Monday, April 05, 2021

Are Typewriters Alive?

1961 Hermes 3000
Are Typewriters Alive?
Are Typewriters Alive?

This essay came alive to me in unexpected ways as I was sitting in front of the Hermes 3000 under the shade of the umbrella at my patio table, on a warm spring day. It started as a thought I had while I lay in bed several nights previous, which was that it seemed as if typewriters had the power to impart their own effect on the writing process, even to modulate the writer's voice. In a flight of fancy I asked myself if this might even be construed as a form of intelligence on the part of the machine, all the while simultaneously knowing they to be a complex assemblage of bits of metal parts, and that these thoughts were mere nonsense. Yet, following the chain of thought further, I asked myself if perhaps they possessed some primitive consciousness, in the way that people in the early 1970s began to think of plants as possessing a consciousness of their surroundings, as documented in Tompkins' and Bird's The Secret Life of Plants.

It's most likely the effect being observed with typewriters involves the process of how tools modulate the work of the artisan, yet it seemed sufficient to follow this fanciful thought further. If typewriters do possess a primitive form of consciousness -- or, like a virus that harnesses the reproductive process of living cells to procreate, the machines' harness the physical and emotional abilities of the writer -- do they do so individually, or is there some collective consciousness that might explain the slow but steady resurgence of interest in the typewriter? Are they reviving themselves, by harnessing the enthusiasm of writers and aficionados; or is their revival intrinsic and inevitable, a natural expectation in the evolution of human technology, with its ebb and flow in repetitive cycles?

All of this is mere fancy, and at most metaphoric of observations writers make about how they interact with their tools. These thoughts are a mental model and nothing more, that happen to explain some phenomena we observe as we create new work with these tools. Like most models, they are imperfect and subject to change. In the way that the Aether Theory served as a model for how space works, and even as it still seems to explain some observational phenomena today, we now know of better models; so too is the theory of living typewriters a mere mental construct, which we can choose to hold close or discard, depending on the breadth of our imagination.

Of course, ask any typewriter aficionado and they are certain to agree that, yes, some typewriters seem to be alive, seem to impart that something special into their creative process. I will leave it to you to decide if that constitutes some form of consciousness. I know where I stand.


Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Royal KMM Storage Case Project

Storage Case for 1947 Royal KMM

It's been several weeks since we -- Ethan Moses and myself -- began designing a storage/transport box for my 1947 Royal KMM. I've had this machine for a few months, since purchasing it from John Lewis Mechanical Antique Repair, here in ABQ. John's been servicing these machines for over 50 years, and the typical way he approaches these projects is a complete teardown, cleaning and rebuild. When you walk into John's shop, he's seated at his bench, which is visible from the front door, with some machine in front of him that's completely torn down to the bare chassis.

On the day I visited John, he had another Royal torn down, which look surprisingly smaller than when completely reassembled. Across from John's bench is a showrooom area comprised of shelves stocked with reconditioned machines for sale, along with a desk area in the middle of the floor, complete with typing paper and comfortable chairs, for clients to test out whichever machine they wish. John is very hands-on and enjoys taking a break from the tedium of repairs to engage with customers.

I've been a portable typewriter collector for some years. One thing I like about portables is, not only being able to easily tote them around but, that they have carrying cases serving to protect the machine while in transit and during storage. Not so with standard (so-called upright) machines; which originally came shipped from the factory in a rugged wooden crate, which typically were discarded after the machine arrived at its final destination, often at some office or school. These kinds of machines are also large and heavy, and don't have carriage locks, important for protecting the delicate escapement mechanism from damage should the machine suffer some sudden shock while being transported.

I live in a small house where storage and space is at a premium. I will typically have only one typewriter out on my desk at any one time, with the rest of the collection safely stowed away in their cases in the closet. It's been difficult, therefore, to justify getting a large standard machine, permanently taking up valuable desk space, given the constraints of my situation. Yet, standing in the showroom at John Lewis's shop that day, I couldn't help but ogle that sweet looking black beauty sitting up on the shelf. I've used standard machines before, notably one or two from Kevin's collection, and so I knew that they typically outperformed portables in terms of build quality and especially their typing action and feel of the keyboard. This also wasn't the first time I've ogled a standard machine at John's. Last year I almost pulled the trigger on a beautiful Underwood Model 5 that had exquisite black lacquered paint, gold decals and chrome trim, fully gone over by John; but I balked, knowing I had too many machines in my collection at home that I wasn't using. I needed to clear up some room, pare down my collection to just the essentials, before I could think about taking on a full-sized standard machine.

