The Big Bang..


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Well just after the Big Bang..

While we battle each other on earth, uncovering hatred of the ‘other’ , looking up into the skies can bring new perspectives on our existence.

Hubble takes us even further -to the edge of the known universe(s).

How far is far? And, how do you know when you get there? In 1995, astronomers decided to use the Hubble Space Telescope to conduct a bold and daring experiment to address this puzzle. For 10 consecutive days, Hubble stared at one tiny, seemingly empty patch of sky for 1 million seconds.

The gamble of precious telescope time paid off. Hubble captured the feeble glow of myriad never-before-seen galaxies. Many of the galaxies are so far away it has taken billions of years for their light to reach us. Therefore, the view is like looking down a “time corridor,” where galaxies can be seen as they looked billions of years ago. Hubble became astronomy’s ultimate time machine.

The resulting landmark image is called the Hubble Deep Field. At the time, the image won the gold medal for being the farthest peek into the universe ever made. Its stunning success encouraged astronomers to pursue a series of Hubble deep-field surveys. The succeeding surveys uncovered more galaxies at greater distance from Earth, thanks to new cameras installed on Hubble during astronaut servicing missions. The cameras increased the telescope’s power to look even deeper into the universe.

These surveys provided astronomers with a huge scrapbook of images, showing how, following the big bang, galaxies built themselves up over time to become the large, majestic assemblages seen today in the nearby universe.

Among the most notable deep-field surveys are the Great Observatories Origins Deep Survey (GOODS), in 2003; the Hubble Ultra Deep Field (HUDF), in 2004; and the eXtreme Deep Field (XDF), in 2012.

Now, astronomers are releasing a new deep-field image by weaving together exposures from several of these previous galaxy “fishing expeditions.” Their efforts have produced the largest, most comprehensive “history book” of galaxies in the universe. The snapshot, a combination of nearly 7,500 separate Hubble exposures, represents 16 years’ worth of observations. The ambitious endeavor is called the Hubble Legacy Field. The new view contains about 30 times as many galaxies as in the HUDF. The wavelength range stretches from ultraviolet to near-infrared light, capturing all the features of galaxy assembly over time.

The image mosaic presents a wide portrait of the distant universe and contains roughly 265,000 galaxies. They stretch back through 13.3 billion years of time to just 500 million years after the universe’s birth in the big bang.

Hopefully these views can bring some sanity on earth as we consider how ‘small’ and ‘small minded’ we can be.

The Kora and West African Blues


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There are close links between West African music and song and the Blues of the Southern states -probably due to the origin of slaves from West Africa.

Recently Taj Mahal said there’s no doubt about the lineage….as he was collaborating with Kora player Toumani Diabate.

“Sometimes when people talk about the connections between Afro-American music and African music, they’re kind of stretching it,” he explains. “But this stuff clearly is a relative.” He tells of the time he started playing a particular blues song and his Malian bandmates knew instantly where the music was headed. “It’s almost like a relative who’s gone away for 500 years and gone through some metamorphosis and changes, but is still recognizable.

The kora’s complex and melodic fingerpicking style is seen as a forebear to the rich Delta blues guitar sound of Mississippi John Hurt and others. A lutelike instrument called the ngoni—played on Kulanjan by Bassekou Kouyate—is a predecessor to the banjo. To Taj’s ear, these old West African instruments “sing the same kind of way” as the guitars, banjos, and mandolins he’s always gravitated toward in his own music.

Toumani Diabate and Ballake Sissoko

Sona Jobarteh

Collaborations with Western artists are becoming more common

Catrin Finch and Seckou Keita

and the master of west african blues -Ali Farka Toure with Toumani once again

Billy Boy Arnold


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Billy Boy Arnold

William “Billy Boy” Arnold (born September 16, 1935, Chicago, Illinois) is an American blues harmonica player, singer and songwriter.

Seemingly under rated, but still a considerable influence.

I ain’t got you

I wish you would

The Yardbirds, with Eric Clapton on lead guitar, revived both “I Wish You Would” and “I Ain’t Got You” in 1964, testifying to Arnold’s influence on the British blues explosion. “It really gave me a boost all the way around,” says Billy. “It was a great compliment.” 

