Thursday, May 17, 2018

Family Roots

Another year, another birthday. And what an eventful year it's been! This time last year I was still working at the YTLA in Hawaii (and I'm pretty sure I got to observe on my birthday night) and working through the application process at Swinburne.

Back around the end of April I heard from my mother about some genealogical research my aunt had been doing which I found quite fascinating, so as I ponder another year lived I thought I'd share some of these family roots for posterity.

According to the Mayflower Society, it turns out that on my mom's side I'm descended from several of the passengers who came over to North America on the Mayflower in 1620, specifically John Alden and Priscilla Mullins (who were married a year after arriving, in 1621). While reading about them I discovered that the famous American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was also descended from them, making us distantly related. And then I discovered that he wrote a famous epic poem in dactylic hexameter about them called The Courtship of Miles Standish! (You can read it here.) It's about a love triangle between John Alden, Priscilla Mullins, and the eponymous Miles Standish, and how (spoilers) John and Priscilla eventually end up married. It's unknown if it's historically accurate or not; Longfellow always maintained that it was a retelling of oral history passed down through the family, though at the very least he likely made use of some poetic license by compressing several years of events down. It's a good poem, if really, really weird knowing it's about my ancestors. (I already know how it ends, or else I wouldn't be here! Talk about spoilers!)

According to my aunt's research we're also descended from William Brewster and his wife Mary, more Mayflower Pilgrims, though she forgot to get it checked by the Mayflower Society at the same time. (It wouldn't be hard as a lot of the first few generations would likely have intermarried.) While researching them and William's rather exciting life I discovered there's a type of furniture called a Brewster Chair, and there's a picture of the original Brewster Chair owned by my ancestor himself on that Wikipedia page!

As I reflect on all this information this year there are a lot of emotions to process. As I reside here in Australia, it's encouraging to think that my family's been crossing oceans to make new lives for themselves on the strength of their religious convictions for centuries. And knowing that my ancestors were present for the first Thanksgiving in 1621 has given the holiday new meaning for me; I think come 2021 I'll make a point to celebrate it as “A family tradition for 400 years!” A hui hou!

Monday, May 14, 2018

An Arty Astronomical Exhibition

Well, the art exhibition opening on Saturday was a great success! I got to talk to quite a few people who came through over the course of the multi-hour event and ended up being put on the spot as soon as I showed up (I was the first of the PhD students involved to arrive) to say a few words about the process, so I'm glad I dressed up a bit. This was also my first opportunity to see much of Carolyn and Pam's work and to see everything professionally arranged and lit, so it was quite impressive.

This picture shows two of my friends' projects, a black hole (bottom), brown dwarf (left), white hole (top), and the James Webb Space Telescope (right). The JWST model is I believe 1/12 scale, and it's still over a meter long! I spent an hour and a half on Thursday helping hang it from the ceiling which was quite an experience. They're in a darkened room where there's an animation about the Deeper Wider Faster project that inspired this exhibition playing, and they look amazing in the darkness.

Another friend of mine made this imaginative representation of a spiral galaxy being red- and blue-shifted by rotation. She planned it all out in code and matplotlib before making it and it came out very impressive (and fragile unfortunately, though that's true more or less of all our work!). We were all pleasantly surprised on Saturday to discover that the spiral structure, which didn't show up much from the side, was silhouetted on the wall behind it due to the lighting.

And here's me with my model! I got it to a point where I could both continue to add detail to it but could also call it finished at any point, and I'm pretty happy with where it ended up. (The only thing I'm not pleased with is that the cardboard platform in the middle developed a significant bow to it [probably due to absorbing water from the paint], but by the time I'd noticed it it was too late to really do much about it.)

There's also a lot of other nifty artworks, but I don't want to spoil all the surprises for people who can still go see it! (Plus I was so absorbed in admiring them that I forgot to get pictures of a lot of them.) I'm almost certainly going to visit again while the exhibition is open, so perhaps closer to the end I can put up a few more pictures. A hui hou!

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Arty Astros

For anyone who's going to be in Melbourne between May 12th and July 1st, there's going to be an art exhibition happening in Hawthorn, and I'm going to be in it!

Yes, I haven't mentioned it here before, but for the past three months I've been working on a model of the Yuan-Tseh Lee Array where I worked last year to exhibit in DEEPER DARKER BRIGHTER, an exhibition of astronomically-inspired artwork. It's opening on May 12, from 2–4 PM, and it's free (and includes free food and drinks!); anyone's welcome to attend, the gallery merely asks that you reserve a spot (at the link above) so they can get an idea of refreshments needed. I'll be there along with several of the other artists to talk about our various projects.

