaf is an unassailably zero-emission vehicle. And Nissan executives rightly point out that U.S. electric generation is getting cleaner. (A Volt’s true emissions are even harder to determine, since it can be driven in all-electric mode or with a gasoline assist.) For now, the heavy batteries that store the power in Leafs and Volts are still too expensive to be the most cost-effective option, according to a 2009 study by engineers at Carnegie-Mellon University. The study also found that plug-in EVs with 40 or more miles of all-electric range “do not offer the lowest lifetime cost in any scenario, although they could minimize greenhouse gas emissions.” Lighter plug-in hybrids with about 10 miles of all-electric range appear to offer the best mix of price, charging time, and efficiency, according to Jeremy Michalek, the Carnegie Mellon professor who led the study. Plug-ins of this sort (the Prius, due in 2012, will be one) work best for urban drivers who can charge every 20 miles or so, he says. All of these plug-in cars, of course, are far cleaner and cheaper to operate than what most Americans drive now. There’s more – click the link.

Article by Eric Pooley, Business Week, December 29, 2010

PS: Can or can’t live with a tailpipe? Chevy, Toyota, and Nissan offer different electric options
Check out Business Week, December 29, 2010.

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The Apple iPad – Oh You of Little imagination or faith in the creativity of the rest of us

When Apple released the iPad was both delighted and appalled. Delighted because the device seems to be a step in the direction of a portable computing tool I lusted for, but could justify. Appalled, because many of the reviews I read The reviews were, much to my concern focused on short comings of this Generation I device, and bespoke of how it would like not be of ‘real’ support to folks for who business is a living, rather than a hobby.

Now I do my serious work in an iMac, loaded with every tool I needs plus lots of tools I found interesting enough to review for MH Reports. I am at the keyboard for at least 6-8 hours a day, and although an iPad is no where complete enough to be a productivity tool, it does merit serious consideration (even w/o a mechanical keyboards) as an on-the-go note taking tool and a way to keep up with the reading/research/googling I do to feed both my curiosity and my articles. My only other potion, an Apple MacBook Air, is twice the cost that I can justify. Indeed iPad II vaporware and rumors not withstanding, a USB equipped iPhone (data transfer and printing) with a more robust version of iWorks, and a way to edit PDFs (iAcrobat) would come pretty close to meeting my needs.

Therefore I keep being delighted by what folks in the field, teachers mostly, but other social services types too, have done with the iPad, supported by our active and creative iApps developer community. I share a bit of that below.

Math That Moves: Schools Embrace the iPad

ROSLYN HEIGHTS, N.Y. — As students returned to class this week, some were carrying brand-new Apple iPads in their backpacks, given not by their parents but by their schools. A growing number of schools across the nation are embracing the iPad as the latest tool to teach Kafka in multimedia, history through “Jeopardy”-like games and math with step-by-step animation of complex problems.

As part of a pilot program, Roslyn High School on Long Island handed out 47 iPads on Dec. 20 to the students and teachers in two humanities classes. The school district hopes to provide iPads eventually to all 1,100 of its students.

The school paid $750 each, soon after they were introduced. The iPads cost $470-575 (Google-Shopping) a piece now. The Students can use them in class and at home during the school year.

They replace textbooks, allow students to correspond with teachers and turn in papers and homework assignments, and preserve a record of student work in digital portfolios.

6th grader with iPad at Pinnacle Peak Elementary School in Scottsdale, Ariz

“It allows us to extend the classroom beyond these four walls,” said Larry Reiff, an English teacher at Roslyn who now posts all his course materials online. Technological fads have come and gone in schools, and other experiments meant to rev up the educational experience for children raised on video games and YouTube have had mixed results. Educators, for instance, are still divided over whether initiatives to give every student a laptop have made a difference academically.

At a time when school districts are trying to get their budgets approved so they do not have to lay off teachers or cut programs, spending money on tablet computers may seem like an extravagance. And some parents and scholars have raised concerns that schools are rushing to invest in them before their educational value has been proved by research.

“There is very little evidence that kids learn more, faster or better by using these machines,” said Larry Cuban, a professor emeritus of education at Stanford University, who believes that the money would be better spent to recruit, train and retain teachers. “IPads are marvelous tools to engage kids, but then the novelty wears off and you get into hard-core issues of teaching and learning.” Doc Sez, only if the software sucks, something true with games, textbooks, and other media.

But school leaders say the iPad is not just a cool new toy but rather a powerful and versatile tool with a multitude of applications, including thousands with educational uses. “If there isn’t an app that does something I need, there will be sooner or later,” said Mr. Reiff, who said he now used an application that includes all of Shakespeare’s plays. Educators also laud the iPad’s physical attributes, including its large touch screen (about 9.7 inches) and flat design, which allows students to maintain eye contact with their teachers. And students like its lightweight, which offers a relief from the heavy books that weigh down their backpacks.

There’s lot more examples, discussions on Apples support if iPads for schools, and even some cost data so check out the link.

I was interested to learn that, many school officials say they have been waiting for technology like the iPad. “It has brought individual technology into the classroom without changing the classroom atmosphere,” said Alex Curtis, headmaster of the private Morristown-Beard School in New Jersey, which bought 60 iPads for $36,000 and is considering providing iPads to all students next fall.

Daniel Brenner, the Roslyn superintendent, said the iPads would also save money in the long run by reducing printing and textbook costs; the estimated savings in the two-iPad classes are $7,200 a year. “It’s not about a cool application,” Dr. Brenner said. “We are talking about changing the way we do business in the classroom.”

Article by Winnie Hu, The New York Times, and published: January 4, 2011.

