Tuesday, May 31, 2011

the greek island of Ios

a few weeks ago i met several friends on the greek island of ios. what an amazing place for a reunion!

we rented scooters to explore the remote places of the island. following the 4-wheelers on the deserted roads made it feel like a real life game of mario cart!

the sunsets and the views were incredible.

at this beautiful place i ate one of the tastiest and most memorable meals of my life.

we realized one evening when asked at a restaurant that we were a group of 12 friends from 10 different countries.

thank you friends. not sure when i'll see you again, but those were some good times!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

pendulum waves

this video of a series of swinging pendulums of different lengths is a lot cooler than i thought it would be! the time it takes for a pendulum to go through one swing back and forth (its "period") gets longer as the string length grows. longer string = longer period.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

brownies in oranges

this year i decided not to have a birthday cake and instead made birthday brownies in oranges! i first got the idea from the cooking for geeks book that i won for the pluto video at dotAstronomy last month! i combined this with a slightly modified version of a brownie recipe from a moosewood cookbook... and voila!

to do this, chop the tops off of several oranges, cut around the edges and scoop out the insides. i used some full sized oranges and cut along the edge where the pulp meets the pith (the white parts), then cut two diagonals along the center and scooped out the edible stuff with a spoon. the juices resulted in a fabulous glass of oranges juice, but the few easy-peel oranges i used were much easier to gut.

make your favorite brownie recipe, or brownie mix from a box, and fill up each orange skin to within 1 centimeter from the top.

place in baking sheets and bake at ~350 degrees fahrenheit (~165 degrees celcius) for ~30 minutes or until a toothpick comes out of the center clean. i ended up cooking mine for almost an hour which worried me, but they ended up tasting fine and quite fudge-like throughout!

definitely keep some of the pulp inside the orange peel if possible because it keeps the brownies moist and tasting of orange! when we arrived home from dinner, the whole place smelled of chocolate oranges. yum!

Friday, May 27, 2011

dirty space news: NASA reveals heptane fuel

i'll let the folks at NASA do the explainin' after i show the photo...

credit: NASA (!)
i mean...!?!

"Because of the absence of gravity, fuels burning in space behave very differently than they do on Earth. In this image, a 3-millimeter diameter droplet of heptane fuel burns in microgravity, producing soot. When a bright, uniform backlight is placed behind the droplet and flame and recorded by a video camera, the soot appears as a dark cloud. Image processing techniques can then quantify the soot concentration at each point in the image. On the International Space Station, the Flame Extinguishing Experiment examines the combustion of such liquid fuel droplets.

This colorized gray-scale image is a composite of the individual video frames of the backlit fuel droplet. The bright yellow structure in the middle is the path of the droplet, which becomes smaller as it burns. Initial soot structures (in green) tend to form near the liquid fuel. These come together into larger and larger particles which ultimately spiral out of the flame zone in long, twisting streamers."

i dont really know why there is a mirror-image affect. not really the point though.... ;)

Thursday, May 26, 2011

supernova sonata

in honor of my birthday (i'd like to think ;) today's astronomy picture of the day is a musically based supernova sonata, created by alex parker, a PhD candidate at the university of victoria in british columbia.

to create the sonata, the team utilized the fact that the canada france hawaii telescope (CFHT) watched 4 different regions of sky from 2003 to 2006 looking for exploding white dwarf stars, more commonly known as supernovae!

each supernova explosion is marked on the images in the video and sounds are assigned based on physical properties of each supernova: louder notes are for closer explosions, pitch is determined by how the particular explosion brightens and fades, and the instrument is chosen based on the mass of the galaxy in which the exploding star lives. notes for massive galaxies are played on a double bass (standup bass, upright bass, contrabass, whatever you want to call it...), while notes of less massive galaxies are played on a grand piano.

you can read more at the vimeo link below the video!