To explain how this came about, I have to go back to last year. Several of the faculty and students here at the College of Astrophysics and Supercomputing (CAS) at Swinburne are involved in a project called Deeper Wider Faster, where telescopes around the world coordinate to observe a selected patch of sky for a few nights in an attempt to catch the transient events that occur in astronomy. Perhaps a star in its death throes, exploding as a supernova millions of light-years away. Or maybe a fast radio burst, an enigmatic phenomenon lasting mere milliseconds whose origins are still shrouded in mystery. Or maybe just a previously undiscovered asteroid! (They find a lot of those.) These collaborative multi-night sessions have been happening every couple of months for over a year now. (I attended one myself for a few hours earlier this year, though my schedule unfortunately precluded me from staying longer that time.)

Now, CAS also has two in-house artists, two wonderfully creative ladies by the names of Carolyn and Pam. They attended a Deeper Wider Faster session last year and were impressed with the sheer amount of incoming data and all the technology and work that went into making it happen, and soon after, by chance, were able to secure an exhibition slot with an art gallery literally across the street from Swinburne. This was around the end of the year, so with only a few scant months to get ready they put out a call for any astronomers in Swinburne who wanted to contribute some form of astronomically-inspired artwork with themselves as mentors.

I and several other students answered the call, so since the middle of February we've been working at weekly Wednesday night sessions on projects ranging from prosaic (models of several different telescopes) to the more fanciful (models of black and white holes, or a mobile representing the red/blue shifts seen in a rotating galaxy, or painting representing explosions in space). Other students made models of some rather famous telescopes (I'm actually really impressed by the models of the James Webb Space Telescope and the two Keck telescopes that people made), but I decided to make something a little smaller and closer to my heart: a model of the Yuan-Tseh Lee Array where I worked last year as a telescope operator. It's quite different from what people think of when they think of telescopes, so I figured it'd make for a great model. I also took pictures along the way, so you can experience the process of creation with me!

I started off with a pretty clear vision of what I wanted to do, and you can see a lot of what would make it into the final model in this picture from the second session in February. I had an idea of using sections of toilet-paper tubes for the baffles around the dishes right from the start, and while picking up supplies from the art store next to Swinburne campus I picked up some balsa wood rods (in two diameters) for the legs, a block of Styrofoam for the base, and a sheet of some kind of foam-board for the dish platform. I knew I wanted to get just the telescope and its base, not the canopy or any of the surrounding structure, which was a good choice in retrospect—finishing the telescope itself took long enough. In the picture above you can see the seven future radio dishes, and the half-painted telescope legs drying.

In March I cut the platform out of the foam board and learned how to draw a hexagon with nothing but a compass (another student made a model of the JWST with its many hexagonal mirror segments, and became something of an expert at constructing them over this time period). That was actually really cool—practical geometry! You can also see the legs fully painted drying next to my elbow.

I then cut out some wedges to represent the fact that the platform isn't a monolithic slab, but instead has a lot of negative space to cut down on weight. This was a slow and finicky process, as whatever material the foam is made of it pretty bad at being cut with a razor blade. This problem was solved, however, at the next session…

…where Carolyn introduced me to a tool I affectionately call “The Lightsaber.” It's an incredibly simple design—I think she got it for $2—and I was completely skeptical of its utility at first, but after the first few seconds of trying it I became an instant convert. The design is simple: the two arms hold a thin wire between them, a C battery is inserted, and pushing a thumb button closes the loop and heats up the wire, allowing it to slice through Styrofoam like hot butter. Seriously, there's no discernible resistance when cutting Styrofoam with a fresh battery in the thing, which is a freaky feeling. The foam of the foam board proved slightly slower to cut, but still melts incredibly quickly. This made it really, really easy for me to cut foam to shape, and ended up being responsible for a surprising amount of the final model.

I also painted the platform and used a strip of flexible foam around the outside to make the outer edge. I was constantly surprised how much a difference the proper color made to my brain's acceptance of the model's fidelity…though in this case I realized a few days ago while looking at photos for reference that contrary to my memory the platform's actually white, not gray. Oh well, I think it looks better this way. (You can see a whole bunch of golden hexagons in the background that were part of the JWST model design process.)

One big issue I struggled with throughout March was how to make the conic base of the YTLA. I bought a large block of Styrofoam back at the beginning intending to cut out a cone and use that, but realized that would be very difficult to pull off. By April however Carolyn (the mentor for those of us doing models) had the idea to use a simple rectangular cube for the base, which I then decided to disguise with panels to make a low-resolution approximation to a circular cone. I realized that it didn't matter that much if the model were perfectly, 100% accurate, and settled for an octagonal cone in the end. (You can just see the Styrofoam block peeking out in this photo.)

By the end of April I'd added some support sticks around the outside and the safety fence around the working platform (though I haven't added the access stairs it has in reality), and you can see the beginnings of the panels around the base, not yet glued in place or fitted. Also, the exhibition was starting in less than two weeks and I was only starting to get finished!

Luckily, in our final weekly workshop I was able to get the structure finished, by carefully slicing the panels around the base to fit and gluing them in. Then it was just a matter of detail, so for several nights last week I stayed at uni far into the night, adding bits of machinery and equipment and wires and cables and all the little symmetry-breaking details that the real thing has.

