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Passing of an SJAA Legend – Jim Van Nuland

jim van nulandOn the eve of the American annular eclipse of October 2023, the members of SJAA were provided with some sad news. We learned that long time SJAA member Jim Van Nuland passed away earlier in the month.

Jim joined up with the SJAA in the mid-1970s, maybe earlier. He served many roles on the board and in officer positions, but most notably he was the incredible energy of the School Star Party program. Indeed, for decades Jim *was* the School Star Party program. During the school year Jim and his crew were out on some elementary, middle school or high school campus showing the wonders of the night sky to every next generation. He would schedule so many SSPs, sometimes three a week, sometimes seven. It kept him busy and he loved it. His only breaks were around the full moon when he was able to convince eager parents and administrators that they really don’t want to look at a 98% lit moon through a telescope. Sometimes he couldn’t convince them and so out he went. Jim kept at it until he was physically unable to carry it on any longer and finally retired in 2018.

The family posted this obituary online, but we have pasted it below as well.
https://danerimortuary.com/tribute/details/324140/James-Van-Nuland/obituary.html


James “Jim” Henry Van Nuland, 87, of Little Chute, and Tigerton Wisconsin, passed away on September 30, 2023, in Folsom, California. Born on September 14, 1936, Jim was the eldest son of the late Jacob and Verna Van Nuland.

Jim had a fulfilling life and left behind a loving family. He is survived by his sons Patrick, Raymond, Thomas, and Michael, and his “Favorite Daughter,” Barbara. His sisters Joan and Rosemary are also blessedly still with us.

Jim was gifted with 16 grandchildren, 12 great-grandchildren, and countless fans and friends who gravitated toward his kindness, and some would say, innocence. He was preceded in death by his beloved wife of 44 years, Florence-Anna, who passed away in 2004.

After completing high school in 1954, Jim proudly served in the US Navy for 3 years, completing 2 scientific tours to Antarctica, and mapping the ocean floor east of Florida, over which all of NASA’s rockets would eventually take off.

Following his military service, Jim enrolled at Marquette University to study Electrical Engineering but was in the end, “drafted” by IBM to become a Programmer where he dedicated 25 years of his life, earning a 30-year credited early retirement. His expertise and hard work made a significant impact on the company, even to this day.

He was one of the first “civilians” with a personal computer during the ‘70s, and instilled the “tech-bug” in his kids as early as he could.

It was early in college when he double-dated with his sister, and her date and met Florence, -whom he was then forever enamored with, married, and had 5 children. 2 born in Wisconsin, 2 in Southern California, and saving the “best” one, born last in San Jose California, where he lived since 1966.

In his free time, Jim pursued his passion for astronomy and spent many hours sharing his knowledge as a 40-year member of the San Jose Amateur Astronomy Association, with over an estimated 100,000 children over the decades. He was a curious man who found joy in exploring the wonders of the universe and sharing it with everyone.He claimed he was “Paid with wows” when asked about any compensation for his tireless efforts. He was paid well. May he rest in peace, and his skies be always clear.

Jim’s faith played an important role in his life, sending his children to Catholic schools, and was a long-time member of Saint Lucy’s Catholic Church.

Services for Jim Van Nuland will be announced at a later date. His legacy will live on through his family, friends, and all those whose lives he touched.


Jay Reynolds Freeman, upon hearing about Jim’s demise, wrote the following.
I remember Jim well — he and his eight-inch equatorially-mounted Newtonian were regular fixtures at SJAA events during the several decades in which I was an active local member.
Astronomy folks may be less familiar with his experiences in computer science, which he occasionally mentioned while waiting for sunset or for transient clouds to pass. I remember a time in the late 1990s, when Jim told of the scorn with which IBM management greeted his mid-1960s suggestion that it would be unwise to use only two digits for years in text strings representing dates, because some day the calendar would roll through a century year, the digits would wrap around, and confusion might arise thereby. It did, and the “Y2K” problem was the result. Jim also convinced computer operators that yes, it was indeed possible for a programmer to cause serious physical damage to a mainframe computer, supposedly safe in its isolated room, merely by running code: His program used the track-seek function on a large, heavy, early disk drive to slam the read-write head between its radial limits at a varying rate. When that rate matched the resonant frequency for lateral oscillations of the entire drive unit, cabinet and all, that unit started walking across the floor of the computer room and eventually tipped over.
Rest in peace, Jim …
— Jay Reynolds Freeman


The family thought it would be appropriate to hold a celebration of Jim’s life at Houge Park, the SJAA basecamp for so many years (and club lore has it that Jim had a hand in securing the park for the club sometime in the 1990s). Of course it was most appropriate, and several current club members helped to host the event there, which was very well attended. Marianne Damon, the SJAA refreshments lead, was able to attend both the funeral and the life celebration. These are her words.