This wasn't John's first rodeo, as they say. He probably saw the gleam in my eye, as he quickly helped me get the big KMM down from the shelf and set me up in a padded chair to try it on for size. It was love at first tap. Though the 1947 KMM has round keys, the clear keytops are dished in, offering more comfort to the fingertips from long typing sessions. The touch was marvelous, and I found myself easily touch-typing with no interference from the shift lock key when hitting the letter "A", a common problem I have with many other keyboards. I was sold; but I had to think about it, because one thing I've learned over the years is never try to hide a purchase from the wife, it never ends well. I thanked John and told him I'd be back. He knew I would be, too.

The next day I returned, and the deal was done. He even threw in a new typewriter cover. I could sense John's pride in seeing one of his beauties, gone over with the thoroughness that only comes from 50 year's experience, finding a new home. As for the homecoming, it was surprisingly pleasant and pain-free, as I was directly up front with my wife about the purchase, she also knowing that I'd recently offloaded some little-used typers to better homes -- and the cost of the purchase was covered completely by a gift card I had.

Royal KMM, circa 1945

I've been using the KMM extensively since its arrival, and I remain completely satisfied. It has an elite, 12 character-per-inch typeface, and a darkly inked ribbon, so the loops and swirls of some characters tend to fill in with ink, but I've learned to lighten my touch and use certain kinds of paper, which lessens the effect. I expect it to only get better as the ribbon ages a bit. My touch typing has only gotten better on the KMM, which has a carry-over effect of making me better on other portables. I'd say the KMM has afforded me a bit of typerwiter therapy. The machine sits on a metal typing table, so my desk actually retains its usual cluttered appearance, with sufficient room perhaps for one more machine, should the need arise.

Yet, even though I was enamored enough to want to continue using the KMM, I knew that, down the road, there might come a time when I might want to store it away in the closet for a spell; or transport it to some typing event. And so the idea of a storage case came to mind. And when, some weeks later, I mentioned this to my friend Ethan, he immediately offered the idea of helping me design and build such a case, as it would give him opportunity to test out his recently acquired laser cutter on thicker grades of plywood, in preparation for some ULF (ultra-large format) camera-building projects he has planned. I'd call this serendipitous.

Designing Royal KMM Storage Box

And so, one day a few weeks ago we gathered at Ethan's shop and began the design/build process. Ethan has evolved his design process to hand sketching before he starts in on the Solid Works CAD (computer aided design) software, which is then rendered in a file format compatible with his laser cutter.

Storage Case for 1947 Royal KMM

Inspired by our conversation, and the fact that I'd brought the KMM with me for reference, Ethan began with a pencil sketch of the basic layout we were thinking of.

Storage Case for 1947 Royal KMM

The design evolved through several iterations.

Storage Case for 1947 Royal KMM

Finally arriving at this version, which seemed close enough to begin the CAD process. We'd also taken a break and made a trip to the hardware store for hinges and latches, which we measured and transfered the dimensions to our drawing. It was starting to take shape.

Ethan’s High School Calculator
Ethan's high school calculator still finds usefulness even today.

Designing Royal KMM Storage Box
Putting the finishing touches on the Royal logo.

Designing Royal KMM Storage Box

Once the files were done, we had to do some calibration runs on scraps of wood to figure out the optimal laser power and cutting speed for the 1/2" thick plywood. Laminated wood contains layers of adhesive, which can burn at different rates than the wood itself. Also, the gasses and vapors from the cut can defocus the beam, which causes further issues during the cut. But finally we had pieces cut, and the assembly process could begin.

Laser cutting thick plywood, though fast, is frought with difficulties. Ignoring the extensive setup and calibration runs ahead of time, what you end up with are pieces of wood with charred edges. The char can vary in thickness, so it needs to be cleaned up, which results in finger joints that are not as precise as you'd get with mechanical cutting methods. There's also the fact that, once you start glueing up the pieces, you'll inevitably end up with gluey fingers getting caked with messy black powdery char, which then makes unsightly finger prints on the otherwise clean plywood, which then necessitates extensive sanding afterwards; but you can't sand too much, because the outer plywood lamination is rather thin. The result isn't what you'd expect if fashioning perfectly formed, gleeming jewelry boxes -- which wasn't our intent, either. We were looking to create more of an industrial, rugged look, and that's what we got.