Sweet on you Baby

Every day,every night

Love me baby

Keep listening and learning -here is a lesson from Liam Ward

and that version by the Yardbirds with Eric Clapton:

David Hockney – the love and hate of photography


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David Hockney, reaching the age of 80, is being celebrated in Los Angeles with exhibitions of his work. What is interesting is that much of his work on show, is either self portraits (mainly paintings) and his photographic work -his ‘joiners’ or photo collages.

Even though, Hockney himself, challenges photography in terms of being static and time bound, his legacy still seems to include photography as an important dimension of his growth and development as an artist.


Installation photograph, David Hockney, In the Studio, December 2017, photographic drawing printed on seven sheets of paper, mounted on seven sheets of Dibond, 109 1/2 x 299 1/4 in., courtesy the artist, © David Hockney, photo © Museum Associates/LACMA.

What Hockney has been able to do is to move away from the single point in time – “When is the present? When did the past end and the present occur, and when does the future start? Ordinary photography has one way of seeing only, which is fixed, as if there is kind of an objective reality, which simply cannot be. Picasso…knew that every time you look there’s something different. There is so much there but we´re not seeing it, that’s the problem. – David Hockney
The installation above uses photography but in Hockney’s way.


Mr Satan’s Apprentice -A Blues Memoir


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A bit late – drafted this some time ago, but forgot to post!

Mr Satan’s Apprentice -A Blues Memoir by Adam Gussow.

How I missed this when it first came out, I don’t know, but glad that another blues enthusiast lent me his copy, while waiting for my own.

Mister Satan’s Apprentice is the history of one of music’s most fascinating collaborations, between Adam Gussow, a young graduate school dropout and harmonica player, and Sterling “Mr. Satan” Magee, a guitarist and underground blues legend who had originally made his name as “Five Fingers Magee.”

(hardback version 1998)Pantheon


paperback version 2000 (Vintage)

Apart from the mix of blues and comments about broader social issues, there are many noticeable and notable paragraphs about Mr Satan’s philosophy as well as blues harp playing. Here is one as a starter:

“I am Satan,” he declaimed.” God’s people told you a lie. I am the most mannerable person you will ever meet. and guess what ? Every single war that ever was- all the killing, all the disrespecting, all the mother effing this and that- every bit of that damned mess has been taught in the name of God. Ain’t no wars been fought in the name of Satan.” p.49

“I am the Earth, Mister Adam,”Mister Satan cried, inflamed. ”I joke not. the Earthworks in mysterious ways. I may feel a little cold coming on, mix me up a little milk and honey, drink it down, and I’m gonna wake up next morning with my health in full flower. Ain’t took no doctor to cure my behind. A doctor will kill you, man. How’s a doctor gonna help anybody produce healthfulness when he spend all day and night studying sickness and death? Can’t do it. Same thing with God. Bastard puts man and woman in the garden of Eden, shows them where the Tree of Life is, looking oh so pretty with the apple hanging down, and then go and make up some lie about how they gonna die if they go and have a taste.

God is death, plain and simple. Ain’t no life in the mess.”



About harp playing, from Adam….

In those days I gave a lot of harmonica lessons, almost all them to lonely white guys with time to spare and an aching desire to make a certain kind of sound on the instrument. Everybody I knew referred to this as the Sound. Nat had the Sound; he’d done his best to pass it along to me. The Sound was Southern-born, it was cocky playful, manic, chuckling, resentful, edgy, comforting, relentless. It took incredible lip strength and finesse to produce.It was sexual. It was the haunted, restless feeling of a guy’s apartment late at night after the woman who used to live there had moved out. 

(p.49- 50)

all I had was my music, pitiful as it was….Saturday nights ,while other freshman as the Primitive Inn –my residential college –were mingling to disco bands in the darkened dining room. I’d hide out upstairs blowing and jumping around, working up my nerve, my favourite inspirational text was Muddy Water’s Woodstock album with Paul Butterfield on harp, faster than James Cotton, more fluid than Magic Dick,Butter would hammer out endless triplets, buzzing around Muddy like a chuckling angry wasp. I’m gonna take you downtown, put cloooothes on your back…Muddy would bellow and Paul would diddly-diddly-waaaaah..I’d dance around and between them until my lips ached, trying to soak up Muddy’s swagger, Paul’s wasp-chuckle.



