RE: institutionalized confusion, ephemeris server, sample size

Bart De Pontieu (
Thu, 2 Jan 1997 14:59:42 +0100 (MET)

On Wed, 1 Jan 1997, Ted Molczan wrote:

> Bart De Pontieu wrote:
> >On Tue, 31 Dec 1996, Ted Molczan wrote:
> >
> >> 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
> >suggested).
> 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.

Excellent! Before this discussion gets out of hand, let me say that you
have indeed done plenty to promote the hobby and I respect and admire
you for that. It seems we disagree on whether Walter's suggestion should
be taken up and realized. That's not too important, since it's just an
idea floating around, nothing practical so far. 
> > 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.

Let's agree to disagree then. My experience has not borne this out.
Please, no discussions about who has more experience :-)

> >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?

Perhaps you ought to organize things a bit more, rather than keeping them
informal. I'm not being facetious ! My experience with the BWGS has
thaught me that it helps enormously to have some kind of organization
with, say, a well-developed way of introducing newcomers, which tells
people what to do, how to do it and most importantly WHY to do it; an
organization which also has ways of providing feed-back (magazine, mailing
list, WWW) and establishing a community spirit (meetings, ...).
The BWGS is such an organization, in which, by the way, the work has been
shared in an optimal way through the years. Basically, an organization has
the advantage that certain responsibilities are given to certain people.
Taking up a position in an organization, which will be evalued regularly 
by the person who coordinates, is a much more efficient way of getting
work done than 'an informal network'. The BWGS does have young observers,
by the way. And maybe some of these observers won't make thousands of
flash period observations, but I personally have never thought this to be
of any importance. I have always said that even if you make only ONE
flash period observation, it can be very useful, since it can fill in the
gaps in our database. So, I disagree with you when you say:

>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.

You know, when we started the PPAS database in 1988, I had made perhaps
a hundred observations. I had much less observing experience than
most observers on this list have. Nevertheless, we immediately saw the
need for a standardized database, if we wanted our data ever to be
useful. And we've never regretted setting a standard format of reporting
in these early stages of the BWGS. It has made an enormous difference in
being able to give feedback, allowing observers to analyze their data
themselves (and compare it to other people's observations), and so on.
In short: in motivating people.
I think it was one of the things that made the BWGS more of a success
than a failure. 

My opinions on this subject are so far away from yours, Ted, that I'm
sure I won't be able to convince you. But the exchange of opinions is
hopefully useful for some of the SeeSat-L readers.

> >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.

You misunderstood what I wanted to say. I was not referring to
your employer. Phone and fax are provided to you by the Canadian
phone company. They are a service that is provided to you, just as
SeeSat-L is one. Both of these (phone/fax and SeeSat-L) are run by
de facto "organizations". 
> 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. 

That is a correct analysis. The balance is *no longer there*.

> Sometimes the rewards are a long time in coming.
> Take Russell Eberst's observations of visual magnitudes.

I don't think the comparison of Russell's observations is a good
one. Both Russell and I came into the hobby for observing.
Russell has done that (and plenty :-), I've been focussed so
much on "organizing" that it's been 4 years since I did any
kind of regular observing. Hence the difference. 

> 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 appreciate your point, but it has nothing to do with what we're
discussing. I don't think that our hobby would necessarily be better off
if every observer was like Russell. I certainly don't see it as
prerequisite to take someone seriously. I respect Jim Varney, for example,
a lot as an observer and analyst of flash periods, whereas he probably
hasn't contributed more than 100 measurements to our database. 

I would feel there was something missing for me in the hobby if I just
made as many flash period measurements as I could and do nothing else.
For me a hobby is also about sharing experiences, sharing data, discussing
things, comparing with what other observers have seen, getting or giving
feed-back. For those things some kind of framework has to be set up.
Working on this framework can be fun and rewarding, but it ultimately
isn't the only reason why I'm in this hobby. Sometimes you have to go back
to observing.

> >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
> message.

OK, the count of responses is still at zero then, that doesn't make me
feel better :-)
> Your problem is too much work, or a lack of volunteers,
> not a lack of organization.

It is a combination of those three. If you want work to be done, you have
to organize in a certain fashion. See above, people tend to take their
tasks much more serious if they're part of an organization.
> I for one hope that you will keep SeeSat-L running.

I intend to keep SeeSat-L running. I can't predict what I will think in
6 months time, but I will make sure to signal it when I feel I can't
continue the SeeSat-L work. I am convinced it would be easy to find a
replacement if it was necessary.
> "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.

Very good points. I'm just a little bit sad that apparently, the only
way to get people moving, is by making the situation critical (i.e.
> 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.

I agree. 

      Bart De Pontieu