(IAAC) Self Introductions.

Nick Martin
At nearly 55, I am a glass freak. I collect antique glass, I engrave glass
and love optical glass and fiddling with optics. By profession I am a
microbiologist or was until kicked into early retirement last year, so I
have had plenty of chance to play with microscopes and get bigger and better
toys at no personal cost. 
Like many others in the group I have been a rather on off astronomer.
Starting with a three draw brass telescope at age 10, (lack of
astronomically knowledgeable parents). At 15 I got given in kit form the
cheap but good Orion 4" reflector(recently featured in Astronomy Now). At 16
I purchased a second hand 8 inch mirror plus diagonal and a second hand home
made german equatorial mount with a motor drive in RA but no controls at all
in dec. 
At Edinburgh University I joined the Astronomical Society and  used their 6"
refractor  in its dome in the grounds of the Edinburgh Royal Observatory. It
was the guide telescope for an old  blue/violet corrected, 10" Cooke triplet
astrograph which we were also allowed to use. We were given stocks of oldish
6" square, 103ao, blue sensitive plates and if anything was taken it was
left in the main observatory entrance to be developed. Later still I was
allowed in to develop them myself; a great experience to see a real
observatory dark room. By modern standards the plates were very slow, it
still comes as a shock to see how much less detail I could get in a 45
minute exposure of M31 compared with modern emulsions.  I also had the
distinction of being the only person to do bacteriology in the Royal
Observatory, which had the photomultiplier equipment I needed for my honours
year project on growth cycles in luminous bacteria.
After Edinburgh I moved to my present house, near Ayr in south west
Scotland, 27 years ago. It had then marvelously dark skies but sadly I did
little astronomy for many years. My problem has always been finding things
in the sky. The 8" was adequate but the mount was not very good and its
drive became problematic over the years. I finally killed it by accidently
leaving the motor on for a week. Being mechanically illiterate my attempts
to 'improve it' were ineffective or worse and I have felt too broke to buy a
better one. Last year I saw a 20" Dobsonian advertised and said "what the
hec" and took a friend with a small pickup across the country to collect it.
It really was a revelation and a continuing delight. The addition of the
digital setting circles has been another great success. Despite their not
being totally accurate they have probably quintupled the number of objects I
can find in a night.
My skies have still have a limiting magnitude of about 6. Sadly they have
been getting brighter but I am fighting back a little and have interested my
local councillor in light pollution. He is tackling one major light polluter
to try to get them to shield or redirect their floodlights. Another major
industrial development he kept an eye on at the planning stage to ensure
good lighting practice. It really does pay to spread the word in the right
ears. There is good will out there if people are informed about the problem.
Astronomically I especially like observing and drawing comets so have done
well recently. Deep sky I like fuzzy objects of all shapes and sizes and
find the 20" apeture a great advantage. As well as the stunning beauty of
globulars and the brighter objects, there is the satisfaction of detecting
structures right at the limit of vision such as the planetary nebula, Abell
21, seeing structure in the spiral arms of M81, the awe inspiring numbers of
galaxies in the Virgo cluster or the chance observation of the galaxy
cluster around NGC499 in Pisces. Other joys include stunning moments of
perfect seeing. In 1996 I had two nights with perfect seeing to observe Mars
with the 8" and also one morning observing  Comet Hyakutake and watching
changes in features a couple of seconds of arc across in the nucleus. There
have been disappointments. I never seem to have seeing good enough to
observe the planets and never have seen fine detail on Jupiter and rarely on
Mars. But then "There are no fields of amaranth this side of the grave".
Nick Martin, Bonnyton House, By Ayr, Ayrshire, Scotland, U.K.
Latitude 55 24'55" Longitude 4 26'00".