The funeral mass was held on Monday, October 23 at his parish church, St. Lucy’s. Several SJAA members attended in support of the family. The urn chosen was of a nebular design and made us smile, knowing he would have approved of the choice. The organist who played did so lovingly, as Jim would always go up and thank her and the choir after each mass.
The family asked to have the post-funeral gathering at Houge Park, and SJAA was able to host this event. We opened the hall and set up tables with the family before the funeral. They had requested that, if possible, they be able to see the two telescopes they had donated, and we were able to oblige. Two of Jim’s sons brought them out from behind the curtain and set them up. JVN’s daughter Barbara recalled how the big white 8″ dob got its name: “When the big 8” stood in the backyard all those years, wrapped up in layers protected from the elements, it reminded Mom of Ruth Buzzi’s bag lady character from the Laugh-In TV show: Gladys.” After the funeral, family and friends gathered at Houge Hall and reminisced about our adventures with Jim. The family had set up a memorial table to which we added the trophy given by the City of San Jose for service to the community, mostly for his years of providing school star parties. The family provided Jim’s favorite snacks and lunch items. We concluded the gathering with thoughts of a fond farewell to our astronomy friend and mentor, JVN.


As the SJAA’s sole two-time recipient of the Gregory Award (1984 and 2007), the club’s highest honor, Jim was held in high regard and he will continue to be. With his passing the club turns a chapter in its history, moving from an organization started in the mid-twentieth century with the awe inspired by the launch of Sputnik and the myriad NASA programs, to the twenty-first century where professional space science (and computer science!) continues. The SJAA will carry on as Jim would want, to provide a space for like minded individuals to gather as well as to provide a place where the next generation of enthusiasts (and hopefully scientists and engineers) can find a foothold.
Thank you for everything you did, Jim.

award from city of san jose

 

Posted in Articles


2023 Board and Officer Elections

This year at the February 4th 2023 board meeting, SJAA announced the results of the board elections. The meeting was held online. Directors Vini Carter, Ken Miura, Swami Nigam, Peter Melhus and Sukhada Palav were reelected in their positions. During the March 4th 2023 board meeting the board elected the new SJAA Officers. Aroon Nair was elected as President, Chris Gottbrath was elected as Vice-President, Rob Jaworski was reelected as Treasurer and Swami Nigam was elected as Secretary. Heartiest congratulations to all elected!

Posted in Articles


Remebering Paul Mancuso

paul mancuso adjusting his telescopeIn December 2022, the SJAA lost a long-time member, volunteer and friend, Paul Mancuso. Paul started his SJAA journey way back in the 1970s. He was very involved with the club, over the years serving as board member and in various officer roles. He kept his involvement going over the last 20 years as a stalwart volunteer at the School Star Parties as well as maintaining a regular presence at the In Town Star Parties at Houge Park.

Paul’s ashes have been interred at Cedar Lawn Cemetery, in the Silayan Garden, Mausoleum II. SJAA members attended the internment service and were a comfort to his wife and daughter. His family invites all SJAA members and friends to visit there and pay respects at any time. They are located at 48800 Warm Springs Blvd, Fremont.

The following are remembrances of Paul from SJAA members.

The school star party program was an important outreach.  Among the group of volunteer astronomers, some showed up sporadically, others were regulars.  Paul Mancuso was one of the regulars.  There were a few school star parties where just three astronomers showed up. Paul was one of those stalwarts.  As proof of that, in 2016, Paul was awarded the SJAA’s highest honor, the Gregory Award.

The last school star party of the 2017-2018 season was April 24, 2018, and of course, Paul was there.  It was at Thomas Russell Middle in Milpitas, just a few block from Paul’s house as it turned out. We were almost clouded out, the sky was thin overcast.  The Moon barely shown through, only a few of the brightest stars were visible some of the time.  Still the kids were interested despite not being able to see much.  As usual we all made the best of it, answering questions and talking about astronomy.  In hindsight now, it seems that weather was a portent.

This was the last school star party of the season and possibly the last of the school star party program altogether since Jim Van Nuland was retiring as our coordinator after some 30 years.  After the kids were gone and we were all packed up, we paused for a moment looking at each other.  The realization started setting in that this might be the end of the school star party program.  We shook hands and talked about what a really great run it had been.  After a few minutes of some reflection on a very worthy program well done, we said good-bye and went home.  Of course the public star parties would continue at least, maybe the school star parties too if we get a new coordinator.  So we never thought that was really “good-bye.”

Not surprisingly the 2018-2019 season wasn’t much, we presented at only a few schools, and then the pandemic hit.  It turns out we really were saying good-bye after all.  At least we got to do that.  Many don’t get that chance. I’m sure all the many kids who got to look through Paul’s scope will remember the good impression he made on them.
–Gary Mitchell

I used to run into Paul at Houge Park often, where he would set up at the north end of the sidewalk (Telescope Row). For years, I only knew him by voice, and every time, he would seem to have a different scope set up from the last time. Paul was great with the public as he shared views at his eyepiece, and he was also adept with the kids at the schools. That’s not to mention that Paul was an all -around good guy with a great sense of humor.  He’ll be missed.
–Rob Jaworski

paul mancuso with award

Posted in Articles


2022 Board and Officer Election

This year at the February 19th 2022 annual meeting, SJAA announced the results of the board elections. The meeting was held online due to COVID-19 related restrictions. Directors Rob Jaworski, Wolf Witt and Glenn Newell have been reelected into their positions, and Steven Nelson has been elected to the Board.

Officer elections for President, Vice President, Treasurer, and Secretary were held during the March board meeting.

  • Rob Jaworski was reelected as Treasurer.
  • Ken Miura was reelected as President.
  • Aroon Nair was elected as Vice-President and appointed to the vacant position of Secretary.

Their terms are effective until March 2023.

