Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Personal Panoramic History, Part 8: 2015

Previously in this series of posts, covering 2014, I had some panoramas from the top of Mauna Kea to where it disappears into the ocean. In contrast, 2015 might just be The Year of Ocean Panoramas…


In March of 2015 my friend Graham and I went for a hike at a little forest reserve up the Hāmākua coast called Kalōpā State Recreation Area, and while I didn't get any good panorama opportunities in the forest, on the way we stopped at Laupāhoehoe Point, a little spit of land sticking out of the craggy coast where you can access the ocean.

View looking east-south-east along the Hāmākua coast.
It's a lovely area, and we had some spectacular weather for the visit; being on the windward side of the island it's likely clouded over or raining much of the time.


Nā Pali cliffs, near Kīlauea, looking south-east.
Interestingly I don't remember exactly what this trip was. I know the location: it's at the top of the steep cliffs (pali) between Kīlauea and the ocean, yet I don't remember why Graham and I came there or what we did for the rest of the trip, since these are almost the only photos I have from that day. We'd come earlier in the month to see the lava lake in Kīlauea, but here we were apparently just hiking? Apparently we didn't go to Kīlauea Iki or anything else like that, or I would've gotten photos of it. I think we stopped near here to have lunch, or something like that. It is a mystery.

Regardless, this panorama definitely hasn't been shown before. I vaguely remember of that trip that there was a lot of poor weather around; you can see that on both sides of the picture there are dark storm clouds, but we were lucky to have clear skies above us when this was taken.


I don't actually have any panoramas specifically from June, but that month I noticed that panoramas make great desktop wallpaper for a dual-monitor display, and it could almost be considered the point where I realized that I'd been doing them for a while and started to get more intentional (albeit slowly) about looking for panorama opportunities.


July, however, has several panoramas due to my mother's side of the family having a reunion in Oregon which I attended. We stayed right on the beach and explored a few locations up and down the coast as well.

This panorama and the next were taken relatively close to each other, the first looking north, the second looking south along the coast. The first and third of this series of four have shown up before on this blog, but the second and fourth are new, as I only put their constituent photos together into a panorama with Hugin.

I'm not sure why I never put these photos into a panorama, but my guess would be that due to the Sun's strong reflections in the middle of the scene the color correction would've been beyond my skill to do manually. Luckily, Hugin handles varying color composition throughout a panorama quite nicely and can compensate for it automatically to a pretty good extent.

These two panoramas above and below show Simpson's Reef; the lower one just from a slightly wider angle, which is likely why I never bothered putting it together after creating the first one.

I don't remember much about the reef from the little informational placard that was posted by the lookout, but I remember that the largest island in it was almost completely covered in sea lions (though they're hard to make out at this scale).

And that's it for 2015! A fairly slow year in terms of quantity, but some pretty nice panoramas. Looking ahead, 2016 will be similarly slow, but it's got some interesting ones that I haven't shown off before. A hui hou!

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Painting a Volcano Is Like Making a Volcano: Layers Upon Layers

Last month I teased a project I've been working on for a while, and having finished it this week I'm finally ready to reveal it:

I've taken up painting (with acrylics)! And I've finished my first painting!

I mused about taking up painting in this post back in June, having found the experience of painting my YTLA model at the beginning of the year to be very soothing and enjoyable. Back in August we restarted our weekly art workshops at Swinburne with our artists-in-residence Pam and Carolyn, and I decided to go for it—and I'm ultimately really glad I did, as I've found it to be incredibly rewarding.

For my first painting, I wanted to paint a picture that I've had in my head since at least 2012, back when I was working at the Visitor Information Station on Mauna Kea. It was inspired by my reading about how Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa used to host year-round glacial ice caps, and also erupted underneath those glaciers. A picture came into my mind of the summit of Mauna Kea, snow-clad, looking south towards Mauna Loa similarly covered in ice, at night with the (northern hemisphere) summer Milky Way rising majestically above while a fountain of lava erupts from Mauna Kea's summit through a crack in the ice.

