1998 RASC General Assembly

Robert Dick

Imagine slowly walking beneath towering stands of Douglas fir, a deep blue sky, warm sun and the scent of pine and spruce carried on a refreshing breeze. Usually, RASC annual general assemblies (GAs) are held within the concrete and glass jungle of a university, but not this year. The host of the 1998 GA decided to hold this year's gathering in the rain forest of Pearson College on Vancouver Island. This switch from the campus of the University of Victoria was to simplify the planning and organization of the events and resulted in a unique and memorable experience for this GA veteran.

Lester B. Pearson College is located about 30 minutes west of Victoria near the island's southern tip. It is a relatively unique college that attracts students from around the world. Student fees are paid by scholarships which results in a democratic cross-section of international students.

School was finished for the academic year so, we had the campus to ourselves. Accommodation was typical of a college with two to four persons per room and communal washrooms and showers. I shared my spacious room with Jon Buchanan, also of the Ottawa Centre. However, the two-storey buildings blended with the forest environment.

The raison d'être for the GA is society business and social interaction. The social aspects centred around paper sessions, meals and the nightly impromptu parties that developed wherever the partygoers nested. Fortunately, most parties were held in other buildings so tenants of our quiet dwelling slept well - if they chose to.

Lectures and paper sessions filled the Friday night and Saturday agenda. On Friday night, we were entertained by Canadian astronaut Julie Payette. Her presentation was essentially a sales pitch for NASA, but her unique speaking style and devotion to the space program made hers a memorable talk. We then had the opportunity to entertain her, with a slide show from Alice Newton. Although there were no "Murphy" slides shown or poems to be recited, Phil McCausland (St. John's) and Peter Jedicke (London) did provide us with some musical entertainment in the song contest.

One of the invited speakers on Saturday afternoon was Geoff Marcy (UC Berkley). He gave us a very clear presentation on his discoveries of extra-solar planets. The Plaskett Medal winner this year was Dr. Dean McLaughlin (now of UC Berkley) who gave a lecture on his work entitled, "Star Formation in Molecular Clouds and Star Clusters." Those who have been following the development of the Gemini II telescopes enjoyed the Helen Sawyer Hogg Public Lecture by Dr. David Crampton of the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory (DAO). He talked about the development of the adaptive optics bonnet for the Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope (CFHT) and the new Gemini telescopes. I regret not bringing my video camera on this trip to record all these excellent presentations.

There were also tours of local attractions. I was able to visit the DAO - a pilgrimage I make every time I visit British Columbia. I also visited Jack Newton's home/observatory under the dark skies of Sooke west of Victoria. This was our last chance to see his house. He will be selling it and spending his summers at Osoyoos in southern BC (near Mt. Kobau) and then wintering over in Florida. In both places he and his wife Alice will be running Bed and Breakfasts catering to "imaging hungry" amateur astronomers.

There is a close collaboration between the Victoria Centre and Pearson College. Victoria members assist the college staff in teaching astronomy. The connection is so close that Jack Newton has donated his 20- and 25-inch telescopes to the college.

A lot of business is also done at the GA. What follows is a report on the National Council meetings at which Rick Wagner and I represented our Centre.

The first Council meeting began on Friday, June 19 at 9 a.m. After the review of the minutes from the previous meeting the executive offered their reports. We discovered there is still change in the offing for our Society. Due to member complaints, poor service and late deliveries, the RASC is terminating our agreement with the University of Toronto Press. UTP will no longer look after our membership and Observer's Handbook sales and deliveries. Late deliveries of handbooks have hurt our sales and since the handbook is financially very important to the Society, we can not afford to have this to continue. Memberships and handbook activities will be brought back into the National Office. The executive will be selecting appropriate software to handle these jobs so as not to overload Executive Secretary Bonnie Bird. Bringing home the work will result in a saving of $4 per member, or approximately $13,000 (UTP's charge for handling memberships).

Another upset concerns our dealings with the publisher for the Journal, Strategic Ink. Council has decided to contract with an alternate publisher.

The Treasurer's report showed that the Society is in very good financial condition. The Society received copyright payment of $15,000 from Cancopy. This helped buoy up the bottom line by enhancing the revenues to the National Office from the Handbook sales ($70K net) and membership fees ($71K).

Membership in the Society has increased by about 200 from last year. It is hard to come up with the reasons for the increase, but Council presumes it is due in part to the list of publications that come with membership. Therefore, SkyNews will continue to be provided to members.

The Annual Meeting was held on Sunday. At this meeting, all members of the Society may vote on all issues that come to a vote. (Only the executive and Centre representatives may vote at National Council meetings, though any member may attend and ask questions.)

The reports were essentially the same as those reviewed at the National Council Meeting and the agenda proceeded quickly. Roy Bishop, editor of the Observer's Handbook put the proceeds we get from handbook sales into perspective. Without the handbook's net profits, our membership dues would have to be $61 per year whereas we enjoy a fee of only $36 per year! Everyone gave thanks to Roy for editing such a successful and important RASC publication.

The University of Toronto Press was awarded a Certificate of Excellence for its work on the RASC Calendar. A plaque was presented to Rajiv Gupta, the calendar's editor. Rajiv brought the plaque to the GA for all to see and admire.

In the past the RASC's Simon Newcomb Award has been given out to authors of unpublished works. This has resulted in the unfortunate situation where a piece of writing is disqualified if it has been published. Council agreed to change the requirements. It will now be awarded to authors of recently published works in the Journal, Centre newsletters, books and even commercial magazines in addition to unpublished works. So, notice to all members: start/keep writing! The award includes a cash prize of $250.

At the end of the Annual Meeting, Doug George handed the presidency over to our new president, Randy Attwood of Toronto.

A second National Council Meeting immediately follows the Annual Meeting. One reason for this meeting is to review the make-up of all standing committees and to reconstitute the special committees. These special committees have a life of only one year as defined by our bylaws.

Of interest to Ottawa Centre members are the changes to the National Light Pollution Committee. It has been reconstituted as the National Light Pollution Abatement Committee (NLPAC) with Rob Dick as chair. Anyone interested in working for the national program should see me at the Observer's Group meetings or e-mail me at rdick@ccs.carleton.ca. And of course, our local LPA program can use your help as well (Lee Macdonald 836-1839). Also, a Beginners Observing Certificate Committee has been set up to develop new beginner's level certificates to encourage and guide new members. Ottawa's Rick Wagner will chair this special committee.

The last official function at the GA was the Awards Dinner on Sunday night. The main speaker was out-going president Doug George who talked about his "Astronomical Adventures" over the years, culminating in the production of the video Comet Odyssey.

General Assemblies are lots of fun and activities are very informative and interesting. I encourage everyone to attend at least one. Next year's GA will be held at the University of Toronto beginning on Sat., July 3, 1999. Registration will include admittance to at two additional meetings immediately following the RASC GA - the Astronomical Society of the Pacific (ASP) and the American Association of Variable Star Observers (AAVSO) until July 7. See you there.


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