Sunday, October 28, 2007

Halloween Begins

So if you care to find me
Look to the Western sky!

As someone told me lately,

Everyone deserves a chance to fly...

The comment I get most about my bicycle from people is "you look like the Wicked Witch of the West on that thing." I decided to have a sense of humor about this, with damn impressive results if I may say so myself. (Though I was going more for the Elphaba from Wicked type of witch rather than the one from the movie.)

This picture's from a Halloween party I went to last night. If you missed my dressing up I'll be doing it again on Wednesday, of course.

The pumpkins my friends and I carved yesterday afternoon. It was a fun time.
My pumpkin this year- my family traditionally didn't do jack-o'-lanterns but rather pumpkin carvings even before that idea spread, some of which were incredibly intricate. We didn't have really nice and proper pumpkin carving tools yesterday and I was a little late, so this is what I did on short notice.

Though for the record, I think everyone was a little disappointed. You see, my design last year might have not been too complicated but it was certainly the one that everyone talked about-
This was only exasperated by the fact that one friend who shall go nameless promptly picked up the pumpkin and went around with it pretending to be the Headless Horseman. Ah, memories!

(And before anyone asks, that's my friend's ball python on my wrist. He's a great snake, though a great deal bigger now.)

There will probably be more pictures here on Wednesday, when it's actually Halloween and not just the Saturday closest. Stay tuned!

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Fall Break 3- Newport, Rhode Island

My mom, dad, and I weren't sure what to do on Tuesday before our respective flights left Boston (my brother had to leave a day prior), and then my dad mentioned Newport, Rhode Island. We'd never been there and it's only an hour or so outside Boston and supposed to be very nice, so why not take a look? Always on the lookout for a new state (I've been to 27 at last count, but never Rhode Island), I thought this was a great idea so Tuesday morning we set off.

This is what most of Newport looks like- a nice little New England seaside town, complete with lots of little tourist stores and places that sell wonderful clam chowdah. Start heading towards one direction of town, though, and you start seeing big piles of stone like this-
Back in the Gilded Age (and even now, to some extent), all the wealthy Yanks came up to Newport for summer and built lovely places that they called summer homes and everyone else called mansions. Now a lot of them are museums so you can go and see impressive pieces of real estate.
As we were there for only a few hours, we only toured one house: The Breakers owned by the Vanderbilts. It's quite large and has a nice view onto the ocean, but to tell the truth it wasn't the most exciting and lovely place I've ever toured. It was built to imitate a French or Italian villa, but was also built to impress anyone who might be visiting the Vanderbilt estate, so true to the era it was built in every surface is gilded or flourished or embellished. A touch overdone so the house overall isn't that pretty, but I suppose if your aim was to impress everyone with how much money and power you had it would work pretty well.
There aren't too many pictures of Newport just because I wasn't there for very long, but I wanted to show this last one from the main street. Why? Well if you don't know, it clearly means you're not a fan of Family Guy so I have to tell you that in Family Guy the town the family lives in is Quahog, Rhode Island. (And the bar is called "The Drunken Clam," hehe.) Further, I admit that the entire day I had one of the Family Guy songs stuck in my head called This House is Freakin' Sweet from an episode where the Griffins inherit a Newport Mansion of their very own.

Anyway, I like Newport well enough, though I suspected that a great deal of this had to do with the fact that I went in October and not the summertime when the tourists must be elbow to elbow to each other! Plus hey, now I can say I've been to 28 states! Even if that number's not going to budge for awhile, as most of those states are the boring ones in the middle you don't even get airport layovers at. Oh well.

Fall Breat 2- Boston

Hooray for Boston! I love this city. It's got to be one of the best ones there is, and we headed over Sunday evening because my dad had buisness in the city on Monday.

Of course, everyone knows what's going on in Boston right now that would make it really fun to spend a night on the town in Boston, right? That's right, baseball!
Sunday night was Game 7 of the last round before the World Series, which was against the Cleveland Indians. I'm really not a baseball fan for various reasons (the same thing happens over and over, the Pittsburgh Pirates were never good, etc), but it's a bit infectious to go into a bar filled with rabid Red Sox fans. I do confess that I ended up telling people who asked that I went to Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh rather than Case, just because I didn't think it would be a good idea to say I had any affiliation whatsoever with Cleveland.

Except, of course, we didn't pay all that much attention to baseball because the Steelers were playing!
This is my brother and his friend from high school proudly showing their stuff. We found the one bar in Boston that was airing the football game in the basement, and I decided I liked baseball so long as there was a football game to watch too.

