Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Shiny things.

All the breezy spring days lately have me thinking of warm summer nights out under the stars. So I decided to do another astronomy post. The first half of the Messier list is heavy on clusters, so I thought I'd skim through some more of those. So here are some shiny things you might like to take a look at this summer. Most of them I don't know much about other than their names. This is M-9, which is near the center of the Milky Way.

And this is M-10, and it's very close in the sky to M-12, so if you're looking at one, you can probably find the other easily.

This one is M-11, and is called the wild duck cluster. That's duck, with a D. I repeat, duck with a D. Get your mind out of the gutter.

This is M-12. It used to have a million more stars in it, but it lost them. They claim that the Milky Way stole them with it's gravity, but I'm not sure it didn't just set them down on the seat next to it in the restaurant and then forgot to pick them up when it left.

And this is M-13. In "The Sirens of Titan" Kurt Vonnegut wrote "Every passing hour brings the Solar System forty-three thousand miles closer to Globular Cluster M13 in Hercules -- and still there are some misfits who insist that there is no such thing as progress." -- And once, we sent a message there. It was in 1974 and was called the Arecibo message. It was really was pretty boring as such things go. We sent the numbers 1-10, the atomic numbers of the elements found in living organisms, and the most pitiful looking stick figure of a man you can imagine. And we aimed it at a planet that won't be there when the message arrives. Clearly it was done by committee.

This is M-14. In 1938, a nova appeared in this globular cluster, but nobody noticed it for almost thirty years. Then someone who was studying some old photographic plates from the thirties realized that there was a star in one of the pictures that was new. They think it was five times brighter than anything else in the cluster for a brief while.

and M-15, which I actually know a little about.

In the center M15 there are about 15 very hot stars isolated at the core. Scientists think they are the ‘naked cores' of stars that have been stripped of their outer envelope of gas. This could only have happened if stars were so crowded together in the cluster's core that their gravity pulled material from each other. They call it "stellar cannibalism", which kind of sounds like it's cannibalism done really well. Here's a picture, just so you know what a stellar cannibal looks like.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008


I don't get to take too many pictures of the kids while they're asleep. Zoe (seen here on the sheets we tie-dyed for her while I was pregnant) can tell in her sleep if you're looking at her. You can be in the room banging pots and pans together and she'll be fine, but the minute you actually look at her she starts screaming. So that picture is probably the last sleeping picture I've got of her. It's hard to believe it was taken almost four years ago.

Caly has always loved sleep. She was the only baby I ever heard of who LIKED to be laid down in a crib. She's smile this huge smile, sigh deeply, and work her shoulders into the matress. Then she'd just close her eyes and go to sleep. I think she gets a love of sleep from me. We took this picture in a hotel room, because it's easy getting sleeping pictures when their bed is right across from yours, but I swear I could probably go upstairs right now and film a movie complete with sound effects and extras and she wouldn't wake up.

This picture of Zaven sleeping is an old one, too. But then again, he doesn't sleep much at all. He never has. Even as a baby he always stayed up late and woke up early. And he was cheerful and energetic, too. He gets up a half hour to an hour before he needs to in the mornings so that he can read and have some time to himself. I KNOW he didn't get that from me.

Quinn can fall asleep in the course of about a minute. That's not to say that he always goes to sleep quick. Just that when he's tired, it's like someone turned off a switch. He's fallen asleep in his high chair, the floor, and the toddler swing on the swing set this week alone. I swear I'm not just keeping him up late. If you put him in his crib he doesn't go to sleep. Apparently it's more relaxing if you're in the middle of the action than if you're stuck somewhere that you can't see what's going on.

Scott loves this picture of Quinn the best of all our sleeping pictures because he looks like a pirate baby. Too little to have a knife in his teeth, he settled for a spoon. He actually has a pirate hat, too. And (when awake) he shouts, "YAR!!!" all the time, so he's well on his way to being a full-fledged pirate one day.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Business calls

I have spent the week on the telephone. It's all for stupid stuff, too. I've been calling three different companies: the bank, the insurance company, and the telephone company.

The bank and the insurance company are both for the same thing. I have our life insurance and long term care policies set up on autopay. They debit my account three different times each month. Once for my life insurance policy. Once for Scott's and the kid's (who each have a rider on his policy). And the last debit is for both of our long term care policies. But at the end of March, I got a letter saying that two of my payments were returned for insufficient funds. Well, I immediately called the bank and they assured me that I was not overdrawn. The payments had been paid, and it said so on my statement. I got my statement and sure enough, it had been paid. The evidence was very clear, too. I had not been fined. Have you ever heard of a bank that didn't fine you when you bounced a check? Neither have I. So I called the insurance company. They said they'd check it out and call me back. But they never called and I forgot all about it. Until April.

In April, only one of the policies was debited. The other two didn't come out. And I got a letter saying they would no longer cover us because we hadn't paid our insurance the last two months. I called the local branch. They said I needed to call the home office in Georgia. So I called the home office. They told me that they didn't debit my bank in April because automated payments are cut off when a payment doesn't go through due to insufficient funds, and that's what had happened in March. But I had paid them in March. I had not bounced the check. I knew that, because the bank records clearly indicate that the money was gone from my account and paid to Ky. Farm Bureau. And besides, I wasn't fined. It is a known law of physics that you can't bounce a check without getting a big fat fine from your bank.