We met again that next week to finish up the sanding and some of the finish work. Then this week I put the finishing touches on the box, including sanding the interior and applying a coat of Danish wood oil, then measuring and fitting the mounting blocks which serve to accurately position the typewriter in the case so it's near perfectly centered. The result is as you can see in the top photo of this article.

Storage Case for 1947 Royal KMM

Here's the case with the lid opened. I used paracord and screw eyes to serve as holding straps to keep the case lid from falling backwards when opened. Inside you can see the mounting blocks for precisely positioning the typewriter feet.

As for protecting the carriage and escapement from unwanted movement, what I did was use a plastic clothespin to lock the carriage release lever in the released position, which disconnects the rack gear from the escapement pinion, thereby protecting the escapement from damage; then I built a set of foam rubber end caps that fit over both carriage knobs, which serve to snuggly position the carriage immobile in the case.

The whole project is documented in the video below. I can easily say that the KMM can now be transported with safety to any venue, and stored securely in my closet should the need arise. It serves to transform what was once a desk-bound typewriter into a mobile (er, luggable) writing tool, in the spirit of those early suitcase-sized luggable computers from the 1980s. Which is no small bit of irony.

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Sunday, March 07, 2021

Ojito Wilderness Hike

Cliffs, Ojito Wilderness
Ojito Wilderness Hike
Gas Station Breakfast, Ojito Wilderness
Ethan grabbed a to-go sandwich at the Warrior Gas Station in the town of Bernalillo, on the way out to the Ojito. I'd already eaten that morning before leaving, so I had the joy of watching him eat his meal, featuring almost-frozen artifical cheese. Yum!

Ojito Wilderness
Our trail took us along the edge of the large mesa (in the background, above), through areas of dramatically sculpted rock formations.

Balanced Rock, Ojito Wilderness
These eroded formations, called hoodoos, are commonly seen in the Ojito, as well as other parts of northwestern New Mexico.

Flowering Yucca, Ojito Wilderness
Flowering yucca, the official New Mexico state flower. Notice the strange pentagonal formation of depressions in the rock face behind...

Balanced Rock, Ojito Wilderness
...which is at the base of this hoodoo. Manmade, or otherwise?

Hoodoo & Ponderosa Pines, Ojito Wilderness
Our trail takes us through this stand of ponderosa pines; these supposedly are the lowest altitude ponderosas in the world, fed by some underground springs not readily evident by the dry terrain on the surface.

Ethan & Hasselblad at Ojito Wilderness
Ethan came equipped with a Hasselblad and Polariod back, plus a hearty supply of outdated peel-apart film. We both tried our hand at instant landscape photography.

Ethan Moses & Hasselblad at Ojito Wilderness
After going off-trail, cross-country, we rested at our destination, this scenic canyon, where we took the majority of the Polaroids.

Ethan Moses at Ojito Wilderness
Ethan scouting for his next shot.

Ojito Wilderness
The formation on the right looks like a snail's head. One's imagination can go wild in these badlands.

As I alluded to earlier, I was out of shape for this hike, but glad I took it. This gives me encouragement to keep doing this as often as possible.

A big thanks to Ethan Moses for inviting me along, and being tour guide.

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Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Journals, Binders, Blogs

Typewritten Journal Binder, June 2020 to February 2021
With Royal Mercury on Front Patio

It was about time to start a new 3-ring binder, after the old one, started in June of 2020, was full up. This piece goes into the start of that new binder. I organize my writings into one binder for personal journal entries and One Type Page (OTP) entries; and another binder for my own blog's articles (like this one). And that other binder of blog articles is fat, with articles dating back to 2016, itself soon needing to be replaced.

Once they're full, I store them either in my office closet, or in plastic storage boxes, stacking up from the weight of decades' worth of writings and photography.

