Sunday, September 10, 2017

A Moving Day Approaches!

Well, things are getting pretty busy for me over here! I've finally got my airplane tickets, for the 27th—which is just over two and a half weeks at this point, a fact I'm alternately trying to forget, and remembering and freaking out about. I've got one more week of work with ASIAA, and have been busy cleaning, organizing, and making preparations for the past few weeks. I'll probably be even more busy for the next couple of weeks and I don't know how much I'll be able to post, so have a pretty picture of the YTLA open with Mauna Kea in the background.

We were probably looking at Jupiter when this photo was taken.
(Fun fact: I put this picture up on Google Maps for the YTLA and it's proved surprisingly popular, with almost 4,000 views in under a month!)

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Pareidolia on Mauna Loa

Pareidolia is the psychological phenomenon of seeing a pattern in random data, like seeing a cloud that reminds you of an animal. As humans we're wired to look for patterns, which is why we see faces in random rock formations or…well, anywhere, really.

Anyway, I noticed an instance of this just a few days ago while driving up Mauna Loa. Going around a bend a few miles in from Saddle Road, I noticed that a rock I'd passed dozens of times before looked rather like a jovial human head in profile, looking left. I pointed it out to my coworker Kristen and she saw it too, so the next day when we were driving up to work we stopped and got a few pictures.

The problem with these pictures is that the rock is high up and generally silhouetted against the sky, so getting a picture where you can see the sky means the details in the rock are too dark…

…and a picture where you can see the details in the rock blows out the sky. It at least gives an idea of what it looks like, though it really doesn't do a great job of capturing just how much this looks like a jolly elf (or in keeping with its location, perhaps a menehune?) with a bulbous nose and pointy ears. It's hard to see in these pictures but the “mouth” really does look like it's turned up in a happy smile, too.

(You can actually see this rock in my video I made of the drive up to Mauna Loa, at about the 1:38 mark on the right side.)

I just think it's funny that I've driven by this rock so many times before and only noticed it recently. If you ever drive up Mauna Loa, keep an eye out for it! A hui hou!

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Inelastic Collisions and Close Calls

The word “collision” has a slightly different meaning in physics than in common parlance; in physics it simply means that two bodies exert force on each other for a relatively brief time. (“What counts as a brief time,” I hear you asking? It's not very rigorous, but generally it's brief compared to the whole time scale over which the system is observed.)

Within the definition of collision, there are also the concepts of elastic and inelastic collisions. Elastic collisions are where absolutely none of the kinetic energy of the objects involved is lost as another form of energy, such as sound, or heat, or mechanical energy as the objects deform. They generally don't happen on human scales, though there are many cases where it comes close: two billiard balls bouncing off each other is a pretty good approximation (the noise you hear as they collide is some of that kinetic energy being converted to sound).

Inelastic collisions, then are simply everything else, and what we deal with on a daily basis where two things collide with each other (in the colloquial sense) and some (or all) of the kinetic energy involved is converted to other forms of energy.

For example, I and my car were involved in a rather energetic inelastic collision this past Saturday up in Waimea. Before you ask, I'm fine; almost remarkably so, in fact, as it could easily have gone much, much worse.

It all started in Waimea, where the Keck Observatory Headquarters are located. My soon-to-be adviser at Swinburne University in Melbourne was observing on Keck for a few nights (though remotely from Australia) and suggested I could come along to the remote observing room in Keck and watch and learn. I've never observed on Keck before, so I jumped at the chance to do so. The plan was to tag along two of the three nights he'd be observing (Saturday night & Sunday night) before heading back to Hilo.

Lovely Waimea. This is the view from where I stayed. Also the only picture I remembered to take this weekend.
Things really kicked off with a bang—literally—as I was on my way back to the Keck HQ after arriving in Waimea, checking in, and eating dinner at the delightful Village Burger. I'd turned out onto the main road in Waimea (really just a stretch of the Māmalahoa Highway that encircles the island of Hawaiʻi), and was on my way back in the inner lane when I noticed a car coming the other way heading towards me.