Posted in Articles


Yosemite Star Party Canceled

With much sadness, we must report that the National Park Service advised us that the annual Yosemite star party, what we call _Stars Over Yosemite_, has been canceled for 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We would certainly look forward to next year, but due to planned construction and upgrades in the park, the management has canceled the program for 2021 as well.

Read their letter here: Link

Posted in Articles


In Memoriam – Gerry Joyce

gerry joyce

Gerry smiling happily with his hobby.

SJAA President and friend Gerry Joyce passed away recently. Gerald James Joyce (Gerry) was born on November 2, 1945 and passed away on May 20, 2020. He was 74 years old.

Gerry was born in Long Branch, New Jersey, the youngest of four boys and the son of Norwegian immigrants Frank and Ruth Joyce. After a three-year stint with the Navy, he married his first wife, Nancy, and began a 50-year career in computer technology. Over his lifetime, Gerry worked with both large and small companies, but had a particular “soft spot” for the challenges of startups. He was an innovator in the early days of computers; his natural curiosity, thirst for learning, and tenacity took him through many phases of his career.  His entrepreneurial spirit brought him to California in the late 70’s. In 1999 he married Priscilla Dutton, and on November 6, 2019 they celebrated their 20th anniversary in Kauai, Hawaii. Gerry and Priscilla traveled extensively, including a trip to Norway to reacquaint with relatives. In 2004, he started his own company, Viking Systems, to design and install all forms of home automation. He sold Viking in 2016 and retired.

During the last four years, Gerry was able to pursue a life-long interest in astronomy and astrophotography. In early 2020 he became President of the San Jose Astronomical Association. Prior to that, he had also served as the Vice-President of SJAA from October 2019 to March 2020. His excitement was contagious – he was always on a mission to interest everyone – from grandchildren to casual acquaintances – in the wonders of the sky. SJAA enriched Gerry’s retirement years immeasurably, and he made many dear friends during his time with the club.

Gerry is survived by his wife Priscilla, sons Stephen (Briana), Eric (Lisa), and David (Teri), step son Steve Wallace (Dana), step daughter Erin Wallace, grandchildren Vendela, Karsten and Chloe, and step grandchildren Jonas, Cora, Kelsey and Adelyn.

In lieu of flowers, please donate in his name to the Humane Society of Silicon Valley or Second Harvest Food Bank of Silicon Valley. A private memorial service was held on June 6, 2020.

If you would like to share any memory or thoughts or pictures of Gerry with the rest of the SJAA community, please do so in the comments. All messages will be shared with Gerry’s family.

Kenichi Miura
Acting President
San Jose Astronomical Association

gerry and group

Gerry with a collection of SJAA folks February 2020.

Posted in Articles


Swap Meet Postponed and Other Updates

In normal years, the SJAA Swap Meet is held in the spring and again in the fall. This is a great social outlet, but unfortunately, due to all that’s happening with the pandemic this year, the SJAA leadership had to make the difficult decision to postpone it. It may reappear later in the sprint or summer, but depending on how things go, like a comet in an irregular orbit, it might not show up again until the fall. Please keep an eye on the SJAA Meetup site for up-to-date information regarding all SJAA events.

In other news, the SJAA tech team is looking for methods to preserve talks and presentations from board and general meetings. They are also in the process of finding ways to provide video conferencing to replace having meetings at Houge Park which the City of San Jose has closed. Again, keep an eye on the Meetup for the latest, and best practices indicate you should RSVP to any Meetup event so that you can get notifications (via Meetup email) when an event is changed or has updated info from the organizer.

Posted in Articles


2020 Board and Officer Elections

Each February and March sees board elections and officer elections, respectively. Here are the results of the 2020 elections.

For the board of directors, four director seats were up for elections. All four incumbents ran for those seats and were re-elected: Sandy Mohan (board seat 2), Wolf Witt (seat 4), Glenn Newell (seat 8) and Rob Jaworski (seat 6). Congratulations to them all, and more importantly, a hearty Thank You to them for their service.

Things were a bit more exciting at the March officer elections. As you may know, officers are elected to one-year terms and all of them, with one exception, have no limit to the number of terms that can be served by one individual. That exception is the President role, which has a term limit of just two years.

First, let us give Swami Nigam a round of recognition for his service as President for the past two years. Though he has stayed busy with his work and family life, he somehow still made time for leading our organization. Replacing him is Gerry Joyce, who most recently served as Vice President.

Two of the remaining three officer positions also had a change: Ken Miura is now the Vice President, and Emi Nikolov took over the reigns as the organization’s Secretary. Rounding out the fourth position is incumbent Rob Jaworski, who remains the club’s Treasurer.

Another shout out to our past, current and new Directors and Officers! Now in our 66th year, we couldn’t keep on going without volunteers who step up to keep the club going and continuing its mission of bringing astronomy and science to the people!

Posted in Anouncements, Articles


SJAA and the Pandemic

coronavirus meteor

San Jose Astronomical Association is closely monitoring the coronavirus/COVID-19 situation in Santa Clara county. In accordance with advisement from Santa Clara County Health Department we may be canceling some events in the next few weeks, as appropriate – especially those that involve close contact and shared surface on telescopes. Please check the SJAA Meetup group to determine if an event has been canceled before heading out to the event. The board will periodically review the status of the outbreak and the guidance from the Santa Clara county to determine the impact upon upcoming events.

