Happy Birthday, Astrology Mundo!

It was one year ago today that I decided to join the blogosphere by launching Astrology Mundo. Now, 422 posts, 1,353 (approved) comments, and 136,901 hits later, Astrology Mundo is celebrating its first birthday.

My output has varied since I fired up the blog for the first time, courtesy of WordPress, on Mar. 17, 2008, but my love of the astrological and blogging community hasn’t.

There have been two contributors who have kept this blog afloat over the past year when my energy flagged — Regina at Gastriques and Gian Paul, who has given us The View from Brazil. Thanks to both of you!

Also, thanks to the astrobloggers who have taken the time to comment on my posts and to link to them. I can’t name them all, but I’m thinking of Jude Cowell at Stars Over Washington and Jude’s Threshold, Comet at Out the Comet’s Ass, Julie Demboski, Beth Turnage at Astrology Explored, and ElsaElsa of blog aggregator AstroDispatch, to name a few. I couldn’t have done it without you. (More links later!)

Away from the cosmos, SFMike of Civic Center and Susan DeMark of Mindful Walker have helped keep my feet firmly on the ground while I’m looking up at the stars.

Last but not least, a big shout-out to Pamela Cucinell, my roommate at last year’s United Astrology Conference and the host of AstroChatter Radio, where I put my two astro cents in on a (mostly) regular basis.

Thanks everybody! I love all of you, especially my readers!

Starlinked: An Online Matchmaker with Stellar Insight

When I came back from a six-week tour of India in summer 2004, I began another odyssey: I started reading Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy. The 1,488-page opus chronicles the widow Mrs. Rupa Mehra’s hilarious and heart-rending search for a husband for her daughter Lata.

In India, as you may know, marriages are still arranged by families. But before prospective spouses and their parents agree to a betrothal, an astrologer determines the compatibility of the couple.

That’s right: Close to 1.1 billion people believe in consulting an astrologer before they tie the knot. (Of course, not all of India’s citizens are Hindus who follow Vedic astrology. Still, there are plenty of Indians living outside the Subcontinent who rely on astrology to find a mate.)

We’re just joining this party in the West, but we’re harnessing the power of technology. Under the auspices of Astrology Explored’s Beth Turnage, I’ve learned about a new Web site called Starlinked that uses astrology to help you find your soulmate.

Starlinked’s president, Kurt Grandis, was kind enough to do a Q&A with Astrology Mundo via e-mail. What follows is an edited transcript of our “interview.”

What is Starlinked?
Starlinked is an online astrology-based matchmaking service. We are dedicated to providing high-quality astrology-based information to our members to help them find that special someone. While the inner workings of our compatibility engine are grounded in traditional astrological techniques the entire user experience is designed for [someone] who may not have much experience with astrology.

Actually, Starlinked is often the first foray into astrology beyond daily horoscopes for many of our users. Our goal is to bring the benefits of sophisticated astrological techniques in evaluating relationships to people less familiar with the power of astrology. We recognize that technology alone can never replace a personal reading by an experienced astrologer, so we plan to incorporate features that will help our members connect with qualified astrologers in their area.

How long has it been in existence?
The Starlinked idea has been floating around for awhile now. Active development on the site and its underlying technologies began about eight months ago and we just launched in October 2008. We took our first couple of weeks to focus on North Carolina, where we are located in Mebane, but are now beginning to roll out into the rest of the U.S.

Are there competing sites that use astrology to match up people?
There are a few other sites out there that do some form of astrological matchmaking, but most reduce it to something along the lines of sun sign matching. We are proud to be able to go leaps and bounds beyond that and base our compatibility measures on real astrological techniques.

You are not just 1 of 12 buckets we sort out. The matches we find for you are entirely personalized to the exact time and place you were born.

How do you make sure people aren’t lying about their ages?
Great question! This is something we are obviously concerned about since we wish to ensure the integrity of our compatibility measures. We do our best to balance the integrity of our natal information and the privacy of our users. We explain the importance of accurate birth dates and also offer our members the option to hide their age from others. This provides less incentive to “tweak” their birth year.

