Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Master Guide Secrets: The Stars Part 1

Time lapse photograph of the North Sky Circle
The North Sky Circle
by Tom King (c) 2013

To secure your reputation as a repository of outdoor skills and nature lore, you need only look to the night sky for help.  Camping trips are a perfect time to introduce kids to the stars, not just as interesting points of light, but also as guides for helping youngsters find themselves.

There are three parts of the sky that represent the minimum number of stars you should remember as a North American youth leader.  Knowing these constellations and some of the more prominent attendant stars will help you tick off one of the requirements for your star honor and will help you find some interesting objects to look at through a telescope to boot.  Over the next few days we'll be doing a quick run-through of these familiar and easy to identify objects in the sky and talking about how to introduce these constellations and the special objects that make them up.

Let's start with the North Sky Circle.  This is an imaginary circle of constellations around Polaris, the pole star.  In northern states and Canada, these stars are visible year round.  In southern states, you may lose the ones at the lower end as they dip below the horizon as they circle the North Star, often being obliterated by lights from towns over the horizon. 

Here are the important and easy to identify constellations of the North Sky Circle:

Most easily identified constellations of the North Sky Circle

These constellations are::

  1. The Big Dipper:  It's Latin name is Ursa Major meaning "The Great Bear".  It is such a striking constellation it has a lot of names in various cultures including the Plow, The Starry Plow, The Drinking Gourd, The Great Wagon, the Fisher Cat and dozens of others.  It contains three interesting stars that we will discuss in Part 2.  Two are well-known pointers and show you the way to the North Star, who's constellation, the Little Dipper is harder to find than the Big Dipper.
  2.  The Little Dipper:  Often paired with the Big Dipper because of its similar shape, it's Latin name is Ursa Minor or "The Little Bear".  It's also called the little Wagon and other variants on "little" depending on what they call the Big Dipper.  It's most interesting feature is the North Star, also known as Polaris or the Pole Star.  Found at tip of the Little Dipper's handle, the North Star can be seen in the picture above almost at the very center of the circle of stars. The North Star used to be dead center of the circle, but as the sun moves round the Milky Way, it's moved a bit in several thousand years since it was first spotted.
  3. Draco, the Dragon:  Draco is pretty easy to spot if you can find it's head which has a rather serpent-like shape to it.  It snakes between the Big and little Dippers.
  4. Cepheus:  Cepheus is an ancient king whom Ptolemy named the constellation after. The constellation is not too prominent and looks like a whoppy-jointed house after a hurricane. Cepheus is the consort of Cassiopeia which is a much lovelier constellation and easier to find.
  5. Cassiopeia:  Also called the Queen, Cassiopeia looks like a big "W" in the sky or an "M" depending on whether it's on the top of the North Sky Circle or the bottom.
This gives you five prominent constellations that are very easy to find and can be spotted almost anytime in the night sky.  The easiest way to show them to the kids is to point them out with a big flashlight.

Okay, stop laughing.  I know what that sounds like, but I find that a two million candlepower rechargeable flashlight is an extremely valuable star-watching tool.  Because the air usually contains dust particle or moisture, a very bright flashlight will make a beam like a searchlight in a dark sky.  If you place the child's face close to yours and shine the light beam toward toward the constellation, tracing it's shape with the beam , most kids will be able to spot it.

A trick I use is to give them all little notebooks and have them draw the constellation or stick stars on the pages to show the shape of the constellation.  Then you can go back and label the individual stars, nebulae and stuff later when you prepare them for their test.  I have a star honor test I've made up and a check off sheet I'll post when the series is done.  It covers everything they have to know to get a star honor.

In upcoming segments, we'll look at neat objects within these favorite constellations that you can look at with your telescope or binoculars or which have interesting stories - in some cases, like the Orion Nebula, these objects not only look neat, but have really cool stories to go with them. For now, though, your assignment is to go outside on the next clear night and see how many of the five North Sky Circle constellation we've discussed that you can see.

Catch you next time. Happy star-gazing.


Monday, March 18, 2013

Photography: The Rule of Thirds

(c) 2013 by Tom King

Courtesy of Glenn Sackett Photography
If there is one thing Adventist men should know how to do it is handle a camera.  One of our most critical jobs is to lift up our spouses, our families, our churches and particularly the young people in the church.  Our role is one of "appreciator".  There is no more powerful thing church men can do than to stand by, to notice things that others do well and to express our appreciation for whatever it is they are doing.

Psychologist say that if you want to reinforce good behavior, the best way is to notice it and to let the person committing said good behavior know that you have noticed.  I'm not talking about empty praise either.  That can be worse than ineffective as a tool for getting someone to repeat his good behavior - especially when you are dealing with kids.  Tell a child he is a good boy or good girl and they will almost immediately do something rotten to prove you wrong.  They know better.  If anyone knows they are a sinful creature, it's a child.

Instead, the way to properly praise a child is by being specific rather than general in your praise.  Praise only the act, not the actor.  And in that praise tell the person what the act of goodness meant to you.  For instance, don't tell a child he is a "good artist" when looking at a painting he has done.  Tell him, instead what you like about the picture.  Like this:
  • I like the colors you used in that picture.
  • I like the way you set the tree off-center like that.....very creative.
  • I could almost eat that apple, it looks so delicious.
Stuff like that.  When a child does something good, like helping you clean up the Primary Sabbath School room after class.  Be specific.  Don't say, "What a good girl you are!"  Instead say things like this:
  • Boy, I really appreciate your help today.  
  • I don't think I could have done this by myself.
  • Wow, thanks to you I will get to hear the special music today.
  • This really looks better.  You did a terrific job and you're so quick. 
Specific praise and especially the kind that lets them know you value what they did is the best.

But what does that have to do with the rule of thirds.  Just this.  Photographs are a wonderful way to say, "I noticed what your did."  or "I value you and think you are special."  Post them on the church website, or create a blog for your youth group and post lots and lots of pictures of the kids doing things for the church and for each other and for people around them.  Get their camping trips and hikes on film and don't just stick the pictures in a box or store them on your computer.  Make slide shows to show during the intermission between Sabbath School and Church.  If you want to get people into the pews quickly after Sabbath School, project pictures of themselves and their kids doing church activities.  It's a very powerful tool.  Illustrate everything with pictures of church members doing good things - bulletins, brochures, the church newsletter.

And with the new digital photography making great pictures is easier than it has ever been before.  We are no longer forced to struggle with film speed, shutter speeds, F-stops and darkroom techniques.  With the new digital cameras, even the simple ones adjust for light, movement in the frame, color and focusing automatically or with a few easy to learn control buttons.  Anybody can produce remarkably crisp and clear photographs these days.

So it all comes down to composition in the end and the Rule of Thirds is the end-all be-all of composition. You can violate the rule of thirds, but you better have a reason to do so and a plan or the picture will just be dull and uninteresting.

Click on this link to go to my How-To weblog piece on the Rule of Thirds.  In just minutes you will learn the secret to producing great pictures AND you'll have a useful skill that you can bring to virtually every church activity that comes along.

Don't let your church hide its light under a bushel.  Help shine it everywhere by turning your camera on the good things your church does.

Tom King
Click on this link to read  "Photography:  The Rule of Thirds" on HowdyaDewit.