Monday, May 31, 2010

the devil and daniel johnston

a couple weekends ago i went to a music festival called all tomorrow's parties which was curated by simpsons creator matt groening (pronounced GRAY-ning, apparently).

interestingly, in order to get to the festival, we had to drive by a local power plant which i like to call england's "springfield."

as the curator, matt groening chose and invited all the bands that came and designed the programs. he made four different program covers... the one on the right features the strange-looking and energetic iggy pop and the left shows daniel johnston with his famous hi, how are you character, jeremiah the frog.

one of the most memorable acts for me was definitely daniel johnston.

i highly recommend the documentary film the devil and daniel johnston.

our crew...

Sunday, May 30, 2010


clocky is an alarm clock that runs away from you and hides after you hit the snooze button. when the alarm goes off again, you are forced to get out of bed and find clocky, therefore making you less likely to snooze indefinitely.

this clever little device was invented by gauri nanda while she was a graduate student at MIT. she published the study and earned herself a 2005 Ig nobel prize! the Ig nobel prizes are awarded each year by an organization called improbable research to "honor achievements that first make people laugh, and then make them think. The prizes are intended to celebrate the unusual, honor the imaginative -- and spur people's interest in science, medicine, and technology."

so, congratulations gauri... only a few years too late ;)

Saturday, May 29, 2010

a plethora of condiments

the rose and crown pub in nottingham offers a plethora of condiments to choose from when eating in their establishment:

ironically, HP sauce, which is commonly called "brown sauce," has a blue packet.

i wondered whether the contents of the packets offered as wide a variety of colors as their containers. the answer is simply, no.

we considered doing a blind taste test in our office to see whether people could identify each condiment by taste alone. in the end, we didnt go thru with this experiment. the results didnt seem to be worth the flavours.

Friday, May 28, 2010

the turkey that ate st. louis

seth shostak is a senior astronomer at the SETI institute, but he used to make films when he was in graduate school. great to see old hobbies of well-known astronomers!

seth writes:
"One of the many doubtful activities of my youth was making films. I started doing this at age 11, and by the time I was a teenager, my buddy Jerry Rebold and I had already constructed a sound system that occasionally worked with our wind-up, 16mm camera.

In 1967, while in grad school, fellow student Bob O'Connell, Jerry Rebold and I made a half-hour film entitled "The Teenage Monster Blob from Outer Space, Which I Was." This parody of 1950s sci-fi films starred six pounds of Play-Doh.

The film bombed. It was, as O'Connell called it, "a turkey." This disgusting failure prompted us to change our cinematic strategy in two ways: (1) our next film was just going to be a trailer, rather than a complete film -- that way we could save money and just put in the good parts, and (2) if we were making turkeys, why not make a REAL turkey?

Ergo, this short "preview" film, shot mostly at Caltech and at that school's Owens Valley Radio Observatory. Observant viewers will note then-department chair Jesse Greenstein in the role of Walter Cronkite, and a few other astronomers too (including yours truly).

"The Turkey that Ate St. Louis" was entered in the Baltimore International Film Festival, and automatically inserted into the feature-film category, where it faced competition from major motion pictures from both America and Europe. Despite this uneven playing field, "The Turkey" lost.

"The Teenage Monster Blob" eventually became more popular. Too late."

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

another one bites the dust

the sky is blue, the sun is shining, and i´ve been bombarded by birthday besitos already! me gusta mucho.

so far barcelona has proven to be a fascinating city to explore. from getting lost in the gothic neighborhoods to finding the modernista architecture, its certainly not a boring place to be! i´m going to walk around montjuic park today, and then try to think of something interesting to cook for my wonderful hosts for dinner.

i´m staying in the big city until friday, then i head off along the coast for the rest of my trip. happy happy joy joy.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

a world cup of crisps

in honor of the world cup next month, a pub near my house is offering sausages from a dozen different countries playing in the tournament. it really made me laugh when i saw the sign, but now i'm curious about what sausages will be featured from various countries like the US, france, and even england. so of course i will be watching at least a few matches there!

i think the sausage variety is a much better idea than the one developed by Walkers crisps (potato chips). they have created 15 new flavours of crisps from different countries in the world cup, including: South African sweet chutney, Spanish chicken paella, Irish stew, American cheeseburger, Japanese chicken teriyaki, etc...

you should read the hilarious results of charlie brooker's taste test.

i mean, the british love their crisps and they certainly have an arsenal of unique and interesting flavours already on the shelves (eg. "prawn cocktail" or "smoky bacon"), but i think maybe this has gone too far....?