And here it is, set up on its own little plinth in the gallery awaiting the opening day! I'm not 100% done with it yet—I'm planning to go in at lunch later this week and add a few more machinery bits and wires to the underside—but I'm basically happy with it now. It's at the point where it's essentially finished, there's just always more detail to add. Adding details is my favorite part of building things, and I wish I'd had a few more weeks to indulge in it, but still, it came out pretty well for the remarkably short time (according to Carolyn and Pam) that we had to put things together.

Here's a shot from the side, showing my attempts to mimic the chaotic vortex of cables of wires on the real thing. I didn't capture it by a long shot, but what's there definitely makes the whole thing seem so much more…well, maybe “alive” is the wrong word, but it definitely makes it look better.

So yeah, I'm going to be an actual exhibited artist in an exhibition and everything! (I should put this on my CV.) Not bad for an astrophysics grad student. It's almost like doing a mini-PhD in a way: working on a project under the guidance of a mentor, except I can envision the whole thing at once in my head, know where to go at all stages and what to work on next, make tangible progress each week…okay, so it's basically nothing like doing a PhD!

Pam and Carolyn have tossed around the idea of making the weekly art workshops a regular but more open-ended thing after the exhibition for those who want to attend, and it's quite an appealing idea. It's a great stress-reliever to be working on an art project along with other people, and those of us who stuck with it to the end have forged a real bond through helping each other out with supplies, knowledge, or just a helping hand. I've discovered a serious love of painting over the course of putting this model together, so maybe I'll try my hand at just doing that if this happens…

Anyway, if you'd like to come down to see my model, or the seriously impressive models and paintings of my fellow “arty astros” (as Carolyn was fond of calling us), stop by the Town Hall Gallery in Hawthorn for the DEEPER DARKER BRIGHTER exhibition before the end of June!

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Personal Panoramic History, Part 5: 2012

The previous post in this series (covering 2011) had quite a lot pictures, but for whatever reason 2012 was a pretty slow year in the panorama department. I think part of it was that I was working at the Visitor Information Station on Mauna Kea for most of that year, which was also the year the transit of Venus happened. I was pretty quite preparing for it and then recovering from it afterwards, and it seems to have translated into fewer photo opportunities.

In January 2012 I got my first smartphone (a Samsung Galaxy S2), and with it my first automatic panorama creation ability. I didn't actually use it much because it was still pretty poor in those early Android versions, but I've got a few panoramas made using it from this year and we'll see more in the future.


My first panoramas of the year don't come until April, but they come from the one time (so far…) that I've hiked Mauna Loa. And just as while hiking Mauna Kea I got pictures of Mauna Loa, so while hiking the latter I turned north to get pictures of the former.

Mauna Kea from the south.

Hualālai and Mauna Kea
 These two pictures are both from where the trailhead starts, just outside of the Mauna Loa Observatory entrance at 11,141 ft (3,397 m). The first one is a zoom-in on Mauna Kea, while the second is a much wider field view covering a bit less than ~180°, showing the Mauna Loa access road on the right and the start of the trail on the left.

Mauna Loa summit caldera.
Mauna Loa is so flat that while climbing it there isn't much to get panoramas of other than Mauna Kea, until you reach the summit caldera, Moku‘aweoweo. This panorama is still pretty cool to me, even if we didn't make it to Mauna Loa's summit that day, as it's technically the only time in my life I've been inside the caldera of an active volcano! (Even if it did last erupt in 1984…) You can see the sides of the caldera on the sides of the photo, as I climbed down just inside the rim (which was maybe three meters deep). I don't think this is a particularly great panorama, but it's special to me due to the circumstances surrounding its creation.


Venus transiting before the Sun.
In June the latest transit of Venus (last one until 2117!) happened. This panorama is hand-made, as I couldn't get Hugin to make one for me using my photos. It's not really meant for astronomical panoramas and the photos aren't particularly well-focused either, so it's understandable that it failed to make anything of them.


I didn't get around to making any more panoramas until August due to recuperating after the transit of Venus, and when I did I ended up taking my first auto-generated panoramas with my phone due to (as usual) my camera battery turning out to be dead. I was able to get a tour (I think with the University Astrophysics Club) of the Very Long Baseline Array dish on Mauna Kea, and it turned out to be a great panorama subject.

These early auto-generated panoramas are really ugly however, so I'm only going to show one to give an idea. I've got a few more, but I just don't feel like displaying them here; that early panorama creation software was pretty rough and the resulting images are not easy on the eyes. I did put two additional panoramas from this trip up in my original post about it, so you can follow the link if you really want to see more early auto-panorama creation eye-sores.

This is the dish of the VLBA telescope, from near it's rim. Which is about ten stories above the ground, by the way. I'm actually amazed the camera was able to get such a good contrast, considering the blinding whiteness of the dish.