And about the teacher of teachers -Nat Riddles (Adam’s harp guru)

Sweet Home Chicago” went by, unremarkable; I couldn’t sing with Nat watching me. A higher power descended in the middle of “Mean Old World” Mister Satan had just cried “Sometimes I wonder…how can you love be so cold.” Suddenly shivering,I had it- a knotted sob-and knew what to do with it. The moment he yelled   Blow! I went off .I thinned my tone, got as mean as I could with maximal tongue-articulation up and down the harp, all the moves Nat had lovingly help install.

The men crowding around us shouted “play it!” Nat hovering with the tape recorder, yelled, “Go ahead!” Whatever I was holding back broke out in a flood.I sobbed,cursed,raged hoarsely, flogged my own throat,with the air I wrenched through it.


and on Nat:

He sat down….spine erect legs spread in back – porch mode – and started to blow. And he did blow. His first long low note got under and upended everything I”d just played. “Go ahead brother!” a man yelled. A current rippled through the gathered crowd. “Low down and dirty brother!” another yelled out. Nat’s lidded eyes narrowed as he bore down, his shoulders swiveled, feinting and parrying, a tai chi push-hands master daring you to come at him. Five six, seven choruses. Every half-digested Nat Riddles lick I’d just thrown down-tongue slaps, warbles, bends, glissandos-he scraped off the sidewalk, swapped around ,kicked and bit back into shape, then hurled through the stained, oily gum-spattered concrete we were standing on. Down they flowed into the molten core, boiling and squalling before erupting through the paper cone of my Mouse.


take a break and watch the vid of the pair:

William and I were sitting behind the two women, harps out, deep in the woodshed. He’d just shown me a mind-blowing new technique.Overblows were a way of playing three extra notes in the middle octave by reversing direction on a draw note bend so the pitch popped up. The notes literally weren’t there; you made them happen with shrewdly applied tongue-force. The tone went glassy for a split second then broke into clear usable higher ground. Suddenly boogie-woogie s were possible, jazzy blues heads like : Blue Monk” and Night Train” all the sax riffs I’d been fudging. A New World swims into  view!.


Certainly worth a read!

Winner of the 1999 Keeping the Blues Alive Award for Literature, an honor bestowed annually by the Blues Foundation.


Check out this video on Satan and Adam

Satan and Adam



Also check out Adam’s website:


John Surman – musician


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I have always been fascinated by the deep tones of certain instruments and voices (perhaps my Welsh upbringing brought me in contact with basso profondo!)

I love the sound of the bass clarinet and baritone sax as well as the low notes on a cello.

Before reading anything more just listen to this piece by John Surman


Edges of illusion





The fantastic track “Edges Of Illusion” is taken from John Surman’s great album “Upon Reflection” (1979) resp. from the sampler album “John Surman – :rarum” (2004). The album is recorded by ECM Records in excellent audio quality.
Listen and enjoy it.

MUSICIANS: John Surman
Bass Clarinet
Soprano Saxophone
Baritone Saxophone

Produced by John Surman & Manfred Eicher (ECM Records, 1988).

John Surman was one of the very few saxmen in England to find a significant audience in rock during the late ’60s, playing gigs regularly at venues like the Marquee Club in London. Also a clarinetist of some renown, and no slouch on keyboards either, the atmospheric sounds that Surman creates on his horns has been a major asset to the ECM label ever since the late ’70s; but, before that, he was an extremely prolific artist on Deram, Futura, Dawn, and Island, cutting seven solo albums between 1968 and 1974 on those mainstream pop-oriented labels, as well as recording with Morning Glory on Island.

One of England’s top jazz players of the past several decades, Surman is particularly strong on the baritone. Surman played in jazz workshops while still in high school. He studied at the London College of Music and London University Institute of Education in the mid-’60s, played with Alexis Korner and Mike Westbrook until the late ’60s, and recorded with the latter until the mid-’70s. He was voted best soloist at the 1968 Montreux Festival while heading his band.

