Wednesday, December 31, 2008

the woods in a year

here's a nicely executed 40-second video by Eirik Solheim, showing the same scenic woods over an entire year.

One year in 40 seconds from Eirik Solheim on Vimeo.

mmmmm.... seasons!

Monday, December 29, 2008

two thousand nine

the year 2009 begins in a few short days! two thousand nine is the international year of astronomy as initiated by the international astronomical union and UNESCO "to help the citizens of the world rediscover their place in the Universe through the day- and night-time sky, and thereby engage a personal sense of wonder and discovery."

i'm excited about the 365 days of astronomy project, where different people from anywhere in the world talk about their interest in, fascination of, or knowledge about a particular aspect of the universe! there will be a unique podcast available for everyone to listen to every day next year! and there are still many days available throughout the year for anyone to create podcasts, so i encourage anyone and everyone to participate!

i've agreed to create a couple podcasts throughout the year, but i wanted to ask you all a favor... i'm looking for inspiration for more topics to talk about and so i'd like to get your suggestions. what questions do you have about the universe? what would you like to hear someone talk about for 5-10 minutes? my research focuses on galaxy formation and evolution, but i would be willing and interested to talk about anything if an interesting question sparks an idea. the challenge for me, i think, is that i'm so used to using visual aids in the classroom or on this blog, that it will be exciting to create the proper effect via auditory senses only.

thanks for your help!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

family christmas carols

what i miss most while traveling is my family. this holiday season, i won't be home for christmas. while i'm enjoying the discovery of many british christmas staples (i cant believe i'd never heard of christmas crackers!), i'm feeling a bit homesick for all my family traditions.

every year, my dad's side of my family gathers together on christmas day. i have about 35 cousins on that side, so you can imagine the epic size of the event! for as long as i can remember, we have sung christmas carols together at the gigantic gathering on christmas day. in preparation for the singing, an excited energy floats around the room while people refill their bourbon slushies and find their place around the room. one uncle always leads the songs, sometimes unintentionally beginning songs on notes that make certain later notes quite unattainable to average voices! many harmonies are attempted and some are proudly achieved - although some years are definitely better than others!

the infamous song that makes everyone perk up, prepare their ears, and roll their eyes is oh holy night! the several-part harmonies reveal themselves as the family's volume increases excitedly. the voices intensify toward the climax of the song, when my aunts and uncles stand up, comedically reach out their arms, and wail "oh niiiiight diviiii-iiiine!!!!!!" inevitably, there is always an encore of the last verse of this christmas song, because the final crescendo is just so satisfyingly hilarious! at the end of this battered carol, we all smile and clap, and laugh at ourselves once again.

after going thru 20 or 30 carols, the last song we sing is always jingle bells.... dashing through the snow, in a one horse open sleigh.... as soon as this song begins, *santa* appears at the top of the stairs!! while we finish the song, he patiently makes his way to the christmas tree, through the rushing crowd of adoring children and jovial adults. at the end of the song we all cheer for santa and he tells us about his year. he usually adds a bad joke about the reds or the bengals or some other local college sports team. he distributes all the presents, one by one, with the aid of a few lucky little helpers. then we cheer him off again as he returns up the stairs to his sleigh.

when i was young and there were fewer family members, i grew to recognize santa as my uncle, mitch. now, it has become a little game to try to recognize who santa is among all of my too-grown-up boy cousins!

here's one of my favorite old pictures of the events - me, my cabbage patch doll and my mom singing with my cousin, her cabbage patch, and her mom... and the rest of the family!!!

the caroling spectacle was fun as a young child, horribly embarrassing as a teenager, and delightfully wholesome as an adult, because it's so much an endearing part of my family's culture. i will immensely miss the family gathering this year, so maybe i'll sing some carols by myself! happy holidays!

winter holidays in london

i spent several days of this holiday season in london, england. thanks to those friendly folks who put me up and/or shared a meal! enjoy the photos!

scenes from hyde park...

soho surprises line carnby street...

little christmas markets are hidden in many nooks of the city. this one sits outside the natural history museum.

british museum.


a black cab and clouds.

bling in the trees.

harrods - a beacon of light.

three icons

ms. claus....

...among her people ;)

the eye's optical illusions.

ein gluhwein, bitte!

the norwegian "thank you" tree in trafalgar square.

trafalgar sounds like a town in middle earth, doesn't it?!

too posh for exercise or dog-walking?

no problom.

purely british dining for lunch, er, i mean dinner, ugh... at midday!!
fish and chips, mushy peas and a pint!

Saturday, December 20, 2008


i'm off to the big city - london! this is my first visit and i'm pretty excited... the forecast doesnt even call for rain!

here are a couple articles of interest that i wanted to share.

1) an interesting internal view of investigation techniques used by the US in iraq: what i saw in iraq, an article from the washington post that i first spied from mike's meandering mind.