I'd originally wanted to do this using Blender, like some previous projects of mine, but I just never got around to it after I started working full time so I decided I'd try doing it as my first painting project. Probably far too ambitious for a beginner like me, but you can judge how it turned out for yourself. Since I enjoy seeing the creative process I took a bunch of photos throughout the entire three-month creation period, so you can watch the entire process as it unfolded.

Here it is, my first swatch of paint applied to canvas, August 21, 2018. (Though I also spent two weeks before this applying two coats of gesso—essentially a primer layer of white paint mixed with chalk which serves as a good base for future paint layers.) Not much to look at yet, but you can see the outline of Mauna Loa and Hualālai (on the right) starting to take shape already. There's a curious thrill of trepidation that comes when holding a loaded paintbrush poised over a blank canvas; the feeling of permanence and lack of an undo option combine to make it a bit nerve-wracking even when doing nothing more complicated than a flat black night sky!

Next, I added the glacier atop Mauna Loa. The glaciers were probably the most difficult part of this project for me, as I've never seen one personally so I had to rely on photos and my own ideas of how ice looks. I think this one atop Mauna Loa came out pretty well, at least.

Of course, even personal familiarity with a subject doesn't guarantee I'll paint it well. I painted a lot of the early stages from my mental picture without reference photos, and I definitely could've done a better job with the slopes of Mauna Loa and Hualālai with some visual references. Still, this session was interesting for mixing a few different colors to play with. I'm not using pretty much any colors straight from the tube (other than the black background, and maybe some of that gray), rather I'm mixing them to start to get a grip on color mixing theory as it applies to acrylic paint.

Moving into September I finished off the slopes of Mauna Loa and Hualālai. I mixed even more shades of colors this time and started layering them over older ones, which led me to the striking realization that making a volcano and painting a volcano are very similar processes; just layers upon layers!

Almost immediately upon actually putting paint to canvas at the beginning I realized I was enjoying the process far too much to wait for weekly workshop sessions, so I quickly started working on my own throughout the week. I had a short time available for this session so I added a cloud on the left approaching from the east and crossing the Saddle. (Spoilers: I wasn't happy with it almost immediately upon finishing it, so it'll change later.)

Next session, I tackled the snow-covered summit of Mauna Kea in the foreground. A sharp-eyed inspection of this photo will reveal that it's upside-down, as I rotated the canvas on the easel so that I could paint along the bottom edge of it. It turned out to be an interesting artistic exercise, actually; I painted the smaller cinder cone on the left entirely upside-down, and am still happy with how it came out. I wasn't very happy with the glacier as a whole though, so you'll see it getting reworked.

Case in point: here I've gone over most of the foreground to try to both merge it more naturally from side to side and also introduce some feeling of contours to help define the shape. The cinder cones got some working over, too. They're actually based on real cinder cones still extant at the summit, though I didn't copy them particularly closely. The large one on the left is Puʻu Wēkiu, the eastern rim of which is today the highest point on Mauna Kea; the one behind it is Puʻu Haukea, a relatively recent cinder cone going by its not-yet-significantly-weathered dark gray color; and the one on the right is Puʻu Poliʻahu, named after one of the Hawaiian goddesses of snow. It's very close to the present-day location of the JCMT, and has a much more weathered and irregular profile now than I've painted it here.

At this point I finally started looking up references for what Mauna Kea looked like when snow-covered nowadays, and realized that photos usually showed black rocks sticking out from the snow, especially around rims and ridges. I went a little overboard with it here (and dialed it back later), but I think it definitely helps to define parts of the space better.

I was never entirely happy with the cloud I'd added, nor the center part of the foreground glacier, so in one session I redid both of them. I think it was around now that I started realizing that the composition didn't really have space for a lava fountain like I'd originally intended, but I was still on the fence about including one eventually at this point.

