Friday, December 31, 2010

Computer Repairs.

Well, although I am becoming less impressed with the durability of Hewlett Packard's products, I can't fault their customer service. I sent off my computer to them over Christmas to get the keyboard fixed, and they had it back three business days later (yesterday). And yes, I'm writing this post upon it. That was another, smaller, reason I didn't post anything recently. Hopefully having a fully functioning computer again will encourage me to post more frequently.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Eclipse Report.

First of all, a belated Mele Kalikimaka (Merry Christmas) to everyone! I've been home enjoying the time with my family, which causes the unfortunate side effect of having little time to myself to write. I intend to rectify that situation tonight, however.

To start with, I figured I'd post what few pictures I have from the total lunar eclipse on the 21st. The first is one I took before it began with my sister's zoom lens, showing some impressive detail on the full lunar surface:
Our natural satellite.
Now, true to form whenever an eager astronomer wishes to catch sight of some rare celestial spectacle, the weather took a turn for the worse. No sooner had the eclipse started than clouds began to move in from the south. They were thin enough that the Moon was still visible, but it made getting good pictures quite a bit harder. And eventually, well before the midpoint of the eclipse at 12:17 AM, they thickened to the point where even finding the Moon on the sky was a challenge. This picture below is one of the last ones I managed to get before that happened, and also (sadly) one of the best.

The reason it's less spectacular than the first one is that I had switched back to my wide-angle lens, intending to take pictures of the eclipse every few minutes from my tripod to make a time-lapse movie of the event. That, obviously, didn't pan out, so I'm stuck with some low-detail images. It's not a complete loss, though. You can still clearly see the curved edge of the Earth's thick inner shadow (the umbra) creeping across the lunar surface, covering perhaps 45% in the picture.

So, not the most exciting eclipse I've ever seen (I have seen total lunar eclipses from start to finish before so it's not such a great disappointment for me). I did make one interesting discovery though: I noticed that the standard outfit I wear up to Mauna Kea, which keeps me warm for perhaps 15 minutes or so up there, keeps out the cold for over an hour here in California. Apparently it really is colder up there!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Home again, home again.

Well, sorry for my tardiness in posting to say that I made it home safely, it's been a nice couple of days of relaxing for me here. There was quite the rainstorm in Honolulu when I flew in. Turns out O'ahu is very pretty in the rain, though it's obvious they don't get it much there. Like the Hilo airport, the Honolulu one is open to the weather, and in many places there was water pooled on the floor, and I noticed a couple strategically placed buckets catching the occasional drop. Plus my entire suitcase was thoroughly damp when I picked it up. But the view of the O'ahuan hills with the clouds collecting among the gulleys was quite beautiful.

I tried to watch the total lunar eclipse Monday night, but clouds started rolling in just as the total eclipse stage started at around 10:30. They were patchy, so the moon was still visible for about an hour, which let me see the earth's umbra covering about half the lunar face, at least. After that the clouds thickened to the point where I couldn't even tell where the moon was with certainty. Both my sister and I got some pictures, and if I find the opportunity I'll post some up here. I shipped off my computer to HP this afternoon, so it might take me a little longer working from other people's computers (though hopefully I'll have mine back in working order soon after Christmas).

Monday, December 20, 2010

Sky High over the Pacific

Well, if everything goes as planned, I should be on my way back to California when this posts.

I'm looking forward to a little R&R at home over Christmas, hopefully get my laptop's keyboard fixed, catch up on a little reading, spend some time among the eucalyptus wielding a machete, trying to catch some of my rapidly-expanding duck population, photographing the upcoming total lunar eclipse on Monday night, etc. etc.

Friday, December 17, 2010

The Much-Anticipated End of Finals and...a Lizard.

Well, I finally turned in my last take-home final this afternoon. *long weary sigh of contentment*  Huh. There's this strange feeling I have, of not having to get things done...

This semester has been a bit harder for me than previous one, which is strange because I really haven't had all that difficult classes. It was, to be honest, more of a falling down of responsibility on my part. Whether this is related to the fact that this is my first semester in college (in three years) without a math class, I'm not sure, but I'll be taking another one next semester for good measure.

And now for something a little more off the wall...

Sunday when I was taking my clothes off the line, I found a little anole hanging out on one of my pairs of shorts. Quite the cute little fella’. Looked at me all funny while I took its picture.
“Whatcha lookin’ at, eh?”

Note: Although it certainly could be, ‘anole’ is not a Hawaiian word, and anoles themselves are native to the Caribbean, although they have been widely introduced to the Southereastern U.S. and Mesoamerica.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Nix et Luna. (Snow and Moon)

Well, it turns out you can't see the summit of Mauna Kea from the Vis, and there was a thick blanket of clouds hugging the slopes on the way up, so I didn't manage to get any picture of the snow-clad peaks on Saturday. I did see a bit of snow... in the beds of various pickup truck coming down, and in a cooler at the Vis.

I also managed to get some nice shots of the moon through one of the 14-inch telescopes.

The five-day-old crescent moon made a nice telescopic target, as the moon usually does when it's close to new. Note the impressive amount of detail you can see, especially near the terminator (the boundary between light and dark, in astronomer's parlance). This is because of the long shadows cast by the rising sun, making subtle features easier to spot.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Pāʻina, pule, a me hula.

Or to put it another way, party, prayer, and hula. Yesterday was the end-of-the-semester party for the whole Hawaiian Language College, with each class performing something such as a hula, or a mele (song or chant). It was started off with the most beautiful choral a capella rendition of the Lord's Prayer set to music I've ever heard. In Hawaiian, of course.

E ko mākou Makua i loko o ka lani,
E hōano ‘ia kou inoa.
E hiki mai kou aupuni,
E mālama ‘ia kou makemake ma ka honua nei,
E like me ia i mālama ‘ia ma ka lani lā.
E hā‘awi mai iā mākou i kēia lā
i ‘ai mākou no nēia lā.
E kala mai ho‘i iā mākou i kā mākou lawehala ‘ana,
me mākou e kala nei i ka po‘e i lawehala i kā mākou.
Mai ho‘oku‘u ‘oe iā mākou i ka ho‘owalewale ‘ia mai;
E ho‘opakele nō na‘e iā mākou i ka ‘ino.
No ka mea, nou ke aupuni,
A me ka mana,
A me ka ho‘onani ‘ia a mau loa aku.

Our class performed our haʻiʻōlelo (speech) and hula smashingly, if the crowd reaction is any indicator. I can say that the difficulty level of our performance was pretty good for a first-year class, after watching all the other classes perform.

After the party as I was walking home, the storm that had been threatening to rain for two days finally opened up and poured. Several times I was wading through water up to my ankles on the journey home, as the drains simply couldn't keep up with the influx of water. But all that rain had a brilliant bright side, as I discovered when I got up this morning: we got snow on Mauna Kea!
View from our front yard.

I'm on the schedule to go up to the Vis tonight with the UAC, so I may have more pictures for you soon! (The snow won't be down to the level of the Vis, but I might be able to get some spectacular shots of the mountain above us.) A hui hou!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

I love Spam.

Today I learned the Hawaiian word for Spam, ka puaʻa kini. Now I can truly express my love of Spam in a culturally-appropriate manner! Aloha au i ka puaʻa kini!

The fact that I like Spam is actually rather strange, even to me, considering I'm not really big on ham in most forms. (Except for really crispy bacon liberally smothered in mustard. Mm...) Now that I think about it, out of all my strange tastes in food, that one has probably gotten me the most raised eyebrows and seen the largest number of people take a little mental timeout to process it. Even more than have been astonished by my propensity for ketchup (which is actually declining as I get older. Luckily my housemate Josh has the same propensity (for ketchup, not bacon), so we get along just fine.

Also, my apologies for the general lack of posts around here. What with the semester ending I'm starting to get busier, and I simply haven't had much inspiration lately (since I try to keep this from becoming a boring narration of my life, and write about things that I would actually be interested to read about...)

Monday, November 29, 2010

Handel! And Pipe Organs! And Handelian Organ Concertos!

Today I learned that my favorite composer, Handel, wrote concertos for one of my favorite instruments, the pipe organ. And not just one or two, but whole bunches of them! I've now been listening to previews of them on Amazon for the last hour, and the combination of such beautiful music and the chocolate bar I just happened to be eating at the same time nearly caused me to burst with elation. There's nothing like listening to one of the old masters showing how it's done! Beautiful melody, elaborately decorated on all sides by wondrous, joyful harmony, all supported by rhythm in its proper place. The joy of listening to good music that engages the mind, even as it flows through the veins like fire! Words are so inadequate to describe the feelings inspired by any one of these amazing pieces. One of the reasons I so love a good pipe organ is the fact that it is the best instrument I've ever found to be accompanied by whistling.