2) charles platt on his experience with a texas prison, well-written in an article called: life in prison.

rainbows over pompeii

while walking around the ruins of pompeii, italy, the most famous of the cities devastated by the 79 AD eruption of mt. vesuvius, a rain storm hit, and the few visitors who braved the november chill, were covered by water from the sky. i didnt mind the rain, as i was prepared for the potential downpour, and the finals stages of the storm created a fantastic rainbow!

at the appearance of the rainbow, i scrambled around the larger-than-expected ancient city to find the best place to catch a glimpse of the full arch, and to take a few photos!

after finding my favorite spot, i relaxed for a while to look at the refractive phenomenon. the top color of the primary rainbow is red - then moving on down towards the inside of the arc you see red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet - roy g. biv. the colors are created because the raindrops act like little prisms as the sun rays pass thru them. sunlight gets reflected and refracted all over as it encounters the different surfaces of raindrops. the primary rainbow is created by those rays that pass into the raindrop, get reflected off the back surface, and then pass thru the surface of the raindrop again upon exiting! the light gets refracted twice - once for each time it passes through the raindrop's surface.

refraction occurs because the speed of light thru water is less than the speed of light thru the air. the change of speed causes a change in the direction the light is traveling, which is dependent on the wavelength, as determined by snell's law... longer, red wavelengths are refracted less than shorter, blue wavelengths.

some parts of the rainbow appear brighter than others, dependent on the droplet size, and it also appears as if the sky below the rainbow is brighter than the sky above the rainbow!

in fact, the sky really is brighter below the rainbow! there is a lot of light exiting the raindrop after being once reflected inside. the most light emerges at 40-42 degrees, where we see the concentrated primary rainbow. there is also a lot of light that emerges at smaller angles than the rainbow ray, but almost no light emerges from the single internal reflection with angles greater than the rainbow ray. as a result, the excess of light scattered inside the arc causes the sky below the rainbow to look brighter than above!

i just love these phenomena of the sky!

(more pictures from italy)

Thursday, December 18, 2008

distance and time

i heard a funny saying this week:

to an american 100 years is a long time
to an englishman 100 miles is a long way

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

green santa?

no, at least not according to nottingham's holiday decorations! santa's sleigh produces quite a lot of exhaust!

the city center has a nice german market where you can drink tasty hot gluhwein, but there is a creepy moose head looming over the drinkers that moves, and sings, and looks around at everyone!

'tis the season...

6 billion others

yann arthus-bertrand is undertaking a fascinating project called 6 billion others. people talk honestly into a camera about various topics, like money, discrimination, lovers, nature, happiness, et cetera.

the camera angles of the people are very intimate, showing close-up head shots with great lighting. the people interviewed come from all over the world and their words are translated alongside their image. several times i listened to a few minute passage, with several people speaking on a particular topic... first time thru i read the translations, then the second time, i just listened without reading, watching their faces and listening to their sounds. i really enjoyed just listening to how the languages sound. fascinating!

its worth checking out: 6 billion others.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

dark matter: poems of space

combine a poet, maurice riordan, and an astrophysicist, jocelyn bell burnell, who has collected space-related poetry throughout her life, and you get a new book, dark matter: poems of space! its about time, really!

i havent read this book yet, but i'm quite excited about its existence and will probably buy it soon. most physicists i know have active hobbies: music, art, sports (running seems the most popular, but i always find people to play soccer with)... but i wonder why there are not more ("out of the closet") astrophysicist writers and poets?

in light of this question, i want to share a poem i wrote quite a long time ago. i'm not saying this poem has a whole lot to do with actual astrophysics, or that i'm a poet... but still, i like it, so here it is.

angstrom anarchy

wishing on a star consoles for a minute and deceives
me into thinking my desires will come to be
but i can't feel a star's touch or see and star smile
and a twinkle only goes so far
then leaves a void that something must fill
and yet again that something turns into loneliness
but not the kind of loneliness you feel while driving your car
its the loneliness you feel when you alone
sit in your room fumbling through every

gift given
picture taken
smile revealed
look shown
kiss shared
every memory of him

floods my mind until my belly aches to


with the one person that means everything to me
and then i look out the open window on this clear night
and see my first shooting star in two years
and its a joyous occasion for shooting star wishes
are worth at least ten eyelash wishes
so i smile a colossal smile because i already know my wish
which is to be ready and willing to let go and be free
the day that anarchy once again meets utopia

christmas tree thru the roof!

greig howe created a fantastic illusion this year, by putting up a three-story tree in his two-story home!

apparently his son "wasnt impressed" with last years decorations, so greig wanted to make an unforgettable impression this year!

the skate park designer cut the huge tree into three pieces, then squeezed one into the ground floor, one upstairs, and one on the roof. very clever and good execution!

life of a star: 12 billion years in 6 min

mark hammonds at the supernova condensate blog created this excellent visual representation of the life cycle of a G-star star, like our sun! click the link to read his explanation of the video details and stellar evolution!

as an aside, everytime i see someone with g-star clothing, i cant help but giggle to myself.

awesome rocking chair

i found it on the internet without a reference, but i must have it! can anyone find this fabulous rocking chair on the grand interwebs?