What if someone doesn’t know when he was born? What happens then?
This is often the case for our first-time visitors, who haven’t had astrological consultations before. We allow folks to come in and make a rough guess if they have some idea (e.g. sometime in the evening) or just plain-old say “I don’t know.” At the same time we record the data confidence or quality (like a Rodden Rating [pioneered by AstroDataBank founder Lois Rodden]). This way users can enter the system and get started without knowing their exact birth time.

Their compatibility scores are initially penalized due to the uncertainties associated with the data. Once they’ve had a chance to call Mom or check their birth certificate they can lock in their actual birth time.

What compatibility factors does your program look for? I’m thinking of Sun/Moon conjunctions, trines between Venus and Mars, and contacts involving Saturn, often the “glue” in long-term relationships?
Our compatibility engine runs a number of analyses in order to calculate each individual pair’s overall score. We look at a number of planetary interactions, including the ones mentioned, the nature of the aspect, its orb among other things. We consider composites as well as synastry.

For the time being, we have minimized Saturn’s influences due to some of its interpretive subtleties. To cater to our users with more astrology experience, we plan on incorporating features to allow more advanced users to customize the factors involved in their compatibility calculations. There is still a lot to do and this will likely not be our first priority, but we take these kinds of concerns seriously and will work towards the most comprehensive matching possible.

What other factors besides astrology are used to match people?
At this time we are focused on identifying matches based solely on astrological factors. This is in part a conscious choice; we want to differentiate ourselves from other matchmaking services that require users to answer so many questions to find their matches. We always encourage feedback from our members and will respond if people express a desire to consider other factors as well, but ultimately it is our intention to keep the site focused on astrology-based factors.

How does the system work?
As soon as a new user registers on the site, our compatibility engine calculates match scores for all members within 50 miles. New members are encouraged to fill out their profile information, but can immediately start reviewing their matches if they choose. If you don’t find someone right away, Starlinked can notify you of new matches as often as every day, once a week, or once a month if you prefer. Once you find your match, simply fill out a few forms to subscribe and start communicating with as many other members as you want.

Does it cost money to join?
It is free to sign up, create your profile, and view your matches. Then you can subscribe to the Starlinked service when you are ready to contact other members. A Starlinked subscription is $29.99 a month or three months at $19.99 a month.

Who are the brains behind Starlinked and what are their credentials? I’m particularly interested in the astrological credentials.
Starlinked, before it was named as such, came to me after watching a number of friends and family use online dating and matchmaking sites. It just seemed like an astrology-based solution should be available.

Then, as a classic Mars in Taurus, I considered working on the project, poked at it, and found myself spending more and more time on it until finally the floodgates opened and BLAM: Starlinked! I’ve had tremendous help from people along the way. I think we have built quite a pool of energy behind this project.

One thing I am particularly excited about is using the collective wisdom of the community to refine the compatibility engine. For instance, what happens if I take five astrologers and ask them to tell me about a potential relationship between two people? What happens is that the same major planetary aspects and contacts tend to make appearances, but everyone weights and interprets their importance and influence slightly differently.

Rather than hide, ignore, or run away from those variations, as some other computerized analysis systems do, we embrace them and use some powerful computational techniques to harness that information. In the end we are able to provide results that best resemble the opinions of the community.

We don’t claim that these numbers are the end-all and be-all of astrological compatibility, but rather a great place to start based on some real traditional techniques. And look, you just met someone with whom you’re probably pretty compatible…why not chat?