Monday, May 24, 2010

fuschia flower

of course the fuschia decided to bloom just in time for me to go on holiday!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

solidly in the thirties

once i recognized the pattern, i knew it had to be continued: i'm going to try to spend my birthdays in different countries for as many years as i can!

all birthdays were celebrated in the US until...

2007: buenos aires, argentina (photos)

2008: austin, texas, usa (post-phd party)

2009: i turned thirty in england's peak district (photos)

2010: BARCELONA, SPAIN! (if the volcano allows...)

i'm leaving ridiculously early in the morning. cant wait! chao!

Saturday, May 22, 2010

saturn's aurora

the spacecraft cassini continues to explore saturn's environment and captured this lovely timelapse of saturn's aurora between october 5th and 8th, 2009.

auroras (aurori? aurorae?) occur because energetic particles coming from the sun react with a planet's magnetic field. magnetic fields naturally have directional field lines which act as "traffic lanes" that guide the electrically charged solar wind particles to the north and south magnetic poles.

once concentrated at the poles, the particles begin to react with the gas in the planet's upper atmosphere. the atoms and molecules of the atmospheric gas absorb some of the energy of the foreign particles and become "excited." when they get exhausted from being excited, they return to their relaxed state by sending off a photon of light which we see collectively as the glow of an aurora.

the type of gas in the atmosphere that reacts with the solar particles determines the color of the aurora we see. on earth, the gas is mostly atomic oxygen (which produces a red glow), molecular nitrogen (blue), and molecular oxygen (green).

the animated image of saturn's aurora is almost as mesmerizing as voyager's approaching view of jupiter in the late 1970s.

here's lookin at you, kid.

by karen roe at flickr

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

sixty symbols: foam physics

what is the connection between giraffes, wine corks, and the distribution of galaxies in the universe? watch the newest sixty symbols video to find out! i found this one really interesting...

how do you "go" in space?

astronaut mike massimino, who was on the mission to fix the hubble space telescope, teaches us the process of how one uses the toilet while in the weightless atmosphere of space. the astronauts discuss their individual techniques (not in too much detail, dont worry), and they also reveal the dirty little secret of NASA space flight: the "alignment camera."

Monday, May 17, 2010

astronomy and pornography

is it bad that i feel proud after reading this opening phrase from a blog post by professional astronomer peter coles?

"I started thinking about the analogy between astronomy and pornography after seeing a hilarious blog post by Amanda Bauer..."

astropixie: because astronomy is the pornography of science

wait, what?

i dont know.... back to work.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

crescent moon and venus tonight!

if you have clear skies today, look for the tiny crescent moon and try to spot venus nearby! its rare (and exciting, i think) to see another planet during the day.

the pair will be brilliant in the evening sky as well!

Friday, May 14, 2010

leaf tie

leaf ties* provide a clever and super cute way to organize and decorate!

found at lufdesign via tywkiwdbi.

*fyi: my birthday is at the end of may

Thursday, May 13, 2010

crazy clouds from space

wired science has a nice gallery of clouds from space. the image below was taken by the Landsat 7 satellite in September 1999 and shows a pattern known as a von Kármán vortex street.

the spiral pattern is caused by processes of fluid dynamics. if you look to the lower left of the image, you see a little island just where the vortices start. as wind blows from the lower left to the upper right, it runs into the island and starts spinning into vortices, which are only visible because the clouds are there.

the same process happens when you stand in the ocean and a receding wave forms vortices as the water rushes past your ankles.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

fiery milky way

the royal observatory greenwich has posted the new "astronomer's gallery" for the month of may. this month's astronomer is stuart lynn who blogs at we are all in the gutter and works at oxford university with the makers of galaxy zoo and the new moon zoo.

stuart's gallery is called stories in the stars and shows an impressive collection of space imagery. this is my favorite:

it was taken by bobshots on flickr. i love the ancient tribal feel of the photo. the light from the huge fire sets the stage for the fresh outdoor atmosphere, and it almost looks like the milky way rises up as the smoke from the fire!

click through to stories in the stars to read stuart's impressions on these lovely images, and share your own!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

moon zoo

from the great group of people who brought you the wildly exciting, fun, and scientifically productive galaxy zoo, comes the new moon zoo!

using images from NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, you can explore the surface of the moon in great detail, helping to identify and describe craters so that scientists can learn more about the history of our moon.

from the website: "Craters can tell us more than just the history of the lunar surface though. In particular, you're asked in Moon Zoo to look for craters with boulders around the rim. Boulders are a sign that the impact was powerful enough that it excavated rock from beneath the regolith (the lunar 'soil') and so by keeping an eye out for these we can begin to map the depth of the regolith across the surface of the Moon."

enjoy the moon zoo!

sixty symbols does the solar system

now that we've completed videos on each of the major bodies in the solar system, brady has created an offical sixty symbols does the solar system webpage. you can go there for the full collection!

mercury's symbol kinda looks like a little devil, no?

