Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Comet Lovejoy Animation

I've created an animation of Comet Lovejoy consisting of three images taken on consecutive days at approximately the same time. Each image is a crop from a singe photo taken using the same settings. Pay attention to the motion of the comet and how the brightness decreases over the three day period. I fear Comet Lovejoy might quickly become too dim to see with the naked eye.

If you live in the Southern Hemisphere you really need to do yourself a favor and make some time to observe the comet while you still can!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Comet Lovejoy - 27 December 2011

I'm making the best use of the clear morning skies, the borrowed camera and the visibility of Comet Lovejoy while I still can. My sleeping patterns are now synched with the rise and set of Lovejoy so getting up at 02:40 is getting to be second nature.

For images I shot this morning I went with a vertical orientation to include as much of the surrounding constellations and Milky way as possible.

Unprocessed Images:

Canon 1000D, 18mm, ISO 1600, 30sec, F/3.5
Canon 1000D, 18mm, ISO 1600, 30sec, F/3.5
Canon 1000D, 18mm, ISO 800, 30sec, F/3.5

Stacked Images:

10 x ISO 1600 images stacked using DSS
10 x ISO 800 images stacked using DSS

Labeled Image:

Image with labels showing brightest NGC objects and stars

Monday, December 26, 2011

Comet Lovejoy Revisited

After being hampered by my equipment I managed to get my hands on a Canon 1000D in order to give Comet Lovejoy another shot. I had to give myself a crash-course in DSLR usage since this was the first time I got to shoot with one. Focusing in the dark was extremely difficult and I don't know if I actually achieved the optimum focus. I also had to experiment with all the settings to get the hang of things.

I'm reasonably happy with the results although it's nothing like the images other people have managed to get.

Here's a timelapse video of Comet Lovejoy I created from 30 still images.

And some stills:

Canon 1000D, 18mm, f/3.5, 25 sec, ISO 800
Canon 1000D, 18mm, f/3.5, 30 sec, ISO 1600
Canon 1000D, 18mm, f/3.5, 30 sec, ISO 1600
Canon 1000D, 18mm, f/3.5, 30 sec, ISO 800

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Comet Lovejoy

All I wanted for Christmas was to see Comet Lovejoy and I got my wish! It has been a tiring couple of days. Each morning I was up at 03:20 and outside to catch a glimpse of this once in a lifetime event, only to be met with a tantalizing glimpse before the skies clouded over.

This morning I tried again and wonder of wonders the sky was completely clear! I raced indoors to grab my camera and snapped away until dawn. My camera isn't really suited for the job, but I managed to capture the comet, even if only just.

Below is a short Youtube video I created from all the images. The images were taken roughly 20 seconds apart and spans a period from 03:40 to 04:40.

And here's a still image of the comet and a satellite that happened to pass by. It's not up to the same quality as some of the images out there, but I'm reasonably proud of it.

Comet Lovejoy. The streak at bottom right is a satellite called Intercosmos 25.
The two brightest stars are Alpha and Beta Centauri also known as "the Pointers".

The comet itself is an amazing sight and well worth the effort to get up in the early hours. The tail is now more than 20° in length and very easy to see with the naked eye. For those living in the Southern Hemisphere Comet Lovejoy should still be visible for the next couple of days. If you want to catch a glimpse set your alarms for approximately 03:20 and look to the South. You can't miss it!

PS: Santa if you are reading this I want a DSLR camera next Christmas so I can do a proper job if something like this happens again!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Even More New Books

As luck would have it I received two large book orders during the week so this, my last new arrival post of 2011, is a truly epic book haul. Once again I went a bit overboard, but by this time you should know that I'm a complete book addict so it shouldn't come as any surprise.

Pre-loved books:

These are all second hand books I ordered from my two favourite online stores Better World Books and Awesome Books. Between the two of them I can get a bunch of used hardcovers for the price of what one new hardcover would cost over here.

Science Fiction books:
Use of Weapons - Iain M. Banks
Cowboy Angels - Paul McAuley
Moon War - Ben Bova
Ender's Shadow, Shadow of the Hegemon - Orson Scott Card
Shadow Puppets, Shadow of the Giant - Orson Scott Card
The Martian Race - Gregory Benford
The Trigger - Arthur C. Clarke 

Fantasy books:
The Dwarves - Markus Heitz
The Magicians Guild, The Novice, The High Lord - Trudi Canavan
The Demon Awakens, The Demon Spirit - R.A Salvatore
The Demon Apostle, Mortalis - R.A Salvatore

For Review

I received Halo Cryptum by Greg Bear and A Year in the Wild by James Hendry. Thanks to Pan Macmillan SA for sending me these review copies!


At the moment I'm suffering from a bout of reading fatigue which is really frustrating. It's not that I don't want to read, it's just that I can't seem to keep my normal pace going. I'm going to take it easy over the next few days and hopefully I'll be back to normal soon.