PS: I keep wondering about the overall costs effectives of a school using a discounted $600 per student. The discounted iPad contains (WAG) about $300 worth of parts along with lets say 3 x 5-6 iApps /per student (free or under $5.99) vs 5-6 $100/textbooks a day; who useful wear and tear life in weeks if not months. …And then again, iApps of are often updated free. Moving in the opposite direction, when updating (actually replacing) a book, not counting your related administrative replacement costs (committees), you get start fro scratch. My presumption — two to three iApps and a clever teacher per class and you can take the textbooks out of the picture. Alternatively get the publishers to issue their books electronically, with free updates… even the academic journals are tuning in. Oh, and case you haven’t heard, most authors of textbooks get less than 12% for their intellectual efforts, according to Wikipedia and other sources, as royalties. Do I hear a slurping sound?

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Rice husks into electricity — A New Light in India

When we hear the word innovation, we often think of new technologies or silver bullet solutions — like hydrogen fuel cells or a cure for cancer. To be sure, breakthroughs are vital: antibiotics and vaccines, for example, transformed global health. But as we’ve argued in Fixes, some of the greatest advances come from taking old ideas or technologies and making them accessible to millions of people who are underserved.

One area where this is desperately needed is access to electricity. In the age of the iPad, it’s easy to forget that roughly a quarter of the world’s population — about a billion and a half people (pdf) — still lack electricity. This isn’t just an inconvenience; it takes a severe toll on economic life, education and health. It’s estimated that two million people die prematurely each year as a result of pulmonary diseases caused by the indoor burning of fuels for cooking and light. Close to half are children who die of pneumonia.

In vast stretches of the developing world, after the sun sets, everything goes dark. In sub-Saharan Africa about 70 percent of the population lacks electricity. However, no country has more citizens living without power than India, where more than 400 million people, the vast majority of them villagers, have no electricity. The place that remains most in darkness is Bihar, India’s poorest state, which has more than 80 million people, 85 percent of whom live in households with no grid connection. Because Bihar has nowhere near the capacity to meet its current power demands, even those few with connections receive electricity sporadically and often at odd hours, like between 3:00 and 6:00 a.m., when it is of little use.

This is why I’m writing today about a small but fast-growing off-grid electricity company based in Bihar called Husk Power Systems. It has created a system to turn rice husks into electricity that is reliable, eco-friendly and affordable for families that can spend only $2 a month for power. The company has 65 power units that serve a total of 30,000 households and is currently installing new systems at the rate of two to three per week. What’s most interesting about Husk Power is how it has combined many incremental improvements that add up to something qualitatively new — with the potential for dramatic scale. The company expects to have 200 systems by the end of 2011, each serving a village or a small village cluster. Its plan is to ramp that up significantly, with the goal of having 2,014 units serving millions of clients by the end of 2014.

The article continues on about the history of Husk Power, and its founder Gyanesh Pandey, its founder and his three friends Manoj Sinha, Ratnesh Yadav and Charles W. Ransler. It shares the twists of fortunes that led Pandey back to India from the United states where he’d prospered to eventually found Husk Power. They had a few false starts,

Back in India, he and his friend Yadav, an entrepreneur, spent the next few years experimenting. They explored the possibility of producing organic solar cells. They tried growing a plant called jatropha, whose seeds can be used for biodiesel. Both proved impractical as businesses. They tested out solar lamps, but found their application limited. “In the back of my mind, I always thought there would be some high-tech solution that would solve the problem,” said Pandey.

One day he ran into a salesman who sold gasifiers —machines that burn organic materials in an oxygen restricted environment to produce biogas, which can be used to power an engine. There was nothing new about gasifiers; they had been around for decades. People sometimes burned rice husks in them to supplement diesel fuel, which was expensive. “But nobody had thought to use rice husks to run a whole power system,” explained Pandey.

In Bihar, poverty is extreme. Pretty much everything that can be used will be used — recycled or burned or fed to animals. Rice husks are the big exception. When rice is milled, the outside kernel, or husk, is discarded. Because the husk contains a lot of silica, it doesn’t burn well for cooking. A recent Greenpeace study (See reference)) reports that Bihar alone produces 1.8 billion kilograms of rice husk per year. Most of it ends up rotting in landfills and emitting methane, a greenhouse gas. Pandey and Yadav began bringing pieces together for an electric distribution system powered by the husks. They got a gasifier, a generator set, filtering, cleaning and cooling systems, piping and insulated wiring. They went through countless iterations to get the system working: adjusting valves and pressures, the gas-to-air ratios, the combustion temperature, the starting mechanism. In they end, they came up with a system that could burn 50 kilograms of rice husk per hour and produce 32 kilowatts of power, sufficient for about 500 village households. Click on for the rest of the story.

By David Bornstein The New York Times, January 10, 2011

Empowering Bihar, Case Studies Bridging the Energy Deficit and Driving Change, Green Peace-India, October 29, 2010.

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It’s all About Civility and Attitude – Questioning climate change vs challenging nuclear power – A tidbit in passing.

This clipping came to me via a multi-contributor thread on Social Media, an information exchange site for those interested in accurate reporting of news about energy, climate change and associated factors. Unlike my usual practice, I provide no references, it’s a by invitation only group with a serious purpose of informing and sharing information for focused on media truth-telling and political accuracy (both oxymoron these days). There’s no Shakespeare on the site – no sound and fury signifying nothing, and I’ve found some great leads to some of my tidbits discussed therein. The recent debate about the Arizona shooting remined  me of this clip so I decided to share it with you. Read Charles’ feedback and think about it! By the way, just in case you didn’t know; bullets kill, not incivility. By the way AGW means Anthropogenic (man-made) global warming.