Posted in Anouncements


SJAA Turns 65

At the end of this year, 2019, the San Jose Astronomical Association is celebrating its sixty fifth birthday. For us mere mortals, sixty five is traditionally the age at which we retire, quit our decades -long journey of work and getting things done, and finally look forward to hopefully another couple of decades of rest and relaxation. I don’t see the same thing for the SJAA.

The mission of the SJAA is to bring astronomy and science to the public, to inspire curiosity and to provide a place to go when an interest in space or astronomy (or geology or chemistry or any kind of science) is kindled. In these short-attention-span times, it seems that NASA missions (to the moon or Mars!) or rare celestial events (the recent Great American Eclipse of 2017!) or the sight of rocket launches (except maybe for SpaceX launches) don’t have the heft to inspire the awe that they once did.

I submit that something about those events being viewed on a high definition, but really small screen, and the number of times that it’s possible to view them, causes dilution of the experience, and dilution of the awe.

The handful of volunteers who run SJAA know that the awe is still there. The awe has been instilled deep within them, and they know there are seeds of that awe hibernating in others. Those seeds want to grow, but it’s not easy for them to germinate. Too many distractions, too many choices on what to do. But despite all that, SJAA volunteers continue to give their time to provide that place, either in the lecture hall or out at a dark hilltop, so the seed can be provided what it needs to grow into a healthy interest and inquiry in the world around us and beyond.

In the sixty five years since a small group of neighbors got together to create this special interest group, a few years before Sputnik and well before Apollo 11, there have been thousands of kids and grown-ups (and kids that turned into grown-ups), who have availed themselves of what SJAA has to offer. They may have come to listen to a professional astronomer talk about her research into the origin of galaxies. Or they may have come to borrow a telescope from the long-running Telescope Loaner program. Or they simply wanted to bring their kids out into the local night sky and show them what Mars or Saturn, or even just the moon, looks like up close and personal. Most of those people had a fleeting, momentary experience with the SJAA. Some of them became members for a period of time before interests shifted and they moved on. Still others, like a few I can name off the top of my head, stuck around for decades as members (and are still around, as members). And some members took the next step and donated the most precious of assets, their time. They became volunteers because they loved what they were learning and wanted to share it with others.

Since the SJAA is entirely a volunteer -run organization, we are always on the lookout for more members to participate. Attending events as a member of the public (or a member of SJAA) is good and very much appreciated. Participating and helping out is even better! Whatever your skills or strengths, you can help make a difference. Come to an event, talk to any board member of someone “in charge”, and they can tell you more. It can be uncomfortable at first, but you’ll soon find that it’s a great experience. It’s what you make it.

Sixty five years is a long time for a non-profit organization to exist. Although the SJAA is not a very well known staple of the south bay, a staple it is and we are proud that a steady stream of newcomers discovers the club and works to keep it going. We are thankful to those who bring new energy to the club along with their excitement to share the heavens with others. We are thankful to the City of San Jose for providing a place to call our basecamp. We are thankful that the SJAA has been here since 1954, and we will work to keep it going for another 65 years!
With respect,
Rob Jaworski
Treasurer, past President and board member

Posted in Articles, Blog


Cambrian Fest 2018

For the ninth straight year, the SJAA hosted a booth, and lots of solar scopes, at San Jose’s District 9 community fair called Celebrate Cambrian. This event took place on Sunday, 26 August 2018.This area of San Jose is known as Cambrian Park, and features the Cambrian Community Center, which is situation on the grounds of the former Camden High School campus. SJAA volunteers maintain a presence at this annual event to contribute back to the community in which our organization has its basecamp at Houge Park.

As a member of this local community, I have spearheaded all of SJAA’s participation in the event. It’s essentially a solar viewing event, so Wolf Witt, our new leader of the Solar Program, again stepped up to help with the event. We showcased three solar scopes, the club’s flagship Lunt 100mm H-alpha scope, a recently donated Lunt 80mm, and Wolf’s personal Celestron. The 80mm rig was outfitted with a Mallincam camera which was wired to an outdoor-rated flat panel display to more easily show visitors what they will see in the eyepiece of the other two scopes.  And finally, we had Wolf’s Lunt 60 on his Celestron NexStar mount.

The sun helped us by hosting a couple of interesting features. There was a fairly large prominence at the four o’clock position which showed up nicely on the monitor and in the eyepiece. The sun also displayed a nice filament across the face of its disk, again easily spotted in the scopes and through the camera.  One of the posters of the sun that we had out there coincidentally

mimicked what we could see in the eyepiece, with the prominence at the 4 o’clock position and the location of the filament.  Talk about cooperation!

We had a great group of volunteers manning the scopes and the booth. Our new social media manager, Jessica Johnson (who recently got SJAA on Instagram!), was doing a great job guiding the visitors through the scopes.

We had another young lady helping all day, a high school student who is in the process of forming a new astronomy club at her school.  We had two more high school students manning the booth and helping kids and their parents learn about ultraviolet light by making bracelets out of UV-sensitive beads.  The beads were a hit, with oohs and ahhs all around once the beads quickly developed color when exposed to sunlight!

Bill Gottlieb also participated, helping explain aspects of what we were viewing.  SJAA President Swami Nigam also paid a visit to ensure things were running smoothly.

Thanks to our volunteers who gave up most of their Sunday to help bring astronomy to the general public. We’ll be out there again next year!