I hope you all have a wonderful Christmas filled with bookish gifts and lots of reading time!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Book Trailer: Blue Remembered Earth

Gollancz just posted a book trailer for Alastair Reynolds' new novel Blue Remembered Earth. This is one of the titles I'm looking forward to in 2012. The trailer looks pretty cool and the premise sounds intriguing. I'm definitely adding it to my wishlist.

One hundred and fifty years from now, in a world where Africa is the dominant technological and economic power, and where crime, war, disease and poverty have been banished to history, Geoffrey Akinya wants only one thing: to be left in peace, so that he can continue his studies into the elephants of the Amboseli basin. But Geoffrey's family, the vast Akinya business empire, has other plans. After the death of Eunice, Geoffrey's grandmother, erstwhile space explorer and entrepreneur, something awkward has come to light.

Eunice's ashes have already have been scattered in sight of Kilimanjaro. But the secrets she died with are about to come back out into the open, and they could change everything.

One secret, two people, an infinity of futures.

Blue Remembered Earth will be released on the 19th of January 2012, so luckily we won't have to wait long.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Review: Running Black

Title: Running Black
Author: Patrick Todoroff
Pages: 241
ISBN: 9780578070711
Series: Eshu International #1
Published: 2010
Genre: Science Fiction/Espionage
Source: Review copy provided by author

Buy it from:
Amazon (Kindle Edition)
Amazon (Paperback)

It's 2059 and the North Korean mercenary Tam Song heads up Eshu International: a private security team that will take any job for the right price, no questions asked. Based in the Belfast Metro Zone, they're the best black contract outfit on the planet.

Stable nano-technology: the melding of man and machine on a microscopic level. It's a break-through worth billions no one's been able to achieve. Until now. The Dawson Hull Conglomerate has finally developed a viable Nanotech Neural Network; an interface system that exponentially increases a person's cyber-capabilities. They're days away from unveiling the prototype to the world. And Eshu International just got hired to steal it.

Running Black the debut novel by Patrick Todoroff is an action-packed espionage adventure set in the near-future where huge corporations have immense power and influence; even governments are forced to bow down to their demands. Rival corporations vie relentlessly against each other to gain an economic edge, often resorting to hiring mercenary groups to do their dirty work. Eshu International is the best in the business and when they are hired to steal a prototype of a nanotech neural network they get far more than they bargained for…

The near-future world Todoroff presents is a plausible extrapolation from the present; something that is often very difficult to achieve successfully. The prose is descriptive while still being to the point and adds to the fast pace and sense of urgency. Todoroff uses a mixture of first-person and third-person narration that works surprisingly well. The story is told from the perspective of several viewpoint characters, but it's done in a natural way without causing confusion.

The cast of characters are well-fleshed out and engaging. I was particularly drawn to Gibson and the oddly endearing clone warriors Mopsy, Flopsy and Cottontail. Their childlike naivety contrasted well with their ruthless proficiency at killing. It was also refreshing to see Major Eames, a female character who is as tough as nails and unstoppable in her commitment to track the Eshu team down. The characters all have differing natures and motivations and the interplay between the Enshu team members was interesting and gave a great sense of their shared history.

The plot deals with some serious moral dilemmas and contains some Christian themes and religious references. Since the question of clones having souls is one of the cornerstones of the storyline it’s inevitable that religion has to play some role in the story. The author’s personal beliefs shine through, but it never detracts from the story or devolves into sermonising.

The ending, while not quite the outcome I was hoping for, is thought-provoking and lets the reader draw their own final conclusion. This is well worth a read.

The Verdict:
Running Black is an exceptionally well-written debut novel filled with lots of action, intrigue and the firepower to go with it. Todoroff’s writing style is reminiscent of Neal Asher’s work, but without the grand space opera scope. There’s huge potential here and it will be interesting to see where Todoroff takes the Enshu International team next.

In the paperback version I reviewed there were some very minor editing problems (one or two missing words or wrong word order), but for an independently published novel this is a professional quality product with good editing and a stunning cover as well!

The Rating: 7/10 (Very Good)

Monday, December 5, 2011

A Month of Discworld Madness

As you might have noticed November was an extremely quiet month as far as reviews went. The reason for that is that I spent most (OK, all!) of my reading time on reading Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels. You see, the devious minds over at the South African Book Lovers group on Goodreads devised a great Terry Pratchett reading challenge which kicked off in November. I'm a sucker for a good challenge and I got a bit obsessed carried away...

The challenge consists of 40 tasks which need to be completed by a team of four. Each team member has to complete 10 tasks which count towards their team total. The first team to finish all 40 tasks wins. In order to complete the challenge on an individual basis you need to complete 25 tasks. For every 5 tasks completed the team is awarded a Discworld themed card and individuals earn stamps as rewards.

I'm on my fourth stamp now, which means that I've read a total of 21 Discworld novels during the month of November. My team, The City Watch, is also leading by a mile with a total of 32 points (the team in second place only has 15 points). Not bad if you consider the fact that the challenge was supposed to last for a year!

Unfortunately this obsession left little time for anything else. Sanity has finally returned and with a bit of luck I'll be able to catch up on my review backlog now.