From: Charles
Subject: Re: [SocialMedia] American Geophysical Union [AGU] sets up climate change expert panel for news media To: “Social Media
Date: Monday, November 15, 2010
I asked a simple question and apparently it hit a nerve. Apparently, anyone who questions human-caused global warming (AGW) is an “attack on science and scientists” and is inappropriate. Excuse me, but I thought scientists are to question theories and demand backup. As a curious scientist, over the past three years, I decided to investigate the evidence behind the AGW theory. I have found that there is no credible scientific evidence that carbon dioxide significantly affects the climate. Anyone who takes the time to look at this issue in depth will conclude the same thing.
When people question the safety of nuclear reactors, do we accuse them of attacking science? Of course not, we provide them with the evidence.
AGW is not a proven scientific theory. It is a political agenda supported by those who want to control the world’s economy. How is this relevant to an honest discussion of the pros and cons of nuclear power? It is highly relevant because there are nuclear power supporters who are using AGW to promote the use of nuclear energy. When AGW is eventually shown to have no basis, then the credibility of these nuclear advocates will suffer. It is important to support nuclear energy because it is clean, compact, and very safe. The fact that it emits no carbon dioxide is nice but it should be at the bottom of the list.

Doc Sez, AGW is irrelevant and a smokescreen, as I will share my views on the subject (as have many others), in a future article. That not withstanding, some of the questions that should/could be unemotionally answered are previewed below:

  • Is climate change that leads to warming of the earth real?
  • Even if transient, a decade to two, what are the uncontrolled effects.
  • Will it likely continue to trend upward for the next 10-50 years?
  • How will these changes impact both the developed and aspiring nations?
  • Can we do anything to soften these impacts?
  • What the credible risks of inaction?

I leave the ‘should we’ questions to politicians, the media, Joan Q Public and to theologians and ethicists. Counting angels on the heads of pins is not my thing.

Remember governments can always choose change global climate today. We have the tools — the method is already well known and has been studied in detail. — It’s called Nuclear Winter… but that ignores the risks, and ethics, doesn’t it?

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
More to Read

Electric Car Information Blogs and More
Electric Vehicles — (Wikipedia)
EV Perspective —
Plugs and Cars Blog —
Plugin America —
Hybrid and Electric Car News —
Hybrid Car Blog —
Tesla Motors —
Toyota’s Advanced Vehicle Technology —
The Chevy Volt — and (Wikipedia)
The Nissan Leaf — and (Wikipedia)

Early Apple iPad Reviews

iPad vs. Everything Else by Harry McCracken, PC World, April 28, 2010;,195192/printable.html
Marketing Warfare: The iPad Battle, ROI HUNTERS Field Journal, Undated.
An iPad at the office: Can it work as a PC? By the InfoWorld Mobile Patrol Staff, August 17, 2010.
Dear Rabid Apple Fans: Your precious Mac club is being disbanded. Blame iPad. By Jason Perlow, ZDNET Tech Broiler, July 22, 2010.
Looking at the iPad From Two Angles by David Pogue, The New York Times, March 31, 2010.; and David Pogue’s Apple iPad FAQ’s, NY Times, April 1, 2010.
Life With The iPad: Enterprise Ready. By Fritz Nelson InformationWeek, April 24, 2010;jsessionid=0JDHCOMG0HI3NQE1GHPCKH4ATMY32JVN?articleID=224600123/
The iPad, Your Newest Workplace Productivity Enhancer, By Rich Jaroslovsky, Bloomberg Business Week, March 31, 2010.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – — – – – – – – – –

Copyright Notice: Product and company names and logos in this review may be registered trademarks of their respective companies.

Some of the articles listed in this column are copyright protected – their use is both acknowledge and is limited to educational related purposes, which this column provides.

Sources & Credits: — Many of these items were found by way of the links in the newsletter NewsBridge of ‘articles of interest’ to the national labs library technical and regulatory agency users. NewsBridge is electronically published by the Pacific Northwest National Laboratories, in Richland WA. If using NewsBridge as a starting point, I follow the provided link to the source of the information and edit its content (mostly by shortening the details) for information for our readers. I also both follow any contained links, where appropriate, in the actual article, and provide you those references as well as those gleaned from a short trip to Google-land. Obviously if my source is a magazine or blog that the material I work with.

In addition, when duplicating materials that I cite, I do not fill the material with quotation makes, the only place I keep quotes intact is where the original article ‘quotes’ another source. Remember, when Doc sticks his two bits in, its in italics and usually indented.

In Closing

I’ll be posting articles for your comfort and anger in the next few months. I never respond to flaming, but will take time to provide evidence in the form of both primary technical and secondary {magazine articles} references for those who ask. However, most of you can reach out and Google such information for your selves.

Readers Please Note — Read about my paradigms views, prejudices and snarky attitudes here.

Furthermore, many of the technologies I share still have to prove that they are reliable, durable and scalable — and if you Google them in detail, you will find studies saying they are capable of being commercialized and often as many other studies that are more skeptical. I find it always appropriate, as I read to step back and WIIFT – No it’s not something new to smoke; just the compulsion to ask what’s in it for them. It’s okay to have a hidden agenda, but agenda’s too hidden discomfort me.

I know, perhaps even truly believe, is this. For green energy related items, if we put a simple price (tax) on carbon (greenhouse gases) and gave out no subsidies, these new technologies would have a better chance to blossom. With American ingenuity, Indian and Chinese too, thousands more ideas would come out of innovators’ garages. America still has the best innovation culture in the world. But we need better policies to nurture it, better infrastructure to enable it and more open doors to bring others here to try it.

Remember, conditions, both technical and geopolitical continuously change – So if you’ve made up your mind about either the best way to go, or about it’s all a conspiracy, move on to the next article in our blog. Today’s favorite is tomorrow unintended consequence. However, that’s better than sticking one’s head in the sand or believing in perpetual motion. Remember, there’s no free lunch and as a taxpayer and consumer you must always end up paying the piper!

