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Winter Star Party 1996

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Interview with Alice Newton

Interviewer - Sandy Barta

Photo (Winter Star Party - 10 minute exposure, caption "painted" with LED flashlight ) - Bryan White

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The scene: Alice trapped in the dining room, the astrarrazi pursuing her. Guys in the kitchen, bonding over strong coffee and comet talk (CCD observers' group night). Stray teenagers one level down, in the home theatre, watching "Basic Instinct", but swearing that the panting sounds carrying to where mom sits upstairs stem from an old "Lassie" rerun.....

Alice: I've never done this before. I hope I don't sound too stilted; I'm really not like that.
Interviewer: This is the first time I've done this, too. What questions should I ask you?

Alice: Geez, this dialogue sounds almost like the first time I went on a blind date to an outdoor movie theatre!!!!

Interviewer: Hey, clean it up, or I won't be able to print this in SkyNews!!
Alice: Yeah, but the National Enquirer PAYS BETTER, ANYWAY!
Not to mention, if you clean it up TOO MUCH, nobody will believe you EVEN TALKED TO me....

Interviewer: Well, okay then. On to business. When does the Winter Star Party (WSP) take place?
Alice: At new moon, usually in late February to early March. (Whenever OUR Christmas overdraft balance threatens to recede slightly.)

Interviewer: Do you do any observing?
Alice: Well, that depends. I certainly don't spend a lot of time out at night, looking through a telescope at stars and stuff. Most people go South for the clear skies, but I have to confess that my interest is pretty much limited to observing the nutcakes who come out to these meetings. And what fun it is I do have to confess though, to not having been bitten by the astronomy "bug" as such. This is probably because I took my very first look at the sky through a 20-inch telescope, and this only after I had spent much time admiring Jack's deep sky images. So I guess, in spite of the warnings to the contrary, I still sort of hoped to see M42 look in the eyepiece just like it did in a glossy print. WRONG!

Interviewer: So why do you go to the WSP?
Alice: The history on that is quite interesting. 1986. We were on our way to Peru to observe Halley's Comet - Jack had travelled down the year before to select the best sites in Peru from which to view. About 300 Americans and a few brave Canadians were to travel through Lima, Arequipa and Cusco over a 3-week period. We had to stop overnight in Miami in order for everyone to assemble for the trip down. We had barely arrived in our hotel when we got a phone call saying that a guy named Tippy D'Auria was "dying" to meet Jack. We decided that inviting a total stranger and his wife to the hotel for dinner would be less dangerous than dodging bullets to cross the parking lot to eat at a nearby McDonald's.
I hear they were great company. (After a large number of appertifs and copious quantities of some Cuban, I tipped over and TO THIS DAY, have absolutely no recollection of the rest of the evening.) However, obviously Jack went on to impress Tippy and his good wife, Patty, who the next year called and invited us both to his new star party in the Florida Everglades. To make a long story short, we went, had a fabulous time with the 150 or so brave souls who observed on "Mahogany Hammock" amidst alligators and all manner of things that went bump in the night. We even earned ourselves shirts sporting a huge red cross and a Mosquito insignia with the words emblazed on it: "We gave blood generously at Flamingo". (The following year, Jack was invited to speak ! in Atlanta, and we've missed only 1 or 2 Winter Star Parties in the 9 years since).
As an aside, the WSP has long since outgrown its site in the Everglades and has moved to the bugless Florida Keys. Space permits 600 registrants, but the party is always sold out within 24 hours of registration opening! And this year, another 400 were on the wait list who never got in (in spite of efforts to scale the fences at midnight or fake their I.D.)!

Interviewer: Now, I've heard you have a mischievious streak and like to "doctor" photographs of people foolish enough to stay in the area when you have a camera in your hands. Tell us about that.
Alice: About four years ago, I put together a collection of these abused photographs and flashed them around at the WSP. As the album was passed around and people started offering-up GENEROUS CASH bribes to stay out of next year's offering. So, of course, the idea suddenly sprung into my head that I should make slides and do a visual presentation, THEREBY MAXIMIZING ON THE POTENTIAL EMBARASSMENT OF MANY OF ASTRONOMY'S LUMINARIES. Naturally, the more protests I heard, the better the idea seemed. At the time, most talks given were pretty straight, (although Donald Parker's had some absolutely hilarious stuff thrown in along the way). Party organizers seemed to think that my idea would be okay, as long as I paid my own malpractice insurance.

The comet looks great!! There should be some film in the freezer. Do you know where it is? I can't find it.
(Slight delay while Alice went to check under the mastadon chops for the frozen film, last seen in 1989).
Alice: Well, I'll be -- there's hamburger in here marked "best before June 14, 1990".
Jack: Fine, but what about the *&^$$## film ????
Alice: Moo.....

Interviewer: Alice, would you please get back to my question! How did the whole thing go at this year's Winter Star Party?
Alice: It was unreal. As I approached the podium, some fools chanted AND even did the wave for me. (The only other person in my life who ever did that for me was my mother, - I think it was on the day I announced I was leaving home.....)

Interviewer: Since I can't get this woman to be serious, I think we'll end the interview here. And the rest is history; can finally be told. About Alice, and about the REAL origins of Mad Cow Disease!

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Last updated: December 12, 2013

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