Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas

Just a pretty video that came out earlier this month, but figured it was a good Christmas "ornament" type thing with the cool graphics.  Can never go wrong with Carl Sagan anyway.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Sunny day - primed and painted. paint

Coat of primer.
After the cold spell of weather the last couple weeks, then a windstorm, we got a somewhat warm and sunny day that was in the mid-50s.  Warm enough to put some paint on the pier.
The thing is a beast to drag out of the hangar, but managed to "walk" it out and put on a tarp to paint.
First a layer of primer - the pain said it wasn't needed, but couldn't hurt anyway.  Then I sprayed it with a 'textured' black paint that gives it a smooth but bumpy texture.  It turned out nice!  The second photo doesn't show the color too well since the sun was behind a tree and was getting dark.


Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Motors installed and pier constructed.

Power supply (right)
Dome control (with open door)
Now that there is power to the observatory the motors for rotating the dome were installed.   The two motors were mounted as well as the power supply box and the dome control circuit.   I put the to electrical boxes in the same orientation as they were in the old observatory - mainly since the wires were already cut to right length to reach both motors from that location.
One of the motors. 
Last weekend one of our neighbors that I met in the local EAA group helped me weld together the parts for the pier.   He had some good ideas also that he contributed to the construction.   He had some scrap metal with a 90 degree bend in it that was a very nice fit (after cutting to shape) which worked out very nicely for a support on the top of the pier.  This will easily allow a wrench in under the mount to tighten wedge onto the top of the pier and make needed adjustments if needed later.   I should add that a plasma cutter is one of the coolest tools. Ever.  I got a chance to try his out, and it was amazing how easily it cut through solid steel.  It's like "lightning in a hose"!
I bought some primer and paint for the pie
r, so next thing is to paint the thing to keep it from getting rusty.

Very solid pier.  I don't think vibration should
be a problem - just dragging it out will!  (ready to paint).

Friday, November 14, 2014

Comet landing.

A break due to power outages and 2 full days of cold weather - causing me to miss some shows to record about the Philae landing on the comet.  Anyway, I did stream NASA TV through my iPhone the other day on the way to work and heard the excitement when Philae confirmed the landing on comet 67 (I won't try to spell out the "official" name of that ice ball!).
An arm's distance view of a comet.  Wow!
Once there was confirmation of landing, I did shout a "Woo hoo!!" when hearing the ESA team cheering. This stuff to me is so much more exciting than what most people get thrilled about - football.  Bleah!
Today it seems that Philae has gone to sleep due to landing in a dark area and running down the batteries due to a lack of light on the solar panels.  It seems that the general public says "what a failure!" but the space geeks all know this was a historical moment in space exploration. We intercepted a comet, going 41,000mph, 317 million miles away to gentry -drop- a lander on the surface.  Freaking amazingly awesome coolness if you ask me!
The surface mission was shortened, but data was sent back to Rosetta.
Congratulations to the ESA Rosetta team.   Well done!

Sunday, November 9, 2014


"Power transfer is complete - we're on internal power with the launch vehicle at this time."  
-- Public Affairs Officer (PAO) Jack King (Apollo 11)

Power - the light comes on!
It's been a few weeks since any progress has been done on the observatory.  I blame the darkness now that daylight savings has ended, frustration with work, and the commute home in the dark.  Kind of a motivation destroyer.   We took 2 days off work last week and completed a very nice 4 day weekend, so I was motivated to get the power connected today.
All worked well the first try once the cable were connected and the outlet wired in.  Flipped the breaker in the house - poof - we have power!  No big blue spark or anything.
House power comes up through the conduit. 
The weeks of digging that horrible trench, laying conduit, cussing, bleeding, sweating and wondering what I got into - all paid off when I saw the light come on.  Yay!
I attached three more outlets (one on each wall) that will be wired in next from the white cable seen over on the right of the photo.
Soon, I'll hook up the dome motors and the controlling electronics.  This is another big step forward from the last observatory which I shamefully powered with 2 extension cords for about 10 years that it was in operation.  Like I said before, I've learned from my past mistakes and improve on this one.

Looks like a cozy shack doesn't it?

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Dome tightened and tarp free.

This afternoon I put in some more nuts and bolts around the inside of the dome where all the parts come together.   I had them all just finger-tight and had to loosen them and jiggle things around to get all  (ok - most) of the holes to like up.   All the holes were drilled by the previous owner of the dome, so it took some work to get them all lined up and bolted together.
It was another stormy day today with showers, wind and even a bit of thunder.  I was out there working on the inside during a heavy shower and didn't notice any major leaks, so I figured I'd ditch the ugly tarp and see how it goes.  I still have to squirt RTV in the seams and maybe try some foam sealant in some of the bigger gaps, but I'll need a dry day.
Tarp on.

Tarp off - after proving it was fairly water tight.