Typewritten Journal Binder, June 2020 to February 2021

The old binder, now full, was a freebie, acquired last year when I was in the waiting room of my optometrist and noticed they had a stack of binders they were tossing out. So naturally I came home with, not only new glasses, but some extras. But this time, I went to my neighborhood big-box office supply retailer and specifically chose this bright green binder, to stand out amongst the drabness of my office bookcase. A typewritten adhesive label or two later, and it was all ready to go.

New Typewritten Journal Binder

I don't look through the old writings often enough. It's fun to not only read what I was thinking back then, but look at what paper I was using (I tend to frequently mix up my choice of typing paper), and also what machines were in use. It was interesting, looking through that fat binder of archived blog articles, to see machines being used that I don't even have any longer. This kind of "metadata" I find just as interesting as the writing itself.

Naturally, this begs the larger question of how best to archive one's personal writings. It's a sticky issue, because most of us aren't blessed by tenure at some institution of higher learning, where our work might be archived in some institutional archive; nor have most of us achieved some significant professional stature as a published author and thereby acquired some archivability of our work through reputation alone. If you're like me, you're a struggling writer, in that in-between space squeezed by one's job and family responsibilities on the one hand and some innate creative urge, just bursting to get out, on the other.

When you mention archives, many people immediately think you're talking about computer data backups. There is that, but what I'm talking about is bigger than data backup. Many of us creatives have amassed significant volumes of work on paper. Work that, sure, could be archived digitally, but what would be the point? Would that hard drive or thumb drive survive long enough to mean something down the road, or be tossed in a drawer or box to be forgotten, then discarded?

The point is the future reader. Is it good enough for someone to read, down the road, when you've shed your mortal coil? If not for some stranger with passing interest, is it interesting enough for family offspring to keep? Maybe. Depends, on your relationships, and on the work itself. Many of us have accumulated mounds of what others might call "clutter," but you might call the priceless offspring of a life's worth of creativity. You'd like for someone to keep it all, but down deep know that's unlikely. Personally, I'd expect much of my stuff to be tossed into the recycle bin.

One could, if one were proactive (gosh how I tire of that business-speak term), cull out the best of one's personal work and cudgel it into some self-published tome, to leave to one's offspring as the distilled essence of your creative thoughtlife in book form. A single volume, a condensation of one's work, small enough to likely survive that great paper-tossing-to-the-curb event, come your demise. Leave behind one, maybe two, good books for them to read. It'll probably outlast that archived hard drive or USB stick.

While we're on the subject of culling, I just today shipped off the Hermes Rocket, to a kid in California who will probably get more use out of it than I. And just a few days ago I gave the Groma Kolibri back to Kevin, from whence it came, as again I wasn't using it much, and he'd enjoy it, I'm certain. But don't mistake this for some kind of personal valor, because, you may recall, I've also acquired the massive yet wonderful Royal KMM, which sits prominantly in the office on its typing stand, ready to do battle at a moment's notice.

That leaves this Royal Mercury as my only remaining manual ultra-portable (not counting the handful of thermal ultra-portables). And I still have a good number of medium-sized portables, better suited for longer writing sessions than any ultra-portable, yet still luggable if the need arises.

Here's a video about this subject. Enjoy.

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Monday, February 15, 2021

The Christmas Bomb Scare

Swiss Musical Ornament
“The Christmas Bomb Scare,” part One
Chester T. Van Cleave and Major General Honeycutt
Dad being presented a certificate for outstanding achievement of duty as Equipment Specialist (Ordinance), by Major General Honeycutt of the Defense Atomic Support Agency (DASA) on Sandia Base, circa 1966.

“The Christmas Bomb Scare,” part Two

I was able to bring the brass music box mechanism back to life by carefully removing the regulator whirly-gig and cleaning all the gunk from between the grooves of the brass gear teeth with a fine razor knife, aided by a magnifying loupe. My brothers told me the bomb squad had "defused" the device by dunking it in water, which probably didn't do the mechanism any good.

While visiting my brothers, they also brought out a number of envelopes of ephemara from Dad's WWII and civil service, which I'm now in the process of sorting through and documenting. My grandson Noah was very interested also, as I knew he would be.