Posted in Blog, Recap, Solar


Amending Bylaws: Memberships

image of contractAt the board of directors meeting, July 2017, the board voted to amend the bylaws. This kind of move is not done very often, and great consideration is made before such an idea is even brought to a vote by the board. However, given the history of the types of memberships with the SJAA, and also some recent moves made by the City of San Jose, the board deemed it prudent to amend the bylaws to remove the option of offering youth or student memberships, and to stipulate that only people age 18 and above are able to apply for membership.

Specifically, the board voted to remove Article 12, Section 1, Part C in its entirety. Further, Article 12, Section 2 was amended to indicate only people 18 and over can be members.

Over the past seven or eight years during which I have been on the board of the SJAA, I have served as membership chair at least twice. Also, at every board meeting each month, the membership report lists all those individuals who have applied for new or renewing membership. Plainly, there is a good amount of visibility of the member rolls. During those years, I have seen not more than a small handful of members who applied via the student/youth membership. The number has been, at most, in the single digits.

Recently, we have seen the City of San Jose put forth some requirements which could be quite burdensome to SJAA volunteers. In the recent requalification process that the City required of its reuse partners (of which, SJAA is one), it called for all volunteers or employees that has direct contact with minors to have background checks run, TB tests completed, fingerprints taken, and all the other things that typically come with interacting with children. On the face of it, everyone in the club that shows up to In Town Star Parties or Solar Sundays, or any of the myriad events that the SJAA hosts at Houge Park, could be considered a volunteer that has potential interaction with children. It would be too much to ask of SJAA volunteers to agree to such a requirement, and it could potentially put the events at Houge Park at risk.

Upon further research and investigation, the board concluded that although the contract with the City does not provide a definition of direct contact, generally, volunteers of SJAA do not have direct contact. Rather, SJAA volunteers have incidental contact with minors. Kids may show up to SJAA events with their parents or guardians, but SJAA volunteers never take custody of or supervise them, such as in an afterschool or day care environment. The conclusion was made that since no one that is associated with SJAA ever has direct contact with minors, the organization is exempt from such requirements.

To further solidify the fact that SJAA does not provide care, supervision, guidance or control of minors in any way, the board thought it prudent that minors be prohibited from becoming members in the first place.

The board does not believe that these changes to the bylaws will have any impact whatsoever to its members, now or in the future. SJAA will recognize the benefit, however, of not being potentially held to onerous requirements of its volunteers, nor will there be any question about the club’s relationship to minors. The club certainly encourages kids of all ages to learn more about astronomy and the sciences and to come to club events, and SJAA will continue to support kids’s desires to learn more, or to just look at Saturn through a telescope. But please, do bring a parent or guardian!

Image by of Flickr user Ryan Leong (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Posted in Anouncements, Articles, General Meeting


Gregory Award 2016

On behalf of the San Jose Astronomical Association, I am pleased to announce the recipient of the 2016 A. B. Gregory Award.  The award is a plaque which reads “In Recognition of Outstanding Contributions of Time and Effort to Others in Amateur Astronomy”, and I can think of no one in the SJAA who deserves it more than Paul Mancuso.

Paul is in the top three longest members of the SJAA, joining up in the early 1970s.  He was a member of the Board of the Directors from 1983 to 1993, then again from 1996 to 1998 and did one more stint from 2001 to 2003.  He was Vice President from July 1988 to March 1993, and then again from 1997 to 1998.  In addition to these formal administrative roles, Paul has been a stalwart with the School Star Party program, rarely missing a night at a local school to use his scopes to bring the night sky closer to area students, faculty and their families. Paul has also been a reliable regular participant at In Town Star Parties and Solar Days at Houge Park and other local venues.

Paul usually finds his way to the general meeting, or to Auctions and Swap Meets and other SJAA events. When he does, I make a point to come over and say Hi, and see what he’s been up to.  It’s great to have him around, and for so long, too, not to mention all his participation and effort he puts into the SJAA.

Paul, thank you for all you do, and congratulations on being the 2016 A. B. Gregory Award recipient!

You can find more information about the award, a list of past recipients, and information about Dr Gregory and the past recipients on the website.
Posted in Anouncements


Member Recognition 2017

Each February, the SJAA hosts its annual membership meeting, where about half of the members of the nine seat board of directors are elected by the members, recognition awards are presented, and everyone brings something to share for the annual potluck.

Lee Hoglan was one of the three deserving recipients of recognition. Before Lee stepped down from the board late last year, he had served for over ten years; he was the longest serving board member in recent memory and stood as vice president for many years. He also managed the Telescope Loaner Program for many years, and was the face of SJAA on the website, in the ‘Ask Lee’ role. For many years, he was also a reliable opener and closer for the In Town Star Parties at San José’s Houge Park. Though he wasn’t there that night to receive the award, he was certainly there in spirit, as everyone, recent members and long timers alike, became just a little bit more aware of his significant contributions.

Ed Wong also received recognition for his work with the club. A board member for several years, Ed also spearheaded several new initiatives that continue today. The idea of Fix It sessions came from Ed, who ran the program for several years before handing it off to others. He also was instrumental in working with the Santa Clara County Parks Department for a permit which allowed nighttime use of Mendoza Ranch, one of the darker sky sites in the south bay. He also established and maintains the relationship with Pinnacles National Park, organizing amateur astronomers from the south bay to participate in public star parties at the National Park, with the idea of being able to use the park on other nights for ‘private’ viewing. He was a docent with the Santa Clara County Open Space Authority and also continues to run the SJAA Binocular Observing program.

