Saturday, December 31, 2011

fireworks and goals

in honor of earth's celebration of a new calendar year, here is a galaxy image that i think looks like a big firework! NGC 1275:

and here was the massive fireworks display over sydney harbour. i love how the aerial views show the entire stretch of explosions. amazing!

hope everyone enjoys a happy and safe end to 2011!! i feel pleased as i reflect on the past year. a short summary of my twelve months of 2011:

22 talks given, 21 nights observing, 12 countries visited (depending on how you count what belongs to china), 11 papers published (2 as first author), 6 songs completed, 3 sizes lost, student loans paid off, and a flower on my frangipani tree!

what goals do you have for the next year?

i want to be able to do a pull up from a still hanging position. i want to publish 2 first-author scientific papers. i would like to finish writing a particular song that i've been working on for most of the last year. i want to write down a more coherent collection of travel stories. i want to get my heels down in the downward dog yoga pose. i want to hand-write more letters. i want to bake more bread.

here's to a successful new year, y'all! cheers!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

car color wheel

this colorful installation was created from 2,500 old toy cars by artist david t. waller.

more photos here.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Monday, December 26, 2011

pure christmas morning joy

the excitement of a good book, christmas morning hair, swimming in a sea of wrapping, PJs, family :)

x-ray christmas tree

when i was a kid, i didn't often make too big of an effort to search for all my christmas presents before the big day. but one year my little sister and i searched with intensity all over every inch of my parents room. we looked in the closet, behind clothes, in drawers, and then, under the bed, we found it: a nintendo entertainment system! we were so excited that we cheered to each other and did our silly dances of joy because we were moving from the old joy stick atari system into the future!

the only problem was that i am horrible at keeping a straight, un-blushed face when trying to hide a truth. to this day, i am a horrible liar. i tried with all my might to look surprised on christmas morning when we opened an NES game and then the actual system, but i'm sure my faked look of surprise gave away the secret of our sneaky, successful searching. i actually felt bad that morning because my parents didnt get to see our original thrill and happiness.

i never searched early for my presents after that year.

on the other hand, nick veasey has figured out a clever way to use his x-ray imaging skills to discover some presents under the tree:

merry christmas!

Friday, December 23, 2011

transiting santa

inspired by his previous contribution to "dirty space news: transiting planets" and the present holiday season, joe created a deliciously geeky festive video...!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011


i have successfully arrived in ohio for a bit of concentrated christmas a week before the big day. the US knows how to take this holiday season to the next level, even without the benefit of snow just yet!

i saw a dozen decorated trees at the airport, heard christmas songs on the radio and in stores (a blues tune called "santa claus want some lovin" was a highlight), drank a seasonal drink at one of the buhzillion starbucks on every possible corner (the eggnog latte is not as good as is might sound), played with tiny people until i couldnt take their cuteness any longer,

tried endless tins of shared homemade christmas cookies, and witnessed people wearing, without the fainest hint of remorse, gaudy christmas-themed clothing (i admit i used to make my own christmas sweatshirts and wear them with pride. despite years of hindsight-embarrassment, i now completely appreciate holiday themed clothes that go beyond the cliche santa.  i enjoy their total over-the-topness!).

but still...

calvin and hobbes
seriously, ohio.  rain?  

the temperature might cool enough later in the week for a bit of snowfall.   hope, hope...

Friday, December 16, 2011

testing new technology

i've been out at siding spring observatory for a few nights in order to help with the commissioning of a new instrument on the anglo-australian telescope (AAT).

tonight's weather was not looking so good from the start. here are the warrumbungles being rained on.

and lightning over the skymapper telescope:

Photo Credit:  Andy Green

despite the weather, we've had no shortage of activities to keep us occupied!

on to the AAT we are adding a new instrument, the Sydney-AAO Multi-object Integral Field Unit (SAMI), that lives in that black tube at prime focus.