Several weeks ago I presented this story of the Christmas ornament bomb-scare in video format, link below:


Tuesday, February 09, 2021

Typing Mishmash Melange

Brother EP-43 Thermal Typewriter
Typing For the Sake of Typing - Part One
Olympia SM3
Andrea's SM-3

Typing For the Sake of Typing - Part Two

I spent some time over at Kevin's yesterday (some people might say I spent too much time...) and we tinkered some more with his Smith-Corona Poweriter, which is a typebar electric 6-series, with the narrower platen (i.e. not the 12" platen of the Galaxie) and featuring a DC motor with a rechargeable battery pack! It's had a lot of issues, but Kevin is slowly ironing them out.

SCM Poweriter
Poweriter test typing

There was an earlier and a later version of the Poweriter. Kevin's is the earlier model, whose power supply requires the battery to be installed in order to run properly from AC current. The power supply is ridiculously simple, composed of a transformer, a single diode and several resistors. Thus far, Kevin has had the motor rebuilt by a local motor shop, and he's replaced the resistors. The diode measures okay, but the 4-cell NiCad pack needs replacing. We're not certain about the transformer, however. And because of that, we were thinking about just installing a more modern power supply in its place.

We were tinkering yesterday with just installing a replacement power supply, from an AC adapter, of the correct voltage and current to both run the motor under load and recharge the cells. We found a particular AC adapter that outputs 9VCD and supplies up to 1.5 amps, sufficient for our needs. We had experimented with several different adapters; the ones with lower voltage obviously ran the motor slower, yet the typewriter performed okay, although the motor made a funny whinning sound as it sped up and slowed down. With the more powerful supply the motor spins faster and really slams the typebars into the platen. So then we installed a 3.3 ohm, 5 watt voltage dropping resistor, and it brought down the voltage under full load to where it should be, with the typewriter performing more normally, and yet with enough voltage to recharge the cells when installed. The nice thing is that the newer AC adapter with add-on resistor will be able to fit nicely inside the machine, which is taller than a conventional 6-series, to accomodate the power supply and batteries.

It will be fun to see how long the machine runs on batteries only. Of course, a person could replace the NiCad cells with Lithium ion cells, which would really boost the run-time of the machine, but then you wouldn't want to have the power supply recharging them (because for safety you need a charger designed for lithium ion cells).

I like the looks of this narrower-carriage 6-series machine, over the 12" version. And of course being a type bar machine they type ridiculously fast, with a featherlight touch.

Thermal Fax Roll Paper Holder

I recently received an Internet Care Package from a viewer, that included several rolls of 4.25" wide thermal fax paper. (Actually, it measures closer to 4-3/8" wide, but in the typecast I said 4-1/2". Go figure.) This is the paper I used for the thermal typecast at the top of this page, with my Brother EP-43. I like the width of this paper for blogging, as the narrower lines means more ledgibility online, especially when reading from a cell phone.

I fashioned a holder for this paper from a discarded cardboard plastic baggie carton (see above), and it fits about perfectly, with just a few modifications around the opening to make the paper easier to remove. I like these easy-to-do hacks using materials that would normally be recycled.

You may have also noticed in the thermal typecast that I made a snazzy little typographic touch by using the EP-43's wide letter mode for the first letter of each paragraph, harkening back to the middle ages and illuminated manuscripts.

This being a hodge-podge of miscellany, here's a video I posted today about more such random subjects.


Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Bitten by the Bug -- Again!

View from the Other End
Bitten By the Bug, Part 1
Sky Research 8” F/2.9 Dobsonian, circa 1981
My first serious telescope, a Sky Research 8" F/2.9 Dobsonian, circa 1981

Bitten by the Bug, Part 2

In the early 1980s I used the rich-field Sky Research dob for a number of years, but was keenly aware of its shortcomings. While it sported an unrivaled F2.9 aperture, ideal for dim, extended objects requiring more light grasp than magnification, it was a poor planetary scope, due to its short focal length and large secondary mirror obstruction. Still, I kept it in the camper shell of my Toyota truck, to have handy whenever the mood struck. And I enjoyed some spectacular views of nebulae, in the mountains of northern New Mexico at night, where Orion's nebula shone like a Hubble picture.