My approximate route back from Village Burger to Keck.
Me (cyan, heading north-east) happily returning to Keck after a delicious dinner.
Me noticing another car heading straight towards me.
It's interesting to observe how your brain tries to make sense of situations. In my case, I noticed a car crossing the center line heading towards me on a collision course a few seconds in the future and immediately assumed that a) he was following the rules of the road as a good driver, and that therefore b) he must be turning left and would either pull out in front of me (there was still time to do so) or would stop and wait for me to pass. I've only been to Waimea a few times and am not very familiar with it, or the fact that he was going backwards in a left-turn lane for my side of the road might have tipped me off sooner.

Anyway, after a second or two (my recollection of the time involved is pretty hazy—it might've been even less, as we were both travelling perhaps ~30 mph [~50 km/h]) my brain realized that the probability of the hypothesis I'd formed of the other car stopping was very rapidly dropping to zero based on continued observation, causing me to swerve right at the last second. Thankfully I'd turned onto the road at a time when there were no other cars around so the road was pretty empty on my side; otherwise it would have been a multi-car pileup.

Me swerving and changing a ~60 mph Δv head-on collision into a violent sideswipe instead.
I experienced the actual collision itself primarily as a side impact—both side airbags went off (but not the front ones), and the whole car got thrown to the side as the other car impacted in the driver's side rear door and wheel. The collision bled off a lot of the kinetic energy involved in the deformation of both cars, but the impact angle was also still low enough that both cars ricocheted off and kept going a bit farther.

I didn't have my life flash before my eyes or anything cool like that (despite the situation clearly warranting it I think); at the actual point of impact the only emotion I can remember was a strong sense of resigned irritation that I really didn't need this to be happening to me right now (especially when I was planning on selling my car in a few weeks to help finance my move to Australia), plus a nigh-instantaneous simultaneous unfolding of all the various consequences this was going to have on me for the next few weeks and how much I was already not looking forward to it.

The trajectories in this picture are mostly conjecture on my part based on where the two cars ended up.
Very thankfully there weren't any other cars in the immediate vicinity, as the torque from the impact ended up spinning me around a bit and I ended up turned roughly sideways in the middle of the left-turn lane in the middle of the road, from where I had enough presence of mind left to limp across the street into the parking lot directly opposite, while the other car ended up on the far side of the road facing the wrong way.

To shorten a lengthy story (the details of which I'm slightly hazy on myself after this point for a while), miraculously neither I nor the other driver—a forty-something guy—were seriously injured, just shaken up a bit. The hospital and police station were just opposite the Keck building down the street, so they were on the scene fast, then there was a lot of talking and questions and paperwork being filled out, and a tow-truck being called, and the long and short of it is that I ended up grabbing the snacks out of my car and continuing to the Keck building on foot (less than a block away) where I went through with the night's observations as planned, though I did bail on the second night and get a ride back to Hilo from a good friend.

The other driver admitted to the paramedics that he'd been texting, which actually makes me the first person I know to get into an accident involving texting and driving. My car was unfortunately totaled, but thankfully Geico works fast and I got my insurance pay-out yesterday which is going to be quite helpful for what's turning out to be a…more costly than I anticipated international move. (I'm borrowing my pastor's old extra car for now while I work things out.)

Couldn't get a good angle on it in the tow yard, but that's what it looked like.
All in all, it's been a rather stressful week, but I at least have transportation for now and some much-needed funds in the bank. Now I'm free to get back to…oh, right. International moving preparations. Well, I'd better get busy. Don't text and drive, folks! A hui hou!

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Life Updates, August 2017

Well. Where to start? It's been a busy couple of weeks, and we're just getting started…

I've talked about how I applied for grad school at Swinburne University in Melbourne back in January, and I think I've mentioned that I was accepted and have been slowly jumping through all the hoops related to enrolling. Last week, I submitted my request for a student visa. This Sunday, four days later, I got an answer back that it was approved (way faster than I was expecting!).

The visa was the last hurdle before I could actually move to Australia, so things are only going to pick up speed from this point on. This week I put in my resignation at ASIAA (with a final day of September 15) and am starting the process of moving internationally, which I last did when I was eleven. (I'm currently looking at a move around the end of September/beginning of October.)

I've got some more blog posts in my head that I just never seem to find time to write down so expect some more things from me this month, though it may get a bit sparse around here for the next few months as I deal with the moving process and start my Ph.D. This weekend is also really busy for me because my soon-to-be-officially advisor, Dr. Michael Murphy, is remote-observing on Keck I this weekend and as soon as I post this I'm going to drive up to Waimea to observe from the Keck base facility for the next two nights. (Hopefully I'll have a little time to take pictures while I'm up there!)