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

may the fourth be with you

after having a pleasantly productive week last week, i'm heading out of town this week for a couple different adventures.

i'm going to london tomorrow to support a colleague who made the final cut for the Institute of Physics Award for the Very Early Career Woman Physicist of the Year. i wrote her a letter of recommendation and i'm so proud of her achievements, that i'm going to the ceremony they're holding tomorrow to honor the nominees. each "very early career" physicist finalist will give a short talk summarizing their research and there are a few other invited speakers as well.

while in london, i'm hoping to see the Hubble 3D IMAX movie which is only playing in the UK at the science museum. also, happy 20th anniversary to the hubble space telescope! the hubblesite released this image of the carina nebula in honor of the occasion:

the hubble has taken some amazing images for us - after receiving an eye treatment soon after its launch. i wonder how many of you remember when it was discovered that hubble had a flawed mirror and needed fixing? what was your reaction when you heard the news?

i was twelve or so at the time and remember thinking: oops, that was a big mistake, wasnt it?! i also remember seeing before and after images from the hubble in the newspaper after they fixed it. i was amazed at what a difference there was between the blurry before shot and the crisp, detailed after shot. while i remember feeling slightly embarrassed for the scientists because they had made such a huge mistake when making the original mirror, i was really impressed that they could fix the problem, considering the telescope was already floating in space.

anyway, after the quick 2-day trip to london, i'll leave the next day for a 4-day musical escapade at the ATP festival, curated by matt groening. i think i'm most excited to see daniel johnston live, but there are several great bands playing!

oh yeah, and happy star wars day.

carnival of space #152

the 152nd installment of the carnival of space is up at the martian chronicles. i submitted the story of the science ninja, even though its a bit light for the material that is usually highlighted.

to my delight, ryan included the article in the carnival, and shared this excellent image:

it's the cover art for music by reincarnation fish :)

Sunday, May 2, 2010

robin hood is coming....

thanks to the upcoming release of the new robin hood movie (yes, an australian actor is playing mr hood), the month of may is officially "robin hood month" in the fair city of nottingham!

i saw this display in the main window of the downtown library:

i'll probably go out with some friends in a couple weekends and get dressed up in medieval garb, or at least wear a bunch of green. the challenge will be to make robin hood costumes that dont look too much like peter pan! maybe i'll play it safe and go with maid marian. any suggestions?

Saturday, May 1, 2010

imagine if the tea party was black

a very interesting perspective about the tea party protests in the US is given in this article by tim wise. i'll share some from the beginning, then you can read the rest if you like.

"Let’s play a game, shall we? The name of the game is called “Imagine.” The way it’s played is simple: we’ll envision recent happenings in the news, but then change them up a bit. Instead of envisioning white people as the main actors in the scenes we’ll conjure - the ones who are driving the action - we’ll envision black folks or other people of color instead. The object of the game is to imagine the public reaction to the events or incidents, if the main actors were of color, rather than white. Whoever gains the most insight into the workings of race in America, at the end of the game, wins.

So let’s begin.

Imagine that hundreds of black protesters were to descend upon Washington DC and Northern Virginia, just a few miles from the Capitol and White House, armed with AK-47s, assorted handguns, and ammunition. And imagine that some of these protesters —the black protesters — spoke of the need for political revolution, and possibly even armed conflict in the event that laws they didn’t like were enforced by the government? Would these protester — these black protesters with guns — be seen as brave defenders of the Second Amendment, or would they be viewed by most whites as a danger to the republic? What if they were Arab-Americans? Because, after all, that’s what happened recently when white gun enthusiasts descended upon the nation’s capital, arms in hand, and verbally announced their readiness to make war on the country’s political leaders if the need arose.

Imagine that white members of Congress, while walking to work, were surrounded by thousands of angry black people, one of whom proceeded to spit on one of those congressmen for not voting the way the black demonstrators desired. Would the protesters be seen as merely patriotic Americans voicing their opinions, or as an angry, potentially violent, and even insurrectionary mob? After all, this is what white Tea Party protesters did recently in Washington."