Surman worked with Graham Collier, Mike Gibbs, Dave Holland, Chris McGregor, and John McLaughlin in the ’60s, and toured Europe with the Kenny Clarke/Francy Boland big band in 1970. Surman toured and recorded with Barre Phillips and Stu Martin in the late ’60s and early ’70s, and again in the late ’70s, adding Albert Mangelsdorff to the group. They called themselves the Trio, then Mumps. Surman played with Mike Osborne and Alan Skidmore in the sax trio SOS in the mid-’70s. He also collaborated with the Carolyn Carlson dance company at the Paris Opera through the mid- and late ’70s. Surman recorded with Stan Tracey and Karin Krog, while working with Miroslav Vitous and Azimuth.

He led the Brass Project in the early ’80s, and played in Collier’s big band and Gil Evans’ British orchestra. Surman toured with Evans again in the late ’80s. He began recording as a leader for Pye in the early ’70s, and did sessions for Ogun and ECM. Surman continued recording in the ’80s, mostly for ECM. He worked with Terje Rypdal, Jack DeJohnette, Pierre Favre, Bengt Hallberg, Archie Shepp, Warne Marsh, and Red Mitchell, among others.

Surman has made many recordings for ECM, spanning from free form to mood music, and he remains one of the label’s most consistently stimulating artists.“(by Ronn Wynn & Bruce Eder, All Music Guide)


Tomlin’s lessons are improving…


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If you read my blog post on online blues harp teachers then you will know how highly I rate Tomlin Leckie.

This is just a note to say he continually improves his presentation of lessons and you should be a regular visitor to his website or subscribe to his facebook page:try this one


Baby Please don’t go…


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Just preparing to go to a friend’s wedding and he has asked me to play some harp -so I am working on a variation of a music story based on ‘Baby Please Don’t Go”.

While doing some research I realised how important the song was in terms of blues music history.

Big Joe Williams’ “Baby, Please Don’t Go” is included in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame list of “500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll”.[52] In 1992, it was inducted into the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame in the “Classics of Blues Recordings” category.[3] The Foundation noted that, in addition to various blues recordings, “the song was revived in revved-up fashion by rock bands in the ’60s such as Them, the Amboy Dukes, and Ten Years After”.[3]



And a range of other versions to show the diversity of approach to this song:

Bob Dylan


Muddy Waters and the Stones

Seasick Steve

and there is more -Tom Petty,AC/DC, Aerosmith,Paul Butterfield and a fast version by Them of course.

Learners will want to find the version by Stefan Grossman (Guitar) and Tomlin Leckie (Harmonica)



More harp – but not as you know it!


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This project is a stunning shared musical journey between two world class virtuosos – Welsh harpist Catrin Finch and West African kora player Seckou Keita.


From Casamance in Senegal, Seckou Keita is both a member of the royal Keita dynasty from Mali (through his father), and a griot, a traditional West African praise singer (through his mother’s family, the Cissokhos, from Senegal). He has built a formidable reputation as “an inspired exponent of the kora”(The Guardian) and is “a brilliant live performer with stacks of charisma” (Lucy Duran, Radio BBC3).

One of the leaders of the newest generation of African traditional musicians, Seckou combines his own musical heritage with a willingness to embrace the traditional forms and instruments of other cultures, and has already blended his kora (21-stringed West African harp) with jazz, funk, rock, Indian classical and all manner of other musical styles.

Harpist Catrin Finch is one of Wales’ leading international musical ambassadors, and one of the world’s finest players of this most Welsh of instruments. The “Queen of Harps”. Her concert appearances with the world’s top orchestras span the globe and she has worked alongside artists such as Bryn Terfel, Sir James Galway and Julian Lloyd-Webber. Hot on the heels of her innovative collaborations with Cimarron from Colombia and Toumani Diabaté from Mali, Catrin Finch is once again proving her radical and adventurous musical spirit with this wedding of Welsh and West African musical culture.