Instead, I decided to expand! Pam encouraged me to add a second canvas to the sky to better capture the Milky Way, and I'm really glad I took her advice. Actually painting the Milky Way was an interesting and exhausting process, as I did it by spattering paint on the canvas to make stars. (I blocked off the foreground beforehand so it wouldn't be affected.) In what's turning out to be a recurring theme, I wasn't happy with the initial look of it and spent a few sessions reworking it…

Coming into October, I went back and spattered more stars on the canvas, though I made the same mistake as before and tried to paint in the Milky Way's dust lanes from my head rather than from a reference. You might have noticed that the quality of these photos, especially regarding glare, changes a lot; it depended on if I took them in the evening after working on them under electric light, or in the morning the next day when there was daylight. Large expanses of black like the night sky here were especially difficult to properly represent the darkness of.

It's not easy to see in the photo, but I've gone and hand-painted in all the brightest stars that one could reasonably see with the naked eye based on the perspective and time of year. The center of the Milky Way roughly coincides with the center of the top canvas, so Sagittarius, Scorpius, and Corona Australis are all visible, with a bit of Lupus on the right and a few other constellations having one or two stars appearing. And being the stickler that I am, I actually painted them with colors corresponding to their spectral types. This session turned out to be surprisingly grueling, trying to put the stars in the right places based on a star map using Stellarium. I also added a few nebulae as well; the largest pink patch near the center is the Lagoon Nebula, while just above it is the Trifid Nebula. You can also see that I've subtly whited out bits of the black rims of the cinder cones to make them blend in a bit more.

I was worried that the hand-painted stars wouldn't stand out all the much from the background splatter stars, until a few days later when I noticed an interesting thing: up close to the canvas you can see all the faint background stars, but step back a few paces and it all disappears into the blackness of the night, leaving the hand-painted stars as the only ones to be seen! I definitely didn't plan that, but it works really well, and is an interesting lesson in how a painting can be seen differently at different distances; a dynamic I hadn't really appreciated from my previous experience doing artwork on a computer where you generally only look at something from a fairly fixed, nearby distance.

Finally, in one mammoth two-and-a-half-hour session I went over the Milky Way again by hand, adding gossamer stars clouds and actual dust lanes from reference photos. I spent so long looking at the Milky Way, in fact, that I now immediately recognize structures in the dust lanes in other photos from having painted them. There are still some factually incorrect dust lanes in there, but it's much more realistic now. And at this point I realized that I was satisfied with it. I could keep tinkering with it and adding more details, but I was also fine with calling it finished (I also finally decided against adding any eruption activity). I did one last session on Pam's suggestion to add a bit more color to reflect the color of the Milky Way in the ice and to push Mauna Loa more into the background, and the result is:

My first painting is complete! I varnished it just this week. The lighting on this photo is, once again, pretty terrible, but it gives a decent idea of what it's like. Together the two canvases are 80×80 centimeters (31×31 inches), so it's reasonably large. I call it “Mauna Kea a me Mauna Loa ma lalo o ka lani hōkū (Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa beneath the starry heavens).”

It feels amazing to have finally finished it, and I've received lots of nice comments on it from people. I've really dived into painting, as I've found it to be way more fun and engaging than I had expected. I've picked up a number of tubes of paint and brushes, and even a palette knife which looks like a tiny trowel and reminds me of doing archaeology! I've been reading up on techniques and painting terms, and checking out the paintings of famous painters with a new eye. (I'm thankful for a decent amount of art history in my education, but I'm learning there are so many painters I've never even heard of!)

Now that I've finally cleared that picture from my head I find another one has arisen to take its place. People have also given me some ideas for others (like a series of planetary landscapes around the solar system), so we'll see what comes next. But one thing's for sure: I expect this to be a hobby for years to come. A hui hou!

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

A Good Tootgarook Lookout

This past weekend I went on a retreat with a bunch of other young adults from church down to Tootgarook, on Mornington Peninsula on the south side of Port Phillip Bay. We had a great time, the weather was a lot nicer than I heard it was back at my place, and the views were pretty fantastic. Good enough for me to take some panoramas again:

The view from the house we stayed at, which was on top of a hill.
The picture above looks north, towards the center of Melbourne across Port Phillip Bay, although it was cloudy enough off to the north that we mostly didn't see it—just a bit on Sunday, and some of the lights at night. The beach was only about a fifteen minute walk, and we spent a little time there Saturday afternoon (though it was still much too cool for swimming this early in the spring).