Clearly unwilling to accept my word for this, I was told to fax in my bank statement that indicated the alleged payment. Since I only get online statements, I drove to my bank, got a statement that showed their letterhead, drove it to my local Ky. Farm Bureau office, and had them fax it to the home office in Georgia. Then foolishly I trusted that having proof of payment, I would be absolved of the charges. Wrong. When I called to ask if I needed to restart automated payments or if they would take care of that for me, the secretary told me that we could start it back up once I paid the March bill. I told her that I'd brought in my bank statement showing I'd paid it, but she asked how did she know that that was my whole statement. I could have taken out the part that showed how the money was credited back into my account later.

Yes. That's what she said.

So I printed out all my bank transactions dating from March 18th (when I had $300 more than I needed in the bank to make the payment), through the time when the payments were taken out of my account, past that mysterious period when no fines were given, no checks were bounced, and no payments were deceptively put back into my account, all the way up to the present. And I brought it in and showed her boss. (Let us all say a quick prayer that she will be fired forthwith.) And he was stunned. So he pulled the records of the transaction and instead of saying that it had been returned for insufficient funds like their secretary had been telling me all along, the official transcript said that it had been returned for "insufficient information from bank". And he said, "Well, we know it came out of your bank. Because if it bounced, you would have been fined. There's no bank in the world that doesn't fine you when you bounce a check."

Thus begins the calls to the bank. First, the home branch.... Can you see where this is headed? Although the bank was a bit quicker on the uptake. The very first woman I spoke to said, "Well we know it wasn't insufficient funds, because we would have fined you for that." Truer words were never spoken. And, they didn't accuse me of stealing the money, either. That's always a plus.

So now the insurance company is supposed to call the bank. The official name of the office that they're supposed to call is the office for "Inquiries and Rejects". I can't say I have a lot of faith in that office. But at least it seems pretty clear how they plan to handle the inquiry. I've told Scott that he's not allowed to die until this is cleared up. He seemed OK with that plan.

My other game of phone tag is being played with the phone company. As I may have mentioned, Scott is starting a business, and back in February, he tried to get a phone line installed in the building that he's renovating for his office. Now this is a building on a farm, and it has never had phone service at all. There were no lines going from the telephone pole to the outside of the building. So when he called, they told him they'd send someone out to hook it up and turn on his service within the week. But no one came out. Then we got the bill at the end of the month for $50 basic service plus about $50 more for the hook up. But there were still no wires connecting the building to the outside world.

So we called. They apologized. They had activated the number like they would if there had been existing phone service and hardware. They didn't know why the service guy didn't come out, but they'd take that month's service off the bill and send him out to hook it up right away.

Fast forward to May. We still don't have service. There's now a wire that goes to the outside of the building, but the guy who put it up warned us not to hook anything to it because no one had told him that there really wasn't a service box on the outside of our wall. (We installed jacks on the inside, but you can't just hook the main line into them.) He promised to send someone who knew how to do that the next day, but that was a month ago. Apparently people who know how to do their jobs are quite scarce nowadays. Meanwhile, our bill is now up to $250, we've been reported to a collection agency and our credit reflects four months of missed payments.

Last week they sent us a letter saying they were cutting off the phone service. Gosh that would be really inconvenient. Almost as inconvenient as it is now.

Pray for my sanity.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Bees in the mail.

Well, today was interesting. And life promises to get much more interesting very soon.

You see, we have bees. A hive of bees has been living in one of the walls on our house. From the inside, you would never know they are there. But from the outside, you can see a fair bit of activity. Now this is not a few bees. This is a hive. Hundreds of bees are in that wall. They found their way in over a year ago, and we kept putting off the inevitable. But they must come out. They are starting to get more active as the days get warmer. And the hive is big enough that the honey will begin to damage the wall.

Perhaps normal people call the exterminator at this point. But we have never been exactly normal, so we did research instead. Turns out, bee hives are good, and if we can avoid killing them, can successfully move the queen into a man-made hive, and can prevent them from swarming and abandoning the hive it would be a very good thing. There is quite a bit of profit to be made in beekeeping. Plus, bees have been dying off all over the country so saving this hive is a worthwhile thing all on it's own. But that all assumes that we can do that first part, the tricky part. So today we went to a beekeeping supply store to get all the supplies we'll need and a lot of advice. Quite possibly the most disturbing thing I found out was that you can order 3 lb boxes of bees in the mail. I told the man who was helping us that I NEVER wanted to get bees in the mail. A box of bees in the mail is something out of a nightmare. He said, "Don't worry, you can't mistake them for regular mail. Regular mail doesn't hum and vibrate." Not the most reassuring thing he could say, but I can tell you right now that I will check every box I get for the rest of my life to make sure it doesn't hum or vibrate.

I also learned how to identify the queen bee if we see her. It's absolutely critical that we move her to the new hive because the other bees will smell her and go to her wherever she is. If we can find her and move her, the rest of them will follow and move out of the wall on their own. If we don't move her, all the ones we do move will simply come back. Scott and Zoe discussed the situation and decided that if we find her we should name her Miss Stingy.

We spent $257 on the gear, and the owner gave us a slight discount because we'd decided to try and save the bees rather than kill them. He wasn't sure it would work, but he felt like we had a chance. And if it didn't work and the hive left, we could always order a box or two of bees. Apparently he missed the massive shudder that went through me the first time he mentioned mailing boxes of bees.

He also gave us his card and asked if I'd e-mail him the youtube link.