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!

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

House Heating Haranguing

This past week I moved house from the place I'd been staying since I first arrived in Melbourne (which is why it's been a bit quiet around here). The place I moved to has no central heating, so I've been huddled in my room for the past few days (I'm also in the midst of a two-week vacation) with a single brave space heater which is doing its valiant best to warm it up to a livable temperature in here. (“Livable,” for me, a child of the tropics, being at bare minimum 20 °C [68 °F].) This has led to much rumination on my part about how houses in Melbourne seem to be undesigned to handle the normal temperature extremes in the region. It's like houses in Melbourne are built on the perpetually optimistic outlook that every day will be a balmy 20–24 °C (68–75.2 °F). Yet I've already endured weeks of temperatures being in the 5–15 °C (41–59 °F) range, with no end to winter in sight.

For starters, most houses are built out of brick, a novel building material for me as I don't recall ever living in a house so constructed (it's possible that I may have as a kid too young to remember). Having spent several months with it, my observation is that brick seems to retain heat about as well as a sieve does water. (I have a 1500 watt space heater, which can, over the course of hours, infinitesimally raise the temperature in my average-sized bedroom, which simple thermodynamics suggests means that the outgoing heat flux is of the same order of magnitude.) Insulation seems to be a foreign concept, and as mentioned whoever built the house I'm in saw no need for including any sort of central heating system, which just kind of blows my mind.

From talking with a few fellow Americans at CAS from Michigan and Wisconsin and a fellow student from the Netherlands, I gather that they too have noticed this, and that this issue of houses not seemingly being built for the weather is not really a problem at those locations. This has led me to formulate the following graph, based on my own experiences and hear-say from others:

I've personally had experience in the 0–15 °C range.
Basically, for places where it either gets really cold (like, freezing temperatures or below), or doesn't get very cold (like in Hilo, at the 15 °C end), houses are generally constructed in such a way that they can handle those temperatures pretty well. But if it gets cold, but not quite down to freezing, eh, people can just tough it out, amirite? It's not actually freezing yet, what are you complaining for? (Can you tell I get rather bitter and sarcastic when I'm cold?)

I've also (re)discovered that my motivation to get out of bed in the morning is directly and strongly correlated with the temperature outside the covers. I've only been able to directly test this over a moderately small temperature range so far (~11–22 °C), but extrapolating it out to “the house is on fire”-level temperatures I find that I would indeed be extremely motivated to get up, so it checks out.

Anyway, thank God for personal space heaters and all the quilts and blankets people have gifted me with over time (seriously, a blanket is probably one of the best gifts you could give me; I treasure them all). And winter should “only” last another two to three months. I really am quite happy with my new place otherwise—but oh, how I miss Hilo's climate during the winter! A hui hou!

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Another (Unexpected) July Astrobite! Structured Satellite Galaxies

So just a few days after my previous Astrobite summarizing the ASA meeting I got a surprise when I woke up to an email from the Astrobites scheduler saying that he'd posted my Astrobite I wrote for the queue back in February. This one deals with an interesting problem I'd never heard of before called the “Satellite Planes of Galaxies problem.” Observations of he Milky Way, the Andromeda Galaxy, and Centaurus A show that a significant fraction of the satellite galaxies around them tend to orbit in correlated planes. Yet similar-looking structures are vanishingly rare in simulations, to the point where it would be exceedingly unlikely to find them around three galaxies so close to each other. It's pretty interesting as while we've had hints of theses planar structures around the Milky Way for a few decades and Andromeda for a little less it's only recently that we've really been able to confirm them and discover the one around Centaurus A.

Something amusing I found in this paper was the name for the structure around the Andromeda Galaxy, which is called the “Great Plane of Andromeda.” This sounds like a reference to a very old name for the Andromeda galaxy, several hundred years ago when it was known as the Great Nebula in Andromeda. I just like the idea that anything associated with the galaxy becomes known as the “Great ____ in/of Andromeda.” A hui hou!

Saturday, July 7, 2018

July Astrobite: Summarizing the ASA Meeting

My Astrobite for July came out yesterday, a short summary of the Astronomical Society of Australia (ASA) meeting last week. Well, I say “short,” but as it's not a normal paper summary I allowed myself another hundred words or so beyond the usual thousand-word-limit. I think there were a hundred and forty talks total, so to summarize I just picked one from each day from a range of topics and by people from different universities. Even then I didn't have room to cover some of the things that came up such as a good number of talks about radio astronomy which covered things like using measurements of pulsar timing across the Milky Way to make a very sensitive gravitational wave detector on a galactic scale.

One thing I did notice over the course of last week, though, was that there weren't any other talks or posters related to my area of research in varying constants. There were quite a few areas where there were multiple talks/posters on similar subjects (like gravitational waves, or pulsar timing, or the challenges of big data), but nobody else presenting anything like what I'm doing. (That I saw at least; there were parallel session each afternoon of which I could only watch one, but from reading the talk titles I don't think I missed anything obviously related.) Certainly there are other people working in this area, but it was interesting to have presented what felt like a pretty unique talk. Anyway, that's enough for now or I'll end up writing another thousand-word summary. A hui hou!