May your world get greener and all creatures on Earth become healthier and more able to fulfill their function in this Gaia’s world.

Harry, aka doc_Babad


Previous Greening Columns

By Mike Hubbartt, © Copyright 2011, All Rights Reserved.

A new update for Starry Night Pro and Starry Night Pro Plus is available today. Use the ‘Help/Check for Updates’ menu option to download and install the update. I updated Starry Night Pro Plus and did not see any glitches during the update nor after restarting SNPP.

I emailed Starry Night Support for a list of fixes in this update and they responded:

“There was only one bug fixed between 6.4.2 and 6.4.3, but it was deemed critical for several of our education customers.”

  • Planet shadow cones drawing errors were fixed.


Recently I’ve read that some Starry Night users discussing the ‘LiveSky/Show Photographic Image…’ menu option. This option is ghosted (not available) unless you zoom in on a deep space object. Below is a screen shot I took in Starry Night Pro Plus – I was checking out Saturn and noticed M16 (I typically spec the Messier object labels on), so I went there and zoomed in and the included photo (very nice detail) was displayed:

Very cool. I’ve also seen posts where there were questions about the inclusion of the SDSS in SNP. I asked Starry Night’s Support and this is what they said:

“We have not yet included support for the SDSS III (Sloan Digitized Sky Survey 3) because after doing some testing, we found that their download service was not yet reliable enough for us to consider adding it as a feature into SN.”

Good news, and hopefully the download service will improve soon.



For a bit of space-related humor (Mars rover attitude issues), check this out.



Tips regarding using Celestron telescopes and SNP 6.4 from Bob, who had this issue:

Problem: Go to the configure screen, selected Celestron, then tried to go to properties and all he saw was a message, “Failed To Load Driver : Cannot create ActiveX component”. He has a CG-5 which connects just fine to The Sky (using the same computer and cables).

Brenda from Starry Night solved the problem for Bob:
“Make sure you have the latest version of the ASCOM telescope driver platform and Celestron drivers. You can get them here:



Tip to address an unusual SNP bug known to affect Mac OSX users, courtesy of Kevin Schultz from Kevin recommended this approach to Konstantin, who confirmed it addressed the problem.

Problem: To address an unusual bug in SNP (know to affect Mac OSX users): When updating from inside the SNP program, the Program does not require the administrative rights in order to update the program in the Application folder. SNP tries to download the installer and notices that it can install and then gives you the message you see which is actually not happening!!

To update, try this first.

  1. Start SNP
  2. Check for Updates
  3. Choose just download
  4. Wait for the download to complete (that downloading is in progress in upper right corner of the window)
  5. Quit SNP
  6. Open the SNP folder in the Applications folder(Program) !
  7. Open the folder Standalone updaters
  8. Double-Click on the latest Updater



The azimuth in the HUD is read in hours, not degrees. How is that changed? Per Stan Glaser from

Preferences > Number Formats > Azimuth (hh or ddd° in one of the variations presented)

– Mike

By Mike Hubbartt, © Copyright 2011-2017, All Rights Reserved.

Pluto Facts:

  • Location: Mostly beyond the orbit of Neptune
  • Size: smaller than the 8 planets, smaller than Eris, and smaller than our moon
  • Orbit: 29 – 49 AU (average 39 AU)
  • Orbital Period: 247.92 Julian years *
  • Average Distance from Earth: 40.7 AUs *
  • Diameter: 2,274 km
  • Discovered: 1930 by Clyde W. Tombaugh
  • Atmosphere: Little is known, but probably nitrogen, CO, methane
  • Interesting facts: it was reclassified as a dwarf planet in 2006
  • Total number of moons: 4 (Charon, Nix, Hydra, and P4)
  • Click here for Wolfram|Alpha data on Pluto

* = Courtesy of Wolfram Astronomy Assistant

I’ve already covered the four gas giants, so now it is time to turn our attention and Starry Night Pro Plus software to Pluto. Pluto enjoyed planetary status from 1930 (when discovered by Tombaugh) until 2006, when it was reclassified as a dwarf planet. There are several known dwarf planets, some in the kuiper belt region and one (Ceres) in the asteroid belt that was previously considered to be an asteroid.

Pluto is so far away that even the Hubble telescope has difficulties getting good quality images. Fortunately the New Horizons mission (click here to read about the location of the probe on 1/18/2011) took loads of great pictures when it passed Pluto in 2015. Launched in 2006, this mission is still exciting as it is on the way to some planets in the Oort Cloud.  While there have been discussions about reclassifying Pluto as a planet, our first visit to a dwarf planet was a major accomplishment for NASA.

Update: July 11, 2017

The first picture I downloaded from the 7-15-2015 approach to Pluto.  It is an amazing image, and the New Horizons probe gathers a lot of data that took over a year to send back to Earth, as there was so much and in such great detail.  We’ve never had images like this of Pluto, and I hope this inspires NASA to schedule another probe with higher definition cameras for the outer planets and dwarf planet Pluto.


Update: July 20, 2011

A new moon of Pluto was announced by NASA on Twitter today. P4 was discovered using the Hubble Telescope and the picture of it, as well as Pluto and the other 3 moons is shown below:

Update: June 24, 2011

Click here for some excellent information plus a nice picture of the June 23, 2011 SOFIA Pluto Occulation. End of update

This is a screen shot of Pluto and Charon taken with Starry Night Pro Plus 6.4.2 on 1/19/2011:

Since I showed how planets look from nearby moons for the gas giants, I might as well do the same for Pluto.First of all, this image of Charon was taken in Starry Night Pro Plus:

Here is Pluto as seen from Charon:

Here is Charon as seen from Pluto:

The status of Pluto does not detract from the impressive accomplishments of our scientists to send a probe so far away to gather and return data about this mostly unknown part of our solar system. Who knows when we will send another probe out to the Kuiper belt region of the solar system? Space vessel propulsion systems are being examined  – new technologies may result in another mission sooner rather than later. But then, we do need another mission to the asteroid belt, so the future of space exploration looks bright indeed.