It seems to me that more women than men are interested in astrology. How will you get around that?
I think this is definitely the case when you are talking about astro-savvy people who are interested in the inner workings and methodologies of astrology. Take a few steps back and consider folks with a casual interest who might not know what a rising sign is, but do check their daily horoscope. You still have more women than men, but the gap has definitely closed. At one point Match.com reported about 60% male membership. We hope women will strong-arm their guy friends into creating profiles :)

Does the system match gay people?
Starlinked does match gay people using the same compatibility system used for straight relationships. Since we are not relying solely on sun signs and are considering numerous other types of (common) planetary interactions the potential differences in relational interpretation should be tempered. I know there has been and continues to be a lot of research done this area and I would certainly like to see Starlinked’s matches reflect that work.

What do you think Astrology Mundo’s readers should know about Starlinked?
As I mentioned earlier, for many of our users Starlinked is their first real exposure to astrology beyond their daily horoscope. For these people we encourage them simply to register, review their matches, and start getting to know people with whom they are astrologically compatible.

For people with more astrology experience, there are plenty of opportunities to get involved with the project from authoring introductory relational astrology articles to participating in research to improve our compatibility engine. We are also working on establishing a consultancy or referral program for astrologers; when a user wants more detailed or personalized information, about a match or maybe regarding their own natal chart, they can select from a number of professional member astrologers offering their services.

We are excited about Starlinked and love to hear from our users on how we can improve the system. We have a number of things in the works and are always glad to take some direction from our community. Come on by and check us out!

Beth Turnage on the Burning of a Black Church

Most New Yorkers, when they hear the name “Wappingers Falls,” flash back to 1987, when Tawana Brawley, a black teen, alleged that she had been kidnapped and raped by six white men in the small town outside of Poughkeepsie, N.Y.

Although Tawana enlisted the help of the Reverend Al Sharpton, a civil rights leader, and won the support of African-American activists nationwide, the whole story turned out to be a hoax cooked up by a troubled teen, and the town of Wappingers Falls got caught up in the ignominy.

Wappingers Falls recently was in the news again after a Baptist church under construction for a mostly black congregation burned down in May under mysterious circumstances.

Nobody does true crime astrology better than Beth Turnage so I asked Beth to be the “investigator” on the case. I was interested in whether the fire, which the police have determined to be arson, was racially motivated.

In the mid-nineties, as Pluto went into Sagittarius, there was an epidemic of black church burnings, mostly in the southern United States. Churches are still being burned, though the issue has faded from the headlines, and gets lumped in with other hate crimes in reports compiled by various civil rights groups.

Some conservative commenters have even dismissed the church burnings of the mid-Nineties as a figment of the liberal imagination, just as there are those who insist the Holocaust was a myth.

Beth has done a wonderful job of using astrology to analyze why the Bethel Missionary Baptist Church of Wappingers Falls went up in flames.

Thanks, Beth! I owe you big time.

As an Army brat, I’m quite thankful to Beth for her recent astrological investigation of a murder near Fort Bragg, N.C., the home of the 82nd Airborne Div., which was my father’s “home” post. Airborne, for you civilians out there, means men and women who jump from planes and helicopters wearing parachutes.

Beth hangs her hat at Astrology Explored. You can read her posts about the murder of Second Lieutenant Holley Wimunc by her estranged husband here and here.

This is not the place for a full-blown editorial on the unrealistic demands our government is placing on U.S. servicemen and women and their families by sending them on multiple tours of duty to Iraq and Afghanistan. However, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to see that murder, spouse abuse, alcoholism, drug addiction, and post-traumatic stress syndrome are the end result of these actions. (For those who suspect I know of what I speak, you’re absolutely right.)

Of course, the murder of Holley Wimunc could have been motivated by nothing more than the age-old story: “If I can’t have her, no one else will.”

Beth, I’m hoping you’ll weigh in on this one. I haven’t done enough research to know whether Wimunc or her husband, Marine Corporal John Wimunc, had been deployed prior to the murder.

Those Hovering Helicopter Parents

Evidently, generational astrology is in the air. Just a few days before I wrote a post on “Pluto in Virgo for President,” Beth Turnage at Astrology Explored wrote a fascinating article looking at the astrological explanation for “helicopter parents.”