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Belated Tau Day! And the 2018 ASA Meeting

Happy (belated) Tau Day (6/28/2018) everyone! Yes, it's that time of year again when we celebrate the correct circle constant, \(\tau\ (=2\pi=6.283185…)\). I'll do my usual linking to the official Tau Day website, and note to myself that I should consider getting one of the \(\tau\)-shirts. A triumph for tau is that it's now officially part of the Python math module as of version 3.6! Just do from math import tau to start using it.

In other news, it's been a very busy week and a half for me. Last Thursday I headed out to the gold-rush town of Ballarat an hour and a half by train from Melbourne for the Harley Wood School for Astronomy (HWSA). This is an annual workshop for graduate students, where this year some fifty students from all across Australia spent a very frigid weekend at the historical Ballarat Municipal Observatory. We had some interesting talks and workshops and I got to meet quite a few fellow students from other universities.

Anyway, Sunday before coming back to Melbourne I and a few other students visited Sovereign Hill, a tourist attraction in the form of a historic mining town from Victoria's gold rush in the 1850s. Being just a few years after the California gold rush there are a lot of similarities, but I think I'll save a fuller explanation (and some pictures) for a later post.

On Monday the week-long Astronomical Society of Australia (ASA) annual conference began. This is my first time attending such an event as a participant, as when I went to the International Astronomical Union (IAU) meeting in Honolulu in 2015 I didn't actually attend any of the talks. This time not only have I been sitting in on talks all week, but I gave one of my own on Monday!

It's essentially the same talk as I did for my Confirmation of Candidature cut down to half the time with more focus on the theory and less what I actually did, but from the comments I received it came off pretty well. I had the very last talk of the day on Monday and several people said I'd managed to keep their interest during it, so I consider that an accomplishment.

Having got my talk out of the way Monday I was free to enjoy the rest of the week. I listened to a lot of talks on some very interesting astronomy going on in Australia, and having been to HWSA before hand I knew a number of the speakers and poster authors, which was cool.

Today's also the last day of the Deeper, Darker, Brighter exhibition as well. Tomorrow we'll be removing our artworks from the gallery, and hopefully moving towards starting up our weekly art workshops again!

June's been a very busy and somewhat stressful month overall for me, and I'm looking forward to things settling down a bit. It's perhaps not surprising that I came down with a cold immediately after the ASA meeting finished, so I'll keep this post short tonight. A hui hou!

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Landscapes of Hawaiʻi

Last week a former co-worker of mine from when I was working for ASIAA with the Yuan-Tseh Lee Array put up a video he'd taken with a drone showing some of the landscape around the Saddle region of the island of Hawaiʻi and the area around the YTLA. It's absolutely fantastic, and I highly recommend you watch it below:

Seeing these landscapes I know and love from a perspective at once familiar and alien was really quite a powerful experience for me. The first ~1:10 of the video shows the Saddle region between Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa, and the Mauna Loa access road splitting off from Saddle Road near Puʻu Huluhulu (which I've written about before). I know this road like the back of my hand from driving it so often last year, and seeing it from a bird's eye view—being able to see all the different lava flows of which you can form but such an imperfect and fragmentary picture from the ground—was incredibly thrilling. In some ways, though, it wasn't entirely alien, because from up on the slopes on Mauna Loa we could always look back and see down to Puʻu Huluhulu and where the road connected; we just couldn't see it this closely. Thus the interesting sensation of seeing something familiar from an unfamiliar angle.

Apparently the experience of seeing my favorite volcanoes again affected me more powerfully than I thought, because last Friday at lunch when I noticed that the whiteboard in the lunch room was uncharacteristically clean I found myself with a vision of the island in my head and a powerful compulsion to draw it out, which led to me creating this:

Hawaiʻi island from the north, maybe ~5–6,000 meters up. I ran out of room to show Kohala at the bottom.
I've been thinking, now that I've finished with my YTLA model, of taking up painting as a way of de-stressing. I enjoyed painting my model quite a bit, and feel like it'd be nice to leave out the model-making and just focus on the painting. I'd like to do landscapes, in a sort of extension of my love of panoramas. I've had a picture in my head that I've wanted to create since something like 2012, similar to this one though more focused (and a night scene), and I'm looking forward to finally working it out.

We may even be able restart the weekly art workshops we had for the first few months of the year! Both Pam and Carolyn (our art mentors) and several other students are quite enthusiastic about the idea, so we shall see. A hui hou!

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Confirmation of Candidature Passed!

Yesterday I passed my Confirmation of Candidature review, so I'm a real Ph.D. student now! The past two weeks were a bit stressful as I first had to write a report, then a half-hour talk, then give the talk yesterday, but it's all done now. Judging by the number of questions people found my talk very interesting—usually you see maybe four–six questions afterwards, but as I was answering the seventh or eighth one with I was starting to be ready for them to end! Michael (my adviser) said afterwards that answering questions in this area of research can often be difficult since people will often ask questions while laboring under a misconception about what you're doing, so it requires understanding what they're not understanding and addressing that first before you can answer the question they're really asking.

Anyway, the review panel was quite happy with my progress and had a few good suggestions for improvements to be made in the future. Now that's that over I have a week and a half to squeeze in a little work before the Astronomical Society of Australia (ASA) annual meeting starts and I get to give basically the same talk in half the time. (The ASA meeting is being hosted at Swinburne this year, which is incredibly convenient for me!) A hui hou!