7-11-2017 – Added new image of Pluto, plus updated content to show New Horizons has passed Pluto and is proceeding on to the Oort Cloud for the next phase of its mission.

6-24-2011 – Added Orbital Period Data, Average Distance to Earth, plus reference to June 23, 2011 SOFIA Occulation.

2-14-2011 – Added names of all moons.

By Mike Hubbartt, © Copyright 2011, All Rights Reserved.

Starry Night version 6.4.2 is available as of today. I downloaded and installed it for Starry Night Pro Plus and had no errors during or after the update.

Per an email I received from Starry Night Support on 1/19/2011, this update has the following bug fixes:

  • Crash when printing on OS X.
  • Graph View problems (OpenGL Init problem. OS X.)
  • Calculation of Delta-T for years -500 to 500 was incorrect.
  • FOV indicators now update/draw in the sky if time flow is off.
  • Image Editor “Background Reduction” slider added. Fixes background reduction not working.
  • Constellation Stick Figures not drawing correctly in 3D space when a single constellation is selected.
  • Removed confusing application update message on startup when no data updates requested.

Click here to see our information on the next release (6.4.3) of Starry Night.

On a separate note, I really enjoy reading the Starry Night Times, which is their monthly newsletter. Click here to subscribe to it.

By Harry {doc} Babad, © Copyright 2011, All Rights Reserved.

Contextual Menus — A Tool Macintosh users too often miss

Responsible Macintosh Safe, Secure and Polite Macin’ — Things You Should Know or Practice


Several months ago I had the pleasure of making a presentation on contextual menus [CM] to the Mid-Columbia Macintosh user group here in the Tri-Cities Washington area. A contextual menu offers a range (often limited) set of choices that are available in the current state, or context, of the operating system or application. Because Apple blessed us with the one-button mouse, unlike our PC/Windows colleagues, we’re not as tuned to using the extra feature the Macintosh OS has made available for ‘right-clinkers.’

I, as I browse shareware offerings have found additional CM goodies easily accessible via my two-button Logitech scrolling mouse. All these and more are grist for what follows. Oh, don’t have a two-button mouse, Apple makes one or three, sort-of, try an option-click! See Note 1 for more specific details.

Note that in the graphic samples I have included, are only a samples, of two different selections from the same general environment (e.g., Finder Windows, MSW 2011 {this article} DEVONthink and a PDF of a Recipe.) So explore, you enjoy the new flexibility CM’s give you every day Macintosh work tasks.

CM Options — A Recipe PDF

MSW CM Image Optio

Contextual Menus Revealed

In some ways the Macintosh operating system reminds me of two medieval rabbis <scholars> discussing a line or paragraph of the Old Testament. Then and perhaps even now there were at least three alternatives for each ‘reading.’ And of course all of this invisible to the common rabbinical-Torah student.

Similarly, for the Macintosh there are at least 3 ways of working with files/folders/actions whether in the Finder or often (if supported) in other applications.

We all know and have gotten comfortable with a menu bar, tool bars in applications like the Finder and MSWord} and of course keyboard short cuts. There are also the added choice of using the Apple dock and when visible the open/active window sidebar. Huh, I always hide my sidebar in open finder windows, making them visible only if I have to do a sidebar-oriented task.

But there’s a faster more focused and faster way, in many cases, to deal with desired ‘short-cut’ actions while you work in a context specific way — Save time, spare your wrists and your mind from extra work — use contextual menus where they are available.

The tool you use on a 2-button mouse is a right hand click.) On Apple’s one-button mice, a bit more fuss, but still easy, an Option Key-Mouse Click. When this works, at the place where your mouse’s pointer is ‘hovering’, Shazam, a menu that focuses only the actions/options available to you magically appears.

That menu will change as the CONTEXT of what you are doing changes. It will focus ONLY on what you can-are allowed-to do from that point (location) in your work.

If you don’t yet use these tools, you will be surprised to know that contextual menus can provide unexpected useful features. For example, in Safari, a contextual menu can be used to easily view or print a web page or to view the source code (HTML code) of any web page. In addition, there are excellent free contextual menu plug-ins for Mac OS X 10.4 to OS X 10.6 that can be added to Mac OS X to let you easily view images, launch applications or organize files. I’ve share a few of my favorites later in  this article.

Like standard menus, contextual menus are sometimes hierarchically organized <think outline view>, allowing navigation through different levels of the menu structure. The implementations differ: Microsoft Word was one of the first applications to only show sub-entries of some menu entries after clicking an arrow icon on the context menu, otherwise executing an action associated with the parent entry. This makes it possible to quickly repeat an action with the same actions (parameters of the previous execution), and to better separate options from actions.

  • What are they and where are they hidden?
  • Apple’s OS X Contributions
  • Share/Free Ware CMs
  • My Favorite Access Tool – Fruit Menu

So, What Are CM’s?

In Mac OS X, when you hold the Ctrl key down and click an item (e.g., an icon or window), a pop-up menu appears. It is called a contextual menu because its contents depend on the item you click; the menu features a list of commands you can perform relative to, or within the context of, the item you click. For example, if you Ctrl-click a file icon, you can choose to open it, open Get Info or an Info window about it, give it a label, duplicate it, or make an alias of it. Other items will give you different menu options. Contextual menus appear with most items in the Finder, but won’t necessarily be available in other applications.

