RE: institutionalized confusion, ephemeris server, sample size

Ted Molczan (
Wed, 1 Jan 1997 13:40:50 -0500

Bart De Pontieu wrote:

>On Tue, 31 Dec 1996, Ted Molczan wrote:
>> So I doubt very much that those who are stymied by maintaining elements
>> and running predictions are going to fare much better when it comes to
>> observing/analyzing.
>> In the end, some folks have the necessary ability and drive, while others
>> do not. 
>I agree with most of what Ted writes about this topic. However, this
>does not mean that one should not try one's best to promote the hobby
>and make life for beginning observers easier (e.g. by what Walter

Of course, I would not have it any other way,
and I have done plenty to promote the hobby and 
will continue to do so, as I see fit.

> If one makes the hobby inaccessible to beginners and 
>assumes the ones with the 'drive' will get there in the end no matter
>what, I think you're missing out on many potential *good* and 
>*motivated* observers. 

As I said in my earlier message, my experience
has not borne this out.

>And it's observers we need, isn't it?
>Correct me if I'm wrong, but there aren't that many *young* observers
>in the business of tracking US spy sats, are there?

You are absolutely correct, and this is taking place at  a time when access
to elements, software, computers, mentors and communications is better
than ever. How much easier do we have to make things?

>> The best way to make me lose interest in this hobby is to make it into a
>> job. I already have one of those, and one is enough! (Hmmm, perhaps I 
>> have stumbled upon Molczan's 2nd law.) We have all of the organization 
>> we need right now. Through SeeSat-L, phone and fax, we have created an 
>It's interesting to see you're placing SeeSat-L next to phone and fax.
>Both of the latter are provided to you by companies/organizations that 
>provide services, even if they're bogged down by administration.

Maybe for some, but not for me! When I was an employee
of an organization, I voluntarily paid for all services
that I used, including fax, long-distance telephone,
and photocopying. For the past 6 years I have run my
own business, so again I pay every cent, including 
Internet; I do not even claim the hobby-related costs 
as a business expense, though I could easily get away 
with it.

>>Placing SeeSat-L on the same level as phone and fax and simultaneously
>>saying that we have:
>> informal team of hobbyists, who work together on an ad hoc basis to pursue 
>> whatever pleases them. 
>indicates to me that you, and 99% of the other Seesat-ers have failed to
>understand that for *us* (Neil and me -but in what follows I am only
>peaking for myself) providing SeeSat-L and the VSOHP
>(without which SeeSat-L wouldn't be much: bogged down by newbie questions)
>-at times- is like a second job (Molczan's second law kicking in there)
>and not exactly something that 'pleases them'. 

All of this comes down to a finding a balance between
would we do out self-interest and public-interest. 
Ideally, you would derive at least some pleasure in
doing an excellent job building and maintaining this
technology. The portion that is not pleasurable would
be balanced by the things that you can accomplish with
these systems, and by the knowledge that hundreds of
others are benefiting too, and by the knowledge you gain
from their work. Of course that's the theory.

Unfortunately, that balance is not there for you right 
now. Sometimes the rewards are a long time in coming.
Take Russell Eberst's observations of visual magnitudes.
He has made over 150,000 of them since 1958, and freely
shared them with anyone who needed them, yet it was 
only last year that some one came forward to extract
knowledge out of that data - I refer to Rainer Kracht's
months of work extracting standard magnitudes for 
hundreds of objects. That in turn made it possible for
me to add the data to the *.n2l files, so that everyone
could have benefit from more accurate predictions. And
now that same data is being used to try to understand the
mysterious 96072B. 

And despite all that, there are some who whine about the 
lack of a standardized database, or this or that. Let them 
make a few thousand observations of flash periods or 
magnitudes, and I may take them seriously. If Russell could 
do these things with 1958, 1968 etc technology, then what 
is the excuse today? The point is that Russell is pursuing
his hobby because that is what he likes and wants to do more 
than anything else.