On the right of the panorama you can see a mountain hill called Arthur's Seat. Interestingly, it's named after another such mountain in Scotland, an extinct volcano. We stopped there on the way back on Sunday, for a lovely view of Port Phillip Bay:

Near the top of Arthur's Seat, looking west and little north.
I would've gotten a wider panorama but there were trees in the way the middle that would've messed it up, so you just get this. Well, and one more:

That's all for now, a hui hou!

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

The Knitter of Oz

I've written before about my crochet hobby which I've been pursuing for quite a while now (though I did take a several-year-hiatus over college), having learned from my mother in my teens. She never picked up knitting, however, so I never learned it either.

Until this past week, when I learned from a friend here in Melbourne! I've often wondered how the two compared, since I had friends who knitted and it always seemed so complex to me, even as they told me how crochet was more complicated. Now that I've learned both, I can say that knitting feels simultaneously simpler and more complex than crochet. It's simpler in that there are mostly just two stitches compared to…uh, “several” in crochet. It's also more complex in that it uses two implements instead of one. It's also more nerve-wracking, at least at this stage, since it always feels like you're about to lose an entire row of stitches all at once in parallel, whereas in crochet you can only lose stitches serially.

Ultimately, I'm really enjoying it! There's a weird feeling of cachet that accompanies being able to whip out my knitting needles on the train or wherever (even if I'm as likely to be undoing errors as making progress at this point; I'm still somehow adding stitches in without meaning to). Maybe it has something to do with people almost invariably asking me what I was knitting while I was doing crochet in the past, and it'll be nice to finally not have to correct them. Whatever it is, I'll be sure to take photos once I have something worth showing! A hui hou!

Saturday, September 29, 2018

A Year Down Under and an October Astrobite

As of September 29th I've been in Melbourne for a full year now. It's been a long year of working on my PhD, I've moved twice, and I miss Hilo's climate pretty often, but I've also made some amazing friends and discovered a facility for and enjoyment of painting I didn't know I had (about which I promise a post in the next few weeks). I've had artwork exhibited in a public exhibition, and learned that stars and CCDs are infinitely more complicated than I ever dreamed (or wanted to know).

I've done an excellent job of hiding my telescope model behind a pillar in this photo.
In other news I put out a new Astrobite today, on a paper talking about finding the mass of the closest known white dwarf by measuring its gravitational redshift (basically, how much its light is redshifted climbing out of its gravitational well). This one was pretty interesting for me, as the authors used the Hubble Space Telescope and spent some time detailing all the tiny systematic errors in its spectrograph's CCD. Detailing tiny systematic errors in CCDs is pretty much my PhD (or at least it feels like at times) so I could really empathize with what they went through to get a good measurement. I also got some nice comments from two of the paper's authors, so that was cool.

That's it for now! A hui hou!

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

α, π, and the Riemann Hypothesis

On September 24th an accomplished mathematician named Sir Michael Atiyah gave a presentation wherein he claimed to have discovered a simple proof of the Riemann Hypothesis, a 160-year-old open question in mathematics about the distribution of prime numbers. Most people making such a claim would be immediately dismissed (longstanding open questions like that in mathematics are usually solved as the result of many people working together rather than a single person), but Atiyah has won both the Fields Medal and Abell prize (both considered roughly the equivalent of a Nobel Prize for mathematicians) and has enough credibility to cause people to take notice.

While this is interesting enough on its own for its many profound implications across mathematics, it's extremely interesting (and personal) for me due to the fact that Atiyah's claimed proof of the Riemann Hypothesis was apparently a happy accidental byproduct (!) of his true goal: finding a way to compute the value of the fine-structure constant, α based on other numbers. If you don't know, my entire Ph.D. revolves around searching for variation in α; if this claimed proof were to turn out to be true (and I'll revisit that if in a second), it would elevate α to the same level as e or π, an unchanging mathematical quantity. As far as I can tell, his calculation of the value of α would have it be proveably constant, which would put paid to the notion of searching for variation in it, and incidentally my entire Ph.D..

