I wrote this almost a decade ago when walking with dona on the streets of San Francisco; today I learned that John Dobson is dead. I remember you, john; RIP. The original link to his personal site no longer works… replaced with a wiki entry ;( This happened with a waxing moon about 88% full, according to the net….
Last night dona and I were walking along and there was this slighly crazy looking guy (in that slightly crazy looking guy way that half the people in SF have) with what looked like a mortar or some kind of rocket thingee on the corner of 9th and irving; we almost passed by when I heard him say something about the moon and dona convinced me to go back and take a look.
Turns out that this was john dobson. Now, for those of you who don’t know telescopes, john dobson is an icon; he figured out how to make telescopes from basically refuse – cast-off lumber, bits of wire and iron, bottoms of large glass jugs – or, in this case, I heard him say something about a ship’s porthole glass. There is a major line of telescopes called Dobsonian that are very popular today and named after him.
I looked through his thoroughly battered scope (a 9.5″-er, about 4′ long; again, for those who don’t know scopes, this is a more than respectable piece) and saw the moon like I don’t ever remember seeing it; it was a real thrill to meet him and look through the lens. It also turns out he’s about 90 years old (looks a good 15-20 years younger) and still does the sidewalk astronomy thing… just showing people the wonders of the universe.
His story is remarkable; born in china in 1915 he was a vedantic monk for 23 years before being thrown out for spending too much time outside the monastery showing people who to build telescopes and such – here’s a brief bio:
To run across such a remarkable man on the streets on a random night is just another reason to love this city.
May you live in interesting times.