And that's actually it for panoramas from 2012! In October I did lava tube spelunking for the first time and got some cool pictures, but lava tubes unfortunately don't make great panorama vistas. As the end of the year approached I was starting to get pretty burnt out at my job as the Visitor Information Station; I discovered that there's a vast difference between doing something as a volunteer because you love it, and doing it because you get paid to do it. On a whim I applied to a job with the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope that only required a Bachelor's degree, and near the end of November got a call saying I was being offered the job, which opened up a whole new chapter of my life. But that's for the next post! A hui hou!

Monday, April 16, 2018

April Astrobite, a Supercomputer Tour, and Other News!

So this is a few days late, but I wrote another post for Astrobites this month back on the 12th. It covers a really cool paper about the largest flare yet observed from Proxima Centauri, the closest star to the Sun. Proxima Centauri is a red dwarf, the most common type of star in the universe, but also the faintest; it emits a mere 0.17% of the light the Sun does, and despite being the closest star at just over 4 light-years away normally sits at about magnitude 11.13, or over a hundred times fainter than can be seen with the naked eye. However, during the flare reported in the paper, the authors calculate that it would have briefly reached up to magnitude 6.8, making it just barely visible to the naked eye from a very dark site for a few minutes! Pretty nifty! I even got an email from the lead author on the paper saying he'd enjoyed my summary of it, so that was nice.

In other news, I was fortunate enough to tag along on a tour of Swinburne's new supercomputer. (We are the “College of Astrophysics and Supercomputing,” after all!) It's called OzStar and replaces an older supercomputer called G2, though that one will still be in operation for most of the rest of the year to give people time to switch over.

OzStar, CAS's new supercomputer. I don't actually have reason to use it myself, sadly.

Going through all my photos in my panorama series, I've been struck by just how many photos of random birds I take. So have another one of some really colorful parrots I found in a eucalyptus tree near where I live one day while walking!

Parrots! Really colorful ones, too. These pictures are all from my new S9+, by the way.

And finally, one thing I haven't been able to find here in Australia is my favorite salad dressing, Hidden Valley Ranch. You can get Ranch dressing here, but there's usually only a single kind on sale. One of my friends from church was in the US for a few weeks as part of a school trip and very kindly brought me back the ambrosia below:

Just can't beat the original.

I also gave my first public Astrotour at Swinburne last week! We have a 3D theater that is used primarily for public outreach with grad students and faculty who volunteer giving talks to both school groups and the general public. I signed up last year, and gave my first talk to a small public audience last Tuesday. I felt rather rusty and disjointed as it's been so long since I gave a public talk about astronomy, but all that practice at the VIS paid off and it seems to have gone well. I've got another scheduled for the 30th of April, though I think this one is a school group, so that'll probably be a very different experience.

And I think that's all so far for this surprisingly busy month. Oh yes, last week I finally managed to write some code that collated some information on atomic transition lines that we've been trying to get together for a few months now, and this week we sent them off to some collaborators to do some calculations for us. So that's a huge weight off my chest. A hui hou!

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Personal Panoramic History, Part 4: 2011

In the previous post in this series we looked at a whole bunch of panoramas of Mauna Loa. In 2011, in contrast…okay, I can't lie, we'll see a few more panoramas of Mauna Loa. If ever there were mountains made for panoramic viewing, it's Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa. But! We'll also see some new and unique vistas which for various reasons I haven't had the chance to recreate.

2011 was the year I finished college and graduated from UH Hilo, and thanks to all the volunteering I'd done at the Visitor Information Station I had a job lined up to start there in 2012. But for now, let's get on to the pictures…


In January 2011 my housemate Jonathan and I decided it'd be cool to try to get some photos of the Sun rising out of the ocean from Hilo. It took us several trips to various locations around Hilo at the crack of dawn over the course of a few weeks to realize that the joke was on us: there are always clouds away off on the eastern horizon around Hawaiʻi. So we never did get the pictures of the Sun rising majestically out of the ocean like we wanted, but at least I got this first light panorama of Hilo Bay out of it (unintentionally, I only found and put these photos together while writing this post):

Mauna Kea over Hilo Bay. Coconut Island on the right.
This panorama from the morning of January 17th shows Mauna Kea, resplendent in the pre-dawn chill, with Hilo stretched out along the left side of the image and Coconut Island on the right. You can probably only see it if you already know what you're looking for, but you can see the breakwater that protects the bay stretching along the horizon behind Coconut Island on the right side of the picture. It looks like it may have been raining north of Hilo and further up the slopes of Mauna Kea that day.


On February 22nd I hiked the summit trail of Mauna Kea (down) for the first (and so far only) time as part of a volunteer effort to pick up trash and keep the trail clean. (As before, you can follow that link and mouseover the panoramas in the post to see the original hand-made versions.) This allowed me to get a panorama of a rather different body of water:

Lake Waiau.
This is Lake Waiau, at an elevation of 13,020 feet (3970 m) making it one of the higher lakes in the world (though it depends strongly upon which list of lofty lakes you consult, as there's no official definition of what a lake is). I did originally have a picture of the right hand side of the lake (its north end, from this perspective), but somehow lost it in the process of transferring the photos from my camera to my computer all the way back when I made my first, manual version of this panorama. I have another panorama of this lake, but that's for a future post!