Now, I'm not getting too worried about this just yet for a few reasons. First of all, multiple people who know far more than I do about the relevant mathematics have expressed skepticism about the results. Atiyah, though undoubtedly incredibly smart and gifted, is getting on in years (he's 89), and has advanced a few theories in the past couple of years that have failed to gather peer support. It seems very unlikely that such a longstanding open question has a simple proof that no one has spotted until now. It's not impossible, especially as advances are made in mathematics over time, but, while romantic, the idea of a lone genius stumbling upon a profound proof is less and less likely nowadays where significant advances are increasingly the result of collaboration and correspondence between large teams of people.

Now, I'm only a humble physicist and no mathematician, and will freely admit that I don't understand probably the majority of the math behind the claimed proof, but I have three things that make me skeptical myself.

There's just something about α that seems to attract numerological explanations. Being a dimensionless physical constant with no known relation to other important mathematical constants or way of calculating its value seems to fire people's imaginations. Richard Feynmann in 1985 wrote of α:
Immediately you would like to know where this number for a coupling [α] comes from: is it related to pi or perhaps to the base of natural logarithms? Nobody knows. It's one of the greatest damn mysteries of physics: a magic number that comes to us with no understanding by man. You might say the "hand of God" wrote that number, and "we don't know how He pushed his pencil."
Soon after α was introduced by Arnold Sommerfeld in 1916 people began coming up with schemes for how it relates to various mathematical constants. Atiyah's proof claims a sort of connection with π, with 1/α being the limit of some kind of “renormalization” function acting on π. Numerological explanations have come and gone over the last century with none of them ultimately being accepted; while it's possible this is an exception, it's certainly not the first attempt someone has made to derive α from other numbers.

However, this leads to a second considerartions: α is a measured quantity. We don't have a method to calculate its value now (that's the whole reason behind my Ph.D.), and it's difficult to see how to prove that, even if the particular function Atiyah has introduced (called the Todd function) works as he claims, that it's actually producing the real, correct value of α and isn't merely a coincidence.

Finally, I'm a τ-ist; I believe that the correct circle constant is \(τ=2π\), so I find it unlikely that an explicit mathematical connection would exist between π and α. It's not impossible, certainly, but I strongly suspect that if such a connection exists it would be between α and τ, not π. Interestingly, I was able to gather that the proof involves a generalization of Euler's famous formula \(e^{i\pi}=-1\), which is partly only a thing due to using π instead of τ. (The τ version, \(e^{i\tau}=1\) is equally true but incredibly basic—it essentially says that if you go around \(360^\circ\) then you've made a full circle—and hasn't caught people's imagination the way Euler's version has.)

I've really only been able to do a bare minimum of reading about this topic, but I'll definitely be keeping an eye on in the coming days and try to update you as I learn more. (The possibility—however remote—of one's Ph.D. being for naught is incredibly motivating!) A hui hou!

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Walking About in “The Bush”

It's been a bit quiet on the ol’ blog front recently, hasn't it? I've had a few ideas for posts in mind but never seem to find time to realize them—I've been pretty busy with a number of things lately, including a new project I'm not quite ready to show off yet but has something to do with this:

Clearly, I've started up a paint factory.
Last week I went on a nature walk with a bunch of other young adults from church, which was a really enjoyable experience. It was one of the first days showing indications of spring so far this year, and the weather was pretty much perfect. We went for a (short) walk along the Yarra River (which flows through the heart of Melbourne) through “the bush,” a thick forest of eucalypts, wattles, and other Australian flora. (The only fauna we saw were some cockatoos, including some beautiful black ones, but we did hear a kookaburra.)

The Yarra River in panorama from the trail.
I still find it amusing that—due to growing up in a small eucalyptus grove in California—the smell of warm eucalyptus (…or wet eucalyptus, or really any eucalyptus) instantly makes me feel at home. Anyway, hopefully I'll have time to post some more soon, including my secret painting project which I'm enjoying far more than I expected. A hui hou!