As if all this wasn't good enough, I discovered that I have had one of these organ concertos all along! It had me fooled because it is one of the few to get a name of its own beyond a mere opus number: The Cuckoo and the Nightingale. That's how it came labled on the CD I got it off of, along with an assortment of other Handel pieces, so I never suspected its true nature. I've always loved it, though, and now I know why!

Friday, November 26, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

Hauʻoli Lā Hoʻomaikaʻi kākou!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! Here's hoping the day finds you with even more to be thankful for than I. The weather here is gorgeous, brilliant sunshine enthusiastically punctuated periodically by short downpours. I am blessed with a loving family, sufficient food to eat, and academic success. I love my work, and get to regularly experience the beauty of the created order. My life is not worry or trouble free (whose is?), but today is a good day to gain a little perspective on just how minuscule my problems are in comparison to my blessings.

I encourage everyone to take a little time today to enumerate the set of all your blessings. (Being potentially infinite, you'll have to terminate it after a fixed number of terms, but the exercise is diminished in worth thereby not one iota.)

By the way, the Hawaiian term given above for Thanksgiving, Lā Hoʻomaikaʻi, translates pretty freely as “day of thanksgiving”. There is, however, another more informal term that could also be used: Hauʻoli Lā ʻAi Pelehū. What's that translate as, you ask?

Happy Turkey Eatin’ Day, y’all!

(I'm also thankful I learned how to use the ‘text-shadow’ HTML tag today!)

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Computer woes.

Sorry for my absence this week, my laptop is experiencing another attack of the "computer troubles always strike at the worst time" variety. Some of my keys randomly stopped working, making it rather difficult to write. (The on-screen virtual keyboard just doesn't cut it as a fast or efficient manner...) I'm borrowing a USB keyboard for the rest of the semester till I can get it looked at, so I ought to be able to update here again more frequently. (Although probably not this weekend, as I have a humongous take-home test in Optics due on Tuesday. And I'm driving for a summit tour on Saturday...)

Monday, November 15, 2010


I found this little guy outside in the car port today:

Quite the friendly little guy, it sat on my hand and watched me for quite a while. I love watching geckos lick their eyes to wash them.

There seem to be two different varieties of geckos here, one with this color scheme, and another with a uniform drab tan coloration.

Edit (6/14/13): There's actually more like seven different species.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Oh! What a Day, Oh! What a Night!


Observing on the mountain is intense.

It's not so much the lower atmospheric pressure, at least for me. The temperature and dryness of the air are far more pressing issues, to my mind. I don't like being cold at the best of times, and the sharp pain in my nasal passages accompanying each breath reminded me of agonizing winters spent in California where the humidity was so low my nose would hurt for days at a time. Though, having said that, I did have a good time and I'm glad I went.

Hualālai visible in the background.

After I posted last time, I had supper, then the four of us drove up to Subaru with the telescope operators. Our purpose was not to observe (that was Monday night) but to get some time up at the summit in order to acclimate better. The sunset was quite beautiful, as you can see in the picture. The mountain peak in the distance is Hualālai, the third most active of the five volcanoes that make up the island of Hawaiʻi. I was delighted to see it, because it is almost always covered in clouds, and I've only been able to see it clearly once or twice before. Cloud cover was relatively low Sunday night, allowing me to get this picture of Maui and the west Kohala coast.
Haleakalā on Maui visible on the horizon.
We didn't stay up at the summit very long Sunday night, instead coming down to Hale Pōhaku and staying up late so we could get in good naps on the morrow.

That morning (Monday), I discovered that the heater in my room very definitely did not work, as after leaving it on all night the temperature was a balmy 59.6 °F in my room when I woke up (thank goodness for the electric blanket on the bed!). The outside temperature, however, turned out to be surprisingly warm (except for a brisk wind), so after breakfast I and the two other students went on a hike in order to tire ourselves out so we could sleep well in the afternoon.

Hiking around on Mauna Kea is something I've long wanted to do and only rarely been able to. We hiked up to the summit of a puʻu (cinder cone) west of Hale Pōhaku and got some great pictures, such as the 360° panorama of Mauna Kea, Mauna Loa, and Hualālai below. You'll need to click on this one to really be able to see it, and in fact this copy that I've uploaded is a mere 20% of the size of the original on my computer, which is a whopping 10258 x 1299 pixels!

Edit (3/6/18): I've remade this panorama with Hugin, changing the original layout around and swapping the positions of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa. You can now mouseover the image to see the original panorama.

From left to right: Mauna Loa, Hualālai, and Mauna Kea.

There are all kinds of strange rocks to be found on Mauna Kea. I took pictures of these two that I thought looked exceptionally strange. The first reminds me of a giant clam, and the second made me think of an armadillo. I also found one that I initially thought was an out-of-place granite, until I turned it over and found the characteristic rough brown exterior of Mauna Kea rocks. Sometimes you find rocks from deeper down in the crust that look very different from the usual surface rocks on the mountain.

From the vantage point afforded by the puʻu, I was able to look down and snap this idyllic shot of Hale Pōhaku and the Vis:

Little House on the Big Mountain.
And the clear mid-morning skies allowed me get another picture of Hualālai over the tops of the māmane trees growing on Mauna Kea's slopes.
Subalpine māmane forests of Mauna Kea, Hualālai in background.
Māmane trees (Sophora chrysophylla) are a kind of plant in the pea and bean family found only on the Hawaiian isles. They have very pretty yellow flowers that I don't usually get to see. I think the reason for their heavy flowering may have to do with the fact that the area around the Vis recently received some moderately heavy rainfall. I also got to see some of the native, endangered palila (a type of honeycreeper) that live in the māmane forests and are only found on the upper slopes of Mauna Kea between 6,500 to 9,500 feet. They have a pretty coloration, although I didn't get to see one up close.

Māmane tree, looking south-east towards the Saddle.

While climbing (or more accurately, sliding) back down to Hale Pōhaku for lunch the three of us had a somewhat strange experience where we all smelled a strong sulfurous smell for a short time. It lasted for no more than a minute at most, and its source is currently unknown, although the simplest explanation may be that Mauna Kea is not quite extinct yet, and that pockets of gas may make their way to the surface from time to time.

After lunch and a very disorienting nap (now I remember why I don't sleep in the daytime!), it was time to ascend the summit and begin our night of observation in earnest. Since the data we were getting was not the kind I have been working with, I had no real responsibilities, and was simply able to watch and learn. The experience was quite interesting – I don't think I'd be able to observe on my own after one night watching, but I definitely feel I'd be able to learn. After some trouble getting the telescope focused at the beginning of the evening, the rest of the night passed pretty much uneventfully, with exposure after exposure flowing in from the instrument we were using (an infrared spectrometer called MOIRCS [Multi-Object Infrared Camera and Spectrograph]).

Actually, there was one rather cool event that happened, and that was that I got to use night-vision goggles for the first time. Subaru keeps a few pairs on hand in case of necessity, and the telescope operator let us try them out. It really is true what they say, that you can't see the stars as well from the summit as you can from lower in elevation (due to lack of oxygen, which your eyes need in large amounts in order to function at peak performance). However, night-vision goggles clear that all up, and then some. We first tried them out about 9 `o clock, and were able to observe several meteors that would have been too faint for the naked eye to see. The ones we saw seemed to be coming from the direction of Taurus, which had just barely climbed above the horizon, so we decided to wait and try again later when it had risen higher.

We pretty much forgot until about 5 o’ clock in the morning when I went out again. By this time, Orion and Taurus where optimally suited for viewing from our small balcony, so I turned the goggles' wide field of view on them and simply watched. And then, oh the sights! Auē, as you would say in Hawaiian. The sheer number of meteors was astounding. It seemed like every few seconds I'd see another one whizzing by. They were coming from all directions, shooting and sparkling in the night sky like cloud trails from the energetic decay of a radioactive atom in a cloud chamber. Sometimes I'd see more than one at once. I rapidly lost count of their number, as I sat, enthralled, paying no attention to my rapidly-cooling extremities. And the satellites! I counted fifteen different satellites in the same time period, more than I've ever seen in one night (usually I'm lucky to see three from the Vis).