On systems that support one-button mice, the original and mist recent Apple Mice, contextual menus are typically opened by pressing and holding the primary mouse button (most often on one the icons in the Dock on Mac OS X) or more usually by pressing a keyboard/mouse button combination (e.g. Ctrl-mouse click in Mac OS); see Note 1.

Usually the available choices are actions directly related to the selected object. Most often, these are more focused ways of achieving a usual menu bar action, but accessed faster and with less mousing around, clicking and scrolling. However, if short-cuts are assigned to selected menu based actions, the keyboard short cut is faster. But who want to cram hundreds of shortcuts into their memory.

Actually there was, years ago, a CM for collecting shortcuts. I seem to have discarded it along the way of moving through OS upgrades. Any who can find it, please provide feedback in our comments window.

Macintosh OS X CM Actions///Try them out – Try accessing the CM’s in the following environments and see both what you get and how the difference CM differ in their choices based on where you mouse is pointed.

FinderIcon View on the Desk Top 

  • Document –
  • Folder –
  • Folder Alias –
  • Document Alias –
  • Background –
  • Link –
  • Get Info (Spotlight Comments)
Other Finder Windows 

Sidebar – No action

Main Window Area –

– List View

– Icon View

– Column View

Peek-a-Boo, see what you get!

Application Documents 

Open Apple “TextEdit” File

Open PDF File (Acrobat)

– Text

– Image

Open PDF File (Apple’s Preview)

GraphicConverter – Only a few universal ‘moves’

Safari –


Desktop Finder — Selected Folder

Desktop Finder Window-No Selection

CM of a Folder in a Finder Window

Other Share/Free Ware CMs I Find Useful

FruitMenu — My Favorite ‘super’ Haxie <Utility> FruitMenu is a haxie that gives you the ability to customize the Apple Menu and contextual menus. There’s more focused CM tools listed below.

Shareware and Freeware With Which I Work
A Better Finder Context Menu 



CopyPastePro Contextual Menu *

DEVONthink CM *

Doc Merge 2.4.1 *



PrintWindowCM *

Shortcuts 2.0.1


* Part of a parent application

These CMs and others can be found on the MacUpdate Site [

Shareware Item Details:

  • A Better Finder Attributes 4., Context Menu — A Better Finder Attributes allows you to change file and photo dates and times, as well as other useful file attributes that the Finder won’t let you touch. Quickly change the following file attributes: modification date and time, creation date and time, batch adjust the Exchangeable Image File (EXIF) time & date that JPEG pictures were shot to compensate for time zones or incorrectly set camera clocks, set the file creation date to the time that a digital camera picture was taken, lock or unlock the file (prevents the name and the contents of the file to be modified, set the Mac OS 9-style creator & type codes, show or hide the file extension for particular files.
  • ClipToIconCM 1.0 — ClipToIconCM is a contextual menu plug-in which adds custom icons to files using pictures on the clipboard.Suppose you have a file with a generic icon and you want to add an icon that conveys more information on the file’s contents. You can add a custom icon to this file using ClipToIconCM by first putting an image file on the clipboard. For example, you could use your web browser to find a web page with the desired graphic and then use “Command-Control-Shift-4” to select a portion of the screen to “capture” to the clipboard.
  • ClipToWebCM 1.0.3 — ClipToWebCM is a service application and contextual menu plug-in which tries to open the currently selected text (or clipboard contents if there is no selection) as a URL in your default web browser. Of course this isn’t anything a copy and paste operation can’t achieve, but it’s quicker. It’s also more versatile than the “Open URL” contextual menu item since it doesn’t require a full URL. (Note: As of version 1.0.2 the selection can also be a Finder file or folder; the text will be the name of the object.)
  • FilePathCM 1.2 — FilePathCM is a contextual menu, menu bar item and service for copying the:POSIX path, URL encoded POSIX path, Server afp URL, Abbreviated (Tilde) POSIX path, POSIX path for Terminal, HFS path and more
  • MoveCM 1.2 — MoveCM is a menu bar application, service and contextual menu item for moving, copying, aliasing, hard linking and archiving (zip compressing) files and folders quickly into common folders. i.e. without the need to drag and drop them, use aliases, etc. It is a generalization of the Finder’s “Move to Trash” contextual menu item, you can apply it to any folder you like. Use the System Preference pane to specify destination folders. The menu bar application or contextual menu will then consist of menu items that correspond to these destinations. Control click on one or more files and/or folders in the Finder, select a destination from the menu, and the files and/or folders will be moved (copied, archived) to that destination. You have the option, specified in the preference pane, to have the destination folder opened for you after the operation completes. You also have the option of having the menu items in the contextual menu named after the destination folder, or by its pathname.
  • PrintWindow CM 4.1 — Print Window offers the ability to print a file listing directly from within the Mac OS X Finder. No more taking screenshots of windows or settling for text-only printouts of filenames only. Print Window provides the works: icons, file information, sorting and so much more!
  • ShortCuts CM 2.0.1 — Shortcuts is a Mac OS X application to assign hot keys to contextual menu items. Version 2.0 also allows you to display a menu with items added by CM plug-ins. Since Apple removed contextual menu plug-ins support for 64 bit applications in Mac OS 10.6, Shortcuts is currently the only known way to use contextual menu plug-ins in 64 bit applications.
  • WordDumpCM 1.0.9 — WordDump is an application, contextual menu and service for extracting all the words from documents. Supported document formats include Text, PDF, MS Word, HTML and RTF. The WordDump service, available from the Services menu, also counts the characters and words in files and text selection. These menu items are called “Count Characters” and “Count Words.” You may need to turn on the option to display the service menu items in the Services Preferences of System Preferences.