The next morning, we went exploring a bit around town...
This is the view from Cambridge towards downtown Boston. The Hancock Tower is the big shiny glass one on the left, which was famous when it first opened because large plates of glass kept falling off of it due to the wind.
Because it was right next to our hotel, there was a brief forray made into the Boston Museum of Science, where I spent a ridiculously large amount of time as a child considering the fact that I never actually lived in Boston. (But you can't tell, right?) I hadn't been there in years, though, so it was nice to walk around thinking "aha, there's the tree ring display with the giant sequoia slice!" or "man, I will never tire of the lightning show from the giant van de Graaff generator." This particular shot shows a sculpture (Archimedian Excogitation) they have in the lobby where little balls follow metal tracks in various cool ways- enlarge the picture to see what I mean. I spent many a happy time observing the motions of the balls as a kid and still did for several minutes now, but who was counting?
This is Prudential Center in a pretty nice sunset shot if I may say so myself. I will note that it gets dark freakishly early in Boston- nearly an hour before the sun sets in Cleveland- and I guess that's what the time zone/ change in latitude does for you.

It was also nice because the unseasonable warmth meant you could still eat outside for dinner, which I couldn't imagine ever doing in late October in Boston if I hadn't done it myself!

Ah, Boston Boston Boston. Remind me to live here at some point in my life, as I'm sure I'd enjoy every minute of it.

Fall Break 1- New Hampshire

Time to start putting up the fall break pictures! I was in New England for virtually all of it, which is always really fun to do in the fall because of the leaves changing-
So pretty! For the weekend part (Saturday and most of Sunday) I was in New Hampshire, and the weather was utterly, completely gorgeous to match. Blue skies, unseasonably warm... to be honest it made the leaves not quite as nice as they often are in most years due to the warmth, and despite being past the peak for foliage there were still quite a few green leaves out there.
This is my mom and dad, canoing by. I post it because my mom made the astute observation that it was the sort of weekend that they take all the postcard and tourism photographs in so as to get everybody to visit New Hampshire, so I'm doing my part.
I paddled along in a kayak, as kayaks are way cooler than canoes will ever be.
This is probably my favorite tree I saw, just because of how vivid it is. Don't get me wrong, the red trees are nice too, but they're a little overrated and trees that turn pure yellow are much more stunning.
We also took advantage of the scenery by climbing up a little hill called East Rattlesnake not too far away on Saturday. East Rattlesnake overlooks Squam Lake, which is where the movie On Golden Pond was filmed (which if you're my age you probably haven't seen or heard of, but almost won the Best Picture Oscar in the early 80s).
My brother, Patrick, deciding to end it all at the top of East Rattlesnake. Ok not really, he was jumping to a ledge not visible to the camera in an attempt to get a good Facebook picture, but we had to do it over a few times to get it timed right from several angles. And all the while my mom and dad were criticizing us for some unknown reason...
Rainbow! Saturday just before sunset there was a very brief rainstorm, which resulted in the most beautiful and perfect rainbow I have ever seen. It was vividly bright and went from one side of the sky to the other without breaking, and there was even a double bow... ah, so beautiful! The colors even repeated a bit in the rainbow itself- as in, there was a second stripe of purple under the first- and I'm not exactly certain what causes something like that but I'd never seen it before. Some odd reflection within the water droplets I guess?

Anyway, New Hampshire was gorgeous and if you ever get the chance to go there in the fall you should unquestionably take it. Here's one last nice fall picture for the road-

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Comet Holmes Pictures

I should act before I write. I just went out for a lovely few hours, and took a look at Comet Holmes! It is really bright out there and easily visible to the naked eye even from downtown Cleveland- here's a picture from my friend Steven Janowiecki that he took earlier and has kindly allowed me to repost here-
The point of light circled in red is the comet (click to make the image larger). Notice how starlike it looks right now: Comet Holmes has no visible tail, which is completely weird and I'm not getting over just yet. The reason for this is it's still so far out that no tail has developed and most comets don't get bright enough until a tail is developed, whereas Holmes won't be at its closest to the sun until December 1. The fact that it still has over a month to approach the sun, during which it will release more gasses and (very probably) increase in brightness, means the show probably is just starting with this puppy. I'm incredibly excited!

Through the telescope was also interesting. The most obvious feature of the whole thing is that it's yellow, with a greenish tint. Astronomical objects rarely have color, especially not comets so far as I can recall, because your eye just plain isn't sensitive to such faint colors. Further, it has a very compact center with a nice ring of haze surrounding it- a very compact coma! There is not even a hint of a tail either, which is how the comet can look so starlike in the night sky.

Here's a picture that I took. Please realize this was just with my little digital camera placed against the eyepiece of the telescope in a rather cheap operation, and I didn't even bother to set the exposure longer than the default of the camera. (My camera isn't really one made for astrophotography.) However, the fact that my camera could image Comet Holmes under such conditions is impressive in itself! If you want to see some actual astrophotography, though, take a look at the galleries as they're shaping up to having a great collection.