It's a good thing someone finally came out and checked on me, as before I knew it half an hour had passed, and I was starting to lose sensation in my fingers and nose. I hardly noticed nor cared, though – every good astronomer knows to ignore personal bodily discomfort when spectacular sightings are visible (the correlation between the two is a sad necessity of the job). And that certainly ranks right up there with the coolest experiences I've had. I doubt I'll ever have the disposable income to get such a pair of goggles for myself (at $4,000 a pop, they're not cheap), but, well…a guy can dream…

Finally, as always happens, dawn arrived and we had to pack up. Our friendly telescope operator opted to stay a little later and give us a tour of the telescope, which was a very cool experience. The last time I came, we got to see the room under the telescope where the mirror is stripped of its aluminum coating and re-coated. This time, however, the elevator to the dome was broken, so instead of simply zipping up the several floors to the dome, we climbed up the back way. We passed through the area between the aluminizing room and the dome floor, where the base of the rotating dome rests. It's open to the outside, and the morning light filtering through the cracks left between the dome wheels gave it an awesome, indescribable, feeling. I felt it must be akin to the feeling one would get standing in one of the great European cathedrals as the light of the rosy-fingered dawn bursts through the stained-glass windows in overwhelming brilliance. I really wish I had been able to capture the feeling in a photo.

After that experience, we headed up to the dome itself, where I was able to get the full-telescope picture that eluded me the last time I tried to take it:

To give you some idea of the size of this behemoth, I wouldn't be able to reach the blue circular area at the bottom even by stretching to my full height. The jumble of parts below the mirror, right above the floor is the instrument we were using, a cube nearly two meters to a side. This is a big telescope.

After our tour it was time to head back down to Hale Pōhaku, which granted several opportunities to snap more great photos. One of the most amazing for me was the shadow of Mauna Kea stretching away to the north-west. If you look closely, the peak of Kohala is visible to the right of the shadow. The shadow at sunset is a splendid sight, but I think the shadow at dawn is even grander, accompanied as it is by the feeling of wonder that comes with the morning.

I also managed to grab a picture of the twin Keck telescopes, gleaming in the light of day:

Keck II on the left, Keck I on the right.
This early in the morning, the western Saddle was once again cloud free, letting me take even better pictures of Hualālai:

From the summit (Pu‘u Poli‘ahu on left, Pu‘ Pōhaku on right)…
…and on the way back down.
 (If I seem to have a bit of a thing for Hualālai, it's because it has always been mysterious to me, a shadowy mountain perpetually robed in clouds, invisible to the eye except for rare glimpses of the peak. Seeing it in its entirety gave me a better appreciation of the geography and scale of the island, and was just a pretty cool experience in general.)

 And that's pretty much it. After an uneventful nap and lunch, we headed back down to Hilo, back to warmth and humidity, two things I missed very much at the summit. I am a warm weather person; that's one reason I came here to go to college. That's not to say that I don't get hot like everyone else. But every so often, when I am tempted to complain about the heat, I like to remind myself that there really are much worse things than being hot and sweaty, and trips to Mauna Kea fit the bill perfectly. And having said that, I really am done with this absurdly long post.

A hui hou!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Hale Pōhaku


Here I am, in my own little room at Hale Pōhaku. I'm here on Mauna Kea for the first time as more of a visitor, than as someone with things to do and places to be. Well, I do have things to do, but I also have worlds more free time than I've ever had up here before. It's kind of strange -- I hardly know what to do with myself.

Isn't it cute?

It's really nice being up here. With the sun out, the wind blowing across the mountain's flanks reminds me of the prairie wind in Nebraska, a memory for which I have an especial fondness. I was startled earlier by a strange sound coming from outside my window, which I discovered to be emanating from a pair of Francolinus erckelii (Erckel's francolins) wandering by.

The four of us who came up -- Dr. Takamiya, myself, and two more astronomy students working with her -- got here about one `o clock. After we checked into our personal, hotel-like rooms in the Hale Pōhaku dorms, I realized I had absolutely no responsibilities until dinner time. I thought about doing a little hiking, but ended up resting in preparation for tonight. We're going to try and get a ride up to the Subaru telescope with the astronomers going up this evening, not to oberve (that's tomorrow night), but to spend a few hours up there getting acclimated to the high altitude and lack of oxygen.

Well, it's nearly dinner time, so I need to head off and bulk up on some calories. My one complaint with my room is that the thermostat seems to be incapable of raising the temperature to a comfortable level, so I'm going to be burning a lot of calories tonight. (I'll measure the temperature tonight with my watch thermometer and see what it is.)

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Rainbow Redux.

Today I went on my first summit tour since before the beginning of the semester. As usual, me bringing my camera caused the weather to be unusually cloudy, up past the Vis and part way up to the summit. From the top, everywhere you looked as far as the eye could see was nothing but a roiling sea of clouds. Driving both to and from Hilo was in constant, heavy rain, along with some pretty thick fog. It did have its perks, though. On the way up, we saw a tiny, close-up rainbow, which I managed to get a (shabby) picture of:

Even more entertaining was the rainbow we saw on our way back down, which appeared to intersect the road right in front of us!

I've been informed that I will have Internet access up at Hale Pōhaku, so I will try to keep you informed while I'm up observing on the mountain. A hui hou!

Monday, November 1, 2010

The Health Benefits of Radium, or: Why you Should Look Critically at Modern Health Fads.

Today I'd like to write about one of the scarier things I know of: the radiation health fad of the early 1900's. You see, back around a hundred years ago radiation had just been discovered by the pioneering efforts of such scientific greats as the husband-and-wife team Pierre and Marie Curie and Henri Becquerel, but it was still such a new phenomenon that no one knew about the dangers it posed.

Due to radioactive decay in the bedrock that underlies them, many hot springs famed for their healing powers have traces of radon gas in them, and thus higher than average radioactivity. Given how little was known about radiation at the time, it wasn't long before a whole health fad industry sprang up in order to get more of this obviously wonderful radiation to the masses (it reminds me quite a bit of the whole ozone health fad that was in vogue around that time, but that's a topic for another time). One of the earlier products introduced was called Radon Water, bottles of water with radon dissolved it it marketed to the average person who wanted to get in on this new healthy product. Unfortunately, there's a slight problem: the longest-lived isotope of radon has a half life of just 3.82 days, so by the time the bottled water had reached its destination, quite a lot of the radioactivity would be gone.

Nothing daunted, the new start-up Radium Ore Revigator Company came up with a solution to this problem. The dilemma is that radon, being a product of the decay of other elements (notably thorium), is constantly being created but decays too rapidly to really be practically brought to market. The Radium Ore Revigator Company's answer? Instead of bringing the radon to the customer, bring the radioactive elements to them and let them produce their own radon! Thus the Revigator was born.

The Radium Ore Revigator is essentially a large water cooler lined with carnotite, an ore of uranium (and thorium, which uranium decays to) that slowly undergoes radioactive decay to produce radon. The intent was that water would be placed into the Revigator overnight to acquire a healthy dose of radon, then imbibed the next day in order to get as much radioactivity into the user as possible.

 Today, we know that radioactivity in the body is entirely a bad thing, causing cell death or cancerous mutations. It's easy to look back at the thousands (yes, thousands) of Revigator buyers in the 20's and 30's and wonder how they could be so deluded. But the scary part, for me, is that mankind really has not advanced much further today. If you read any of the materials put out by the Radium Ore Revigator Company, they sound eerily similar to claims by many different groups today. You can substitute “radio-activity” with the name of many products today and hardly notice the change. One pamphlet of theirs can be found here. For instance, you can find this little gem of a quote on page 10:
Is radio-activity dangerous to the health? Most everyone offers this questions [sic] because it is only natural to regard this as a drug or medicine. The answer is that radio-activity is not a medicine or drug, but a natural element of water, and that since practically all spring and well water that Nature herself gives for drinking purposes contain this highly effective beneficial element, it is but common sense to restore it to water that has lost it just as we restore oxygen to a stuffy room by opening a window-by eating foods that contain vitamins-or by the installation of window glass that permits the entrance in sun light of the all important ultra violet rays. The United States Government says that the radio-activity of natural water is never strong enough to be injurious. 
 I love the implicit assumption that “It's natural, therefore it must be good for you”. Sure, it's natural, but so are arsenic, cadmium, and mercury. For that matter, so is the mutation-causing ultraviolet light whose effects are compared to those of oxygen and vitamins (!). If you read the whole booklet it is both funny and terrifying, knowing what we do about radioactivity today.

