Posts Tagged ‘Astronomy’

Discovering a parallel colleague is a little like suddenly finding Nibiru

January 8, 2010

Before I was a professor (that is, certified with a Ph.D. and a tenured teaching job), I was a professional calligrapher.  It takes some doing to earn the title of “professional educator”.  But unlike education, calligraphy in this country is completely unregulated; there exist no respectable institutes to grant us professional credentials, and all one has to do to qualify as a “professional” is to charge money for lettering something for someone.  (At least in the eyes of the IRS!)  The simplest regular work of this type is hand-addressing envelopes, beautifully, for a wedding or other fancy event, and it pays anywhere from a dollar an envelope to five dollars a line.  Higher-ranked scribes work for Hallmark or American Greetings, or letter book jackets for publishers (who do you think produces all those gushy titles for romance novels, or the manly lettering for Tom Clancy books?); or, in California, letter movie titles.  Now, calligraphy is a tragically undervalued art, and very few of us do it full-time, simply because we would starve to death.  Few towns have the critical mass of lavish parties, like Washington DC, New York, and Hollywood, to support a steady stream of envelope gigs.  And type design, an honorable and well-paid profession when Hermann Zapf was in his prime —you use Palatino or Optima or even Hunt Roman?— now is going the way of investigative newspaper reportage.  (Adobe, which used to employ a large stable of type designers, has laid off all but two, last I heard.)  So, like aspiring actors or painters-in-a-garret, most calligraphers do something else, some *real* job, to pay the rent, and practice their art, their passion, only part-time.

I write this by way of preface to introducing an “amateur” astronomer.  Professional astronomer jobs are far rarer than art-history professor positions; probably fewer than one for every hundred people called by the siren song of the telescope.  So, it is with some embarrassment that I am forced to refer to Bill Hudson as an “amateur” astronomer, because he is far more serious about it than, say, the average “Sunday painter”, or model-railroader, or the others we refer to as “amateurs”.  Like spelunkers, or car-customizers,  “Amateur” astronomers are a breed apart.  They occupy a kind of intermediate position between heaven and earth:  If professional astronomers like Carl Sagan are gods, the ranks of these serious amateurs are their genies or angels.

Like most such stargazers, Bill Hudson volunteers in schools, sharing his knowledge and enthusiasm for the heavens with wondering children.  He often does this for free, simply because, in the infinite wisdom of our tax-supported educational system, celestial knowledge is esteemed about as highly as type design, and there is no budget for honoraria to visiting astronomers.

And, he tells us, a few years ago his audiences started asking him frightened questions about the End of the World in 2012.  So he started posting FAQ’s to his regular blog , and eventually founded , which has become a clearinghouse for astronomically-correct information about all the crazy claims made for the 2012 “event”.  He and his colleagues are willing to call a spade a spade, and I recommend this large and knowledgeable website with the highest praise.  Like the best informational websites, it is compendious and dense.  Sit down to it as you would the Sunday New York Times, with plenty of time to spend and refreshment close at hand.

Bill defers most of the credit for this site to his many colleagues, and lists contributors in this order:

*Bill Hudson, amateur astronomer and a professional computer geek,
*Alene Y., chemist,
*Emma T., astrophysicist,
*Dave M., student,
*PoshNinja, at ,
*Physicist Kristine Larsen at CCSU,
*Archaeologist Johan Normark,
*Astronomer Phil Plait,
*Astrobiologist David Morrison.

Highly recommended!