Last but not least because my sister asked- Comet Holmes is just barely visible in many parts of the southern hemisphere, but it really depends where you are and if you know where to look. People have already sent in pictures from Queensland, Australia so it's definetely doable, and a quick game of latitude reveals that you ought to just see it with an unobstructed horizon from a latitude like Melbourne or Auckland.

I can't find a southern sky finderchart, but here is the northern hemisphere one. Happy comet hunting, everyone!

Comet Alert!

Yesterday, Comet Holmes exploded in the night sky from 17th to 2nd magnitude, which corresponds to 400,000x brighter in the course of just a few hours. Incredible! It's now visible to the naked eye in Perseus after sunset, so if you have clear skies the next few days you should check it out (finderchart here).

So this begs the question: who in Cleveland wants to go comet-hunting with me during the weekend? Our weather's not looking perfect, but according to clear sky clock we might have a few clear hours and it's not going to fade so quickly that the 9.5" refractor won't make it look cool. (You never know, it might still brighten! But I get ahead of myself.) Let me know.

PS- I have many nice pictures from fall break, but I've been too lazy to post them. I'll get around to that soon.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Top Ten Most Important Astronomical Images

No Quarked this week due to midterms, but I had an article in the Journal of Young Investigators this month that I don't think I've mentioned. So who wants to read a run-down on the top ten most important astronomical images? As chosen by my own personal authority, of course, because everyone knows these lists are just as authoritative as the opinion of the person who writes them.

This article appeared a few weeks earlier this month, but I haven't posted it here until now because I've had some problems with it. For obvious reasons, it was rather important that the right images go with the right pieces of text for the article, but the graphics guy (in the trend of graphics guys everywhere) took the liberty to find some "more interesting" images when he happened to not think one of mine as cool enough. Now for a few of these it worked out alright, but the graphics guy completely messed up when it came to extrasolar planets. The image I chose (shown to the left) was considered "too boring," so he substituted in an artist's rendition instead!

I find this to be an interesting premise, you see. I mean, if I were going for the "prettiest" images then yes, the extrasolar one probably doesn't cut it, but images that are the most aesthetically pleasing rarely translate into the ones that contribute to real science. (I'd expound on this point more, but I already did in said article so I won't regurgitate.) And while I like my editor and think JYI is a nifty organization and laud their goal to produce an undergraduate science publication, I've noticed that it's really, really hard to get mistakes corrected once they're printed. You know how it is in the college world- everyone has ten million different things going on so it's kind of hard to convince anybody to go back to a job that's already "done." Particularly when no one's getting paid to do anything and it's midterms month.

I could probably go on about this but I don't think it'll help much. Besides which I have other things to do- it's the last day before fall break and I have a plane to catch to New England a few hours, and lots to do before then! So see you guys next week; I should have lots of pretty "New England in the fall" pictures to share.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007


You wanna know how to tell if a place is in the middle of nowhere? Wait until an earthquake hits the region, and then see what's written up about it regarding the damage. The South Island of New Zealand was hit by a magnitude 6.7 earthquake yesterday, with aftershocks as high as 6.2. The epicenter of the quake was near Milford Sound in the southwestern part of the island.
A 6.7 quake, I'd like to remind everyone, is the same magnitude as the Northridge earthquake in Los Angeles in 1994 which sent that city into complete chaos and killed 72 people. But what happened in New Zealand? Well, according to the article-

Betty's Liquor Store manager Christine Gilbert said seven bottles, worth $350, were lying broken on the floor when she arrived at work at 7.45am this morning. Another 12 bottles were on the ground but unbroken.
Which raises an even more important question in my mind: what kind of stuff are they selling at Betty's Liquor Store that it's $50 a bottle? (NZ dollars, but still.) I recall the booze as being cheap in that country...

Sunday, October 14, 2007

How to Advertise a Physics Talk

If I've learned one thing about undergraduate talks, it's that the advertising for them is slightly different than what you do for the proper seminars and colloquia. The undergraduate Physics and Astronomy Club is hosting a talk this week, and here's the flier we're distributing.

I mean, everyone wants to hear about physics, but your best bet is to emphasize the free food and avoid the "pop vs. soda" controversy if you want people to show. This form of advertising worked well last time, as we ran out of pizza and set a record in attendance (I think word filtered to the graduate students). Further, these talks always start at 5:30 as that way we can snag everybody just getting out of lab at 5:15- by comparison, the colloquia at Case start at 4:15 which is completely stupid because then none of the undergraduates can attend.

By the way, I sent out an email to our list earlier today too, which consisted of the basic information, a mention of Professor Kash's nickname per us students ("Momma Bear"), and a signature "love and snuggles, The Physics and Astronomy Club." There's nothing like a warm and fuzzy feeling when thinking about a semiconductor lecture!

