Review: Celestron EclipSmart Travel scope

I came across the Celestron EclipSmart Travel Scope while browsing around B&H Photo looking for more things to lust after. For $100 I was intrigued, so I decided to pick one up along with some adapters to let me attach my camera to the scope.

I’ll admit it. The main reason I picked up this little budget scope was for the 2017 eclipse. The other reason is that while I’ve been fascinated by astronomy and astrophysics my entire life, I’ve never had what I would consider a real telescope of my own. I’ve had chances to use them and look through some pretty decent ones (8″ and 12″ reflectors on top of the U of A Physics building). When I saw the EclipSmart, I thought to myself that maybe I should change that. Even though this one is only for solar viewing, I figured it would be a decent place to start. Fortunately, I’m pretty good at managing my expectations (at least I think I am).

First impression when I saw the box was that was a lot smaller  than I expected. Everything comes packaged in a 45x28x13 cm box. The Celestron EclipSmart travel scope is a 50 mm refractor telescope with a 360 mm/f7.4 focal length. Comes with a 20 mm eye piece, tripod and a backpack to carry everything around in. It’s all light enough to be easily portable, and sets up pretty quickly.

Celestron EclipSmart
Celestron EclipSmart Travel Scope

The telescope is about the size of a large spotting scope. The solar filter is permanently installed, so it’s a bit of a uni-tasker as far as telescopes go.

The telescope will attach to any tripod using a standard 1/4″ threaded screw. The tripod that comes with the scope is lightweight with three extendable sections on each leg. A little bit on the flimsy side, but it does the job. Easily knocked over, so not something you want to set up where lots of people are running around. Fully extended, the tripod stands just a little over 1 m high which puts the eye piece of the telescope at a reasonably comfortable height for viewing (unless you’re really tall).

On the tripod. Banana for scale
On the tripod. Banana for scale
On the tripod
On the tripod

Handy aiming sight lets you get the telescope pointed at the sun without having to look at the sun or try to hunt for it through the scope.

Sun alignment
Sun alignment (dog not for scale)

So far, it seems like a decent little scope for the price. Lightweight, very portable and easy to carry around. Focusing is easy and fairly smooth. With the 20 mm eye piece, the image of the sun is a pretty decent size. Doesn’t fill the entire field of view of the eye piece, but the image of the sun is large enough to see sunspots.

If you’re looking for a simple, inexpensive scope for solar or eclipse viewing, this one fits the bill nicely.

Photos to come in a later post.

Sleeve case for Transformer Prime

Rather than get one of those flip cover style cases for my Transformer Prime (it still needs a name), I opted to get a sleeve type case.
I don’t remember how I discovered Saddleback Leather Company on the internets, but they sell some really nice leather items, including a wallet I picked up from them a couple years ago. Their Classic Briefcase has been on my IWantINeed list for a while now.
When it came to sleeve cases, Saddleback Leather was the first place I went looking and was delighted to find their Gadget sleeve. I had to wait a bit for the colour I wanted to be in stock though.
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Although the sleeve is sized more for an iPad sized tablet (the Prime sticks out some), the Prime still fits in there pretty nicely with some additional room to spare. A Prime with keyboard dock would probably go in there perfectly.
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For now, the case holds the Prime in pretty securely so there’s not too much danger of it slipping out accidentally. Even with some light shaking the Prime stays in the sleeve. That may change as the sleeve gets broken in over the next year.
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The stitching is pretty solid, and if it’s anything like their wallet, will take a lot of abuse before it starts showing any sign of wear. The leather is 2 mm thick, and the inside is lined with pigskin (I think). It should provide a good bit of protection against falls, unless it happens to fall on the open end, in which case you’d be pretty much hosed.
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This sleeve case is likely to outlive every gadget I’ll ever own.

Transformer Prime as a reader

The main reason for getting the Transformer Prime was so that I could read my ever growing collection of PDF journal articles and ebooks some place other than the in front of my computer. Places like my rocking chair on my back porch or the comfort of my couch or bed. You know, the comfy places.
First off, glassy screen -> reflections. This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. Particularly glaring reflections can, for the most part, be dealt with by angling the screen without affecting readability too much. If this is something that’s going to drive you crazy, you’ll want to consider something else. Hasn’t bothered me too much so far.
The brightness of the Prime means that the tablet should be readable in pretty much any lighting condition, from dark room the bright daylight. The brightness boost provided by IPS+ mode makes the screen on the Prime easily readable even in bright sunlight, although you’ll pay for it in battery life. I haven’t used it much for reading in sunlight too much, but it works.
The weight isn’t much more than a hefty book, but heavier than your typical paperback. Holding it for extended periods of reading isn’t too great a strain and so far I haven’t found it terribly uncomfortable. I find for reading, holding the Prime in portrait orientation is most comfortable.
Perhaps the biggest problem I’m having with the Prime as a reader is that it’s too easy to bounce around and do other things like surf the web, check mail when a new message notification pops up or check Facebook, or play a game. If you have a brain with somewhat ADD tendencies like mine, this can be a bit of a problem, especially if you’re reading something that isn’t quite engrossing enough to override those tendencies. With dedicated e-book readers like the Kindle or Nook, all you can do is, well, read so there isn’t the temptation to bounce around to or get distracted by other things. If your brain isn’t like that, then probably won’t be an issue.
All in all, I’m liking the Prime for reading. I think it will rank up there as one of the better purchases I’ve made.

Review: Heaven by Mur Lafferty

My first encounter with Mur Lafferty was at CREATESouth 2010, where she gave a very entertaining keynote speech.
The last few days I’ve been entertaining myself with her audio book series Heaven. The Afterlife Series started off in 2006 with Heaven and continues with Hell, Earth, Wasteland and concludes with War.
For me, the measure of a good book is how often my brain churns around in the world and with the characters. Books like Dune, Lord of the Rings, most anything by Robert Heinlein have all given my brain vast worlds to explore and have fun in.
Although I’ve only recently finished Mur Lafferty’s Afterlife series, it has been spinning in my head since I started listening. It’s a story that takes many different elements and combines them all together into an entertaining tale. Take two people, kill them, send them into the afterlife, turn them into gods that never quite grasp the full extent of their god-ness and see what happens.
When I’m listening to things, whether it’s music, podcasts, audiobooks or the radio, my brain usually ends up tuning it out. Heaven managed to keep my brain entertained enough to keep listening. Mur does a good job of reading the story, and most of the time it’s easy to tell the different characters apart. There is the occasional sprinkling of swear words in there, so probably not something you’d want to listen to with kids around.
The entire series is available from Podiobooks.com and is just under 18.5 hours (69 files, ~850 MB). Definitely worth checking out.

Review: Home-Ec 101: Skills for Everyday Living

This is the review I posted on Amazon.com.
Home-Ec-101-Book-Cover.pngFull of hints, tips and techniques written in that funny, quirky Heather style. If you know Heather (I do), you’ll know what I mean. If you don’t know Heather, you’ll get an idea of the kind of person she’s like as you read the book. Perhaps the most entertaining book on home economics you’ll ever read.
Heather’s book, like her website, is divided into 4 sections: Cook it, Clean it, Wash it, Fix it. Each section includes tips, techniques, hints and suggestions for dealing with various parts of the household, interspersed with posts from the website. You’ll find the toilet cleaning tutorial on pg 66. Basic mending techniques for clothing are covered in chapter 10. Save time dealing with laundry by skipping the underwear folding (pg 119). Do you burn water in the kitchen? Head straight for the Cook it section.
It’s a great book to read that will leave you chuckling and ready to take on the house.