Friday, December 31, 2010

a resolute new year

my new year's resolution is to run the city2surf race that occurs in sydney each august. city2surf covers 14 km (8.7 miles) from downtown sydney to the internationally known bondi beach. apparently, its the largest fun run in the entire world, having attracted 80,000 runners for the 40th race in 2010!

i decided before i came to australia that the move across the world would be a good time to start running again. i was reasonably active in england, but the pub lifestyle did not really compliment my physique. so i bought a nice pair of running shoes when i arrived in sydney and i've been running steadily for almost two months now.

at first, the running was so painful that i just did a combination of walking and running and walking and running. after i gained some strength and endurance, i managed to go for 20 to 30 minutes straight 2 to 3 times a week.

then i found a running group to join and last night i went for my first run with them. we started in my neighborhood, went across the harbour bridge, around the opera house, and back. i've been on worse runs before! the area surrounding the opera house is all decked out for the massive fireworks celebration tonight, which i've been warned will be insanely packed with people. cant wait :)

at 4 miles, last night's run was the longest i've completed in years, but i have to say i have no intuition for how long it takes me to run a kilometer - i still think in minutes per mile! the run was slow... but i completed it with only one little bit of walking! woohoo! the group was great and i estimate that the average age of the runners is about ten more than me, which gives me a bit of hope.

the craziest part about this new year's celebration is that i will be in an entirely different decade than most of you for almost an entire day! weird. but still...

happy new year!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

serious snow

wow! this is part of the tateyama kurobe alpine route in the japanese alps. not sure why they bother digging out the road though!

via tywkiwdbi

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

the ashes

the ashes is a long series of cricket matches played between england and australia every 18 to 30 months (?). i dont understand cricket. i dont understand it so much that i have no idea why the ashes is actually a series of test cricket matches instead of just regular cricket.

i know the matches can last for days and i know that my friends in england, who care about cricket, are very excited that im in australia right now. apparently they feel i am somehow obliged to be happy (and brag?) about england's recent performance.

anyway, while i lived in england i was too excited by all the soccer games i could watch to bother paying any attention to learning the rules of cricket or rugby. notice how i called it soccer instead of football? thats because here in australia the word football could potentially mean like 3 different sports, so i've cut out all ambiguity and gone back to calling my favorite sport simply soccer!

i'm at a loss when it comes to popular sports in australia because there is rugby league, rugby union, cricket (and apparently test cricket), aussie rules football, and good old soccer. this SMBC cartoon summarizes my knowledge... just substitute any of the above for football except, of course, soccer.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010


its nice to hear my old colleagues talk about interesting things! here the folks of sixty symbols talk about an experiment at CERN that is "trapping" antihydrogen.

Sunday, December 26, 2010


meanwhile back in the USA, my cousin and her new husband introduced the family to the monster of all desserts, the condominium of cakes, the after dinner answer to the turducken, a confectionary delight that could have come from no where in the world other than my home country: the cherpumple.

yes, ladies and gentlemen, a cherpumple is a pumpkin pie surrounded by spice cake, topped with an apple pie inside white cake, topped with a cherry pie baked inside chocolate cake, all covered in flattering frosting.

truly astonishing! i seriously wish i could have witnessed this event and tasted the tower!

want to make your own cherpumple? watch this video.

thanks to my sister for sending photos!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

if only in my dreams...

as the song says: i'll be home for christmas, if only in my dreams.

meanwhile, elvis sings of a blue christmas:

Friday, December 24, 2010

not everything burned

just for the record - i dont think it was a degrees F vs C issue, because some of the cookies came out alright - and even got decorated!

whats the opposite of a white christmas?

i have severely failed the first battle with my new oven. i have no idea what happened... the cookies were in for no longer than 5 minutes! apparently the temperature was a lot higher than where i thought i placed the marker on the dial.

::hangs head in shame::

so... what's the opposite of a white christmas??

a tan christmas!