I said before that I don't want to be too hard on the buyers of back then. They simply didn't know what we do now. I also don't wish to be too hard because we today are no better, really. There are many different alternative medicine products out today that we really don't know much about at this time, yet which are selling quite well. I'm not going to claim that all of them are completely without value; they might be, but we really don't know. This is partly because current federal law (the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994) prohibits the Food and Drug Administration from testing the health claims of most alternative medicines. Thus the companies that produce these products can continue to market them without ever having to provide proof of their efficacy, while the Placebo Effect guarantees that at least some of their buyers will report improvement.

And that I suppose is really what scares me most. If people can be taken in by such things as the health benefits of radiation before, what's to stop it from happening again? Those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it, so the saying goes, and who's to say how many current health fads will be deemed to be dangerous in fifty years?

I'd like to gratefully acknowledge my inspiration for this post, the incredibly awesome chemistry website Seriously, go check it out. You can find pictures of actual Revigators under radium (atomic number 88), and a picture of a bottle of “Radithor” Radon Water under thorium (atomic number 90). You can also read the much-better-quality article that directly inspired this post and from which a good part of my information comes there.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Combinatorial Fun with Hawaiian.

I've been wondering recently about how many distinct words Hawaiian could have, if you consider a fixed number of syllables. With fewer sounds than English, it's tempting to think that it must have a smaller vocabulary. I'm going to use combinatorics (basically easy ways of counting large numbers) to estimate the number of distinct words of progressively larger syllable count and see how it compares to English. It's rather simple to calculate, as long as you take care with your linguistics.

To start off with, Hawaiian has 18 official sounds (represented visually using the letters a, ā, e, ē, i, ī, o, ō, u, ū, h, k, l, m, n, p, w, ʻ), 10 of which are vowels and 8 of which are consonants. It also has 15 diphthongs (iu, ou, oi, eu, ei, au, ai, ao, ae, ōu, ēi, āu, āi, āo, āe). Now, a syllable in Hawaiian always only consists of either a single vowel, or a consonant + vowel or diphthong, represented schematically by (C)V where the 'C' represents a consonant, the 'V' a vowel or diphthong, and the parentheses show that the consonant is optional (one side affect of this is that Hawaiian words always end in a vowel). The first question to be asked is, "How many syllables are possible?". We can see that there are 10 possible one-letter syllables consisting of the 5 vowels plus 5 long vowels, plus an additional 15 syllables comprised of a single diphthong, plus an additional 80 syllables formed by taking one of the 8 consonants and adding one of the 10 vowels to it, plus an additional 120 syllables formed by taking one of the 8 consonants and adding one of the 15 diphthongs. Not all of these syllables actually exist in common usage; for instance, the syllable wū does not exist in Hawaiian, and the syllable wu occurs only in two loan-words from English. However, for the purposes of this post I am calculating only how many words could theoretically exist, not how many actually do (which would require exhaustive knowledge of the language that I do not possess). So for single syllables, we have a total of \(10+15+80+120=225\).

Now, since any word in Hawaiian will be made up of these syllables, we can quickly calculate how many distinct words of a given number of syllables would be able to exist. Since Hawaiian has nothing against duplication of sounds (and often rather encourages it), for a word of two syllables we may have any of the 225 for the first syllable, and any of the 225 for the second. Thus to find the total number of two-syllable words we just multiply those two numbers (or equivalently raise 225 to the nth power where n is the number of syllables in the word), for a total of \(225^2=50,625\) words of two syllables. That's not bad in terms of vocabulary. Pretty much all words necessary for daily life plus quite a few extra would fit pretty nicely into that amount.

But Hawaiian utilizes many longer polysyllabic words, so if we expand our list to words of three syllables, we get \(225^3 = 11,390,625\) distinct words. At this point we're already well over the vocabulary of even the most linguistically rich languages on Earth. Even using a rather lax definition of "word", the English language has around 1–1.5 million words at the most, the vast majority of which are scientific, legal, technical, medical, financial and other terms of generally non-everyday use.

 But we don't need to stop here! Going to four syllables gives \[225^4=2,562,890,625\] This is a mind-bogglingly big number when it comes to words. That's over two-and-a-half billion words, and that's not counting the one, two, and three-syllable words already formed. It's common to have words of four or five syllables in Hawaiian, which blows the realm of neologisms so far open that it would be nearly impossible to come up with concepts for all of them (for words of 5 syllables, the number is  1,078,203,909,375, over a trillion words!).

Conclusion: Although the sound range of Hawaiian may sound limited to the Anglophone ear with our 44-odd sounds, combinatorics shows that Hawaiian is capable of forming astronomically many times more words than even the most wordy languages on Earth. I'd do a similar calculation for English, but for the fact that it would be several orders of magnitude harder. This is not because of the greater number of sounds in English, but how they group together to form syllables. In Hawaiian, you can only have (C)V syllables. In English, syllables are of the form (CCC)V(CC). (This is of course a bit of an edge case – the only words like this I can think of off the top of my head start with “str”, such as “strings” and “strips”, each of which has 3 consonant sounds, 1 vowel sound, followed by an additional 2 consonant sounds.)

Now, while in Hawaiian any syllable can follow any other syllable and be pretty easily pronounceable, making all possible combinations of sounds would lead to some very difficult or impossible to pronounce words in English. Certain consonant sounds double easily or sound good together, while other do not. This is partly why, for instance we have words like “kitten” but not “kiththen” or “kixthen” in Modern English: languages tend to change in the direction of being easier to say quickly. An analysis of potential English words would have to take all this into account, which would require looking at all the sounds of English individually with respect to both preceding and following syllables – not an impossible task, but certainly a daunting and difficult one. (If I had to take a stab at it, I'd guess that English probably has more possible syllables than Hawaiian does, but within the same order of magnitude. I'm not motivated enough to actually try it though.)

And with that, I will close off this post. A hui hou!

December 4, 2010: Edited to fix some completely inexcusable mathematical mistakes. Turns out the numbers I got were orders of magnitude too low. They should be correct now.

August 30, 2011: Edited to fix some really elementary mistakes in naming numbers. It should be correct now.

August 1, 2014: Edited to correct the really basic mistake of forgetting that syllables can be made up of single diphthongs as well as single vowels (indeed, the Hawaiian word for "I" is simply "au"). This increased the base number of syllables, which had a domino effect of inflating all the further numbers. How did I ever manage that minor in Mathematics...

Friday, October 29, 2010

Telescope fever.

Today I received word from Dr. Takamiya that we have an observing night on the Subaru telescope scheduled for November 8. To say that I was excited is an understatement. In fact, I discovered the phrase “bouncing with excitement” is not mere hyperbole as I had always assumed. We'll actually be up two nights -- the first to stay at Hale Pōhaku to get acclimated to the elevation, and the second for actual observing. The instrument we'll be using is not the one that provides the data I've been working with, which means I don't have to do anything with it -- I pretty much get to sit back, watch, and learn.

I'm really finding it a bit difficult to convey my excitement over this -- that I, a mere lad of a tender twenty-one years should be privy to the workings of one of contemporary astronomy's greatest tools! It's as if an undergraduate physics student were to be allowed to help with the Large Hadron Collider.

Anyway, that's my big news for the day. I've also decided to blog about something really scary for Halloween, so keep an eye out for that!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Ua hoʻi ka ua i Hilo!

Ua hoʻi ka ua i Hilo! A ua hauʻoli wau.
The rain has returned to Hilo! And I am happy.

It has been far too long in my mind since it last rained during the day. It's so nice to walk to school in the rain once again, without the merciless sun beating down upon me from overhead. When it rains in Hilo, it really rain -- the streets that run uphill run like miniature rivers. I walked through half an inch of water going up the hill to school today.

The changeableness of the weather of Hilo is one of the things I really love about it, and it has been sadly lacking for almost the last two months. November is historically when the rain really begins in earnest, so I hear, so perhaps the endearing randomness of the weather is finally beginning again.

A hui hou!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Donner und Blitz.

Tonight we're having quite a bit of thunder and lightning, which is rare for Hilo. I can only remember two or three other occasions where it thundered in the last year. It's still somewhat of a new experience for me, since thunderstorms are rare in Northern California and Taiwan. Rather exciting, in a "I think I'll stay away from windows and unplug my computer" sort of way!

The lightning was actually many miles away, it was often so long between lightning flashes and thunder peals that I stopped counting after 20 seconds.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Calculus and yogurt, with just a smidgen of algebra.