Friday, October 12, 2007

Golden Kiwifruit

I found golden kiwifruit in the supermarket this weekend, which made me incredibly excited. (For those of you who have never had them, golden kiwifruit are a special type of kiwi that isn't fuzzy and has a sweeter taste, and obviously looks different than the average kiwifruit.) According to the little sticker they were a "Product of New Zealand," and while they were a little mushy I was so excited to find them that I didn't mind.

Stereotypical as it is, I miss kiwifruit. They were easier to find in convenience stores than apples, and often cheaper... Not gonna lie, you don't want to know how many times I ended up just having kiwifruit for breakfast. Nor do you want to know how many wheels of brie I went through, once I realized you could get a pretty big one for NZ$3: it might've been two islands in the middle of the Pacific, but there were distinct advantages to living in a country that was essentially one big farm!

God, I miss New Zealand so much sometimes that it hurts. Am I allowed to go back yet?

Quarked: PostSecret

Today my column about PostSecret appeared in The Observer. You know, the one I scored the free books to review for?

Turns out the PostSecret book, A Lifetime of Secrets, is at #50 right now on Amazon's bestseller list and still moving upwards. It's always nice to know you jumped the bandwagon for a bestseller!

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Listening Through "Drastic Fantastic"

One of my favorite current artists out there is KT Tunstall, who is a singer/songwriter from Scotland. In fact, it turns out that my music collection is more gender biased than a physics department, and Tunstall is the only female musician I keep track of so the release of her new album, Drastic Fantastic, counted as a big deal in my world.

(By the way, if you don't know who KT Tunstall is, check out Suddenly I See or Black Horse and Cherry Tree and come back after that. If you follow recent music at all, you should be able to recognize these.)

Anyway, Drastic Fantastic. I like it. I already suspect that Hold On is going to be one of those songs I play endlessly on my iPod, as well as a few others, and while I might not like all the songs individually (but honestly, does anyone ever like all the songs?) it is definitely a great album to just listen to in the background. My one problem with it, though, is how (with the possible exception of Hold On) there is no loud, upbeat, I-am-going-to-take-over-the-world soundtrack of which there were several on her first album. (The first album, by the way, is called Eye to the Telescope. Turns out Tunstall's dad is a physicist!) I admit I have high expectations in this, as Suddenly I See has the #1 spot on my most played playlist and Black Horse and Cherry Tree isn't far behind. But hey, songs take some time to grow on you, so we'll see what happens in the next few days/weeks.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Looking Back on Sputnik

The 50th anniversary of Sputnik's launch was yesterday, and everyone's favorite geek column in The Observer covered the issue. From this week's edition of "Quarked"-

I must admit though, I am a little disappointed; the future prophesied at the beginning of the space age has not come to fruition. Space has not panned out to be the exciting final frontier it was promised to be: we haven't been back to the moon since 1972, and fewer than 500 humans have ever made it into space. NASA's Space Shuttle does not have an incredible amount of modern technological prowess either, as the fleet has been used for over a quarter-century and the computers haven't been updated since 1990. Your iPod has more computing power than the Space Shuttle, and it's not susceptible to falling chunks of foam to boot!

Now lest anyone get me wrong, I will be the first to say that the human presence in space has provided us with an incalculable wealth of new science, technology, and inspiration about the cosmos. Who doesn't feel a sense of awe when looking at the latest Hubble pictures, or see the advantages to a global positioning system? It's just that when it comes to manned spaceflight in recent years, I do not think NASA has much to show for their efforts. We did the whole Apollo program for just a fraction of what the International Space Station will cost when it's finally completed, even when adjusting for inflation, and space still remains inaccessible to all but a tiny handful. If you want to be an astronaut, you will probably have a better chance hitching a ride with a private company like Virgin Galactic once they begin operations in a few years, even with an initial price tag of $200,000...

Comments? Let me know either in person or here, as I like to know how these are received.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

How to Score Free Books

Got these in the mail today-
How? Here's the story: one of my regularly scheduled Internet stops on Sundays is at Postsecret, and last week they mentioned that student writers for university papers could request an advanced review copy of the book A Lifetime of Secrets, due out October 9th. I realized with a jolt that hey, I'm a student writer!, and after a few emails with a very kind publicist the book was sent with the understanding that I'll be writing a piece on Postsecret next week for The Observer. Currently I'm just envisioning it as another column for Quarked rather than a proper book review, but we'll see how things go.

So anyway, the package arrived for me today and to my surprise there was another book too! Yay! This second one is Jubilee City: A Memoir at Full Speed by Joe Andoe (an artist chap). It came out this past summer and has great reviews on Amazon, and I'm really looking forward to reading that one.

I'll post whatever article that comes out of this once it comes out, of course, and let you know how my free book turns out as well. But this entire chain of events has really made my day, as it's not every day you snag free advanced copies with a retail value of $50! Perhaps there's something to this writer thing after all...