Wednesday, May 30, 2012

A Quiet RTMC at Big Bear

We've been travelling or working hard without much time to post lately - will try to catch up a bit the next few days.  We just got back from the annual pilgrimage to Riverside Telescope Makers Conference(RTMC) at a YMCA camp in the San Bernadino Mountains east of Big Bear, California.  It is always a great time, but as I editorialized in my entry last year, it continues to be endangered!  My thinking is that it is too under attended to survive much longer. 

The "Telescope Field", long an area packed chock full of unique, home made telescopes in the '80s and '90s and full of vendor tents in the '00s, resembled an old west ghost town.  The panorama shown here is shown at what should have been the peak of action on Saturday afternoon.  What was once a crowded showcase of telescope judging mixed with raw capitalism in vendor sales instead consisted of about 4 vendors with a few models on display looking at the sun or nearby mountain vistas.  Similarly, the nearby "Telescope Alley", normally the usual collection of award-winning telescope entries, consisted of commercial scopes set up for some weekend observing.  Telescope-making entries were actually up this year - 9 entries, up from 6 last year, as I recall.  I only saw one or two before the awards Saturday night as they were well scattered through the grounds.

Another optimistic point was the uniform high quality of the talks and presentations.  While I'll leave opinions of my presentation on Mirror Lab activities to others, I really enjoyed all of the talks I attended.  The keynote speaker on Saturday night, Bob Bower, from the UK, gave a very entertaining talk on "The Search for William Herschel's 40-foot Telescope".  Mr Bower weaves quite the historical tale along with storytelling skills and astronomical tidbits to give a very entertaining presentation.  Then, the next morning he gave an encore titled "Which Way is Up?", again combining his storytelling to present a tale covering 200 years of naval and telescope making history.  You had to be there!  Unfortunately, the scientist who "killed Pluto", Mike Brown, had a family emergency and couldn't attend.  But like the cavalry coming over the hill, Jean Mueller offered to give an impromptu talk on her experiences as a telescope operator and observer at Mount Wilson and Palomar Observatories.  I thought it was an incredible performance and quite enjoyable, since I've been through some of the same experiences at Kitt Peak decades ago.

I didn't get tempted to spend much money this year, unlike some years past when I could rarely get away without buying glass or books or telescope accessories.  I did support our local artists, though - George Kepple, from Sierra Vista, had a small table with some of his astronomical artwork and I bought a Saturn painting.  That was it for me other than for food.

Speaking of food, after the irregularity of the food service at the dining hall in the past, they went to a short order snack bar format that enjoyed extended hours and leaving the big hall set up for lectures.  I've had reservations in the past from getting a meal plan, then sleeping through breakfast, or missing meals when dining in town with friends.  This way, you pay as you go, but with the limited menu, it gets tiring after a few days.  Also, with folks eating over a longer period of time, it seems like the tradition of visiting over lunch or dinner comes to an end with fewer people eating any given time...  All in all though, the food was fine.

I've never gone to RTMC to observe - we're definitely spoiled by conditions in Southern Arizona.  But the skies are no slouch at the conference, even while it is about 70 air miles from downtown Los Angeles.  It is fun to look through some of the innovative scopes, though seeing can be quite variable.  This year, with the dearth of the sort of scopes I was looking for, we took the opportunity to do some naked eye observing while visiting with former Tucsonans Lee and Michelle Dettmann.  We froze our rears off Friday (when it snowed late!) and Saturday, retreating early to our toasty Motel 6 in big Bear.  By Sunday it warmed enough to consider staying out a little late watching Venus set early into the twilight, a brilliant -8 Iridium flare, then set up cameras for some constellation photography.  Here Scorpius rises in the SE with the backdrop of moonlit foreground and a little glow from the Indio area.

As I noted in last year's post, Tucsonans were pretty steady attendees, sometimes up to 16 showing up for the group picture we would sometimes take.  This year I glimpsed former TAAA member Steve Peterson briefly, and former members Claude and Teresa Plymate (now living in Big Bear!), along with Dennis Casper, but that was it.  Many of our blog commenters from last year indicated they would think about attending this year, but people, we've got to act soon or it will go away!  While the all-vendor PATS is going strong, having RTMC "out in the field" should be a great draw and I would think that Tucson should be well-represented.  Come on - lets take part next year - I promise to twist your arms in advance this time.

1 comment:

David A. Harvey said...

Nice post Dean - great recap of events and talks. Wish I could have been there.