Mmm, Yogurtland. I went there again today, and once again it is delicious (‘ono in Hawaiian). As I write this, I'm savoring a mix of Pomegranate & Raspberry Tart, Arctic Vanilla, Blueberry Tart, and Double Cookie Crumble flavors, topped with kiwi slices, cookie dough minis, chocolate chips, strawberry chunks, sliced macadamia nuts, honey, white chocolate sauce, and Ghirardelli caramel, which pretty much filled up the container I was using. The, tastes, are myriad, varied, and impossible to describe. The part of my brain that handles taste is probably forging new neural connections right now in order to handle the tsunami of new combinations of sensations flooding it. I hadn't noticed the honey the first time I was there, and it really adds a certain je ne sais quoi, an undefinable essence that permeates every bite and reminds me of the pleasant days back when I had a hive or two of my own, and how relaxing it was to be out there, working with the bees, watching them go about their little lives oblivious to me, inhaling the rich, intoxicating odor that comes only from the inside of a busy and active hive, the smell of little insects so full of life…ahhh…good times, good times. Up until the Varroa mites and the Colony Collapse Disorder killed ‘em.

But to keep this post from going somewhere very different from where it started, I've decided to do a little integral calculus, just for fun. A friend recently wondered aloud how much a certain large glass bottle filled with water weighed. Having had very few chances to use the calculus that I love so much all this semester (I've mostly only used algebra, which I despise), I decided to do a little volume integration and see if I couldn't figure it out. (hmmm…getting a little sleepy now after ingesting ~10 ounces of yogurt and toppings!)

I've never seen the bottle in question myself, so I only have some measurements and photos to go on. I've got that the outside diameter of the bottle is about 8 inches and its height is about 24 inches. This is corroborated by performing measurements on a (poor) picture of the bottle, which also shows its neck width to be about 2 inches. The glass is supposed to be about 3/8 of an inch thick, and it has a 5-inch deep V-shaped dent in the bottom for resisting internal pressure.

I played around with equations in Deadline (a nice little graphing program good for calculus) for a while until I found one that seems to fit pretty well. The structure of the bottle immediately reminded of a hyperbolic tangent function, and while it's probably impossible to get a perfect fit due to the perspective in the photos I used, the equation \((3/2)\tanh(x/4)+5/2\) seems to work quite well. You can see it graphed in the picture below (the red line is the graph Deadline put out, the green parts are my attempt to show what the bottle is approximately like):

Now, without delving too deeply into the theory of calculus, let me explain briefly what I will be doing. Imagine trying to find the volume of a cylinder. You know its volume is merely the area of its base (\(\pi r^2\)) times its height. Now instead of doing it in one step, suppose you divide the cylinder into a number of slices. It seems obvious that the volume of the cylinder is equal to the volume of all of those slices put together, and the volume of each slice can be found by using the volume equation for a cylinder using the new height of the slice. This is all well and good when considering a cylinder, but what if you have a cone? Any slices you make will not be cylinders, and thus cannot have the cylinder volume formula applied to them. After pondering this problem for a while, you may suddenly find yourself thinking “Aha! What if I make the slices infinitely thin? Then they will actually be little cylinders again, and I can find their volumes and sum them all up.”

On the face of it, this seems utterly preposterous, at least to me. Taking an infinite number of infinitely thin slices and adding them up to get a volume? Ridiculous! And yet the amazing thing is, it works. Isn't that incredible? Doesn't it just send shivers up and down your spine? To think that you, a mere mortal, can harness the concept of infinity for your own purposes! It's hard to convey the awe this fills me with whenever I ponder it. To me, doing these sorts of problems always gives me a feeling of flying, soaring high and away above the boring, mundane world of algebra and cutting right to the heart of a problem with eagle-like fleetness. Of course, to actually get an answer will usually require some algebra, which always feels like crash landing to me.

Anyway, the integral of integral calculus is simply a way to sum up an infinite number of slices of an object. Technically, what it adds up is the height of the function you are integrating at any given point. If we take the height of the function as the radius of a cylinder, we can square it and multiply by π to get the area of that particular slice. Adding all these areas up will give us the volume.

So! To is the equation we need to integrate:
\[V=\pi\int_{-10}^{18}\left(\frac{3}{2}\tanh\Big(\frac{x}{4}\Big)+\frac{5}{2}\right)^2dx\] (note how pretty \(\LaTeX\) makes everything!) Notice we have \(\pi\) multiplied by the sum of all the little slices from -10 to 18, which makes a total of 28 inches (the limits here are slightly strange, even for calculus, but it's for convenience with Deadline). The little dx at the end is an important part of calculus, but we don't need to bother with it now. Now, since this equation, while not difficult, would take quite a lot of algebra to solve, I'm just going to cheat and have Deadline do the integration for us. This gives us the result \(\pi\times81.96\approx257.5\) cubic inches. The bottle, however, is hollow. It has a thickness estimated at 3/8 of an inch. To a good approximation, the volume inside the bottle is simply the same function with 3/8 subtracted from it, like this:
&=\pi\int_{-10}^{18}\left(\frac{3}{2}\tanh\Big(\frac{x}{4}\Big)+\frac{17}{8}\right)^2dx\end{align} Although no more difficult in principle than the first integration, this is still a lot of writing to evaluate by hand, so again we call upon Deadline to get an answer of \(\pi\times71.46\approx224.5\) cubic inches. This is a reassuring answer, as subtracting it from the previous answer gives 33 cubic inches, which means that a little over 92% of the bottle's volume is actually available volume, not glass (i.e, the glass the bottle is made of occupies 33 cubic inches). However, we have not taken into account the V-shaped indentation in the bottom. Assuming that it spreads to the outside diameter minus \(2\times(3/8)=3/4\) inches, a little contemplation gives the equation: \[V=\pi\int_0^5(0.62x)^2dx\](the 0.62 comes from taking the inverse tangent of (29/8)/5 and converting to radians) At this point, things start getting somewhat complicated, so we're going to simply assume that there is a cone with this volume taken out of the bottom of the bottle. Obviously, this is not perfectly correct, and may lead to the final weight being slightly on the low side, but we weren't perfectly careful with the ends of the bottle either which ought to bring it back up slightly. The volume given by Deadline is \(\pi\times7.75\approx24.3\) cubic inches. Subtracting this from the volume found previously gives ≈ 200 cubic inches available for holding water.

So, let's recap: on some ever-so-slightly shaky assumptions we've found that the bottle has 33 cubic inches of glass and 200 cubic inches of holding space for water, assuming it's full right to the top. This translates to a carrying capacity of about 3.3 liters. Converting both values into cubic centimeters, we get  ≈ 540 cc's of glass and ≈ 3274 cc's of water. The density of water at 25 °C (room temperature, roughly) is 0.997 g/cm\(^3\). The density of glass, unfortunately, varies widely depending on the type, from less dense than aluminum to more dense than iron. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, 1971 edition, “common” glass has densities ranging from \(2.4-2.8\) g/cm\(^3\). Since this is tinted glass we're dealing with, and I have no idea how common it is, and usually less “common” glasses tend to be denser, I'm going to go with the heavier side and use 2.8. Multiplying the volumes times the densities gives the masses, which turn out to be ≈ 3264 g of water and 1512 g of glass (interestingly, this implies the glass makes up just a bit less than 1/3 of the total mass of the full bottle). Multiplying the masses (in kg) of the water and glass times the acceleration due to gravity (9.8 m/s\(^2\)) at the Earth's surface gives the weight, in Newtons: ≈ 32 N for the water, and ≈ 15 N for the glass. Together this gives a weight of 47 Newtons, which is about 10 and a half pounds. This works out to about 68% of the weight being water and 32% being glass, in agreement with our earlier estimate.

Error analysis: possible error: quite large. I've never held or even seen one of these bottle in person, so I'm relying on estimated measurements by other people. Function fitting was rudimentary and qualitative: if I wanted to be really through, I could have done a least-squares-fit regression analysis to determine the ‘best’ fit to the bottle (I don't actually know how to do that, but it never seemed that difficult in theory). Of course, a more thorough analysis of the complicated bottom of the bottle could be done; this reminds me of the “just assume everything is a frictionless, homogeneous sphere in vacuum” joke in physics. Personally, I think 3/8 of an inch is a bit thick for the glass; I hazard a guess that 1/4 would be closer to the mark, which would raise the weight a bit by having more volume for water, but again I've never handled the glass to see about this, and it probably varies throughout the bottle, a factor I didn't take into account. The glass may be denser than the value I assumed; it looks like old glass, which could be of (significantly) higher density than the value I used.