>I put a message on SeeSat-L two months ago in which I suggest that some
>more work-sharing is in order and perhaps a discussion about organizing
>our hobby is in order, and the first public response I get is a casual
>remark two months later saying:

Be fair Bart; I was not responding directly to your

>> Well-intentioned folks might think we could benefit from more organization,
>> but I doubt it. My experience has been that organizations tend to become
>> bunged up by administration issues, often to the point where content becomes
>> secondary. Voltaire's Bastards, and The Unconscious Civilization, both by
>> John Ralston Saul, offer lots of examples and insights into this problem.
>Then I can conclude that you have not understood my message two months
>ago. You see: I am already bunged up by administrative issues, content
>has become secondary. But I'm working on shedding them, since the lack of
>response has thaught me that nobody (except for Jeff Hunt and some of the
>FAQ people) is interested in sharing the workload. If the hobby becomes a
>second job, it's time to get rid of whatever makes it a second job, don't
>you think?

Your problem is too much work, or a lack of volunteers,
not a lack of organization.

>And no, this does not mean I hold you, Ted, personally accountable for
>the lack of response. At least you did reply. And no, it does not mean
>that I will stop running SeeSat-L, at least not for now.

Well, I was not replying, but obviously the topic
is timely. I for one hope that you will keep 
SeeSat-L running.

>But yes: it means I'm not going to work anymore at keeping the VSOHP
>up-to-date. And yes: I am quitting as coordinator of the BWGS. And yes:
>I am not going to do any more work for a possible Usenet-group devoted
>to satellite observing. And yes: the DRA project is on hold until I can
>see whether I can find the time for it. 

Excellent! You have made an enormous contribution
doing the above, plus FLASH, for so many years.
If those who continue to benefit from those
institutions and projects value them, then they
will have to step forward and take them over.
I once belonged a 10,000 member organization of
Hewlett-Packard programmable calculator users. The
President of this organization was an incredibly
energetic and ambitious person, like yourself, and 
he drove the group to do many interesting and 
exciting projects. But no matter how much he did, 
there were always people coming to him with 
suggestions for new things to do. So he became 
fond of replying to these suggestions approximately 
as follows:

"That is an excellent suggestion. It is such a good 
idea, that I have no doubt that many will come 
forward and make it happen."

Words to live by! I have been in similar situations
myself, and found that was the only way to keep
from becoming over-worked and burning out.

>I'm not blaming anyone here, except for myself (for having taken on too
>many administrative jobs in the satellite hobby). 

Just don't be too hard on yourself. You have
contributed a great deal to the hobby.

>I wanted to illustrate
>that having a somewhat more formal organization can have its advantages.
>It might ensure better workload-sharing, less demotivation for those who
>do take on 'service-providing' jobs, easier entry of beginners into the
>hobby, larger public appeal in the amateur astronomy community, more
>continuity, etc. 

As I said earlier, more volunteers/workers are
needed, not organization. You don't need an
organization to maintain VSOHP - just one person
with the know-how, the time, and the desire
to contribute to the public-interest.

>I'm well aware that there are quite a few people who 
>provide services in our hobby. I'm sure their work would be more
>noticed, appreciated and rewarded if it were part of a somewhat more
>formal organization.

It is not a forgone conclusion. I have been active
in one organization that is excellent at recognizing
contributors. But I have been involved with two others
which seem to be characterized by pettiness, jealousy and
bitter in-fighting. It is amazing they accomplish as
much as they do, but I want no part of them.

I get my share of thankyous and congratulations for my 
small contributions and achievements, but the real reward 
is in what I learn, and the many fine friends I have made.
It justifies the hard work and the financial cost.

>But my position is obviously a minority viewpoint, and I don't feel
>(anymore) like climbing mountains such as trying to persuade people and
>organize things.

You have done more than your share. Let others climb
some mountains. And if few come forward, do not take it
personally. It does not invalidate anything you have done;
it just means that there are few people like yourself.

Best wishes for a happy new year!
Ted Molczan