DEVONthink File Item CM  

DEVONthink CM of a Found ‘Search” Item

Final Thoughts

Contextual menus are a great way to do things faster and more efficiently on your Mac. They also give you some added functionality to programs, while just giving you easier access to frequently used commands in others. Overall, I find contextual menus to be quite useful and periodically check MacUpdate site for new ones. <Note: I’m much less enamored with the Apple related services menu which I’ve not yet mastered and which my favorite applications do not support – More about that in a future article.>  If you haven’t considered using them, try them out- you just may start asking yourself how you could have lived without them.

References and Notes

More About Contextual Menus,

The Apple Macintosh’s Keyboard Option Key – Wikipedia

Contextual Menus, Wikipedia.

Note 1.

On systems that support one-button mice, context menus are typically opened by pressing and holding the primary mouse button (this works on the icons in the Dock on Mac OS X) or by pressing a keyboard/mouse button combination (e.g. Ctrl-mouse click in Mac OS). A keyboard alternative for Mac OS is to enable Mouse keys in Universal Access. Then, depending on whether a laptop or compact or extended keyboard type is used, the shortcut is Function + Ctrl + 5 or Ctrl + 5 (numeric keypad) or Function + Ctrl + i (laptop). [Wikipedia,]

AppendicesMore Than You Wanted To Know

For Lawyers and Philosopher Only! — A context menu (also called contextual, shortcut, and popup or pop-up menu) is a mouse-click activated menu in a graphical user interface (GUI) that appears when implemented by the user, It works by using a right mouse click or middle mouse click to operate.

The Gobblygook {double-speak c/o Wikipedia} Definition A context menu (also called contextual, shortcut, and popup or pop-up menu) is a “Mouse Activated pop-up menu in a graphical user interface (GUI) like the Macintosh OX that appears upon user interaction, such as a right mouse click or more rarely a middle click within a mouse operation. A context menu offers a specific limited set of choices that are available in the current state, or context, of the operating system or application. Usually the available choices are actions related to the selected object or “window.

More Complexities You May Not Need — A keyboard alternative for Mac OS is to enable Mouse keys in Universal Access. Then, depending on whether a laptop or compact or extended keyboard type is used, the shortcut is <Function + Ctrl + 5> or <Ctrl + 5 on a numeric keypad> or <Function + Ctrl + i on a laptop.>

Snow-Leopard CM Limits CM’s to 64 Bit Mode Only. — I don’t know what that statement means but all of my CM’s including ones dating back to 2007 seem to work just fine.

Acknowledgements: Unless otherwise noted I have provided the referenced source of the contents in these articles. I also found in my many notes I’ve stashed for future articles, that certain themes keep coming up, that parallel what I’ve read or practiced.  In many cases I have acknowledged as well as modified the original document(s) to personalize their content for our readers.

As needed the information provided was created, and as appropriate demonstrated on my iMac 2.8 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo with 2 GB installed 667 MHz DDR2 SDRAM running the latest Snow Leopard Mac OS X version with all current security updates installed.

Copyright Notice: Product and company names and logos in this review may be registered trademarks of their respective companies. Some of the articles listed in this column contain materials that are copyright protected – their use is both acknowledge and is limited to educationally related purposes, which this column provides.

By Ted Bade, © Copyright 2011, All Rights Reserved.

If you have computer-controlled telescope and a decent Astronomy program, it’s a good idea to connect them. Astronomy software makes it easier to search and locate celestial bodies, plus it provides a lot more information about objects you might want to observe. Making the connection between your telescope and software is easy, and the results are rewarding. I will share a little of my experience and hopefully you will to give it a try.

First of all, I have a Meade LXD75 6″ telescope, which includes  a Meade Autostar controller. I use a Macintosh MacBook Pro laptop and for software I have Starry Night Pro Plus. Although the telescope’s computer does include a lot of objects in it’s database, I have had a number of issues with it over the years. The biggest one is that finding an object in it’s database is clunky and it provides little information as to where the object currently is, until you select it and find it won’t be in the sky until next winter!

With Starry Night Pro Plus, you get a simulated view of your sky, as it is right now, or how it will be tonight when you are out with your telescope. You can look at the screen and decide if an object is available for viewing or if it is occluded by a tree, the horizon, or other objects. Using the software during the day to make an observing plan for the night is always a good idea. We will take a look at connecting a Meade Autostar to Starry Night Pro Plus. The process described in this object works with other telescopes and even with other software packages.

Connecting the telescope’s computer to the laptop requires a bit of communication hardware. I expect, as time goes on, this will become easier and easier as amateur astronomy with a laptop becomes more popular. For now, we have to do a bit of engineering, but it’s simple and works well. The issue is that the Meade Autostar computer includes an older serial output while most computers (and especially Macs) only provide USB as a serial interface. The cable connection to the Autostar is a standard telephone connector.

This is an image from Wikipedia ( This connector provides typical serial communication data (known as RS232). (If you want more detail on RS232, go here: ( On the computer end we have a USB connector. So to make the connection you need to find a way to convert USB to older serial and a way to change the connection to that found on the Autostar. This is easily done.

Note: even if you are working with a Windows machine that includes an older serial connection, you will need to interface the telephone connection on the Autostar to the standard DB9 connection. (For an image of a DB9 connection look at: ) The description for connecting to the USB port includes all the part you need to do this.

For converting USB to older serial, you can purchase a USB to serial adaptor. Several companies make them. The only important factor is that the computer you are using recognizes the adaptor. They are relatively inexpensive, generally under $30USD. I use one made by Keyspan. You will note that this adaptor has a standard USB connector on one side and a DB9 “male” connector on the other. The next item you will need is an adaptor to connect the DB9 output of the USB to serial adaptor to the telephone like connector of the telescope.