...i'm heading to the beach :)

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

the land of giants

a design idea worthy of winning the 2010 Boston Society of Architects Unbuilt Architecture contest: these pylon figures are brilliant!

the best part is that they can each have unique designs!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

eclipsed moon rising

i hope many of you got to see the total lunar eclipse which only rarely ever occurs on the solstice! i decided to enjoy the longest day of summer by heading to the harbour bridge and watching the rising of the eclipsed moon.

as the sun set behind me, i watched the shadow of the bridge extend over the neighborhood where i now live! you can actually see my new home in this shot, but you have to know where to look...

while waiting for the moon to rise, i watched boats flow past the opera house.

and then finally a tiny peak of the eclipsed moon!

there were only a couple other people on the bridge watching the eclipse, which kind of surprised me, but i guess it shouldnt. there were two ladies next to me taking photos of the opera house and they finally asked me what i found so exciting about the moon. it didnt look red, as it normally does during a nighttime eclipse, so i guess it just looked like a normal crescent moon to someone who didnt know it was supposed to be full tonight!

the moon slowly filled up as the sky grew darker.

and then the moon finally popped behind some clouds as it escaped earth's shadow and i reached the end of the bridge.

wish my camera was able to get a bit more detailed images of the moon, but it does a decent job for a little point and clicker.

happy solstice everyone!

Monday, December 20, 2010

galaxies, galaxies everywhere!

this is the sort of image that really makes me appreciate studying the universe every day.

on its own, the photo below shows a gorgeous image from the hubble space telescope that reveals incredible details of the spiral galaxy NGC 4921, which lives 320 million light years from earth. the fuzzy light from this galaxy is created by hundreds of billions of unresolved stars whose glow blurs together to produce the overall shine.

to create the above image, 50 separate exposures through a yellow filter and 30 more through a near-infrared filter were combined so that the total exposure times were approximately seventeen hours and ten hours respectively. thats a lot of telescope time on one galaxy! with that much time, you can see a lot of unexpected details in the background.

in fact, look at this zoomed-in bit of the image above... (click to enlarge)

nearly every single one of those small smudges is an entire galaxy harbouring hundreds of billions of stars and gas and dust and probably a supermassive black hole in the middle. incredible. there is SO much out there in the universe!! i'm very grateful that i can sit here in my earthly smallness and think about it and admire it.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

white wine in the sun

a beautiful song that really captures the sweet spirit of the christmas season is white wine in the sun by tim minchin.

Friday, December 17, 2010

how do you hold your pencil?

how often do you write with a pencil or pen these days?

are you holding your writing utensil correctly?

do kids even learn how to write in cursive in school these days?

i remember learning the letters in cursive in second grade. i wanted to write my name at the top of my assignments in cursive, but i wasnt allowed to, even though i knew how, until we officially learned all the letters in our names together in class. it felt to me like it took ages until we finally learned the cursive "n."

Thursday, December 16, 2010

bourbon slushies

some time ago it became a tradition in my family (on both sides) to serve bourbon slushies at holiday gatherings. the drink is typically such a success that it has started appearing at other family functions as well. since the refreshing coolness of bourbon slushies would be perfect for a hot australian christmas celebration, i've decided to contribute some to the "orphan christmas" meal that i've been invited to this year.

the problem is that almost every recipe i've received from family or looked up online calls for frozen canisters of orange juice and lemonade concentrate. it turns out that practically no country on earth other than the US produces these frozen goods, as far as i can tell.

so, i've had to devise my own recipe from scratch (aka from actual fruit and tea!) for bourbon slushies. it requires a bit more work, but trust me, its worth it! i ran a trial run this week with very pleasing results :)

photo from here


Boil 6 cups of water

Steep five teabags for about 5 minutes

Stir in 1 to 1.5 cups sugar

Add lemon zest and juice from 6 lemons

Add 2 cups orange juice with pulp

Add 2(+) cups bourbon or whiskey

stir together and let cool.

put in flat pan or other container and freeze... until frozen. it takes several hours. best to let it set overnight. to serve, scrape some out into a glass and mix with 7up or ginger ale if desired. i like to add a spoon full of cherry juice and a cherry as well.

top tip: try not to cut or scrape your hands during the day leading up to zesting and juicing the lemons! ouch!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

the big O

when i first walked the 5 minutes from my new flat to inspect the decorations on sydney's harbour bridge, i thought they were adding a huge wreath to celebrate the holidays. but no, its a giant "O" in honour of madam oprah's down under experience.

space-themed christmas

according to the photos from the big picture, its beginning to look a lot like christmas.

has anyone strolled around london this year to take photos? apparently london's carnaby street has space-themed decorations this year!

cool! i'd like to see more pictures.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

the national - bloodbuzz ohio

on a recommendation from a good friend, i listened to the band the national for several years before i realized they are originally from ohio! their most recent album made me suspicious enough to look up more info because it has a song called "bloodbuzz ohio" (see video below) and one called "england." turns out they formed in cincinnati in 1999 -- when i was singing in a band in cincinnati as well! damn small world.

the difference is that their band was actually really good and made it work, whereas my band broke up after the horn player stole the girlfriend of the lead singer and *married* her all during one summer when i was off being a physicist in chicago. oh well. it was fun while it lasted.

anyway, i've been listening to this song A LOT lately, so i thought i'd share it.