Friday, August 31, 2018

An Observation on Communication

I noticed this the other day as I was explaining, for the umpteenth time, what I do as part of my Ph.D.:

I suppose I really shouldn't be complaining about people being eternally interested in what I do, but it does get a little tiring explaining (what are, ultimately, some fairly esoteric and difficult concepts) over and over again to new people. At least I'll have lots of practice! A hui hou!

Saturday, August 18, 2018

An August Astrobite

Grad school and other things have kept me intensely busy this past week, which is why I'm just posting about an Astrobite I wrote on the 8th. I'll say upfront that I don't think this is my best work; not that it's particularly bad or under my standards for writing, I just realized over the course of writing it that I wasn't quite as interested in the subject matter as I thought when I started.

It's still reasonably interesting however, the subject matter being that when the authors examined a baker's dozen supernovae type Ia (that's “type one-A,” not “type eee-AA!”) which had been caught very early in their brightening stage they found evidence for two distinct populations when looking at the color of their spectra. “Color” in this case is an astronomical term for summing up the flux in two different filters that cover different spectral ranges and subtracting them, leaving a single number to represent the color. Most commonly the “Blue” and “Visible” filters are used to get what's known as a \(B-V\) color (visible here meaning roughly “green”), but any two filters in any part of the spectrum can work. Basically, some of the supernovae looked “red” and some looked “blue,” though the differences disappeared after about four or five days since the explosion.

Most supernovae aren't caught this early, which is why they had so few to work with despite there being hundreds of known type Ia supernovae. Interestingly, in a bit of a personal connection to the paper, one of the supernovae they looked at was SN 2011fe—which I actually got a picture of while in Hawaii! I didn't realize this until after I'd chosen the paper and started writing it up.

Messier 101 with SN 2011fe marked with the green dots.
If there's one thing I learned while doing background research on supernovae type Ia for this Astrobite, it's that we still have much to learn about these enigmatic explosions. A hui hou!

Monday, August 13, 2018

Personal Panoramic History, Part 7: 2014

I thought 2013 (covered previously here) was a slow year for panoramas, but I think 2014 has it beat. The first photos I found that could be put together were all the way in…


In September a friend and I hiked into Pololū Valley, and along the way we stopped at the overlook for Waipiʻo Valley. These two valleys are the ends of a chain of huge valleys that cut into the northeastern face of the remains of the Kohala volcano, the oldest and northernmost of the five sub-aerial (i.e., above sea level) volcanoes that make up the island of Hawaiʻi. There are some seven major valleys and dozens of small ones, and the whole area is among the least accessible on the island. There's a car-traversable road into Waipiʻo Valley, but accessing the other valleys requires either hiking up and back down several-hundred-feet cliff walls multiple times, or a canoe.

Here's the Waipiʻo Valley overlook. In Ancient Hawaiʻi these valleys were significant population centers, but this is the only one people still inhabit today.

After stopping there we drove around to the north end of the island and came down the coast to Pololū Valley, where this panorama was taken. This is the view from the parking lot at the overlook at the start of the footpath down into the valley. This is definitely one of my favorite panoramas I've taken, I think; it just came out really nicely. It was just three photos, taken almost on the spur of the moment.

This panorama comes from about halfway down the footpath into the valley. You can see the same headland and rocks in the water that are visible in the picture above. You can also see that the clouds to the west were starting to come in and cover the brilliant blue sky to east. Luckily we didn't get rained up, but it got a lot grayer after this!


In November I took my second trip to see Lake Waiau near the summit of Mauna Kea, and took the opportunity to take some more panoramas.

Here's one from slightly up the edge of the crater that the lake sits in. I didn't notice the two hikers at the far right on the crater rim until after I'd assembled the panorama, but they give you a (very poor) sense of scale.

And here's a panorama from by the shore. The lake was a lot more full this time than it was when I visited it the first time back in 2011. I don't think it gets much more full than this, however, as I believe it starts to spill out the west side of the crater directly opposite from where these photos were taken if the lake level gets any higher.

And that's it for 2014, a rather slow year in the photo-taking department. Well, at least when it comes to turning photos into panoramas. 2015 will be a bit short as well, but it does have a few nice ones that I hadn't put together before finding Hugin and thus haven't shown before, including some more from Oregon. A hui hou!