UPDATE: thanks angie f. for leading me to discover that this "rocking wheel chair" was designed by mathias koehler. now i wish i could find a picture of someone sitting in it!

Monday, December 15, 2008

snowy holidays

continuing with the holiday spirit - here's a popular christmas song, especially for those of us living where winter is the season of christmas. i heard irving berlin's white christmas a few weeks ago performed by the halle orchestra and sung by tenor alfie boe. i'm not a huge fan of opera singing, but the words of the song felt so true to my situation this year, that i unexpectedly started crying, right there, alone in my seat at the royal concert hall! doesnt look likely that we'll have a white christmas in my part of the UK, but i'm still comforted by hearing the soothing bing crosby and marjorie reynolds sing this beautiful song!

Friday, December 12, 2008

space disco

get your fill of space news at the 82nd carnival of space at space disco. dave mosher summarized the carnival in this nice video!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

winter vegetables

the day after thanksgiving, i received a huge box of fruit and vegetables that i signed up for from eden farms. i was a little burnt out on cooking, so i took a few days off from food preparation to eat my thanksgiving leftovers, all the while mulling over what i would cook. my favorite of the series was a butternut squash and carrot stew with quinoa pilaf, which was pretty close to the recipe i found at in my box.

my favorite part of using a "veg box" is that i cook very fresh produce that represents what is just to the point of ripening in my part of the world as i eat it. the winter vegetables are hearty roots and thick-leaf deep green greens, and those are exactly what i'm in the mood to cook right now! i dont want salads, i want stews, and curries, and hefty meals that will keep me warm amid this chilly british rain! yum!

Saturday, December 6, 2008

tchaikovsky's nutcracker suite

to get into the holiday spirit, listen to the brilliance of tchaikovsky's nutcracker suite, composed in 1891 and 92. here are videos of the piece performed by the berliner philharmoniker. the conductor, seiji ozawa, is also quite entertaining!

my favorite movement from the first part is the dance of the sugar plum fairies, starting around 3:40. and in the second video, dont miss the flower waltz, starting around 4:00, which includes an ethereal harp solo.

Friday, December 5, 2008

life's too short to drink bad coffee

Christoph Niemann tells the story of his lifelong relationship with coffee thru several brilliant illustrations and captions. here are my favorites, but you should check out the whole collection at NY times.

homemade thanksgiving - evidence

it was 100% worth all the effort! the surprising big hits were the cranberry sauce, which i had never made before, and the couscous stuffing, a long time favorite. both recipes are included below!

cranberry sauce

1/4 cup water
1/4 cup sugar (i used a bit less)
1 cup cranberries (fresh are better, frozen are fine)
optional, but tasty: sprinkle nutmeg, cinnamon, orange peel, handful of sultanas (white-grape raisins)

clean cranberries. boil water. add sugar. mix to dissolve sugar. add cranberries. boil again. simmer 10 minutes, or until cranberries burst. add any combination of optional items... or dont.

the sauce will still be thin at this point, so cool thoroughly, then place in refrigerator to cool and increase viscosity. i left mine to chill overnight, then stirred it a couple times throughout the day before serving it cold.

couscous stuffing

2 cups veggie stock (or bird stock)
2 Tbl butter
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp coriander
1 cup couscous
1 cup any combination of dried apricots, cranberries, raisins, sultanas

boil stock. mix spices and couscous then add to stock. remove from heat, stir, cover, let sit for 5 minutes. stir in fruit. its yummy to eat alone, or use as a chicken or turkey stuffing! enjoy!

Thursday, December 4, 2008


not a great way to start the morning...!

seen at cynical-c

bloomin' cactus!

i'm notoriously good at ending the blooming cycle of any plant that is supposed to flower. so i'm incredibly pleased that the office plant i inherited from the former user of this desk decided to flower this week!!

space art - an exhibition

in october of this year, there was a workshop held called "The Impact of Simulations in Cosmology and Galaxy Formation with associated exhibition: “Space Art” at Immaginario Scientifico. included in the exhibition are scientific simulations created by some of the leading theoretical astrophysicists in the world, interpreted as art for all to enjoy (finally)!

i think it remains unintutive, for the non-initiated, to imagine what it looks like when two galaxies collide, or what large-scale structure in the universe looks like. simulations created using the basic knowledge of gravitational interactions provide a lot of insight towards our understanding of structures in our universe, but they can also be incredibly beautiful on their own!

here is the trailer for the space art exhibition:

to view some more scientific (and gorgeous) movies of galaxy mergers, visit phil hopkins's old site at harvard. enjoy!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

venus, jupiter, and the moon over los angeles

today's APOD shows a beautiful view of venus, jupiter, and the moon over los angeles, california.

i find this image beautiful and slightly disturbing! i've never been to LA or seen this view with my own eyes, but that is sooo.... much... city!! wow!