The harp occupies a vital place in the incredibly rich cultures of both Senegal and Wales. The West African harp – the kora – played by Seckou is made from a dried gourd and fishing line; the Welsh harp, played by Catrin, is one of the most iconic symbols of a nation steeped in music. Remarkably, both nations share a centuries-old bardic tradition of intricate oral history, expressed through music, song and verse.



More news and views from the edge of the universe……..


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I am endlessly fascinated by the range and quality of images that are analysed and put out in the public domain from Hubble and other sources. We have come to see them as works of art as well as giving us insights into the origins of phenomena in space.

Here are some recent ones:



MARCH 17, 2014: This colorful Hubble Space Telescope mosaic of a small portion of the Monkey Head Nebula unveils a collection of carved knots of gas and dust silhouetted against glowing gas. The cloud is sculpted by ultraviolet light eating into the cool hydrogen gas. As the interstellar dust particles are warmed from the radiation from the stars in the center of the nebula, they heat up and begin to glow at infrared wavelengths, as captured by Hubble. The space photo superficially resembles the “The Great Wave” print by 19th century Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai.




This image shows a region of space containing a sample of dwarf galaxies studied by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope. Hiding among these thousands of galaxies are faint dwarf galaxies that resided in the early universe, between 2 and 6 billion years after the big bang, an important time period when most of the stars in the universe were formed. Some of these galaxies are undergoing a ferociously fast rate of star formation called “starbursts.” Astronomers are striving to deduce the galaxies’ contribution to star formation in this crucial era of the universe’s history. The image is part of the Great Observatories Origins Deep Survey (GOODS).






APRIL 3, 2014: If someone told you there was an object in space called “El Gordo” (Spanish for “the fat one”) you might imagine some kind of planet-eating monster straight out of a science fiction movie. The nickname refers to a monstrous cluster of galaxies that is being viewed at a time when the universe was just half of its current age of 13.8 billion years. This is an object of superlatives. It contains several hundred galaxies swarming around under a collective gravitational pull. The total mass of the cluster, and refined in new Hubble measurements, is estimated to be as much as 3 million billion stars like our Sun (about 3,000 times more massive than our own Milky Way galaxy) — though most of the mass is hidden away as dark matter. The cluster may be so huge because it is the result of a titanic collision and merger between two separate galaxy clusters. Thankfully, our Milky Way galaxy grew up in an uncluttered backwater region of the universe.


As well as considering the broader universe and minimising the pettiness of some aspects of life on earth, Hubble images are being used more creatively:



JANUARY 7, 2014: Three-dimensional printers are transforming the business, medical, and consumer landscape by creating a vast variety of objects, including airplane parts, football cleats, lamps, jewelry, and even artificial human bones.

Now astronomers at the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, Md., are experimenting with the innovative technology to transform astronomy education by turning images from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope into tactile 3-D pictures for people who cannot explore celestial wonders by sight. The 3-D print design is also useful and intriguing for sighted people who have different learning styles. In the 3-D representations, stars, filaments, gas, and dust shown in Hubble images of the bright star cluster NGC 602 have been transformed through 3-D printing into textures, appearing as raised open circles, lines, and dots in the 3-D printout. These features also have different heights to correspond with their brightness.




A stunning Hubble Space Telescope image of the colorful 30 Doradus Nebula, a giant star-forming region, is the focal point of an eBook on stellar evolution aimed at children with visual impairments, ages 10 to 12. The book is called “Reach for the Stars: Touch, Look, Listen, Learn.” Its developers have issued the first chapter, which is being previewed at the winter meeting of the American Astronomical Society at National Harbor, Md. The ebook will available in Apple’s iBook store to download for free on iPads in the near future.

“Reach for the Stars” is the inspiration of astronomer Elena Sabbi of the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) in Baltimore, Md., the lead researcher on the latest Hubble image of 30 Doradus, also known as the Tarantula Nebula. Sabbi and her collaborators are producing the book through a Hubble education and public outreach grant.