Sunday, October 19, 2014


I spent most of today (we had a nice sunny 70+ degree day on Oct. 19!) painting the observatory since this is possibly the last dry day for a while if the forecast holds true.  I spent about 6 hours painting the observatory and pretty much got it done.  I think the walls could use another coat, but for now it's fine.  Maybe in the spring (or if we get another dry day) I could put some more paint on it. 
The next task is to seal up the gaps in the dome, add some new screws and get it all tightened down and water tight.  Then the tarp will come off and we can call the main structure done.   Door still needs to be completed too. 
Traci was doing some work on the roof today and got a "low aerial" shot of it.  We designed it so it matches the house and the existing shed.

Front.  This was before the roof trim was painted.

Notice it matches the house and shed on the ramp. 

Siding - just a few short.

Oops.   Just 4 pieces short. 
I screwed up a cut on one of the 12 foot Hardiplank siding pieces.  WHY did I cut it to 43 inches when I did measure 73 inches?  I don't know, I just totally failed the "measure twice, cut once" rule - badly.   Anyway, even if I did cut it right, we only get 1 piece out of each 12 foot chunk anyway since it's slightly more than 1/2 the plank.  No matter what, it was still short 4 planks anyway.
At trip to Home Depot again with the Corolla "truck".  Twelve foot, fragile, floppy planks just won't drag behind the car nicely, so we had to improvise with some parking lot cuts to make it all fit.

Using the Home Depot public curb workbench.
These had to fit in the car behind me!

Monday, October 13, 2014

Full size door shortened to 4 feet tall.

Since we build the observatory low (yes, there is plenty of headroom inside) we had to make a smaller "Hobbit" door from a full sized door.   We looked for something at a window/door salvage yard nearby but they wanted a lot of $$ to cut the door.  Home Depot had steel doors pre-hung on a frame, so that was the answer - shorten it ourselves!
Reducing the door
The top hinges were in the right place, so those stayed.  The frame was cut down and reassembled to the 4 foot rough opening height of the door opening.  Then the fun of cutting the steel door.  To make a long story short, just look at this web site on how to do it.  Pretty much what we did, but used a chisel rather than a router.  
Door frame in place.  It's proper style to wear an "Astronomer"
t-shirt when building an observatory. 
It all fit nicely when done!  The frame was mounted and then the door fell right in place.  The doorknob holes will be filled/covered with a kick plate later.  A hole will be made for deadbolt on the top of the door - probably get an electronic keyless thing with buttons. More on that later - I'll have photos of the process when it happens. 

It fits perfectly!  

I stood on a chair, for this photo. It's a short door, but
plenty of headroom inside. 

Window and siding (most of it) done.

Last weekend we spent a bunch of time cutting the siding and installing around the window and the wall on the west side.  I did get some of it done after work, but the time is getting so short with the early sunset these days.
It was all pretty easy, but took some careful cutting to make the siding fit around the bottom of the window.  The dome is still full of gaps and will leak when it rains this week, I'll leave that up there until I get the sealant done and the rest of the screws installed to hold it together.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Two walls of siding installed.

This morning we wake up to sunny skies and look out the bedroom window and see something out there  - an observatory dome!  Also, we saw a deer out in the yard nibbling on stuff on our grass.  Just another cool indication that we aren't living in the city anymore.
Dome, a deer, a male deer....
Another nice sunny day, sunscreen needed since we were out back all day in the sun. Today it was time to start installing the trim on the corners and the siding.  I was hoping to get all 4 sides done, but we had a learning curve to deal with when installing the Hardi plank siding.  Kind of weird stuff, reminds me of glued sawdust with cement mixed in.  Better quality than Ikea furniture, but but probably just as fragile. 
I look like a dork, but probably how I usually look after
whacking my finger with a hammer.  First side is done. 
I was really hoping to have all four sides done with the siding this weekend, but we just ran out of daylight once again.  We got the last siding plank installed after sunset in the dark on the back side of the observatory.  After it gets dark watch where you are hammering,  whacked my finger pretty good in the dark with the hammer and had Tracy pass me a cuss jar to fill. Ouch. 
Next week - probably buy a door with a frame and modify it for the 4ft tall doorway.  We are probably stuck until next weekend until we get the rest of the siding done.  
Work has a way of getting in the way of pretty much anything important.  
The last piece before sunset installed.

Wrapped and dome installed.

Window is in.
We had another rare sunny and nice October weekend this week. Temps in the mid-70s.  Again we did more work on the observatory, getting it closer to being completed - at least on the outside.
Window was installed after work last week in the brief daylight we have left in the early evening.
Yesterday we got the weatherproofing tar paper on the walls and got the dome installed.
Take the tarp off, and get dumped on!
It was a short and heavy shower.
The dome is just put up finger-tight right now, I'll need to get a few more nuts and bolts of the stainless-steel type, and a few springs that were rusting and leaving ugly stains on the dome.
The dome flange needed a little coaxing (and yes, a little cussing - that's a requirement with anything with astronomy) to get it all lined up on the flange.
With some tweaking and nudging, it fit on the square
support pretty well. 
Ring around the dome, and wrapped walls
Half dome installed. 
Once the flange was up, the dome ring with the roller wheels was next.   This was easy, but it always takes a lot of tweaking to get the rolling ring to line up and not stick in certain parts.  The dome halves went in easy enough, but will require some adjustments as expected to get a good smooth rotation.   Always a pain...I think I  mentioned that already?
I spent all of Saturday working on the dome install and other things with Traci's help.  She did all the tar paper while I was up on top.
Our shortening days (Sunset around 6:45) is really making this a race before darkness to get done.  As seen in the last photo, darkness doesn't stop me from the last few adjustments!