in slightly technical terms, SAMI is a multi-object integral field spectrograph with hexabundle optical fibre feeds! i'll explain that a bit more later, but first, here are a few shots of SAMI in the tube:

as you can imagine, it's a bit challenging to do mechanical things in such a small space (especially at 3 am in the dark when it's necessary!). here they are fixing the hexabundles to the metal plug plate with magnets. the next version of SAMI might employ a small robot to plug the plates.

inside each of those hexabundles are about 60 optical fibers. each hexabundle is placed over a single galaxy so light from the different regions of the galaxy can be investigated independently. currently, there are 13 bundles, so 13 galaxies can be looked at during each pointing of the telescope.

once the light is collected, the optical fibers direct the light through a long path down two stories, to a room where the AAOmega spectrograph lives.

the amount of stuff that can go wrong when testing new technology is amazing. sometimes things go more smoothly than you ever imagined, and other times, the simplest things dont work, and it takes many people a lot of thinking and discussing to get to the bottom of a problem and figure out how to fix it on the fly. notice the duct/gaffer tape!

at one point, we had to point at a very bright jupiter to make sure our telescope pointing and focus were as we thought they were!

the whole process is frustrating, exhilarating, and exhausting all at the same time.

now to show you a bit of data. here is a single galaxy that SAMI collected data on during the first commissioning run several months ago.

the galaxy image on the left comes from a survey using the UK Schmidt Telescope. the red circle shows the area of the galaxy covered by the hexabundle (15 arcsec) and the colored circles on the right show information from the spatially-resolved optical fiber spectra. the colors indicate how the gas in each of those regions of the galaxy moves: blue is towards us and red is away. the gas in the galaxy is spinning around, revealing very nice disk structure in this system!

these early results and instrument design are described in a paper that has been accepted for publication and is now out on the arXiv: here!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Sunday, December 11, 2011

silver bells: christmas in summer

i finally played my first christmas album of the season yesterday. it was nice to listen to, but it felt odd, not only because the sun was shining and the air was warm, but because i was making spicy salsa for a new dish: mexican sushi.

the song silver bells affected me more than any other. the lyrics of the song remind me sooooo so much of the holiday season i experience in my hometown in middle america, which is essentially the idealized version you see in all those old movies.

my huge family manages to take christmas to an even higher level of kitschy wholesomeness by singing carols together on christmas day, culminating in a cousin ho-ho-ho-ing into the room dressed as santa just as the von bauers end with a round of jingle bells! every year. (bourbon slushies recommended)

but i have to admit that i love it all, and as much as i rolled my eyes at the whole affair at different stages of my childhood (and adulthood), i truly feel the ultimate intimacy of home as the cold weather sets in to welcome these traditions.

listening to silver bells, which absolutely encompasses this mid-western holiday sentiment, made me realize just how absent this atmosphere is in sydney during the build up to christmas. i mean, yes, it's summertime, and people go to the beach regularly, and the sun shines warmly down on our skin, but i think its more than just the weather...

i'll quote some lyrics from the song to explain:

City sidewalk, busy sidewalks
Dressed in holiday style.
In the air there's
A feeling of Christmas.

nope. in the air there's a feeling of SUMMERTIME! i have to admit, i do like that feeling, especially considering i'm about to spend six cold winter weeks in the US.

and when i notice wreathes and other holiday adornments around sydney (or melbourne where i was last week), they seem completely out of place and awkward. people know christmas is coming, but there is not really a feeling of anticipation. there is no snow falling or:

Children laughing, people passing,
Meeting smile after smile,
And on every street corner you'll hear:

Silver bells, silver bells,
It's Christmas time in the city.
Ring-a-ling, hear them ring,
Soon it will be Christmas day.

i actually havent seen a single santa standing outside a store, clanging his "silver bells" and asking for donations. and when i do see santas dressed up in their red suits and hats, i think to myself "that is one of the worst jobs in the world: sweaty santa in hot summer sydney."