Busy times! A hui hou!

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Driving Mauna Loa

Last week I took the opportunity to film the drive from Saddle Road (~6,500 feet / ~1980 meters) up to Mauna Loa Observatory (a bit above 11,000 feet / 3,352 meters) on the way up to work. It's about a forty minute drive, so I sped it up, compressed it into a timelapse, and made a video which you can see below:

This is half of the drive I take typically several times a week to get to the YTLA for observing (it takes about 45 minutes just to get to the turn-off point from Hilo).  It's always interesting going from the tropical lushness of Hilo to the barren desolation of the upper slopes of Mauna Loa—the closest analog to the surface of the moon there is here on earth—in an hour and a half, but I always find it a very relaxing drive; it's nice to get out of the city and the view (which I couldn't really show off while filming) is amazing when it's not cloudy.

I think I said most of what I wanted to say about this in the video itself so I don't have much else to say here, but feel free to ask any questions you might have about it! A hui hou!

Monday, July 17, 2017

Further Amusing Observations on the Eating Habits of Gold-Dust Day Geckos

Adding to the list of interesting foods that gold-dust day geckos will eat…

I got out a tub of ice cream with just a few spoonfuls left and set it on the counter to soften for a few minutes before finishing it up, with the lid next to it. A few minutes lengthened into fifteen, and when I walked back into the kitchen I found this little guy enjoying himself:

I love the little push-up he's doing.
He looked like a kid caught with his hand in the cookie jar, and the whole scene was so funny that I couldn't resist making the following video:

He kept licking at it for another few minutes after I got bored of taking pictures before getting full and wandering off. Pretty funny!

Sunday, July 9, 2017

A Brief Tour of Queen Liliʻuokalani Gardens in Hilo

Last Saturday my friend Graham and I went to the gym together, only to discover that it was closing two hours early and fifteen minutes after we arrived for some reason we never did find out. We ended up feeling very unsatisfied with a fifteen-minute stint on the elliptical, so we decided to head down to Queen Liliʻuokalani Gardens for a walk.

Queen Liliʻuokalani was the last reigning monarch of the Kingdom of Hawaii (reigning from 1891–1893), and donated the gardens that bear her name on the coast of Hilo bay. We visited right before sunset, and the light playing off the water and general atmosphere caught my eye. I took some pictures, panoramas, and video clips and decided to edit them together into a short video, which you can find below:

Here are a few of the pictures from the video in case people want to see them better:

One of the bridges in the gardens, in Japanese style.

This is from right before crossing over to Coconut island, looking back west across the bay towards Hilo.

Some nēnē hanging out in one of the ponds. They were pretty unperturbed by my presence.

Not actually in the video, but taken from the same position as the final clip. Just a nice sunset over Mauna Kea.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Nā Nananana o Mauna Loa (Or: The Spiders of Mauna Loa)

Two weeks ago I went to the optometrist and got some new contacts of a different brand to try, which also happened to be at my newly-updated prescription strength. Since then, every time I look further than a few hundred feet away I get a mini-jolt as I realize that I can see everything! In focus! No matter how far away! I can make out craters and maria on the moon again! (Apparently my eyes had drifted more than I realized from my old prescription…)

Due to a confluence of factors, I haven't actually been going up Mauna Loa for my job since before my eye appointment (instead working down in Hilo), until this week when I went up both Wednesday and Thursday (I write this having recently returned from the second night). The first night I was up there, I noticed a surprising number of spiders out in the middle of the night, where by “surprising” I mean “I'm surprised there were any spiders up there at all.” (Though come to think of it that's also the same evening a passing moth flew into my ear and freaked me out, so perhaps I shouldn't have been too surprised.) I noticed two spiders at different times over the course of the night by seeing the light from my head-lamp reflected in their eyes, both just out and about in the 5 °C/ 41 °F weather with apparently nary a care in the world.