I suppose, in the end, the slightly depressing thing is that for all my mathematical tricks the quickest and easiest way remains simply to weigh the thing. If such a thing is ever done, I would appreciate being informed of just how off I was. Oh, and if you spot any errors in my math, please let me know!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Hawaiian and Plants (but not Hawaiian plants).

A couple days ago I remarked on the small web-based quiz my fellow astrophysics major and Hawaiian classmate Ian had set up using a word list I'd written up for the purpose of cementing new vocabulary in my brain a little better. Well, it's gone through some revisions, and is now a fairly helpful little self-testing application. In fact, our teacher told us today that the other Hawaiian 101 classes had been using it too, and that they had liked it a lot and found it useful (so much so that he gave us extra credit! Yay!). If you want to see it, it can be found (for now) here. We'd like to add a feature to display all the words from a given chapter so people can review them all at a glance, but it's not up yet.

In other news, I heard that my sister managed to place first in the nation in the Honors division at the annual National Junior Horticultural Association meeting in Pennsylvania last weekend in the plant identification contest. She's so good, they won't let her compete any more! Having only ever managed to place 4th myself (and that's not even in the Honors division), I can tell you that it is certainly no small accomplishment to have done that.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Vis Volunteering Vision.

Last Saturday evening I went up to the Vis to volunteer, and also managed to catch the first hour of the annual volunteer banquet, where everyone who volunteers is recognized for the many labors of love they perform over the preceding year. After all, staying up late at night in the dark and cold for fun is not the sort of thing normal people do! I received a cool hat with my name on it for volunteering more than 100 hours over the last year (it was actually somewhere around 170, though I never really bothered to count accurately). I hope to break that amount this coming year, as I now have the time to go up almost every week, which will certainly help.

I've also decided to make a collection of images of all the globular clusters of stars belonging to the Milky Way that are visible from this latitude. With a bit of planning and foresight, I ought to be able to easily get them all using the imager at the Vis in the coming year. My ultimate goal is to make a collage of them, showing the differences and similarities between them. Globular clusters make really pretty pictures in my opinion, and I hope to be able to share some pictures of them sometime (relatively) soon. (For those who don't know, globular clusters are basically huge spherical collections of hundreds of thousands to up to a million stars, very densely packed together.)

Friday, October 8, 2010

Hawaiian Online.

Two weeks ago I started a file to include all the words we've learned in Hawaiian class, mainly so I could memorize them easier by writing them down. After hearing about it, one of my astrophysicist friends who happens to be in the same Hawaiian class decided to see about writing a little self-quizzing system (essentially electronic flashcards) using it. Today I got to see the results, and it's pretty cool. It still needs a lot of work (unsurprisingly), but I feel it's already a useful tool for self-quizzing, and is even fun to use. I don't think it's quite ready for prime-time yet, but when it's had a bit of tinkering I'll post the web address so can see it.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Work hard. Play harder.

I'm surprisingly un-tired after staying up all last night, sleeping for a mere 6 hours, and playing soccer for a few hours in the intermittent rain. Which was wonderful, by the way! Instead of overheating as usual, the rain was cool enough to make the exercise feel good. I learned that while it's dramatic to stop kicks with the top of my head, it's not very pleasant.

I was also introduced after soccer to a wonderful place called Yogurt Land, where they sell many different flavors of self-serve frozen-yogurt with more toppings than even I can fit on one dish. I had a bowl of strawberry, pomegranate raspberry, and cheesecake flavored frozen yogurt topped with mini cookie dough chunks, fresh raspberries, kiwi slices, M&M's, and caramel sauce, and that was perhaps one-tenth of the number of kinds of toppings they had available. I was so full from it, I almost didn't feel like eating supper, but I did have some Span `n' onions on principle.

All in all a great Saturday, and I'm now ready to catch up on homework and go to the Vis tomorrow.

A hui hou!

Diary of a Sleep-Deprived College Student on an Observing Run

Tonight I'm on an observing run with Dr. Takamiya, so I thought I'd do something a little different and give you a glimpse into a day night in the life of a sleep-deprived college student on an observing run.

~1730: Got to IFA, met Dr. Takamiya, got set up down in telescope control room. Brought food (hopefully sufficient for the 12 hours I'll be here this time!).

1841: Spent about an hour deleting and zipping extraneous files to make room on the computer where the data I work with is stored. Learned in conversation we actually have several vacuum deposition chambers for aluminizing mirrors lying around on campus. Good news for the University Astrophysics Club's plan to refit some of the non-functional telescopes we have lying about on campus!

1854: Have broken out the Mountain Dew. Not feeling tired yet, thankfully, but doesn't hurt to be proactive.

1909: Now listening to "Chorale Fantasia" by Beethoven on Dr. Takamiya's computer after I mentioned it to her. One of my favorite pieces!

1925: Finale. I love this song!

2030: Ha ha. Turns out all those files I deleted held some position information that isn't available in the more reduced versions. They're all backed up on another machine of course, so just spent the last 45 minutes making a list of them so Dr. Takamiya can find them and send them back to me. Is that ironic or what?

2121: Another 45 minutes of scripting allowed me to turn our breakthrough from Tuesday into a workable script. Now each time the script examines a spectrum, it generates a graph of the region around the Hα line for fast visual error catching. The only catch is that you can't control the location or name of the newly-born graph, so the script has to search for it after each iteration and whisk it away to a safe location while renaming it something meaningful before the next one is created.

2132: Ugh. Heaviness of eye setting in. Just realized I need to add redshift information to new data files from Sunday night

2222: Redshift information all added. Eyes definitely getting heavier.

2230: Back to troubleshooting my new and improved graph-generatin' script. Trying to pin down source of elusive "truncated pixel file" error.

2251: Alright! Turns out it just needed the memory cache flushed periodically. Script is now happily populating folders with hundreds of graphs, and storing logs of its results as well. Not much for me to do with it until it finishes. Maybe it's time for that soup I brought...?

2303: Hoo, boy, eyes feeling gritty. At least I have cup of noodle soup. Yum. Yum.

2322: Not much happening. Noodle soup and Mountain Dew conspiring to keep me awake. Script still happily running, is perhaps 25% done? I don't know exactly how many data files there are to work with now that the new ones have been added.

0032: Mountain Dew and soup both gone. Am now in deeply into part of the night where I'm most tired (strangely enough, it's about a twelve hour offset from the time of day when I'm most tired). Script continues to chug along, has currently analyzed 115 cube files so far. Maybe 50% done?

0220: Ok, script is finally done. However, it output one more set of graphs than it did log files. What on earth? Now I have to track down the extraneous one and figure out why it didn't get a log file.

0235: Aha! One of the cube folders is empty, for some reason. Didn't expect that, which is why it took so long to track down. A simple extract operation got it spiffied up, however, followed by analysis and graph-making, bringing the total number of data files we have to work with to 224. Each of which has been split into 225 component spectra, all of which were individually analyzed and graphed over the last two hours. That's 50,400 spectra!

0256: Wells, it turns out those files I deleted did not, after all, contain the position information we need, so it's no problem. Also, I just got all the raw data files from the observing on Wednesday night. Time for more cube converting!

0300: Finally, starting to wake up a bit.

0234: Redshift information added to all the newly-minted cube files from Wednesday night, beginning the extraction process! (whereby each cube file is split into its 225 component spectra)

0328: Extraction process complete, beginning graph-making and analysis!

0404: Analysis complete, total number of individual spectra is now close to 58,950 (the actual number is slightly lower because some of the pixels in the spectrometer are bad, and occasionally don't produce a usable spectrum). This is also the number of graphs created in the last few hours, and equals 262 individual data files.

0502: Almost done for the night, as twilight begins to creep upon the earth. This is good, as my ability to concentrate and focus has decreased to the point where I'm not getting any more useful work done.

0539: Well, that's a wrap! We're done here for the night. As the rosy-fingered dawn climbs into the eastern sky (to borrow a Homeric turn of phrase), I make my way home, to catch what rest I can before the light breaks fully upon the landscape and destroys any chance I have of sleeping. Hope you enjoyed this look at a day's night's activity for me! A hui hou!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Do 10 millipedes = 1 centipede?

For some reason, apparently my room has started drawing millipedes, as I have now found one in there on two days out of the last three. Thankfully, millipedes are about a thousand times less worrisome than centipedes, for several reasons:
  • they aren't venomous.
  • they don't bite.
  • they're much smaller.
  • they're much slower. 
  • when disturbed, they don't go crazy and run around menacingly at top speed, but instead collapse and curl up into a little non-threatening ball that can then be safely picked up and disposed of.