Mauna Loa, from part-way down the south slope of Mauna Kea.
And here's our first Mauna Loa panorama for the year, from somewhere down the trail. The summit area of Mauna Kea is so broad and flat that it can be hard to remember you're on top of a mountain sometimes, but as you descend you reach some (moderately) steeper bits that allow you look down and see the Saddle region spreading before you, with Mauna Loa in the distance. If you look closely you can even just make out Hualālai peeking over the hills on the right. This is definitely another one of my favorite panoramas I've taken.


On the 12th of June I had the opportunity to hike to the actual summit of Mauna Kea, something I've only done three or four times over the years despite being in the general area more frequently. (It's not a long walk, it's perhaps ten minutes or so from the closest road, I just never usually had time when I was up there due to other duties.) Whenever I had the chance to do so, however, I'd always discover that I had either forgotten my camera, its batteries were dead, or the weather was so bad that I couldn't get pictures (it wouldn't be until January of 2012 that I got my first smart phone, and I had no way of getting photos off the phone I had before that).

Except this time. For once I'd remembered my camera, it still had battery power, and the weather, though not great, was good enough to get this panorama:

Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea summit.
This may be the only picture on this blog from Mauna Kea's summit, at the rarefied height of 13,796 feet (4,205 meters). This view stretches from looking east on the left down towards Mauna Loa to the south. As you can see the weather was not particularly great that day, with lots of cloud cover both around the slopes of the volcanoes and also much higher up. The cinder cone bowl seen in the foreground on the right of the image is Puʻu Wēkiu, wēkiu meaning “summit” in Hawaiian. The summit proper is simply the highest point in its rim.

I really wish I'd done a 360° panorama for this one. Oh well, future life goals I guess. Someday when the weather's better would make a better picture anyway.


Come July I was once again back home in California visiting family, and my mom's family had a reunion up in Washington so we drove up through Oregon to attend. Along the way we stopped at some pretty nifty places, and I was able to get a few panoramas out of it (only one of which has shown up on this blog before).

One of the places we stopped was Crater Lake inside Mount Mazama, which is a fabulously cool place to visit. Despite visiting in July there was still plenty of snow piled high in places.

Crater Lake, with Phantom Ship visible.
This simple four-photo panorama comes from somewhere on the south-eastern side on the rim of the massive caldera that makes up the lake. Visible near the bottom-center is Phantom Ship, the smaller of the two islands in the lake. This and the next panorama were only created while writing this post, so they're new to me as well!

Crater Lake, this time with the much larger Wizard Island visible.
This panorama comes from the walkway heading towards the Visitor Center which provides an overlook of and lots of information about Crater Lake itself. In this shot the much larger Wizard Island near the western side of the lake is visible. The lake is 1,949 feet (594 meters) deep at its deepest point, yet Wizard Island still tower an additional 755 feet (230 meters) above its surface! It's a cinder cone formed in the caldera after the monumental eruption that dropped Mount Mazama's height by nearly a kilometer and created the original caldera.

Crater Lake with Wizard Island again, from the Visitor Center.
Finally, this panorama is one I've shown before, though this version was created with Hugin rather than by hand (you can compare the two by mousing over the image in the linked post). I really didn't write that much about Crater Lake when I visited it, which is a shame because it's a fascinating place. Especially after living in Hawaii for a few years and becoming acquainted with volcanoes.

For instance, Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the US, the ninth deepest in the world, and has some of the clearest water of any natural bodies of water anywhere. And the scale is simply mind-blowing: Mount Mazama was estimated to be about 12,000 feet (3,200 meters) high before its fateful eruption; the highest point on the rim is now 8,159 feet (2,487 meters). A beautiful and poignant reminder of the raw energy of the natural world.

Another place we stopped after visiting the lake was the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, Painted Hills Unit. (Hooray for taking pictures of signs so I know where it was!) These two panoramas were both two-photo accidental panoramas that I only discovered while writing this post.

Painted Hills, Oregon.
The landscape was truly spectacular. I wish I'd created more panoramas while I was there, as there was no shortage of subjects.

Oregonian bluff.
I'm not sure what this bluff is called (if anything), or where it is exactly—all I can tell is that we took a few group photos in front of it after I got this panorama and it appears to be near where we ate a picnic lunch. It's a great representative of the landscape in the area, though!


September found me back in Hawaii, taking pictures of the same familiar subjects once again: more Mauna Loa panoramas! Seriously, I'll have to count how many different ones this single volcano's featured in when I finish this series…

Mauna Loa.
This panorama and the next are reminiscent of a similar one from 2009 seen in part 2 (though here the grass is brown and dry). Possibly an attempt to recreate it, as the 2009 version is one of my favorite panoramas I've taken. Don't look too closely at those fence wires, they kinda pop in and out of existence near the bottom of the image. I imagine close-in fine details like that are difficult for Hugin to deal with when there isn't enough photo coverage and the perspective changes rapidly.

