This picture, taken in 1994, is not what it seems at first glance. The AAVSO staff here are not comparing and contrasting studies of the fire hydrant in front of the former 25 Birch Street Headquarters, they are observing the annular solar eclipse of May 10!
Back about the time this photo was taken, we learned at HQ that someone had put the AAVSO on a list of "organizations with unusual names"--making the AAVSO sort of like the organization in Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes story "The Red Headed League."
Similarly, in the AAVSO Archives is a letter from the famous science fiction writer, Isaac Asimov, who wrote to the AAVSO in 1960 saying: "It embarasses me to have to ask about your organization...is the title to be taken literally or does it cover a more purely social group?" I'm sure that Margaret Mayall set him straight.
To people not familar with astronomy, and even to a surprising number who do know astronomy, The American Association of Variable Star Observers is an enigma.
We all get questioned about "what is AAVSO?" lots of times. I'm always glad to explain as best I can what variable stars are, and what our observers do, and why their observations are important.
For example, one time, when I first met three of my wife's elderly cousins who were dairy farmers in southwestern New York State: at a family function (they had been drinking), one of them asked: "What do you do?" Well, I perked up and began telling him all about the AAVSO in three-part-harmony, when he suddenly interrupted me, thrust his face into mine and said, "You know what? I don't really give a s***!"
So, you can't win 'em all.
Nevertheless, I welcome any such personal, unplanned, opportunities to explain what the AAVSO is all about and why it's important. There are other ways, too, such as Mike Simonsen's team of AAVSO members who visit star parties and astronomy clubs to spread the word. But, I especially enjoy explaining variable star astronomy to people one at a time, in unexpected situations.
By the way, I later learned that my wife's cousin was only kidding (or so he says).