Plus, I have yet to find one in my bed.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

One Break, Caught.

Yesterday Dr. Takamiya and I had a big breakthrough in our research project, finally figuring out how to produce graphs of the data we're working on automatically, without human input. This is quite exciting because it allows for much faster checking of the results my script is creating, so we can evaluate it and catch any possibly questionable calls. The process turned out to be simple, but finding it wasn't; we spent almost two hours trying various combinations and searching the Internet for its sparse information on the subject. Speaking of the Internet, I wasn't able to post about our breakthrough yesterday because our entire household wasn't able to access it for some reason. It's fixed now, thankfully. I might be able at a later point to include some graphs, which will probably make a bit more intuitive sense than the images I posted a few months ago.

I also learned yesterday that I have an opportunity to go observing on the UH 88-inch telescope again on Friday night, which I intend to take. Assuming all goes well, this means a lot more data for me to reduce in the near future!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Kahakō and ʻOkina.

Today I found a really cool resource for Hawaiian, a Hawaiian “keyboard” program that you can download and install on your computer in order to easily write the kakahō and ʻokina that are part of written Hawaiian. The kahakō is the little bar that appears above vowels to indicate that they are long; it translates to something like “drawn out”. The ʻokina is the glottal stop consonant, represented by the backwards apostrophe “ ʻ ”, or single left quotation mark. This makes writing Hawaiian a snap, so hopefully I can include a bit more of it in future posts.

The keyboard program works by simply adding a few new keystrokes and switching the ʻokina for the apostrophe, so I can actually leave it on while I work with no problems. Just for fun, here are the names of the letters in the Hawaiian alphabet, in alphabetical order: ʻā, ʻē, ʻī, ʻō, ʻū, hē, kē, lā, mū, nū, pī, wē, ʻokina. Thankfully the naming system for Hawaiian letters is a bit more logical than the English one!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Rain and Moon at the Mauna Kea Visitor Information Station.

Last night I went up to the Vis, as I mentioned in my post yesterday. It was one of the worse nights I've been up there; a thick layer of clouds in the afternoon left everything covered in a layer of condensation in the evening, a very rare occurrence. Normally we get layers of clouds ascending and descending around us, but the air overall stays fairly dry. This time, everything was soaking wet, and every telescope had a layer of moisture on its optics. The smaller Dobsonian-mounted Newtonians with their open-mirror-cell design dried out pretty quickly, but the larger scopes were completely impossible (is that redundant?) to focus to anything more than a nice, large blur for almost the entire night.

I spent a good hour or two jumping between different scopes (we were a bit short-staffed) trying to dry off their optics with a hair dryer and get them aligned while having to tell people that they really couldn't see much more than a blur through them, unfortunately (which is stupendously depressing, having to turn people away from astronomy). The night had its funny aspects as well; I was highly amused at the percentage of people who will try to look through the eyepiece of a telescope while someone is standing in front of the other end shining a light into it and directing the flow of air from a hair dryer at it. (Do they think the telescope can somehow look through me? I'll never understand people...)

Another thing making it really difficult last night was the almost full moon. Due to the weather and the fact that the telescopes mostly weren't performing, there were hardly any people for the last hour, so I took a moonlit walk out to the silversword enclosure to see the silversword by moonlight. It was not quite as spectacular as I had perhaps foolishly imagined, but kind of cool nonetheless. They didn't glow in the dark or anything, but they did have a faintly visible silvery sheen, though not enough of one for me to get a picture without using the flash, sadly.

A hui hou!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Celestial Choreography.

Since I'm going up to Mauna Kea tonight, I thought I'd put up some pictures I took the last time I was there. The first one is very cool, because it shows one of the phases of Venus. I don't recall ever having seen these before, so it was an awesome experience for me. Seeing such phases is one way to tell that Venus orbits closer to the Sun than we do.
Crescent Venus.
North is roughly off to the right in the picture. Note the chromatic aberration present in the image, visible as a slight separation between the most red and most blue parts of the image.

The second picture is of Jupiter, the behemoth of the solar system.
North is up in this picture. You can clearly the North Equatorial Belt near the top of the planet. The corresponding South Equatorial Belt has been missing for several months now. It will no doubt return as it always has sometime in the next few years, but for now you get to see the planet in a little more lop-sided version.

While checking up on Jupiter, I learned a rather funny fact about the Trojan asteroids. The Trojan asteroids are two groups of asteroids that are caught by gravity at Jupiter's L4 and L5 Lagrange points. This means they orbit the Sun roughly 60 degrees ahead of and behind Jupiter in its orbit. I had never known why they were called the Trojan asteroids before, but it turns out it's because the first one discovered was called Achilles, and by convention every one discovered since (all 4,076 of them) have been named after figures in the Trojan War from the Iliad. In fact, it's even more structured than that; the asteroids orbiting ahead of Jupiter are named after people in the Greek camp, while those following Jupiter are named after people in the Trojan camp (although this rule was suggested after they'd found a few, so there are two exceptions: Patroclus is found in the Trojan camp, and Hektor, the largest of them, in the Greek camp).

As an interesting aside, the word trojan has now entered the astronomical lexicon to refer to any body trapped 60 degrees ahead or or behind another in its orbit. Thus, there are other trojan asteroids (note the lowercase spelling); several associated with Mars, and a few with Neptune. There are even 4 known trojan moons, all in orbit around Saturn, which is where three moons share the same orbit, one large one in the middle with two smaller flanking ones behind and before.

A hui hou!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

RAINBOW: Radiant Apparition Induced Naturally By Opportune Water

It's not every morning you get to wake up and enjoy a rainbow, even here in rainy Hilo. So imagine my delight at seeing one this morning while preparing to take the second part of my credit-by-examination test for physics. As a physicist, I do love rainbows. A wonderful and free source of spectrum viewing. Whenever I have a series of colored writing implements, I tend to arrange them spectroscopically, in order of increasing frequency, like the rainbow (though every once in a while I switch it up and arrange them by increasing wavelength, just for fun).

I am also reminded that today is the autumnal equinox, and thus the last day of summer (or first day of autumn) in the Northern Hemisphere. It also happens to coincide with the Harvest Moon this time, a rather rare event. The full moon was extremely well placed to rise just as the sun set from here on the islands, and was distinctive enough that I noticed the difference in illumination this evening caused by it.

A hui hou!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Fiat lux (Let there be light!)

Last night I finally completed my multi-month long quest to get LuxRender to play nicely with Blender. (Blender, as I've mentioned before, is a 3-D modeling program, and LuxRender is "a physically based and unbiased rendering engine". It has a whole lot of nifty features, the most interesting for me being that it realistically models individual wavelengths of light, leading to realistic effects such as dispersion, or the ability to create a blackbody emission spectrum.)

I actually started looking at getting LuxRender to work back around Sping Break, but wasn't able to get it working. Blender is going through a serious reworking right now (going from version 2.4x to the new, radically redesigned and updated 2.5x series), and there didn't exist a version of LuxRender to go with the new Blender version. It seems to have appeared only recently, as I took another look at it after the semester ended and didn't find anything then.

Anyway, it took a complete wipe and clean install of the very latest Blender version (2.5 Beta), and of LuxRender (not quite sure what version it is, as it's still experimental as far as I can tell) to get Blender to acknowledge that LuxRender existed on my computer (quite the tedious manual installation. That should get better, in time).

Below is the first picture I've managed to get from it that looks halfway decent. A copper cube resting on some kind of...dirt...or maybe sand. I'm not sure which.
Nothing special, but I like the pretty copper color.

As both the Blender and LuxRender versions I'm using are still beta or experimental versions, it tends to crash every so often, so is not immediately useful right now. That will improve over time, though, and has inspired the artistic, creative part of my brain with some ideas for future projects.

At the moment, though, I have to study hard in order to try to test out of my basic Mechanics class on Monday and Wednesday. I have three hours allotted for each day, each of which will cover one half of the course (!). A hui hou!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Not much new.

First off, my apologies on the real dearth of posts around here lately. I can't even claim busyness as a culprit, merely a sort of ennui on my part. I've been busy in other ways. I have some homework, and Hawaiian continues to keep me on my toes, and my brain whirring, but it's good fun. Thursdays (or Po‘ahā) we practice actual conversational stuff -- making up and using our own sentences. I'm getting better, slowly. I'm certainly a far cry from thinking in Hawaiian yet, but I'm coming to string certain phrases together more quickly. I can even engage in very rudimentary conversation. And tomorrow we get to practice our hula, after the end-of-chapter test.