At least I'm on a short ladder this time.  The last observatory
I was balanced dangerously on top of the "don't step here" step
on the step ladder.   

Just one more attachment do to before putting tools away for
the night!

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Astro-shack now has a roof.

After the marathon build of the roof panels, tar paper and shingles yesterday, we had 3 out of 4 of the roof sides done.  Today we had the procedure figured out pretty well and the final side was done this morning.  We got the edge shingles installed also and they look quite nice!
Traci had to finish the top shingles along the top square since I had to go into work for a few hours and assist with a software upgrade  *ugh*.
I made it home before dark and we worked on a raised edge that the dome flange will sit on, and some flashing for the joint between the dome and roof.   More photos of that later.
Rain forecast the next few days, so it's tarped over again.  Probably not enough daylight after work now to get much done, but next weekend's forecast is looking ok so far.  I'm hoping to have the dome in place and get started on the siding and maybe have that done.
Our engineering of the roof worked.  No inside support is needed. 

Close up view of the roof along the corner. 

Roof done, now the dome is next.  

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Roof nearly completed.

Traci and I did a marathon build today.  Our good friend Ryan even came down to assist with cutting wood for roof panels and measuring twice before I cut once.  
Wood panels were installed, then we did a trip to Home Depot and traded in some flashing that wasn't quite right.  (don't tell anyone, but the person at the refund counter screwed up and I got $90 instead of about $30.  I bit my tongue not saying anything, the ran down down the aisle with a big smile - woot!). 
Tar paper was quick and easy to staple onto the wood panels, the flashing installed, then we spend the rest of the time until the way-too-early sunset at before 7:00pm and got most of the roof shingles installed.  We are in a race again before the Monday forecast rains return.  
Adding the roof panels.

Tar paper and flashing installed for rain protection.
(and we get plenty of that in this area)
Traci watching a plane take off, while installing
the shingles on the roof.  

Sunset over the Astro-shack.

We had a pretty sunset last night while I was out working on the roof with our dwindling daylight after work.  I managed to get the larger roof panels all installed.  Just the smaller ones left to put on.
Those clouds will thicken with the "astronomer's curse" as the Astro-Shack nears completion.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

This weekend we got a truckload of roofing materials, trim, siding and other stuff.  I've carried a lot of parts home in my Toyota hanging out the back, but we had to rent the truck again to get stuff home.   Not a bad deal for $20, and sure makes it easier.  
Today we didn't get as much done as we hoped, it was low 80s today (unusual for this area at this time of year) and I was getting damn hot out in the sun.  Nearly felt sick after a while, so had to sit down and drink a lot of water. 
We got the flange around the roof installed and the corner pieces between the rafters.  Yes, that was another alignment nightmare that took a long time to get working right.  We scored a great find a bunch of nails, screws, brackets and a rubber ducky airplane for Traci's bath time!  Probably nearly $40 worth of stuff for $3.50 - yeah!
I miss having a truck, but this rental is a nice deal.
All rafters done as well as corner and fascia boards.

Ready for roof panels. 

Building the roof.

Supporting the dome flange (Traci taking a picture of
me taking a picture).
The roof is coming along.     We first put up some cross piece boards and then the square that will support the flange for the dome.  After a lot of tapping, nudging, some cussing, more nudging and measuring then finally a few nails to hold it.  
Putting in the rafters was an extreme pain.  At this time, it kind of looks like a mini-McDonalds with a drive through window, but that will change as work progresses.  The rafters were fairly symmetrical between the north/south and east/west sides.  The walls are 10 feet, and 9 foot 9 inches, so there is some differences.

Don't even think of asking for fries and a Big Mac.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Another perspective of the construction.

A couple nights ago I was going a flight review with a friend.  We flew over Crest and circled the house for some photos.  Observatory is easy to pick out in the photo.  Someday this will be a photon's final brief view inbound from a many light year journey to be sucked into the Meade, bounce off a couple mirrors and be preserved on the camera sensor.

View from 2,000 feet. 

Photons from across the universe will fall into that square. 

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Walls getting covered....

Tonight after work I was able to install most of the wall panels.  I still have some large gaps to cover, then a a 6 inch or so strip along the top of all the walls.  I should have that done early this weekend I hope. Then the fun of designing the roof starts.  
I have a few ideas for the roof, but will get to that soon enough.   I really hate this time of year when the days get shorter, every night I have less time to work until I need to turn on lights.  Weather here has still been like summer, and expecting some low 80s again this next weekend.

Daylight fading while walls go up.  The covering in the middle is over
the pier hole, it would suck if I fell down in there.  
Construction supervisor Alex on duty.
Almost done with the outer walls. 

When it gets darker, just attach a light and keep hammering nails.