Supernova Sonata from Alex Parker on Vimeo.

flute duet in space

while floating 220 miles above the earth in the international space station, NASA astronaut cady coleman played a flute duet with jethro tull's ian anderson!

according to NASA's site "Coleman and Anderson's performance saluted 50 years of human spaceflight and the anniversary of the first launch of a human to space. Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin completed that milestone on April 12, 1961.

a little bit goofy, a whole lotta great!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

bye bye spirit rover. over and out.

i'm a little sad to report that today, humans will stop trying to contact one of my favorite robots, the mars rover named spirit.

the last signal NASA received from the cute little roving robot was over a year ago, on march 22, 2010, and it seems that there is no longer hope of revival.

the primary mission of the robot geologist was to find clues to past water activity on mars by searching for different types of rocks and soil, and to those ends it has been quite successful. my favorite discovery, though, was the martian blueberries!

anyway, while it's sad to say goodbye, we can still be amazed to remember that when spirit landed on mars on the 3rd of january 2004,, it was scheduled for a mission of only three months, and instead it lasted SIX YEARS! thats pretty amazing, especially considering spirit's twin rover opportunity is still truckin'!

here's some more info from our sixty symbols video on mars:

Monday, May 23, 2011

confessions of a tetris addict

its amazing what stories people you know have that you might never hear. i saw james clewett around the physics building in nottingham many times, but never would i have suspected that he was the 1999 tetris world champion!?! brady captures the interesting story and james' personality very well in this short (18 min) film:

Sunday, May 22, 2011

parkes radio dish and the ISS

i'm at the parkes radio observatory right now, in central/western NSW, australia. the 64 meter diameter dish (HUGE!) is one of the largest single dishes in the world and remains one of the most scientifically productive, despite turning 50 years old this year!

last night, we were treated to the sight of the international space station, with the shuttle endeavour docked to it during its last mission ever, passing right behind the dish in the sky! it was a lovely moment.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

the asteroids galaxy tour

apparently many people know of this song by the asteroids galaxy tour from a TV commercial, but i just heard/saw it for the first time and think its amazing!!

Friday, May 20, 2011

no one likes consequences...

the rapture is timezone dependent, apparently, so pay attention ;)

(seriously, there is nothing to worry about.... relax people...)

Thursday, May 19, 2011

El Cielo de Canarias

another beautiful timelapse video from spain's canary islands.

the double rainbow around time stamp 1:11 is incredible!

El Cielo de Canarias / Canary sky - Tenerife from Daniel López on Vimeo.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Monday, May 16, 2011

where did the women go?

i helped organize a Women in Astronomy Workshop for the astronomical society of australia that took place in sydney this past friday the 13th of may. a major goal of the workshop was to raise awareness of general issues that face women, who ultimately drop out of the field in huge numbers within a few years of getting a PhD, and work towards finding solutions that can be applied by institutions and individuals to retain women in the profession and help them succeed.

so what is the problem exactly? the good news is that half the students attaining undergraduate science degrees from universities are women. not everyone is interested in attaining a degree beyond a bachelors degree, and that is absolutely reasonable, but of those that choose to pursue a PhD, roughly 40% are women (in australia anyway, the percentage worldwide is probably between 30% and 40% for astronomy). but within a few years of getting a PhD the percentage of participating women starts dropping dramatically, such that less than 8% of science professors are women and less than 4% of the top level positions at science institutions, universities, and observatories are appointed to women. from a management standpoint, it is an incredibly poor business practice to invest in the training of so many women only to lose all their knowledge, expertise, and training within a few short years.

keep in mind that this isnt a problem unique to astronomy or even academia: in the corporate sector, women hold something like 15% of the highest positions and board seats, and of all the people in parliament in the world, only 13% are women (source: see video below). it is not possible just simply to say - women have babies and then decide to drop out of their profession. this is true for some, partially because there is not yet adequate support and flexibility to help parents get back into the swing of things after such a career break, but overall the reasons are much more complex and not discussed openly enough, in my opinion.