Although “Reach for the Stars” is being designed for children with visual impairments, Sabbi said that anyone can view and enjoy the book. “We hope it will be an inspiration and attract people to science,” she explained. “That’s the main goal. We want to convince children that science is cool, is fun, and that anybody could be a scientist, if they want to.” Sabbi and her STScI team are developing the book in partnership with SAS, a company based in Cary, N.C., that develops analytics software to help people analyze and visualize data. The company is working to make analytics and data visualization accessible to users of all abilities, including those with visual impairments.

Ed Summers, senior manager of accessibility and applied assisted technology at SAS, is spearheading the eBook’s development, leading a team of programmers, artists, and curriculum specialists. Summers, Sabbi, and Ada Lopez, a SAS science curriculum specialist, are the book’s co-authors. Like Sabbi, Summers agreed that “Touch the Stars” is not solely a book for blind children. “I feel strongly that people with disabilities don’t want separate materials,” he said. “We want to be able to access the same materials as everybody else, but in a way that adapts to individual needs. That’s why we created this mainstream book in a way that would benefit everybody, rather than something that is specifically dedicated to a relatively small audience of students with visual impairments.”

The eBook will consist of six chapters and will run about 90 pages. Every page of each chapter will begin with a question, followed by a short answer. Children with a variety of learning styles will be able to see the imagery and hear the text read to them using “read aloud” technology when they touch the audio icon at the bottom of each screen. Children with visual impairments will not only hear the text read to them but also access the book using a refreshable braille display, the “VoiceOver” screen reader, or the zoom feature that is included in every iPad.

Images, graphics, videos, and animations also will appear in every chapter. Some of the images will be interactive. Several prominent star clusters in an image of the Tarantula Nebula, for example, are marked by circles. Touch a circle and a short caption appears on the screen describing the cluster.

The first chapter answers the question, why study the stars? Other chapters will include information on the history of astronomy, the different types of telescopes, what is a star, the life cycle of stars, and the Tarantula Nebula. The last chapter will provide interviews with professionals who work in astronomy, such as scientists, engineers, graphic designers, and writers.

In addition to the VoiceOver and read aloud options, the book also will offer closed captioning, a compatibility option for people with hearing aids, and a high-contrast feature for those with low vision.

SAS also is working on some special features of its own to communicate astronomy to the visually impaired. One such feature is called “sonification,” which uses sound to convey graphical information. Readers will be asked to use headphones or external speakers to experience sonification’s full effect. The company already has incorporated the new feature in a diagram showing the brightness of stars plotted against their surface temperature or brightnesses.

For brightness, SAS is using pitch to tell people with visual impairments the brightness of a particular star when they touch it. The brighter the star, the higher the pitch. The temperature of a star will be conveyed through either the left or right ear. Cooler stars are on the left of the graph; hotter stars are on the right. Readers will hear about a cooler star through their left ear and hotter stars through their right ear.

“It’s a way to convey information that there is a trend in the distribution of stars in the diagram,” Sabbi said. “If you are trying to explore the images with your finger you can get lost. This is a much stronger way to convey the information.”

The book’s developers also will provide tactile overlays for about 10 to 12 images in the book. The overlays will have raised textures representing important features in the image. The National Braille Press is making 200 overlays that will be available for free upon request.

SAS plans to promote the book at the American Astronomical Society and other conferences next year. The company also will market “Reach for the Stars” to teachers across the country. The Baltimore-based National Federation of the Blind, a project partner, also will help with distribution through its network of teachers and parents.

A blind college intern, Chelsea Cook, who worked for Sabbi two summers ago, was the inspiration for the book project. Sabbi was trying to figure out how Cook could work with scientific data on the computer. Max Mutchler, a scientist at STScI who has produced tactile images for people with visual impairments, suggested that Sabbi contact Ed Summers at SAS. “Ed told me that I could apply his techniques to 30 Doradus,” Sabbi said. “With Chelsea, we put together a website trying to explore the nebula. That project led to the outreach grant for the book.

“‘Reach for the Stars’ shows the blind that there are no barriers to scare you,” she added. “And technology is improving so fast that we are sure you will be able to learn and to do things. Things are becoming more reachable.”


Donna Weaver / Ray Villard
Space Telescope Science Institute, Baltimore, Md.
410-338-4493 / 410-338-4514 /