Mauna Loa, again.
This panorama (from a zoomed-in perspective) is the Hugin version of a panorama I originally created manually whose existence led me to discover this forgotten post where I'd already shown off the manual version but forgotten to apply any tags. Don't look too closely at the barbed wire in this one either.

Mauna Loa, from just outside the Keck building.
This two-photo mini-panorama comes from outside the Keck building, though it doesn't show much other than Mauna Loa in the background and some of the so-called Sub-millimeter Valley where the telescopes sensitive to light with sub-millimeter wavelengths reside. You can see CSO in the middle, and some of JCMT on the right. Pretty sure this wasn't planned to be a panorama originally or I'd have taken photos with a wider coverage.


On November 4th the University Astrophysics Club was able to get a tour of Gemini North, the InfraRed Telescope Facility, and UH Hilo's own Hōkū Keʻa telescope. This trip is the snowiest it's been up at the summit while I've been up there, which makes for some great images! The first two here I only created in the process of writing this post.

Snowy Mauna Kea summit, overlooking Submillimeter valley.
Another shot from outside Keck. (I'm not actually sure why, as I don't think a Keck tour was part of our itinerary—I don't have photos from inside it, anyway.) The snowfall must've been recent, but fairly light. (And judging by the distribution, must have come from the west, maybe? This is facing south towards Mauna Loa.)

Mauna Kea's snowy North Plateau.
This one's kinda interesting. It looks like it came from near IRTF, and is facing north over the North Plateau (where TMT, if it ever gets built, is slated to go). I don't usually take too many photos facing north like that, especially if the weather isn't clear and Maui isn't visible.

From a few weeks later (November 27th, to be precise) comes this panorama of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa. Though it may not look it, this one is actually from a (slightly) different location to the others that have shown up so far. On the left of the image, between the peaks of Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea, you can see the peak of Puʻu Kelepeamoa, where several of these panoramas have been from. That peak, however, is merely the highest point in the rim of a giant cinder cone just below the Visitor Information Station (so large, in fact, that the Access Road runs through it). This panorama was taken from the second-highest point in the rim, on its eastern side. (Puʻu Kalepeamoa is on the west.)

In the original hand-made version of this panorama (visible at the link above) I put Mauna Loa on the right of Mauna Kea (possible as it's one of my rare full 360° panoramas), but I think this composition works a lot better.


In December of 2011 I graduated from UH Hilo (or technically, I participated in the ceremony, a slight miscalculation with paperwork meant that I didn't officially graduate until next semester). Also my family came out to visit for the first time! We did some sightseeing while everyone was there, and I have a lot of photos, but I could only find a single accidental panorama, from a botanical garden we visited a ways up the coast north of Hilo:

Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden, looking out onto Onomea Bay. Don't look too closely at the middle palm tree.

And that's it for 2011! A pretty good year for panoramas, all told. The next post's going to be pretty short as I really didn't take too many panoramas in 2012, not even accidental ones to be discovered after the fact. There're a few good ones, though, and starting in 2012 there'll be ones taken with a phone camera—they're pretty awful at first, so it'll be interesting to watch them improve over the years. A hui hou!

Wednesday, April 4, 2018


As the saying goes, “when in Oz, do as the Aussies do,” (or was that Rome? No matter) and as a result I've taken to eating Vegemite. I was actually given some to try my fourth day here, and it's really not half bad, certainly not as bad as I'd been led to believe…if taken in moderation.

For the sake of any of my fellow Americans who decide to try it, I've attached the following picture to show you how to apply it:

  1. The slice of bread on the right has butter. This is what you want for your base.
  2. The slice on the left has butter, and less than the size of a pea's worth of Vegemite. This is the correct amount to apply. Actually, even that may be a bit thick. A little goes a very long way.
  3. The slice in the back has Nutella. Do not apply Vegemite that thickly. It will not end well for you.
The best description I've heard is that Vegemite is basically like spreadable soy sauce, and it's an apt comparison: both are extremely salty foods that can spice up otherwise-boring foodstuffs if applied in moderation. It'll probably take me about forty-seven years to get through that jar at the rate I eat it, so I should be set for life. Let me know in the comments if any of you have any personal experience with Vegemite! A hui hou!

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

ἠγέρθη! He Was Raised!


Matthew, Mark, and Luke all record this same angelic utterance in their respective recountings of the Resurrection. (It's pronounced ē-GER-thē.). If we parse it we get third-person singular aorist passive indicative, “he was raised.”

The aorist tense gives the action the perfective aspect, a single unit of completed action, without internal structure or ongoing duration. Jesus was raised, over and done.