City street lights,
Even stop lights,
Blink a bright red and green,
As the shoppers rush home
With their treasures.

i have seen exactly two houses with holiday lights, although i live close to the city and not in a suburb, so maybe that's the reason.   and maybe its because i havent really been into any stores to shop for presents this year, but i dont hear friends talking about shopping or tree-decorating, or see evidence of the stress that seems to surround some people in their bustle to "prepare" for the big days.

Hear the snow crunch,
See the kids bunch,
This is Santa's big scene,
And above all this bustle you'll hear...

seeing snow flutter to the ground; feeling that crunch of snow underfoot; getting all bundled up in sweaters and warm hats: these things act as catalysts for holiday anticipation. i know people here who have never seen snow.

ok, so maybe it does have a lot to do with the weather, and the fact that holiday "traditions" here are just simply much different than what i grew up with. although i definitely felt the winter holiday excitement when i lived in germany from august to december one year and experienced all their christmas markets and gluhwein.

Randall Munroe, the creator of the xkcd comics, produced a very interesting commentary this week stating that "every year, american culture embarks on a massive project to carefully recreate the christmases of baby boomers' childhoods." it's pretty true now that i think about it, but in all honesty, it's also my childhood. the traditions might be relatively young, but i will always embrace them because they are mine, regardless of who instigated them.

the down side is that modern american consumer culture clings onto anything that might be a commercial success, and manages to suck every bit of genuine enjoyment out of it. as much as i love the holiday anticipation, when it starts all over US towns in early november, it becomes overwhelming and annoying very quickly.   will that ever change?  how can we change it?

luckily, this year i will go home one week before christmas, bake some cookies, experience concentrated christmas goodness until i reach a safe saturation, sing my heart out to some carols with my family, and then happily let the season pass.

i'm so looking forward to going home for a visit!! :)

ps. it better snow when i'm in ohio!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

total lunar eclipse - december 2011

there is a total lunar eclipse this saturday, december 10th, 2011!

as opposed to last year's total lunar eclipse which was only visible to me in australia as the red moon rose above the horizon (i watched from sydney's harbour bridge), this event will be fully visible from australia and asia!

parts of the lunar eclipse will be visible in the early morning from northwest north america and as the moon rises (evening) in some of europe.

happy viewing!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

timescapes preview

i'm ceaselessly impressed by tom lowe's visionary work. here's his newest timelapse, a preview of his feature film:

the sith that stole christmas

what happens when you combine star wars with one of my holiday favorites, dr seuss' how the grinch stole christmas? a well done little spoof called the sith who stole christmas ;)

Saturday, December 3, 2011

modern marriage

i think its just plain silly that a person cannot marry any person they want to, if they want to.    here are two videos that make good cases.  

the first is a 19 year old, very well-spoken zach wahls, who was raised with his sister by two moms. 

the second is a lovely short film with a powerful message.  it was filmed in sydney over the last month (see luna park's clown with its mo?) and shows off the city's beauty...


Thursday, December 1, 2011

spend time instead of money

very nice things to keep in mind this holiday season:

via julia blogs it like she sees it

some links:

etsy - "Buy directly from small creative businesses from all over the world. With over 11 million handmade and vintage items, there really is something unique for everyone."

kiva - "We are a non-profit organization with a mission to connect people through lending to alleviate poverty. "

UPDATE:  as pointed out in the comments, i advocate not creating debts, but then advertise Kiva ("loans that change lives").   i'll explain the reason for my seeming contradiction...  i learned of Kiva a couple years ago when my cousin donated money to it in my name for my birthday.  i got to go through the website and choose exactly whose project in the world my $25 went to support.   i chose to contribute to the $500 asked for by a cambodian woman who needed some equipment for her family farm.  after the $500 was raised, she repaid the debt to Kiva, who put my $25 back in my account and i got to choose someone else to support!   i have continued this pattern of choosing a person, getting repaid, and selecting again.  it has been interesting to learn what people around the world really need. 

thanks G4!  ;)