In January '00, after obsessively reading newsgroups, magazines, catalogues and web pages for a couple of months, I bought myself a telescope. I am now the proud owner of an 8" f/6 dobsonian from Orion. So far I'm pretty happy with it. The deciding factor ended up being length. Discovery's dob looked like a pretty good deal price-wise, but at 45" the Orion tube fit nicely across the backseat of my car. Sky & Telescope reviewed this scope and five other 8" dobs in January '00. They posted the article on their site. (But then they started charging to look at old reviews, so my link to it goes to the Internet Archive Wayback Machine. :P)
Once I got my toy I gave my credit card a workout buying goodies to go with it. So far I've bought a few new eyepieces, some filters, a barlow and a Rigel Quikfinder. For a pretty incapable newbie such as myself the new finder has been the best investment. I was having a wretched time trying to contort myself upside-down to look through the 6x30 finder... once I got there, I usually had an equally hard time trying to figure out what I was looking at.
I've done most of my observing from the deck on the back of our house. The house and the trees block a lot of the light from neighboring houses. Unfortunately, they also block out most of the sky... we have a lot of trees. :) Fortunately Jupiter and Saturn spent a lot of time in my clear spot over the winter. Finding Mars on the other hand involves a lot of maneuvering around branches.
I've also been playing with astrophotography. Alas, I can't quite justify the purchase of a real CCD camera from the likes of SBIG. Fortunately for my wallet, some interesting pictures can be taken with either a regular digital camera, or a modified webcam. Some of my results are posted on my astrophotography page.
*Update* In the summer of '00 I came to a realization. My telescope was lonely. Sure, it had a pair of binoculars to hang out with, but they were of little comfort. This sad situation was remidied with an short tube 80mm f/5 refractor on an alt-az mount, and a bouncing baby 127mm Maksutov-Cassegrain which arrived in November. Pictures of the happy family will be posted shortly.*
* "Shortly" in this case meaning "if I ever get around to writing an equipment page."
Really though, I bought the ST80 primarily as a cheap travel scope. I brought it along on vacation to the southwest last year, and it survived both the flight (crammed in my suitcase) and a two week camping trip without difficulty. The little mak-cas came on an EQ mount with a motor drive, so I'm hoping to take some better pictures with it... it's tough trying to take photos when your subject keeps racing off the field of view. :)
As a reward to those who've gotten this far, here's a few links...
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Jan Knowlton - talk2me(at)boop(dot)org