The passive voice indicates the subject being the recipient of the action and reveals the Divine agency latent in the Resurrection; Jesus was raised by the Father, not of his own agency.

And finally, the all-important indicative mood, not the "possible" or "potential" of the subjunctive or optative moods but the factual actuality of reality. Jesus was raised! Happy Easter everyone!

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Personal Panoramic History, Part 3: 2010

In the previous post in this series we looked at 2009 and a couple of my first attempts at taking panoramas of certain volcanoes. In 2010 I refined my technique a bit by taking panoramas of the same volcanoes—several times—but also experimented with some new things as well.


My first panorama of the year comes from May, when the University Astrophysics Club at UH Hilo was given a tour of the Subaru telescope. I had the chance to do a little hiking around Hale Pōhaku while we were waiting to acclimatize which I used to take the following panorama from the top of Puʻu Kelepeamoa (a popular sunset-viewing spot nearby):

Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea.
This was my first full 360° panorama. Actually, it went slightly more than a full turn around and when I first stitched a panorama together from the photos I refused to drop any of them, leading to a rather weird image with Mauna Kea in the center and the summit of Mauna Loa showing up twice, on either side. Hugin luckily can work out a full rotation and stop there, and also allows you to rotate your endpoints around, so I've made it a bit nicer looking by scooting Mauna Kea over to the side and no longer splitting Mauna Loa in twain. If you follow the link above you can see the original version by mousing over the panorama (which is now this new one) in the original post it came from.


Mauna Kea summit area.
In June I had another opportunity to visit Mauna Kea's summit (probably helping with a summit tour) and used it to snap this panorama. This one is taken from a totally different perspective than the one in part 2 which was taken from in front of the Keck building, which is the two identical domes near the center of the image. From left to right, you can see UKIRT, CSO (just barely), JCMT, SMA, Subarua, Keck I and II, IRTF, CFHT, and Gemini North.


In July I created this, my first and so far only astronomical panorama. This one's another hand-made image, as Hugin couldn't manage it. This is because the image is made up of twelve different images, each of which was a thirty second exposure in order to collect enough light. While thirty seconds is short enough that the star trails induced by the earth's rotation aren't too noticeable in each individual image, the entire sky would have moved pretty appreciably between the start and end of the series of exposures. I'm not entirely sure how I managed to wrangle this into a panorama myself—with a lot of effort, I suspect—and looking at it now I sometimes think I see some duplicate bits, but I'm still pretty happy with this view of the northern hemisphere summer Milky Way from the area near the Visitor Information Station on Mauna Kea. (You can see the glow from Hilo in the center of the image.)


In August 2010 while I was back home for vacation during the summer my family went on a two-day road trip around some parts of northern California, including the coast and through the redwood forests. This let me experiment with a vertical panorama:

The Chandelier Tree in Leggett, California.

This is a hand-made panorama, as I just couldn't get Hugin to make a good looking result. It probably has to do with the unusual way the perspective changes from standing on the ground and rotating the camera up to get pictures. It's an interesting challenge though; maybe I should try more vertical panoramas in the future.


In November 2010 I had my first chance to observe on Mauna Kea at Subaru while working as a student research assistant. Since we spent a day and a night at Hale Pōhaku acclimatizing before going up I had some time to hike a round and take a few panoramas:

Mauna Loa, Hualālai, and Mauna Kea.
You'd be forgiven for thinking I'd accidentally posted the same panorama from May again here. While writing this post I had to carefully double-check to make sure that I hadn't, as they both look pretty similar in the tiny preview thumbnails (this one has more cloud cover on the left, at least). While they do look very similar (and were taken from locations very close to each other on the top of Puʻu Kalepeamoa), the layout seen in both of them was created in this one and retroactively used for the May version when I was remaking both with Hugin. I like this layout a lot better, and I like to think it shows that I was getting a bit better at framing panoramas by this point.

Mauna Loa.
The previous panorama was taken from the summit of Puʻu Kalepeamoa, which is the hill in the foreground on the left of this image, which was taken from a cinder cone (or puʻu) slightly higher up Mauna Kea's flank. (Well, technically, “ka lepe a moa” means “the comb of the chicken”, and Puʻu Kelepeamoa is so named because it's a range of three or four rusty-red cinder cones that could be seen as a cock's comb, and I was technically still on [another part of] it while taking these pictures. The name is typically mostly used to refer to the hill lowest on the mountain and closest to the VIS, though.)

Mauna Loa and Hualālai.
This panorama was taken from a bit further up the flank of Mauna Kea again. In the foreground on the left you can see the summit of Puʻu Kalepeamoa again as well which helps give a sense of the movement between pictures. On the right side of this image you can see some more of the gigantic cinder cones (or puʻu) near the Visitor Information Station. These final two panoramas I'd never even created until writing this post so they're both completely new, which is a shame because I really like the last one—going through and creating these huge panoramas of gorgeous landscapes I just keep thinking “This would make a great picture to get printed and hang on my wall where I could actually enjoy it all at once, at full size.” Maybe in another decade or two when I can start to think about settling down and not moving every few years.