The LXD75 package I purchased from Meade included the adaptor, since the package includes some rudimentary software to connect the scope to a computer. If you don’t have this adaptor, a kit for connecting the telescope computer to a laptop is available from various astronomy supply stores. Alternatively, you can buy a kit that lets you build one and assembly is easy. You will however, need to find out which wires from the telescope computer need to connect to the wires going to the USB serial adaptor. I am not going to try to explain this process, since it can be a bit involved.

This might sound a little complex, but it isn’t. A USB cable from laptop to USB/serial adaptor, module to convert DB9 to telephone, then a longer telephone cable to connect to the Autostar’s Auxiliary connection (It’s the smaller of the two on the bottom of the Autostar.

With cables in hand, it’s time to take the scope and laptop outside for a night of observing. The Autostar will “tell” Starry Night where the scope it pointed,  so it is important to align the Autostar before connecting it to the laptop. For me, this part of setting up the telescope is the most time consuming, because I want it right. It can be frustrating trying to find a deep space object when looking in a part of the sky that is even little off from where it should be.

Note: A professional astronomer would use other means to locate an object, like guiding stars and general positions. This article is intended for amateur astronomers who want to use their Autostar devices with a laptop.

The LXD75 has what is called a German Equatorial mount. The first important step for aligning the telescope is to get it pointed exactly north and make sure it is level, then align the telescope with the sky. The Autostar offers two and three star alignment. I try to use the three star alignment when possible. This can be frustrating to people in the NorthEast US with lots of hills and trees. Often several of the stars the Autostar want’s to use for alignment are occluded by trees or houses. I know my yard and have a few “sweet’ spots that make it easier to align the telescope (at certain times of the year). I suggest that you check out the sky at your observation site before setting up the telescope. You might find a position that favors easier alignment. Other types of telescopes have other methods of alignment.

Once the alignment process is complete, you can connect your package of adaptors and cables to the laptop running Starry Night. After this is done, select the “Telescope” tab then click on the “Configure” button at the top of it’s Setup section. A menu opens asking you to select your communication port and your telescope type. On the standard MacBook Pro, there is a built in Bluetooth port, which will be on this menu. You should also see the USB/Serial adaptor you have plugged in. I see two items on my Mac: one is called KeySerial1 and the other is USA19H1d1P1.1 (This number is the model number of the adaptor). I usually select the USA19H1d1P1.1. Next select the telescope type. The Starry Night list doesn’t include my LDX75, but it does have a Meade ETX Autostar, which works fine with the Autostar on my LDX75. The menu lists telescopes by other manufacturers as well. I keep hoping that Meade will modify this list to either include the LXD75 or change the ETX Autostar to just Meade Autostar to reduce confusion.

If everything was done correctly, you now have Starry Night connected to the Autostar. The Starry Night display should change to reflect where the telescope is centered. If you haven’t moved it since you completed the alignment, Starry Night should be centered on your last alignment star. If the Starry Night display doesn’t move, move down to the bottom of the “Telescope” tab and be sure that the  “Follow Scope” check box is clicked. If it is not clicked, when you turn on this feature, the Starry Night display show move to center on the object the telescope is centered on.

Now, you should be able to right click on an object in the Starry Night screen and tell your telescope control to center on the object. In theory at least. Do not think that the alignment is precise. It might be, but more then likely it is close or just in the general area. There are many factors that can go wrong when aligning the telescope and plenty more can alter the alignment after the alignment process is complete. Luckily, using Starry Night is a great benefit when alignment isn’t perfect. So unless you have perfect alignment, the object you seek to observe will be somewhere in the field of view, rarely in the center of the view. Before you start increasing the power of your eyepiece, you should locate and center the object.

Some objects are obvious using a low powered eyepiece. But many fainter ones might not easily be seen until you have a higher powered eyepiece. In any case, when you you are looking for something in the center of the view and it is off to the left, you might never find it! Because Starry Night displays the sky, you can use the image on the screen to guide you to the object you are trying to view. Look at the Starry Night display noting the sky around the object of interest. There are probably some stars making a pattern nearby. If you can find them in the scopes eyepiece, you can make small adjustments to the scopes position to better center the objects location.

One very useful feature of Starry Night Pro Plus is a feature that lets you create different “Field of View” settings. The program comes with some sample ones, but I created a set that includes my 6” Meade telescope and several of my eyepieces. Using this feature I can change the field of view to match the 26mm Plossl that I typically use as the first eyepiece. If I do this, while centered on the object, I can get a view of the sky as it should look through that eyepiece. This makes it even easier to find a guiding star pattern to improve the position of the telescope. Once you do find and center on the object, you can make a correction to the alignment by telling Starry Night that the current position of the scope is really where the object is. The view on the screen will center on the object and future searches will be easier.

During observation sessions, I generally, turn the “Follow Scope” button off. I let Starry Night show me the position of the next object on my list, then slew the telescope to it. Sometimes, I will search the Starry Night display for objects of interest, then slew the scope to see them. One problem with an observing list is the timing. I might have to wait for an object to rise above the trees or a building.

The final aspect of this process, is good observing and creating a log of your observations: another good use for StarryNight. It provides the ability to make an observation log entry which can include your personal thoughts, the equipment you used (as well as the strength of the eyepiece), and the conditions of the sky. It’s fun to keep a log of the objects you view, making note of anything you notice that is special, then comparing this at a later date.

There is a Bluetooth based option which I have seriously considered but haven’t tried yet. This device plugs into the Meade Autostar and creates a Bluetooth connection to the Laptop. The big advantage of this is that there are no cables laying on the ground which you have to remember to avoid when moving about and that the computer controlling the telescope doesn’t have to be right next to the scope. Perhaps someday I will give it a try.

I hope this helps you. If you have any questions, you are welcome to contact me here.

– Ted