I’m taking a five minute break from Twitter, tweeting, LinkedIn, networking, and all social media (and giving you one, too.) You’re welcome, and while we’re all metaphorically kicking back here for a few, I’ll tell you a little story and then turn you onto a special international event going on this month. (Hint: Look UP!)


Black Beauty

Black Beauty

First, the story I promised you: My dad—that crazy Irishman—was a really smart man and highly skilled at all things technical. He was a land surveyor, and he loved his job. He died in 1970, but in the 19 years that I knew him, I saw him operate a wood lathe and turn out a beautiful burled walnut bowl, disassemble and reassemble his vintage Indian motorcycle, shoot skeet with his blue-steel-barrel Winchester rifle, bowl more than one perfect game at Tropicana Lanes (with his work league) using his Brunswick “Black Beauty” bowling ball, and build a ship in a bottle, with masting and rigging and sails, using those “extension tools” to reach into the bottle and do the painstaking job.



He never went to college, but he bought a calculus book at Washington University and would sit at the kitchen table studying that book, while my brother and I did our homework. Dad worked through the book in about six months and taught himself calculus. He taught me how to use a micrometer in an attempt to encourage me to love math as much as he did. (A micrometer is a precision instrument used to measure thickness of things like thin-gauge metal sheet, foil, etc.) He got the micrometer from his father, and I have it now, in its original box, with the instructions and decimal conversation table. Love the micrometer; still hate math. Sorry, dad.

telescope-with-father-and-childMy dad also was an amateur astronomer, and he used to take my mom, brother and me around to various locations (like school parking lots, softball fields, etc.) where his friends in the > St. Louis Astronomical Society < would set up their telescopes at night on the weekends for public viewing. I spent many an evening going from scope to scope, standing on orange crates to get a good look at the moon and whatever planet was of interest at a particular time of year. My dad treasured his telescope, and he treated it with great reverence.

At the time he died, he was building a new refractor telescope, the one that would likely have been the great love of his life. He worked at it on his massive and well-organized work bench in our basement, grinding his own convergent and divergent lenses for it, working on the blanks of crown glass and flint glass with progressively finer “grits,” beveling the edges of the glass, working each piece over with polishing compound. He kept the lenses-in-progress wrapped in chamois on his work bench, and when dad wasn’t around, my brother and I would sneak over to the work bench to lift the chamois cloths and peek at the lenses. To us, they were the crown jewels.


Well, I was thinking about my dad today as I was catching up on some light reading in the April 2009 issue of Natural History, and here is the information on the international event.

Joe Rao has a regular column in the magazine called “Skylog,” and he is also an associate and lecturer at the > Hayden Planetarium < in New York City. His April column is about 2009 being designated the International Year of Astronomy by the International Astronomical Union and UNESCO.The celebration coincides with the 400th anniversary of Galileo Galilei’s historic astronomical observations with a telescope (Galileo Galilei, b. 1564, d. 1642.)

Here is a link  to the > Skylog < column.

My dad would have loved this.

Image of Indian Motorcycle from LA Times via the Web

Image of Brunswick vintage Black Beauty bowling ball from gasolinealleyantiques.com via the Web

Image of micrometer from physics.wisc.edu via the Web Image of telescope from coolsciencenews.com science aggregator blog via the Web