We occasionally learn Hawaiian proverbs, such as this pithy summary of the island hydrologic cycle:
"Uē ka lani; ola ka honua." "The heavens weep; the earth lives."

The weather is finally starting to get back to normal around here, I think. I've been here over a month, and yesterday was the first time that it rained during the day while I was walking home from school. I've used my umbrella to keep the sun off me more often than the rain in the last month, which is somewhat unusual. I'm quite pleased -- walking over a mile to school in the beating sun (usually near midday) gets really old, really fast.

Have to run to class now, so a hui hou!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Sights and Smells of Hawai‘i.

Ever since moving here to Hawai‘i, I've found myself noticing smells a lot more, to the point where I sometimes find myself unconsciously sniffing the wind to sample the scents of an area. It's kind of interesting, picking up the fragrance of the rain, or of the sea, or of other, more localized scents. Plants often give off noticeable perfumes; sun-baked lava rock has its own peculiar odor. Up on Mauna Kea, the wind has the intoxicating bouquet I associate with rolling Nebraskan prairie, which is probably one of the earliest scents I can remember.

I'm not a hundred percent sure why I seem to be paying more attention to my sense of smell now, at this time in my life, but I think it has to do with the generally higher humidity of Hawai‘i compared to California, and the fact that scents tend to travel better in moist air. Whatever it is, I enjoy it. Just another perk of paradise!

Friday, September 3, 2010

On the Beautiful Smooth Hawaiian Language.

The more I study the Hawaiian language, the more entranced by it I grow. It is both an elegant and a beautiful tongue. It uses an incredible economy of sounds -- there may exist languages with fewer sounds in the world, but none that I know of. It is sufficiently different from other languages I've studied to inflame my curiosity, yet simultaneously I recognize many tantalizing common linguistic threads running through it. Songs or chants in it often have a haunting beauty, and it lends even simple greetings a peculiar charm.

Hawaiian is interesting to me because, unlike other languages I've studied like Latin and Greek, its verbs do not decline or change at all. Mood, tense, and other things are handled by additional words in the sentence, somewhat similarly to English, but taken much further. Nouns, too, do not change to indicate their number. Like English, words can be used in various ways in different contexts. Some words can be used as nouns, verbs, and adjectives!

Edit: last night while writing this I couldn't think of an English example, but this morning I thought of one: "set". If you think of more, post them in the comments!

Like Arabic, Hawaiian also has no "to be" verb. It takes a little getting used to, but once you do it seems the most natural thing in the world to omit. It simplifies and shortens phrases, and makes the language much more concise than English in most cases.

I was a bit bored tonight, so I wrote a quick function in Python to randomly generate some short, simple Hawaiian phrases for me to practice translating. It generated some pretty funny phrases, such "this student of my chair", and "the uncle of my island". I had some ideas about writing a program to generate random phrases and eventually sentences for practice, so this was sort of a proof of concept. It's like really high-tech, random flashcards.

Well, I need to get some sleep now, so a hui hou!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Linux. Just...Linux.

Have I ever mentioned how much I detest Linux, the open-source operating system? Probably not, but there's no time like the present to start. There is no curse in Elvish, Entish, or all the tongues of Men for this blot on the good name of the human race. A typical session of attempting to install something goes like this:
  1. Download various packages and files.
  2. Begin following instructions provided, typing in arcane and arbitrary commands at the terminal. (If you have no instructions, you are basically out of luck.)
  3. If you're lucky, it will take more than 2 commands before you encounter an error.
  4. Spend anywhere from 15 minutes to several hours surfing the web trying to find out exactly what additional sequence or combination of arcane and arbitrary commands you need to type in to fix the error. Typically these will be scattered across several forum threads a few years in age, and must be pieced together with a care rivaling that of a linguist deciphering Linear B.
  5. Repeat steps 2-4 until you either (miraculously, miracles DO still happen) finish the installation, or realize there are better uses of your time, like counting the number of sand grains on the nearest beach, or watching paint curl.
Linux is like the Gnosticism of computers, as it requires "mystic, revealed, esoteric knowledge", which can only be received from someone who's been working with computers practically since they were invented. As one of the professors here at school put it, "Linux has a trillion commands, and it requires you to know them all". There is no way to learn Linux on your own by trial-and-error -- you must rely on someone else telling you what to do. I mean, it's the 21st century already! We have things called graphical user interfaces and self-installing programs (and they DO exist for Linux, as I've used some in the past). So why can't some of the most ubiquitous and important scientific programs (*cough* IRAF *cough*) of our day actually avail themselves of these marvels of modern technology? The abacus is starting to look more and more like a viable and productive alternative!

(deep breath)
As you can probably tell, I just spent the last two and a half hours trying to install a package for IRAF on my Ubuntu distribution, with only marginal success. During this time I overcame exactly two Linux errors (along with a good number of human-caused mistakes). And I still can't get the package to work right. I'm beginning to be worried about the increase in my blood pressure. If you ever need a good argument against going into astronomy, it is the fact that IRAF does not run on Windows (or even Mac).

*sigh* Anyway, now that I have sufficiently vented my spleen, I need to get to bed and get my very-much-needed sleep. A hui hou!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Pā‘ina and hula.

Monday night my Hawaiian professor invited the whole class over to his house for a pā‘ina, a small dinner party. It was very enjoyable. He and his family live a couple miles outside of Hilo, out in the good ol’ countryside. Everyone brings food to Hawaiian parties, and we enjoyed an ‘ono (delicious, tasty) meal of many different things. (If you have just enjoyed a savory repast, you can compliment your host with “ ‘ono ka mea‘ai” -- “delicious is the food”.)

We also saw and practiced for the first time the hula we'll be learning over the semester. Hula is an art form unique to the Hawaiian islands, and can be loosely described as a highly stylized form of pantomime accompanied by a mele, a song that may be chanted or sung depending on the hula. It was originally conceived as a means of passing on oral histories, and developed into an ubiquitous art form applicable to social situations ranging from serious state occasions to informal get-togethers. The mele we're performing is sort of a patriotic Hawaiian anthem, though a relatively recent one. Hula is incredibly complex and difficult, especially for such an uncoordinated one as I. There are foot, hand, and arm movements to be performed synchronously with the mele, while singing and trying not to hit or run into the people around you. It's a very different experience for me, but a very pleasant one. (Yes, I know, another shocker to those of you who know I am generally not much for the performing arts. All I can say is, I'm surprised too.) I'll try to translate the mele for you later on in the semester when I'm able, and perhaps even put up some pictures from when we perform.

A hui hou! (until next time!)

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Random errata (is that redundant?)

Ouch. You know what hurts worse than walking a mile uphill to school while sore all over? Walking a mile downhill from school while sore all over. I don't pretend to know the muscles involved, but it hurts a lot more going in a downward direction. (Thus providing more support for my firm belief that it's going downhill that's the hard part; going uphill is a snap, comparatively. At least, it is for me. I've only met a few people that agree with me on this point.)

I've blogged before about my love of \(\LaTeX\), the document markup language that takes what you write and makes it look beautiful. While writing my first homework assignment for Thermodynamics this morning, I stumbled upon a cool package for it that let you write chemical formulae and equations simply and naturally. Alas, despite my best efforts, I was unable to install it because of the exceedingly simple fact that the program was looking online for a repository with the .tar.bz2 extension, while the actual repository had the .tar.lzma extension (it took me over an hour to find this out, after trying every conceivable way to manually install it). Needless to say, I was bit bummed, as it would have reduced the work needed to write CO\(_2\) everywhere it would be needed in the paper. (In case you're wondering, \(\LaTeX\) can handle writing CO\(_2\) just fine, it just means an extra couple of commands each time I want to write it.)

Tonight my Hawaiian teacher is having our class over for a party, so I made cookies to take. Hooray for cookie sheets! My cooking repertoire is vastly improved now that I have some. And hot-pads to handle them with, too.

Monday, August 30, 2010


Saturday afternoon I enjoyed a game of soccer with my housemates Josh and Jonathan and some other people from school and the BCM. Yes, I enjoyed it. I know that will be a surprise to those of you who know I have historically disliked playing sports. Indeed, I am now sore in pretty much every muscle of my body. I am a little surprised myself. Still...on the off chance I don't get enough exercise walking ten miles to and from school each week, I may take advantage of the chance to work up an even bigger sweat now and then.