There was nothing wrong with Baby Boomers arranging play dates for their Gen Y toddlers; it gets a little weird when they tag along on their kids’ job interviews. Beth explains why Pluto in Leo parents have a hard time letting go here.

Finding a Nice Day for a White Wedding

Can you guess from today’s title that I was a major Billy Idol fan back in the day? In fact, Idol’s White Wedding was on the “soundtrack” that my first husband and I meticulously programmed for our wedding reception. We had a deejay but we gave him the playlist, control freaks that we were.

This morning’s eclipse at 9 degrees of Leo trined my Juno at 9 degrees of Sagittarius, so what better day to write about weddings? The asteroid Juno rules marriage and the arts so maybe later on I’ll pop into a museum or an art gallery. In the meantime, I’ve been meaning to give some cyber-ink to April Elliott Kent’s Star Guide to Weddings.

April, as many of you know, hangs her hat at Big Sky Astrology. Her bio says she lives in a 1927 bungalow in San Diego. Since I live in a 1920 bungalow in Beacon, N.Y., I like her already.

I was fortunate enough to receive an autographed copy of Star Guide to Weddings from Beth Turnage at Astrology Explored a couple of weeks ago. Thanks, Beth! I didn’t really spend any time with the book until about a week ago and when I did, I was amazed at its profound observations.

Even though this is a sun-sign book aimed at the masses, it is still engaging enough to capture the interest of the astrological aficionado.

My first marriage was a Gemini, and here’s what April has to say about the purpose of unions forged under the sign of the twins: “The curiosity and sociability of your Gemini marriage makes you a natural networking unit.”

Anybody who saw my first husband and me in action would agree, I’m sure. Boy, we knew how to work a room! At the end of the evening, we would report back to each other all the things that we had learned in our individual mingling.

About the Gemini wedding itself, April observes: “…your wedding and reception will be the best party of the summer.” Unfortunately, the wedding party was the high point of my first marriage. It was all downhill after that. But I still consider May 25, 1991 to be one of the happiest days of my life. Never have I been surrounded by so many friends and family.

I don’t want to give away all of April’s secrets, but she was also dead on about what that Gemini marriage needed — and didn’t get — to thrive and survive. Other famous Gemini marriages: The Duke and Dutchess of Windsor, and Bruce Springsteen and Patti Scialfa.

My current marriage has a Libra chart. Let’s hope it has greater staying power than my first. Libran marriages, according to April, are based on the belief that “you can be most effective in the world in collaboration with another person.” This is a union where both partners believe the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Let’s raise a toast of champagne to that noble ideal.

Given that Libra governs justice and other lofty aims of politics, it’s not surprising to find at least two couples who were White House residents on April’s list of famous Libran marriages — Gerald and Betty Ford, and Bill and Hillary Clinton. Will Barack and Michelle Obama, who also were wed under the sign of Libra, make it to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue? Time will tell.

As long as we’re talking potential White House occupants, Jude’s Threshold has a post on her Web site about the wedding day of John and Cindy McCain. The McCains may very well be featured in April’s Star Guide to Weddings, because I couldn’t find them because it doesn’t have an index, the only shortcoming of the book that I could identify.

Jude also has a page devoted to the nuptials of John and Elizabeth Edwards. Given the recent allegations that Edwards has a “love child,” that post might be interesting to check out and comment on. Neptune is certainly hitting the Edwards wedding chart, which is a Leo, pretty hard right now.

In the meantime, if you’re looking for a nifty wedding shower present, pick up a copy of Star Guide to Weddings. It’s $12.95 and is published by Llewellyn Worldwide. The future spouses can use April’s celestial guidance when they have their lawyers draw up their prenups! (Phrased very carefully in light of California’s recent decision to recognize gay marriage.)

Did Ryan Seacrest Jump the Shark?

Over in London, where competition among newspapers is still fierce, editors have an expression for the dog days of summer, when there is no real news and wacky stories get prime placement. They call it the “silly season.”