one point made at the workshop that i had not fully appreciated before is that women tend not to say things in meetings (big or small) unless they are almost certain that what they are about to say is absolutely "correct." it is more common for men to throw out speculative ideas without regard to whether someone might show they are wrong, or without considering whether their statement might hold up an otherwise very tight meeting agenda.

one of the many reasons for this might be something called "the imposter syndrome," which affects most people to some degree, but much more often women, and potentially to a career-debilitating degree. the imposter syndrome describes the fear or worry that eventually someone will figure you out and realize you're not actually as smart and capable as they think you are! this can prevent you from negotiating contracts, asking for promotions, or applying for grants or positions that you think you probably wont get. of course women and men are equally capable, but the trouble is, you can never get something you don't apply/ask for, and the numbers show that men more often ask for promotions and apply for grants than women.

i recognize that it is my responsibility to speak up at meetings and make a vocal contribution of substance in order to be noticed, heard, acknowledged and appreciated, but i have to admit that it's almost always a challenge. when i attend a meeting or listen to a talk and a question or comment pops into my mind, inevitably my heart pounds loudly and i feel myself shaking a little from nerves over the prospect of speaking out to the group. you'd think after attaining a PhD, thinking about this astronomy stuff for so many years, and genuinely believing that i have ideas to offer the discussion, i would have gotten over these feelings, right? wrong. i still have to force myself to be brave and make the statement, to let my face turn beet red and risk sounding unknowledgeable or stupid.

i know i'm not the only one with these feelings and fears and the only way to help get over them is to be aware of them, admit them, talk about them, and have courage (i hope!)! that is part of what the workshop was about. almost 70 people showed up last friday, including several heads of university astronomy groups and the directors of observatories. considering there are only about 400 professional astronomers in australia, i thought the turn out was a great success! there were many female PhD students present, but the audience was noticeably lacking young male PhD students.

photo credit: bryan gaensler

unfortunately, i think the tendency for most people is to think "well, i'm not sexist (or racist, etc...) and i don't understand how anyone could openly express such discrimination, so i don't have anything to gain by attending such a workshop."

it's not enough just to believe that you do not practice these behaviours and then ignore the issues entirely, because  
we all have "unconscious biases" and many of your colleagues are systematically suffering because of them.   we need to be aware of these biases in order to change the current state of career progression and not lose female talent from continuing along the academic (or corporate or political) pipeline.

instead of going on about more potential problems that lead to the decreased number of women at the highest levels, i will refer you to the video below for some other issues, and move on to sharing some practical suggestions that came out of the workshop that can be implemented by institutions and individuals.

action points for institutions:

  • appoint diverse committee members to select speakers for conferences and recipients of awards and jobs. our unconscious natural tendency is to want to work with people who are like ourselves. this is mostly ok, or at least understandable, but ever notice, for example, how invited speakers at conferences are almost always men despite the fact that attendees are much more gender balanced? of course there are fewer women who have reached the career stage to give invited talks, but we have to start recognizing and encouraging and exposing the women that are in the field. diversifying selection committees is one way of taking action towards this goal.

  • supply childcare at professional meetings, especially national meetings, so that parents can also benefit from the community and the networking possibilities for themselves and their students. and since we all know that a lot of ideas and new collaborations happen at the pub and over dinner, offer a few evenings of childcare as well so parents can spend some time with contacts outside of the rigorous daily conference sessions.

  • offer more flexible working arrangements and small grants to encourage mothers and fathers to return to work while dealing with all the unpredictable time frames of children. examples: if you are advertising a position and it is possible to hire someone at part time, mention that in the ad! monash university offers a populate and publish maternity leave grant (what a name!?!). offer an option to take unpaid holidays for school breaks, provide onsite childcare, support a child friendly work environment (and tell employees!).