Monday, December 13, 2010

a giant in the snow

although its entirely too hot here down under, i can appreciate this clever snow trick. i guess they took the photo from an apartment building??

via bbc

Sunday, December 12, 2010

geminids meteor shower

usually the best meteor shower of the year is the geminids meteor shower which this year peaks on monday night, 13th december! every december the earth passes through the debris tail of the asteroid 3200 Phaethon, but the details of why this asteroid has so much debris are not fully understood, which makes the strength of the celestial show an enticing mystery.

so bundle up, go out, and enjoy the show!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

the US national christmas tree

the first official US national christmas tree was lit by president calvin coolidge in 1923. i dont really care so much, but i just saw this picture of the obamas as they pushed the button and turned on the lights.... how cute is this?

i remember several turning-on-the-lights moments with my family growing up. they're always great moments.

Tony Porter: A call to men

considering all the attention i pay to the fact that i am a minority in my chosen profession and i want to fight against the pressure to serve a historically defined place in society, its humbling to acknowledge the fact that such issues exist for both sexes. i imagine it must be difficult for a male to try to resist the international expectation that he should represent the stereotypically masculine characteristics of, for example, understanding how to fix things, be physically dominant, "act like a man," brag about sexual conquests (regardless of their truth), etc...

a project initiated by tony porter called a call to men "challenges men to reconsider many of the social norms that define manhood, in an effort to create a more just society."

what a statement. and they go farther...

"a call to men believes that ending violence against women is primarily the responsibility of men. Although historically it has been almost entirely women who have been at the forefront addressing this issue, we think it is essential that men play a primary role in the solution to end it. To do that, well-meaning men... men who, for the most part don't see themselves as part of the problem... need to get involved."

i was really intrigued by this TED video of tony porter sharing his experiences and explaining why he decided to raise his voice about this issue.

Friday, December 10, 2010

star trek door

i'm not that into star trek. i dont know, it just never hooked me. even so, this star trek style door is amazing!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

the milky way project

the fine folks who brought you the galaxy zoo have just revealed another of their endlessly creative and interactive tools: the milky way project!

you can now view our Galaxy in the fantastic colors of infrared light provided by the spitzer space telescope. not only can you enjoy looking at the beautiful features spread throughout our home galaxy, you can help astronomers identify bubbles, knots, stars clusters, supernova remnants, never before-seen distant galaxies and any other strange new objects that look intriguing to your eyes. ultimately, we need to better understand the physics of the mysterious cold, dusty material that emits light at infrared wavelengths and now its possible for you to help!

"The material that we see in this project is dark to the naked eye. By looking in the infrared we pick out material that is not hot but rather cooler, and hence it does not emit visible light, but instead lower-energy infrared wavelengths. However there are still regions of yet colder and denser material that remain dark even to Spitzer's infrared red eye. These infrared dark clouds are stark silhouettes on the brighter, usually green material seen in the images on this site."

see that big dark spot in the middle of the image below? its a "dark nebula" and is possibly a private nursery where new massive stars are forming, hidden by a curtain of cold gas and dust!

here is a quick tutorial demonstrating how easy it is to interact with the images:

The Milky Way Project - Getting Started from The Zooniverse on Vimeo.

now GO and get drawing!

(well done rob et al.!)

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

arsenice and old life

you may have heard the buzz around NASA's press release last week regarding the bacteria found in california's mono lake which can build DNA using arsenic instead of the typically used ingredient phosphorus?

brady haran's university of nottingham project, periodic table of videos has tackled the topic in a very interesting way. watch below to learn more!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

sydney's springtime purple

sydney is in full bloom springtime right now and the best part is that a lot of the blooms are gorgeous purple! the jacaranda trees became an instant favorite of mine!

sydney is a beautiful city.

and there are big bats!!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

space advent calendars

i'm not sure why creating advent calendars has become a fad this holiday season, but i'm not complaining because the imagery is beautiful! so here are several links to help you enjoy your december!