Dave Ittner was the final recipient of recognition by the club at the February meeting. Dave has an unending reservoir of energy, which he applied for almost too many roles and leadership positions in the club to even name. Most recently, he was president for the past two years before bing termed out. He was a lead docent with the OSA, managing the Starry Nights program at Rancho Cañada del Oro, south of San José. He ran the loaner program and continues to manage the stream of incoming donations of astronomy gear. Most significantly, the QuickSTARt program was his brainchild. QuickSTARt probably does more to help facilitate new people into the hobby of amateur astronomy than any other, and goes a long way to fulfill the club’s mission of brining astronomy to the public. Dave continues to singlehandedly run this program.

Congratulations, and perhaps more appropriately, Thank You, to Lee, Ed and Dave for the well-deserved recognition they received and for their commitment of energy and time to the local amateur astronomy community.

(For more on the happenings of the 2017 membership meeting, including pictures, please see the cover story in the March 2017 edition of the Ephemeris.)

Posted in General Meeting


Williams Hill Site Report

williams hillThis is a site report, not so much an observing report. My main goal was to go to check out the surroundings. On July 30-31 2016, I went to Williams Hill Recreation Area, managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), to investigate the suitability of the site for purposes of astronomical observing, with the possibility of spending the night.  The area is located about 27 road miles, or 17 miles as the crow flies, south of King City.

My plan was to get there earlier in the day on Saturday with my dirt bike, and then tool around to explore and get to know the area, and settling on a location where I could set up my scope. I would then have dinner, and head to that site to set up, and wait for night to fall. Things went very much according to plan.

on the freeway

One hundred miles of this kind of view.

The ride down 101 was uneventful, though slow going getting out of Santa Clara County due to Gilroy’s annual Garlic Festival. Getting through Prunedale and Salinas was also slow in spots, and much of the afternoon sky was obscured by smoke from the fire near Carmel (prevailing winds were taking the smoke northeast, thankfully away from my destination). It was over a hundred miles on southbound 101, through all the towns we know when we are traveling to dark sky sites: Gonzales, Soledad, Greenfield, King City.

dirt road leading to williams hill

About eight miles of white dusty dirt road.

The exit to take is called San Ardo, then a right onto Paris Valley Road. After a little less than two miles of paved farm road, you have to make a sharp left turn onto Lockwood San Ardo Road, at which point, it turns to a fairly well maintained dirt road. Once on the dirt, going was slow. I had a trailer so I took it easy, no more than 25, and in some places, 10 or less toward the top. Nearing the camp, the road is cut into the side of the hill, exposing the Monterey shale formations. It’s a very dry, dusty white ride.

campground_sign_wh-201607

Once you see this sign, you know you’ve made it!

antenna hill

The actual Williams Hill, where all the antenna towers are. It’s four and a half miles past the campground.

I arrived at the campground closer to 4pm, about ninety minutes later than I originally planned. The first order of business was to unhitch the trailer and pull the bike down, getting ready for the first phase, local exploration. The campground is four and a half miles before the end of the road that leads up to the actual Williams Hill, which can also rightly be called Antenna Hill. I made my way to antenna hill via the fairly well maintained dirt road comprised mainly of switchbacks that lead from one hill to the next. At the top of the hill, the antennae live behind a chain link fence, some of the towers more securely enclosed than others, possibly giving away their importance to their owners. At the end of the road, there is a fairly wide area that may be suitable to set up maybe a dozen scopes, but it’s a long way to go past the campground, there are large circles etched into the ground by spinning wheels (ie, donuts), and if anyone were to come up that road at night, you’d be blasted with headlights with little to no cover. Further, the flat area, though wide open at the top of the hill with nice horizons (except for the towers), is not entirely level. Being the top of a hill, it has a mild crown, I thought to myself that this area would do in a pinch, but there very well could be better sites.

litter_wh_201607

Lots and lots and lots of spent shotgun shells littered every turnout.

I kept exploring and found miles of more trails on this BLM land. North of the campground area, ie, north of Lockwood San Ardo Road, there are plenty of possible observing sites with decent horizons and plenty of space for plenty of astronomers’ vehicles and their gear. Many, most or all of them were littered with spent shotgun shells. It was shameful, how the shooters left such a mess. There weren’t too many targets, and thankfully not much broken glass, though a gallon size fire extinguisher appeared to be on the receiving end of a muzzle. After a good hour and a half of exploring, I concluded that the best overall site for observing is only about half mile from the campground, at 35.984279, -121.011742. It’s an open hill good with horizons nearly all the way around, especially to the east. So much so that you can look down and see headlights on highway 101. After dark, there was just a small light dome to the east, Paso Robles, perhaps. (EDIT: I was informed this light dome is not Paso Robles, which is way more to the south, and there is nothing east; this is most likely skyglow.)

The campground is wooded with pines, though sparsely, and each of the six sites are far enough apart which provides for privacy. The location is on top of a ridge, so the wind was sailing briskly over the ridge top, making tent assembly a bit difficulty. However, it died down rather abruptly after about 7pm.

The campsite showing fire ring, canopy, picnic table.

The campsite showing fire ring, canopy, picnic table.