Sky Research 8” F/2.9 Dobsonian Reflector

And then one morning, on the way to work at the TV Repair Shop, I got in a traffic accident, and the scope was thrown around the back of the camper shell, which fractured the composite body tube around the eyepiece focuser mount. I put the scope into storage for a number of years, until I could decide what to do with it. Years later, I replaced the 9.25 inch diameter body tube with a 10 inch diameter construction type concrete form tube, which required replacing the glass aperture plate (the original scope had the secondary mirror mounted to a clear glass aperture plate up front, with no mounting spider like an open-tube Newtonian), with a makeshift threaded rod and plumbing cap secondary mirror mount and spider. In the process I painted the new body tube red, with the rocker box now white.

Inside the Rich Field Newtonian

I was still looking for a stargazing solution, however. For a while I used my Dad's Edmund Scientific 4.25" newtonian, which he'd bought in the 1950s. I remember one summer night at Altura Park viewing Mars at opposition, and sketching surface detail in that scope. It certainly performed above its weight limit!

Tasco 3”, 700mm Reflector Telescope

One thing led to another, and eventually I was left with the red/white/blue shorty dobsonian, and a beaten up old Tasco reflector, the kind once sold in department stores. Not the best instrument for a serious amateur. It's this little red scope that I've been having fun with recently. It's easy to take down and store in my garage, and gives an adequate view of brighter objects from the city. But I'm keenly aware of its limitations.

Zhumell 25x100 Astronomy Binocular & Case

This isn't the first time I've been down this road, being bitten by the astronomy bug and wanting a better viewing instrument. Within the last decade I started using a 7x50 binocular, mounted to my Bogen camera tripod, and enjoyed the views, and especially the ease of setup, tear down and storage. But I wanted an instrument with higher magnification and light grasp, so eventually got these Zhumell 25x100s. That's 25x magnification and 100mm (about 4") aperture. Bigger than the little red reflector's 3" mirror, almost as big as my Dad's old Edmund Scientific reflector, though a much shorter focal length, and fixed magnification, as the eyepieces aren't removable.

Zhumell 25x100 Astronomy Binocular

Forget handholding these babies. It's not even a suggestion to have a tripod, but mandatory. They weigh north of 15 pounds. But I've had some fun viewing with them, using both eyes, first using my Bogen camera tripod (which is almost too flimsy for them), and later with this cobbled together-frame that positions the binos at eye level, reclined in a zero-gravity lawn chair. Perfect viewing comfort.


But alas, this frame is too large to store with easy access in my garage, so has been relegated under a pile of clutter, along with the folding chair, in my storage shed. But I have been busy sketching ideas of different binocular mounts.

Parallelogram Binocular Mount

First is my version of a parallelogram mount. This is an articulating arm, mounted to a tripod, that attaches the binocular to an L-bracket on one side and is counter-weighted on the other. This kind of mount permits the binocular arm to be moved up, down and sideways without changing the aiming point of the instrument. Set a reclining chair next to the tripod and you're all set. These are available for purchase, but this was my sketch of a homemade version.

Astronomy Binocular Mount Studies

Next are two more sketches. The one on the left is an alt-azimuth mount that attaches to a tripod and has those low-friction bearings like on a Dobsonian reflector scope. The problem with this idea is the eyepieces don't have 90-degree prisms, so pointing the instrument at the zenith means getting in an awkward position underneath. And because the tripod's directly below the instrument, there's no room for a reclining chair.

The sketch on the right is for a counter-weighted frame that positions the scope in front of the user, reclined in a chair, with the up/down pivot of the frame being located adjacent to their ears, meaning as the viewer tilts their head up and down the binocular can follow with the eyepieces right in front of them. I didn't show the rest of the idea, which is a reclining chair mounted to a rotating platform. While it would represent the ultimate in binocular viewing in comfort, I'm not convinced of its easy of storage or portability. Oh well, at least the idea is documented on paper.

Since I did drag the short-tube Dobsonian out of the storage shed and cleaned it up (except the mirror is still needing cleaned), perhaps I'll put it through its paces during these next few weeks, and see how I get on with it, before deciding on buying either a parallelogram mount for the big binoculars, or a larger, longer Dobsonian-style Newtonian. And if I do decide to make another gear acquisition, it's incumbent upon me to give my older gear away to someone who'd appreciate it, perhaps starting their own journey into star gazing.

These are the problems of a part-time sky watcher, who has bigger dreams than his pocket book or available room can accomodate. But I suppose there are worse problems.

Stay well, and keep looking up.