Comment on Houston Astronomical Society website and practices

First, your novice videos should be globally public on your website.  Either HAS is an organization devoted to all people knowing about the sky and heavens, or not.  Share openly.  If there are things specific to secure gatherings at private places, those should not be shared, but minimized or separate.  I tell groups like NASA or Harvard University to make changes, and more often than not, they do.  Sometimes I am tired and a bit harsh.  But ignore that and most of what i say is right.  I have tested the policies I am suggesting on hundreds of sites and groups in the world.
Don’t say, “anyone can create a free account”.  It is intrusive and difficult often.  People search for “astronomy” “telescopes” “Houston” and HAS should be there for all of them – as fast and as clearly as possible.  Let people browse and learn first before forcing them to join just to learn the basics of how to use a cell phone and the Internet to learn what is in the sky, and what data is in a telescope.
Every person on earth has a right to see the sky – tied to all that is known or could be known in a way that all can use immediately, regardless of age or country or language.  Not sell telescopes and expensive learning, but teach about the sky and what is in it, with infinite depth available.
I ordered two novice telescopes to review.  Mainly to see what instructions are needed.  What additional tools and information are needed.  I can give them to HAS if you all want them.  Of just give them unopened.  I gave someone at HAS some cameras, but never heard what happened.  My guess is they are in a box in someone’s garage or trash.
Most people don’t have access to a printer at home these days.  Most young people won’t.  I hope you can try and then recommend apps.  Particularly apps you have used yourself, and to introduce new people to the sky.  And apps that are easy to install, understand, maintain, connect to other things.  You are teaching the sky and the universe – not astronomy which is an exclusive and expensive hobby for a few.
Are you going to make every new person find, learn who HAS people are and what their job is, how to contact them?  I find it difficult to contact people at HAS. New people, particularly kids and older people, will not find it easy to talk to strangers. All the more reason to put the guides and tools online.  Tools and data, not words that get outdated.
Do you have a “Novice” program that anyone can join and automatically start a conversation to lead them to understand what is in the sky?
and see really really expensive and complicated things that most people in the world could never afford – either the time to learn, or the money, or the moving, or the maintenance.  Is that the kind of life looking at the universe you want to propagate?  It seems to only enrich the telescope makers, and put a few people up as better and more favored.
I deal with these kinds of access and availability issues every day for the Internet Foundation (started Jul 1998) to discover, refine and encourage Internet best practices.  People are spending $100,000 to get a college education where the knowledge can be found in a few apps for a fraction of that – and useful for the rest of someones life. Memorizing is a bad thing, when it forces people to keep doing it for their life time, and becomes the basis of salaries and benefits.
Me, I hate telescopes the way they are now.  It is a rich man’s game.  The observatories in the world are close to the bottom on the Internet is openness and sharing. They have their big expensive toys for a select few, and to heck with everyone else.  Except for watered down toys that are often too expensive too.  Most have no all sky camera, and the ones that do don’t share the data in useful format, and don’t label the images and process to add what they know.  They throw the food on the floor and say “eat it”.  I got on LIGO about their lack of sharing. They opened up their earth based data, and started workshops.  A LONG way from the best practices, but a move.
I complain often about the poor state of the Internet.  I have been encouraging “all sky” camera groups who share their sky 24/7.  Because you can get good “seeing” if you don’t also know the sky during the day, and in any weather.  I tried to get HAS to put a live camera just showing the full sky 24/7.  I offered to help pay for it, and explained how many millions of people there are who could benefit from just clear examples of the night sky that could be recorded, computer enhanced, shared globally, studied, compared, calibrated.
I would rather see a billion people looking at the night sky where it is clear over the Internet than one shared telescope that only gets kids locked into a monopoly of telescope makers for the rest of their life.  There are just over 2 billion “first time learners” in the world now from 5 to 21 years. And about 700 Million people over 65, who generally can be expected to life another 20 years with their lifetime of experiences and resources.
If you and HAS don’t want to teach the world, I won’t bother you.  Just tell me and I will find another organization, or many.  I want to learn what is in the sky, but I want tools to help me, not be dependent on old or young people who don’t have time, or take years to teach things.  An app will at least give the names and data for things in the telescope, or in pictures and videos on the Internet – or ought to. The most hateful thing is “read the book, stupid”, when there are ways to show people the living sky over their heads and around the world “live” on the Internet, with the full range of data for everything that has been found, or supposed, neatly connected and easy enough for a 4 year old.  My granddaughter is 4 now and has used computers since she was 4 months. That is our world now.  Not paper, and not buying expensive things with no one to help get to the actual better images of the sky and what is in it.
Richard Collins, Houston Texas


All the “site levels” were more expensive, and did not have much range in the vertical angle.  A few degrees (under 15 degrees mostly) not 90.

Show me an example of “SITE LEVEL much cheaper”. And ones that have 90 degree vertical ranges.

If I had tools, I would make one.  Vertical with a circle, horizontal with a circle. And computer/stepper motor enabled. A screen is easier to read than a circle, the motors could have accurate position sensors. The “transit” is only showing tenth degrees.  3600 steps per circle.  Put a phone camera on it, or a spotter scope with camera and then it can lock onto stars and moon and planets. And explain what it there.

Richard K Collins

About: Richard K Collins

Director, The Internet Foundation Studying formation and optimized collaboration of global communities. Applying the Internet to solve global problems and build sustainable communities. Internet policies, standards and best practices.

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