Now, with the triumph of tabloid journalism in a media world that only Rupert Murdoch could have created, some would argue that it’s the silly season all the time, and I wouldn’t disagree.

However, this headline takes the cake: Ryan Seacrest Bit By Shark! For more details, here’s the link:
http://www.usmagazine.com/Ryan-Seacrest-I-Was-Bit-by-a-Shark

Folks, I think this is a fish tale and that Seacrest, the host of Fox’s American Idol and his own radio show on KIIS-FM, has jumped the shark! For more information on the origin of the expression “jumping the shark,” see this Wiki entry: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jumping_the_shark

I’m not much of a television watcher so it’s no surprise that I only recently learned that jumping the shark is synonymous with pushing the envelope too far in the plot of a TV series. I’ve been looking for a way to work in the expression somewhere and now I’ve got the perfect opportunity.

The Ryan Seacrest shark bite story seems like a Hollywood publicist’s wet dream. All you have to do is say the word “shark” in the middle of summer and you’re headline news. I know Seacrest is a reliable Capricorn, but this sounds mighty suspicious to me!

Making it even more questionable is the fact that this is “Shark Week,” a much-ballyhooed annual event that generates some of the year’s best ratings at the Discovery Channel. I went looking for a link between Murdoch’s Fox Network, which broadcasts Idol, and the Discovery Channel but I couldn’t find one, so I’ll have to lay that conspiracy theory to rest.

I’ve actually got Seacrest’s chart in my files, though I’m missing a birth time. Why don’t you look at the chart and see if you think he got bit by a shark over the weekend? (Beth Turnage at Astrology Explored, that means you!)

Here’s the link, courtesy of Astrodienst: http://www.astro.com/cgi/chart.cgi?rs=3&btyp=w2gw&&cid=41laaaa19347-s971800598&nhor=261

Beth’s Whereabouts

I just got an e-mail from my online cosmic neighbor Beth Turnage that the Web site Astrology Explored (see my blogroll), where she normally hangs her hat, is down right now.

If you want to read Beth’s always excellent posts, please go to:
http://starrynightastro.wordpress.com/

Some of you may remember Beth’s analysis of Sedna in Tatum O’Neal’s chart. Maybe someone should send it to Tatum’s “people,” because it would certainly help the former child star gain some insight into her struggle with addiction.

Beth’s temporary change of address could be the result of the Uranus station at 22 Pisces. Lots of technical trouble and last-minute changes in plans!

Getting to Know Sedna

Remember how back in fifth grade you had a new best friend practically every week? This may be more of a girl than a guy thing, but my brothers also had lots of best buddies.

Well, I’m almost feel like I’m back in grade school with all the friends I’ve been meeting through Astrology Mundo. It seems that every week or so, I’ve got a new astropal.  Of course, with my Saturn/Mercury in Capricorn, I hope some of these ties will be lasting.

Maybe a better comparison would be to my first day at Syracuse University, where I went directly to the offices of the independent student-run newspaper, The Daily Orange. There I met friends that I’m still hanging out with (not everyday, of course) nearly 30 years later. I also met my friend Paula outside a professor’s office that day, and we’re still great pals!

My new best astro friend this week is Beth Turnage over at Astrology Explored. Christine, Julie, Elsa, Jude, Nancy, and Pamela, I still love you! I haven’t taken you off my blogroll and I go to your sites everyday!

Beth came into the orbit of Astrology Mundo with a comment over Memorial Day weekend. When I asked the blogosphere whether there is an asteroid named Indiana and she responded, “Yes, indeed!”

Now, Beth has taught me about the slow-moving planetoid Sedna, which wasn’t on my radar at all. According to her blog, it was discovered in 2003. She’s even doing a longitudinal study on how Sedna affects peoples’ lives. You can read more about it here:
http://www.astrologyexplored.com/sedna-the-blindspot-in-your-life/