And that's it for 2010! I spent some time refining my panorama technique with the same choice of targets that year (you're probably sick of Mauan Loa panoramas from the north by now), but for the next part covering 2011 I'll have a few unique panoramas which, for various reasons, I've never repeated. A hui hou!

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

The Genesis of Light

There's an old (at least, I assume it's fairly old) physics meme that goes:
“And God said…
\nabla\times\mathbf{E}=-\frac{\partial \mathbf{B}}{\partial t}\\
\nabla\times\mathbf{B}=\mu_\circ\mathbf{J}+\mu_\circ\epsilon_\circ\frac{\partial\mathbf{E}}{\partial t}\]
…and there was light.”
Here E is the electric field, \(\rho\) is the electric charge density, B is the magnetic field, J is the electric current density, and \(\mu_\circ\) and \(\epsilon_\circ\) are the permittivity and permeability of free space, respectively. Bold-face quantities are vector quantities. These four equations are Maxwell's equations which describe electricity and magnetism in terms of classical field theory, but more on that a little later.

Back in 2016 my parents took a trip to Israel and brought me back a shirt with this on it for Christmas, except in the original Hebrew. Pretty cool! Except, they weren't Maxwell's equations, and on a closer look they weren't actually equations at all, just collections of symbols that looked kinda like some equations from special relativity, and to top it off the shirt was just barely big enough for me so I never actually wore it.

But I loved the idea, and now (a little over a year later) I've created my own variation on the design and had a shirt printed with it:

This was a surprisingly difficult photo to take on my own.

Although known as Maxwell's equations (after the Scottish physicist James Clerk Maxwell, widely considered the third greatest physicist of all time after Newton and Einstein), these four equations are actually a reformulation of Maxwell's original twenty equations in twenty variables by Oliver Heaviside, who cast them into vector calculus form and condensed them down into four by use of the divergence (\(\nabla\cdot\) ) and curl (\(\nabla\times\) ) operators.

Being a classical description of electromagnetism Maxwell's equations have been superseded by quantum electrodynamics, but they are still very useful in a wide variety of situations that do not involve strong electromagnetic fields or individual photons, just as Newtonian gravitation is still a useful approximation to general relativity in areas of weak gravitational field.

These four equations, and what they represent, are a monumental achievement—second, at the time, only to Newton's work—and have a sublime beauty to the physicist. The seemingly-disparate forces of electricity and magnetism are revealed to be both aspects of a singular electromagnetic force. This is seen in the third and fourth equations, where curl (or rotation) of an electric field is seen to rely on a magnetic field, and vice versa. All four equations can be combined (in a vacuum, where J and \(\rho\) are both zero) to derive the electromagnetic wave equation which describes light as a series of correlated ripples in the electric and magnetic fields, or electromagnetic radiation. (In fact, it turns out that \(\frac{1}{\sqrt{\mu_\circ\epsilon_\circ}}=c\), the speed of light!)

The asymmetries between the electric and magnetic fields that at first glance might seem to mar the beauty of the whole only enhance it upon further inspection, as the minus sign in the third equation is crucial to forming the feedback loop in the electromagnetic wave equation that allows light to travel forever, self-contained and self-sufficient. They helped motivate Einstein to develop special relativity (which Maxwell's equations are compatible with) to explain why the same phenomenon could be seen as an electric or a magnetic effect depending on the frame of reference chosen. And the second equation explains why you can't break a magnet in half and end up with two monopoles.

I used EqualX (which I wrote about last month) to typeset the equations in \(\LaTeX\), then exported them as SVG which I imported into Inkscape where I added the text (and did a lot of manual tweaking of the layout of the various elements to make it look nice). Switching my keyboard to Hebrew and figuring out the letters took quite a while, which is why there are no vowel pointings; Inkscape's support for right-to-left fonts is a bit fiddly (though I saw just the other day an update that supposedly improved it) and trying to figure out all the various pointings and getting them around the right letters was a nightmare, so I gave up after tortuously figuring out the first three. At least it's more authentic ancient Hebrew now…

While working on the design for this shirt (I uploaded five different versions to the printing site before I was satisfied) I thought sardonically to myself that I was making this shirt for my own enjoyment, and that of the perhaps five other people on the planet who understood both Biblical Hebrew and electromagnetism. Then lo and behold, the first day I wore it, while walking around Bunnings (basically Australian Home Depot) a gent stopped me, said he thought it was brilliant, and asked where I'd gotten it. When I said I'd designed it and had it printed myself he then asked if I was selling it anywhere!

I ended up sending him the image file to use, but it got me thinking. I've gone ahead and uploaded the design to, where I got the original shirt printed. You can find it (and a version in white for dark backgrounds) for sale on shirts here. It defaults to showing the men's styles, but there are women's styles as well and you can pick from a range of colors. (If any of you out there actually order one I'd love to hear about it!)