  • encourage employees at all levels to participate in organized mentoring programs. if there is no program in place, develop one.  dont make the mistake of assuming that "hard work and merit" are the only factors necessary for advancement for every individual. people also need encouragement and mentoring.

  • in applications, ask for selected 5 years of publications, instead of just previous 5 years, to account for career breaks.

  • institute a double blind academic journal refereeing system. (can someone explain to me why this isnt already in place? that's not the only problem with the academic journal racket though.)

  • have open discussions about these issues inside your working groups!! encourage the acknowledgement of unconscious bias.

action points for individuals:

  • speak up at meetings (be brave), network broadly, find mentors, set goals, know when to say no, apply for things!! do not let people assume that just because you do a task once that you will always be responsible for it, especially if it isnt gaining you any prestige or career benefit! dont fear that because you say no you wont be "liked." the point is not to be liked, but to be respected.

  • goals should be specific, measurable, attractive to you, realistic, and time-framed (short- and long-term).

  • find mentors!   seek senior members who can be active mentors (both men and women), or widespread university programs, and do this at every stage in your career!  recognize who in your department or institution is useful, successful, powerful, and/or influential and get to know them! seek their advice and mentorship.

  • pay attention to words used when writing recommendation letters. (as a test, search through the adjectives you have written in a letter for a man and a letter for a woman. it was a telling exercise in unconscious bias for one speaker at the workshop) 

  • use appropriate titles (Dr, Prof, etc...) consistently for all colleagues regardless of gender.

    • surround yourself with happy (not miserable) people in your working environment.

    • make sure your romantic partner is a real partner in every sense of the word.

    • be self aware of personal biases

    please share any other ideas in the comments and i'll update this list if possible.  for further reading, the american astronomical society provides a nice page of resources for all.

    i'll leave you with yet another excellent TED talk by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg on "Why we have too few women leaders." she articulates some of the above, but also brings up several other very interesting points, including why it's true that "success and likability are positively correlated for men and negatively correlated for women."

    UPDATE: if you're interested in this post, i recommend reading through the discussion happening inside the comments. i also encourage everyone to participate!

    Sunday, May 15, 2011

    round and round and round saturn goes

    for about a year after observations are taken with the hubble space telescope, no one but the original scientist who thought of the idea and took the observations is allowed to access the data. after this "embargo" period, anyone can access the data from an archive via the HST search form.

    that is exactly what the imaging editor of sky & telescope magazine, Sean Walker, recently did! he took advantage of some newly released images of saturn and created this lovely video. in addition to watching the storm clouds in saturn's surface go round and round, you can see moons move and patterns in the rings as they spin around.

    from el lobo rayado

    Saturday, May 14, 2011

    Wednesday, May 11, 2011

    becoming great

    "you don't become great by trying to become great. you become great by wanting to do something, and then doing it so hard that you become great in the process."

    another gem from xkcd.

    Tuesday, May 10, 2011

    hello babies. welcome to earth.

    i attended a lovely wedding in edinburgh a few weeks ago. men wore kilts, we danced ceilidh, and several excellent quotes by kurt vonnegut were read during the humanist ceremony. here's a quote that stuck with me, followed by a few photos surrounding the event...

    'Hello babies. Welcome to Earth. It's hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It's round and wet and crowded. On the outside, babies, you've got a hundred years here. There's only one rule that I know of, babies -

    "God damn it, you've got to be kind." '

    - kurt vonnegut

    Thursday, May 5, 2011

    one last look

    today is my final full day in greece before i make the long trip back to the land down under tomorrow. it has certainly been an adventurous and exhausting 6 weeks. i woke up sore today, but all i did yesterday was sit on a ferry for nine hours returning to athens from santorini island?

    thanks to all old friends i caught up with and new folks i've met on this trip. it has been memorable, productive, fun, and exhausting. i should have scheduled a short holiday from my holiday, but after i return to sydney on saturday, i give a talk on monday!?! i'll think about that on the plane...