  • science in school - in lieu of a visual calendar, you can sign up to receive an email for each day of advent that includes inspiring teaching ideas about science! science games, experiments, facts, websites or beautiful pictures!

have you seen any others around? 

across scotland on a bike

i had to watch this video twice! once for the skills of danny macaskill and once for the gorgeous scenery of scotland.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

no standing

there will be absolutely NO STANDING!!! ... especially when a bench is provided.

Monday, November 29, 2010

massive bubbles

this footage of massive bubbles on a beach is fascinating.  i'm mesmerized by watching the progression of the pop.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Saturday, November 27, 2010

spitzer song

upon my first viewing of this video about the infrared spitzer space telescope, i couldnt tell if i loved the song or hated it.   i've come around to like it though, so i hope you enjoy it too!

via one small step

Thursday, November 25, 2010

its never too early to introduce your child to star wars.

this video is just great!  

i agree wholeheartedly when they say:  i don't want my children growing up in a world where we believe Greedo shot first!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

best room ever

when i was young i had a snake that slept in a big cage in the corner of my room and scared the crap out of some of my friends.  that was cool, but this rube goldberg-esque marble course would have been even better! 

i've posted before about rube goldberg here and here.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

pocket change

i've enjoyed the imprinted images on the australian coins. the fifty cent piece shows the australian coat of arms, which includes and image of a kangaroo and an emu (pronounced "ee-myoo" as i learned this weekend).

apparently 1999 was the international year of older persons! i did not know that until i read this coin!

Friday, November 19, 2010

this is england

its such a shame that this made me laugh so much.

it's originally from the monty python sketch hell's grannies, but i saw the screen cap at this isnt happiness

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

dirty space news: planet-bearing stars

the last sentence of the abstract of this paper is just too good not to share.

"Finally, the fingering region is found to extend deeply into the star, a result which would provide a simple theoretical explanation to the measurements of higher lithium depletion rates in planet-bearing stars."


thanks to peter yoachim for thinking of me when he spotted some dirty astronomy ;)

Monday, November 15, 2010

relaxing after laptop death

australia, first impressions

the bad news is that last week my laptop died :( its such a sad moment when it happens.... i managed to back up everything before i left england, but i think i forgot some music files and i lost most of what i did last week (not much). at least the beast held out until i started my new job, but unfortunately, my new computer has not arrived yet and so i'm feeling a bit helpless and unproductive.

i therefore took advantage of the down time to explore sydney a little and try to get my body adjusted to this oppressive heat, humidity, and sunlight! since i cannot download my pictures just yet, i'll share some observations:

The size of the bbqs have not disappointed. there is even a special BBQ cleaning spray that i've never seen sold in any other country!

i've adopted a "don't bother asking" policy and just assume that all animals in australia are poisonous. this was particularly distracting during my first lunch with new colleagues when there were a ton of small creatures crawling all over the picnic tables, yet no one seemed to notice them...

i bought some running shoes and attempted to run to the national park near where i'm currently living. i was unsure that i had found the small trail i was looking for, but pushed forward anyway.... until i came bounding around a tree and literally ran into a huge black snake!! ack! we both stayed stunned for a few seconds and then scurried off in opposite directions. i finally found the proper trail and ran long enough to release all my nervous energy while worrying that any little noise was really something poisonous poised to attack me! silly, i know... when i returned home, i did some research and learned that its the brown snakes i need to worry about and very few people are actually killed each year by animal bites or stings. whew.

my first weekend here there was a spectacular thunderstorm complete with lots of lighting!! i forgot how exciting and dramatic and intimidating thunderstorms can be!

i found some ridiculously specific statements in the paperwork for my new job: "normal business hours are from 8.30am to 4.51pm."

there are a lot of colorful birds with aggressive sounding calls. i had quite a faceoff with a kookaburra saturday afternoon... they are incredibly stout birds with huge heads and beaks for the size of their bodies! they are carnivorous, so i wondered if it was after my toes, but it eventually got bored and flew off to watch from a tree branch.

the people have been incredibly nice... strangers look at me and smile and some even talk to me!

surfer boys are cute. surfer girls are b.a.d.a.s.s.

its freaking HOT and humid here, and it's not even summer yet!

actual question on the driver's licence application that i have no idea how to answer: have you ever had attacks of giddiness?

no, water does not swirl down drains in different directions on different hemispheres! The coriolis force, created by the earths spin, causes storm systems like tornados to swirl in the opposite direction, but it does not affect a system as small as a toilet bowl or sink!