There is no water at the campground whatsoever, so any campers or other visitors are well advised to bring plenty of their own. There is a single vault toilet that was fairly (relatively) clean and even stocked with adequate amounts of TP. The sites each had a metal picnic table and a canopy as shelter from the sun, or perhaps the rain, and the sites and much of the rest of the campground were roped off to keep offroaders off the vegetation.

There were other campers, including a fairly large group of young men, in about 6 cars. They were not any problem, we didn’t socialize at all, and the smell of clove cigarettes adorned the air on the road leading away from camp. There was also a later arrival, a guy with his girlfriend, out for a romantic camp getaway in the local hills.

As far as observing, I don’t have much to write about. The hilltop location were I set up was mildly rutted by vehicles turning around when the ground was last wet. The ruts made it slightly challenging to find an adequately flat, level spot for the dob base. It wasn’t dusty there, but rather a bit rocky with small scrub growing low. After it got dark, I sampled Saturn, whose tilt is now so great that seeing the Cassini division is easy, and enjoyed the planets wandering through Scorpius. viewed some objects around Ophiucus but mainly I was happy just taking in the dark sky, with the milky way hanging above like fluffy clouds. A few streaks of light appeared during the night, perhaps a pre-game show for the coming Perseid meteor shower. It was very much plenty dark.

road_looking_down_wh_201607

The view of the road leading up to Williams Hill Recreation Area, from the top, looking east.

I didn’t stay out long since I had to be out of there early. The next morning, I loaded up and took it easy down the hill again, and it was a nicer ride since it wasn’t as hot. Got back to San Jose around 11am.

Would I recommend this place for SJAA members to go observing? Definitely yes. The recommendation would also include that you should plan on staying the night. Though there is no water and no trash service, and it’s a fairly remote location where shooting is allowed, it does have fairly decent cell service, a nice campground, and good horizons at 2200 feet (671 meters).

distant forest fire smoke

Smoke from the fire near Carmel, California.

camp site

Rob’s camp in the sunset.

bug in tent

An overnight visitor, clinging to the ceiling of the tent.

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Afternoon wind whipped up a section of thick white dust at the one tight hairpin turn.

Posted in Trip Reports


Swap Meet – Sunday, March 20 2016

Hello SJAA Members and Friends,
Just a reminder that the SJAA Swap Meet is happening this Sunday, March 20, 2016 at the Hall at San Jose’s Houge Park. Here is the announcement that went to the Announce list (which is still being used, we encourage people to join), and here is the Meetup for the event (we encourage RSVPs!).

It’s important to note that the official start time is noon. That’s when the doors will open for business. For those of us who will be selling items, the hall will be available as early as 11am for people to come and set up their wares, for instance, if you have full scopes to bring in and set up for display. We are discouraging any buying and selling to happen during that “setup” hour, just so we stay true to the official opening time of 12 noon.

If you plan to sell items, please be aware that you will be asked to read and sign a form, which have a few guidelines. I’ve included them below so you can review them ahead of time, and it’s not new to you when you arrive.

We’re expecting a fun and sociable event. See you Sunday!

The Suggestions, Guidelines and Rules:

  1. Please read and sign this form before setting up.
  2. You will receive a name tag, please write your name on it and wear it where people can see it.
  3. You should have prices in mind ahead of time for all your items and ideally have the pieces labeled with the price.
  4. It’s a good idea to have a towel or sheet to place over your items in case you need to step away.
  5. Though we don’t expect any nefarious types, SJAA cannot be held responsible for any missing or damaged items
  6. Keep it fair: please refrain from conducting business before the official noon start time, which is when the doors open.
  7. Keep all the business inside the Hall rather than out on the grounds of the park.
  8. Event photos may be taken, in which case your likeness may be captured and posted to the SJAA website or newsletter.
  9. If there are any questions or need assistance, please see any of the volunteers.
  10. This event is run 100% by volunteers. The suggested donation to SJAA is 10% of sales.
  11. Have fun!
Posted in Anouncements, Articles
Tags: ,

2016 Election Results Are In

Last Saturday night was the annual membership meeting of the SJAA. There was a potluck, awards, and the annual election for about half the seats of the board of directors. Bill O’Neil, Glenn Newell, Rob Jaworski and Dave Ittner were all up for reelection, and we are happy to report all nominees, all of which are incumbents, were reelected to another two year term by the membership. Each candidate received 24 votes in favor and zero against.

Congratulations to all the candidates! The SJAA membership and the broader amateur astronomy community appreciate your service to this important educational institution serving the south bay and beyond!

Posted in Anouncements, Articles, General Meeting


Recap – Swap Meet 2015

crowded hall

image credit Glenn Newell

The SJAA Swap Meet for 2015 was a resounding success! There were lots of people who came out to browse, buy and sell, with old friends meeting up for the first time in a long while.

Though the event was scheduled to start at 11AM, there were people showing up even before then, setting up their wares, and others who came early to snag the good deals on pieces and parts of astronomy gear they needed. It was quite evident that this event was long anticipated. And just as it started early, it also ended early. Advertised to shut down at 4pm, the swap meet really began winding down at about 2pm, with people having socialized enough, sorting through the gear plenty enough times, and feeling satisfied that everything, and everyone, who was going to show up had already done so. The hall was cleaned out and cleaned up by 2:30.