I didn't think much of it beyond “Huh, there are spiders up here where I didn't expect them” until tonight, when I was driving down just after sunset after a short observing session in the late afternoon/early evening (which involved me getting a video of the telescope opening in daylight, so look for that in the future!). As I was driving down I noticed a spider's eye reflecting the headlights back at me, and pointed this out to my coworker Kristen who was in the car with me. She thought it was absolutely hilarious that I could pick out a spider at 30 miles per hour on a dark road, especially when she couldn't see the dozens of additional ones that I started noticing every few minutes down the road. (Other than a single one of the ones with a lustrous dark green/blue eye color.) Funnily enough we'd just been discussing contacts and glasses and other eye-related things and my updated prescription on the way up and how she'd been thinking of going to the optometrist and getting an updated prescription herself, and she's definitely going to do it soon after tonight!

So yeah: apparently “noticing lots more spiders” is one of the perks of correct prescription strength contacts. I think I'll keep the memory of those tiny spider eyes reflecting back at me from the dark handy for the next time I read The Hobbit. A hui hou!

(For the Hawaiian scholars out there, I debated on whether the spiders should be kino-ʻo or kino-ʻa for Mauna Loa [roughly, the difference between things owned inherently and things owned incidentally] and I'm not sure I chose correctly. Anyone who knows for sure feel free to confirm or correct me!)

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Berke Family Pretzel Making!

Last December after I was unexpectedly able to be home for Christmas my mother sent me back to Hawaii with the Berke family recipe for German pretzels, passed down through generations of adventurous Berkes over the course of two centuries and two continents, all the way back across the sea to the Berke family bakery in Germany (which is still there today), to before an enterprising scion of the family decided to try his luck in the New World (though it should be noted that Berke is not a German name and we don't know where our intrepid forebears migrated from, though I have my theories…).

With that melodramatic opener out of the way, it's not like it's a secret recipe or anything. This weekend I upgraded my computer from Debian 8 to Debian 9, and while it was busy upgrading and I was twiddling my thumbs I decided to try making the Berke pretzels for the first time on my own (I've helped my mom make them in the past), and since I took some pictures along the way I'm going to share the recipe and process here in case anyone else wants to try (or I ever lose the hard copy!). You're going to need a few things to start with…

You can also see the chili I was cooking simultaneously in the crockpot in the background.
First, microwave ½ cup of lard with 2 cups of water for a minute or so until the lard melts. While that's heating up, sift together 3 cups of flour (preferably bread flour), ⅔ cup of powdered milk, ⅓ cup sugar, ½ teaspoon salt, and 1 tablespoon of yeast (as seen above).

Add the water/lard mixture to it and mix. This is best done by hand, as the mixture is incredibly sticky at this point. Add ⅓ cup more water and continue mixing, adding up to 4 cups of flour 1 cup at a time. Keep mixing and kneading with your hands until the dough is just not sticky (this may require a little more flour; it did when I made them).
The right hand knows what the left is doing, and is very grateful it's too busy taking photos to be involved.

This dough is so sticky I can only hope my fingers are still attached; I haven't seen them in about 5 minutes.
At this point, pour a little oil in the bowl and slosh the dough around in it so the top is oiled, then set to rise for about an hour (cover the bowl while the dough is rising).

I ended up letting this dough rise about 2½ hours by accident.
Now, give that dough a good punch.

Next, start some lye water. Mix 2 tablespoons of (food-grade) lye (sodium hydroxide, NaOH) in ~2 quarts of water over very low heat in a glass or enamel pot ONLY. Don't let it boil, and use plastic utensils! (The lye water will react with metal such as aluminum to create hydrogen, so don't let it spill and keep away from sources of open flame. You can flush it down the drain when done, though.)

To prevent boiling of the lye water you can use an improvised bain-marie like this one
 Next, roll out the pretzels. An easy way to get a good size is to divide the dough into 36 pieces.

Yes, I know. My pretzel-shaping skills are abysmal.
 (You can let them rise a little after this.) Next, prepare some pans by covering them in heavy-duty aluminum foil and spraying liberally with Pam. Then start dropping pretzels in the warm lye water one by one for ~15 seconds before placing them on the prepared pans.

I'm being very careful here not to let the metal handle touch the water, while taking a photo with the other hand.
That foil is quite necessary if you don't want the lye water messing up your pans.
Sprinkle with kosher sea salt to taste, then bake for 10 minutes at 400 °F. (In my experience, what seems like a lot of salt when you're shaking can be hardly noticeable after baking. See the salt in the pictures below? I could barely taste it, so don't be afraid to be liberal with it.) If they come out looking like the ones below, congratulations, and enjoy!