Throughout the year, the SJAA receives donations of astronomy gear, usually sets of full telescope rigs with all the accessories. These donations are evaluated to determine if there is a place for it in a club program, such as the loaner telescope program. If there is no suitable place for it, then it’s value on the secondary market is determined, and finally gets listed for sale at either the annual swap meeting or auction. At this year’s swap meet, the club was able to find new homes for quite a number of gently and otherwise used scopes and accessories. Including direct sales and donations of sales proceeds from participants, the SJAA netted about $2300 at the end of the day.

The club very much appreciates all donations, and the board of directors also very much appreciates the time and effort of the volunteers that make these events happen, including the prep work of receiving donations, evaluating them, and finally finding them new homes. The community of amateur astronomy enthusiasts makes it all work.

We look forward to the next swap meet and seeing faces that sometimes become less and less frequent in the hall at Houge or on the hills in the dark of a new moon. We hope we can continue to encourage people to get out, to observe, and to keep this wonderful community and hobby going.

If you attended the swap meet and have any feedback for the organizers, please use the Feedback link on the sjaa website. Even if you didn’t attend but want to share an idea or any thoughts, please send it via the same means.

Posted in Recap


16 Degrees South

Australia - A Year of Edits

I just got back from a holiday in northern Australia.  Though it wasn’t an astronomical vacation at all (brought no scopes or astronomical meaningful binocs), I did get a chance to look up at a far more southern sky than I’m used to seeing.

The trip was a family vacation to tropical northern Queensland, specifically, Port Douglas and Cairns, so we were mostly between 16.5 and 17 degrees south latitude, definitely in the tropics, but not all that far south.

The first thing that I noticed was how high Scorpius is at that latitude.  It’s practically overhead, along with the teapot, with the Milky Way running pretty much between the two.  While shielding my view from the bright and numerous resort lights, the sky was still noticeably dark, which allowed the Milky Way to be so visible. What also stood out was a splotch of fuzz between the scorpion tail and the teapot spout, which is known as the open star cluster M7.  It was very bright, very noticeable with the naked eye.

After I got over my fascination of how high these summer, er, winter constellations were, I turned my focus to the unknown area just below Scorpius (would that be south or Scorpius, or maybe south west?).  It was entirely unfamiliar, and I knew that was a completely new area of the sky that I’ve never seen before.  That was a really cool feeling, knowing that I was looking at something I’ve never seen before, something I can’t see from home because it’s over and beyond my familiar horizon.

Checking the southern hemisphere sky map (thanks for sending it, Ed!), I realized that it was mostly Centaurus that occupied that space.  This constellation, according to Wikipedia, is visible only up to about 25 degrees north. Its two brightest stars, alpha (yes, *that* Alpha Centauri), and beta, which, btw, are unmistakably bright, point directly to Crux, the southern cross.  Crux is recognizable as a cross, and the “fifth” star of the cross that’s depicted in Australia’s national flag, though readily apparent in the sky, isn’t all that noteworthy. I would opine that it could easily have been left out of their flag and ensigns. I have to go with New Zealand (and a few others) on this one.

Southern Cross

The other constellations I identified were the southern crown (Corona Australis) and Triangulum Australe.

After doing a couple of brief (ten or fifteen minute) naked eye observation sessions over a few days, I wanted to see if there was anyone local that I could meet up with to get a better tour, possibly a telescopic one, of the views from sixteen degrees south.  Turns out that there is an astronomy group in Cairns, but unfortunately, emails to their listed address went unanswered while I was there.

Of course I wish that I had brought some gear and prepared better for this visit to the south, but I have to remind myself that I went in knowing that this was not going to be an astronomy focused trip.  The scuba diving at the Great Barrier Reef, visiting the rainforest as far north as Cape Tribulation, and avoiding the pademelons, wallabies and kangaroos on the road at dusk kept me busy.  It’s a really interesting area of Australia to visit, where the rainforest meets the reef, as they say, and the lack of astronomy during this visit only gives me an excuse to go there again, perhaps further south, so that the Magellanic Clouds can also be bagged!

Posted in Articles, Blog, Trip Reports


SJAA Coders

CodeIgniter Code III

The SJAA is in the process of automating various aspects of club operations. Examples include subscribing (and unsubscribing) to email lists, renewing memberships, maintaining event calendars, creating and adapting an auction system, and lots more. We are forming a team whose mission will be to identify these needs, prioritize them, projectize them, and tackle them. These are essentially software development, implementation and integration projects.

A kickoff meeting has been scheduled to get this started.

Event: SJAA Coders Inaugural Meeting
Place: Houge Park, Bldg 1, San Jose, Calif
Date: Sunday May 17 2015
Time: 2-4pm

We’re looking for people with various skills including:

  • WordPress (to help with the sjaa.net website)
  • Python
  • Django
  • PyQt/PySide, Kivy
  • SQL
  • Apache
  • testing
  • technical writing

Our annual spring auction is our biggest single fundraiser of the year, and hence it’s very important to the club. It can get intense, so we’re looking to automate the bookkeeping and item/bidder/seller tracking. During this kickoff meeting, we’ll demo a prototype of a python-based auction manager that’s in the works. We’ll throw in a wrinkle into the demo to make things interesting, so bring your laptops/tablets!

Those who want to acquire new skills are also welcome. If you’re interested please join us at our inaugural meeting and/or join the new SJAA Coders Google group.

Hope to see you there!

Posted in Anouncements, Articles, Blog