As you may be able to tell, my ability to make a pretzel shape is pretty much nil, and this pretzel expresses my feelings on the subject pretty accurately:

First Grumpy Cat, now Grumpy Pretzel.
Anyway, that's all there is to it! Well, “all.” It's a significant amount of work and will take at least a few hours, so you may want to make a double batch to get more pretzels out of it (three dozen will go surprisingly quickly!) A hui hou, and happy baking!

Friday, June 23, 2017

Some Solstice News, 2017 Edition; Also Lava Tube Pictures

First of all, yes, I missed the solstice by two days (like I always do), but that was the original inspiration for this post. Then, having pointed out that, hey, it was the summer solstice for the northern hemisphere two days ago, I realize that there isn't much else to say to about it, so have a few pictures from my Kamehameha Day trip in addition.

I took a couple friends up to the Mauna Loa Observatory where I work on June 11, Kamehameha Day (a state holiday here in Hawaii) for a tour of the YTLA and some exploration of various lava tubes and geological features. For a state holiday, it was the busiest I've ever seen it up there, with both a tour group from South Korea on a tour and people around from both the eponymous atmospheric observatory and the Mauna Loa Solar Observatory, which I'd never actually noticed being open before (though I discovered they were likely the car we'd meet driving up at 4:00 AM as we were driving down after a night of observing!).

The telescope at the MLSO, observing the sun.
The weather unfortunately didn't coöperate for us in our attempt at spelunking on the way down, being wet and misty below 10,000 feet or so. It wasn't too bad at the first lava tube we stopped at on the way down, just below the 9,000 foot mark, so we explored it for a bit.

My friend Mark provides scale for the opening to this particular tube.
This lava tube has its opening right beside the road…and I do mean right beside the road. There's maybe a foot (if that) between the edge of the tarmac and the lip of the skylight into this tube. I have to admire the sheer indifference of the original road builders to stick to their plans and ignore this gaping hole right beside their work.

Once inside, I was pleasantly surprised to find that there were several large skylights at irregular intervals for some way, lighting it up to the point where a flashlight was hardly necessary at all.

A little hard to make out, but this is looking down the tube.
In a pattern that really shouldn't surprise me at this point, this lava tube was both similar and yet quite different from the others I've been in. This one is tall, often rising 20 feet or more to the roof, even with the copious collapse covering the floor. And yet, it wasn't difficult to navigate, having little slope and being wide open with plenty of room to maneuver; Kaumana Caves is much harder in many places due to its low ceilings. All the lava tubes I've been in have had white material (which I believe is crystallized gypsum) on their walls, but this tube was positively overflowing with the stuff.

Gypsum-coated walls reflect enough light that this picture actually worked.
In this picture, you can see Graham taking a picture of the incredibly white walls. Normally lava tube wall are pretty dark—sure, there's some reds and other colors, but a lot of the walls are plain black. Taking a picture with my phone's flash alone wouldn't have worked in most of the other tubes I've been in, but this one just has so much white gypsum reflecting light that it actually kinda works. (The light from a skylight just ahead, seen just in front of Graham in the middle, probably helped too.) I don't know why this particular tube should have so much more than others I've seen; I guess maybe the flow that made it was just especially gypsum-rich?

A skylight with a natural bridge crossing the tube.
This last picture is neat, though I don't know how easy it is to make out. At the top you have light from a skylight falling in, while in the middle is a sort of 'bridge' in the lava tube, a short arch in the middle of the tube that suggests this lava tube had a very interesting history, perhaps with multiple levels at some point. Even the bottom of that arch would be well above my head (6” 1’, 1.85 m), to give you an idea of the scale here

Despite what these pictures might make you think, we actually didn't get to fully explore the tube to my satisfaction; after a while the skylights stopped while the tube continued on, but as it was still crummy weather and starting to get a bit late we didn't continue on (I've heard the cave continues on a bit further before ending). I definitely plan to return, however! It's a really cool cave, and I plan to go back with my camera and a proper flashlight to plumb it to its end (we originally just planned to pop in and take a quick look due to the weather, which turned out to be closer to half an hour). A hui hou!